The Idea Factory – Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

Bell Labs thrived from the 1920s to the 1980s, when it was most innovative and productive institution of the twentieth century. Long before America’s brightest scientific minds began migrating west to Silicon Valley, they flocked to the Bell Labs campus in the New Jersey suburbs. At its peak, Bell Labs employed nearly fifteen thousand people, twelve hundred had PhDs. Thirteen eventually won Nobel prizes. How did they do it?  How can we learn from their successes, so we can do it here in Colorado?  New Your Times journalist Jon Gertner has written a book that provides some answers.  He calls it:  The Idea Factory – Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.  Inside that book, you can learn how radar came to be, and lasers, transistors, satellites, mobile phones, and much more.   How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender spoke with Mr. Gertner about his new book.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon and Jim Pullen
Producer: Tom McKinnon
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Geologic Carbon Sequestration // Clean Technology

Dr. Robert Finley at the ADM injection site

Geologic Carbon Sequestration (Start time 4:53): As carbon dioxide emissions continue to skyrocket, researchers are scrambling to find reliable ways to curb emissions of the most persistent greenhouse gas. One of the experimental approaches is geologic carbon sequestration – trapping CO2 from power plants and other sources and pumping it thousands of feet underground in rock formations. The technology looks promising, but it also had drawn controversy. One of the more unusual research projects is in Decatur, Illinois, where CO2 used in the fermentation process for producing ethanol at Archer Daniel Midland’s corn-processing plant is being injected deep into the Illinois Basin. Co-host Susan Moran talks with Dr. Robert Finley, a geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey and principal investigator of the Decatur project.

Colorado Clean-tech Industry (Start time 16:14): It’s not news that we are in an economic downturn.  Nor is it news that the world is facing monumental environmental problems.  How about a way to kill two birds with one stone? Co-host Tom McKinnon discusses how with Wayne Greenberg, director of the Fellows Institute, which is sponsored by the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association.  Greenberg was the former president of E Source in Boulder, and he was the associate dean of the Tulane Law School.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Mountain Wildfires

With record high temperatures along with record low snowpack, the Colorado Front Range has been ravaged by increasingly expensive wildfires.  For today’s show, How on Earth brings in two fire experts for a panel discussion.  John Daily is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado and the director of the Center for Combustion and Environmental Research.  Michael Kodas is a journalist and principal at Narrative Light.  He has been reporting on fire for over a decade and is currently working on a book on megafires.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer: Tom McKinnon
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Shlender
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Potable water//Electric vehicle infrastructure

Dr. Jörg E. Drewes

Potable Water (start time 5:31). Here on the Front Range, the last three months have been the driest on record. Usually, we get about 8 inches of rain through this time period. This year, it’s more like three inches of rain. A dry year raises a question that’s always a worry in Colorado — what can people do to get enough water? The question is even more urgent because more people are moving to Colorado . . . which means, they will demand . . . more water! As for where to get that water when supplies are scarce, Jörg Drewesat the Colorado School of Mines is leading a plan to build city water systems so that we save drinkable water for, well, drinking. And we use less clean water for flushing toilets, washing laundry, and watering lawns.

This way to the juice!

Electric vehicle Infrastructure (start time 14:25). We cover electric vehicle technology a lot on How on Earth, but equally important issues to the vehicles themselves are the infrastructure required to make it work and the government policies. Rocky Mountain Institute, which has an office in Boulder, is an organization that has thought deeply about these issues. With us in the studio is Ben Holland, manager of the Project Get Ready.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon and Susan Moran
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender and Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Distributed Energy // Pluto’s Occultation

In today’s How On Earth we have two features:
Distributed Energy (start time 5:46): Enjoying the twinkling stars without nighttime light pollution is a luxury for many of us. We can flick on the switch when we return home, after all. But think what would it be like if you were among the 1.5 billion people around the world who lack to centralized electricity. Having no lights at night keeps many of them  poor and illiterate, and it can create a public health and national security crisis. How On Earth co-host Susan Moran interviews two experts in the field of distributed and decentralized energy.  Rachel Kleinfeld is co-author (along with Drew Sloan) of a new book called Let There Be Light: Electrifying the Developing World with Markets and Distributed Energy.” She is CEO of the Truman National Security Project. Stephen Katsaros is  founder of Nokero, a Denver-based startup company that makes solar LED light bulbs.

Marc Buie of SWRI in Chile, photo courtesy of Sky and Telescope

Pluto’s Occultation (start time 16:31): It is a good time these days for watching solar system. Last week there was a solar eclipse, next week is a lunar eclipse and a transit of Venus (where Venus can be seen moving across the disk of the Sun).  Next week there is yet another solar system event of one object moving in front of another, though it’s not visible without the aid of a telescope. On June 4th Pluto will pass in front of a relatively bright star, an “occultation” event that will send teams of astronomers scrambling around the world to observe.  One team member is How on Earth’s own Joel Parker, an astrophysicist with the Boulder office of the Southwest Research Institute. He’ll be deployed to an observatory in New Zealand to observe the occultation.  Joel talks with How On Earth co-host Tom McKinnon on the eve of his adventure about the occultation and why scientists are interested in observing it. (Here’s an article and video about last year’s occulting Pluto.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon, Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Producer: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Boulder Robotics // Compassion

Image courtesy of Boulder is for Robotics

 

