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Video Highlights from Distinctive Voices events

Distinctive Voices has hosted hundreds of lectures and events featuring some of the best minds in the world—including members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Medicine—all who volunteer their time to promote public science programs. Below are some samples of the videos of previous lectures. See the full selection of lectures available on the Distinctive Voices YouTube Channel.



Kimberly Prather
Ocean-Atmosphere Studies Aimed at Understanding Mother Nature's Control of Climate

Nearly 50 years ago, it was proposed that microbes in the ocean can regulate planetary health by maintaining a homeostatic balance through the exchange of chemical species with the atmosphere. Ocean microbes including phytoplankton, viruses, and bacteria have been coined the canaries in the coal mine as they show faster adaptive responses to our changing climate than other organisms. When waves break, these microbes are transferred into the atmosphere and profoundly influence human and planetary health. This presentation will focus on recent studies aimed at advancing the understanding of the control of ocean biology on the atmosphere, clouds, and climate. Highlights will be presented of a novel laboratory mesocosm approach developed in the NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE) that transfers the physical, chemical, and biological complexity of the ocean/atmosphere system into the laboratory. A discussion is presented on new insights that have been obtained using this approach as well as next steps, and a future vision for how to unravel human versus microbial impacts on the changing Earth’s system.



Anthony Wagner
The Minds and Brains of Media Multitaskers

Media and technology are ubiquitous elements of modern life, and their use can offer benefits and rewards. At the same time, decisions about how we structure our use of media can be informed by consideration of whether and, if so, how the mind and brain are shaped by different media use patterns. Anthony Wagner will discuss seminal findings from psychological science that demonstrate that humans cannot multitask—rather, attempts at multitasking result in frequent task switching— and how task switching creates performance costs. There is a growing body of research into the cognitive and neural profiles of individuals who differ in the extent to which they "simultaneously" engage with multiple media streams, or ‘media multitasking’, in everyday life. Evidence suggests that, relative to lighter media multitaskers, heavier media multitaskers exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains, including working memory and sustained goal-directed attention, even when they are performing such tasks in isolation. Given the potential implications of these findings, there is a critical need for further research that uncovers the mechanistic underpinnings of the observed differences, including determining the direction of causality. Through psychological science and neuroscience, we ultimately aim to inform decisions about how to minimize the potential costs and maximize the many benefits of our ever-evolving media landscape.



9th Annual Seymour Benzer Lecture
Yaniv Erlich
Genetic privacy: friend or foe?

We generate genetic information for research, clinical care and personal curiosity at exponential rates. Sharing these genetic datasets is vital for accelerating the pace of biomedical discoveries and for fully realizing the promises of the genetic revolution. However, one of the key issues of broad dissemination of genetic data is finding an adequate balance that ensures data privacy. Yaniv Erlich will present several strategies to breach genetic privacy using open internet tools, including a systematic analysis of the strategy that implicated the Golden State Killer. Our analyses show that these strategies can identify major parts of the U.S. population from their allegedly anonymous genetic information by anyone in the world. The talk will conclude with practical suggestions to reconcile genetic privacy with the need to share genetic information.



Monica Dus
This is the Way the Cookie Crumbles: Excess Dietary Sugar and its Effect on Taste Perception

Over the past decades our diets have become sweeter because of the use of sugar as a food additive: today over 75% of foods sold at grocery stores contain added sugar (1). During the same time, the number of calories consumed per day has increased by 20%. What is the connection between food environment and obesity? Does excess dietary sugar reshape our eating patterns to promote overconsumption? Monica Dus will present recent neuroscience research in humans and animal models on the effects of dietary sugar on taste perception, food intake, and obesity. S. W. Ng, M. M. Slining, B. M. Popkin, Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. J Acad Nutr Diet 112, 1828-1834 e1821-1826 (2012).



Thomas Heaton
Physics of the Collapse of High-Rises in Large Earthquakes

There is a building boom for tall buildings for West Coast Cities; daring architectural designs trumpet that they are designed to withstand the 2,500-yr earthquake shaking. In this talk, Dr. Heaton will explore whether or not these claims are scientifically based; or are scientists being used as “useful idiots” to facilitate the ambitions of developers? Cutting through the claims of current high-rise development is surprisingly difficult. Technical reports describing the attributes of real buildings are mostly proprietary and the deliberations of peer-review committees are secret. To help better understand the collapse resistance of typical tall buildings Dr. Heaton has worked with his colleagues and students to simulate the response of steel buildings designed to meet building codes that have evolved considerably since the 1950’s.
» Thomas Heaton, California Institute of Technology



