Little Atoms Road Trip

Little Atoms Road Trip

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Little Atoms Road Trip 01 - Introduction

Between 12th May and 9th June 2012, Neil Denny will be embarking on a 6000 mile road trip across America. The aim of the trip to produce a series of podcasts which present a wide-ranging overview of science and skepticism from an American perspective. Neil will be interviewing scientists working on ground-breaking, cutting edge science, educators combatting the encroachment of anti-science and irrationality into politics and the classroom, and writers attempting to popularise amazing ideas and concepts to the wider public. And he's going to explore some major scientific (and some not so scientific) sites of interest along the way.


Little Atoms Road Trip 02 - Seth Shostak

Seth Shostak is Senior Astronomer at the SETI (The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) Institute. He is a frequent presenter of the Institute's work in the media, through lectures, and via the Institute's weekly radio show Big Picture Science, for which he's the host.


Little Atoms Road Trip 03 - Kevin Hand

Kevin Hand is Deputy Chief Scientist of Solar System Exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is an astrobiologist and a planetary scientist, most concerned with studying the Jovian moon Europa. This has led him to Antarctica, and to deep sea hydro-thermal vents, which he did as part of the team on James Cameron's 2005 IMAX documentary Aliens of the Deep. He was also a scientist on Cameron's record breaking 2012 Challenger Deep expedition.


Little Atoms Road Trip 04 - Andrew Snelling

Andrew Snelling has a degree in applied geology from the University of New South Wales, and a doctorate in geology from the University of Sydney. He worked for the Australian mining industry for a number of years, before devoting his life to the study of "creation science". He joined the Institute for Creation Research in 1998, and began working for Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum in 2007.


Little Atoms Road Trip 05 - Eugenie Scott

Eugenie Scott is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. She has written extensively on the evolution-creationism controversy and is a past president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. She is the author of Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction.


Little Atoms Road Trip 06 - Mary Roach

Mary Roach has written for the Guardian, Vogue, GQ, Salon, Wired, National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine. She is the author of Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science. Her latest book, which we talk about in this interview, is Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space.


Little Atoms Road Trip 07 - Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He has written papers on Dark Energy, Dark Matter, the physics of extra dimensions and alternative theories of gravity. He is also one of the founders of the group blog cosmicvariance, named one of the five top science blogs by Nature. Sean is the author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time.


Little Atoms Road Trip 08 - Freethought Alliance Annual Conference

The annual conference of the Orange County Freethought Alliance took place over the weekend of May 19th and 20th 2012 at the University of California, Irvine. Neil Denny attended the conference on the Saturday 19th May and talked to some of the speakers. This podcast features five short interviews. Richard Carrier is a writer for Internet Infidels and a historian of the historical Jesus, Aron Ra is an internet activist who uses phylogenetics to counter the claims of creationists, Heina Dadabhoy is a former muslim and a current writer for Skepchick, Dave Silverman is the president of American Atheists and organiser of the Reason Rally, and Brian Dunning is the producer and presenter of the seminal podcast Skeptoid.


Little Atoms Road Trip 09 - Edward Stone

Edward Stone joined Caltech as a research fellow in physics after receiving his Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago. Over the years, he held a variety of positions, from assistant professor to Vice President for Astronomical Facilities. In 1972 he became project scientist for the Voyager mission, a position he currently still holds. He was the Director of JPL from January 1991 to April 2001, when he went back to teaching at Caltech. While Stone was Director, JPL's Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover sent back images that were seen by millions of people on television and the Web. Among other successes were the Mars Global Surveyor, Deep Space 1, TOPEX/Poseidon, NASA Scatterometer, and the launch of Cassini, Stardust, and 2001 Mars Odyssey.


Little Atoms Road Trip 10 - The BEYOND Center

In this episode, Neil pays a visit to the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. BEYOND is a pioneering center devoted to investigating the big questions of science and philosophy. Things like how the universe came to exist, where the laws of nature came from, how life began. The center is led by the theoretical physicist Paul Davies, and this show features an iterview with Paul, and with BEYOND's Post-Doctoral fellow Sara Imari Walker.

Sara Imari Walker is a NASA Astrobiology Institute postdoctoral fellow. She received her PhD in Physics from Dartmouth College and worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Chemical Evolution at Georgia Tech. She is fascinated by all questions regarding the nature of life in the universe. Her research focuses on the origin of life, combining techniques from theoretical physics, chemistry, and information science, to uncover how the first living systems might have arisen on a lifeless planet.

Paul Davies is the Director of BEYOND Center, Director of the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology. A theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling author. His research ranges from the origin of the universe to the origin of life, and includes the properties of black holes, the nature of time and quantum field theory. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1995 Templeton Prize, the 2002 Michael Faraday Prize from the Royal Society and the 2011 Robinson prize in Cosmology. He is the author of many books including The Goldilocks Enigma and The Eerie Silence.


Little Atoms Road Trip 11 - Jerry Coyne

Jerry Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, where he works on diverse areas of evolutionary genetics. His research focuses on the origin of new species, using the fruit fly (Drosophila) as mode organism. A former student of the distinguished Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin, Coyne has taught evolutionary biology for more than 25 years, and has contributed frequently to the public debate concerning evolution and creationism. He has published widely in research journals and is the author, with Allen Orr, of Speciation, now the standard academic text in the subject. He was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007. Jerry is the author of Why Evolution is True.


Little Atoms Road Trip 12 - Leonard Susskind

Leonard Susskind has been the Felix Bloch Professor in theoretical physics at Stanford University since 1978. He is a member of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the recipient of numerous prizes including the science writing prize of the American Institute of Physics for a Scientific American article on black holes. He is the author of a number of books of popular science, including The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design and the book we look at in this interview, The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics. His contributions to physics include the discovery of string theory, and the holographic principle, both of which have completely changed the landscape of modern theoretical physics. Outside of physics, Susskind has been a lifelong advocate of progressive politics, something else we touch upon in this interview.


Little Atoms Road Trip 13 - Bernie Krause

Bernie Krause is both a musician and a naturalist. A former member of seminal folk band The Weavers, he replaced Pete Seeger as the guitarist, Krause became a pioneer of electronic music, studying at Mills College under Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros, and later popularised the Moog synthesiser.. As part of the duo Beaver & Krause, he worked on the soundtrack for many iconic 70's films, such as Apocalypse Now, Rosemary's Baby and Performance.

For more than forty years Krause has travelled the World recording and archiving the sounds of creatures and environments large and small. He has recorded more than fifteen thousand species and four thousand hours of wild soundscapes, over half of which no longer exist in nature due to encroaching noise and human activity. Bernie is the author of The Great Animal Orchestra. Inspired by Bernie Krause, Neil has added a selection of wild soundscapes to this interview, recorded on a walnut farm in Winters, California.


Little Atoms Road Trip 14 - DeLene Beeland

DeLene Beeland is a freelance writer on science and nature, and the author of The Secret World of Red Wolves: A True Story of North America's Other Wolf. This explores the natural history of red wolves from their evolutionary origins, to their near extinction and reintroduction to a small peninsula in coastal North Carolina. It will be released in spring 2013 through the University of North Carolina Press.


Little Atoms Road Trip 15 - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson was born and raised in New York City where he was educated in the public schools right through to his graduation from the Bronx High School of Science. Tyson went on to earn his BA in Physics from Harvard and his PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia. He is the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium. His professional research interests are broad, but include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is the recipient of nine honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. His contributions to the public appreciation of the cosmos have been recognized by the International Astronomical Union in their official naming of asteroid "13123 Tyson". He has served on two separate presidential commisions on the future of the American Aerospace industry. Neil is the author of a number of books, including The Sky is not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist, Death By Black Hole, The Pluto Files, and most recently Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. He is the host of Startalk Radio show and podcast.


