DISRUPTIVE: BIO-INSPIRED ROBOTICS features three separate interviews with (1) RADHIKA NAGPAL, (2) ROBERT WOOD, and (3) CONOR WALSH

Written on October 7th, 2015

Disruptive radhika2   

Welcome to the second episode of my new monthly podcast series produced with Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

DISRUPTIVE: BIO-INSPIRED ROBOTICS features three separate interviews with (1) RADHIKA NAGPAL, (2) ROBERT WOOD, and (3) CONOR WALSH. From insects in your backyard, to creatures in the sea, to what you see in the mirror, engineers and scientists at Wyss are drawing inspiration to design a whole new class of smart robotic devices

In this one, RADHIKA NAGPAL talks about her work Inspired by social insects and multicellular systems, including the TERMES robots for collective construction of 3D structures, and the KILOBOT thousand-robot swarm. She also speaks candidly about the challenges faced by women in the engineering and computer science fields.

In part two, ROBERT WOOD discusses new manufacturing techniques that are enabling popup and soft robots. His team’s ROBO-BEE is the first insect-sized winged robot to demonstrate controlled flight.

In part three, CONOR WALSH discusses how a wearable robotic exosuit or soft robotic glove could assist people with mobility impairments, as well as how the goal to create real-world applications drives his research approach.

The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds, with a focus on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. Their work is disruptive not only in terms of science but also in how they stretch the usual boundaries of academia.


– See more at:



Radhika Nagpal’s interview transcript

Free Forum Q&A – LESTER BROWN, Founder of Worldwatch and Earth Policy Institute author of PLAN B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

Written on July 9th, 2015

LB-Plan B4.0



Originally Aired October 2009

We are in a race between tipping points in natural and political systems.
Which will come first? Can we mobilize the political will to phase out coal-fired power plants before the melting of the Greenland ice sheet becomes irreversible? Can we halt deforestation in the Amazon basin before the forest becomes vulnerable to fire and is destroyed? Can we cut carbon emissions fast enough to save the Himalayan glaciers that feed the major rivers of Asia? Can we win this race?
LESTER BROWN thinks we can…

In his book, PLAN B 4.0: MOBILIZING TO SAVE CIVILIZATION, BROWN lays out the symptoms, the diagnosis, and the cure. He estimates that we could solve all the world’s greatest problems for $200B a year – less than half the US defense budget.

PLAN B 4.0 is a comprehensive plan for reversing the trends that are undermining our future. Its four overriding goals are to stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth’s damaged ecosystems. Failure to reach any one of these goals will likely mean failure to reach the others as well.It’s time for Plan B: an all-out response at wartime speed proportionate to the magnitude of the threats facing civilization.

Free Forum Q&A – TEMPLE GRANDIN, one of the most accomplished adults with autism, designer of livestock handling facilities, author, ANIMALS MAKE US HUMAN & (2) WALTER ISAACSON, head of the Aspen Institute, author, EINSTEIN: HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE

Written on April 9th, 2015





TEMPLE GRANDIN – Originally aired January 2010
WALTER ISAACSON – Originally aired May 2007

Two extraordinary minds: Interviews about a couple of individuals who, though slow learners as children, grew up to do amazing things.
In the first half, I’ll talk with Temple Grandin, PhD, probably the most accomplished adult with autism in the world. Now a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and a designer of livestock handling facilities, Grandin, who didn’t speak until she was three and a half years old, has become a prominent author, speaker and advocate on the issues of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The 2010 HBO film based on her life won seven Emmys, including Outstanding Movie Made for Television, Outstanding Directing – Mick Jackson, and Outstanding Actress – Clare Danes.
In the second half, my guest will be WALTER ISAACSON, former managing editor of TIME magazine and Chairman of CNN, current head of the Aspen Institute, and the author of several bestselling books, including his biography of Steve Jobs. We’ll talk about his biography, EINSTEIN: His Life and Universe.

Einstein discovered, merely by thinking about it, that the universe was not as it seemed. His contributions changed the way we conceive of reality. A new biography makes the point that his scientific imagination sprang from his rebellious questioning of authority – a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom. In addition to his scientific genius, he was also noted for his social conscience Besides campaigning for a ban on nuclear weaponry, he denounced McCarthyism and pleaded for an end to bigotry and racism.




Written on December 25th, 2014

Aired: 12/23/12

Recorded: 10/17/12

When gas prices were at or near record highs a few months ago in the US, that got people’s attention. What about food prices? Have you noticed them rising? Are you making different choices in the supermarket? If not, it might be because of two things.
One, in America so much of our food is processed, packaged and marketed, that raw commodity prices make up only a fraction of the price of the food we buy. In other countries, especially the less developed ones, an increase in the price of rice or corn can have a major effect on how much a family can afford to eat. Two, Americans spend only 9% percent of their income on food, while millions around the world spend 50-70%. Millions of households now routinely schedule foodless days each week-days when they will not eat at all. A recent survey by Save the Children shows that 14% of families in Peru now have foodless days. India, 24%. Nigeria, 27%.

In his newest book, FULL PLANET, EMPTY PLATES, LESTER BROWN writes,
“The U.S. Great Drought of 2012 has raised corn prices to the highest level in history. The world price of food, which has already doubled over the last decade, is slated to climb higher, ushering in a new wave of food unrest. This year’s corn crop shortfall will accelerate the transition from the era of abundance and surpluses to an era of chronic scarcity. As food prices climb, the worldwide competition for control of land and water is intensifying. In this new world, access to food is replacing access to oil as an overriding concern of governments. Food is the new oil, land is the new gold. Welcome to the new geopolitics of food.”






Written on October 2nd, 2014


Aired: 9/8/13
Originally Aired: 12/30/12

Where do you think the most important changes need to take place to turn things around in terms of big issues like the economy, the environment, and social justice?

Some might say climate change is the critical global issue so it must be clean energy. Others might say nothing will make as much difference for the world’s people as educating and empowering girls and women. Closer to home, a case can be made that public financing of political campaigns would have the most impact on all such issues by making it possible for the power of the United States to become a greater force for good.

All good answers, but this week’s guest gives another answer – and its one that I share. Frances Moore Lappe, who has herself been a force for good at least since the publication of the phenomenal best-seller Diet for a Small Planet in 1971, says that the greatest impact would follow from changing our minds.
In her 18th book, ECOMIND: CHANGING THE WAY WE THINK, TO CREATE THE WORLD WE WANT, Lappé argues that much of what is wrong with the world, from eroding soil to eroding democracies, results from ways of thinking that are out of sync with human nature and nature’s rhythms. Humans are doers, she says. But our capacity for doing is undermined by seven “thought traps” that leave us mired in fear, guilt, and despair — none of which are motivators to action.

Drawing on the latest research in climate studies, anthropology, and neuroscience, she weaves her analysis together with stories of real people the world over, who, having shifted some basic thought patterns, now shift the balance of power in our world. Chapter-by-chapter, Lappé takes us from “thought trap” to “thought leap,” and with each shift, challenges become opportunities.