Completely Optional Knowledge

Completely Optional Knowledge

By #CompletelyOptional
The podcast where we answer the questions you never knew you had. Produced by Andrew Norton with music by Breakmaster Cylinder.
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03:11
January 2, 2018
Why Do Frozen Lakes and Rivers Sound So Creepy?
Brigitta Green from the perennial winter wonderland of Minnesota has a fitting question for us about ice. After a mysterious, late night howling sound caused “mass slight curiosity” on the streets of St. Paul last winter, she wants to know how it is that a frozen body of water can produce such an eery noise. Chris Polashenski, Arctic researcher and expert on all things cold, has our answer.
08:33
December 26, 2016
What's The Coolest Species Name?
What's the coolest or weirdest official name for a species of plant or animal? And how do they get those funny sounding Latin names anyway?
10:53
December 13, 2016
Why Distinguish Between Fruits and Vegetables?
Is a watermelon a vegetable? Biologically it’s logical, but does the answer depend where you live?
10:28
November 29, 2016
Why Do Animals See Color Differently?
Zookeeper Rick asks why why animals see color differently? Dr. Jay Neitz of the University of Washington Department of Ophthalmology says there is more than one factor that accounts for how animals perceive color. Some plants and animals present vibrant colors we can’t even see and for reasons they don't want us to know.
10:34
November 15, 2016
Do Animals Have Rituals Around Death?
Listener Ross Wintle, driving past a cemetery near his home, wonders if animals other than humans have rituals around death? Barbara J King, professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary and the author of How Animals Grieve reports that when it comes to animals and death, you’ve gotta look at elephants. However there are also some interesting reports about magpies, red foxes and dolphins showing some interacting with the dead in their groups. Appropriately in a Day of the Dead episode, The Completely Optional Knowledge podcast helps us understanding that death is a bit more universal experience in the animal kingdom than just to humans.
10:33
November 1, 2016
Why Do We Laugh At Pain?
Listener Matthew Hollingshead, a skateboard enthusiast, asks why it’s so funny to watch people get hurt. We’re not necessarily talking about critical injuries, more like America’s Funniest Home Videos style failures, pain, and embarrassment. Caleb Warren, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Arizona helps us answer this question and feel a little better about finding joy in other people’s “hilarious misery”. If you like Completely Optional Knowledge, help support the show: greenpeace.org/usa/knowledge
11:30
October 18, 2016
Do Animals Have Eating Contests?
Hilah Johnson hosts a show about cooking (and, naturally, eating)and she came to us with a very on-brand question. Do animals have eating contests? We spoke to biologist Elise Huchard to get the answer. Check out Hilah's cooking show! Find her on Twitter @hilahcooking.
11:59
October 4, 2016
What's Quantum Teleportation?
Listening to Shohini Ghose talk about what would happen if a human reached light speed in Episode 16, Fred Papon of Australia wanted to know more about her research into quantum teleportation. Ghose reveals that teleportation has already happened, but don’t expect someone on the train with you to disappear after saying “Beam me up Scotty.”
09:28
September 20, 2016
How Do Animal Taste Buds Work?
Dallas College professor Patrick Moore, seeing his dog Abbey eating her own poo and swallowing dirty socks, wonders how animal tastebuds work. Danielle Reed, associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, takes a break from feeding her cat Diet Coke to talk about the chemical properties of taste. Both cheese and sweaty socks smell like isovaleric acid. Dogs being omnivores unconstrained by the social cues that govern human behavior are going to go ahead and see if that sock is food. Host Andrew Norton would rather have listeners thinking about Mac and Cheese but he has his own taste issues. Maybe it’s in genetics?
11:11
September 6, 2016
Why Do Siblings Have Rivalries?
Molly and John Knefel, sister and brother co-hosts of the daily podcast “Radio Dispatch” wonder why siblings become rivals. Naomi White, PhD, of Cambridge University, explores the evolutionary and cultural roots of sibling conflict and finds that working things out with your sister or brother teaches important lessons about life and relationships.
10:03
August 23, 2016
What Does the Sun Sound Like? [rerun]
Inspired by freeze-dried ice cream at Space Camp, podcast producer of 99% Invisible Avery Trufelman wonders what the sun really sounds like setting aside the hokey furnace effect shown in movies. Knowing that no sound waves can travel in the vacuum of space, fellow space camper and Completely Optional Knowledge host Andrew Norton finds a marvelous audible version of satellite data from sonification specialist Robert Alexander who trains heliophysicists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to pick out subtle differences by listening to satellite data instead of looking at it. So get some astronaut ice cream and join in by pushing the “play” button.
