About Tiny Matters
From molecules to microbes, Tiny Matters is a science podcast about the little things that have a big impact on our world. Every other Wednesday, join hosts and former scientists Sam Jones and Deboki Chakravarti as they answer questions like, 'what is a memory?', 'is sugar actually addictive?' and 'are we alone in the universe?'
The FDA drug approval process is known to be a lengthy and rigorous one. But the FDA-approved ingredient phenylephrine — found in common cold medicines like Sudafed, Mucinex, and NyQuil — was recently found to be no better than a placebo. Phenylephrine has been on store shelves for nearly 90 years. How could that happen? In this episode of Tiny Matters, Sam and Deboki are joined by none other than Deboki's dad, Deb Chakravarti. Deb is a professor with years of industry experience and the current director of the York College FDA Partnership. He helps dissect the FDA's recent findings and how its history and ever-evolving role in the pharmaceutical industry contributed to phenylephrine being used in oral cold medicines for so long. Deb, Deboki and Sam also unpack pharmaceutical ethics cases, like thalidomide in the 1950s and 60s, and the case of Vioxx in the early 2000s, which led to tens of thousands of deaths. Sam and Deboki cap off the episode with tiny show and tells about how the nose is really 2 noses (!) and the story of a new, ingestible, vitamin-sized capsule that could protect people from dying of an opioid overdose, sleep apnea, or other conditions that depress breathing. Check out PNAS Science Sessions here and wherever you listen to podcasts. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
In 2021, 80,411 people in the United States died of an overdose involving opioids, making up 75% of all drug overdose deaths that year. That’s also 10 times as many opioid overdose deaths as in 1999. How did we get here? In this episode, Sam and Deboki trace the origins of opioids, from opium and morphine to fentanyl, and scrutinize the significant role pharmaceutical companies played in kick starting the opioid crisis in the 1990s. Today, the highly potent opioid fentanyl has become the street supply of opioids, which has led to a steep incline in overdose deaths. On top of that, it can be adulterated with dangerous substances like xylazine or "tranq." Now more than ever, facilities focused on harm reduction are crucial. These facilities allow for safe needle exchange, which reduces the risk of transmitting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C, and also provide opioid users with treatment and access to other healthcare testing. Although the opioid crisis is a tragic reality in this country, harm reduction, increased opioid research funding, and hefty pharmaceutical company payouts are providing glimmers of hope. In the US, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a National Helpline for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. It can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357). It is confidential, free, in both English and Spanish, and open 24/7, 365 days a year. The helpline provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
We often hear that dogs help lower our blood pressure, decrease our allergy risk, and even alert us to disease. But is there science behind those claims? In this episode of Tiny Matters, Sam and Deboki unpack some dog domestication history and fascinating research with Jen Golbeck and Stacey Colino, authors of the new book, The Purest Bond: Understanding the Human-Canine Connection. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
Happy spooky season, Tiny Matters listeners! In today’s episode, Sam and Deboki tackle two Halloween themed topics: The Salem witch trials and mummies. In 1692 and 1693 a series of hearings and trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts, leading to 19 people being executed, marking the last executions for witchcraft in the United States. Sam and Deboki speak with a researcher who has spent over a decade piecing together what did and probably did not happen during this time, helping unpack a popular (and highly flawed) theory that LSD from a fungus caused the Salem witch trials. She also offers up the more likely forces behind the hysteria. Sam and Deboki then travel back thousands of years to ancient Egypt and delve into the science behind mummification — from the 'grand experimentation' of the Old Kingdom mummies to the 'ideal' mummies of the 18th and 21st dynasties that look like they could wake up at any moment. Mummies were an integral part of the ancient Egyptian belief in divine transformation after death, but today there’s contention surrounding how they should be treated and if they should even be displayed for viewing. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
A couple weeks ago, NASA did something they’d never done before: they collected material from an asteroid and brought it back to Earth. These samples — harvested as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission — could tell us more about our planet's beginnings and even reveal information about the origins of life. But collecting samples from space doesn't come without risk. In this episode, we delve into the heated debates among geologists and biologists during the construction of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) in the 1960s, in preparation for the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 — the first to put a human on the moon. We didn't bring back anything harmful, which is fortunate because flaws in protocols and the LRL design would not have prevented a moon microbial crisis here on Earth. But we can learn from those mistakes and apply what we now know to other fields such as artificial intelligence and climate change. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
Why do we need an influenza vaccine every year when there are many vaccines we only need to get once every few decades? In this episode, Deboki and Sam kick things off by covering the different strains of influenza that are most likely to cause, or already caused, pandemics. They also chat with experts about the new, more deadly strain of avian influenza — H5N1 — that has been making its rounds in the United States since January 2022, leading to the deaths of over 58 million birds, not just impacting farms and egg prices but wild bird populations. Sam and Deboki also delve into flu strain predictions each year — which dictate what’s in the vaccine, and aren’t always accurate — and the promise of a universal vaccine for not just flu but all pathogens, which could be crucial for saving lives early in a future pandemic. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
This episode is outside the Tiny Matters norm — it’s a Q&A and mug giveaway! Sam and Deboki answer listener questions about science, like, ‘Can parasitic hookworms cure allergies?,’ ‘How do you measure the end of the universe?,’ ‘What’s the science behind why we can’t stand nails on a chalkboard,’ plus questions about making the leap into science communication, including podcasting. They wrap up the episode with a drawing where five lucky listeners win a Tiny Matters coffee mug! To support Tiny Matters, pick up a mug here! And check out The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week here. All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
Flavor and taste are not the same thing. In this episode of Tiny Matters, Sam and Deboki explain why, and unpack the important role flavor plays in health. They also chat with experts about ways of making the foods you don’t like more appealing. The Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. And to support Tiny Matters, pick up a mug here! Check out The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week here. All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here. Maybe MOST importantly, here’s that chocolate zucchini cake recipe: ¼ c. butter ¼ c. cocoa powder ½ c. vegetable oil ½ tsp. baking powder 1¾ c. sugar 1 tsp. baking soda 2 eggs ½ tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. vanilla ½ tsp. cloves ½ cup buttermilk or sour milk 2 cups grated zucchini 2½ c. flour ½ c. chocolate chips Directions: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cream together the butter and sugar. Then beat in the oil, eggs, vanilla and buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients together and mix into wet ingredients. Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips. Bake in a greased and floured bundt pan or a 9x13 pan for 45 minutes.
Colonialist practices, past and present, combined with climate change are having catastrophic effects on poorer countries in the global south. In this episode, Sam and Deboki talk with experts about how and why that’s the case and unpack two major examples of this impact: the 2022 Pakistan floods and the global factory, particularly the garment industry. Laurie Parson's book is here. The organizations he suggests at the end of the episode are Fashion Revolution, Clean Clothes Campaign, and Transform Trade. Sam's Tiny Show & Tell story is here. Deboki's book suggestions: Consumed: The Need for Collective Change, Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism and Worn: A People's History of Clothing. Check out The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week here. All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was first discovered in cattle in the UK in 1986. In 1996, BSE made its way into humans for the first time, setting off panic and fascination with the fatal disease that causes rapid onset dementia. In this episode, Sam and Deboki cover the cause, spread and concern surrounding mad cow and other prion diseases. The Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
On April 20, 2010, a drilling rig called Deepwater Horizon exploded, capsizing 36 hours later. Eleven workers were killed and, over the next 87 days, more than 100 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in what the EPA has called the largest marine oil spill in history. With public distrust of the companies responsible mounting, scientists had to find a way to study the spill and communicate what they found. So when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, when the stakes are so high, how do you dispel misinformation and effectively communicate what you know? Find links to buy Chris Reddy's book Science Communication in a Crisis: An Insider's Guide here. The Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
Sam and Deboki will be raffling off Tiny Matters coffee mugs in an upcoming Q&A episode. Entering the raffle is easy! Just send your question(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can be about pretty much anything — a previous episode, some science thing you're dying to know the answer to, a question about podcasting, or about Deboki's and Sam's past lives as researchers or what helped them get into science communication as a career... the sky’s the limit! Just sending in a question enters you into the raffle, and if Sam and Deboki answer your question during the Q&A episode your name will be entered into the raffle twice. At the end of the episode, Sam and Deboki will draw 5 names out of a hat and send each of those people their very own snazzy Tiny Matters mug. Submit questions to email@example.com through the end of the day on Friday, August 11th, 2023.
