3/26/19 Show feat. Michael Lemonick on Science Journalism + Climate Politics (w/ Policy Punchline)

Featured image: A helicopter tours the rapidly changing landscape of the Eqi Glacier in Greenland. How do journalists bring this gravitas to their publications? (courtesy Michael Kappeler)

policyPunchlineIn this jointly-hosted episode, we team up with the Policy Punchline podcast, a production run by Tiger Gao, to interview the notorious Michael Lemonick, Princeton lecturer and Scientific American Opinion Editor. Tune in to our discussion on science journalism, climate change, technology, and confidence in the future, guided by Mike’s trove of anecdotes from a career in writing about scientific progress. Is the average person ever going to care deeply about science and research? What is the role of the journalist in boosting public enthusiasm? Do we have any public-relations recourse against climate change — and if not, what do we need to do instead? Chew on these questions throughout this thought-provoking conversation, courtesy of Tiger, Mike, and the spirit of collaborative radio!

In other news:

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

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3/12/19 Show feat. Prototype G on How to Run an All-Female Robotics Team

Featured image: A member of the Prototype G team wields a competition robot, “Beyoncé,” before the round begins. (Courtesy Prototype G)

This episode, we have an enriching visit with two robot enthusiasts and FIRST Tech Challenge competitors, Sanjana and Prital, of the local all-girls robotics team Prototype G. This group of middle- and high-schoolers learns to engineer, construct, and program a completely independent robot, designed to win a detailed competition. From the ground up, they master skills like computer-aided drawing, industrial machining, Java coding, and the slang and skills of robotics (lead screws, tracks and treads…). Prototype G has a history of learning from others, and has helped many young engineers develop awesome skills over the years. Look into FIRST Robotics yourself if you are an interested student!

In other news:

  • Though 3D printing may reinvent many manufacturing processes, it’s got its limitations… But recently, scientists have cleverly learned to print multiple materials at once, opening the door to many new uses for the technology.

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

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4/09/19 Show feat. Annette Zimmermann on Algorithmic Injustice

In this show, Dr. Annette Zimmermann joins Stevie in the WPRB studio. Annette is a political philosopher with Princeton University’s Center for Human Values and Center for Information and Technology Policy. We discuss artificial intelligence — what it is and what it isn’t — ethics, fairness, and how these topics come together in our world today. In particular, the current focus of her research is in the area of algorithmic injustice. This is the way through which algorithmic decision making systems (e.g. an AI computer program) could result in imbalanced outcomes for different societal groups.

Interview begins at 50 minutes.

Annette Zimmermann and her colleague (and previous guest of the show) Bendert Zevenbergen recently wrote a post for the CITP blog Freedom to Tinker on AI Ethics: Seven Traps. The piece is meant to be a “resource for readers who want to understand and navigate the public debate on the ethics of AI better, who want to contribute to ongoing discussions in an informed and nuanced way, and who want to think critically and constructively about ethical considerations in science and technology more broadly.” Indeed, it’s a great follow-up read for those interested in exploring these topics further.

Also mentioned in the show was prior work by ProPublica on algorithmic injustice. You can find articles on the topic here and a bit more here.

Science News:


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3/5/19 Show feat. Kelsey Ockert on “The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist”

Featured image: Glial cells are the structural glue that holds together our brain neurons—and we wouldn’t know much about them without the hard work of Ben Barres. (courtesy RStudio)

3fcollid3dbooks_covers_026isbn3d978026203911626type3dIn this All Vinyl Week episode, we welcome our friend Kelsey Ockert from the Princeton Public Library for a book giveaway! This time, it’s the posthumously released Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist by Stanford neuroscientist Ben Barres. Ben researched glial cells, a central but poorly understood building block of the nervous system, which he found to be tied to protective myelin growth, as well as nerve structure and repair. This understanding led to profound success, but Ben experienced severe sexism before his female-to-male transition, and extreme worry that coming out as a transgender scientist would endanger his career. Nonetheless, Ben’s success continued, and he partnered his research career with a direct confrontational approach toward a lack of diversity in science. Read this moving and revealing autobiography for a new look on how the scientific community operates, and how it could benefit from becoming more inclusive.

