Light & Optics
A Time Capsule of the Universe
September 16, 2015
The DASCH initiative, "Digital Access to a Sky-Century at Harvard", seeks to scan and upload tens of thousands of photographic plates, creating a comprehensive record of what the night sky has looked like over the past hundred years.
May 06, 2015
New satellite tracks Earth's changing climate from variations in its gravity.
The Muon Camera
April 15, 2015
Learn how two undergraduate students made their own makeshift muon detector out of a digital camera.
March 11, 2015
Birds have an amazing, innate ability to sense where magnetic north lies, and scientists think they're closer than ever to understanding the secrets of their natural compass.
The Physics Behind the Silver Screen
February 25, 2015
Explore the physics that makes film projection possible in all of its various forms.
The Impending Intergalactic Cloud Collision
February 18, 2015
Outside our galaxy, there's a gigantic gas cloud drifting in our direction. It'll collide with the galaxy in about 30 million years, but astronomers aren't worried.
The Science of Shakespeare (Repost)
January 21, 2015
Shakespeare grew up during the scientific revolution, and it may have directly influenced his works. Some even argue that his plays served as allegories for scientific debates. (Originally published on April 23, 2014).
Citizen Science: Answering the Call
December 10, 2014
When professional scientists have hit road blocks, they've recruited citizen volunteers to help unlock scientific mysteries ranging from the cosmos to the microscopic.
Isaac Asimov's Nightfall: Could It Happen?
November 05, 2014
Isaac Asimov dreamed of an almost night-less world with six suns around it in his short story titled Nightfall. So could such an exoplanet exist in the real world, and, if so, how would we ever find it?
October Physics News Roundup
October 29, 2014
China's rocket to the moon, particle discoveries at the LHC, the physics behind the feel of a city, and several more stories roundup this month in physics news.
September Physics News Roundup
October 01, 2014
The age of water on Earth, neutrinos in the heart of the sun, and spintronic flashlights round up this month in physics news.
The Ig Nobel Prizes 2014
September 24, 2014
The Ig Nobel Prizes reward the best research that first makes you laugh then makes you think. This year, we interviewed the winners who had research topics ranging from the the alignment of dogs with the Earth's magnetic field when they poo to the correlation between cat bites and depression in humans.
The Venus Zone
September 17, 2014
Earth and Venus share a number of striking similarities, so why is one planet a bastion for life while the other is inhospitable. Are the planets' differences solely due to their relative distances to the sun? Planets found outside our solar system may provide new evidence to answer that question.
Entangled Photons Illuminate an Object Without Touching It
September 03, 2014
Scientists have capitalized on two mind-boggling quantum mechanics principles to achieve the seemingly impossible: illuminating an object using light that never interacted directly with the object.
August Physics News Roundup
August 27, 2014
Speckled asteroids, spacecraft on comets, and an atomic clock on the International Space Station roundup this month in physics news.
How a Telephone Company Revolutionized Science Outreach
August 20, 2014
Before Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, there was Dr. Research and Mr. sun, characters from the hugely influential Bell Laboratory Science Series.
August 13, 2014
Looking for a one-way trip out of our galaxy? Hitch a ride on a hypervelocity star if you're looking to escape our galaxy's gravity. Listen in this week to see how these super-speedy stars come to be.
The 2014 Flame Challenge
August 06, 2014
We sat down with Youtube star and "Flame Challenge" winner Diana Cowern to discuss her sometimes wacky but always enlightening physics outreach videos.
July 30, 2014
Our latest trip to Comic-Con International revealed a number of physics-inspired comic books in addition to our own Spectra series.
July News Roundup
July 23, 2014
The blackest material ever invented, solar-powered spacecraft, and the crushing environments inside gas giants round up this month in physics news.
Dark Stars and Cosmic Cocktails
July 02, 2014
Supermassive black holes and mysterious dark matter may share a common source: dark stars.
Fresnel and the Lighthouse
June 04, 2014
Shipwrecks abounded in the early 1800's; in fact, over 100 ships wrecked in the English Channel in 1816 alone. So a physicist developed a new type of lens that dramatically increased the range of lighthouses - and the safety of sailors. This is his story.
The Science of Shakespeare
April 23, 2014
Shakespeare grew up during the scientific revolution, and it may have directly influenced his works. Some even argue that his plays served as allegories for scientific debates.
Earth: The Lucky Planet?
