Science Friday

Science Friday

By Science Friday and WNYC Studios

Brain fun for curious people.

Episodes

Epstein-Barr Virus and MS, Agrivoltaics, Ag School Influence, Social Cues From Saliva. Jan 21, 2022, Part 1

Scientists Are Working On A Universal COVID Vaccine As the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spike around the U.S., there are scientists working not on variant-specific boosters, but on a vaccine that might cover every possible strain, past and future. Called universal vaccines, they require a fundamentally different approach from a shot that would target Delta, Omicron, or any other variant. Instead, a universal vaccine would need to train the body to respond to something every variant has in common—or to fill in the blanks of any possible mutations. Vox senior science reporter Umair Irfan reports on the difficult path and ongoing work toward such a vaccine, and why the immune system’s T cells and B cells, more than neutralizing antibodies, will dictate our long-term future with the virus. Plus how an undersea eruption near Tonga was one of the most documented volcanic explosions in history, new research assesses the vast toll of global antibiotic resistance, and more stories from the week.   New Research Links Epstein-Barr Virus to Multiple Sclerosis A group of scientists at Harvard University says they have made a major breakthrough in understanding multiple sclerosis. For years, they have been testing out a hypothesis that the Epstein-Barr virus causes multiple sclerosis, a chronic and incurable disease of the nervous system. (Epstein-Barr is the contagious virus responsible for mononucleosis.) Researchers analyzed a dataset of 10 million active-duty military members. They found that service members who contracted the Epstein-Barr virus were 32 times more likely to later be diagnosed with MS. The research was published in the journal Science. Ira is joined by Dr. Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts, to discuss his team’s research and its broader implications.   Saliva Sharing Might Help Kids Identify Their Closest Relationships How do little kids understand who has a close relationship with them? One of the clues they use to figure it out is by noticing who they’re swapping saliva with. The closest bonds are with the people who are giving them kisses, sharing their forks, and wiping their drool. Those are the findings of a recent study published in the journal Science. Ira is joined by Ashley Thomas, the study’s lead author and a post doctoral fellow in the brain and cognitive sciences department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   Big Agriculture Schools Face Increasing Donor Conflicts Of Interest A major donor to the University of Illinois wondered what the heck was up. Robb Fraley, a top Monsanto executive at the time, emailed the dean of the agriculture college in 2018 complaining about a professor saying publicly that one of his company’s flagship products was causing widespread damage to crops. Monsanto was also a major donor. Fraley accused the professor of being “biased” and “prone to exaggeration.” U of I officials had spent years courting Fraley, and they had listened to him before when he’d complained about a lack of progress on an endowed chair he’d funded. But the 2018 episode highlights potentially thorny situations for public universities, which have cultivated powerful agricultural corporations as donors while public funding has stagnated. Dicamba posed a particularly critical issue to Fraley. After all, he was as responsible as anyone for leading modern agriculture into using lab-designed seeds that could withstand spraying from weedkillers. That Monsanto-branded Roundup Ready pairing of biotechnology with glyphosate herbicide revolutionized grain farming around the world. When glyphosate lost its punch — after weeds grew resistant to Roundup — Monsanto shifted to teaming different genetically modified seeds with the dicamba herbicide. But farmers who’d not adopted the new genetically engineered seeds started complaining about “dicamba drift” and of seeing their crops perish from the effects of the herbicide migrating to their fields. So when U of I weed scientist Aaron Hager spoke about a controversy as big as any in commercial agriculture in ways that didn’t sit well with Fraley, the university benefactor let the school know about his displeasure. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.   Growing Plants—And Providing Solar Energy Food is one of our most basic needs. As the population of the world grows, we’re going to need to grow more of it within the same amount of space. The United Nations estimates the world’s population will grow by 2 billion people between now and 2050. Access to fresh food is already a problem in many countries, and will likely get worse with more mouths to feed. This is where the concept of agrivoltaics could create a massive change. This farming setup mixes water, energy, and plant growth all in one space. Solar panels collect energy from the sun’s rays; underneath those panels is where the plants grow. The setup takes less water than the traditional way of farming, all-in-all creating a more sustainable way to grow food and create energy. Joining Ira to talk about the promise of agrivoltaics is Dr. Chad Higgins, associate professor of biological and ecological engineering at Oregon State University, in Corvallis, Oregon.  
21/01/2248m 20s