Thanks to MIT Press for contributing the book for our giveaway this week!

In other news:

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

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2/26/19 Show feat. Dr. Chris Smiet on Science Poetry

Featured image: Les Horribles Cernettes, a group of CERN scientists and engineers, films a music video for their song “Collider” amid Cray supercomputers at the Large Hadron Collider. (courtesy Les Horribles Cernettes)

chris20smiet20color1Welcome back to PPPL plasma physicist and topologist Dr. Chris Smiet, who told us about food before and returns with another niche favorite: poetry about science! Lyricism forces writers to be clear and exact with their words, all while incorporating rhythm, humor, and emotion. Writing this way, scientists condense their ideas and pick out the most important themes, entertaining readers while leaving them with the essence of the work. Chris leads us through his own forays into scientific poetry, summarizing each of his academic publications with a poem and sharing the results on air. We also explore the dynamic community of science lyricists out there, many of whom publish online, including:

  • Tim Blais (show @ 1:30): A capella covers of pop songs with lyrics about string theory, organic chemistry, and nanobots
  • Alpinekat (show @ 0:09): Writer of several particle physics raps and former researcher at CERN
  • Les Horribles Cernettes (show @ 1:08): A band of CERN scientists and, incidentally, the subjects of the first image on the internet!

In other news, listen towards the end of the show for a reading from Mark Miodownik’s Stuff Matters, a fantastic book about materials (the precursor to a book we recently gave away, Liquid Rules).

In recognition of Black History Month, we featured the biographies of several African American physicists, including Robert Ellis, Shirley Jackson and Sylvester Gates.

As usual, the playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.

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03/19/19 Show feat. Bendert Zevenbergen on the Internet, Regulation, and Ethics in Tech

Featured Image: Barrett Lyon, The Opte Project Mapping the Internet (2003), MoMA. Opte is a free, open source project, initiated by Lyon with the goal of making visual representations of metaphysical spaces.

In this show, Stevie brings Bendert Zevenbergen in to the WPRB studio. Ben is a professional specialist at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values and Center for Information and Technology Policy, as well as Oxford University’s Internet Institute. In the past, Ben was a practicing information technology lawyer in Europe.

Throughout the show they discuss the Internet (what is it really), why regulating it is hard – try as some government’s might, power dynamics in tech and tech policy, and much more along these lines. Interview begins at 51 minutes in.

Science news:


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2/19/19 Show feat. Dr. Mark Miodownik on Liquids and Fluidity All Around Us

Featured image: Liquid acrylic artwork poured and frozen, leaving a record of its motion in the permanent solid. (Courtesy Nancy Wood)

We are so fortunate to welcome author and material scientist Dr. Mark Miodownik to our show this week! A professor at University College London, Mark runs a lab studying self-healing materials that can make the future more efficient—but in his spare time he writes books! Hear about his newest release, “Liquid Rules,” which covers the wondrous world of liquids through the lens of an airplane ride (kerosene, ink, and caffeine to name a few…). Mark flew to New York to meet us for this weekend chat, and he brings his sense of humor and storytelling from the book to his live persona. Listen carefully for an amazing take on how we “solidify” as we grow old. Thanks to Princeton Public Library and Kelsey Ockert for setting up the interview and book giveaway!

In other news:

  • Breathing in smoke from forest fires can have lifelong deleterious effects, even if you’re in utero at the time. A study of pregnant Singaporeans in 1997 revealed their exposed children were stunted as a result.
  • A new upgrade for the LIGO gravitational wave observatory, called Advanced LIGO+, will make the instrument seven times more sensitive and maybe even enable one observation per day (vs. 11 up until now).
  • Slavery still occurs in the modern world, often at sites that are distinguishable on satellite images. Scientists are trying to automate analysis to hunt down potential slavery operations and send in ground personnel to investigate.

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

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1/8/19 Show feat. Kelsey Ockert on Hedy Lamarr and The Only Woman in the Room

Featured image: A modern-day submarine communication system relying on satellites and buoys; such an arrangement was impossible during the torpedo crises of WWII. (Courtesy Engadget)

Welcome back to our friend and librarian Kelsey Ockert! She brings us the new historical fiction novel, “The Only Woman in the Room” by Marie Benedict, which covers famous Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr. Known for her dramatic escape from the Nazis and subsequent celebrity life, Hedy was also a crafty inventor, though she is only now being recognized for her seminal contributions. During World War II, Hedy worked with a partner, George Antheil, to improve torpedo communication systems and thus sink more German submarines. Though the technique was never deployed in the war, the tricks Hedy developed were later crucial for enabling WiFi and Bluetooth technologies, both of which rely on “frequency shifting” for transmitting encrypted signals.

Take a look at The Only Woman in the Room to get a more thorough feel for the life, times, and triumphs of Hedy Lamarr; or check out the documentary Bombshell. Thanks to Princeton Public Library and Kelsey Ockert for sharing the book review, and for enabling our book giveaway this week!

In other news:

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

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1/22/19 Show feat. Justin Ripley on Calendars and Exotic Compact Objects

Featured image: An artist’s conception of a higher-dimensional wormhole, connecting two distant places through a contortion of spacetime. (Courtesy Quanta Magazine)

In a New Year’s special, Justin Ripley (Princeton University PhD Candidate in Physics) introduces us to 2019 in a show on calendars and alternatives to black holes. First, how do we make calendars to cope with the fact that it takes Earth a fractional number of days to orbit the sun? Justin describes how the Pope had so much to do with remaking our calendar—his concern stemmed from accuracy and the fact that Easter was slipping in the old system. Afterwards, we get into exotic compact objects, Justin’s ongoing academic research, which poses a simple question: What if there aren’t black holes? Scientists are toying with Einstein’s equations of general relativity, attempting to see what other objects might exist at dense points in space besides black holes—without succumbing to the time-bending weirdness of singularities and event horizons!

Stay tuned til the end for a teaser on how this all relates to gravitational wave astronomy!

In other news:

  • A total lunar eclipse captured the frigid midnight hours of North and South America on January 21, 2019. But why is the eclipsed moon red? It’s all due to a lensing effect by the Earth’s atmosphere!
  • With tiny backpack units and a flock of swallows, we’re learning more about how seasonal bird migration works, and how heroic flight schedules are being shifted by climate change.
  • Scientists can now map out where stars are being born the most in our nearby universe. Turns out, dynamic galactic clouds shaken by our Milky Way are violent furnaces for star formation, with rates shooting up once the clouds near our galaxy.

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

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12/11/18 Show Feat. Kelsey Ockert on the Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth

Featured image: A rotting log supports an entire ecosystem, from base recyclers to apex predators. (Courtesy Rachel Ignotofsky)

Another featured book giveaway this week: Kelsey Ockert brings us The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth, written and drawn by Rachel Ignotofsky. In captivating page-by-page diagrams of complex natural ecosystems, Ignotofsky illustrates the diversity of life while showing the interdependence of all organisms. See how Andean mountainscapes and underwater reefs support themselves, and what modern threats endanger each ecosystem the most.

The book was gifted to a lucky listener courtesy of the Princeton Public Library.

In other news:

  • The mysterious weather event, El Niño, disturbs the planet’s equilibrium once every few years. But a new class, El Niño Modoki, is enhanced by climate change and is overtaking the old as a typical global pattern.
  • By combining volcanic activity maps with artificial intelligence, we are teaching computers to predict new eruptions and save lives — but how smart are computers at reading our tectonic plates?

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

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