11/22/16 Show feat. Lian Zhu on cellular engineering and optogenetics + Harrison on Blood Falls glacier


Featured image: HeLa cells, all derived from one human, being imaged with fluorescence. Proteins tagged with light-sensitive tails travel through the cell. (courtesy NIH)

This week, I’m happy to have interviewed Lian Zhu, a Princeton PhD candidate in Chemical and Biological Engineering. Her fascinating research on the cell’s nucleolus will bring us through the science of RNA creation and how cell parts can exist without membranes. She’ll explain how light can engineer cellular dynamics, and how she’s used this optogenetics technique to stiffen or loosen various proteins inside the cell nucleus–a feat which mimics the cell’s own formation and dissociation of globs inside the nucleus. Track proteins and affect their motion with light: it’s a hands-on way to look inside the cell! Her interview starts an hour into the track above.

As an added bonus, Lian shared this video of cells inside a worm egg dividing until they form a multicellular animal – and she’s seen this happen under a microscope with her own eyes.

Preceding the main interview (0:40 on the recording), Harrison Blackman covers the rust-red Blood Falls, an Antarctic glacier whose bacteria produced a horror-movie set. Afterwards, we share science news about space telescopes and craters on Earth, and the whole show features music from all over the Middle East for flavor. Enjoy!

The Blood Falls glacier in Antarctica.

Relevant links:

See our event calendar for upcoming events, and check out the playlist for the show at WPRB.com or below.



11/15/16 Show feat. Kaia Tombak on group adaptation and animal hierarchies


Featured image: A small group of Grevy’s zebras, which might remain together to avoid predators or split apart to find more food for themselves. (Courtesy M. F. Kinnaird)

Kaia Tombak of Princeton’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department was on mic this week to share her expertise on collective behavior in animals. How are groups of animals structured? What environmental factors influence social flexibility in a herd? Kaia studies these questions about group dynamics where two species of zebras co-exist in the Kenyan

A Ugandan red colobus. (Atlas of Science)

savannah, looking at the impact a few genetic differences have on collective behavior. Later, we discuss hierarchies in primate species: how egalitarian are male and female groups? All this, plus stories of running from elephants and a smattering of science news, can be found in this week’s show.

Check out the interview beginning an hour into the show above, and in the meantime here’s some relevant background:

  • Narwhals have amazing abilities of echolocation for finding their way around the Arctic.
  • Of all the emotions, babies have the strongest neurological connection with fear.
  • We now have genetic evidence that European colonization of the Americas uprooted the  immune systems of Native Americans.
  • Kaia’s research goes way beyond Africa: here she is diving with sharks and lasers.

Thanks for listening! The playlist is online at WPRB.com or below.


11/8/16 Show feat. Julio Herrera Estrada on droughts and policy + Kathleen McCleery on the US election


Featured image: A high-pressure system over Tasmania, which pushes moist air away from a region and can cause droughts (even over the ocean!). (Courtesy NASA).

This week’s episode features Julio Herrera Estrada, Princeton PhD candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering (his interview starts an hour into the show). As an expert on drought formation and prediction, Julio told us how to model long-term climate patterns and how interactions between land and air can lead to severe weather. Withstanding severe droughts requires connecting science and policy, so we explore what developed and developing countries can do to mitigate risks.

Additionally in this Election Day special, we spoke with Kathleen McCleery, visiting Ferris journalist, producer for PBS NewsHour, and WPRB alumnus on her understanding of this year’s US election. From demographics to the voracious news cycle that forgets as fast as we feed it, we pondered the influence that the media can have on the election and vice versa. You can hear it starting 30 minutes into the broadcast.

For other science news, check out the following links:

  • Perovskite solar cells promise to be cheap and efficient, thanks to nanomaterial engineering.
  • X-rays from the haze around Pluto might indicate a bigger atmosphere than we thought possible, and suggest that other dwarf planets might emit X-rays too.

