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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6/19/18 Show feat. Bora Yoon on Making Spaces with Sound

Featured image: Voices and sounds resonate through the Princeton University Chapel, as explored by Bora Yoon haunting its stairwells and alcoves.

This week on These Vibes, we open up to music and space with Bora Yoon,¬†experimental multi-instrumentalist and Princeton Department of Music doctoral fellow. Hear Bora’s “sonic surrealism” where architecture meets sound, from the celestial Princeton chapel to the guttural “Little Box of Horrors.” We listen to (and occasionally narrate) the dimensions of these sound installations, wherein Bora mixes recordings of animals, heartbeats, voicemails, and illustrious instruments like wind chimes and music boxes. TalksThe compositions meld tensions, storytelling and environment—thanks Bora for sharing your musical methods in-depth!

In other news:

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

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6/5/18 Show feat. Dr. Arvind Narayanan on Web Privacy and Society Without It

Featured image: When you browse a single website, an array of hundreds of entities may be probing the page, collecting bits of information about you. (Courtesy Ars Technica and Gary Waters)

This week on These Vibes, we have a double header: the show starts off with Dr. Jim Bell, President of the Planetary Society, on his new book The Ultimate Interplanetary Travel Guide. A future of space tourism—hiking the mountains of Mars, skiing the ice of Europa, dining aboard cloud hotels on Venus–may be closer than you think!

Afterward, we are joined by Dr. Arvind Narayanan, professor in Princeton University’s Department of Computer Science and expert on web privacy. There are many reasons a web surfer may want to be discreet about their identity: tracking your online actions may enable personal enemies, corporations, or the government to act against you, or persuade you to take some action. In fact, advances in web tracking enable the array of entities behind each website to gather information about internet-goers and use it against them, by means of targeted advertising, addicting apps, or worse. Hear how canvas fingerprinting can connect your online and offline lives, how all this lack of privacy may shape the society of the future, and why there’s hope that we may be able to fend off the worst if we recognize this as a problem.

If you would like to take charge of your web privacy, take a look at the following extensions that help block trackers within pages:

The playlist is available on WPRB.com or below.

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5/29/18 Show feat. Dr. Luca Mastropasqua on Fuel Cell Carbon Capture and Hydrogen Storage

Featured image: A fuel cell built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This one burns methanol, but others produce energy with hydrogen or natural gas, sorting various byproducts (even such as carbon!) in the meantime. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

This week, it’s our privilege to host Dr. Luca Mastropasqua, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and the GECOS group at Politecnico Di Milano. His research focuses on carbon capture, which can sift carbon out of the emissions of industrial plants before it pollutes the atmosphere. Luca’s research does this not via the mainstream filtering process (which uses energy) but via fuel cells (which provide energy). Hear how this technique may reduce the emissions of fossil fuels by about 90%, and how it dovetails nicely into using molecular hydrogen for energy storage!

In other news:

The playlist is available on WPRB.com or below.

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5/22/18 Show feat. Prof. Sigrid Adriaenssens on Structural Forms and Resilient Architecture

Featured image: the Flamenco ice tower in Harbin, China, designed by architects from China and the Netherlands. Thin shells of ice can be immensely strong! (courtesy Maple Village)

This week’s show features Prof. Sigrid Adriaenssens of Princeton’s Civil Engineering Department. Modern architects must confront many coupled challenges: overpopulation, material shortages, energy conservation, natural disasters… Designing better structures on all these fronts requires transformative solutions, like those provided by Sigrid’s Form Finding Lab. Using simple principles that describe hanging meshes, the group designs thin membrane forms that are efficient, organic, and resilient to extreme loads. Hear how this paradigm shift is making headway on deployable storm surge shields, and how origami-influenced folding might enable flexible buildings that react to their environments.

Play with this fabric physics yourself! Here’s a simulation of a drape, using the same equations as Sigrid’s form finding algorithms (thanks Aatish!). And here’s a visualization with music by Jeff Snyder, with the same fabric model featured prominently.

In other news:

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

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5/8/18 Show feat. Greta Shum on Making Climate Science Digestible

Featured image: WxShift.com, a website by Climate Central, shows your local weather alongside long-term trends indicative of climate change.

This week we interviewed Greta Shum, digital communications specialist at Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. What’s the importance of communicating science? For issues like climate change that are bound to affect most lives on the planet, communication is crucial—even if the subject is complicated and often depressing! Greta will talk about her work packaging climate research findings into web series and articles for the public in her jobs at Climate Central and the Andlinger Center, working with meteorologists, researchers, and science readers in the public to help all sides understand the others. Also featured: the essential practice of listening and what it means that prestigious science journals are in English.

