Brains On!® is a science podcast for curious kids and adults from American Public Media. Co-hosted each week by kid scientists and reporters from public radio, we ask questions ranging from the science behind sneezing to how to translate the purr of cats, and go wherever the answers take us. @Brains_On
In this special episode, we've asked two rock star ornithologists to answer a flock of listener questions about birds. Drew Lanham and Corina Newsome talk flying, feathers, eggs, poop and how we humans can help birds. Plus: we test their ears with the Mystery Sound and their obscure bird knowledge with a game called Real Birds or Just Words. And many, many thanks to The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for providing the bird sounds you hear in this episode. This episode is ...more
There is so much happening in your brain when you read. From recognizing shapes as letters to discovering empathy, our brains really get a workout when we read books. In this episode, Ben Bergen from the Language and Cognition Lab at UC San Diego drops by to shed some light on how our brains process the meaning of words. We also learn how printing books has evolved and how the invention of the printing press brought worldwide change. And Newberry Award-winning author Kelly Barnhill shares a litt...more
Spooky stuff may make you cover your eyes in fright, but many of us find ourselves peeking through our fingers to get another glimpse. Why are we drawn to things that make us jump? In this episode, we'll find out how fear can actually be fun. We visit a scientist who helps design haunted houses for ultimate scares, chat with an author who writes ghost stories about how he crafts the creepy crawlies, and play a rousing game of Name That Phobia! Plus we help Gungador get rid of his hiccups and...more
Wool is warm, absorbs water and odors, plus it’s flame resistant. In short, wool is amazing! In this episode we explore how wool is different from hair. We go on a sheep safari at Cuyama Lamb in California, meet expert wool weaver Zefren Anderson and catch up with our favorite wooly hero Alpaca Jack. Plus a wool-worthy mystery sound and an Moment of Um that answer the question: If Earth had rings like Saturn would we be able to see them through our windows? This episode is sponsored by Bona H...more
In this episode, we find out how a system of cables around the globe (and deep in our oceans) brings websites, songs, videos and podcasts to our phones and computers, almost at the speed of light. The internet can seem vast and intangible but there’s a very physical system of cables, servers and exchange points across the globe (and yes, even under the oceans). We’ll find out how a video shows up nearly instantly on our screens and about insanely thin, clear glass tubes are the key to our digit...more
The flu shot changes every year. But why is the flu special, if other illnesses have much longer-lasting vaccines? This episode takes us into the world of viruses and immunity. A friendly lymphocyte fills us in on how flu shots work, and science journalist Anna Rothschild shares how vaccines started around the world. We'll hear from some virus-busting detectives to see how scientists solve the case of how to make next year’s flu shot as effective as possible. Author Maryn McKenna will stop b...more
Most of us think we’re good at detecting lies, but it turns out humans only get it right about half the time. And why do we do it anyway? What makes us want to deceive other people? In this episode we get to the truth about lying. We take a look at when people start lying, and how that helps us in our development as humans. We also hear from A. Lie, who tries to remind us that we might need lies more than we think. Plus, Angela Evans stops by and fills us in on the latest lie detection research....more
Never explore the final frontier without your trusty, white, puffy space suit! But why is it puffy and white? And why do astronauts need them? Turns out space is super dangerous and these suits can save your life. We’ll give you a tour of all the features of NASA’s iconic EMU suit and explain why it looks like a squishy marshmallow. Plus, we’ll interview an engineer working on the next generation of space suits and hear a funky new space jam by singer Jamie Lidell. Add in a mystery sound, a Mo...more
Have you heard the word dyslexia before? It's a term used to describe when people have a hard time learning to read. It's actually very common because reading is a fairly new skill that humans have developed. In this episode we do a deep dive on dyslexia. We'll look at how our brains have cobbled together the ability to read by re-purposing parts of the brain that evolved for other functions. And we’ll learn what scientists think might be going on in the brains of people with dyslexi...more
Elevators are like magic. You walk in, the door shuts and when it opens again, you are suddenly someplace new! Ta da! But it’s not magic that does this trick, it’s science and engineering. In this episode we explain how elevators work and we talk about how they’ve changed over time. For instance, did you know the first elevators had no walls? We also speak with historian Lee Gray about two elevator innovators who both happen to be named Otis. Speaking of Otis, Vijay Jayachandran with the Otis El...more
Today we’re talking genes - the recipe for you! We’ll go microscopic and check out how traits like hair color are passed down through your family. We’ll also hear the story of genetics pioneer Nettie Stevens and find out how current-day geneticist Janina Jeff unlocks the information packed in genes. And if you have ever wondered how two black Labrador retrievers can be the parents of a yellow Lab, you’re not alone. We have the answer to that too. All this and an especially rambunctious Mystery S...more
Human-made plastics are super useful -- they're lightweight, can be molded into anything, and they don’t break down. And because plastic is so versatile, we humans have found lots of uses for it. But the fact that it last forever means we find ourselves with a plastic problem. In this episode, we'll learn about the invention of plastic, how it's made and recycled and what you can do to help handle plastic waste. Plus: A very special appearance by Gungador, a tricky mystery sound and ...more
We have a lot to learn from ants. This episode digs into the hierarchy of ant colonies (spoiler alert: there is none) and why they walk in a straight line (spoiler alert: they don’t). We’ll also find out about epic ant battles and how the study of ants is teaching us about how cancer spreads, how the internet can be improved, and could even give us new ways to explore Mars. Plus: Our Moment of Um answers the question: Why do the mountains look blue from far away? This episode is sponsored by ...more
Trees are the strong, silent type but that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. In this episode we’ll explore how trees send each other messages above ground and below. Plus we’ll learn how a seed goes from a tiny sapling to a towering plant. We find out some fruit facts and hear an all new Mystery Sound. Oh, and our Moment of Um answers the question: why does the moon sometimes change color? This episode is sponsored by Discount Tire (discounttire.com) and Raddish, a cooking club for kids (Ra...more
