Matthew LaPlante

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including Inheritance with geneticist Sharon Moalem and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His forthcoming book, Superlative, will look at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways. 

LaPlante is host of the science show Undisciplined, heard on Utah Public Radio every Friday at 2:00 p.m.

Simon Tyran, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Today on the program we’re talking about black holes — places in space where the pull of gravity is so strong that light can’t escape. But gravity is just one force at play in a black hole, and our guests say that if you want to understand black holes, gravity might not be the best place to start.

NOAA OKEANOS EXPLORER Program, Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition

All across the world’s oceans, you can find creatures known as larvaceans – free-swimming invertebrates with a superpower, of sorts. 

They make huge structures out of snot. 

And that might sound gross, but it turns out that there’s a lot we can learn from these animals, and this week we’ll talk to a researcher who has just made a breakthrough in our ability to do just that.

Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez

We all know that exercise is good for us — that’s sort of a given. But have you ever thought about whether one sort of exercise is better than others? Is cycling better than golf? Is golf better than baseball? Is running really the gold-standard for exercise that everyone thinks it is? Demographic sociologist Connor Sheehan thinks he’s got the answers — and they might surprise you.

  As it was becoming clear that the United States was going to be one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was asked to talk to a group of climate adaptation students about crisis communication — and I worried at first that I wouldn’t be able to draw lines between two very different crises. It turns out, though, that these crises have a lot in common.

Julie Stevens

We’re talking to three researchers who came together, across very different disciplines, to try to do something to address a problem that affects millions of American children: how can we make the experience of visiting an incarcerated parent a little bit less traumatic?

Joschua Knüppe

We’re talking about an ancient ancestor of modern anchovies, a fearsome fish that swam the seas about 55 million years ago — and, like so many other ancient creatures, it was a lot scarier back then that it is now.

HungTang Ko and David Hu, Journal of the Royal Society Interface

  Since the unification of the northern and southern dynasties in China 1,500 years ago, Chinese chefs have been making fried rice. And if you have never stopped to watch a master chef go to work preparing this dish, you are missing out.

Fried rice is prepared in a wok using a tossing technique that enables food to cook without burning at temperatures of 1,200 degrees Celsius — that’s 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

And there is a deep, beautiful, ancient art to this. But as our guest will explain, there’s a whole lot of science, too.

We all know that meals bring people together. But when it comes to building trust and cooperation, it turns out that not all meals are created equal. And this week on the program, we're talking to a researcher whose work has shown that people eating from shared serving plates are more likely to work together rather than compete. 

Ted Eytan, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

We're talking to two mathematicians who have harnessed the power of numbers to solve one of the biggest challenges of the kitchen: how to cook a perfect steak. And yes, this is a fun and whimsical use of math, but it's also a true accomplishment in macromolecular science.

Mary Cassatt, The Child's Bath. 1893. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Today on the program, we are talking to Jill Suitor, one of the founders of a nearly 20 year old study focused on the relationships parents have with their adult children and, in particular, their favorite children. Yes, it's true parents have favorites. And children are often wrong about who that favorite is.

Linnaea Mallette, creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

This week on Undisciplined, we’re talking about the ways in which being innocent of a crime could make someone more likely to confess. And if that sounds like something that might only happen under really extreme circumstances, consider this: in nearly a third of the convictions that are later overturned by DNA evidence, the person who was convicted had at some point confessed to the crime.

Tony Iwane, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

This week on Undisciplined, we’re talking about one of the world’s most poisonous creatures. Now, maybe right now you’re thinking of a snake. Or a jellyfish. Or a little yellow frog. And those are all good guesses. But the toxin that Charles Hanifin is studying might be even more powerful than the toxins that come from any of those animals. And its source might surprise you.  

Kevin Spencer, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

This week on Undisciplined, we’re talking about jargon — specialized words or expressions that are used by people in a particular profession and which are difficult for other to understand. The sciences are particularly replete with these words, and that’s not a small problem. Our guest this week is a communications professor who says that insider language tells people that they don’t belong.  

Stephen J. Otero

This week on Undisciplined, in the wake of the devastating wildfires in Australia, we’re talking about setting fires to avoid fires. And if that sounds counterintuitive and even dangerous to you, then you’re not alone. Because even though prescribed burning has been shown to be very effective at reducing wildfire risks, it remains an underutilized tactic, in part because of the perceived risks.  

WildEarth Guardians, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

This week on Undisciplined, we’re going to talk about climate solutions. And here’s the curveball: while you might think that politically conservative states are an unlikely place to find a science-backed roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that might not be the case.   

John Englart, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This week on the program, we’re going to solve a puzzle. Or, we’re going to try, at least. And here’s the challenge: how do you communicate the depth and gravity and overwhelming scientific consensus on the changes that are coming for our world without making people throw their hands up in despair?  

Steve Strauss, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

When we told psychologist Joshua Jackson that we were going to ask him to have a discussion with an expert in tree genetics, he wasn’t sure how it would go. But after the conversation, Jackson marvelled at just how interconnected their two worlds of research were. 

We think you will, too.

This week on the program, we’re talking about how to use genetics to reduce pollution. Then we’re going to talk about how words that convey emotion overlap and diverge as they evolve in different languages. And then, as we’re wont to do, we’re going to bring these two very different areas of research together.  

U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

This week on Undisciplined, we’re talking about “Project Iceworm,” a secret U.S. government project to build nuclear launch sites in northern Greenland back in the 1960s. Now the project site is getting a renewed look by scientists, thanks to a 1.3-kilometer-long ice core sample that was extracted from the site and kept in storage for more than 50 years. What secrets does it hold?

Lorie Shaull, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This week on Undisciplined, we’re talking about the impact of sports on human behavior and impact of chaos on plants, with guests whose fields couldn’t be more different. Or, at least, that’s what it looks like at first.

James Joel, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

This week on Undisciplined, we’re talking about the black market exchange of diabetes medications in the United States and the evolution of vocal traits of a small, nocturnal primate in Indonesia, with guests whose work is very different, but whose drive to ask and answer complicated questions is very much the same.

Stony Brook University

This week on UnDisciplined, we're talking about the discovery of an essential element for life on a meteorite, using A.I. for archaeology, and vampire bat buddies. It's time for the monthly science news roundup. 

We're joined this month by Mirella Meyer-Ficca of Utah State University, who first joined us last year to talk about her team's work to genetically engineer a mouse that is dependent on niacin in the same way as humans.

STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

It's the October science news roundup! This month, we're talking about the little tiny monsters of the present, the really big monsters of the past, the really scary things people do on Earth, and the even scarier stuff out there in outer space. 

Woman with net stands in high elevation grassland with green hills in the background
Joan Meiners

This week on UnDisciplined, we're talking about bee biodiversity, blood platelets, genetic engineering, environmental journalism, the fast-changing world of medicine, and the future of our planet. 

InChemistry

This week on UnDisciplined, we're talking about risk and, as we like to do, we're coming to that idea from two very different directions. One of our guests studies aquatic predators, like sharks, in an effort to better understand their role in the global ecosystem. The other creates transgenic organisms, like goats with spider genes, in an effort to build new knowledge and solve old problems. 

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

This week on UnDisciplined, we're talking about two ideas that fly in the face of conventional thought. One of our guests will tell us about the creatures in our gut — bacteria. The other will talk about an idea in many of our heads about how fake news impacts the political process.

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