Episodes

Sep 12, 2016
When we control the DNA.

ENCORE Darwinian evolution is adaptive and slow … millennia can go by before a species changes very much. But with the tools of genetic engineering we can now make radical changes in just one generation. By removing genes or inserting new ones, we can give an organism radically different traits and behaviors. We are taking evolution into our own hands.

It all began with the domestication of plants and animals, which one science writer says created civilization. Today, as humans tinker with their own genome, is it possible we will produce Homo sapiens 2.0?


Asteroids!
Sep 05, 2016
Weighing the risks.

Everyone knows that a big rock did in the dinosaurs, but smaller asteroids are millions of times more common and can also make a violent impact. Yet unlike the bigger asteroids, we’re not tracking them. Find out what we’d need to keep an eye on the size of space rocks such as that which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. And how an asteroid whizzed by Earth in late August 2016, only hours after it had been spotted.


DIY Diagnosis
Aug 29, 2016
Your health in your hands.

Got aches and pains?  Critters in the Cretaceous would have been sympathetic.  A new study reveals that painful arthritis plagued a duck-billed dinosaur.  Scientists impressively diagnosed the animal’s condition without a house call by examining its 70 million-year old bones.

The technology we use for health diagnoses are becoming so sophisticated, some people are prompted to bypass doctors and do it themselves.  Meet a man who had his genome sequenced and then had all 70 gigabytes delivered directly to him so that he could gauge his genetic health.   


Aug 22, 2016
No place to hide.

ENCORE You’re a private person. But as long as you’re on-line and have skin and hair, you’re shedding little bits of data and DNA everywhere you go. Find out how that personal information – whether or not it’s used against you – is no longer solely your own. Are your private thoughts next?

A security expert shares stories of ingenious computer hacking … a forensic scientist develops tools to create a mug shot based on a snippet of DNA … and from the frontiers of neuroscience: mind reading may no longer be the stuff of sketchy psychics.


Are We Over the Moon
Aug 15, 2016
Lunar return on hold.

When astronaut Gene Cernan stepped off the moon in 1972, he didn’t think he’d be the last human ever to touch its surface.  But no one’s been back.  Hear astronaut Cernan’s reaction to being the last man on the moon, the reasons why President Kennedy launched the Apollo program, and why Americans haven’t returned.

Now other countries – and companies – are vying for a bigger piece of the space pie. Find out who – or what – will be visiting and even profiting.  Will the moon become an important place to make money?  


Aug 08, 2016
To heaven and back?

ENCORE There are few enduring truths, but one is that no one gets out of life alive. What’s less certain is what comes next. Does everything stop with death, or are we transported to another plane of existence? First-hand accounts of people who claim to have visited heaven are offered as proof of an afterlife. Now the author of one bestseller admits that his story was fabricated.


Raising the Minimum Age
Jul 18, 2016
How far can technology take us?

ENCORE  We all try to fight it: the inexorable march of time. The fountain of youth doesn’t exist, and all those wrinkle creams can’t help. But modern science is giving us new weapons in the fight against aging. So how far are we willing to go?

Hear when aging begins, a summary of the latest biotech research, and how a lab full of youthful worms might help humans stay healthy.


Microbes: Resistance is Futile
Jul 11, 2016
You are your microbiome.

ENCORE  You are what you eat. Whether you dine on kimchi, carnitas, or corn dogs determines which microbes live in your stomach. And gut microbes make up only part of your total microbiome.

Find out how your microbes are the brains-without-brains that affect your health and even your mood. Also, why you and your cohorts are closer than you thought: new research suggests that you swap and adopt bugs from your social set.

Plus, the philosophical questions that are arise when we realize that we have more microbial DNA than human DNA.


Science Fiction True
Jul 04, 2016
Becoming reality?

ENCORE  Don’t believe everything you see on TV or the movies. Science fiction is just a guide to how our future might unfold. It can be misleading, as anyone who yearns for a flying car can tell you. And yet, sometimes fantasy becomes fact. Think of the prototype cellphones in Star Trek.


Skeptic Check: The Me in Measles
Jun 27, 2016
Evaluating risk.

ENCORE  Wondering whether to vaccinate your children? The decision can feel like a shot in the dark if you don’t know how to evaluate risk. Find out why all of us succumb to the reasoning pitfalls of cognitive and omission bias, whether we’re saying no to vaccines or getting a tan on the beach.

Plus, an infectious disease expert on why it may take a dangerous resurgence of preventable diseases – measles, whooping cough, polio – to remind us that vaccines save lives.


Surviving the anthropocene
Jun 13, 2016
The planet we made.

