American Innovations

69 EpisodesProduced by WonderyWebsite

DNA science. Artificial intelligence. Smartphones and 3D printers. Science and technology have transformed the world we live in. But how did we get here? It wasn’t by accident. Well, sometimes it was. It was also the result of hard work, teamwork, and competition. And incredibly surprising moments.H… read more

69 Episodes | 2018 - 2019

Introducing American Innovations | 1

April 26th, 2018


The leaps of mankind, as they happened.

Premieres May 10.

Life’s Building Blocks | Lost Pioneers | 1

May 10th, 2018


In 2000, President Bill Clinton held a press conference to share a milestone for humanity. He said, “we will all see the unbelievable capacity to be …

Life’s Building Blocks| Civil War | 2

May 10th, 2018


When Gregor Mendel discovered genes, he had no idea that his discoveries with pea plants would outlive him. He was just an isolated monk playing in …

Life’s Building Blocks | Double Helix | 3

May 10th, 2018


From your high school science classes you may know the names Watson and Crick. If you took any more biology classes you may have heard of Wilkins, …

Life’s Building Blocks | The Race for the Genome | 4

May 17th, 2018


The path to understand genetics was rife squabbles and competition among scientists vying to discover genes, chromosomes, and the structure of DNA. The tussles had been going on for a century.

But the 1980s introduced an …

Life’s Building Blocks | Testing Times | 5

May 24th, 2018


Over the past 50 years, our understanding of DNA has grown exponentially. It took supercomputers working overtime to produce a single genomic map… and now all it takes is a spit sample that you drop in the mail. For …

Life’s Building Blocks | Return of the Mammoths | 6

May 31st, 2018


The human genome project finally allowed us to read the “Book of Life,” the genetic code of living things. But now there’s a tool - CRISPR - that …

Life’s Building Blocks | Interview with Britt Wray | 7

June 7th, 2018


To wrap up The Dynamo of DNA, we're talking to Britt Wray. You can follow her on Twitter, and visit her website for more. You can also pick up her …

Nuclear Energy | E = MC Squared | 1

June 14th, 2018


In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower went on national television introducing a new kind of power plant, one that will transform the world. Nuclear energy and the Atomic Age took America by storm, but this misunderstood …

Nuclear Energy | Bombs Come First | 2

June 21st, 2018


The Second World War energized research on atomic science and the United States was at the forefront. For one, it had the scientists. Second, the US government was willing to back the research. Third, we wanted the …

Nuclear Energy | Atoms For Peace | 3

June 28th, 2018


After the war, scientists who’d come to work at Los Alamos went their separate ways. They’d figured out how to destroy cities, but now they wanted to …

Nuclear Energy | Meltdown | 4

July 5th, 2018


The first serious accident from a nuclear reactor happened in the United States in 1960. It wouldn't be the last. And in the coming decades, a new …

Nuclear Energy | Backlash | 5

July 12th, 2018


Nuclear energy was once a promising endless, clean, safe energy source. By the late 1950s, that optimism was fading. That was partially over fear of nuclear weapons, but then there was the fallout. Radioactive fallout, …

Nuclear Energy | A Glowing Future | 6

July 19th, 2018


This series has taken us from Albert Einstein in the Swiss Patent office to the bombing of Japan, from the monster movies of the 1960s to nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. Nuclear energy fell rapidly out of …

Nuclear Energy | Interview with James Mahaffee | 7

July 26th, 2018


Nuclear Energy is a story that’s included a cursed plutonium core, runaway reactors, a magic neutron wand and Charlie Chaplin.

We've also heard about the missteps. Fake nuclear fusion plants and some overoptimistic …

Thinking Machines| Artificial Intelligence | 1

August 30th, 2018


Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. And it’s about to get much more powerful: machines that can reason, create, …

Thinking Machines| How Do You Make a Computer Blink | 2

September 6th, 2018


With six different kinds of pieces, 64 squares to move in, and billions of possible combinations of moves, chess is a good test for a computer. The number of distinct 40-move games is far greater than the number of …

Thinking Machines | Siri-ous Business | 3

September 13th, 2018


The development of smartphone Artificial Intelligence from early government research funding and the first experimental robot in Silicon Valley to the rise of the personal assistant known as Siri.

American Innovations is …

Thinking Machines | I Learn Therefore I Am | 4

September 20th, 2018


A leap in the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence causes concern about the dangers ahead.  

Written by Tom Simonite

American Innovations is presented by ZipRecruiter.

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Thinking Machines | Passing For Human | 5

September 27th, 2018


Can a computer pass for human? And more importantly, can a computer beat a human at Jeopardy? It’s all fun and games until we start putting life-changing decisions in the hands of machines.

