1/24/17 Show feat. Mallika Randeria on imaging electrons and quantum behavior


Featured image: Ripples of electron waves, imaged by Mallika in the Yadzani Lab on a bismuth crystal. (see the scientific paper here)

In today’s show we speak with doctoral researcher Mallika Randeria on her work in the Yazdani lab at Princeton University. As she explains in the interview, her research

A bismuth crystal, as seen in intense detail above.

explores the quantum behavior of electrons in a magnetic field. In fact, she uses a powerful scanning-tunneling microscope to actually image the electrons! Last year her group became the first to ever accomplished this and they got some astounding and (almost) unexpected results! Tune in to the show if you want to learn about the weird quantum behavior of electrons and what they actually look like up close when they’re exhibiting quantum effects, how a scanning-tunneling microscope works (and about the one here at Princeton), and some of Mallika’s other research imagining the phenomenon of superconductivity.

Mallika and cohort in the Yadzani lab with their vibration-proof scanning tunneling microscope.
Later in the show, Brian overviews some notable examples of scientists who became politicians. Though they’re few and far between, they include names like the late John Glenn, German leader Angela Merkel, and Illinois senator Bob Foster. As always, we pepper the show with science news, events (featuring Science on Saturdays and the Princeton Public Library), and music from all over the world.

Get your fill of extras below:

  • Facts matter to people, as long as the facts fit into their preferred idea about the world–as shown in a new psychological metastudy.
  • Mallika’s research was featured in this popular science article: read to learn what a quantum Hall liquid is!
  • Australia used to be covered with giant mammals, but new fungus fossils indicate that humans are the culprits of their mass extinction.
  • The AAAS puts out a weekly overview of science news, including this bit about protecting walruses.

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


1/17/17 Show feat. Mark Miller on wind turbines and scaled fluid dynamics + Lian Zhu on curiosity


Featured image: Wind turbines mess with air flow, but the process can only be modeled in sophisticated labs or in computer codes like this Purdue University software.

We welcome Mark Miller, a PhD candidate in Prof. Hultmark’s Gas Dynamics Lab, who knows all about the aerodynamics of wind turbines. Wind energy is a crucial component of the future’s energy landscape, but learning how to optimize their engineering is a work in progress. How should a windmill farm be laid out to maximize each turbine’s output? How can scientists model the air flow around windmills in lab-sized models? And finally, how does wind energy fit into the grid?

Before Mark’s interview an hour in, listen for science news about ant laziness to polar ice shelves melting. Later in the show, former guest Lian Zhu returns to dive into the philosophy of curiosity (detailed in Carlo Rovelli’s new book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics).

Resources to enjoy:

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


1/10/17 Show feat. Tamara Patton on Virtual Reality in Nuclear Arms Control and Ingrid Ockert on Arming Mother Nature

Featured image: Dinosaur feather trapped in amber. Ryan McKellar, Royal Saskatchewan Museum
Tamara Patton, Nuclear Futures Lab

In this week’s installment of These Vibes, we spoke with Tamara Patton, doctoral researcher at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and in the Nuclear Futures Lab, on her work using emergent technologies, specifically virtual reality, in nuclear arms control. She also delves in to the prospect of nuclear proliferation and arms control under the Trump presidency and the upcoming nuclear weapon ban treaty taking place this March at the UN.

For more background on the topic of nuclear weapons, listen to our past shows with Sébastien Phillipe on verification technologies and Julien de Lanversin on nuclear archaeology. In the show, Tamara recommends checking out the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists if you’d like to stay up to speed on this topic.

Science historian Ingrid Ockert begins by mentioning a relevant piece by Alex Wellerstein in the Washington Post describing the very few obstacles to President Donald Trump utilizing the US’s store of nuclear weapons, should he want to. It’s a good read.

Next, Ingrid discussed the book Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism, by Jacob Darwin Hamblin. Ingrid describes how the discovery of climate change and global warming has its root in military weaponization of nature.

Additionally, Ingrid informed us that an award-winning film about nuclear futures, Containment, can currently be found on the PBS website.


As usual, at the start of the show we told tale of some science events in the NJ area and science news:

Thank you for listening!



1/3/17 Show feat. Jacob Schwartz on nuclear waste and sending warnings to future civilizations


Featured image: The Vaalputs nuclear waste site in South Africa, guarded (for the present) with fences and signposts. Can this strategy ward off the next 10,000 years of civilization? (Courtesy Mail & Guardian)

This week features Jacob Schwartz, a PhD candidate in plasma physics here at Princeton, who brings us a deep concern: what should we do with our nuclear waste? Fission plants produce radioactive byproducts over time, and these concoctions will be dangerous to life for millennia. At the WIPP facility in New Mexico, scientists are testing many methods for safe storage of radioactive materials. Even more intriguingly, reports from WIPP contemplate strategies for warding off future civilizations, communicating across the centuries that an area is unhealthy to inhabit. How can we send messages on the timescales of the pyramids? How far do duty or ethics push us to confine our nuclear waste?

Elsewhere in the show, we cover the geology of northern Iraq and the dangers it poses to a dam near Mosul. Plus, look forward to a scientific 2017 with epigenetics, artificial intelligence and biometric identification. Throughout you can enjoy lots of jazz, blues, and music from Western Africa.

Resources to enjoy:

  • The full, 350-page Sandia report on waste storage at WIPP is easily accessible online.
  • The “Ten Thousand Years” episode of the 99% Invisible podcast covers the same topic of WIPP’s nuclear containment, but with relevant music!
  • Official reports on the Mosul dam’s condition are raising concerns that gypsum under a dam could endanger millions of people.
  • Artificial intelligence may boom in 2017, but it also poses risks we ought to be aware of.
  • The Long Now Foundation, which includes Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is also interested in communicating with the future, but by means of building a durable mountaintop clock.
  • The Ray Cat Solution says that if we can’t convince people to avoid nuclear waste with signs, we could do it with mythology and genetically-engineered color-changing cats.
  • A documentary Into Eternity explains Finnish strategies on the waste storage problem, and another film Containment goes into much more detail about WIPP.

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