In this episode of Tiny Matters, Sam and Deboki unravel two very different environmental disasters: Hurricane Katrina and this year’s Ohio train derailment. They’ll cover the science underlying those events, the confusion and misinformation that followed them, and how human influence infiltrates all of these disasters, even ones deemed “natural." The Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. And to support Tiny Matters, pick up a mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
A few months ago, we did a bonus Q&A about the HBO series The Last of Us, a show about a pandemic caused by a fungus that turned people into terrifying zombies. After that bonus episode aired, we received emails from people who wanted to learn more about fungi and the fungal infections on the rise, like white nose syndrome in bats and Candida auris in humans. This episode is all about fungal pandemics in a huge range of organisms — how they take hold and the fight to stop them. You can find Emily Monosson's book Blight: Fungi and the Coming Pandemic here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
In the mid-20th century, psychedelic research to treat conditions like depression began to take off, yet by 1970 almost all of that work came to a screeching halt. But guess what? It’s back, and access to guided therapy to treat various mental health conditions is becoming a reality. The link to The New York Times article about Roland Griffiths is here. The Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
There's a whole lot of information (and misinformation) out there about depression, as well as debate surrounding how it's treated. In this episode, Sam and Deboki unpack this complex mood disorder that impacts over 300 million people across the globe as well as the effectiveness of SSRIs and the work being done to find better drugs. A link to David Hellerstein's new book The Couch, The Clinic and the Scanner: Stories from Three Revolutionary Eras of the Mindis here. The Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
The first computer was created in 1945 and came in at double the size of a one-bedroom apartment. Just 50 years later, the architecture of the computer on a chip that measured just 7.44 by 5.29 millimeters in size. And now, computers have gotten smaller and smaller [looks down at Apple Watch]. So how did we go from apartment-sized calculators to the tiny devices we use to look up cat pictures when we’re bored? And just how much smaller can we go? Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories here and here. Want to drink your coffee (or beverage of choice) in style? Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
The question of whether or not life exists on other planets is an important and interesting one. But maybe the more intriguing question is, “what if it does?” In this episode of Tiny Matters, Sam and Deboki chat with science writer Jaime Green about what it would mean for life to exist beyond Earth. Her book, “The Possibility of Life: Science, Imagination, and Our Quest for Kinship in the Cosmos,” is a mix of history, astronomy, biology, philosophy, and sci-fi, and just hit store shelves. To order a copy, check out local bookstores and other options here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
Since the very beginning of the space age, people have been wondering if algae could provide a life support system beyond our planet. From dozens of studies over the last 60 years, we’ve figured out that algae probably can thrive for up to a year in space. But what if we wanted to live permanently on another planet, like Mars? This episode is all about algae: how it shaped early Earth, how we might use it to terraform planets in the future, and how it’s being used in biomanufacturing to hopefully get us away from relying on fossil fuels. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.
For millennia, humans have looked to the sea to find medicine. Today, medical treatments that come from the ocean have been clinically approved for pain, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, and over a dozen more are in clinical trials. In this episode of Tiny Matters, Sam and Deboki are tackling marine natural products—things like proteins, fats, and other molecules that aquatic organisms produce—that humans are hoping to use to treat the diseases that plague us. Links to the Tiny Show & Tell stories are here and here. Pick up a Tiny Matters mug here! All Tiny Matters transcripts are available here.