After repeatedly failing to find a room on the campus of Carnegie Mellon that is silent enough to record our podcast in, we asked ourselves this question. Because every little sound messing up our pristine recording—the spinning of computer fans, the constancy of indoor climate control, the buzz of traffic filtering in from outside—seemed to be a product of the modern age.
Was the world a more silent place 100 years ago? We pursue the answer by talking with an author who wrote a book about trying to find silence in, of all places, Manhattan. Along the way we encounter the world’s quietest place, a rare condition where everyday sounds can cause anxiety and even madness, and ask the bigger question: “what IS sound?” Because we didn’t really know.
This week, we’re traveling halfway around the globe using the most direct route we can think of– through the center of the Earth.
To help us along the way, we consult the mind of Professor Markus Deserno from the physics department at Carnegie Mellon. It turns out, even after turning down the thermostat in the Earth’s core (so we don’t melt during our journey), we run into a few problems, most of which are not obvious.
John Steinbeck wrote brilliantly about America and the minds that inhabit this country:
“Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy – that’s the time that seems long in the memory.” – East of Eden
But the man was no geologist. Geologic time can be “splashed with interest”—look no further than earthquakes or volcanic explosions—but those colorful blips of violence don’t steal the show in geology like they do in memory. “Routine time” is where the action is at—you just have to look closely. And for a long, long time.
In this episode we ask: where is highest point on land in the city of Pittsburgh? In answering, we uncover the events that give our city both its unique topography, as well as the “gold mine” beneath our feet—-the Marcellus Shale. To help us, we talk to Professors Charles Jones and Brian Stewart of the Department of Geology & Planetary Science, as well as Mike Homa, GIS Manager for the City of Pittsburgh. They help us find the highest point, and teach us how “eventlessness” in geology is not eventless at all.
Many of us know the feeling— after a night of having a few too many, you wake up feeling miserable. One of the great enigmas of our time, hangovers have been affecting humans for thousands of years. There must be a cure, right?
In our changing climate, wouldn’t life be simpler if we had a thermostat we could dial down the earth’s temperature with?
It turns out we do, actually. And a few billion dollars is all it would take to deploy a version of solar-radiation management (SRM), one form of geoengineering. SRM uses stratospheric aerosol particles to shade the earth’s surface from incoming sunlight, thus lowering temperature. Whether or not it would be nice to ‘turn the dial’ on this atmospheric thermostat is another matter though.
To wrap our heads around how geoengineering works, we sat down with Granger Morgan, a Carnegie Mellon professor and director of the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making. He discusses whether we should use geoengineering or not, the geopolitics behind the idea, and the ethical and moral dimensions of controlling the earth’s temperature. Above all, Morgan argues that we urgently need more scientific research to understand the possible side-effects of deploying geoengineering.
How much does a genetically-engineered tomato have in common with your dog? A lot more than you might think.
Both are shining examples of PostNatural organisms, a term Rich Pell, assistant professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon, uses to describe living things whose evolutionary path has been controlled by humans. He is the curator of the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh, a one-of-a-kind museum dedicated to classifying, cataloguing, and archiving PostNatural organisms.
In this interview, Pell gives a tour of his museum, explains the story of postnaturalism, and discusses visitors’ reactions to his project. This interview was written and recorded by Ellis for the Generation Anthropocene podcast at Stanford University (http://www.stanford.edu/group/anthropocene/cgi-bin/wordpress/).
You may know of smog as the haze seen on hot, sticky days above a big city. You may also have witnessed it in a beautiful sunset (you can thank smog for those bright oranges and deep reds). But did you know that it can choke a city and bring it to its knees in a matter of days? That’s what happened in Donora, Pennsylvania, back in 1948.
We bring you that story and pack in some of the science behind particulate air pollution in a short piece we recently produced for Distillations, a podcast by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA.