137 episodes

The most interesting people in the world of science and technology.



STEM-Talk is an interview podcast show produced by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a not-for-profit research lab pioneering ground-breaking technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human cognition, perception, locomotion and resilience. Twice a month, we talk to groundbreaking scientists, engineers and technologists. Our interviews focus on the science that our subjects are engaged with, as well as their careers, motivations, education, and passions. Think of them as “profiles in science.” Tune in every other Tuesday to our show—and if you like us, please write a review of STEM-talk on iTunes—and spread the word. 

STEM-Talk Dawn Kernagis and Ken Ford

    • Health & Fitness

The most interesting people in the world of science and technology.



STEM-Talk is an interview podcast show produced by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a not-for-profit research lab pioneering ground-breaking technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human cognition, perception, locomotion and resilience. Twice a month, we talk to groundbreaking scientists, engineers and technologists. Our interviews focus on the science that our subjects are engaged with, as well as their careers, motivations, education, and passions. Think of them as “profiles in science.” Tune in every other Tuesday to our show—and if you like us, please write a review of STEM-talk on iTunes—and spread the word. 

    Episode 137: Greg Potter discusses lifestyle changes for better health and sounder sleep

    Episode 137: Greg Potter discusses lifestyle changes for better health and sounder sleep

    Today we return with the second half of our two-part interview with Dr. Greg Potter, a British researcher who specializes in circadian biology, sleep, diet, and metabolism. In this second part of our interview, host Ken Ford and Greg continue their conversation about circadian biology and cover topics ranging from insomnia, sleep apnea, time-restricted eating, exercise, nutrition, and supplementation.



    In part one of our interview, episode 136, Ken talked to Greg about how he became interested in circadian biology and the importance of synchronizing our lifestyles to be in tune with our circadian rhythms. Greg also explains why he decided to specialize in sleep and what his research has taught him about the role and importance of melatonin, a hormone that helps control the body’s sleep cycle.



    Dawn Kernagis was traveling during our talk with Greg and couldn’t join Ken to co-host the interview.  Greg gained attention in the U.S. and Europe for his research into the importance of biological rhythms and sleep and how they affect people’s lives. His work has been featured in the BBC World Service, the Washington Post, Reuters and other scientific journals and news outlets.



    In addition to being a science writer and sleep consultant, Greg also is an entrepreneur who co-founded Resilient Nutrition in 2020, a company that leverages science to produce foods and supplements geared toward helping people feel and perform better. Greg earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in exercise science from Loughborough University in England a Ph.D. from the University of Leeds.



    Show notes:



    [00:03:12] Ken opens part two of our interview with Greg by asking him about continuous positive airway pressure machines, known as CPAPs, that are used for sleep apnea and related disorders, and how these devices relate to circadian rhythms and quality of sleep.



    [00:05:47] Ken brings up chronotypes, the concept that some people are better suited to an earlier or later sleep schedule. Ken goes on to say that during our interview with Satchin Panda, he argued that chronotypes are largely a myth. Ken asks Greg how much he thinks chronotypes are the product of environment as opposed to evolutionary biology and genetics.



    [00:10:27] Ken asks what an example would be of an advanced chronotype.



    [00:11:54] Ken asks Greg about chrononutrition, which is the relationship between a person’s nutrition and their body clock.



    [00:20:46] Ken mentions that muscle protein synthesis comes up as a problem for people getting older who begin a fasting diet which is generally good for their health but prevents them from maintaining or gaining substantial muscle mass, as their protein demands are higher than they were in youth. Ken asks Greg his thoughts on a pulsatile approach to fasting and protein intake for this cohort.



    [00:23:39] Ken asks Greg about chronopharmacology, what it is and how it might tie into nutrition.



    [00:25:21] Ken asks Greg to explain his stance that we should re-engineer our lifestyles to better mimic certain aspects of our distant ancestors to protect ourselves from chronic diseases and revive the kinds of energy we had as children. Greg explains what aspects of our ancient ancestors we ought to emulate.



    [00:29:07] Ken mentions a paper Greg published on sleep and bodyweight, and asks Greg to expound on the relationship between sleep and weight regulation.



