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There are 20 quadrillion ants on earth. How do we make sense of a number like that?

Anadolu Agency
A view of "In America: Remember", public art installation commemorating Americans who died of COVID-19, in Washington DC, United States on September 24, 2021. An art installation of more than 640,000 white flags were placed over 20 acres of the National Mall.

We recently heard that scientists are estimating that there are 20 quadrillion ants on earth. Which made us wonder: how do we make sense of a number like that? This hour is all about how we relate to unimaginable numbers, both large and small. And, why our inability to conceptualize large numbers can have a real-world impact during times like a pandemic.


  • Shabnam Mousavi: Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and a Senior Scientist at the Center for Artificial Intelligence
  • Sabine Nooten: Insect Ecologist, and a Temporary Principal Investigator at the University of Würzburg
  • Elizabeth Toomarian: The Director of the Brainwave Learning Center at Synapse School, and an Educational Neuroscience Researcher at Stanford University 
  • Edward Tufte: Wrote, designed, and self-published five books on information design and data visualization. He also designed and built Hopgen Hill Farms, a sculpture farm, in Woodbury, Connecticut. He was a Professor at Princeton and Yale for 32 years

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The Colin McEnroe Show is available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe and never miss an episode!

Colin McEnroe and Cat Pastor contributed to this show.

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Lily is the senior producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show'. She first worked at Connecticut Public as an intern, in 2014. She has previously worked for WBUR, KUNC, and as a producer for the New England News Collaborative's weekly show 'Next.'
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