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31 minutes | Jun 3, 2021
Solving The Biggest Mysteries Of Our Universe, With Dan Hooper
Why does our universe work the way it does? What are its laws? How did it start with the Big Bang‚ and how will it end? Scientists like Prof. Dan Hooper from the University of Chicago use something called the Standard Model of Physics to explain our universe, but there’s one big problem: The model has black hole-sized gaps in it. What is dark matter? What is dark energy and why does it make up 70 percent of our universe? Where is all the anti-matter? Hooper says it will probably take a paradigm-shifting discovery to answer these questions, and that those are a once-in-a-lifetime event. But, this year, something called the muon G-2 experiment at UChicago-affiliated Fermilab may have been just that discovery. It threatens to break the “standard model” and open a whole new kind of physics. Hooper explains it all, and responds to our previous episode with Harvard’s Avi Loeb about aliens.
30 minutes | May 20, 2021
Why You’re Likely Paying An Unfair Share of Property Taxes, with Christopher Berry
When’s the last time you thought about property taxes? We mostly accept them as a part of society, and assume that they’re being calculated fairly. But a leading University of Chicago scholar says that assumption is wrong. A breakthrough study from Prof. Christopher Berry has shown that, on average, homeowners in the bottom 10% of a jurisdiction pay an effective tax rate that is double of what’s paid by the top 10%. Essentially, the poorest homeowners are subsidizing the richest, with disproportion effects on people of color who own property. We talk with Berry about why this happening, how it’s affecting communities—and what we can do about it.
34 minutes | May 6, 2021
Taking Aliens Seriously, with Avi Loeb
The possibility of alien life has captivated the human imagination for decades and has been at the center of some of our most popular fictional stories. But one scientist has made a controversial claim that aliens are no long a fiction but a reality. Avi Loeb is a theoretical physicist and former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University. For the past few years, he’s argued that an alien artifact, called Oumuamua, passed by Earth in 2017. As you can imagine, a Harvard professor going on record that aliens exist caused quite a stir in the scientific community. On this episode, we talk through this controversy with Loeb and why he thinks we need to invest more in the search for alien life by developing a new field of “space archaeology.”
24 minutes | Apr 22, 2021
The ‘Five Horsemen of the Techpocalypse’ with Kara Swisher
The so-called “Big Tech” industry has dramatically improved our daily lives, but at what cost? Few people have gotten a closer look at these companies than Kara Swisher, writer for The New York Times and podcast host—and she says we need to wrestle more with that question. Recently she shared her expertise with University of Chicago students as a fellow at the Institute of Politics. She taught a seminar called “The Five Horsemen of the Techpocalypse,” which examined Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. She recently joined the Big Brains podcast to give us her impressions of that experience, and to discuss the future of “Big Tech.”
32 minutes | Apr 8, 2021
Fighting Poverty And Pandemics, with Nobel Economist Michael Kremer
The solutions to global poverty can appear obvious, even if they’re difficult to implement. But, as University of Chicago economist Michael Kremer has discovered, interventions that may seem like common sense can actually be wrong. In 2019, Kremer won a Nobel Prize for his work studying ways to alleviate global poverty. A pioneer in the use of randomized control trials in economics, Kremer has examined poverty interventions like scientists do medical treatments—putting interventions through a trial to isolate effects. Kremer’s studies often reveal surprising and counterintuitive ways of fighting global poverty and have radically altered thousands of lives.
37 minutes | Mar 25, 2021
Why Life After Incarceration Is Just Another Prison, with Reuben Jonathan Miller
For the more than 20 million people with a felony record, incarceration doesn’t end at the prison gate. They enter what University of Chicago scholar Reuben Jonathan Miller calls the “afterlife” of mass incarceration. Miller, an assistant professor at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice, is the author of a new book, Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration—an intimate portrait that draws on his sociological research and personal experiences. It’s a unique sociological look at our system of mass incarceration and how it continues to imprison people after their sentence and also punishes their families.
29 minutes | Mar 8, 2021
Anthony Fauci On What We Need To Get Over COVID-19
Anthony Fauci has spent the past year trying to curb the worst health crisis the world has seen in a century. In a recent University of Chicago event, Fauci reflected on how the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “painful learning experience” for he and other health officials. On this episode of the Big Brains podcast, please enjoy Fauci’s conversation with Prof. Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy, who presented him with the 2020 Harris Dean’s Award. Subscribe to Big Brains on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify.
33 minutes | Feb 25, 2021
The Ethics of COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution, with Laurie Zoloth
The coronavirus pandemic has raised countless ethical questions: How do we balance restricting freedoms with protecting others, how do we ethically distribute vaccines, should we force people to get vaccinated—or should we ask healthy people to get infected with COVID-19 in the name of science? There’s no one better to discuss these dilemmas with than Laurie Zoloth. She’s a Professor of Religion and Ethics at the University of Chicago, one of the leading thinkers on bioethics, and serves on committees and advisory boards with organizations like the CDC and NIH. On this episode, we ask her all our COVID-19 ethical questions—and her answers might surprise you.
34 minutes | Feb 11, 2021
The Doomsday Clock’s ‘Historic Wake-Up Call,’ With Rachel Bronson
The Doomsday Clock has been set at 100 seconds to midnight—as close to total destruction as we were in 2020. But after a year of increasingly dangerous weather and wildfires, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic, why didn’t the clock move? Rachel Bronson is the president and CEO of the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, the organization that sets the clock. We sit down with her to talk about the thinking behind this year’s clock, climate change, pandemics and the ever-increasing threat of nuclear war.
