5/8/18 Show feat. Greta Shum on Making Climate Science Digestible

Featured image: WxShift.com, a website by Climate Central, shows your local weather alongside long-term trends indicative of climate change.

This week we interviewed Greta Shum, digital communications specialist at Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. What’s the importance of communicating science? For issues like climate change that are bound to affect most lives on the planet, communication is crucial—even if the subject is complicated and often depressing! Greta will talk about her work packaging climate research findings into web series and articles for the public in her jobs at Climate Central and the Andlinger Center, working with meteorologists, researchers, and science readers in the public to help all sides understand the others. Also featured: the essential practice of listening and what it means that prestigious science journals are in English.

As we mention in the show, check out the Andlinger Center’s distillates (helpful overviews of energy policy) and WxShift, which shows your local weather today and over time to bring the effects of climate change home.

In other news:

The playlist for the show can be found at WPRB.com or below.

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5/1/18 WPRB Pledge Show feat. Sam Wang on Gerrymandering in NJ and the Scientific Study of Elections

This was WPRB’s 2018 pledge drive!! Brian and Stevie started out the show with science news – ancient sloth hunts uncovered and a study shows that freedivers from Southeast Asia evolved to have bigger spleens. Then Professor Sam Wang, founder of the Princeton Election Consortium and co-host of the Politics and Polls podcast, joined Stevie on the mic to discuss gerrymandering in the US and specifically in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Then we get in to the more general topic of the scientific study of elections.

Additionally, you’ll hear Brian and Stevie talk past shows and why they love WPRB.


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4/24/18 Show feat. Jane Baldwin on Why There Are Deserts in Asia

Featured image: A rugged climb up the hills of the Taklamakan Desert, which consumes much of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. (courtesy Zahariz Khuzaimah)

This week we host Jane Baldwin, PhD candidate in Princeton’s Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Dept., who studies the reasons that deserts exist in Asia. Jane first wondered about the changing climate of the steppes of Inner Mongolia, where famous grasslands have slowly morphed to low, dry shrubs. Surprisingly, she found a more fundamental question that needed study first: why do Asian deserts, like the Taklamakan and Gobi, exist in general? Global climate simulations give researchers a crucial tool to study WHY the climate works as it does, so Jane tested various hypotheses about the Taklamakan: does it still exist if you run a simulation without Tibet? Without Europe taking moisture from Asia’s westerly winds? Without the Tian Shan mountains, which lie between the Taklamakan and the Gobi? Tune in for surprising results that hint how important well-placed mountains can be for the climate.

In other news:

The playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.

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4/17/18 Show feat. Philosophy Professor Adam Elga on Decisions, Risk, and Cascading Failures

Science news and events started out the show. 45 minutes in, Professor Adam Elga came on the mic to speak on some thought problems in philosophy that are pertinent to his research. For instance we start with the problem of contingency: how concerned should we be that much of what we believe is contingent on, for example, the circumstances of our birth?

We then build up the conversation to his current research on cascading failures – this is when systems that depend on each other fail in a kind of domino effect. Think the 2008 Financial Crisis. This gets us in to topics like the Tragedy of the Commons, the Prisoners’ Dilemma, and his (and his collaborator Daniel Oppenheimer’s) new concept of Risk Pollution.

More information on the topics we discussed in the show, provided by Adam Elga:

Science News:


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4/10/18 Show feat. Sam Daley-Harris on Efficient Grassroots Action

Featured image: An army of heavily-educated volunteers advocates to Congress for a carbon fee and dividend policy in 2016. (Courtesy Citizens Climate Lobby)

This week we interview Sam Daley-Harris, grassroots organizer and coach for advocacy groups, on his philosophy for impacting policy as an average citizen. Most people feel there are critical issues the government needs to act on, but they feel powerless to change anything and therefore don’t speak up. Sam believes that this fear can be overcome by well-organized, educational advocacy groups that train volunteers deeply about an issue. Groups like RESULTS and Citizens Climate Lobby expose their members to curricula that teach them to write op-eds and meet with Congresspeople, regardless of party or beliefs, and over time they develop relationships that make an impact. Sam discusses pitfalls that make some groups ineffective, as well as success stories that show what well-educated volunteers can achieve on many important issues.

In other news:

The playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.

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4/3/18 Show feat. Matt Weinberg on Algorithms, Incentives, and Game Theory

Trouble with the Mixcloud embed? The live show can be found here.