Little Atoms Road Trip 16 - Kip Thorne

Kip Thorne was a student of the late John Wheeler, the renowned Princeton physicist who coined the term 'black hole'. he was the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) until 2009 and one of the world's leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Kip and fellow Wheeler student Charles Misner are the authors of the extremely influential textbook Gravitation, which has become the bible of those wanting to learn and apply general relativity to astrophysics. Kip's research has covered almost all aspects of the subject from the accretion discs around black holes to the X-rays they emit. He has for many years been a forceful and effective advocate of LIGO, the project to detect gravitational radiation using large-scale laser interferometers. Apart from technical papers and books Kip has written a highly successful popular book, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy. Kip is currently working on a number of film projects, one of which is to be directed by Steven Spielberg.


Little Atoms Road Trip 17 - Francisco Ayala

Francisco Ayala is University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He received his Ph.D. in genetics from Columbia University. Ayala has been president and chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and many foreign academies.

His scientific research focuses on population and evolutionary genetics, including the origin of species, genetic diversity of populations, the origin of malaria, the population structure of parasitic protozoa, and the molecular clock of evolution. He has published more than 1,000 articles and is author or editor of 37 books, Including Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution.

A former Dominican priest, Ayala also writes about the interface between religion and science, and on philosophical issues concerning epistemology, ethics, and the philosophy of biology. In 2002, he received the National Medal of Science from President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony, and he was the 2010 recipient of the Templeton Prize.


Little Atoms Road Trip 18 - Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud

Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud received her PhD from Columbia University in 2010. During her graduate career she held a NASA fellowship, and she is currently an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow in Amber Miller's Lab at Columbia University. An experimental astrophysicist, Britt uses measurements of the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the big bang, to understand the origin, composition, and evolution of the universe. She has been a member of the EBEX experimental team at the Miller lab since 2005, and is currently overseeing the work of the Columbia team as they prepare to deploy the EBEX instrument to Antarctica later this year. This experiment will map a patch of the microwave sky from the top of the stratosphere while hanging from a NASA helium balloon. The resulting data set holds the promise of detecting a signal that originated when the universe was just a tiny fraction of a second old.


Little Atoms Road Trip 19 - Ian Tattersall

Ian Tattersall was until his recent retirement a curator in the Division of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he co-curated the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. He is the acknowledged leader of the human fossil record, and has won several awards, including the Institute of Human Origins Lifetime Achievement Award. He has appeared on Charlie Rose and NPR's Science Friday and has written for Scientific American and Archaeology. He's been widely cited by the media, including The New York Times, BBC, MSNBC, and National Geographic. Ian Tattersall is the author of Becoming Human, and most recently Masters of the Planet: The search for our Human Origins.


Little Atoms Road Trip 20 - Los Alamos National Laboratory

This is a two part show recorded at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. In the first part of the show Neil talks to LANL historian Alan Carr at the Bradbury Science Museum in central Los Alamos about the history of the town and the labs central role in the Manhattan Project. The second part of the show looks at what's going on at the lab in the present day, in an interview with two LANL scientists, biologist Babs Marrone and chemical engineer Jim Coons, who are members of a team working on an advanced green algae biofuels project. Thanks to Kim Powell of the LANL Press team for arranging these interviews, and for giving Neil a comprehensive tour of Los Alamos and the National Laboratory.


Little Atoms Road Trip 21 - Marc Abrahams

Marc Abrahams is editor and co-founder of the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research and its website He is the founder and master of ceremonies of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, honouring achievements that make people LAUGH, and then THINK. The Prizes are handed out by genuine Nobel Laureates at a gala ceremony held each Fall at Harvard University and broadcast on National Public Radio and on the Internet.

Marc writes a weekly column for the Guardian, and is the author of numerous books about the Ig Nobel awards and improbable research, the latest of which is This is Improbable.