    [00:33:54] Ken asks if Greg thinks it is true that there is now an “epidemic” of sleep loss.



    [00:36:57] Greg gives a list of advice for people to optimize their sleep.



    [00:40:57] Ken mentions that many people enjoy a little wine or other drink before bed because they feel as if it helps ...

    • 1 hr 4 min
    Episode 136: Greg Potter talks about circadian biology and the importance of sleep

    Episode 136: Greg Potter talks about circadian biology and the importance of sleep

    Today we have part one of a two-part interview with Dr. Greg Potter, a British researcher who specializes in circadian biology, sleep, diet, and metabolism. Greg gained attention in the U.S. and Europe for his research into the importance of biological rhythms and sleep and how they affect people’s lives. His work has been featured in the BBC World Service, the Washington Post, Reuters and other scientific journals and news outlets.



    In addition to being a science writer and sleep consultant, Greg also is an entrepreneur who co-founded Resilient Nutrition in 2020, a company that leverages science to produce foods and supplements geared toward helping people feel and perform better. Greg earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in exercise science from Loughborough University in England before heading off to the University of Leeds for his Ph.D.



    Ken Ford’s STEM-Talk co-host Dawn Kernagis is traveling and was not able to join him for today’s interview with Greg.  In this first part of the interview, Ken talks to Greg about his youth and academic background and how he became interested in circadian biology. Greg also goes into detail about why he decided to specialize in sleep and what his research has taught him about the role and importance of melatonin, a hormone that helps control the body’s sleep cycle. Be on the lookout for part two of Ken’s interview with Greg, which covers a number of topics ranging from insomnia, sleep apnea, time-restricted eating, exercise, and nutrition.



    Show notes:



    [00:05:03] Ken opens the interview asking if it’s true that Greg’s curiosity and fascination with building things as a child led him to tell his uncle he wanted to be an engineer when he grew up.



    [00:06:22] Greg talks about how he and his older siblings lived on the campus of the school where their parents taught.



    [00:07:35] Ken asks Greg why he abandoned the idea of being an engineer and instead applied for an art scholarship to senior school.



    [00:08:28] Ken asks what kind of art Greg liked to make.



    [00:09:17} Ken asks how a rugby injury in Greg’s childhood sparked his initial interest in science.



    [00:10:33] Ken asks why Greg took a year off before attending university, and what he did during that time.



    [00:11:04] Greg talks about his first experience with research, which came during a physiological society studentship in his second year of university, where he worked under Dr. Johnathan Folland.



    [00:12:59] Ken asks about Greg’s experiences as an undergrad when he coached sprinters and worked as a personal trainer and massage therapist.



    [00:14:18] Ken mentions that Greg must have been a good coach because in addition to training sprinters, he also helped two men break the Atlantic Rowing World Record.



    [00:16:01] Ken mentions that Greg finished his undergraduate degree in exercise science at Loughborough around the same time as the 2012 London Olympic games. The Great Britain Olympic Team used Loughborough as its base. Greg talks about what a great experience that was for him as a recent graduate who had an interest in elite athletic performance.



    [00:16:42] Ken asks about Greg’s experience in between his undergraduate and graduate studies, where he took an internship in the sports science and sports medicine department of the Rugby Football Union.



    [00:17:36] Ken mentions that while at Loughborough pursing a master’s degree, Greg began to pay more attention to the role of biological rhythms and sleep in people’s lives. That prompted him to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Leeds, researching circadian rhythms, sleep, nutrition, and metabolism. Ken asks why Greg developed an interest in these research topics and what led him to the University of Leeds.



    [00:19:58] Ken mentions that Greg has become best...

    • 1 hr
    Episode 135: Elaine Lee discusses human performance, resilience and healthspan

    Episode 135: Elaine Lee discusses human performance, resilience and healthspan

    Our guest today is Dr. Elaine Choung-Hee Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. Much of Elaine’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of resilience and investigating ways to help humans improve their stress resistance, adaptation and healthspan.



    Elaine’s research is focused not only on understanding fundamental biology, but also on what can be done to manipulate our biology to optimize health and performance as well as preventing disease.



