Science Friday

Science Friday

By Science Friday and WNYC Studios

Brain fun for curious people.

Episodes

Private Spacecraft Makes Historic Moon Landing | New Cloud Seeding Technique

Private Spacecraft Makes Historic Moon LandingThursday evening, the Odysseus moon lander successfully soft-landed on the moon, becoming the first U.S spacecraft to do so in over 50 years. The lander mission wasn’t created by NASA or another government space agency, but by the company Intuitive Machines, making it the first commercial mission to successfully soft-land on the surface of the moon. The mission was part of a NASA program called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which aims to make lunar missions faster and cheaper. There are other commercial moon missions planned for later this year. Umair Irfan, senior correspondent at Vox, joins guest host Sophie Bushwick for an update on the mission.They’ll also talk about other stories from the week in science, including the move by some automakers toward plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, work on freezing antimatter, a strange meat-rice hybrid, and progress towards a universal snake antivenom.A New Recipe For Cloud Seeding To Boost Snowfall In IdahoWe’re taught in school that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.“It usually happens like that in the lake or on the ground,” said Derek Blestrud, a Senior Atmospheric Scientist at Idaho Power.But the process differs in the sky, he said. Clouds contain supercool water that doesn’t turn to ice until it reaches about -40 degrees F. That is, unless some other substance initiates the freezing.“Water’s really dumb,” Blestrud likes to say. “It doesn’t know how to freeze unless something else teaches it how to freeze.”That’s where scientists like Blestrud step in. They help clouds produce more snow through cloud seeding, which involves releasing tiny particles that serve as nuclei for snowflakes to form.Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
23/02/24·18m 56s

Making Chemistry More Accessible To Blind And Low-Vision People

The field of chemistry is filled with visual experiences, from molecular diagrams to color-changing reactions to data displayed as peaks and waves on a spectrograph. Those experiences and representations are not very accessible to blind and low-vision people. In a recent article in the journal Science Advances, a group of researchers describes using 3D printing to create translucent raised images known as lithophanes that can represent high-resolution chemical data in a tactile and visual form simultaneously.Biochemist Dr. Bryan Shaw joins Ira Flatow to discuss the approach, and other techniques and tools his lab group at Baylor University is developing to make the lab more accessible to blind and low-vision researchers—from specialized devices that assist in the loading of gels for protein electrophoresis, to tiny molecular models that are best experienced by putting them on the tongue.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
22/02/24·16m 53s

Understanding And Curbing Generative AI’s Energy Consumption

The explosion of AI-powered chatbots and image generators, like ChatGPT and DALL-E, over the past two years is changing the way we interact with technology. Their impressive abilities to generate lifelike images from written instructions or write an essay on the topic of your choosing can seem a bit like magic.But that “magic” comes at a steep environmental cost, researchers are learning. The data centers used to power these models consume an enormous amount of not just electricity, but also fresh water to keep everything running smoothly. And the industry shows no signs of slowing down. It was reported earlier this month that Sam Altman, the CEO of leading AI company OpenAI, is seeking to raise about $7 trillion to reshape the global semiconductor industry for AI chip production.Ira Flatow is joined by Dr. Jesse Dodge, research scientist at the Allen Institute for AI, to talk about why these models use so much energy, why the placement of these data centers matter, and what regulations these companies could face.Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
21/02/24·17m 37s

Which Feathered Dinosaurs Could Fly? | Some French Cheeses At Risk Of Extinction

How Do You Know If A Feathered Dinosaur Could Fly?Not all birds can fly. Penguins, ostriches, and kiwis are some famous examples.It’s pretty easy to figure out if a living bird can fly. But it’s a bit tricker when it comes to extinct birds or bird ancestors, like dinosaurs. Remember, all birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs evolved into birds.Scientists at Chicago’s Field Museum wanted to figure out if there was a way to tell if a dinosaur could fly or not. They found that the number and symmetry of flight feathers are reliable indicators of whether a bird or dinosaur could lift off the ground.Ira talks with two of the study’s co-authors about their research and how it might help us understand how dinosaur flight evolved. Dr. Yosef Kiat is a postdoctoral researcher and Dr. Jingmai O’Connor is the associate curator of fossil reptiles at The Field Museum in Chicago.Sacre Bleu! Some French Cheeses At Risk Of ExtinctionThere’s bad news for the Camembert and brie lovers out there: According to the French National Center for Scientific Research, some beloved soft cheeses are at risk of extinction. The culprit? A lack of microbial diversity in the mold strains used to make Camemberts and bries.As with many foods, consumers expect the cheese they buy to be consistent over time. We want the brie we buy today to look and taste like the brie we bought three months ago. But there’s a downside to this uniformity—the strain of Penicillium microbes used to make these cheeses can’t reproduce sexually, meaning it must be cloned. That means these microbes are not resilient, and susceptible to errors in the genome. Over the years, P. camemberti has picked up mutations that make it much harder to clone, meaning it’s getting harder to create the bries we know and love.Joining Ira to talk about this is Benji Jones, senior environmental reporter at Vox based in New York City.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
20/02/24·22m 33s

Climate Scientist Michael Mann Wins Defamation Case

Climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann won a defamation lawsuit against two conservative writers last week.The verdict was 12 years in the making. In 2012 writers Rand Simberg and Mark Steyn accused Mann of manipulating his data related to his famous 1998 “hockey stick” graph, which depicts rising global temperatures after the industrial revolution. Simberg compared him to former Penn State football coach and convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky in a blog post for a libertarian think tank. Steyn later referenced Simberg’s article in a National Review piece, calling Mann’s work “fraudulent.”Reviews by Penn State (Mann’s home institution at the time) and the National Science Foundation, found no scientific wrongdoing. And in fact the iconic graph has since been supported by numerous studies.What does this ruling signal about the public’s understanding of climate change research? And the limitations of free speech?Ira talks with Dr. Michael Mann, professor of Earth & environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from Earth’s Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
19/02/24·17m 56s

Odysseus Lander Heads To The Moon | Ohio Chemical Spill, One Year Later

If successful, Odysseus will be the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon since the Apollo mission. And, in East Palestine, Ohio, the stream that flows under residents’ houses is still polluted following a train derailment and chemical spill.Odysseus Lander Is On Its Way To The MoonJust after 1:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 15, SpaceX successfully launched a commercial spacecraft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Its destination? The moon. If the lander—named Odysseus—makes it all the way there, it’ll be the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon since the Apollo mission, more than 50 years ago.If successful, this mission will also mark another historic milestone: the first commercial spacecraft to touch down on the moon.Ira talks with Casey Crownhart, climate reporter at MIT Technology Review, about this latest lunar mission and other science news of the week, including: a satellite to detect methane leaks from space, the development of lithium-sulfur batteries, the first treatment for frostbite, the development of “heart-on-a-chip” devices, a frog with a mushroom growing out of its leg, and how eavesdropping on the love songs of Skywalker gibbons helped scientists estimate their population size.A Year After Chemical Spill, Ohio Community Is Still RecoveringChristina Siceloff and Randy DeHaven walk down a short bank to Sulphur Run, a creek that winds between houses in East Palestine, Ohio. They make their way to a section of the stream about three-quarters of a mile from where the Norfolk Southern train derailed last February 3rd. Siceloff has brought a shovel, but she doesn’t even need one to show the condition of the stream. She just pushes her rubber boot into the sandy streambed, and an oily sheen erupts out of the muddy bottom, spreading on the top of the brownish-grey water.“Kind of like what you would see in a puddle at a gas station,” Siceloff said.Siceloff has brought a mask because the creek water still gives her headaches. For much of the past year, she’s been helping DeHaven and a group of volunteers document the condition of the stream. Siceloff lives a few miles away in Darlington, Pennsylvania, and could see smoke from the 2023 derailment and subsequent fire from her bedroom window. She was sick for five and a half months, as were her father and son.“I had migraines, congestion, runny nose. I had pressure in my ears, burning in my nose, eyes and throat,” Siceloff said. She now has tremors in her hands, and her eyes twitch. She sneezes in the laundry soap aisle at Walmart and can’t stand the chlorine smell at a swimming pool.In the days after the derailment and subsequent chemical spill, over 40,000 fish and other species died. DeHaven, who lives in town and has been filming the stream for much of the past year, saw it firsthand. “Most of the frogs were belly up,” DeHaven says. “There was a few fish floating, but a lot of them were just laying on the bottom.”Now, a year after the derailment, regulators say they have cleaned up the site, and that the air in town is clear.But the stream running through the middle of town is still contaminated and some in the area still worry about whether the chemicals sitting at the bottom of the stream are going to make their way into peoples’ bodies.Read more at sciencefriday.com.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
16/02/24·21m 3s

One Crisis After Another: Designing Cities For Resiliency

Over the past few years, many cities around the world have changed dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with shifts in office use and commuting patterns as well as where people choose to live, work, and play. But there are other major changes to communities on the horizon as well—such as the need to adapt to the changing climate and sea level rise, and move urban infrastructure away from dependence on fossil fuels.Andy Cohen and Diane Hoskins are co-CEOs of Gensler, a global architecture and design firm, and authors of the new book Design for a Radically Changing World. They join guest host John Dankosky to talk about how design can help communities adapt to global crises, and the importance of involving local communities in design decisions.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
15/02/24·17m 54s

Using Sound To Unpack The History Of Astronomy

Looking into space can be pretty daunting. How do we make sense of the vast expanse above our heads, the millions of stars we might be able to see, and the billions more we can’t?Now, what about listening to space? That’s the task that Sam Harnett and Chris Hoff gave themselves, for their series “Cosmic Visions.” They’re the team behind “The World According to Sound,” a podcast that’s brought our listeners close to the sounds of science over the last few years.This new series takes listeners through the history of astronomy and the study of the cosmos, from ancient Babylon to the Hubble Telescope. Harnett and Hoff join guest host John Dankosky to talk about why different ways of knowing are helpful for scientists, how images of nebulae share a striking resemblance to photos of the American West, and what their favorite space sounds are.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
14/02/24·17m 48s

Colorectal Cancer Rates Rising In Young People | What An AI Learns From A Baby

Colorectal Cancer Rates Are Rising In Young PeopleGastrointestinal medicine practitioners have noticed something strange in recent years: More and more young people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.It used to be incredibly rare for anyone under the age of 50 to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Cases were generally limited to people with excess weight who live a sedentary lifestyle. But practitioners are increasingly seeing people in their 40s, 30s, and even 20s without prior risk factors being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.Jennifer Fijor is one nurse practitioner who has seen this rise in cases firsthand at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Seattle, Washington. Jennifer has been spreading awareness about this rise on her social media accounts.Jennifer speaks with guest host Kathleen Davis about the warning signs of colorectal cancer, such as sudden changes in bowel movements, and how patients can advocate for themselves to get screened early.What An AI Learns From A Baby’s-Eye View Of The WorldThere’s a lot to learn in the first couple of years of a child’s life—not the least of which is how to talk. But little kids don’t sit down and study a vocabulary book. They soak up language from daily experiences, which are often filled with parents and caregivers saying things like “look at the kitty cat.” Scientists wondered whether an artificial intelligence model could learn about language using a similar strategy—not by being fed a curated set of pictures and words, but by eavesdropping on the day-to-day activities of a small child.They found that associating images and sounds from 60 hours of video captured by a camera mounted on a baby’s head could teach a computer model a set of several dozen basic nouns, such as “car,” “cat,” and “ball.” And the learning was generalizable, meaning that the computer was able to properly identify cars and cats that it had not seen before.Dr. Wai Keen Vong, a research scientist in the Center for Data Science at New York University and one of the authors of a study recently published in the journal Science, joins SciFri’s Kathleen Davis to talk about the research and what it can teach us about learning.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
13/02/24·23m 41s

A Black Physician’s Analysis Of The Legacy Of Racism In Medicine

Uché Blackstock always knew she wanted to be a doctor. Her mother was a physician at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Uché and her twin sister, Oni, would often visit their mother at work, watching her take care of patients. And they loved to play with their mother’s doctor’s bag.The sisters went on to become the first Black mother-daughter legacy students to graduate from Harvard Medical School.SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Dr. Uché Blackstock, emergency physician and founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, about her new memoir, Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine.Read an excerpt from Legacy at sciencefriday.com.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
12/02/24·18m 2s

Faraway Planets With Oceans Of Magma | The Art And Science Of Trash Talk

Hycean planets were thought to be covered by oceans of water, but a new study suggests it could be magma instead. And, author Rafi Kohan explains the psychological and physiological responses to trash talk, ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.Faraway Planets Could Have Oceans Of MagmaFar beyond our solar system are hycean planets—planets that have hydrogen-rich atmospheres and are covered in giant oceans. Scientists have long believed that those oceans were made of water, but a new study throws a wrench in that idea, suggesting that they could actually be oceans of magma.SciFri’s John Dankosky talks with Sophie Bushwick, senior news editor at New Scientist based in NYC, about this and other science news of the week, including a new type of thunderstorm, how droughts are affecting the Panama Canal, inhalable nanoparticles that could carry antibiotics, which dog breeds live longest, and a fern whose dying leaves can sprout roots.The Art And Science Of Trash TalkAs frivolous as it may sound, the use of trash talk has a long, hilarious history that dates back to the Bible and the Homeric poems. Fundamentally, this insult-slinging is the presentation of a challenge, and it’s found its way into sports, politics, and even cutthroat family board game nights.But there’s a science to trash talk that explains why it’s stuck around all these millennia, the psychology behind it, and how it can either rev up or fluster an opponent.Just in time for the 2024 Super Bowl, guest host John Dankosky talks with Rafi Kohan, author of Trash Talk: The Only Book About Destroying Your Rivals That Isn’t Total Garbage.Read an excerpt from Trash Talk at sciencefriday.com.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
09/02/24·20m 25s

Is Each Fingerprint On Your Hand Unique? | In This Computer Component, Data Slides Through Honey

A new study uses artificial intelligence to show that each of our ten fingerprints are remarkably similar to one another. Plus, honey could be the secret ingredient in building a more eco-friendly “memristor,” which transmits data through malleable pathways.Is Each Fingerprint On Your Hand Unique?We often think about each fingerprint as being completely unique, like a snowflake on the tip of your finger.But a new study shows that maybe each person’s fingerprints are more similar to each other than we thought. Researchers trained artificial intelligence to identify if a thumbprint and a pinky print came from the same person. They found that each of a person’s ten fingerprints are remarkably similar in the swirly center.Ira talks with study author Gabe Guo, an undergraduate at Columbia University majoring in computer science, based in New York City.In This Computer Component, Data Slides Through HoneyA honey bear is probably one of the weirder things you’d see in a science lab, especially in a lab making computer parts.“It’s just processed, store-bought honey,” said Ph.D. student Zoe Templin. “Off the shelf — a little cute bear so we can put it in photos.”But for Templin and her colleagues at Washington State University, Vancouver, the honey is key.“It is cheap and it is easily accessible to everyone,” said master’s student Md Mehedi Hassan Tanim.The honey also has natural chemical properties that make it a promising foundation for a new kind of environmentally friendly computer component — one that could make computing faster and more energy efficient while reducing the impact on the environment.Read the rest of this article on sciencefriday.com.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
08/02/24·18m 33s

The FDA Approved The First CRISPR-Based Therapy. What’s Next?

Last month the FDA approved a new treatment for sickle cell disease, the first medical therapy to use CRISPR gene editing technology. It works by identifying the gene or genes causing the disorder, modifying those genes and then returning them to the patient’s body.There are now two gene therapies offered by pharmaceutical companies for sickle cell disease: Casgevy from Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics, and Lyfgenia from BlueBird Bio. But prices for these one-time treatments are steep: Casgevy costs $2.2 million per patient and Lyfgenia $3.1 million.Both promise a full cure, which would be life-changing for patients with this debilitating condition. Over 100,000 Americans, mostly of African descent, have sickle cell disease.This milestone raises more questions: What will be the next disease that CRISPR can help cure? And is it possible to reduce the costs of gene therapy treatments?Ira talks with Dr. Fyodor Urnov, professor of molecular and cell biology and scientific director of technology and translation at the Innovative Genomics Institute, based at the University of California, Berkeley, about the future of CRISPR-based cures.Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
07/02/24·18m 0s

Protecting The ‘Satan’ Tarantula | If Termites Wore Stripes, Would Spiders Still Eat Them?

A team of scientists in Ecuador is on a mission to describe new-to-science tarantula species to help secure conservation protections. And, undergraduate researchers pasted striped capes onto termites’ backs to see if a well-known warning sign would fend off predators.Protecting The ‘Satan’ Tarantula and Other Lovable Giant SpidersA team of scientists in Ecuador is on a mission to find and describe species of an understudied, often unpopular group of critters: mygalomorphs, a group of large, stocky spiders that includes tarantulas. In late 2023, two of these researchers published a paper in the journal ZooKeys describing two new-to-science tarantula species, including one named Psalmopoeus satanas—affectionately called the “Satan tarantula” because of its erratic behavior.Tarantulas are understudied in Ecuador, and there are many species left to describe. They’re also threatened by mining, agriculture, and the illegal pet trade. That’s what led Pedro Peñaherrera-R., a researcher at Universidad San Francisco de Quito to found the Mygalomorphae Research Group. Its members are working to describe these spiders and secure conservation protections before they possibly disappear.Producer Rasha Aridi talks with Peñaherrera-R. and his co-author and fellow group member Roberto José León about how the Satan tarantula earned its name, how they discover and classify spiders, and why we should all show spiders a little more love.If Termites Wore Stripes, Would Spiders Still Eat Them?The animal kingdom is filled with colors and patterns. Sometimes, those colors are to signal to members of an animal’s own species, in a mating display for instance. In other cases, a bright color or vibrant pattern serves as a warning to potential predators—a signal saying “don’t eat me, I’m toxic.” That type of warning coloration, known as aposematism, can be seen in the bright colors of a poison dart frog, or the black, white, and yellow stripes of a monarch butterfly caterpillar.Bigger animals, like birds, are known to consider that sort of warning signal when hunting. Researchers at the University of Florida were interested in whether jumping spiders might also take that sort of striped warning coloration into account when choosing their prey. To find out, they applied tiny striped capes to the backs of laboratory termites to study whether those stripes affected the behavior of hungry jumping spiders. They found that while the test spiders did notice the striped termites more than termites wearing solid colors, the spiders were less likely to attack striped termites when given the chance to do so.Behavioral ecologist Dr. Lisa Taylor joins Ira to discuss the purpose of the project—and former lead undergraduate researcher Lauren Gawel describes the challenges of trying to get termites to dress up as superheroes.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
06/02/24·17m 44s

Scientists Are Uncovering A World Of ‘Dark Matter’ Carcinogens

Cancer, at its core, is a genetic disease: the result of DNA mutations that cause cells to grow out of control and develop tumors. And over the years, scientists have identified certain chemicals, called carcinogens, that are directly linked to those cancer-causing mutations, like those found in cigarettes.But the rates of some cancers, like colorectal and lung, are rising dramatically in certain populations, leaving scientists to wonder what carcinogens they might be missing, and how traditional models of detecting them are falling short.Last year, a landmark study published in the journal Nature confirmed a theory that toxicologists and cancer researchers had long suspected: that certain chemicals, like those found in air pollution, may not directly lead to cancerous mutations, but instead prime already vulnerable mutated cells to become cancerous. Some scientists have dubbed these chemicals “dark matter” carcinogens; they know they’re out there, exerting some kind of effect on increasing cancer rates, but they don’t fully understand what these chemicals are.Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, wrote about this scientific detective mystery in The New Yorker. This week, he joins Ira to talk about how scientists are rethinking their approach to identifying carcinogens, and why he’s hopeful for the future of cancer research in light of this new paradigm.Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
05/02/24·17m 47s

Syphilis Cases Up 80% Since 2018 | The Largest Deep-Sea Coral Reef In The World

There has been a boom of syphilis cases, including a 180% increase in congenital syphilis cases, despite other STI levels staying stable. Also, the world's largest deep-sea reef stretches for hundreds of miles in near-freezing waters and total darkness, but it’s bustling with life.Syphilis Cases Are Up 80% Since 2018Syphilis is rearing its ugly head again in the United States. A new report on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a shocking statistic: Cases of syphilis are up by nearly 80% among adults since 2018. Congenital syphilis cases, which occur when an infection is passed from parent to child during pregnancy, are up by more than 180%.Strangely, cases of other STIs have stayed about the same or decreased in the same timeframe. Rachel Feltman, host of “The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week,” joins Ira to talk about this and other science stories from the week, including the first cases of transmitted Alzheimer’s disease, and why closing the toilet seat doesn’t keep aerosolized viruses from contaminating other bathroom surfaces.Revealing The Largest Deep-Sea Coral Reef In The WorldScientists recently discovered the largest known deep-sea coral reef in the world. It’s called Million Mounds, and it stretches from Miami, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina, covering around 6.4 million acres of the seafloor.Unlike the colorful reefs found in sunlit tropical waters, this one is mostly made up of a stony coral that’s usually found from about 650 to 3,300 feet underwater—depths where it’s very cold and pitch black.Ira Flatow talks with Dr. Erik Cordes, marine biologist and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who collaborated on the study. They discuss what makes deep-sea corals different from those found in shallower waters, why it’s important to map them, and what it’s like to visit one in a submarine.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
02/02/24·25m 23s

Expanding Our Umwelt: Understanding Animal Experiences

Take a quick moment to think about your surroundings. Tune into your senses, and contemplate what’s happening around you. What do you see, hear, and smell? Now take a moment to imagine: What if you were a bat? How would you experience your environment differently? Maybe you could sense a nearby spider through echolocation, or feel minute changes in air pressure and temperature to know where to fly next. This world of perception is unique to each organism. It’s what scientists call umwelt, from the German word meaning “environment” or “surroundings,” and it is the subject of this month’s SciFri Book Club pick.Science writer, author, and birder Ed Yong returns to talk about how senses both familiar and foreign to us help animals experience their environment, and to tell us what he’s learned in the past year since his book, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal The Hidden Realms Around Us (now available in paperback), was published.The SciFri Book Club read An Immense World together this January, and readers joined Yong and guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross via a live Zoom Call-in for a conversation on how writing about animals changed his experience in nature, how educators can help students become better connected to the Earth, and how readers are still connecting with his work on the umwelten of the animal kingdom.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
01/02/24·17m 9s

How Signing Characters Help Deaf Children Learn Language

This radio interview is an abbreviated version of the full video interview, available with ASL interpretation on Youtube.Think back to your favorite childhood TV show—was it “Blue’s Clues”? “Little Bear”? “Winnie the Pooh”? Animated TV shows are important for kids because they can teach them to read, draw, spell, and talk. Plus, the ways these shows tell stories and create colorful, fictitious worlds can broaden children’s knowledge and capacity to imagine.But children’s shows aren’t accessible to all deaf children, which means they could miss out on a common learning experience. Among other things, that can set kids back in learning both American Sign Language (ASL) and English language skills during their formative early childhood years.Melissa Malzkuhn is third-generation Deaf and the founder and director of the Motion Light Lab at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Her lab is creating ASL-focused children’s media that is made by and for the Deaf community, using motion capture technology, avatars, animation, and signing storytellers. She talks with guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross about ASL access in childhood, the science of learning, and how she’s creating “Here Comes Mavo!”—the first animated TV series with signing characters.Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
31/01/24·18m 16s

‘Mysterious’ Canine Illness: What Dog Owners Should Know

Over the past few months, there have been reports about a mysterious canine respiratory illness. It’s easy to get a little scared: Some dogs are developing a severe illness that lasts a long time and doesn’t respond to treatment. And in some cases, dogs have died.In the age of social media, it’s hard to know just how widespread this actually is, and how it compares to a more familiar canine illness like kennel cough. Joining guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross to break down this potential new pathogen are Dr. Deborah Silverstein, professor of critical care medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. David Needle, a pathologist at the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and a clinical associate professor at the University of New Hampshire.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
30/01/24·17m 41s

An App For People Of Color To Rate Their Birthing Experiences | How Different Animals See

Irth is a “Yelp-like” app to help expectant parents make informed decisions by exposing bias and racism in healthcare systems. Also, a new video camera system shows the colors of the natural world as different animals see them.An App For People Of Color To Rate Their Birthing ExperiencesFor some patients, finding a good doctor can be as simple as looking up a doctor’s degrees and accolades. But for people who are more likely to experience discrimination in a medical setting—perhaps due to their gender, disability, sexual orientation or race—credentials only tell half the story. So how do you know where to go? And who to trust?One app aims to help Black and brown parents-to-be make informed decisions about where they choose to give birth. Black people who give birth in the United States are far more likely than their white counterparts to experience mistreatment in hospitals, develop complications, or die due to childbirth.Irth allows parents to leave reviews about how their birthing experience went, like: Did doctors and nurses listen to them? Was their pain taken seriously? Did they develop complications that could’ve been prevented?Guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross talks with Kimberly Seals Allers—journalist, activist, and founder of Irth—about why she founded the app and how it can help people.You can learn more about Irth and download the app on their website.Are Roses Red, And Violets Blue? Depends On Your SpeciesOver the millenia, animal eyes have evolved along different paths, adding or subtracting capabilities as they adapt to specific niches in the world. The result of all that evolution is that a bee, bird, or bull doesn’t see the world the same way you do. There are differences in the spatial resolution different animals can see, in the speed of their visual response, in the depth of focus, and in the way they process color.Dogs, for instance, can’t really see red—their vision is best at seeing things that are blue or yellow. Birds and bees can see into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, making a flower look quite different from the way humans perceive it.This week, researchers published details of a video camera system that tries to help make sense of the way different animals view color. By combining different cameras, various filters, and a good dose of computer processing, they can simulate what a given video clip might look like to a specific animal species. It’s work that’s of interest to both biologists and filmmakers. Dr. Daniel Hanley, one of the researchers on the project and an assistant professor of biology at George Mason University, joins guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross to describe the system and its capabilities.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
29/01/24·18m 27s

NASA Opens Canister With Asteroid Sample | ADHD Prescription Rates Spiked During The Pandemic

Engineers had to design bespoke tools to open the OSIRIS-REx capsule nearly four months after it arrived back on Earth. Also, prescription rates for ADHD drugs rose by 30% from 2020-2022, with large increases among women and young people.NASA Finally Opens Canister Containing Asteroid SampleNASA’s OSIRIS-REx was the first U.S. mission to retrieve fragments of an asteroid, which arrived in September 2023. There was just one small issue: NASA technicians couldn’t open the capsule, which held space rocks from an asteroid called Bennu. NASA announced this week that they finally managed to open the capsule on January 10. Engineers designed new tools to remove the final two of 35 fasteners, which would not budge.Guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross talks with Maggie Koerth, science writer and editorial lead for Carbon Plan, about the asteroid capsule and other top science news of the week, including chimpanzees catching human colds, advances toward a cure for autoimmune disorders and honeybee crimes.ADHD Prescription Rates Spiked During The Pandemic–Why?The rate of prescriptions for ADHD medications rose by 30% during the height of the pandemic, from 2020 to 2022. Most of these new prescriptions were given to people between the ages of 20 and 39. And the prescription rate for those assigned female at birth, including women and some trans people, doubled during this time as well, according to a recent study. Prescriptions for anxiety and depression medications did not rise at a similarly high rate during that time.While it’s still not entirely clear what led to this dramatic increase, experts point to several contributing factors: The pandemic changed routines and made lifelong ADHD symptoms more apparent, content creators on social media platforms like TikTok increased awareness of symptoms, and a proliferation of online pharmacies expedited diagnosis and prescriptions for ADHD medications like Adderall.Guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross speaks with Dr. Julia Schechter, co-director of Duke University’s Center for Girls & Women with ADHD, to make sense of these trends.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
26/01/24·25m 15s

AI Helps Find Ancient Artifacts In The Great Lakes | An Artist Combines Indigenous Textiles With Modern Tech

Researchers in Michigan modeled a prehistoric land bridge and used AI to predict where caribou–and humans–might have traveled along it. Also, artist Sarah Rosalena uses Indigenous weaving, ceramics, and sculpture practices to create art that challenges tech’s future.Using AI To Help Find Ancient Artifacts In The Great LakesAt the bottom of Lake Huron there’s a ridge that was once above water. It’s called the Alpena Amberley Ridge and goes from northern Michigan to southern Ontario. Nine thousand years ago, people and animals traveled this corridor. But then the lake rose, and signs of life were submerged.Archaeologists were skeptical they’d ever find artifacts from that time. But then John O’Shea, an underwater archaeologist based at the University of Michigan, found something. It was an ancient caribou hunting site. O’Shea realized he needed help finding more. The ridge is about 90 miles long, 9 miles wide and 100 feet underwater.“Underwater research is always like a needle in a haystack,” said O’Shea. “So any clues you can get that help you narrow down and focus … is a real help to us.”That’s where artificial intelligence comes in. He teamed up with computer scientist Bob Reynolds from Wayne State University, one of the premier people creating archaeological simulations. And Reynolds and his students created a simulation with artificially intelligent caribou to help them make predictions.An Artist Combines Indigenous Textiles With Modern TechWhen multidisciplinary artist Sarah Rosalena looks at a loom, she thinks about computer programming. “It’s an extension of your body, being an algorithm,” she says.Rosalena, a Wixárika descendant and assistant professor of art at the University of California Santa Barbara, combines traditional Indigenous craft—weaving, beadmaking, pottery—with new technologies like AI, data visualization, and 3D-printing. And she also works with scientists to make these otherworldly creations come to life. She involved researchers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab to make 3D-printed pottery with simulated Martian clay. And she collaborated with the Mount Wilson Observatory to produce intricately beaded tapestries based on early-1900s glass plates captured by the observatory’s telescope, which women mathematicians used to make astronomical calculations.And that’s also a big focus for Rosalena: spotlighting the overlooked contributions women made to computer science and connecting it to how textiles are traditionally thought of as a woman-based craft. When she first started making this kind of art, Rosalena learned that the Jacquard loom—a textile advancement in the 1800s that operated on a binary punch card system which allowed for mass production of intricate designs—inspired computer science pioneer Ada Lovelace when she was developing the first computer program. “[They] have this looped history,” she says. “And when I weave or do beadwork, it’s also recalling that relationship.”But for Rosalena, there is tension and anxiety in her decision to combine new and ancient mediums. “We’re at this point of the technological frontier and that’s actually terrifying for a lot of people, especially for people from my background and my Wixárika background,” she says. “It’s progress for some, but it’s not for all.”Part of Rosalena’s work is anticipating future forms of colonization, especially amid rapid change in our planet’s climate and the rise of AI. “What happens when we bring traditional craft or Indigenous techniques with emerging technology to think about current issues that we are facing? Digital technologies are always chasing after ways that we could simulate our reality, which also produces this way that we could re-envision our reality,” she says.SciFri producer and host of our podcast Universe Of Art D. Peterschmidt sat down with Rosalena to talk about how she approaches her work, why she collaborates with scientists, and how she hopes her art makes people consider today’s technological advancements through an Indigenous lens.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
25/01/24·17m 59s

When The ‘Personal’ Computer Turned 30

When Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple Macintosh in January of 1984, the visual user interface, all-in-one design, and mouse-controlled navigation were revolutionary. Design team member Andy Hertzfeld and industry observer Steven Levy look back on the early days of personal computing, and talk about how the Macintosh came to be.Transcripts for each segment are available on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
24/01/24·31m 16s

How The Moon Transformed Life On Earth, From Climate to Timekeeping

For almost their entire 4.5 billion-year existence, Earth and its moon have been galactic neighbors. And the moon isn’t just Earth’s tiny sidekick—their relationship is more like that of siblings, and they’re even cut from similar cosmic cloth.Without the moon, Earth and its inhabitants wouldn’t be what they are today: The climate would be more extreme, lunar tides wouldn’t have given rise to life on Earth, biological rhythms would be off-beat, and even timekeeping and religion would have evolved differently. The new book Our Moon: How Earth’s Celestial Companion Transformed The Planet, Guided Evolution, And Made Us Who We Are explores how our existence is tied to the moon’s.Ira Flatow and guest host Sophie Bushwick chat with journalist and author Rebecca Boyle about how the moon came to be, how it transformed life on Earth, and how our relationship with it is changing.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
23/01/24·27m 2s

From Scans To Office Visits: How Will AI Shape Medicine?

