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  • Rick Ruiz is a pilot for Atlas Air where he flies various versions of the Boeing 747 freighter. Previously he flew the 767 and the 777 for LAN Chile, primarily cargo as well. Rick is also a crew member of the Airline Pilot Guy podcast, where he is known as Miami Rick. In this episode, we stroll through the woods around Landstuhl, Germany, where I visited Rick while he was on a layover. We geek out about flying the Big Boeings.
  • Last fall I visited ESTEC, ESA's space research and technology center. In this first of three episodes, I talk with Maria Hernek, who heads the Flight Software Systems section. We talk about the challenges of space flight software, the development processes used by ESA and its vendors, as well as means of ensuring the required quality attributes. This episode can be seen as a continuation of the conversation with Andreas Wortmann in the OHB episode.
  • Late 2016, during a trip to the Netherlands, I visted Rutger Vlek of River Creative Technology in his home studio to record an episode about synthesizers. We talked about the basics of sound generation, various enveloping and filtering techniques, sound design, the different fundamental approaches of sound synthesis, as well as a couple of classic synths. Rutger illustrated lots of approaches with samples from some of his many synthesizers.
  • In October 2015, Joseph Tainter was my guest in omega tau 184 to discuss his concept of increasing complexity and eventual collapse of societies. In this episode, our guest Paul Arbair discusses these concepts in the light of today's rising populism in several countries. The episode is based on two articles Paul wrote on his blog: one on Brexit and one on Trump.
  • David Woods has a new book out, so of course he has to talk about it on omega tau :-) His recent book is about the Saturn V launch vehicle, i.e., this time it is about the rocket, not about the spaceship. In this episode we dive into lots of details that we did not cover in the two Apollo episodes (episodes 83 and 97) -- make sure you have listened to those before you listen to this one.
  • During my visit to ESA's ESTEC last fall, I talked to Jose Gonzalez del Amo, who is the head of the Electric Propulsion Lab. We discussed the basics of electric propulsion, the pros and cons compared to chemical engines, different engine styles and their use cases, as well as the work ESA performs in the lab.
  • This is the last episode recorded during my visit to ESA's ESTEC last fall. I get a tour of the Test Centre with the head of the section, Mark Wagner. We discuss the various test stands and facilities, including the thermal vacuum facility, the large space simulator, the thermal vacuum chamber, the vibration facilities, electromagnetic testing and acoustic testing.
  • The increasing complexity of software requires increasingly sophisticated means of ensuring its correctness -- "just" testing is not necessarily good enough, depending on the domain in which the software is used. Formal specification, verification and proof is a field with a long tradition in computer science that is gaining more (practical) relevance these days; and in this episode, we cover the basics. Our guest is Benjamin Pierce, professor of computer science at UPenn. We discuss the nature of (good) specifications, how verification and proof is different from testing, and where and how these techniques are successfully used today.
  • During my visit to DLR's Earth Observation Center earlier this year I also talked to Dana Floricioiu about her work in glaciology. We discuss a couple of her recent publications, and then focus on her trip to the Darwin Glacier in Antarctica. Together with a team of fellow scientists, she camped on the glacier for three weeks to conduct various in-situ experiments. We discussed the work, but also life on the glacier.
  • Dr. Douglas Hofmann works as a scientist in the Metallurgy Lab at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I visited Doug during my US trip earlier this year, and we chatted about metallic glass. In particular, we discussed its properties, how to create it in bulk, how to test its properties, as well as how and why it is interesting for use in space.
  • In this episode we look back at (aspects of) the North American Air Defense system in the cold war. In particular, we look at the distant early warning line(s), the F-106 interceptor and the SAGE computer system. For DEW, we talk with Mike Milinkovich and Brian Jeffrey who have both worked on the DEW line; Brian also maintains a great website on DEW. For the F-106, we talk with Richard Embry who has flown the interceptor. And for SAGE, we speak with Bernd Ulmann, who has written a very detailed book on SAGE's underlying AN/FSQ-7 computer system. Bernd has also been a previous guest on Episode 159 on analog computers.