    At her UConn research center, called the EC Lee Laboratory, she and her colleagues use genomic and other technologies to ask questions about what makes high-performing athletes and warfighters so elite.



    In today’s interview, you’ll hear how an early passion for Marvel comics and superheroes helped nudge Elaine into a science career. You’ll also learn about some of her lab’s projects that range from improving warfighter resilience to studying the effects of exercise and supplementation on our immune functions.



    Show notes:



    [00:03:07] Dawn asks Elaine about when she became interested in superheroes.



    [00:04:02] Elaine shares who her favorite Marvel hero is.



    [00:05:20] Dawn asks Elaine what her favorite Marvel movie is.



    [00:05:42] Ken asks when Elaine first became interested in science.



    [00:06:50] Dawn mentions that Elaine had many obsessions growing up, including running and rowing, and goes on to mention that Elaine even became a rower at the University of Connecticut, asking what drew her to these sports.



    [00:09:09] Ken asks what Elaine’s experience on the rowing team was like.



    [00:11:43] Dawn mentions that Elaine graduated with her bachelors in nutritional sciences in 2002 and asks if that was her original intent when she first arrived at college.



    [00:13:38] Dawn asks Elaine to talk about her passion for research and how the focus of her work grew from her experiences as an athlete and coach.



    [00:16:14] Dawn comments that Elaine’s early experiences in genetics and nutritional sciences played a role in her career and asks what some of those early experiences were.



    [00:17:49] Dawn asks Elaine if it’s fair to say that she is not merely interested in biology, but in what people and researchers can do to manipulate biology in a way that can result in functional changes for broader populations.



    [00:19:13] Ken mentions that Elaine stayed at the University of Connecticut for her masters and doctorate degrees in kinesiology, asking why decided on that specialization.



    [00:21:34] Dawn mentions that Elaine went for a post-doc fellowship at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, Maine, and asks how that opportunity came about.



    [00:23:59] Dawn mentions that during Elaine’s post-doc, she and Dr. Kevin Strange co-authored a paper in the journal of Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, titled “Osmosensitive gene expression in C elegans is regulated by conserved signaling mechanisms that control protein translation initiation.” Dawn goes on to mention that this paper was selected in 2012 by the Cellular and Molecular Physiology Section of the American Physiological Society as one of six finalists for its annual research recognition award. Dawn asks why this paper attracted such attention.



    [00:28:56] Ken mentions that Elaine was also selected as the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory’s “Outstanding Mentor of the Year” in 2012.



    [00:32:18] Dawn mentions that Elaine’s research over the years has focused on understanding the mechanisms of stress resiliency, and ways to improve stress resistance,

    • 1 hr 26 min
    Episode 134: Mike Griffin discusses America’s hypersonic arms race with Russia and China

    Episode 134: Mike Griffin discusses America’s hypersonic arms race with Russia and China

    Our guest today is Dr. Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s former Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. During his two and a half years as undersecretary, Mike made hypersonic weapons and defense against them his number one priority.



    In today’s episode, Mike talks about the history of hypersonic technology; why he made it his number one priority at the Department of Defense; and why Russia’s and China’s growing hypersonic capability represents a serious threat to America’s national security.



    Our interview with Mike was conducted on March 23, one month following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The weekend prior to our interview with Mike, Russia reported that it used a hypersonic missile to strike a Ukrainian military facility.



    This is Mike’s second appearance on STEM-Talk. He was our guest on episode 23 back in 2016 when we talked to him about his tenure as NASA Administrator from April of 2005 to January of 2009.



    Mike holds numerous academic degrees, including a BS in physics from Johns Hopkins, five master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. In addition to serving as NASA Administrator and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, his long career has included numerous other academic and corporate positions.



    Show notes



    [00:04:33] Dawn welcomes Mike back to the podcast, mentioning that when Mike was last on STEM-Talk in 2016, he talked about space exploration and his tenure as NASA administrator. Dawn goes on to mention that since then, Mike served a two-and-a-half-year stint as the Pentagon’s first research and engineering undersecretary, a position Congress created in 2018. Mike talks briefly about his perspectives on hypersonics research and development in the U.S. as well as in China and Russia.



