American Innovations

By Wondery

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Subscribers: 2155
Reviews: 12

Bruce Wayne
 Nov 18, 2020
Enjoyable podcast on tech history


 Sep 7, 2020

Jesse
 Mar 31, 2020
Excellent. A great huge breath of fresh air!

Stuart Mantel
 Mar 17, 2020
Long form history of the development of a technology we take for granted today.

Nicolina
 Feb 26, 2020
I've never in my life had any interest in history. And yet I can't express enough how much I love this podcast. It is captivating and makes me connected to times from before I was born which is astonishingly unexpected.

Description

DNA science. Artificial intelligence. Smartphones and 3D printers. Science and technology have transformed the world we live in. But how did we get here? It wasn’t by accident. Well, sometimes it was. It was also the result of hard work, teamwork, and competition. And incredibly surprising moments.

Hosted by bestselling author Steven Johnson (“How We Got To Now”), American Innovations uses immersive scenes to tell the stories of the scientists, engineers, and ordinary people behind the greatest discoveries of the past century. From Wondery, the network behind Business Wars, American History Tellers, and Dirty John.


Episode Date
Telephone | Call Waiting | 1
00:41:09

In the 19th Century, the telegraph is the cutting edge of communication. No one can imagine anything better—except Alexander Graham Bell.

Listen ad free with Wondery+. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, and ad free listening. Available in the Wondery App. https://wondery.app.link/innovations

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Nov 26, 2020
Auto-Tune: From Cher to Kanye | 1
00:41:09

All Andy Hildebrand wanted to do was make a computer program to help singers sound better. He never expected it to kick off a battle for the soul of modern music.

Listen to new episodes 1 week early and to all episodes ad free with Wondery+. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, and ad free listening. Available in the Wondery App here.

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Nov 19, 2020
The Fight Against AIDS | The AIDS-Covid Connection | 4
00:32:20

With AIDS under control here in the U.S., we find ourselves in the middle of another deadly pandemic. Now the doctors who were on the front lines of the AIDS crisis are using what they've learned over the past 30 years to help fight against Covid-19. On this episode, Steven talks to Dr. Monica Gandhi, director of the UCSF Center for AIDS Research, who has recently contributed to research into SARS-CoV-2.

Listen to new episodes 1 week early and to all episodes ad free with Wondery+. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, and ad free listening. Available in the Wondery App here.

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Nov 12, 2020
Wondery presents Do No Harm
00:04:25

Subscribe today: http://wondery.fm/Do_No_Harm

From Wondery, the makers of Dr. Death and Dirty John, and NBC News the team behind Dateline and The Thing About Pam - Do No Harm. 

Melissa Bright thinks she's living every parent's worst nightmare when her five-month-old baby tumbles from a lawn chair and hits his head on the driveway. But after she rushes him to the hospital, a new nightmare begins.The Brights are thrust into a medical and legal system so focused on protecting children from abuse, it has targeted innocent parents. With exclusive audio captured as the events unfolded, this harrowing six-episode series takes you inside the Brights' fight to hold their family together, against a system that can sometimes do more harm than good. Hosted by NBC News National Investigative Reporter Mike Hixenbaugh.

Nov 10, 2020
The Fight Against AIDS | The Lazarus Effect | 3
00:46:25

As AIDS activists keep up the pressure to find new treatments and lower the price of existing ones, they win unlikely allies at the highest levels of government. Meanwhile, some doctors on the frontlines of the epidemic take drug research into their own hands. And a new class of drugs promises to bring the sickest AIDS patients back from the brink of death.


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Nov 05, 2020
The Fight Against AIDS | Placebos and Profits | 2
00:36:51

Four years into the AIDS epidemic, scientists discover a drug that may treat the disease: AZT. But the new drug quickly becomes mired in controversy -- over how it's tested, its potential side effects, and its astronomical price tag.

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Oct 29, 2020
The Fight Against AIDS | The Epidemic Begins | 1
00:42:23

In the early 1980s, a mysterious new disease spread like wildfire through the gay communities of major U.S. cities. Before it even had a name, AIDS had already killed over half its victims. Public response was hampered by ignorance, fear, and homophobia. This is the story of the doctors, scientists and activists who risked everything to lead the fight against AIDS.

Listen to new episodes 1 week early and to all episodes ad free with Wondery+. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, and ad free listening. Available in the Wondery App here.


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Oct 22, 2020
Encore: Thinking Machines | Passing For Human | 5
00:41:12

Can a computer pass for human? And more importantly, can a computer beat a human at Jeopardy? It’s all fun and games until we start putting life-changing decisions in the hands of machines.

Note: This episode originally aired in September 2018.  

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Oct 15, 2020
Encore: Thinking Machines | I Learn, Therefore I Am | 4
00:38:09

A leap in the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence causes concern about the dangers ahead.  

Note: This episode originally aired in September 2018.  

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Oct 08, 2020
Encore: Thinking Machines | Siri-ous Business | 3
00:37:04

The development of smartphone Artificial Intelligence from early government research funding and the first experimental robot in Silicon Valley to the rise of the personal assistant known as Siri.

Note: This episode originally aired in September 2018.  

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Oct 01, 2020
Encore: Thinking Machines | How Do You Make A Computer Blink? | 2
00:38:22

With six different kinds of pieces, 64 squares to move in, and billions of possible combinations of moves, chess is a good test for a computer. The number of distinct 40-move games is far greater than the number of electrons in the visible universe. For all intents and purposes: almost infinite.

Gary Kasparov is the world’s best chess player. Deep Blue is a computer. It’s humanity v machine. There’s a lot at stake and things turn controversial fast with accusations of cheating, a very human meltdown and a computer that hallucinates. 

Note: This episode originally aired in September 2018.  

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Sep 24, 2020
Encore: Thinking Machines | Artificial Intelligence | 1
00:40:53

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. And it’s about to get much more powerful: machines that can reason, create, predict the future, even dream. AI is likely to be one of the most transformative technologies of the 21st century.

This is the first in our four-episode series about the rise of artificial intelligence and humanity's quest to breathe intellectual life into computers. In this episode, we're going to meet the mavericks who first dreamed of a world where machines are capable of being smarter than the people who created them.

And what better way for smart machines and their creators to face off in a battle of wits ... than by playing chess? 

Note: This episode originally aired in August 2018.  

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Sep 17, 2020
Keeping Cool | The Air Conditioning Trap | 3
00:33:03

As the Earth heats up, air conditioning is quickly shifting from a luxury to a necessity. But our reliance on ACs is also speeding up the pace of global warming. It’s the “air conditioning trap.” On this episode, Steven asks Guardian science writer Stephen Buranyi how – and if – we can escape it.

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Sep 10, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Larry Brilliant on Why We Need a Global Covid Response | 19
00:26:39

There are few people who have thought more about pandemics than epidemiologist Larry Brilliant. He worked with the World Health Organization to eradicate smallpox. He’s fought polio and blindness in India. And, in his 2006 TED Prize talk, he warned the audience that a pandemic was coming “within your children or your grandchildren's lifetime.”

He was right. What he couldn’t predict, though, was how mismanaged our response would be – and how quickly we’d set aside the lessons we learned defeating smallpox. As Larry tells Steven, “We have to work together… and we're not doing it so far.”

