The LIUniverse with Dr. Charles Liu

A half-hour dose of cosmic conversation with scientists, educators and students about the cosmos, scientific frontiers, scifi, comics, and more. Hosted by Dr. Charles Liu, PhD, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History. Support us on Patreon.

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2 days ago

How did our solar system get here? How did the Earth form? How commonly does that happen elsewhere, and how often do the conditions necessary for life come about?
To find out, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome Dr. Tom Rice, Astronomer-Educator and AAS staffer, who studies star and planet formations, how solar systems come together out of the “stuff that’s out there floating in our galaxy like gas and dust.”
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, the discovery of “baby” brown dwarf TWA 27B that we are watching grow thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope. Tom explains that a brown dwarf is not massive enough to ignite the hydrogen in their cores and turn into a star, but is 13 times more massive than gas giant planets like Jupiter. Allen asks Tom about temporal scales and “baby objects” – Tom defines objects as “young” that are still accreting mass, and tend to be in the range of 1-10 million years old. And as for calling brown dwarfs failed stars, well, you’ll just have to watch or listen for Tom’s opinion about that very controversial subject.
Then it’s time for a student question, from Alianna, who asks, “Can a star turn into a planet?” To answer, Tom uses a different distinction between stars, brown dwarfs, and planets: how they form. He explains the development from a region of gas and dust that gets dense and then collapses under its own weight, into a circumstellar disc accreting matter with an object at its center, growing either into a star, or, if it’s too low a mass to ignite, a brown dwarf. A planet forms in a different process, not in the center of the circumstellar disc (aka, the protoplanetary disc) but out of the “stuff” in the disc, at the same time the star is forming. So, Tom says, the answer to the question is “probably no.” Tom and Chuck then discusss a couple of hypothetical situations that could possibly reduce a star to the mass of the planet. They also compare the atmosphere composition of planets and stars. In the case of Jupiter, the composition is very similar to the sun, but the temperature is much cooler, so there are some molecules that form in its atmosphere that would remain in their atomic states in the Sun.
Then we enter the goldilocks zone to discuss what it takes to create a planet that can sustain life, like on Earth. Tom runs down the “must haves” for life, and then turns to the search for earthlike exoplanets using the Kepler and TESS space telescopes. You’ll learn about the transit method of exoplanet detection and what we can learn from it, including size and orbital frequency (which helps determine distance from the sun and therefore habitable temperatures).
Next we hear about Tom’s work on the staff of the American Astronomical Society. His focus: figuring out how channel the energy of society members to improve astronomy education at all levels. If you have a suggestion for Tom, you can find him on Twitter (X) @tomr_stargazer or email him at
This being The LIUniverse, Chuck Tom and Allen end up the episode talking about video games, from Super Planet Crasher to Space Engine 2 and Universe Sandbox to the Zelda game, Tears of the Kingdom which has a ton of physics stuff in it– yes, you read that right!
By the way, if Tom looks familiar to you, that might be because he was in our video Chuck recorded at the AAS meeting in Pasadena last year where he showed us his fluency with American Sign Language. Tom is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults)  and ASL and his signing identity is an important part of his heritage. He lives in Washington, DC, near Gallaudet University, the nation’s only entirely signing university, where Tom works with the Astronomy Club. He’s also working with The National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology on activities relating to the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 that will pass directly overhead.
If you want to see Tom sign a few astronomic terms including the one for “the planet we live on...the most important place we can know,” watch our video at
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– TWA 27B (left) and its larger companion (right) – European Southern Observatory, CC BY 4.0
– Circumstellar Disc (artist’s concept) – ESO/L. Calçada, CC BY 4.0
– Illustration of the origin of a Type Ia supernova – NASA, Public Domain
– The Kepler and TESS space telescopes – NASA, Public Domain
– Transit detection of exoplanet WASP-96 b – NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and the Webb ERO Production Team, CC BY 4.0
– Gallaudet University’s Chapel Hall – Carol M. Highsmith, Public Domain
– The National Technical Institute for the Deaf, at RIT – Photog, CC BY 3.0
– Path of the April 8, 2024 Total Solar Eclipse – NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio - Michala Garrison, Ernie Wright, Ian Jones, Laurence Schuler, Public Domain.

