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The Thought Exchange
111 minutes | 2 hours ago
TTE 2.05 Dan Raven-Ellison
This episode of The Thought Exchange is a conversation with guerrilla geographer and creative explorer Dan Raven-Ellison. I first met Dan 11 years ago when our sons became friends and I have followed his work with great interest ever since, as he has developed a series of fascinating projects and achieved major success in his field.Dan is a National Geographic explorer and an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion. He is passionate about walking through all landscapes, whether rural or urban. He has walked across London, Mumbai, Mexico City and Guatemala City, aswell as through all of the UK’s National Parks and many other places across the UK and internationally.Dan credits his freedom to roam in childhood as the foundation of his passion for being and exploring outdoors, preferring the slower experience of walking to the speed of cars, trains and bikes which is how the majority of people interact with the geography of our developed world. Dan focuses on projects which disrupt the ways in which we relate to the landscapes we encounter.Walking through all 15 of the UK’s national parks inspired Dan to campaign for a declaration of London as the world’s first National Park City, which he achieved in July 2019 with the support of thousands, including Mayor Sadiq Khan. He has recorded the use of land in the UK and Netherlands with a series of 100 second long films where each second relates to 1% of the land use.Dan is a radical and progressive thinker, with core values which include trying to encourage others, especially children and young people, to share his love of being outside and exploring. A brilliant speaker and an engaging teacher, he is a true pioneer who changes the way people think about the world around them
109 minutes | 14 days ago
TTE 2.04 Christophe Galfard
This episode features French physicist and science communicator Christophe Galfard. His background is in theoretical physics and Christophe worked with Professor Stephen Hawking as his PhD student at Cambridge University.I worked with Christophe in 2016, where he co-presented Search for a New Earth with Danielle George. He was also the solo presenter of a French-language version of the programme.While working on his PhD with Hawking, Christophe focused on black holes as an area which challenges the theories around the very big and the very small, touching as they do on both gravity and quantum physics.Since finishing his PhD Christophe has been focused on the importance of communicating science to a broader audience. With Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy Hawking, he co-authored a children’s book and went on to publish a science fiction trilogy for 9-13 year olds. He has gone on to write books for adults including the international bestseller The Universe in Your Hand and he is a very busy public speaker with various TED talks under his belt aswell as numerous speaking events around the globe.I hugely enjoyed getting to know Christophe on the road while filming, I really enjoyed this opportunity to dig into some of the questions I didn’t get to ask when filming together. I learnt a lot about black holes, gravitational theory, quantum physics and the current understanding of our amazing universe.I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
113 minutes | a month ago
TTE 2.03 Danielle George
This episode is a conversation with Danielle George, Professor of Radio Frequency engineering in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) and Associate Vice President at the University of Manchester University of Manchester. She is a highly-respected scientist and was made Professor in 2014 at the age of 38.Danielle gave the 2014 Royal Institution lecture, at the time only the sixth woman to do so, she was given an MBE in 2016 and was awarded the Faraday Prize in 2018. She is currently the President of The Institution of Engineering and Technology, overseeing an international programme to celebrate the Institution’s 150th anniversary.If her work and plaudits sound daunting, they shouldn’t because Danielle also happens to be one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. With French physicist Christophe Galforth, Danielle co-presented a programme I filmed, which featured Stephen Hawking and his central idea that human beings need to become multi-planetary species in order to survive long-term.I was fortunate to get to know Danielle well during filming, which included camping on Norwegian snow fields and venturing to South American observatories, among other places. Aswell as being super intelligent, she is great fun with a fantastic sense of humour.In many ways, Danielle’s approach to science communication is perfectly captured by the Robot Orchestra project, which we touch on in our conversation. Unexpected, brilliant, fun and easy to engage with, the robot orchestra is very much like Danielle herself.
