26 episodes

A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.

Undiscovered WNYC

    • Science

A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.

    Spontaneous Generation

    Spontaneous Generation

    These days, biologists believe all living things come from other living things. But for a long time, people believed that life would, from time to time, spontaneously pop into existence more often—and not just that one time at the base of the evolutionary tree. Even the likes of Aristotle believed in the “spontaneous generation” of life until Louis Pasteur debunked the theory—or so the story goes. 

    • 20 min
    Into The Ether

    Into The Ether

    In 1880, scientist Albert Michelson set out to build a device to measure something every 19th century physicist knew just had to be there. The “luminiferous ether” was invisible and pervaded all of space. It helped explain how light traveled, and how electromagnetic waves waved. Ether theory even underpinned Maxwell’s famous equations! One problem: When Alfred Michaelson ran his machine, the ether wasn’t there. 

    Science historian David Kaiser walks Annie and Science Friday host Ira Flatow through Michaelson’s famous experiment, and explains how a wrong idea led to some very real scientific breakthroughs.

    This story first aired on Science Friday.

     

    GUEST
    David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, Professor of Physics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

     

    FOOTNOTES
    Find out more about the Michelson-Morley experiment on APS Physics. 

    Read an archival article from the New York Times about the physicists’ experimental “failure.”

     

    CREDITS
    This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Annie Minoff and Christopher Intagliata. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. 

    • 18 min
    Planet Of The Killer Apes

    Planet Of The Killer Apes

    In Apartheid-era South Africa, a scientist uncovered a cracked, proto-human jawbone. That humble fossil would go on to inspire one of the most blood-spattered theories in all of paleontology: the “Killer Ape” theory. 

    According to the Killer Ape theory, humans are killers—unique among the apes for our capacity for bloodthirsty murder and violence. And at a particularly violent moment in U.S. history, the idea stuck! It even made its way into one of the most iconic scenes in film history. Until a female chimp named Passion showed the world that we might not be so special after all.

    • 23 min
    Like Jerry Springer For Bluebirds

    Like Jerry Springer For Bluebirds

    “Do men need to cheat on their women?” a Playboy headline asked in the summer of 1978. Their not-so-surprising conclusion: Yes! Science says so! The idea that men are promiscuous by nature, while women are chaste and monogamous, is an old and tenacious one. As far back as Darwin, scientists were churning out theory and evidence that backed this up. In this episode, Annie and Elah go back to the 1970s and 1980s, when feminism and science come face to face, and it becomes clear that a lot of animals—humans and bluebirds included—are not playing by the rules.

    • 25 min
    Mini: The Undercover Botanist

    Mini: The Undercover Botanist

    In 1767, a young French servant sailed around the world, collecting plants previously unknown to Western science. The ship’s crew knew the servant as “Jean,” the scrappy aide to the expedition’s botanist. But “Jean” had a secret. She was actually Jeanne Baret, a woman disguised as a man—and she was about to make botanical history.

    Annie and Elah told this story for a live audience at On Air Fest a few weeks ago. 

    • 15 min
    Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

    Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

    Undiscovered is back between seasons with a listener question: What saved the cats? If you rewind to the Middle Ages, cats and humans were on bad terms. Cat roundups, cat torture, and even cat murder were common occurrences throughout Europe. But a series of historic events steadily delivered the tiny felines into public favor. In a story that spans centuries and continents, the Catholic Church and the Rosetta Stone, Elah and Annie investigate how the cat’s reputation shifted from devil’s minion to adored companion.

    • 10 min

Customer Reviews

Giraffegurl123 ,

Will miss you guys

I’m so so so sad that this show is ending. It was one of my absolute favorites. Really interesting, and I love the personalities of the hosts.

Ampers&&nd ,

Intelligent, thoughtful, engaging

This is a really thoughtful, well presented show. I love the premise of presenting things that haven’t quite worked out, or may not work out, and why that is. This one was of my favorite podcasts, and I’m sorry to hear there won’t be more new episodes. Well done!

Sillyvalley ,

Sad to say goodbye

This is a serious and seriously entertaining show. It is very important for the public to understand that science is an investigative adventure, that contradictions, setbacks, and new ideas are the norm. The hosts are doing a great job unveiling the stories while maintaining good entertainment!

Top Podcasts In Science

Listeners Also Subscribed To

More by WNYC