Little Atoms Road Trip 22 - Dr Stephen Barrett

Dr Stephen Barrett is a retired psychiatrist who has achieved national renown as an author, editor, and consumer advocate. An expert in medical communications, Dr. Barrett operates Quackwatch, Autism Watch, and a number of other Web sites and edits Consumer Health Digest (a free weekly electronic newsletter). He has written more than 2,000 articles and delivered more than 300 talks at colleges, universities, medical schools, and professional meetings. His 50 books include The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America and seven editions of the college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions. He received the 2001 Distinguished Service to Health Education Award from the American Association for Health Education. His media appearances include Dateline, the Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC Prime Time, Donahue, CNN, National Public Radio, and more than 200 radio and television talk show interviews.


Little Atoms Road Trip 23 - Priya Natarajan

Priyamvada Natarajan is a Professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University. Her research is focused on exotica in the Universe - dark matter, dark energy and black holes. She is noted for her key contributions to two of the most challenging problems in cosmology: mapping the distribution of dark matter and tracing the growth history of black holes. Her work using gravitational lensing has provided a deeper understanding of the granularity of dark matter in clusters of galaxies and offers a novel way to unravel the nature of dark matter. Priya also works on the assembly and accretion history of black holes. She is currently exploring a new channel for the formation of the first black holes and its observational consequences at high and low redshift.

Priya is the current chair of the Womens Faculty Forum (WFF) at Yale, and is deeply interested in Gender Parity issues in the Academy. Previously Priya was the Emeline Bigelow Conland Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and was the first woman in Astrophysics to be elected a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. She also holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship at the Dark Center, Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark.


Little Atoms Road Trip 24 - Paul Offit

Paul Offit MD is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. A pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology . He is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine that has been credited with saving hundreds of lives every day. He has been a member of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and was a Founding Board Member of the Autism Science Foundation. Paul Offit is the author of Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens us All.


Little Atoms Road Trip 25 - George Church

George Church is a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences & Technology at Harvard and MIT, As well as a director of the U.S. Department of Energy Center on Bioenergy at Harvard & MIT and Director of the Center for Computational Genetics at Harvard Medical School. He co-developed the first direct genomic sequencing method in 1984 which helped initiate the Human Genome Project and resulted in the first commercial genome sequence of the human pathogen Helicobacter pylori in 1994. His revolutionary approach pioneered the use of automation to analyze millions of genetic sequences in one run, and his current research focuses on new technologies in personal genomics leading to his initiation of the Personal Genome Project in 2005. George Church sits on the advisory board of more than 14 biotech companies, including personal genomics startup 23andMe and biofuel pioneers LS9.


Little Atoms Road Trip 26 - Misha Angrist

Misha Angrist is an assistant professor at the Duke University Institute for Genomic Sciences and Policy. His doctoral and postdoctoral work was in human genetics, and he was formerly a board-eligible genetic counselor. Misha also writes fiction, which has appeared in numerous literary journals. In 2007, Misha Angrist became the fourth subject in George Church's ambitious Personal Genome Project, and he wrote a book, Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics, about that experience.


Little Atoms Road Trip 27 - Leslie Brunetta

Leslie Brunetta is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times,,as well as on NPR and elsewhere. An English graduate of both Princeton and St. Catherine's College, Oxford, she is the co-author of Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating with Catherine L. Craig, who is an internationally recognized evolutionary biologist, arachnologist, and authority on silk.


Little Atoms Road Trip 28 - The American Museum of Natural History

This show was recorded behind the scenes at the American Museum of Natural History at Central Park West in New York. There are three interviews with curators working at the museum.

Ross MacPhee is a curator of Vertebrate Zoology in the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History. Known for his paleomammalogical research on island extinctions, he has focused his most recent work on how extinctions occur, particularly those in which humans are thought to have been implicated during the past 100,000 years. In 1998, in collaboration with colleagues from the Russian Academy of Scientists, Dr. MacPhee collected the remains of woolly mammoths on Wrangel Island in the Chukchi Sea to determine how this last-surviving mammoth population was wiped out. Recently, Dr. MacPhee worked with geneticists and molecular biologists to develop the new tool of "ancient DNA" as a means for studying the population structure and ultimate collapse of Pleistocene mammals. He was a member of the scientific team that published a major new study of the genome of the woolly mammoth in Science in early 2006. He has been involved in several television documentaries on mammoths and their world, including "What Killed the Megabeasts?" for Channel 4.

