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From the College of Natural Sciences

This is the Point of Discovery Podcast brought to you by the College of Natural Sciences Communications Office.

A Machine That Understands Language Like a Human (Audio)

One thing that sets humans apart from even the smartest of artificially intelligent machines is the ability to understand, not just the definitions of words and phrases, but the deepest meanings embedded in human language.

A Love Letter from Texas Scientists to the Periodic Table (Audio)

In this episode of the Point of Discovery podcast, we're celebrating the 150th anniversary of the periodic table. Join us as we tour the cosmos, from the microscopic to the telescopic, with four scientists studying the role of four elements—zinc, oxygen, palladium and gold—in life, the universe and everything.

All in the (Scientific) Family

Scientists often talk about the people who mentored them, and the students and postdocs they supervise, in ways that sound like a family.

Bringing Real Science to the Big Screen (Audio)

What's it like for a scientist to work as an advisor on a major Hollywood film? In this first of a two-part conversation, Kip Thorne talks with his former graduate student Bill Press about the impact that a film like Interstellar can have on the public, balancing scientific accuracy and entertainment and what winning the Nobel Prize really says about a scientists' worth. (BTW, Interstellar star Matthew McConaughey is also a UT Austin alum and [update as of August 2019] member of the faculty.)

A Big Week in Science (Audio)

The first full week of October is like a science-lover's World Series: Each year, the spotlight falls on high-impact science, when day after day, a series of Nobel Prizes and other prestigious awards are announced one after another. [Update: In 2019, a UT Austin faculty member in the Cockrell School of Engineering, John Goodenough, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry during Science's Big Week.]

Of Fruit Flies, Nobel Prizes and Genetic Discoveries that Change the World (Audio)

Last year, University of Texas at Austin alumnus Michael Young won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the molecular mechanism behind circadian rhythms. Circadian clocks are critical for the health of all living things, acting as the internal timekeepers in plants and animals that help to synchronize functions like eating and sleeping with our planet's daily rhythm of light and dark.

Can We Build Machines that are Less Biased Than We Are? (Audio)

Think about some of the most important decisions people make – who to hire for a job, which kind of treatment to give a cancer patient, how much jail time to give a criminal. Statistics and Data Sciences faculty member James Scott says we humans are pretty lousy at making them.

Which Mental Superpower Would You Choose? (Audio)

What if people who lost a particular brain function—say, an Alzheimer's patient who can no longer make new memories—had the same option as many people who've lost limbs or other body parts—the chance to use technology to supplement what's no longer there? Or what if you could boost a healthy person's brain, essentially giving them mental superpowers, like the ability to become a Kung Fu master by downloading new skills directly to your brain?

James Allison Eases Off the Brakes (Audio)

Forty years ago, when James Allison had just gotten his PhD in biochemistry, he was intrigued by this far-out idea that was floating around about a new way to treat cancer. The idea—dubbed cancer immunotherapy—was to train the body's immune system to attack cancer cells—the same way this system already goes after bacteria and viruses. He was one of the few people who actually believed it could work.

When Science Communication Doesn’t Get Through (Audio)

Climate change, vaccinations, evolution. Scientists sometimes struggle to get their message across to non-scientists. On the latest episode of the Point of Discovery podcast, what communications research can teach us about why science communication sometimes backfires, and what scientists can do about it.

A Score to Settle with Cancer (Audio)

Jonathan Sessler was a college student when he was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Fortunately, he was also a chemistry major. After surviving radiation therapy, relapsing and then surviving extremely high doses of what he calls "rat poison" (a.k.a. chemotherapy), his oncologist challenged him: "You're a chemist. Find new cancer drugs."

Tackling Science and Engineering’s Diversity Problem (Audio)

The STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – have real work to do in terms of diversity. Right now, women make up only about 30 percent of the STEM workforce – and people identifying as black or Hispanic make up just 11 percent.

The Language Brokers (Audio)

Millions of children in the U.S. play a vital, but often overlooked, role in their families. These children of immigrants, known as "language brokers," help their parents translate job applications, medical documents and bills into their native language. They also help them navigate a completely alien culture. Researchers like Su Yeong Kim, in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, are debating whether being a language broker is good for children, or not.

Eyewitness to a Cosmic Car Wreck (Audio)

Astronomers have long been able to watch the universe's blockbuster special effects unfold in dazzling 3D Technicolor. But until now, it's been like watching a silent movie. Today that all changes. Scientists announced this morning that they have for the first time ever detected both light and gravitational waves from a massive explosion in space caused by the collision of two super-dense neutron stars. On today's show, we talk to astrophysicist Pawan Kumar about what this breakthrough means for his field.

Scientists: New Device Accurately Identifies Cancer in Seconds (Updated)

A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has invented a powerful tool that rapidly and accurately identifies cancerous tissue during surgery, delivering results in about 10 seconds—more than 150 times as fast as existing technology. The MasSpec Pen is an innovative handheld instrument that gives surgeons precise diagnostic information about what tissue to cut or preserve, helping improve treatment and reduce the chances of cancer recurrence.


Behind every scientific discovery is a scientist (or 12) and a story. “Point of Discovery” takes you on a journey beyond WHAT we know to HOW we know it. Along the way, listeners will meet the sometimes quirky, always passionate people whose curiosity unlocks hidden worlds.


Marc Airhart


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Point of Discovery is part of the Texas Podcast Network, brought to you by The University of Texas at Austin. Podcasts are produced by faculty members and staffers at UT Austin who work with University Communications to craft content that adheres to journalistic best practices. The University of Texas at Austin offers these podcasts at no charge. Podcasts appearing on the network and this webpage represent the views of the hosts, not of The University of Texas at Austin.