  • During my trip to the US I also visited the Basic Plasma Science Facility at the UCLA in Los Angeles. I talked with the two professors who run the facility, Walter Gekelman and Troy Carter. We discuss the basics of plasma, the research questions of plasma physics and some of the experimental challenges. I also get (and report on) a tour through the facility, which was very impressive, mainly because the whole system was built by the team around Walter and Troy!
  • As part of my US trip 2017 I visited Nellis AFB, where LtCol Jan Stahl flies the F-16 for the 64th Aggressor Squadron. We spent a day around, in and under the F-16. The episode contains five parts. A brief introduction to the F-16 and its development, a discussion about flying it, a walkaround, a look at all the knobs, switches and displays in the cockpit as well as a detailed discussion on the HOTAS system that forms the backbone of the pilot's interaction with the avionics.
  • On the second day of my visit to Nellis AFB we covered the Red Flag, an advanced aerial combat training exercise hosted at multiple times per year at Nellis. We started out with a general overview with Jan Stahl; we also covered the role of the aggressors. I then talked with John Traylor who works as a ground intercept controller for the aggressors. Next is a conversation with Graham Johnson about Red Flag from the perspective of a blue force participant; he flies an F-15C out of Lakenheath. We conclude the episode with a look at the historical context that lead to Red Flag, again with Jan.
  • In late March 2017 I was participating in the media day of the European Air Refuelling Training Exercise, organized by the European Air Transport Command headquartered in Eindhoven. While the planned flight on the Dutch KDC-10 did not work our for technical reasons, I recorded a follow-up interview with tanker captain Martin and boom operator Louis. We discussed a number of details around air-to-air refuelling in general and the KDC-10 in particular. The episode begins with an overview of aerial refuelling that I recorded myself.
  • As part of my trip to the US earlier this year I visited NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. I conducted six interviews over two days, the ones concerning subscale research (i.e., on model airplanes) are in this episode. We start with a conversation about flying wings in general and Prandtl-D in particular with Armstrong's Chief Scientist Al Bowers. Next, we chat about flutter research and the X-56 with project lead Cheng Moua. Finally, we talk to Matt Moholt about his project, the Spanwise Adaptive Wing project.
  • As part of my trip to the US earlier this year I visited NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. I conducted six interviews over two days, those concerning full scale ("real") aircraft are in this episode. We start out with Kevin Weinert, with whom we talk about the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge project, essentially a flap made of flexible materials to save fuel and reduce noise. Next up is Jim Less, one of NASA's F-15 and F-18 pilots; we chat about his flying and various research projects where the jets are utilized (you can see this part as a continuation of Episode 73, where we chatted with Dick Ewers). Finally, we talk about flying the MQ-9 and RQ-4 unmanned aerial vehicles with the pilots Scott Howe and Hernan Posada.
  • In this episode we speak with David Baker, who wrote a fascinating book about spy satellites. We cover the political and military context that drove their development, their (known and suspected) capabilities, methods of recovering the images, as well as typical orbits and the sartellites' ability to change that orbit for quick repositioning.
  • Secondary surveillance radar (SSR) is the radar technology used in aviation to query transponders; it forms the backbone of today's air traffic control infrastructure. Our guest in this episode is Mike Sharples who has been part of the development of the technology and is intimately familiar with the details. We discuss the importance of SSR today, the details of the protocol, the difference between and evolution from Mode A/C to S as well as the relationship to ADS-B.
  • Quantum Systems designs, builds and sells unmanned air vehicles for professional use. Their particular specialty is VTOL designs, i.e., UAVs that take off and land vertically, but then switch to airplane mode for airplane-like speed and range. In this episode we chat with Quantum's CEO Florian Seibel about their primary drone, the Tron. We focus on the motivation for developing the aircraft, the use cases, as well as design decisions and technical aspects.