Researchers continue to test out new ways to use artificial intelligence in medicine.Some research shows that AI is better at reading mammograms than radiologists. AI can predict and diagnose disease by analyzing the retina, and there’s even some evidence that GPT-4 might be helpful in making challenging diagnoses, ones missed by doctors.However, these applications can come with trade-offs in security, privacy, cost, and the potential for AI to make medical mistakes.Ira and guest host Sophie Bushwick talk about the role of AI in medicine and take listener calls with Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and professor of molecular medicine, based in La Jolla, California.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
22/01/24·33m 44s

Rhesus Monkey Cloned With Modified Approach Has Survived Into Adulthood

This week, a research team in China reported that it had successfully cloned a rhesus monkey, which has lived normally for over two years and reached maturity. It marks the first time that a rhesus monkey has been successfully cloned. Rhesus monkeys are used widely in medical research, making the advance potentially useful for medical trials.Cloning of primates in general has been difficult. Six years ago researchers cloned long-tailed macaques using the technique originally used for Dolly the cloned sheep. But an attempt to use that approach to clone a rhesus was unsuccessful, producing an animal that died after 12 hours. In the new work, the research team identified flaws in placental cells of previous cloned embryos. To address those flaws, they replaced the outer trophoblast cells from a developing cloned embryo with ones from an embryo created through an in-vitro fertilization technique—essentially providing cells that would develop into a normal placenta for the cloned embryo.Tim Revell of New Scientist joins Ira to talk about the work and its implications. They’ll also discuss other stories from the week in science, including the discovery of lots of ice buried under Mars’ equator, an AI that’s good at solving high school math challenges, and the discovery of four new species of octopus.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
19/01/24·12m 54s

3,000 Types Of Brain Cells Categorized In Massive Brain Cell Atlas

In October 2023, an international group of scientists released an impressively detailed cell atlas of the human brain, published in 21 papers in the journals Science, Science Advances and Science Translational Medicine.The human brain has roughly 171 billion cells, which makes it a herculean task to categorize them all. Scientists collected samples from different parts of the brain and have identified 3,000 different types of cells. Each cell contains thousands of genes and each cell type only expresses a small fraction of those. Cataloging cells by their gene expressions, paves the way for scientists to tailor disease treatments to target only the affected cells. This human brain cell atlas is only the first draft, but it could signal a paradigm shift in how we understand and treat neurological diseases.Ira talks with one of the researchers who helped put together the cell atlas, Dr. Ed Lein, senior investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and takes listener calls.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
18/01/24·19m 9s

Brain ‘Organoids’: Lab-Grown Cell Clusters Model Brain Functions

Brain organoids are grown in a lab using stem cells, and can mimic the functions of different regions of the brain like the cortex, retina, and cerebellum. Though it may sound a bit like science fiction, this technology is increasingly being used to better understand brain disorders and eventually develop better treatments.Ira talks with neuroscientist Dr. Giorgia Quadrato, assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the University of Southern California, about the state of brain organoid research and her model that mimics the cerebellum.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
17/01/24·13m 55s

The Lasting Allure Of Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’

In a conversation from March 2023, the maritime archeologist who found the storied wreck discusses the mission and his new book.There are few stories about heroic survival equal to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic rescue of his crew, which turned disaster into triumph. In August of 1914, 28 men set sail from England to the South Pole. Led by Shackleton himself, the group hoped to be the first to cross Antarctica by foot. However, their ship, the Endurance, became stuck in ice. It sank to the bottom of the frigid Antarctic waters, leaving most of the men stranded on a cold, desolate ice floe.Shackleton, with five of his crew, set out in a small boat to bring help from hundreds of miles away. Finally, after many months of fighting the cold, frostbite and angry seas, Shackleton was able to rescue all his men with no loss of life.Over the years, there have been many attempts to find the Endurance shipwreck. None were successful until a year ago, when the wreck was located for the first time since it sank back in 1915. Ira is joined by Mensun Bound, maritime archeologist and the director of exploration on the mission that found the Endurance. His new book, The Ship Beneath the Ice: The Discovery of Shackleton’s Endurance, is out now.View more images of Shackleton’s last expedition from the Library of Congress.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
16/01/24·18m 47s

How Close Are We To Answers About Aliens?

The idea of creatures from another planet is part of our culture, from the warnings of the alien in “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” to the plaintive desire to return home in “E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” to the hulking creature of “Nope.” Aliens appear in movies, books, comics, you name it. But are they more than science fiction? And if they were, how would scientists prove it?The government has investigated reports of alien sightings, including in Project Blue Book, which ran from 1947 to 1969. And last summer, congressional hearings into Navy pilots’ sightings of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs) brought the search for intelligent life back into the public eye. But there’s more to the search for alien life than people spotting lights in the sky. Projects such as Breakthrough Listen are surveying the stars for signals. Advanced telescopes such as JWST are enabling us to collect data on the atmospheres of exoplanets, a first step in detecting biosignatures on distant worlds. And astrobiology projects such as the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission are looking for signs of ancient life elsewhere in our own solar system.Dr. Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester and author of The Little Book of Aliens, joins hosts Ira Flatow and Kathleen Davis to talk about the evidence for life elsewhere in the universe, and how scientists might go about trying to answer the question of whether we’re alone.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
15/01/24·33m 22s

NASA Delays Crewed Moon Missions | Top Technologies To Watch In 2024

With this week’s delays to Artemis II and III, astronauts likely won’t walk on the moon until 2026 at the earliest. Also, weight-loss drugs, AI, clean-energy tech and more: digging into MIT Technology Review’s annual list with executive editor Amy Nordrum.NASA Once Again Delays Artemis Crewed Missions To the MoonThis week, NASA announced that it was delaying two of its planned crewed missions to the moon. Artemis II, which was scheduled to launch in November 2024, was pushed to September 2025. And Artemis III, originally planned for late 2025, is now looking at a September 2026 launch date. The Artemis campaign has faced challenges with its lunar landers, spacesuits, life-support systems, and the Orion capsule’s heat shield, according to NASA. When launched, Artemis II will swing around the moon and return to Earth, while Artemis III will land on the south pole of the moon, and will mark the first time humans have walked on the moon since 1972.Joining Ira to talk about this and other top science stories in the news this week is Casey Crownhart, climate reporter at MIT Technology Review. They talk about challenges facing the offshore wind industry, a Hawai‘i coal plant that was replaced by a battery farm, why AI weather forecasting is not ready for primetime, and a new discovery that giant apes went extinct earlier than we thought—and for a different reason.Top Technologies To Watch In 2024The technology world moves so fast, it can be hard to know what to pay attention to. Sometimes it’s helpful for someone to tell you straight up who the big players are, and what technologies really could change the world.Luckily for us, MIT Technology Review compiles an annual list of the 10 breakthrough technologies they say matter most. This year, that list ranges from super-efficient solar panels to weight-loss drugs, and AI in just about everything.Joining guest host Kathleen Davis to discuss this year’s list is Amy Nordrum, executive editor at MIT Technology Review based in Boston, Massachusetts.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
12/01/24·24m 33s

To Get Ready For Mars, NASA Studies How The Body Changes In Space

It’s no longer just the realm of science fiction: It’s possible that in our lifetimes, astronauts will go to Mars. NASA is doing a lot of technological preparation for this, but the key to the success of these missions will be the astronauts involved. As Mars space missions will require months or even years on the red planet, the agency wants to better understand how our bodies are affected by time in space.NASA recently launched the Complement of Integrated Protocols for Human Exploration Research, or CIPHER. This is a suite of 14 studies astronauts will undergo on the International Space Station, measuring everything from bone health to brain activity to vision changes.Joining Ira to talk about CIPHER and the hopes for health data collection is Dr. Cherie Oubre, CIPHER project scientist in NASA’s human research program based in Houston, Texas.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
11/01/24·17m 52s

Science Journalism Is Shrinking–Along With Public Trust In Science

In 2023, a flood of science journalists lost their jobs. At the same time, public trust in science continues to decline.Last year was a tough one for science journalism. National Geographic laid off all of its staff reporters, and Wired laid off 20 people. And the most recent blow came in November, when Popular Science announced it would stop publishing its magazine after a 151-year run, and laid off the majority of its staff.Beyond talented journalists losing their jobs, many people seem to be losing trust in science in general. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that only 57% of Americans think science has a mostly positive effect on society, down considerably since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.Is the waning trust in science reflected in the shrinking of science journalism?Ira talks about the current state of science journalism with Deborah Blum, science journalist, author, publisher of Undark magazine, and director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Sabrina Imbler, author and science reporter for Defector.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
10/01/24·17m 30s

(Part 2) Endangered Species Act At 50: Orchids And Red Wolves

Continuing our exploration of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at its 50th anniversary, we'll look at how it has helped protect a group of at-risk plants: orchids. Eight species of orchid are recognized as endangered under the ESA—and all of the world’s approximately 30,000 species are considered threatened, and entitled to trade restrictions. Ira speaks with Dr. Matthew Pace, orchid scientist and assistant curator of the Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden, about threats to orchid conservation.And finally, Ira speaks with Dr. Ron Sutherland, chief scientist at the Wildlands Network in Durham, North Carolina. Sutherland has an extensive background in red wolf conservation in the southeastern United States.Red wolves are one of the most endangered mammals in the world, with only an estimated 20 living in the wild and 267 in captivity. They discuss the dramatic swings in federal conservation efforts for red wolves, and why Sutherland isn’t ready to give up on this endangered species.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.  Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
09/01/24·18m 33s

(Part 1) Endangered Species Act at 50: Hawaiian Land Snails

On December 28, 2023, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) turned 50 years old. It was enacted in 1973 with almost unanimous support in Congress, with a goal to save plants and animals from extinction. It’s considered one of the most important environmental policies in US history, and it transformed conservation. It may have even helped save one of your favorite critters, like humpback whales, bald eagles, manatees, and grizzly bears.To mark the ESA’s 50th birthday, we’re looking at how it works, how successful it’s been, and what its future may look like. Ira starts off by talking with Dr. Judy Che-Castaldo, biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Branch of Species Status Assessment Science Support.Then, we head to the extinction capital of the world: Hawai‘i. Kāhuli, also known as Hawaiian land snails, live all over the Hawaiian islands. At one point, around 750 species existed, but more than half have gone extinct. Ira talks with two conservationists dedicated to saving the snails: Dr. David Sischo, coordinator of the Hawai‘i Snail Extinction Prevention Program, and Keahi Bustamente, Maui Nui field coordinator for the program.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
08/01/24·17m 19s

Solar Activity Flares Up In 2024 | Underground Hydrogen Reserves And Clean Energy

Look out for a total solar eclipse, more solar flares, and the Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the sun. Also, underground hydrogen stores have raised renewable energy hopes, but can the industry overcome the logistical hurdles of distributing it?Solar Activity Flares Up In 2024Look out 2024—this is going to be the sun’s year (for science, at least). There will be a total solar eclipse on April 8, and scientists are seeking volunteers to help them observe the event. Researchers also expect an uptick in solar activity—that means more sunspots and solar flares, which could increase the amount of auroras the Earth experiences and also might disrupt satellites and power systems on the ground. Plus, NASA’s Parker Solar probe is on track to make its closest pass to the sun yet in December, a mere 3.8 million miles from its surface.Umair Irfan, staff writer with Vox, sits down with Ira to talk about these and other science stories from this week, including why greenhouse gas emissions might actually start to fall this year, research showing that apes are able to recognize each other after decades apart, and the discovery of an enzyme that makes your pee yellow.Could Underground Hydrogen Reserves Put Clean Energy Within Reach?In 1987, a crew in the village of Bourakébougou, Mali, was digging for water. After drilling 108 meters deep, they still hadn’t found any, but the resulting borehole produced a steady stream of wind. When a driller lit a cigarette near the hole, the wind ignited, burning the worker. It took weeks for the crew to put out the blue flame, which produced no smoke, and they eventually capped the hole. It remained sealed until 2012 when a local oil and gas company reexamined it and found that the original crew had stumbled upon an underground store of naturally occurring hydrogen. They converted a Ford engine to burn the gas and soon connected it to a generator, providing electricity for the village.Hydrogen has long been touted as a source of renewable energy with the potential to replace fossil fuels to power transportation and factories. When burned, its only output is water—with no carbon emissions—making it extremely attractive as a clean energy source. But producing commercial hydrogen involves splitting water molecules into their hydrogen and oxygen components, an energy-intensive process typically powered by fossil fuels.But splitting water isn’t the only way to get hydrogen: It also occurs naturally in underground reservoirs when water heated by the planet’s mantle mixes with iron-rich rocks. The oil and gas industry hasn’t prioritized the search for these underground stores of hydrogen, but more of them have been found lately, including a potentially massive one in Lorraine, France that was discovered last year.Dr. Geoffrey Ellis, a research geologist at the United States Geological Survey, joins Ira to talk about hydrogen’s potential as a clean fuel, why finding stores of it has been a lower priority than finding oil and natural gas, and the hurdles the industry faces as it aims to expand.Correction: In the original interview about hydrogen reserves, our guest stated that there may be as much as 500 million megatons of hydrogen in the Earth’s crust. This number is incorrect, the actual estimate is 5 million megatons. The audio has been updated to reflect the correct number.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs onsciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
05/01/24·25m 6s

SciFri Reads ‘The Alchemy Of Us’

You may have an idea of how our inventions have changed human history and transformed our relationship with the world. But the reverse can also be true. Hear from materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez, author of The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another, on the way our values and stories are baked into the things we create—and the lesser-known people who have helped bring them into reality.This event was a part of the SciFri Book Club read for November 2023. Watch the live zoom event on Youtube.Find out more about our book club on our main page. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
04/01/24·36m 55s

SciFri Reads ‘The Kaiju Preservation Society’

What does it take to write a believable kaiju—as well as a charming group of scientists and explorers—onto the page? The SciFri Book Club invited John Scalzi, award-winning author of our August 2023 pick, The Kaiju Preservation Society, to discuss worldbuilding on an alternative Earth; combining ecology, biology and cultural touchpoints to create new giants; and how he used a lifetime of scientific curiosity to write a sci-fi romp in five weeks during a global pandemic.This event was a part of the SciFri Book Club read for August 2023.Watch the live zoom event on Youtube.Find out more about our book club on our main page. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
03/01/24·46m 38s

Star Trek’s Science Advisor Reveals The Real Astrophysics On Screen

Few pop culture properties have lasted quite as long as Star Trek. A dozen Star Trek television shows have aired over the last sixty years—not to mention countless movies, novels, and comic books. Science concepts have always been integral to the Star Trek franchise: from warp speed travel to dilithium. But how much does the series accurately depict?Ira speaks with astrophysicist Dr. Erin Macdonald, science consultant for Star Trek about the legacy of the franchise, and how accurate the science is within the series.The transcript for this segment is available at sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
02/01/24·29m 20s

A Mathematician Asks ‘Is Math Real?’

The concept of math has been around for a long time, developing independently in many different cultures. In 1650 BC, the Egyptians were creating math textbooks on papyrus, with multiplication and division tables. Geometry, like the Pythagorean theorem, was used in ancient Greece. And negative numbers were invented in China around 200 BC.Some mathematical concepts are easier to understand than others. One apple plus one apple equals two apples, for example. But when it comes to complex equations, negative numbers, and calculus, concepts become abstract. All that abstraction prompts some to wonder: Is math even real?Mathematician Dr. Eugenia Cheng has heard this question many times over her career. The quandary is the basis of her latest book, Is Math Real?: How Simple Questions Lead Us to Mathematics’ Deepest Truths. She joins Ira from Chicago, Illinois.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
01/01/24·34m 2s

Unmasking Owls’ Mysteries | Why It Feels So Good To Eat Chocolate

Unmasking Owls’ MysteriesDon’t let owls’ cute faces fool you—they’re deadly predators. This duality is part of what makes them so mysterious to humans. And their contradictions don’t end there: Their hoots are among the most distinctive bird sounds, yet owls are nearly silent when gliding through the air to catch their prey.Scientists are learning more about why owls are such good predators—how their hearing and night vision are so sharp, and their flight so silent. With new technology, researchers are also decoding owl communications, increasing our understanding of their social structures and mating habits.John Dankosky talks about all things owls with Jennifer Ackerman, author of the new book, What An Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds.Why It Feels So Good To Eat ChocolateWhen you eat a piece of good chocolate, chances are you don’t just bite down and chew away. There’s a good chance you hold the chocolate in your mouth for a moment, feeling the silkiness as it softens, melting into a molten mass and mixing with your saliva. That gradual phase change process—as fats in the chocolate melt from solid to liquid—is a big part of the chocolate mouthfeel experience.Researchers at Leeds University in the UK have constructed an artificial tongue that doesn’t focus on the taste of a food, but rather its texture, and how that texture changes over time. Using the artificial tongue, they explored the textures of materials that can change phase in the mouth, such as chocolate, butter, and ice cream. They reported their findings in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. The researchers found that in dark chocolate, the sensation in the mouth is governed largely by the fat content, as the surface of the chocolate begins to soften. A few moments later, as the chocolate melts completely and mixes with saliva, the fat content of the treat is less important to the mouthfeel experience.Dr. Anwesha Sarkar, an author of the report, joins Ira to talk about the research, the challenge of designing a lower-fat chocolate that might exploit these findings, and the importance of learning about textures to determine why people like—and don’t like—certain foods. Transcripts for each segment are available on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
29/12/23·20m 41s

SciFri Reads ‘The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2023’

The editors of this year’s The Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology—and special guest journalists and writers—took to the virtual stage to reflect on their favorite stories from 2023, the biggest news from this year in science, and the future of scientific discovery and journalism.The guests:Carl Zimmer is the author of many science books, including Life’s Edge: The Search of What it Means to Be Alive and She Has Her Mother’s Laugh. He’s also the guest editor of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2023, and is based in New York, NY.Jaime Green is a science writer and author of The Possibility of Life: Science, Imagination, and Our Quest for Kinship in the Cosmos. She is also the series editor of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2023, and is based in Connecticut.Marion Renault is a health and science writer based in Grenoble, France. Their essay, A French Village’s Radical Vision of a Good Life with Alzheimer’s, is featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2023.Maryn McKenna is a senior fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Human Health, a former senior writer at Wired, and the author of many books, including Big Chicken, Superbug, and Beating Back the Devil. Her essay, The Provincetown Breakthrough, is featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2023This event was a part of the SciFri Book Club read for December 2023. Watch the live zoom event on Youtube.Find out more about our book club on our main page. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
28/12/23·54m 7s

The Unseen World Of Seaweeds | Should 'Dark Fungi' Species Get Names?

The Unseen World Of SeaweedsChances are you don’t give much thought to seaweed unless you’re at the beach, or perhaps when you’re considering a dinner menu. But the thousands of seaweed species around the world are a key part of our coastal ecosystems.Seaweeds photosynthesize, provide food and shelter for marine animals, stabilize the coastlines, and even contribute to making your ice cream creamier (through an ingredient called carrageenans, extracted from red seaweeds in the Rhodophyceae family). Increasingly, they’re also being investigated as a source of biofuels and as biological factories, due to their fast-growing nature.Dr. John Bothwell, a phycologist at Durham University in the UK, has written a book in praise of seaweeds. In Seaweeds of the World: A Guide To Every Order, he highlights beautiful, unusual, and important species from each of the three seaweed lineages—green, red, and brown. In this segment, he talks with SciFri’s Charles Bergquist about some of his favorite species, where the seaweeds fit into the web of life, and the importance of seaweeds to the global ecosystem.“Dark Fungi” Species Don’t Get Names. Should They?Scientists have collected DNA samples of thousands of new fungus species over the past several decades. These fragments of fungal DNA are found nearly everywhere—in soil, decomposing logs, water, and even in the air. Mycologists have enough data to place these new species within the fungal family tree, but haven’t collected physical samples of them or been able to grow them in a lab. This means that according to the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants, these new species cannot receive scientific names.How can you understand a fungus that has no name? SciFri producer Shoshannah Buxbaum talks with fungal taxonomist Dr. David Hibbett, professor of biology at Clark University, about a proposal to give these “dark fungi” scientific names, and why naming living things might help us better protect the Earth’s biodiversity.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
27/12/23·30m 12s

How 'Panda Diplomacy' Led To Conservation Success

In 1972, pandas arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC, to huge fanfare. Since then, pandas have been some of the city’s most beloved residents.But for the first time in more than 50 years, DC is panda-free—indefinitely. Mama panda Mei Xiang, papa bear Tian Tian, and their youngest cub Xiao Qi Ji returned to China in November when their leases ended. This is possible because all but a few pandas residing outside of China are on loan through agreements with the country.It’s not just the National Zoo waving its pandas goodbye—the Memphis Zoo’s single panda returned to China in April, and Zoo Atlanta’s pandas will go later in 2024. The news of the pandas’ departure seemed sudden, and it stirred up some questions: Why are the pandas leaving? And why now?The news resurfaced the idea of panda diplomacy—how China introduced pandas to the world by loaning them out to other countries and using them as a symbol of cooperation.SciFri producer Rasha Aridi and freelance journalist Aja Drain look back at 80 years of panda conservation, and how panda diplomacy paved the way for groundbreaking science. And they try to answer the multi-million dollar question: Was it all worth it?This story was produced by Rasha Aridi, with help from Aja Drain. Edited by John Dankosky, with help from D. Peterschmidt and Emma Gometz. All our music and sound design is by D. Peterschmidt.Special thanks to the experts we spoke with: Dr. Chee Meng Tan, Dr. Pierre Comizzoli, Dr. Mel Songer, Michael Brown-Palsgrove, Dr. Rich Bergl, Dr. Jack Liu, Dr. Binbin Li, as well as Dr. E. Elena Songster, environmental historian at Saint Mary’s College of California, and Dr. Carolyn Lin, professor of communication at the University of Connecticut.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
26/12/23·30m 10s

Music’s Emotional Power Can Shape Memories—And Your Perception Of Time

It can be hard to avoid the chime of classic Christmas songs at this time of year. Certain songs may even bring up potent memories, transporting a person to a specific moment in the past, like an afternoon baking cookies as a child, or warming up after playing in the snow.Music, when coupled with emotion, has the ability to create powerful memories. And listening to songs associated with specific memories can almost feel like going back in time.Better understanding how this mechanism works is the work of Assistant Professor Dr. David Clewett and PhD candidate Mason McClay, both in UCLA’s cognitive psychology department. They talk with SciFri producer Kathleen Davis about how this method could be used to improve therapies for PTSD and other memory disorders.Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
25/12/23·16m 21s

Top Science News Stories of 2023 | Solar Panels In Historic Cape Cod

The Top Science News Stories of 2023As the year comes to a close, we wanted to reflect on some of the top science stories of 2023: Scientific breakthroughs that will shape our lives in 2024 and beyond. Research that’s shifted how we understand the universe. And even a story or two that put a smile on our faces.In 2020, the story of the year was the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. And while there are now updated versions of those, vaccine development has gone much further. This year we saw approval of two exciting new vaccines, for RSV and malaria.SciFri’s director and senior producer Charles Berquist talks with Sophie Bushwick, incoming senior news editor at New Scientist about this years vaccine breakthroughs and other top science news of the year, including a new generation of weight loss drugs, record high temperatures, completion of the human pangenome, an asteroid sample’s arrival on Earth, ripples in space-time, AI to understand pets’ emotions and T. rex’s new smile.Solar Panels In Historic Cape Cod: Who Decides Where ‘Modern’ Fits?Cape Cod is home to one of the largest historic districts in the country. In the 80 square miles that make up the Old Kings Highway Historic District, the goal of preservationists is to maintain a certain look. So from Sandwich to Orleans, some 45,000 people who live north of Route 6 are required to get approval from local historic committees for solar installations that are visible from a public way. Over the last few decades, many property owners who’ve had their solar plans challenged or denied have described the committees’ decisions as inconsistent, arbitrary, and subjective.But the committees remain steadfast: tourists and locals alike love seeing historic buildings preserved. And solar panels on the front of a house can read like billboards for modernity.“When you start messing with the street view of your house, we have a legal right, on behalf of the public, to make a judgment of the appropriateness of it,” said Jim Wilson, administrative counsel for the Old Kings Highway Regional Historic District Committee, which sets standards and hears appeals of rulings by town committees.The preservationists’ mandate is only to approve solar panels on homes when they present a minimal visual impact on the neighborhood. And that standard is often the source of the argument: what defines a minimum visual impact?Read the full story at sciencefriday.comTranscripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
22/12/23·17m 52s

Pennsylvania Drug Laws May Limit Syringe Services | These Romance Novels Represent Black Women In Science

Pennsylvania Drug Laws May Limit Syringe ServicesPennsylvania is one of 12 states that do not implicitly or explicitly authorize syringe services programs through statute or regulation, according to a recent analysis. They are widely considered to be illegal outside of Allegheny County and Philadelphia, where officials have for decades used local health power to grant legal protection to people who operate syringe services programs.These programs have widespread support in the medical community, and expanding them is listed as one of nine “Core Strategies” for the tens of billions of dollars coming to states as part of settlements with drug companies for their role in allegedly fueling the opioid epidemic. A coalition of state attorneys general reached the agreements with the companies.Pennsylvania expects to receive more than $1.6 billion in opioid settlement funds, but the state’s ban makes it significantly harder for the money to directly support expanding syringe services in many places.Some supporters of syringe services programs operate underground. Carla Sofronski, executive director of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Network, said she’s not aware of anyone ever facing criminal charges for doing so in the state, but noted the threat hangs over them, and they are taking a “great risk.”Read more at sciencefriday.com.These Romance Novels Represent Black Women In ScienceThe fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (also known as STEM) are not particularly diverse. And despite a gradual uptick in diversity over the last decade, a 2023 report from the National Science Foundation showed that only 24% of people in these industries are Hispanic, Black, or Native American.Dr. Carlotta Berry is working to change that, taking an untraditional approach to encourage people from marginalized backgrounds to enter the sciences. She is, as she puts it, an engineering professor by day and romance novelist by night. Working under the pen name Carlotta Ardell, she writes youth-friendly romance novels featuring Black protagonists who work in STEM fields.SciFri producer and host of the Universe Of Art podcast D. Peterschmidt sat down with Dr. Berry, who is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, to talk about how she got started on this journey and why she wants to make STEM a little steamier.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
21/12/23·18m 1s

Flame Retardant From Cocoa Pod Husks | The Oozy Physics Of Oobleck

Flame Retardant Could Be Made From Discarded Cocoa HusksOn cocoa farms around the world, cocoa beans are pulled from their pods, and the hard husks are discarded, leaving 20 million tons of plant waste to biodegrade and potentially harm future crops. These husks are a source of lignin, a substance that gives plants their rigidity. It’s extremely abundant—but often wasted.A new study published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering found that the lignin processed from leftover cocoa pod husks could have a new use as an ingredient in flame retardant.“Lignin is pretty special, as it is very soluble in organic solvents,” said study co-author Dr. Nicholas Westwood, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at St. Andrews University in Scotland, in an email. This means lignin can be chemically manipulated to create a number of useful substances relatively easily.Because of lignin’s malleability, Westwood and his coauthors were able to add a flame-retardant molecule to the processed substance, and found that the modification increased its already naturally high ability to smother flames.That’s just one possible application. While lignin hasn’t found widespread industrial use yet, scientists hold hope for it to become a greener alternative for fuel and a biodegradable plastic instead of just being leftovers. Processing biomass for food or fuel also produces a massive amount of lignin as a byproduct, which has been converted to materials like activated charcoal or carbon foam. “There are endless possibilities,” Westwood said.​​Joining Ira to talk about lignin and its potential uses is Dr. Rigoberto Advincula, a materials scientist with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.The Oozy Physics Of OobleckYou may be familiar with a common science demonstration done in classrooms: If you mix cornstarch and water together in the right proportions, you create a gooey material that seems to defy the rules of physics. It flows like a liquid, but when you try to handle it quickly, it stiffens up.This kind of material is called an oobleck, and it’s a type of non-Newtonian fluid, meaning its viscosity changes under pressure or stress. Oobleck-like materials include human-made things like Silly Putty and paint, but are also found in nature; blood and quicksand are both non-Newtonian fluids.For a long time, it’s been hard to prove exactly why these materials act the way they do. But recently, scientists developed a better understanding of the underlying physics. A new study conducted in collaboration between the James Franck Institute and Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago was able to demonstrate this mechanism.“The findings from this study are important because they provide direct experimental evidence for one of the mechanisms proposed for strong shear thickening,” says Dr. Heinrich Jaeger, professor of physics at the University of Chicago. “Namely, frictional interactions as the particles in the liquid are sheared into contact.” Jaeger is a co-author of the study, which was led by postdoctoral researcher Dr. Hojin Kim.Jaeger and Kim speculate that a better understanding of non-Newtonian fluids could help in the development of new, advanced materials. The potential ranges from flexible speed bumps to impact-resistant clothing. Jaeger joins Ira to talk about it.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
20/12/23·18m 21s

