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Elements

Scientists took about 300 years to lay out the Periodic Table into neat rows and columns. In one hour, we’re going to mess it all up.  This episode, we enlist journalists, poets, musicians, and even a physicist to help us tell stories of matter that matters. You’ll never look at that chart the same way again.

Lithium

On Valentine’s Day 2001, writer Jaime Lowe was all set to go on MTV to debate Al Gore, George Bush, and Fidel Castro … until her new friend Mike suspected something might be amiss. Jaime tells us what happened, and how she learned the hard way that one of the simplest atoms borne from the Big Bang holds the key to her brain … and maybe also yours.

Carbon

How old are you? Or more precisely, how old are your cells...the cells in your liver, or your spleen, or your brain? It's a question that's harder to answer than you think. That’s because some cells are born after you are, sometimes many many years after, but we’re not really sure which ones, or when — it’s not as if there are cellular birthday parties, marked by balloons and cake. So the question of age remained relatively unanswered until the early aughts, when scientist Jonas Frisén, inspired by work from researcher Bruce Buchholz, had an idea: what if we just look up? In this story, producer Molly Webster travels back in time, to the Cold War; way up into the atmosphere; and deep inside our cells, where a secret little signal, from a very special type of carbon is helping to answer the question: how old are we? But it’s a journey that is pressured by time. 

Xenon

Back in the 19th century, gold miners started digging into the side of a mountain in South Dakota. They dug and dug and dug until - 126 years later - the hole was over a mile and a half deep. In 2001, with gold prices in decline, the gold mine shut down. According to physicist Rick Gaitskell, scientists quickly realized that a hole that deep is the perfect place to search for the single most elemental thing in our universe. We speak with writer Kent Meyers about this ongoing experiment and then producers Damiano Marchetti and Andy Mills journey to the bottom and find the (radioactively speaking) quietest place in the known universe.

 

Special thanks to Emotive Fruition for organizing poetry performances and to the mighty Sylvan Esso for composing 'Jaime's Song', both inspired by this episode.

Thanks also to Sam Kean, Chris Howk, Brian Fields and to Paul Dresher and Ned Rothenberg for the use of their song "Untold Story:The Edge of Sleep"

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