124 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
    • 4.7 • 567 Ratings

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 124: Gary Taubes makes a case for the ketogenic diet and its metabolic benefits

    Episode 124: Gary Taubes makes a case for the ketogenic diet and its metabolic benefits

    Today we have journalist Gary Taubes making a repeat appearance on STEM-Talk to discuss his new book, “The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb/High-Fat Eating.”



    Our interview with Gary in 2016, episode 37, followed the release of his book, “The Case Against Sugar,” which went on to become a New York Times best seller. “The Case for Keto” is Gary’s fourth book about diet and chronic disease.



    Gary made national headlines in 2002 when he wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine challenging the low-fat orthodoxy that had held sway in America since the 1970s. In the article, titled “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,” Gary wrote that perhaps Dr. Robert Atkins with his Atkins Diet was correct in suggesting that it’s not fat that makes us fat, but carbohydrates.



    Our conversation with Gary covered a lot of ground, and we have divided his interview into two parts. Today we talk to Gary about his reasons for writing the new book and how opinions on a low-carb and high-fat diet have changed over the past 20 years. In part two of our interview with Gary, we dig deeper into his efforts to set the record straight about the role of diet and weight control in preventing chronic diseases, as well as the role that diet plays in helping people improve their health spans.



    Gary turned to journalism back in the 1970s after receiving his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Stanford University. Today, he continues to practice journalism and is the founder and director of the Nutrition Science Initiative.



    Show notes:



    00:03:43 Dawn welcomes Gary back to STEM-Talk and asks how things went for him as a writer during COVID-19 and the lockdowns.



    00:04:24 Dawn gives some background on Gary’s new book The Case for Keto, which is his fourth book to follow and expand upon a 2002 article he wrote for the New Times Magazine titled, “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” She asks Gary if he ever anticipated writing four books about the relationship between diet and chronic disease when the article came out 20 years ago.



    00:06:09 Ken mentions that Gary’s New York Times Magazine article questioned the effectiveness of low-fat diets, which the government’s dietary guidelines had been recommending since the late 1970s. Ken adds that almost overnight Gary become public health enemy number one, and asks Gary if he expected so much pushback as a result of the article.



    00:10:53 Dawn describes how the release of Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, which draws on work by both Gary and Dr. Atkins, seemed to change consumers’ eating habits. Dawn then asks Gary if he remembers seeing or being surprised by the disappearance of pasta and bread from restaurants and grocery shelves.



    00:14:41 Ken notes that in the blurb Michael Pollan wrote for the jacket of Gary’s 2007 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, Michael said the book would change the way people think about eating. While Gary’s work did not end up changing national heart, health and diet guidelines, low-carb and ketogenic diets have become quite popular since then. Ken asks Gary what he thinks is driving this interest in keto.



    00:19:41 Dawn describes Gary’s 2011 best seller Why We Get Fat as a condensed summary of the research contained in Good Calories, Bad Calories combined with new research on hormonal-based weight gain. She mentions Gary’s argument that the medical community and the federal gov...

    • 47 min
    Episode 123: Steve Chien talks about AI, Mars rovers, and the possibility of intelligent alien life

    Episode 123: Steve Chien talks about AI, Mars rovers, and the possibility of intelligent alien life

    Episode 123 Steve Chien talks about AI, Mars rovers, and the possibility of intelligent alien life



    Today’s interview is with Dr. Steve Chien.  Dr. Chien is JPL Fellow, Senior Research Scientist, and Technical Group Supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group and in the Mission Planning and Execution Section at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.



    In 2018, Steve and Ken were appointed to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, an independent commission tasked with providing the President and Congress a blueprint for advancing AI and associated technologies to address future national security and defense needs of the United States. The commission recently released a 756-page reportwhich found that the nation is unprepared to compete in a future enabled by AI and that the U.S. could soon be replaced as the world’s AI superpower. The report was two years in the making and offers strategies and recommendations to strengthen and protect the nation’s economy, technology base, and national security.



    In today’s podcast, we talk to Steve about the report and what he learned over the past two years serving on the commission.