Watch Larry’s Ted Prize acceptance speech: https://www.ted.com/talks/larry_brilliant_my_wish_help_me_stop_pandemics?language=en

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Sep 08, 2020
Keeping Cool | It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humidity | 2
00:40:36

Summer blockbusters. Phoenix, Arizona. President Ronald Reagan. What do all these things have in common? They might never have happened if not for AC.

On this episode, AC finally hits the big time – and changes America forever.

Sep 03, 2020
Keeping Cool | A Chilly Reception | 1
00:38:53

Muggy. Sticky. Miserable. 

For eons, that’s just what summer was. In fact, when air conditioning first became available, few people took advantage of it. Wasn’t summer supposed to be uncomfortable? 

This is the story of how people finally warmed up to the idea of keeping cool.

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Aug 27, 2020
Video Games | Game Designer Ian Bogost on the Past and Future of Gaming | 4
00:38:20

The video game industry has certainly matured over the years. But does it still have the sense of open-ended innovation that it did in the early golden era of Spacewar and Pong?

To get a better sense of how today’s game breakthroughs compare to the heyday of Atari, Steven speaks with one of the most thoughtful observers of the video game industry, Ian Bogost. Bogost is a game designer and the author of Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games. More recently, he’s written about Animal Crossing and Untitled Goose Game for The Atlantic.

Read more about Ian and his work here:

http://bogost.com/

https://www.theatlantic.com/author/ian-bogost/

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Aug 20, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Vaccines (But Were Afraid to Ask) | 18
00:22:10

The coronavirus has put our lives on pause, but it’s kicked the science behind vaccines into hyperdrive. Science writer Carl Zimmer walks Steven through some of the radical new approaches to making vaccines – and gives his best-case/worst-case scenarios for when a vaccine will be ready. Also: we get answers, kind of, about what’s up with Russia. And Steven drops a Taylor Swift reference. 

Read Carl’s latest on the vaccine race in the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/by/carl-zimmer

Aug 18, 2020
Video Games | Home Invasion | 3
00:43:12

It's 1975 and Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell is setting his sights on the next frontier in video games: the home.

But convincing people to bring video games into their homes won't be easy. Bushnell’s going to need a lot of cash, a couple perfectly timed technological breakthroughs, and a killer business plan. Oh, and he’ll also have to teach the world what a “game console” is.

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Aug 13, 2020
Video Games | Ping-Pong | 2
00:39:43

Nolan Bushnell's Computer Space was the world's first commercial video game, but it failed to win over the masses. Now Bushnell’s plotting his comeback … and his comeback has a name: Atari.

Aug 06, 2020
Video Games | Electric Dreams | 1
00:38:56

Call of Duty, Fortnite, Animal Crossing.... The video game industry generates billions of dollars each year. But not so long ago, video games were mostly played by the programmers who made them. On our new season, we’re telling the story of how video games broke out of university computer labs and found their way straight to the heart of popular culture.

Listen ad-free on Wondery+ here.

Jul 30, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Back to School | 17
00:18:47

Back-to-school season is here, but students across the country aren’t going anywhere. Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s education correspondent, returns to the show to shed light on the greatest educational crisis of our time. How can we safely reopen schools? And what can we learn from countries that have tried – and failed?

Listen to Anya’s stories for NPR at https://www.npr.org/people/302894536/anya-kamenetz.

Jul 28, 2020
Radar | The Superpowers of Modern Radar | 4
00:29:56

Since World War II, scientists have continued to use radar to explore what we can’t see or hear ourselves. And their uses have become increasingly creative. On this episode, we’re talking to three people involved in some of the most fascinating applications of radar today.

First up, Steven talks to Sara Kiley Watson about ground-penetrating radar, which provides archaeologists with breathtakingly clear pictures of underground cities. Next, Dr. Jyotika Virmani tells Steven about what oceanographers are learning as radar helps them plumb the mysteries of the ocean floor. And finally, engineering professor Youngwook Kim shares a surprising new way radar can aid in search and rescue missions. 




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Jul 23, 2020
Radar | The Rad Lab | 3
00:36:27

As German bombers raze England’s cities, American scientists race to build the world’s first air-to-air radar system. But building the system is only half the challenge. If the scientists succeed, they’ll also have to fit the world’s most cutting-edge technology inside the nose of a B-18 – a space that’s smaller than a shoe box.

Jul 16, 2020
Radar | Mr. Bowen Goes to Washington | 2
00:38:35

As World War II rages on, American and English scientists race to develop a microwave radar system. But both sets of scientists have something the other team needs to cross the finish line. 



Jul 09, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | How We Can Still Win | 16
00:26:03

When National Geographic science editor Nsikan Akpan began researching his latest article on the coronavirus, he asked every scientist he talked to the same question: Has the U.S. already lost? Every scientist said no – but we need a better game plan.

 

On this week’s episode, Nsikan tells Steven what we’ve been getting wrong – and what the new game plan should look like.

 

You can find Nsikan Akpan’s articles, including “Here’s How To Stop The Coronavirus From Winning,” at natgeo.com/coronavirus.

Jul 07, 2020
Radar | Welcome to Tuxedo Park | 1
00:34:05

What technology won WWII? Most people would say the atomic bomb, but the real answer is radar.

As a small island country, vulnerable to aerial attacks, England took the lead in developing radar in the 1930s. But the early radar systems were too massive to fit into planes, where they would be of most use in the fight against the Germans. At the heart of the problem was a technological catch-22. Smaller radar systems were, by definition, less powerful.

Or so everyone thought, until a mismatched pair of brothers in Northern California decided to take a crack at creating a new kind of radar...

This is episode one of our three-part series on radar, “Welcome to Tuxedo Park.”

Listen ad-free on Wondery+ here.

Jul 02, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Inside the NBA Bubble | 15
00:25:41

Back in March, the NBA pressed pause on its 2019-20 season. Now, the league wants to pick up where it left off – but with Covid-19 rates on the rise, it’s not going to be easy.

This week, Kavitha Davidson, host of The Lead, walks us through the NBA’s plan to move 16 teams into a “bubble” at the Disney World Resort. What rules will players have to follow? And will the risks to players’ health be worth it?

Check out The Lead, Wondery’s daily sports podcast, at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-lead/id1478448344

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Jun 30, 2020
Encore: The Polio Vaccine | The Fight Goes On | 3
00:39:33

In 1955, the world received its first viable polio vaccine, courtesy of Jonas Salk. He was hailed as a hero until kids started to fall sick with polio. A bad batch of vaccines was thought to be the culprit. But it was also an opening for a scientist with a competing vision. Albert Sabin warned of the dangers of Salk’s vaccine from the start. The final clash between the two vaccines, and the two scientists, is the true story of how polio was conquered. 

Note: This episode originally ran in October 2018.  

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Jun 25, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Forest Fires, Memes, & Covid-19 | 14
00:27:37

Forest fires. Ant colonies. Internet memes.

On the surface, they have nothing in common. But, according to network scientist Samuel Scarpino, they’re all complex systems that spread. Sam’s job is to crack the rules underlying their spread, and then apply them to epidemics such as Covid-19. 

