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Undiscovered

Science Friday and WNYC Studios

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Undiscovered

Undiscovered

Science Friday and WNYC Studios

190
Followers
252
Plays
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About Us

A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.

Latest Episodes

Spontaneous Generation

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.

20 MIN2019 DEC 12
Comments
Spontaneous Generation

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. GUEST David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, Professor of Physics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology FOOTNOTES Find out more about the Michelson-Morley experiment on APS Physics. Readan archival article from the New York Times about the physicists’ experimental “failure.” CREDITS This episode of Undisc...

18 MIN2019 DEC 5
Comments
Into The Ether

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.

23 MIN2019 NOV 28
Comments
Planet Of The Killer Apes

Like Jerry Springer for Bluebirds

“Do men need to cheat on their women?” a Playboy headline asked in the summer of 1978. Their not-so-surprising conclusion: Yes! Science says so! The idea that men are promiscuous by nature, while women are chaste and monogamous, is an old and tenacious one. As far back as Darwin, scientists were churning out theory and evidence that backed this up. In this episode, Annie and Elah go back to the 1970s and 1980s, when feminism and science come face to face, and it becomes clear that a lot of animals—humans and bluebirds included—are not playing by the rules.

25 MIN2019 NOV 21
Comments
Like Jerry Springer for Bluebirds

Mini: The Undercover Botanist

In 1767, a young French servant sailed around the world, collecting plants previously unknown to Western science. The ship’s crew knew the servant as “Jean,” the scrappy aide to the expedition’s botanist. But “Jean” had a secret. She was actually Jeanne Baret, a woman disguised as a man—and she was about to make botanical history. Annie and Elah told this story for a live audience at On Air Festa few weeks ago.

15 MIN2019 MAR 29
Comments
Mini: The Undercover Botanist

Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

Undiscovered is back between seasons with a listener question: What saved the cats? If you rewind to the Middle Ages, cats and humans were on bad terms. Cat roundups, cat torture, and even cat murder were common occurrences throughout Europe. But a series of historic events steadily delivered the tiny felines into public favor. In a story that spans centuries and continents, the Catholic Church and the Rosetta Stone, Elah and Annie investigate how the cat’s reputation shifted from devil’s minion to adored companion.

10 MIN2018 DEC 18
Comments
Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

This Headline Might Kill You

In this Undiscovered Cares Report, Annie and Elah dig into a scary science headlineto help Elah’s friend, David,figure outhow scared he should be that his B12 vitamins will give him lung cancer.And we findout how—even with top-notch scientists, journalists, and readers—science communication can go very wrong.

30 MIN2018 NOV 7
Comments
This Headline Might Kill You

Party Lines

In 2016, a North Carolina legislator announced that his party would be redrawing the state’s congressional district map with a particular goal in mind: To elect “10 Republicans and three Democrats.” His reasoning for this? As he explained, he did “not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” It was a blatant admission of gerrymandering in a state already known for creatively-drawn districts. But that might be about to change. A North Carolina mathematician has come up with a way to quantify just how rigged a map is. And now he’s taking his math to court, in a case that could end up redrawing district lines across the country.

30 MIN2018 OCT 31
Comments
Party Lines

The Long Loneliness

Americans haven’t always loved whales and dolphins. In the 1950s, the average American thought of whales as the floating raw materials for margarine, animal feed, and fertilizer—if they thought about whales at all. But twenty-five years later, things had changed for cetaceans in a big way. Whales had become the poster-animal for a new environmental movement, and cries of “save the whales!” echoed from the halls of government to the whaling grounds of the Pacific. What happened? Annie and Elah meet the unconventional scientists who forever changed our view of whales by making the case that a series of surreal bleats and moans were “song.”

34 MIN2018 OCT 24
Comments
The Long Loneliness

Turtle v. Snake

Travis Thomas is a rookie turtle researcher in Florida. He was on the verge of publishing his first big paper and naming two new species of turtle when he found out he’d been scooped by a stranger in Australia: Raymond Hoser, a.k.a. the Snake Man. Raymond is a reptile wrangler and amateur herpetologist who’s managed to name hundreds of animals—and has made a lot of enemies in the process. In this episode of Undiscovered, Travis sets out to get his turtles back, and Annie and Elah set out to find out how and why the Snake Man does what he does.

