Right Now in Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Birth of a Planet

To most people, planets are one of the most familiar of astronomical objects. After all, we do live on one. But how do these massive spheres get their start? Tune in to learn more about the birth of planets -- including our own -- in this podcast.

Noel Sharkey: Robotics vs. Sci-Fi vs. Anthropomorphism

Last week I had the privilege to chat with Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the U.K.'s University of Sheffield. Noel is the co-founder of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) and has presented his thoughts on the matter to everyone from British Parliament to "The Daily Show." He's exactly the guy you want to talk to for 35 minutes about killer robots. I conducted the interview for the Discovery News article "Are Terminators Real?" and couldn't squeeze in everything Noel had to say. So I thought I'd share some more of his thoughts here -- specifically those related to the anthropomorphizing of machines and how science fiction alters our expectations of robotics.

SFSL Podcast Roundup: Why Sci-fi Matters

We have found the way to (some of) your scientific hearts at long last -- with science fiction. After Tuesday's podcast on why science fiction matters went live, we heard from quite a few of you guys. Which we love, because sometimes while we're recording these sessions in the sweat-inducing podcast studio, it seems like we're operating in a vacuum. But we know that's not the case. Not when you write in to give us a well-deserved tongue lashing for not including science-fiction master Robert Heinlein during our initial session. Don't worry, we'll get to him. There will be more of these. The point of this first one was to discuss a few favorites and get the conversation rolling.

Hair for Oil: What's It About?

Earlier this week, I heard about the South Florida teen who shaved her head to make a statement as well as a boom -- a hair-stuffed oil boom fashioned to soak up the mess that's still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Since there's always been a place for strange hair stories on this science blog ("No poo"! Hair mats!), hair booms seem like a logical topic to discuss.

Fifteen Years and One Synthetic Cell Later

We interrupt this programming to inform you that a living, self-replicating bacterial cell has been made synthetically. The idea of life as chemistry has just scored some serious cred. If Stanley Miller and Harold Urey had lived to see today, they'd probably be pretty excited. Back in 1952, the two scientists took a stab at recreating Earth's early atmosphere in a beaker, by adding water, hydrogen, ammonia and methane and then zapping it with an electrical charge. Boom! Amino acids, some of the building blocks of life and protein precursors, soon appeared. Within the booming field of synthetic biology, the folks at the J. Craig Venter Institute took a slightly different approach. Keep reading to learn what it was.

A Star is Born

Like most things in the universe, stars begin as particles floating around in massive clouds of dust and gas. But what forces these particles to coalesce and form a star? Tune in and learn more about the birth of stars in this podcast.

Why Science Fiction Matters

Even people who don't care for science fiction know about the genre -- thousands of new science fiction stories come out every year. But why does science fiction matter? Tune in and learn the answer in this podcast.

Space Music: Space Mixes with DJ Cheeba

Outer space features prominently in quite a few DJ mixes. To explore the connection between the cosmos and the turntables, I decided to reach out to two of the hottest DJs on the decks today. Up first, it's the U.K.'s DJ Cheeba, a regular contributor to NinjaTune's Solid Steel Radio and creator of its 2008 mix of the year, "DJ Cheeba Investigates." Strap on your headphones and prepare for a mini-interview full of sci-fi geekery and killer beats.

SFSL Podcast Roundup: Neutering Riot Dogs and Visiting the Space Potty

It's virtually impossible to tally the population of stray dogs and cats in the U.S., according to the ASPCA, the country's first humane society. Stray cats alone may number as high as 70 million, the organization says. That's a lot of feral cats doing the stray cat strut around neighborhoods. In Athens, Greece, stray dogs have taken to showing up at rallies,"barking and baring their teeth at police in what appears to be canine political statements," according to the Associated Press.

Toilets in Space

Every astronaut knows that life in space requires numerous adjustments -- after all, things just aren't the same without gravity. So how exactly does a toilet work in space? Learn more about the science behind space's supertoilets in this podcast.

Prison Green

Prisoners don't usually get to take part in ecology experiments, let alone raise bees or endangered frogs. But at four facilities in Washington State, interested inmates are able to branch out from laundry duty or library work to attend science lectures, grow organic vegetables and even restore prairie lands.

Immunocontraception and You

Immunocontraception is a humane type of birth control that's used to control wild animal populations. In this episode, Allison and Robert discuss the pros and cons of immunocontraceptives -- and whether they'll ever be used to control human reproduction.

How a Thunderstorm Won American Independence

Happy Dalibard Day! Yes, it might not be marked as such on your calendar, but May 10 is a pretty important date in not only the history of atmospheric sciences, but also in the American struggle for independence from the British. Not that anyone realized this at the time, mind you, but looking back with a butterfly effect-tuned mind, we're now able to appreciate the impact of one random French naturalist, an insulated iron rod and a thundercloud.

Stuff from the Science Lab Podcast Roundup: Too Many Jellyfish, Too Few Bats

Some days a job is just a job. Other days you get to talk about 18th century French nobility guillotining garden snails just to watch them grow a new head, and you realize this may be a pretty sweet gig. On this week's podcast, Robert and I discuss regeneration, prompted by the story of the tiny but immortal hydrozoa Turritopsis nutricula, which possesses the truly remarkable biological ability to go from old to young and back again -- endlessly.

Regenerate This!

According to Richard J. Goss, "If there were no regeneration, there could be no life. If everything regenerated, then there could be no death." But how does this process work? Join Robert and Allison as they explore the science behind regeneration.

Save the Bats!

As the only flying mammals, bats play unique roles in our world's ecology. Yet in caves across North America more than a million bats have fallen prey to a mysterious affliction known as white nose syndrome. Tune in and learn more in this podcast.

Terraforming Mars for the Greater Good

Is it right to terraform another planet and turn it into a second Earth? To some, such an act would be a ghastly, intentional infection -- the worst aspects of colonialism and environmental recklessness rolled out on a planetary scale. Yet for some cosmologists, bringing dead worlds to life is mankind's destiny and a necessary step toward the long-term survival of the human race. Back in February, I attended a speech by Vatican astronomer Guy J. Consolmagno on the ethics of planetary exploration and colonization. The Jesuit brother argued that terraforming a planet might either erase evidence of past life or prevent the world from evolving its own life. Last week, I interviewed Mars Society founder and terraforming advocate Robert Zubrin. Here's what he had to say on the issue.

Stuff from the Science Lab Roundup: Death by Volcano

Unless you've been making like an extremophile and hiding at the bottom of a volcano lately, you would have been hard-pressed not to learn a little bit about the Eyjafjallajökull eruption this month. It's continuing to raise a ruckus, according to the Iceland Meteorological Office. The agency reports that booming sounds were heard in Hvolsvöllur, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of the eruption site, this week. Surprisingly though, the impressive geological phenomena had very little impact on public health, aside from keeping Europeans with respiratory conditions on higher alert than usual.

Carnivorous Plants: Artful Deceit

If you've ever seen a sad Venus flytrap at the checkout line of a nursery or home goods store, you might be a little unimpressed by carnivorous plants. I urge you to watch "Little Shop of Horrors" or, of course, visit a botanical garden or greenhouse where the specimens are equally robust (though not as musical). I did just that in college, stopping by the University of Georgia's greenhouses with a few friends to check out the pitcher plants. That may seem like a strange outing, but if you've seen a several-foot-long pitcher plant, you know that it rivals even Audrey II.

Death By Volcano

People often think of volcanoes as conical mountains erupting ash, smoke and lava into the air. But how do they work? Why are they so dangerous? Listen in to learn more about volcanoes (and all the ways they can kill an unlucky bystander) in this podcast.