133 minutes | a month ago
TTE 2.02 Kirk Johnson
This episode is a conversation with Dr Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. This is the largest natural history museum in the world, by visitor numbers of over 5 million a year.Kirk has a long history in museums, having been the VICE PRESIDENT of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science BEFORE MOVING TO Washington DC in 2012, but his passion and his scientific background are in plant palaeontology. With his first published paper appearing at the tender age of just 23, Kirk is a passionate scientist and science communicator, with major television series to his name.I first met Kirk working together in 2014 on Making of North America for NOVA in the US and, in 2018 and 2019, we subsequently worked on a climate change special called Polar Extremes for the same channel.I am honoured to count Kirk among my friends as well as my colleagues and I can honestly say that spending time in the field with him has changed the way I see the natural world. He is always generous with his time and considered in his thinking, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy his company and conversation.Kirk’s sister Kirsten Johnson is a Oscar-nominated film-maker who has made an incredible film for Netflix about their father’s dementia and which seems to be heading for more awards. And it is with the film, Dick Johnson is Dead, that we start the conversation as we spoke a day or so after its release.The conversation was recorded in October 2020, the week that Trump contracted Covid, so all the references are in the context of that time rather than all the craziness which has happened since.
44 minutes | 2 months ago
TTE 2.01.1 Gladys Update
When I heard the story of the gorillas in San Diego Zoo which had contracted Covid, my thoughts turned immediately to Gladys and the mountain gorillas of Bwindi. I haven't felt the need to do an update before, but I couldn't stop thinking about Gladys, the mountain gorillas or Bwindi and the people around the park for whom gorilla tourism was so important. I last spoke to Gladys in October and I needed to know how she was and how Uganda was coping with the crisis.
138 minutes | 2 months ago
TTE 2.01 Gladys Kalema Zikusoka
The first episode of Series Two of The Thought Exchange is a conversation with Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, an extraordinary Ugandan wildlife activist and the vet for the Uganda Wildlife Authority. She was the first person to hold that position and was appointed in in 1995 at the age of 25.The focus of Gladys’s work has been with the gorillas of Bwindi Forest National Park. Just one year after being appointed an outbreak of scabies led to the death of an infant gorilla. Gladys’s work on treating the gorillas and on tracking the source of the infection led to a career long interest in zoonotic illnesses, where diseases jump species.Gladys realised that all of the issues surrounding the gorillas were inter-linked and that the involvement of local communities was absolutely key in maintaining the health of both gorillas and humans. After two subsequent outbreaks of scabies amongst the Bwindi gorillas, Gladys co-founded CTPH (Conservation Through Public Health), a ground-breaking and grass-roots organisation.CTPH is a NGO and non-profit which roots its work in local communities, with a triple programme of Wildlife Conservation, Community Public Health and Alternative Livelihoods. With its Gorilla Conservation Coffee, TPH supports communities with economic activity and educates those communities to support the gorillas as a resource in terms of tourism and eco-systems.Gladys has won a number of awards and is National Geographic Explorer, but the thing which stands out for me is the way in which she works from grassroots upwards with practical and workable solutions for saving the mountain gorilla population, which has risen to just over a 1000 from around 650 when Gladys first started work at Bwindi.Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is an incredible person with a track-record of incredible success in her field. The conversation took place in October 2020 against the background of Covid-19, which had a huge impact on the Ugandan communities around the gorilla habitats.I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
122 minutes | 6 months ago
TTE 08 David Montgomery