    Steve heads up the Artificial Intelligence Group at JPL.  JPL is the lead for deep space robotic exploration for NASA. For the past several years, he has worked on the Perseverance Rover mission, which landed on Mars back in February and used an automated ground-based scheduling system called Copilot that Steve and his JPL colleagues developed.



    Steve joined JPL more than 30 years ago and last year was named a JPL Fellow, an honor that recognizes people who have made extraordinary technical and institutional contributions to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory over an extended period. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he earned a doctorate in computer science.



    Show notes:



    00:04:09 Dawn opens the interview welcoming Steve to the show and asking about his background. Dawn mentions that Steve grew up in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, where he enjoyed basketball, Dungeons and Dragons and attempting to reinvent Decision Theory.



    00:05:33 Dawn asks how Steve ended up as a computer science major rather than an economics major.



    00:07:01 Dawn asks Steve if it is true that he graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the age of 19.



    00:07:41 Dawn asks Steve what he did after attaining his Ph.D.



    00:09:18 Ken asks Steve to describe his interest in the search for life beyond earth.



    00:11:0 Ken mentions that Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist from NASA Ames Research Center, recently discussed the search for intelligent life in our galaxy on STEM-Talk, episode 121. Ken explains that the discussion centered around the Drake Equation, which was developed to produce a probabilistic estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy, with Pascal’s conclusion being that the solution to the Drake Equation is likely N = 1. Ken asks Steve about his thoughts on the likelihood of intelligent life in our galaxy.



    00:14:23 Dawn mentions that the Perseverance rover is currently maneuvering across the surface of Mars. She asks Steve, as the head of the Artificial Intelligence Group at JPL, NASA’s lead for deep-space robotic exploration, if he could talk about the work he specifically did on the Perseverance rover including the rover’s scheduling system.



    00:16:38 Ken mentions that the success of the Perseverance mission so far has rekindled discussions of sending humans to M...

    • 44 min
    Episode 122: James Kirkland on targeting senescent cells to reverse age-related diseases

    Episode 122: James Kirkland on targeting senescent cells to reverse age-related diseases

    In today’s episode, we talk about zombie cells, a term used to describe senescent cells because of their refusal to die. Our guest on this topic is Dr. James Kirkland, a geriatrics specialist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who is known for his research into the role that senescence and senescent cells have on age-related dysfunction and chronic disease.



    As senescent cells build up in the body, they promote cellular aging and a host of chronic conditions related to aging, such as dementia, cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes and arthritis. In today’s interview, we focus on Jim’s 2015 study where he and his colleagues at Mayo were the first to report on the potential of senolytic drugs to selectively kill zombie senescent cells. Jim’s paper in Aging Cell has been hailed as a major breakthrough in aging research.



    Jim is the director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center of Aging at Mayo and the president of the American Federation for Aging Research. The goal of James’ lab and research is to develop methods to remove senescent cells to delay, prevent, alleviate or partially reverse age-related chronic diseases.  Jim and his colleagues believe that doing this will help extend people’s health span, and, more important, prolong the period of life where people can live free of disabilities caused by chronic disease.



    Show notes:



    00:03:20 Jim starts the interview talking about growing up in Canada.



    00:03:31 Dawn asks him when he became interested in science.



    00:04:05 Ken mentions that he understands that Jim had an interest in becoming a physician at a very early age, and given Jim’s previous comments, asks if it was Jim’s childhood observations of his grandparents’ aging that drove his interest in geriatrics.



    00:04:39 Dawn asks how Jim ended up at the University of Toronto.



    00:04:51 Dawn mentions that Jim received his medical degree in 1977 and completed his residency at Toronto General Hospital. Dawn goes on to ask why, after this, did Jim decide to go overseas to study at the University of Manchester.



    00:05:37 Dawn mentions that after Jim’s experience in Manchester, he moved back across the Atlantic to work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he mainly studied adipose tissue.



    00:06:11 Dawn asks what role Jim’s research at NIH played in his Ph.D., which he earned from the University of Toronto in 1990.