Airborne eDNA, Beetle Jumps, Wordle Psychology, City Pigeons. Jan 21, 2022, Part 2

Identifying Animals Through Airborne DNA In recent years, the technique of eDNA—environmental DNA, or samples taken from the environment, as opposed to from a specific animal—has changed ecology research. Scientists have learned how to obtain eDNA from water samples, soil, and even the intestinal tract of other animals. Writing recently in the journal Current Biology, two different groups report that air samples collected with filters in a zoo can provide enough DNA to paint a partial picture of the species living in and around the zoo. After taking over 72 samples from 20 sites around a zoo in the UK, Dr. Elizabeth Clare and colleagues brought their trove back to the lab, and were able to identify 25 different species living in and around the zoo. Some were expected zoo inhabitants, and others were surprises—including DNA from a species of endangered European hedgehog. At the same time, a separate group of researchers performed a similar analysis on a Danish zoo, and achieved similar results. Dr. Clare joins Ira Flatow to talk about the research, and what the technique of eDNA might be able to bring to the world of conservation ecology.   These Beetles Go Boing There are plenty of insect species that jump—leafhoppers, crickets, fleas, and more. Some use powerful legs to take to the air. Others, like the click beetle, rely on a latching mechanism built into their bodies to build up energy, then release it suddenly. But writing in the journal PLOS One this week, researchers report that they’ve spotted a species of lined flat bark beetle (Laemophloeus biguttatus) that uses a different method to jump—the beetle larvae dig into a surface with tiny claws, flex, and build up energy, before releasing it and flinging itself into the air in a tiny ring. “It was really exciting to know that we had seen something possibly for the first time and definitely reported for the first time,” said Matt Bertone, an entomologist at NC State University and one of the authors of the report. The jumps themselves aren’t very impressive—only a few body lengths—but the discovery of a new mechanism that doesn’t rely on a specialized body part is intriguing. The authors aren’t quite sure why the larvae, which live under tree bark, have evolved the jumping behavior, but hypothesize that it may be to rapidly move when their bark habitat is disturbed. Bertone joins Ira to talk about the unique form of locomotion, and where the researchers might look next for the behavior.   This is Your Brain on Wordle Five letters, six tries to guess a word. That’s the simple conceit behind Wordle, the new puzzle game that’s sweeping the internet. More than 2.5 million people play this word game, its creator told NPR. The word changes each day and is the same for everyone who plays. Each letter guessed right brings the player one step closer to solving the puzzle. It’s free and simple, and according to many players, completely addictive. But why is such a simple game so compelling? And how does it compare to viral games of the past, like Pokemon Go or Words with Friends? Ira is joined by Dr. Matthew Baldwin, assistant professor in social psychology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, to unlock the reasons why Wordle both satisfies the brain and brings us closer to our peers.   Pigeons Are More Than Pests Pigeons lead much-maligned lives in our cities. They eat what’s edible from our trash, and live much of their lives at street level. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that the name ‘rats with wings’ has reached the level of a cultural meme. But author Rosemary Mosco wants you to think again. Instead of seeing vermin, you might consider the pigeon much like a stray dog or cat. In her recent book, A Pocket Guide to Pigeon-Watching, Mosco details the history of pigeon domestication—as much as it can be known—including millennia of humans raising pigeons to eat, as well as cherishing them for their nutrient-rich poop. More recently, people painstakingly bred fancy varieties like the frillback and the fantail. And yes, your local city pigeon is descended from those beloved birds. Producer Christie Taylor talks to Mosco about the underappreciated history of pigeons. Plus, fun facts about their feral, city-dwelling kin, from the self-congratulatory wing-claps to the secret lives of baby pigeons.  
21/01/2247m 29s

