Category Archives: Uncategorized

Episode 60 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Professor Skylar Tibbits on Projects Happening at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab

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 5 of Soonish we discuss Programmable Matter.

Folks who study programmable matter want your things to be doing a lot more for you. They imagine materials that respond to their environment, tiny origami robots that assist in surgical procedures, and even buckets of stuff that can transform into just about anything you may desire.

One type of programmable matter is programmed materials. Programmed materials respond to something in their environment, like temperature or moisture, and transform themselves in some way.

For Soonish we interviewed Professor Skylar Tibbits from MIT about programmable materials, and discuss a 3D printed straw he created that, when exposed to water, would fold up into the letters “MIT”.

When doing some follow-up research to figure out who I should interview for this podcast episode, I ended up checking Skylar’s website to see what he has been up to since we interviewed him in June of 2016. And his lab has been up to some totally cool shit.

So in today’s episode we’re going to chat about just a subset of the tons of cool projects happening at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, which is the lab for which Professor Tibbits is the Founder and co-Director.

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 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 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.


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.


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.



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

Zombie ant crowdfunding project

Dr. Charissa de Bekker is running a crowdfunding campaign to continue her work on zombie ants. We recently interviewed Dr. David Hughes about zombie ants , so check that out if you want to learn more about this amazing host-parasite system.  Charissa recently published a super cool paper (open access!) identifying compounds secreted by the zombie-making fungus while infecting its ant host, and next she wants to identify the genes responsible for ant manipulation. Check it out!

Episode 48: Naked mole rats

This week Zach and Kelly talk naked mole rats.


The Kickstarter for Zach’s newest adventure of your own choosing gamebook has only 7 days left! 

Naked mole rat



Paper 1: van der Horst et al. 2011. Sperm structure and motility in the eusocial naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber: a case of degenerative orthogenesis in the absence of sperm competition?

Press coverage on Not Exactly Rocket Science

Paper 2: Tian et al. 2013. High-molecular-mass hyaluronan mediates the cancer resistance of the naked mole rat.

Press coverage on The Conversation

Paper 3: Avivi et al. 2010. Neuroglobin, cytoglobin, and myoglobin contribue to hypoxia adaptation of the subterranean mole rat Spalax

Press coverage at Ars Technica

Episode 17: Dr. R. Douglas Fields and “The Other Brain”

Episode 47: Biofilms and bumblebees

This week Zach and Kelly talk about cheating in bacterial biofilms, and how the microbiome influences susceptibility to disease in bumble bees.


Trial of the Clone 2: Wrath of the Pacificist (Zach’s adventure of your own choosing game book) is up on Kickstarter!

Technically Speaking – A podcast about engineering, and the newest member of the Brachiolope Media Network family!

Paper 1 – Popat et al. 2012: Quorum-sensing and cheating in bacterial biofilms


Episode 42: Fecal transplants and eye development

Paper 2 – Koch and Schmid-Hempel 2012: Gut microbiota instead of host genotype drive the specificity of a natural host-parasite system

Red Queen hypothesis

Episode 25: Dr. Ryan Earley and “why are there males”?