  • In this episode we chat about the science and engineering involved in nuclear weapons. Our guest is Alex Wellerstein of the Stevens Institute of Technology. We talk about atomic bombs as well as hydrogen bombs, how to refine the necessary fuels as well as a little bit of history.
  • This episode is a continuation of the two previous episodes (132, 133) with Davide on the Space Shuttle. Based on his new, second book we talk about the contributions the Space Shuttle made to space exploration in general. These include advances in space suits, the construction of the ISS, satellite servicing, its use as a science platform as well as military operations.
  • Conlangers are people who design human languages, either just for fun or for use in works of fiction, often TV series or movies. My guest, David Peterson, has designed several languages, including the the Dothraki language featured prominently in Game Of Thrones. In this episode we use Dothraki (and English, and a bit of German) to introduce the basics of linguistics, i.e., the science behind natural (and in this case, designed) languages. We also discuss a few specific of Dothraki, and how it gets used in Game Of Thrones.
  • In December 2017 I had the opportunity to spend a few days on board the Royal Navy's HMS Enterprise on her trip from Limassol, Cyprus to Valetta, Malta. HMS Enterprise is a survey ship, her primary task is to map the sea floor using sonar and feed the data into civilian and military maps. In this detailed episode, we chat about the ship, its mission, the survey equipment, the technical aspects of the propulsion and systems, plus about life on board a ship and nautical issues in general.
  • During our tour NorthWest 2017 I visited the drop tower at Uni Bremen's ZARM and talked with Martin Castillo, the head of material science at the facility. We discussed the basics of microgravity research, the technical aspects of the tower, how to set up experiments, and also about his particular work in material science.
  • The Perlan Project aims to fly gliders into the stratosphere by exploiting mountain waves in order to better understand those waves and to explore the edge of what gliders can do. In fact, last September, they broke the world altitude record for gliders. In this episode we chat about the project, the airplane and the flying with engineer Lars Bensch and pilot Jim Payne.
  • Superconductivity, the ability of a material to carry electrical current with zero resistance, is a surprising property of nature, which man has been able to exploit in many ways, in particular, for high-performance magnets. Those are used in magnetic resonance imagers, but also in colliders and fusion reactors. In this episode we discuss the basics of superconductivity and its uses with Pierre Bauer, a superconductor engineer at ITER.
  • Effects devices are essential for electric guitars and keyboards because they shape sound and make it interesting; many classic devices exist. However, those are rare and/or expensive, plus, even if they are not, carrying them around on a tour costs money. This is why these hardware devices are simulated in software, and distributed as plugins for audio software. Native Instruments is a manufacturer of such software analog effects packages. In this episode I chat with one of their engineers, Julian Parker, about how this software simulation of the electronic hardware is done.
  • In this episode I talk with NASA Armstrong's chief scientist Al Bowers about the research projects he has been involved in during his long career at NASA. We cover deep stall research with a Schweizer sailplane, high-alpha flight and thrust vectoring with the X-29, X-31 and F-18 HARV, aero-tow of fast jets with the F-106, supercritical wings with the F-8, as well as space related projects using the SR-71 and the X-30. This is one of my favourite episodes of all time, since it is a bit of trip down memory lane for me personally, and Al perfectly hits the sweet spot between recounting facts and telling anecdotes.
  • A few years ago, I interviewed Arjen Lucassen about his wonderful music and how he makes it; obviously, I am a big fan! Recently, his Ayreon universe was performed live on stage and I was blown away. I decided I had to talk the the guy behind the live shows, Joost van den Broek. Luckily he agreed. So I visited him in his studios and we talked about music production and arrangement in general, and specifically for the Ayreon live shows.
