Episodes
An introduction to the new Quanta Magazine podcast The Joy of Why, in which noted mathematician and author Steven Strogatz talks with experts about some of the greatest scientific questions of all time.
Published 03/17/22
Published 03/17/22
Behaviors are sometimes described as being "hardwired," but the work of the celebrated neuroscientist Eve Marder of Brandeis University has explored a crucial difference between neural circuits and engineered ones: Neurons need to be resilient in the face of their own ongoing biomolecular transformation. In this episode, host Steven Strogatz talks with Marder about "multiple solutions" as a key feature of life, the similarities between a crab's stomach and our shoulders, and the secret to a...
Published 05/17/21
The quantum physicist Charlie Marcus - a principal researcher at Microsoft Quantum Research and a professor at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen - is engaged in one of the most ambitious quests in modern technology: the creation of a true quantum computer. In this episode, Marcus talks with host Steven Strogatz about why facts are never complicated, what working in a music store taught him about doing science, and the parallels between the use of knots in early...
Published 05/10/21
Amie Wilkinson of the University of Chicago works in the rarefied area of mathematics called pure dynamics, studying how complex systems transform under the influence of simple rules. In this episode, she speaks with her fellow dynamicist, host Steven Strogatz, about the challenges of finding a place in mathematics as a woman, why groups can be understood as collections of moves, and what the recipe for puff pastry illustrates about chaos. Read more at...
Published 05/03/21
Anesthetics transformed surgical medicine, but even a century and a half after their introduction, much of the science behind them is still not well understood, especially by the public. In this episode, the noted physician-scientist Emery Brown of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks with host Steven Strogatz about how anesthesia differs from sleep, what anesthesiologists should tell patients before surgery, and why recordings of brain waves should be collected from patients much...
Published 04/26/21
Melanie Mitchell, a professor of complexity at the Santa Fe Institute and a professor of computer science at Portland State University, acknowledges the powerful accomplishments of "black box" deep learning neural networks. But she also thinks that artificial intelligence research would benefit most from getting back to its roots and exchanging more ideas with research into cognition in living brains. This week, she speaks with host Steven Strogatz about the challenges of building a general...
Published 04/19/21
The term "mathematical biology" might have been considered an oxymoron more than a few decades ago: How could mathematics enrich the largely descriptive disciplines of biology? But Trachette Jackson of the University of Michigan has become a pioneer in this area, bringing deep mathematical insights to cancer therapeutics. In this episode, Jackson tells host Steve Strogatz how a tumor resembles a box of pencils, and how she came to appreciate the usefulness of mathematics for piercing...
Published 04/12/21
Can algorithms make society more equitable? Rediet Abebe, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, has shown that data-driven machine learning can help to optimize the results of social and economic strategies. In this week's episode, host Steven Strogatz speaks with Abebe about how her Ethiopian upbringing helps her see discrimination in the U.S. in a different light, and why her research interests and here concerns with poverty, inclusion and diversity are...
Published 04/05/21
Federico Ardila, born in Colombia and now a professor mathematics at San Francisco State University, is an expert in the field of combinatorics, the study of all the possible configurations of finite systems. This week, Ardila talks with host Steven Strogatz about the importance of feelings in mathematics, the music of collaboration, imagining higher dimensional spaces, and the art and science of exploring "the space of possibilities." This episode was produced by Dana Bialek. Read more at...
Published 03/29/21
Sharon Glotzer, a computational physicist and professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, uses statistical mechanics to probe how the properties of materials emerge from the dynamics of their countless constituent particles. This week, she speaks with host Steven Strogatz about how a broken oil pump changed her life, how entropy is all about choices, and how she is driven to find the simple rules that explain the universe's complexity. This episode was produced by Dana...
Published 03/22/21
Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is responsible for some of the greatest accomplishments in theoretical physics over the past hundred years, including an explanation for the strong nuclear force and key contributions to our understanding of quantum chromodynamics. This week, Wilczek talks with host Steven Strogatz about how he made those discoveries, what is still missing from the standard theory, and a possible explanation for dark matter. This episode was produced...
Published 03/15/21
Bonnie Bassler, a molecular biologist at Princeton University, helped to revolutionize views on the sociability of bacteria by showing that they choreograph their collective actions through nuanced chemical conversations. In this discussion with host Steven Strogatz, Bassler describes how exquisitely sophisticated these conversations are, how bacteria wait to act until the numbers are on their side, and how viruses eavesdrop on the chatter. This episode was produced by Dana Bialek. Read more...
