207: Carl Zimmer | Science Writing, Evolution Through Time, And His “What Is Life” Podcast

Prolific science writing in the topics of evolution, parasites, and the brain is the domain of author and New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer, who joins us on episode 207 of the show.

Carl Zimmer reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. Since 2004 he has written about science for the New York Times, where his column “Matter” has appeared weekly since 2013. He is a popular speaker at universities, medical schools, museums, and festivals, and he is also a frequent on radio programs such as Radiolab and This American Life.

Zimmer’s career began at Discover, where he went on to serve for five years as a senior editor. In addition to his work for the New York Times, he has written  articles for magazines including National Geographic, Wired, and The Atlantic. Zimmer is the author of thirteen books about science. His latest is She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Power, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • Carl’s career and what led up to his current position as author and writer
  • his new podcast titled “What Is Life?”, involving numerous scientists and individuals with perspectives on the matter
  • specific episode topics and guests which were part of the set
  • how physicist/astrobiologist Sara Walker from ASU said we should think that aliens may not introduce themselves so we need to understand how to reach out
  • Professor Jim Cleaves point that there were not big efforts to find the origin of life 200 years ago
  • Jeremy England of physics at MIT, and his view of life as a way to dissipate energy, related to entropy theory
  • Steven Benner, scientist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, and his view that life wouldn’t need to be RNA, DNA, or carbon-based like we are
  • Kate Adamala, chemist at University of Minnesota, and her interest in building a synthetic cell at her protobiology lab
  • how Carl formulated his book She Has Her Mother’s Laugh
  • Carl’s experience writing a column for The New York Times
  • why risk-taking is necessary to not remain at a plateau point

I was glad to have Carl on the show. You can check him out on Twitter @carlzimmer, take a look at his new podcast What Is Life?, or check out his book She Has Her Mother’s Laugh on Amazon.