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


11/1/16 Show feat. Sébastien Phillipe on nuclear arms verification and disarmament, plus the physics of baseball and how the Columbia peace deal is affecting ecologists

Zero-knowledge object-comparison set-up. In our discussion with Sébastien Phillipe, these are the “detectors” filled with flourocarbon droplets floating in gel. (What bubbles when hit by neutrons.) Image Credit: (c) Nuclear Futures Laboratory

¡¡Currently having trouble embedding the Mixcloud stream. In the mean time you can listen here.!!

Pt 1: Introduction to the show and the physics of baseball with Kasey Wagoner, lecturer in physics at Princeton University and member of the Atacama Cosmology Telescope collaboration. Kasey described the physics behind the curve in the curveball, and why knuckleballs are so hard to hit (and catch). Additionally, there’s a physical explanation for what baseball players call the “sweet spot” on a bat.

Pt 2 (at 1 hour in): Interview with Sébastien Phillipe, graduate researcher in applied physics and member of the Nuclear Futures Laboratory at Princeton University. Sébastien

Sébastien Phillipe

is an expert in the topics of nuclear weapons non-proliferation, arms control, and disarmament. We discussed his dissertation research on an experimental setup to make use of something called the “zero knowledge proof” to solve an acute problem in nuclear disarmament — verification. Listen in to learn more.*

This interview was a kind of part 2 to our earlier interview with Julien de Lanversin on nuclear energy, arms, and policy. That show would provide good background on this interview with Sébastien, but it’s necessary. I highly recommend giving it a listen.

For further reading, in the show we mention a New Yorker article featuring Sébastien Phillipe and his graduate adviser, Professor Alex Glaser. Though we had trouble with the analogy for the zero knowledge proof that was used in the piece, it’s a great article.

Additionally, Stevie mentions a recent NPR piece on the current state of US-Russia relations which is relevant to these discussions on nuclear arms and verification.

Pt 3 (2.5 hours in): Brief interview with Lizzie Wade, Latin America correspondent for Science magazine, discussing her recent piece on how the Colombia peace deal affects ecologists and biologist who wish to study the nation’s biodiverse countryside. (Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall, but if you happen to be a subscriber, you should be able to find it by looking for “Colombia peace deal blow dismays ecologists.”)

Trust, but verify.


10/25/16 Show feat. Beena Sarwar on peace and the media + Charles & Eugene on open source inventions


Featured image: Protests in India about women’s rights have taken center stage in Western news recently, but mainstream media often emphasizes the louder news: aggression and war, instead of the peace process. (courtesy WBUR)

Thanks to guest Beena Sarwar, Pakistani media expert and visiting Ferris journalist at Princeton, for a deep look into why the media functions as it does. She speaks on how the personal is political in a repressive system, the media’s ideal role in society (and how its operation as a business corrupts this role), and the hypernationalism of nuclear proliferation in Southeast Asia. It’s stunning and entertaining stuff, so tune in starting about an hour in!

In the broadcast’s third hour, we jump to open source software and its values. Eugene Evans and Charles Swanson, plasma physics PhD candidates at Princeton, join us to talk about their own inventions with open source technology: homemade 3D printers, startups for VoIP systems, and more!

Check out this background for more information:

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


10/18/16 WPRB Pledge Drive Show feat. Julien de Lanversin on nuclear energy and science + Ingrid Ockert on Marie Curie and the discovery of radioactivity

This was These Vibes Are Too Cosmic’s radioactive WPRB pledge drive show! Once a year, WPRB takes a week to raise money for the station – and make our entire operating budget for the year. (WPRB lives at Princeton University, but is an independent station – Princeton only donates the space.) If you’re seeing this, you (probably) can still donate! Just go to pledge.wprb.com.

Here’s the show:

Part 1: Introduction, Brian & Stevie provide a kind of primer on the science of radioactivity and announce some science events in the area.