34 MIN2018 OCT 17
Comments
Turtle v. Snake

Latest Episodes

Spontaneous Generation

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.

20 MIN2019 DEC 12
Comments
Spontaneous Generation

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. GUEST David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, Professor of Physics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology FOOTNOTES Find out more about the Michelson-Morley experiment on APS Physics. Readan archival article from the New York Times about the physicists’ experimental “failure.” CREDITS This episode of Undisc...

18 MIN2019 DEC 5
Comments
Into The Ether

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.

23 MIN2019 NOV 28
Comments
Planet Of The Killer Apes

Like Jerry Springer for Bluebirds

“Do men need to cheat on their women?” a Playboy headline asked in the summer of 1978. Their not-so-surprising conclusion: Yes! Science says so! The idea that men are promiscuous by nature, while women are chaste and monogamous, is an old and tenacious one. As far back as Darwin, scientists were churning out theory and evidence that backed this up. In this episode, Annie and Elah go back to the 1970s and 1980s, when feminism and science come face to face, and it becomes clear that a lot of animals—humans and bluebirds included—are not playing by the rules.

25 MIN2019 NOV 21
Comments
Like Jerry Springer for Bluebirds

Mini: The Undercover Botanist

In 1767, a young French servant sailed around the world, collecting plants previously unknown to Western science. The ship’s crew knew the servant as “Jean,” the scrappy aide to the expedition’s botanist. But “Jean” had a secret. She was actually Jeanne Baret, a woman disguised as a man—and she was about to make botanical history. Annie and Elah told this story for a live audience at On Air Festa few weeks ago.

15 MIN2019 MAR 29
Comments
Mini: The Undercover Botanist

Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

Undiscovered is back between seasons with a listener question: What saved the cats? If you rewind to the Middle Ages, cats and humans were on bad terms. Cat roundups, cat torture, and even cat murder were common occurrences throughout Europe. But a series of historic events steadily delivered the tiny felines into public favor. In a story that spans centuries and continents, the Catholic Church and the Rosetta Stone, Elah and Annie investigate how the cat’s reputation shifted from devil’s minion to adored companion.

10 MIN2018 DEC 18
Comments
Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

This Headline Might Kill You

In this Undiscovered Cares Report, Annie and Elah dig into a scary science headlineto help Elah’s friend, David,figure outhow scared he should be that his B12 vitamins will give him lung cancer.And we findout how—even with top-notch scientists, journalists, and readers—science communication can go very wrong.

30 MIN2018 NOV 7
Comments
This Headline Might Kill You

Party Lines

In 2016, a North Carolina legislator announced that his party would be redrawing the state’s congressional district map with a particular goal in mind: To elect “10 Republicans and three Democrats.” His reasoning for this? As he explained, he did “not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” It was a blatant admission of gerrymandering in a state already known for creatively-drawn districts. But that might be about to change. A North Carolina mathematician has come up with a way to quantify just how rigged a map is. And now he’s taking his math to court, in a case that could end up redrawing district lines across the country.

30 MIN2018 OCT 31
Comments
Party Lines

The Long Loneliness

Americans haven’t always loved whales and dolphins. In the 1950s, the average American thought of whales as the floating raw materials for margarine, animal feed, and fertilizer—if they thought about whales at all. But twenty-five years later, things had changed for cetaceans in a big way. Whales had become the poster-animal for a new environmental movement, and cries of “save the whales!” echoed from the halls of government to the whaling grounds of the Pacific. What happened? Annie and Elah meet the unconventional scientists who forever changed our view of whales by making the case that a series of surreal bleats and moans were “song.”

34 MIN2018 OCT 24
Comments
The Long Loneliness

Turtle v. Snake

Travis Thomas is a rookie turtle researcher in Florida. He was on the verge of publishing his first big paper and naming two new species of turtle when he found out he’d been scooped by a stranger in Australia: Raymond Hoser, a.k.a. the Snake Man. Raymond is a reptile wrangler and amateur herpetologist who’s managed to name hundreds of animals—and has made a lot of enemies in the process. In this episode of Undiscovered, Travis sets out to get his turtles back, and Annie and Elah set out to find out how and why the Snake Man does what he does.

34 MIN2018 OCT 17
Comments
Turtle v. Snake

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