The Military’s Carbon Footprint Is A Hidden Cost Of Defense

Between supplying fuel to military bases, planes, and ships, making and using weapons, and clearing land, militaries around the world account for almost 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions.A new report calculated how much the militaries of the United States and the United Kingdom would hypothetically “owe” if they paid for the damage caused by their carbon emissions. The total came up to $111 billion. So what can the military do about its emissions? And what does militarism in the context of the climate crisis look like?Ira talks with two of the report’s authors, Khem Rogaly, a senior researcher at London-based think tank Common Wealth, and Dr. Patrick Bigger, research director at the Climate and Community Project, a progressive climate policy think tank in the US.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
19/12/23·17m 40s

High Energy Cosmic Ray Detected | These Penguins Are The Masters Of Microsleeping

Scientists Report Second Highest-Energy Cosmic Ray Ever DetectedAround 30 years ago, scientists in Utah were monitoring the skies for cosmic rays when they detected a surprising particle. It struck the atmosphere with much more energy than they had previously seen—enough energy to cause the researchers to dub it the “Oh My God Particle.”Over the years, a collaboration of researchers in Utah and Japan has detected other powerful rays—about 30 a year—but none that rival the OMG. In 2021, however, a second particle was detected. It was only slightly less powerful than OMG, but still many times more powerful than can be created on Earth. That 2021 particle was named “Amaterasu,” after a sun goddess from the Japanese Shinto religion. The researchers described their observations in a recent issue of the journal Science.The researchers believe the particle must have come from relatively nearby, cosmically speaking, as otherwise it would likely have collided with something in space and lost its energy. However, when they tried to trace the particle back to its origin in space, they were unsuccessful. Both the OMG particle and the new Amaterasu particle seem to have come from empty regions of space, with no violent events or massive structures to create them.Dr. John Matthews, a research professor in physics and astronomy and manager of the Cosmic Ray Physics Program at the University of Utah, joins Ira to talk about cosmic rays, how they’re detected, and the challenges of finding the origin of particles like Amaterasu.These Penguins Are The Masters Of MicrosleepingDo you know that feeling when you’re just so tired that your head starts to droop? Your eyes feel heavy? And you drift off for just a moment … before snapping back to alertness, wondering what just happened.Sleep comes in a variety of snoozes and sizes. We humans are not going to get a full night’s rest by nodding off here and there, but that’s pretty much what some chinstrap penguins do: They doze off more than 10,000 times a day, for just a few seconds at a time. And when you do the math, it can add up to 11 hours of sleep each day, according to a recent study in the journal Science.Ira talks with study author Dr. Paul-Antoine Libourel, a sleep biologist at the Neurosciences Research Center of Lyon in France, about how the penguins do this and the advantages of microsleeps.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
18/12/23·20m 5s

COP28 Climate Conference Ends | Why Are Some People Affected By Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Climate Conference Ends, With Few Immediate ResultsThe United Nations climate conference, COP28, ended this week in Dubai. After a lot of arguing over wording, the final agreement from the meeting calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” That text is significant in that it is the first time, surprisingly, that fossil fuel use was mentioned by name in a COP agreement. However, many critics of the proceedings point out that even this recognition is too little, too late, with few practical  routes to keep global warming under thresholds considered to be catastrophic.Casey Crownhart, climate reporter at MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to walk through the results of COP28. They also discuss other stories from the week in science, including research into morning sickness, clusters of brain cells that appear to do speech recognition tasks, a first look at asteroid samples from the OSIRIS-REx mission, and the tale of an unusual frog that camouflages itself as poop.Why Are Some People Affected By Seasonal Affective Disorder?As the shortest day of the year approaches, many people might notice their energy levels starting to dip. For some, winter is an especially challenging season. About 5% of adults in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Ira talks with Dr. Kathryn Roecklein, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, about her research into what makes some people more susceptible to seasonal depression than others, and the most effective treatment options. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
15/12/23·22m 30s

A Celebration Of The 2023 Christmas Bird Count

Every year birders across the world trek out into the rain, sun, sleet, or wind to participate in the Christmas Bird Count, organized by the National Audubon Society. The massive community science project, in its 124th year, tracks bird population fluctuations from year to year. This year’s count runs from December 14 to January 5.Ira and guest host Flora Lichtman are joined by Ariana Remmel, a birder and freelance journalist based in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Dr. Anuj Ghimire, a birder and wildlife ecologist at North Dakota State University. They give a preview of this year’s Christmas Bird Count and take listener questions.  Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
14/12/23·33m 46s

Surfing Particles Can Supercharge Northern Lights

For thousands of years, humans have been observing and studying the Northern lights, aurora borealis, and their southern hemisphere counterpart, aurora australis. The simplest explanation for how these aurora form has been unchanged for decades: Charged particles, energized by the sun, bounce off the Earth’s protective magnetic field and create flashes of light in the process.But for a long time, scientists have known it was more complicated than that. What exactly gives those incoming particles the energy they need to create the patterns we see? And why are some aurora more dramatic and distinct, while others are subtle and hazier?Aurora researcher Jim Schroeder explains new work published in Nature Communications that suggests that in more vivid aurora, electrons may “surf” waves of energy from space into our atmosphere. The waves, called Alfvén waves, are a side effect of the solar wind warping the Earth’s magnetic field. Schroeder explains the weird physics of our aurora, and what we could learn about other objects in the universe as a result.  Transcript for this segment is available on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
13/12/23·17m 14s

The (Not So) Easy Guide To Getting To Space

If you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, chances are good that among the answers, you’ll hear “astronaut.” But becoming an astronaut can be more difficult than becoming a veterinarian, firefighter, marine biologist, or some of the other common childhood job aspirations. The odds aren’t good: In 2021, NASA selected 10 astronaut candidates from a pool of over 12,000 applicants. And last year, over 22,000 applications to the European Space Agency resulted in 17 job offers.Dr. Mike Massimino’s application to become a NASA astronaut was rejected several times. However, he persisted in his efforts, and eventually flew twice on the space shuttle, logging over 570 hours in space and over 30 hours spacewalking. On his second trip to orbit, on Atlantis mission STS-125, he participated in the last servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope.Massimino joins Ira and guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about his time at NASA. They also discuss lessons he learned at the space agency that he believes can help others achieve their goals, which he has collected in his new book, Moonshot: A Nasa Astronaut’s Guide To Achieving The Impossible.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday’s newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
12/12/23·33m 14s

The Women Astronomers Who Captured the Stars

In the late 19th century, astronomy was a growing field. At the time, Edward Pickering, the director of the Harvard College Observatory, was working to create a classification system for stars by capturing the light from these distant celestial objects onto photographic glass plates. A team of women assistants and astronomers meticulously maintained and analyzed these delicate negatives. In her new book, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, Dava Sobel shares the stories of these “human computers” and how their work helped to advance the field of astronomy and the role of women in science.This team of astronomers included Williamina Fleming, who was once Pickering’s maid but eventually became a supervisor to the group and went on to identify hundreds of variable stars. And Henrietta Swan Leavitt’s observations about the luminosity of stars would shape later ideas about the expanding universe.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday’s newsletters. The transcript for this segment is available on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
11/12/23·17m 55s

Quercetin May Cause Red Wine Headaches | Worsening Wildfires Are Undoing Air Quality Progress

What Causes Red Wine Headaches? It May Be QuercetinIt’s a common experience: After a glass or two of red wine, relaxation can turn into a pounding headache. This isn’t the same thing as a hangover, as the dreaded red wine headache kicks in between 30 minutes and three hours after imbibing.For years, there have been different theories about what causes this phenomenon. But neither sulfites or tannins have been proven to be the culprit. A new theory published in the journal Scientific Reports posits that quercetin, an antioxidant in grape skins, could create a toxic byproduct that leads to headaches.Dr. Morris Levin is one of the authors on this paper. He’s the director of the Headache Center at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, and has spent his career treating patients for migraines and other headache experiences. But Levin says there’s not nearly enough funding for headache research as a whole, which leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the origins and meanings of this common ailment.Levin joins guest host Flora Lichtman to discuss red wine headaches, as well as the remaining mysteries of headaches.Worsening Wildfires Are Undoing Air Quality Progress In The USThe Western US has seen both more frequent and more intense wildfires over the past couple decades, leading to lower air quality and increased deaths in the region between 2000 and 2020, according to a new study published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal. While the EPA has made progress in improving air quality in the country, those gains are being undone by smoke from wildfires.The study looked at particulate matter called PM2.5 and a toxic component of it, black carbon. The researchers found that after years of trending downward nationally, the concentration of PM2.5–and the proportion of black carbon within it–began to increase in the West in 2010. This shift was linked to an increase of 670 premature deaths per year in the region.Joining Ira to talk about this and other science news of the week is Rachel Feltman, host of the podcast The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week. They also discuss a surprise found in the oldest known mosquito fossil, why a national plastic bag recycling program was shut down, and why dwarf planet Eris’ surface is a little squishy.  Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
08/12/23·25m 16s

Speaking Multiple Languages Changes The Way You Think

Have you ever wondered how the language you speak shapes your understanding of the world around you? And if you speak two or more languages, how might that change the way you process information? Is your brain always thinking in multiple languages or are you toggling back and forth?In many parts of the world, multilingualism is the norm. And in the United States, the number of people who speak a language other than English has doubled in the past two decades, from just about 11% to about 22%.Dr. Viorica Marian has spent her career studying multilingual and bilingual people to better understand how their brains process information differently than their monolingual counterparts.Ira talks with Dr. Viorica Marian, professor of communication sciences and disorders and psychology at Northwestern University, and author of the book The Power of Language: How the Codes We Use to Think, Speak, and Live Transform our Minds in front of a live audience at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, Illinois, presented with WBEZ and Mindworks. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
07/12/23·17m 50s

Social Connections Keep Us Physically and Mentally Healthy As We Age

As people age, health often becomes a larger focus in their lives—their joints become a little more achy, or their vision less sharp. Some might even be dealing with a new diagnosis.To handle these ailments, doctors might prescribe medications, or diet and lifestyle changes. But there’s often one big factor missing from these conversations: a patient’s social well-being.Sociology researcher Dr. Linda Waite has been tracking the social health of thousands of research participants ranging in age from 50 to over 100, for 15 years. The study is ongoing, and so far she’s found that the social aspects of our lives play a big role in our long-term physical and mental health and well-being as we age.Ira talks with Dr. Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and head of the National Social Life, Health & Aging Project in front of a live audience at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, Illinois, presented with WBEZ and Mindworks.  To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
06/12/23·17m 41s

Women Were Also Skilled Hunters In Ancient Times

There’s a long-standing narrative about hunter-gatherers in ancient times: Men ventured out for meat, while women largely stayed closer to home, foraging for plants and tending to children.As with most things, it almost certainly wasn’t that black and white. Recent analyses of physiological and archaeological evidence, published in American Anthropologist, suggest that females hunted just as much as males did during the Paleolithic era. In fact, they were well-suited to long-distance hunting, largely thanks to the benefits of estrogen. Additionally, Neanderthal remains show a sex-equal distribution of bone injuries consistent with hunting. Both males and females were buried with similar items and weapons, suggesting that there was not such a stark division of labor.Ira is joined by Dr. Cara Ocobock, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, and Dr. Sarah Lacy, biological anthropologist at the University of Delaware, to discuss the details of their findings and why the myth of “Man the Hunter” has persisted for so long.Editor’s note: Sex and gender are distinct descriptors—“sex” pertaining to the biological aspects of the human body (hormones, genitalia, etc.) and “gender” relating more to an individual’s identity within a society. As Dr. Ocobock states in the segment, there are times when a strict sex binary makes sense related to study in a scientific realm, but even within those contexts, there can be large variability. For simplification, these terms are used somewhat interchangeably in the interview.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday’s newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
05/12/23·12m 43s

An AI Leader’s Human-Centered Approach To Artificial Intelligence

Just about every day there’s a new headline about artificial intelligence. OpenAI Founder and CEO Sam Altman was forced out, and then dramatically returned to his post—all in the span of a week. Then there’s the recent speculation about a revolutionary new model from the company, called Q*, which can solve basic math problems.Beyond the inner workings of AI’s most high profile startup are stories about AI upending just about every part of society—healthcare, entertainment, the military, and the arts. AI is even being touted as a way to help solve the climate crisis.How did we get to this moment? And how worried or excited should we be about the future of AI? No matter how it all shakes out, AI leader and early innovator Dr. Fei-Fei Li argues that humans should be at the center of the conversation and the technology itself.Ira talks with Dr. Fei-Fei Li, founding director of the Institute for Human-Centered AI at Stanford University and author of the book The Worlds I See: Curiosity, Exploration and Discovery At The Dawn of AI, about her path from physics to computer science and the promise and potential of human-centered artificial intelligence.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday’s newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
04/12/23·23m 42s

COP28 Host Had Plans to Promote Oil and Gas | Researchers Detected Cicada Emergence With Fiber-Optics

COP28 Host Had Plans to Promote Oil and Gas, Documents ShowThe United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, began this week in Dubai. This is an annual event, where leaders and delegates from around the world come together to discuss how to collaboratively reach important milestones for the future of the planet. Goals like slowing the rise of temperatures on Earth will require buy-in from all major players to be successful.But this week, a document leaked that showed the United Arab Emirates planned something at odds with the event: promotion of the oil and gas industries. This has led to increased skepticism of COP and its goals among both critics and attendees.Ira is joined by Tim Revell, deputy US editor of New Scientist, to talk about this story. Plus, how a single bitcoin transaction uses enough water to fill a swimming pool, the way nutrients in soil drive biodiversity, and how amino acids could be formed alongside stars.Researchers Detected Cicada Emergence With Fiber-OpticsIf you were in the eastern United States during the summer of 2021, you likely heard the incessant, whirring buzz caused by the mass emergence of Brood X periodical cicadas. That event, which occurs once every 17 years, brought forth countless cicadas to shed their skins, mate, lay eggs, and die. But it turns out their arrival wasn’t just something that you could witness out the lawn or against your car windshield. The sound of their emergence was something that could be detected by fiber-optic cables.Dr. Sarper Ozharar, a researcher who studies optical networking and sensing at NEC Labs in Princeton, New Jersey, has worked on techniques using fiber-optics to sense the vibrations of things like traffic, sirens, and gunshots. Loud noises produce vibrations that subtly distort optical “backscatter” within a glass fiber-optic cable. Using AI, researchers can decode those vibrations and determine what, and where, a noise may have occurred near the fiber.In the summer of 2021, Ozharar and colleagues detected an unusual frequency signal in their test data. With the help of entomologist Dr. Jessica Ware of the American Museum of Natural History, they eventually determined that it was the whirring of the cicada swarm. Their find is the topic of a report published this week in the Journal of Insect Science.Ozharar joins Ira Flatow to talk about how fiber-optic sensing works, and how an electronics and communications lab ended up publishing in an entomology journal. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
01/12/23·23m 6s

Ralph Nader Reflects On His Auto Safety Campaign, 55 Years Later

It’s hard to imagine a world without seatbelts or airbags. But five decades ago, it was the norm for car manufacturers to put glamour over safety.“It was stylistic pornography over engineering integrity,” Ralph Nader, prolific consumer advocate and several-time presidential candidate, tells Science Friday.This winter marks the 55th anniversary of Nader’s groundbreaking investigation, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a damning look at how little auto safety technology was in vehicles back in the 1960s. The book had a massive effect on auto safety in the U.S., setting the groundwork for laws about seatbelts, and the creation of the United States Department of Transportation.Nader joins Ira to discuss what’s happened over 55 years of auto safety advances, and what kind of work is needed to make sure new technology, like self-driving cars, have the safety checks they need before going out on the roads.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
30/11/23·26m 24s

What’s That Smell? An AI Nose Knows

If you want to predict the color of something, you can talk about wavelengths of light. Light with a wavelength of around 460 nanometers is going to look blue. If you want to predict what something sounds like, frequencies can be a guide—a frequency of around 261 Hertz should sound like the musical note middle C. Predicting smells is more difficult. While we know that many sulfur-containing molecules tend to fall somewhere in the ‘rotten egg’ or ‘skunky’ category, predicting other aromas based solely on a chemical structure is hard. Molecules with a similar chemical structure may smell quite different—while two molecules with very different chemical structures can smell the same. This week in the journal Science, researchers describe developing an AI model that,  given the structure of a chemical compound, can roughly predict where it’s likely to fall on a map of odors. For example, is it grassy? Or more meaty? Perhaps floral?Dr. Joel Mainland is one of the authors of that report. He’s a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and an adjunct associate professor in the department of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Mainland joins Ira to talk about the mystery of odor, and his hope that odor maps like the one developed by the AI model could bring scientists closer to identifying the odor equivalent of the three primary colors—base notes that could be mixed and blended to create all other smells. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday’s newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
29/11/23·12m 35s

Jane Goodall On Life Among Chimpanzees

Few living scientists are as iconic as Dr. Jane Goodall. The legendary primatologist spent decades working with chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. More recently, Goodall has devoted her time to advocating for conservation, not just in Africa, but worldwide.Ira spoke with Goodall in 2002, after she had published her book The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for the Animals, and an IMAX film about her work with chimpanzees had just been released. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
28/11/23·36m 10s

The ‘Wet-Dog Shake’ And Other Physics Mysteries

Ever wondered why your dog’s back-and-forth shaking is so effective at getting you soaked? Or how bugs, birds, and lizards can run across water—but we can’t? Or how about why cockroaches are so darn good at navigating in the dark?Those are just a few of the day-to-day mysteries answered in the new book How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future, by Georgia Tech mathematician David Hu.The book answers questions you probably won’t realize you even had, but they’re questions with serious answers that span the worlds of physics, fluid mechanics, and biology. Throughout the book, Hu demonstrates the extraordinary value day-to-day curiosity brings to science.But, while he explores how science can reveal wonders of the mechanisms in our world, Hu writes how his work has been the target of politicians for so-called “wasteful” science spending. One of the studies under attack, an inquiry into the average length of urination across the animal kingdom, might have had a laughable premise, but eventually led to serious attention by urologists and researchers working on treatments, prostheses, and artificial organs.“The concept of waste is based on the notion of a limited gas tank and a single known destination,” Hu writes. “People expect scientists to save gas as they go from A to B. But the real power of science is to take us to destinations that we have never been to.”To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
27/11/23·21m 54s

Ig Nobel Prizes | Stop Flushing Your Health Data Down The Toilet

Saluting Science's Silly Side, VirtuallyIn science, there are some traditions: Every October, the Nobel Prize committee announces the winners of that year’s awards, which are presented in Sweden in December. And every September for the past 33 years, a different committee has awarded the Ig Nobel Prizes in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, Science Friday plays highlights from the awards ceremony. The Ig Nobel awards are a salute to achievements that, in the words of the organizers, “make people laugh, then think.” They are presented by the editors of the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research to 10 lucky(?) winners for unusual achievements in science, medicine, and other fields. This year’s ceremony was held virtually, with a webcast taking the place of the traditional raucous ceremony in Harvard’s Sanders Theater. However, it still contained many elements of the in-person Igs, from flying paper airplanes to the participation of real Nobel Laureates in the ceremony. This year’s awards included prizes for explaining why many scientists like to lick rocks,  for re-animating dead spiders to use as mechanical gripping tools, and for using cadavers to explore whether there is an equal number of hairs in each of a person’s two nostrils. SciFri producer Charles Bergquist joins Ira to discuss highlights from this year’s ceremony.Stop Flushing Your Health Data Down The ToiletYou could be flushing important information about your health right down the toilet—quite literally. Pee and poop can tell you a lot about your health, so what if your waste…didn’t go to waste? What if, instead, it could tell you more about your health? Like number one, it can catch a condition like diabetes early. Or number two, check out what’s going on in your gut microbiome.That’s the goal of the smart toilet—a device that gets all up in your business to tell you more about your health. Ira talks with the inventor of the PH Smart Toilet, Dr. Seung-min Park, instructor of urology at Stanford’s School of Medicine in California, about how the toilet works, how it can be used to catch diseases early on, and the ethical implications of such a device.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday’s newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
24/11/23·25m 28s

The West’s Wild Horses | Artist Explores History Of Humans Genetically Modifying Pigs

Reporter Ashley Ahearn bought a wild horse from the federal government for $125. Also, with opera and visual art, an exhibit looks at modern genetic engineering of pigs.The Captivating Story Of The West’s Wild HorsesWild mustangs are an icon of the American West, conjuring a romantic vision of horses galloping free on an open prairie. But in reality, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says the sensitive Western ecosystem can’t handle the existing population of horses.There are about 80,000 wild horses in the American West, a number that grows about 10-20% each year. The BLM says the fragile, arid rangelands the horses occupy can only support a third of that number before they overgraze habitats critical for other species. This has led to controversial roundups to get wild horses off the open range.Science and environment reporter Ashley Ahearn dove deep into the history, symbolism, and ecological impact of the West’s mustangs for the new podcast Mustang. She even adopted a wild horse, named Boo, from the federal government for $125. Ashley speaks with guest host Flora Lichtman about her boots-on-the-ground reporting, and what she learned from how tribal nations manage mustangs.An Artist Explores The History Of Humans Genetically Modifying PigsOver 100,000 people are waiting for organ donations in the United States. Many will likely never receive one, since there are so few available. So scientists are turning to pigs for potential alternatives. Their organs are remarkably similar to ours, and scientists are now using CRISPR to modify pigs’ DNA to improve transplantation outcomes. But although the field has shown major advances in the last decade, the technique isn’t ready yet. Recently, a patient who received a modified pig heart died six weeks after the surgery.Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg was intrigued by these recent advances, and looked into humanity’s history of modifying the pig over thousands of years for her new gallery exhibit, Hybrid: an Interspecies Opera. For the work, she interviewed scientists and archaeologists and even filmed in a lab that’s experimenting with genetically modifying pigs to create more human-compatible organs.In the resulting documentary, which plays in the exhibit, the words from the scientists she interviewed are transposed into an opera composed by musician Bethany Barrett. Visitors can also find 3D-printed clay pig statues and a timeline of how humans have transformed pigs over ten millennia, thanks to selective breeding.Dewey-Hagborg sat down with SciFri producer D. Peterschmidt to talk about how the exhibit came together, and how CRISPR could further transform pigs and our relationship to them. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
23/11/23·17m 45s

Moon Rock Research | Science of Unraveling Sweaters

Moon Rocks Collected In 1972 Reveal New SecretsIt’s hard to imagine, but the moon we all know and love hasn’t always been in the sky. Like all of us, the moon has an age. Until recently, our lunar neighbor has been estimated to be about 4 billion years old.But new research on lunar crystals from the Apollo 17 mission has helped researchers pinpoint a more specific age for the moon—and it’s about 40 million years older than previously thought.That difference may sound like a drop in the bucket given the time scales, but lead study author Dr. Jennika Greer says this is a big deal, because it tells us more about what the solar system was like in its earlier years. Greer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, joins guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about her methods and why the early universe was so fascinating.The Science Behind Your Unraveling SweatersIt’s sweater season once again, but you may have noticed that some of your newer sweaters aren’t standing the test of time. Perhaps they are pilling, unraveling, or losing their shape. But if you look at sweaters from the ‘80s or ‘90s, they may still look brand new. Last month, an article by Amanda Mull in the Atlantic about declining sweater quality made the rounds online, and we wanted to know more.What, scientifically, went wrong in sweaters? And why are sweaters so bad now?Guest host Flora Lichtman unravels the science of sweaters with Dr. Imran Islam, knit expert and assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. They chat about the fibers that make up sweaters, what physics has to do with how long they last, and what to look for when purchasing knitwear.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
22/11/23·20m 37s

2023’s Best Science Books For Kids

Gift-giving season is upon us once again! And if you’re not sure what to get the kids in your life, we’re here to help. Many new STEM books for kids and young adults came out this year, and we asked a few experts to tell us about their favorites from 2023.Joining guest host Flora Lichtman to offer listeners their recommendations for the best kids’ science books of the year are Mahnaz Dar, young readers’ editor at Kirkus Reviews, based in New York, New York, and Jennifer Swanson, children’s book author and cohost of the podcast Solve It! for Kids, based in Jacksonville, Florida.You can download a printable list of our guests’ recommendations to take with you on your shopping trip.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
21/11/23·25m 53s

How AI Chatbots Can Reinforce Racial Bias In Medicine

Over the last year, we’ve heard more and more about AI’s potential to transform medicine—how it can help doctors read scans, analyze health data, and even develop personalized drugs.But the AI boom has set off alarm bells for some healthcare providers. Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with two scientists who wondered whether these models were perpetuating harmful, debunked, racist ideas in medicine.  To investigate, they put four AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard to the test to see how they answered some questions about race and medicine. They entered queries like “Tell me about skin thickness differences between Black and white skin” and “What is the difference in pain threshold between Black and white patients?” They then scored the chatbots’ responses and found that several perpetuated racist, incorrect information. They published their results in the journal npj Digital Medicine.Flora talks with Dr. Jenna Lester, a dermatologist at UC San Francisco and the director of the Skin of Color Program, and Dr. Roxana Daneshjou, a dermatologist and assistant professor of biomedical data science at Stanford School of Medicine.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
20/11/23·18m 21s

An Exoplanet Where It Rains Sand

Scientists observing the exoplanet WASP-107b with the James Webb Space Telescope say that the planet has clouds of sand high in its atmosphere. The scientists detected water vapor, sulfur dioxide, and silicate sand clouds in the atmosphere of the planet, which is about the mass of Neptune but the size of Jupiter—stats that caused astronomers to describe it as “fluffy.” Science journalist Swapna Krishna joins guest host Flora Lichtman for a look at the planet.They also discuss the tense seismic situation on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland.    Starting in late October, earthquakes have been occurring there with increasing frequency, with hundreds of earthquakes detected over a recent 24-hour period. The quakes are due to underground magma flowing into the area and straining the earth’s crust. Measurements have also spotted an increasing concentration of sulfur dioxide gas in the area—which could point to an impending volcanic eruption. The Icelandic Meteorological Office said that there was significant likelihood of a volcanic eruption in the coming days.Flora and Swapna also discuss other stories from the week in science, including a growing discrepancy in life expectancy between US men and women, a 3D printed robot hand with working tendons, efforts to control the spread of a drug lord’s escaped hippos in Colombia, and the tale of a tool bag—lost in space.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
17/11/23·12m 50s

Ask A Chef: How Can I Use Science To Make Thanksgiving Tastier?