    [00:05:36] Ken asks Mike to give a brief definition of hypersonics, given that during his time as undersecretary, he made hypersonics his top priority.



    [00:09:59] Ken mentions that last weekend, Russia reportedly used hypersonic weapons in Ukraine. Ken asks if Mike has any thoughts as to why the Russians are using hypersonic weapons in Ukraine as opposed to other less expensive weapons that would have sufficed from a military perspective.  Ken wonders whether the use of hypersonics was primarily for strategic messaging.



    [00:12:26] Ken asks Mike about his op-ed in Breaking Defense that he recently co-authored and was titled, “Rethinking the hypersonic debate for relevancy in the Pacific.”



    [00:15:17] Ken points out that many U.S. leaders view China as primarily a trading partner and a source of inexpensive goods rather than a power that regards the U.S. as an adversary.



    [00:16:49] Mike describes hypersonics in more detail and explains the implications for national security.



    [00:18:28] Dawn mentions that hypersonic technologies are often thought of as relatively new. Mike talks about how the first hypersonic systems were actually used during World War II by the Germans.



    [00:19:34] Ken explains that the aerodynamic heating that occurs at hypersonic speeds is very intense. As a result, the propulsion technology, airframe materials and thermal management involved in hypersonics is very demanding. Ken goes on to say that in the mid-1950s, this was an issue the Air Force had to overcome during its development of the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Ken asks Mike to discuss aerodynamic heating caused by hypersonic speeds and how it was handled with respect to the Atlas missile.



    [00:23:12] Ken asks about the challenges NASA faced in overcoming aerodynamic heating on the Command Module for the Apollo missions during reentry,

    • 1 hr 13 min
    Episode 133: Mark Mattson talks about the benefits and science of intermittent fasting

    Episode 133: Mark Mattson talks about the benefits and science of intermittent fasting

    Our guest today is Dr. Mark Mattson, who is affectionally known as the godfather of intermittent fasting. The National Institute of Health describes Mark as “one of the world’s top experts on the potential cognitive and physical health benefits of intermittent fasting.”  He is considered a leader in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying neuronal plasticity and neurodegenerative disorders and has made major contributions to understanding the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, and to their prevention and treatment.



    After spending nearly 30 years researching calorie restriction and intermittent fasting, Mark has written a book on the topic, “The Intermittent Fasting Revolution: The Science of Optimizing Health and Enhancing Performance.” Our interview with Mark came the day after MIT Press released his book.



    This is the second time Mark has appeared on STEM-Talk. When we interviewed him back in 2016, intermittent fasting didn’t register on Google’s list of top-10 searches related to diet and eating plans. By 2019, however, intermittent fasting was more widely searched on Google than any other diet. Today, intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet jockey for Google’s top spot for diet searches.



    We talk to Mark in this interview about how, as the title of his book suggests, we are indeed in the midst of an intermittent fasting revolution. In today’s episode, Mark walks us through our evolutionary history and how it has sculpted our brains and bodies to function optimally in a fasted state. We talk about ways our overindulgent sedentary lifestyles have negatively impacted not only our waistlines, but also the size of our brains. After describing the various ways to go about intermittent fasting, Mark dives into the science behind fasting. This leads to a fascinating discussion about the metabolic switch that transitions a person from the utilization of glucose to the utilization of fat-derived ketones and how research is showing that this switch becomes an important factor in the treatment of not only cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s, but also a range of other diseases and disorders like cancer, diabetes, inflammation, kidney, and heart disease.



    Mark is on the neuroscience faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He recently retired from the National Institute of Aging where he led its neuroscience laboratory for the past 20 years.



    Show notes:



    [00:04:16] Dawn opens the interview congratulating Mark on his new book and asks how long it took him to write it.



    [00:05:09] Dawn mentions that when Mark was last on STEM-Tall in 2016, intermittent fasting was just beginning to come to the public’s attention, and that today it is almost impossible to pass a grocery store checkout counter without seeing a rack of magazine covers touting intermittent fasting. Dawn asks Mark for his thoughts about what happened in the past decade to suddenly spark so much public interest in fasting.



