What are the limits to what’s knowable — and how does our thinking about big questions in science and technology evolve over time? The Knowable Magazine podcast explores puzzles as diverse as the existence of black holes and how to build an artificial heart — with plenty of surprises along the way. Hosted by science journalists Adam Levy and Charlotte Stoddart.
Quantum entanglement’s long journey from ‘spooky’ to law of nature
26:32Quantum mechanics has always included mind-bending ideas. But the concept of quantum entanglement, famously termed “spooky at a distance” by Albert Einstein in a 1947 letter, seemed to challenge the limits of belief. It remained well on the edges of modern physics until John Stewart Bell’s 1964 paper suggesting a way to actually test the baffling idea that two particles can somehow share a measured property even when well separated. Host Adam Levy chats with Nicolas Gisin of the University of Geneva about Einstein’s quote, Bell’s test and why it took so many decades for entanglement, the focus on the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics, to go mainstream. Plus, how the phenomenon could help secure communications with your bank. Find the transcript and additional resources at knowablemagazine.org/podcast.
How the placebo effect went mainstream
28:11Sloppy by modern standards — and maybe even those back then — a 1955 article on the placebo effect by Harvard anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher was nonetheless remarkable and influential. It paved the way for sounder drug trials and pushed scientists to better understand how we process pain. To explore its significance, Host Charlotte Stoddart enlisted the help of Ted Kaptchuk, director of the Program in Placebo Studies at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who knows the paper well. Find the transcript and additional resources at knowablemagazine.org/podcast.
The fossil that launched a dinosaur revolution
28:56The fossil Archaeopteryx forever changed our understanding of dinosaurs and the origin of birds, but it took a century after its discovery and a one-page paper to shift scientific consensus. Here’s the story of that landmark 1973 article by American paleontologist John Ostrom, and published in the journal Nature, describing the bird-like features of Archaeopteryx and convincingly arguing that birds were descended from a group of dinosaurs called theropods. Host Charlotte Stoddart speaks with paleontologist Julia Clarke of the University of Texas at Austin, whose own research focuses on the early evolution of birds and the origin of flight. Find the transcript and additional resources at knowablemagazine.org/podcast.
Scientists warned about climate change in 1965. Nothing was done.
21:52A key report to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 warned that humankind was “unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment” through the burning of fossil fuels and a consequent buildup of “the invisible pollutant” — carbon dioxide — in the atmosphere. Here’s the story of what happened next to that report — and what didn’t, and why. Host Adam Levy speaks with Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes, coauthor of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. And he talks with environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli, research coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which aims to build political will for climate solutions through citizen volunteers. Find the transcript and additional resources at knowablemagazine.org/podcast
How antidepressants changed ideas about depression
30:10Serendipitous discoveries led to drugs like Prozac and to new insights into the physical basis of this debilitating disorder. But scientists continue to search for deeper understandings and therapies that will bring relief to those who still struggle.
How particle accelerators came to be
35:50PODCAST: They started out so small, one could fit on the palm of your hand, but to make groundbreaking discoveries, physicists had to think really big — as in, vast machines with the power and capacity to reveal the tiniest building blocks of our universe.
Structural biology: How proteins got their close-up
34:32The journey to understanding these critically important molecules, in their thousands of different flavors, began with a chance discovery. Today, after decades of painstaking lab work and dizzying technological leaps, the field of protein science is exploding.
The search for exoplanets
24:51Not that long ago, scientists found evidence that our Sun wasn’t unique — other stars have their own orbiting bodies. It was a discovery centuries in the making. What does this mean for Earth today and our place in the universe? (Season 2/Episode. 2) Hyperlinks to scientists and papers in mainbar
The science of dreams
31:27Freud thought that dreams were the gateway to our unconscious mind. Today, many scientists think the opposite: that the dreaming brain is quite similar to our awake, conscious state. But dreaming is a very personal experience and one that we can’t share — making the phenomenon very difficult to study. We still don’t know for sure why we dream, but in this episode, we'll hear how psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers have been trying to answer that question. Hyperlinks to scientists and papers in mainbar