Michelle Mello
Why Ensuring Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Is the Hardest Problem in Health Policy

Prescription drug costs in the United States have risen to an unsustainable level, accounting for 1 in 6 dollars spent on health care and compromising many patients’ ability to afford the medications they need. Although there is broad, bipartisan agreement that policy action is required, several aspects of the problem make it unusually hard to solve. Drawing on a recent report by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Dr. Mello will discuss those problems and paths forward recommended by the committee.
» Michelle Mello, Stanford Law School



Sandra Disner
Linguistics in the Courtroom

Our written and spoken language provides a wealth of data that can be used to inform legal disputes. In matters ranging from criminal prosecutions (some of which can be elucidated by speaker or author identification) to trademark litigation (for which consumer confusion can be dispositive) to wrongful-termination suits (which may call for assessment of a co-worker’s accusations), linguists have been called upon to direct their analytical skills to issues that may be of importance to the finder of fact. For example, a combination of vocal overtones and dialect shadings served to cast doubt on suspicions that a disgruntled employee had phoned in anonymous bomb threats to his company. Linguistic quantification techniques helped to end a dispute between two competing mortgage lenders with similar-sounding trademarks. And a survey of the psycholinguistic factors which may impede the aural recognition of a familiar voice was instrumental in challenging the attribution of a threat by 15 confident and outspoken earwitnesses. These and other examples will illustrate some of the possibilities afforded by forensic linguistics.
» Sandra Disner, University of Southern California



Peter Hotez
The Rise of the Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Promise of the Antipoverty Vaccines

The neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) represent the most common afflictions of people living in extreme poverty. Through an integrated program of mass drug administration we have seen important gains in the prevalence reductions of several NTDs including lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, and trachoma. However, new 21st century forces of war and conflict, shifting poverty known as 'blue marble health', and climate change have been allowed a new set of NTDs to emerge. There is an urgent need for new antipoverty vaccines to combat the NTDs, which are now under development and in clinical trials Success will require overcoming a rising tide of antiscience including a well organized and financed antivaccine movement.
» Peter Hotez, Baylor College of Medicine



John Trumble
Climate Change, Insect Biology, and the Challenges Ahead

Our climate is changing. C02 levels in the atmosphere are growing at unprecedented rates and temperatures are increasing so quickly that in less than one hundred years humans will be living on a planet that will be hotter than at any time in the evolution of the human species. Increasing concentrations of atmospheric C02 are already effecting insects and plants. Rainfall patterns are changing. These effects lead to series of critical challenges that we must overcome even as human populations are rapidly growing. Clearly, we must find ways to increase the global food supply. Among our biggest competitors will be insects. Climate change and global travel are enhancing the introduction of new agriculturally and medically important insects into natural and agricultural systems. Some of these movements are predictable and plans for their introductions should be made in advance. From a scientific viewpoint, the likely ecological changes in insect-plant interactions are fascinating. From a societal point of view, now is the time to begin training the next generation of agricultural scientists and farmers. Unfortunately, the current trend is for universities to cut back on agricultural departments, and many students do not find agricultural disciplines to be as exciting (or as profitable) as manufacturing, engineering, and the sciences that have taken us into space. We have to do a better job of showing our students how advanced and interesting agricultural sciences really are. Eventually the need for food will drive the need for more scientists and improved farming techniques, but unless we act on all of these challenges now, we risk falling too far behind to sustain either the population or our environment.
» John Trumble, University of California, Riverside



Ernest J. Moniz
Accelerating the Clean Energy Transformation

The key outcomes of the Paris COP21 meeting in 2015 included: first, both an acknowledgement that global warming must be held below two degrees Celsius and national commitments to start down the road of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; second, a multinational recognition that clean energy technology innovation is at the center of solutions to the climate challenge with associated commitments to double their innovation R&D budgets. Today, a consensus is emerging that we are collectively well behind any semblance of a successful trajectory to those ends. We must dramatically accelerate the clean energy transformation to a deeply decarbonized energy economy. This calls for a significantly expanded and refocused innovation agenda across multiple sectors of the economy – not just the electricity sector. The innovation pathway to a deeply decarbonized energy economy will be addressed.
» Ernest J. Moniz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Martin Mulvihill
Safer Made: Chemistry Even New Parents Will Love