07:55
August 9, 2016
Can Music Make You Hungry?
Breakmaster Cylinder, creator of the Completely Optional Knowledge theme music, wonders if music can be used to trigger specific responses in people. Jessica Grahn of the Music and Neuroscience Lab at Western University explores ways that music can influence people and create personal playlists for happier, healthier lives. For host Andrew Norton, a turkey sandwich might be in his future. Listen to Breakmaster Cylinder at https://breakmastercylinder.bandcamp.com/ and find out more about how beats and music affect the brain at www.jessicagrahn.com.
12:25
July 26, 2016
What Is Wind?
Lauren Ober is the host of WAMU's The Big Listen. She wanted to know the answer to a relatively simple question - what is wind? With help from UCLA mathematician Marcus Roper, she got an answer plus something unexpected: the fascinating way mushrooms catch a breeze by making it themselves.
12:05
July 12, 2016
How Do You Take Great Photos From Space?
Jonathan Mehring has photographed all over the world, but there’s one place he hasn’t been yet that he’s dying to learn about: outer space. So we talked to someone who’s spent a whole year in space and taken thousands of photos while he was out there, astronaut Don Pettit. As we learn, even the simplest photography tasks are made difficult when you’re orbiting the Earth in zero gravity. Listen in for Don’s pro-tips on how to capture amazing photos from outer space! Check out Don’s photos at http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov or on Twitter @astro_pettit (and follow Jonathan @mehringphoto while you’re at it). The photo used with this episode comes courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center.
11:38
June 28, 2016
Are There Lazy Ants?
Have you ever seen an ant just … hanging out? Completely Optional Knowledge listener Bryan Fox hasn’t, and it’s getting under his skin. To get Bryan the scoop on whether ants’ seemingly steadfast work ethic is just a facade, we called up biologist Anna Dornhaus. Anna explains to us how ants have evolved into highly specialized roles that keep their colonies running smoothly, and one of those roles is just … hanging out.
10:36
June 14, 2016
Who Governs Space?
Who makes the rules in outer space? That’s what Completely Optional Knowledge listener Tim Burberich called in to find out. So we got in touch with space lawyer Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz (dream job alert) who walks us through highly political processes and treaties that allow humans to get along in places like the International Space Station. Houston, we have a treaty.
10:18
May 31, 2016
What's the Most Surprising Partnership Between Species?
Emily Schorr Lesnick is the co-host of the SoulGlo podcast, a show about how diversity helps humans thrive. Naturally, she wants to find out if diversity in nature helps animals thrive the same way it helps us. Thinking about unlikely animal partnerships might conjure images of kittens riding turtles, or fish and birds joining forces, but researchers Michele Lanan and Mary Jane Epps bring us some suprising (and actually true) examples of ways life in the wild couldn't continue without what biologists call 'mutualism.'
11:37
May 17, 2016
Do Invincible Creatures Exist?
Jessica Abel is working on a new book about Mars (Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars - available in November 2016) - which got her wondering about the most amazing creatures here on earth. Dr. Roberto Guidetti gives us the lowdown on the incredible and nearly invincible animals he studies. For more on Jessica Abel's upcoming book visit: http://jessicaabel.com/books/trish-trash-rollergirl-of-mars/
09:31
May 3, 2016
What If I Went Light Speed?
Tom Sortodden wants to know what would happen if he went the speed of light. Physicist Shohini Ghose of Wilfrid Laurier University explores the implications of the theory of relativity, abstract art, time and distance and infinite force. Prepare to have your mind blown or a few circuits in your brain shorted.
08:59
April 19, 2016
What Animal Has the Stinkiest Farts?
Award-winning filmmaker Troy Hale comes to Completely Optional Knowledge to find out which animal has the smelliest farts. Zookeeper Rick of the San Diego Zoo is in the right job to sniff out the answer. He works with 60 different species of animals. “Whether you are in the second grade or in your second retirement, when you hear a rhinoceros fart, you laugh, it’s funny,” he says. Listen and learn about the winds that blow around the animal kingdom. If you are intrigued, you might want to conduct your own survey. After all it’s not always the dog that did it.
08:17
April 5, 2016
What Sounds Can't I Hear?
Annie McEwen has great hearing — but she's still only human — so she's wondering what sounds are out there that she's not able to pick up. To find the answer, we spoke to Milton Garces of the University of Hawaii's Infrasound Laboratory. He tells us about the constant din that eludes our futile human ears. Image credit: Flickr user Nickolai Kashirin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nkashirin/)
09:18
March 22, 2016
Have Whale Songs Changed Over Time?
