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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12/5/17 Show feat. Kieran Bhatia on Hurricane Forecasting and Preparedness & Norbert Cruz-Lebron on the current situation in Puerto Rico

Kieran Bhatia models hurricanes to improve forecasting techniques in the program for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences here at Princeton University. In this episode, he tells us how hurricanes are forecasted, why it’s so difficult and common misconceptions about hurricanes. We discuss this year’s hurricane season and what it does (or does not) say about climate change.

In the last segment, Kieran tells us about how we can prepare ourselves better for hurricanes (NOAA site), his organization Canes on Canes in Florida, which aimed to educate on the science of hurricanes and hurricane preparedness.

Early in the episode, Norbert J. Cruz-Lebron, graduate student in neuroscience and member of the Princeton SACNAS Chapter, jumped on the mic to tell us about the current state of affairs in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Additionally, he tells us about his own experience being in the US while the rest of his family was at their home in PR when the hurricane hit, and shares testimonials from friends and family. (Hopefully he’ll be back on the show next year to tell us about his graduate research!)

You can support the Princeton Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science at @PrincetonSACNAS on Venmo.All donations will go to the Puerto Rico Recovery Fund managed by the Center for a New Economy (CNE) Group, an independent, non-partisan think-tank that advocates for the development of a new economy for Puerto Rico.


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11/28/17 Show feat. Steven Gubser and Frans Pretorius on Black Holes and their “Little Book” of them

In this installment of These Vibes, Stevie speaks with Princeton University physics professors Steven Gubser and Frans Pretorius on their recently released Little Book of Black Holes (Princeton University Press, 2017). The discussion begins where the book ends, at the Epilogue, where the authors read their “Letter to Einstein.” From there we dive in to the definition and formation of black holes, and where they exist in our universe. Professors Gubser and Pretorius tell us about the experimental verification of these weird astrophysical things and answer listener questions like what would happen if a black hole entered our solar system? would we notice? Listen in and check out the book!

In the very beginning of the show, regular guest and science historian Ingrid Ockert joined us to review the stunning new documentary Jane (trailer), about the life and work of Jane Goodall, featuring much unseen footage from her younger years and research. For further reading she recommends Primates and Me, Jane.


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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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11/14/17 Show feat. the Prototype G Team on Robotics!

In this episode of These Vibes, Stevie welcomes three members of the Prototype G girls’ robotics team to tell us about their work together on robotics. They get in to the details of how they build their robots and why! This is the Princeton, NJ area team, but there are groups all around the country. If you’re interested in joining them or starting a team in your area, check out their site!


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2017/11/07 Show feat. Sam Wang on Gerrymandering: Past, Present, and What to do About the Future

Featured image from a cartoon mocking the shape of a Massachusetts gerrymandered district.

In this episode of These Vibes, Professor Sam Wang visited the studio. He’s founder of the Princeton Election Consortium blog, co-host of WooCast’s Politics & Polls, and professor of molecular biology and neuroscience. We discuss his expertise in gerrymandering — what it is, how it came to be such an issue, the current state in elections and the Supreme Court, and what is and can be done to remedy our system.

Science news:


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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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10/24/17 Show feat. Yoni Kahn on particle physics, phenomena, and going beyond our Standard Model

Featured image: Chandra X-ray Observatory Center via Wikimedia Commons

In this episode of These Vibes, Stevie welcomed Dr. Yoni Kahn in to the studio to discuss his work as a phenomenologist and theoretical particle physicist. He’s the kind of theorist that works closely with data, coming up with experiments to test new physical laws. Specifically, his focus is on the Standard Model of particle physics — our current best theory for all the fundamental particles in the universe. But, we know that there’s more to discover! In this interview, Yoni talks us through the history and details of the Standard Model, as well as hints of things beyond, like the search for dark matter.


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