  • I chat with Daniel Geaslen about bush flying. His (at this time, former) job is to fly Kodiak turbo props for Mission Aviation Fellowship in Papua Indonesia, supplying remote villages. We cover the airplane, the missions, as well as the flying itself, with a particular focus on weather and challenging airfields.
  • CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences in bacteria and archaea that are a part of these organisms' cellular defense system. A recent discovery showed how this mechanism can be used to edit genes much more easily than legacy methods. In this episode I chat with Sam Sternberg about the naturally occuring CRISPR systems, how they work, and how CRISPR together with its associated enzymes can be used to cut, and subsequently, edit, DNA. We conclude the episode with an outlook on the potential use in medicine.
  • On October 20, the BepiColombo started its flight to Mercury on an Ariane 5 from Kourou. I was at the launch press event at ESOC in Darmstadt to follow the launch and to record a couple of interviews. The episode consists of three major parts. The first part is an interview with Pablo Munoz about mission analysis and flight dynamics. The second part looks at the science with Joe Zender, Roberto Peron, Ajako Matsuoka and Joana Oliveira. And part three are multiple short takes with Paolo Ferri, Andreas Rudolph and Fabian Luedicke recorded in the middle of the night at ESOC.
  • In mid-September I drove to Illesheim Army Airfield to meet with Caleb Marheine who flies the AH-64 Apache helicopter there. We talked about the helicopter's systems, the cockpit, aspects of flying it as well as some of the missions.
  • With power generation in the grid becoming more diverse and decentralized, energy storage is becoming more and more important. Eduard Heindl's gravity storage is an approach to storing electrical energy as potential energy by lifting huge masses cut out of the ground. While this sounds crazy, there are lots of reasons why this makes sense. In the episode we discuss then need, the general approach, the construction process and some of the engineering challenges. We also look at the innovation process, the path from the idea to something that is ready to be built.
  • Have you ever wondered how the processor in your phone or computer got so much more faster than what the increase in megahertz suggests? In this episode we talk with Lex Augusteijn about superscalar processors, pipelining, speculative execution, register renaming and the like. We also discuss concerns other than speed, in particular, energy efficiency.
  • Justin and Jason wrote a nice book on fusion called The Future of Fusion Energy, and this episode is based on this book. We start out by revisiting the breakthroughs that drove progress in fusion over the decades, including understanding stars, the tokamak, superconducting magnets, supercomputers and a number of specific aspects of plasma physics. We then look at the current state of fusion research as well as where it might go.
  • Throughout the cold war, and til today, the Cobra-codenamed ground, sea and air assets have been used by the US to monitor Soviet/Russian ICBM missile launches and warhead reentries. The air component consists of the RC-135 Cobra Ball/Eye aircraft. Flying from Shemya in the Aleutians they used cameras and other sensors. Our guest, Robert Hopkins has been flying the aircraft in the late 1980s. In this episode he tells us about the mission and the flying -- Shemya could be quite challenging.
  • In this episode I chat with Sean Brady about structural failures in civil engineering. We first discuss the technical and organzational causes for such failures. We then look at Sean's specialty, forensic engineering, which is about analyzing failures to determine the root cause. Sean also has his own podcast in which he delves into much more detail about engineering failures, not just in construction.
  • In our never-ending quest to understand fusion and its potential use in energy production, I visited the Wendelstein 7-X fusion experiment in Greifswald run by the Max-Planck-Institut fĂĽr Plasmaphysik. We started out with a visit to the experiment hall, while experimentalist Matthias Hirsch gave us an overview over the machine. Next we discussed theory and modeling with Ralf Kleiber. Finally, I returned to Matthias Hirsch, and we chatted about more experimental aspects of Wendelstein. It is probably best to listen to our previous fusion episodes (22, 157 and 304) before listening to this one.
  • Earlier this year I visited the London Air Ambulance, a charity organization that flies two MD-902 helicopters over the UK's capital. I chatted with their chief pilot Neil Jeffers about the flying and some of the medical aspects. My recorder then joined Neil on a short flight to their hangar at RAF Northolt. There, we met Adam Spink, a NATS air traffic controller at Heathrow, and the three of us chatted about the ATC perspective of flying helicopters (sometimes) in Heathrows's approach.