Do you ever wonder about the science behind making that perfect holiday meal? A lot of factors determine if a turkey gets golden, mashed potatoes turn fluffy, or a pie gets that crisp crust.As the weather gets cooler and the holidays approach, chef Dan Souza from Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen joins Ira to answer listener questions about the science behind holiday cooking.Ready for even more cooking science? Listen to a past episode about an oft-overlooked protein source—complete with the Science Friday staff’s favorite recipes. Plus, learn about six foods that might fill our plate in a warming climate. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
16/11/23·17m 58s

Monumental And Invisible: How Infrastructure Works

Perhaps you’ve marveled at the engineering feats of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. Maybe you’ve thought about how many train tracks run in and out of Grand Central Station. But it’s sometimes easy to forget just how important well-functioning infrastructure is in our day-to-day lives. Flip a light switch, and the light comes on. Wash a load of laundry and your clothes come out clean and fresh. Order pretty much anything on Amazon and it arrives two days later. It can be kind of boring. And that’s the good news. We like our infrastructure to be boring—that means it’s running well. Ira talks with Dr. Deb Chachra, author of the new book How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems that Shape Our World and professor of engineering at the Olin College of Engineering, about the role of infrastructure in our lives. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
15/11/23·29m 6s

Everything You Never Knew About Squash And Pumpkins

It’s a wonderful time of the year: squash, pumpkin, and gourd season. But how do those giant, award-winning pumpkins grow so big? And what’s the difference between a gourd and a squash? Ira talks with Dr. Chris Hernandez, director of the University of New Hampshire’s squash, pumpkin, and melon breeding program to explore all things winter squash and answer listener questions.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
14/11/23·18m 4s

How A University Is Adjusting One Year After ChatGPT

One year ago, OpenAI released ChatGPT, a generative AI chatbot that can generate shockingly convincing text. Since then, it has become a center of gravity in the tech industry, as software companies race to integrate the new tech into their products. It’s also sparked concern in the education world, with teachers and parents fearing how students may use it to cheat, and whether it will keep young people from learning writing skills.So what might adjusting to this new technology look like, one year in? Ira sits down with Dr. Gwen Tarbox, professor of English and the director of the WMUx Office of Faculty Development at Western Michigan University, who talks about her efforts implementing AI at her university and teaching both students and faculty ways to use it responsibly.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
13/11/23·12m 13s

Euclid Telescope’s First Images | A Black Hole That Came From Gas

A new ESA telescope could help us understand how dark matter and dark energy influence the structure of the universe. Also, using both JWST and the Chandra Observatory, astronomers discover the oldest known black hole.Euclid Telescope’s First Images UnveiledThis week, the European Space Agency unveiled the Euclid space telescope’s first full-color images of the cosmos. The telescope has a wide field of view and is designed to take images of large swaths of the sky in both visible and infrared light. The telescope’s designers hope that they will be able to create a detailed 3D map of the cosmos over the next six years and, with that map, begin to sort out the influences of dark matter and dark energy on the basic structure of the universe.Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins Ira to talk about the first images from the Euclid telescope and other stories from the week in science. They’ll try to explain the recent conversation about ultraprocessed foods and discuss steps toward regulating AI coming from the Biden administration and a host of other countries; a move to rename some North American birds; and the tale of a fish that uses electrolocation and some shimmies to get a 3D map of its environment.Not Just Dying Stars: A Black Hole That Came From GasThis week, astronomers confirmed that they had found the oldest known black hole, thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The supermassive black hole formed when the universe was still a toddler, just 470 million years after the Big Bang. But its age isn’t the only thing that makes it unusual.Astronomers long thought that the only way a black hole could form was through the collapse of a star. But this week’s discovery confirms a theory that some black holes at this early stage in the universe formed from the condensation of clouds of gas. The theory purports that such black holes would produce superheated x-ray-emitting gas. Now, data from JWST and Chandra have helped confirm these x-ray signals from the newly discovered black hole. The findings are available via preprint and have been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.Ira sits down with Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan, a professor of astronomy and physics at Yale who helped develop this theory, to talk about how these unique black holes change our understanding of the early universe.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.  Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
10/11/23·18m 19s

How Five Elements Define Life On Earth

Over 99% of a human cell is made up of just five elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus. That same elemental mix exists, with minor variations, in every other living thing on Earth.In his new book, Elemental: How Five Elements Changed Earth’s Past and Will Shape Our Future, author Stephen Porder writes about how these building blocks, which he calls “life’s formula,” tell the story of life on our planet.It’s a story of adaptation, and also catastrophic change—from the time cyanobacteria started flooding the atmosphere with oxygen, to when a boom in land plants sucked enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to spark a period of extreme cooling and global glaciation.Ira talks with Porder, who is associate provost for sustainability and professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at Brown University as well as co-founder of the radio show Possibly, about what early geochemistry can tell us about life on Earth, and what that might mean for the planet’s future. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
09/11/23·17m 37s

Climate Future Exhibit | Oregon's Proposed Fish Vacuum

A Climate Change Exhibit Asks ‘What If We Get It Right?’Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist and co-founder of the nonprofit Urban Ocean Lab, thinks a lot about the possible futures of our climate. Not just one ideal climate future, but a range of futures that could be better if we make some changes.She’s helped steer environmental policy, written books and articles on climate action, and co-hosted the podcast How To Save A Planet. And now she’s working with artists who are offering their own creative visions for how we could build a more sustainable society.The effort has culminated in Climate Futurism, a new exhibit Dr. Johnson curated at Pioneer Works, a museum and performing arts space in Brooklyn, New York. And one of the central questions it asks the viewer is, what if we get it right?SciFri producer D. Peterschmidt visited the exhibit and spoke to Dr. Johnson and one of the three featured artists, Erica Deeman, about food justice, reconnecting with nature, and why the exhibit is called Climate Futurism.Climate Futurism features new art from Erica Deeman, Denice Frohman, and Olalekan Jeyifous. It runs until December 10, 2023.How To Save Oregon’s Salmon? Maybe With A Giant Vacuum.To free salmon stuck behind dams in Oregon’s Willamette River Valley, here’s what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has in mind:Build a floating vacuum the size of a football field with enough pumps to suck up a small river. Capture tiny young salmon in the vacuum’s mouth and flush them into massive storage tanks. Then load the fish onto trucks, drive them downstream and dump them back into the water. An enormous fish collector like this costs up to $450 million, and nothing of its scale has ever been tested.The fish collectors are the biggest element of the Army Corps’ $1.9 billion plan to keep the salmon from going extinct.The Corps says its devices will work. A cheaper alternative — halting dam operations so fish can pass — would create widespread harm to hydroelectric customers, boaters and farmers, the agency contends.“Bottom line, we think what we have proposed will support sustainable, healthy fish populations over time,” Liza Wells, the deputy engineer for the Corps’ Portland district, said in a statement.But reporting by Oregon Public Broadcasting and ProPublica casts doubt on the Corps’ assertions.Read more on sciencefriday.com.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
08/11/23·17m 5s

How A Deaf Advisory Group Is Changing Healthcare

When Tamiko Rafeek admitted herself to the hospital a few years ago, she asked for an interpreter. “I was feeling very, very sick that day,” she recalled. Rafeek is deaf, and the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that deaf patients receive interpreter assistance when requested. But, like over 50% of deaf patients in healthcare settings in the United States, she didn’t receive adequate interpretation.“It felt like the whole world was crashing in,” Rafeek said. “They kept taking my blood pressure and taking all these tests. And no one let me know why.” At one point, a nurse asked Rafeek if her eight year-old daughter, who can hear, could sign for her mother. Rafeek thought that was inappropriate. “I said, no, she’s too young. She’s my daughter, she shouldn’t be interpreting for me.”It wasn’t until two days later, when Rafeek left the hospital, that she learned from her discharge papers that she’d been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. To her frustration, she didn’t receive guidance on how to approach care for the diagnosis.Unfortunately, Rafeek’s situation isn’t uncommon. Healthcare workers are “definitely not educated to the point where they know how to handle working with the deaf community,” said Dr. Michelle Litchman, medical director of intensive diabetes education and support program at the University of Utah. Litchman is a CODA (a child of deaf adults) and knows all too well how often deaf patients don’t receive the assistance they are legally mandated to receive.Years ago, her deaf aunt was admitted to the hospital for an infection. She didn’t receive an interpreter, and was signing that she couldn’t breathe. But the staff did not provide her with adequate care. She later died in the hospital. “We just know that it could’ve been prevented,” Litchman said.In 2022, University of Utah Health and Litchman partnered with the advocacy group Deaf Diabetes Can Together to create the hospital’s Deaf Community Advisory Board. The board, made up of Rafeek and other deaf patients, advised the hospital on how it could improve care for its patients with diabetes, a condition deaf people are twice as likely to have. Litchman plans to expand this model for other marginalized groups, including rural and Pacific Islander patients.Ira Flatow sat down with Rafeek and Dr. Litchman to talk about their experiences, how they want to expand the community advisory board model, why there’s a lack of interpreters in the US, and how healthcare systems can better care for patients.Want to learn more and participate? Visit sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
07/11/23·17m 16s

40 Years Of Sounding The Alarm On Nuclear Winter

This week holds anniversaries for two important milestones in nuclear warfare. On November 1, 1952, the United States detonated a massive hydrogen bomb in the Marshall Islands. The new weapon vaporized a whole island, leaving behind a mile-wide crater. That bomb was around 700 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima seven years prior, and it renewed fears of nuclear annihilation, which would grip the world for generations to come.Three decades later, on October 30, 1983, millions of Americans flipped open the Sunday paper to find a shadowy, apocalyptic photo with the words: “Would nuclear war be the end of the world?”Legendary scientist Dr. Carl Sagan, writing for Parade Magazine, introduced the world to “nuclear winter,” the terrifying climate changes that might be brought on by nuclear war.Sagan conducted some of the first research on nuclear winter, and he spent years warning politicians, world leaders, and the general public about it. Today, with thousands of nuclear weapons still in existence, the risk of nuclear winter isn’t zero.Ira talks with another pioneer in nuclear winter research, Dr. Alan Robock, a climate scientist and distinguished professor at Rutgers University, about the science of nuclear winter, how fear of those consequences shaped policies, and what’s happening with the world’s nuclear arsenal now.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
06/11/23·18m 19s

CRISPR-Based Sickle Cell Treatment | Pain Tolerance From Neanderthals

If given final approval by the FDA, this sickle-cell treatment would be the first to use gene-editing CRISPR technology on humans. Also, gene variants inherited from Neanderthals can impact pain tolerance in modern humans.  FDA Panel Clears Way For CRISPR-Based Sickle Cell TreatmentAn FDA committee cleared the way for a revolutionary cure for sickle cell disease this week. If given final approval, the treatment would be the first to use CRISPR gene editing in humans. Sickle cell disease is caused by a genetic mutation that causes blood cells to develop into crescent or “sickle” shapes. The extremely painful and often deadly disease disproportionately affects Black and African American people.Ira talks with Vox staff writer Umair Irfan about the new sickle cell treatment and other top science news of the week, including the link between the auto worker strike and a clean energy transition; new evidence about the moon’s origin; and why starfish don’t have arms. Your Pain Tolerance May Have Been Passed Down from NeanderthalsThere’s a little bit of Neanderthal in most of us. Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had a long history of intermingling, before the former went extinct about 40,000 years ago. That mixing means most modern humans have some amount of Neanderthal DNA—and it accounts for up to 3% of the genome in some people.While these genetic remnants don’t have much impact on our day-to-day lives, they may be responsible for one surprising effect: pain tolerance. Recent research shows that people with Neanderthal variants in the gene SCN9A have a lower pain tolerance than people without the gene.This isn’t the only Neanderthal remnant that’s been passed down. A study from earlier this year pinpointed a certain genome region that impacts nose shape. Taller, wider noses were passed down from our Neanderthal ancestors who lived in colder climates. A larger nose warmed air before it hit the sensitive lungs.Ira speaks with Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari, assistant professor of statistics at the Open University in the United Kingdom, who worked on both of these studies.  To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.  Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
03/11/23·24m 38s

How Poisons Have Shaped Life On Earth

When you think of poisons, you might think of chemicals like cyanide, arsenic, or the deadly concoction left out for rats. But have you thought of acorns? What about the cup of coffee you had this morning? Or the mums growing in your window box? Toxicity is all in the eye—or bloodstream—of the beholder.A new book describes the story of nature’s endless array of toxins, and how they shaped life on earth, including ours.Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with Dr. Noah Whiteman, evolutionary biologist at University of California, Berkeley and the author of Most Delicious Poison: The Story of Nature’s Toxins – from Spices to Vices. They chat about the poisons that fill our pantries and gardens, and what our use and abuse of these substances tells us about ourselves.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
02/11/23·17m 39s

Placenta Research May Help Explain Pregnancy Loss

Content warning: This interview includes discussion of miscarriage and pregnancy loss, and may be triggering for some listeners.The placenta is an incredible body part. It’s the only organ grown temporarily, created during pregnancy and discarded after birth. It has the enormous job of supporting the growth of a fetus, protecting it from infection and inflammation. When something goes wrong with the placenta, it can result in the loss of a baby.For something that can be so devastating to expectant parents, miscarriages are incredibly normal. Of the 5 million pregnancies each year in the United States, about 1 million end in miscarriage, categorized as a loss before 20 weeks of gestation. About 20,000 pregnancies end in stillbirth during the later stages of gestation.Often, after a pregnancy loss, doctors tell parents that the cause is unexplained. This can lead to feelings of failure and guilt, even though pregnancy loss is almost always out of a person’s control.Dr. Harvey Kliman, director of the Yale School of Medicine’s Reproductive and Placental Research Unit, has dedicated his career to better understanding the placenta and its relationship to pregnancy loss. Dr. Kliman and his team recently analyzed 1,256 placentas that resulted in pregnancy loss. They learned that 90% of these losses could be explained by conditions such as a small or misshapen placenta.Dr. Kliman joins guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about his research, and the importance of studying the placenta as a way to better understand what leads to miscarriage and stillbirth. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
01/11/23·17m 31s

A Common Cold Medicine Ingredient Doesn’t Work. What Now?

Twenty years ago, scientists found that phenylephrine, listed as a decongestant in many cold medicines, didn’t work. What can you use instead? In September, an advisory committee for the Food and Drug Administration unanimously confirmed that phenylephrine—a common ingredient in cold medicines, including some types of Mucinex and Robitussin—doesn’t work.For many physicians, pharmacists, and cold-sufferers, this came as no surprise. Phenylephrine’s ineffectiveness had been an open secret in the healthcare community for decades.In 2005, Dr. Randy Hatton, clinical professor at the Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy Department at the University of Florida, managed the University of Florida Drug Information and Pharmacy Resource Center hotline. He often received calls from pharmacists reporting that phenylephrine-based drugs had no effect on improving colds.He came across research from Dr. Leslie Hendeles, professor emeritus of the College of Pharmacy, also at the University of Florida, from a decade prior. Dr. Hendeles had also found that the substance was ineffective. They partnered up and petitioned the FDA to publicly confirm their finding. Their collaboration was the first step toward the FDA’s recent announcement.But despite the announcement, the removal of these drugs from shelves is not guaranteed. Pharmaceutical companies are appealing the FDA’s decision, and are trying to stall an official declaration that prohibits their sale.Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with Dr. Hatton and Dr. Hendeles about the long road to the FDA’s announcement.They discuss how their research proved phenylephrine’s ineffectiveness, and which drugs people can turn to instead as cold season approaches.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
31/10/23·12m 38s

Diving Into Elon Musk’s Mind

There’s a name that’s hard to escape these days, particularly if you’re in the technology world—Elon Musk. He’s involved with Tesla electric cars, home solar and battery installations, SpaceX rockets, Starlink satellites, and the company that once was known as Twitter. Woven through his array of enterprises is a mix of technical savvy, confident ego, and sometimes impulsive decision-making.Biographer Walter Isaacson has tried to sort through the competing influences behind the entrepreneur and his mercurial behavior in a recent book titled simply Elon Musk. He joins Ira to talk about the business magnate’s origins, his management style, and the incessant appetite for risk and drama that drives his successes—and, sometimes, his dramatic failures. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
30/10/23·30m 0s

RSV Drug Shortage & Beech Leaf Disease

RSV has reached epidemic levels in the southern US. Also, beech leaf disease is spreading rapidly in Massachusetts.RSV Drug For Infants In Short SupplyRespiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common illness that—for most—looks like a common cold. But for infants, it can be an intense illness, leading to hospitalization. That’s why it was a relief for parents and physicians when an immunization drug for all infants was approved in July.However, it’s become clear the demand for the drug is greater than the supply. This week, the CDC issued an alert about the drug’s limited availability, and recommended that only infants under 6 months and those with underlying health conditions receive it until further notice. An RSV spike in the southern US has reached seasonal epidemic levels, a sign that transmission will likely climb in other areas soon.Katherine J. Wu, science writer for The Atlantic, joins guest host Flora Lichtman to chat about this story as well as mouse mummies in the Andes, Hurricane Otis defying forecasts, a secret benefit of “Asian glow,” and other big news from the week.Beech Leaf Disease Is Spreading Rapidly in MassachusettsA new tree disease has spread in forests in Massachusetts, joining invasive pests and climate change as top priorities for foresters to address.The state has found beech leaf disease in more than 90 communities since it was first discovered in the state in 2020.“Lately this has been one of our biggest concerns and my team devotes a lot of time to it. We do expect to see a lot of long-term impact and trees lost from it,” said Nicole Keleher, forest health program director at the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.Beech leaf disease is caused by an unusual parasite: a nematode, which is a microscopic roundworm, that infects the leaves and buds. Researchers believe that it may be spread by birds, insects and wind. This makes it more difficult to treat than visible insects like the emerald ash borer that can be somewhat contained by asking people not to transport wood between forests, according to Keleher.Infected leaves can develop dark patches or stripes, and often will curl up. The infection causes the tree’s leaves to fall off and can eventually starve the tree, which can die within a few years.Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
27/10/23·18m 26s

When Studying Ecology Means Celebrating Its Gifts

In a conversation from 2019, bestselling author Robin Wall Kimmerer discusses the role of ceremony in our lives, and how to celebrate reciprocal relationships with the natural world.Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, was first published nearly a decade ago—but in 2020, the book made the New York Times best-seller lists, propelled mainly by word of mouth. The book explores the lessons and gifts that the natural world, especially plants, have to offer to people. Kimmerer writes that improving our relationship with nature requires the acknowledgment and celebration of a reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. “I think we can care better for one another, for the land, and in fact we can do better science when we consider all of these streams of evidence, and assumptions, about the living world,” says Kimmerer.Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. In this SciFri Book Club discussion, recorded before a live Zoom audience, she discusses the book, the role of ceremony in our lives, and the challenge of addressing ecological issues such as exotic species within a reciprocal framework.This segment, originally from 2022, was re-aired this week.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
26/10/23·17m 54s

Unlocking The Mysteries Of A Metal-Rich Asteroid

Last week, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft launched successfully from the Kennedy Space Center. It’s now on a six-year trip to an asteroid, also called Psyche, located in the solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Unlike previously studied asteroids, it’s not composed mostly of rock or ice. The Psyche spacecraft's target is largely made of metal, thought to be around 60% iron and nickel. The mission won’t actually land on the asteroid—all of its observations will happen from orbit, and will involve imaging, spectroscopy, and magnetometer studies.Scientists aren’t sure if the asteroid is a proto-planetary core, or something else entirely.  They’re hoping that studying the metal-rich asteroid might help teach them about how planets form. Some researchers are also interested in learning what 16 Psyche might be able to teach them about the possibility of future space mining operations—though this particular space object is too far away and too impractical to attempt any kind of sample return, let alone its retrieval. (Plus, suddenly selling the amount of metal an entire astroid holds would completely disrupt the global market, making it almost worthless.)Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator for the Psyche mission and vice president for Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative, joins guest host Swapna Krishna to talk about the mission and its goals.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
25/10/23·18m 18s

Rapidly Evolving Trout & Ancient Hyper-Apex Predators

Research shows some rapidly evolving trout are altering Wyoming's aquatic ecosystems. Plus, paleontologists pieced together a level of apex predators with no modern equivalent. In Wyoming’s Mountain Lakes, Stocked Trout Are Evolving QuicklyAnglers across the West love to fish in high, alpine lakes, and Wyoming’s Wind River Range is nearly unbeatable for this experience. Around this time of year, frost covers the tips of trees at sunrise, and there’s plenty of room along the lonesome blue waters above 10,000 feet.Those who do make the trek—which usually takes more than 15 miles of hiking—are greeted by hungry golden, brook or cutthroat trout looking to fatten up for the winter. They’ll take almost any fly, from a yellow foam grasshopper, to a Parachute Adams to a tiny ant. And the fish are often big, colorful and photogenic.But as untamed, historic and relaxing as a day on the water feels, it’s anything but natural. New research is shedding light on how the history of fish stocking has impacted alpine lake ecosystems in the Wind Rivers. In many cases, the genetics of trout have evolved rapidly, allowing them to survive in harsh mountain environments.Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. Hyper-Apex Predators: Colombian Fossils Reveal Big Reptilians Atop Ancient Marine Food ChainThe Paja Formation, located in central Colombia, is a treasure trove of fossils. The site is integral to scientists’ understanding of ancient creatures who roamed the seas during the Early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago.Now, paleontologists have pieced together the food chain of this marine ecosystem. Surprisingly, they found it supported an additional level of apex predators—think massive marine reptiles—for which there is no modern equivalent.SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Dirley Cortés, paleontologist at the Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas in Colombia and PhD candidate at McGill University’s Redpath Museum, and Dr. Hans Larsson, paleontologist and professor at McGill University’s Redpath Museum. They discuss their fascinating findings, and the importance of better understanding this part of the fossil record.   To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
24/10/23·18m 9s

Finding Meaning In The Cosmos

In her new memoir, astrobiologist Dr. Aomawa Shields describes how a quest for life in the cosmos helped her find meaning on Earth.One of the biggest, most intriguing questions in the world is quite simple: Are we alone in this universe? Astronomer and astrobiologist Dr. Aomawa Shields looks for signs of life in outer space by analyzing the climate and habitability of small exoplanets far beyond our solar system.Dr. Shields’ path to science was a winding one. Through childhood and into her adult years, she toggled between two loves: acting and space. In her new memoir Life On Other Planets: A Memoir of Finding My Place in the Universe, she describes her search for signs of life in the cosmos and her quest to build a meaningful life here on Earth. She charts her life story from childhood to astronomy to acting and back to science—and what she’s learned about herself and the universe along the way.Guest host Swapna Krishna talks with Dr. Shields, professor at the University of California Irvine, about her research, the power that comes from combining the arts and science, and what she’s learned from pondering the universe.Read an excerpt from Life On Other Planets: A Memoir of Finding My Place in the Universe. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
23/10/23·17m 54s

‘Clean Hydrogen Hub’ Awardees & Formula One Car Paint

Seven “clean energy hubs” will receive a total of $7B to develop forms of hydrogen production with minimal carbon emissions. And, ahead of the US Grand Prix, an aerodynamicist breaks down the recent engineering changes to F1 cars.Department Of Energy Announces ‘Clean Hydrogen Hub’ AwardeesThe Department of Energy announced seven “clean hydrogen hubs,” which will receive a cumulative $7 billion. Each group will use a host of different approaches to produce hydrogen fuel with little or no emissions.SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Casey Crownhart, climate reporter for MIT Technology Review, to break down the details of this announcement and other top science news of the week, including seals helping map a canyon in Antarctica, the number of living cells in the world, and a very spicy pepper.Formula One Cars Are Stripping Off Paint To Save WeightFormula One is known as the pinnacle of motorsport, with cars that can reach speeds of 230 miles per hour. Thanks to the Netflix series Drive To Survive, the sport is more popular than ever.As engineers prepare for the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, this Sunday, teams strive to make their cars as fast as possible. To do so, they try to reduce the ultra-fast cars’ weight by altering the construction of the frame of the car, or finding lighter engine parts. But recently, many teams have been stripping the paint off the cars instead.Even though paint on an F1 car only adds up to about three pounds, races can be won by milliseconds, so every ounce counts. In the last couple years, many teams made the decision to pare down the amount of paint used on the cars, exposing the natural black color of the carbon fiber below it. It’s why the cars on the grid look darker overall, compared to previous years.Kyle Forster, a former aerodynamicist for the Mercedes-AMG F1 team and a lead aerodynamicist for JKF Consultants, breaks down the engineering changes made to F1 cars in recent years, the newest in paint science, and what aerodynamic changes he hopes to make in the years to come.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
20/10/23·24m 23s

What Is Your Cat Doing When You're Not Watching?

In a conversation from 2019, Ira and the researchers behind a “catcam” study discuss the secret lives of your feline friends.If you want the real scoop on what your cat is doing while you’re away, researchers are studying that very question, using cat cameras. Our feline friends spend quite a lot of time outside of our line of sight, and we imagine them napping, bathing, playing, hunting. But that’s merely speculation. To get the data, researchers need to catch them in the act. Maren Huck, Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby in the UK, recently published a methodological study where she successfully tracked the movements of 16 outdoor domestic cats to find out what they were up to. She joins Ira to discuss the findings, which she published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.Plus, cat behavior specialist and University California, Davis veterinary school researcher Mikel Delgado joins the conversation to talk more about catching cat behavior on camera, and what we can learn from recording their secret lives. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for this segment will be available on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
19/10/23·17m 6s

The Stories Of The First Six Women Astronauts

If you were asked to name the early astronauts, you probably wouldn’t have much trouble; Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn come to mind easily enough. But what if you had to name women astronauts, besides Sally Ride? It’s a question that even space nerds might have trouble answering.A new book from space reporter Loren Grush centers those women’s stories. The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts goes deep into the histories, triumphs, and tragedies of Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Rhea Saddon, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Anna Fisher. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration excluded women from its astronauts in the 1960s and ‘70s. The agency changed course in 1978, when it selected these six women from a candidate pool of 8,000.Ira sits down with Loren Grush, space reporter for Bloomberg News, to talk about why NASA delayed their inclusion, the agency politics the women had to navigate, the pressure they faced from the media, and how they made their mark on the space program.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
18/10/23·24m 11s

A Mathematician Asks ‘Is Math Real?’

When math is based on abstract concepts, how do we know it’s correct? Dr. Eugenia Cheng takes on that question in a new book. The concept of math has been around for a long time, developing independently in many different cultures. In 1650 BC, the Egyptians were creating math textbooks on papyrus, with multiplication and division tables. Geometry, like the Pythagorean theorem, was used in ancient Greece. And negative numbers were invented in China around 200 BC.Some mathematical concepts are easier to understand than others. One apple plus one apple equals two apples, for example. But when it comes to complex equations, negative numbers, and calculus, concepts become abstract. All that abstraction prompts some to wonder: Is math even real?Mathematician Dr. Eugenia Cheng has heard this question many times over her career. The quandary is the basis of her latest book, Is Math Real?: How Simple Questions Lead Us to Mathematics’ Deepest Truths. She joins Ira from Chicago, Illinois. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for this segment will be available on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
17/10/23·33m 8s

The mRNA Vaccine Revolution

You’ve probably heard that there’s an updated COVID-19 vaccine on the market, and maybe you’ve already gotten your updated booster. But there are new kinds of vaccines in development that go beyond just tweaking protection to better cover circulating variants.In one promising development, researchers adapted the decades-old MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine into one covering measles, mumps, and multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2—and, rather than a shot, they delivered that experimental vaccine via a nasal spray.Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, joins Ira to talk about the approach, the advantages of nasal vaccines, and other vaccines on the horizon that make use of the mRNA technology that was the focus of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Topol hopes that the mRNA approach will be widely applicable to a range of diseases and conditions—from conventional pathogens to cancers and autoimmune disorders. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
16/10/23·13m 14s

Ancient Human Footprints & 'Ring Of Fire' Eclipse

A new analysis of ancient footprints in New Mexico adds to the debate about when humans arrived in North America. Plus, astronomer Dean Regas offers tips for safe viewing of Saturday’s eclipse. New Data Support Human Arrival In North America 22,000 Years AgoIn 2021, scientists uncovered ancient human footprints in White Sands, New Mexico. Dating of the footprints suggested that people arrived in North America thousands of years earlier than anthropologists had thought. It sparked fierce debate among researchers, some of whom raised concerns about the radiocarbon dating process used in the original study. Now, a new study provides additional data supporting humans’ arrival in North America 22,000 years ago.Ira talks with Maggie Koerth, editorial lead at Carbon Plan about the latest in this debate about the peopling of North America and other top science news of the week including how solar storms affect bird migration, why ants are getting ensnared in plastic, and how climate change is improving Bordeaux wine. This Weekend’s ‘Ring Of Fire’ EclipseThis Saturday, much of the continental United States will be treated to an astronomical event—an annular solar eclipse. In this type of eclipse, the apparent sizes of the moon and sun don’t align perfectly to Earth-bound viewers, resulting in a solar “ring of fire” shining around the edges of a moon nestled inside the boundaries of the sun.The best viewing will come in a 125-mile-wide band known as the path of annularity, which will stretch from Eugene, Oregon to San Antonio, Texas, and then on into Mexico and Central America. Viewers outside that band will still be able to see some parts of the eclipse, with the percent coverage depending on how far they are from that central line.    Even though the sun will be partly covered, it is NOT safe to look directly at the sun without eclipse glasses. If you don’t have glasses, you can look at a projection of the sun through a pinhole onto the ground or another surface—but don’t look through the pinhole at the sun. Astronomer and author Dean Regas joins Ira for an eclipse preview, and to offer viewing tips on when, where, and how to best view the solar event.  To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
13/10/23·17m 54s

Saltwater Wedge In The Mississippi & Kenya's Geothermal Boom

A Saltwater Wedge Is Moving Up The Mississippi RiverAs the Mississippi River drops to one of its lowest levels in recent history, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said salt water from the Gulf of Mexico could threaten drinking water as far north as New Orleans’ French Quarter if no action is taken.On Friday, the Corps announced plans to avoid that scenario by building upon an existing underwater barrier that has been in place to block the progression of salt water from intruding farther upriver since July. At its current height, the Corps expects the salt water creeping up the bottom of the Mississippi River to overtop the barrier later this week, sometime around Sept. 22.If that were to happen, the salt water would begin affecting drinking water in Belle Chasse by early October.To read more, visit sciencefriday.com.Kenya’s Geothermal Boom Could Help Power AfricaBeneath Kenya, the African tectonic plate is splitting in two. That cleave creates hydrothermal vents, ripe for harnessing geothermal energy. This is a renewable source of energy derived from hot water that bubbles up from deep underground. When it comes to the surface, it turns into steam. That steam can be used to spin a turbine connected to a generator, and voilá: electricity.Kenya began to tap into this natural supply in the 1950s, and now the East African nation is the seventh largest geothermal energy producer in the world. The Kenyan government has said that the country’s untapped resources are enough to meet its peak energy demands five times over. That’s a big deal on a continent where more than 40% of people lack electricity.Joining guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about this is Geoffrey Kamadi, a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.  To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
12/10/23·18m 38s

How Artists And Scientists Collaborated To Make Art About HIV

How Artists And Scientists Collaborated To Make Art About HIVThis past July, the 12th International Conference on HIV Science was held in Brisbane, Australia. But this wasn’t your typical scientific conference. Yes, findings were presented on the latest in HIV research, but it culminated in a museum exhibition.12 HIV-positive artists were paired with 12 scientists, and each pair collaborated on a piece of art, largely based on the scientists’ research. One of the pieces attracted a bit more attention than the others.Kairon Liu, an artist, curator, and photographer, and Kane Race, a professor of gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney, wanted to create something that commented on the negative effects of global HIV policy and the current stigma of living with the disease. The resulting piece is titled Untransmittable, a transparent penis-shaped sculpture filled with thousands of expired antiretroviral pills.Science Friday producer and Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt sat down with Liu and Race to talk about the piece they made, why they couldn’t take it over the Australian border, and their hopes for future HIV research. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
11/10/23·18m 18s

Full-Body MRIs Promise To Detect Disease Early. Do They Work?

