Saturday, December 29, 2007

Free Radicals - Nov 19 - Dec 17

Climate change, Canadian wine production, particle physics, and happiness, oh my

It's been an intense last several weeks of 2007, but the Free Radicals crew at CKUT made it through. (I'm also happy to say that I'm officially a Master of the Arts now, having successfully defended my thesis on December 13 - yaay!) We're looking forward to making a whole lot of new show ideas into reality for 2008, with more on green chemistry and environmental sciences, neuroscience, new discoveries in genetics, and much more. As always, to listen to past shows, just click the link provided. Below is a list of our shows from November 19 to December 17. Thanks for listening!

November 19 - Hannah Hoag hosts the show today and talks about recent news in climate change and what is being done, or not being done, to address this fundamental issue that affects all our lives. Hannah rebroadcasts a talk from about possible solutions to climate change, such as geo-engineering, by David Keith, Canada Research Chair at the University of Calgary. Listen to the show.

November 26 - Part one of Robyn's interview about experimental particle physics with McGill professor and FERMI and CERN researcher Brigitte Vachon, in which we talk about what particle physics is and how physics looks at how particles act in nature. Listen to the show.

December 3 - Co-hosts Hannah Hoag and Cat MacPherson speak with guest Normand Belanger about Canadian wine production in the face of climate change. Listen to the show!

December 10 - Part two of Robyn's interview about experimental particle physics with McGill professor and FERMI and CERN researcher Brigitte Vachon, in which we talk more in-depth about how particle colliders work and why particle physics matters in our everyday lives. Listen to the show.

December 17 - On this snowy and sunny day in what we know is only the beginning of a very cold winter, Robyn plays a talk from about happiness. Dan Gilbert, Harvard professor and researcher in neuroscience and psychology, talks about what happiness is, where it comes from, and why we need it in our lives. Listen to the show!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Free Radicals - The Dirt on Clean

Our November 19th show may be about the history of cleanliness but the truth is it's pretty dirty. I talk to Canadian author Katherine Ashenburg about her new book "The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History," which goes into detail about the long history of how people in the Western world have kept themselves clean, or not clean, and how the notion of cleanliness is so totally tied to society and culture over time.

Why do we wear perfume and deodorant? Why was water once considered to be extremely dangerous to your health? This book and this interview helps answer these questions and more.

Listen to the show!

Free Radicals - The Anatomy Lesson

Our November 5 show featured an interview with Belgian artists Marijs Boulogne and Julia Clever, who were in Montreal to perform their multi-faced multi-media piece "The Anatomy Lesson" - an "exploration of love, death and ritual through forensic storytelling." I talked to them about the impetus for the piece, its connection to forensics and media representations of forensic science, as well as the various emotional audience reactions they've received.

I saw their show on October 27 at Studio 303 here in Montreal and was blown away - by the intricacies of the anatomically correct newborn baby made entirely out of thread and yarn, the detail of the endoscopic camera used in the piece, and the depth of emotion throughout.

Listen to the interview!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Free Radicals - Fungus Radio

Corpse finder. Destroying angel. Black Trumpet. It’s the Halloween episode of Free Radicals!

Turn out the lights and lock the doors as you take a listen to Fungus Radio.

In today's show gastronomer Catherine Macpherson and science journalist Hannah Hoag take you on a tour through the fabulous world of the mushroom, from the mushroom laboratory of mycologist Suha Jabaji-Hare to delectable forest cuisine at La Table des Jardins Sauvages.

Listen to the show!

Free Radicals - Breast Cancer Awareness

On our October 22 show, we honoured Breast Cancer Awareness month by raising a somewhat skeptical eyebrow at it. What is missing from the current discussions on breast cancer and our awareness of its causes and treatments? In an interview with Madeline Bird of Breast Cancer Action Montreal, we address the gaps in research and education and offer an alternative view on a health issue with major social and cultural relevance.

