Hello Undiscovered fans! We're here to tell you about a new show we've been working on at Science Friday. Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories behind them.
Hosted by SciFri producer and self-proclaimed word nerd Johanna Mayer, each episode of Science Diction digs into the origin of a single word or phrase, and, with the help of historians, authors, etymologists, and scientists, reveals a surprising science connection. Here's a sneak peek!
These days, biologists believe all living things come from other living things. But for a long time, people believed that life would, from time to time, spontaneously pop into existence more often—and not just that one time at the base of the evolutionary tree. Even the likes of Aristotle believed in the “spontaneous generation” of life until Louis Pasteur debunked the theory—or so the story goes.
In 1880, scientist Albert Michelson set out to build a device to measure something every 19th century physicist knew just had to be there. The “luminiferous ether” was invisible and pervaded all of space. It helped explain how light traveled, and how electromagnetic waves waved. Ether theory even underpinned Maxwell’s famous equations! One problem: When Alfred Michaelson ran his machine, the ether wasn’t there.
Science historian David Kaiser walks Annie and Science Friday host Ira Flatow through Michaelson’s famous experiment, and explains how a wrong idea led to some very real scientific breakthroughs.
This story first aired on Science Friday.
David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, Professor of Physics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Find out more about the Michelson-Morley experiment on APS Physics.
Read an archival article from the New York Times about the physicists’ experimental “failure.”
This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Annie Minoff and Christopher Intagliata. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud.
In Apartheid-era South Africa, a scientist uncovered a cracked, proto-human jawbone. That humble fossil would go on to inspire one of the most blood-spattered theories in all of paleontology: the “Killer Ape” theory.
According to the Killer Ape theory, humans are killers—unique among the apes for our capacity for bloodthirsty murder and violence. And at a particularly violent moment in U.S. history, the idea stuck! It even made its way into one of the most iconic scenes in film history. Until a female chimp named Passion showed the world that we might not be so special after all.