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Great Ideas Podcast


Great Ideas is a regular podcast featuring Johns Hopkins University researchers and scholars in lively conversations about the most interesting ideas in science and technology, the humanities and the social sciences. Host Elizabeth Tracey asks the questions you'd ask if you could sit down with astronomers, economists, philosophers or historians working on the cutting edge of their disciplines.

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June 2009: Louis Whitcomb, a professor of mechanical engineering in the Whiting School at Johns Hopkins, is an expert in the field of undersea robotics. In particular, he develops navigation and control systems for tethered and untethered vehicles that move underwater. Last year he participated in a historic voyage that deployed such a vehicle to explore the deepest part of the world's oceans in the Mariana Trench. That expedition, led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was a collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins and the U.S. Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific. At Johns Hopkins, Whitcomb is director of the Laboratory for Computational and Sensing Robotics. He has been named the Whiting School's inaugural Louis M. Sardella Faculty Scholar.

Louis Whitcomb

Program notes:
0:15 Just returned from an oceanographic expedition to the Mariana trench
0:45 Remote vertically because it's the deepest place in the ocean
1:32 Can explore most of the world's oceans
2:21 Want to sample subduction zones
3:16 Pressure 1100 times that at sea level
4:15 Developing Nereus needed light weight pressure housings
5:00 Our goal is to give scientists a vehicle to allow exploration
6:04 Sampling mud volcano
7:12 Have application more globally
8:13 Can reconfigure vehicle in two forms
9:03 A couple companies hoping for commercial applicability
9:45 End

For more information:
- Louis Whitcomb's home page


June 2009: Lea Ybarra, a sociologist with a wide range of academic and administrative experience, is executive director of the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, which works to identify and nurture academic talent at the pre-collegiate level.

Lea Ybarra

Program notes:
0:30 We are celebrating our 30th anniversary
1:29 Now have grown to 30 sites for summer programs
2:10 Wider range of students
3:00 Must take another test with us, an above grade test
3:43 Outreach efforts in neighborhoods
4:14 We give 5 million dollars in scholarships
5:11 We're committed to it
6:01 Qualitative measures and more objective ones
7:03 These are normal children with wonderful brains
8:00 Have many activities all year
8:40 CTY is like coming home
9:35 End

For more information:
- Lea Ybarra's home page


May 2009: Peter C. Searson, professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, and director of the Institute for NanoBio Technology, studies applications for nanotechnology in biology and medicine, and recently was part of a team that invented a method called Òlab-on-a-chip,Ó that could be used to help figure out how cancer cells break free from neighboring tissue that can spread the disease to other parts of the body. The method could lead to better cancer therapies.

Peter C. Searson

Program notes:
0:22 We got interested in a very specific problem, cell motility
1:12 How are you going to study it?
2:02 Pattern glass surfaces
3:00 Apply a voltage and study the dynamics of detachment
4:01 Speed with which the cell contracts is the same
5:04 In principle if we can understand detachment metastasis may be preventable
6:00 Nanoscience allows us to address
7:07 End

For more information:
- Peter Searson's home page

April 2009: Darryn Waugh, chair and professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, is an expert on global climate change. He discusses the interaction between global climate change and ozone depletion, which is caused in part by past and current use of CFCs, or chloroflourocarbons.

Darryn Waugh

Time mileposts in this program:
0:15 My area of expertise is global atmospheric changes
0:43 Looking at interaction between climate change and atmosphere
1:17 Historically used in air conditioning
2:00 Countries have done what they said
2:40 On ozone it’s the CFCs
3:12 Compared to global warming, nothing to worry about
4:01 What shall we do about global warming
5:01 Greenhouse gases, basically every industry
6:01 There’s a wide range we can’t model accurately
7:02 The fix is to find alternatives
8:01 Lot’s of companies have found it saves money
8:45 End

For more information:
- Darryn Waugh's homepage

March 2009: Pat Bernstein, founder and chair of the financial literacy program Stocks in the Future, discusses the program and how it inspires middle school students to improve their overall academic performance by learning about the world of finance.