Historic Big Bang Debate, Black Hole Sounds, Plant DNA Mutations. Jan 14, 2022, Part 2

A Debate Over How The Universe Began Even though it’s commonly accepted today, the Big Bang theory was not always the universally accepted scientific explanation for how our universe began. In fact, the term ‘Big Bang’ was coined by a prominent physicist in 1948 to mock the idea. In the middle of the 20th century, researchers in the field of cosmology had two warring theories. The one we would come to call the Big Bang suggested the universe expanded rapidly from a primordial, hot, and ultra-dense cosmos. Conversely, the so-called ‘Steady State’ theory held that the universe, at any given point in time, looked roughly the same. The story of how the Big Bang became the accepted theory of physics is also a story of two men. One, Fred Hoyle, was a steady state supporter who thought the universe would last forever. Meanwhile, George Gamow, the major public advocate of the Big Bang, begged to differ. They debated in the pages of Scientific American and in competing popular books, as both dedicated scientists and earnest popularizers of their field. And while Gamow ended up winning the debate, for the most part, the two men managed to come together in one way: They accidentally explained the origins of every element of matter by being part right, and part wrong. The truth, it turned out, would lie in the middle. Ira talks to physicist and science historian Paul Halpern about this story, detailed in his book, Flashes of Creation: George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, and the Great Big Bang Debate.   The World According To Sound: Listening To Black Holes Collide In this piece, you can actually listen to gravitational waves, the ripples in spacetime made by the tremendous mass of colliding black holes. It is possible to hear them, because their wavelengths have been shifted all the way into the human range of hearing by MIT professor Scott Hughes. Drawn together by their immense gravity, nearby black holes will swirl faster and faster until they are finally absorbed completely into one another. When the pitch rises, it means the force of gravity is increasing as the black holes collide. Not all black holes come together at the same rate or release the same amount of gravitational waves, so each combining pair has its own particular sonic signature. Some black holes collide quickly. Others slowly merge. Some produce relatively high pitches, because of the intensity of the gravitational waves, while others have a low bass rumbling. Some even make the sound of a wobbling top as the two black holes swirl around each other, before eventually meeting and becoming totally absorbed into one another.   Is There A Method To Plant Mutation? Mutation is one of the cornerstones of evolutionary biology. When an organism’s DNA mutates thanks to damage or copying error, that organism passes the mutation on to its offspring. Those offspring then become either more or less equipped to survive and reproduce. And at least until recently, researchers have assumed that those mutations were random—equally likely to happen along any particular snippet of a piece of DNA. Now, scientists are questioning whether that’s actually true—or if mutation is more likely to occur in some parts of the genome than others. New research published in the journal Nature this week looks at just that question, in a common weed called Arabidopsis thaliana. After following 24 generations of plants for several years and then sequencing the offspring, the team found that some genes are far less likely to mutate than others. And those genes are some of the most essential to the function of DNA itself, where a mutation could be fatal. Conversely, the genes most likely to mutate were those associated with the plant’s ability to respond to its environment—potentially a handy trick for a highly adaptable weed. Lead author Grey Monroe talks to Ira about his group’s findings, why this skew in mutation likelihood may benefit plants like Arabidopsis, and why it may be time to think differently about evolution.
14/01/2246m 56s

Omicron And Kids, Ivermectin Origins, Icefish Nests. Jan 14, 2022, Part 1

A Replacement Heart, From A Pig This week, doctors reported that they had successfully transplanted a heart taken from a pig into a human being, a type of procedure known as xenotransplantation. The pig had been genetically modified to lack a certain protein thought to be responsible for organ rejection in previous transplant attempts. The patient, a 57 year-old man, will be monitored for any sign of rejection or infection with a porcine virus—but doctors are hopeful that the work will lead to further transplants and a new source of replacement organs for people. Science journalist Roxxane Kamsi joins Ira to talk about that and other stories from the week in science, including research into how antivirals work in people infected with HIV, the role of clothes dryers on microplastics pollution, a push to make the U.S. electric grid greener, and more.   Omicron Sparks Surge In Pediatric Hospitalizations Omicron’s rapid spread has many parents and caregivers of young children on edge. The most recent CDC data shows 5.3 cases per 100,000 children under four are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States, the highest number since the pandemic started. And kids under five still aren’t eligible to be vaccinated. When word went out that we were going to answer questions about COVID and kids, we were flooded with questions from our listeners. To help answer some of those questions, and better understand how to keep our kids safe, Ira spoke with Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, pediatrician, and professor of global health and infectious diseases at Stanford University, and Dr. Rick Malley, infectious diseases specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.   Ivermectin’s False Reputation Exemplifies How Misinformation Spread Not a single scientific or health authority in the U.S. recommends the use of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. Still, some Americans see the unproven drug as a way out of the pandemic. Ivermectin is mostly used in large animals and is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating human conditions, including head lice and stomach worms. But across the country, demand for the drug has surged in recent months — leading to a spike in hospitalizations for human exposures to ivermectin. The drug is among the latest politically divisive public health issues unfolding across the country. The situation has fast-tracked conversations about the risks and benefits of publicizing research findings that have not yet been vetted by the scientific community. That’s because much of the misinformation on ivermectin draws on insufficient data — some coming from low-quality studies, including ones that were retracted after further examination revealed problems and even potential fraud. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. A Massive New Find Of Icefish Found Near Antarctic The frigid waters near Antarctica are home to an unusual family of fishes collectively known as the icefish. They have translucent blood, white hearts, and have adapted to live without red blood cells or hemoglobin, relying instead on copper compounds that function better at low temperatures. Now, researchers mapping the floor of the Weddell Sea report in the journal Current Biology that they have spotted a massive colony of the unusual sea creatures—containing over 60 million icefish nests. “A few dozen nests have been observed elsewhere in the Antarctic, but this find is orders of magnitude larger,” said Autun Purser, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. Purser and his colleagues were mapping the seafloor of the Filchner ice shelf region, in an area of thermal upwelling, where there are slightly warmer temperatures. They found masses of icefish nests clumped close together as far as the eye can see, somewhat like a land-based colony of nesting penguins. Purser joins Ira to talk about the discovery, and what’s known about the ultra-cold ecosystems of Antarctic seas.    
14/01/2247m 15s

Omicron News, COVID Severity Questions, Bird Count. Jan 7 2022, Part 1

Omicron Variant Drives Winter COVID Surge The United States set a global record this week, recording roughly one million new coronavirus tests in a single day. The current surge in cases is mostly driven by Omicron. The highly contagious variant accounted for about 95% of new cases last week. And, to top it all off, tests are in short supply, the CDC changed its quarantine guidelines, and some schools have returned to remote learning. Virologist Angela Rasmussen joins Ira to help make sense of the latest deluge of Omicron news. Rasmussen is a research scientist at VIDO-InterVac, the University of Saskatchewan’s vaccine research institute in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.   Is Omicron A Less Severe Variant Of COVID-19? Over the past few weeks, a common refrain has popped up in reports about the Omicron variant of COVID-19: The variant seems to be “less severe” than earlier forms of the virus. But as hospitals fill up with coronavirus patients and infections skyrocket, there’s some context needed to understand what the full impact of a less-severe variant might be. An important recent discovery sheds light on the severity of the variant, finding that at least in hamsters, Omicron spares the lungs in a way earlier variants have not. This infection appears to be predominantly in the upper respiratory system, largely in the mouth, throat, and windpipe. But even though a fewer percentage of cases may experience severe disease than with earlier variants, the sheer volume may still threaten hospital capacities. Joining Ira to talk about the severity of the Omicron variant in the body is Dr. Michael Diamond, virologist, and immunologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Also joining the conversation to talk about Omicron’s toll on the healthcare system is Dr. Saskia Popescu, infectious disease epidemiologist and infection prevention expert at the University of Arizona College of Public Health in Phoenix, Arizona.   How Christmas Bird Counts Help Shape Science This winter marks the 122nd annual Christmas Bird Count, a project of the National Audubon Society, which is self-described as the longest-running community science project in the country. What started as a few dozen volunteers in 1900 has grown to tens of thousands of birders, spreading out in 15-mile circles across the country to count every bird insight on one midwinter day. From this record, scientists can draw insights about everything from the abundance of species to how species’ ranges are shifting from year-to-year and decade-to-decade. Ira talks to Audubon’s bird count director Geoff LeBaron, and director of quantitative science Nicole Michel about the value of the annual community science project and some of their more joyful winter sightings. Plus, how the data provide clues to which birds are most likely to adapt as human habitat disruption and climate change continue.  
07/01/2246m 58s