Read more about Sam’s work in Steven’s New York Times Magazine article, “How Data Became One of the Most Powerful Tools to Fight an Epidemic”: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/10/magazine/covid-data.html

Jun 23, 2020
Encore: The Polio Vaccine | Can You Patent The Sun? | 2
00:44:33

Pressure mounts to release a vaccine for polio, but a rushed vaccine could have disastrous results. After all, vaccines contain benign samples of the viruses they’re designed to protect against. If a flawed polio vaccine were to be tested on humans, it wouldn’t cure the disease – it would help spread it. 

Note: This episode originally ran in October 2018.  

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Jun 18, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Can We Ditch the Office Forever? | 13
00:26:25

Most CEOs hated the idea of employees working from home. But when the coronavirus hit, they didn’t have a choice. They sent their white-collar workers home before they’d even learned how to mute themselves on Zoom. What happened next surprised everyone. Productivity shot through the roof. Now, companies don’t know whether they should bring workers back to the office, even if they can do it safely.

We’ve invited Clive Thompson, fresh off his piece for The New York Times Magazine about remote work, to talk us through this rapid culture shift. What, exactly, makes remote work so productive? What do we lose when we work in isolation? What new technology will emerge from this moment? And how many of us will ever voluntarily do the 9-to-5 again?

Links: 

Clive Thompson, “What if Working From Home Goes On … Forever?”, New York Times Magazine:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/09/magazine/remote-work-covid.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

And check out Clive's interview on The Next Big Idea about his book "Coders": https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/coders-the-invisible-architects-that-shape-our-lives/id1482067226?i=1000455369916

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Jun 16, 2020
Encore: The Polio Vaccine | Marching Toward A Cure | 1
00:34:35

The virus spread invisibly and without warning. Person to person. Through contaminated food, shared possessions, and unwashed hands.

Mid-century Americans lived in fear of one disease: polio. But the story of the polio vaccine is not just a scientific story – it’s a political and financial story, too. One that played out across the corner offices of New York City, the sound booths of Hollywood, and the back rooms of Washington D.C..

Note: This episode originally ran in October 2018. 

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Jun 11, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Why Covid-19 Disproportionately Kills Black Americans | 12
00:27:36

There’s a saying in public health circles: “When white America sneezes, black America gets pneumonia.” When the coronavirus hit, health care experts knew that black Americans would be the hardest hit. But the numbers were still shocking. Black people make up 12.7% of the U.S. population but have so far made up 22% of its Covid-19-related deaths.

On this episode, Steven talks to reporter Linda Villarosa about the reasons behind those numbers, and her quest to give them a human face in her New York Times Magazine article, “A Terrible Price: The Deadly Racial Disparities of Covid-19 in America.” Along the way, she offers hope that we might be able to turn this current crisis into a call for action.

Articles by Linda Villarosa:

“A Terrible Price: The Deadly Racial Disparities of Covid-19 in America,” New York Times Magazine: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/29/magazine/racial-disparities-covid-19.html

“How False Beliefs in Physical Racial Difference Still Live in Medicine Today,” New York Times Magazine: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/racial-differences-doctors.html

“Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” New York Times Magazine: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html

Jun 09, 2020
Ferris Wheel | Scott A. Lukas and the History of Theme Parks | 2
00:29:20

George Ferris aspired to build a structure for the 1893 World's Fair that could rival Paris's Eiffel Tower. And when the Ferris wheel debuted, newspapers hailed it as the eighth wonder of the world. 

The grandeur and success of the Ferris wheel paved the way for future theme parks. These fantastical spaces have become symbols of leisure and fun throughout the United States and offered innovators like George Ferris a chance to showcase attractions that pushed the boundaries of what's possible. 

On this episode, Steven speaks with Scott A. Lukas, an anthropologist, theme park consultant, and author of the books “Theme Park” and “The Immersive Worlds Handbook: Designing Theme Parks and Consumer Spaces.” Steven and Scott discuss the uniquely American history of theme parks and the ways they’ve influenced all kinds of public spaces.

Here are some of the parks and rides – old and new – mentioned in this conversation: 


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Jun 04, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Can Your Smartwatch Detect Covid-19? | 11
00:22:52

These days, watches don’t just tell time. Smartwatches like Apple Watch and Fitbit measure your heart rate, count your steps, and track your sleep schedule. According to Dr. Michael Snyder, they can also tell you when you’re getting sick – and potentially spot Covid-19 before you’re even symptomatic.

On this episode, Steven talks to Dr. Snyder, who runs the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine at Stanford, about his new study on whether wearables can predict the onset of Covid-19. What has the study learned so far, and what else can your wearables be trained to detect?

To participate in Dr. Snyder’s study, visit https://innovations.stanford.edu/wearables.

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Jun 03, 2020
Ferris Wheel | Wheel in the Sky | 1
00:41:46

The 1889 World’s Fair in Paris dazzles attendees with the Eiffel Tower. So, when plans begin for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the mandate is clear: beat the Tower. 

America’s architects and engineers compete to win the job – but every proposal they submit is more outlandish and dangerous than the last. And the most dangerous of all? Well, that might be a ride that resembles a twenty-story bicycle wheel, submitted by a young man named George Ferris….

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May 28, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Stopping the Spread of Bad Information | 10
00:23:01

According to the World Health Organization, we’re not just in the midst of a pandemic. We’re living through an “infodemic,” where misinformation is more readily available than facts.

On this episode, Steven talks to Joan Donovan, who studies misinformation in her role as the Director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard Kennedy’s Shorenstein Center. Joan shares how conspiracy theories spread and how each of us can practice good information hygiene. It’s not as easy as wearing a mask … but it’s close.

May 26, 2020
Enemy of All Mankind | A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt | 1
00:36:19

On September 11th, 1695, two ships confronted each other in the middle of the Indian Ocean: one an enormous treasure ship owned by the Grand Mughal of India, and the other a much smaller British pirate ship led by Henry Every.  

What happened next changed the world. Every and his crew took off with $100 million in loot and sparked the world’s first global manhunt. They also inadvertently set off a chain of events that led to the rise of globalization, the tabloid press, and even democracy itself.

All of that, and more, is the subject of Steven Johnson’s latest book, Enemy of All Mankind. We borrow Rufus Griscom from Wondery’s The Next Big Idea podcast to talk with Steven about Every and the surprising ways a single confrontation on the high seas shaped life as we know it.


You can read more about Steven’s book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/545158/enemy-of-all-mankind-by-steven-johnson/

And check out The Next Big Idea, currently launching season two.

May 21, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | Will We Remember 2020 A Century From Now? | 9
00:23:24

While the U.S. has countless WWI memorials, it has almost none dedicated to the 1918 flu pandemic – even though the pandemic claimed six times as many American lives.

On this episode, Steven talks to historian Nancy Bristow, author of American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, about the blind spot in America’s collective memory. Why did we forget the 1918 pandemic? And how well will future generations remember this one?

New episodes of “Fighting Coronavirus” will publish here every Tuesday, or you can listen and subscribe at https://wondery.com/shows/fighting-coronavirus/

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May 19, 2020
Chewing Gum | The Champion of Chewers | 2
00:41:33

It’s the early 1890s and thanks to the adoption of chicle, chewing gum is bigger than ever. But it’s still a niche American habit. Men still shun it in favor of tobacco, and women who chew it in public are frowned upon. 

