In Please Explain, we set aside time every Friday afternoon to get to the bottom of one complex issue. Ever wonder how New York City's water system works? Or how the US became so polarized politically? We'll back up and review the basic facts and principles of complicated issues across a broad range of topics — history, politics, science, you name it.
The Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, prompting some to believe the world will end on that date. For this week’s Please Explain, we thought we’d find out about that calendar and the many others used through history by different cultures to account for the days and months that make up the year. Joining us are John Pratt and Ken Seidelmann, Research Professor at the University of Virginia’s Department of Astronomy.
Mold is a common household nuisance—it can appear on shower curtains and in damp basements and on aging foods in the refrigerator, but it’s a major concern in the aftermath of flooding caused by Sandy. Industrial hygienist and environmental health expert Monona Rossol and microbiologist Chin Yang, of Prestige EnviroMicrobiology, explain what mold is, where it comes from, how it grows, what it can do to your home and health, and how to get rid of it.
On this week’s Please Explain we’ll learn about the microbes, bacteria, and fungi in and around our households, hospitals and other buildings. Rob Dunn, biologist in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University, project director of the Wild Life of Our Homes, and author of The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today, and Jessica Green, Director of the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center at the University of Oregon, explain what these microbes are, where they come from, the ways their presence and absence may directly influence our health and well being, and new research into how to the design and operation of buildings to promote both human health and environmental sustainability.
For Please Explain we’re looking at how experts predict the weather—and storms like Hurricane Sandy—and how improving technology is making the science more precise. Dr. Robert Gall, Development Manager of the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Dr. Adam Sobel, Professor in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
Kate Ascher, author of The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, and Carol Willis, founder, director, and curator of the Skyscraper Museum, discuss the history and future of tall buildings—from Chicago’s 17-story Auditorium Building to Dubai’s 160-story Burj Khalifa. They’ll explain how they’re built, how they work, and how they’ve changed cities.
This week’s Please Explain looks at the outbreak of fungal meningitis from contaminated steroid shots. We’ll find out how epidemiologists trace outbreaks like this to their origins and what compounding pharmacies are and how they work. Dr. Emil Hiesiger, clinical associate professor of neurology, NYU School of Medicine, and Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, explain.
Jumping off buildings, running from a car engulfed in flames, getting into a brawl with a villain all some of the feats we see frequently in movies—and they’re performed by stuntmen (and women). Two experts join us to explain how stunts are performed in movies and on television: Hal Needham worked as a stuntman on more than 300 feature films and he was a pioneer in improving stunt technology and safety. He also directed the films Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, and Hooper, among others. He’s written about his career in Stuntman! My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life. And Blaise Corrigan, a stuntman who has worked in New York for more than 20 years in such films as The Avengers, The Departed, The Bourne Legacy, and the television shows Boardwalk Empire, 30 Rock, and Law and Order.
From Apple's iCloud to Dropbox, cloud computing is becoming an increasingly important and useful part of digital life. This week's Please Explain is about the physical structures that make cloud computing possible, and their hidden impact on the environment. We're joined by James Glanz from The New York Times, who spent a year investigating the physical structures that make up and support cloud computing, and Dennis Symanski, Senior Project Manager at the Electric Power Research Institute.
Alena Grabowski, Assistant Research Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, and research scientists at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver, and Mike McLoughlin, Research and Exploratory Development at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory describe the latest prosthetic design and technologies and how they allow amputees to regain mobility.
For this week’s Please Explain, director Steve James talks about his new film “Head Games,” a revealing documentary about the concussions in American sports, along with former Ivy League Football Player and WWE Wrestler Christopher Nowinski, author of the book Head Games. It covers eye-opening evidence and cutting-edge science on head trauma from the nation’s leading medical experts and gives first-hand accounts from the athletes, coaches, and parents.
Thomas Bjorkman, professor of horticulture at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, and Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director, Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group at Consumer Reports, discuss what the organic label indicates about how food is grown, and what the various animal welfare labels indicate about how meat or eggs were bred and raised.
Monarch butterflies have started to make their long journey south to Mexico. On this week’s Please Explain, we’ll find out about the many different species of butterflies—from their coloring to their attraction to flowers to their cocoons. We’re joined by Bob Robbins, Curator of Lepidoptera, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, and Dr. Cole Gilbert, Associate Professor of Entomology at Cornell University.
Aaron Bobrow-Strain, author of White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf and professor of politics at Whitman College, explains the colorful history of white bread and tells us what makes it so soft, so white, and have such a long shelf life. He’ll also discuss how the kind of bread you eat has defined social status for centuries.
This week we'll take a look at the creepy crawly world of spiders. Dr. Norm Platnick, curator emeritus in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, and Hazel Davies, Associate Director of Living Exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, talk about spiders, which are among the most versatile animals on the planet—they're able to inhabit every continent but Antarctica and are able to survive in environments that range from deserts to rainforests to crowded cities. There's an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History called "Spiders Alive!" It's on view through December 2.
Pigeons seem to be everywhere in New York City, and they fill city squares in London and Venice. We’ll take a look at why these birds thrive in urban areas around the word and how they’re able to find their way home from hundreds of miles away. Andrew Blechman, managing editor of Orion magazine and author of Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird, and Courtney Humphries, author of Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan…and the World, join us.
This week’s Please Explain takes a look at the art and science of teamwork. We’re joined by Scott Wiltermuth, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization, at USC’s Marshall School of Business, and Dr. John Krakauer, Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience, Director, Center for the Study of Motor Learning and Brain Repair, the Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Neurology.
The practice of meditation has existed for some 2,500 years. David McKeel, Director of Practice & Education at Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, and Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and author of Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation, tell us what meditation is, how it works, and the research into its health benefits.
More than 100 athletes have been banned from competing in the London Olympics because of doping suspensions. Doping allegations have become common in many sports, most notably in cycling, baseball, and track and field. Dr. Dennis Cardone, associate professor of sports medicine at NYU Langone’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care, and Dr. Gary Wadler, clinical associate professor in the Department of medicine at Hofstra University, explain how performance-enhancing drugs work, how they're detected, and how doping has been addressed in sports. Dr. Wadler served as the Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Prohibited List and Methods Sub-Committee and serves as an ex-officio member of WADA’s Health, Medicine, and Research Committee. He is the lead author of the textbook Drugs and the Athlete.
Early this month, researchers at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced that they found convincing evidence of a new particle called the Higgs boson. Sometimes called the “god particle,” the Higgs boson gives mass to the elementary particles that make up the universe. Brian Greene, Professor of Mathematics and Physics and author of The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality, and Kyle Cranmer, Assistant Professor of Physics at New York University, help us decipher what the Higgs is and why it matters, and explain how the Large Hadron Collider works.
Artificial sweeteners are thought to be a billion dollar industry. On today's Please Explain, Dr. Maudene Nelson director of Community Outreach at Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition, talks about how these non-sugars work. We'll find out about artificial sweeteners and low- and no-calorie sugar substitutes like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose and why they still taste sweet on the tongue.