2/13/18 Show feat. Isabela Morales on Princeton and Slavery, Intertwined Institutions

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)

Graduate researcher Isabela Morales of Princeton’s Department of History comes on this episode to introduce a valiant project: a full historical exploration of Princeton’s connections to slavery. Oddly, such ties had never been documented before the project began in 2013, but they appear in droves: the first nine presidents of Princeton owned slaves at some point of their lives, often as they presided over the Ivy League campus. After New Jersey formally banned new slaves in 1804 (though some remained enslaved here until 1865), Princeton remained a friendly haven for Southerners with “traditional” views. One famous researcher even recruited a free black servant to help with laboratory work, sharing none of the scientific credit.

For more on the project, visit their website, play with their data visualizers, and read the many excellent articles available: The Princeton & Slavery Project

In other news:

Thanks for listening! The playlist can be found below and at WPRB.com.

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1/30/18 Show feat. Dr. Emily Kern on the Many Historical Theories of Human Evolution

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:

As for the music, our playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.

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1/16/18 Show feat. Florencia Pierri on Exotic Animals in the New World

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.

In other 🐢 news:

The playlist is available on WPRB.com or below.

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1/2/18 Show feat. Dr. Michael Gordin on Fringe Science: Demarking the Boundaries of Mainstream

Featured image: Carl Sagan, science populist and advocate of education against pseudoscience, in conversation with Immanuel Velikovsky, author of Worlds in Collision. (Courtesy Everything’s Electric)

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.

In other news:

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

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12/19/17 Show feat. Charles Swanson on Lasers and Plasma Processing

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.

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12/12/17 Show on Whale Ears, the Color Blue, and France’s New Climate Scientists

Featured image: A “wine-dark sea?” What color did Homer think the ocean was? (Courtesy QueenMobs)

This week’s These Vibes episode is short and sweet! Listen for quick highlights on:

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

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11/21/17 Show feat. Dr. Paul Halpern on his new book, The Quantum Labyrinth


Featured image: John Wheeler gives one of his infamous lectures, full of art and impossible ideas about the universe (some of which turn out to be true). (Courtesy ScienceMag)

Today, we interviewed Paul Halpern, science author and professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, to talk about his new book The Quantum Labyrinth. This story starts right here in Princeton in 1939, detailing the meld of minds between famed physicists Richard Feynman and John Wheeler. The two scientists worked together on pioneering quantum electrodynamics; both participated in the Manhattan Project in very different ways; and later collaborated on pushing modern physics toward where we are today. Listen to hear the full story on quantum fluctuations, wormholes, quantum computers, black holes, and how one electron might travel back and forth in time and make up the whole universe (or not).

Also recently in science:

  • The “brazil nut effect” where big objects tend to rise to the surface above smaller ones seems to be helpful in preventing river erosion.
  • Humans learn to see certain colors only when their language gives them the means to do so: for example, very few cultures could see blue until the modern era.
  • The Moon’s origin story just got more complicated, as scientists have new evidence that the early magma-moon was too liquidy for the mineral on its surface to float to the top.

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

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10/31/17 Show on Fringe Science: Paranormal TV and Parapsychology in Academia

Featured image: A random number generator at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab, purported to change behavior when you push it with your mind. (courtesy PEAR)

In this Halloween show, we examine a question fundamental to science: what is rigorous enough to be real science? Pseudoscience, or fringe science, is difficult to pin down and sometimes yields revelations in scientific understanding. However, in its worst forms it misleads and distracts from real discovery. Learn from Ingrid Ockert how “In Search Of” became a hit show in the 60s and 70s to Carl Sagan’s chagrin, and how the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory studied the influence of minds over matter on the Princeton campus for 28 years. All this closes with musings adapted from Princeton’s Michael Gordin, and a discussion on how fringe science only exists as a shadow of the scientific enterprise.

In other news:

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

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10/17/17 Show feat. Dr. Jason McSheene on Embryonic Organ Development and Medical Writing

Featured image: Directed fluid flow, caused by waving cilia around proto-organs, acts as a signal that tells the cells what proteins to produce. Voilà: a heart is born! (Courtesy Biologists.org)

This time on These Vibes, we welcome Dr. Jason McSheene, PhD from Princeton University’s Department of Molecular Biology and professional medical writer. Jason walks us through the insanity that is embryonic development: how does a growing bundle of cells know to grow organs? How does it turn various proto-organs into a spleen, kidneys, a heart? It all has to do with fluid flow and protein growth, a subject Jason mastered during his PhD work at Princeton. After this, we talk about Jason’s communicative side, and how he has transitioned into the medical industry as a disseminator of diabetes information. How do you keep physicians, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies on the same page? It’s all in the episode!

Before Jason comes on: Stevie and Brian share a big primer on gravitational waves and LIGO-Virgo’s newest discovery: a neutron star collision (observed via GRAVITY) accompanied by gamma ray bursts and heavy-element production (observed via LIGHT). Hear why this is worth freaking out about!

Other interesting news that we mentioned but didn’t have time for:

The playlist is available on WPRB.com or below.

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9/26/17 Show on Ice Cores and Former Earths

Featured image: A photo of an ice chunk dug up from a glacier in Alaska; this chunk came from 682 feet below the surface. (courtesy Climate.gov and Mike Waszkiewicz).

In this show, we zoom in on the science of ice core drilling. Scientists have long examined the layers of ice sheets, which are about two miles thick over Greenland; different summer ices and winter snows make yearly trends visible to researchers, so that we can track the climate over the last 100,000 years. How do researchers manage to camp out in the harsh Greenland tundra for months at a time to dig up miles of ice core? What do we learn about the tumultuous climate from this venture? Much of the discussion is based on an excellent book, The Two-Mile Time Machine by Richard B. Alley.

In other news:

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

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