Brains On!

Brains On!

From Minnesota Public Radio

A podcast featuring science for kids and curious adults.More from Brains On! »

Most Recent Episodes

Traffic: Phantom jams and chicken soup (Road Trip pt. 4)

On the fourth leg of our road trip, we figure out where traffic comes from and what it would take to make it finally go away. We learn how far back in history traffic jams were happening (spoiler: very far) and how "phantom jams" occur. We visit a room deep underground Los Angeles, the traffic capital of the US, where engineers are trying to ease the city's traffic woes by synchronizing traffic lights. Finally, we explore how, if ever, we can make traffic jams disappear. Are self-driving cars the answer?

Monster and car design

From the headlights to door locks, cars are obsessively designed. But that hasn't always been the case. Find out about innovations like windshield wipers, rearview mirrors and fancy paint. Ralph Gilles knows a thing or two about the look and feel of cars. He's the head of design at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Designing for cars off the road brings us two guests: Rosalee Ramer and Jay Shuster. Rosalee started professionally driving her monster truck at age 14 — she's 20 now, and has added a full load of mechanical engineering classes to her monster truck schedule. Jay Shuster has imagined some of the most iconic cars ever. Too bad we'll never get to ride in them. He's the production designer for Pixar's "Cars 3," and he gives us some insight into designing a universe of talking cars.

The future of fuel (and the problem with exhaust)

In this episode, we're answering a question from listener Katelynn: "Why is car exhaust bad for the planet?" Our planet NEEDS some carbon dioxide, but cars are pumping more into the atmosphere than our carbon cycle can handle. We'll explore what all this carbon means for our planet. And we talk to Anne Co, a scientist who is working to change how we fuel our cars, so we can cut back on all this carbon dioxide. She explains how fuel cells and batteries work to power electric cars. Anne's vision for the future of cars can be summed up in one word: electric.

Exploding engines (Road Trip pt. 1)

On the first leg of our road trip, we'll explore the history of engines and how they work, with a little help from Car Talk's Ray Magliozzi. The fundamentals of the internal combustion (or exploding) engine, haven't really changed since it was first invented in the 1800s. We'll find out how tiny explosions power our cars and hear how gas-powered cars came to dominate over electric and steam-powered engines.

Mystery sound extravaganza!

Regular listeners of Brains On know all about our mystery sounds. Every episode we test your ears with some puzzling noise and give you a chance to guess what it is. There are so many great mystery sounds in the world — and many, many of them have been sent to us by our listeners. So many, in fact, that we decided to devote an entire episode to these magical, magnificent, mellifluous mystery sounds. There are a whopping 10 sounds for you to guess in this episode. Are your ears up to the challenge? If you're the kind of person that likes a little friendly competition, make a score sheet with your answers. We'd love to see which ones you got and, better yet, what you guessed for the ones you got wrong. Upload pics of your scoresheet with #BrainsOn. Happy guessing!

Books and the brain

What happens in your head when you read? Short answer: A LOT. From recognizing shapes as letters and words to discovery of empathy and new worlds, our brains really get a workout when we read books. Ben Bergen drops by to shed some light on how our brain processes the meaning of words. He runs the Language and Cognition Lab at UC San Diego. We also take a trip back to see how printing books has evolved and how the invention of the printing press brought worldwide change. And, Author Kelly Barnhill shares a little of what's going on in her brain as she's writing a story. All this and one of the best Mystery Sounds we've had to date.

Slime: What is it and why are we so obsessed?

Homemade slime is sticky, gooey and all the rage, but what is it? When you combine ingredients like glue and laundry detergent you get a strange, flubbery substance. We'll explain what's happening on a molecular level to make this stuff. We'll also hear theories on why so many of us are obsessed with slime. Plus, a brand new slime rap, a mystery sound and some cool facts about snakes.

What was the first life on Earth?

What was the first lifeform like? What was very first the first fish or mammal? Is it even possible to know? In this episode, we look to the fossil record to help us trace our roots back to the Last Universal Common Ancestor. Paleontologist Neil Shubin joins us to talk about discovering a remarkably cool fossil that helped us understand how life evolved over billions of years. We also take a field trip to the Hall of Ancestors and examine a few branches on the tree of life. And we learn why figuring out how life began on earth could help us as we find life elsewhere in the universe.

How do pianos pianos work?

Behind every piano's polished exterior are thousands of parts. From keys to strings, they work together to produce a sound. In this episode, we take a field trip to a piano shop, peek behind the walls at a world-famous piano factory and have an EPIC FIGHTING BATTLE to discover how sound travels.

The ups and downs of elevators

Elevators are like magic. You walk in, the door shuts and when it opens again, you are suddenly someplace new! Ta da! But it's not magic that does this trick, it's science and engineering. In this episode we explain how elevators work and we talk about how they've changed over time. For instance, did you know the first elevators had no walls? We also speak with historian Lee Gray about two elevator innovators who both happen to be named Otis. Speaking of Otis, Vijay Jayachandran with the Otis Elevator company, joins us to drop some high-level elevator facts. Plus, we hear your ideas for the elevators of the future!

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