This episode is the final one in this first series of The Thought Exchange.I worked with Professor David Montgomery in 2018 and the single solitary day of filming with him, on a remote farm in Kansas has stayed with me ever since. It had a huge impact on me and left me astounded that anyone would farm in any way, other than the one advocated by David Montgomery.On that day, we filmed on a farm belonging to Darin Williams. Darin explained his approach to Regenerative farming, supported by the new understandings of soil and soil biomass discovered in the last twenty years by scientists such as Montgomery. It was like having the curtains opened on a bright, new world where farming could support small farmers in profit, massively reduce the impact on the environment of farming and provide a sustainable way forward, even helping to mitigate some of the impact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.It is difficult to understate the importance of the work of David Montgomery and scientists like him. The underground interactions between plants, fungi and bacteria are proving to be a game-changer in our understanding of what and how we should farm, but more importantly how to do it in a sustainable way. If you care about the environment, care about rural communities and care about the planet, this is an absolutely unmissable conversation.I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
165 minutes | 6 months ago
TTE 07 Ramadan Hussein
This episode is a conversation with Dr Ramadan Hussein, an Egyptian Egyptologist who is in charge of an incredible site in the ancient Necropolis of Sakkara, near Cairo. I was privileged to spend two months filming his dig, 30 metres or 100ft, underground. Now bear in mind that 100ft is a 14-storey building, we were that deep underneath the surface when Ramadan made some incredible discoveries.His site is helping rewrite the model of burial in Egypt 2600 years ago, with the first ever confirmed location of a mummification complex, including an air-conditioned chamber for removing the organs and buildings for dessicating the body with natron salts and for wrapping the bodies.But the real eye-opening discoveries were the chambers with huge sarcophagi, plus extremely valuable funerary objects. Many of the mummies discovered were women priests and the site is helping to redefine our ideas about the place of women in ancient Egyptian society. Many of those women had greater rights and freedoms than many women in many modern cultures and societies enjoy even today.I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
108 minutes | 7 months ago
TTE 06 David Holland
This episode is a conversation with David Holland, Professor of Mathematics and Atmosphere/Ocean Science at New York University. David is one of the leading researchers into the mechanisms of glacier and ice-cap melting, working in both the Arctic and Antarctic.Along with his wife Denise who is the Field and Logistics Officer for David’s team, David’s work focuses on understanding ice melt and how it relates to the Ice caps in Greenland and the Antarctic. He uses Mathematics to model and predict how this melting will be affected by climate change.A native of Newfoundland, David was drawn to study ice by his passion for the Canadian national sport of Ice Hockey, but the discoveries he is making in his work have truly global implications.I travelled to the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland with David and Denise for a 2-hour NOVA special on Climate Change for PBS in the States, called Polar Extremes. David has a station there which measures the rate at which the Glacier is moving and helps him create models to apply to the Antarctic ice shelf melt.The conversation was recorded at the end of May, so the discussion reflects the context of Coronavirus at the time. David had only just got back from an aborted season in Greenland and was isolating, with the prospect of the Antarctic season being cancelled aswell. Despite those setbacks, David is a positive and engaging speaker about the science he works on.I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
91 minutes | 7 months ago
TTE 05 Gerhard Steenkamp
This episode is a conversation with Gerhard Steenkamp, a vet who is a dental specialist and pioneer in surgery on the skull and teeth of wild animals. With a successful practise in South Africa, Gerhard conducts some 500 operations a year, many on domestic pets.However, his passion is the wildlife of his native continent and he has conducted numerous operations on elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetahs and other symbolic animals of Africa. I worked with Gerhard on Big Animal surgery where he operated on a lion in South Africa and an iconic elephant in Tbilisi Zoo, Georgia.But it’s not just the big animals Gerhard works with. He also operates on the very small, like hedgehogs and pet bats. Many of his tools are custom-made and his procedures need incredible levels of expertise from the anaesthetists he works with.The conversation covers the challenges of operating on wildlife and the challenges wildlife faces in Africa with habitat loss and human encroachment. We discuss zoos, poaching, elephant contraceptives, science literacy and the HIV crisis in South Africa, but the focus throughout is on the animals Gerhard works with and his passion for improving their welfare.The conversation was recorded on 14th May, so the discussion reflects the context of Coronavirus at the time. There has been a delay as I built up all 8 episodes of Series 1, which are now recorded and ready to launch.