But that’s all about to change thanks to the newest face on the gum scene. He’s name is William Wrigley Junior and he’s going to teach the world to chew.

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May 14, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus | We’re More United Than You Think | 8
00:22:44

Communication and cooperation across our society are as important as they’ve ever been. This week, Steven talks with Andy Slavitt, the former Medicare and Medicaid chief, who has emerged as one of the most effective communicators during this crisis. Andy and Steven discuss the future of healthcare, how to find trustworthy news sources, and how to make the most of your child’s senior year in isolation. (Hint: Start a podcast together!)


Check out Andy Slavitt’s podcast In the Bubble.

You can learn more about his new healthcare nonprofit, the United States of Care, here


May 12, 2020
Chewing Gum: Snapping and Stretching | 1
00:33:17

It’s the mid-1800s and in Maine, John Bacon Curtis is back from clearing the spruce forests with a crazy idea. He’s going to sell ready-to-chew gum.

But his bold plan is only the start of what will become a decades-long search for the ideal chew. It’s a search that will see the nascent gum business butt heads with newspaper tycoons, strike an alliance with oil refineries, and get a helping hand from the self-styled Napoleon of the West.

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May 07, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: Is Social Distancing Enough? | 7
00:24:16

If we really want to reopen our economy, we need to do more than just flatten the curve. In the words of Dr. Jim Kim, the former president of the World Bank, we need to “start coming down the mountain.” And to do that, Dr. Kim says there is only one valid solution: “contact tracing,” one of the most low-tech and labor-intensive weapons in our public health arsenal.

On this week’s episode, Steven talks to Dr. Kim about how he convinced Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to invest in contact tracing when other governors wouldn’t even return his calls, and why contact tracing is the best way to contain the spread of Covid-19.

New episodes of “Fighting Coronavirus” will publish here every Tuesday, or you can listen and subscribe at https://wondery.com/shows/fighting-coronavirus/

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May 05, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: Pandemic DIY | 6
00:25:27

When health care workers began running out of protective equipment, makers around the world powered up their 3D printers and got to work. This week, Steven talks to journalist Clive Thompson about the maker movement, an informal network of sewers, tinkerers, and engineers whose ingenuity is bridging supply gaps and increasing the pace of technological innovation, sometimes in a very retro way. 

Read Clive Thompson’s article, “When Government Fails, Makers Come to the Rescue,” on Wired.com.

Download Budmen Industry’s templates for 3D face shields.

Enter the CoVent-19 Challenge.

Apr 28, 2020
Dynamite: Audrey Kurth Cronin on New Technology and Terrorism | 4
00:31:36

Alfred Nobel worked on dynamite in distinctly unglamorous labs, but his ambitions were as grand as his labs were small. He envisioned dynamite transforming cityscapes and connecting rail lines across Europe. When Alfred finally got dynamite right, it did exactly that – but it also led to new and terrifying forms of political violence.

On the last episode of our dynamite series, Steven Johnson talks to security expert Audrey Kurth Cronin, author of “Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow's Terrorists.” Cronin argues that Nobel’s story is also the story of our times: once again, backyard inventors are spearheading new technology but not always thinking through the technology’s consequences.

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Apr 23, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: Are Our Kids Alright? | 5
00:30:30

Let’s face it: we’re worried about our kids. How can we protect their mental health? Should the normal rules around screen time still apply? What will school look like come September? This week, Steven talks with Anya Kamenetz, an education correspondent for NPR and author of the book The Art of Screen Time, to get some answers.

New episodes of “Fighting Coronavirus” will publish here every Tuesday, or you can listen and subscribe at https://wondery.com/shows/fighting-coronavirus/.

Apr 21, 2020
Dynamite: The Merchant of Death is Dead | 3
00:35:46

How did Alfred Nobel, the “Merchant of Death,” go from inventing dynamite to establishing the Nobel Peace Prize? The answer lies in a personal ad, a poorly vetted obituary, and a surprising new use for nitroglycerine.



Apr 16, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: How Can Data Save Lives? | 4
00:28:23

Where are new cases being detected? How many beds are available in local hospitals? What’s the growth rate of ICU admissions? These are some of the most urgent questions in the world right now, and they’re being answered by data pioneers like Dr. John Brownstein, the Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Brownstein talks to host Steven Johnson about his new crowdsourced website, CovidNearYou.org, and how public health data doesn’t just track deaths, but helps prevent them.

New episodes of “Fighting Coronavirus” will publish here every Tuesday, or you can listen and subscribe at https://wondery.com/shows/fighting-coronavirus/

Contribute to Dr. John Brownstein’s live map of Covid-19 symptoms at https://covidnearyou.org/.

Apr 14, 2020
Dynamite: The Loneliest Millionaire | 2
00:32:43

Alfred Nobel had solved the critical problem of detonating nitroglycerine reliably, but his efforts to turn his new "blasting oil" into a successful commercial product create new challenges. An explosion in his Stockholm lab leads to personal tragedy, and draws the ire of local authorities. And a wave of industrial accidents involving nitroglycerine around the globe has critics accusing Alfred of murder. 

Alfred knows that if his "blasting oil" is ever going to realize its potential, he's going to have to figure out a way to keep it from accidentally exploding during storage and transport. Nitroglycerine is clearly the most powerful explosive known to man. The question is: can Alfred's customers actually use the stuff without blowing themselves up in the process?

Apr 09, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: When Will the Lockdown End? | 3
00:23:45

Reading the forecast models that track and predict the spread of the coronavirus can feel like a glimpse into the future. And epidemiologists – the scientists behind these models – have suddenly become the most important figures in this fight. Dr. Tara Smith, an epidemiologist and professor at the Kent State University College of Public Health, talks with Steven about what most people misunderstand about these models, whether there’s an end in sight for social distancing, and why the public health sector is our “invisible shield.”

New episodes of “Fighting Coronavirus” will publish here every Tuesday, or you can listen and subscribe at https://wondery.com/shows/fighting-coronavirus/

Apr 07, 2020
Dynamite: The Controlled Explosion | 1
00:34:14

In 1846, an Italian chemist discovered the volatile compound nitroglycerine, the first major breakthrough in creating man-made explosions since the invention of gunpowder a thousand years earlier. But almost everyone who experiments with the compound thinks it’s too dangerous for any commercial application–everyone except for one brooding, obsessed young Swedish inventor named Alfred Nobel. 

Nobel dreams of harnessing the chemical’s power to ignite an engineering revolution: blasting railway tunnels, digging out mines and canals…. But as Nobel’s quest to tame nitroglycerine becomes increasingly central to his family’s livelihood, it also repeatedly puts his own life in danger.

Apr 02, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: How Can We Protect City Life? | 2
00:26:05

When public health is threatened on a mass scale, we have a long history of working together to take on the challenge. On this new weekly series, Steven will speak with experts from the worlds of health and technology about how the current moment compares with past pandemics, and what the coming months might look like. 