Listen to the show!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Free Radicals - Your Brain on Music

On this week's show, science journalist Hannah Hoag provides insight into how music affects us on a neurological level. We hear some clips from a recent talk given by McGill psychology and neuroscience professor Dan Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. I play some examples of music that would light up certain parts of my brain if my brain were in an MRI machine or CT scanner and then I play name that tune with Hannah. Which I possibly rule at or possibly fail. To find out you'll have to:

Listen to the show!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Free Radicals - Thanksgiving Day Science

It's Thanksgiving Day here and Free Radicals is thankful for a lot of things - from friends to music to the wonders of universe. By which I mean, on today's show I play some 90s rocknroll and talk about why leaves change colour in the fall. But because today's show is a full hour long, much more goes on, of course.

As a follow-up to last's week show about science and education, I rebroadcast an interview I did during the summer with mathematician and educator John Mighton, who is certain that anyone can learn math, and that, yes, it's fun.

In the second half hour of the show, we hear a talk from given by Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. The talk focuses on "the way humans mimic nature in the products we build and the systems we implement. And because the champion adapters in the natural world are, by definition, those that can survive without destroying the environment that sustains them, biomimicry can contribute to the long-term health of our planet." Then I play some more rocknroll.

Listen to the show!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Free Radicals - Science, Education and Everyday Life

Today we talk about how people bring science into their everyday lives and how certain facets of science become part of common knowledge. Kamal Fox, who holds an MA in Media Studies and teaches communications to engineers, and I quizzed several students on the McGill campus and asked them what they think about the sciences - what they had to say mirrors the complexity of our general relationship to science - we play those clips throughout the show. And Hannah Hoag, science journalist and former science graduate student, addresses where we get our science information, as well as the commonly understood divide between hating and loving science and between science and arts.

This divide in education obviously stems from a wider social divide though. For instance, I was listening to an episode of Tapestry where Ursula Franklin, Ph.D. in experimental physics, mentor to a generation of engineers and women in science, Companion of the Order of Canada, author, peace activist, and Quaker, generally brilliant person (and Canadian). She was responding to a question about how science affects our lives and our personal beliefs, Ursula Franklin on a recent episode of CBC’s Tapestry: “As I see it, all that science brings us, the inherently increased knowledge of the world around us, brings me to just knowing how little I know and how much more there is. But also, when you look at what science has brought from the cosmic to the molecular to the atomic – we’ve learned that nature works, and it’s amazing that nature works, we’ve learned that nature works frugally with a minimum of waste, and the products of nature are beautiful. Why would anyone think that any being of any form would be threatened or contradicted by the accumulating results of scientific inquiry? Then you can argue with scientists, what do you do with your knowledge? And that’s where I argue that my belief doesn’t allow me to make an atomic bomb but that’s not science, to me that’s the use, that’s society of which scientists are an integral part.”

Listen to the show!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Free Radicals - Targetting a Gene to Enhance Memory

On today's show, Emma Duerden, PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, and David Crane, Master's candidate in neuroscience at McGill, discuss new research into how our long-term memory works. They explain how we make memories at a cellular level and how new research into genetics may be able to enhance memory function.

Emma and David spoke with three Montreal researchers who are the authors of a breakthrough paper published in April in Cell, a highly regarded journal of experimental biology. Their paper details the discovery of a gene that can be targetted to enhance memory in people with memory deterioration due to Alzheimer's disease or other neurological factors, including the natural process of aging.

Listen to today's show on CKUT 90.3 fm!

Free Radicals - "Why Can't We Grow New Body Parts?"

On our September 17, 2007 show, I broadcast a talk originally on by Alan Russell entitled "Why Can't We Grow New Body Parts?" (from the spring of 2006). Alan Russell is a professor of surgery and of chemical engineering and researches regenerative medicine at the University of Pittsburg, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Listen to the show on CKUT 90.3 fm

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Free Radicals - Sex Differences in Pain

On our September 10, 2007 show, Free Radicals correspondent and PhD candidate in Neuroscience, Mona Lisa Chanda, talks with Dr. Jeffrey Mogil, of McGill University's Pain Genetics Lab, about research into the differences between men and women in sensitivity to pain. These differences are being attributed not only to "core" biological factors but to psycho-social factors as well, and overall point to the importance of recognizing human diversity in scientific and health care research and treatment.