Have you ever wondered what is in the toy that your baby just put in their mouth? Or about what goes into your hair conditioner and what happens when it gets washed down the drain? Chemicals, both natural and synthetic, are the building blocks of everything that you interact with every day. At Safer Made we support companies that create chemicals and materials that make our consumer products healthier for people and the natural world. This means creating alternatives to harmful chemicals and thinking about product design, from manufacturing through the end of a product’s useful life. In today’s marketplace, consumers are demanding safer and more sustainable products and this translates into a multi-billion opportunity for safer chemistry and product innovation. I will highlight current innovation trends in safer chemistry that are reshaping the way that packaging, textile and apparel, building materials, and formulated products are made. At Safer Made we believe that everyone plays a role in shaping the future of chemistry and this talk will share ways that you can get involved in supporting the creation of safer and more sustainable products.
» Martin Mulvihill, University of California, Berkeley



Paul Dawson
Double-Dipping and Other Food Peculiarities

Have you ever eaten food after it has been dropped on the floor or double-dipped a chip? What about the cleanliness of restaurant menus or how sanitary it is to play beer pong. Paul Dawson will talk about what the research says on these and other topics related to the bacterial transfer on and around food. We’ll look at the ways bacteria live and move around the surfaces where we eat, drink and celebrate. Ice, lemon slices, sharing food, and even blowing out birthday candles will be placed under the microscope for close examination. So if you are still wondering who was correct, George Costanza (the infamous double-dipper from Seinfeld) or Timmy (the dip protestor), then come out on September 12th to hear some trivia and find the answer to these and other questions about food and bacteria.
» Paul Dawson, Clemson University



Alex Stone
The Science of Magic and the Art of Deception

“Magic takes place not in the hands of the magician but in the mind of the spectator.” —magician’s adage

Magic is dramatized deception, lying as performance art, cons as theatre. Magicians trick our brains into seeing what isn’t real, and for whatever reason our brains let them get away with it. Turns out, you can learn a lot about how the mind works—and why it sometimes doesn’t—by looking at how magicians distort our perception. Through a mix of psychology, storytelling, and sleight-of-hand, Stone explores the cognitive underpinnings of misdirection, illusion, scams, and secrecy, pulling back the curtain on the many curious and powerful ways our brains deceive us—not just when we’re watching a magician stage his swindles, but throughout our daily lives.
» Alex Stone, writer and entertainer, New York City



Podcasts from Distinctive Voices events

Below are some podcasts of previous lectures. See the full selection of lectures available on the Distinctive Voices Podcast Channel. New podcasts every Friday.

s03e04: Michelle Mello - Why Ensuring Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Is the Hardest Problem in Health Policy

Prescription drug costs in the United States have risen to an unsustainable level, accounting for 1 in 6 dollars spent on health care and compromising many patients’ ability to afford the medications they need. Although there is broad, bipartisan agreement that policy action is required, several aspects of the problem make it unusually hard to solve. Drawing on a recent report by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Dr. Mello will discuss those problems and paths forward recommended by the committee.

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s03e03: 9th Annual Seymour Benzer Lecture - Yaniv Erlich - Genetic privacy: friend or foe?

We generate genetic information for research, clinical care and personal curiosity at exponential rates. Sharing these genetic datasets is vital for accelerating the pace of biomedical discoveries and for fully realizing the promises of the genetic revolution. However, one of the key issues of broad dissemination of genetic data is finding an adequate balance that ensures data privacy. Yaniv Erlich will present several strategies to breach genetic privacy using open internet tools, including a systematic analysis of the strategy that implicated the Golden State Killer. Our analyses show that these strategies can identify major parts of the U.S. population from their allegedly anonymous genetic information by anyone in the world. The talk will conclude with practical suggestions to reconcile genetic privacy with the need to share genetic information.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s03e02: Monica Dus This is the Way the Cookie Crumbles: Excess Dietary Sugar and its Effect on Taste Perception

Over the past decades our diets have become sweeter because of the use of sugar as a food additive: today over 75% of foods sold at grocery stores contain added sugar. During the same time, the number of calories consumed per day has increased by 20%. What is the connection between food environment and obesity? Does excess dietary sugar reshape our eating patterns to promote overconsumption? Monica Dus will present recent neuroscience research in humans and animal models on the effects of dietary sugar on taste perception, food intake, and obesity.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s03e01: Thomas Heaton: Physics of the Collapse of High-Rises in Large Earthquakes

