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big picture science setiThe Big Picture Science radio show - modern science research through lively and intelligent storytelling. Science radio doesn’t have to be dull.

Big Picture Science takes on big questions by interviewing leading researchers and weaving together their stories of discovery in a clever and off-kilter narrative style.

What came before the Big Bang? How does memory work? Will our descendants be human or machine? What’s the origin of humor? We ponder these questions daily … and expound on them weekly.

Our one-hour radio magazine reveals science as an adventure.

Seth Stoshak SETIBut wait! There’s more!

Are you a doubting Thomas? Good. Join us as we separate science from pseudoscience - and facts from the phony - in Skeptic Check, our monthly sceptic episode devoted to critical thinking.

Seth has a degree in radio astronomy, and now, as a Senior Astronomer, Seth is an enthusiastic participant in the Institute’s SETI observing programs.

He also heads up the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI Permanent Study Group.

Broadcast with kind permission. http://radio.seti.org/


Big Picture Science Show Archive:

Radical Cosmology

Monday 18th February 2019

400 years ago, some ideas about the cosmos were too scandalous to mention. When the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno suggested that planets existed outside our Solar System, the Catholic Inquisition had him arrested, jailed, and burned at the stake for heresy. Today, we have evidence of thousands of planets orbiting other stars.  Our discovery of extrasolar planets has dramatically changed ideas about the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe.  Modern theories about the existence of the ghostly particles called neutrinos or of collapsed stars with unfathomable gravity (black holes), while similarly incendiary, didn’t prompt arrest, of course.  Neutrinos and black holes were arresting ideas because they came decades before we had the means to prove their existence. Hear about scientific ideas that came before their time and why extrasolar planets, neutrinos, and black holes are now found on the frontiers of astronomical research. Guests: Alberto Martínez – Professor...


Keeping Humans in the Loop

Monday 11th February 2019

Modern technology is great, but could we be losing control?  As our world becomes more crowded and demands for resources are greater, some people worry about humanity’s uncertain prospects.  An eminent cosmologist considers globe-altering developments such as climate change and artificial intelligence.  Will we be able to stave off serious threats to our future? There’s also another possible source of danger: our trendy digital aids.  We seem all-too-willing to let algorithms classify and define our wants, our needs, and our behavior. Instead of using technology, are we being used by it – to inadvertently become social media’s product?  And while we may be skittish about the increased data our technology collects, one sci-fi writer imagines a future in which information is a pervasive and freely available commodity.  Guests: Martin Rees – Cosmologist, astrophysicist, and Great Britain’s Astronomer Royal.  Author of On the Future: Prospects for Humanity....


Skeptic Check: Astrology Ascending

Monday 4th February 2019

The fault is in our stars.  And according to astrology, so is our destiny, our moods, and our character.  Mars may be in retrograde, but interest in the ancient practice of astrology is rising.  The fact that it is not science is irrelevant to those who claim “it works.”  Find out why “what’s your sign” is replacing “what do you do?” as an icebreaker, the historical roots of astrology and whether its truth-value matters today, and what conclusions we can draw from the many studies examining the full moon’s influence on human behavior. It’s our monthly look at critical thinking, but don’t take our word for it! Guests: Banu Guler – CEO and co-founder of Co-Star Astrology Andrew Fraknoi – Astronomy professor at the Fromm Institute at the University of San Francisco and The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Francisco State University. Eric Chudler – Research associate professor, department of bioengineering, University of Washington, Seattle,...


Meet Your Robot Barista

Monday 28th January 2019

(repeat) Move over Roomba.  Café robots are the latest in adorable automation. And they may be more than a fad. As robots and artificial intelligence enter the workforce, they could serve up more than machine-made macchiato.  Digital workers are in training to do a wide variety jobs. Will humans be handed the mother of all pink slips? We sip lattes in a robot café and contemplate the future of work. Some say the workplace will have more machines than people, while others maintain that A.I. will augment, not replace, human workers. Meanwhile, future intelligent automation may not come from Silicon Valley.  Why China wants to become the global center for A.I.    Plus, NASA’s first bipedal humanoid robot - Valkyrie, a prototype of a construction worker for use on Mars - teaches us that moving like a human is not as easy as it looks. Guests: Martin Ford – Futurist who writes about the impact of robots and artificial intelligence on society; author of “The Rise of the...


