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Night Science

Science Podcasts

Where do ideas come from? In each episode, scientists Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher explore science's creative side with a leading colleague. New episodes come out every second Monday.

Location:

United States

Description:

Where do ideas come from? In each episode, scientists Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher explore science's creative side with a leading colleague. New episodes come out every second Monday.

Language:

English


Episodes
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Guy Yanai on Pentimenti

5/14/2024
Send us a Text Message. Guy Yanai is a painter whose work is displayed in many public and private collections across the US, Europe, and Asia, including, for example, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His distinctive painting style blends modernist, abstract tendencies together with references to everyday life and popular culture. Coincidentally, Guy is also Itai’s brother. Together, we explore the many similarities and the interesting differences between the creative processes in art and science. We talk about Guy's creative process of letting art projects simmer inside him for as long as possible – until he feels compelled to execute the result. And we find out that what makes good art may be the same principles that lead to good science, including a focus on becoming rather than being, on process rather than outcome. This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org). For more information about Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:24:01

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George Church and shooting for the stars

4/29/2024
Send us a Text Message. George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, leads a large research group at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. A pioneer in the fields of personalized genomics and synthetic biology, he has co-founded over 50 biotech companies. In 2017, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In this conversation, we discuss the importance of embracing outliers and taking calculated risks – it's not about never failing, it's about failing a million times a day. As Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” George argues that you can change the world as long as you don't care who gets the credit. He recommends shooting for the stars – maybe you'll hit the moon. This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org). For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:36:18

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Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz lights a candle for science

4/15/2024
Send us a Text Message. Prof. Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz directs research labs at both CalTech in the US and the University of Cambridge in England. Magdalena is one of the world’s leading developmental biologists, who has been recognized by the 2023 Ogawa-Yamanaka Stem Cell Prize and Science magazin's People's Vote for Scientific Breakthrough of the Year in 2016. In this episode, we explore the relationship between art and science, and discuss how emotions act as a catalyst for creativity. Magdalena reveals that most of the work in her lab starts without a very detailed plan, which leaves everyone open to embrace unexpected observations. Knowing how to invoke lateral thinking helps to find creative ways out of a problem in a time of crisis. Magdalena also talks about her collaboration with John Gurdon, with its complementary sides of rigor and inspiration. ​​For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:39:47

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Isaac Newton and a new kind of science

4/1/2024
Send us a Text Message. Night Science – coming up with novel ways to interpret the physical world – is as old as philosophy. In contrast, Day Science – empirical evidence as the sole argument for truth – was invented only in the 1700s, championed by the groundbreaking work of Isaac Newton. In the April 1st, 2024, episode of the Day Science Podcast, Sir Isaac looks back on his solitary life, revealing how he came up with science’s counterintuitive, narrow, and shallow concept of explanation. Sir Isaac touches on the infamous apple incident as a metaphor for inspiration, and he reflects on how his diverse interests ranging from mathematics to alchemy to theology, balanced and inspired each other. He also expresses regret that he tried to unravel the mysteries of alchemy – or chemistry, as we would call it – through mystical and allegorical thinking, rather than through the new scientific method that proved so fruitful with his mathematical physics. This episode could not have been recorded without Sir Isaac Newton speaking through the voice of a medium who knows his life and works in exquisite detail: Prof. Michael Strevens, from New York University. ​​For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:26:33

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Bo Xia and a tale of tails

2/28/2024
Send us a Text Message. Bo Xia is a Junior Fellow at Harvard and a Principal Investigator at the Broad Institute. During his PhD with Itai, he suffered a painful tailbone injury that led to an obsession with this vestigial organ and its origins in human evolution. In this out-of-the-ordinary episode, we talk about this specific science project: how did Bo, with Itai’s help, discover the mutation that let us lose our tail? For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:31:35

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Todd Golub and bottom-up creativity

2/26/2024
Send us a Text Message. Prof. Todd Golub, the Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, has made important contributions to cancer research. In this episode, he argues that creativity is the greatest hallmark of a successful scientist, and he tells us about his artist-in-residence program at the Broad. As its director, he aims to hire researchers who look like they'll be changing fields in the future, combining boldness with humility – the "blank slate" with which they enter the new field is the best recipe for creativity. We discuss how the best projects cannot be designed but instead evolve from the bottom up; and how the worst projects are those that succeed but are so incremental that no one cares. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:35:57

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Sean B. Carroll – he told some good stories

