Season One

Episode 16: Engineering the Future: Boston's Big Dig

Boston’s Big Dig was one of largest engineering projects in history. It created a massive system of tunnels where an elevated highway once stood in the heart of the city, and added a new tunnel to Logan Airport to the east and a stunning new bridge to Charlestown to the north. It completely transformed the City of Boston and made it more walkable and livable. On this episode of What’s New, hear the story of how a giant engineering project like the Big Dig came together and listen to a rare interview with Fred Salvucci, the transportation engineer who made it happen.

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Explore more about Fred and The Big Dig in this oral history from Northeastern's Archives

Episode 15: Addressing Neglected Diseases

In the United States we are familiar with common illnesses like the cold and flu, but we only hear about many diseases from beyond our shores, like the Ebola virus, when a case unexpectedly appears here. How can we create drugs to cure these illnesses, which often affect the poorest countries first, when there is little economic incentive for drug companies to treat them? And what will happen when a disease like Ebola suddenly becomes common here too? In this episode, Mike Pollastri helps us understand how to address these neglected diseases in Episode 15. Pollastri is a Professor and Chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology department in the College of Science at Northeastern University. He is also the director of the Laboratory for Neglected Disease Drug Discovery;.

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Episode 14: Privacy in the Facebook Age


Recently 50 million Facebook users had their personal information extracted and used for political and commercial purposes. In the wake of this scandal, we’ve all become much more aware of how our use of social media clashes with our desire for privacy. Are technical fixes and awareness enough, or is it time for Facebook and other online services to be regulated? Our guest Woodrow Hartzog is a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University and discusses the battle and future of our personal information. He has a new book out from Harvard University Press entitled Privacy’s Blueprint: The Battle to Control the Design of New Technologies.

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Episode 13: The Evolution of Cities

80% of Americans now live in cities, which are areas of profound change, as well as great tension. How do cities change over time? How does planning, community input, social justice, and activism affect that change? On this episode, we’re joined by Ted Landsmark, who will be discussing the collision of people, transportation, and buildings in the evolution of cities. Ted is a distinguished professor and director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities here at Northeastern University. Ted has had a storied career as an educator, activist, and leader.

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Episode 12: Fractivism

In the last twenty years, hydraulic fracking has transformed energy production across the United States and has made America the world's largest producer of natural gas. Now a presence in 32 states, fracking also has registered thousands of environmental and health complaints, making it as controversial as it is transformative. How can people and communities understand what is going on a mile beneath their feet, with so many effects above ground? Joining us in Episode 12 is Sara Wylie, who is an assistant professor of Sociology and Anthropology, as well as Health Sciences, as part of Northeastern's Social Science and Environmental Health Research Institute. Her new book, just published, is entitled Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds explores the effects of fracking above and below the ground.

Explore Public Lab, a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns. Using inexpensive DIY techniques, we seek to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

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Episode photo by Daniel Foster:

Episode 11: The Future of Energy

We use energy drawn from sources largely beyond our view, and the massive energy industry has had a similarly massive impact on our economy and the environment. But the twenty-first century has seen the rise of new forms of green energy that are upending the energy business and giving us the chance to develop a more just system. What will tomorrow’s energy system look like, and how can we shape it? This episode features Shalanda Baker, Professor of Law, Public Policy and Urban Affairs in the Law School at Northeastern University, who not only studies the energy industry and its finance and regulations, but has lived in and done field work in communities impacted by the energy industry.

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Episode 10: Designing for Diversity

Inside all computers are ones and zeros, a binary world that excels in calculation and speed, but has difficulty with nuance, uncertainty, and complexity. And too often, we humans use these binary machines in black and white ways. How can we account for the great diversity of our society in the digital realm? Julia Flanders, director of the Digital Scholarship Group in the library and Professor of the Practice in the English Department and Amanda Rust, Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship Group and a Digital Humanities Librarian explain how to design digital systems to be more attentive to the true diversity of humanity.

More information about the Colored Conventions Project Transcribathon.

More information about Design for Diversity and The Women Writers Project.

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Episode 9: The Hidden Universe of Comics

Comics are often viewed as a lesser form of storytelling, colored as they are by the superhero movies that fill multiplexes in the summer. But in the unique way they combine hand-drawn images with equally flexible lettering, comics can also convey profound expressions of humanity. Joining us in Episode 9 is Hillary Chute, Professor of English and Art & Design at Northeastern University and author multiple books, her most recent being Why Comics?

