Brown-eyed person with glasses wearing a blue plaid suit. A scientist operating a machine to obtain a small sample of einsteinium. Water droplets. Colorful scientific image Orange droplet of water and rippling pool. Ocean waves and blue sky. Artist’s illustration of hydrodynamical behavior from an interacting ensemble of quantum spin defects in diamond. People looking at scientific instrumentation in a lab. Scientific figure. Abstract collage of code overlaid on data centers. CAMERA scientific figure.

Polly Arnold, a person with short brown hair wearing glasses and a purple collared top, photographed in a lab.

Polly Arnold is the director of Berkeley Lab's Chemical Sciences Division and a faculty professor in UC Berkeley's Chemistry department. Her research is focused on exploratory synthetic chemistry of heavy elements, the f-block of the periodic table, and the development of homogeneous catalysis using the earth-abundant rare earths.

Ting Xu, a person with medium-length black hair wearing a dark top with a colorful scarf, photographed in the Hearst Memorial Mining Building.

Ting Xu is a faculty senior scientist and professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley. Her lab is designing, characterizing, and understanding complex systems of synthetic polymers, nanoparticles, and biomolecules to develop new functional materials that exhibit novel electronic, photonic, and biological properties.

Brett Helms, a person with short gray hair and a beard wearing a dark colored blazer over a dark collared shirt, photographed outdoors, with a view of the Bay Area.

Brett Helms is a staff scientist in the Molecular Foundry's Organic and Macromolecular Synthesis facility. His research focuses on designing and applying organic and polymeric materials to solve problems in energy and sustainability, including next-generation batteries, membrane separations, and more recyclable polymers for the circular economy.

A black and white microscopy image of the material; it looks like zoomed in scratches on a hard surface on the left, then the same image in vivid multicolor on the right. Person with short dark hair wearing a blue collared shirt outdoors.

Scientists have measured the highest toughness ever recorded, of any material, while investigating a metallic alloy made of chromium, cobalt, and nickel (CrCoNi). Not only is the metal extremely ductile – which, in materials science, means highly malleable – and impressively strong (meaning it resists permanent deformation), its strength and ductility improve as it gets colder. This runs counter to most other materials in existence.

Berkeley Lab researcher Natalia Molchanova is working on advancing low-cost biotech solutions through synthetic protein molecules called peptoids at the Molecular Foundry.

This episode features three scientists working to manage the planet’s plastic addiction by developing smarter materials that avoid the pitfalls of 20th century plastics. We talk about the challenges of the current recycling and composting systems, philosophies of materials design, why trying to recycle some things is just “wishcycling,” and why we can allow ourselves to feel a little optimism — even though the news paints a pretty bleak picture sometimes.

Collage of two pictures showing 2D material behavior side by side. (Left) Above an onset temperature, a 2D material exhibits normal liquid behavior with all particles similarly mobile (yellow). (Right) Below that temperature, it becomes supercooled, with the onset of rigidity leading to just some mobile particles (yellow) amongst solid-like ‘frozen’ regions (blue). Enrico Ridente (left) and Eric Haugen at Berkeley Lab. A staff scientist is photographed at his desk. Next to him is a laptop displaying computer simulations. Close up of blue and gold microchip. Photo of gloved handed holding a slim pen-sized flashlight over a quantum fridge. Colorful, abstract nebulous image.