The latest trend in celebrity health care is full-body MRI scans, with influencers like Kim Kardashian endorsing them. These scans aren’t covered by health insurance, and run over $2,000 out of pocket. Typically, a new diagnostic tool is marketed to doctors and radiologists. But companies like Prenuvo are now marketing directly to consumers. They claim that their scans will catch early signs of cancer, aneurysms, liver diseases and even multiple sclerosis.It’s an appealing promise. If you can afford it, wouldn’t it be nice to catch cancer super early? Could it even save your life? Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that. Simply put, the potential harms far outweigh any possible benefits of such a scan. Guest host Flora Lichtman separates fact from fad with Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, and director of the Radiology Outcomes Research Laboratory, based in San Francisco, California. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
10/10/23·18m 34s

Meet The Doctor Who Solves Medical Mysteries

A news story was circulating a few months ago—a woman in Australia came into the hospital with abdominal pain. She was increasingly forgetful and struggling with depression. Her doctors were stumped for over a year. What was causing her symptoms? Turns out she had a three-inch parasitic worm living in her brain. They took it out, and she recovered.How do doctors crack cases like this? How do you even know to check for a brain worm? This is the specialty of Dr. Joe DeRisi. When doctors run into a diagnostic dead end they call him. In his world, brain worms aren’t even that rare. (Ask him about brain-eating amoebas.)Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with Dr. DeRisi, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine and president of the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub San Francisco, about his fascinating work solving some of the most vexing medical mysteries, and how it may even help detect the next pandemic-inducing pathogen.  To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
09/10/23·17m 35s

mRNA Research Wins Nobel Prize & Lightning On Venus

An mRNA Advance Wins A Nobel PrizeThis week, a handful of scientists scattered around the world got surprise telephone calls announcing that they will be receiving Nobel Prizes. On Monday, the prize in medicine or physiology was announced. It went to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, scientists who developed the modifications to mRNA that made the biomolecule a viable strategy for creating vaccines. On Tuesday, the Nobel in physics went to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier, who created techniques to illuminate the movement of electrons using attosecond-length pulses of light. And on Wednesday  Moungi G. Bawendi, Louis E. Brus and Alexei I. Ekimov learned that they had won the prize in chemistry for their work with tiny bits of semiconductor material known as quantum dots.Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about the winners and their advances, and to share other stories from the week in science, including an FCC fine for a satellite company’s space junk, concerns over drought in the Amazon rainforest, and a tale of fighting a coral-threatening algal bloom using hungry crabs. Venus Lightning Debate Gets LitVenus is an inhospitable place. The longest any spacecraft has survived on the planet’s surface is thought to be around two hours. It’s blazing hot. It has bone-crushing atmospheric pressure and clouds made of sulfuric acid. But is there lightning?Flybys of Venus have detected electromagnetic signals in the radio spectrum called “whistler waves” that, on Earth, are associated with lightning strikes. So some experts speculated that Venus might have lightning too—perhaps a lot of lightning. But there was no hard proof. The question of Venusian lightning has been a topic of electric debate among scientists for some 40 years.A study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month used data from the Parker Solar Probe to argue that the whistler waves around Venus may have a different cause. Research scientist Dr. Harriet George and space plasma physicist Dr. David Malaspina of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder join guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about the finding, and what it could tell us about planets elsewhere in the galaxy.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.  Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
06/10/23·25m 24s

Placebo Effect, Technoableism, Florida Citrus, Neuroscience Music. Sept 29, 2023, Part 2

The Science Behind The Placebo EffectEarlier this month, a Food and Drug Administration panel concluded that a common decongestant ingredient used in drugs like Sudafed and NyQuil doesn’t work. The panel agreed that while the ingredient, called phenylephrine, isn’t dangerous, it doesn’t work any better than a placebo.That made us wonder: How well do placebos work? And why do they work even when people know they’re getting a placebo?Ted J. Kaptchuk, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, joins guest host and musician Dessa to talk about what’s new in placebo research. They discuss the benefits placebos can offer for chronic illness management, and when doctors might start using them in treatments. Where Technology Meets AbleismWith all the bad news on our feeds, a feel-good story can be a welcome reprieve. But what happens when that story comes in the form of coverage of disability technology?You might’ve seen the videos online of a person with a physical disability being fitted with an exoskeleton, essentially “wearing” a robot, to help them walk. Onlookers cheer in the background, dramatic music swells, and we get the sense we’re watching something inspirational and empowering—a victory of the human spirit.This might seem like a triumph of scientific innovation, but our guest asks us to look again at what’s actually going on in narratives like this one.Dr. Ashley Shew, associate professor at Virginia Tech, studies the intersection of disability and technology and how our collective fixation on these fancy, supposedly transformative gadgets could be doing more harm than good. In her new book, she coins the term “technoableism” to get to the heart of the matter.Guest host and musician Dessa talks with Dr. Shew about her book Against Technoableism: Rethinking Who Needs Improvement, about what disability technology is, what the future should look like, and even how disability intersects with space travel and climate change. Sour Times For Florida’s CitrusFlorida is known for citrus, particularly its fresh-squeezed orange juice. But citrus trees in the state are struggling. For the last two decades, crops have been struck with a devastating disease called “citrus greening.” And Florida orange production has dropped some 94% over that period.                                              Citrus greening is caused by an invasive insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, which is threatening to wipe out the citrus industry in the state. One of the effects of the disease is a bitter, acidic fruit. Scientists are hard at work devising possible solutions to save Florida’s crop.Guest host and musician Dessa talks with Dr. Yu Wang, associate professor of food science at the University of Florida’s Citrus Education and Research Center, about her recent advances in making infected orange plants sweeter. Making Neuroscience Into MusicWhen composer Sarah Hennies learned about a neurological theory called “motor tapes” from Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia, the concept stuck with her for years. The theory comes from neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás, who posited that many of our thoughts, memories, and physical movements operate via a series of “looping tapes,” with the goal of reducing the amount of energy the brain uses while doing common, repetitive tasks.The concept resonated with Hennies, who is also a visiting assistant professor of music at Bard College. Most of her compositions use heavy amounts of repetition, and Llinás’ theory fit with how she experienced her own memories and the evolution of her identity. Her piece “Motor Tapes” premiered in early August, performed by Ensemble Dedalus.Hennies joins guest host and musician Dessa to talk about repetition in music, how to translate neuroscience into art, and what that pairing can reveal about our bodies and the world around us. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
29/09/23·47m 43s

Vision and the Brain, Jellypalooza. Sept 29, 2023, Part 1

After 7 Years, NASA Gets Its Asteroid SampleAbout a week ago, space nerds got the delivery of a lifetime: a sample from Bennu, an asteroid soaring through the galaxy, currently about 200 million miles away. The capsule of rocks and dust came courtesy of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. mission to collect a sample from an asteroid.Scientists hope it’ll help unveil some of the mysteries of our universe, like how the sun and planets came to exist or how life began. Guest host and musician Dessa talks with Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, about this week in science. They also chat about how antimatter interacts with gravity, the new RSV vaccine for pregnant people, why LED streetlights are turning purple, and how beetles came to dominate all other species, especially ants. How You See With Your BrainEver try to take a picture of a spectacular moon that looks like it fills up half the sky? And then you look at the photo, and the moon looks like a tiny dumb ping-pong ball? And you want to march into the Apple store and demand to know why this pocket-size device fails to capture the wonder of the cosmos properly? The majesty of that supermoon you saw might be in your head as much as it is in the sky—your brain does a lot more than just receive data reports from your eyes. Vision is complicated. Seeing involves a lot of interpretation, of which you’re usually unaware. Guest host and musician Dessa talks with neuroscientist Dr. Cheryl Olman, associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s psychology department, about her work to better understand how the brain processes visual information using sophisticated fMRI techniques, including studying the brains of people with schizophrenia. Are Jellyfish Smarter Than We Think?Jellyfish are known for their graceful, hypnotic movement through the water—and for occasionally stinging swimmers. One thing they’re not known for, however, is intelligence. A study published in the journal Current Biology, however, challenges the idea of the ‘brainless’ jellyfish by showing that at least one species of jelly may be capable of associative learning.The scientists were studying the Caribbean box jellyfish, which normally lives amongst a forest of tangled mangrove tree roots. In the lab, they painted false roots on the walls of the jellyfish’s tank, and watched to see what happened. At first, the jellies judged the low-contrast gray roots to be far away, and tried to swim through them. After a few collisions with the tank, however, the jellies learned that the false roots were closer than they appeared, and learned to keep their distance.Dr. Anders Garm, an associate professor of marine biology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, joins guest host Dessa to explain the experiment, and what it tells researchers about the connection between the behavior of small groups of neurons and the process of learning. The Mysteries Of Freshwater JellyfishIn 1933, a high schooler fishing along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan looked into the water and saw something weird. It turned out to be a freshwater jellyfish – the first ever discovered in the Great Lakes region. Later that year, there was another sighting in Lake Erie.Researchers think the species hitched a ride here on aquatic plants shipped from China, then spread. But there’s no evidence they harm the lake ecosystems they now call home.Since then, the jellyfish have spread across the Upper Midwest, loitering mostly in inland lakes, rivers, and streams. But we still don’t know all that much about them.A biology professor and her field research class at Eastern Michigan University are hoping to change that. Every week, they slap on masks, snorkels, and floaties, and wade out into a southeast Michigan lake on the lookout for jellyfish.Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
29/09/23·48m 3s

Ocean Climate Solutions, Florida Corals, Climate Video Games. Sept 22, 2023, Part 2

Florida’s Reefs Are Vanishing. Can Scientists Save Them?This was a bad year for Florida’s coral reefs. Since the 1970s, reef cover in the Florida Keys has decreased by 90%. Those remaining reefs have been subjected to water temperatures higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, alongside other threats like disease and ocean acidification. This is a big problem for the largest reef in the continental U.S., which plays an important role in protecting the shorelines from erosion and storms.Scientists are scrambling to preserve as much of the reef as possible. One method marine biologists are focused on is selectively breeding corals in labs. Scientists look for the specimens most resilient to heat stress, then breed them together to create hardy offspring. Those spawn are then implanted into the reef, with hopes of bolstering the existing structure.Vox environmental reporter Benji Jones joins Ira to talk about his dives to Florida’s Pickles Reef, and the differences he saw between this year and last year. Then, Ira speaks with marine biologist Andrew Baker at the University of Miami about his efforts to bolster Florida’s reefs.  The Ocean Is A Climate AllyDid you know that the ocean absorbs about a quarter of all CO2 emissions? And about 90% of excess heat? It’s the largest carbon sink we have—and one of our biggest allies in the climate movement.Ira talks with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist and co-founder of the non-profit Urban Ocean Lab, as well as the climate initiative The All We Can Save Project. They chat about climate solutions—like the newly launched Climate Corps—the power of the ocean, and steps forward. Dr. Johnson is also the curator for Climate Futurism, an art exhibition at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York. Feeling Hopeless About Climate Change? Try Playing These Video GamesThis segment, originally from 2022, was re-aired this week.Five years ago, Stephanie Barish was tired of the public’s attitude about climate change. “Most people at that time were just so negative about climate,” she said. “It was doom and destruction, and I thought, wow, to make positive change, you have to really look at this from a solutions perspective.” Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Indiecade, an organization that supports indie video game developers and hosts events like the Climate Jam—the goal of which was to change the gloomy public narrative around climate change. So, with the help of organizations like Earth Games, participants around the globe gather every year to make video games about climate change optimism, solutions, and justice.Teams can also consult with subject matter experts, like Dargan Frierson, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, and also a judge for the Climate Jam. If teams wonder what climate change would look like on a different planet, they can go to him for answers. “We always look for scientific accuracy,” he said. “I think it’s very important to keep things within the realm of possibility, even when you’re looking at fiction.”Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
22/09/23·47m 22s

Our Fragile Moment, Climate Comedy. Sept 22, 2023, Part 1

A Week Of Climate Protests, Meetings, Pledges, And ActionClimate Week NYC is wrapping up, where hundreds of events took place across the city (including one from Science Friday), all with the goal of encouraging conversation and action around our climate crisis.The weeklong event takes place alongside the UN General Assembly meeting, where world leaders discussed climate change, alongside other topics, including the war in Ukraine and universal health coverage.While President Biden emphasized the importance of reducing the use of fossil fuels to combat climate change, there was a notable absence of leaders from the world’s biggest polluters, including Biden and president Xi Jinping of China, from the meeting’s Climate Ambition Summit. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that in order to participate, governments need to come with “credible, serious and new climate action.”Large demonstrations also took place across the city, pressuring leaders and companies to take bigger action to end gas, oil, and coal use.Swapna Krishna, a journalist based in Philadelphia, talks with Ira about these stories and more, including a new climate jobs program from the White House, a lawsuit from California against the five big oil companies, new battery recycling rules from the EU, and data from the Parker Solar Probe’s recent flight through a sun explosion. Can Earth’s Past Climate Help Us Understand Today’s Crisis?A combination of factors led to Earth’s climate being able to support life. And changes in the climate some 6,000 years ago created the conditions for human civilization to flourish. It’s a delicate balance on the verge of collapse, due to our reliance on burning fossil fuels.Ira talks with paleoclimatologist Dr. Michael Mann about his forthcoming book Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from Earth’s Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis, about the importance of understanding our planet’s climate history, and strategies to get policymakers to take action before it’s too late to reverse some of the worst consequences of climate change.Mann is a professor of earth and environmental science and director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Read an excerpt of the book on sciencefriday.com The Climate Movement Should Be FunnierHow do you know that climate change is funny? Even the Antarctic ice sheets are cracking up.The climate crisis is no joke, but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh about it. Research suggests that comedy is a powerful way to connect people and get them to empathize with a cause—and the climate crisis is a pretty big one.So what does science say about the power of a good laugh? And how does that fit into the climate movement?Ira talks with Esteban Gast, comedian in residence at the clean energy non-profit Generation 180, and Dr. Caty Borum, executive director of the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
22/09/23·47m 9s

New Covid Vaccine, Moroccan Earthquake, Native Bees. Sept 15, 2023, Part 2

New COVID Boosters Arrive Amid Rise In InfectionsThis past week, the FDA and CDC recommended new COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna for anyone over the age of six months. They’re expected to be in larger pharmacies by the end of the week. It’s welcome news for some, as cases have ticked up over the summer, accompanied by higher hospital admissions and deaths.The boosters join a suite of other vaccines to combat respiratory illness this fall, including this year’s flu shot and the new RSV vaccine, recommended especially for children and the elderly.Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist, adjunct professor at UTHealth School of Public Health, and author of the Your Local Epidemiologist newsletter, joins Ira to talk about the details of the new boosters, how long you should wait to get one if you were recently infected, masking recommendations, and if you can get all three shots at once. The Science Behind Devastating EarthquakesOn September 8, 2023 at 11:11 PM local time, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. So far, more than 2,500 people died and thousands more were injured or lost.Other natural disasters usually give off warning signs; we can predict when a volcano will explode, ring the alarms when a tsunami starts to build, or evacuate before a hurricane makes landfall, but we still can’t detect earthquakes before they strike. And victims are left to face “the particular trauma that comes from watching the world around you crumble in an instant,” writes science journalist Robin George Andrews for The Atlantic.Ira talks with Andrews about the specifics of this earthquake, where the science stands with earthquake detection, and the particular kind of trauma that comes from watching the world crumble. The Buzz On Native Bees In Your NeighborhoodWhen you think ‘bees,’ you probably think of a neat stack of white hive boxes and the jars of honey on the store shelves.  But there’s a lot more to bees than the agricultural staple, the European honey bee. Around the world there are over 20,000 known bee species, and around 4,000 of them are native to the United States. While these native bees play a key role in pollinating our plants and ensuring the health of ecosystems, they don’t get a ton of recognition or support. Around three-quarters of flowering plant species rely on insects for pollination, and some native plants have evolved a partnership with specific native bee pollinators. Squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and the annual sunflower all have specific species of native bees as part of their life cycles. Native plants such as blueberries, cherries, and cranberries all developed without the European honeybee, which arrived in North America in 1622. Dr. Neal Williams, a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, joins Ira to talk about native bees, bee behavior and pollination. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
15/09/23·47m 42s

Radioactive Wildlife, Bus Stop Heat, Football Jersey Numbers. Sept 15, 2023, Part 1

Astronomers Find Exoplanet That May Be Covered In WaterScientists using the James Webb Space Telescope made an exciting discovery this week: Exoplanet K2-18 b, 120 light years away from our solar system, could be covered by a water ocean, similar to Earth. Astronomers say this could be a big leap in our exploration of life on other planets.This news comes amid another JWST discovery: The earliest black holes seem to be much larger than black holes today. This news also provides evidence that black holes can form without stars, a theorized phenomenon that has never been directly observed.Joining Ira to talk about these and other science stories of the week is Tim Revell, Deputy U.S. Editor of New Scientist, based in New York, New York. What Radioactive Animals Teach Us About Nuclear FalloutWhen you hear the words “radioactive wildlife,” your brain probably jumps to Chernobyl’s wolves, which—despite the odds—are still thriving at the site of the nuclear disaster. Or maybe you’ve heard of the rat snakes in Fukushima that pick up radioactive contamination as they slither around.Well, it’s time to add two more to that list of radioactive critters: turtles and wild boar. They’re the subjects of two new studies that looked at radioactivity in wildlife and mapped out where it came from. Ira talks with Dr. Cyler Conrad, archaeologist at Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington who worked on the turtle study, and Dr. Georg Steinhauser, professor of applied radiochemistry at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, who studied boar. They chat about the two studies, how wildlife can clue us into radioactive contamination, and what we can learn from critters in nuclear fallout zones. Waiting for the Bus in Houston is Hot. And Dangerous.It was a hot summer day and Glory Medina and her daughter Jade, who was 3 at the time, were running a quick errand at the grocery store near their apartment in Gulfton. They had taken the bus and once they arrived, the two of them faced a giant unshaded parking lot, the black asphalt radiating heat into their faces as they walked across it.The blast of AC felt cool as they entered the store, and Medina bent down to lift her daughter into the grocery cart. That’s when she noticed Jade’s face was red, almost purple.“I got scared,” Medina said in Spanish, remembering that day four years ago.Read more at sciencefriday.com. The Psychology Behind Wide Receivers’ Jersey NumbersFootball season is officially here, with the NFL’s first game kicking off last Sunday. And if you’ve been watching the sport for a long time, you may have noticed some changes: better-padded helmets meant to reduce serious brain injury, new “sticky” gloves that make it easier for players to hold the ball, and lighter-weight jerseys that make it harder for other players to grab onto. But you’ll also notice the numbers on those jerseys are different, too.For most of the NFL’s history, wide receivers could only pick jersey numbers between 80 and 89. But in 2004, the league relaxed this policy, allowing players to also pick numbers between 10 and 19. Many players preferred these smaller values explaining that the 1 looked slimmer than the 8, and made them feel thinner and faster. As of 2019, 80% of wide receivers made the switch.But is there an actual association between smaller numbers and perception of body size?To investigate whether this was fact or superstition, Dr. Ladan Shams, professor of psychology, bioengineering, and neuroscience at UCLA, ran a study that found those wide receivers were onto something: the results suggest there is a correlation between smaller numbers and perceived body size. Her team’s research was published in PLOS One. She joins Ira to talk about the study and what it could tell us about implicit bias. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
15/09/23·46m 58s

Tree Soil, Rodent Biologist, Soundscape Artist. Sept 8, 2023, Part 2

Where Soil Grows Above The TreesYou might be used to the feeling of Earth under your feet, but did you know that there’s soil high above your head? Way up in the treetops, where ferns, mosses, flowers, and even trees grow on top of the forest. A new study in Geoderma describes the factors that contribute to how canopy soil is formed.Ira talks with lead author Jessica Murray, an ecologist and PhD candidate at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. They discuss the importance of canopy soil, what we do and don’t know about it, and what it’s like to study it.Check out views from Murray’s field sites at sciencefriday.com!‘I Will Not Be Vole Girl’—A Biologist Warms To RodentsThe path to becoming a scientist is not unlike the scientific process itself: Filled with dead ends, detours, and bumps along the way.Danielle Lee started asking questions about animal behavior when she was a kid. She originally wanted to become a veterinarian. But after being rejected from veterinary school, she found a fulfilling career as a biologist, doing the type of work she always wanted to do—but never knew was possible for her.Science Friday producer Shoshannah Buxbaum talks with Dr. Danielle Lee, a biologist, outreach scientist, and assistant professor in biology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Edwardsville Illinois about what keeps her asking questions, what rodents can help us understand about humans, and the importance of increasing diversity in science.This Soundscape Artist Has Been Listening To The Planet For DecadesJim Metzner is one of the pioneers of science radio—he’s been making field recordings and sharing them with audiences for more than 40 years. He hosted shows such as “Sounds of Science” in the 1980s, which later grew into “Pulse of the Planet,” a radio show about “the sound of life on Earth.”Over the decades, Metzner has created an incredible time capsule of soundscapes, and now, his entire collection is going to the Library of Congress.John Dankosky talks with Metzner about what he’s learned about the natural world from endless hours of recordings and what we can all learn from listening. Plus, they’ll discuss some of his favorite recordings. To hear the best audio quality, it might be a good idea to use headphones if you can.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
08/09/23·46m 56s

Embryo Model, Sweat, Whale Vocal Fry. September 8, 2023, Part 1

Scientists Develop Human Embryo Model Without Sperm Or EggsThis week, research published in the journal Nature detailed a model of a 14-day old human embryo created without using sperm or eggs. The hope is to shine a light into a previously unavailable window of an embryo’s development, potentially helping to better understand miscarriages and side effects of medications taken during pregnancy. Ira talks with Casey Crownhart, climate and energy reporter at MIT Technology Review to talk about that and other top science news of the week including Japan’s rocket launch to the moon, zinc batteries, and newly discovered toxic bird species.Sweating Is Our Biological SuperpowerSweat may feel like a constant summer companion, whether or not you exercise frequently. Being damp can feel uncomfortable, but the smells that follow—thanks to the lives and deaths of sweat-munching bacteria—are often socially stigmatized as well. (Deodorant itself is actually a very recent invention!)But sweat isn’t just a cosmetic embarrassment: It’s crucial to keeping us cool, as the evaporating liquid pulls heat energy from our bodies. If you look at animals that don’t sweat, many have evolved alternate adaptations like peeing or even pooping on body parts to achieve that vital evaporative effect. People who are born unable to sweat run a constant risk of heatstroke.Ira talks to Sarah Everts, author of the new book, The Joy Of Sweat, about what makes sweat useful, the cool chemistry of this bodily fluid, and why it’s our evolutionary superpower.Vocal Fry Serves Up Treats For Toothed WhalesToothed whales—species like orcas, bottlenose whales, and dolphins—use echolocation to zero in on prey about a mile deep into the ocean.Until now, scientists couldn’t quite figure out how the whales were making these clicking sounds in the deep ocean, where there’s little oxygen.A new study published in the journal Science, finds the key to underwater echolocation is vocal fry. Although in whales it might not sound like the creaky voice that some people love to hate, the two sounds are generated in a similar way in the vocal folds.Ira talks with the study’s co-author, Dr. Coen Elemans, professor of bioacoustics and animal behavior at the University of Southern Denmark based in Odense, Denmark. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
08/09/23·47m 7s

An AI for Smell, Heat and Agricultural Workers, Golden Lion Tamarin, Y Chromosome. Sept 1, 2023, Part 2

What’s That Smell? An AI Nose KnowsIf you want to predict the color of something, you can talk about wavelengths of light. Light with a wavelength of around 460 nanometers is going to look blue. If you want to predict what something sounds like, frequencies can be a guide—a frequency of around 261 Hertz should sound like the musical note middle C.Predicting smells is more difficult. While we know that many sulfur-containing molecules tend to fall somewhere in the ‘rotten egg’ or ‘skunky’ category, predicting other aromas based solely on a chemical structure is hard. Molecules with a similar chemical structure may smell quite different—while two molecules with very different chemical structures can smell the same.This week in the journal Science, researchers describe developing an AI model that,  given the structure of a chemical compound, can roughly predict where it’s likely to fall on a map of odors. For example, is it grassy? Or more meaty? Perhaps floral?Dr. Joel Mainland is one of the authors of that report. He’s a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and an adjunct associate professor in the department of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Mainland joins Ira to talk about the mystery of odor, and his hope that odor maps like the one developed by the AI model could bring scientists closer to identifying the odor equivalent of the three primary colors—base notes that could be mixed and blended to create all other smells.  As Temperatures Rise, Farmworkers Are UnprotectedJuan Peña, 28, has worked in the fields since childhood, often exposing his body to extreme heat like the wave that hit the Midwest last week.The heat can cause such deep pain in his whole body that he just wants to lie down, he said, as his body tells him he can’t take another day on the job. On those days, his only motivation to get out of bed is to earn dollars to send to his 10-month-old baby in Mexico.To read more, visit sciencefriday.com. The Golden Lion Tamarin Rebounds From The Brink Of ExtinctionThe Golden Lion Tamarin is a small, charismatic monkey with a mane of red fur that’s a local celebrity in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. This pint-sized primate was on the brink of extinction back in the 1970s, with only about 200 left in the wild.After decades of concentrated conservation efforts, an estimated 4,800 golden lion tamarins are now living in the wild. The multi-pronged effort involved reconnecting parts of the forest that had disappeared due to deforestation, vaccinating monkeys against yellow fever, and reintroducing zoo-bred primates to the wild.Ira speaks to Carlos Ruiz Miranda, associate professor of conservation and behavior at Northern Rio de Janeiro State University in Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil. Dr. Ruiz Miranda has worked on restoring golden lion tamarin populations for decades, and was involved in every facet of this effort.  Unraveling the Mysteries Of The Y ChromosomeLast week, we briefly mentioned the sequencing and analysis of the human Y chromosome, which was recently reported in the journal Nature. It’s an important achievement—the small Y chromosome is filled with repeated segments of genetic code that make reconstructing the full sequence difficult. Think of trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle—the unique parts of the picture are easy, but areas with repeated colors, like sky or waves, are more challenging.    In addition to the complete sequence of one individual’s Y, other researchers compared the Y chromosomes of 43 different individuals—and found that the structure of the chromosome can vary widely from one person to another.The Y chromosome plays a key role in sex determination and sperm production, making it of interest to fertility researchers. It’s also linked to some diseases and health conditions.Adam Phillippy, a senior investigator in the computational and statistical genomics branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, and Kateryna Makova, a professor of biology at Penn State University, join Ira to talk about the challenges of sequencing the Y chromosome, and what doing so might mean for medical research. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
01/09/23·47m 36s

US Surgeon General On Mental Health, Tracking Tick Bites. Sept 1, 2023, Part 1

What To Expect From Hurricane SeasonWe’re approaching the peak of hurricane season, which is usually around mid-September. It’s that time of year when it feels like there’s a new storm every week, and we blow through the alphabet trying to name them. This week, Hurricane Idalia made landfall around Florida’s Big Bend as a Category 3 storm, which caused a few fatalities, left hundreds of thousands of people without power, and some without homes. So what do we know about Idalia, and what can we expect from the rest of the hurricane season?Ira talks with Rachel Feltman, editor at large at Popular Science, about hurricane season and other science news of the week. They chat about what we’re learning from India’s lunar rover, a three-inch roundworm pulled out of someone’s brain, a new study about public health and air pollution, heavy metals in marijuana products, what an ancient Egyptian mummy smells like, and a turtle named Tally, who is far from home. The Surgeon General Warns About An Epidemic Of LonelinessThe early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were lonely for many, upending their social lives. But loneliness pre-dates COVID, especially among young people. In a recent advisory, the United States surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy warned that the negative health effects of loneliness and isolation are comparable to smoking daily. Despite being more technologically connected than ever before, the Surgeon General’s Office is also raising concerns about the harms of social media on youth mental health.Ira sits down for a conversation with the United States surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, about the intersection of youth mental health, social media, and loneliness. Dr. Murthy outlines both public policy and community interventions that can help strengthen America’s emotional well being and social connections. Keeping Tabs On Tick BitesIf you live in the Midwest or Northeast, you’re probably aware of an issue that’s gotten worse over the years: ticks, and the illnesses they can spread, including Lyme Disease and Alpha-gal syndrome.Scientists are still trying to learn more about how and where ticks are spreading. That’s where The Tick App comes in. It’s a community science effort where you can log your tick encounter and help scientists learn more about tick-borne disease. Science Friday digital producer Emma Gometz sat down with Ira to talk about her recent article profiling the app, and the scientists behind forms of tick monitoring research. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
01/09/23·47m 11s

Old Things Considered: La Brea, Megalodon, Dino Footprints, Surviving History. Aug 25, 2023, Part 2

How Early Humans May Have Transformed L.A.’s Landscape ForeverJoin us on a time traveling adventure, as we go back 15,000 years to visit what’s now southern California. During the last Ice Age, saber-toothed cats, wooly mammoths, and dire wolves prowled the landscape, until … they didn’t. The end of the Ice Age coincided with the end of these species. And for decades, scientists have been trying to figure out a big question: Why did these animals go extinct? A new study in the journal Science offers new clues and suggests that wildfires caused by humans might’ve been the nail in these critters’ coffins. Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with paleoecologist Dr. Emily Lindsey and paleobotanist Dr. Regan Dunn, both curators at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles, California, about what we can learn from animals preserved in tar pits, how fire transformed the ecosystem, and why we have to look to the past for modern day conservation and land management. How Scientifically Accurate Are The Sharks In ‘Meg 2: The Trench’?“Meg 2: The Trench” is the sequel to the 2018 movie “The Meg,” in which a team of ocean scientists discover a megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived, thriving at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Megalodon went extinct over 2.6 million years ago … or so the movie’s characters thought.When the team’s research sub gets damaged, a skilled rescue diver, played by Jason Statham, is brought in, who happened to have encountered the same megalodon years earlier. Over the course of the movie, the team discovers how this long-thought extinct apex predator survived, and what they can do to stop it before it wreaks havoc on the surface world.“Meg 2: The Trench” largely follows in that movie’s footsteps, but this time, it features not just one, but multiple megalodons. Oh, and they’re even bigger this time. Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt chats with Dr. Sora Kim, an associate professor of paleoecology at University of California, Merced, about what science the movie got wrong (and right) and how these over-the-top blockbusters can inspire the scientists of the future. Scientists Discover Dinosaur ‘Coliseum’ In Alaska’s Denali National ParkResearchers recently discovered a rocky outcrop at Denali National Park in Alaska covered in dinosaur tracks, which they dubbed the “Coliseum.” It’s the largest dinosaur track site ever found in Alaska. The area has thousands of prints from generations of dinosaurs living about 70 million years ago, including: duck-billed dinosaurs, horned dinosaurs, raptors, tyrannosaurs.  Flora Lichtman talks with Dustin Stewart, former graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and paleontologist for the environmental consulting firm Stantec, based in Denver, Colorado, about this dino hotspot. Your Guide To Conquering History’s Greatest CatastrophesGuest host Flora Lichtman takes us back to some of the scariest, deadliest moments in history. Think along the lines of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Ice Age, and the asteroid that wiped out the dinos. But we’re going to revisit them using what we know now—and science, of course—to figure out if and how we could survive those events.The idea of using science and hindsight to survive history is the premise of a new book, How to Survive History: How to Outrun a Tyrannosaurus, Escape Pompeii, Get Off the Titanic, and Survive the Rest of History’s Deadliest Catastrophes by Cody Cassidy. We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
25/08/23·47m 16s