Pat Bernstein

Time mileposts in this program:
0:30 Division of the Center for the Social Organization of Schools
1:11 Give educational incentives to students who need motivation
2:03 CAM Teen challenge
3:03 Give these students once a week insight into finance
4:07 We’re going through a terrible crisis in financial literacy
5:05 The program captures their imagination and attention
6:10 We have proof of its impact
7:12 When we can afford it we will expand
8:12 I would really love people who would like to see the classes to do so
9:09 What they know about this activity is it’s real
10:04 End

For more information:
- Stocks in the Future

February 2009: How do you evaluate and respond to news reports about health-related research? If you’re not careful, says Johns Hopkins environmental engineer Ed Bouwer, the numbers can lead you astray. In this month’s podcast, Bouwer explains the difference between absolute and relative risk, concepts detailed in his book The Illusion of Certainty: Health Benefits and Risks, co-authored with Erik Rifkin.

Ed Bouwer

Time mileposts in this program:
0:22 “The Illusion of Certainty”
1:12 Numbers can deceive, depending on how they’re reported
2:15 The absolute numbers differ
3:13 Relative risk makes the numbers sound better
4:12 Can graphically see with our theater
5:15 About 1000 is the right grouping
6:11 Hundreds will die without chlorine in water
7:20 Lowering cholesterol not that beneficial
8:12 As we move forward we hope to help curtail costs
9:23 It’s so striking that people do understand when they’ve read the book
10:10 End

For more information:
- Ed Bouwer Web page
- Johns Hopkins Gazette story
- Johns Hopkins Engineer story

December 2008: Lawrence Raifman, lecturer in psychological and brain sciences in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, teaches an undergraduate course called “The Psychology of Decision Making: Behavioral Finance.” In this podcast, he discusses the psychology behind the recession and advises investors to keep things in perspective and try to think long term.

Lawrence Raifman

Time mileposts in this program:
0:22 Behavioral finance
1:14 Behavioral finance looks at how people actually make decisions
2:10 People react more to losses than gains
3:20 Fear tends to deepen recession
4:30 Both institutional and individual investors are affected
5:10 Heuristics undermine ability to make rational decisions
6:11 The market always has come back
7:27 No one really controls the market
8:00 Behavioral finance in a global economy
9:11 Individual investors: keep things in perspective
10:08 End

For more information:
- A JHU Gazette interview with Lawrence Raifman

December 2008: Lester Spence, assistant professor of political science, discusses the symbolic consequences of Barack Obama for Americans.

Lester Spence

Time mileposts in this program:
0:19 My specialties are black politics and public opinion
1:17 For the first time we’re Americans in some way
2:13 Our politics have been so divisive
3:13 Until now, our children haven’t really been able to be anything they wanted
4:18 Black Detroiters felt the same
5:18 We get a symbolic thing but economy is terrible
6:15 Make education free
7:18 America becomes much more inclusive
8:17 He won even while the Southern strategy was used
9:53 End

For more information:
- Lester Spence Web page

October 2008: Mary Jo Salter, a poet and a professor in the Writing Seminars, discusses poetry’s past and present, including how the Internet is lending an immediacy to the genre.

Mary Jo Salter
Photo by Michael Malyszko

Time mileposts in this program:
0:11 Poetry and how it's taught and written
1:02 Speaking is one of the most important things about poetry
2:03 Unconsciously memorize while writing
3:10 Feel with younger people that they really are the future
4:10 People who do think it's important
5:23 Distill images and thoughts
6:13 Think and feel with all of my senses
7:21 How does poetry inform experience?
8:07 Harder to concentrate on one thing today
9:00 Pay attention
10:08 End