  • Socio-technical systems are systems where (groups of) humans interact with (non-trivial) technical systems; an example is the power grid. The people, the technical system and the combination might easily lead to complex behavior that is hard to predict and control over the long term. However, as illustrated by, for example, the need to transition our energy infrastructure to a more sustainable structure, it is necessary for society to "control" such systems. Igor Nikolic is a professor at the TU Delft where he uses agent-based modeling approach to try to understand, and thus help control and evolve such systems. We discuss the systems, the challenges as well as the modeling approaches.
  • In May I visited ALICE, one of the four large experiments at the LHC and talked with Despina Hatzifotiadou. We briefly discussed the science that ALICE is interested in, and then spent the majority of the time dissecting the detector to understand its components and how they detect the various products of particle collisions.
  • In June 2019 I had the pleasure and honor to fly in an F-16D with the USAF Thunderbirds. The episode covers the medical briefing about how to prevent motion sickness and how to deal with Gs, suiting up with flight suit, g-suit, harness, helmet and mask, the briefing with my pilot Maj. Jason Markzon, the flight itself with commentary, an interview about the Thunderbirds with Jason, as well as a reflection on what the flight meant to me, recorded together with Nora.
  • A few months ago, a collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope presented the first direct image of a black hole; or more specifically, of the radiation created by accelerated particles at its event horizon. The EHT is a Very Large Baseline Interferometer, in which radio telescopes all over the world are computationally connected to obtain resolutions that are not possible with one telescope. In the episode I chat with Heino Falcke, the chair of the EHT science committee, about the science, the telescope, what it took to get it going, and image reconstruction.
  • I am interested in societal change: how can a complex society with lots of emergent (perhaps unintended) behaviors make a conscious change, such as transitioning to a more sustainable economy? We discussed this from an engineering perspective in the episode on Modeling Socio-Technical Systems, and we've looked at it historically in the episode on Societal Complexity and Collapse. In this episode we look at the topic more from the perspective of civil society and politics. Our guest ist Maja Göpel; she heads the German government's Advisory Council on Global Change and has also written a book called The Great Mindshift on the topic.
  • In July I visited the NATS tower at Heathrow Airport to interview my guest Adam Spink. We chatted about some of the mechanics of air traffic control at Heathrow and the unique ways of optimizing throughput. A few days later we met again on the tower of Fairford during RIAT 2019 and chatted about the specifics of ATC'ing during an airshow.
  • Earlier this year I visited the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, a European organization that produces global weather forecasts and performs research on how to improve those. The episode has three parts. First, Hilda Carr gives us an overview of the organization, its purpose and its history. Then I talk with Peter Bauer about weather and climate modeling and about encoding these models efficiently in software programs that run on supercomputers. Part three is a conversation with Tony McNally about where the ECMWF gets its data and how it is continuously fed into the "running" model.
  • Marija Jovanovich is a pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force where she has been flying the P-3 Orion. We discuss the aircraft, the missions, and some anecdotes. Marija then also attended the USAF Experimental Test Pilot School, and we talk a bit about the experience of flying a wide range of different aircraft.
  • When I was in Bordeaux with the DLR to report about their science campaign in September, I also talked to the team from AirZeroG/Novespace about the technical and aviation aspects of parabolic flights. These interviews are in this episode. I chat with Jean-François Clervoy about the history of the company, with Eric Delesalle about piloting the parabolas, with HervĂ© Normand about the reasons for the potential sickness, and with Nicolas Barbotin about cabin safety. At the end of the episode I also provide some details about the technical problem that prevented parabolas during my own flight with the A-310 ZeroG.