Music critic Stacey Anderson has listened to a lot of songs in her time. So many, in fact, that she’s grown a bit bored of human music. Now she’s curious about the famous crooners of the deep blue: whales. We spoke to humpback whale expert Ellen Garland to find out what makes whales sing what they sing.
08:44
March 15, 2016
Do Animals in the Wild Get Drunk?
If you give a mouse a vodka tonic, will he even drink it? That’s the question Ben Harrison — host of the Let’s Drink About It podcast — has brought to Completely Optional Knowledge. And who better to give us our answer than Dr. Robert Dudley, UC Berkeley biologist and author of “The Drunken Monkey.” Disclaimer: no wild animals were intoxicated in the making of this podcast (though the same cannot be said for human animals).
08:27
March 1, 2016
What Is the Fastest Insect in the World?
Listener Stephen Rang wants to know how fast he would have to run (or drive, as it turns out) to flee the world’s fastest known insect. We go off to the races with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Chris Goforth, who informs us that this particular insect can reach flying speeds of up to 70 mph — and it’s probably not one you would expect.
09:25
February 16, 2016
How Do Animals Choose Their Leaders?
Election season is upon us, and that means choices. If you’re still on the fence about who to vote for, maybe you’d like to take a cue from ants, whose prospective leaders duel with their antennae. We’ve got biologist Clint Penick, PhD on the show to guide us through how strikingly similar animals’ electoral behaviors are to our own.
08:15
February 2, 2016
Can Animals Predict Earthquakes?
If you could have a head start preparing for an earthquake to hit, wouldn’t you take it? That’s all San Francisco resident Terry Worona wants, and he’s looking to the animal kingdom to get it. To find out if his theory holds up, we talked to Dr. Rachel Grant, whose research examines how animals’ special “sensitivities” help them stay in tune with changes in the natural world.
08:30
January 19, 2016
How Long Can You Live Underwater?
Swimmer Veronica Simmonds wants to know what happens when you take aquatic adventure to the extreme. So we called up ‘aquanaut’ — that’s like an astronaut but under the sea — Jessica Fain, who holds the record for longest time spent living underwater at 73 days.
08:01
January 5, 2016
What Pisses Scientists Off the Most When They Go to the Movies?
Dr. David Kirby, author of "Lab Coats in Hollywood," digs into that fine line between sublime fantasy and falling flat at the movies. So, what irks scientists at the cinema? Comically rapid evolution, the time-space continuum, animal stereotypes, and pretty much everything else.
08:33
December 8, 2015
Why Are Sloths So Cute?
Sloths don't really "do" a lot, and yet they've managed to win our hearts time and again. Admitted sloth enthusiast Brooke Ziebell wants to know what's behind the emotions these cute critters manage to conjure. Yale's Oriana Aragon, an expert on human emotions, has our answer.
08:38
November 24, 2015
Why Do Frozen Lakes and Rivers Howl in the Night?
Brigitta Green from the perennial winter wonderland of Minnesota has a fitting question for us about ice. After a mysterious, late night howling sound caused “mass slight curiosity” on the streets of St. Paul last winter, she wants to know how it is that a frozen body of water can produce such an eery noise. Chris Polashenski, Arctic researcher and expert on all things cold, has our answer.
07:54
September 14, 2015
What Do Tornadoes Smell Like?
New Yorker Alex Kapelman has never seen a tornado, and he’s curious: what do they smell like? With more than 20 years of storm chasing under his belt, extreme weather documentarian Warren Faidley has our answer. And no—he didn’t have to enter the eye of the storm to get it.
06:16
September 14, 2015
What Does the Sun Sound Like?
Space camp alumnus Avery Trufelman from Oakland, California wants to know what the sun sounds like, and so do we! NASA sound and space expert Robert Alexander has our answer, delivered through the wondrous technology of sonification.
07:30
September 12, 2015
Can It Really Rain Spiders?
Vancouver meteorologist Kristi Gordon had a not so fortunate on-air experience with an arachnid guest descending on her from above, so she asked us to find out where this “raining spider” came from. Australian naturalist Martyn Robinson explains that this phenomenon isn’t actually as far-fetched as it sounds.
09:05
September 11, 2015
Why Do Touch-Me-Not Plants Recoil?
On a recent vacation to Costa Rica, Indianapolis, Indiana nurse Amy Gastelum did what we all would if given the chance: she touched a touch-me-not plant. Now, she wants to know why the plant recoiled at her touch. Evolutionary ecologist Monica Galiano has our answer.
08:57
September 10, 2015
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