A podcast about the surprising ways that science evolves. Through conversations with scientists, we trace the technology, theories, and products we see around us today back to early discoveries in the lab, while also imagining where future breakthroughs could take us. Hosted and produced by Aliyah Kovner at Berkeley Lab, aka Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Green Machines: The natural and artificial photosynthesis powering the planet
What is photosynthesis? Oh, no big deal, just the key to life on Earth as we know it! Join me as I take a deep dive into this amazingly sophisticated chemical process. Hear fascinating details they didn't teach you in school and get a crash course on how natural photosynthesis inspires the development of renewable energy technologies that could someday replace all petroleum products.
Featuring Jan F. Kern, from Berkeley Lab's Biosciences Area; and Joel Ager, from the Energy Sciences Area and an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley.
Produced and hosted by Aliyah Kovner
Inclusion in STEM: the Name Change Initiative
A Day in the Half-Life explores what working in STEM is really like, and that means conversations about inclusion. So to celebrate Pride Month, we're releasing a special episode about making research & academia culture more inclusive for transgender scientists.
Publications are an essential part of career growth for scientists. But what if you no longer use the name on past work? How can you claim your intellectual labor? Transitioning to one's preferred identity can be challenging on its own. Journals and Institutions shouldn't make it harder.
The Name Change Initiative, launched in 2021, aims to make the logistical hurdles to accomplish this as simple as possible for our transgender colleagues – and anyone else whose identify changes during the course of their career. The Name Change Initiative is a coordinated effort among U.S. National Labs and publishing institutions, led by Berkeley Lab, that focuses on making it easier for transgender scientists to change their name on published works.
In this interview recorded last year, two initiative leaders join a transgender scientist who has faced the difficulties of transitioning openly and changing her name on past work, to share their stories.
For decades, scientists have been able to predict future Earth conditions, like rainfall and temperature, with impressive accuracy using computer programs called climate models. These models are helpful at telling us what might happen to our weather depending on how much we curb greenhouse gases emissions now, and they can be used to study how much human-driven climate change plays a role in big events such as Hurricane Harvey or last year’s Pacific Northwest heatwave, compared with our planet’s natural processes.
We hear about climate models all the time, but how many of us know how they actually work? In this episode, we peel back the curtain, discussing where these models came from, what they can do amazingly well, and their current limitations. And our guests talk about what it's like for them, personally, when their work is doubted, minimized, or politicized. After all, climate scientists find themselves in the hot seat a lot more often than other scientists. Today's guests are experts not only in the science itself, but also expert at staying cool under pressure, communicating their science with the public, and laughing off the negativity.
Jennifer Holm, a research scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Climate and Ecosystem Science Division. Her work focuses on modeling terrestrial ecosystems, with an emphasis on tropical forests.
Michael Wehner, a senior scientist in the Applied Math and Computational Research Division. A veteran in the field, Michael used to write climate models, and now uses them to study how human-caused climate change impacts extreme weather events like hurricanes.
More Microchips, Moore Problems
The race to make smaller and smaller electronic chips is coming to an end, after many decades of creative engineering. Individual transistors are now just a few nanometers (that’s billionths of a meter) in length, so there’s not much more shrinking to be done. But there is still a lot of room for improvement. The 20th century effort to pack transistors onto tiny silicon wafers transformed clunky, heavy early electronics into the sleek, portable devices we see today. The challenges of the 21st century will be to make these microelectronics energy efficient and to push the boundaries of what’s possible in a world increasingly integrated with technology.
This episode's guests are Sinéad Griffin and Ramamoorthy Ramesh
Energy storage: Save your electrons for a rainy day
Have you ever wondered how electricity is available all the time? That’s the seemingly magical science of energy storage. In this episode, we speak to a policy leader and a researcher about the history of piggy-banking power to spend it later, and how this field is evolving to help us prevent extreme weather-related blackouts, adopt more renewable energy, and build bigger, better, more environmentally responsible batteries.
Noël Bakhtian, director of Berkeley Lab's Energy Storage Center. Noel formerly served as director of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies at Idaho National Laboratory and as a senior policy advisor for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Before her shift into policy and leadership, she was an engineer at NASA Ames Research Center working on Mars landing projects.
Mike Gerhardt, research scientist at SINTEF Industry in Norway helping develop new battery and fuel cell technologies using experimentation and computer modeling. Before moving to SINTEF, he was a postdoc in the Energy Conversion Group at Berkeley Lab.
*Special thanks to The Apples in Stereo for use of their song*
This episode was hosted, produced, and edited by Aliyah Kovner. Art by Jenny Nuss.
Audio samples from Halleck, Joao_Janz, and philtre.
In 1935, the famous physicist Erwin Schrödinger was debating with his friend Albert Einstein about the nature of a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics – a field that was, at the time, still very new. To illustrate his point, Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment wherein a (rather unfortunate) cat sealed in a box is both alive and dead simultaneously – up until the moment someone opens the box. Decades later, that abstract paradox is still very much alive, and enabling the development of a new generation of computers.
These quantum computers use bits (called qubits) that, unlike the binary bits in today’s electronics, can simultaneously exist in many states between on and off. And although the word gets overused in science, this emerging technology really is revolutionary. A fully developed quantum computer is predicted to be able to perform calculations that would be impossible for a traditional supercomputer, even with thousands of years of processing time.
In this episode, our experts chat about the current state of quantum computers and explain why the mind-bending theories of quantum make coming to work a lot of fun.
Irfan Siddiqi is a professor at UC Berkeley, where he leads the Quantum Nanoelectronics Laboratory, a collaborative group dedicated to developing new and improved superconducting qubits. He is also a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab, where he leads the Advanced Quantum Testbed and the Quantum Systems Accelerator – a DOE National Quantum Information Science Research Center.
Zahra Pedramrazi is a project scientist at the Advanced Quantum Testbed. During her physics undergraduate, she took a quantum class with Irfan, and became hooked on the field. She is currently focused on the fabrication of superconducting qubits, working to refine their design in order to overcome the limitations of current qubits.
"Thus, the task is, not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees." ― Erwin Schrödinger
“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” ― Niels Bohr
Informative and Inspiring!
Excited that this podcast exists!