Peter Whiteley is a curator of North American Ethnology in the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. Dr. Whiteley studies the cultures, social structures, social histories, and environmental relations in Native North America from the 17th century to the present. His research focuses on a number of areas, including Hopi society, culture, and polity in northern Arizona, based on ethnographic fieldwork and archival research over the last two decades, and Eastern and Western Pueblo intercultural relations and sociopolitical transformations during and after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

John Flynn is Dean of the Richard Gilder Graduate School and Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals in the Department of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. Author of more than 125 scientific publications, Flynn's research focuses on the phylogeny and evolution of mammals and Mesozoic vertebrates, geological dating, plate tectonics, and biogeography. Dr. Flynn has led more than 50 paleontological expeditions to Chile, Perú, Colombia, Madagascar, Angola, India, and the Rocky Mountains. In 2001 John Flynn received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a year of research, writing and expeditions in South America and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2009.


Little Atoms Road Trip 29 - Lucianne Walkowicz

Lucianne Walkowicz is the Henry Norris Russell Fellow in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton, and a 2012 TED Senior Fellow. She studies stellar magnetic activity and its effects on planetary habitability using data from NASA's Kepler Mission. She's a leader in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a new project that will scan the sky every night for 10 years to create a huge cosmic movie of our Universe. And she's also an artist, working in a variety of media, from comics, to oil paint, to sound.


Little Atoms Road Trip 30 - Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin is the Co-Director of MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing. His most recent book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, won the National Association of Science Writers 2012 “Science in Society” Award. He is also the author of the 2006 New York Times bestseller Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top. His first book, 2004s Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year. Since 2005, Seth has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and in 2002 and 2003, he was a senior writer at Newsweek, where he wrote the media column “Raw Copy” and also covered politics and popular culture. His blog on science, medicine, and media is part of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Blog Network.


Little Atoms Road Trip 31 - Sara Seager

Sara Seager is the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at MIT. Her science research focuses on theory, computation, and data analysis of exoplanets. Her research has introduced many new ideas to the field of exoplanet characterization, including work that led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. Before joining MIT in 2007, Professor Seager spent four years on the senior research staff at the Carnegie Institution of Washington preceded by three years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. Her PhD is from Harvard University. She is on the advisory board for Planetary Resources and the Rosalind Franklin Society. She was the 2012 recipient of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in the Physical Sciences and the 2007 recipient of the American Astronomical Society's Helen B. Warner Prize.



This trip was made possible by a travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. The theme tune of the podcast is a version of Black Top Blues by Acadian Driftwood.

Here's a series of articles about the trip which Neil wrote for the Guardian Science Blog.

The Route: May 12th - 15th - San Francisco, 16th - Santa Barbara, 17th - 19th - Los Angeles, 20th-21st Tucson/Phoenix, 22nd - Santa Fe, 23rd - Oklahoma City, 24th - St Louis, 25th - 27th Chicago, 28th - Pittsburgh, 29th - Washington DC, 30th - Durham/Ashevillle, 31st - June 3rd - New York, 4th - Ithaca, 5th -9th - Cambridge/Boston.



Little Atoms Road Trip on Tour

Neil will be talking about his American Road Trip adventure in the following locations:

Sunday Lecture at Conway Hall - Sunday 14th October 2012

Skeptics in the Pub London - Monday 19th November 2012

Skeptics in the Pub Coventry - Wednesday 19th December 2012

Skeptics in the Pub Bath - Tuesday 8th January 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Guildford - Wednesday 16th January 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Cambridge - Tuesday 29th January 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Birmingham - Wednesday 13th February 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Tunbridge Wells - Thursday 7th March 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Lewes - Wednesday 20th March 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Cork - Friday 5th April 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Dublin - Saturday 6th April 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Leicester - Tuesday 16th April 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Nottingham - Tuesday 7th May 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Winchester - Thursday 30th May 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Oxford - Wednesday 5th June 2013



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