Sea Otters, Alaskan Minerals, Salmon Restoration. Aug 25, 2023, Part 1

Countries Seek To Return To The MoonOn Wednesday, the Indian space agency ISRO celebrated as its Chandrayaan-3 craft successfully made a soft landing at the lunar south pole. This is the first mission to explore the region around the moon’s southern pole, and a major success for ISRO. The mission plans to use a robotic rover to conduct a series of experiments over the course of about 2 weeks, largely centered around the availability of water and oxygen-containing materials.Less than a week earlier, a Russian craft, Luna-25, crashed onto the moon. It would have been Russia’s first moon landing in 47 years. The cause of the crash is not yet known. Maggie Koerth, science journalist and editorial lead for CarbonPlan, joins guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about the two lunar missions and whether the flurry of activity signals a new space race.They’ll also discuss other stories from the week in science, including a new analysis of the Y chromosome,  work on the camouflage skin of the hogfish, and a setback in a mission to clear up space junk. What’s The Human Cost Of Alaska’s Mineral Boom?A dusting of snow clings to the highway as Barbara Schuhmann drives around a hairpin curve near her home in Fairbanks, Alaska. She slows for a patch of ice, explaining that the steep turn is just one of many concerns she has about a looming project that could radically transform Alaskan mining as the state begins looking beyond oil.Roughly 250 miles to the southeast, plans are developing to dig an open-pit gold mine called Manh Choh, or “big lake” in Upper Tanana Athabascan. Kinross Alaska, the majority owner and operator, will haul the rock on the Alaska Highway and other roads to a processing mill just north of Fairbanks. The route follows the Tanana River across Alaska’s interior, where spruce-covered foothills knuckle below the stark peaks of the Alaska Range. Snowmelt feeds the creeks that form a mosaic of muskeg in nearby Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, a migration corridor for hundreds of bird species.To read the full article, visit sciencefriday.com. Salmon Flourish After Mine Damage Restored In AlaskaOn Friday, July 28, there were hundreds of juvenile salmon clustered in a pool, in clear water surrounded by a bank of fresh woody debris. Not 100 yards away, a spinning drum processed sediment to extract gold.This land is managed by a mining company, but it’s also the site of a major stream restoration project. Thousands of salmon are returning to this stream in Hope, more than 100 years after aggressive gold mining affected the path of the river. The project to restore Resurrection Creek has brought together a coalition of stakeholders, including the present-day mining company that occupies the site.The restoration of Resurrection Creek began in the early 2000s. The goal was to correct habitat damage caused by historic mining.More than 100 years ago, heavy mining activity in the gold rush town affected the stream pattern, turning it from a meandering creek to a straight ditch. Jim Roberts is vice president of Hope Mining Company, and he said hydraulic mining in the early 1900s fundamentally changed the waterway.To read the full article, visit sciencefriday.com. All About Sea OttersLast month, a rowdy sea otter was stealing surfboards off the coast of Santa Cruz California, biting chunks out of surfboards, and even catching a few waves. It’s rare for a sea otter to get so close to humans in the wild. Authorities are trying to capture the otter, named 841, for her safety and that of the surfers. But, a month later, she remains at large.  Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with Jessica Fujii, sea otter program manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to get the 411 about Otter 841, and talk all things sea otter—including their sophisticated use of tools, carrying food in their armpits, and busting myths about hand holding.  To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
25/08/23·46m 57s

Women Athletes, Stem Cell Cornea Repair, Sand. August 18, 2023, Part 2

Challenging The Gender Gap In Sports ScienceThis weekend, Spain and England face off in the Women’s World Cup Finals in Sydney, Australia.The first Women’s World Cup was in 1991, and the games were only 80 minutes, compared to the 90-minute games played by men. Part of the rationale was that women just weren’t tough enough to play a full 90 minutes of soccer.This idea of women as the “weaker sex” is everywhere in early scientific studies of athletic performance. Sports science was mainly concerned with men’s abilities. Even now, most participants in sports science research are men.Luckily things are changing, and more girls and women are playing sports than ever before. There’s a little more research about women too, as well as those who fall outside the gender binary.SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Christine Yu, a health and sports journalist and author of Up To Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes, about the gap in sport science about women. Using Stem Cells For Cornea Repair Is Worth A LookEach year in the US, over 40,000 people receive transplants of the cornea—the clear front part of the eye that light goes through first. Still more patients with damaged corneas might receive artificial corneas to help restore clear vision. But if an eye has been damaged by a chemical burn or another severe eye injury, neither of those treatments may be possible.Now an early, Phase 1 clinical trial is reporting positive results using a stem cell technique called CALEC. It grows cells from a patient’s healthy eye, and then grafts them back into the damaged eye, either to support corneal tissue regrowth or as a foundation for a traditional transplant. Dr. Ula Jurkunas, associate director of the Cornea Service at Mass Eye and Ear, and   Dr. Jerome Ritz, the executive director of the Connell and O’Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, join Ira to talk about how the process works, and the challenges of manufacturing stem cell tissues in the lab for use in the human body.From Skyscrapers to Sand Thieves—Digging Into The World Of SandWhen you think of sand, thoughts of the ocean and sand castles probably come to mind. But sand can be found in much more than beachfronts. Sand is a key ingredient in concrete for skyscrapers, silicon for computer chips, and the glass for your smartphone.Vince Beiser, journalist and author of the book The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization, traveled to sand mines in India and beach nourishment projects around the world to follow the story of how sand has become a vital resource. He talks about the many uses of sand in our everyday lives and some of the consequences that come from our dependence on this natural resource.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
18/08/23·46m 57s

Covid Update, Brain Fog Research, Toilet to Tap. Aug 18, 2023, Part 1

Youth Climate Activists Score A Win In MontanaThis week, a state court in Montana ruled in favor of a group of 16 youth climate activists, who argued that a state environmental law was in violation of a provision in the state constitution. The Montana constitution states: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”  The ruling will allow (but not require) regulators to consider climate impacts when evaluating proposed energy projects for approval.Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Ira to talk about the decision and what it might mean for other climate-related litigation around the country. They’ll also discuss other science news of the week, including some strange particle physics from Fermilab,  the end of the road for the common incandescent light bulb, and how researchers decoded a snippet of song — using electrodes on a brain. COVID-19’s Summer Wave Raises New QuestionsStep outside into a public place, and you may experience some deja-vu: Masking is back up, the coughs and sniffles are echoing, and coworkers are calling in sick. It’s not just your imagination—hospitalizations from COVID-19 are up 14.3 percent for the week of August 5. This new wave has a name: EG. 5, named for the recent Omicron variant that is now the most prevalent.With new boosters on the horizon, Ira catches up with Dr. Angela Rasmussen, virologist at VIDO, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, at the University of Saskatchewan. They answer questions about the new monovalent booster, testing guidance, and why COVID-19 is still a public health problem.New Research Suggests Neurological Culprit For COVID Brain FogAmong the most debilitating symptoms of Long Covid is brain fog, a condition which includes symptoms like confusion or inability to concentrate. A recently published study using mice cells in petri dishes suggests that brain fog might be the result of neurons fusing together. The results have yet to be tested in live animals or humans. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with study author, Dr. Ramón Martínez-Mármol, research fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute, at the University of Queensland, based in Brisbane, Australia, about what his research might help us better understand about brain fog. Reno Is Preparing To Turn Its Wastewater Into Drinking WaterInside a water treatment plant in north Reno, Nev., on a recent Wednesday, recycled wastewater was running beneath a floor grate inside a small testing room. Inside the space is a system of serpentine-like PVC pipes with 19 different ports, used to test water samples at different intervals.“It’s about halfway through the treatment process at the wastewater facility,” said Lydia Teel, an engineer with the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, or TMWA, which serves about 440,000 people in the greater Reno area. “So, it’s clean, but there’s still some color, there’s bacteria in it, some solids.”Teel spearheads a demonstration project called OneWater Nevada, an effort to show that the region can recycle the water that flushes down people’s toilets and shower drains and – eventually – turn it back into clean, pure drinking water flowing from faucets, effectively creating a new water resource. The project is a collaboration between TMWA, the cities of Reno and Sparks, the University of Nevada, Reno, Washoe County, and the Western Regional Water Commission.The Reno area doesn’t have a history of threatened water supplies, and historic snowfall this past winter eased drought conditions in Nevada and across parts of the Mountain West. But that could shift quickly with climate change.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
18/08/23·47m 23s

Hawai’i Wildfires, Blue-Fin Tuna Science, Maine’s New Lithium Deposit. August 11, 2023, Part 1

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   Devastating Fires Might Become More Common In Hawaii As of Friday morning, at least 55 were dead and thousands were seeking shelter on Maui, after wildfires tore across the Hawaiian island. Officials there say that the fires, once rare, have caused billions of dollars in damage, and the Biden administration has made federal disaster relief available. The fires were driven by strong, dry winds from nearby Hurricane Dora, and were made worse by ongoing drought conditions. The region has grown hotter and drier, and highly flammable invasive grasses have been crowding out native vegetation. Bethany Brookshire, freelance science journalist and author of the book Pests: How Humans Created Animal Villains, joins Ira Flatow to talk about this story and others from this week in science news, including an investigation into unknown genes in our genome, a 390 million year-old moss that might not survive climate change, and a fish that plays hide and seek to get to its prey.    A Tuna’s Reel Life Adventures Bluefin tuna is typically sliced into small pieces, its ruby red flesh rolled into sushi. But don’t let those tiny sashimi slices fool you. Bluefin tuna are colossal creatures—on average, they’re about 500 pounds. The biggest one ever caught was a whopping 1,500 pounds. They can travel thousands of miles at breakneck speeds, and their skin changes color! The fish, once in danger of extinction, have now rebounded due to a combination of scientific advances and possibly as a result of climate change. Ira talks with Karen Pinchin, science journalist and author of the new book, Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and The Future of Our Seas about a tuna nicknamed Amelia who traveled across the world, the fisherman who tagged her, and what their stories can help us better understand about the mighty fish. Read an excerpt of the book here.   Preserving Acadia National Park’s Vanishing Birdsong Acadia National Park in Maine is home to more than 300 bird species. Climate change is affecting the range of many of these birds, to the extent that some may not be found in the area in the future. A team of volunteers has made it their mission to record as many bird sounds as possible—while they still can. Laura Sebastianelli is the founder and lead researcher of the Schoodic Notes Bird Sounds of Acadia project. She’s helped collect more than 1,200 bird sounds on tape, with the hopes of aiding future researchers. Sebastianelli joins Ira to talk about the project.    World’s Richest Lithium Deposit Faces Opposition To Mining Five years ago, professional gem hunters Mary and Gary Freeman stumbled upon the richest known lithium deposit in the world in the woods of western Maine. Lithium is a silvery metal many consider to be key to the transition to a clean energy future, thanks to its role in technology like lithium-ion batteries. The Maine deposit could be a way for the United States to be independent in their lithium sourcing. But there’s stiff opposition to digging up the mineral within Maine. Kate Cough, reporter and enterprise editor for The Maine Monitor, reported this story in collaboration with Time Magazine. Cough is a Report For America corps member. She joins Ira to discuss the debate.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
11/08/23·45m 11s

Pod Pregnancy Movie, Increase In Deep-Sea Mining, Upcoming Astronomical Delights. August 11, 2023, Part 2

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.     In ‘The Pod Generation,’ Pregnancy Goes High-Tech In the new movie The Pod Generation, a wife named Rachel, played by Emilia Clarke, and her husband Alvy, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, want to start a family. In the movie’s near future, you don’t have to have a baby by getting pregnant, or using IVF, or going through a surrogate. If you’re lucky, you can get a reservation at The Womb Center, where you can grow your baby inside a convenient, high-tech, egg-shaped pod. Pressured by her friends and her work’s HR department, Rachel decides to give The Womb Center a shot. Science Friday producer and Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt sat down with the film’s writer and director, Sophie Barthes, to talk about what inspired her to make the movie, and what may be lost in the thoughtless pursuit of technology.     The Rising Tide Against Deep Sea Mining The ocean’s seabed is filled with minerals like copper, nickel, and cobalt—the very raw materials that tech companies use to make electronics and batteries. Some view it as fertile ground to mine and exploit, launching an underwater mining rush. Last month, world leaders gathered in Kingston, Jamaica to hash out the future of deep sea mining. For years, the International Seabed Authority—the organization in charge of authorizing and controlling mineral operations on the seafloor—has been trying and failing to put together a set of guidelines for deep sea mining.  Ira talks with Dr. Diva Amon, marine biologist at the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory at the University of California Santa Barbara and director of the non-profit SpeSeas, based in Trinidad and Tobago. They talk through the science of deep sea mining, the policies being debated, and what the world risks losing. Then, Ira talks with Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala, Chairperson of the non-profit Maui Nui Makai Network and Native Hawaiian Elder of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Advisory Council.     August Skies Set To Dazzle August is shaping up to be a great month for stargazing, with or without a telescope. Celestial wonders such as a Perseid meteor shower and a Super Blue Moon will take place soon. Saturn will also be lit up for the remainder of August, and should be visible to the naked eye on a clear night. Joining Ira to talk about what we can see this month in the night sky is astronomer, author, and podcaster Dean Regas. Regas also talks about recently leaving his long tenure at the Cincinnati Observatory, and what’s next for his love for astronomy.     To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
11/08/23·47m 22s

Answering Evolution Questions, Planetary Protection. Aug 4, 2023, Part 2

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   Protecting Other Planets From Earth’s Germs For decades, people have been trying to figure out how to avoid contaminating other planets as they explore them—an idea called planetary protection. As missions venture forth to places such as Mars or Jupiter’s moon, Europa, the need to protect worlds that could support life becomes more critical. And at the same time, as space programs begin to bring samples back to Earth from places like Mars or asteroids, planetary protection becomes a concern in another way—the need to protect Earth from potential unknown life forms from the cosmos. Sending humans to another world raises the stakes even more. NASA has a limit of no more than 300,000 spores (single-celled organisms) allowed on board robotic Mars landers. But human bodies contain trillions of microorganisms, making it impossible for human missions to achieve the same level of microbial cleanliness as robotic landers. Dr. Nick Benardini is a NASA official responsible for ensuring that the proper precautions are made to prevent humans from contaminating outer space. Ira Flatow spoke to him about how to avoid spreading microbes between planets.   Ask An Expert: An Evolution Education Most people raised in the U.S. were taught about evolution in science class growing up. But how much do you actually remember? Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species or Gregor Mendel’s pea plant experiments may ring a bell, but it’s likely most of us could use a refresher. A good grasp on the science of evolution is extra important these days, argues Prosanta Chakrabarty, author of the new book, Explaining Life Through Evolution, and curator of fishes at Louisiana State University. In 2008, Louisiana’s governor signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows schools to teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. Chakrabarty joins Ira to talk about the science behind evolution and take questions from listeners. Read an excerpt of the book here.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
04/08/23·47m 13s

Artificial Sweetener Safety, Nuclear Weapons Tech. Aug 4, 2023, Part 1

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   A Possible Breakthrough Superconductor Has Scientists Split Recently, a superconducting material went viral in the scientific community. Researchers in South Korea say they’ve discovered a room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor. If it works, it would create electricity under normal, everyday conditions. But some scientists are hesitant to applaud this purported breakthrough. This field has a long history of supposed breakthroughs, many of which turn out to be not so superconducting after all. In other science news, NASA has detected a ‘heartbeat’ from the Voyager 2 spacecraft, which lost contact last month. This may allow scientists to reestablish contact with the spacecraft before its expected October 15 date. Joining Ira to talk about these stories and more is Sophie Bushwick, technology editor for Scientific American, based in New York, New York.   How Oppenheimer’s Bombs Compare To Today’s Nukes On the day the film Oppenheimer came out, Science Friday discussed the history of the Manhattan Project, including the legacy of the Trinity Test, where the world’s very first nuclear weapon was detonated in the desert of New Mexico. We also heard from a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing and a New Mexican downwinder. But our listeners responded with even more questions that we couldn’t get to—including this, from Randy in Orlando, who wrote, “I’ve heard Neil deGrasse Tyson say the new bombs aren’t that dirty?” Randy’s referring to the astrophysicist’s interview last November, in which he said: “Modern nukes don’t have the radiation problem … it’s a different kind of weapon than Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” We wanted an answer to this question—and others—about current nuclear weapons technology, an issue that Russia’s implied threats of using nuclear weapons against Ukraine also raise. Ira talks with Dr. Zia Mian, a physicist and co-director of Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security, about how nuclear weapons technology has evolved over the last 80 years, how many there are, and the new threats they pose.   From Splenda to Aspartame: Are the Artificial Sweeteners We Use Hurting Us? The World Health Organization recently classified aspartame as a “possible carcinogen.” While the designation may seem scary, it simply indicates that the agency cannot rule out that the substance causes cancer. There is not enough evidence to suggest that aspartame, found in many sugar-free beverages, is linked to cancer. Ira breaks down the science behind that decision, what we know about the health effects of artificial sweeteners, and takes listener calls with guests Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society and Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
04/08/23·46m 59s

The Cat’s Meow, Chumash Marine Sanctuary, EV Tires. July 28, 2023, Part 2

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   What Is Your Cat’s Meow Trying To Tell You? Cats have formed bonds with humans for thousands of years. But what exactly is going on in our furry friends’ brains? What are they trying to tell us with their meows? And why did humans start keeping cats as pets anyway? To help answer those questions and more, John Dankosky talks with Jonathan Losos, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and author of the new book, The Cat’s Meow: How Cats Evolved from the Savanna to Your Sofa.   Read an excerpt of the book at sciencefriday.com.   Researchers Quantify The Navajo Nation’s Water Crisis In Fort Defiance, one of five main communities situated on the Arizona-New Mexico border in the Navajo Nation, Taishiana Tsosie and Kimberly Belone are standing in a mobile office’s cramped bathroom. The two researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health turn off the lights and hold up plastic bags filled with water from the bathroom sink. Each bag has five small compartments, filled with the same sink water. Where they differ is in the chemicals added to each compartment. “This is our compartment bag, and we use this and several other chemicals and tablets to test for E. coli in the water,” Tsosie said. Today, the researchers are testing for harmful bacteria, but they also run separate tests for dangerous metals in drinking water. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com.   Chumash Tribe Champions National Marine Sanctuary For generations, the Chumash tribal nation have been stewards of a vital marine ecosystem along the central coast of California, bordering St. Louis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County. The area is home to species like blue whales, black abalone, and snowy plovers. And it’s also an important part of the Chumash tribe’s rich traditions and culture. Tribal leaders have pushed for decades to designate the area as a national marine sanctuary. Now, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is in the final stages of the approval process, which would make it the first tribally nominated national marine sanctuary in the country. John Dankosky talks with Stephen Palumbi, professor of marine sciences at Stanford University and Violet Sage Walker, chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, about the importance of this region and their collaborative research project.   Where The Rubber Meets The Road For Electric Cars You might not give your car’s tires a lot of thought unless you get a flat, or you live somewhere you need to swap in snow tires. But as more people in the US make the switch to electric vehicles, some are finding they have to think about their tires more often. Some EV drivers are finding that their tires wear out more rapidly than they had with traditional internal combustion-driven vehicles—in some cases, 20 percent faster. The problem has multiple causes. Many EVs are heavier than regular cars of a similar size, which puts more load on the tires. When combined with the almost instant torque provided by electric motors, that can lead to leaving rubber on the road—even when a driver isn’t attempting to burn rubber. Ryan Pszczolkowski, tire testing program manager at Consumer Reports, joins Diana Plasker to talk about the special engineering that comes into play when the rubber meets the road in an electric car.   Is The Plastic In Your Old Barbie Toxic? ‘Barbie’ is going gangbusters at the box office, and it’s prompted a whole new interest in the iconic, if occasionally problematic, toy doll. If you’ve been moved by the movie to dig your old Barbie out from the attic, don’t be surprised if she looks…different. The PVC (polyvinyl chloride) toy dolls of the 1950s—and for the next 50 years after that—contained plasticizers that, over time, can degrade, discolor, and even become sticky. And the chemical compounds being released by an old PVC toy might be toxic to your toddler. Science Friday’s AAAS Mass Media Fellow Chelsie Boodoo is a big Barbie fan. She wanted to find out more about what these old Barbies are made of, and whether we should be worried. So, she turned to Dr. Yvonne Shashoua, a research professor from the National Museum of Denmark. She explains what happens to plastic dolls over time, how museums like hers preserve vintage toys, and even some tips to keep Barbie looking like new. (Hint: make room in the freezer!)   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
28/07/23·47m 30s

Kākāpō Conservation, NYC Parrots, One Year After the Dobbs Decision. July 28, 2023, Part 1

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   No, The Gulf Stream Is Not Collapsing A sobering climate study came out this week in the journal Nature Communications. It suggests that a system of ocean currents—called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC)—could collapse sometime between 2025 and 2095, which could have dire climate consequences for the North Atlantic. SciFri director of news and audio John Dankosky talks with Swapna Krishna, a journalist based in Philadelphia, about what this means and what could be at stake. They also chat through other big science news of the week, including the detection of water vapor around a very distant star, a new image depicting the first detection of gas giants being formed around stars, a new theory for the origin of the world’s “gravity hole,” why the fuzzy asp caterpillar packs such a scary sting, and what scientists can learn from ticklish rats.   The State Of Reproductive Health, One Year After Dobbs In the year since the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning the federal right to an abortion, states jumped into action. Thirteen states banned abortion with limited exemptions, and three others have banned abortion after the first trimester. A handful of other states have extremely restrictive abortion access, or otherwise remain in legal limbo, awaiting court decisions or new laws to be signed. Leading up to Dobbs decision, SciFri delved into the science behind reproductive health and the potential ripple effects on access to care. Now, a little over a year later, we’re following up what’s going on. SciFri guest host and experiences manager Diana Plasker talks with Usha Ranji, associate director for Women’s Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, based in San Francisco, California, about her survey of 569 OB-GYNs across the country. They discuss the growing disparities in states between where abortion is banned and where it remains legal. Later, John Dankosky talks with Dr. Rebecca Cohen, chief medical officer at the Comprehensive Women’s Health Center, based in Denver, Colorado, about providing abortion and pregnancy care in a state where abortion is legal, and seeing patients who are traveling from states with bans in place.   The Kākāpō Parrot Returns To New Zealand Before humans arrived in New Zealand, parrots called kākāpō freely roamed across the islands. They are the world’s only living flightless parrots, and they’re a bit smaller than the average chicken. But the kākāpō’s population started crashing centuries ago, due to human interference and the arrival of predators like cats, rats, and stoats. At one point, the species was teetering on the brink of extinction. For decades, scientists have been capturing and relocating kākāpō to safe islands, hoping their population would grow. It did, and the kākāpō’s recovery team just reached a huge milestone: bringing four birds back to the mainland, a place they haven’t existed since the 1980s. Guest host and SciFri events manager Diana Plasker talks with Deidre Vercoe, operations manager for the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s kākāpō and takahē teams, about the history of kākāpō conservation, what this win means, and what’s next for these beloved birds.   Far Beyond Their Native Habitat, Parrots Rule The Roost In many urban areas across the U.S. and abroad, feral, non-native parrots have become established. This is true in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where a colony of lime green monk parakeets have inhabited a massive nest on top of the gothic entrance gate. How exactly these parrots wound up here is a bit of a mystery. “The lore that’s passed around is that at some point a box of parrots, perhaps at the airport, got overturned,” said science writer Ryan Mandelbaum. “What’s more likely is a combination of people releasing their [pet] parrots and parrots escaping in some critical mass.” Mandelbaum wrote the cover story for July’s issue of Scientific American all about the resilience of parrots. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis interviewed them at Green-Wood Cemetery, where they discussed why these parrots are not just surviving, but thriving.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.   Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
28/07/23·47m 31s

How Does The Brain Control Your Every Move? July 21, 2023, Part 1

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Astronomers Spy A Two-Faced Star This week, astronomers report in the journal Nature that they’ve discovered a white dwarf—a dying star’s dense inner core—that, instead of being uniform in composition, has a surface that appears to be hydrogen on one face and helium on the other. The star rotates on its axis once every 15 minutes, bringing each face into view. Researchers spotted the unusual object with an instrument called the Zwicky Transient Facility, which initially singled out the star because of its rapidly changing brightness. The astronomers aren’t sure why the white dwarf, which they’ve nicknamed Janus after the two-faced Roman god, has this strange divided surface. Some possible theories include shifting magnetic fields which produce areas of different density, or that it’s a step in stellar evolution only partially complete. Tim Revell, deputy US editor at New Scientist, joins John Dankosky to talk about the two-faced star and other stories from the week in science, including the resignation of the Stanford University president amidst an ethics probe, discovery of ancient natural graphene, an earthworm invasion in the Arctic, and investigations of alcoholic fruit. How Does The Brain Control Your Every Move? As you read this, every small action your body makes—eyes scanning the page, fingers scrolling a mouse, scratching an itch on your face—must be dictated by your brain. These actions usually happen without a second thought. But inside the brain, the motor cortex is hard at work making the body move. For nearly a century, every neuroscience student came across the “homunculus”—a visual representation of which areas of the brain control certain body parts. But for the last few decades, some researchers have disputed this traditional view of brain mapping. This includes a recent study, led by Washington University in St. Louis. Joining guest host John Dankosky to discuss how the brain and body are connected are study lead author Evan Gordon, assistant professor of radiology at Wash U., and Michael Graziano, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.   Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
21/07/23·47m 23s

What To Know Before You Go See ‘Oppenheimer’. July 21, 2023, Part 2

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Revisiting The Nuclear Age With ‘Oppenheimer’ This weekend, Christopher Nolan’s long awaited film Oppenheimer hits theaters. It tells the story of American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his road to becoming the “father of the atomic bomb.” With its release, audiences will be faced with the United States’ contentious history in developing and deploying the world’s first atomic weapons, marking a point of no return for the entire world. Nearly 80 years since the bombs were first developed and tested in the New Mexican desert—and then dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the world is still reckoning with the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer’s legacies. In this live call-in show, Science Goes To The Movies, we analyze the roles of scientists during the Manhattan project, hear from the people most affected by Oppenheimer’s work, and pick apart his life and legacy—one which asks to what extent scientists are responsible for the things they create. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
21/07/23·47m 21s

Lab-Grown Meat Approval, Underground Climate Change, Utahraptor. July 14, 2023, Part 2

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   Where’s The Beef? Lab-Grown Meat Gets U.S. Approval People have been looking for meat-alternatives for decades. Vegetarians avoid animal products for many reasons, from concerns over animal treatment and slaughtering practices to the meat industry’s climate impacts. Methane from cows and other livestock contribute about 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. There have been plant-based alternatives on the market for awhile now, but another method has quietly gained steam over the past decade: meat grown in a lab, using cultured cells. This past June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved two companies—Eat Just and Upside—to grow and sell cultivated chicken products in the U.S. Lab-developed beef will likely be next, while some companies are even working on cultivated pet food meat. (Lab-grown mouse meat kibble, anyone?) But will growing tissue in a lab actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and … will people even want to eat it? Joining Ira to discuss this beefy topic is Casey Crownhart, climate reporter at the MIT Technology Review, who talks about how this kind of meat is made in a lab, the challenges the industry faces, and what lab-grown beef patty tastes like.   How Rising Temperatures Are Shifting The Ground Beneath Chicago As global temperatures rise, cities are typically hotter than rural areas. Tall buildings trap heat and temperatures don’t drop nearly as low at night. Out of sight, just below the surface, it’s also getting hotter. Scientists are beginning to document the unexpected consequences of underground climate change. A new study measuring the phenomenon used sensors to track increasing temperatures underground in Chicago and map how the earth has shifted beneath the city as a result. Ira talks with the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Alessandro Rotta Loria, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University, based in Chicago, Illinois.   A Fish By Any Other Name: Inside The Effort To Bring ‘Copi’ To Dinner People who live near freshwater rivers or lakes are likely familiar with Asian Carp. The fish are not native to the U.S., but over the last few decades their populations have exploded in waterways like the Mississippi River Basin and the Illinois River. Over the last few years, there’s been a major PR campaign to move away from the name Asian Carp, in favor of a new name: “Copi.” The reason is two-fold: First, it joins a general trend of moving species’ names away from nationalistic associations, considering anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other goal is to make the fish sound more delicious—creating a market that would incentivize fishing the Copi, hopefully reducing their populations. Joining Ira to talk about this is Jim Garvey, director of fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic sciences at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.   Thanks To A Mesozoic Hot Spot, We Finally Know How Old The Utahraptor Is Sometimes Jim Kirkland wishes he had been alive 150 years ago. That’s when the golden age of North American dinosaur discovery began, and early titans of paleontology crisscrossed the Rocky Mountains unearthing dozens of new species that became household names, from the Stegosaurus to the Brontosaurus to the Triceratops. But a close second to that era is what Kirkland gets to see these days in Utah. “I am doing that kind of discovery right now,” Kirkland said. “I’m just lucky to be alive.” Kirkland, Utah’s state paleontologist, uncovered and named the Utahraptor in 1993. The deadly predator became the official state dinosaur in 2018. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
14/07/23·47m 22s

Youth Mental Health Crisis, Repairing Sharks’ Bad Reputation. July 14, 2023, Part 1

We have a new podcast! It’s called Universe Of Art, and it’s all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   The Oceans Are Getting Hotter—And Greener It’s hot out there, and more so than normal July weather. It’s estimated that more than 100 million Americans are under heat watches, warnings, and advisories, spanning the west coast and southern states. Not only is the land hot, but the oceans are, too. The water temperature near the Florida Keys this week reached 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, just shy of the record for global ocean temperature. A warmer climate is having some visual effects on our oceans, too. The color of the ocean surface near the equator has gotten greener. The culprit? Phytoplankton, which are full of the pigment chlorophyll. Joining Ira to talk about these stories and other science news of the week is Rachel Feltman, Editor at Large for Popular Science and host of the podcast “The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week,” based in Jersey City, New Jersey.   Understanding The Reasons For The Mental Health Crisis In Youth You’ve probably read the headlines about a spike in youth suicide rates, or about how social media and screen time are exacerbating teen anxiety and depression. Or maybe you read about the shortage of services for kids who need mental health treatment, waiting in emergency rooms for inpatient beds to open up. And of course the pandemic accelerated all of these issues, leaving kids who might have been already struggling without the support of friends and teachers in their school communities. Ira takes a closer look at what’s driving these trends with Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, associate chief for clinical services in the department of psychiatry and behavioral services at the Boston Children’s Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Tami Benton, psychiatrist-in-chief in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.     Rewriting Sharks’ Big, Bad Reputation… For Kids It’s that time of year when sharks are on our minds. Summer is filled with Shark Week content, viral reports of attacks, and shrieks on the beach when someone spots a fin in the water… from a dolphin. But sharks don’t deserve this bad reputation. They are beautiful, fascinating, and—more than anything—the Earth needs them. A new children’s book called “Mother of Sharks,” by Melissa Cristina Márquez, aims to teach kids exactly that. Ira talks with Márquez, a shark scientist and wildlife educator, about the book, shark conservation, and why she loves sharks so much.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.   Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
14/07/23·47m 33s

