Technology is really a marvel. So often, as new advances come out that allow us to do things that were thought impossible in the past, we hear the phrase “The future is now.” Popular Science and XPRIZE are teaming up to explore and explain technologies like these in a video series called Future First.
I love podcasts, you love podcasts, your grandma probably loves podcasts. Looking for some science you can enjoy while your eyeballs do stuff that isn’t reading? Perhaps hoping to regurgitate something that sounds smart while sitting around with family this holiday season? Great. Read on.
Half science, half fiction (which is why it also made our list of the best sci-fi podcasts): Every week, host Rose Eveleth picks a fictional future and has real experts explain how it might work. What if all drugs were made legal? What if antibiotics stopped working? What if the internet suddenly disappeared?
Radiolab is actually kind of a dinosaur in podcast years: It’s been around in some capacity or another since 2002. But it’s no wonder the show has stuck around. The hosts have a knack for drawing audiences in to deeply reported science stories. The banter can grow a little tiresome—it’s feels pretty formulaic at this point—but Radiolab’s stories are always smart and interesting, and often pretty touching to boot. The podcast has branched out to non-science-y subjects in recent years, but curiosity is always a key story element.
Episode recs: Colors, Shrink, Sight Unseen, Juicervose, Radiolab Live: Tell-Tale Heart Featuring Oliver Sacks
I’m a little biased, because I show up on SciFri’s news roundup every once in a while, but when it comes to reviewing the week in science, there’s no one like Ira Flatow. His genuine enthusiasm for all things science means his show is remarkably conversational and super informative. SciFri is particularly good to listen to on your way to family holiday gatherings, as it can get you up to date on recent science headlines while giving you a few intriguing evergreen stories with which to impress the in-laws.
Episode rec: 2015’s Year in Review, in which I talk about poop
Here’s another great holiday season recommendation (because food). Gastropod dives into the science and history behind the stuff we stuff our faces with. With a mix of long, in-depth pieces and bite-sized food facts, this scrumptious show will make you feel like one smart cookie at the dinner table.
Invisibilia is a must-listen: The show examines the hidden forces that influence human behavior. The hosts get into lots of fascinating psychology, but my favorite episodes are the ones that focus on profoundly weird brain quirks that can occur. People who can’t feel fear? Check. Folks with empathy so strong they believe they physically experience the sensations they see others experience? Yup. A blind man who insists he can see? Absolutely.
Episode recs: How to Become Batman, The Secret History of Thoughts, Fearless
This relatively new offering goes into the science and historical baggage of (duh) periods. If you get periods, you’ll be fascinated. If you don’t get periods, you’ll also be fascinated. Go ahead and learn something. Periods aren’t gross. It’s all gonna be okay.
This new show from Gimlet media (the network behind the popular internet culture show Reply All) puts various ideas (fracking, gun control, hypnosis) to the test using science. What’s a fad, what’s a fact, and what’s somewhere in the mixed-up middle? Now you’ll have an arsenal of knowledge to pull from when your cousin starts babbling about the importance of attachment parenting.
Scientists do interesting work, but they’re often interesting people, too. The Science Collider is a story-slam type podcast not unlike The Moth, but it focuses on stories “about science”. This is defined quite broadly for the purposes of the show: Sometimes you’ll hear about things that happened inside a lab, sometimes a scientific expert will tell an emotional tale that they’re able to relate back to their line of work in some powerful, poetic way, and sometimes someone will just have a lot of scientific or medical facts to share about something really random that happened to them. If you like science and you like stories, it’s a no-brainer.
In the paper, published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, scientists at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron looked inside an overworked battery. In this case, they drained a battery until its voltage was below a critical level.
When we overcharge or overheat lithium ion batteries, the materials inside start to break down and produce bubbles of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases. Pressure builds up, and the hot battery swells from a rectangle into a pillow shape. Sometimes the phone involved will operate afterwards. Other times it will die. And occasionally—kapow!
To see what’s happening inside the battery when it swells, the CLS team used an x-ray technique called computed tomography.
Inside the battery is an electrode that spirals out from a central point like a jellyroll. The x-ray scan revealed that the bubbles produced during overheating warped and dented this electrode.
Intriguingly, the study authors found that the worst deformation from the gas buildup occurred in areas that had slight defects before the battery was ever over-drained. The authors note that doing more studies like this, on a larger variety of batteries, would improve understanding of how these batteries respond to gas evolution, which could lead to better designs.