Science news and events started out the show. Brian spoke on new research on concussions and Stevie on the Chinese space station that fell to Earth recently. 45 minutes in, Professor Matt Weinberg came on the mic to speak on his work as a theoretical computer scientist. He researches mechanism design – these are algorithms that take user incentives in to account. He considers human decision making and economics to design algorithms to guide the user to interact with the algorithm in the optimal way. He uses the example of online dating, ad auctions on sites like Facebook and Google, and cryptocurrencies.

Science News:


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3/27/18 Show feat. Rebecca Elyanow on Gene Assembly and Tracking Cancer Mutations

Featured image: Genetic variants of breast cancer cells, with different proteins highlighted by fluorescence. Many types of cancer cells coexist within a tumor, mutating more as time goes on. (Courtesy Marc van de Wetering et al., Cancer Research 2001)

Our guest this week was Rebecca Elyanow, PhD candidate at Brown University and Visiting Student Research Scholar in Princeton’s Department of Computer Science, who covered her fascinating work on understanding cancer mutations. All human cells copy DNA when they split, and many of these replications cause mutations in our genes. While these errors are normally corrected, some of them persist and develop into invasive cancers. Tracking these mutations and finding which ones are most harmful is a daunting task—which is why computer scientists like Rebecca write algorithms to sequence the tangled DNA of cancer cells. Hear how gene assembly works in practice (the shotgun method) and how computer science can help us unveil a mutation’s family tree. Plus, we end with a primer on machine learning and possible uses in keeping the government honest.

Listen to the whole recording for a sample of WPRB’s one and only All Vinyl Week, plus news about:

The playlist can be found online at WPRB.com or below.

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3/13/18 Show feat. Xin Rong Chua on Cloud Convection and the Nuances of Geoengineering

Featured image: Clouds exist throughout the atmosphere, but their heights govern how they act back on the warming climate—and how this works is still up for debate! (courtesy Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

This week we were lucky to host Xin Rong Chua, PhD candidate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton, who read us two cloud cinquains and described her research on convection of clouds above the ocean. Low clouds tend to cool the atmosphere by reflecting sunlight, whereas high clouds keep the earth warm by trapping more heat than they radiate. So, if you add more heat to the ocean and atmosphere (as we do by emitting greenhouse gases), do you get more or fewer clouds? Are they higher or lower than before? Xin explains the possible cloud feedback loops that will warm our future Earth a lot or a little. We end with geoengineering, where we’ll cool the Earth with our own inventions—but how reliable could that be?

Before Xin’s interview, we talk with the stellar Paula Croxson, New York producer for The Story Collider podcast. Listen to hear how a narrative thread can mean the world to us storytelling humans, and why stories are important even to science. (And keep an eye out for new Story Collider episodes each Friday!)

The playlist is available at WPRB.com or below.

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2/27/18 Show feat. Aaron Wolf on Neanderthal Genomes and Us

This show had tons of great science news and an excellent discussion with Aaron Wolf, doctoral researcher on neanderthal genomes and specifically how neanderthal and modern human genomes mixed (i.e. they reproduced) in ancient times. To begin, Aaron walks us through what we know about neanderthals and our modern misconceptions of them, and how they came about. From there, he discusses how the neanderthal genome was mapped, and why we think that most living humans have about 2% neanderthal DNA — and what that DNA is for.

Science news:


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2/20/18 Show feat. Mike Mulshine on the Design of Electronic Instruments

Featured image: A six-channel hemispherical speaker, a central tool of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra and sound-producer for a huge variety of instruments.

This week’s show features Mike Mulshine, Research Specialist on Electronic Music and Assistant Director of PLOrk here at Princeton, who walks us through the ins and outs of designing electronic instruments. Technology allows us to separate the interface from the an instrument’s sound-producing body—for example, most synthesizers have a set of piano keys, capable of producing waves that travel through a PC and other digital processors until finally reaching a speaker that makes sound. This separation allows us amazing flexibility: any sound can be made digitally, by a performer doing any action at all. With limitless options, how do designers make expressive but usable instruments? Mike discusses one example, a project by himself and Dan Trueman called the Bitklavier, where modular coding gives composers freedom to electrify a piano layer by layer.

In other news: Geologists are questioning longstanding theories about the middle of tectonic plates—cratons—that are supposed to be stable over billions of years. New research indicates they might be more dynamic than we thought.

The playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.

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