Do insects see the world in slow motion? Do animals see the same rainbow we do? How do eagles see so far away? Our listeners have a lot of questions about the way animals see the world, and this episode tackles lots of them. We'll visit a lab where scientists are observing predatory insects to find out how their brains work, we'll drop in on the Eyes Open Wider support group for animals, and give you a catchy melody that will help you remember the electromagnetic spectrum -- that's a...more
What wonders are hiding underground? Producer Marc Sanchez finds out what it’s like to explore one of the biggest networks of caves in the world — and scientists are still discovering unmapped branches. Marc will show us the wonders hidden underground at this national park in South Dakota and how tricky it can be to brave uncharted territory with only a headlamp to light the way. This episode is sponsored by Aunt Fannie’s (auntfannies.com/summer and coupon code BRAINS), Raddish (RaddishKids.co...more
(This is the final installment in our series about feelings. Check out the first three if you haven't yet.) You know that feeling when you have butterflies in your stomach? Or maybe you get sweaty and hot? Or maybe you get fidgety and your heart beats really fast? Yeah, we know those feelings too. Today we're finding out why being anxious can make our bodies feel that way. We'll find out why fear has been really useful to our survival as a species and what you can do if that fear and...more
This is the third of our four-part series on feelings. Today we're learning why we all get angry and what to do with that emotion. We'll get in touch with our inner Super You Person and learn what physical reactions anger can trigger in our bodies. We'll also hear how our listeners describe their anger and talk to NPR reporter Michaeleen Doucleff about the different flavors of anger that people describe around the world. Plus: Mallika Chopra shares another meditation to try when you&...more
This is the second episode in our four-part series on feelings! In this episode, we're covering the small and big parts of sadness. Because this episode touches on some heavy pieces of sadness -- we recommend kids listening along with an adult, so you can talk over any questions that come up. But this episode has plenty of fun stuff, too! We'll learn about how social animals -- from goldfish and penguins, to humans -- all seem to get sad sometimes. We'll talk about some ways to help ...more
Where do feelings come from? And why do we have them? In this four-part series, we're digging deep into our emotions. In this first episode, we're getting happy! We'll get a play-by-play of the chemicals in our brain that trigger joyful feelings, and use the zoom ray to see what good vibes do for our bodies. We'll also hear about how each of us have different emotional thermostats and why thinking about our feelings can help us figure out what to do with them. At the end of thi...more
You may have noticed some strong smells coming from your feet, your friend's breath, or your brother's armpit. Where do these body odors come from? We'll meet the microscopic organisms responsible and visit the kingdom of Footsteros. We'll also find out why we might find these naturally occurring smells so disgusting. Plus: A brand new Moment of Um answers the question: Why do stink bugs stink? This episode is sponsored by Cloud Control Cat Litter by Arm & Hammer, Bona Premi...more
Today we shout out our love for the ECHO! (echo echo) Discover how these curious callbacks happen and why we hear them in some places but not others. We'll also play you the longest echo in the world and take you to an echo-proof room. Plus, an actual echo stops by to share its new podcast and we hear the answer to this Moment Of Um question: why can wild animals drink dirty water when humans need clean water? Today’s episode is sponsored by Loacker (loackerlove.com/powermom2019), Goodnigh...more
The hair on our heads is on our minds. We have fun with follicles and learn about how they make hair. Our experts help us decipher what makes hair black or brown, blonde or red, and even why it turns gray. From eye lashes to ear and nose hair, this episode has it all. Why do humans have hair and not fur? Why is there hair on the top of our heads? How does hair grow? How does hair become curly or straight? Plus: A brand new Moment of Um answers the question: "Why does my dad get fuzz in his ...more
Screens are everywhere these days! We’re taking a look at why smartphones are so addictive, and how our devices affect us. Our co-hosts took on a bold challenge for this episode: they went a week without phones or tablets. We’ll hear how their experiment went, then Sanden will fill us in on the brain chemical that trains us to love our screens. We'll also learn why the predictability of messages and alerts on smartphones makes them extra hard to put down. Plus, we’ll get a few tips from Cath...more
This episode is an ear-tickler! Guess your way through eleven mystery sounds — one from a scientist, and ten from listeners like you! Plus, another mystery: what’s making Marc and Sanden dance to the sounds of a door jamb and a printer? Stick around for all these reveals, and the answer to a new Moment of Um: Why is air invisible? This episode of Brains On is sponsored by the Kevin Henkes book, "Sweeping up the Heart,” Panama City Beach (visitpanamacitybeach.com), and Philo (philo.tv/brains...more
Most plants get the energy and nutrients they need from water, sunlight, air and soil. But carnivorous plants get key nutrients from a different source: bugs. We’ll find out how they do it and talk about the mystery of how venus fly traps snap shut. Plus: Two gardeners – one very experienced and one just starting out – offer their tips for growing venus fly traps. So that’s plants, but what about animals? Carnivores are animals that only eat other animals – so how do they get the vitamins, miner...more
Every time you flush, your poo and pee start an epic journey. From the toilet, to the sewers, to a treatment plant, our waste travels quite a distance only to end up cleaner by the end. We'll hear from a "PooTube" star about her experience with "the flush." We'll also hear about ancient sewers, a "fatberg" under London and a toilet that cleans waste on site. Plus, our Moment of Um answers why you can feel your heart beating in your neck of all places. Sponso...more
Black holes happen when you have a super huge, mega-giant amount of stuff --- crammed into a super-tiny, infinitely-small amount of space. AND THEY ARE SUPER COOL! In this episode, we learn all about what black holes are and how we found out they were real. We talk to a black hole hunter who has discovered supermassive black holes. And we find out what a wormhole is and why it might really, be really, really hard to ever find one -- or travel through it. Plus: The Moment of Um answers the questi...more
Ants and spiders are able to defy gravity -- but how do they do it? We'll learn about how awesome their feet are and how one predator takes advantage of these powers. Plus: A very challenging mystery sound and a Moment of Um that answers the question, "How do bananas ripen other fruit?" Today’s episode is sponsored by: KiwiCo (kiwico.com/brainson) Bona (bona.com/brainson) Panama City Beach (VisitPanamaCityBeach.com). You can support Brains On at brainson.org/donate.