On this episode, Steven talks with Richard Florida, a bestselling author on cities and urban rebirth. The population density of cities has always been key to driving new ideas, new collaborations, and new social movements. But today, as the coronavirus spreads, that density is creating danger. How can cities protect their way of life, and how they can come out of this crisis even stronger than before?

New episodes of “Fighting Coronavirus” will publish here every Tuesday, or you can listen and subscribe at https://wondery.com/shows/fighting-coronavirus/

Read Richard Florida and Steven Pedigo’s 10-Point Preparedness Plan for Cities.

Mar 31, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: Bruce Gellin On How COVID-19 Could Change Vaccine Development | 1
00:25:37

As the first in a series on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Steven Johnson speaks with Dr. Bruce Gellin, president of Global Immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington D.C.. Dr. Gellin is also a former director of the National Vaccine Program at the Department of Health and Human Services, and led the creation of HHS’s first pandemic influenza preparedness and response plan. They talk about a very new and pressing challenge: how to speed up vaccine development for COVID-19.

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Mar 26, 2020
Organ Transplant: The Heart Race | 3
00:44:58

In 1967, an unlikely surgeon performs the first human heart transplant – and shocks the world. As others race to replicate his achievement, one surgical team makes a mistake that could spell the end of organ transplants in the United States.


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Mar 19, 2020
Organ Transplant: A Matter of Life and Death | 2
00:36:52

By the early 1960s, surgeons have proven that it's possible to transplant kidneys and lungs. Now, with heart disease still the leading cause of death, they've set their sights on performing the first human heart transplant. But first, they've got to overcome the ethical, legal, and surgical challenges of removing a donor's heart before it stops beating for good.

Mar 12, 2020
Organ Transplant: The Kidney Twins | 1
00:42:50

A century ago, organ transplants were the stuff of science fiction. But a handful of experimental surgeons believed that transplants were not just possible – they had the potential to save thousands of lives. Then, in 1954, a man agreed to donate his kidney to his twin brother – and one surgeon finally got his chance to prove the doubters wrong.

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Mar 05, 2020
Valium: Mother’s Little Helper | 3
00:39:58

Within 10 years of Valium’s introduction, people are starting to realize it’s not quite as harmless as they had been led to believe. Patients are building up a tolerance to it, taking stronger and stronger dosages, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they quit. Women, who have been prescribed Valium at twice the rates men have, spearhead the fight to increase regulation.

When former First Lady Betty Ford announces her own addiction to Valium, the public outcry against the drug finally causes the government to act. They hold days of hearings and tighten up the rules around prescribing the medication, but more importantly, Valium’s reputation is severely damaged.

But decades later, doctors start to wonder if the backlash went too far….


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Feb 20, 2020
Valium: The House That Leo Built | 2
00:37:52

With Miltown sweeping the nation, pharmaceutical companies around the country want in on the action and vie to create their own versions. At Hoffman La Roche, a brilliant scientist by the name of Leo Sternbach leads the charge.  

 

While Roche executives want him to create a copycat drug, Sternbach has bigger ambitions: he wants to invent an entirely new class of tranquilizer. After Roche loses faith in his vision, Sternbach continues his work in secret – and lays the foundation for Valium, soon to become the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States.


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Feb 13, 2020
Valium: Miltown Magic | 1
00:39:31

Anxiety. It’s something everyone experiences at some point in their lives, but for centuries doctors had no effective way to treat it. They could send patients on rest cures, order them to do nothing at all, or prescribe barbiturates that depressed the central nervous system, easily leading to overdose and death.

Finally, in the mid-1950s, chemists discovered a new class of drugs: the minor tranquilizers. The most famous of these was Valium, which would go on to become the most prescribed drug in the United States.  

But Valium owes its success to its lesser known predecessor Miltown, which changed the way Americans thought about anxiety.

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Feb 06, 2020
Electronic Television: The TVs of The Future | 3
00:27:56

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, television manufacturer LG debuted a TV set that rolls up like a poster. It's a far cry from our grandparents wooden boxes with black and white screens and bunny ear antennas. And despite impressive new television tech, many people these days are turning to phones and tablets to consume their favorite shows and moves. Today we conclude our series on the television with Susan Murray, Professor or Media, Culture and Communication at NYU. She joins us talk about the history and evolution of the television in our everyday life.

Jan 30, 2020
Electronic Television: A Great Depression And The World's Fair | 2
00:41:30

While Philo Farnsworth was building gizmos out of a loft in San Francisco, the Radio Corporation of America was already plotting domination of the yet-to-be television industry under the leadership of a man named David Sarnoff. Sarnoff recognized television’s virtually limitless potential, and he was determined to bring it to the masses — with or without the help of Philo Farnsworth. 


Sarnoff would rely on inventors like Vladimir Zworykin, who had also figured out how to transmit pictures electronically through his patented Iconoscope. At least, in theory. The missing piece wouldn’t fall into place until Zworykin visited Farnsworth’s lab — setting off a court battle to claim ownership of one of the most iconic inventions of the 20th century.


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Jan 23, 2020
Electronic Television: The Picture Radio | 1
00:38:57

The invention of the electronic television was uniquely complicated for its time. So complicated, in fact, that the prevailing narrative is that it couldn’t have been invented by a single person -- let alone Philo Farnsworth. 


After all, some of the most brilliant minds in the world spent the first quarter of the 20th century working on television systems -- and some even managed to transmit images. But none of those systems were ever able to deliver the quality of images they’d need to be commercially viable. None except Philo Farnsworth, a farm boy from Utah, who got the idea for television when he was fourteen years old. 


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Jan 16, 2020
The Year in Innovation | 6
00:42:29

It's a new year and a new decade, and that means a lot of new innovation and tech to look forward to. But, as we wonder what the future has in store, it's important to look back at the past year and what it has taught us. Author Clive Thompson joins us to talk about the innovations that caught his attention in 2019 and what he's looking forward to in 2020 and beyond.

Jan 09, 2020
Kodak Roll Film: Brownie Boom | 3
00:38:37

After George Eastman cut ties with his chief emulsion-maker-turned-saboteur, Henry Reichenbach, the Kodak company started to falter. Some batches of film literally fell apart on the shelves. Others seemed fine, but yielded blurry, unprintable photos.

Eastman had tried to find a suitable replacement for Reichbach, but no one was able to make a stable emulsion at the volume he needed. Eastman was starting to get desperate.

He knew that if he didn’t fix his film fast, his Kodak cameras would never amount to more than a passing fad. Eastman wasn’t just looking to get rich and get out. He was after a legacy that would stand the test of time. In order to do that, Eastman would not only have to make his product reliable, he’d have to continually innovate — constantly turning out one new demographically-targeted product after another. In the end, this strategy would make Kodak a household name, and then doom it to obsolescence.


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Dec 12, 2019
Kodak Roll Film: Kodak Fiends | 2
00:36:50

George Eastman had made technological breakthroughs and forays into the photography market, but his images still weren’t good enough for professional photographers and the photographic process was still too complicated for recreational photographers. 

Eastman needed to improve his product and simplify his process, but he couldn’t do it alone. His novice chemistry skills had already carried the company as far as they could go. So Eastman reached out to a gifted chemist for help, and made his company vulnerable in ways greater than he had feared.