There is a building boom for tall buildings for West Coast Cities; daring architectural designs trumpet that they are designed to withstand the 2,500-yr earthquake shaking. In this talk, Dr. Heaton will explore whether or not these claims are scientifically based; or are scientists being used as “useful idiots” to facilitate the ambitions of developers? Cutting through the claims of current high-rise development is surprisingly difficult. Technical reports describing the attributes of real buildings are mostly proprietary and the deliberations of peer-review committees are secret. To help better understand the collapse resistance of typical tall buildings Dr. Heaton has worked with his colleagues and students to simulate the response of steel buildings designed to meet building codes that have evolved considerably since the 1950’s.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s02e20: Thomas Barclay: In Search of Alien Worlds

Are we alone in the Universe? This is a question that has puzzled countless generations. While we are still unable to say whether there is life out there we are beginning to think about whether there are planets that remind us of home. The Kepler spacecraft has been used to identify several planets in the habitable zone of other star - a region around a star where a planet could host liquid water at its surface given an appropriate atmosphere. Of particular note is Kepler-186f which is an Earth-sized planet that orbits within the habitable zone of a star that is smaller and cooler than the Sun. This talk will focus on the search for Earth-like worlds, discuss what we know about the planets we have found and look at what we don't know right now but hope to learn from future NASA missions.

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s02e19: Gregory Asner: Exploring and Managing Earth from the Sky

Earth’s ecosystems are changing faster now than any time since the last ice age. Ironically we know little about most ecosystems, especially those in remote areas unexplored by scientists. To address this challenge, Greg Asner’s team combines laser and spectral instrumentation aboard a fixed-wing aircraft, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, to produce detailed, 3-D imagery revealing the composition and health of ecosystems. Dr. Asner will discuss the Observatory’s revolutionary capabilities, and how it is yielding new scientific discoveries while accelerating conservation and management of our planet’s resources.

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s02e18: C. Munro Cullum: Concussion and Aging: What's the Risk?

Concussion is a hot topic in the media and on many people's minds, particularly in terms of sports-related brain injuries. This presentation will review what we know and do not know about concussion: Its acute effects, recovery, risks, and association with cognitive disorders later in life. This will include a review of recent studies of retired professional athletes with a history of concussion utilizing brain imaging, diagnostic, and neurobehavioral assessment techniques. Additional topics will include traumatic brain injury as a risk factor for the later development of cognitive impairment and dementia.

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s02e17: Sharon Wood: Urban Infrastructure

Urban infrastructure systems, such as highways, potable water systems, and the electric power grid, form the foundation for life in the US. Yet many critical components were designed more than fifty years ago and are reaching the end of their intended service life. Issues related to managing and improving these complex systems will be discussed.

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s02e16: James Randerson: Western Wildfires and Climate Change

From Alaska to the Amazon, wildfires are rapidly changing. Climate change is expected to influence drought and wildfires by the middle of the 21st century, and possible consequences for forests and human health. This lecture will focus on three research examples: Changing patterns of lightening that may enable forest expansion into the Arctic; the unique differences of Santa Ana conditions and summer wildfires in Southern California; and how the 2015/2016 El Nino has influenced drought and wildfire activity in the important tropical forest ecosystem of the Amazon.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s02e15: Sandra Disner: Linguistics in the Courtroom

Our written and spoken language provides a wealth of data that can be used to inform legal disputes. In matters ranging from criminal prosecutions (some of which can be elucidated by speaker or author identification) to trademark litigation (for which consumer confusion can be dispositive) to wrongful-termination suits (which may call for assessment of a co-worker’s accusations), linguists have been called upon to direct their analytical skills to issues that may be of importance to the finder of fact. For example, a combination of vocal overtones and dialect shadings served to cast doubt on suspicions that a disgruntled employee had phoned in anonymous bomb threats to his company. Linguistic quantification techniques helped to end a dispute between two competing mortgage lenders with similar-sounding trademarks. And a survey of the psycholinguistic factors which may impede the aural recognition of a familiar voice was instrumental in challenging the attribution of a threat by 15 confident and outspoken earwitnesses. These and other examples will illustrate some of the possibilities afforded by forensic linguistics.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s02e14: Dr. Kevin Peter Hand: Ocean Worlds of the Outer Solar System

Where is the best place to find living life beyond Earth? It may be that the small, ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn harbor some of the most habitable real estate in our Solar System. Life loves liquid water and these moons have lots of it! These oceans worlds of the outer solar system have likely persisted for much of the history of the solar system and as a result they are highly compelling targets in our search for life beyond Earth. Dr. Hand will explain the science behind why we think we know these oceans exist and what we know about the conditions on these worlds. He will focus on Jupiter's moon Europa, which is a top priority for future NASA missions. Dr. Hand will also show how the exploration of Earth's ocean is helping to inform our understanding of the potential habitability of worlds like Europa.

