Quantum Computers

P1020271Quantum Computers [starts at 7:05] Dr. David Wineland has worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, for 38 years. In 2012, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with France’s Dr. Serge Haroche for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”.  Dr. Wineland and his colleagues use electromagnetic fields to trap individual ions for long periods of time, and lasers to place the ions in quantum superposition states. Superposition is like being both here and there at the same time.

Superposition, if taken literally (as many physicists believe it should, although some disagree), results in some very strange behaviors, like in a thought experiment designed by Erwin Schrodinger. Schrodinger’s thought experiment describes how a cat in a box can both dead and alive at the same time.  Dr. Wineland talks with How On Earth’s Jim Pullen about the connection between his work and Schrodinger’s famous cat. He says quantum computers are in the news.

In a two part series in early 2013, Jim Pullen also interviewed Dr. Wineland on the occasion of the award of his Nobel Prize (on the physics and the human side of winning the Nobel Prize). 

Host, Engineer, Producer: Joel Parker
Additional contributions: Jim Pullen, Jane Palmer, Beth Bartel, Kendra Krueger

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1964 Alaska Earthquake // Neuroscience of Dying

F3.mid1964 Alaska Earthquake (start time 04:37) This week 50 years ago, in 1964, the Beatles were huge, Alaska had only been a state for a mere five years, and the theory of plate tectonics was in toddlerhood. This Thursday, March 27, also marks the 50th anniversary of the magnitude 9.2 Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.

This earthquake changed our thinking about how the world works by showing us the hard way that tsunamis can arrive before the ground even stops shaking, that we can look in sedimentary records to recognize past great earthquakes offshore in places like the Pacific Northwest, and that these huge earthquakes rip the Earth open along a plane rather than in bits and pieces. What you’ll hear on today’s show is just the tip of the seismic iceberg: How the earthquake confirmed subduction, which is where one tectonic plate plunges under another. Beth Bartel speaks with Dr. Mike West, the Alaska State Seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, about his recent paper, “Why the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake Matters 50 Years Later,” published in Seismological Research Letters.

near-death-brain-676472-Neuroscience of Dying (start time 12:38) If there’s one thing more certain than taxes—pardon the reminder—it’s death. It may be certain, but it’s still one of life’s biggest mysteries. On today’s show, we explore what neuroscience can tell us about chemical and hormonal releases that can occur as we near the threshold of death.

For instance, many people have written about so-called near-death experiences. It’s when your heart stops. You walk effortlessly toward a tunnel. You see a blast of white light. You might call it Heaven. Visions like these that people report they’ve had have some biochemical underpinnings.

To help us understand the limited but fascinating body of scientific research regarding the neurobiology and chemistry of dying, Susan Moran talks with Dr. Ilene Naomi Rusk. Rusk is a psychologist who specializes in neuropsychopharmacology and co-directs The Brain and Behavior Clinic in Boulder.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Susan Moran
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Jane Palmer and Ted Burnham

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1964 Alaska Earthquake – Extended Version

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake. To commemorate the quake, we’re posting this extended version of the interview we broadcast on March 25, 2014, with Dr. Mike West, the Alaska State Seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Center. How On Earth host Beth Bartel talked with Dr. West about his recent paper, “Why the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake Matters 50 Years Later,” published in Seismological Research Letters.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the topics we covered:

  • How this earthquake fit in to the still-young idea of plate tectonics.
  • How geodesy–the study of the shape of the Earth and how it changes–helped nail this event down as a subduction earthquake.  (Also: How the simplest explanation is not always the right one.)
  • Monitoring: Where we were then, where we are now.
  • Why we should look to Alaska to test out earthquake early monitoring systems.
  • How this quake led us to see that the same thing could–and has–happened off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Local tsunamis, and what we should do about them.
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Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You

Riskin_bookWelcome to the Spring Pledge Drive edition of How On Earth. I’m this quarter’s Executive Producer, Jim Pullen.

We, the How On Earth team, encourage you to take a different take on the world, to examine assumptions, ideas and evidence critically. The great philosopher of science Karl Popper, a champion of the essential role of refutation in science, wrote in The Poverty of Historicism,

For if we are uncritical, we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find confirmations, and we shall look away from and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories.