Boulder is for Robotics (start time 4:00). “It starts really with the fact that a lot of robotics materials, sensors and manufacturing are here in Colorado.” Boulder as a hub for robotics? You bet. KGNU’s Tom McKinnon reports from the first Boulder is for Robotics meetup, which drew over 100 participants. Learn about some local projects, from robots for agriculture to robots for kids.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user gelinh, used under Creative Commons

The Neurology of Compassion (start time 12:50). “Someone on the street asks you for money. Do you give or not? What drives that decision?” Researchers Jessica Andrews-Hanna and Yoni Ashar from University of Colorado’s Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab talk to us about the causes and effects of compassion. The first of their studies on compassion looks at charitable giving. What determines whether a person will decide to donate part of their earnings? They also talk to us about their current study, which involves using brain scans to evaluate the effect of compassion meditation.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon & Beth Bartel
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineers: Jim Pullen and Shelley Schlender
Additional contributions: Breanna Draxler & Susan Moran
Executive producer: Shelley Schlender

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Algae oil omega-3 // Little Ice Age

algae samples growing in a DSM lab; photo courtesy of DSM

Algae Oil Omega-3 (start time 5:28).  Omega-3 dietary supplements are all the rage. Many studies claim that this family of fatty acids benefits your brain, heart and vision, among other things. A non-fish source that already is infused in milk and other foods we consume is oil derived from marine algae. Cohost Susan Moran interviews Dr. Bill Barclay, a microbial ecologist who manages the Boulder division of Martek Biosciences (now DSM). He talks about how he discovered how to produce DHA omega-3 oils from microalgae, and how they can boost our health in an environmentally sustainable way (or at least free of concern about overfishing).

Gifford Miller collecting dead plant samples from beneath a Baffin Island ice cap; photo courtesy of Gifford Miller

Little Ice Age (start time 15:25). Shortly after the Middle Ages, something strange happened.  Suddenly, the entire world got a little cooler.  And then it hung on. The cooling lasted over 500 years, all the way to the 1800s.  Those five cool centuries are known as the Little Ice Age.  How it happened has been a mystery that modern climate scientists have worked hard to figure out, and one they’ve argued about.  Now, a University of Colorado Boulder-led study appears to have finally solved the mystery.  HOE’s Shelley Schlender interviews the lead author of the study, CU-Boulder Professor Gifford Miller.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon, Susan Moran
Contributor: Breanna Draxler
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Nicotine Patches // Restoring the Desert

Do nicotine patches really help you stop smoking?  Shelley Schlender interviews a scientist who says they don’t.  Lois Biener and her colleagues at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University  have done a study that  indicates that out in the real world, people who use nicotine replacement therapy in the hopes of an easier “quit” don’t fare any better than people who use will power and community support.  Some people who use nicotine replacements are actually MORE likely to relapse.  (Extended interview version here).

Great plumes of dust rising from the desert forms an iconic image of the West, but much of that dust is a result of humans altering the desert soil structure.  Several Boulder scientists are investigating a new technology that may allow us to restore the desert, and sequester large amounts of carbon at the same time.  Tom McKinnon interviews Jim Sears, president of  A2BE Carbon Capture and  Bharath Prithiviraj, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado.  They are developing a large scale deployable technology that would enable agricultural aircraft to re-inoculate and restore arid soils using indigenous strains of soil-crust-based cyanobacteria. For additional information on airborne soil crust reseeding, its research and its applications please contact jimsears@algaeatwork.com for an overview paper on the topic.

Co-hosts: Tom McKinnon and Shelley Schlender
Engineer: Joel Parker
Producer: Tom McKinnon
Executive producer: Shelley Schlender

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Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

 

We hear about a book called Logicomix, featuring Christos Papidimitriou, who is one of the world’s leaders on computational complexity theory, and what happens when he consents to be interviewed by two 10-year olds.  And in the headlines, we delve into a new report published in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine that indicates exercise helps kids do better in school.  We fly to the moon with two GRAIL spacecraft, which stands for “Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory.”  And we invite you to sign up for the free, “Mini Med-The Clinical Years,” being offered at the CU Medical Center.

Nora and Lee

Hosts: Joel Parker, Susan Moran
Producer: Shelley Schlender
Engineers: Tom McKinnon, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Clean Water Struggles // 2011’s Big Sci-Enviro-Tech Stories

Mining retention pond in Colorado. Image courtesy of the EPA.

Clean Water Struggles. Co-host Susan Moran interviews journalist Judith Lewis Mernit about how small rural communities in the West are struggling to afford complying with federal water-quality standards as they relate to water pollutants. Mernit wrote an article on the topic in High Country News’ Dec. 12 issue. She explores the unintended consequences of complex federal  standards, which place a disproportionately heavy burden on small communities.  A big bone of contention, and a source of a flood of lawsuits, is a provision in the Clean Water Act that forces states to assess their impaired waterways and set maximum limits, or loads, for nitrates and other pollutants in them.

Bastrop, Texas fire. Photo courtesy of Michael Kodas.

2011’s Big Sci-Enviro-Tech Stories. In the second feature co-hosts Susan Moran and Tom Yulsman are joined by How On Earth’s Tom McKinnon and Shelley Schlender, as well as photojournalist Michael Kodas (author of a forthcoming book on megafires) to reflect on 2011’s major science, technology and environment stories. The list includes extreme weather events, record-high carbon dioxide levels, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Boulder’s November vote to consider municipalizing its electricity, and advancements in proteomics. Stay tuned for plenty more coverage of these topics on How On Earth in 2012. (Scroll down to download the audio file of the show.)

Hosts: Susan Moran, Tom Yulsman
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineers: Tom McKinnon, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Tom McKinnon

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