2/12/2024
Send us a Text Message. Sean Carroll is a world-renowned scientist, author, educator, and an Oscar-nominated film producer. Sean sees storytelling as the key to all he does. Similar to how musicians get inspiration by listening to other people’s music, Sean attributes his own creativity to his insatiable habit of reading about other people’s science – that’s how he “fertilizes his garden”. To tell a good story, he urges us to seek the emotions. But storytelling is not just for communication: in a research project, we also must develop a narrative, connecting the dots. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:39:18

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Nigel Goldenfeld and the jazz of impossible problems

1/29/2024
Send us a Text Message. Nigel Goldenfeld is the Chancellor's Distinguished Professor in Physics at the University of California at San Diego. In this episode, he talks with us about how research is an art form, and how he tries to help graduate students make the transition from being a “classical musician”, where the goal is to faithfully reproduce every note supplied by the composer, to being a “jazz musician”, where collaborators have to develop the beauty of the composition – or here, the science – on the spot. Nigel emphasizes the importance of suspending disbelief in the resulting improvisations, and the need to feel free to say stupid things. He points out that if our work’s impact is measured by the ratio of what we contribute to what everyone else contributed, then the easiest way to make a big impact is by minimizing the denominator – to work on something that no one else is working on. And the three of us argue whether the optimal group size for improvisational scientific discussions is two or three people. This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org) and the Independent Media Initiative (theimi.co). For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:40:25

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It takes two to think

1/15/2024
Send us a Text Message. Despite the variety of creative approaches practiced by different scientists, one tried-and-true though often overlooked — trick for generating new ideas stands out. It may sound trivial, yet it is as reliable as it is simple: talk to someone. By talking with other people, we not only pool the information or ideas that each of us individually lacks, but we are also able to improvise new thoughts that are not accessible to us alone. In this episode, Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher talk through the ideas in two of their editorials (available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41587-023-02074-2 and https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-021-02575-w).

Duration:00:23:31

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Rich White on living on the edge cases

1/8/2024
Send us a Text Message. Rich White studies cancer as a professor at Oxford University. Rich is not only a brilliant physician-scientist but also a great friend of Itai Yanai, one of the two Night Science hosts. In this episode, Rich talks about how often the process that led to a particular result can be more interesting than the result itself – something that is true not only in science but also in fields such as art or writing. He emphasizes that the best research strategy depends greatly on the researcher’s personality. He himself thrives on being on the edge of a field, ideally working on a common question with scientists from different disciplines or even philosophers and historians. Rich recounts how he identifies new questions by finding connections between the edge cases of several papers – observations the authors couldn’t make sense of, but still put in their manuscripts. And Rich and Itai reveal the true story behind one of their joint papers, where the breakthrough came in an open-ended creative meeting from staring at the data – after a first, much more boring draft had already been written! This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org) and the Independent Media Initiative (theimi.co). For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:43:56

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Carolyn Bertozzi and a long game called science

12/25/2023
Send us a Text Message. Carolyn Bertozzi is a Professor at Stanford University. In 2022, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In this episode we talk about how the process of science is unstructured, so you don’t know when and where the next idea is going to come – sometimes even at the supermarket checkout line. For Carolyn, science is a long game, where one person’s negative result might be picked up a decade or a century later, leading to a new breakthrough. When a field is just being born, its new members may have a difficult time finding positions in academia and industry, as they are not experts in any traditional field. And Carolyn tells us how being in a band with Tom Morello, the guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, taught her about the personal chemistry required for running a successful lab. This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org) and the Independent Media Initiative (theimi.co). For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:40:47

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Stephen Quake and the Creative Network

12/11/2023
Send us a Text Message. Stephen Quake is a Stanford University professor and the Head of Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). Among his many inventions are DNA sequencing methods for non-invasive prenatal testing. In this episode, Steve tells us about his tricks for the creative scientific process, including the surprising usefulness of jetlag, the role of generosity – rather than a transactional approach – in collaborations, and the art of making progress in fields that are new for you, including a high threshold for embarrassment. Throughout the research process, Steve encourages his team to keep the faith that something interesting will happen. Training for young scientists should include a place for students to make mistakes, Steve observes, as the need to always be correct is not conducive to research. This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org) and the Independent Media Initiative (theimi.co). For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:35:09

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John Mattick and doing what your mother taught you

11/27/2023
Send us a Text Message. John Mattick is Professor of RNA Biology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. For decades, he has been on a mission to show that the large portions of the human genome that many scientists consider useless "junk" instead have important regulatory functions. In this episode, he tells us that his creative process involves always seeing things from different perspectives – something he learned as a teenager listening to the debates of his mother and her sisters. He reveals how publishing a manifesto can supercharge your research. We discuss how science lurches from paradigm to paradigm, and how the current best guess, if untestable at the time, can become accepted wisdom. And he tells us that he advises his graduate students that it's very hard to be creative when you're still in the fog of ignorance, but that they should always look for the things that don't make sense to them - sometimes that's a clue to something worth chasing. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:30:59