Part 2 (40 minutes in): Interview with Julien de Lanversin, researcher with the Nuclear

Julien de Lanversin

Futures Laboratory at Princeton University. Our discussion centered around nuclear energy, disarmament, and nuclear archaeology. We discuss both the science involved, and the global security policy. Towards the end of the segment, Julien explains how a nuclear power plant converts Uranium-235 fuel to energy, and the key points of the Iran nuclear deal.

Part 3 (2 hours in): Brian and Ingrid Ockert discuss the life of Marie Curie and the history of the discovery of radioactivity!



10/11/16 Show feat. Erik Walker & Bill Collins of Climate Music Project + Matteo Ippoliti on topological insulators


Featured image: A climate change model from Boulder, CO, predicting air flows and temperatures in a wide range of climate-change scenarios. (courtesy Atmos News)

Double interview on These Vibes tonight! We started the show with Matteo Ippoliti, Princeton graduate student in physics, who explained the Nobel-winning concepts of his academic advisor Duncan Haldane–all the way from spin arrays to quantum computing.

At 6:00, composer Erik Walker and climate prediction expert Bill Collins called in from San Francisco to cover their recent collaboration: the Climate Music Project. This joining of arts and sciences writes climate change into the pace of a composition. For example, temperature forces the piece’s tempo to change, increased solar radiation leads to distortion, and so forth. Hear the pair dive into climate modeling accuracy and the public’s reaction to their collaboration.

The whole show is dotted, of course, with science news and music of all kinds. Check out the resources below:

Find the playlist below, or at WPRB.com.



10/4/16 Show feat. Bridgett vonHoldt on Epigenetics, Molecular Ecology, and Canine Domestication

Image of a Yellowstone wolf from the Grizzly Wolf and Discovery Center.

In this installment of These Vibes we covered much ground. Our long form interview (one hour in to the recording) was with molecular ecologist and population biologist Bridgett vonHoldt, assistant professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. Professor vonHoldt’s research centers around using the concept of epigenetics to understand evolutionary change. Epigenetics, as Professor vonHoldt explains, is the study of changes in an organism that come about due to gene expression rather than the genes themselves. Specifically, she researches the epigenetics of canids — these are canines like our beloved dogs and the Yellowstone wolf — and the evolutionary biology of the domestication of dogs.

In the last half hour, Ingrid Ockert tells us about Science in Wonder Land: The scientific fairy tales of Victorian Britain, by Melanie Keene.

Science news:

And local science outreach events!


9/27/16 Show feat. Andy Dobson on pathogen ecosystems and conservation


Featured Image: A wildebeest migration in Masai Mara National Park, Kenya. Shown are billions of the most pivotal parts of the grassland ecosystem: pathogens, thriving inside each animal.

Today we hosted pathogen ecologist Dr. Andy Dobson, of Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As an expert on parasites all over the natural world, he studies everything from pathogen evolution to their drastic effects on ecosystems – and it blew our show away. We cover the detriment of a clean gut, how the rinderpest virus devastated the Serengeti, how tourists track wolves with mange, and the dangers of antibiotic resistance. Be prepared to reimagine the place of the invisible pathogen within every ecosystem. And, as always, we dish out some science news (Rosetta’s death, earthquakes in Oklahoma, and spiderweb metamaterials) alongside a brief discussion on rational numbers.

For more information:

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


9/20/16 Show feat. Joseph Amon on Health and Human Rights + Science at the ISS and Dispatches from Syria

In this installment of These Vibes, we welcomed Joseph Amon, visiting lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School here at Princeton and Vice President for neglected tropical diseases at Helen Keller International, on human rights, the rights to health and education and their interdependence, and neglected tropical diseases. Later in the interview he describes his path, which takes us in to a discussion on the different approaches to addressing human rights deficiencies.

Show schedule:

  • First hour: Science news and a survey of the science research being done by astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Second hour (56 minutes in): Interview with Joseph Amon. Interview-only recording below.
  • Last hour: Brian reviews the book, The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria, by Janine di Giovanni.

Mentioned science news:

Science at the ISS: