Superheroes of Science

40 Episodes

By: Purdue College of Science

Superheroes of Science is on a mission to highlight science and STEM research that is happening today. Don’t get your science from social media, get it directly from the professionals!

Harmful Impacts of Road Salt and Possible Alternatives
Last Monday at 11:00 AM

Dr. Monika Bleszynski, Research Scientist and Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver, discusses some of the harmful impacts of road salt along with potential alternatives. There are many negative impacts of the bioaccumulation of salt in environments near roadways, including damage to plant life, physiological drought, and the buildup of salt in our water reservoirs. By studying organisms with evolutionary adaptations to produce their own antifreeze proteins, Bleszynski has worked toward the development of safer alternatives to road salt with less harmful environmental consequences.

Understanding droughts. Yes, there are going to be more!

Yadu Pokhrel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan State University. In this episode, Pokhrel explains different types of droughts: meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological; and that computer models help predict when and where droughts might occur. He also discusses how droughts might impact many people, even if there is not a water shortage in their area.

Why you Have Body Odor: The Science Behind Sweating, Deodorant and Antiperspirant.

Lindsey Britt is a Product Formulator for Procter & Gamble where she creates (and patents!) beauty products. Currently, Britt is the lead formulator for natural products at Procter & Gamble. In this episode, she explains the chemistry behind product development at P&G and teaches us about the different types of sweat, along with how deodorants and antiperspirants work. 

Owl’s response to stimulus inspires hearing test for infants

Dr. Avinash Bala, Research Associate at the University of Oregon and Founder of Perceptivo, noticed something about the way owls responded to unexpected stimuli. The owl’s pupil noticeably dilates each time it detects an unexpected sound. By studying this pupil dilation response, which is part of the Orienting Response, Bala and colleagues have discovered ways to apply this response toward the creation of a novel and non-invasive hearing test for infants

Regenerative farming: Reducing carbon emissions, increasing nutrient density, creating healthy soil

Rick Clark, 5th generation farmer from Williamsport, Indiana, is taking a systematic approach to regenerative farming. Improving soil health by supporting the microbial biome has allowed Rick to remove tillage and take away the need for applying lime, phosphorus, and potassium. He is working toward achieving a balance within the soil, which encourages his crops to thrive. Rick discusses the practice of “farming green,” or establishing a successful cover crop in the fall in order to build a successful cash crop the following season.

How to Save the Honey Bees, Their Life Cycles, and Hive Management

Honey bees will be foraging for food this spring and you can help! Anne Morningstar, Co-owner, Co-founder, Lead Beekeeper and Brand manager of Bear Creek Organic Farm, offers insight into the life cycle of honey bees, hive management, and helpful suggestions about small things each of us can do to help honey bees and all pollinators.  

Learn more about Bear Creek Organic Farm:

Geography in the Modern World, Geospatial Technology, GIS and Story Maps

Kathy Lamb Kozenski, the Executive Director of the Geography Educators Network of Indiana, explains that geography is more than just making a map; it is telling a story. We can use story maps to visually tell a story. Story maps use a geographic reference tied to some sort of data. Kathy explains Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the layers in today's mapping software. The video also walks people through how to make an ESRI Story Map.


NOTE: The audio podcast available on most Podcast players is the shortened version of this interview.

Using machine learning to track player stats in major league baseball

Kristen Mori, a Machine Learning Engineer with the Houston Astros, joins us for this episode. Kristen explains what machine learning is and how it’s used in major league baseball to track player stats.

Making Sense of Misinformation, Disinformation, Fake News, Memes, Twitter Bots, and Intent in Social Media.

Matthew DeVerna, Ph.D. student, from the Observatory on Social Media (OSoMe) at Indiana University discusses many aspects of “misinformation”. These include things like ‘fake news’, some types of memes, rumors or unverified information, the intent of a post, and disinformation. Below are some of the tools that the Observatory on Social Media at IU have created to help users sieve through information to better spot misinformation, and not (hopefully) propagate it. As a bonus, Matthew gives us a heads-up about a new dashboard that OSoMe is working on to visualize the relationship between COVID-19 vaccine adoption and online (mis)info...

Dr. Jill Newton discusses mathematics in cultures around the world, what Mathematicians look like and career possibilities.

Jill Newton, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Purdue University joins us to discuss her career path that led her to become a professor at Purdue University. She also discusses some of the mathematical patterns in cultures that she has visited. Jill challenges a common perception of what mathematicians look like and presents a number of career possibilities in the math sciences.