    00:07:19 Dawn mentions that in 2007 Jim became the director of the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic and asks how Jim ended up at that position.



    00:07:54 Dawn asks Jim to clarify the difference between lifespan and healthspan.



    00:09:26 Ken mentions that Jim’s research throughout his career has focused on cellular aging and senescent cells. Ken asks what initially triggered Jim’s interest in senescence.



    00:11:42 Dawn mentions Jim’s 2015 paper in Aging Cell, where Jim and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic were the first to report on the potential of senolytic drugs, which selectively kill senescent cells. Dawn goes on to ask Jim about his research leading up to this breakthrough paper.



    00:14:47 Dawn asks Jim to talk about two senolytic compounds that he and his colleagues identified called dasatinid and quercetin, and what the significance of their discovery is.



    00:17:20 Ken mentions the senolytic agent called fisetin, which is another agent showing benefit in rodent studies and is now being used in human clinical trials. Ken mentions that some authors have described fisetin as having roughly twice the senolytic potency as quercetin. Ken asks Jim to explain where fisetin fits into the senolytic landscape.



    00:19:18 Dawn mentions that Jim began his aforementioned 2015 paper...

    • 55 min
    Episode 121: Pascal Lee on the Mars mission and our search for alien life in the galaxy

    Episode 121: Pascal Lee on the Mars mission and our search for alien life in the galaxy

    It has been nearly a month since NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars. So far, the rover hasn’t detected any signs of past life on the planet. But scientists have determined that several of the rocks on Mars are chemically similar to volcanic rocks on Earth. This, of course, has caused quite a bit of buzz. So, the double-secret-selection committee decided it was a perfect time to invite the chairman of the Mars Institute onto the show to get his take on the Perseverance and the Mars Mission so far.



    Actually, this is Dr. Pascal Lee’s second appearance on STEM-Talk. Pascal is a planetary scientist and director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center who was our guest in 2016 on episode 17.  Back then we talked to Pascal about his annual visits to the High Arctic’s Devon Island, which is the Earth’s largest uninhabited land that has geological characteristics similar to what scientists believe we will find on Mars.



    Today we catch up with Pascal and his Haughton-Mars Project. We also talk to him about Perseverance and a host of other Mars-related topics.



    We ask Pascal if he thinks we’ll find signs of life on Mars, or if he believes we will ever find signs of alien life in our galaxy. We also get Pascal’s thoughts about future manned missions to Mars and whether humans will ever colonize the Red Planet. And after listening to today’s interview, be sure to check out Pascal’s artwork and his recent paintings of Mars.



    Show notes:



    00:03:15 Dawn opens the interview welcoming Pascal back to STEM-Talk, mentioning that the last time he was on the podcast he was about to spend his 20th consecutive summer on Devon Island, the Earth’s largest uninhabited land with geological characteristics similar to what Pascal believes we will find on Mars. Dawn goes on to mention that due to COVID-19, last year’s trip to Devon Island was canceled and asks him about his disappointment.



    00:05:11 Ken asks if Pascal is confident that he’ll return to Devon Island this coming summer.



    00:05:36 Dawn mentions that it takes several stops and trips to reach Devon Island. She asks who makes those travel arrangements and how the journey plays out.



    00:08:25 Ken asks about Pascal’s polar bear guard dog, Apollo, inquiring as the protocol when Apollo alerts the team about a nearby polar bear.



    00:10:48 Dawn mentions the Webby Award-winning documentary filmed by a team at Google who came to visit Pascal on Devon Island in 2018 called “Mars on Earth: A Visit to Devon Island”. Dawn asks Pascal what he thought of the documentary.



    00:12:20 Ken asks Pascal to elaborate on the space suit that he was planning to test on Devon Island last summer but couldn’t because the trip was canceled.



    00:16:39 Dawn asks about the glove Pascal wants to test that may enable single-handed drone operation.



    00:20:11 Dawn mentions that the atmosphere of Mars is around 60 times less dense than the Earth’s. She asks Pascal about the challenges of flying a drone on Mars.



    00:22:15 Dawn asks Pascal to elaborate on his recommendation that scientists study the Inuit culture and history in relation to long-duration space travel.