Consider our relationship with the rest of the natural world… Do we humans have a special vitality that sets us apart or can we be best understood as just another smart ape? It’s an essential question. In our feature interview, our guest scientist, bat biologist and Animal Planet host Dan Riskin, challenges us to reconsider–humorously, disgustingly, creepily, scarily–our perceptions of nature. Dan fields questions like, what’s wrong with ‘natural’ marketing? Are killer whales cuddly? Should we feel sympathy for bed bugs? Is a father’s love the same for humans as for water buffaloes? How we can acknowledge nature in its rich complexity and have a just and loving world beyond the grip of natural selection? All this and botfly on the brain.

Dan got me thinking–a good thing–and I think he’ll get you thinking too!

Your support during KGNU’s pledge drives is critical to keeping us on the air, so a huge thanks to our listener-members who pledged during the drive! If you haven’t yet joined the team, now(!) is the right time to fortify The Show That Makes You Smarter and community radio, KGNU! Pledge securely online at kgnu.org or call 303-449-4885. Pick up one of our great science book thank-you gifts, too.

Many thanks to Beth Bartel, Maeve Conran, and Joel Parker for hosting the pledge drive show! (Go here for the pledge show with the rich banter.)

Thanks again!

Jim and the How On Earth team

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Plants in Space // Relativity

Former undergraduate researcher Elizabeth Lombardi talks with Professor Barbara Demmig-Adams in the greenhouse on the roof of the Ramaley building at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Plants in Space (start time 04:36) What would you miss if you were to spend an extended time in space—driving a car? Going to the movies? Hiking? Playing with your dog? Gravity, maybe? Or maybe something as simple as eating good, nutritious vegetables. How On Earth’s Beth Bartel speaks with University of Colorado undergraduate researcher Lizzy Lombardi about harvesting healthier veggies for our astronauts. Or, as we like to think about it, plants in space.

What Is Relativity? An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter by Jeffrey Bennett Relativity (start time 13:30) Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity in 1905 and his general theory in 1915. Special relativity revealed bizarre and powerful ideas, including the famous equation E=mc2, but the basic theory hinges on a single realization: all observers, no matter how fast they are moving, always measure the same speed of light in space. A decade later, general relativity, the result of Einstein’s “happiest thought” that “the gravitation field has only a relative existence” unseated Newton’s law of gravitation. General relativity has passed every observation trial—so far. Relativity is important in everyday experience, for example enabling the incredible accuracy of the Global Positioning System, but the theory, especially the general form, can be a tough mathematical challenge. Boulder astrophysicist Dr. Jeffrey Bennett’s just-published book, What Is Relativity? An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter, gently straightens the curved spacetime. Join Jeff and host Jim Pullen live in the studio to learn why ‘black holes don’t suck’!

 

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Jane Palmer

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Beringia // Dolphins & Climate Change // The Ogallala Road

Beringia_land_bridge-noaagovBeringia (start time 0:55). We present an excerpt of  Shelly Schlender’s  interview with University of Colorado scientist John Hoffecker, lead author of a recent paper in Science magazine about the Beringia land bridge and the people who lived there 25,000 years ago.  The full interview can be found here.

 

Dolphins & Climate Change (start time 4:40). Dr. Denise Herzing, the founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, has been building relationships with Atlantic Spotted Dolphins for 28 years. meet-dolphins2 Her quest to learn whether dolphins have language, and to learn that language, is notable for its longevity. But her relationship with them is remarkably respectful, too. We last spoke to Dr. Herzing in the spring of 2012, about her book Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years With Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas. We’re very glad that she’s with us again, to help us learn about how large marine mammals may be responding in unusual ways to changes in the oceans.

the-ogallala-road-coverThe Ogallala Road (start time 15:15).  We often hear about how the Colorado River is running dry. The Western  states that rely on its flowing water are struggling to reckon with how its depleting reservoirs will satiate growing  populations. You’ve probably seen images of the white “bathrub rings” at Lake Powell and Lake Mead that expose the water line rings of years ago.  But there’s an equally dramatic and dangerous drop in an invisible source of water. That’s the Ogallala Aquifer – an underground basin of groundwater that spans eight states on the High Plains, including Colorado. Nearly one third of irrigated cropland in the country stretches over the aquifer. And the Ogallala yields about a third  of the ground water that’s used for irrigation in the U.S.  The story of the Ogallala’s depletion is a very personal one for author Julene Bair. She lives in Longmont, but years ago she learned that the family farm in Kansas that she inherited had been a big part of the problem. Julene has written about her journey, including her desire to make the farm part of the solution. Julene joins us on the show to talk about her new book  The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning.