Rip Van Winkle Worm

Monday 21st January 2019

Your shower pipes are alive.  So are your sinks, books, and floorboards.  New studies of our homes are revealing just what species live there – in the thousands, from bacteria to flies to millipedes.  Meanwhile, life keeps surprising us by popping up in other unexpected places: the deep biosphere houses the majority of the world’s bacteria and the Arctic tundra has kept worms frozen, but alive, for 40,000 years. We embrace the multitude of life living on us, in us, and – as it turns out – in every possible ecological niche.  Most of it is harmless, some is beneficial, and it’s all testament to the amazing diversity and adaptability of life.  In addition, the hardiest organisms suggest where we might find life beyond Earth. Guests: Rob Dunn – Professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University and at the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen. Author of “Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the...


True Grit

Monday 14th January 2019

Without sand, engineering would be stuck in the Middle Ages.  Wooden houses would line mud-packed streets, and Silicon Valley would be, well, just a valley.  Sand is the building material of modern cities, and we use more of this resource than any other except water and air.  Now we’re running out of it.  Hear why the Roman recipe for making concrete was lost until the 19th century, and about the super-secret mine in North Carolina that makes your smartphone possible.  Plus, engineered sand turns stormwater into drinking water, and why you might think twice about running barefoot on some tropical beaches once you learn about their biological source. And, a special report from the coast of Louisiana where livelihoods and ecosystems depend on the successful release of Mississippi sand from levees into sediment-starved wetlands. Guests: Vince Beiser – Journalist and author of “The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization” Joe Charbonnet –...


Sci-Fi From the Future

Monday 7th January 2019

Are you ready to defer all your personal decision-making to machines? Polls show that most Americans are uneasy about the unchecked growth of artificial intelligence. The possible misuse of genetic engineering also makes us anxious. We all have a stake in the responsible development of science and technology, but fortunately, science fiction films can help. The movies Ex Machina and Jurassic Park suggest where A.I. and unfettered gene-tinkering could lead. But even less popular sci-fi movies can help us imagine unsettling scenarios regarding over-population, smart drugs, and human cloning.  And not all tales are grim.  The 1951 film, The Man in the White Suit, weaves a humorous story of materials science run amok.    So, grab a bowl of popcorn and join us in contemplating the future of humanity as Hollywood sees it! Guest: Andrew Maynard – Physicist and professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University.  Author of Films from...


The X-Flies

Monday 31st December 2018

(repeat) Insect populations are declining.  But before you say “good riddance,” consider that insects are the cornerstone of many ecosystems.  They are dinner for numerous animal species and are essential pollinators.   Mammals are loved, but they are not indispensable.  Insects are. Meanwhile, marvel at the extraordinary capabilities of some insects.  The zany aerial maneuvers of the fly are studied by pilots.  And, contrary to the bad press, cockroaches are very clean creatures.  Also, take a listen as we host some Madagascar hissing cockroaches in our studio (yes, they audibly hiss). Plus, how insects first evolved … and the challenges in controlling lethal ones.  Are genetically-engineering mosquitoes the best way to combat malaria? Guests: Erica McAlister – Entomologist, Senior Curator of diptera in the Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum in London, author of “The Secret Life of Flies” Jessica Ware – Evolutionary biologist and entomologist...


Space: Why Go There?

Monday 24th December 2018

(repeat) It takes a lot of energy and technology to leave terra firma. But why rocket into space when there’s so much to be done on Earth?  From the practical usefulness of satellites to the thrill of exploring other worlds, let us count the ways. The launch of a NOAA weather satellite to join its twin provides unparalleled observation of storms, wildfires, and even lightning.  Find out what it’s like to watch hurricanes form from space. Meanwhile, more than a dozen countries want their own satellites to help solve real-world problems, including tracking disease.  Learn how one woman is helping make space accessible to everyone. Plus, now that we’ve completed our grand tour of the Solar System, which bodies are targets for return missions and which for human exploration?   Guests: Sarah Cruddas – Space journalist, broadcaster, and author based in the U.K. Jamese Sims – GOES-R Project Manager at NOAA Danielle Wood – Assistant professor, MIT Media Lab, Director of...


Yule Like This

Monday 17th December 2018

Fir tree needles embedded in carpet are a holiday headache.  Why not decorate a genetically-modified, needle-retaining tree instead?  It’s just another way that science is relevant to the holidays.  We have more. How about science experiments on fruitcake?  There’s a competition that includes launching it with a pneumatic device, running a heavy electric current though it, or blasting it with a blowtorch.  Meanwhile, physics provides insight into those tricky how-does-he-do-it questions about Santa’s delivery rounds.    Finally, step away from the relatives and consider the implications of the winter solstice.  Enjoy a better holiday through science! Guests: Jenna Gallas – Special Event Coordinator, Manitou Springs Chamber of Congress, Colorado Laura Kramer – Manager of Science Conductors, Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond Lilian Matallana – Research Associate, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, Raleigh...