2/7/17 Show. Short and full of news and tunes

Short show due to the new 6-8pm time slot and a sports interruption. We give an update on science events in the area and share some science news, as well as some new music, as always.

Science news:

  • First results from the NASA twin study with astronaut Scott Kelly and his brother (who stayed on Earth), Mark. Right now the analysis of the data is in the early stages, but there are potentially interesting results with telomeres – the ends of the DNA chromosome whose diminishment tends to correlate with aging.
  • Brian presented an interesting study about differences in gene behavior between genders and implications for disease susceptibility.


1/31/17 Show feat. Patrick Phillips on his novel Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America


Featured image: A photo from the Atlanta Constitution, showing three National Guardsmen defending six black prisoners, whose tale forms the core of Blood at the Root (Patrick’s research began with this photo).

This week’s show starts with Drew University professor and author Patrick Phillips, taking a deep look at his new book Blood at the Root. The novel covers the expulsion of all black residents from Forsyth County, Georgia, which began in violence in 1912 and lasted up through the 1980s. In his expansive historical research, Patrick talks with the descendants of whites and blacks who participated in the evictions, and his book analyzes the deep societal divide that still hangs over modern America. How did this twisted series of events happen, and what can its still-lingering consequences tell us about race in the USA?

Otherwise, the show features exclusively Islamic music, and shares science news (from Saturn to pond goop in Washington) and local science events as always.

Specially recommended extra content:


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


1/24/17 Show feat. Mallika Randeria on imaging electrons and quantum behavior


Featured image: Ripples of electron waves, imaged by Mallika in the Yadzani Lab on a bismuth crystal. (see the scientific paper here)

In today’s show we speak with doctoral researcher Mallika Randeria on her work in the Yazdani lab at Princeton University. As she explains in the interview, her research

A bismuth crystal, as seen in intense detail above.

explores the quantum behavior of electrons in a magnetic field. In fact, she uses a powerful scanning-tunneling microscope to actually image the electrons! Last year her group became the first to ever accomplished this and they got some astounding and (almost) unexpected results! Tune in to the show if you want to learn about the weird quantum behavior of electrons and what they actually look like up close when they’re exhibiting quantum effects, how a scanning-tunneling microscope works (and about the one here at Princeton), and some of Mallika’s other research imagining the phenomenon of superconductivity.

Mallika and cohort in the Yadzani lab with their vibration-proof scanning tunneling microscope.
Later in the show, Brian overviews some notable examples of scientists who became politicians. Though they’re few and far between, they include names like the late John Glenn, German leader Angela Merkel, and Illinois senator Bob Foster. As always, we pepper the show with science news, events (featuring Science on Saturdays and the Princeton Public Library), and music from all over the world.

Get your fill of extras below:

  • Facts matter to people, as long as the facts fit into their preferred idea about the world–as shown in a new psychological metastudy.
  • Mallika’s research was featured in this popular science article: read to learn what a quantum Hall liquid is!
  • Australia used to be covered with giant mammals, but new fungus fossils indicate that humans are the culprits of their mass extinction.
  • The AAAS puts out a weekly overview of science news, including this bit about protecting walruses.

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


1/17/17 Show feat. Mark Miller on wind turbines and scaled fluid dynamics + Lian Zhu on curiosity


Featured image: Wind turbines mess with air flow, but the process can only be modeled in sophisticated labs or in computer codes like this Purdue University software.

We welcome Mark Miller, a PhD candidate in Prof. Hultmark’s Gas Dynamics Lab, who knows all about the aerodynamics of wind turbines. Wind energy is a crucial component of the future’s energy landscape, but learning how to optimize their engineering is a work in progress. How should a windmill farm be laid out to maximize each turbine’s output? How can scientists model the air flow around windmills in lab-sized models? And finally, how does wind energy fit into the grid?

Before Mark’s interview an hour in, listen for science news about ant laziness to polar ice shelves melting. Later in the show, former guest Lian Zhu returns to dive into the philosophy of curiosity (detailed in Carlo Rovelli’s new book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics).