    00:26:01 Ken mentions NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February and relates that Steve Jurczyk, the NASA acting administrator, described Perseverance’s landing on Mars as a pivotal moment for the United States and space exploration. Given that NASA has landed rovers on Mars before, Ken asks Pascal what makes this particular landing especially significant.



    00:28:10 Dawn mentions that NASA recently released recordings of the Perseverance rover d...

    • 1 hr 28 min
    Episode 120: Gordon Lithgow on alpha-ketoglutarate’s potential to affect healthspan and lifespan

    Episode 120: Gordon Lithgow on alpha-ketoglutarate’s potential to affect healthspan and lifespan

    Ever since Cell Metabolism published a study that found the naturally occurring metabolite alpha-ketoglutarate reduces inflammatory signaling as well as chronic inflammation, listeners have been asking Ken and Dawn for their take on the paper. Today, we have the author of the paper, Dr. Gordon Lithgow, as our guest on STEM-Talk. We talk with Gordon in-depth about his study and the potential of alpha-ketoglutarate to have positive effects on lifespan and healthspan.



    Gordon is a professor and vice president of Academic Affairs at the Buck Institute in Novato, California, where his research focuses on uncovering genes and small molecules that prolong lifespan through enhanced molecular stability. Today we cover Gordon’s research into alpha-ketoglutarate in the second part of a two-part interview. In part one, episode 119, we asked Gordon about his fascination with C elegans, a microscopic worm that Gordon and other geneticists study and often use for their research. He particularly covered two of his studies involving C elgans: one that looked at the role that protein homeostasis plays in aging;  and another study that found vitamin D3 improves protein homeostasis and slows aging.



    A native of Scotland, Gordon researched the biology of aging at the University of Manchester in England before moving to the Buck Institute in 2000. Gordon is married to Dr. Julie Andersen, who was our guest on episodes 117 and 118 and who also is a researcher at the Buck Institute.



    Show notes:



    00:03:20 Dawn opens part two of our interview with Gordon by mentioning his most recent paper on alpha-ketoglutarate, which has generated a lot of buzz. This study suggests there is a metabolite that one can buy in a health food store that may have a positive effect on lifespan as well as healthspan. Dawn goes on to mention that alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), is a naturally occurring metabolite. She notes that previous studies on it have shown that blood plasma levels of AKG can drop up to 10-fold as we age. Dawn asks Gordon to explain what AKG is and how it is involved in so many of our fundamental physiological processes.



    00:07:41 Ken mentions that in the study, Gordon fed the mice calcium AKG. Ken asks why Gordon chose calcium AKG as opposed to arginine AKG, which is a dietary supplement often used by athletes and bodybuilders to improve their performance and reduce muscle fatigue.



    00:09:22 Dawn mentions that when Gordon’s paper came out in Cell Metabolism, Gordon was quoted as saying, “The nightmare scenario has always been life extension with no reduction in disability.” Dawn goes on to state that this study showed that the middle-aged mice who were treated got healthier over time, and that even the mice that died early saw improvements in their health. Dawn asks Gordon to elaborate on this apparent extension in healthspan.



    00:12:41 Dawn asks Gordon about the significance of the finding in his study that calcium AKG reduced inflammatory signaling, as well as chronic inflammation, as it relates to degenerative aging.



    00:14:57 Ken asks if Gordon’s study has been replicated in any other strains of mice.



    00:18:54 Dawn mentions that Ponce De Leon Health, which is based in Florida, is marketing a formulation of calcium AKG under the brand name Rejuvant. She goes on to mention that Gordon and his colleagues at the Buck worked with Ponce De Leon Health to develop the product and that Gordon owns stock in the company. Dawn asks Gordon to give an overview of this partnership and address the concerns that some people may have about a potential conflict of interest.



    00:21:17 Ken asks Gordon to explain how the dose of calcium AKG used in the mouse study compares to t...

