A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.
New Show: Universe of Art
Hey Undiscovered listeners! We’re back to tell you about a brand new show from Science Friday. Universe Of Art is a podcast about artists who use science to take their creations to the next level.Hosted by SciFri producer and musician D. Peterschmidt, each episode of Universe Of Art will focus on a different artist (or scientist) about how science played a role in their creative process, and what we can learn by combining two seemingly unrelated fields together. We’ll hear from astronomers who integrate space into their artwork, drag performers who bring science into their acts, and many others. Here’s a sneak peak.Listen to Universe Of Art wherever you get your podcasts.
07/08/2023 • 2 minutes 17 seconds
New Show: Science Diction
Hello Undiscovered fans! We're here to tell you about a new show we've been working on at Science Friday. Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories behind them.
Hosted by SciFri producer and self-proclaimed word nerd Johanna Mayer, each episode of Science Diction digs into the origin of a single word or phrase, and, with the help of historians, authors, etymologists, and scientists, reveals a surprising science connection. Here's a sneak peek!
08/03/2020 • 2 minutes 7 seconds
These days, biologists believe all living things come from other living things. But for a long time, people believed that life would, from time to time, spontaneously pop into existence more often—and not just that one time at the base of the evolutionary tree. Even the likes of Aristotle believed in the “spontaneous generation” of life, until Louis Pasteur debunked the theory—or so the story goes.
In a famous set of experiments, Pasteur showed that when you take a broth, boil it to kill all the microscopic organisms floating inside, and don’t let any dust get in, it stays dead. No life will spontaneously emerge.
His experiments have been considered a win for science—but according to historian James Strick, they might have actually been a win for religion.
This episode originally aired on Science Frida
11/12/2019 • 20 minutes 21 seconds
Into The Ether
In 1880, scientist Albert Michelson set out to build a device to measure something every 19th century physicist knew just had to be there. The “luminiferous ether” was invisible and pervaded all of space. It helped explain how light traveled, and how electromagnetic waves waved. Ether theory even underpinned Maxwell’s famous equations! One problem: When Alfred Michaelson ran his machine, the ether wasn’t there.
Science historian David Kaiser walks Annie and Science Friday host Ira Flatow through Michaelson’s famous experiment, and explains how a wrong idea led to some very real scientific breakthroughs.
This story first aired on Science Friday.
David Kaiser, Germe
04/12/2019 • 18 minutes 15 seconds
Planet Of The Killer Apes
In Apartheid-era South Africa, a scientist uncovered a cracked, proto-human jawbone. That humble fossil would go on to inspire one of the most blood-spattered theories in all of paleontology: the Killer Ape theory.
According to the Killer Ape theory, humans are killers—unique among the apes for our capacity for bloodthirsty murder and violence. And at a particularly violent moment in U.S. history, the idea stuck! It even made its way into one of the most iconic scenes in film history. Until a female chimp named Passion showed the world that we might not be so special after all.
Erika Milam, professor of history, Princeton University
Agustín Fuentes, professor of anthropology, Not
27/11/2019 • 23 minutes 52 seconds
Mouse’s Vineyard: Update!
Undiscovered is back with a new season this September! In the meantime, we check in on the status of Kevin Esvelt’s plan to fight Martha’s Vineyard’s Lyme disease problem with genetically engineered mice. Has he created his super-mice? And are Vineyarders as gung-ho about the GMO invasion as they were two years ago? We follow up.
Learn more about our original Mouse’s Vineyard episode.
Special thanks to Joanna Buchthal, and to Nantucket band Coq Au Vin for letting us play their song about Lyme disease.
23/08/2018 • 35 minutes 24 seconds
Martha’s Vineyard has a Lyme disease problem. Now a scientist is coming to town with a possible fix: genetically engineered mice.
An island associated with summer rest and relaxation is gaining a reputation for something else: Lyme disease. Martha’s Vineyard has one of the highest rates of Lyme in the country. Now MIT geneticist Kevin Esvelt is coming to the island with a potential long-term fix. The catch: It involves releasing up to a few hundred thousand genetically modified mice onto the island. Are Vineyarders ready?
Kevin Esvelt makes the case for engineered mice, at a public meeting at a Vineyard public library.
(Photo: Annie Minoff)
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27/06/2017 • 29 minutes 1 second
Kurt Vonnegut and the Rainmakers
In the mid 1940s, no one would publish Kurt Vonnegut’s stories. But when he gets hired as a press writer at General Electric, the company’s fantastical science inspires some of his most iconic--and best-selling--novels.