April 10, 2014
Despite estimates that there are trillions of planets in the universe, one scientist argues that we are effectively alone.
Truth from the Skies
March 19, 2014
Learn how one non-profit uses satellite imagery to uncover potential environmental challenges and facilitate the general public direct participation in scientific research.
Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn
February 12, 2014
What is nothing? Science writer Amanda Gefter explores that question and more in her latest book: Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn.
Chris Hadfield Interview
January 29, 2014
Astronaut and Youtube star Chris Hadfield shares his perspective on space, science, and sparking the public's imagination.
Women in Physics
January 22, 2014
How can a degree in physics benefit young women, and how can educators shrink the gender gap in physics? Some answers to these questions have emerged at a recent conference for women in physics.
The Mystery of Massive Star Formation
January 15, 2014
With the aid of enormous telescopes, scientists are beginning to unravel the nebulous births of stellar behemoths.
December 18, 2013
Mike and Calla wrap up the year with their favorite physics stories from 2013.
Apollo's Mystery Flashes
December 11, 2013
After seeing mysterious flashes of light in space, Apollo astronauts started one of NASA's strangest experiments.
No Sign of Primordial Black Holes
November 13, 2013
Black holes that formed in the first few minutes after the big bang could be responsible for dark matter, but new results suggest they must also be extremely small.
Life on Mars?
October 09, 2013
The Curiosity Rover has found water on Mars, but no methane in the atmosphere. What does this mean for potential life on Mars?
Physics for the Blind
August 21, 2013
After losing his sight midway through his physics career, John Gardner developed a technology to help other blind persons in the sciences; but the technology goes far beyond the blind community.
May 29, 2013
A new particle accelerator project is bringing together enemy nations in the Middle East.
Read more on this podcast's blog post
Dating Ancient Water
April 24, 2013
Zheng-Tian Lu and physicists at Argonne National Laboratory can determine the age of water samples from underground sources, pockets of ocean water and glaciers.
You Tube Physics Stars
March 13, 2013
Calla goes behind the scenes of You Tube's most popular physics videos including Minute Physics and Veritasium.
Picasso's Mysterious Paint
February 13, 2013
An art historian and physicist recently teamed up to unravel a mystery surrounding one of Picasso's avant-garde painting methods.
Magic in Science with Steve Spangler
January 16, 2013
Non-traditional science educator Steve Spangler talks about his efforts to instill a sense of wonder in his science demos and experiments.
Winter Physics Roundup
December 12, 2012
Snow is falling, northern lights are glowing, and physics is everywhere this season.
Hiding in the Light
November 09, 2012
New research reveals how tiny crystals fish skin help silvery swimmers hide from predators by reflecting more light. The structures responsible for this creative camouflage could be put to use in man-made reflectors as well.
The Electromagnetic Universe
October 04, 2012
What if we could see beyond visible light? How would we perceive the universe? Calla takes you on a tour of the electromagnetic universe.
Room Temperature Maser
September 12, 2012
A breakthrough 60 years in the making: room temperature masers! Masers can be used as sensors and measuring devices, or as part of an inter-planetary communication system. Today Calla talks with Dr. Mark Oxborrow of Great Britain's National Physical Laboratory about building a room temperature maser, and why physicists are good at sewing.
July 25, 2012
Even though Hollywood films aren't known for being completely scientifically accurate all of the time, the writers of some of the biggest films and TV shows have been relying on their science advisors to make the science in science fiction all the more believable.
Who is Enrico Fermi?
July 18, 2012
Physicist Enrico Fermi has his name attached to a number of monumental physics items, like Fermilab, fermions and fermium. Who was Fermi, what did he do to earn so much notoriety and the title of "universal physicist"? We'll try to find out in today's podcast.
How the Hippies Saved Physics
July 04, 2012
Dr. David Kaiser, author of the book "How the Hippies Saved Physics"
talks about how the culture of the 1970's influenced physics, and
brought the philosophical exploration of quantum mechanics back into
Music and Fractals
May 23, 2012
Using visual imagery to describe sound can help us learn about music.
NASA's Super Black Material
May 09, 2012
Light noise can make it difficult for Astronomers to see the objects they want to study. To help this, engineers have created a material that absorbs 99.8% of incoming light.