Oxygen is quite the savvy traveler. We explore how this gas travels all around the world and ends up pretty much everywhere for us to breathe. Plus we'll look at how plants and others make the stuff. And we learn how oxygen ended up on Earth in the first place (hint: it involves super space explosions!). We'll make friends with some molecules, hear about a tiny fart that changed the world and guess an all new mystery sound. Oh, and this week's Moment of Um asks: "if a poisonous ...more
How do planes stay in the air? And how did humans figure out that it wasn’t enough to just strap wings to our arms and flap them like birds? We’ll find out about the invention of airplanes and our co-hosts will share the frustrations and joys of being inventors themselves. Plus: An aviation-inspired mystery sound and paper airplane tips! Plus a new Moment of Um answers the question: “What’s the most sour thing in the world?” Today’s episode is sponsored by Madison Reed (madison-reed.com and o...more
In this episode, we take a trip down memory lane. We visit a campus full of hippos to learn how memories are stored, and drop in on a badger trainer to see how she recalls “the great badger blunder.” We also explore how many memories can our brains store. Hint: way more than you probably think. You may have heard of deja vu, but did you know there are other vus too? We found a lost game show where these vus are contestants. All this plus a new Mystery Sound and Moment of Um that answers the ques...more
In this episode, we climb up, down and all around our evolutionary family tree. When did we branch off from our more ape-like ancestors? And will we evolve one day into a different species altogether? We'll meet a bearded scientist from 160 years ago (no, not Charles Darwin) and eat some sundaes (thanks lactase persistence!). Plus a brand new Moment of Um answers the question: Do insects have the same blood as humans? This episode is sponsored by: Calm (calm.com/brainson) Quip (getquip...more
This is a special fundraising episode, where we peek behind the curtain of Brains On!
50 years ago NASA astronauts took a picture that changed the world. It was a full color photo of planet Earth as seen from space. This image inspired many to think differently about our home. In this episode we'll tell the tale of that epic snapshot. Plus we'll explain how Earth and our solar system formed in the first place. We'll talk to astrophysicist Lindy Elkins-Tanton about whether there are other planets like Earth in the universe. Plus we have an all new Mystery Sound and a ...more
We’re ready to get our hands dirty as we explore the stuff beneath our feet. Clay, sand, mud — soil is everywhere. And it’s alive! We’ll find out how it helps plants grow and learn about all the little organisms that are invaluable in the process (hint: it involves something called the “poop loop”). Plus: A brand new Moment of Um answers the question: “What’s inside of a tooth?” Today’s episode is sponsored by the CBC podcast Tai Asks Why and Quip (getquip.com/brainson). You can support Brain...more
You dream every night, even if you don't remember them. But why? We'll hop on a wild ride to go inside the brain and see which parts help create these often fantastical images and storylines. We'll also learn how to take control of our dreams and how they make us more creative. Plus: a new mystery sound and a Moment of Um answers the question "How do octopuses make ink?" This episode is sponsored by Thoughtfully (thoughtfully.com/brains), Pre (eatpre.com offer code BRAINS...more
We are very vocal about this episode, and that’s because it’s all about voices. We look into how our bodies produce sound and talk to a voice recognition expert. And we find out what’s happening when helium enters the equation. Plus, humans don’t have the voice market cornered -- what about other animals? We’ll drop in on a few creatures and find out how they make sounds too. All that plus a brand new Mystery Sound and berry delicious Moment of Um. Today’s episode is sponsored by Quip (getqu...more
How do roller coaster designers go from dream to reality? World-renowned roller coaster designer Alan Schilke tells us how he does it. Also — why do some people feel sick or dizzy after riding them? And how do coasters make you feel like you’re floating? Plus: a tricky mystery sound and a Moment of Um that answers the question, “How do boomerangs come back?” This episode is sponsored by Quip (getquip.com/brainson), Thoughtfully (thoughtfully.com/brains) and Little Passports (LittlePassports.com...more
If your GPS suddenly stopped working, would you still be able to find your way? In this episode we'll teach you tricks and tips to navigate on your own. We'll explain how compasses work and we'll tell you who helped move north to the top of the map. Plus, we'll meet a navigator who goes on long journeys using only traditional Hawaiian navigational techniques and we'll stop by a pitstop for some amazing animal migrators. All that and a Moment of Um on why diamonds are so rare...more
