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.