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WonderLabs with Chris Richardson

Technology Podcasts

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.


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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.



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309 - Neoliberal nightmares

Lesley Groom and Chris Sparrow have had fruitful careers in sociology and social work. They’ve spent much of their time in Greater Manchester, North West England—the part of the world in which I was born, and a part of the world that’s close to my heart. In this episode, we talk about a community space they helped to set up in 1981, and how that space evolved organically over time. We also discuss our lost tradition of radicalism and culture of risk, the shifting aspirations of the working class, the intentional limits of the state education system, and the power of social media in promoting both narcissism and social change. Lesley cites many books and studies throughout the conversation, including: “Family and Kinship in East London”, a 1957 sociological study “Adult Education and Community Action: Popular Social Movements” by Tom Lovett, Chris Clarke, and Avila Kilmurray “Goliath: Britain's Dangerous Places” by Beatrix Campbell “One No, Many Yeses” by Paul Kingsnorth Enjoy!


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308 - Achieving your health goals

Helen Halliday, AKA Helen the Food Coach, is a registered nutritional therapist working remotely with clients through the coronavirus pandemic. Helen helps people to define and achieve health goals relating to diet, sleep, and exercise. In this episode we talk about what a nutritional therapist is and isn’t, how to separate sage advice from snake oil, and how to define and stay motivated to achieve your health goals. We also discuss the Healthy Trinity of diet, sleep, and exercise, and the power that mindfulness has to augment them all. Simple suggestions for the Healthy Trinity are included below. To find out more, request a copy of Helen’s health goal tracker, or attempt a selection of tasty recipes, head over to http://helenthefoodcoach.co.uk/. Enjoy! The Healthy Trinity: Sleep, Diet, and Exercise. Sleep: Avoid technology, avoid alcohol before bed, and get as many hours as you need. Diet: Balance protein, fat, and carbs, with some micronutrients for good measure. Exercise: Get a mix of cardio, strength, and stretching into your weekly routine. Bonus: Begin a short five-minute morning meditation practice.


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307 - On love and film

Liliane Laborde-Edozien is a US-born French-Italian-Nigerian-Brazilian filmmaker and photographer whose work explores resilience, love, and collective memory. Her documentaries have picked up awards in the US and have been screened in major cities on four continents. In this episode, we talk about her first three documentaries—defining love beyond language, escaping poverty and gang violence through sports, and collective memory within Brazil’s African diaspora. We also discuss the censorship of artistic expression, recognising our shared humanity, and Alan Watts’ beloved story of the Chinese farmer. Liliane’s two recommended films are Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” (1941) and John Carpenter’s “They Live” (1988)—two classics that Liliane argues are relevant meditations on corporate media and consumer culture. The book we discuss on maintaining an open heart is Michael Singer’s “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself”. For a selection of Liliane’s work, including photography, films, and gallery curation, head over to LilianeLabordeEdozien.com. Enjoy!


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306 - Improving mental health

Rebecca Samuels is a cognitive behavioural therapist working remotely with patients through the coronavirus pandemic. She has spent time working in mental health at music festivals, prisons, and as part of the response team following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. In this episode, we cover the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the evolution of mental health treatment approaches, and how Rebecca brings her wide-reaching experience into her practice. We also discuss the false dichotomy of body and mind, how things have changed since the pandemic, and a likely upcoming trial involving psychedelic therapy. For headline-free coronavirus updates, head over to Information is Beautiful. For more on the body and mind, pick up a copy of “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk. If you're in the UK and would like to find your local psychological therapies service, you can enter your postcode on the NHS website. Enjoy!


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305 - Launching a record label

T. Fitzgerald is label head at For The Record, a UK-based collective of producers and DJs. The label creates immersive, hypnotic and transcendent music from the minimal end of house and techno for clubs and home listening. In this episode we talk about the journey from playing in basements to pressing your first vinyl, the relative value of physical and digital media, and defining music based on the experience it creates. We also discuss the interplay of music and art, how the scene is adapting to lockdown measures, and the impact this is likely to have on the future of clubbing and music production. T. Fitzgerald’s first EP, A Formal Introduction, is available from the usual online record stores: Juno (UK):bit.ly/WAFTR001-JunoDeejay (DE):bit.ly/WAFTR001-DeejayDecks (DE):bit.ly/WAFTR001-DecksTechnique (JP):bit.ly/WAFTR001-Technique For more tracks, mixes, guest mixes, and radio shows, plug in your headphones and check out For The Record’s SoundCloud. Enjoy!


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304 - Demystifying data science

Duncan Fraser is the lead data scientist at Habitat Energy, where he develops machine learning algorithms for battery dispatch and optimisation in the UK and Australia. Ultimately, Duncan aims to apply principles from data science to solve useful problems in climate change. In this episode we cover the fundamentals of data science, its applications in energy storage, and the benefits of data-led decision-making. We also discuss the current state of battery technology, creating the right incentives in power markets, and, ultimately, how data science could help to prevent the looming environmental apocalypse. To find out more about Habitat Energy, visit habitat.energy. To catch Duncan in a former life as a deranged Simon Amstell fan, hear Simon read Duncan’s love letter... live on stage. Enjoy!


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303 - Architecting space and time

Charlotte Knight and Lloyd Preston-Allen currently spend their working days in architecture and property development. They have a strong joint interest in building community through design, which has engendered a rural coliving project tentatively called COLIVE-19. In this episode we talk about how space captured their imaginations, the constraints imposed by formal education, and the relative value of aesthetic and function. We also discuss examples of good and bad cities, integrating culture with nature, and the future of urban living in a post-pandemic world—including their plans with COLIVE-19. To dive deeper into the world of conscious urban planning, grab a copy of Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. To find out more about COLIVE-19, watch this space. This episode's intro music is a clip from Phara Oh (Original Mix) by Dole & Kom, out now on 3000 Grad Records. Enjoy!


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302 - Winning the information war

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!


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301 - Welcome back—again!

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.


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Bonus - In conversation with Jim Smith

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!


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211 - Honeybees, mites, and colony collapse

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!


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210 - Linguistics, meaning, and 'endangered' languages

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!


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209 - Cognitive neurorobotics

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!


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208 - Photovoltaics, policy, and late stage capitalism

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!


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207 - Biomimicry, zombie ants, and becoming Spider-Man

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!


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206 - Marine ecology and ocean activism

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!


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205 - Neural networks, AI, and consciousness

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!


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204 - Supercomputers, sound, and citizen science

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!


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203 - Quantum gravity and humble pie

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!


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202 - DMT, aliens, and 'very' hard sci-fi

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!