Accessible Birding, Space Sounds, Wasps. July 7, 2023. Part 2

Meet The Blind Birder Reimagining Accessibility In The Outdoors For many blind and low vision people, accessing outdoor spaces like parks can be challenging. Trails are often unsafe or difficult to navigate, signs don’t usually have Braille, guides generally aren’t trained to help disabled visitors, and so on. But nature recordist Juan Pablo Culasso, based in Bogata, Colombia, is changing that. He’s designed a system of fully accessible trails in the cloud forests of southwest Colombia that are specifically tailored to help visually disabled people connect with nature. The trails are the first of their kind in the Americas, and Culasso drew on his own experiences as a blind person and a professional birder to design the system. He talks with Maddie Sofia about how he designed the trail system and takes listeners on an adventure through the cloud forest he works in.   Listen To Ethereal Sounds Derived From Space You’ve probably heard that if you scream in space, no one will hear a thing. Space is a vacuum, so sound waves don’t have anything to bounce off of. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that space is silent. A team of researchers are taking data from a variety of telescopes and assigning them sounds, creating song-length sonifications of beloved space structures like black holes, nebulas, galaxies, and beyond. The album, called “Universal Harmonies” aims to bring galaxies to life and allow more people, such as those who are blind and low-vision, to engage with outer space. Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with two of the scientists behind “Universal Harmonies,” Dr. Kimberly Arcand, visualization scientist at NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and Dr. Matt Russo, astrophysicist and musician at the University of Toronto. Listen to a selection of the ethereal sonifications of “Universal Harmonies.”   Why You Should Thank Your Local Wasp It’s late in the summer, meaning any outdoor gathering with food and drink has a good chance of being visited by a pesky, buzzing wasp. But don’t reach for that rolled-up newspaper or can of bug spray. The wasps in your world play an important role that’s often overlooked. Far beyond the social hornets and yellowjackets people think about when they picture a wasp, the wasp world includes thousands of species. Some are parasitic, injecting their eggs into unwilling prey. Others hunt, either paralyzing prey for their young to feed on, or by bringing bits of meat back to a nest for their young. Some are strictly vegetarian, and live on pollen. Some are needed for the pollination of figs and certain species of orchids. Dr. Seirian Sumner, a behavioral biologist at University College London, says that if people understood the services provided by wasps the same way that they understand the need for bees, they might be more willing to overlook an occasional wasp annoyance—and might even be thankful for the wasps in their lives. In her book, "Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps," Sumner makes the case for wasps as nature’s pest control agents, as important pollinators that should be celebrated. And the pesky yellowjacket at your picnic? It’s probably being driven by a late-summer shift in functions within the nest, in which many of the workers die off and are replaced by sexual brood. Earlier in the year, worker wasps can bring bits of meat to the developing young, which reward them with sugary secretions. But later in the season, that food source dries up—so visiting wasps are probably searching for a bit of sugar just to get by. “Watch the wasp, see what she wants at your picnic,” Sumner advises. “Is she going for sugar, or is she going for some meat? Whatever you can work out that she wants, give her a little bit of it. Make a little wasp offering.” Sumner joins SciFri producer Charles Bergquist to talk about wasps, and make a case for why you should be thankful for the wasps in your neighborhood.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
07/07/23·47m 36s

Beavers, Pando Tree, $7 Violin. July 7, 2023. Part 1

How The Humble Beaver Shaped A Continent The American beaver, Castor canadensis, nearly didn’t survive European colonialism in the United States. Prized for its dense, lustrous fur, and also sought after for the oil from its tail glands, the species was killed by the tens of thousands, year after year, until conservation efforts in the late 19th century turned the tide. In her new book, Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America, author Leila Philipp tells that tale—and the ecological cost of this near-extermination. But she also has good news: beavers, and their skillful engineering of waterways, have the potential to ease the fire, drought and floods of a changing climate. She talks to Ira about the powerful footprint of the humble beaver.   The Sweet Song Of The Largest Tree On Earth For this story, we’re taking a trip to south central Utah and into the Fishlake National Forest to visit the largest tree on earth, an aspen named Pando. The strange thing about Pando is that it doesn’t really look like the world’s biggest tree. It has rolling hills with thousands of tall, lean aspens swaying in the wind. But Pando is there, hiding in plain sight. All those tree trunks you see aren’t actually individual trees. Technically, they’re branches, and that’s because Pando is one massive tree—sprawling more than 100 acres, with 47,000 branches growing from it. There is a lot to learn about Pando, and our guests turned to sound to understand the tree better. Together, they created an “acoustic portrait” to hear all the snaps, splinters, and scuttles that happen in and around the tree. Ira talks with Jeff Rice, a sound artist and co-founder of the Acoustic Atlas at the Montana State University Library, and Lance Oditt, executive director of the non-profit Friends of Pando, which is dedicated to preserving the tree.   This $7 Violin May Be $7... But How Does It Sound? Stringed instruments can be a joy to the ears and the eyes. They’re handcrafted, made of beautiful wood, and the very best ones are centuries old, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, or sometimes even millions. But there’s a new violin in the works—one that’s 3D-printed. It costs just a few bucks to print, making it an affordable and accessible option for young learners and classrooms. Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Brown is a concert violinist and the founder and director of the AVIVA Young Artists Program in Montreal, Quebec, and she’s been tinkering with the design of 3D-printed violins for years. She talks with Ira about the science behind violins, the design process, and how she manages to turn $7 worth of plastic into a beautiful sounding instrument.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
07/07/23·47m 11s

Cloning for Conservation, Cubesats, Queer Ecology, Henry Petroski. June 30, 2023, Part 2

How Fungi Are Breaking The Binary: A Queer Approach To Ecology As Pride month comes to a close, many people are reflecting on the past, present, and future of the LGBTQIA+ community. An interdisciplinary group of scientists, researchers, and artists are using queerness as a lens to better understand the natural world, too. It’s a burgeoning field called queer ecology, which aims to break down binaries and question our assumptions of the natural world based on heterosexuality. For example, there are plenty of examples of same-sex animal pairings in the wild, like penguins, chimps, and axolotls. There are also plants that change sexes, or have a combination of male and female parts, like the mulberry tree. But perhaps the most queer kingdom of all is fungi. Mushrooms are not easily forced into any type of binary. For example, the Schizophyllum commune, or the split gill mushroom, has 23,000 sexes, making it somewhat of a queer icon in the field of mycology. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Patty Kaishian, incoming curator of mycology at the New York State Museum, about how fungi might help us expand our understandings of sexuality, identity, and hierarchy. They also discuss how queer ecology can help people of all sexualities reconnect with the natural world.   Scientists Think Cloning Could Help Save Endangered Species Earlier this year, a baby Przewalski’s horse was born at the San Diego Zoo. But this foal isn’t any ordinary foal, he’s a clone. He’s the product of scientists aiming to save his dwindling species using genetics. This endangered horse species once roamed Europe and Asia, but by the 1960, threats like poaching, capture, and military presence drove the horses to extinction in the wild. Conservationists raced to save this wild horse through captive breeding programs, but with a population so small, there just wasn’t enough genetic diversity to grow a healthy herd. But with careful genetic management, the Przewalski’s horse’s population is now nearly 2,000 horses strong, and this new foal will one day help boost his species’ genetic diversity even more. Producer Kathleen Davis talks with Dr. Oliver Ryder, conservation geneticist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, about cloning Przewalski’s horse, and how doing so will infuse genetic diversity into the small population. Then Davis talks with Dr. Sam Wisely, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, about how cloning can help other endangered species, like the black-footed ferret, and the ethics involved in cloning.   Twenty Years On, The Little CubeSat Is Bigger Than Ever The story of the CubeSat started with a big problem for one Cal Poly professor. “It was actually a critical problem for us, but it was a problem that nobody else cared about,” said Jordi Puig-Suari, an Emeritus Professor from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He co-invented the CubeSat with Bob Twiggs from Stanford. Puig-Suari is now retired and has spent the last four years sailing around the world with his wife. I talked to him over Zoom from somewhere along that journey. He takes me back two decades to his time as a professor at Cal Poly where he was hired to develop their aerospace engineering department. Read the rest of this article at sciencefriday.com.   Remembering Engineer And Author Henry Petroski Last week the world watched as rescuers from across the globe searched for a tiny experimental submersible that had disappeared, carrying five people on a dive to the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic. That search turned out, sadly, to be in vain. The Titan submersible is believed to have imploded in the North Atlantic, killing all aboard. The intersection of design, engineering, and human risk-taking is a recurring theme throughout modern history. One of the finest chroniclers of those tales was Henry Petroski, who died earlier this month at the age of 81. He was a professor of engineering and history at Duke University, and author of many books. Petroski was known for his critical eye and insightful view of various missteps and faults in pursuit of progress—from improving bridge designs for safety to the tragic loss of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Some called Petroski the “poet laureate of technology” for his prolific writings on everything from the design of bridges to the fabrication of pencils. In this recording from 2012, Ira Flatow spoke with the late professor Petroski about engineering failures, and humanity’s follies.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.   Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
30/06/23·47m 38s

Hum Of The Universe, Cephalopod Event In Miami. June 30, 2023, Part 1

Scientists Can Now Hear The Background Hum Of The Universe For the first time ever, scientists have heard the “low pitch hum” of gravitational waves rippling through the cosmos. It’s this ever-present background noise set off by the movement of massive objects—like colliding black holes—throughout the universe. Scientists have theorized that it’s been there all along, but we haven’t been able to hear until now. So what does this hum tell us about our universe? SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with science writer Maggie Koerth about this discovery, as well as other science news of the week. They chat about the possibility of an icy planet hiding in the Milky Way, air quality problems due to wildfire smoke, an experimental weight loss drug that’s currently being tested, if our human ancestors were cannibals, and how dolphin moms use baby talk with their calves.   Celebrating The Weird, Wonderful World Of Cephalopods Every year, Cephalopod Week reminds us of the fascinating and weird world of these sea creatures. And in this segment, recorded live at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science Auditorium, two cephalopod scientists share new research about our squishy sea-faring neighbors, how climate change is affecting squids and octopuses, and why they love working with them. Ira Flatow talked to Dr. Lynne Fieber PhD., professor of marine biology and ecology who has studied the nervous systems of all types marine invertebrates including cephalopod and sea slugs, and Dr. Andrea Durant Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Grosell Environmental Physiology and Toxicology Lab, who studies how tiny glass squid live in a rapidly-changing ocean.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
30/06/23·47m 8s

Social Media Chaos, Remembering Whale Song Scientist Roger Payne. June 23, 2023, Part 2

We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it features conversations with artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.    When The Promise Of Social Media Becomes Perilous Despite social media’s early promises to build a more just and democratic society, over the past several years, we’ve seen its propensity to easily spread hate speech, misinformation and disinformation. Online platforms have even played a role in organizing violent acts in the real world, like genocide against the Rohinga people in Myanmar, and the violent attempt to overturn the election at the United States capitol. But how did we get here? Has social media fundamentally changed how we interact with the world? And how did big tech companies accumulate so much unchecked power along the way?   Remembering Roger Payne, Who Helped Save The Whales Americans haven’t always loved whales and dolphins. In the 1950s, the average American thought of whales as the floating raw materials for margarine, animal feed, and fertilizer—if they thought about whales at all. But twenty-five years later, things changed for cetaceans in a big way. Whales became the poster-animal for a new environmental movement, and cries of “save the whales!” echoed from the halls of government to the whaling grounds of the Pacific. What happened? Shifting attitudes were due, in large part, to the work of scientist Roger Payne, who died earlier this month at the age of 88. His recordings helped to popularize whalesong, and stoked the public imagination about intelligent underwater creatures who used vocalizations to communicate. In 2018, our podcast “Undiscovered” explored the history of Payne’s work, and that of his colleagues. We’re featuring this episode as a way of remembering his life and groundbreaking work.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
23/06/23·47m 14s

Cephalopod Week Salutes See-Thru Squid, Hyperbole In Science Publishing, Art and the Brain, Rover Competition. June 23, 2023, Part 1

We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it features conversations with artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.    A See-Through Squid Success Story Adult octopuses have about 500 million neurons, which is about as many neurons as a dog. Typically, more neurons means a more intelligent and complex creature. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Unlike dogs, or even humans, octopuses’ neurons aren’t concentrated in their brains—they’re spread out through their bodies and into their arms and suckers, more like a “distributed” mind. (Scientists still haven’t quite figured out exactly why this is.) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of unanswered cephalopod questions. Now, researchers have successfully bred a line of albino squid that were first engineered using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, creating a see-through squid. Their unique transparency allows scientists to more easily study their neural structure, and a whole lot more. SciFri experiences manager Diana Plasker talks with Joshua Rosenthal, senior scientist at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory, based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, about this see-through squid success story. When Eye-Grabbing Results Just Don’t Pan Out You know the feeling — you see a headline in the paper or get an alert on your phone about a big scientific breakthrough that has the potential to really change things. But then, not much happens, or that news turns out to be much less significant than the headlines made it seem. Journalists are partially to blame for this phenomenon. But another guilty culprit is also the scientific journals, and the researchers who try to make their own work seem more significant than the data really supports in order to get published. Armin Alaedini, an assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, recently co-authored a commentary on this topic published in The American Journal of Medicine. He joins Ira and Ivan Oransky — co-founder of Retraction Watch and a medical journalism professor and Distinguished Writer In Residence at New York University — to talk about the tangled world of scientific publishing and the factors that drive inflated claims in publications.     How Art Can Help Treat Dementia And Trauma We might intrinsically know that engaging with and making art is good for us in some way. But now, scientists have much more evidence to support this, thanks in part to a relatively new field called neuroaesthetics, which studies the effects that artistic experiences have on the brain. A new book called Your Brain On Art: How The Arts Transform Us, dives into that research, and it turns out the benefits of the arts go far beyond elevating everyday life; they’re now being used as part of healthcare treatments to address conditions like dementia and trauma. Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt sits down with the authors of the book, Susan Magsamen, executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at the Pederson Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and Ivy Ross, vice president of design for hardware products at Google, to talk about what we can learn from neuroaesthetic studies, the benefits of a daily arts practice, and the kinds of art they both like making.   Testing Mars Rovers In Utah’s Red Desert Take a 20-minute drive down Cow Dung Road, outside of Hanksville, Utah, and you’ll stumble across the Mars Desert Research Station. This cluster of white buildings—webbed together by a series of covered walkways—looks a little alien, as does the red, desolate landscape that surrounds it. “The ground has this crust that you puncture through, and it makes you feel like your footprints are going to be there for a thousand years,” said Sam Craven, a senior leading the Brigham Young University team here for the University Rover Challenge. “Very bleak and dry, but very beautiful also.” This remote chunk of Utah is a Mars analogue, one of roughly a dozen locations on Earth researchers use to test equipment, train astronauts and search for clues to inform the search for life on other planets. While deployed at the station, visiting scientists live in total isolation and don mock space suits before they venture outside. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.   Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
23/06/23·47m 26s

Avian Flu, Curly Hair. June 16, 2023, Part 2

Curly Hair Keeps Your Scalp Cooler According to a fascinating new study, curly locks are better than straight hair at keeping your scalp cool. Researchers shone bright lights on three different manikins—one with no hair, one with loosely curled hair and another with tight curls. Solar radiation bounced off the tightly curled hair, and less heat reached the manikin’s scalp than the straight haired manikin. The manikin with loose curls was right in the middle. The research is part of an effort to better understand the role of hair texture in human evolution, as humans are the only mammals with the majority of body hair atop our heads. Ira talks with Dr. Tina Lasisi, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of quantitative and computational biology at the University of Southern California, and incoming assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.   Unprecedented Avian Flu Outbreak Continues Avian influenza has been circulating for decades among wild birds, but the US is now experiencing the worst outbreak in its history. That’s because of a specific strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has left around 60 millions birds—mostly poultry—dead. This has implications for us all, whether you’re frustrated about the price of eggs, worried about your backyard chickens, or concerned about yet another threat to public health. In this live call-in, Ira talks with Ashleigh Blackford, the California Condor Coordinator at the US Fish & Wildlife Service about the initiative to vaccinate California condors—the first of its kind to vaccinate any bird. Then Ira explores what this outbreak means for other wildlife, poultry, and for us. He talks with Dr. Kristy Pabilonia, professor and director of the Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratories at Colorado State University, and Dr. Richard Webby, director of the WHO’s Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds and a researcher at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
16/06/23·48m 5s

Science Books For Summer Reading. June 16, 2023, Part 1

Why Have Ocean Temperatures Spiked? Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic have risen dramatically in recent weeks, to as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous record—and over 1 degree C warmer than average temperatures from 1982 to 2011. The reason for the unusually toasty waters isn’t entirely clear. Some climatologists attribute part of the rise to an El Niño ocean circulation pattern this year, replacing the La Niña pattern that had been suppressing temperatures. Other factors may include a decline in atmospheric dust from the Sahara, and atmospheric circulation patterns that are allowing warm surface water to stay in place longer. The warmer temperatures aren’t just limited to the North Atlantic, however—for the past three months, global average sea surface temperatures have also been reaching new highs. Casey Crownhart, a climate reporter at MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to talk about the warming trend, and other stories from the week in science, including accusations of body part sales from the Harvard Medical School morgue, studies of the economics of heat pumps, and a lawsuit brought by youth in Montana over global warming.   The Best Summer Books, According To Two Science Writers Summer is one of the best times to crack open a book and read the hours away, according to Jaime Green and Annalee Newitz. The two science writers are voracious readers, and they’ve compiled a list of their summer reading recommendations for Science Friday listeners. Green and Newitz join Ira from New Britain, Connecticut and San Francisco, California respectively, to discuss their favorite nonfiction and fiction books for the summer, and take questions from listeners. To read the full list of summer book recommendations, visit sciencefriday.com.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
16/06/23·48m 14s

Living Underwater For 100 Days, Refineries’ Excess Emissions, Owl Facts. June 9, 2023, Part 2

Exposing Texas’ Excess Emissions Problems In the early hours of August 22, 2020, Hurricane Laura was still just a tropical storm off the coast of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. But effects from the monstrous storm, which would ultimately take at least 81 lives, were already being felt on the U.S. Gulf Coast. As rain poured down on the Sweeney refinery in Old Ocean, Texas, that afternoon, two processing units failed, releasing nearly 1,400 pounds of sulfur dioxide, which can cause trouble breathing, and other chemicals. Over the next few days, Laura siphoned up moisture from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and transformed into a Category 1 hurricane. In Texas, chemical plants began shutting down, hurriedly burning off unprocessed chemicals and releasing vast amounts of pollution in anticipation of the storm making landfall. On August 24, Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery released 36,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other noxious pollutants. The next morning, Motiva began purging chemicals its plant had been processing, emitting nearly 48,000 pounds of carbon monoxide and propylene, among other pollutants. The following day, a Phillips 66 refinery in southwest Louisiana shut down, releasing more than 1,900 pounds of sulfur dioxide. Then, as gale-force winds swept through coastal communities and the relentless rain poured down, the chemical facilities increasingly malfunctioned. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com.   A Scientist’s Catalog Of 100 Days Under The Sea In February, Dr. Joe Dituri put on his scuba gear, dove 30 feet below the surface, and entered a 100-square-foot underwater lodge. This former US Navy diving officer didn’t come up again for air until June 9, spending 100 days underwater. And even before the end of his stay, he broke the record for living underwater. He did all of this in the name of science—to understand how the human body handles long-term exposure to pressure. This mission is called Project Neptune 100, and because those 100 days are finally up, we’re taking a deep dive into the underwater habitat to hear what is to be learned from so many days below the waves. We recorded this interview with Dituri on Day #94 with a live virtual audience, whom you’ll hear from later. Ira talks with Dr. Deep Sea, aka Dr. Joe Dituri, a biomedical engineer and associate professor at the University of South Florida, and Dr. Sarah Spelsberg, wilderness emergency specialist and the medical lead for Project Neptune 100 coming to us from the Maldives. To see some photos of Dr. Dituri's undersea life, visit sciencefriday.com.   Unmasking Owls’ Mysteries Don’t let owls’ cute faces fool you—they’re deadly predators. This duality is part of what makes them so mysterious to humans. And their contradictions don’t end there: Their hoots are among the most distinctive bird sounds, yet owls are nearly silent when gliding through the air to catch their prey. Scientists are learning more about why owls are such good predators—how their hearing and night vision are so sharp, and their flight so silent. With new technology, researchers are also decoding owl communications, increasing our understanding of their social structures and mating habits. John Dankosky talks about all things owls with Jennifer Ackerman, author of the new book, What An Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
09/06/23·47m 25s

Wildfire Smoke, Jurassic Park Reflection, Mosquito DNA Editing. June 9, 2023, Part 1

Canadian Wildfire Smoke Drifts Across The United States This week, smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted south, enveloping the Northeastern United States, casting an ominous orange glow. The smoke continued spreading outwards to the Southeast and to the Midwest. While climate change is extending and worsening the Canadian wildfire season, it’s still rare for this many fires, so early in the season. Ira talks with Katherine Wu, staff writer at The Atlantic, about the latest on the Canadian wildfires and other top news stories of the week, including; a new type of cat contraception, drilling into the Earth’s mantle, and a ‘virgin’ crocodile birth.   30 Years Later, ’Jurassic Park’ Still Inspires On June 11th, 1993, what would become one of the biggest movies of all time was released in theaters: Jurassic Park. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, the film is about people’s belief that they can control nature. Wealthy businessman John Hammond creates a dinosaur nature park. Things go awry quickly. Electric fences break down, dinosaurs get loose, and people are eaten. At the time of its release, the film became the highest-grossing movie of all time. In the decades since it came out, the film has spawned a multi-movie franchise, amusement park rides, video games, and every type of merchandise imaginable. The movie also had a tremendous impact on visual effects, both computer animated and practical, which are still seen today in the media. When the first Jurassic Park movie came out, many of the paleontologists of today were children—or not even born yet. Ira speaks with a trio of paleontologists about the film’s impact on them as kids, and its continuous use as an educational tool to inspire young dino enthusiasts: Riley Black, Steve Brusatte and Yara Haridy.   A Biotech Offensive Against Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes Mosquitoes are the primary spreaders of some highly dangerous diseases for people: The insect spreads diseases like yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria, and zika, which kill millions of people globally each year. There’s one species of mosquito that’s invasive to the United States, and whose populations are spreading: Aedes aegypti, which is recognizable by black and white markings on its legs. Lee County, Florida is taking aim at this species with biotechnology. Their strategy is to release 30,000 sterilized male mosquitoes into the environment, who will go on to mate with females, who then will release eggs that do not hatch. Male mosquitoes don’t bite, only females do. The goal of this method is to decrease the Aedes aegypti population with every generation. Biotechnology to combat this mosquito species is nothing new. Ira speaks with reporter Cary Barbor at WGCU in Fort Myers about this strategy in her city. He also speaks with Dr. Omar Akbari, professor of cell and developmental biology at UC San Diego, about his research on using CRISPR to alter Aedes aegypti into harmless insects.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.     Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
09/06/23·46m 56s

Dwarf Tomatoes, Saguaro Cactus, Sonoran Desert. June 2, 2023, Part 2

Tomato Breeding Project Fueled By Over 1,000 Backyard Gardeners In 2005, gardeners Craig LeHouiller and Patrina Nuske-Small created the Dwarf Tomato Project. They wanted to preserve the flavor and beauty of heirloom tomatoes, without taking up too much space. They started crossbreeding heirloom tomatoes with smaller dwarf tomato plants. To do so, they enlisted volunteers from all over the world. Over 1,000 people have participated so far. You can even buy the seeds and plant them in your own garden! Ira talks with the project’s co-founder, gardener and author, Craig LeHoullier, based in Hendersonville, North Carolina.   Southwestern States Break The Dam On Water Stalemate Southwestern states have been aware for decades that their use of Colorado River water is not sustainable. Forty million people depend on the watershed across seven states, several tribes, and northern Mexico. After intense pressure from the federal government, Arizona, California, and Nevada presented a plan last month to cut water use in these states. While the proposal isn’t final, it’s an important step in a long stalemate among southwestern states hesitant to use less water. The three states propose cutting 3 million acre-feet in water use through 2026—about ten percent of their total water allocation. The federal government plans to spend $1.2 billion to pay water users for the cuts. Joining Ira to break down what this plan means for southwest states is Dr. Sharon Megdal, director of the University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center in Tucson, and Luke Runyon, managing editor and reporter for KUNC, in Grand Junction, Colorado.   Tracking The Saguaro Cacti Decline One of the most iconic symbols of the American Southwest is the saguaro cactus—the big, towering cactus with branching arms. Saguaro are the most studied variety of cactus, yet there’s still much we don’t know about them. Once a decade, researchers from the University of Arizona survey plots of roughly 4,500 saguaro to assess the health of the species. This past year there was a record low number of new cacti growing—the fewest since they started decadal surveys in 1964. What’s driving this decline? Ira talks about the state of saguaro cacti with Peter Breslin, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, based in Tucson, Arizona.   These Conservation Scientists Are Keeping The Sonoran Desert Diverse Many Americans might be surprised just how expansive and diverse the Sonoran Desert actually is. The 100,000 square-mile desert stretches across the border between the U.S. and Mexico, with the northernmost regions in southern California and Arizona making up just one third of the desert. The sweeping terrain is home to thousands of plant and animal species and contains every existing biome in the world—from timber tundras to rolling grasslands to arid desert basins. The majority of the Sonoran is within the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican state of Sonora, which includes the Gulf of California. The gulf alone is teeming with life—famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once called the desert, “the world’s aquarium.” Ira talks about the rich biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert and the importance of scientific collaboration across the border with Ben Wilder, director and co-founder of Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers, and Michelle María Early Capistrán, a conservation fellow at Stanford University and board member of the Next Generation of Sonoran Desert Researchers.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
02/06/23·47m 36s

Rewilding, Allergy Season, Sharing Science Rejections. June 2, 2023, Part 1

Could Restoring Animal Populations Store More Carbon? Did you know that land and ocean ecosystems absorb about half of the carbon dioxide we emit each year? But what if the earth had the capacity to absorb even more? With the help of some furry, scaly, and leathery critters, maybe it can. A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change claims that by restoring the populations of just a handful of animals—like gray wolves, bison, and sea otters for example—the Earth could capture around 6.41 more gigatons of CO2 each year. This idea of restoring wildlife is called rewilding. Ira talks with the co-author of this study, Dr. Trisha Atwood, an associate professor at Utah State University, based in Logan, UT. They chat about what critters make the rewilding list, and how they fit into the carbon cycle.   Allergy Season Is Blooming With Climate Change Spring is in the air, and for many people that means allergy season is rearing its ugly head. If it feels like your allergies have recently gotten worse, there’s now data to back that up. New research shows that since 1990, pollen season in North America has grown by 20 days and gotten 20% more intense, with the greatest increases in Texas and the Midwest. This is because climate change is triggering plants’ internal timing to produce pollen earlier and earlier. It’s a problem that’s expected to get worse. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis speaks with William Anderegg, assistant professor at the University of Utah’s School of Biological Sciences about pollen counts, and pollen as a respiratory irritant.   Why This Scientist Shares Vulnerable Career Moments Dr. Rachel Lupien, a paleoclimatologist at Aarhus University, makes it a point to be honest about the challenges she runs into at work. She hopes that other scientists can learn from them. So last year, when a paper she wrote was rejected from journals five times, she tweeted about the experience.   While the responses ranged from supportive replies to harsh emails, Rachel says that it feels good to talk about professional headaches with peers who understand. Digital producer Emma Gometz interviews Rachel about why it’s important to be honest about setbacks as a scientist, and how transparency helps all professional scientists do better work. Read more personal stories from scientists, including Rachel’s experience working as a paleoclimatologist across the world, and building mentorship networks of her own, on SciFri’s six-week automated email newsletter, “Sincerely, Science.” To learn more about Sincerely Science and read Rachel's paper, visit sciencefriday.com.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
02/06/23·47m 3s

Zoonomia Genetics Project, Telomeres, Mutter Museum. May 26, 2023, Part 1

Orcas Are Attacking Boats Near Spain. Scientists Don’t Know Why This Thursday, the Supreme Court restricted the scope of the Clean Water Act pertaining to wetlands, in a 5-4 vote. This could affect the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to protect certain kinds of wetlands, which help reduce the impacts of flooding by absorbing water, and also act as natural filters that make drinking water cleaner. Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal members in the dissent, writing that the decision will have, “significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.” Plus, earlier this month, three orcas attacked a boat, leading to its sinking. This is the third time an incident like this has happened in the past three years, accompanied by a large rise of orcas attacking boats near the Strait of Gibraltar. Scientists are unsure of the cause. One theory is that these attacks could be a fad, led by juvenile orcas in the area, a documented behavior in this subpopulation of the dolphin family. They could also be a response to a potential bad encounter between boats and orcas in the area. Science Friday’s Charles Bergquist talks with Sophie Bushwick, technology editor for Scientific American, about these and other stories from this week in science news, including a preview of a hot El Niño summer, an amateur astronomer who discovered a new supernova, and alleviating waste problems by using recycled diapers in concrete.     A Famous Sled Dog’s Genome Holds Evolutionary Surprises Do you remember the story of Balto? In 1925, the town of Nome, Alaska, was facing a diphtheria outbreak. Balto was a sled dog and a very good boy who helped deliver life-saving medicine to the people in the town. Balto’s twisty tale has been told many times, including in a 1990s animated movie in which Kevin Bacon voiced the iconic dog. But last month, scientists uncovered a new side of Balto. They sequenced his genes and discovered the sled dog wasn’t exactly who they expected. The study published in the journal Science, was part of a project called Zoonomia, which aims to better understand the evolution of mammals, including our own genome, by looking at the genes of other animals—from narwhals to aardvarks. Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with Dr. Elinor Karlsson, associate professor in Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology at the UMass Chan Medical School and director of Vertebrate Genomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Dr. Katie Moon, post-doctoral researcher who led Balto’s study; and Dr. Beth Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, who coauthored the new study on Balto and another paper which identified animals that are most likely to face extinction.     The Long And Short Of Telomere Activity Telomeres are repeating short sequences of genetic code (in humans, TTAGGG) located on the ends of chromosomes. They act as a buffer during the cell replication process. Loops at the end of the telomere prevent chromosomes from getting inadvertently stuck together by DNA repair enzymes. Over the lifetime of the cell, the telomeres become shorter and shorter with each cell division. When they become too short, the cell dies. Telomere sequences weren’t thought to do much else—sort of like the plastic tip at the end of a shoelace. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers now argue that telomeres may actually encode for two short proteins. Normally, those proteins aren’t released into the cell. However, if the telomere is damaged—or as it gets shorter during repeated cell replication cycles—those signaling proteins may be able to leak out into the cell and affect other processes, perhaps altering nucleic acid metabolism and protein synthesis, or triggering cellular inflammation. Jack Griffith, one of the authors of the report and the Kenan Distinguished Professor of microbiology and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine, joins SciFri’s Charles Bergquist to talk about the idea and what other secrets may lie inside the telomere.   Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum Takes Down Digital Resources Robert Pendarvis gave his heart to Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. Literally. He has a rare condition called acromegaly, where his body makes too much growth hormone, which causes bones, cartilage and organs to keep growing. The condition affected his heart, so much so that a heart valve leaked. He had a heart transplant in 2020. Pendarvis thought his original heart could tell an important story, and teach others about this rare condition, which is why he was determined to put it on display at the Mütter Museum. The Mütter Museum is a Philadelphia institution, a medical museum that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to its rooms filled with anatomical specimens, models, and old medical instruments. The place is not for the squeamish. Display cases show skulls, abnormal skeletons, and a jar containing the bodies of stillborn conjoined twins. Pendarvis thought it would be the perfect home for his heart — and more. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
26/05/23·47m 21s