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Dec 05, 2019
Kodak Roll Film: As Convenient as a Pencil | 1
00:35:48

Today, if we want to take a photo, we unlock our phone, aim, and click.  It can be done on a whim, without a second thought. We document everything from new haircuts to latte art, cute cats to baby’s first smile.  But prior to the 1900s, photography was the exclusive domain of professionals and dedicated hobbyists -- people willing to learn complex skills and spend hours on the craft.

Responsible for that shift was a man named George Eastman. Armed with a radical vision for what photography could be, and a cold-blooded business sense, Eastman delivered photography to the masses and altered the way most of us experience our lives over time.


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Nov 28, 2019
The Modern Ambulance | 1
00:43:17

Today, if you or someone you know experiences a medical emergency, you dial 9-1-1 and a squad of trained medical professionals arrives at your door.  But just 55 years ago, that was not the case.

Emergency calls were generally dispatched to funeral homes simply because their vehicles were suited to transporting bodies. You’d be lucky if the person transporting you had any first aid training at all. A soldier shot in Vietnam had a better chance of surviving than a housewife in a car accident  because the soldier in Vietnam got immediate trained medical care.

Throughout the 1960s, volunteer rescue squads  began experimenting with different kinds of pre-hospital care. But in Pittsburgh, 20th century topography converged with the fates of a few individuals, and one ambitious vision, to spin a medical revolution into being.


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Nov 21, 2019
Google's Quantum Breakthrough
00:30:18

In October, Google announced in a paper in the journal Nature that it built a chip called "Sycamore" that achieved what is known as "quantum supremacy." It's being hailed as a massive step forward in the world of quantum computing. Quantum computing's principles lie in the fascinating world of quantum mechanics, and while it is extremely complicated to understand, the theoretical applications of a quantum computer could have a massive real-world impact. We'll talk with Scott Aaronson, the David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin, and director of its Quantum Information Center, about Google's discovery. Aaronson reviewed Google's paper before it was published and has worked for years on these complex problems.


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Nov 14, 2019
Electric Chair | A Matter of Light and Death | 3
00:39:00

In the summer of 1888, just as the electric chair controversy was unfolding, Nikola Tesla moved to Pittsburgh to work for George Westinghouse, fulfilling a year-long commitment he made when Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s AC motor patents.

The deal would make Tesla a millionaire, but it would ultimately threaten to topple Westinghouse’s business.


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Oct 31, 2019
Electric Chair | The War Becomes Electric | 2
00:40:46

After his unceremonious departure from Edison Electric, Nikola Tesla found himself broke and dejected, but more determined than ever to share his alternating current system with the world. And thanks to the help of one man who really believes in his work -- a man with vision, money and power -- he’ll soon have his chance.

Tesla has Edison in his sites, and the Current War is about to get deadly.


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Oct 24, 2019
Electric Chair | War of the Currents | 1
00:44:52

On August 6, 1890, a prisoner named William Kemmler became the first man executed in the electric chair. It was designed to be a more humane form of execution, but the gruesome scene in the death chamber that day revealed the device to be anything but. 

Still, the chair stuck around. And Kemmler’s execution proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of capital punishment. But if you pull back just slightly, you’ll see that the story of the electric chair was just one small chapter in another story — a much larger story — that would come to define the world we live in.

This other story involved three titans of innovation—Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse — locked in a desperate fight for control of the future of electricity.  Their conflict would take lives, spark scientific advances and revolutionize human existence. And it would come to be called the War of the Currents. 


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Oct 17, 2019
Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret | Falling Back to Earth | 3
00:39:41

The resourcefulness of NASA’s engineers and Skylab’s first crew helped save the space station from near disaster. Now, as the station’s second crew settles into their fifty-nine day mission, another kind of crisis is about to threaten Skylab—one that has nothing to do with the hazards of space travel.

In the fall of 1973, the United States is struggling. Gas prices are skyrocketing thanks to an oil embargo. The Vietnam War is dragging on, costing thousands of American lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. In the White House, Richard Nixon’s presidency is hanging by a thread, as details of the Watergate scandal leak out. 

Against this backdrop, public interest in the U.S. space program is waning — and with it, Congress’s will to continue funding it. Now, faced with deep budget cuts, NASA may have no choice but to bring its space station program to a premature end.


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Oct 10, 2019
Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret| We Fix Anything | 2
00:39:08

Skylab was NASA’s underdog — a cobbled-together  program that lived in the shadow of the Apollo moon landings. But with the last of those moon landings completed in December of 1972, it was finally Skylab’s time to shine.

That is, until launch. Now the eighty-ton space station is in orbit, but it’s badly damaged — possibly uninhabitable. And the timing couldn’t be worse. With America in the midst of a recession, politicians’ patience for NASA’s huge budgets is wearing thin. If Skylab turns out to be a two billion dollar boondoggle, it could set the entire American space program back decades.


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Oct 03, 2019
Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret| Apollo’s Leftovers | 1
00:39:02

Fifty years ago, America’s space program achieved its greatest triumph, when Apollo Eleven put the first men on the moon.

The Apollo program was a remarkable success story. But as NASA was sending men to the moon, they were engaged in another, less celebrated project — one even more important than the moon landings to humanity’s potential future in space. That project was called Skylab — America’s first space station.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Skylab. If you know anything about it at all, you know that after it was launched into orbit, it came crashing back down to Earth. But before that crash, Skylab taught NASA more things about living and working in space than any program before it.

So why did one of the engineers who worked on Skylab once call it “the little redheaded bastard out behind the barn”? Why do so many accounts of NASA’s achievements barely mention it? Why have most Americans never heard of America’s first space station?


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Sep 26, 2019
Sex, Cereal, and Nut Milks - The Complicated Legacy of the Kelloggs | 4
00:29:35

We conclude our series on Corn Flakes with Howard Markel author of "The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek." Markel joins us to talk about how he discovered the Kellogg's story and how their innovations changed the world of medicine, business, and of course, what we eat for breakfast today. 


Sep 12, 2019
Corn Flakes | Kellogg vs Kellogg | 3
00:39:21

Now that Will has officially left the San, it would seem his days of servitude and humiliation are finally over. But John has no intention of leaving him in peace.

As Will forges ahead with his groundbreaking cereal business, John resorts to desperate measures to make sure he’ll never have to share the spotlight with his brother. Even if it ends up costing him everything. 


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Sep 05, 2019
Corn Flakes | Crunch Time | 2
00:40:27

After missing the chance to buy the rights to Shredded Wheat, the Kellogg brothers are on a quest to make toasted wheat flakes the leader of the breakfast revolution.

The cereal they make would change the culinary landscape of the country—and push their relationship to the breaking point. 


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Aug 29, 2019
Corn Flakes | The Brothers of Battle Creek | 1
00:40:36

For the first 150 years of American history, American citizens were plagued by gastrointestinal issues. Diarrhea, gastritis and dysentery were pretty much a way of life. Indigestion was such an immense problem, the poet Walt Whitman called it “the Great American Evil.” 

All these stomach issues were thanks, in part, to breakfast—which looked very different than it does today.  Roast pork, pickled vegetables and thick gruel were common staples on the American breakfast table. That is, until two brothers — John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg — invented a ready-to-eat dry cereal that changed American commerce, medicine, and the way we eat even as it locked the brothers in a vitriolic battle that would last their entire lives. 


