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 148: Ed Weiler on the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, Mars rovers and NASA’s search for life
Our guest today is Dr. Ed Weiler, a retired NASA scientist who spent 20 years as the chief scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, the forerunner of the James Webb.
During his 33-year NASA career, Ed wore many hats, including Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate; Center Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Associate Administrator for NASA's Space Science Enterprise, chief of the Ultraviolet/Visible and Gravitational Astrophysics Division and director of the Astronomical Search for Origins Program.
In today’s episode, we talk to Ed about:
-- About NASA’s accomplishments in the past year, including the Perseverance mission, the success of the James Webb telescope, and the launch of Artemis-1.
-- Ed’s experience as the Chief Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope during its early development.
-- Ed’s time as the director of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins program.
-- Ed’s role in the development of the New Horizons space craft and its mission to fly by and study Pluto and it’s moons.
-- Ed’s belief that in the next 20 to 50 years, we will be able to the prove the existence of other life in the universe.
[00:02:59] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that she and Ed share a common experience of going through the selection process to become a NASA astronaut.
[00:03:55] Dawn mentions that instead of becoming an astronaut, Ed joined NASA in 1978 as a scientist, serving in a variety of science leadership roles throughout his career, eventually retiring in 2011 after 33 years of service. Dawn asks Ed to talk about his various accomplishments at NASA.
[00:05:57] Dawn asks Ed about his feelings toward the various accomplishments of NASA in recent years since his retirement, such as the Perseverance mission, the success of the James Webb telescope, and the launch of Artemis-1.
[00:08:42] Ken asks Ed to discuss the recent images from the James Webb telescope, images that have captured the public’s imagination.
[00:12:10] Dawn asks if it’s true that Ed decided to become an astronomer and go to work for NASA when he was only 13 years old.
[00:15:36] Dawn mentions that we have had several guests on STEM-Talk that cite the Apollo missions as their inspiration for pursuing a career in science. Dawn points out that Ed was already in grad school when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon. Dawn asks Ed about watching the moon landing on the campus of Northwestern University.
[00:16:48] Ken asks about Ed’s experience as the Chief Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope during its early development.
[00:25:01] Dawn points out that after graduating from Northwestern University, Ed joined the research staff at Princeton while also working at the Goddard Space Flight Center. In 1978, Ed became a staff scientist at NASA headquarters and Dawn asks how that position came about.
[00:29:45] Dawn mentions that Ed was also the director of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins program and asks Ed to talk about that experience.
[00:33:03] Ken mentions that in 1998, Ed became the Associate Administrator for Space Science for the first time. Ken goes on to mention when Ed was first approached about the position, he said “not in a million years.” Ken asks what eventually changed Ed’s mind.
[00:37:10] Dawn asks Ed about his first stint as NASA’s Associate Administrator, where he oversaw several successful missions and set in motion an ambitious Mars exploration mission.
[00:43:43] Dawn asks Ed to talk about the role he played in the development of the New Horizons craft and its mission to fly by and study Pluto and its moons.
[00:45:46] Ken mentions that when Ed’s first tenure as Associate Admi...
Episode 147: Gwen Bryan talks about advances in wearable robotic devices and exoskeletons
Today’s interview is with IHMC’s Dr. Gwen Bryan, a research scientist who investigates wearable robotic devices aimed at augmenting human performance in clinical, occupational, and military applications.
She is particularly focused on maximizing the benefits of powered exoskeletons. At IHMC, Gwen leads the exoskeleton team, which is developing a novel augmentative device that continues IHMC’s research on mobility devices for people with spinal cord injury. The team also is researching a powered exoskeleton to aid government employees whose work involves nuclear site remediation.
Gwen and her team’s effort, which utilizes a human-centered research approach, is uniquely situated to expand exoskeleton research and technology because of the expertise and collaboration that’s available among IHMC’s robotics and human-performance research groups.
Gwen joined IHMC after completing her Ph.D. in the Stanford Biomechatronics Lab. Outside of work, Gwen enjoys soccer, weightlifting, painting and snowboarding. She also is a dog mom to two very adorable shelter dogs, Bandit and Oreo.
[00:02:32] Dawn asks Gwen what it was like growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[00:03:02] Dawn mentions that it seems science was a part of Gwen’s life early on. Dawn goes on to mention that Gwen’s father was an engineer, and her mother was a nurse and asks how her parents having these backgrounds influenced her.
[00:03:35] In addition to a science background, Gwen’s mother is also a clarinetist who instilled a love for the arts in Gwen. Dawn asks Gwen about her painting and how art benefits other aspects of her life.
[00:04:17] Ken asks Gwen what she was like as a kid.
[00:04:59] Ken asks Gwen to talk about a rafting trip she took with her cousin through the Grand Canyon.
[00:06:27] Dawn asks Gwen how chocolate chip cookies factored into her third-grade science fair project.
[00:08:04] Dawn mentions that fitness became a part of Gwen’s life following an injury she had as a senior in high school. Exercise, particularly weightlifting, helped alleviate her back pain. Dawn asks Gwen what her fitness journey taught her about her body, and ultimately, how that experience gave her insights into the work she does today.
[00:09:16] Ken asks Gwen how she chose to go to the University of Texas in Austin.
[00:10:38] Dawn mentions that Gwen transferred to the University of New Mexico for her undergraduate work. Dawn asks Gwen what motivated her to apply her interest in mechanical engineering into robotics.
[00:11:28] Ken asks Gwen what was involved in her transfer from the University of Texas to New Mexico.
[00:12:34] Ken asks Gwen what led her to the Stanford Biomechatronics Lab.
[00:13:38] Ken asks Gwen to talk about her internship with the Sandia National Research Labs.
[00:14:40] Dawn shifts to talk about Gwen’s current research focus on wearable robotics, particularly exoskeletons, mentioning that when the public hears this term most people generally think either insect exoskeletons or Ironman. Dawn asks Gwen to describe the exoskeletons she works on.
[00:15:25] Dawn mentions that the potential uses of exoskeletons to help people with limited or no lower-limb mobility seems, in some respects, clear, but the application has been limited, and asks why that is.
[00:16:40] Dawn asks what some other applications of exoskeletons are that are important to know about.
[00:18:35] Ken mentions that during Gwen’s doctoral work at Stanford, she developed the first cable-driven exoskeleton to assist all the three leg joints — hips, knees, and ankles — and asks Gwen to talk about how that design was developed and what made it special in the exoskeleton field.
Episode 146: Dan Pardi talks about behaviors to improve healthspan
Our guest today is Dr. Dan Pardi, the CEO of humanOS.me, a digital health training application. Dan is well-known for his research into sleep and has collaborated with many high-performing organizations, from Silicon Valley venture capitalists to companies like Adobe, Salesforce, Workday, Pandora, Intuitive Surgical, and more.
He also works with several branches of the U.S. Military to help elite warfighters maintain vigilant performance in both combat and non-combat conditions.
Dan’s podcast, humanOS Radio, is the official podcast of the Sleep Research Society, the Canadian Sleep Society, and a content partner of the Buck Institute on Aging. Dan collaborated with more than 100 science professors around the globe to create his digital humanOS application.
Dan has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from Leiden University in the Netherlands and Stanford University in the United States. He has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Florida State University and currently lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, two young boys, and their dog, Wally.
Joining STEM-Talk host Dr. Ken Ford for today’s conversation with Dan is Dr. Marcas Bamman, a senior research scientist here at IHMC. Marcas was a STEM-Talk guest on episode 116. In today’s interview with Dan, we cover his early career in bioinformatics and how a trip to Moscow led to his doctoral research of sleep and treatments for narcolepsy.
He also talks about the Loop Model to Adopt and Sustain Health Behaviors, a program he developed during his Ph.D. studies. The Loop Model became the core of his company, humanOS.
Finally, Dan talks about the concepts of “actual health,” health-performance experts and a shift in what aging means, which he believes is important to improving the quality of life for all of us.
[00:03:19] Marcas starts the interview by asking Dan to talk about his years growing up in Northern California’s Marin County.
[00:04:06] Ken asks Dan about building radio-controlled cars with his father.
[00:05:11] Marcas explains that Dan’s father was a successful businessman who, after a successful career as a salesman for Remco selling kitchenware, started his own company in California that grew to 200 employees. Dan has been quoted as saying that one of the lessons he learned from his father was the value of relationships. Marcas asks how that lesson has affected Dan’s life.
[00:06:29] Dan talks about his passion for basketball and how his time at the Cap Lavin camp influenced his early life.
[00:08:15] Marcas mentions that Dan’s “science life” seems to have begun with a seventh-grade science-fair project that ended up landing him a job with Nike. Marcas asks Dan to talk about that story.
[00:09:26] Ken mentions that Dan went to the University of San Francisco for his bachelor’s degree and then went to Florida State for his Masters in Exercise Physiology. Ken asks what led Dan to FSU.
[00:10:26] Ken asks why Dan decided to pursue a career in cancer research, going to work at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Northern California after graduating.
[00:12:04] Marcas commends Dan for being ahead of his time by leveraging the new technological development of the internet portal to empower life scientists while he was working with the Bioinformatics Biotech DoubleTwist, and asks what that experience was like.