Cultural Anthropologist, Andrew Flachs, discusses ways people create the environments and GMO seeds

Dr. Andrew Flachs, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University, has returned to discuss ways people impact the environment. Andrew shows us and explains areas that have been sustained farming for nearly thousands of years in South India. He then takes us to Southeastern Europe to discuss the labor and history that has gone into creating landscapes that we can see today. Finally, we discuss the historic activities that have created the landscape in the Midwestern United States. The interview finishes with implications of GMO

Understanding humanity: Dr. Andrew Flachs explains the four areas of anthropology

Dr. Andrew Flachs is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University. In this part one of a two-part interview, Andrew explains the four areas of anthropology. These four areas comprise the study of what it is to be human

How astrophysicists use these wave bands of the electromagnetic spectrum to study neutron stars, pulsars, black holes, and other things in the universe.

Dimitrios Giannios, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University uses different wavelengths of light from the electromagnetic spectrum to study the universe.  Dimitrios takes the time to explain the electromagnetic spectrum, wavelength bands. We learn about how an astrophysicist uses these wave bands to study neutron stars, pulsars, black holes, and other things in the universe.   The speed of light and the physical state of plasma were also both discussed.

Understanding the importance of the blood-brain barrier

Tiffany Lyle, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Anatomic Pathology at Purdue University, speaks about the importance of the blood-brain barrier and ways that this barrier can be damaged from diseases like cancer. Lyle’s lab focuses on finding new ways to address and treat metastatic tumors, particularly tumors in the brain, and improve drug therapy and quality of life for cancer patients. 

Erica Carlson describes how electrons can demonstrate states of matter.

Erica Carlson, theoretical physicist and 150th Anniversary Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University. Carlson discusses conductors, superconductors, and implications of research on superconductors toward solving the energy crisis. Carlson also describes how electrons can demonstrate states of matter.

The role of machine learning in the quest for drug free therapy to treat pain and inflammation

Matthew Ward, Research Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, joins us this week to discuss his work with medical devices (neurostimulators) to understand how to communicate with the nervous system. By gaining a better understanding of how, where, and when to stimulate the nervous system, Ward believes that pain relief, inflammation regulation, and even regulation of the autoimmune system will be possible without the use of pharmaceuticals.  

Catherine Searle discusses native and invasive species, and disease ecology

Catherine Searle, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University, researches disease ecology. Searle discusses native and invasive species, pathogens, and two specific systems that her lab studies: amphibians and daphnia. 

Dr. Chris Uyeda discusses catalysts, catalytic reactions, and transition metals.

Chris Uyeda, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University, researches catalysts and catalytic reactions that are useful to the development of new drug molecules. The Uyeda lab focuses on using abundant (and less expensive) elements for catalysis.

Discovering proteins and searching for a treatment to Parkinson’s

Dr. Seema Mattoo, Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences at Purdue, researches prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and Fic proteins. Mattoo explains proteins, HYPE, and folding of proteins. The Mattoo lab is collaborating with many science professionals, trying to find an early treatment of Parkinson's disease.

NASA Ambassador Explains Blue Moon, Blood Moon, Harvest Moon, New Moon, and Why to Learn Coding

Tony Rice, NASA Ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, discusses the moon. He discusses phases of the Moon and leads into some of the backgrounds in the various names of the different Moons that we see. These include the synodic month, sidereal month. Harvest Moon, Blue Moon, and the math behind them. We discover just how long “Once in a Blue Moon” really is. We learn about Supermoon, which is one that occurs near perigee. We finish up the interview seeing how to use coding to do things like calculating a Blue Moon. 

How websites and social media are manipulating you with Dark Patterns

Colin Gray is an Assistant Professor in the computer graphics technology department in Purdue Polytechnic Institute. He is the program lead for user the experience design program. In this episode, we learn about User Experience (UX) design and some of the ways that social media and web sites are actively manipulating people.

Things you need to know: Ice on Mars, types of planets, and the Earth’s tilt.

Dr. Ali Bramson, new professor (this semester!) of Planetary Science in Dept. of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. Ali has always been interested in space and did a variety of undergrad and grad projects. In this interview we discuss ice on Mars, what defines a planet, what types of planets are there, and the Earth’s tilt.