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Aug 22, 2019
The Heimlich Maneuver | 1
00:43:45

In the 1960s, choking was a national epidemic. In the United States alone, close to 4,000 people were dying from choking every year.  Lobster, ham, and hamburger were common culprits. But steak was by far the greatest offender. 

Coroners called for a solution to these “Cafe Coronaries,” and the medical community responded with weird and dangerous gadgets: vacuum tubes and long tweezers. But Dr. Henry Heimlich knew this problem required something else; a simple technique that anyone can use to save the lives of choking victims—the Heimlich Maneuver. 

The Heimlich Maneuver would save the lives of thousands of people, including Carrie Fisher, Cher, New York Mayor Ed Koch, and at least one American President. And yet, Dr. Heimlich would spend a decade fighting for the legitimacy of his life-saving maneuver. 


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Aug 15, 2019
Author Jason Torchinsky Talks Our Autonomous Future | 3
00:33:30

The first mass rollout of robots into mainstream life won’t be humanoid machines designed to clean our homes or mow our lawns. It will be our cars. That’s what author Jason Torchinsky argues in his book “Robot, Take the Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving.” Torchinsky, senior editor at Jalopnik.com joins us to talk about why building truly autonomous vehicles is a lot more complicated than we think.

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Aug 08, 2019
Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Shifting Gears | 2
00:42:42

The DeLorean was going to change the automotive industry. Designed to be fast, fuel-efficient, durable and affordable, it was going to be the first ethical sports car. It was going to break Detroit’s monopoly on car manufacturing and bring stability to Ireland’s fragile economy. 

So what went wrong? And what can we learn from it?


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Aug 01, 2019
Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Driven to Succeed | 1
00:40:24

Normally on American Innovations, we look at the history of the science and technology that transformed the world we live in. These stories teach us about the vision, grit, competition, and teamwork required to conquer new frontiers and forge new pathways to the future. But equally valuable, perhaps, are the stories of those visionary innovators who seemed poised for greatness, who aimed for the stars, and then fell, crashing spectacularly back to earth.

In this series, we’ll examine one of the greatest failures in automotive history: the life and work of John DeLorean, the maverick engineer whose technical achievements seemed destined for the history books, among the likes of Henry Ford and Elon Musk. But instead, he became known for his dramatic demise. 


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Jul 25, 2019
Biologist Timothy Mousseau Can’t Stop Going Back To Chernobyl | 4
00:26:53

Radioactive bugs, birds, and dogs: these are a few of biologist Timothy Mousseau’s favorite things. Though the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and neighboring Pripyat have sat largely abandoned for over 30 years, Mousseau has been back more than 50 times. Radiation levels vary inside the evacuation zone — perfect conditions he says to observe its effects on the creatures that call the area home.


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Jul 04, 2019
The Birth Control Pill | Paradise and the Pill | 3
00:41:13

Since its launch, the birth control project had faced one obstacle after another. And over the year and a half that they’d been working, they had managed to solve all of their problems, except one: recruiting test subject for human trials.

Birth control was still illegal in the US, so they couldn’t advertise the study, and if they couldn’t advertise, they couldn’t recruit subjects. At the time, the problem seemed insurmountable. But then, while on vacation, Dr. Gregory Pincus found the solution to his recruitment problem: Puerto Rico. 

Birth control was legal on the island, and more importantly, the women were desperate for an answer to their population problem. There was no doubt in Pincus’s mind: these clinical trials would cement the project’s place in history. And he was right. The trials for the birth control pill would come to be known as one of the most controversial studies in the history of American medicine. 


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Jun 27, 2019
The Birth Control Pill | A Matter of Money | 2
00:41:29

In 1951, Dr. Gregory Pincus was on the verge of a breakthrough. He had successfully halted ovulation in rabbits and mice; now the project was finally ready for human trials. Only problem was, they had run out of money. Both Pincus and Margaret Sanger had tapped all of their respective resources. If there was any hope for the birth control pill, they'd need a big influx of cash—fast.

That’s when Katharine McCormick entered the picture.


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Jun 20, 2019
The Birth Control Pill | But Can It Be Done? | 1
00:40:56

When Margaret Sanger opened her birth control clinic in 1916, she knew she was breaking the law. Distributing contraceptives, or even literature about birth control, was a jailable offense. But she didn’t care. As a nurse, Sanger had sworn to devote herself to the welfare of those in her community. And in the early 1900s, that meant doing something about the public health crisis caused by unplanned pregnancies.

At the turn of the century, many women were having babies with no break in between pregnancies. It put them at risk for anemia, and uterine ruptures. Miscarriages were common. Of the children that were born, one in five died during the first five years of life.

To Sanger, the solution was clear: a safe, effective, discrete contraceptive for women—a pill, no bigger than an aspirin. At the time, the idea seemed more radical than putting a man on the moon. And in some ways, developing it would be even more difficult.


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Jun 13, 2019
Molly Wood: In A Changing Climate, How Can Tech Help Us Survive? | 4
00:45:50

Molly Wood has spent two decades covering the tech industry. As the host of “Marketplace Tech,” she demystifies the digital economy and how the world of business and tech influences us in unexpected ways. She came on the show to talk about why she’s drawn to tech world, and the role of tech in one of the biggest issues we face today: climate change.


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Jun 06, 2019
Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Audience is Listening | 3
00:40:45

By 1975, George Lucas knew exactly what he wanted Star Wars to look like, but what it would sound like was another story altogether. Lucas was tired of Sci-Fi’s typical synthetic and electronic cliches; he wanted a sonic world that felt organic and personal. So he hired a young sound designer named Ben Burtt, and sent him out into the world with a recorder and microphone.

Burtt would need to blend and manipulate his recordings in order to achieve original sound designs, customized in every way to help bring the Skywalker saga to life. Like a detective, Burtt would have to hunt for the perfect buzz, bark, or hum to make Star Wars come alive. And in the process, he and Lucas would help to change the way audiences experience sound in films.


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May 30, 2019
Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Saga Continues | 2
00:43:15

With the success of STAR WARS, George Lucas finally had the independence and power to make movies exactly the way he wanted to make them—which was critical, because the sequels he planned were going to be even bigger and more challenging than the original. The artists of Industrial Light and Magic had barely finished the first film, but now they’d have to top themselves--designing a snow planet, imperial walkers, tauntauns, asteroid fields, a Cloud City, and a 12-mile long Star Destroyer.

From 1978 to 1983, ILM surged forward with the mandate to not only complete the original STAR WARS trilogy, but also expand the company itself. The ultimate mission: to push the edge of what visual effects could be, and ultimately lead cinema from its analogue origins, to its digital present.


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May 23, 2019
Star Wars' Cinema Technology | 6842 Valjean Ave | 1
00:43:15

When STAR WARS debuted in May 1977, it gave rise to a pop-cultural phenomenon unlike any the world had ever seen. The movie was so singular and iconic, and so technically ambitious -- that it almost never came to be.

To bring Star Wars to the screen, new technology had to be invented and existing technology had to be utilized in ways never before imagined. None of the special effects companies in Hollywood could handle the blend of creativity and innovation necessary to bring director George Lucas’s vision to life. So Lucas built his own studio, and forever changed the way movies are made.