August 2008: Adam Segal, who teaches in the Master of Arts in Communication program in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Advanced Academic Programs, is watching two key developments in this year's presidential campaign: outreach to Hispanic voters and increased use of interactive technology to market candidates.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:10 News, information and technology influence modern elections
1:02 Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins
1:52 Hispanic vote is influential nationally and in certain states
3:10 Hispanics concentrated in key battleground states
3:50 Hispanic electorate influence is growing
4:55 Record amount spent on Hispanic outreach in 2008 campaign
5:50 Internet providing new avenues for outreach to Hispanic voters
6:34 Technology playing significant role in national politics
7:00 Campaigns starting to get involved with mobile messaging
7:56 Interactive communications with campaigns great for politics
8:40 Research on mobile messaging in campaigns
10:08 End

For more information:
- Adam Segal profile 1
- Adam Segal profile 2
- Hispanic Voter Project
- Internet Project

July 2008: Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science and an expert on the security risks associated with electronic voting, talks about how such equipment might affect the fall election and describes how the safest system might work.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:26 Looking at electronic voting as a system
1:10 A lot of people focus on voting machines or exit poles
2:28 People make mistakes
3:15 Paper ballots don't affect national scale
4:15 Fundamental ballot is a piece of paper
5:18 Room for error with software
6:19 In last two years a move away from fully electronic system
7:30 How hard is software for voting?
8:21 By minimizing the difficulty it makes it much easier
9:25 Fully electronic systems leave room for doubt
10:12 End

For more information:
- Avi Rubin's Web site
- Rubin is director of ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections
- Rubin is technical director of The Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute

June 2008: P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins, has advice on how to respond when people are rude.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:22 What to do when people are rude
1:17 No way to escape rudeness
2:05 Daily confronted by rudeness
4:00 Incivility is a product of insecurity
5:02 I have been working on civility for 15 years
7:00 We are all creatures of the social ocean
8:11 Try to respond like this
9:43 End

For more information:
News release on The Civility Solution
Publisher's Web site
P.M. Forni's civility Web site
A Q&A with P.M. Forni

May 2008: Ron Fairchild, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Summer Learning, explains why it's important for kids to keep intellectually active even when school's out for the summer. Plus tips for an enjoyable summer learning experience!

Time mileposts in this program:
0:16 100 years of research support summer learning
1:30 Kids may not want to be engaged in traditional activities
2:30 Reality of summer for low income kids a struggle
3:31 Around the turn of the century, summer break was born
4:25 Cultural expectations
6:30 Things parents can do at home
7:33 Make sure that television and computer use are limited
8:30 As kids age, career development is appropriate
10:10 End

For more information:
Center for Summer Learning
Tips for parents

April 2008: Yash Gupta, the first dean of Johns Hopkins' new Carey Business School, says he wants his students to learn that making a difference is more important than maximizing shareholder value.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:14 Newly created Carey Business School
1:02 Education a new kind of leader
2:03 How do we go to where customers reside?
3:07 Making a difference is first
4:14 We see our needs and challenges as immense
5:15 Intellectual flexibility
6:02 We are unique
7:13 We create innovation
8:08 In academia there are never enough resources
10:01 End

For more information:
Carey Business School
Yash Gupta bio

April 2008: Light does a lot more than make it possible to see. Samer Hattar, assistant professor of biology, says exposure to light also affects such functions as mood, ability to learn and ability to sleep.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:22 Light can affect all of your functioning
1:30 Why is this important?
2:10 Allows organism to anticipate light or dark
3:05 Manipulate Circadian rhythm
4:10 Get a lot of light during day
5:10 Lacked an animal model
6:26 What happens to ability of animal to learn?
7:48 Have to allow light environment to be replaced
8:25 Perpetual jet lag like symptoms
9:15 Activated by more blue light
10:40 End

For more information:
Samer Hatter Web site
Hatter's latest research

February 2008: In the second part of a two-part interview, Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody discusses what can be done to improve U.S. health care and what doctors — and patients — can do to make it happen.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:30 Television program on health care issues
0:49 Focus on chronic diseases
1:35 Incentives in the system are wrong
2:25 Provider side changes
3:15 Evidence-based medicine
4:26 Cost of care in last six months of life
5:10 Create more transparency about quality
6:00 Citizens need to demand transparency
7:13 Acceptable error rate?
7:42 End