134 minutes | 8 months ago
TTE 04 Jaelyn Eberle
This episode is a conversation with Jaelyn Eberle, a mammal palaeontologist based at the University of Colorado but who works primarily in the Arctic. I worked with her just a few hundred miles from the North Pole on Ellesmere Island, in 2018 for Polar Extremes, a climate change special for NOVA on PBS in the States.I really enjoyed my time with Jaelyn and was fascinated by the environment she was reconstructing in the Arctic 50 million years ago, a strange, swampy forest, dark for 6 months of the year, but still home to turtles, crocodiles and tapirs. It’s an amazing insight to into just how different climates can be, on this planet we call home and it tells us a lot about what we might expect in the face of current climate change.The conversation covers the ancient landscape and animals, the amount of information carried in teeth, plus the modern Arctic environment and the challenges it faces. Jaelyn is an ever-cheerful and positive force in the field and I think she carries this into her communication and passion for teaching.This conversation was recorded on 16th April, right at the height of the Coronavirus Crisis, so there are references to those events. There has been a delay as I built up all 8 episodes of Series 1, which are now recorded and ready to launch.
1 minutes | 8 months ago
Episode 3 Trailer
Firstly, I wanted to thank everyone for their feedback and suggestions. In particular, Barbara Ali in the US suggested a potential guest, who I am delighted to have booked in for series 2. Dr Gladys Kalema Zikusoka is a vet in Uganda working with gorillas and studying human illnesses in the Gorilla population, but also working with local people to protect gorillas and their habitat. I am confirming other guests who I will be announcing as soon as possible. But I am still looking for more interviewees so please keep sending in suggestions.This week’s episode goes live on Monday 13th July and is a conversation with Jaelyn Eberleee. She is a mammal palaeontologist who studies the arctic 50 million years ago. The environment she is reconstructing through her work holds lots of pertinent information in a warming world and Jaelyn is a passionate advocate for the Arctic.I hope you enjoy the episode.
123 minutes | 8 months ago
TTE 03 Albert Lin
This podcast is a conversation with Albert Lin, probably best known for his work as a presenter on National Geographic TV. Most recently he has appeared on Lost Cities with Albert Lin. In that series, Albert used drone-mounted Laser scanning which can punch through the vegetation to reveal ancient archaeological features on the landscape. I was fortunate to work with with Albert on two programmes in the series: one on Petra in Jordan and the other on Macchu Picchu in PeruAlbert describes himself as an Explorer, a Scientist and a Communicator and his work testifies to that. He led an incredible project to try and find the lost tomb of Genghis Khan, which used crowd-sourced data to make new discoveries in a remote Mongolian sacred area, where few had ever travelled.However, what makes Albert unique for me is his incredible optimism and positivity towards life in general. He is someone who grabs life as it rushes by and holds on for the ride. A fantastic musician, he would often be picking away at a guitar or some other stringed instrument he had just picked up as we bounced around rough roads on our way to location.And the second part of the conversation really expresses everything about Albert. How he took a deeply traumatic experience and transformed it into an opportunity for learning and understanding. Experiencing horrific phantom pain after the loss of his leg in a car accident, Albert set out to try and find a solution that wasn’t based on the addictive and truly dangerous opioids available.That led him to using psychedelic drugs, along with Neuroscientific expertise, to reset his brain and end the pain. Now Albert researches how to use psychoactive substances to treat pain, but he also leads a research project which uses cellphones to create prosthetic limbs for some of the world’s 40 million amputees, many of whom are immobilised by their condition. Alberts energy certainly inspires me and I believe it will inspire you too.