Butterlfly IR sensors
February 22, 2012
The Morpho Sulkowsky butterfly uses its flashy iridescent wings to
attract attention, but humans could use those wings in applications
ranging from homeland security to medical imaging. Researchers at the
General Electric Global Research Center attached carbon nanotubes to
real Morpho butterfly wings, and used the resulting structures as
infrared (IR) light sensors, which have applications in medicine,
science, environmental sustainability and the military, to name a few.
Lasers Put Pricks in Past
November 16, 2011
A new laser-based technology may one day make it possible for diabetic patients to monitor their blood-sugar levels non-invasively, without drawing a drop of blood. Hear how scientists are using rather simple laser technology, and a few clever tricks, to solve this medical puzzle.
Faster than Light
September 28, 2011
Last week, a group of physicists announced that they had detected neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. Whether the results are accurate or not will have to wait for results from other experiments. In the mean time Calla Cofield gives a little background on just how much nature is willing to bend the "faster than light" rule.
August 03, 2011
Scientists have created the first "living laser," using a human cell. Calla Cofield explains the basic physics behind traditional lasers, and how the living laser uses the same principles.
Gamma Ray Vision
March 16, 2011
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope lets us look at the universe in gamma ray vision: the highest energy, shortest wavelength form of light there is. But what we see in the gamma ray sky presents some big questions. Calla Cofield talks with Keith Bechtol, a researcher with the FGST Collaboration.
Glowing Snail Shells
January 12, 2011
These shells glow! Learn what makes these snails glow and why they glow in this podcast.
December 08, 2010
Most of the colors we see everyday arise from chemicals like dyes. Unlike these colors, iridescence arises from structure. Iridescent objects change color depending on the angle that light hits the object. Scientists have been able to create this iridescent structure in glass.
USA Celebrates Science
November 03, 2010
Mike Lucibella takes us on a journey through the inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall.
New Years Physics Resolutions Part 2
January 23, 2009
In this podcast we describe some of the major experiments and concepts that physicists hope to resolve this year. This is part 2 of 3.
August 21, 2008
A certain bug has a material on its back that reflects light similar to crystal structure of diamonds.
Light & Optics
November 12, 2012
Medical physicists can now measure breast density with two different x-ray energies, increasing risk assessment accuracy and reducing radiation exposure.
May 21, 2012
Physicists study lunar glow to monitor Earth's climate change.
May 14, 2012
A physicist has developed electronic sunglasses that blot out blinding spots of glare from the sun.
March 12, 2012
Civil and environmental engineers created a traffic application that uses GPS data from drivers’ cell phones to alert the public to current traffic conditions. Because so many phones come equipped with GPS technology, researchers were able to tap into it to track and more accurately gauge road congestion. The app is able to tell the user what time to leave his home and even how much gas will be saved by using alternate routes.
Deep Space Discoveries
February 13, 2012
Optical scientists designed a way to help small telescopes create sharper images. Because so many elements in the atmosphere, such as cloud cover, can interfere with your view of the night sky, scientists came up with a method that counters those effects. The method uses a system of lasers and cameras to indicate to a computer what shape the mirror should be to achieve a clearer view
Inside the NIH
November 21, 2011
Therapists Use New Therapy Systems to Help Disabled Get Most Effective Treatment
Electric Fish Orchestra
November 14, 2011
Biological Engineers, Visual Artists and Composers Make Beautiful Music Using a Choir of Fish
Melanoma in 3D
November 07, 2011
Biomedical Engineers Use New Imaging Technique to Find Cancer in the Body
October 03, 2011
A camera that can zoom without the typical oversized lens, inspired by the human eye, uses a curved, flexible lens to snap close-up pictures.
June 13, 2011
Chemists are using a special X-ray technology to uncover chemical clues to determine an art piece's authenticity.
X-Rays Uncover Past
April 11, 2011
Physicists used a special type of X-ray to read the lost writings of an ancient mathematician, found underneath the script of a monk who wrote on top of it.
Saving Lives: Detecting Lung Cancer Faster
March 28, 2011
Radiologists are using a new technology to find lung cancer earlier. Computer software can pinpoint areas of concern on a traditional X-ray. These areas can then be analyzed more closely by a doctor. Traditionally, lung cancer can evade detection because the ribs and blood vessels can obstruct the view in a chest X-ray. Studies have shown that the new technology can detect up to 50 percent of lung cancers that were missed in initial imaging, and early detection means a higher survival rate.
