Night Science

Night Science

Where do ideas come from? In each episode, scientists Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher explore science's creative side with a leading colleague. New episodes come out every second Monday.

Episodes

February 12, 2024 39 mins

Sean Carroll is a world-renowned scientist, author, educator, and an Oscar-nominated film producer. Sean sees storytelling as the key to all he does. Similar to how musicians get inspiration by listening to other people’s music, Sean attributes his own creativity to his insatiable habit of reading about other people’s science – that’s how he “fertilizes his garden”. To tell a good story, he urges us to seek the emotions. But storyt...

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Nigel Goldenfeld is the Chancellor's Distinguished Professor in Physics at the University of California at San Diego. In this episode, he talks with us about how research is an art form, and how he tries to help graduate students make the transition from being a “classical musician”, where the goal is to faithfully reproduce every note supplied by the composer, to being a “jazz musician”, where collaborators have to develop th...

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January 15, 2024 23 mins

Despite the variety of creative approaches practiced by different scientists, one tried-and-true though often overlooked — trick for generating new ideas stands out. It may sound trivial, yet it is as reliable as it is simple: talk to someone. By talking with other people, we not only pool the information or ideas that each of us individually lacks, but we are also able to improvise new thoughts that are not accessible to us alone....

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January 8, 2024 43 mins

Rich White studies cancer as a professor at Oxford University. Rich is not only a brilliant physician-scientist but also a great friend of Itai Yanai, one of the two Night Science hosts. In this episode, Rich talks about how often the process that led to a particular result can be more interesting than the result itself – something that is true not only in science but also in fields such as art or writing. He emphasizes that the be...

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Carolyn Bertozzi is a Professor at Stanford University. In 2022, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In this episode we talk about how the process of science is unstructured, so you don’t know when and where the next idea is going to come – sometimes even at the supermarket checkout line. For Carolyn, science is a long game, where one person’s negative result might be picked up a decade or a century later, leading to a ne...

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December 11, 2023 35 mins

Stephen Quake is a Stanford University professor and the Head of Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). Among his many inventions are DNA sequencing methods for non-invasive prenatal testing. In this episode, Steve tells us about his tricks for the creative scientific process, including the surprising usefulness of jetlag, the role of generosity – rather than a transactional approach – in collaborations, and the art of ma...

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John Mattick is Professor of RNA Biology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. For decades, he has been on a mission to show that the large portions of the human genome that many scientists consider useless "junk" instead have important regulatory functions. In this episode, he tells us that his creative process involves always seeing things from different perspectives – something he learned as a teen...

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Peter J. Ratcliffe shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on oxygen sensing in animal cells. He directs research institutes in London and Oxford. In this episode, he reveals the interplay between dissociation – daydreaming – and interaction with colleagues as a major source of his scientific creativity. He emphasizes that to make an important discovery, you must define your own question, even as everyone...

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Christina Curtis is a Professor of Medicine and the Director of Artificial Intelligence and Cancer Genomics at Stanford University’s Cancer Institute. Among her many achievements is the conception of the “Big Bang Theory” of tumor biology. In this episode, she tells us how not being biased by assumptions of what we know has been very helpful in her research. We talk about how her background in statistical genetics has shaped her ca...

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October 16, 2023 41 mins

Daniel Dennett, Professor at Tufts University, may be the most important living philosopher, tackling the biggest questions around: what is consciousness, do we have free will, how does evolutionary adaptation occur? In this episode, Dan tells us about some of his ‘intuition pumps’ - tools that are as indispensable for thinking as hammers and saws are for carpentry. We discuss how creativity really is just a bag of tricks, what Des...

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Howard Stone is a Professor of Engineering at Princeton. His research explores how fluid dynamics can help to understand diverse systems, from bacterial biofilms to the earth’s interior.  In this episode, Howard explains how a lot of important, low-hanging fruit are at the interface between disciplines. Howard is most creative when he debates phenomena at a blackboard together with a collaborator. A trick he likes to use is to iden...

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September 10, 2023 32 mins

Prisca Liberali is a senior group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland. In this episode, Prisca tells us how her creative thinking thrives on recursive thinking – going deeper and deeper into a problem from different angles. Prisca also deliberately uses carefully chosen conferences to discuss and to develop ongoing projects. As much as her lab’s creativity is an inextricable part of the...

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Tom Mullaney is a Professor of History at Stanford University and the Kluge Chair in Technology and Society at the Library of Congress, and Chris Rea is a Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. In 2022, Tom and Chris published the book ‘Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World)’. In this episode, we talk about self-centered research (and about getting over your...

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Bonnie Bassler is the Chair of the Molecular Biology Department at Princeton. In this episode, Bonnie talks about her passion for scientific inquiry, creativity, mentorship, and how the journey of discovery is about asking the right questions, distinguishing between what you can do and what you should do, and about embracing the unexpected. In our very lively and fun discussion, we explore the significance of asking "why"...

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Yukiko Yamashita is a biology professor at MIT and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Yukiko’s research is amazingly broad, perhaps because she often only realizes at the end of a project which question she was asking by what she had been doing, as she explains in this episode. She likens research to solving 5000-piece jigsaw puzzles – not one at a time, but with the pieces from hundreds of puzzles all dumped t...

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Can you think of another big company CEO that does basic science? Stephen Wolfram is the CEO of Wolfram Research – the company that developed Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha – but most fundamentally he has a deep commitment to figuring out the nature of reality. Stephen wrote the landmark ‘A new kind of science’ in 2002 and in his current ‘physics project’, Steven is trying to show that the universe is at its core computation, and th...

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Laurence Hurst is a professor of Evolutionary Genetics and the founding Director of the Milner Centre for Evolution at The University of Bath. Martin actually learned biology from Laurence as a postdoc, and he still likes to quote Laurence’s favorite question after the departmental seminars: “Why is this interesting?” In this episode, Laurence explains his Slime Mold Model of the scientific process, advises us to follow the data, a...

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Edith Heard is a Professor at the Collège de France and the Director General of Europe’s “CERN for biologists”, the European Molecular Biology Lab (EMBL). In this episode, Edith explains how she gets ideas when she’s out of her comfort zone and being challenged, and how in her youth she would go to the piano whenever her brain needed time to solve a hard math problem. She emphasizes how much she profited from the “naive optimism” i...

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Ewan Birney is the deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Lab (EMBL) and  co-director of the European Bioinformatics Institute. In his research, Ewan combines his training in biochemistry with computer science, which made him one of the heroes of the human genome project. In this episode, he describes that an “emotional” understanding of science is often enough to have valuable discussions with experts in differe...

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Paola Arlotta is a developmental neurobiologist and a professor at Harvard. She studies how the most complex organ in the human body (in the world? in the universe maybe?) comes to be: the brain (!). How does it develop from just a bunch of cells? Paola is also the Chair of her Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, where she takes particular care about the nurturing of the next generation of scientists in her field. In ...

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