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Peter Ratcliffe on being the Master of Daydreams

11/13/2023
Send us a Text Message. Peter J. Ratcliffe shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on oxygen sensing in animal cells. He directs research institutes in London and Oxford. In this episode, he reveals the interplay between dissociation – daydreaming – and interaction with colleagues as a major source of his scientific creativity. He emphasizes that to make an important discovery, you must define your own question, even as everyone – from colleagues to editors and funders – will try to convince you otherwise. We discuss how too much planning can make you unhappy, and how everyone overestimates the information transfer in lectures and presentations. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:35:17

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Christina Curtis and keeping the faith in the process

10/30/2023
Send us a Text Message. Christina Curtis is a Professor of Medicine and the Director of Artificial Intelligence and Cancer Genomics at Stanford University’s Cancer Institute. Among her many achievements is the conception of the “Big Bang Theory” of tumor biology. In this episode, she tells us how not being biased by assumptions of what we know has been very helpful in her research. We talk about how her background in statistical genetics has shaped her cancer research. We also discuss how the despair of not understanding is a phase that occurs in almost any research project, and we discuss the use of generative AI in the creative scientific process. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:42:07

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Daniel Dennett’s intuition pumps

10/16/2023
Send us a Text Message. Daniel Dennett, Professor at Tufts University, may be the most important living philosopher, tackling the biggest questions around: what is consciousness, do we have free will, how does evolutionary adaptation occur? In this episode, Dan tells us about some of his ‘intuition pumps’ - tools that are as indispensable for thinking as hammers and saws are for carpentry. We discuss how creativity really is just a bag of tricks, what Descartes‘ biggest mistake was, and how to ‘jump out of the system‘ to make creative leaps. Dan tells us about how magic tricks can teach us about thinking, and how an irrational fear of the intentional stance can slow us down. And Dan assures us that when we scientists wonder what is the right way to phrase a research question, we‘re really doing philosophy. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:41:04

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Howard Stone on how to tilt your head for discovery

9/25/2023
Send us a Text Message. Howard Stone is a Professor of Engineering at Princeton. His research explores how fluid dynamics can help to understand diverse systems, from bacterial biofilms to the earth’s interior. In this episode, Howard explains how a lot of important, low-hanging fruit are at the interface between disciplines. Howard is most creative when he debates phenomena at a blackboard together with a collaborator. A trick he likes to use is to identify related problems in isolated disciplines, helping him to unravel underlying mechanisms. And he warns against being too conservative – taking things in textbooks for granted. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:39:56

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Prisca Liberali and the junkies of discovery

9/10/2023
Send us a Text Message. Prisca Liberali is a senior group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland. In this episode, Prisca tells us how her creative thinking thrives on recursive thinking – going deeper and deeper into a problem from different angles. Prisca also deliberately uses carefully chosen conferences to discuss and to develop ongoing projects. As much as her lab’s creativity is an inextricable part of the process, she admits that at the core it’s a lonely job. What eases leadership in the lab is learning who you are: which tasks you find easy and which tasks require excessive energy – and then sharing that information with your team members. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:32:35

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Tom Mullaney & Chris Rea on giving thanks to bias

8/28/2023
Send us a Text Message. Tom Mullaney is a Professor of History at Stanford University and the Kluge Chair in Technology and Society at the Library of Congress, and Chris Rea is a Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. In 2022, Tom and Chris published the book ‘Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World)’. In this episode, we talk about self-centered research (and about getting over yourself), how vulnerable self-confidence empowers your research, and how your personal biases are necessary for you to notice anything interesting at all. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:43:24

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Bonnie Bassler and living on the edge in a nerdy kind of way

8/14/2023
Send us a Text Message. Bonnie Bassler is the Chair of the Molecular Biology Department at Princeton. In this episode, Bonnie talks about her passion for scientific inquiry, creativity, mentorship, and how the journey of discovery is about asking the right questions, distinguishing between what you can do and what you should do, and about embracing the unexpected. In our very lively and fun discussion, we explore the significance of asking "why" questions to fuel passion and curiosity – even if only the if/what/when/how questions lead to clear answers – and we explore the balance between chaos and control in the scientific process. And so while the pay might be bad and the hours long, the joy of doing science and living on the edge in a “nerdy kind of way” makes it all worthwhile. For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Duration:00:38:39