Featured image: James Collins Johnson, a janitor of Nassau Hall and active participant in campus life, was almost returned to his former enslavement by the Fugitive Slave Act. (Courtesy Princeton Alumni Weekly)
Featured image: An aerial view of the Jebel Irhoud excavation in Morocco, worksite of anthropologists hunting for hominid fossils. Scientists have used these digs as excuses to travel the world for well over a century. (Courtesy Pulse Headlines and Shannon McPherron)
Dr. Emily Kern is a recent graduate of Princeton’s Department of History, and she visits us this week to show us the twists and turns of paleoanthropology over time. That is, how have scientists understood humanity’s evolution as we learned more and more about the world? Hear how, until very recently, most everyone thought humans evolved out of Asia–an idea borne by tracing Indoeuropean languages to their roots and assuming humans came from the same place as language does. The international endeavor to trace our evolution back to Africa has taken both explorers (the avid and the methodical) and better methods for dating fossils to 100,000 – 1 million years. Like many fields of science, paleoanthropology has become increasingly complicated the more we discover.
Earlier in the show, news and an explanation of a process you thought you understood:
Scientists in China have cloned two primates, moving us closer to cloning humans (though we’re still quite far from doing that).
We’ve lost a hero of computer science, Mary Lee Berners-Lee, who worked on the first comercially-sold computer and fought for gender equality amid programmers.
Featured image: A New World inhabitant riding an armadillo, one of the most unbelievable animals Europeans found when they sailed to the Americas. (Courtesy Canadian Library and Archives)
This episode, we interview Florencia Pierri, graduate student in Princeton’s Department of History and historian of science, to learn about reconciling the taxonomy of the Old World with the new discoveries of European explorers. How did mythical creatures–unicorns, dragons, mermaids–come into popular consciousness? How did sailors and merchants comprehend the new creatures they met in the Americas and on the seas? Turns out the absorption of a whole new evolutionary tree is a difficult undertaking for a culture that thought it already knew every animal! Join us to learn why armadillos and hummingbirds were so prized by Europeans, how the Jesuits felt about skunks, and how unicorns gradually receded from maps of the world.
This week on These Vibes, Stevie discussed research with fellow observational cosmologist, Eve Vavagiakis. Eve is a researcher on the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, aka ACT, located in the Atacama desert in Chile. She discusses cosmology and astrophysics, her research and how she makes her measurements, and answers excellent listener questions.
Today we hosted Dr. Michael Gordin, Princeton science historian and expert on fringe scientific theories. Central tenets of science are widely regarded as mainstream, but newer or more radical theories sit further away from consensus. These fringe topics supply science with new ideas, but they also spawn even further removed theories—everything from Bigfoot to UFOs to self-help quantum mechanics. In this undefined range between established and untested research, scientists need to establish what sets the bar for “real” science. In a remarkable perspective, Dr. Gordin connects Scientology with a cataclysmic Venus encounter that supposedly occurred in 1500 BCE, and shows us how appreciation for science drives the many kooky theories that bother scientists.
Featured image: A plasma etching device, meant for digging trenches in computer chips. (Courtesy Novelion Systems)
For our episode this week, Charles Swanson, resident plasma physicist and avid science hobbyist, gives us an overview of two hugely influential modern technologies: lasers and semiconductor processing. First, lasers come in many varieties, from laser pointers to atmosphere-mapping lens systems, but all of them stay in a directed beam—how? Second, all our computer chips are made with plasma etching, basically the only way to dig the microscopic features we need in our digital world.
That, plus music from many locales and an overview of animal migration. For more, the book of maps Where the Animals Go by James Chesire and Oliver Uberti is incredible and very much worth perusing.
Thanks for listening! The playlist is available on WPRB.com or below.
Early in the episode, Norbert J. Cruz-Lebron, graduate student in neuroscience and member of the Princeton SACNAS Chapter, jumped on the mic to tell us about the current state of affairs in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Additionally, he tells us about his own experience being in the US while the rest of his family was at their home in PR when the hurricane hit, and shares testimonials from friends and family. (Hopefully he’ll be back on the show next year to tell us about his graduate research!)
In this installment of These Vibes, Stevie speaks with Princeton University physics professors Steven Gubser and Frans Pretorius on their recently released Little Book of Black Holes (Princeton University Press, 2017). The discussion begins where the book ends, at the Epilogue, where the authors read their “Letter to Einstein.” From there we dive in to the definition and formation of black holes, and where they exist in our universe. Professors Gubser and Pretorius tell us about the experimental verification of these weird astrophysical things and answer listener questions like what would happen if a black hole entered our solar system? would we notice? Listen in and check out the book!
In the very beginning of the show, regular guest and science historian Ingrid Ockert joined us to review the stunning new documentary Jane (trailer), about the life and work of Jane Goodall, featuring much unseen footage from her younger years and research. For further reading she recommends Primates and Me, Jane.