[00:13:41] Ken asks Dan how a trip to Moscow led Dan to pursue a Ph.D. at Leiden University and Stanford, after already working in the industry for 10 years.
[00:15:17] Marcas explains that Dan’s Ph.D. research at the Zeitzer Circadian Biology Lab at Stanford University focused on gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), sleep and ingestive behavior. Marcas asks what was most interesting about this resea...
Episode 145: Ken answers questions about hypersonic flight, sentient AI, ketogenic vs Mediterranean diets, and more
It’s time for another Ask Me Anything episode where STEM-Talk cohost Dawn Kernagis asks Ken questions submitted by listeners.
In this episode, Ken and Dawn weigh in on:
-- Whether AI is becoming sentient.
-- How women in midlife might protect their bodies from the negative effects of a slowing metabolism.
-- A Stanford study that compared a low-carbohydrate diet with a Mediterranean diet.
-- Whether fasting helps optimize cognitive performance.
-- The future of hypersonic technology.
-- And a lot more.
If you have a question after listening to today’s episode or any episode of STEM-Talk, email your question to STEM-Talk Producer Randy Hammer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:02:45] Dawn begins the AMA with a question for Ken that was inspired by the Mark Mattson interview, episode 133. Mark talked about skipping breakfast and in his recent book, “The Intermittent Fasting Revolution,”
Mark points out that bodybuilders often skip breakfast and do their weight training in a fasted state, which has the effect of optimizing both muscle building and cognitive performance. The listener mentions that they feel more cognitively sharp in a fasted state but as soon as they break their fast, they don’t feel as sharp. The listener asks Ken if this is normal.
[00:04:35] A listener asks Ken about a recent news story in which a Russian robot broke a boy’s finger during a chess match. The listener goes on to state that several of their friends have jumped to the conclusion that this is proof robots are becoming sentient beings and asks Ken for his take is on this given Ken’s AI background.
[00:06:02] A listener asks another AI question, this one regarding the Washington Post’s reporting on a Google engineer who was fired over claims he made while at the company that an AI chatbot he had been testing had become sentient. The engineer claimed in an interview with The Guardian that the chatbot, LaMDA, was afraid of being turned off, had read “Les Miserables” and that it had emotions. Google maintains that LaMDA is merely responding to prompts designed for it. The listener asks Ken what would be an appropriate test for gauging AI sentience and what other thoughts Ken has about this story.
[00:08:32] A listener mentions that they have been following the ketogenic diet for 18 months and have lost 40 pounds. Recently they checked their liver enzymes GGT, AST, TSH and found they were elevated above “normal” and their Alpha fetoprotein marker was measured at 10.3. The listener asks Ken what he has learned about the ketogenic diet’s impact on the liver.
[00:09:48] A listener asks about a recent paper regarding a Stanford study that compared low-carbohydrate diets with a Mediterranean diet. The listener mentions that in the Stanford study the diets had three similarities – no non-starchy vegetables, no added sugars and no refined grains. The key difference in the diets was that the low-carb diet avoided legumes, fruits, and whole grains while the Mediterranean diet included them. The study measured glucose control and cardiometabolic risk in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. The study found that comparative outcomes did not support a sufficient benefit to justify people avoiding legumes, whole fruits, and whole grains to achieve the metabolic state of ketosis. The listener asks Ken for his thoughts on the study and in his answer, Ken mentions an interview Dr.
Episode 144: Jason Fung on how fasting and a low-carb diet improve insulin resistance and metabolic health
Our guest today is Dr. Jason Fung, a Toronto-based nephrologist, and the best-selling author of “The Obesity Code,” “The Diabetes Code,” and “The Cancer Code.” Jason is best known for his success in combining a low-carb diet with intermittent fasting to help thousands of overweight patients reverse their type 2 diabetes, lose weight, and improve their metabolic health.
Jason is the author of the blog “The Fasting Method” and the co-founder of the Intensive Dietary Management program, an initiative that provides low-carb dietary guidance and counseling on various fasting regimes. Jason is also the co-author with Jimmy Moore of “The Complete Guide to Fasting,” which looks at the history and culture of fasting and how it helps people improve their metabolic health.
In today’s episode, Ken is joined by Visiting IHMC research scientist Dr. Tommy Wood and together, they and Jason discuss:
* How in the beginning of his practice, Jason prescribed insulin for type 2 diabetes patients.
* How a series of landmark studies starting in 2008 changed Jason’s mind about using glucose-lowering medication for type 2 diabetes.
* Jason’s realization that type 2 diabetes is largely a dietary disease and therefore requires a dietary solution rather than a pharmaceutical one.
* The origins of Jason’s Dietary Management program, which counsels overweight and obese patients to follow a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet to reduce insulin.