Written by Steven Johnson

Thinking Machines | Garry Kasparov | 6

October 4th, 2018


An interview with the Grandmaster himself: Garry Kasparov. In 1985, he earned international fame when he became the youngest world chess champion at …

Preventing Paralysis | Marching Towards a Cure | 1

October 11th, 2018


By the middle of the last century Americans lived in fear of one disease: polio. The story of the polio vaccine is not just a scientific story- it’s …

Preventing Paralysis | Can You Patent The Sun? | 2

October 18th, 2018


Pressure mounts and so does the realization that the fight against polio will be a risky one with enormous consequences for failure. Vaccines contain …

Preventing Paralysis | The Fight Goes On | 3

October 25th, 2018


In 1955, the world received its first viable polio vaccine, courtesy of Jonas Salk. He was hailed as a hero until kids started to fall sick with …

Preventing Paralysis | And Stay Out! | 4

November 1st, 2018


The polio vaccine may have wiped out the disease in the United States, but the struggle to eradicate it continues around the world. Dr. Rosamund …

Conquering Pain | The Frolic | 1

November 8th, 2018


For decades, Americans resigned themselves to gritting their teeth through the agony of surgery. And then along came an eminent surgeon, a charming swindler and his hapless mark and changed everything.

Support this show …

Conquering Pain | The Swindle | 2

November 15th, 2018


After experimenting on himself, Horace Wells realized that laughing gas might help make surgeries less painful. But his search for a business partner …

Conquering Pain | Ether Dreams | 3

November 22nd, 2018


As Horace Wells’ life went from bad to worse, William Morton was handed a golden opportunity. At stake was scientific pride and a lot of money. But …

Interview | Stuff You Should Know | 4

November 29th, 2018


An interview with Josh Clark, co-host of the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast. Josh has a new show called “The End of the World with Josh Clark” that …

Virtual Reality I The Sword of Damocles | 1

December 6th, 2018


In the 1960s a group of scientists and engineers had a vision: that one day people could put on a pair of goggles and enter a whole new world.

Support …

Virtual Reality | Simulation Sickness | 2

December 13th, 2018


Atari has assembled the best of the best. They look ready to get VR off the ground but then the company they make a colossal mistake. The mistake’s …

Virtual Reality I VR Gets Luckey | 3

December 20th, 2018


VR is dead. Then along comes a teenager with a vision and a headset and changes everything.

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The Great Courses - Go to for a special FREE MONTH TRIAL to The …

2018's Best and Worst Tech Moments | 4

December 27th, 2018


Crypto woes, Facebook scandals, a Mars lander, and foldable phones. 2018 was a mixed bag for innovation. Journalists Devindra Hardawar, Engadget, and

Bill Nye Wants to Save the World | 5

January 17th, 2019


Bill Nye tell us how he became “The Science Guy,” why climate change is solvable, and what he thinks is the most important innovation of all time. …

Rubber: The Miracle Material | Bouncing Ideas | 1

January 24th, 2019


In a world where materials were limited to wood, leather, metal, and cloth, rubber was something new: a substance that was strong, soft, flexible, and waterproof—but completely undependable. Then along came a 33 …

Rubber: The Miracle Material | Things Heat Up | 2

January 31st, 2019


In 1839, Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered the key to rubber. Sulfur alone had proved too fragile, but when he combined it with heat? Durable, …

Rubber: The Miracle Material | Trials and Tribulations | 3

February 7th, 2019


Horace Day made a fortune off of the vulcanizing process Goodyear repeatedly went broke trying to develop. Now, with the help of the most famous …

Making Decisions with Malcolm Gladwell | 4

February 14th, 2019


Malcolm Gladwell joins Steven Johnson to talk about innovation, writing, and Steven’s latest book “Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter …

Coca-Cola | The Cocaine Clinician | 1

February 21st, 2019


In the wake of the Civil War, Atlanta emerged as both the cultural capital of the New South, and the epicenter of its snake oil trade. A …

Coca-Cola | The Perfect Package | 2

February 28th, 2019


Things are really picking up for Coca-Cola, thanks to its industrious new—and most importantly, sober—owner, Asa Candler. Over the past year, …

XX Factor | The Woman Who Put Man on the Moon | 1

March 14th, 2019


Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are preparing to land on the Moon. The whole world is watching live on television. But something is very …

XX Factor | Madam C.J. Walker | 2

March 21st, 2019


The first self-made female African American millionaire is how she’s known. But Madam C.J. Walker’s story is much more than a rags to riches tale of …

XX Factor | Margaret Knight | 3

March 28th, 2019


A machine to mass produce paper bags. Seems unremarkable today, but in the 1800s, it was cutting edge. The technology would change everyday life, and …

XX Factor | Hedy Lamarr | 4

April 4th, 2019


Glamour. Hollywood. Drama. Although she was known as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Actress Hedy Lamarr’s greatest life work was far from …

Jaron Lanier Wants You to Delete Social Media | 5

April 11th, 2019


Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. The past year has brought a backlash against these companies and others over data privacy and their treatment of speech. Tech visionary and critic Jaron Lanier discusses his take on social …