Every snowflake is unique—except they all have six sides. In ice, water molecules arrange themselves into hexagons.
(Courtesy MiSci Museum)
Imagine the Earth has been turned into a frozen wasteland. The culprit? Ice-nine. With a crystalline structure that makes it solid at room temperature, ice-nine freezes every drop of water it comes into contact with, and (predictably) ends up destroying the world. This is the fantastical plot of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 novel, Cat’s Cradle. But the science that
20/06/2017 • 31 minutes 30 seconds
After a senator calls her research a waste of taxpayer dollars, biologist Sheila Patek heads to Capitol Hill to prove what her science is worth.
In December 2015, the fight over science funding got personal for biologist Sheila Patek. She discovered that a U.S. Senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona, had included her research on mantis shrimp in his “wastebook”: a list of federally-funded projects he deemed a waste of taxpayer money. So what did Patek do? She headed to Capitol Hill to make the case to Senator Flake—and to Congress—that blue-sky science is worth the money.
Sheila Patek, Professor of Biology, Duke University
Bryan Berky, Executive Director, Restore Accountability
13/06/2017 • 31 minutes 1 second
Are you just six handshakes away from every other person on Earth? Two mathematicians set out to prove we’re all connected.
You have probably heard the phrase “six degrees of separation,” the idea that you’re connected to everyone else on Earth by a chain of just six people. It has inspired a Broadway play, a film nerd’s game, called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”...and even a No Doubt song! But is it true? In the ‘90s, two mathematicians set out to discover just how connected we really are—and ended up launching a new field of science in the process.
Annie holds one of Milgram’s “Letter Experiment” mailings sent to June Shields in Wichita, Kansas. Accessed at the Yale University archives.
(Credit: Elah Feder)
06/06/2017 • 32 minutes 37 seconds
Sick and Tired
When researchers publish a new study on chronic fatigue syndrome, a group of patients cry foul—and decide to investigate for themselves.
A landmark study on chronic fatigue syndrome sets off a multi-year battle between patients and scientists. On one side, we have a team of psychiatrists who have researched the condition for decades, and have peer-reviewed studies to back up their conclusions. On the other, a group of patients who know this condition more intimately than anyone and set out to expose what they think is bad science.
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30/05/2017 • 30 minutes 12 seconds
Born This Gay
At the turn of the 20th century, a German doctor sets out to prove that homosexuality is rooted in biology—but his research has consequences he never intended.
In pre-Nazi Germany, a doctor named Magnus Hirschfeld sets out to take down Paragraph 175, a law against “unnatural fornication” between men. Hirschfeld’s plan is to scientifically prove that homosexuality is natural, and that lesbians and gay men might be born gay—but his idea ends up falling into the wrong hands.
Party at the Institute for Sexual Science. Magnus Hirschfeld (second from right) is the one with the moustache and glasses. His partner Karl Giese is holding his hand.
(United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
23/05/2017 • 33 minutes 4 seconds
The Meteorite Hunter
Deep in Antarctica, a rookie meteorite hunter helps collect a mystery rock. Could it be a little piece of Mars?
In Antarctica, the wind can tear a tent to pieces. During some storms, the gusts are so powerful, you can’t leave the safety of your shelter. It’s one of the many reasons why the alluring, icy continent of Antarctica is an unforgiving landscape for human explorers.
“It’s incredibly beautiful, but it’s also incredibly dangerous,” says geologist Nina Lanza, who conducted research in the Miller Range in the central Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica for about five weeks in December, 2015. “It’s not like Antarctica is out to get you, but it’s like you don’t matter at all. You are nothing out there.”
Yet, this landscape—unfit for human habitation—is where Lanza and the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program (ANSMET) volunteers find themselves banded together. They are prospecting for meteorites. Embedded in the sparkling blue ice sheets of the An
15/05/2017 • 32 minutes 35 seconds
Boss Hua and the Black Box
A team of social scientists stumbles onto a cache of censored Chinese social media posts—and decides to find out what the Chinese government wants wiped from the internet.
On China’s most influential microblogging platform, a wristwatch aficionado named Boss Hua accuses a government official of corruption. But, his posts aren’t censored. So what disappears into the black box of Chinese censorship...and what stays online? A team of social scientists cracked this question—by mistake—with big data.
(Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)
See the picture that got ‘Smiling Official’ Yang Dacai fired.
09/05/2017 • 37 minutes 17 seconds
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We're a podcast about the left turns, false starts, and lucky breaks that move science forward.