A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.

A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.
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A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.




Mini: The Undercover Botanist

In 1767, a young French servant boarded a ship and sailed around the world, collecting plants previously unknown to Western science. The ship’s crew knew the servant as “Jean,” the scrappy aide to the expedition’s botanist. But “Jean” had a secret. She was actually Jeanne Baret, a woman disguised as a man—and she was about to make botanical history. Annie and Elah recently told this story for a live audience at On Air Fest. Here are some of the pictures from that talk. There are, of...


Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

Undiscovered is back between seasons with a listener question: What saved the cats? If you rewind to the Middle Ages, cats and humans were on bad terms. Cat roundups, cat torture, and even cat murder were common occurrences throughout Europe. But a series of historic events steadily delivered the tiny felines into public favor. In a story that spans centuries and continents, the Catholic Church and the Rosetta Stone, Elah and Annie investigate how the cat’s reputation shifted from devil’s...


Not Your Subject

In U.S. cancer research, the most promising clinical trials are done mostly on white patients, which means people of color—and especially African Americans—are underrepresented in research that might save their lives. In this episode, a young, black medical student joins a team of Boston scientists to try to bring more African American patients into their study, but has to contend with the long history of medical mistreatment that could keep them away. Guests Shawn Johnson, student at...


This Headline Might Kill You

In this Undiscovered Cares Report, Annie and Elah dig into a scary science headline and help Elah’s friend, David, figure out how scared he should be that his B12 vitamins will give him lung cancer. And we find out how—even with top-notch scientists, journalists, and readers—science communication can go very wrong. Guests Theodore Brasky, assistant professor at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center Footnotes Read some of the headlines that scared us, and one that did...


Party Lines

In 2016, a North Carolina legislator announced that his party would be redrawing the state’s congressional district map with a particular goal in mind: To elect “10 Republicans and three Democrats.” His reasoning for this? As he explained, he did “not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” It was a blatant admission of gerrymandering in a state already known for creatively-drawn districts. But that might be about to change. A North Carolina mathematician...


The Long Loneliness

Americans haven’t always loved whales and dolphins. In the 1950s, the average American thought of whales as the floating raw materials for margarine, animal feed, and fertilizer—if they thought about whales at all. But twenty-five years later, things had changed for cetaceans in a big way. Whales had become the poster-animal for a new environmental movement, and cries of “save the whales!” echoed from the halls of government to the whaling grounds of the Pacific. What happened? Annie and...


Turtle v. Snake

Travis Thomas is a rookie turtle researcher in Florida. He was on the verge of publishing his first big paper and naming two new species of turtle when he found out he’d been scooped by a stranger in Australia: Raymond Hoser, a.k.a. the Snake Man. Raymond is a reptile wrangler and amateur herpetologist who’s managed to name hundreds of animals—and has made a lot of enemies in the process. In this episode of Undiscovered, Travis sets out to get his turtles back, and Annie and Elah set out to...


Guest Episode: The Infinite God

This week, Annie and Elah share an episode from one of their favorite podcasts, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sum of All Parts. For years, Robert Schneider lived the indie rocker’s dream, producing landmark records and fronting his band, The Apples in Stereo. And then, he gave it all up...for number theory. Host Joel Werner tracks Robert’s transformation, from a transcendental encounter with an antique tape machine, to the family temple of a mysterious long-dead mathematician,...


Plants And Prejudice

Are non-native species all that bad, or are we just prejudiced against “the Other”? In the San Francisco Bay Area, one particular foreign species has been dividing environmentalists for years: the blue gum eucalyptus. Eucalyptus opponents say it’s a serious fire hazard. Defenders say there’s no good evidence it’s worse than native plants. Which is it? And is the fight against non-native species grounded in science or xenophobia? In this episode of Undiscovered, Annie and Elah...


The Magic Machine

As a critical care doctor, Jessica Zitter has seen plenty of “Hail Mary” attempts to save dying patients go bad—attempts where doctors try interventions that don’t change the outcome, but do lead to more patient suffering. It’s left her distrustful of flashy medical technology and a culture that insists that more treatment is always better. But when a new patient goes into cardiac arrest, the case doesn’t play out the way Jessica expected. She finds herself fighting for hours to revive...


The Holdout

Since the 1980s, Gerta Keller, professor of paleontology and geology at Princeton, has been speaking out against an idea most of us take as scientific gospel: That a giant rock from space killed the dinosaurs. Nice story, she says—but it’s just not true. Gerta's been shouted down and ostracized at conferences, but in three decades, she hasn’t backed down. And now, things might finally be coming around for Gerta’s theory. But is she right? Did something else kill the dinosaurs? Or is she just...


I, Robovie

A decade ago, psychologists introduced a group of kids to Robovie, a wide-eyed robot who could talk, play, and hug like a pro. And then, the researchers did something heartbreaking to Robovie! They wanted to see just how far kids’ empathy for a robot would go. What the researchers didn’t gamble on was just how complicated their own feelings for Robovie would get. Annie and Elah explore the robot-human bond. VIDEOS I Spy, And The Closet A fifteen-year-old study participant plays a game...


Undiscovered Is Back For Season 2

The wait is over! Hosts Annie Minoff and Elah Feder are back from the field with a brand new season of Undiscovered. What’s in store for Season 2? We’ll introduce you to a robot who toys with our emotions, a geologist who rejects everyone's favorite dino theory, and a doctor who goes further than she ever thought she’d go to save a life. That, plus other stories behind the scenes of science, when Undiscovered returns…. See you next week!


Mouse’s Vineyard: Update!

Undiscovered is back with a new season this September! In the meantime, we check in on the status of Kevin Esvelt’s plan to fight Martha’s Vineyard’s Lyme disease problem with genetically engineered mice. Has he created his super-mice? And are Vineyarders as gung-ho about the GMO invasion as they were two years ago? We follow up. Learn more about our original Mouse’s Vineyard episode. Special thanks to Joanna Buchthal, and to Nantucket band Coq Au Vin for letting us play their song...


Mouse’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard has a Lyme disease problem. Now a scientist is coming to town with a possible fix: genetically engineered mice. An island associated with summer rest and relaxation is gaining a reputation for something else: Lyme disease. Martha’s Vineyard has one of the highest rates of Lyme in the country. Now MIT geneticist Kevin Esvelt is coming to the island with a potential long-term fix. The catch: It involves releasing up to a few hundred thousand genetically modified mice onto...


Kurt Vonnegut and the Rainmakers

In the mid 1940s, no one would publish Kurt Vonnegut’s stories. But when he gets hired as a press writer at General Electric, the company’s fantastical science inspires some of his most iconic--and best-selling--novels. Every snowflake is unique—except they all have six sides. In ice, water molecules arrange themselves into hexagons. (Courtesy MiSci Museum) Imagine the Earth has been turned into a frozen wasteland. The culprit? Ice-nine. With a crystalline structure that makes it...


The Wastebook

After a senator calls her research a waste of taxpayer dollars, biologist Sheila Patek heads to Capitol Hill to prove what her science is worth. In December 2015, the fight over science funding got personal for biologist Sheila Patek. She discovered that a U.S. Senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona, had included her research on mantis shrimp in his “wastebook”: a list of federally-funded projects he deemed a waste of taxpayer money. So what did Patek do? She headed to Capitol Hill to make the case...


Six Degrees

Are you just six handshakes away from every other person on Earth? Two mathematicians set out to prove we’re all connected. You have probably heard the phrase “six degrees of separation,” the idea that you’re connected to everyone else on Earth by a chain of just six people. It has inspired a Broadway play, a film nerd’s game, called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”...and even a No Doubt song! But is it true? In the ‘90s, two mathematicians set out to discover just how connected we really...


Sick and Tired

When researchers publish a new study on chronic fatigue syndrome, a group of patients cry foul—and decide to investigate for themselves. A landmark study on chronic fatigue syndrome sets off a multi-year battle between patients and scientists. On one side, we have a team of psychiatrists who have researched the condition for decades, and have peer-reviewed studies to back up their conclusions. On the other, a group of patients who know this condition more intimately than anyone and set out...


Born This Gay

At the turn of the 20th century, a German doctor sets out to prove that homosexuality is rooted in biology—but his research has consequences he never intended. In pre-Nazi Germany, a doctor named Magnus Hirschfeld sets out to take down Paragraph 175, a law against “unnatural fornication” between men. Hirschfeld’s plan is to scientifically prove that homosexuality is natural, and that lesbians and gay men might be born gay—but his idea ends up falling into the wrong hands. Party at the...