Airplane | The Flight of the June Bug | 1

April 18th, 2019


Think for a moment about some of the pioneering developments from the earliest days of American aviation: The first pilot’s licence; the first flight …

Airplane | Wrights and Wrongs | 2

April 25th, 2019


Glenn Curtiss may have mastered the technical aspects of the airplane, but in September of 1909, Curtiss found himself painfully ill-equipped to …

Airplane | Rewriting Aviation History | 3

May 2nd, 2019


In 1913, the young aviation industry was in trouble. The Wright brothers’ broad proprietary claim on airplane technology—and their willingness to sue …

Star Wars' Cinema Technology | 6842 Valjean Ave | 1

May 16th, 2019


When STAR WARS debuted in May 1977, it gave rise to a pop-cultural phenomenon unlike any the world had ever seen. The movie was so singular and …

Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Saga Continues | 2

May 23rd, 2019


With the success of STAR WARS, George Lucas finally had the independence and power to make movies exactly the way he wanted to make them—which was critical, because the sequels he planned were going to be even bigger …

Sneak Peek of Inside Star Wars

May 29th, 2019


In this bonus episode, Steven Johnson talks to Mark Ramsey (host of Inside Jaws, Inside Psycho) about his latest series, Inside Star Wars. If our series shines a light on the technical pioneers who transformed an …

Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Audience is Listening | 3

May 30th, 2019


By 1975, George Lucas knew exactly what he wanted Star Wars to look like, but what it would sound like was another story altogether. Lucas was tired …

Molly Wood: In A Changing Climate, How Can Tech Help Us Survive? | 4

June 6th, 2019


Molly Wood has spent two decades covering the tech industry. As the host of “Marketplace Tech,” she demystifies the digital economy and how the world …

The Birth Control Pill | But Can It Be Done? | 1

June 13th, 2019


When Margaret Sanger opened her birth control clinic in 1916, she knew she was breaking the law. Distributing contraceptives, or even literature …

Introducing 1865

June 18th, 2019


1865 starts with the moment Lincoln got shot and follows the journey of the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Stanton continues to push through …

The Birth Control Pill | A Matter of Money | 2

June 20th, 2019


In 1951, Dr. Gregory Pincus was on the verge of a breakthrough. He had successfully halted ovulation in rabbits and mice; now the project was finally …

The Birth Control Pill | Paradise and the Pill | 3

June 27th, 2019


Since its launch, the birth control project had faced one obstacle after another. And over the year and a half that they’d been working, they had …

Biologist Timothy Mousseau Can’t Stop Going Back To Chernobyl | 4

July 4th, 2019


Radioactive bugs, birds, and dogs: these are a few of biologist Timothy Mousseau’s favorite things. Though the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and …

Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Driven to Succeed | 1

July 25th, 2019


Normally on American Innovations, we look at the history of the science and technology that transformed the world we live in. These stories teach us …

Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Shifting Gears | 2

August 1st, 2019


The DeLorean was going to change the automotive industry. Designed to be fast, fuel-efficient, durable and affordable, it was going to be the first …

Introducing Sean Carroll's Mindscape

August 5th, 2019


How big is our galaxy? Why do certain movies make us cry? And what exactly is string theory? Join Sean Carroll's Mindscape to dive deep into the …

Author Jason Torchinsky Talks Our Autonomous Future | 3

August 8th, 2019


The first mass rollout of robots into mainstream life won’t be humanoid machines designed to clean our homes or mow our lawns. It will be our cars. …

The Heimlich Maneuver | 1

August 15th, 2019


In the 1960s, choking was a national epidemic. In the United States alone, close to 4,000 people were dying from choking every year.  Lobster, ham, …

Corn Flakes | The Brothers of Battle Creek | 1

August 22nd, 2019


For the first 150 years of American history, American citizens were plagued by gastrointestinal issues. Diarrhea, gastritis and dysentery were pretty much a way of life. Indigestion was such an immense problem, the poet …

Corn Flakes | Crunch Time | 2

August 29th, 2019


After missing the chance to buy the rights to Shredded Wheat, the Kellogg brothers are on a quest to make toasted wheat flakes the leader of the …

Corn Flakes | Kellogg vs Kellogg | 3

September 5th, 2019


Now that Will has officially left the San, it would seem his days of servitude and humiliation are finally over. But John has no intention of leaving …

Get Ready for College Football Season

September 6th, 2019


If you’re a fan of all the pageantry and excitement that college football brings, then The Solid Verbal is the podcast for you. Join hosts Dan …

Sex, Cereal, and Nut Milks - The Complicated Legacy of the Kelloggs | 4

September 12th, 2019


We conclude our series on Corn Flakes with Howard Markel author of "The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek." Markel joins us to talk about how he discovered the Kellogg's story and how their innovations …

Introducing The Lead: Your New Daily Sports Fix

September 16th, 2019


From Wondery and The Athletic, The Lead is the first daily sports podcast that will bring you one big story each day from The Athletic's all-star team of local and national sports reporters. Subscribe now to hear new …

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