Update on COVID-19 vaccine development and why you need to get that flu shot

The flu and COVID-19 are both spread via respiratory droplets. While the science behind hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing is very effective at preventing both flu and COVID-19, these precautions must be consistent. It only takes one time of forgetting a mask or not washing hands to become exposed to a virus. At this point, we haven’t stopped cases of COVID-19. Therefore we should still expect to see cases of the flu (beginning this October).

How is wastewater treated and used...and are you drinking it?

Clinton Williams from the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture discusses the processes of wastewater treatment and what happens after the water is treated. We discuss how treatment plants work, nitrates, parts per billion, measuring zero, purple pipes, groundwater recharge, and water testing.

How fungi create Zombie Cicadas and interact with other living organisms

Matt Kasson (Associate Professor) and Brian Lovett (postdoc) are both from West Virginia University and explain what mycology, entomology, and plant pathology are.  They discuss the importance of fungi and how fungi work as decomposers and create things. They create chocolate, antibiotics, breads, beverages, and many other things that we use in our daily lives. We discuss symbiosis between organisms and many examples of fungi relationships. Then we learn about the zombie cicadas and how some fungi interact with insects and in some cases control their functions. 

Blue Holes, the oceans’ role in climate change, and underwater cave diving


Dr. Emily Hall is a staff scientist and program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. Hall explains her involvement with Mote, where she runs both the Ocean Acidification and Chemical and Physical Ecology programs. She discusses how oceans are able to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, therefore making them more acidic. Hall explains how scientists study and collect data about the oceans’ carbonate system. She also discusses what Red Tide is and how it can majorly impact both the food chain and human health. Hall explains that researching science questions generally leads to more qu...

State Chemist discusses seeds from China Noxious weeds, invasive species, diseases, becoming a certified seed analyst, and the difference in hemp and marijuana

Don Robison seed administrator for the Office of Indiana State Chemist discusses seeds from China. The U.S. and other countries are getting unknown seed packets that vary in types. These seeds can be very dangerous to the U.S. agriculture and  economy if planted.  Don tells us that throwing them away is the same as planting them. He explains the 3 possible issues with these seeds. Don, tells Indiana residents to send the seed packets to the USDA APHIS (  

Don discusses the impacts of v...

We are getting closer to a faster and more convenient COVID-19 test.

Mohit Verma is an Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. Verma’s group has been busy working on developing a better test for COVID-19 with the goals of both simplifying the current test and providing faster results to patients. Traditionally, when patients are tested for COVID-19, they provide a deep nasal swab sample which is then analyzed for the presence of the virus. Verma’s group is hoping to develop a simpler testing procedure for patients that would instead analyze a sample of their saliva. Verma anticipates the new test could be completed from either the...

Storm Chaser explains the data of severe storms

Dan Dawson is an Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. Dawson researches the dynamics of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. He analyzes output from different computer simulations to help better understand different aspects of both storm and tornado behavior. He also uses observational data collected in the field and has participated in a number of field programs to chase severe thunderstorms and tornadoes with instruments for collecting data from these storms. Two of the larger, multi-institutional field programs in which Dawson has participated include the Verification of the Origins...

Saharan Dust Cloud 2020 explained

Dan Cziczo, Professor of Atmospheric Science and head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. His group specializes in the study of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Aerosol particles act as the seeds on which water, clouds, and ice crystals form within the atmosphere. The presence of these particles in the atmosphere scatter sunlight and cause hazy atmospheric conditions. Aerosols also influence the outgoing radiation from Earth to space, thereby making them a complex player in the energy balance of the Earth. One of the instruments used by Cziczo is a single particle mass...

How to prepare for a software engineering career

Buster Dunsmore is an Associate Professor of Computer Science who both researches and teaches software engineering at Purdue University. While computer programming can be accomplished by one person, software engineering requires a team of people. Software engineering is a current need for industries. There is not as much of a demand on individual programmers because software engineering teams can create a software package in a much shorter time, 2-3 months versus 1 year if only one person tried to create the same software package. Dunsmore relates the teamwork aspect of software engineering to putting together a big puzzle. Some of...

Diving into the process of sending a potential leukemia drug compound to clinical trials.

Herman Sintim, Drug Discovery Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University, has worked to develop a potential drug compound for treating an aggressive form of leukemia known as acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Leukemia is one of several different types of blood cancers. While there are a number of different drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently on the market for treating leukemia, patients treated with these drugs often experience a relapse with cancer. Chemists have the ability to study proteins that “go rogue,” or initiate cancer within a cell, and develop molecules (drug...