  • An important consequence of the warming of the planet due to climate change is that the frequency and/or severity of extreme weather events will increase. But how can we tell whether a particular event can be attributed to the changing climate? Would it have happened in "normal" climate as well, and if so, how would the event have been different? This aspect of climate science is called attribution science, and the guest of this episode, Friederike Otto is a pioneer in the field.
  • The F-14 Tomcat is one of the most iconic fighters, certainly among its generation. In this episode we talk with Nick Pirnia about the aircraft's development and history as well as about flying it with former pilot Okie Nance. The aircraft is also available in the DCS flight simulator and the third part of this episode is a conversation with the development team from Heatblur about how to implement the F-14 in DCS; if you haven't yet, check out some of their videos, this thing looks unbelievably realistic!
  • Six years ago, in episode 150, Jochen Liske of ESO told us about the Extremely Large Telescope that is currently being built in Chile. This episode is a continuation (which is why this is a kind of bonus episode labelled as 150.5) in which Thomas Pfrommer tells us about how to control the optical path of this monster telescope: the 39 meter, 798-segment main mirror, plus the four additional mirrors involved in bringing the light to a stable and sharp focus. I recorded this episode mainly to fill in some "gaps" I needed for the book chapter on telescopes.
  • Over the last two years, Markus wrote a book about some of the repeated topic covered on omega tau: SOFIA, Enterprise, Aerospace, Gravitational Waves, Telescopes, Models and Particle Physics. The book, called Once You Start Asking is now available as an ebook, with the softcover edition forthcoming. In this episode, Nora and Markus discuss the book and its history.
  • A major component of particle accelerators like the LHC are the actual accelerators; the current approach relies on radio frequency cavities. However, their acceleration gradient, measured in Volts per meter, is limited. This means that future accelerators, especially linear ones, will become longer and longer to reach the desired energies. A new approach to particle acceleration relies on plasma wakefields, this technology can deliver orders of magnitude more acceleration per distance. AWAKE is a proof of concept experiment at CERN that uses proton beams to produce the wake field. In this episode we chat with Edda Gschwendtner, the leader of this project.
  • In light of the current situation, we have decided to record a couple of episodes that cover some of the relevant background in terms of biology, medicine and healthcare. In this first episode we discuss emergency care and intensive care with a special focus on ventilation. We discuss these topics in general, and also specifically to COVID-19. Our guest, Kimon and Junad, are both practicing doctors and have practical experience with these topics.
  • The Lockheed F-35 Lightning II is going to be more or less what the F-16 and F-18 are today: the backbone of the US and NATO land and sea-based air forces. It is a multi-role fighter, and one of its versions has the capability to take off with a very short roll and land vertically. Tucker "Cinco" Hamilton is a test pilot who has flown all three versions of the jet. In this episode we talk about flying this fifth-gen fighter and about some aspects of the testing program.
  • ATLAS is one of the two general-purpose experiments at the LHC. It has been conceived, designed, and built over decades by hundreds of scientists and engineers from dozens of countries and hundreds of organizations. My guest, Peter Jenni, has been the head of the ATLAS collaboration for most of this time. In this episode we talk about science and engineering, but mostly about organizational aspects and the "community management" necessary to get such a magnificent machine off the ground.
  • After understanding the history and development of ATLAS (and covering the LHC and particle physics in general) in previous episodes, we are now at the point where we can try to understand how a scientist uses the data produced by one of these large detectors and make sense of it. This is what we'll do in this episode with physicist (and listener) Philipp Windischhofer. If you want to learn even more, you can check out these links provided by Philipp or read the last chapter of the book :-)
  • To conclude our detailed look at the ATLAS experiment, this episode looks at the computing infrastructure. We start out with the trigger systems that decide, very quickly, whether the data from a particular collision is worth keeping. We then discuss the reconstruction of the event, the simulation needed to understand the background as well as the LHC Grid used distribute data and computation over the whole planet. Our guest is CERN'n Frank Berghaus.
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