* A critique of the “eat less, move more” strategy acclaimed by many obesity experts.
* Mark Mattson’s research into the powerful impact of intermittent fasting on metabolic health and a recent paper that questioned the effectiveness of time-restricted eating when compared to daily calorie restriction.
* Recent research and evidence that fasting during chemotherapy may reduce the side effects of the treatment.
[00:02:25] Tommy opens the interview mentioning that Jason was born and raised in Toronto and asks what drew Jason to science as a kid.
[00:03:43] Tommy mentions the irony that Jason has written several best-selling books, yet Jason was not fond of English or writing when he was in school.
[00:04:53] Ken mentions that after graduating from high school, Jason stayed close to home and attended the University of Toronto, entering into medical school just after turning 19 to study internal medicine, eventually specializing in nephrology. Ken asks Jason what intrigued him about becoming a kidney specialist.
[00:06:36] Tommy asks Jason what led him to go to UCLA after medical school for his specialty training in kidney disease at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
[00:07:37] Tommy mentions that Jason has been practicing clinical nephrology in Toronto since 2001, and that in those early years of his practice, Jason saw patients with type 2 diabetes and prescribed medications to keep their blood glucose low. When that didn’t work, he would prescribe insulin, which is the standard medical practice. Tommy asks what Jason observed during these early years of his practice.
[00:09:28] Ken mentions that in 2008, two landmark studies were published, the ACCORD study and the a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.
Episode 143: Ben Bikman on the roles of insulin and ketones in metabolic function
Today’s episode features the author of “Why We Get Sick,” Dr. Ben Bikman, a biomedical scientist at Brigham Young University.
Ben is known for his research into the contrasting roles of insulin and ketones as key drivers of metabolic function.
In “Why We Get Sick,” Ben takes a deep dive into insulin resistance and metabolic health. The book particularly focuses on the role that insulin resistance plays in many of today’s most common diseases: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Ben and his colleagues at the Bikman Lab investigate the molecular mechanisms behind the increased risks of disease that accompany obesity and excess visceral fat. Much of the research at the Bikman Lab particularly focuses on the etiology of insulin resistance and how it disrupts mitochondrial function.
In today’s interview, STEM-Talk cohosts Drs. Ken Ford and Dawn Kernagis talk to Ben about:
* How insulin resistance is tied to multiple chronic diseases.
* The relevance of ketones in mitochondrial function.
* How so many of our modern chronic diseases are self-inflicted and driven by insulin resistance.
* How many of the hallmarks of aging are a consequence of insulin resistance.
* The theory that the longest-lived people are likely the most insulin sensitive.
* The benefits that occur with carbohydrate reduction as a result of increasing insulin sensitivity.
* Ben’s thoughts about the degree of intermittent fasting needed to induce autophagy in humans.
[00:02:32] Dawn begins the interview asking Ben about his early life growing up in a small farm town in southern Alberta, Canada, as one of 13 children.
[00:02:48] Dawn asks Ben what he was like as a kid and what made him stand out from his 12 brothers and sisters.
[00:06:01] Dawn asks about Ben’s mother’s influence and how she wanted her sons to be Renaissance men.
[00:08:29] Ken asks about Ben’s experience as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Missionary in Samara, Russia.
[00:15:18] Dawn mentions that while Ben went into his undergrad majoring in exercise science, he wasn’t that interested in science at the time. It wasn’t until he began working on his master’s degree at BYU with Dr. Will Winder that he developed a true interest in science.
[00:19:49] Dawn asks Ben how he ended up at East Carolina University for his Ph.D. in bioenergetics.
[00:21:42] Ken mentions that Ben, after completing his Ph.D. moved to Singapore for his postdoc work at the Duke National University of Singapore. Ken asks how that came about.
[00:25:49] Dawn mentions that Ben is well-known for his work on insulin resistance, stemming from his time at East Carolina when he realized that insulin resistance is tied to many different chronic diseases. Dawn asks what was Ben’s ah-ha moment that led him to focus his research on insulin resistance.
[00:27:49] Dawn mentions that much of Ben’s work is focused on the role of elevated insulin in regulating obesity and diabetes, as well as the relevance of ketones in mitochondrial function. Dawn asks if it is correct that Ben has been on a sort of mission as a professor to teach a new generation of doctors and nurses how insulin resistance works, and why it is so relevant in terms of chronic disease.
[00:29:56] Ken mentions that Ben began to take his message about insulin resistance beyond the classroom, appearing on podcasts and making YouTube videos, and also giving a speech to the student body at BYU, titled “The Plagues of Prosperity” making the case that the human race is currently eating itself into metabolic disarray.
[00:32:31] Ben’s book a href="https://www.amazon.
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