American Innovations

46 EpisodesProduced by Wondery

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

46 Episodes | 2018 - 2019

Introducing American Innovations | 1

April 26th, 2018

2:08

The leaps of mankind, as they happened.

Premieres May 10.

DNA | Lost Pioneers | 1

May 10th, 2018

42:55

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 …

DNA | Civil War | 2

May 10th, 2018

45:10

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 …

DNA | The Stuff of Life | 3

May 10th, 2018

43:22

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, …

DNA | The Race for the Genome | 4

May 17th, 2018

45:27

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 …

DNA | Testing Times | 5

May 24th, 2018

38:39

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 …

DNA | Return of the Mammoths | 6

May 31st, 2018

46:25

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 …

DNA | Interview with Britt Wray | 7

June 7th, 2018

42:56

Nuclear Energy | E = MC Squared | 1

June 14th, 2018

47:14

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

37:53

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

41:07

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

41:21

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

40:06

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

41:48

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

40:37

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 …

The Future Of | Food | 1

August 2nd, 2018

43:11

We’ve spent a lot of time traveling through history on this show, from Gregor Mendel and the early days of genetic research to the Manhattan Projects and the race to unlock the secrets of the atom.

But what about the …

The Future Of | Health | 2

August 9th, 2018

48:18

For nearly two decades, Dr. Joon Yun has been chasing the idea of curing the most pressing disease of our time: old age. In our arc on the history of …

The Future Of | Commerce | 3

August 16th, 2018

33:34

You’ve probably heard a lot about Bitcoin by now. Cryptocurrencies are shaking up the global finance industry. Some even say this form of commerce will be more disruptive than the creation of the internet itself. To …

The Future Of | Predicting the Future | 4

August 23rd, 2018

54:31

Today is the last episode in our interview series on the future. Next week, we’ll be back with a new narrative arc on the fascinating history of artificial intelligence.

But before we get to A.I. and the future that IT …

Thinking Machines| Artificial Intelligence | 1

August 30th, 2018

41:39

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

40:15

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

39:20

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

40:56

Thinking Machines | Passing For Human | 5

September 27th, 2018

45:33

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

48:32

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

Polio Vaccine | Marching Towards a Cure | 1

October 11th, 2018

36:29

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 …

Polio Vaccine | Can You Patent The Sun? | 2

October 18th, 2018

46:04

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

Polio Vaccine | The Fight Goes On | 3

October 25th, 2018

40:16

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 …

Polio Vaccine | And Stay Out! | 4

November 1st, 2018

46:18

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 …

Anesthesia | The Frolic | 1

November 8th, 2018

33:57

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 …

Anesthesia | The Swindle | 2

November 15th, 2018

39:58

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

Anesthesia | Ether Dreams | 3

November 22nd, 2018

42:54

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

50:14

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

42:23

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

48:33

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

36:05

2018's Best and Worst Tech Moments | 4

December 27th, 2018

50:39

Bill Nye Wants to Save the World | 5

January 17th, 2019

47:14

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 | Bouncing Ideas | 1

January 24th, 2019

36:55

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 | Things Heat Up | 2

January 31st, 2019

37:24

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 | Trials and Tribulations | 3

February 7th, 2019

36:43

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

47:20

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

43:00

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

42:10

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

40:33

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

39:59

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 …

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