Introducing our brand new history show, Forever Ago! Join host Joy Dolo and kid co-host Kai on an epic quest through history to figure out how video games began. With help from intrepid reporter Cari Spivack, they’ll visit the age of dinosaur computers, hear the sounds of early arcades and befriend some talking cows. This episode is sponsored by Little Passports (LittlePassports.com/BRAINS), Thoughtfully (thoughtfully.com/BRAINS) and Quip (GetQuip.com/brainson). You can support Brains On and For...more
We treat dogs like they're part of the family. But do they know they are a different species, or do they think they're just short, four-legged people? In this episode, canine cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz helps us puzzle out this question. We’ll also find out what happens (or doesn’t) when a dog looks in the mirror. Dogs are always dozing, and we’ll check in to see if they are dreaming too. And, we take a quick trip around the world in the language of barks. All that, plus a b...more
Brains On listeners have LOTS of questions about the human body so we’ve decided to answer nine – count em NINE – of these questions in one go. The terrific topics tackled: Hiccups, yawns, getting dizzy, goosebumps, fingerprints, limbs falling asleep, brain freeze, chattering teeth and why your voice sounds different when it’s recorded. Plus: Our Moment of Um answers the question: “Why do we have two lungs?” Today’s episode is sponsored by Quip (getquip.com/brainson) and Build-A-Bear Workshop (b...more
Today information is everywhere, but what should you trust? Can you spot the difference between well researched articles and stories full of opinion, errors or even lies? In our final chapter of “Prove It: How to find the facts,” we’ll find out how to think like a fact checker. Plus we’ll share clues on how to spot warning signs of bogus information. We also look into the claim that coffee stunts your growth and for our Moment of Um we explore the world of freckles. Today’s episode is sponsored ...more
Fair and fact-based news helps people make good decisions. That's why journalists work hard to get their facts straight. In the third installment of our series "Prove It: How to find the facts," we'll hear how one daring reporter got herself locked in a mental hospital to uncover injustice. We'll meet an 11-year old publishing her own paper and Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold tell us how he makes sure his stories are accurate. And we'll find out if the claim ...more
Science is a powerful fact-finding tool -- but how does it work? In this second installment in our series "Prove It: How to find the facts," we look to the past for answers. We find out how a snake heart helped get rid of an old idea about blood and how failed experiments are just as important as successful ones (bye bye, luminiferous ether). And we'll hear from scientists working today about how curiosity is at the heart of science. All this plus a new Mystery Sound and snail-rifi...more
We’d be nothing without facts. They ground us in reality, help us make new discoveries and allowed us to build the modern world. In this episode we explain how we developed two of our most powerful fact finding tools: science and journalism! Plus, we’ll fact-check some conventional wisdom about ladybug spots and explain how surgeons operate on fish in our Moment of Um. All that and a Mystery Sound! Today’s episode is sponsored by Build-A-Bear Workshop (buildabear.com). You can support Brains ...more
We're teaming up with our pals The Story Pirates to learn about the science of having fun! Our experts tell us what makes something fun and why we're so geared toward seeking a good time. Plus, the Story Pirates share their song "Pizza Revenge." We've also got a fun-tastic Mystery Sound and a Moment Of Um all about pirates. How fun is that? Still want more fun? Head over to the Story Pirates to hear more (plus the punchline to a Brains On joke) - apple.co/2wwlgDE Today’s ...more
Fair warning: Today we’re gonna get gross! We’re talking sounds, smells, and tastes that some people might find repulsive. But we're asking: why? What's the purpose of disgust? Is it something we're born knowing or do we learn to dislike things? When will entomophagy (the eating of insects) catch on everywhere? Plus: A brand new Moment of Um answers the question "Why do worms come out when it rains?"
Last week, we heard about the tale of the Cuyahoga River -- a river in Ohio that caught on fire multiple times because it was so polluted. The river is now doing much better, but beyond the fact that it’s not on currently fire -- how do we actually know it’s healthier today? That’s when being a water detective really comes in handy. Plus: Our Moment of Um answers the question: "Why do dogs wag their tails?" Today’s episode is sponsored by Vamousse Lice (vamousselice.com) and Roshambo ...more
Rivers are known for being wet. So how did a river in Ohio suddenly catch fire, not once, but several times last century? In part three of our water series, we'll explore the shocking tale of the Cuyahoga River. We'll look at how pollution led to this environmental tragedy and what's been done to address the problem. Plus, our Moment of Um explains why we say "ow!" when we're hurt.