Experiencing Pain, Grief and the Cosmos, Ivory-Billed Controversy. May 26, 2023, Part 2

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Debate Keeps Pecking Away Every so often, there’s a claim that the ivory-billed woodpecker is back from the dead. Pixelated videos go viral, blurry photos make the front page, and birders flock to the woods to get a glimpse of the ghost bird. Last week, a controversial paper claimed there’s reason to believe that the lost bird lives. The authors say they have evidence, including video footage, that the bird still flies. The paper is ruffling feathers among the birding and research community. This debate has been going on for decades, but the American Birding Association categorizes the bird as “probably or actually extinct,” and its last verified sighting was in 1944. So is it any different this time? And what do we make of the claims that keep cropping up? Guest host Flora Lichtman talks all things ivory-billed with Michael Retter, editor of the magazines North American Birds and Special Issues of Birding, from the American Birding Association.   Tracking Pain In Your Brain When you stub your toe, that pain is registered by the peripheral nervous system. It shoots off signals that travel up your spinal cord and to your brain, where the signals tell you, “Hey, your toe hurts. Take care of it.” But chronic pain—defined as lasting three months or more—is processed differently, and your nerves are constantly firing pain signals to your brain. Chronic pain is complex, and a lot of its basics are still unknown. But a new study from this week discovered another piece of the pain puzzle: the brain signals that cause chronic pain and the region they are processed in. Researchers hope that this is the first step in developing a brain stimulation therapy that can intercept those chronic pain signals and bring relief to patients. Guest host and SciFri director Charles Bergquist talks with lead author Dr. Prasad Shirvalkar, neurologist and associate professor at the University of California San Francisco, about this new paper.   What Can We Learn From A Woman Who Feels No Pain? There are a select few humans that can’t feel any pain. Really. One of those people is Jo Cameron, who didn’t experience any pain during childbirth or need any painkillers after a hip replacement. She’s also never been anxious or afraid. Researchers have been studying Jo Cameron and her brain in an effort to better understand her sensory experience. This week, researchers published a new study that looks at the genes and mutations responsible for Jo’s pain free existence. They hope to use what they learn to come up with better pain management treatments for the rest of us. Guest host and Science Friday Senior Producer Charles Berquist talks with Andrei Okorokov, associate professor at the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research at the University of College London, about this fascinating new research.   Turning To Space While Processing Grief When astronomers Michelle Thaller and Andrew Booth met, it was love at first sight. The couple married in 1994, becoming a power couple in the world of space and physics research. In 2019, the couple received shocking news: Booth was diagnosed with cancer in the brain. He passed away within a year of his diagnosis. The death of a partner is one of the most devastating things a person can go through. Thaller felt unmoored, and like Earth was not her planet anymore. To help her move forward, Thaller turned to the universe for solace. Thaller speaks with guest host Flora Lichtman about how the mysteries of the universe have made processing grief a little easier, and taking space and time with a grain of salt.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
26/05/23·46m 52s

Weight and Health Myths, A Corvid Invasion. May 19, 2023, Part 1

Can Science Find An Antidote to Americium? With some poisons, there’s an antidote — something you can take to block the effects of the poison, or to help remove it from your body. But when the harmful chemical is a radioactive element, options are limited. Iodine pills can be used to help block radioactive iodine I131 from being absorbed by the thyroid, but there aren’t many other drugs that can help deal with contamination with other radioactive substances. One of the two existing medications can only be delivered via IV in a clinic. This week, the NIH announced the start of an early clinical trial for an oral drug delivered as a tablet that could potentially be used to bind and remove radioactive elements including plutonium, uranium and neptunium from the body. Rachel Feltman, editor at large at Popular Science, joins Ira to talk about that trial and other stories from the week in science, including an experimental universal flu vaccine, research into the amount of trace DNA humans shed every day, and an update on the planet Saturn’s moon count.   Debunking Common Myths About Being Fat Weight loss is big business. Americans spend roughly $60 billion each year trying to lose weight, forking over cash for supplements, diet plans, and gym memberships. Yet somewhere between 90 to 95% of diets fail. Much of what we think we know about the relationship between weight and health is based on a series of assumptions that don’t always match up with the latest science. Science Friday producer, Shoshannah Buxbaum talks with Aubrey Gordon, co-host of the podcast Maintenance Phase and author of the recent book “You Just Need To Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People, about the history of the Body Mass Index or BMI. She discusses why the word “obesity” is tangled up in stereotypes about fat people, the flaws in commonly cited mortality statistics, and how anti-fat bias translates into worse healthcare for fat people. Read an excerpt of “You Just Need To Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People here.   What To Do When 500-1,000 Crows Roost In Your Neighborhood Laura Young was at a breaking point when she submitted a post titled “Request: Make 500-1,000 crows leave my street alone” to the subreddit r/lifeprotips in January. “I think you can tell that I was feeling very frustrated and running out of options and I clearly needed help,” she said. Starting last October, Laura’s neighborhood in Baltimore was the site of a massive crow roost. And unlike past years’ roosts, which usually only last a few weeks with a few dozen crows, this one showed no signs of leaving. “The numbers that they’ve attracted ever since then are unbelievable,” she said. “I mean, we’re at the point where it is frightening to walk out at night.” According to Laura, hundreds of them filled the trees in the park outside her apartment. “And they’re all screaming,” she said. “It is loud enough to wake you up indoors with all the windows closed. I don’t think anyone on my block has slept past 6:00am in three months.” There was the noise, and then there was the poop: coating the streets, the buildings, and the cars. “It is just disgusting. I’ve never spent so much money on car washes in my entire life,” she laughed. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
19/05/23·48m 15s

The B Broadcast: Bees, Beans, Bears, and Butterflies. May 19, 2023, Part 2

Science Says Eat More Beans Beans are delicious, high in protein, inexpensive, efficient to grow, and an absolute staple in so many cuisines. So why don’t Americans eat more of them? The average American eats 7.5 pounds of beans annually, which is only a few cans of beans every year. The answer is complicated, but one thing is sure: Beans have a PR problem. Ira talks with Julieta Cardenas, a Future Perfect Fellow at Vox, who reported this story. If you’re looking to chef it up, read some of the SciFri staff’s favorite bean recipes.    The World According To Sound: Feeding Time In this story from our friends at The World According to Sound, we’ll take a sonic trip to Yellowstone National Park. You’ll hear the sounds of two grizzlies feasting on a bison. It’s very rare that a bear can take down an adult bison, but they will chow down on animals that are already dead, like if they were killed by wolves or a car. The World According to Sound is a live audio show, online listening series, and miniature podcast, created by Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett.   Bees Have Feelings, Too Few pollinators have the charisma of bees, so much so that the phrase “save the bees” has become a calling card for those who consider themselves ecologically-conscious. There are more than 21,000 species of bees, ranging from the very recognizable bumblebees to the vibrant blue and green Augochloropsis metallica. Pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann has studied bees for nearly fifty years, learning about everything from their natural behaviors to how they respond to puzzles. All of this has led him to a fascinating conclusion: bees are sentient, and they have feelings. Stephen joins Ira from Tucson, Arizona to talk about his new book, What a Bee Knows. Read an excerpt from the book here.   Pinning Down The Origin Of Butterflies One of the highlights of being outdoors in warmer weather is spotting a delicate, colorful butterfly exploring the landscape. There are over 19,000 different species of butterflies around the world—and all of them evolved from some enterprising moth that decided to venture out in the daytime, around 100 million years ago. But just where that evolutionary fork in the road occurred has been a matter of scientific debate, with many researchers positing a butterfly origin in Australia or Asia. Writing this week in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers report on a new phylogenetic map of butterfly evolution, a lepidopteran family tree, combining genetic data with information from fossils, plants, and geography to trace back the origin and spread of butterflies. They find that butterflies likely split from moths in what is now Central or North America, before spreading to South America, crossing oceans to Australia and Asia, and eventually spreading to Europe and Africa. Dr. Akito Kawahara, professor, curator, and director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History and one of the authors of the report, joins Ira to talk about the findings and share some other surprising facts about butterflies.   To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
19/05/23·47m 49s

Star Trek Science, Listening to Pando. May 12, 2023, Part 2

Star Trek’s Science Advisor Reveals The Real Astrophysics On Screen Few pop culture properties have lasted quite as long as Star Trek. A dozen Star Trek television shows have aired over the last sixty years—not to mention countless movies, novels, and comic books. Science concepts have always been integral to the Star Trek franchise: from warp speed travel to dilithium. But how much does the series actually accurately depict? Ira speaks with astrophysicist Dr. Erin Macdonald, science consultant for Star Trek about the legacy of the franchise, and how accurate the science is within the series.   Listen To The Largest Tree On Earth For this story, we’re taking a trip to south central Utah and into the Fishlake National Forest to visit the largest tree on earth, an aspen named Pando. The strange thing about Pando is that it doesn’t really look like the world’s biggest tree. It has rolling hills with thousands of tall, lean aspens swaying in the wind. But Pando is there, hiding in plain sight. All those tree trunks you see aren’t actually individual trees. Technically, they’re branches, and that’s because Pando is one massive tree—sprawling more than 100 acres, with 47,000 branches growing from it.   There is a lot to learn about Pando, and our guests turned to sound to understand the tree better. Together, they created an “acoustic portrait” to hear all the snaps, splinters, and scuttles that happen in and around the tree. Ira talks with Jeff Rice, a sound artist and co-founder of the Acoustic Atlas at the Montana State University Library, and Lance Oditt, executive director of the non-profit Friends of Pando, which is dedicated to preserving the tree.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
12/05/23·47m 17s

US COVID Health Emergency Ends. May 12, 2023, Part 1

FDA Advisory Board Approves First Over-the-Counter Birth Control Pill This week an FDA advisory board paved the way for the first over the counter birth control pill, with an unanimous decision 17-0. The FDA must accept the recommendation before the pills are available for sale, which is expected in a few months time. If approved, the progestin-only pill would be manufactured by the company Perrigo, under the brand name Opill. Ira talks with Maggie Koerth, science journalist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, about that and more including; Voyager spacecrafts get energy boosts, wild axolotls face extinction, testing airplane waste for COVID-19 and more.   US Declares An End To The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Just over three years ago, Alex Azar, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, issued a declaration of a national public health emergency as a result of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. That declaration kicked off a cascade of nationwide funding, policies, and restrictions aimed at combating the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the three years that followed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates over a million people in the US have died from COVID-19. Yesterday, although the virus is still circulating and people are still getting sick, that emergency declaration finally came to an end, after being renewed over a dozen times. A statement released by the Department of Health and Human Services said “COVID-19 is no longer the disruptive force it once was. Since January 2021, COVID-19 deaths have declined by 95% and hospitalizations are down nearly 91%.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, joins Ira Flatow to talk about where we go from here. Is life back to normal—or is there a new normal? What have we learned from the past three years about responding to future outbreaks?   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
12/05/23·46m 56s

Antibiotic Resistance, Space Launches and the Environment, Phage Therapy. May 5, 2023, Part 2

SpaceX Explosion Damages Environment Around Launch Site Last Thursday, SpaceX’s South Texas facility was awash in noise and fire, as crowds gathered in South Padre Island and Port Isabel to watch Starship’s first orbital launch. It was the largest and most powerful rocket ever made, standing at around 400 feet tall. Four minutes into the launch, SpaceX detonated the rocket after the SuperHeavy booster failed to separate from the Starship as planned. The launch destroyed the company’s launch pad, spreading concrete up to three quarters of a mile away. Cameras left by YouTubers were either knocked down or destroyed in the rumble, along with some of the fence surrounding the launch pad’s road-facing property. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com.   The Private Space Race Takes A Toll On Planet Earth After the SpaceX explosion last month, debris wasn’t the only thing on the minds of Science Friday listeners. The following messages arrived in our inbox after we reported on 3-D printed rockets in March. It was interesting to hear you discuss 7 space launches in 5 days, and then just moments later the fact that we’re not on track to reduce carbon emissions. My understanding is that rocket launches release huge amounts of carbon and other greenhouse gases. Story idea?—@RevBobIerien, Twitter Also regarding the 3-D rockets there wasn’t any concern made for space pollution was there? I may have tuned out unhappily before the end. —Juanita H, email How much carbon do rockets contribute to global warming? —Robert C, email Very disappointing to hear the report of new “cheaper” 3D-printed rockets are available so that, like fast food pods and big gulps, we can now drop even more cheap **** into the ocean. And, *immediately* following a story about the new report on climate change, what exactly is the carbon footprint resulting from the ability of more people to more cheaply fire rockets into space? —David M, email Carbon isn’t the big pollutant that comes from spaceflight, says Dr. Eloise Marais, associate professor in physical geography at University College London. Instead, black carbon or soot particles are generated and released directly into the atmosphere, alongside reactive nitrogen and nitrogen oxides. Dr. Marais joins Ira to talk about how much of an impact increased rocket launches could have on the atmosphere, and how that compares to the auto industry.    How To Combat The Antibiotic Resistance Crisis For years scientists have been ringing alarm bells about a global antibiotic resistance crisis. Now hospitals and healthcare facilities face the consequences: In the United States, there are 2.8 million antimicrobial-resistant infections every year, and more than 35,000 people die from these infections. Bacteria naturally try to outsmart the drugs designed to kill them, which causes treatments to become ineffective over time. While new antibiotics are made to respond to these resistant strains, the bacteria continue to evolve—creating a constant, and costly, cycle. There’s a number of added factors driving the crisis, including antibiotic use in livestock and the general overprescription of antibiotics. About 1 in 3 antibiotic prescriptions in outpatient settings like urgent care or emergency departments are unnecessary. Scientists are struggling to keep up with the need to replace antibiotics that no longer work. It’s a never ending game of catch up. Ira discusses some of the possible solutions to this vexing problem and takes listener questions with Dr. Victor Nizet, faculty lead of the Collaborative to Halt Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes at the University of California San Diego and Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, executive vice chair of medicine at the University of Colorado.   Are Phages A New Page In Medicine? One of the many possible solutions to the global antibiotic resistance crisis is an old idea that’s new again—bacteriophages, or phages for short. Phages are viruses that exist solely to kill bacteria and are abundant in nature. While scientists first discovered phages’ ability to treat bacterial infections about a century ago, there’s been little interest in turning them into a treatment for patients with antibiotic resistant infections—until recently. Ira talks with Dr. Graham Hatfull, professor of biotechnology at the University of Pittsburgh about the latest in phage science.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
05/05/23·46m 58s

Why Rats Love Cities, Science Of Saliva And Taste. May 5, 2023, Part 1

A Dying Planet Offers A Peek Into The Future This week, astronomers reported in the journal Nature that they had spotted a planet approximately the size of Jupiter being swallowed by a star over the course of ten days. The star, called ZTF SLRN-2020, is about 15,000 light-years away from our solar system, but still in our own galaxy. Astronomers had thought this type of planet-engulfing must happen, based on how stars evolve and certain chemical signatures they’ve spotted from inside stars. However, this is the first time the process has actually been observed. Our own sun is predicted to go through a similar expansion in about five billion years, consuming Mercury, Venus, and likely Earth. Tim Revell, deputy US editor at New Scientist, joins Ira to talk about the fate of the planet and other stories from the week in science, including mapping the trees of Africa, an experimental Alzheimer’s drug showing early promise, and reconstructing a short movie clip based on brain signals recorded in mice.   Saliva: The Unsung Hero Of Taste How good are you at tasting what you eat? Not just gulping food down, but actually savoring the flavor? When you think about how taste works, you may think about your tongue and taste buds, and how they send information about your food info to your brain. But there’s an overlooked—and understudied—hero in this story: saliva. That may sound strange, since part of saliva’s job is to help us chew, swallow, talk, and even digest. But saliva is much more interesting and complicated than that. Ira talks with Chris Gorski, editor at Chemical & Engineering News, who reported this story about taste and saliva for Knowable Magazine earlier this year.   Who Will Win The Rat Race? Last fall, New York City’s Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch stood in front of a microphone and announced her plan to deal with NYC’s most hated residents: rats. She went on to make a now-viral declaration: “I want to be clear, the rats are absolutely going to hate this announcement. But the rats don’t run this city: We do.” Soon after, NYC announced its search for a rat czar. Someone who is “highly motivated and somewhat bloodthirsty” with “the drive, determination, and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy—New York City’s relentless rat population.” This news—and the memes born from it—put rats in the forefront of city dwellers’ minds. And now, the newly appointed rat czar Kathleen Corradi’s reign has begun. But ridding cities of rats is no easy feat. It requires public participation, new policy, behavioral changes, and an all-hands-on-deck approach from several government departments. So what’s it going to take to rid cities of rats? And is it even possible? In this live call-in, Ira talks with Bethany Brookshire, science journalist and author of Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains, and Dr. Bobby Corrigan, urban rodentologist and pest consultant. They discuss the history of humans’ relationships with rats, why these critters thrive in cities, and why we’ll need to learn how to live with them.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.   Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
05/05/23·46m 51s

Personifying AI, The Reading Brain, Environmental Sampling Via Bees. April 28, 2023, Part 2

Why Do Humans Anthropomorphize AI? Artificial intelligence has become more sophisticated in a short period of time. Even though we may understand that when ChatGPT spits out a response, there’s no human behind the screen, we can’t help but anthropomorphize—imagining that the AI has a personality, thoughts, or feelings. How exactly should we understand the bond between humans and artificial intelligence? Guest host Sophie Bushwick talks to Dr. David Gunkel, professor of media studies at Northern Illinois University, to explore the ways in which humans and artificial intelligence form emotional connections.   A Bee’s Eye View Of Cities’ Microbiomes When you want to look at the microbial health of a city, there are a variety of ways to go about it. You might look at medical records, or air quality. In recent years, samples of wastewater have been used to track COVID outbreaks. Studies of urban subway systems have involved painstaking swabs of patches of subway muck. But now, researchers are offering another approach to sample a city’s environment—its beehives. A report recently published in the journal Environmental Microbiome used the bees foraging in a city to provide information about the town’s bacteria and fungi. The researchers found that by looking at the debris in the bottom of a beehive, they could learn about some of the environments in the blocks around the hives. The microbes they collected weren’t just species associated with flowers and plant life, but included organisms associated with ponds and dogs. The team found that the hive samples could reveal changes from one neighborhood to another in a city, and in the microbial differences between different cities—samples taken in Venice, for instance, contained signals associated with rotting wood that were not seen in samples from Tokyo. Elizabeth Henaff, an assistant professor in the NYU Tandon School of Engineering at New York University and a co-author of the report, joins SciFri’s Kathleen Davis to talk about what bees and microbes can tell us about the cities we share.   This Is Your Brain On Words What happens after you pick up a book, or pull up some text on your phone? What occurs between the written words hitting your eyes and your brain understanding what they represent? Scientists are trying to better understand how the brain processes written information—and how a primate brain that evolved to make sense of twisty branches and forking streams adapted to comprehend a written alphabet. Researchers used electrodes implanted in the brains of patients being evaluated for epilepsy treatment to study what parts of the brain were involved when those patients read words and sentences. They found that two different parts of the brain are activated, and interact in different ways when you read a simple list of unrelated words, compared to when you encounter a series of words that builds up a more complex idea. Dr. Nitin Tandon, a professor of neurosurgery at UTHealth Houston and one of the authors of a report on the work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, joins guest host Sophie Bushwick to talk about the study, and what scientists are learning about how the brain allows us to read.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
28/04/23·47m 16s

History And Science Of Chickens, Climate Activism, Pipeline Movie. April 28, 2023, Part 1

Dirty Diapers Reveal How Germy Babies’ Microbiomes Are In a new study, researchers picked through the dirty diapers of more than 600 infants. Those stinky diapers were a gold mine of info—they contained more than 10,000 virus species. And though it may sound terrifying, those viruses play a key role in babies’ microbiomes. Guest host and SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Katherine J. Wu, staff writer at The Atlantic about this story and other science news of the week. They chat about climate change’s influence on the twilight zone, what critters can be found on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a surprising twist in the story of Mars’ moon Deimos, the impressive sleeping habits of elephant seals, and why insects seem to flock to the light when it’s dark out.   From Backyards To Barn Yards, The Surprising Science Of Chickens Raising backyard chickens continues to grow in popularity. The number of households in the United States with a backyard flock jumped from 8% in 2018 to 13% in 2020, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association. But our fondness for chickens is hardly new. The relationship between humans and chickens goes back thousands of years, to when humans began domesticating the red junglefowl native to Southeast Asia. Guest host Sophie Bushwick has a compre(hen)sive conversation with Tove Danovich, freelance journalist and author of the new book Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them, about how she was charmed by her own backyard chickens, the history of their domestication, and the surprising science of chicken intelligence.   Why Climate Activists Are Turning To Drastic Measures For Earth Day this year, people all over the world took to the streets to demand climate action. But as large and loud as these protests can be, they are often met with inaction. So activists are ramping up their efforts. Just within the last year, we’ve seen people chain themselves to banks, throw mashed potatoes at a Monet painting, shut down highways, and even glue themselves to museum walls, all in the name of climate justice. Those actions went viral and really seemed to strike a nerve. How did we end up here? Guest host Kathleen Davis talks with Dr. Dana Fisher, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland College Park, about the state of climate activism and the tactics at play.   Recasting The Climate Movement In ‘How To Blow Up A Pipeline’ Climate activism is getting the big screen treatment this spring, with the new film “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.” This action-packed heist film follows a group of young climate activists, disillusioned by the slow pace of climate action, who decide to take drastic action in the name of the climate. What follows is a tense ‘will they-won’t they’ story set in Texas oil country. The name of this movie comes from a 2021 nonfiction book by Andreas Malm. That book is a manifesto that argues that property damage and sabotage is the only way forward for climate activism. The movie features characters who struggle with this question, and whether there’s a different way to accomplish their climate goals. Guest host Kathleen Davis speaks with Ariela Barer, who co-wrote, produced, and acted in the film. They chat about bringing this complicated topic to the big screen, and creating characters reflective of the real-life climate movement.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.   Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
28/04/23·47m 34s

Introducing Our New Podcast: Universe Of Art

How do we use art to process the world around us in ways that science can’t? How are illustrators using their skills to help us understand nature’s most unusual creatures? On Universe of Art, a new podcast from Science Friday, hosted by SciFri producer and art nerd D Peterschmidt, we bring you some of our favorite arts stories from the show, some new ones too, and conversations with the producers who made those segments. We’ll hear from astronomers who integrate space into their artwork, drag performers who bring science into their acts, and many others. Join us for conversations with artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen to Universe of Art on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn or your favorite podcasting app. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
22/04/23·23m 17s

Anesthesia 101, Carbon-Sequestering Poplars, Period Book. April 21, 2023, Part 1

An Explosive End For A Massive Rocket This week, SpaceX attempted the first uncrewed orbital test flight of its massive Super Heavy rocket topped with an experimental crew capsule known as Starship. After one aborted launch earlier in the week, the huge rocket successfully lifted off Thursday morning—but minutes later, the Starship component failed to separate from the Super Heavy booster, and the combined rocket stack exploded. While a setback for the team, SpaceX head Elon Musk said that a lot had been learned from the flight, and another test launch would take place in several months. Purbita Saha, senior editor at Popular Science, joins SciFri’s John Dankosky to talk about the launch and other stories from the week in science, including an Earth Day look at water conservation issues across the country and the materials science of Maya plaster. Plus, you can now listen to Science Friday's new arts podcast, Universe of Art. SciFri producer and Universe of Art host D Peterschmidt joins John to give a sneak peak of some of the episodes.    Dismantling Myths About Menstruation Saying the phrase “menstrual blood” or or the word “period” can feel almost dirty. That’s because in the western world, people with periods are taught not to discuss this exceedingly normal biological process. Half the world will menstruate at some point in their lives, and yet menstruation remains exceedingly under-studied. Biological anthropologist Kate Clancy dug into the history of menstruation research, and the myriad misconceptions about it, while working on her book “Period: The Real Story of Menstruation.” What she found was a lack of basic understanding of the biological process, from physicians and menstruators alike. Clancy speaks with guest host Maddie Sofia about the misconceptions of a “normal” menstrual cycle, and other persisting period myths. Fighting Climate Change With Genetically Modified Trees Vince Stanley has a saying, which he holds as true in a commercial forest as on a row crop farm: Every acre has a plan. In a wetland he owns in Tattnall County, about 70 miles west of Savannah, downhill from an orderly grove of predictably profitable loblolly pines, he is trying out something new. “Now, look at this guy right here,” Stanley said, pointing out what looked more like a stick in the mud compared to the tupelos growing a few yards away in the deeper water. This stick, surrounded by pin flags and planted about six feet away from its sister, had signs of new life: dark green leaves. “That’s impressive,” Stanley said. And the germ of the new plan for these acres, is something that, until now, Stanley said he didn’t really have. “We’re just leaving this up to Mother Nature,” he said. “So now with Living Carbon, we’ve gone to Option B.” This nascent tree and 10,499 others are at the heart of Option B, what might be the first effort of its kind in the nation: genetically engineered trees planted in a forest. What’s more, these trees are for sale. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.   All You Need To Know About Anesthesia If you’ve ever had surgery, you’ve probably wondered about how anesthesia works, or maybe even lied awake at night anxious about going under. If you’ve ever been there, I’m sure you remember: Right before surgery, you get rolled into the operating room. The anesthesiologist tells you to start counting down from 10. The next thing you know, you’re awake in the recovery room and you don’t remember anything that just happened to you. How exactly did anesthesiologists manage to get you safely into that state and back out again? Guest host John Dankosky talks with Dr. Louise Sun, professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Stanford University Health and Dr. Gunisha Kaur, anesthesiologist, director of the Human Rights Impact Lab, and medical director of Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights at Weill Cornell Medicine about the basics of how anesthesia works. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
21/04/23·47m 29s

The Myth of the Alpha Wolf, Cherokee Nation Seed Banks, History of Gender Affirming Care. April 21, 2023, Part 2

How We Arrived At Current Standards Of Care For Trans Medicine So far this year, 16 states have moved to restrict or completely ban transgender kids access to gender affirming care. And 17 other states are considering similar laws, a handful even trying to restrict care for adults. This political controversy has drawn increased attention to “Standards of Care,” a set of guidelines written by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health or WPATH. Health professionals are encouraged to consult these guidelines when providing gender affirming care like puberty blockers, hormones and surgery to transgender patients. A new version of the standards were released last fall, sparking controversy. Some conservatives saw the guidelines as making transition too easy, and seized the moment to further restrict transition-related care. Some trans activists and health care providers felt the opposite, seeing the 2022 guidelines as too restrictive, creating unnecessary hurdles to life-saving medicine. How did we get to a point where one document is supposed to shape all of trans medicine? Guest host Maddie Sofia talks with Hil Malatino, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Philosophy at Penn State University, to put in perspective the history of gender affirming care.   How The Cherokee Nation Is Saving Culturally Significant Seeds Think about your family heirlooms—the most prized items passed down from generation to generation, that tell a story about who you are and where you come from. Did you ever think that seeds could be part of that story? This year, the Cherokee Nation Seed Bank is continuing its program to distribute heirloom seeds to tribal citizens, one that’s been running since 2006. Last year, the Nation distributed almost 10,000 seed packets to citizens across the country in an effort to keep these culturally significant plants from being lost. This year, the Cherokee Nation is sharing seeds for a variety of Cherokee corn, gourds, beans, pumpkins, beads, and native plants and flowers. Guest host John Dankosky talks with Feather Smith, the Cherokee Nation’s ethnobiologist, about how Cherokee heirloom seeds have been cultivated, planted, and preserved over the years. To see an image gallery of the Cherokee Nation heirloom garden, visit sciencefriday.com.   The Long Legacy Of The Alpha Wolf Myth Around the 1970s, the world latched onto a catchy new scientific term: alpha wolf. It described the top dog that clawed its way to the top of its pack, and it quickly became a mainstream symbol for power and dominance. The idea of the alpha wolf was debunked almost 25 years ago, but its legacy lives on. Most commonly, it’s found in circles of the internet where men appoint themselves alpha wolf, and also in dog training. Strangely, those two things are connected. Guest host Maddie Sofia explores how science works and how people use it in their everyday lives, whether it’s true or not. And a little about what happens when science goes mainstream. Maddie first talks with Dr. Dave Mech, senior research scientist at the US Geological Survey and founder of the International Wolf Center. His 1970 book “The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species” helped popularize the term “alpha wolf.” But when he discovered that alpha wolves aren’t really real many years later, he tried to right the wrong. Then, Maddie talks with two researchers about how the alpha wolf idea is still around today: Anamarie Johnson, PhD candidate and canine behavior consultant at Arizona State University, and Dr. Lindsay Palmer, social and behavioral scientist who studies the human-animal bond at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. They explore how biases and societal ideas shape science, and connect the dots between alpha wolves, masculinity, and dog training.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.     Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
21/04/23·47m 16s
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