Saturday Sep 16, 2023

Why does Wakanda have no suburbs, and should we destroy them if it did? Is it ethical to become a cyborg, like in the Justice League? Can venom – the toxins or the Marvel character – save your life? In this 2021 New York Comic Con edition of “The LIUniverse,” Astronomer Dr. Charles Liu hosts venom researcher Dr. Mandë Holford and environmental expert Kendra Pierre-Louis for our panel “The Science of Science Fiction.”
Speaking to a packed room (in a convention ‘plagued’ by empty panels and COVID-19 attendance limits) the panelists share their insights into the science within the Marvel and DC comics and movies as well as the rest of geekdom. In our three segments on nature, technology, and the multiverse, you’ll hear about superhumans and mutants from Spider-Man to the X-Men to Captain Planet. You’ll also learn some science, like how a version of string theory predicts a parallel universe where gravity would give us all superpowers.
One of our favorite parts of our panels is taking questions from the audience. This time, fans like you asked some great ones. How will gene editing change the world? Can we tell if an AI, such as the Vision, is really self aware? Does scientific advancement need military rivalries as in “For All Mankind,” a show that flips the space race on its head? What will be the biggest technological advancement of the next 100 years: perhaps miniature organs, or maybe social innovations, or something else entirely? Plus, find out what on Earth “life expectancy escape velocity” is, and what it could mean for the future of humanity.
You can expect to hear about some of your favorite comic superheroes on screen and off, like Black Panther, The Avengers, Wandavision, The Suicide Squad, Braniac, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Loki, The Fantastic Four, Lex Luthor, Ant-Man, and – lest we forget – The Incredible Hulk.  Relive the experience (if you were lucky enough to be there) or find out what you missed!  Geek out with us!
0:00 Nature and Our Relationship to It
16:34 Technology, Humans, and Superheroes
34:26 The Multiverse: Reality and Fiction
All characters and comic properties are the copyright of their respective owners.

Saturday Sep 02, 2023

How realistic is the human augmentation depicted in comic, games and movies? To find out, Dr. Charles Liu welcomes the CEO/founder of Neurobionics Dr. MJ Antonini, experimental psychologist Liam McMahon, and our own social media maven and comic/gaming uber-geek Sarah Cotten to the stage for our first-ever appearance at the Boston Fan Expo for a discussion about the science of science fiction, and most particularly, BRAINS! (NOTE: This panel took place during the 2023 writers strike, so our panelists purposefully avoided naming characters our properties out of respect for the striking creators.) 
The panel starts off with a discussion of the feasibility of the kind of human augmentation featured in the dystopian near-future game series Deus Ex. Dr. Antonini, whose company is all about human augmentation and wearable robotics, says that it’s not as far away from reality as you might think. Dr. McMahon talks about using magnetism to perceive what’s going on inside the human mind. Meanwhile, Sarah comes up with a reality TV show concept where people can see through the prosthetic eye of the show’s protagonist.
When Liam brings up the concept of memory augmentation, sharing and retrieval, Charles immediately reminds us all of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” perhaps better known as the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Total Recall.”
You’ll hear about exoskeletons that can help paralyzed people walk and even kick a soccer ball, and research by David Sinclair at Harvard into slowing down the aging process or even reversing the aging of the human brain. Of course, as Sarah points out, living forever is different than being young forever, unless of course you’re an ageless vampire with a bulging bank account. The panel discusses the impact of immortality on resources, offspring, and the human psyche, which gives Chuck the opportunity to reference “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov.
Of course, there’s no avoiding the subject of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet, and the morality and ethics of both, which naturally leads into a discussion of dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction and games like “Fallout” and the seminal and influential 1984 anime fantasy film “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.
The panel ends with a discussion of Alzheimer’s disease, brain augmentation and uploading, what makes personality, and the metaphysical thought experiment known as the Ship of Theseus.
Normally at conventions like this, we end with a vigorous Q&A session, and this event was no exception. But this time if you’d like to hear the Q&A and the rest of the panel content that didn’t make it into this video, you’ll have to check it out on Patreon.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please also support us on Patreon. 

Saturday Aug 19, 2023

How do planets form out of dust particles? And what does that have to do with fluid dynamics? To find out, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome astrophysicist Dr. Holly Capelo from the University of Bern in Switzerland.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, which takes us to the Observatory of Paris, where a group of scientists are delving into the formation of planetesimals. What are they, where do they come from, and when do they form? Holly dives right in to explain what we know about them, and what forces might prevent planetesimals from growing into planets. Along the way, she blows Chuck’s mind about planet formation and accretion disks.
Next, Dr. Capelo uses Alice in Wonderland to help describe her extensive experiments flying on Novespace’s Air Zero-G (the European equivalent of NASA’s “Vomit Comet”) flying in parabolas in order to better understand fluid dynamics, aerodynamic drag and the impact of freefall, microgravity and hypergravity on dust particles.
For our first question this episode, Allen asks Holly about what makes up interplanetary debris, now and in the past. You’ll learn all about ice lines, the impact of vacuum on water vapor and dust particles, minimum mass solar nebulas, density distributions and how much debris there actually is floating around our solar system. 
You’ll also hear a little bit about Holly’s other experiences, as a dancer, and how grad school made it harder to stay in shape.
Our next question revolves around the possible atmospheres of the Moon, comets and planetesimals. Holly explains how we have evidence of transitory events, like outgassing. She also tells us about an upcoming “comet interceptor” mission to study comets that will place a satellite at a Lagrange point to wait for a comet to enter our solar system and then fly to meet it. 
If you’d like to know more about Holly and her experiments, you can follow her on Twitter @hollycapelo.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon. 
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
Accretion disks imaged by ALMA – European Southern Observatory, CC BY 4.0Phase diagram of water – Hokanomono & Cmglee on Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0Novespace’s Air Zero-G aircraft – Marc Lacoste, CC BY-SA 4.0Illustration of Rosetta at comet 67P – Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, CC-BY 3.0

Saturday Aug 05, 2023

How do you go about building a planet? To find out, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome computational astrophysicist Dr. Aleksandra Kuznetsova, a NHFP Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The American Museum of Natural History.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, the presence of both a mini-Neptune and an exo-Venus in the exoplanetary system GJ3929, each with very short orbits around their star. Aleksandra discusses planetary migration and how it’s possible to have as tightly packed solar systems as GJ3929.
For our first student question, Kevin asks, “How can you create an artificial magnetic field for a planet like Mars?” Aleksandra explains the importance of Earth’s geodynamo in creating our magnetic field, and how it results from our rotating core of molten conductive metal material. This being The LIUniverse, of course a discussion of the movie “The Core” ensues, along with deeper dives into the kinetic energy of Earth’s rotation what it might take to re-spin a planetary core.
And then we’re off and running with the subject that’s near and dear to Aleksandra, the simulation of planetary formation. You’ll hear about our attempts to observe the “embedded phase” of planetary system development and the challenges of observation prior to the JWST with terrestrial radio telescopes like ALMA and the ngVLA. It turns out that protoplanetary disks in the embedded phase are quite “messy!”
Our second question comes from one of our Patrons on Patreon, Cameron, who asks, “Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the universe to know itself,” but is there a stigma that makes this knowledge unattractive to people? How do we inspire more people to learn more?”
Aleksandra brings up the idea of using language or art to inspire awe and wonder in people. For instance, the art of Wassily Kandinsky. It turns out, not only is Composition 8 by the artist Chuck’s favorite piece of non-representational art, but Aleksandra shares what a natural science nerd Kandinsky was and how intrigued he was by early microscopy images, as evidenced by his painting Capricious Forms.
Before the episode wraps, Aleksandra, Chuck, and Allen bond about how much they loved the movie, Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.
If you’d like to know more about Dr. Kuznetsova and her research, visit her website at or follow her on X (Twitter) @1auaway.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Artist’s impression of a protoplanetary disk – ESO/L. Calçada, CC BY 4.0
– Illustration of Earth’s magnetic field – NASA, public domain
– Diagram of Earth’s geodynamo – Andrew Z. Colvin, CC BY-SA 4.0
– Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station in South Korea –핑크로즈, CC BY 2.0
– Radio telescopes in the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) – ESO/C. Pontoni, CC BY 4.0
– Radio telescopes in the ngVLA –  CGP Grey, CC BY 2.0
– Composition 8 by Wassily Kandinsky – Wassily Kandinsky, 1923, Public Domain
– Capricious Forms by Wassily Kandinsky – Wassily Kandinsky, 1937, Public Domain

