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About once a month at Sigma Xi headquarters, we liven up the lunch hour with an American Scientist Pizza Lunch talk. In these informal lectures, scientists describe new research to non-scientists. Each Pizza Lunch offers an in-depth look at its subject, whether it's bedbugs or the smart grid.

After each talk, American Scientist editors chat with the speakers about their research. Anyone can listen in via our American Scientist Pizza Lunch podcast. Don’t miss our rich archives of full-length audio slideshows of earlier lectures, too.

Subscribe, and you'll hear that not all of our episodes are from Pizza Lunch talks, but include interviews and stories on topics ranging from Internet anonymity to the evolution of dance.

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Using Computing to Advance Toxicology

Chemicals have changed our lives, providing new products and capabilities, but sometimes causing harm to ourselves and the environment. Reducing exposure to toxic substances is in everyone’s interest, but most chemicals’ toxicity is unknown: Testing toxicity is expensive, takes time, and has often involved animal testing. In this podcast episode, Nicole Kleinstreuer, Deputy Director of the National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM), talks about using computer models to test chemicals’ toxicity virtually.

Evolution of Sleep and Sleep Disorders

Gathering data from a variety of sources, Duke University's Charles Nunn thinks human sleep compared to other mammals is very different: We sleep for shorter periods of time, our sleep schedules are more flexible, and they include a higher proportion of REM sleep. In this podcast episode, he talks about the factors that may have influenced the evolution of both our unusual sleep and our sleep disorders.

A Lone Gunman? Using Statistics in Forensics

The comparative bullet lead analysis done to the bullet fragments involved in President Kennedy’s assassination were biased, says Texas A&M University’s Clifford Spiegelman, and “Bias is a big problem in forensic science.”

Cyber-Enabled Bionic Organisms

The future of search-and-rescue missions may be in the form of insect-sized robots. So far, though, the technology suffers from mechanical challenges. So, by merging current technologies with biological organisms, Alpert Bozkurt of North Carolina State University has found a way to control insects directly. His team successfully interfaced bionic systems with cockroaches.

An Interview with Fracking Expert Avner Vengosh

Avner Vengosh is a geochemist at Duke University who studies water quality issues posed by hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction. “We try to provide an objective picture of what the issues are and how we can cope with them,” says Vengosh.

3D Printing Replacement Body Parts

Researchers in the regenerative medicine field are now amplifying their efforts with 3D-printing technology, which can now use organic materials to create scaffolds that cells need to grow into their final forms. Richard Wysk, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at North Carolina State University, discusses the latest successes with this research, and the timeline for creating more complicated structures.

The Heart’s New Beat: Evolution

Biologist Rob Dunn of North Carolina State University discusses the evolution of the heart—including why dog years are different than people years—and the fascinating overlooked research of cardiologist Helen Taussig.

Engineering Around Extreme Events

Extreme events, such as super floods and hurricanes, are becoming more common, so civil engineers are trying to adapt civil infrastructure such as bridges to these unpredictable and sometimes devastating meteorological events. Ana Barros, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University and a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer, discusses how engineering can better prepare us.

An Inside View: Tales Told by a Doctor

An interview with Terrence Holt about his most recent book, Internal Medicine, and how he sees the intersection of medicine and narrative. "I was struck—powerfully—by how different the reality of medicine was from what I had expected. It's a kind of work where you're actually required to be a better person than you are," says Holt.

Exploring Beneath a Painting's SurfaceFischerImage2Click to Enlarge Image

Using laser technology called nonlinear pump-probe microscopy, Fischer and his team can study the pigments and layers to help determine, for example, the age of historic paintings. Such analysis reveals the artist’s techniques and further information about the artwork. By crossing the threshold into the art world, Fischer and his team can expand their research into new fields and assist a broader section of society in unique and scientific ways.

The Promise and Peril of Drones


The automation of tasks at work and at home is just around the corner, including driving cars, piloting planes, delivering packages, and transporting weapons. Unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, are rapidly evolving to meet both society’s and the military’s needs in automation and better efficiency.

Dr. Missy Cummings, an associate professor at Duke University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and the director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab, is at the forefront of drone technologies.

Compounds Treat Substance Abuse and Parkinson's Disease

CarrollPodcastF. Ivy Carroll is a distinguished fellow for medicinal chemistry at the Research Triangle Institute, where he is the director of their Center for Organic and Medicinal Chemistry. Carroll has spent more than 30 years studying potential treatments for substance abuse. Among them are two compounds, RTI-336 and JDTic, that he and colleagues studied as potential treatments for cocaine abuse, as well as a potential diagnostic agent for Parkinson’s disease, called Iodine-123 RTI-55.

Through the Theoretical Glass


It’s difficult to envision what dimensions beyond 3D are, and why physicists, chemists, and mathematicians want to study them. Duke University chemist Patrick Charbonneau studies the theory behind the formation of glass, tackling questions about an area of research called the glass problem. His research has helped progress this field to a new paradigm. American Scientist associate editor Katie L. Burke interviewed him in September 2013.

Photo credit: Les Todd/Duke Photography.

Preventing Spread of an Avian Influenza Strain as an Army VeterinarianYingstVet

Most people immediately assume someone working in the US Army does combat or engineering, but there are a vast and unique set of science skills among those who serve. An Army veterinarian discusses his journeys around the world studying zoonotic diseases, infections that jump from animals to humans, including influenza A virus subtype H5N1.

Lieutenant Colonel Sam Yingst, PhD, is the chief of the US Army’s Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Department and studies many zoonotic diseases worldwide and assists those in developing countries with their research.

Ultrafast Animals: Mantis Shrimp and Trap-Jaw AntsMantis Shrimp

When people think of the fastest animals, most consider running cheetahs, flitting hummingbirds, or jumping kangaroos. But there's a level above what we think of as “fast”: Ultrafast organisms conserve energy and move in nano- or even micro-seconds.

Dr. Sheila Patek discusses her research with two ultrafast creatures: mantis shrimp and trap-jaw ants.

Science Hangout: Why is Clownfish Behavior in Finding Nemo Misleading?Clownfish

In this Science Hangout, two animal behaviorists, Marian Wong of University of Wollongong in Australia and Peter Buston, PhD, of Boston University, explain to associate editor Katie Burke, PhD, that the clownfish behavior in the Disney-Pixar film Finding Nemo is completely off the mark.

Chasing Down Cosmic DustCosmic Dust Image

The formation of tiny particles of pollutants in the atmosphere, raindrops in a cloud, and cosmic dust share common physics, closely related to a process called nucleation, the means by which molecules begin to form solids. The key unknown is the physics and behavior of nanoclusters that are far more complex than a single molecule, yet not big enough to be considered solids or liquids. Davide Lazzati, PhD, discusses his research on cosmic dust and how additional findings can improve the current theory's performance and ability to predict the properties and formation of nanoparticles.

Uncovering the Complexity of BartonellosisClick to Enlarge Image

There is little truth to the saying "what you don't know can't hurt you" when it comes to infection with bacteria in the genus Bartonella. Over two decades of research, veterinarian and professor of medicine Ed Breitschwerdt of North Carolina State University has shown that these bacteria can infect humans and other mammals, and in turn, cause a variety of perplexing symptoms.

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