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Some of the biggest discoveries and insights changing our world for the better have happened at the University of Chicago. Meet the pioneering thinkers behind those big ideas on "Big Brains." Their stories will change how you see the world.

Some of the biggest discoveries and insights changing our world for the better have happened at the University of Chicago. Meet the pioneering thinkers behind those big ideas on "Big Brains." Their stories will change how you see the world.
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Some of the biggest discoveries and insights changing our world for the better have happened at the University of Chicago. Meet the pioneering thinkers behind those big ideas on "Big Brains." Their stories will change how you see the world.




How Talk Builds Babies’ Brains with Dana Suskind (Ep. 13)

When Prof. Dana Suskind first began implanting devices called cochlear implants on babies who couldn’t hear, she quickly noticed something about her patients. “The cochlear implant would allow sound to go to a child’s brain, but something else was needed to make those sounds have meaning.” Suskind observed that many of her patients struggled to develop language because their parents didn’t talk to them as much. It was a revelation that inspired her to found the Thirty Million Words...


What Makes Us Uniquely Human with Neuroscientist Bobby Kasthuri (Ep. 12)

Neuroscientist Bobby Kasthuri wants to do the near impossible: map the entire human brain. That means identifying each of the trillions of neural connections that exist inside the mind—a number bigger than the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. His success could mean understanding ourselves unlike ever before. “I want to turn anatomy of the structure of the brain into what we did for the genome,” Kasthuri says. A scientist at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, he...


From Sci-Fi to Reality, Quantum Technology with David Awschalom (Ep. 11)

David Awschalom is one of the world’s leading scientists studying the growing field of quantum engineering, turning what was once in the realm of science fiction into reality—which could offer revolutionary breakthroughs in communications, digital encryption, sensor technology and even medicine. Studying the smallest elements in the universe is challenging on a number of levels, since quantum particles defy the laws of traditional physics. “The behavior of these tiny pieces is unlike...


Future of Higher Education and College Access with Robert J. Zimmer (Ep. 10)

As president of the University of Chicago, Robert J. Zimmer has a unique view to the challenges and opportunities facing higher education, and one of the biggest obstacles he sees is access for all students. While private institutions continue to offer greater financial support, Zimmer believes government and public institutions now need to do their part. “Is the country going to invest in the future of young people, or is it not? And is it going to provide access to higher education for...


The Hidden Abuse of U.S. Immigration with Claudia Flores (Ep. 9)

UChicago Law professor Claudia Flores has spent a career advocating for human rights of vulnerable populations around the world, from East Timor to Mexico. But her latest work revealed the hidden abuse of migrant children detained at the U.S. border and separated from their parents in a report titled, “I’m going to take you back to the river so you can die.” Flores discusses her report produced in partnership with the ACLU, the history and future of immigration policy in the U.S., and her...


SCOTUS Nears Unimaginable Era with Geoffrey Stone (Ep. 8)

UChicago Law professor Geoffrey Stone has an intimate knowledge of the Supreme Court. From his time as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan where he witnessed the decision Roe v. Wade firsthand, to his decades writing on issues of free speech, to helping shape the University of Chicago’s own policy on free expression, Stone is an expert when it comes to the First Amendment. But in all his years studying the highest court in the United States, Stone says he has never...


Special University of Chicago Convocation Podcast with Student Speaker Andrea Popova

A special Convocation edition podcast from the UChicago Podcast Network, featuring an interview with student speaker Andrea Popova, followed by the complete speeches from Andrea and fellow graduates Mark Meyer and Priscilla Daboni.


Special University of Chicago Convocation Podcast featuring Valerie Jarrett and Marianne Bertrand

A special Convocation edition podcast from the UChicago Podcast Network, featuring the full speeches given by Class Day speaker Valerie Jarrett, distinguished senior fellow in the University of Chicago Law School former senior adviser to President Obama; and Marianne Bertrand, the Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.


Economist’s Journey to the Nobel with Richard Thaler (Ep. 7)

Richard Thaler has been dubbed one of the "founding fathers" of behavioral economics, bridging the gap between psychology and economics, and in 2017 he received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work. It has been a long and unusual journey for Thaler, who has made a career out of disrupting economic assumptions, as well as writing two best-selling books and appearing in the 2015 Oscar-nominated film "The Big Short." On this episode of Big Brains, Thaler discusses how a bowl of...


Future of Energy Innovation with Michael Polsky (Ep. 6)

When UChicago alumnus Michael Polsky first ventured into the field of renewable energy in 2003 with his company Invenergy, he thought they had missed the boat. “When we got into renewables in earnest, I thought we were too late,” said Polsky, MBA’87, believing people were well ahead of him in building clean energy projects. Today, he said we’re barely in “the third inning” of the renewables game. The founder and CEO of Invenergy, one of the largest renewables company in North America,...


The Expanding Universe with Wendy Freedman (Ep. 5)

Wendy Freedman spent part of her career measuring the age of the universe. Now she’s working on a project that may very well give scientists a chance to glimpse into its birth. Freedman, the John & Marion Sullivan University Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics, works in the field of observational cosmology, measuring the expansion rate of the universe. In 2001, she and a team of scientists found that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old—far more precise than the previous estimate...


Nature’s Design Secrets with Rama Ranganathan (Ep. 4)

From the smallest proteins of cells to entire ecosystems, nature might be the most sophisticated engineer on earth. Researchers like UChicago molecular biologist Rama Ranganathan are trying to uncover the basic design principles that govern biology and apply them to human engineering. He calls the field “evolutionary physics,” and the goal is to unlock the secrets of evolutionary history. On this episode of Big Brains, Ranganathan shares his pioneering research on evolutionary physics, and...


Mind of a Virtuoso Composer with Augusta Read Thomas (Ep. 3)

To say Augusta Read Thomas is prolific is an understatement. A past Grammy Award winner and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, Thomas has been hailed as “a true virtuoso composer” by The New Yorker, and her work has been performed more than almost any other living composer. Thomas, the University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music and the College, champions classical music as co-curator of the Chicago Ear Taxi Festival and works with new musicians as founder and...


Myths of U.S. Health Care with Katherine Baicker (Ep. 2)

Health care expansion. It's one of the most contentious issues in American politics. Katherine Baicker is Dean of the Harris School at the University of Chicago and one of the leading scholars on the economics of health care. Her research from the groundbreaking Oregon Medicaid Experiment has helped uncover the true costs and benefits of health care expansion. On this episode of Big Brains, Baicker shares the findings from the Oregon Experiment, and provides insights into how to improve...


Discovering the Missing Link with Neil Shubin (Ep. 1)

Evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin spent six years in the Arctic searching for a fossil that could be a missing link between sea and land animals. In 2004, Shubin discovered Tiktaalik roseae, a 375-million-year old creature that was part fish, part land-living animal. On this episode of Big Brains, Shubin shares the story behind his discovery of Tiktaalik, what it has meant for the understanding of human evolution, and how it has impacted the future of genetic research. Subscribe to Big...


Big Brains Trailer

Meet the pioneering thinkers at the University of Chicago as they discuss their most groundbreaking ideas. The story behind their discoveries will change how you see the world. Big Brains begins April 9. Part of the UChicago Podcast Network.