Saturday Jul 22, 2023

Brown dwarfs are often called failed stars, but today’s guest on the LIUniverse, astrophysicist Dr. Johanna Vos, prefers to think of them as overachieving planets. Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu discuss with Johanna why brown dwarfs are so cool (pun intended!), and how their formation is something of a cosmic-scale anticlimax.
Beginning with today’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, a pair of brown dwarfs orbiting each other more than a hundred times farther than the Earth is from the Sun, we’ll go into how astronomers study these objects from here on Earth and from our observatories in space such as the brand new James Webb Space Telescope. Along the way, we’ll learn how the astronomical community decides which of the sky’s numerous exciting objects get seen with these cutting-edge facilities.
In fact, that leads right into our first student question for this episode, in which Nevan asks what object our guest thinks the JWST should look at first. While Johanna answers with one of her favorite objects, in typical Chuck fashion we end up on the ice planet Hoth*. We also have a question from Aryeh who asks for some advice for current students interested in astronomy. (As always, if you want your questions answered, support the LIUniverse on Patreon!)
Next, Johanna explores some of the differences between her own experience with the education system in Ireland and Scotland and what she sees from the students she mentors in New York. We also get to hear about Johanna’s experience dancing ballet. She shares which ballets are her favorites to view and to perform, and what dance – and art more generally – has in common with Astronomy.
To keep up with our guest’s exciting astronomical research, you can follow @Johannamvos on Twitter, and don’t forget to subscribe to us here on YouTube so you can catch every episode as soon as it comes out!
*For those of you who don’t know, Hoth first appears in the Empire Strikes Back, aka Star Wars Episode V.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
 - A stellar nursery in the Orion Nebula – Credit: Hubble Space Telescope, NASA/ESA
 - Planet-forming disk around the star HL Tauri – Credit: ALMA, CC-BY 4.0
- Wise 0855 moving through the sky – Credit: WISE/Spitzer, NASA/JPL-Caltech/Penn State University
- The New Technology Telescope in Chile  – Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (, CC-BY 4.0

Saturday Jul 08, 2023

Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu continue our exploration into the poetry of the stars with Part 2 of our episode featuring poet/astronomer/cosmologist Dr. Yun Wang and poet/author Midge Goldberg, editor of “Outer Space: 100 Poems.”
We pick up right where we left off in Part 1, with a discussion of standard candles and how Edwin Hubble used Cepheid Variable Stars to determine the distance to Andromeda – incorrectly, as Chuck explains.
We then find out that Yun is working on not one, but two upcoming space telescopes: The Euclid Space Telescope launching in July 2023 and the Roman Space Telescope, a Hubble-class space telescope named after Nancy Grace Roman, NASA's first Chief of Astronomy, launching in 2027.
As with Part 1, The LIUniverse couldn’t possibly have two poets as guests on the show without a little poetry reading and analysis. Allen kicks it off by reading a Walt Whitman poem, “A Noiseless, Patient Spider.” Midge follows up with a reading excerpted from “My God, It’s Full of Stars” by Tracy K. Smith, one of the first poems she chose to put into “Outer Space: 100 Poems.” Yun reads both the original Chinese version and then the translation of a poem by Su Dongpo, the Song Dynasty poet who is the third of the greatest poets in Chinese history, followed by an English translation. (The group discussed the other two, Du Fu and Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty era in China, in Part 1 – just another reason to go and listen if you haven’t already, poetry fans!)
Chuck reads from a poem by Salvatore Quasimodo, the Nobel prize-winning Italian poet, after which he reminds us all about Commander Data’s unfortunate attempt at poetry about his cat Spot on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Allen begrudgingly reads the first couplet, and Midge describes what happens when AI writes a sonnet.
Finally, Charles ends the episode with a reading and discussion of “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” which Yun explains she doesn’t hate anymore, but still doesn’t love.
If you’d like to know more about Dr. Yun Wang and her many scientific and poetic publications, see her bio page at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech):
To learn more about Midge Goldberg, visit her website: or follow her on Twitter at @MidgeGoldberg.
“Outer Space: 100 Poems” is published by Cambridge University Press:
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:
– Edwin Hubble in 1931 – John Hagemeyer, Public Domain
– Euclid Space Telescope (rendering) – European Space Agency, CC BY-SA 3.0
– Roman Space Telescope (rendering) – NASA (WFIRST Project and Dominic Benford), Public Domain
– Painting of Su Dongpo (posthumous) – Zhao Mengfu, 1301, Public Domain

