The Night Science Podcast

Where do ideas come from? In each episode, scientists Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher explore science’s creative side with a leading colleague.

S1 E1: IIn this 5-minute trailer, your hosts Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher explain what the Night Science Podcast is all about: conversations with great scientists about the creativity in their scientific process.


S1 E2: In this first episode, your hosts Itai and Martin talk with Ellen Rothenberg, a Distinguished Professor of Biology at Caltech, who always wanted to be Beethoven when she grew up and who feels claustrophobic when doing something that other people are doing. Ellen is one of the leading scientists of our time, and her infectious energy and enthusiasm for science make her an amazing guest. Ellen loves to use metaphors and likes to imagine that she’s a transcription factor in a cell’s nucleus. She stresses how a detailed and explicit knowledge structure is crucial, so that you can recognize an interesting piece of data when it hits you. 

Ellen researches the molecular mechanisms responsible for the decisions made by stem cells as they develop into a type of immune cells. This is a complex process that offers unique insights into the nature of “stem cell-ness”. Ellen has won many awards, including the Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


S1 E3: In this episode, your hosts Itai and Martin talk with Tzachi Pilpel, Professor of Genome and Systems Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Tzachi eloquently describes his creative process, the role of language, the freedom of data analysis, the imagined channeling of other people’s minds for new ideas, and scientific fearlessness. 

Tzachi’s research focuses on complex networks within cells. His lab applies systems biology and genomics experimental strategies to the study of genetic circuits that process and transmit information in cells. A central goal in his lab is to define entire pathways through which proteins affect changes in gene expression. Among his many awards are an IBM Faculty Award, the Michael Bruno Memorial Award, the Hestrin Prize of the Israel Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Morris Levinson Prize in Biology, and the James Heineman Research Award. In 2011, Tzachi was elected a member of the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization.

S1 E4: In this episode, Itai and Martin talk with Arjun Raj, Professor of Genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. Arjun understands the functioning of biological cells using a bag of tricks that he carries from problem to problem; the art of science, he posits, lies in figuring out what tricks will tell you what answers to what problems. Arjun thinks that we are all born night scientists, and that it’s day science that needs to be learned. The ultimate goal of life as a scientist, he believes, is not so much writing papers, but building people. Arjun has received many prizes, including the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. His lab pioneered tools for studying biological processes using state of the art imaging and sequencing technologies. 

S1 E5: In this episode, Itai and Martin talk to Oded Rechavi, Professor of Radical Science at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Having watched Indiana Jones as a kid, Oded jumped on the opportunity to sequence the DNA of the skins on which the dead sea scrolls were written, figuring out how different fragments fit together. Inspired by Michael Crichton’s book Prey, he uses parasitic worms to deliver drugs into the brain. To add more creativity to a project, he always involves someone from a distant field. Listen to his podcast to hear why he thinks PhD training is the best time to do night science! Oded’s lab challenges basic dogmas regarding inheritance and evolution, using simple powerful genetic model organisms. In particular, his lab has shown that when challenged, worms synthesize small RNAs that they give to their progeny to regulate genes, resulting in heritable changes several generations down the road. Oded’s lab is also developing useful parasites, investigating the neuronal basis of rational decision-making, and tries to do as many crazy experiments as possible.