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WonderLabs with Chris Richardson
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WonderLabs with Chris Richardson

Author: Chris Richardson

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From the lab to your ears—join Chris Richardson in the places and minds where ideas are born, nurtured, and shared. Each episode discusses an idea that is changing how we think and act.
25 Episodes
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Imran Ahmed is the founder and CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). The Center tackles identity-based hate, misinformation, extremism, fake news, trolling, and how these things can polarise societies and undermine democracy. In this episode we talk about some of the Center’s recent successes, the power and risks of deplatforming bad actors, and the social media platforms as a public square. We also discuss the role of big tech platforms in content moderation, erosion of our trust in institutions, and the need for us all to take responsibility with the content we choose to share. To find out more about the Center for Countering Digital Hate, including their Stop Funding Fake News campaign, visit counterhate.co.uk. Enjoy!
Hello and welcome back to WonderLabs! We are back in London and expanding the show beyond science and technology—to the places and minds where ideas are born, nurtured and shared. Before we get into Season 3, check out this introduction to find out what's in store.
Sir Jim Smith is Head of the Wellcome Science Review and Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute’s Developmental Biology Laboratory. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society and was knighted in 2017 for services to medical research and science education. In this episode we talk about Sir Jim’s work on embryonic development, using frogs as a model organism, and how this work might lead to stem cell therapies for humans. Moving beyond his science, we talk about his role in deciding who gets funding, how science can be made more collaborative, and how to think about diversity in STEM beyond just the people involved.  This episode is part of a longer conversation I had with Sir Jim at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). The full conversation is the first episode of the OIST Podcast, a new show discussing the latest from the university’s scientists and distinguished guests. Go and check out the other episodes! If you’d like to get in touch with Sir Jim to continue the discussion, you can find him on Twitter @ProfJimSmith. Enjoy!
Dr Maeva Techer is a biologist looking at Varroa mites, a global parasite of honeybees with an important role in colony collapse disorder. Dr Techer uses genome sequencing to understand how the parasite has been able to jump between hosts so successfully. In this episode we talk about the Varroa mite, the deadly viruses it carries, its impact on beekeeping - and what honeybees might do to defend themselves. We talk about life in the field (getting Italian bees drunk and high on sugar), some unexpected pollinator friends, and an exciting new project cleverly using honeybees to save coral reefs… To see more from Dr Techer and the rest of her team, including research papers and laboratory protocols, head to homologo.us. Enjoy!
Professor Chris Davis is a linguist, semanticist, and pragmatician at the University of the Ryukyus who looks at how languages convey meaning and how people use them. He also looks at Yaeyaman, one of the “endangered” Ryukyuan languages spoken in Okinawa Prefecture. In this episode we talk about his work in Okinawa, the scientific and cultural value in understanding languages, and some considerations for ethical fieldwork. We also discuss broader linguistics topics including political correctness, freedom of speech, implicit meanings, some dubious animal language acquisition studies, and a fun new field called Pokémonastics. To see more from Professor Davis, including his recent papers and fieldwork videos, visit cmdavis.org. To find out more about Pokémonastics visit 1stpokemonastics.wordpress.com.  Enjoy!
Nadine Wirkuttis is a cognitive neuroroboticist using humanoid robots to understand human social interaction. She is not building social robots(!), but rather using robots as a tool to understand how higher cognitive functions arise during critical learning periods. In this episode we discuss Nadine’s work on robot-robot interaction, and what it can teach us about ourselves. We also look at algorithms as black boxes, the challenge of explainability once we start deploying these technologies, and some present and future applications including patient care. Oh, and we also consider the implications of robots learning how to lie. To see Nadine’s robots in action, head over to the movies section at groups.oist.jp/cnru, where you can also explore recent publications and other projects. Enjoy!
Collin Stecker is a researcher exploring next generation solar materials for solar panels. He is currently studying a class of materials called perovskites, a rising star in the world of photovoltaics that could challenge silicon’s market dominance. In this episode we get a quick primer on photovoltaics, a history of solar panels, and a deep-dive into perovskite technology. We then look at the interplay of solar science and climate policy, including some case studies involving pricing strategy and reclaiming the power grid, and discuss the fundamental tensions between capital and climate. If you’d like to find out more about Collin's group's efforts to support the global energy demand, visit groups.oist.jp/emssu. Enjoy!
Rob Campbell is a researcher broadly interested in structure. He’s currently working on the assembly of spider silk to further our understanding in materials science and evolutionary biology. But also for novel applications in bioinspired materials engineering.  In this episode we explore spider silk, its many forms and functions, and how it is being used in bioinspired design. We then have a broader discussion on biomimicry and bioinspired design, combining nature with human ingenuity. Rob once worked on the infamous zombie ants, so we also dive into the gruesome case of phorid flies.  If you’d like to catch up with Rob to talk structure, silk, and global community building, find him on Twitter @rob10c or head over to rob10campbell.wix.com/research. Enjoy!
Maggi Brisbin is a marine ecologist specializing in plankton, their community dynamics, and how they influence nutrient cycles. Her current focus is a marine algae called Phaeocystis, which lives freely, forms colonies, and also lives as a symbiont inside another marine organism. In this episode we explore the different lifestyles adopted by Phaeocystis, and its role in regulating processes associated with climate change. We also have a broader discussion on success in biology, including the potential manipulation of humans by wheat (yes, you read that correctly!). Finally, we talk about some of Maggi’s recent ocean activism efforts here in Japan. To catch up with Maggi about all things ocean related, including her #TinyPrettyTuesday photo sharing session, you can find her on Twitter @MargaretBrisbin. Enjoy!
Tom Burns is a computational neuroscientist who uses artificial neural networks to simulate the human brain and understand how it makes sense of the world. His research focus includes spiking neural networks, the so-called third generation models taking on deep learning. In this episode we cover some basic neuroscience before moving into the realm of the artificial, looking at how neural networks have evolved since the early days, and how they might be applied to real world problems. We also talk about the importance of philosophy in science, and what this research can reveal about the nature of our own minds.  To find out more about Tom’s research, including a selection of projects, papers, and presentations, head over to tfburns.com. Enjoy!
Dr Nick Friedman is a biologist interested in the origins of biodiversity. He is part of the OKinawa Environmental Observation Network, OKEON, a team that monitors the terrestrial environment of Okinawa. As part of their work they use sound to understand how biodiversity varies across the island. In this episode we talk about OKEON’s acoustic monitoring project, and how supercomputers, sound, and citizen science combine to answer questions on biodiversity. We also head into the forest to hear some "soundscapes" in action, before discussing the impact of noise pollution on humans and animals living in cities. To find out more about OKEON, including links to a selection of Okinawa soundscapes, visit okeon.unit.oist.jp.  Enjoy!
Professor Yasha Neiman is the head of the Quantum Gravity Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). He spends his time thinking about how gravity and quantum mechanics can coexist in a universe that is expanding at an accelerating rate. In this episode we cover the standard model of particle physics, how limits in the model led to research on quantum gravity, and the approaches now being taken by physicists to understand the laws of nature. We also touch on the failed promises of physics, and its role in capturing imaginations. If you haven't yet listened to our conversation with Joanna Huang from the ATLAS experiment at CERN, that episode also provides useful context on particle physics. To find out more about Professor Neiman's work, including his lectures and lively TED talk, head over to groups.oist.jp/qgu. Enjoy!
Dr Andrew Gallimore is a neurobiologist, chemist, and pharmacologist with a particular interest in the psychedelic compound DMT. He's written a new book that he calls "a textbook from the future" outlining how DMT can be used to access a higher-dimensional intelligence. In this episode we cover DMT's pharmacology and what makes it unusual versus other psychedelics, the thesis of his new book, and some of his earlier works published with psychiatrist Rick Strassman. We also touch on string theory, the simulation argument, and the predictive power of sci-fi. If you haven't yet listened to our conversation with Imperial College London's Center for Psychedelic Research, or the bonus documentary Harmonics of Mind, go ahead and check those out, too. To find out more about Dr Gallimore's work including videos, papers, and his new book, head over to buildingalienworlds.com. Enjoy!
201 - Welcome back!