As we mention in the show, check out the Andlinger Center’s distillates (helpful overviews of energy policy) and WxShift, which shows your local weather today and over time to bring the effects of climate change home.

In other news:

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

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4/24/18 Show feat. Jane Baldwin on Why There Are Deserts in Asia

Featured image: A rugged climb up the hills of the Taklamakan Desert, which consumes much of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. (courtesy Zahariz Khuzaimah)

This week we host Jane Baldwin, PhD candidate in Princeton’s Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Dept., who studies the reasons that deserts exist in Asia. Jane first wondered about the changing climate of the steppes of Inner Mongolia, where famous grasslands have slowly morphed to low, dry shrubs. Surprisingly, she found a more fundamental question that needed study first: why do Asian deserts, like the Taklamakan and Gobi, exist in general? Global climate simulations give researchers a crucial tool to study WHY the climate works as it does, so Jane tested various hypotheses about the Taklamakan: does it still exist if you run a simulation without Tibet? Without Europe taking moisture from Asia’s westerly winds? Without the Tian Shan mountains, which lie between the Taklamakan and the Gobi? Tune in for surprising results that hint how important well-placed mountains can be for the climate.

In other news:

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

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4/10/18 Show feat. Sam Daley-Harris on Efficient Grassroots Action

Featured image: An army of heavily-educated volunteers advocates to Congress for a carbon fee and dividend policy in 2016. (Courtesy Citizens Climate Lobby)

This week we interview Sam Daley-Harris, grassroots organizer and coach for advocacy groups, on his philosophy for impacting policy as an average citizen. Most people feel there are critical issues the government needs to act on, but they feel powerless to change anything and therefore don’t speak up. Sam believes that this fear can be overcome by well-organized, educational advocacy groups that train volunteers deeply about an issue. Groups like RESULTS and Citizens Climate Lobby expose their members to curricula that teach them to write op-eds and meet with Congresspeople, regardless of party or beliefs, and over time they develop relationships that make an impact. Sam discusses pitfalls that make some groups ineffective, as well as success stories that show what well-educated volunteers can achieve on many important issues.

In other news:

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

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3/27/18 Show feat. Rebecca Elyanow on Gene Assembly and Tracking Cancer Mutations

Featured image: Genetic variants of breast cancer cells, with different proteins highlighted by fluorescence. Many types of cancer cells coexist within a tumor, mutating more as time goes on. (Courtesy Marc van de Wetering et al., Cancer Research 2001)

Our guest this week was Rebecca Elyanow, PhD candidate at Brown University and Visiting Student Research Scholar in Princeton’s Department of Computer Science, who covered her fascinating work on understanding cancer mutations. All human cells copy DNA when they split, and many of these replications cause mutations in our genes. While these errors are normally corrected, some of them persist and develop into invasive cancers. Tracking these mutations and finding which ones are most harmful is a daunting task—which is why computer scientists like Rebecca write algorithms to sequence the tangled DNA of cancer cells. Hear how gene assembly works in practice (the shotgun method) and how computer science can help us unveil a mutation’s family tree. Plus, we end with a primer on machine learning and possible uses in keeping the government honest.

Listen to the whole recording for a sample of WPRB’s one and only All Vinyl Week, plus news about:

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

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3/13/18 Show feat. Xin Rong Chua on Cloud Convection and the Nuances of Geoengineering

Featured image: Clouds exist throughout the atmosphere, but their heights govern how they act back on the warming climate—and how this works is still up for debate! (courtesy Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

This week we were lucky to host Xin Rong Chua, PhD candidate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton, who read us two cloud cinquains and described her research on convection of clouds above the ocean. Low clouds tend to cool the atmosphere by reflecting sunlight, whereas high clouds keep the earth warm by trapping more heat than they radiate. So, if you add more heat to the ocean and atmosphere (as we do by emitting greenhouse gases), do you get more or fewer clouds? Are they higher or lower than before? Xin explains the possible cloud feedback loops that will warm our future Earth a lot or a little. We end with geoengineering, where we’ll cool the Earth with our own inventions—but how reliable could that be?

Before Xin’s interview, we talk with the stellar Paula Croxson, New York producer for The Story Collider podcast. Listen to hear how a narrative thread can mean the world to us storytelling humans, and why stories are important even to science. (And keep an eye out for new Story Collider episodes each Friday!)

The playlist is available at WPRB.com or below.

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