    [00:08:20] Ken mentions the title of Mark’s new book, “The Intermittent Fasting Revolution: The Science of Optimizing Health and Enhancing Performance.” Ken asks Mark to expound on the idea that we are witnessing a revolution of interest in intermittent fasting.



    [00:10:39] Dawn explains that the first chapter of Mark’s book begins with an overview of how evolution sculpted humans and animals to function best in a fasted state. Mark, in this section of his book, makes the point that fasting is not a diet, but an eating pattern that puts a person into a fat-burning state. Dawn asks Mark to briefly walk through this evolutionary history.



    [00:13:06] Ken mentions that Yuval Noah Harari, author of,

    • 1 hr 7 min
    Episode 132: Martin Kulldorff discusses vaccines, lockdowns, school closings and the global response to COVID-19

    Episode 132: Martin Kulldorff discusses vaccines, lockdowns, school closings and the global response to COVID-19

    Our guest today describes the global response to COVID-19 as one of the biggest public-health fiascos in history. As you would expect, he gained quite a bit of notoriety for this contrarian view. Dr. Martin Kulldorff is an epidemiologist and biostatistician who has spent the past 30 years researching infectious diseases as well as the efficacy and safety of vaccines.



    He is internationally known for his statistical and epidemiological methods for the early detection and monitoring of infectious diseases. A former Harvard Medical School professor who today is the Senior Scientific Officer at the Brownstone Institute, Martin worked with the Centers for Disease Control on its current system for monitoring potential vaccine risks. Today, the U.S. and other countries around the world use Martin’s detection methods to monitor COVID-19.



    Martin made national headlines in October of 2020 when he and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford and Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford published the Great Barrington Declaration, a paper that questions school closings, lockdowns, travel restrictions and other governmental responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three authors recommended “focused protection” instead, a policy of protecting senior citizens and others who are most at risk of dying from COVID while allowing young people and others who face minimal risk of death to resume their normal lives.



    The three authors were immediately skewered for what critics called a radically dangerous approach for pandemic management.



    At STEM-Talk, however, we appreciate that a curious, open, and even skeptical mind is at the heart of the scientific method. Because of that, we have invited Martin to sit down with us to discuss the Great Barrington Declaration as well as his views about pandemics and the best ways to safeguard the public. We also review with Martin the age-adjusted mortality rates of states like Florida, New York and California which had quite different responses to COVID-19.



    Ironically, co-host Dawn Kernagis learned on the morning of our interview with Martin that she had contacted COVID. So, she has to skip today’s discussion. (Note to listeners: It was just a mild case and Dawn is already back on her feet.)



    But in today’s fascinating episode, Martin and host Ken Ford discuss:



    -- The safety of vaccines, including the coronavirus vaccines.



    -- Martin’s thoughts about the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children.



    -- The Great Barrington Declaration and the concerns it raised about the physical, mental-health and economic impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 responses.



    -- The effectiveness of natural immunity compared to vaccine-induced immunity.



    -- Whether hospitals should be hiring caregivers with natural immunity rather than firing them.



    -- Martin’s thoughts about Sweden, which was the only Western nation that did not impose lockdowns or close its schools and daycare centers in response to COVID-19.



    -- What age-adjusted COVID mortality rates for the U.S. have to say about the different approaches states used in response to the pandemic.



    Show notes:



    [00:05:20] Ken opens the interview mentioning that Martin was born in Lund in 1962 in southern Sweden, but grew up in Umea, a university town in northeast Sweden. Ken asks what prompted Martin’s family to move to Umea when he was two years old.



    [00:05:47] Ken mentions as an aside that he once spent an enjoyable week at the University of Umea visiting Lars-Erick Janlert.  Ken served as the external expert for a PhD dissertation.



    [00:07:00] Ken asks Martin what he was like as a child.



    [00:07:32] Ken asks what drew Martin to math, and if it came naturally to him.



    [00:08:15] Martin talks about his decision to attend Umea Univer...

    • 1 hr 34 min

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