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s02e13: Chris Lowe: Recovery of Large Marine Predators Off California Coast

Urbanization and coastal development in southern California over last 100 years resulted in considerable impacts to the marine ecosystem through habitat loss, pollution, and overfishing. This stimulated substantial state and federal regulations over the last 40 years to reduce these impacts, particularly necessary with a growing human population. One indicator of ecosystem restoration can be seen in recovery of marine predator populations, including meso and apex predators (e.g. teleosts, sharks, seals, whales). While direct protection for many marine predator species have been in place for at least a decade, improved fisheries management, water quality and coastal habitat restoration have likely aided predator recovery.

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s02e12: John Trumble: Climate Change, Insect Biology, and the Challenges Ahead

Our climate is changing. C02 levels in the atmosphere are growing at unprecedented rates and temperatures are increasing so quickly that in less than one hundred years humans will be living on a planet that will be hotter than at any time in the evolution of the human species. Increasing concentrations of atmospheric C02 are already effecting insects and plants. Rainfall patterns are changing. These effects lead to series of critical challenges that we must overcome even as human populations are rapidly growing. Clearly, we must find ways to increase the global food supply. Among our biggest competitors will be insects. Climate change and global travel are enhancing the introduction of new agriculturally and medically important insects into natural and agricultural systems. Some of these movements are predictable and plans for their introductions should be made in advance. From a scientific viewpoint, the likely ecological changes in insect-plant interactions are fascinating. From a societal point of view, now is the time to begin training the next generation of agricultural scientists and farmers. Unfortunately, the current trend is for universities to cut back on agricultural departments, and many students do not find agricultural disciplines to be as exciting (or as profitable) as manufacturing, engineering, and the sciences that have taken us into space. We have to do a better job of showing our students how advanced and interesting agricultural sciences really are. Eventually the need for food will drive the need for more scientists and improved farming techniques, but unless we act on all of these challenges now, we risk falling too far behind to sustain either the population or our environment.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s02e11: Thomas Hull: Origami: How to do Math and Science Without Scissors/Glue

Origami is the ancient Japanese practice of paper folding, where cuts are not allowed, to make intricate works of art that are sometimes minimalist and sometimes amazingly complex and realistic. The past 5-10 years have seen a surge of interest in origami for applications in engineering, physics, architecture, and other branches of science. Origami is being used to design solar sails that unfold without the aid of human hands in outer space. It is being used to design innovative heart stents, automobile airbags, and even micro-scale robots. Materials scientists are finding ways to fold everything from graphene to polymer gels to sheet metal. This presentation will describe how origami is being used in science, how mathematics has unlocked the power of origami to make it useful in such applications, and how origami is being used in education as a hands-on way to teach math.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s02e10: Martin Mulvihill: Safer Made: Chemistry Even New Parents Will Love

Have you ever wondered what is in the toy that your baby just put in their mouth? Or about what goes into your hair conditioner and what happens when it gets washed down the drain? Chemicals, both natural and synthetic, are the building blocks of everything that you interact with every day. At Safer Made we support companies that create chemicals and materials that make our consumer products healthier for people and the natural world. This means creating alternatives to harmful chemicals and thinking about product design, from manufacturing through the end of a product’s useful life. In today’s marketplace, consumers are demanding safer and more sustainable products and this translates into a multi-billion opportunity for safer chemistry and product innovation. I will highlight current innovation trends in safer chemistry that are reshaping the way that packaging, textile and apparel, building materials, and formulated products are made. At Safer Made we believe that everyone plays a role in shaping the future of chemistry and this talk will share ways that you can get involved in supporting the creation of safer and more sustainable products.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s02e09: Ernest J. Moniz: Accelerating the Clean Energy Transformation

The key outcomes of the Paris COP21 meeting in 2015 included: first, both an acknowledgement that global warming must be held below two degrees Celsius and national commitments to start down the road of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; second, a multinational recognition that clean energy technology innovation is at the center of solutions to the climate challenge with associated commitments to double their innovation R&D budgets. Today, a consensus is emerging that we are collectively well behind any semblance of a successful trajectory to those ends. We must dramatically accelerate the clean energy transformation to a deeply decarbonized energy economy. This calls for a significantly expanded and refocused innovation agenda across multiple sectors of the economy – not just the electricity sector. The innovation pathway to a deeply decarbonized energy economy will be addressed.

Right mouse click and save to download Mp3


s02e08: Katharine Hayhoe: A Climate for Change

Katharine Hayhoe, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, founder and CEO of ATMOS Research and author of A Climate for Change.

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