201 - Welcome back!

2019-06-0202:11

Hello and welcome back to WonderLabs! We are now based in Japan, and look forward to bringing you the latest in science and tech from the Far East. Before we get into Season 2, take a moment to check out this introduction to find out what's in store.
This is a bonus episode deviating from our usual format. It is a short documentary exploring the work of the Psychedelic Research Group, who we interviewed back in episode 4, and a collective called Senscapes who create music and art from their neuroimaging data.  In the piece you'll hear from the Psychedelic Research Group, Senscapes, and an anonymous patient who participated in a clinical trial exploring the use of psilocybin as a treatment for depression. Woven into the interviews is the music created by Senscapes, aimed at taking listeners along on the patient journey.  If you plan to take a psychedelic in the near future, please see the Psychedelic Research Group’s survey at PsychedelicSurvey.com, and head over to Senscapes.com to find out more about their projects and upcoming performances. If you'd like to get in touch, our Gmail is "wonderlabspod". Enjoy!
Shivani Hassard is a researcher at Queen Mary University of London exploring virtual reality, with a specific focus on game design and human-computer interaction. In this episode we clear up some misconceptions in mixed reality, explore the importance of self-reported and physiological data in experimental design, and consider the potential end of cinema. If you'd like to get in touch, our Gmail is "wonderlabspod". Enjoy!
Rosie Davies is working with a group at Great Ormond Street Hospital aiming towards a personalised medicine approach within the rare diseases space. In this episode we explore advancements in multi-omic technologies, potential issues around data security, and the involvement of big pharma in academic research. If you'd like to get in touch, our Gmail is "wonderlabspod". Enjoy!
Youssef Ibrahim is a researcher at Imperial College London exploring 3D printing. In this episode we learn the mechanisms behind different types of 3D printing, the importance of bio-inspired design in manufacturing, and the potential medical applications of smart materials. If you'd like to get in touch, our Gmail is "wonderlabspod". Enjoy!
Anthea Lacchia is a research fellow in the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG) currently developing a training and outreach facility in western Ireland. In this episode we get into the importance of molluscs as an index and keystone species, the giant insects and trees of the Carboniferous period, and revisit the story of revered fossilist and glass ceiling smasher Mary Anning. If you'd like to get in touch, our Gmail is "wonderlabspod". Enjoy!
Duncan Fraser is a researcher at the University of Oxford exploring new ways to synthesize plastics. In this episode we learn more about his work in the field of efficient plastic production, debate the possibility of alternatives to plastics, and the role of industry in academic research. If you'd like to get in touch, our Gmail is "wonderlabspod". Enjoy!
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