For more information:
Bill Brody on health care
The Health Care '08 television series

January 2008: Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody, who is promoting a fuller and more meaningful discussion of health care reform issues, talks in this special edition of "Great Ideas" about what's missing from the debate in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:27 Healthcare is the number one or two domestic issue
1:02 Big part of problems is Medicare
2:06 For the amount of money we're spending we're not getting the benefit
3:19 Healthcare is a non-system
3:49 Cost and coverage
4:42 Common standard for billing
6:00 We can't do this
6:37 Retirement Living Network program "Health Care '08"
7:04 End

For more information:
Bill Brody on health care
The Health Care '08 television series

January 2008: In a year when a woman is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, Johns Hopkins communications faculty member Erika Falk discusses what happened to women candidates — and especially how they were covered in the news media — in eight prior presidential elections.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:25 Looked at eight campaigns
1:30 Elizabeth Dole vs. Steve Forbes
2:21 Sexism and sex stereotypes
3:38 Associate traits with men or women
5:00 Manipulate the stereotypes
5:53 Talk more about issues
7:56 Several studies looking at lower level races
8:50 All the evidence suggests that despite bias a woman could run and win
9:20 How does it affect womens' decision to run?
10:43 End

For more information:
News release
Erika Falk bio
Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns

November 2007: Johns Hopkins political scientist Kellee Tsai discusses the explosive growth of capitalism in China and its political implications, particularly whether capitalism must inevitably lead to democracy in the world's most populous nation. Tsai recently published Capitalism without Democracy: The Private Sector in Contemporary China.

Time mileposts in this program:
0:10 Capitalism without democracy
1:06 I conducted a formal national survey
2:02 Microentrepeneurs started enterprise
3:01 "collective enterprise"
4:14 Central government reaction
5:12 Certain parts of Chinese economy government owned
6:14 Transition from free market to democracy?
7:13 Poor manufacturing standards
8:12 Localities will get involved
9:23 Didn't demand mainline participation
10:37 End

For more information:
- Kellee Tsai Web Page on the JH Political Science Website
- Kellee Tsai Web page
- Capitalism without Democracy

September 2007: Engineer James West discusses noise in hospitals: why it's so loud, what problems the din causes for patients and staff, and what his research shows can be done about it.

For more information:
- James West Web page
- James West awarded National Medal of Techbology

August 2007: Political scientists Benjamin Ginsberg and Matthew Crenson discuss their latest joint book, Presidential Power: Unchecked and Unbalanced; its prequel, Downsizing Democracy; and Ginsberg's newest solo effort, The American Lie.
According to Crenson and Ginsberg, the American presidency is out of control and there may be little hope of restoring the traditional balance of power in Washington.

Publishers' Web Sites for the Three Books
- Downsizing Democracy
- Presidential Power
- The American Lie
News Releases for the Books
- Q&A: Power of U.S. Presidency Is Growing, Poli Sci Profs Say
   [Downsizing Democracy]
- Presidents Gone Wild: Can They Be Tamed?
   [Presidential Power]
- Hate Politics? You're Not Alone, Johns Hopkins Expert Says
   [The American Lie]

July 2007: Dark energy with Adam Riess
It makes the universe grow at an ever-expanding rate. It accounts for as much as 70 percent of the energy/mass total in the universe. But it's only recently been discovered and no one really knows what it is. Astrophysicist Adam Riess discusses "dark energy." Riess led the team that published the first scientific paper on the phenomenon.

For more information:
- Riess Web site at JHU
- Riess Web site at Space Telescope Science Institute
- Dark Energy Discovery Leader, Adam Riess, to Share Gruber Prize
- Riess is co-winner of Shaw Prize

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