Brighter clouds? Current research on pollution can explain chemical and physical cloud properties.

Gouri Prabhakar is an Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. While the majority of her time is spent teaching both graduate and undergraduate students, she also researches both physical and chemical processes of the atmosphere that lead to change in the concentrations of various air pollutants. Prabhakar's research involves a combination of both data analysis and experimental work. She has participated in many field campaigns where she has collected samples of air, using instruments on aircraft, and analyzed them for pollutants. One of the goals of Prabhakar’s research is...

What happens to clouds when pollution in our atmosphere drops by 30%?

Patrick Taylor is a climate scientist at NASA Langley. He discusses the interactions of Earth’s systems (atmosphere, ocean, land, humans, etc.) in impacting climate. Patrick’s research focuses on the impact of clouds and how clouds influence the energy balance of our planet. We discuss how the Earth emits energy upward, which escapes at the top of the atmosphere. This is the primary way that the Earth is cooled. Clouds impact how energy flows around the planet. Clouds both reflect energy from sunlight and insulate energy being emitted from the Earth. Over the last 40 years, NASA has observed a tr...

Mars 2020: looking for signs of life with Perseverance and Mars Sample Return

Briony Horgan, Professor of Planetary Science at Purdue University, joins us to discuss the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission. Perseverance will launch in July 2020 (link below) and is scheduled to land on Mars at the Jezero crater in February 2021. How does NASA decide where to send the next Rover? Horgan was part of a team of scientists that evaluated Jezero crater as one of the candidate landing sites. She used satellite data to help think about the science that Perseverance could conduct at Jezero crater. Horgan explains that some of the best science you will see occurs as candidate landing...

NASA Planetary Scientist, Barbara Cohen, uses samples gathered from rover missions for geochronology

Barbara Cohen is a Planetary Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Her interest lies in impact events across the Solar System. Barbara’s work includes laboratory geochronology (time and earth) to determine when rocks formed. Because she is not able to travel to places like the Moon and Mars, Barbara instead relies on robots that can travel to these places and perform investigations. She has participated in NASA missions that include Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and the current Perseverance mission. Rovers from each of these missions have collected samples and returned them to scientists back on Ea...

David Thompson describes how viruses can be blocked from the infection cycle with the use of drug inhibitors.

David Thompson is a professor in the Purdue University Department of Chemistry with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. His group uses organic chemistry, which makes and breaks bonds to create new compounds. They work to create compounds both for new pharmaceuticals and to help with better drug delivery. Thompson explains that the photos you see online of the COVID-19 virus are actually reconstructions of images taken using an electron microscope. The electron microscope helps us get precise enough images to do a better job of designing drugs in order to improve human health. The goal...

David Sanders, Professor of Biological Sciences, delivers genes to target cells via modified viruses to promote gene therapy.

David Sanders, Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University, works on introducing genes, or nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), into cells with the hope of producing a therapeutic benefit to treat disease. Using the virus as a shell, David can manipulate different properties of a virus. One modification involves changing the proteins on the outside of the virus. The modified virus can then be used as a delivery vehicle for introducing genes into particular targeted cells. Different viruses target different types of cells: some viruses want to go into white blood cells, liver cells, brain...

Angeline Lyon, Professor of Biochemistry, researches enzymes needed to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system

Angeline Lyon, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in the Departments of Chemistry and Biological Sciences at Purdue University, researches enzymes needed to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Specifically, her group studies Phospholipase C (PLC) enzymes which help trigger the release of calcium from inside the cell. Calcium oscillations drive body functions like muscle contractions, nerve impulses, and control how efficiently the heart beats. If calcium levels aren’t maintained, it can result in conditions such as irregular heartbeat, cardiac hypertrophy (abnormal enlargement, or thickening, of the heart muscle), or in severe cases it can lead to heart failure. Angeline’s lab...

Caroline Kostak, Spacesuit Systems Engineer, discusses designing a Moonsuit, moondust and space station Lunar Gateway.

Purdue University Chemical Engineering graduate, Caroline Kostak, worked as a flight controller with United Space Alliance out of college. After that she worked to help make buildings green in Houston, TX.  She was inspired from the movie Inconvenient Truth to work with green buildings. For Earth Day 2020, Caroline suggests that students can do an energy audit of their home and she encourages kids to get their parents involved. Caroline now works as a Spacesuit Systems Engineer, with a team, designing a new spacesuit that astronauts will wear on the next Moon mission. There are many variables to consider when w...