Saturday Jun 24, 2023

What is the universe made of? Will we ever have a complete list of all the particles that make up existence? To find out, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome Dr. Lesya Horyn, PhD, a Fermilab researcher working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland.
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, which takes us to Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, NY, where scientists have figured out how to make matter from energy. They smashed 2 photons together to produce a matter/anti-matter particle pair. It happens naturally in the universe, and we convert matter into energy all the time, but we’ve never before turned energy into matter using photons, which have no mass.
Next up, a quantum mechanics question from Lindsey in Massachusetts: “Do you believe that there is an elementary particle responsible for gravity?” Dr. Horyn explains how the standard model (the “periodic table” of subatomic particles) “makes a nice picture” but is “missing stuff” like dark matter and gravity, neither of which are in the standard model. One of these missing pieces is the graviton, a theorized elementary particle that would be responsible for gravitational force in the same way that the photon is responsible for the electromagnetic force, which Dr. Horyn and Charles both believe exists but has not yet been discovered. (Honorable mention: Our geek-in-chief Chuck mentions the Marvel Comics supervillain Graviton, who has the comic book superpower of gravity.)
Dr. Horyn explains her research at CERN, and how the LHC actually is used for experiments. You’ll learn more about the LHC, a 17-mile-circumfrence underground ring used to smash particles into each other at specific speeds, and the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector, which Lesya is using for her research now. You’ll also hear about the much larger A Toroidal LHC Apparatus (ATLAS), which she used previously for her primary research, both of which were used in the discovery of the Higgs boson ten years ago.
As Charles and Lesya take us down the particle physics rabbit hole, we end up talking about the Muon g-2 experiments eventually conducted by Fermilab. Find out why the gyromagnetic moment is important to particle physics – and yes, we go deep into the physics weeds in this episode! (Make sure to catch the story about moving a giant magnet from Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York by boat and truck to Fermilab in Illinois!)
Moving on, the crew tackles a question from Walter T. on Patreon, who asks, “Could the many worlds theory still be deterministic?” Charles explains the many worlds model, but because our existing experiments cannot distinguish between the many different models of quantum mechanics, Lesya defaults to the infamous Richard Feynman quote, “Anybody who claims to understand quantum mechanics is either crazy or lying.”
If you’d like to know more about Dr. Horyn, you can follow her on Twitter at @lesyaah. And be sure to follow @CERN, @ATLASexperiment, and @CMSexperiment to keep up with some of the developments we’ve discussed in this episode.
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon. 
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:Brookhaven National Laboratory – Credit:, public domainParticles in the Standard Model – Credit: Cush via Wikimedia, public domainThe CMS detector – Credit: Evenkolder, CC-BY 2.0The g-2 experiment magnet in transit – Credit:, public domainMuonG-2 Predicted – Credit: Allen Liu, for the LIUniverseMuonG-2 Observed – Credit: Allen Liu, for the LIUniverse

Saturday Jun 10, 2023

We often hear about the music of the spheres, but why not the poetry of the stars? In this episode Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome poet/astronomer/cosmologist Dr. Yun Wang and poet/author Midge Goldberg, editor of “Outer Space: 100 Poems” that includes Yun’s poem, “Space Journal: Serendipity.”
As always, though, we start off with the day’s joyfully cool cosmic thing, a possible candidate relativistic tidal disruption event. Put another way, in a galaxy far, far away, a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy is possibly shredding a star, creating a brightening flare of radio emission. Naturally, given our guests, Chuck and company reflect on the idea of a black hole as a metaphor.
Moving on, Dr. Wang discusses her exploration of our universe and her eventual goal of modeling a billion galaxies in 3-D. She and Chuck briefly address whether universal expansion will continue forever, as some posit, and whether dark energy is truly a cosmological constant or not.
Then it’s poetry time! Midge recounts her journey to create “Outer Space: 100 Poems” and how she eventually connected with Yun, who not only contributed her own poem to the book but also translated a poem by Du Fu, who Chuck explains is one of the two greatest poets of the Tang Dynasty in China. The other is Li Bai, composer of “Night Thoughts,” the only poem Dr. Liu can recite by heart in Chinese, which he proceeds to do before also reciting the English translation he wrote.
Midge talks about choosing poems from around the world, drawn from ancient cultures up to modern day poetry about landing on the moon, and describes some of their age-old, shared themes.
For our student question, William asks, “How can poetry be used to communicate astronomy research?” Midge points to an eponymous poem about “Olber’s Paradox” she included in the book which taught her about the paradox. You’ll learn about the first scientifically reasonable answer to the paradox, which Midge points out, was written by none other than Edgar Allen Poe!
Yun explains how she almost unintentionally mingles her science and her poetry in her writing, after which she reads her poem, “Space Journal: Serendipity.” To answer William’s query, she dives into the actual science and astronomy research that is embodied in every word of her poem.
Does Chuck find an opportunity to talk about the holodecks in Star Trek, Schrodinger’s Cat, and other equally geeky subjects? You’ll have to listen to find out.
Come back in two weeks for the rest of Chuck’s interview with Dr. Yun Wang and poet/author Midge Goldberg.
If you’d like to know more about Dr. Yun Wang and her many scientific and poetic publications, see her bio page at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech):
To learn more about Midge Goldberg, visit her website: or follow her on Twitter at @MidgeGoldberg.
“Outer Space: 100 Poems” is published by Cambridge University Press:
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon.

