1/15/19 Show feat. Lili Cai and Anne Mennen on Fear Memories in Rodents and Humans

Featured image: Memories lodge themselves all across your brain, and are altered each time we remember them. (Courtesy MIT News)

On this week’s show, colleagues in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute Lili Cai and Anne Mennen dive into their research on fearful memories. We investigate where memories are physically stored in our heads, and what we can do to strengthen or weaken a memory—since for some, memories prolong the trauma of an unforgettable event. In their graduate research, Lili and Anne gather brain data from their subjects through different means: Lili in rats via direct neurosurgery, and Anne in humans with sophisticated brain imagers. Together, they test our models of memory and learn how we can manipulate what we remember for our own good.

In other news: Immediately after the clock ticked into 2019, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons flew by a foreign object, Ultima Thule, which is the furthest solid body from the sun we have studied up close. Seeing this primordial snowman tells us how small rocks built planets in the early solar system — it’s a time capsule from 4 billion years ago!

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

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01/29/19 Show – the Facetime bug, AI and Criminal Justice, Galloping Geckos, NASA and more

In this show, Stevie was back on the mic after a long hiatus, loading up with science news and fresh music.

Science news:


 

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11/27/18 Show feat. Kelsey Ockert on Adventures in Memory

Featured image: An important section of the brain, the hippocampus, looks a bit like a seahorse. The Østby sisters use this metaphor throughout their journey in neuroscience. (Courtesy Greystone Books)

Public librarian Kelsey Ockert is back with another TVR2C book giveaway! Today it’s Adventures in Memory: The Science and Secrets of Remembering and Forgetting by Hilde & Ylva Østby. Meet a cast of characters with different perspectives on how we remember, both from the science they do and the brain differences they exhibit. Neuroscientists have burrowed their way down to locating individual memories in mice brains, and can now trigger those memories by hooking up brain neurons to external inputs. This, and many other neuroscience anecdotes, come through our book review and subsequent giveaway (thanks as usual to the Princeton Public Library!).

In other news:

  • The InSight Lander has successfully landed on the planet Mars, ready to dig deep into the Martian past by examining its soil layers.
  • Massive supernova explosions concoct the bulk of our universe’s heavy elements. It turns out turbulence in the explosive clouds may trap fusing particles for longer, sustaining the reaction and producing more heavy atoms.

The full playlist is available online at WPRB.com or below.

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12/4/18 Show feat. Astrophysicist Alwin Mao on Dark Matter Hurricanes

Featured image: The Magellanic Stream spans a vast stretch of our sky, and it is weighted down with clumps of dark matter (courtesy Nidever et al., NRAO)

This week’s episode delivers the descriptive Alwin Mao, astrophysicist and researcher on cosmic ray pressure. Alwin follows galactic meteorology, and one weather event that intrigues him is the ongoing dark matter hurricane our part of the Milky Way is experiencing. These torrents of dark matter were brought by miniature galaxies that collided with ours in the past. But since dark matter doesn’t interact with atoms, we don’t notice a thing — and scientists only recently learned about the hurricanes by studying the motion of nearby stars. Thanks to Alwin for bringing these outer space dynamics to life!

In other news: A set of new black hole collisions has been revealed by the awe-inspiring LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave telescopes, giving a more thorough glimpse into the nature of a “usual” cosmic collision.

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

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11/20/18 Show feat. Kelsey Ockert on the Re-Origin of Species: Reversing Extinction with Science

Featured image: A rare image of the po’ouli, a now-extinct species of Hawaiian songbird last seen in 2004. The last known male failed to breed in captivity, but its body and genes have been cryogenically preserved in California. (Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The quest to bring back extinct species isn’t all about reviving mammoths 11,000 years after the Ice Age. Humans are causing a massive global extinction, affecting thousands of species due to habitat loss and changing climate, so it’s all we can do to stem the tide by preserving species in any way we can. Right now, a multifaceted band of scientists are gathering DNA of endangered creatures and using science to revive previously dead branches of the tree of life.

All of this comes forward in the great new book, “The Re-Origin of Species” by Torill Kornfeldt. Just translated from Swedish, the chapters chronicle different scientists’ quests to preserve life as we know it, covering the unbelievable possibilities already in play, as well as the moral dilemmas imposed by destroying and reanimating life. Thanks to Kelsey Ockert of the Princeton Public Library for the book review and giveaway!