Without GPS, we’d be lost. Literally. Thanks to these radio transmissions from space though, we’re able to pinpoint our location and find our way home. Join us as we learn all about satellites, how the robot voice of GPS is created and how atomic clocks hold it all together. Plus a mystery sound and a brand new Moment of Um answers the question: "What is light made of?" Today's episode is sponsored by Kind Snacks (KindSnacks.com/BRAINS), Vamousse (vamousselice.com) and Roshambo Ba...more
We're having a snack attack in this episode and we're using it as an excuse to delve into the facts and history of some of our favorite snacks. How does popcorn pop? Who invented nachos? And where does salt come from? Plus, our Moment of Um tells us all about salt's buddy: pepper! If you want to hear more from our pals at Every Little Thing, you can check them out wherever you listen to podcasts or at https://www.gimletmedia.com/every-little-thing And you can find more Ear Snacks on ...more
The Red Planet is putting on a show this July. It'll be closer to Earth than it’s been in 15 years and that means at night it'll appear bigger and brighter than average. In fact, you should be able to see it easily without a telescope! In this episode we'll tell you how to spot Mars plus, you'll hear the planet itself answer your questions. Plus a mystery sound and, in our Moment of Um, we'll explain why lava moves slowly even though it's a liquid. Brains On is sponsore...more
Today, we’re sharing another epic showdown from our brand new debate show, Smash Boom Best. Each episode, we pit our favorite things against each other, like bats versus owls! Or pizza versus tacos! And we ask you to decide who won. So who are you rooting for: the printed word or the silver screen? Bibliophiles face off with film buffs everywhere in one of our favorite match-ups of the season. Listen to Team Books and Team Movies argue for their side, and then cast your vote here. If you like th...more
The aliens are coming to dinner! In this episode we wonder what food aliens might eat and talk to real scientists who've thought long and hard about this question. Plus, our friends at America's Test Kitchen show us how to whip up a delicious beef and broccoli dish. We'll lay out the cooking instructions step by step throughout the podcast so you can cook along. When the episode is over, you'll be ready to chow down. Find the recipe here: https://www.brainson.org/shows/2018/07/03...more
Are you ready to mix it up? In this episode, we find out why oil and vinegar are like bickering siblings in the back seat of a car, what delicious food inspired the invention of the blender, and the most effective whisking technique (spoiler alert: it's probably not what you think). We also learn how the way we mix flour makes our baked goods either chewy or fluffy and we'll learn the best way to make brownies. Plus: our Moment of Um answers the question "Are bananas radioactive?&qu...more
Our knives are drawn and ready to mince and dice our way through the science of chopping. In this episode we'll find out what happens to that carrot you're chopping on a molecular level (spoiler alert: the knife never actually touches it!). We also visit a knifemaker's studio and talk to Splendid Table host Francis Lam to get his chopping tips. This is the third in a five part series on the science of cooking, made in collaboration with America's Test Kitchen Kids. For more recip...more
From ice cubes to ice cream, cold things are a crucial part of cuisine. How do we use chill to our advantage? This is part two of our series on the science of cooking, a collaboration with the brilliant foodies at America's Test Kitchen Kids. This episode is (literally) super cool. We're figuring out how refrigerators work and why some of their parts are hot. We're traveling back in time to find out how selling ice became a very big business (for a while anyway). And we'll learn ...more
We’ve teamed up with America’s Test Kitchen Kids to delve into the scrumptious science of cooking. You’ve sent in so many great cooking questions that we had to spread the answers over four episodes. This is our first installment: HEAT. What crazy chemical reactions does heat trigger in food? How do microwave ovens work -- and why can’t you put metal in them when they’re lined with metal? We’ll answer those questions, find out how feeding squirrels helped profoundly change how we prepare food an...more
In this encore mash-up episode, we revisit some fascinating facts that will help you get to know your nose. Why does the sun make some people sneeze? And where do boogers come from anyway? Plus: A brand new moment of um answers the question: "Why do sloths move so slow?"
One of the weirdest substances in the universe is right under your nose. No, not boogers. Water! Water seems ordinary, almost boring, but take a closer look and you’ll find a wonderfully weird molecule that behaves like nothing else in the universe. It can move up against gravity. It can absorb lots of heat energy without getting super hot. It can dissolve almost anything. It carves canyons and quenches our thirst. Why is water so weird, and why does that matter? Listen to find out! Today’s epi...more
For the past few months, we’ve been working on a top secret project and we’re so excited we finally get to share it with you! It’s a new show called Smash Boom Best and it’s nothing but debates. Sort of like the ones you’ve heard on Brains On, but with a few new twists. It’s a little faster paced, a little sillier and we hope you’ll think it’s a lot of fun. Today: Wings out, eyes wide -- we’re swooping in on a battle between a perfect pair of creatures of the night. Which is cooler: Bats? Or owl...more
What was the first robot? What is artificial intelligence? How do robots "learn?" In this special episode, we have pieces from our live Robotstravaganza show in Boston. We meet some awesome robots (including one that's very cuddly), debate whether robots are good for humanity or bad, and find out what robots can learn from nature. Plus a mystery sound and a Moment of Um that answers the question, "How do oysters make pearls?"
What’s in your water, and how did it get there? Clean water is a must, but modern living can put a lot of bad stuff in it. Road salt, fertilizer, dog doo-doo, heavy metals - how do these things get in our water? Why should we care? And how can we tell if our water is healthy? In this episode we hitch a ride on the water cycle with a pair of water drops. We learn about what caused the Flint water crisis. And we hear about one young girl’s award-winning idea for a faster way to test lead in water ...more
Paint goes on wet, then it dries — and it’s stuck there. But how does it stick? We’re going to zoom way in to find out. We’ll visit a forensic chemist, a painter who makes his own paint and a party happening at the molecular level.
Pollen, peanuts, dust mites. These things aren't poisonous - so why do some people's bodies act like they are? In this episode, we'll find out what happens during an allergic reaction, explore why only some people have allergies and hear about new treatments. Plus: a brand new Moment of Um answers the question "Why do sunsets have so many colors?" and we'll read a new group of listeners to be added to the Brains Honor Roll! Brains On is sponsored today by Acer Swift 5 (...more
Sounds abound all around. Do you think your ears are up to the task? We have an episode chock full of nothing but mystery sounds to challenge and stretch your listening powers. Also, did you hear that the Brains On store is open? We couldn't be happier with the t-shirts and other goodies we have to offer. Have a look! brainson.org/shopBrains On is sponsored today by ButcherBox. Go to butcherbox.com/brainson and enter "BRAINSON" at checkout squarespace.com enter offer code BRAINS...more
Our lungs are great at getting oxygen out of the air, but if we needed to do that underwater, we'd be sunk. So how do fish, shrimp, jellyfish and other marine animals breathe underwater? And what happens when there is no oxygen in the water for them to breathe? We answer those questions plus a brand new Moment of Um tackles this sticky one: "Why do we have earwax?" And a new group of listeners gets inducted into the Brains Honor Roll! Give a listen!Today Brains On is sponsored by:•...more
Sometimes we're in the mood for a good story, so we're turning our show over to Circle Round this week. It's a podcast produced by WBUR in Boston that tells folktales from around the world. These stories are funny, surprising, suspenseful and downright charming. Here's one we think you'll dig. It stars a kid who loves making jokes, so you know it's up our alley. In the meantime, we're hard at work on some exciting new episodes -- including a brand new show. We'll ...more
Circadian rhythms keep our bodies on schedule. But what about the rest of the animal and plant world? Turns out, most living things run on similar cycles. In this episode we take a look at why some animals hibernate. There’s also an interview with a plant. Wait, what?!? You read that right: A PLANT!!! All that and a trip back to pre-history, to see how staying up late might have helped mammals survive all those dinosaurs. Three-word hint: nocturnal bottleneck hypothesis.
