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Apart from his publications on gravity and optics, Newton was also a biblical scholar, religious mystic, and alchemist. In fact, a great deal of his work focuses on subjects that modern audiences might not consider to be scientific. You might be surprised to know how important the study of alchemy was to Newton. More than a pet interest, alchemy was an important part of Newton’s attempt to understand the nature of the divine. This episode uses the story of Newton’s alchemy to ask basic questions about the Scientific Revolution and the history of science in the seventeenth century. How scientific was the Scientific Revolution? If Newton was motivated by religious inclinations can we still call him a scientist? How does knowledge about the beginning of the Scientific Revolution shape how we understand the practice of science today?
This is the story of how a Pittsburgh steel worker became the lensmaker behind some of the most important experiments of 19th century physics. John Brashear fell in love with the night sky as a kid in the 1840s. Though he took a job as a millwright, in his free time, he and his wife dedicated themselves to making a telescope lens so they could view the stars. With only an elementary education (and the mentorship of Samuel Langley at the Allegheny Observatory), John became one of the world’s preeminent opticians. His lenses were commissioned for telescopes, spectrographs, and, most significantly, for the famous Michelson-Morley Experiment which failed to detect the luminiferous aether. The dismissal of the aether may have set up Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and modern physics. Not only was John Brashear a talented lensmaker, he was also dedicated to making the stars and the night sky accessible to all. He gave free astronomy lectures, visited schools and churches, and even a prison to ensure that regardless of someone’s situation, they could appreciate the beauty of the stars. Through his optical devices and outreach, John Brashear facilitated better access to celestial objects.
In June, after several technical mishaps, I flew down to Atlanta, Georgia, to meet Dr. Ronald Mickens and talk about his research on the history of African American physicists. In this episode, you’ll hear my interview with Dr. Mickens. He discusses his personal and professional backgrounds, how he became interested in studying the history of African American physicists, the factors that he considers to be most important in expanding the community of African American physicists during the twentieth century, and how the community has changed in the twenty-three years since his exhibit at the American Society for Physics centennial (for more on that, check out episode 7).
Based on the Ronald E. Mickens collection, this episode describes the history of the community of Black physicists in the United States. In 1999 the American Physical Society celebrated its centennial. In conjunction with the celebration, Dr. Ronald Mickens and his colleagues created an exhibit on the community of African American physicists and their contributions to the field during the twentieth century. In addition to providing a history of the African American presence in physics, this episode will also highlight several items in the Mickens collection.
This episode will tell the stories of Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville. It features an interview with Olivia Waite, who combines the two historic women in the protagonist of her regency, sapphic, romance novel The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet and artfully navigated the scientific world of the 18th and early 19th century to become one of the first paid women astronomers. Mary Somerville was potentially the most successful scientific writer of all time. Self-taught and charming, she grasped complex concepts in all physical sciences and communicated them to the world in her many books. But learning about the lives of these scientific women does not provide understanding of what their lives felt like. Often, women who contributed to science are left out of history or parts of their identity have been erased. To rectify this gap in the traditional historical narrative, historical fiction and romance writers depict vivid and realistic stories of the lives that rarely make history books. In her interview, Olivia Waite shares how she researches and writes historical romance and the importance of this genre to showcase LGBTQ+ identities. 
Was Einstein Wrong??

Was Einstein Wrong??

2022-08-1849:36

What is pseudoscience? The answer to that question is more difficult than you might think. In trying to answer the question, we can learn a lot more about what science is, how it is practiced, and what goes into producing new scientific knowledge. Based on the work of historian of science Michael Gordin and several collections in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, this episode examines pseudoscientific theories based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. Some of the pseudoscientists included in the collection think that Einstein was flat-out wrong–that he missed some vital information or that his theory is simply too confusing and unintuitive to understand. If physicists largely agree that the theory of relativity isn’t quite intuitive, then maybe it makes sense to hear out these anti-Einsteinians to get a sense of how they understand science. Other individuals included in these collections agree with Einstein but push relativity in interesting directions. One tries to make a case for a 6,000 year old universe. Another tells us how to build a time machine to help Muhammad Ali meet Thomas Edison. We conclude with Ralph Hartley, a practicing and accomplished scientist. Hartley was born eight years after Einstein and never accepted his ideas about the universe, offering instead a much older explanation of how gravity works. Through these stories we’ll learn about what constitutes legitimate science. Unsurprisingly, real science meets the tests that scientists set for legitimacy.
Quantum Counterculture

Quantum Counterculture

2022-08-1149:46

 Inspired by David Kaiser's 2011 book, How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, this episode will cover the discomfort many physicists experienced while grappling with quantum mechanics and how their unconventional methods led to quantum key encryption. Like many Americans of the 1960s and 70s, some physicists took part in questioning traditional institutions. They engaged in philosophical questions of quantum mechanics driven by Bell’s Theorem that revealed entangled particles’ seemingly father-than-light communication could not be explained by any known mechanism. While other physicists put their heads down and calculated, these hippie physicists dabbled in psychedelics, consulted with magicians, attempted to communicate with ghosts through atomic decay, and tried to communicate with each other–telepathically. They also questioned whether Western science's objective observer tradition was sufficient for quantum physics where observing a particle’s behavior changes it. Though some of their investigations may be deemed pseudoscience, there was value in thinking outside the box (or infinite potential well, for the physicists listening) and from their work, we know more about quantum mechanics and its applications.  
This episode describes efforts undertaken by the Department of Energy in the late 1970s to study the environmental, economic, and social consequences of anthropogenic climate change. In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon confronted a series of energy crises. Blackouts in major U.S. cities, natural gas shortages, and the 1973 OPEC oil embargo led to cold winters, hot summers, and long lines at the pump. In response, Nixon began reorganizing the executive branch to better respond to such crises, an effort that would continue during the terms of his successors Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. One proposal that Nixon’s new energy advisors suggested was to burn more domestic coal and oil. Meteorologists, atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, and scientists in related fields paid close attention to these new energy policies. Some, including William P. Elliott, then working in the Air Resources Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, responded with alarm. Based on the papers of William P. Elliott, this episode covers federal research efforts on anthropogenic climate change during the Carter administration. A handful of scientists began organizing a research program within the new Department of Energy to study the consequences of relying on more fossil fuels. That is, until the sudden closure of that program in 1981. We’ll also discuss how debates about climate change from nearly fifty years ago still resonate today.
 In this episode we discuss the efforts of three scientists–Svante Arrhenius, Guy Callendar, and Charles David Keeling–to figure out exactly what fossil fuel emissions might be doing to the atmosphere and the global temperature. Surprisingly, Arrhenius and other early climate scientists didn’t necessarily think that global warming would be…such a bad thing? But by the 1970s scientists began to push for more concerted efforts to research the effects of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. We’ll pick up that part of the story in the next episode. You’ll also hear about Guy Callendar’s contributions to climate science. Guy was a fellow who held no academic degrees in science but did live through a dangerous childhood. We’ll conclude with Charles Keeling and his famous curve showing how the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere began increasing at an accelerating rate during the twentieth century.  
Perhaps because she was a woman, or perhaps because she was American, Eunice Foote did not receive credit for her 1856 discovery of the heat-absorbing properties of carbon dioxide and water vapor. In this episode, we will tell the story of the once forgotten climate scientist, activist, and inventor, Eunice Foote, with help from Sir Roland Jackson of the Royal Institute and University College London. Though little is known about her or her perspective, her life and scientific contributions contextualize not only a history of climate change science but of the experience of women in science. This episode starts our journey through the history of our understanding of the greenhouse effect and global warming.  
Trailer

Trailer

2022-06-1502:23

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