8/21/18 Show feat. Dr. Chris Smiet on Flavors and Food Chemistry

Featured image: The famous Sichuanese mapo tofu, a dish that exemplifies the local mala palate. Note the careful dash of brown numbing seeds (huajiao) on top! (Courtesy J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)

On the menu today: Dr. Chris Smiet, a postdoctoral scholar at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, shares his expansive understanding of food chemistry. What prompts plants and spices to develop the complex chemicals that make them so flavorful to us humans? Hear how basil and carrots have special diversity amid similarities, and how modern cooking moves away from “recipes” and toward a general understanding of how ingredients mix in a scientific sense.

Chris mentions a book that taught him the essence of cooking: it was On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Pick up a copy to experience an encyclopedic foray through milk, molecules and your tastebuds.

Plus, listen to the preface before the interview for other topics in science:

  • There’s an overview of nanofabrication, the process of making tiny structures for electrical engineering, computer circuits. One central process in making these tiny marvels is to stack thin layers of metal on top of clean silicon chips.
  • A new glowing object in the auroral skies of Canada is not related to inflowing plasma from the sun, and thus represents a different atmospheric phenomenon than we’ve seen before.

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

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8/14/18 Show feat. Kelsey Ockert and Ryan Ly on the Lives of Monarch Butterflies

Featured image: A hatching monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, shedding its skin after ten days of transformative hibernation. A short glimpse of action that’s easy to miss… (Photography: SpiritMama)

Today, public librarian Kelsey Ockert and her partner Ryan Ly (PhD Candidate in Neuroscience at Princeton) drop in to our show to share their newfound hobby: raising monarch butterflies! As citizen scientists or aspiring insect lovers, anyone can order milkweed plants with monarch eggs for home delivery. As the eggs hatch and their caterpillars grew, Kelsey and Ryan had to fight to keep enough milkweed in the house to satiate the young insects. Learn more about insect parenting, caterpillar personalities and the great migration (that only 1/4 of monarchs take) to rest in enormous Mexican colonies!

Kelsey connects her insect parenting to one inspirational book: Monarchs and Milkweed, by Anurag Agrawal, is a beautifully detailed scientific dive into the amazing monarch butterfly. Check it out!

In other news:

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

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8/7/18 Show. feat. Dr. Forrest Meggers on the Future of Comfortable and Sustainable Architecture

Featured image: Infrared light radiates from the walls of the Thermoheliodome, a structure that funnels energy outside of a room to keep its occupants comfortable. (courtesy Forrest Meggers)


This week’s episode features Dr. Forrest Meggers, Assistant Professor in Architecture and the Andlinger Center at Princeton, who designs structures that keep humans comfortable with light, not air temperature. Humans cool themselves through convection—where cool air takes heat away from you—and through radiation, where your body emits the infrared light you can see on night-vision goggles. Because this light carries energy, having too much or too little of it can change your perception of temperature just as much as the air can.

Forrest Meggers in the Thermoheliodome.

Dr. Meggers and his CHAOS Lab have built many structures that funnel infrared light away from the occupants of a room, keeping them refreshed no matter the ambient temperature. This new way of thinking about temperature leads to huge efficiencies: instead of air-conditioning the volume of a room from floor to ceiling, we could deflect radiation to keep the ground, and ourselves, cool. Dr. Meggers explains the ways of measuring this invisible but all-too-important radiative heating in buildings, including the new SMART sensor his team is producing.

In other news:

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

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7/31/18 Show feat. Mariona Esquerda on Star Lifecycles and Ricard Alert on the Biophysics of Films

Featured image: The far edges of a cell, where center and membrane meet and adhere. Sometimes this adhesion worsens: see the red “blebs” surrounding a cell. (courtesy

Today’s episode features a Spanish physics duo! First, we speak with Mariona Esquerda Ciutat, physicist and science educator, about her whiteboard physics videos in Catalan. Hear how important it is to spread scientific knowledge in every language, and then hear Mariona explain the colorful life cycle of stars in English (and a bit of Spanish). Afterward, Ricard Alert Zenon, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, delivers us to the wonderful world of biophysics. It’s a field that describes everything from the mechanics of cell membranes to the elaborate transportation strategies of microscopic organisms.  For example, a thin film of bacteria covers everything around us, with a myriad of species coexisting in their 2D world. How do these separate cells communicate, and how can the whole film act as a single superorganism?

In other news: A new park in Bangkok was designed with flooding in mind, reducing risk in nearby areas by siphoning water into expandable retention ponds. Disaster mitigation meets phenomenal civic architecture!

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

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