Resources to enjoy:

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


1/10/17 Show feat. Tamara Patton on Virtual Reality in Nuclear Arms Control and Ingrid Ockert on Arming Mother Nature

Featured image: Dinosaur feather trapped in amber. Ryan McKellar, Royal Saskatchewan Museum
Tamara Patton, Nuclear Futures Lab

In this week’s installment of These Vibes, we spoke with Tamara Patton, doctoral researcher at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and in the Nuclear Futures Lab, on her work using emergent technologies, specifically virtual reality, in nuclear arms control. She also delves in to the prospect of nuclear proliferation and arms control under the Trump presidency and the upcoming nuclear weapon ban treaty taking place this March at the UN.

For more background on the topic of nuclear weapons, listen to our past shows with Sébastien Phillipe on verification technologies and Julien de Lanversin on nuclear archaeology. In the show, Tamara recommends checking out the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists if you’d like to stay up to speed on this topic.

Science historian Ingrid Ockert begins by mentioning a relevant piece by Alex Wellerstein in the Washington Post describing the very few obstacles to President Donald Trump utilizing the US’s store of nuclear weapons, should he want to. It’s a good read.

Next, Ingrid discussed the book Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism, by Jacob Darwin Hamblin. Ingrid describes how the discovery of climate change and global warming has its root in military weaponization of nature.

Additionally, Ingrid informed us that an award-winning film about nuclear futures, Containment, can currently be found on the PBS website.


As usual, at the start of the show we told tale of some science events in the NJ area and science news:

Thank you for listening!



1/3/17 Show feat. Jacob Schwartz on nuclear waste and sending warnings to future civilizations


Featured image: The Vaalputs nuclear waste site in South Africa, guarded (for the present) with fences and signposts. Can this strategy ward off the next 10,000 years of civilization? (Courtesy Mail & Guardian)

This week features Jacob Schwartz, a PhD candidate in plasma physics here at Princeton, who brings us a deep concern: what should we do with our nuclear waste? Fission plants produce radioactive byproducts over time, and these concoctions will be dangerous to life for millennia. At the WIPP facility in New Mexico, scientists are testing many methods for safe storage of radioactive materials. Even more intriguingly, reports from WIPP contemplate strategies for warding off future civilizations, communicating across the centuries that an area is unhealthy to inhabit. How can we send messages on the timescales of the pyramids? How far do duty or ethics push us to confine our nuclear waste?

Elsewhere in the show, we cover the geology of northern Iraq and the dangers it poses to a dam near Mosul. Plus, look forward to a scientific 2017 with epigenetics, artificial intelligence and biometric identification. Throughout you can enjoy lots of jazz, blues, and music from Western Africa.

Resources to enjoy:

  • The full, 350-page Sandia report on waste storage at WIPP is easily accessible online.
  • The “Ten Thousand Years” episode of the 99% Invisible podcast covers the same topic of WIPP’s nuclear containment, but with relevant music!
  • Official reports on the Mosul dam’s condition are raising concerns that gypsum under a dam could endanger millions of people.
  • Artificial intelligence may boom in 2017, but it also poses risks we ought to be aware of.
  • The Long Now Foundation, which includes Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is also interested in communicating with the future, but by means of building a durable mountaintop clock.
  • The Ray Cat Solution says that if we can’t convince people to avoid nuclear waste with signs, we could do it with mythology and genetically-engineered color-changing cats.
  • A documentary Into Eternity explains Finnish strategies on the waste storage problem, and another film Containment goes into much more detail about WIPP.

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


12/20/16 Show feat. Matt Grobis on scientist-public relations + 2016 in review


Featured image: Famed science advocate Bill Nye debates creationist Ken Ham on evolution in one of the most watched scientific debates in recent memory. (Courtesy NBC)

In this final show of the year, Matt Grobis (a regular guest and graduate student in EEB) comes on to talk through the urgent topic of public outreach by scientists. In a media landscape where evidence doesn’t always count, how can scientists defend their research to taxpayers and the government? Can we accurately gauge public understanding of science, and whether the public is divided over our research? Finally, we contemplate echo chambers in society and the accusation that the scientific community itself is an echo chamber.

On top of that, listen for yogurt science, holiday/science events, and an overview of some of this year’s biggest discoveries: from gravity waves to the superparticle that wasn’t, to new prime numbers, planets and moons.