You can purchase Why Comics from Harper Collins.

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Episode 8: The Algorithms That Shape Our Lives

The digital tools that we use to communicate with each other, shop and travel collect enormous amounts of data about our opinions, moods, preferences, and desires. In turn, these services, like Facebook, Amazon, and Uber, use algorithms on that mass of data to predict what we will want to see and do and buy. How can we understand those algorithms, hidden behind the walls of these internet giants? Joining us for Episode 8 is Alan Mislove, an Associate Professor in the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University, who has used clever methods to analyze how the big internet companies work.

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Episode 7: Tracking the Invisible Infrastructure of Our Cities

Every day we see the buildings and roads and people that make up our city. But just beneath the surface is another realm which is just as important: the pathways and systems that take away our trash, recycle our devices and keep our modern life functioning. If we could trace those systems, what would we find, and what would it tell us about our society? In Episode 7, we’re joined in this episode by Dietmar Offenhuber, who has a provocative new book out entitled Waste Is Information. Dietmar is also an Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in the departments of Art + Design and Public Policy and leads the Information Design and Visualization graduate program.

You can purchase Waste is Information from MIT Press

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Episode 6: The Secrets of Hollywood Storytelling

For over a hundred years, movies have been synonymous with entertainment. But outside of the film industry, few people really understand how they are made, and especially how the best movies engross us through careful attention to good storytelling, encoded in dialogue and images, and, less obviously, sound. Joining us in Episode Six is Bobette Buster, a screenwriter and film producer who has also worked as a story consultant with major studios such as Disney, Pixar, and Sony. Bobette has just been appointed Professor of the Practice of Digital Storytelling at Northeastern.  The image for this episode is the recording Pooh-the-bear who loved bread soaked in milk and would vocalize mightily when presented with it. Voila! The voice of Chewbacca was born. To learn more about Chewbacca’s voice and other movie sound design, check out Bobette’s feature-length documentary,  Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound.

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Episode 5: Inventing Writing


The Cherokee language was one of hundreds of indigenous languages in America prior to the arrival of Europeans. It is also one of the few languages that has made the transition from a completely oral tradition to a specific written form, through the use of an entirely new set of characters created by one citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Ellen Cushman joins us in Episode 5, who is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Diversity, and Inclusion in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities here at Northeastern. She is also the Dean’s Professor of Civic Sustainability and Professor of English, and a Cherokee Nation citizen.

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Episode 4: Enabling Engineering


Modern lives are filled with devices and environments that assume we have all of our senses and full mobility. But for hundreds of millions of people, this is a poor assumption. Globally, a quarter of a billion people have some impairment of their vision, and hundreds of millions more have trouble navigating spaces in ways the rest of us take for granted. How do we design for that large part of the population with varying abilities? Featuring Waleed Meleis, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University. Waleed also leads the Enabling Engineering group on campus, which designs and builds low-cost devices for those with physical and cognitive disabilities.

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Episode 3: The Steamship Revolution


Imagine if cars could suddenly go four times as fast, allowing you to drive from New York to Los Angeles in just a day. And imagine that trucks carrying goods could also speed at 300 miles an hour. How would our world change, how would it shift how we lived and worked, what we bought and consumed? Two centuries ago this kind of radical transformation occurred on the high seas. This episode features Dr. Bill Fowler, Honorary Professor of History at Northeastern University and author of Steam Titans.

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Steam Titans is published by Bloomsbury Press

Episode 2: Fake News and the Next Generation

It's been a decade since the rise of Facebook and Twitter began to replace our shared news consciousness with personalized social media. Today’s college freshmen were just eight when the iPhone was released, destined to become a constant companion with these new sources of information. What is next generation's view of the news like? How good are they at separating fact from fiction? This episode features John Wihbey, Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Northeastern and Alison Head, Project Information Literacy's Executive Director and Lead Researcher.

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Episode 1: How We Respond to Disaster

How do people and cities respond during and after major disasters such as terrorist attacks or the destructive hurricanes so many communities have recently endured? Stephen Flynn, Professor of Political Science and the Founding Director of the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University, talks about what happens during the worst of times, and how the best of humanity sometimes emerges in the most stressful moments.

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