Listen to the show!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Free Radicals - Redpath Museum Science Outreach Program

It's kind of amazing that when you really start to look, science is everywhere. Well, that's what Free Radicals is about, and science being not so hard to find, especially in a town like Montreal, makes my job a bit easier. Within a stone's throw of the CKUT studios is the Redpath Musuem, one of Canada's oldest museums, located right smack in the middle of the McGill campus. This week I talk to the coordinator of the Redpath Museum's Science Outreach Program and two recent McGill science graduates who were a part of it over the past few years.

Ingrid Birker organizes activities, events and talks for anyone who's interested, whether or not you have a science background. The purpose of the program is to connect with the public and share what's going on in the sciences at McGill. Helen Bovy and Dana Murchison share some of their experiences working at the program's summer camp and being a part of the Redpath Museum Club.

A couple of upcoming Outreach events include:
- Stones and Beer Bike tours - September 13 and October 11, 2007
- Climate Change and What We Can Do About It presentation - October 14, 2007
- A series of Friday afternoon talks that run throughout the year

Another Redpath event happening September 10-14 is the Soup and Science series of lunchtime mini-lectures.

Listen to the show!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Free Radicals - Tour de France, Doping & Sport

whoa, our 11th show! crazy times. We are of course still very much open to hearing from people who have ideas for show themes - email us (well, Robyn) at

This week's show encompassed a few ideas we'd been tossing around as themes for a series of shows: the science of sport (physiologically, psychologically), and drugs and doping (the evolution of substance enhancement, its health effects, its ethical implications). In light of this year's Tour de France and the many media frenzies over athletes who had been caught for doping, we thought a show focussing on that and the pressures one faces as an endurance athlete of that caliber would address some of these sport-related themes.

Science journalist Hannah Hoag gave an outline of the history of doping and spoke with lawyer and Universite de Montreal graduate student Julie Samuelle, who is researching the role doctors play in athletic doping. McGill neuroscience PhD candidate Dave Crane was also in the studio, offering insight not necessarily as a scientist but as an athlete and Tour de France watcher himself. We tackled questions of why athletes use performance-enhancing substances, what is legal and illegal and how athletes are tested for drugs, and what the future of sport looks like in light of potential new doping methods, such as applying gene therapy to performance enhancement (as opposed to using it to treat injury, for example.)

Listen to the show!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Free Radicals - Pure Data / Open Source / Art

On today's show I talk with engineers/artists/musicians Philippe-Aubert Gauthier and Philippe Pasquier about the Pure Data Convention that will take place here in Montreal August 21-26 and how they merge their their love of science and engineering with making music/art. Gauthier and Pasquier's 16-loudspeaker interactive installation "Auditory Tactics" launches on the evening of August 22 on the main floor of Concordia's EV building (1515 St Catherine W) and will be in place until September 22.

The Pure Data Convention will include the work of more then seventy artists, musicians, developers and theoreticians from over 10 countries, much of which will be seen in Montreal for the first time. The exhibitions, performances, conferences and workshops will take place at the SAT, McGill University’s Tanna Schulich Concert Hall, Concordia University’s EV Building, Oboro and Studio XX.

The Convention "strives to reflect on the aesthetics and politics of free Open Source software culture by focusing on the development, artistic uses and critical writing about PureData. It provides a theoretical context for the understanding of media art practices that engage in the aesthetics and politics of Free Open Source Software Culture."

Listen to the show!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Free Radicals - Animal Sounds and Music

Today's show looks at the connection between animal sounds and human music. The relationship between humans and non-human animals is obviously complex and spans all levels of culture, from our spiritual lives to what we eat to our ways of communicating. What animal sounds can be called "music" and why? And how do animal sounds and "songs" influence musicians and composers? I talk to Montreal composer and musician Emily Doolittle about her research into this subject and some of the compositions she has written.

Listen to the show

Monday, August 6, 2007

Free Radicals - Mad Scientists! and Pop Culture!

Today's show is pretty fun stuff, with an intellectual bent, of course, because that's what we tend to do here at Free Radicals; we just can't stop our big huge brains that way. Yes, we delve into a brief history of mad scientists in popular culture, whether in film, tv, fiction or comic books.