If you’ve ever played a video game, you know how important music can be when it comes to gaming. But what if you choose to play without music? How does that affect your playing? We’re going to dig into the psychology of video game music, explain how the interactivity of video game music works and figure out what “8-bit” means.
The near 24-hour-cycle that keeps us on track is conducted by the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It’s a tiny part of our brains, but it’s super, super important.
Think about it: the answer to the question “Is it opposite day?” will always be no. So how do you figure out if it is, in fact, opposite day?
In this milestone of an episode, we ask why people seem to love the number 100 so much. We also learn some amazing tricks involving the number 100 and fan favorite Gungador goes from Most Epic Fighting Battle Realm to a much more challenging setting: high school.
For humans, being left-handed or right-handed can definitely affect the way we experience life. Usually, that mismatch is just a minor nuisance — but sometimes, sidedness can change the future of an entire species, as is the case for Sandy.
Two of our planet’s most amazing animals go head to head in our latest debate. We’re asking you to decide which animal reigns supreme. Is it the eight-armed, three hearted, shape-shifting octopus? Or the speed-swimming, echolocating, super-jumping dolphin? Listen along as Marc argues for #TeamOctopus and Sanden fights for #TeamDolphin. We’ll learn amazing facts about both sides along the way. Which side are you on? Vote here! Plus an aquatic Mystery Sound, some deep-sea stand up comedy and a Mom...more
If you’ve ever seen a dog, you know they like to sniff — the ground, people, each other’s butts. They like to smell just about everything. But why? We’re digging into the science of smell and how dogs are able to decode things we can’t even begin to imagine.
As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication, we look at how Mary Shelley was inspired by science and how the lessons of the book still resonate with the scientific world today.
Ancient dinosaurs were some of the biggest creatures to ever stomp the Earth. But how and why did they get so giant? Was there more food to help them grow? Was the planet itself somehow different, allowing them to reach epic proportions? In this episode we talk to dino-experts Femke Holwerda and Brian Switek…
In this episode we ponder some big questions from Brains On listeners about the vastness of space.
Your body is making and using electricity all the time — but how do we do it? We’ll take a look at how bioelectricity helps our brain sends signals and our hearts pump blood. And we’ll learn about some amazing animals that use electricity in weird and wild ways.
Batteries are everywhere — they’re in our phones, our computers, our cars, our toys. But how do they work? To find out, we talk to a scientist who’s making really big batteries to store renewable energy, another who’s working on really small ones to power our phones, and we play in a park with a dog.
We use electricity all the time, but where exactly does it come from? How does it get to our homes? It’s a fascinating journey that can start hundreds of miles from your outlet.
What makes your hair stand on end? Why does your skirt stick your tights? Why do you get zapped by electric shocks when you go to touch a doorknob?
Where did language come from? Is it possible to know without traveling back in time? And how do babies learn to speak? Plus: We’ll hear how the word “silly” has evolved over the last several hundred years.
How are mountains made? What causes an earthquake? How does hot lava come bubbling up? The answer in each case is…tectonic plates!
A few weeks ago, we got two emails that were so similar and so intriguing we had no choice but to investigate.
The natural world can be broken down into atoms. And those atoms can be broken down even further. Will the discovery of smaller and smaller particles ever stop?
What superpowers does our skin have to repair itself? And what about other animals like salamanders that can do some pretty extreme healing? We’re going under the skin for this one.
You may have heard of Down syndrome, but what is it exactly? In this episode, we'll break down the science of chromosomes and how having an extra one leads to this fairly common condition. Plus, we'll learn some tips for making friends with someone who might seem different than you. We'll also swing by a farm staffed by ranchers with Down syndrome. And in our Moment of Um we'll find out why eggs go from clear to white when cooked.
Looking for more awesome podcasts to listen to? We're bringing you a special bonus episode today to let you know about some of the other podcasts that you might want to check out. And if you want to find lots of other podcasts for kids you can always head to applepodcasts.com/kids
The sea lamprey, with its concentric rows of sharp teeth, is part vampire and part alien invader. Would you let it suction to your arm? Reporter Dan Kraker did. Find out if he lived to tell about it.
In this episode, we learn all about narwhals (what that tusk is for and how they’re connected to the myth of the unicorn) and the evolution of teeth (from scale-like nubbins to the versatile chompers we have today).
There are all kinds of volcanoes all over the world, but how are they formed? And how do they erupt? To find out, we’ll travel to the center of the Earth, and we’ll meet a NASA robot that’s going on a very special volcano mission.
It’s something so natural that we take it for granted — but when you think about it, it’s a little strange. Why does water come out of our eyes? And why does it happen when we’re happy? Or sad? Or scared? Or exhausted? In this episode we dive into our mysterious emotional tears, find out […]
You know those beeps in old NASA recordings? They’re called Quindar tones. This episode explains them and talks to a couple musicians who incorporate archival, NASA recordings into their songs.
In this episode we learn about Mars’ ancient past, meet an architect hoping to build cities there and we hear from Mars itself, thanks to the planet’s video blog, of course.