In other news:

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

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10/30/18 Show feat. Kelsey Ockert on Black Hole Photography and the Event Horizon Telescope

Featured image: A simulated image of the dynamic region surrounding a black hole, showing off a “bump” that builds up due to magnetohydrodynamic motion. (Courtesy Dexter et al., Astrophysics Journal 2010)

How do we know what a black hole looks like? We have many theories about these ominous objects that are backed up by evidence, but one thing we haven’t done is seen a black hole—due to their tiny size and total darkness, nobody has been able to take a picture of one. We haven’t had a telescope sharp enough to see the black hole, until now: and it’s only a small and determined band of scientists, currently developing a telescope the size of the Earth, to break through the barrier and image a black hole for the first time. This week, we focus on the story of the Event Horizon Telescope, a massive undertaking whose results are due in the near future.

Kelsey Ockert is back on These Vibes for a book giveaway about this phenomenal scientific project. Check out “Einstein’s Shadow: A Black Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable” by Seth Fletcher! Thanks to the Princeton Public Library for the free book.

In other news:

The playlist is online at WPRB.com or below.

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10/23/18 Show feat. Kelsey Ockert on Lidar: The Future of Laser Imaging

Featured image: Todd Neff’s new book shows how Lidar has, for example, revolutionized Aztec archeology by making it possible to map the rainforest floor underneath the trees. (courtesy Todd Neff)

This week is the first of a series of book giveaways we are bringing to our show (look out for more in coming weeks), thanks to Kelsey Ockert of the Princeton Public Library! Kelsey describes to us the history and future of Lidar, a laser imaging technology that’s enabling new research and technology in many unexpected ways. The book we discuss is “The Laser That’s Changing the World: The Amazing Stories behind Lidar, from 3D Mapping to Self-Driving Cars” by Todd Neff.

In other news:

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

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9/4/18 Show feat. Iris Stone on Nanostructures, Organic Electronics and Tagging the Brain

Featured image: Electronic skin can tell a computer about heat and pressure on a surface, just like our skin tells our brain. New flexible circuits by Dr. Jonghwa Park imitate biological systems with new electronic materials. (courtesy HighT3ch)

This week’s episode brings in Iris Stone, incoming Princeton University graduate student in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and former researcher in nanomaterials. Iris started her science career in the Vora Lab at George Mason University, working with organic crystals that have unique applications in biotechnology, solar cells, and many other technologies. These charge transfer crystals, formed by intricate arrangements of organic molecules, can have convenient properties for carrying electronic signals, structural strength or flexibility, and more. Since they are organic (soft, unlike silicon computer chips) they could be used for the future of biotech—electronic contacts, wearable technology, medical implants… See how Iris connects this physics research into a focus on neuroscience, starting with artificial brain neurons, made out of organic electronics and replenishing parts of the brain lost from injury or disease, and eventually diving into the chemistry of the brain. Hear how local and global hormone buildup can affect our thoughts and moods, and how we might “tag” neurotransmitters with nanomaterial technology to follow their course through the brain.

Before the interview, hear about book that guides your intuition the macroscale processes occurring in our world: Factfulness by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Do you know where people live and how they live? Do you know that the idea of an impoverished third world is an antiquated model that lost touch with reality decades ago? We highly recommend this book as a method of checking your assumptions and developing principles for relating to demographics and life on earth!

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

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6/12/18 Show feat. Chris Tokita on Division of Labor, Simulating Behavior and Scientists in Politics

Featured image: Studying ant behavior is easy when each individual is painted different colors and your lab has fancy video tracking software. (Courtesy Daniel Charbonneau)

This week, we feature Chris Tokita, graduate researcher in Princeton’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, who tells us about his work on division of labor and social networks. Computational biology lets us model behavior in a simulation: by picking a few rules and seeing if virtual groups behave like real groups in experiments, we can test what rules are most important for group functioning. Chris applies this strategy to clonal raider ants, which all have the same genetics but nonetheless form division of labor where some ants nurse, some forage, some clean… A simple rule where each ant feels a “threshold” for performing a task seems to explain this diversification, which makes the colony more successful. But there are unanswered questions concerning the clustering of insect social networks and the transfer of information through the colony that will keep Chris busy tuning his simulation—eventually, his studies might lead us to more generalizable facts about human society itself.

Listen through the end for the full story on Chris’s political work too, both at the federal Science and Technology Policy Institute and the local New Jersey General Assembly!

In other news:

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

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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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