21 minutes | Jan 28, 2021
Unraveling the Mystery of Life’s Origins on Earth, with Jack Szostak
What are the biggest questions in science today: Can we cure cancer, solve the climate crisis, make it to Mars? For Nobel laureate Jack Szostak, the biggest question is still much more fundamental: What is the origin of life? A professor of genetics at Harvard University, Szostak has dedicated his lab to piecing together the complex puzzle of life’s origins on Earth. The story takes us back billions of years and may provide answers to some of our most mysterious questions: Where did we come from—and are we alone in the universe?
26 minutes | Jan 14, 2021
The Urgent Need to Reinvest in American Research, with Barbara Snyder
Our podcast is all about research. Every episode we investigate what scholars have discovered and why it matters. But we’re going to get meta on this episode and look at what makes this research possible—and the dangers of taking it for granted, especially during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Barbara Snyder, JD’80, is president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization composed of America’s leading research universities. On this episode, she lays out the case for investing more in academic research, and what we may lose if we don’t.
28 minutes | Dec 22, 2020
Getting Out Of The Lab With John List
Our team is taking some time off to be with their families for the holidays. But, just in case you have a long flight, car ride, or maybe need something to do in-between Zoom calls, we’re re-sharing one of the most enlightening and engaging conversations we've ever had on this show to get you through it. Please enjoy, and we’ll see you with all-new episodes after the holidays.
33 minutes | Dec 10, 2020
How Alternate Reality Games Are Changing The Real World with Patrick Jagoda and Kristen Schilt
What is the most popular form of media today: Movies? Music? Books? Nope, it’s video games. With 2.5 billion gamers today, games are set to be the type of media that most defines our world. And two scholars at the University of Chicago are re-thinking how to leverage them in a way to address some of the world’s biggest issues. Prof. Patrick Jagoda and Assoc. Prof. Kristen Schilt are designing alternate reality games that allow players to become active participants not just as players, but as designers. By using these games to educate users about climate change, marginalization and public health, these scholars and players are investigating how the process of crafting alternate realities can help reshape the real world in which we live.
21 minutes | Nov 25, 2020
The Science of Empathy, with Peggy Mason
With so many contentious issues in our deeply polarized world, the real or virtual Thanksgiving dinner table may be a hard place to find a lot of empathy this year. As we take a week off to reconnect with our families, we wanted to re-share this enlightening episode with Professor of Neurobiology, Peggy Mason, all about how empathy works and how we can make our empathy stronger.
47 minutes | Nov 20, 2020
Big Brains Presents: The "Capitalisn't" Podcast
This week, we’re featuring another University of Chicago Podcast Network show. It’s called Capitalisn’t. Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has many focusing on question about how the new court will judge cases on social issues like abortion, but we rarely hear enough about the economic cases the court deals with. It turns out, the Supreme Court actually has a huge influence on our economy, not just social issues. On this episode of Capitalisn't, their team interrogates the relationship between the Supreme Court and the economy, and how the new court may rule on business issues. We hope you enjoy and we’ll see you next week for a new episode of Capitalisn’t!
34 minutes | Nov 11, 2020
What Remains Unanswered After The 2020 Election, with William Howell and Luigi Zingales
It’s hard to think of a presidential election that has raised as many questions as 2020. What do these results tell us about the views and desires of the American public, what the polls got right and wrong, and how all of this will affect our economy? To find some answers, we turned to two leading UChicago scholars—and fellow University of Chicago Podcast Network hosts to discuss what comes next, following the historic election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Big Brains host Paul M. Rand welcomes Luigi Zingales, professor of economics and host of the Capitalisn’t podcast; and William Howell, chair of the Department of Political Science and host of the Not Another Politics Podcast, to untangle the record-setting 2020 campaign and debate the future of the country, post-President Trump.
29 minutes | Oct 29, 2020
When Governments Share Their Secrets—And When They Don't, with Austin Carson
When should a government choose to reveal a secret—or conceal it? Your knee-jerk reaction may be to say they should never hide anything from the public. But political scientist Austin Carson of the University of Chicago says his research complicates that answer. Carson has spent his career reading massive amounts of declassified material. What he’s found shows how governments can use secrecy to deescalate conflicts and maintain peace. But he says balancing this utility of secrecy with democracy is incredibly important.
26 minutes | Oct 15, 2020
How We Can Fix a Fractured Supreme Court, with Geoffrey Stone
The Supreme Court today may be more politicized than any other time in U.S. history. With the expected confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump will have appointed three justices in less than four years, and the American public has come to see the bench as divided by “left” and “right.” But how can we bring the Court back in line with its Constitutional ideals? Prof. Geoffrey Stone, a distinguished scholar at the University of Chicago Law School, has spent his career studying the Supreme Court and the Constitution. In this episode, he explains the history of how the Supreme Court became a political institution—and how we may turn it around.
37 minutes | Oct 1, 2020
Correcting History: Native Americans Tell Their Own Stories
Since their inception, natural history museums have struggled with how to represent Native Americans and their culture. People from these communities are often not included in the conversation, and their artifacts can be mishandled. But the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, in partnership with the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago, is trying to change that. A historic exhibition, Apsáalooke Women and Warriors, is the first large-scale show to be curated by an Indigenous person. Along with an overhaul of its Native North American Hall, the Field Museum is trying to address the racially insensitive past of many natural history museums by including Native Americans in the process.
25 minutes | Sep 17, 2020
The Future of Voting And The 2020 Election, with Anthony Fowler
The 2020 presidential election this November is happening amid an unprecedented pandemic. As states scramble to scale up mail-in voting, President Trump claims it will lead to widespread fraud. But what does a leading expert on voting think? Assoc. Prof. Anthony Fowler is a leading University of Chicago scholar on voting and voter behavior. On this episode, we discuss mail-in and mobile voting, why he thinks it should be illegal not to vote, and how the voting map may look deceiving on Election Night.
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