There are some basic ingredients to make thunderstorms and tornadoes. We’ll find out what they are – and how to observe these powerful and amazing storms safely.
Most animals fart. And some animals put those farts to work.
To help us understand sunburns, we’re going deep into the skin to look at cells, molecules and electrons.
On Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will be visible on a path that crosses the U.S., from Oregon on the west coast to South Carolina on the east coast. In this episode, we cover all your eclipse essentials: What causes an eclipse? What happens during an eclipse? How do you safely view it? Spoiler alert: Don’t stare at the sun without special eyewear.
It’s time for the next Brains On debate! This intense matchup brings us to the depths of darkness, under the water and beyond our earth’s atmosphere. Who will prevail?
Is farting good for us? Where do farts come from? Why do only some make sounds? And what’s up with the smell? We tackle your questions about the gas we all pass in this episode.
Hosts Molly and Gabriella are locked out. No worries: Sanden and Bob to the rescue. While the duo drives a spare set of keys to our beloved hosts, they pass the time discussing science you might see (or feel) in a car.
On the fourth leg of our road trip, we figure out where traffic comes from and what it would take to make it finally go away.
At the third stop on our road trip series, we coast in for a pit stop and check out car design. We find out how monster trucks are different than cars, how culture influences car design and what it’s like to make car into animated, talking movie stars.
Our planet needs some carbon dioxide, but cars are pumping more into the atmosphere than our carbon cycle can handle. We’ll explore what all this carbon means for our planet. And we talk to a scientist who is working to change how we fuel our cars, so we can cut back on all this carbon dioxide.
On the first leg of our road trip, we’re exploring the history of engines and how they work, with a little help from Car Talk’s Ray Magliozzi.
There are a whopping 10 sounds for you to guess in this episode. Are your ears up to the challenge?
Homemade slime is sticky, gooey and all the rage, but what is it? When you combine ingredients like glue and laundry detergent you get a strange, flubbery substance. We’ll explain what’s happening on a molecular level to make this stuff.
What was the very first lifeform like? What was the first fish or mammal? Is it even possible to know?
In this episode, we take a field trip to a piano shop, peek behind the walls at a world-famous piano factory and have an EPIC FIGHTING BATTLE to discover how sound travels.
If you’ve ever been the ocean, you’ve tasted that salt. But where does it come from? And why aren’t lakes and rivers salty too? A sea shanty is probably the best way to explain, right?
What if the color that you call blue and the color I call blue don’t look the same at all? When our brains see color, we’re really just seeing waves of light. Sure, we may be seeing the same waves when we look at the color blue, but do we know if our brains are interpreting those waves in the same way?
Why do cat eyes look the way they do? Can cats really see in the dark? And what are they trying to tell us with that purr (you know the one)?
Fossil dating is a lot like eating a delicious ice cream cake. Well, sort of. We find out how scientists look at the rock and elements AROUND a fossil to figure out its age. Plus: We talk to a scientist who studied one of the coolest fossils discovered recently: a dinosaur tail trapped in amber, complete with feathers!
We don’t know much about the long life of a sea turtle, since it’s mostly spent in the ocean. When they do come ashore to lay their eggs, we know the babies use the moon and stars to guide them back to sea. But what happens when hotels and houses and streetlights compete for their attention?
The desert is hot, dry and deadly. But plenty of plants and animals thrive there. How do they do it? We’ll learn the tricks trees, bats and roadrunners use to make it in Joshua Tree National Park in California.
When an avalanche happens at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, it sounds like the sand is singing. Huh? How? Why? We learn about the special sand and the specific conditions that make this acoustic phenomenon possible.
The wild horses at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland are very popular, but they’re also an invasive species. We find out how park rangers are giving people a chance to see the horses while also protecting the native plants and animals FROM the horses.
Think of the cutest puppy, kitten or baby you’ve ever seen. Now what sound did you just make? Was it an “Awwwww?” Or did you want to pinch, bite or squeeze it? In this episode, we’ll find out why this is a natural reaction to cute and why we’re so easily distracted by cute things.
Fire and lasers are both super cool — but which is COOLER? Producer Marc Sanchez has tricks up his sleeve for team fire and Sanden Totten gives his all for team laser.
The sounds whales make underwater are super cool, and also very important for them to locate prey, navigate and communicate with each other. We find out how they make those sounds and what scientists think they mean.
If you filled a lake with lemonade, would it rain lemonade? This delicious head-scratcher does not have a straightforward answer. It’s one-part water cycle, one-part delicious drink and if we’re lucky, one-part lemonade rain.
X-rays, part of the electromagnetic spectrum, help doctors see our bones — but they also help scientists understand the very smallest particles and the most massive black holes.
Most plants get the energy and nutrients they need from water, sunlight, air and soil. But carnivorous plants get key nutrients from a different source: bugs. We’ll find out how they do it and talk about the mystery of how venus fly traps snap shut.
How does the moon control the tides? Where do waves come from? And what’s it like to live in a tide pool?
The process that turns sand into glass is very cool – or rather, we should say very hot. Very, very, very hot as it turns out. Humans have been turning minerals from the earth’s crust into glass for 3,500 years. Find out how it’s done and how it’s evolved – from blowing glass by hand to a factory that makes hundreds of glass bottles every minute. Plus: The mystery sound!
How and why do mosquitoes suck our blood? Why do their bites itch ALL the time? Why do some people get bitten more than others? And do these pesky and possibly dangerous insects serve any kind of useful purpose?
Have you ever wondered about what’s beyond the edge of the universe? Or maybe a better question: is there even an edge of the universe? And what does it mean that the universe is expanding? Nine-year-old Thea talks with astrophysicist Katie Mack to find answers to her many questions about the universe.
