Author Archives: KWeinersmith

Episode 59 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Joy Dunn on Commonwealth Fusion Systems

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In chapter 3 of Soonish we discuss Fusion. Fusion is when 2 atoms fuse, and when this happens energy is released. You can capture this energy to power your toaster.

In Soonish, we focused mostly on big fusion projects in the field, which cost billions and tend to favor ever larger tokamaks – which are huge donut-shaped machines that magnetically confine plasma at high temperatures. (More on how tokamaks work can be heard in this week’s episode.)  

ITER is foremost among the tokamak projects, and is set to begin serious work around 2025 and is expected to cost around 30 billion dollars.

In the book we also took a look at some unorthodox designs for fusion, mostly made by small teams backed by venture capital. The fusion scientists we talked to tended to be skeptical of these alternative approaches.

So, we were excited to hear that a team with impeccable scientific credentials was being spun off from MIT to attempt a compact tokamak. They created a company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems, and they hope to do what ITER will do, but sooner and cheaper, largely thanks to new technology in superconducting magnets. If they succeed at making fusion an energy source, it would change everything from the speed of long distance space travel to the price of socks.

On today’s show we’re going to learn more about Commonwealth Fusion Systems by chatting with Joy Dunn. Ms. Dunn spent about 10 years at SpaceX, where she worked on and led teams working on the Dragon spacecrafts, and became known as the “Mother of Dragons”. She is currently Head of Manufacturing at Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

Soonish is available now in hardback and as an audiobook on Audible, and comes out in paperback on June 4 through Penguin Press in the US, and Particular Books is releasing a paperback version of the book in the UK this coming October.

Episode 58 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton on Psyche

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In chapter 2 of Soonish we discuss the field of asteroid mining. Intrepid entrepreneurs are devising ways to get to, capture, and then mine the asteroids, with an emphasis on the near earth asteroids. The resources they extract could be useful for our current space projects (like sending water to the international space station), and for future space settlements.

As we discussed in previous podcast episodes, it used to cost ~$10,000 per pound of stuff you sent into space. Part of that high price tag is because it takes so much energy to get stuff off our planet. With the right technology, it’s possible that collecting resources from asteroids could be easier and cheaper than trying to pry earth-bound resources from the grasp of earth’s gravity.

In the book we talk about hurdles would-be asteroid miners still need to overcome, including the sticky problem of whether or not anyone is actually allowed to extract and sell resources collected in space.

At the end of our book, we encouraged folks to email us if they found any errors. Mercifully, we didn’t get many of these emails! But we did get one very polite email from SETI Institute’s Dr. Michael Busch. If you’re going to get an email correction, having it come in the from a polite scientist at the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) institute is pretty awesome.

Dr. Busch pointed out that we had incorrectly identified an asteroid known as 3554 Amun as being metal rich, which it was at one time believed to be. But better methods of studying asteroids have since shown that 3554 Amun is not, in fact, metal-rich.

This got us interested in how we go about learning about asteroids that are so darn far away from us. After all, it’s going to take a lot of time and money to get to an asteroid, and it would be nice to know what you’re going to get once you arrive there.

He also mentioned that near earth asteroids may be particularly important from an asteroid mining perspective, and that the asteroids in the asteroid belt (which I mentioned are found beyond Mars) are interesting from a planetary science perspective. In particular, he mentioned that a Professor at Arizona State named Lindy Elkins-Tanton is leading a NASA project sending a spacecraft to an asteroid named 16 Psyche.

We got so excited about the Psyche mission that we invited Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton on the show to talk to Kelly about how we go about learning about asteroids, and about the Psyche mission in particular! We also discuss with Dr. Elkins-Tanton the role of artists in communicating space research to the general public in ways that scientists can’t.

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin

Episode 57 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Peter Beck on Rocket Lab

Welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In this podcast series, we’re going to revisit each of the 10 technologies discussed in Soonish, expanding on topics touched on in the book, exploring related matters, and checking out new advances since the book came out.