Saturday May 27, 2023

How does the science of today lead us into the future we’ve imagined? To find out, Dr. Charles Liu and co-host Allen Liu welcome scientist, futurist and podcaster Andrew Maynard, PhD from Arizona State University. Dr. Maynard’s career has taken him from physicist to futurist, with sojourns in risk analysis, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, and of course, science communication. 
To begin, we travel back to Andrew’s early days studying aerosol physics, using electron microscopy to analyze minute airborne particles… like asbestos fibers. And, given the pandemic we’ve all been living through, it’s not surprising that Chuck, Allen and Andrew end up discussing the airborne particle on everyone’s mind these days: the COVID-19 virus. You’ll find out exactly how big nanoparticles are: 10,000 times thinner than a human hair!
Andrew is also a futurist, and we slide right into a discussion of nanobots, and why man-made mechanical nanobots are unlikely – the physics just don’t work at this scale – but biological molecules that behave like microscopic machines are at work right now inside each and every one of us. 
Our first question comes from Stacey Severn, who is the Community Manager for The LIUniverse and a serious science fiction fan. She asks, “How plausible is it for the nanites described in “Star Trek: They Next Generation” to become real? Andrew relates the story of scientist Eric Drexler, who wrote a book called “Engines of Nature” that speculated on the possibility of creating nanites. Unfortunately, physics at the nano scale works very differently than at larger sizes.
Moving on, Chuck asks about She-Hulk, who became a green superpowered being through a blood transfusion from the Incredible Hulk. Could a transfusion cause a systemic change to a living being? Surprisingly, in principal, it’s possible. We look at gene editing using CRISPR and creating gene drives, where you can change the genetic makeup of a whole species like malaria-bearing mosquitoes. 
What about finding extra-terrestrial life? Andrew puts on his risk-analysis hat to look at the possibility, and the potential risks to humanity. Andrew explains why he’s not really worried about alien diseases, but much more concerned about the hypothesis of contacting an advanced species – and not for the reasons you might expect. (Hint: we’re the danger, not the advanced, evolved aliens!)
Our next question comes from a fan named Benjy and is also related to Star Trek: Will we ever have transporter technology that can move living creatures from one place to another. We look at the digitization of information, 3-D printing, DNA replication, and the similarities to and differences from transporter technology. 
Finally, Chuck asks Andrew about science communication and how to become successful on YouTube as an academic. Despite the fact that Andrew describes himself as having “no talent and no time” he started his own YouTube channel called Risk Bites, which has racked up 4 million views across all his videos, which isn’t bad for an academic channel. The key: staying focused on empowering other people to do really cool stuff.
If you’d like to know more about Andrew, check out the Mission Interplanetary podcast at ASU he co-hosts here:
We hope you enjoy this episode of The LIUniverse, and, if you do, please support us on Patreon. 
Credits for Images Used in this Episode:– Biomolecules translating DNA into a protein – Bensaccount at en.wikipedia, CC-BY 3.0– Animation of CRISPR editing a gene – UC Berkeley, Video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Stephen McNally, Additional footage provided by Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) and Ella Maru Studio, CC-BY 2.5– Timelapse of a 3D printer – RepRapPro, CC-BY 3.0


The LIUniverse with Dr. Charles Liu

Join us for a half-hour dose of cosmic conversation with scientists, educators & students on the cosmos, scientific frontiers, scifi, more. And if you love science, please support us on Patreon.

Host: Dr. Charles Liu, Astronomer

Co-host: Allen Liu, Mathematician

Copyright 2022 All rights reserved.

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