I talk with Mike Schulz, who holds an MA in Media Studies from Concordia, about the links between the trope of the mad scientist and how it has changed over - from Frankenstein to X-Men to Lex Luthor - from the insane individual playing God to the corporate-backed slightly maniacle inventor.

I also speak with Kamal Fox, MA in Media Studies, about the men and monsters of Frankenstein and Dracula as they relate to romanticism and technology during the late 19th century.

Related links (from wikipedia and beyond):
• Haynes, Roslynn Doris (1994). From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-4801-6.
• Frayling, Christopher – Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema (Reaktion Books, 2005)
• Junge, Torsten; Doerthe Ohlhoff (2004). Wahnsinnig genial: Der Mad Scientist Reader. Aschaffenburg: Alibri.
• Skal, David J. (1997). Screams of Reason Mad Science and Modern Culture -
• Tudor, Andrew (1989). Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. Oxford: Blackwell.
• Weart, Spencer R. (1988). Nuclear Fear: A History of Images. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Listen to the mad, mad show!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Free Radicals - Female Sexuality & PT 141/Bremelanotide

In part two of our discussion with Mona Lisa Chanda, McGill PhD candidate in behavioural neuroscience, about the science behind female sexuality, we talk further about the new drug PT 141/Bremelanotide. We hear a few more clips from Mona's interview with Dr. Jim Pfaus, and talk about the quantification of desire, the extent that animal models can be used to inform human sexuality, the role of therapy in addressing sexual problems, and how drug research and behavioural science research inform one another at the laboratory level.

Listen to this week's show!

Past shows can also be found at

Monday, July 23, 2007

Free Radicals - Female Sexuality

Today's show features some pretty hot n' heavy science - a discussion between Mona-Lisa Chanda, a McGill behaviour neuroscience phd student, and Dr. Jim Pfaus, a psychology professor and researcher at Concordia. The focus of the discussion is Dr. Pfaus' lab-based research on female sexual arousal and the development of a new drug, brand name Bremelanotide, that stimulates women's sex drive. This show is but an introduction to the subject - we'll be talking more in-depth on next week's show!

Listen to the show!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Free Radicals - Environmental Chemistry

Today on Free Radicals, we talked with Chemistry doctoral students Ed Hudson and Rachid Skouta about the massive and multifold subjects of environmental chemistry and green chemistry. We've decided that this conversation, while interesting in itself, is just an introduction to a subjects that really requires a full series of shows!

A few subjects mentioned on the show:

- - the American Chemical Society
- The green chemistry revolution
- Canadian Green Chemistry Network

Download today's show!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Free Radicals - Food Science and Food Delicacies

On today's show, Robyn talks with food scientist Dr. Massimo Marcone, author of the recent book In Bad Taste: The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies (Key Porter Books), who tells us about his world-wide travels searching out the origins and veracity of a variety of strange foods. We also talk to Hannah Hoag, Montreal science journalist about what might be becoming a food delicicacy closer to home - the North American eel.

Listen to the show!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Free Radicals - Science of Sound

Now we're getting into the swing of things with our third show. And another holiday Monday! This time it's Canada Day. We decided to celebrate with a show about the science of sound because, after all, not only does Canada have a lot of good sounds in it, but was fundamental in creating the academic field of Sound Studies.

We talk about the physics of sound and the extent of human perception of the vast and varied soundscape. Charlotte Scott, Montreal sound scholar and artist, shares a clip of one of her sound projects and talks about sound perception in different environments.

You can download the show from the archive

Free Radicals - Nature Studies

Our second show!
This time on a St. Jean holiday Monday. So we went for a more pastoral theme. Or a least a nature theme. A little about the history of nature studies and a brief history of scientific observation of the natural world around us.

You can download the show from the archive

Free Radicals - Math and Education

Our first show! On the topic of math!

Starting out with an interview with mathematician and educator John Mighton, we talk about his latest book The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential and JUMP, the math education program he founded. We also talk about math, education and turbulence theory/practice with Montreal PhD candidate Lydia Bourouiba of McGill University's Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences.

You can download the show from the archive.