We’re back with new episodes! Carnivores are animals that only eat other animals – so how do they get the vitamins, minerals and fiber that we humans get from eating plants? We take a trip to a salad bar with some animal pals to find out.
We’ve been catching colds for millennia – but it wasn’t until fairly recently that we actually understood how and why we get sneezy, coughy, and achy. In this episode, we find out more about the common cold: Does standing outside in the cold actually make it easier to get sick? Is there a cure that really works? Could there be a benefit to catching the rhinovirus? Listen for all the answers + the mystery sound!
Is there anybody out there? Like, WAAAAY out there? In this episode we hear from astronomer Laura Danly about the search for life on other planets. We’ll also learn what that search has in common with a fairy tale.
Did Dinosaurs have feathers? Can you bring back species that have gone extinct? Find out here.
Meet the Brains On! Besties… kid-friendly audio finds we think you’ll love.
The International Space Station sits 250 miles above Earth, but how did it get there? And what’s it like to live in space?
OMG, this is the episode you’ve been waiting for… an all-out, wall-to-wall, super-duper Mystery Sound show. Guess the sounds sent in from listeners and scientists alike. Plus, if you like having fun (and dancing), stick around to the end of the episode. An extra-special audio treat awaits. Shhhhhhhhhh!
Do spiders give you the heebie-jeebies? If so, we want to change your mind about our eight-legged buddies!
In this episode, Dr. Ken Libbrecht answers all of our snowflake questions: How are snowflakes made? Why are they different shapes? How is it that they’re all unique? And how does a scientist who lives in southern California study snow?
Baking can seem kind of magical. You take a bunch of ingredients, mix them all together, put them in the oven, and then a little time passes — and you have cake! Or cookies! Or bread! But there’s no magic wand involved in the process — it’s chemistry!
This episode brings you a slew of dog and cat mystery sounds to puzzle over. Can you tell the difference playful barks and warning barks? How about decoding the meaning behind a cat’s meow?
There’s all sorts of weather happening right now around the world. Rain, sun, wind, snow… you name it, somewhere it’s happening. It may seem hard to keep track of it all, but scientists have it figured out. We’ll find out how they collect data on weather around the globe and turn it into a forecast.
We're transporting you to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul for a segment from a recent live show: Cats vs. Dogs. In this very important debate, producers Marc Sanchez and Sanden Totten try to get the bottom of our feline friends' mysterious behavior. Plus: The mystery sound!
Nasal mucus is very important to our health – and actually kind of magical. There’s a lot going on in our noses all the time that we don’t appreciate. Where do boogers come from? Why does your nose run when you’re out in the cold? Why does your nose get stuffy when you’re sick?
Can you tickle yourself? Probably not. Almost everybody is ticklish, but what’s happening to us is a bit of a mystery.
We’ve gotten a lot of questions about bridges and tunnels: How do bridges stay up? How are tunnels built? How do they build bridges over water? How do they put tunnels underwater? To answer these questions we’re staging a little friendly competition: bridges vs. tunnels!
We talk to Dr. Alan Stern, the leader of NASA’s mission to Pluto – New Horizons. He’s been working on the mission for over 20 years and he’s excited to see the surprises that New Horizons will be sending back. Plus: Take a quiz to test your New Horizons knowledge!
… and you thought chameleons could hide.
How do trees make oxygen? How do they grow? How do evergreens stay green all year? Why do tree leaves change color? How long can trees live? We’re branching out to tackle all these questions in this episode.
This question has been a mystery for millennia. Turns out there’s a name for the phenomenon: photic sneeze reflex.
All jellyfish sting – but not all jellyfish sting people. In this episode, we learn about how jellyfish sting and how they eat. Plus: stro-bi-la-tion (how jellyfish grow up).
The biggest volcano in our solar system is not on Earth -- and its footprint is as big as the entire state of Arizona.
After a caterpillar goes into its chrysalis, you would expect a beautiful butterfly to emerge. But when this parasitoid attacks, the results are very different.
Gravity is a very familiar force to us here on Earth. We know how it behaves and how it affects us. But where does it come from? We’ll also talk to a NASA astronaut about what it’s like to experience micro-gravity.
Monarch butterflies are unique — they’re the only butterfly to travel thousands of miles when the seasons change. They travel from as far north as Canada all the way down to a few very specific mountaintops in central Mexico. They don’t have a car, or an airplane ticket. They just have their two little wings. So we’re asking: How do they do it? How do they migrate thousands of miles? And why?
It’s easy to take water for granted. After all, you just turn a faucet and it pours right out. But how does it get to our faucet? We’ll explore the water cycle from rain to your drain. And did you know that space is full of water? It’s one of the most common features of the universe. We’ll also look at all the important things our bodies do with water — and how that’s a cycle too. Caution: this episode may make you very thirsty.
The questions we have about numbers are uncountable. But here are a few of them: Where does zero come from? How is there more than one kind of infinity? What is it like to do math when numbers have different colors — and personalities?
If you look a little closer, listen a little harder, you’ll notice the secret life of things all around you. Want to know about the secret lives of bees, crickets, coral — and your own backyard? Give a listen!
We have some questions about sleep: It’s ok to stay up late, right? Is it possible to control your dreams? Do all animals sleep? Why do we need to sleep anyway?
The questions asked and answered in this episode include: What is harmony exactly? What does it take to be a great rapper? How does sound travel?
Among the questions answered in this episode: Is it better to be taller or shorter? Do animals grow the same way that humans do? What superpowers does your brain have before it’s done growing?
In this episode, we ask: Why do some foods taste better to adults than kids? And what happens to food once you’re done tasting it?