That is – the stuff in the podcast will be different from the book, so go buy it.

The first chapter in Soonish is on Cheap Access to Space, and it was one of the hardest ones to write, because private launch companies were making advances so quickly it was hard to keep up.

But at some point, we had to put our pencils down, and we submitted the book to our editor in 2016.

A few months before our book came out in hardback in 2017 a company called Rocket Lab completed a test flight of its Electron rocket.

They’ve now entered high frequency launch operations, and as of May 5, 2019, they’ve launched 28 satellites into space.

Amazingly, Peter Beck, the founder and CEO of Rocket Lab (!), took the time to talk to me about how his company is democratizing space launch.

Rocket Lab’s logo.


Episode 56 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Dr. Elizabeth Frank on NewSpace

Welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In this podcast series, we’re going to revisit each of the 10 technologies discussed in Soonish, expanding on topics touched on in the book, exploring related matters, and checking out new advances since the book came out.

That is – the stuff in the podcast will be different from the book, so go buy it.

(Just a quick note that you shouldn’t confuse the Weekly Weinersmith’s Soonish podcast series with the excellent podcast called Soonish. The Soonish podcast is about emerging technology, and is run by Wade Rousch. Here is the episode where Wade was kind enough to have Zach and I on as guests.)

The first chapter in Soonish is on Cheap Access to Space. We mostly talk about ways to reduce the price of launching things into space, but reducing launch costs is only one part of a current movement called “NewSpace”.

In this first podcast episode, we interview Dr. Elizabeth Frank about NewSpace. Dr. Frank earned her PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and did her postdoc at the Carnegie Institution for Science (working on NASA’s Messenger, which orbited Mercury). She then spent 2 years working at Planetary Resources, Inc., and is now an Applied Planetary Scientist at First Mode.

The Cheap Access to Space chapter in Soonish goes into detail about reusable rockets, as well as crazier that just might work – including shooting payloads into space using gigantic guns, and putting rockets on what amounts to an enormous pogo stick.

We also provide answers to critical questions like, would a space elevator make you puke? And would it be bad if someone decided to fling an asteroid at the Earth?

Finally, we tell the story of Gerald Bull – a Canadian engineer who ended up working on a supercannon in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and was then assassinated in a hotel in Brussels.


Episode 55 – The making of “Science – Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness”

Welcome back! Zach and Kelly promised to record an episode of The Weekly Weinersmith about the making of Zach’s new book “Science – Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness” as a preorder reward for their new book Soonish!

“Science – Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness” will be available through BackerKit for another week or two, and will then likely be available through the SMBC store for Christmas. Soonish is available through BackerKit and can be preordered through these stores. Check out the space elevator to see what other rewards are available to folks who preorder the book.

Episode 54 Soonish – Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything

Zach and Kelly are BACK! Well, for now. Turns out we haven’t just been sitting by the beach instead of recording podcasts – we’ve been writing a book! That book is called Soonish – Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything, and it’s coming out through Penguin Press in the US and Particular Books in the UK on October 17th. This episode gives you a flavor of what the book is about, and some insights into the harrowing tale of what we went through to write this book while working our “normal” jobs and raising 2 kids. You can preorder the book here. 

This episode is a preorder reward! As we sell more preorders we release additional rewards, including extra SMBC comics, signed bookplates, and Soonish bookmarks. Check out the reward page for more information. 

Bay Area Science Festival

Hey all!

We haven’t been updating lately due to my (Kelly) looming dissertation deadline, and Zach’s work wrapping up Augie and the Green Knight. We’ll get back to updates when we can, but we wanted to let you know that you can catch us at the Bay Area Science Festival in San Francisco from October 23rd – November 1, 2015. We’ll be recording a live Weekly Weinersmith show at the California Academy of Science, so there should be a new update sometime in early November.