Lasers Defying Gravity
March 21, 2011
Optical physicists are working with lasers and metal to potentially change the way blood is drawn. By using a special laser, pulsing at extremely fast rates, scientists can change the surface of any metal. The newly etched metal enables liquid to flow uphill and spread out, against gravity. This means that a single drop of blood could be pulled to a diagnostic sensor, instead of drawing vials of blood. The technique can also make it easier to cool computers and allow them to work faster.
Biggest and Best 3D Imax
January 24, 2011
Scientists who used to study biology and chemistry are now explaining the science behind 3-D IMAX films, revealing what goes on behind the projector to create the effect viewers enjoy. Some impressive numbers surround these effects: IMAX screens are typically five to six stories in height and the films are so large they weigh 300 to 400 pounds each. To make the popping 3-D images, two reels of film are run through the projectors while viewers wear special glasses. The film strips are slightly offset, so they don't exactly line up with one another. The glasses pick up one reel in each lens, so the audience sees the created effect.
Lasers: Transforming Life
May 16, 2010
In this wonderful video produced by the Optical Society of America, NPR Science Friday's host, Ira Flatow describes how lasers are used in optical fiber communication, surgery and more.
For more great laser innovations, visit:
www.laserfest.org and http://www.osa.org/
Catching Cataracts Early with Lasers
October 23, 2009
Ophthalmologists use safe laser light to identify damaged proteins in the eye to detect the early signs of cataract formation.
Meet the Hexapod Robot
September 28, 2009
Matt Bunting is an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Arizona. He built his first robot when he was 11 years old. In this video he demonstrates his six legged robot known as a hexapod. He began building this hexapod when he was still in high school. It is controlled by a wireless Playstation controller with motion sensitivity.
Oh, and he also wrote the background music.
Hearts In Danger
June 24, 2009
Medical physicists improved their ability to replace leads connecting pacemakers and defibrillators to the heart by using an excimer laser.
Reducing Your Lead Footprint
May 15, 2009
Materials scientists created a lead-free piezoelectric material to replace the current one used in electronics that contains up to 40 percent lead. To make the material tiny samples of bismuth ferrite and samarium ferrite are formed into puck shape pieces. A laser then fragments the pucks into different molecules and chemicals, creating a mist that is coated onto a chip.
Cars Powered by the Sun
April 03, 2009
Arts, science, and engineering students are driven by solar energy to the finish line.
January 30, 2009
Gastroenterologists use lasers to diagnose chronic heartburn more effectively.
November 03, 2008
Ocular oncologists inject a drug into eye to starve tumors and save sight.
Workout For the Eyes
October 22, 2008
Optometrist establishes sports vision clinic to improve athletic performance.
Crime Alert! Molding Fingerprints
January 01, 2007
Photonic crystals -- materials with precise patterns of gaps that make them reflect only selected wavelengths of light -- could soon replace the traditional ink-based fingerprinting. In a new silica-based, photonic-crystal material, the spacing of the gaps changes in response to pressure applied. Corresponding changes in its color reveal fingerprints with high precision -- not only the ridges in the skin, but also the depth of the ridges, the shape of the finger, and the mechanical properties of the skin.
The Mysterious Gravity Hill
June 01, 2006
At several hilly locations around the U.S., know as "gravity hills," objects such as cars left on neutral supposedly roll uphill, driven by unknown forces and against the force of gravity. Physicists say -- and GPS measurements confirm -- that the effects are illusions caused by the landscape. The position of trees and slopes of nearby scenery, or a curvy horizon line, can blend to trick the eye so that what looks uphill is actually downhill.
Lights of the Future
February 01, 2006
Thanks to advances in physics, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will soon move from traffic lights and electronics panels to home lighting, bringing dramatic energy savings, adjustable colors for ambiance, and light-shining furnishings.
Screens of the Future
July 01, 2005
Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are plastic-based materials that are able to emit light. Engineers are beginning to make displays out of OLEDs by spraying the materials on a surface, the way an ink-jet printer works. The new OLED displays promise to provide a cheaper, brighter, less power-hungry alternative to liquid-crystal displays -- the ones commonly used in laptop computers and cell phones.
Portrait of America
July 01, 2005
One lone physicist hopes to create an ultra-high-resolution portrait of America by taking a series of gigapixel images with his own custom camera, created from parts of old spy planes and nuclear reactors. Each image fills an entire DVD with data.
Samples From The Sun
January 01, 2004
A new NASA program called the Genesis Mission is launching a spacecraft to collect particles from the sun's solar wind to obtain information on the origin of earth and other bodies in the solar system.