Published 03/08/21
Neil Shubin, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago who studies how new features arise in lineages of animals, is famous for his discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, a transitional fossil that marked the movement of four-legged animals onto the land. In this conversation with host Steven Strogatz, he discusses how to deduce where to find fossils of long-extinct creatures, why salamanders have such unusual tongues, and what the history of technology can teach us...
Published 03/02/21
Hosted by Steven Strogatz, a mathematician and author, each episode is a window into the inner world of a top-tier scientist or mathematician. Guests come from diverse disciplines, running the spectrum from neurobiology to astrophysics. Each conversation illuminates the scientist's own research, while also shining light on more universal themes like creativity, collaboration or navigating professional challenges. Read more at QuantaMagazine.org. Music and production is by Story Mechanics.
Published 02/23/21
Moon Duchin, a professor of mathematics at Tufts University, uses metric geometry to help defend democracy against the threat posed by gerrymandering. But as she discusses with host Steven Strogatz, the problem of fair voting in a representative democracy can't simply be reduced to an objective function. This episode was produced by Dana Bialek. Read more at Quantamagazine.org. Production and original music by Story Mechanics. This episode was produced by Dana Bialek. Read more at...
Published 04/07/20
Imagine knowing that a discovery you've made will bring you a Nobel Prize … only to suddenly learn that it was based on an error. In 2014, Brian Keating, a professor at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, led a team that reported finding one of cosmology's most treasured secrets: proof of the theory of cosmic inflation. But a few months later, they had to withdraw their claim as flawed. Keating talked to host Steven Strogatz about why he...
Published 03/31/20
This week host Steven Strogatz speaks with two scientists whose searches for truth landed them squarely on the front lines of controversy. Rebecca Goldin, a professor of mathematical sciences at George Mason University, infuriated much of the public by making a statistically sound but unpopular argument about the safety benefits of breastfeeding. Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, revealed that many cherished findings in his field couldn't be scientifically...
Published 03/24/20
Cori Bargmann is a professor of genetics and genomics, neurosciences and behavior at Rockefeller University. But to host Steven Strogatz, Bargmann's work is really all about the line between life and nonlife, and what makes it possible for something to sense its surroundings, think and respond. In this episode, Bargmann talks about being won over by a transparent worm, doing calculations at the family dinner table, and identifying a mutated gene that later inspired a revolutionary cancer...
Published 03/17/20
The mathematician Tadashi Tokieda loves to explore the special mathematical and physical properties of the simple objects that he calls "toys" - and he's passionate about sharing what they can teach us about the world. In this episode, he takes host Steven Strogatz on a conversational tour of some of his toys' surprises and talks about his life as an artist and classical philologist before he became a professor of mathematics at Stanford University. This episode was produced by Dana Bialek....
Published 03/10/20
Black holes have always fascinated Janna Levin. In this episode, the Barnard College astrophysicist and Pioneer Works science director describes the fierce scientific beauty and poetry she finds in them. She also talks with host Steven Strogatz about the importance of extreme creativity in scientific discovery, and why she took a major risk early in her career. This episode was produced by Dana Bialek. Read more at QuantaMagazine.org. Production and original music by Story Mechanics.
Published 03/03/20
John Urschel is a doctoral student in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has already published several well-received papers. What's even more remarkable is that before pursuing his Ph.D., he played professional football for three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Urschel talks to host Steven Strogatz about juggling two demanding careers, his decision to trade in football for math, and the kinds of math problems that fascinate him. This episode was produced by...
Published 02/25/20
Corina Tarnita, professor of ecology and theoretical biology at Princeton University, brings the empirical power of mathematical modeling to the study of biological systems. She explains to host Steven Strogatz how that approach can illuminate the behaviors of social insects like termites - and how it solved the mystery of fairy circles in Namibia. This episode was produced by Dana Bialek. Read more at QuantaMagazine.org. Production and original music by Story Mechanics.
Published 02/18/20
Robbert Dijkgraaf, a mathematical physicist and director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, describes how art school in the Netherlands taught him how to do science. Then he and host Steven Strogatz discuss the matrix model revolution in string theory and why space and time might not be the most fundamental things in the universe. This episode was produced by Dana Bialek. Read more at QuantaMagazine.org. Production and original music by Story Mechanics.
Published 02/11/20
Leslie Vosshall, professor of neurogenetics and behavior at the Rockefeller University, speaks with host Steven Strogatz about her research into how to make a less deadly mosquito. After she shares her thoughts on "dude walls" - the arrayed portraits of white men that often decorate academic institutions - he is moved to action at his own university to foster a more inclusive educational environment. This episode was produced by Camille Petersen and Ellen Horne. Read more at...
Published 02/04/20