Hosts: Jim Pullen, Susan Moran
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions:  Shelley Schlender

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How Native Americans Came to Be – Extended Version – Beringia

Alaska Shrub/Willow Tundra

Alaska Shrub/Willow Tundra

I’m Shelley Schlender for How on Earth.  Here’s an extended version of an interview about how Native Americans came to be.  It’s about a CU-Boulder study that appeared in Science Magazine in February 2014, and promptly made headlines around the world.  The study involves top-notch detective work that shows how, almost 30,000 years ago, a major Ice Age trapped Asian explorers on a land bridge between Asia and Alaska for 10 THOUSAND years.  Back then, the “Beringia” (bare-IN-gee-ah) land bridge was 30 miles long and 600 miles wide. Glaciers had buried Northern America, but Beringia was just warm enough, the trapped explorers survived and thrived.  They stayed in that pit stop for so many thousands of years, it gave time for the inevitable mutations that can happen in DNA to be concentrated and become distributed throughout the entire Beringian community, which probably included a few thousand people.  When the glaciers finally receded around 15,000 years ago, that DNA signature was with the small band of “Beringians” who then began settling in the Americas.  Their settlements were successful.  Their numbers grew over time to become the millions of people today who still carry “Beringia” in their DNA. Today, we call that distinct, Beringian DNA proof that someone’s ancestors were “Native Americans.”

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Tracing Methane’s Source in Drinking Water // Safe Place for Captive Wolves

lee-stanish__120by180Methane in Drinking Water (start time 05:36) Flaming water faucets were infamously exposed in the documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2. The water isn’t catching fire–methane in the water is. People are deeply concerned that methane, dredged from kilometers down, is leaking into our drinking water supplies through poorly constructed and maintained oil and gas wells, but methane can be produced by living organisms much closer to the surface too. How can we tell where the methane in the water is coming from? One way is to look at stable isotopes of carbon, but the tests are expensive and require a lot of expertise. But our guest Dr. Lee Stanish explains to host Jim Pullen that she is working on much cheaper ways to trace the source of the methane. Lee is a Research Associate in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She’s trying to raise money for her research through crowd-sourcing–learn more here.

Apollo-KWHaven for Captive Wolves (start time 14:25) Right now in the United States, about a quarter of a million wolves live in captivity and fewer than 10,000 wolves in the wild. Most of the captive wolves born each year do not survive to see their first birthday.  They’re either destroyed or they die of neglect.  Colorado’s Mission Wolf refuge has rescued three dozen of these born-in-a-cage wolves to give them a better life, and to use some of them as ambassadors who educate people around the U-S about the amazing intelligence of wolves, and their plight. How On Earth’s Shelley Schlender and Boulder Naturalist and KGNU volunteer, Steve Jones, bring us the story.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer/Engineer/Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender and Joel Parker

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Molecular Gastronomy

Lehndorff and KleinmanWelcome to a special Radio Nibbles version of How On Earth. Nibbles’ (and pie aficionado) John Lehndorff, chef Ian Kleinman and How On Earth’s Jim Pullen set to work making and eating high-tech delicacies. Liquid nitrogen sorbets, strawberries floating above superconducting magnets, and more! Food and tech on the show that makes you smarter. Yum!

Host/Producer/Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen

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CO2 from the Amazon // US Smokestacks

amazonAmazon CO2 (start time 04:37) The Amazon basin contains the largest tropical rainforest on the planet. It’s been critical not only for its beauty and biodiversity but also for its ability to store more carbon dioxide than it emits. The soil and above-ground biomass of the Amazon makes it one of the largest reservoirs of carbon dioxide. And that has helped to keep climate change from accelerating even faster. But a new study shows that the Amazon’s tropical ecosystems may actually give off more CO2 into the atmosphere than they absorb. To learn what’s shifting in the Amazon basin and the implications of this shift, host Susan Moran speaks with one of the authors of the study. John Miller is a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder. Specifically, he’s with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, which is at the University of Colorado.

cires-joost-in-lab_500Power Plant Smokestacks (start time 14:43) To understand the global greenhouse gas budgets, it’s critical to characterize their sources and sinks. Electrical power generation accounts for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US. While the actual generation of power is only part of the entire production and use cycle of electricity, power generation stations are an important part of the budget. A definitive study of smokestack gases shows that power plant emissions in the US are down and that combined-cycle gas powered plants have much lower emissions than the coal plants they are replacing. How On Earth host Jim Pullen talks with the study’s lead author, Dr. Joost de Gouw. Joost is also with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder and also NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), Chemical Science Division.

Hosts: Jim Pullen, Susan Moran
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Joel Parker and Kendra Krueger

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