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May 16, 2019
Airplane | Rewriting Aviation History | 3
00:40:55

In 1913, the young aviation industry was in trouble. The Wright brothers’ broad proprietary claim on airplane technology—and their willingness to sue competitors—created a legal bottleneck that was stifling the airplane’s development.

Their legal power over aviation stemmed from the idea that they were the first to build a plane capable of flying. But what if they weren’t the first? In early 1914, Glenn Curtiss was presented with the opportunity to test that idea. Ironically, the experiment would end up costing him his place in history.


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May 02, 2019
Airplane | Wrights and Wrongs | 2
00:41:17

Glenn Curtiss may have mastered the technical aspects of the airplane, but in September of 1909, Curtiss found himself painfully ill-equipped to handle the latest challenge before him: the Wright brothers were suing him for patent infringement., demanding he stop building, selling, and even flying his planes. 

While Curtiss was the main target of the lawsuit, the outcome of the case would affect the industry as a whole. That’s because the question at hand focused on the interpretation and application of patent law. Specifically, could any one man--or in this case, two brothers--legally own the air.


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Apr 25, 2019
Airplane | The Flight of the June Bug | 1
00:44:15

Think for a moment about some of the pioneering developments from the earliest days of American aviation: The first pilot’s licence; the first flight from one city to another; the first airplane sold commercially. More than a century later, most people attribute these milestones to the Wright brothers. But the Wright brothers were responsible for none of these firsts. In fact, all of these achievements belong to just one man: Glenn Hammond Curtiss, the father of modern aviation. So why is it that most Americans have never heard his name?


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Apr 18, 2019
Jaron Lanier Wants You to Delete Social Media | 5
00:43:15

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. The past year has brought a backlash against these companies and others over data privacy and their treatment of speech. Tech visionary and critic Jaron Lanier discusses his take on social media and why he thinks you should delete yours.

Read Jaron’s latest book: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Right Now.

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Apr 11, 2019
XX Factor | Hedy Lamarr | 4
00:46:51

Glamour. Hollywood. Drama. Although she was known as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Actress Hedy Lamarr’s greatest life work was far from the silver screen. At the height of her film career, and in the midst of a world war, Hedy invented the basis for all modern wireless communications: signal hopping.

Part of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Apr 04, 2019
XX Factor | Margaret Knight | 3
00:46:26

A machine to mass produce paper bags. Seems unremarkable today, but in the 1800s, it was cutting edge. The technology would change everyday life, and maybe, the life of one inventor: Margaret Knight. That is if she could get people to believe she invented it.

Part of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Mar 28, 2019
XX Factor | Madam C.J. Walker | 2
00:39:59

The first self-made female African American millionaire is how she’s known. But Madam C.J. Walker’s story is much more than a rags to riches tale of a cosmetics industry mogul. She was an inventor, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. Along the way, she faced challenges from inside her own community and found a way to transform them into successes.

Part of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Mar 21, 2019
XX Factor | The Woman Who Put Man on the Moon | 1
00:40:33

Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are preparing to land on the Moon. The whole world is watching live on television. But something is very wrong, their warning alarms are flashing and they don't know what it is. There’s only one woman who can fix it: MIT software engineer Margaret Hamilton.

This is the first episode of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Mar 14, 2019
Coca-Cola: The Perfect Package | 2
00:42:10

Things are really picking up for Coca-Cola, thanks to its industrious new—and most importantly, sober—owner, Asa Candler. Over the past year, Candler’s sold enough syrup to make half a million glasses of soda. The drink is loved by everyone who tries it, but on the business side, Candler is still just scraping by. To turn Coca-Cola into the sensation he knows it can be, he will have to battle a slew of imposters, take a massive marketing risk, and deal with one very problematic ingredient: cocaine.


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Feb 28, 2019
Coca-Cola: The Cocaine Clinician | 1
00:43:00

In the wake of the Civil War, Atlanta emerged as both the cultural capital of the New South, and the epicenter of its snake oil trade. A shell-shocked populace, haunted by poverty, hunger and disease sought salvation in the dubious cure-all tonics of the pharmacy trade. What they got instead would go on to become the most famous beverage in the world: Coca-Cola.


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Feb 21, 2019
Thinking Machines | Garry Kasparov | 6
00:47:19

An interview with the Grandmaster himself: Garry Kasparov. In 1985, he earned international fame when he became the youngest world chess champion at just 22-years-old. He went on to defend his title for more than a decade. But it’s his 6-game match against IBM’s supercomputer “Deep Blue” in 1997 that will be remembered as a defining moment in the history of chess -- and artificial intelligence.

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Oct 04, 2018
Thinking Machines | Passing For Human | 5
00:44:22

Can a computer pass for human? And more importantly, can a computer beat a human at Jeopardy? It’s all fun and games until we start putting life-changing decisions in the hands of machines.

Written by Steven Johnson

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Sep 27, 2018
Thinking Machines | I Learn Therefore I Am | 4
00:39:44

A leap in the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence causes concern about the dangers ahead.  

Written by Tom Simonite

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Sep 20, 2018
Thinking Machines | Siri-ous Business | 3
00:38:09

The development of smartphone Artificial Intelligence from early government research funding and the first experimental robot in Silicon Valley to the rise of the personal assistant known as Siri.


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Sep 13, 2018
Thinking Machines| How Do You Make a Computer Blink | 2
00:39:07

With six different kinds of pieces, 64 squares to move in, and billions of possible combinations of moves, chess is a good test for a computer. The number of distinct 40-move games is far greater than the number of electrons in the visible universe. For all intents and purposes: almost infinite.

Gary Kasparov is the world’s best chess player. Deep Blue is a computer. It’s humanity v machine. There’s a lot at stake and things turn controversial fast with accusations of cheating, a very human meltdown and a computer that hallucinates.

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Sep 06, 2018
Thinking Machines| Artificial Intelligence | 1
00:40:27

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. And it’s about to get much more powerful: machines that can reason, create, predict the future, even dream. AI is likely to be one of the most transformative technologies of the 21st-century.

This is the first in our four-episode series about the rise of artificial intelligence and humanity's quest to breathe intellectual life into computers. In this episode, we're going to meet the mavericks who first dreamed of a world where machines capable of being smarter than the people who created them.

And what better way for smart machines and their creators to face off in a battle of wits -- than by playing chess?

Pre-order Steven Johnson’s new book Farsighted now before it is released on September 4th.

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Aug 30, 2018
Where Are Past Seasons?
00:00:28

Hey American Innovations listeners! You might be wondering what happened to some of our older seasons. We’ve moved them to our new premium service, Wondery+, where you can listen ad-free and get access to more Wondery shows. For a limited time, we’re offering listeners of American Innovations a free week of Wondery+. Just go to wonderyplus.com/AI.

May 10, 2018
Introducing American Innovations
00:02:08

The leaps of mankind, as they happened.

Premieres May 10.


Listen to new episodes 1 week early and to all episodes ad free with Wondery+. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, and ad free listening. Available in the Wondery App. https://wondery.app.link/innovations

Apr 26, 2018