Here are the events where you can find one or both of us:

Nerd Nite Block Party with Science…sort of

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On Friday, October 24th Kelly will be recording a live podcast with Ryan Haupt and Ben Tippett of Science…sort of! In addition to being a geektastic good time, it will be the first time I’ve met Ben in person!  The event is being held at a motorcycle shop run by folks with PhDs in BioChemistry. It’s going to be epic, and it’s going to be free.

Join us at 630 PM at the Piston & Chain (1285 Folsom St at 9th St.)!

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BAHFest

logoWKelly and Zach will be at the west coast’s Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAHFest). BAHFest is a “celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory.” Six contestants compete for the best theory, and there will be a keynote address by Matt Inman (The Oatmeal). Judges for the show are Dr. Phil Plait (The Bad Astronomer)Dr. Elizabeth Iorns, and Dr. Andy Sih.

BAHFest West is at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on October 25th. The show is selling out fast and only balcony seating remains!

Here is last year’s winning presentation:

Creatures of the Nightlife at California Academy of Sciences

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The California Academy of Sciences opens its doors to adults only on Thursday nights for an event called NightLife. The October 30th NightLife is Halloween themed, and the Weinersmiths will be there to geek out and record an episode of the Weekly Weinersmith. Kelly will also be giving a short talk about parasites as part of a series of spooky science talks. See you there!

 

Episode 53: Melanie Martin on breastfeeding

This week we interview Melanie Martin, a PhD student at the University of California Santa Barbara, about her research on breastfeeding.

Links

Kelly and Zach links

Kelly has been on two other podcasts recently:

Science…sort of: Episode 202 – Sausage-shaped but lumpy (with John Pohl, M.D.)

The Pseudoscientists – Parasites And Zombies: A Discussion With Kelly Weinersmith

Two weeks left to submit your bad ad hoc hypothesis for BAHFest

Augie and the Green Knight pre-orders

Interview links

World Breastfeeding Week

Mammals Suck…Milk!

Melanie’s guest post on Mammals Suck

Episode 52: Deep sea ecology with Dr. Andrew David Thaler

This week Zach and Kelly talk about deep sea ecology with Dr. Andrew David Thaler.

Links

Zach and Kelly

BAHFest is coming up! Submit your proposals now.

Parasitic Manipulation of Host Phenotype, or How to Make a Zombie: Integrative and Comparative Biology Volume 54 (Issue 2): Special issue organized by Kelly and Dr. Zen Faulkes

Learn more about how the symposium on parasite manipulation came about

Episode 6: Zen, Zombies, and Ziplessness (Weekly Weinersmith episode with Zen)

Dr. Andrew David Thaler

Open ROV

Erika Bergman

Sedna Epic

Drown Your Town

Southern Fried Science

The Trouble with Teacup Pigs

Has the whale exploded yet?

Fleet (Andrew’s book)

Andrew’s Patreon Page

 Video of an exploding whale (not for the faint of heart, or the eaters of lunch):

Episode 51: Dr. Elizabeth Iorns on collaboration

We’re back! We’ve been super busy lately (moving across the country, having a baby, applying for jobs, finishing a dissertation, running a Kickstarter, etc), but we’re striving for more regular updates. While hitting a weekly goal is unlikely, we’re going to strive to update once or twice a month. Thanks for sticking with us!

This week we interview Dr. Elizabeth Iorns of Science Exchange about Science Exchange’s research on collaboration.

Links

BAHFest

Here is Zach’s BAHFest keynote from last year, and the winning talk by Tomer Ullman.

Elizabeth Iorns interview

Science Exchange blog post: Is collaboration broken?

Previous Weekly Weinersmith episodes with Elizabeth:

Episode 16: Science Exchange and Dr. Elizabeth Iorns

Episode 40: The Reproducibility Initiative with Dr. Elizabeth Iorns

Psychology Reproducibility Project

Image originally posted on the Science Exchange Blog