Aug 19, 2022

9-Volt Nirvana

Learn a new language faster than ever! Leave doubt in the dust! Be a better sniper! Could you do all that and more with just a zap to the noggin? Maybe.

Back in the early 2010s, Sally Adee, then an editor at New Scientist Magazine, went to a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) conference and heard about a way to speed up learning with something called trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). A couple of years later, Sally found herself wielding an M4 assault rifle to pick off simulated enemy combatants with a battery wired to her temple. But that got then-producer Soren Wheeler thinking about this burgeoning world of electroceuticals, and if real, what limits will it reach.

For this episode, first aired back in 2014, we brought in Michael Weisend, then a neuroscientist at Wright State Research Institute, to tell us how it works (Bonus: you get to hear Jad get his brain zapped). And sat down with Peter Reiner and Nick Fitz, then at the University of British Columbia, to help us think through the consequences of a world where anyone with 20 dollars and access to a circuit board and a soldering iron, can make their own brain zapper. And then checked-in again to hear about the unexpected after-effects a day of super-charged sniper training can have on one mild-mannered science journalist.

Episode credits:

Reported by Sally Adee and Soren Wheeler
Original music by Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra

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Leadership support for Radiolab’s science programming is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation Initiative, and the John Templeton Foundation. Foundational support for Radiolab was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.


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