114 minutes | 9 months ago
TTE 02 Kayla Iacovino
A conversation with Kayla Iacovino, who’s job title is Experimental Petrologist for NASA. I worked with Kayla in 2018 for a NOVA special called Polar Extremes and she is a fantastic scientist and communicator.But more than that Kayla is a Badass! She has just applied for the latest Astronaut intake, so fingers crossed for her there. She is also a massive Sci fi fan and runs Trekmovie.com, the largest unofficial Star Trek website, plus the Star Trek Podcast ShuttlePod.In her work Kayla is using a number of techniques to map the inside of Volcanic systems, to create a picture of what the Volcano looks like miles underground. She has travelled to some really extreme locations for her work, including North Korea, and is interested in Volcanoes on planets other than Earth in our Solar System,The conversation was recorded on 18th April, right at the height of the Coronavirus Crisis, so there are references to those events. The delay is due to time spent recording a number of episodes, which mean I have content to be released fortnightly for the next few months.
6 minutes | 9 months ago
TTE Series 1 Trailer
Ep 1: Live nowProfessor Donald Johanson - paleoanthropologist. Ep 2: 15th June.Kayla Iacovino - volcanologist, petrologist and Star Trek fan. Ep 3: 29th June.Albert Lin - tv presenter, explorer, geographer and technologist.Ep 4: 13th July.Jaelyn Eberle - mammal paleontologist, studying the Arctic region. Ep 5: 27th JulyGerhard Steenkamp - dental vet operating on big wildlife. Ep 6: 10th August.Professor David Holland - glacial melt specialist.Ep 7: 24th August.Ramadan Hussein - Egyptologist and archaeologist. Ep 8: 7th September.Professor David Montgomery - soil and regenerative farming specialist.
119 minutes | 9 months ago
TTE 01 Donald Johanson
A conversation with Professor Donald Johanson, discoverer of the Lucy skeleton in 1974 in the remote Ethiopian desert of Afar. Lucy was a 3.2 million year-old hominid who was the first discovery of her species, a bipedal ape and, according to some theories, a direct ancestor of human beings. Lucy herself has courted controversy and fuelled lots of theories and counter-theories about Human Origins.Johanson published a book on his discovery called Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind and has been a prolific science communicator as an author, on television, radio and the digital domain aswell. He has received numerous awards including the Committee for Skeptical Enquiry’s In Praise of Reason Award in 1991 and the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award in 1976.He is currently Founding Director and Chair of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. A prominent atheist and lecturer, Johanson is an interesting scientist, a great communicator and a generous educator.
1 minutes | 9 months ago
TTE First Episode Trailer
Hi - I'm Piers and this is The Thought Exchange. Welcome to the office at the bottom of the garden where I've been connecting with people all over the world to talk to them about their ideas in their work.And I'm really excited about the first episode launching on Monday the 1st of June which is with Professor Donald Johanson. Iwas incredibly privileged to travel to the Afar Desert to the site of the Lucy discovery with him in 2012 to film a series called in a fish for PBS.I hope that I can recreate some of the conversations we had around fireside in camp in the evening or on the long drives in turtle and cruises across the incredible Ethiopian landscape.I really hope I can recreate some of the atmosphere and give you a sense of that visit and those people in that time but also explore the science, the really important science that he's done over the years and his important contribution.So I hope you enjoy!
1 minutes | 9 months ago
A new fortnightly Podcast, the first episode will launch on 1st June with an interview with Humans Origin titan Professor Donald Johanson.I decided to record these podcasts because my career filming documentaries has given me unique and privileged access to some incredible scientists and thinkers. I have often had an opportunity to share conversation and to satisfy my natural curiosity for learning, experiencing and exploring people, places and ideas.When you are on location with people, you aren’t seeing them in formal, lecture settings or trying to condense their thoughts for the restrictive format of a tv programme. You get to have a proper conversation and exchange. Whether with people I have met or worked with, or strangers whose ideas interest me, I want to re-create that atmosphere and dialogue.With that in mind, don’t expect an interview, these are rolling conversations which cover topics close to my heart and close to the heart of the interviewee.I am keen to engage and learn from anyone who listens. Help me get better at what I’m doing, direct me to other sources of learning, suggest other interviewees. Drop me a line on twitter @piers_leigh
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