El mundo está caliente y se pone más caliente aún. Pero las altas temperaturas no son el único impacto que nuestra especie está teniendo en la madre Tierra. La urbanización, deforestación y el depósito de millones de toneladas de plástico en los océanos… todas estas son las formas en las que los humanos están dejando su marca.

Así que, ¿seguimos viviendo en el Holoceno, la era geológica que comenzó apenas hace 11 000 años, al finalizar la última era glacial? Algunos dicen que ya estamos en la era del hombre, el Antropoceno.


How to talk to aliens
Jun 06, 2016
Broadcasting to space.

ENCORE  “Dear E.T. …” So far, so good. But now what? Writing is never easy, but what if your task was to craft a message to aliens living elsewhere in the universe, and your prose would represent all humankind? Got writer’s block yet?

What to say to the aliens was the focus of a recent conference in which participants shifted their attentions away from listening for extraterrestrial signals to transmitting some. In this show, we report on the “Communicating Across the Cosmos” conference held at the SETI Institute in December 2014.


Shocking Ideas
May 09, 2016
Novel uses for electricity.

ENCORE  Electricity is so 19th century. Most of the uses for it were established by the 1920s. So there’s nothing innovative left to do, right? That’s not the opinion of the Nobel committee that awarded its 2014 physics prize to scientists who invented the blue LED.

Find out why this LED hue of blue was worthy of our most prestigious science prize … how some bacteria actually breathe rust … and a plan to cure disease by zapping our nervous system with electric pulses.


Living Computers
May 02, 2016
Erasing the line between biology and technology.

ENCORE  It’s the most dramatic technical development of recent times: Teams of people working for decades to produce a slow-motion revolution we call computing. As these devices become increasingly powerful, we recall that a pioneer from the nineteenth century – Ada Lovelace, a mathematician and Lord Byron’s daughter – said they would never surpass human ability. Was she right?

We consider the near-term future of computing as the Internet of Things is poised to link everything together, and biologists adopt the techniques of information science to program living cells.


Skeptic Check: Your Inner Lab Coat
Apr 25, 2016
Think like a scientist.

ENCORE  Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have a science degree, yet he thinks rationally – like a scientist. You can too! Learn the secrets of being irritatingly logical from the most famous sleuth on Baker Street. Plus, discover why animal trackers 100,000 years ago may have been the first scientists, and what we can learn from about deductive reasoning from today’s African trackers.

Also, the author of a book on teaching physics to your dog provides tips for unleashing your inner scientist, even if you hated science in school.


Moving Right Along
Apr 18, 2016
The universe in motion.

ENCORE  You think your life is fast-paced, but have you ever seen a bacterium swim across your countertop? You’d be surprised how fast they can move.

Find out why modeling the swirl of hurricanes takes a roomful of mathematicians and supercomputers, and how galaxies can move away from us faster than the speed of light.

Also, what happens when we try to stop the dance of atoms, cooling things down to the rock bottom temperature known as absolute zero.


Surfeit of the Vitalist
Apr 11, 2016
The diversity of evolution.

ENCORE  In the century and a half since Charles Darwin wrote his seminal On the Origin of the Species, our understanding of evolution has changed quite a bit. For one, we have not only identified the inheritance molecule DNA, but have determined its sequence in many animals and plants.

Evolution has evolved, and we take a look at some of the recent developments.


Tale of the Distribution
Apr 04, 2016
The influence of extreme events.

ENCORE  We all have at least some musical talent. But very few of us can play the piano like Vladimir Horowitz. His talent was rarefied, and at the tail end of the bell curve of musical ability – that tiny sliver of the distribution where you find the true outliers. Outliers also exist with natural events: hurricane Katrina, for example, or the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Such events are rare, but they often have outsized effects.


Who's Controlling Whom?
Mar 14, 2016
Microbes v. humans v. robots

ENCORE  A single ant isn’t very brainy. But a group of ants can do remarkable things. Biological swarm behavior is one model for the next generation of tiny robots. Of course, biology can get hijacked: a fungus can seize control of an ant’s brain, for example. So will humans always remain the boss of super-smart, swarming machines?

We discuss the biology of zombie ants and how to build robots that self-assemble and work together. Also, how to guarantee the moral behavior of future ‘bots.


Land on the Run
Mar 07, 2016
A moving story of plates.

ENCORE Hang on to your globe. One day it’ll be a collector’s item. The arrangement of continents you see today is not what it once was, nor what it will be tomorrow. Thank plate tectonics.

Now evidence suggests that the crowding together of all major land masses into one supercontinent – Pangaea, as it’s called – is a phenomenon that’s happened over and over during Earth’s history. And it will happen again. Meet our future supercontinent home, Amasia, and learn what it will look like.