    • 48 min
    Episode 119: Gordon Lithgow talks about the biology of aging and prolonging lifespan

    Episode 119: Gordon Lithgow talks about the biology of aging and prolonging lifespan

    Episode 119: Gordon Lithgow talks about the biology of aging and prolonging lifespan



    Our guest today is Dr. Gordon Lithgow, a professor and vice president of Academic Affairs at the Buck Institute in Novato, California. Gordon’s research focuses on uncovering genes and small molecules that prolong lifespan through enhanced molecular stability.



    Because our conversation with Gordon was so extensive and fascinating, we have split his interview into two parts. In today’s part one of the interview, we talk to Gordon about his background and early studies as well as his fascination with C elegans, a microscopic worm that Gordon and other geneticists study and often use for their research. We particularly talk in depth about two of Gordon’s studies involving C elgans: one that looked at the role that protein homeostasis plays in aging;  and another study that found vitamin D3 improves protein homeostasis and slows aging.



    A native of Scotland, Gordon researched the biology of aging at the University of Manchester in England before moving to the Buck Institute in 2000. Gordon is married to Dr. Julie Andersen, who was our guest on episodes 117 and 118 and who also is a researcher at the Buck Institute.



    In part two of our interview with Gordon, we talk to him about a recent study of his that found the naturally occurring metabolite alpha-ketoglutarate reduces inflammatory signaling as well as chronic inflammation. The study has generated quite a bit of buzz because it suggests there’s a readily available metabolite that may have positive effects on lifespan and health span. As a result, Ken and Dawn have been getting numerous questions from listeners about alpha-ketoglutarate and Gordon’s recent study that ran in Cell Metabolism, which Gordon talks about in depth in part two.



    Show notes:



    00:03:59 Dawn opens the interview asking Gordon about growing up in a steelwork town outside of Glasgow, Scotland.



    00:04:22 Dawn asks Gordon what he was like as a kid.



    00:05:07 Dawn asks Gordon how a young boy who had aspirations of becoming a professional rugby or soccer player suddenly becomes passionate about birdwatching.



    00:07:07 Gordon talks about how he went to the University of Strathclyde after high school and how he was the first in his family to attend college.



    00:07:48 Dawn asks Gordon why he shifted his academic interests from microbiology to genetic engineering.



    00:09:05 Ken asks what led Gordon to attend the University of Glasgow for his doctorate after getting a degree in microbiology.



    00:10:04 Ken asks why Gordon went to Switzerland after receiving his doctorate.



    00:10:57 Ken asks what prompted Gordon to head to Boulder, Colorado, and why he became so interested in the biology of aging.



    00:12:57 Dawn mentions that while Gordon was working in Tom Johnson’s lab during his post-doc, Gordon made what Tom referred to as an amazing discovery. Gordon had found that a single heat shock to worms increased their lifespan by 15 percent. Dawn asks Gordon to talk about this discovery as well as his paper that ran in PNAS.



    00:15:46 Ken mentions that because of Gordon’s discovery, many people have developed an interest in sauna.



    00:16:57 Dawn mentions that a number of years after discovering that heat shocking increased the lifespan of worms, Gordon followed up on that study and demonstrated that giving the worms repeated mild hormetic heat treatments increased their lifespan even more. Dawn goes on to ask if, since this follow-up study, Gordon has a better understanding of hormesis mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level and how that might relate t...

    • 56 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
567 Ratings

567 Ratings

Hamed Aduddi ,

Awesomely awesome

Even Buddha would be enlightened by listening to your guest speakers. Informative and educational. I await with bated breath each episode. Kudos to you all.

R manutd ,

Love this stimulus package

Love the stimulus package than Ken, Dawn and their guest deliver, only wish they could do this weekly, but that would detract from their amazing work.

Rob12! ,

Is it love? (Submitted by Robski123)

Our brains are teeming with neurons stored with life’s great perspicacity
Dawn and Ken’s musings add to the great store
Their guests are, without fail, intellects with immense sagacity.
And present information that is anything but a bore.
I tune in with considerable anticipation
And wait for the next nugget of gold
And can only describe my enjoyment as infatuation (with Dawn).
Stemtalk is truly a marvel to behold.

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