Thanks for listening to These Vibes Are Too Cosmic all through 2016! It’s our goal to keep up the quality science news and entertainment through the exciting discoveries of 2017. Never hesitate to contact us with show ideas if you have them!

For further information:

The playlist for the show is online at WPRB.com or below.



12/13/16 Show feat. Thomas Macrina on Connectomes and Kasey Wagoner on the Equivalence Principle

Featured image is from Eyewire the connectome project run by Sebastian Seung at Princeton University.

Image in the Mixcloud embed above is from the Human Connectome Project at the University of Southern California.

This show is a little different. The plan was to have author and professor Patrick Phillips on for the first hour, alas there had to be a rescheduling at the last minute. Instead we will be interviewing Patrick Phillips on his book Blood at the Root at the end of next month (January 2017), so stay tuned.

Hour 1: Lots of music and some science news, including self-driving cars.
Hour 2: Thomas Macrina on machine learning, neuroscience, and mapping our brain – our connectome.
Hour 3: Kasey Wagoner, lecturer in physics at Princeton, on the bedrock scientific principle called the Equivalence Principle. In this discussion, Kasey tells us about the history, the principle’s importance, and current tests.



12/6/16 Show feat. Yann Koby on trade economics and the US election + Ingrid on trusting scientists


Featured image: a cargo ship, ferrying a pile of our everyday goods across the Pacific Ocean. Increases in ship traffic attracted the attention of Eric Stone, photographer.

This week, Yann Koby of Princeton’s Department of Economics comes on the air, focusing on the economics of the US manufacturing sector. We examine economic modeling and prediction, especially concerning the flow of jobs in and out of the US due to trade with other countries. How do trade policies between large nations affect the structure of our economy? How does job availability in the US affect politics? Specifically, Yann theorized about the recent election: Trump bet his candidacy on the connection between globalization and jobs. Was he right that increased trade put Americans out of work? What effects on the US and world economy might we expect out of the upcoming administration? Listen in to the interview (starting an hour in to the recording) to find out!

Later in the show, regular guest Ingrid Ockert reviews a lecture series by Naomi Oreskes on scientists as Merchants of Doubt. When have scientists peddled misinformation, and when should we trust them?

Other relevant info and background:

  • Yann Koby maintains a blog, visible here (some articles are in English!).
  • Solar panels have broken even, making as much energy as it’s cost to produce them for decades.
  • We’ve long theorized about dark matter, but have never seen it. Some suspect it might not exist at all – hear Stevie’s careful analysis in the show.
  • Genetic engineering is making plants grow faster – demonstrated in tobacco but useful for fighting worldwide hunger.

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


11/22/16 Show feat. Lian Zhu on cellular engineering and optogenetics + Harrison on Blood Falls glacier


Featured image: HeLa cells, all derived from one human, being imaged with fluorescence. Proteins tagged with light-sensitive tails travel through the cell. (courtesy NIH)

This week, I’m happy to have interviewed Lian Zhu, a Princeton PhD candidate in Chemical and Biological Engineering. Her fascinating research on the cell’s nucleolus will bring us through the science of RNA creation and how cell parts can exist without membranes. She’ll explain how light can engineer cellular dynamics, and how she’s used this optogenetics technique to stiffen or loosen various proteins inside the cell nucleus–a feat which mimics the cell’s own formation and dissociation of globs inside the nucleus. Track proteins and affect their motion with light: it’s a hands-on way to look inside the cell! Her interview starts an hour into the track above.

As an added bonus, Lian shared this video of cells inside a worm egg dividing until they form a multicellular animal – and she’s seen this happen under a microscope with her own eyes.

Preceding the main interview (0:40 on the recording), Harrison Blackman covers the rust-red Blood Falls, an Antarctic glacier whose bacteria produced a horror-movie set. Afterwards, we share science news about space telescopes and craters on Earth, and the whole show features music from all over the Middle East for flavor. Enjoy!

The Blood Falls glacier in Antarctica.

Relevant links:

See our event calendar for upcoming events, and check out the playlist for the show at WPRB.com or below.