Pizza Science, Remembering E.O. Wilson And Richard Leakey. Jan 7 2022, Part 2

How A Former Microsoft Exec Mastered The Perfect Slice—Using Science Who doesn’t love pizza? It’s a magical combination of sauce, cheese, crust, and maybe even a topping or two. Depending on where you eat it, the ratio of sauce and cheese and toppings changes: Neapolitan, NY Style, and Chicago Deep Dish each have a slightly different recipe. And different methods of baking impart their signature flavor on the end result—whether that’s coal, wood, or gas-fired ovens. Nearly every country in the world has some type of variation on the classic. Author Nathan Myhrvold visited over 250 pizzerias all over the world to appreciate their differences. Then he made over 12,000 pizzas, using physics and chemistry to tweak each one slightly. Myhrvold and his co-author, chef Francisco Migoya wrote all about the gourmand experiment in a three-volume, 35-pound set of beautifully illustrated and painstakingly researched books. Ira talks with Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO at Microsoft, founder of Intellectual Ventures and Modernist Cuisine about his discoveries and his most recent book, Modernist Pizza. E.O. Wilson’s Indelible Mark On Ecology Ecologist and ant biologist Edward O. Wilson (often called E. O. Wilson) died December 26, at the age of 92. Though he was known for his study of ants and their social behavior, his impact extended much further—from sociobiology, the study of the influence of genetics on behavior, to the way science was taught and understood. His writing twice won the Pulitzer Prize. Wilson appeared on Science Friday many times. In this short remembrance of Wilson, Ira replays selections from past conversations with the scientist, recorded between 2006 and 2013.   The Fossil—And Family—Records Of Richard Leakey Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey died on January 2 at the age of 77. The Kenyan conservationist and fossil hunter was the son of paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey, who helped redefine the early parts of the human family tree. Richard was part of the team that discovered ‘Turkana Boy,’ a Homo erectus skeleton—one of the most complete early hominin skeletons ever found. In later years, he was the director of the National Museum of Kenya, the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, helped found a political party, and led the Kenyan Civil Service in the midst of an anti-corruption campaign. In this edited interview from 2011, Leakey describes his work in the field, his famous fossil-hunting lineage, and his desire to convince skeptics of the reality of human evolution.  
07/01/2253m 20s

Best Science Books Of 2021, Glitter Bad For Environment. December 31, 2021, Part 1

Glitter Gets An Eco-Friendly Glimmer Glitter—it’s everywhere this time of year. You open up a holiday card, and out comes a sprinkle of it. And that glitter will seemingly be with you forever, hugging your sweater, covering the floor. But glitter doesn’t stop there. It washes down the drain, and travels into the sewage system and waterways. Since it's made from microplastics, it’s never going away. As it turns out, all that glitters is not gold—or even biodegradable. But what if you could make glitter that was biodegradable? Silivia Vignolini, professor of chemistry at the University of Cambridge joins Ira to discuss her latest discovery—eco-glitter made from plant cellulose.   The Best Science Books Of 2021 Another year is in the books. And whether you got out more this year or continued precautionary staying at home, we hope you at least got some good reading done. If not, you still have a whole winter ahead, and SciFri has rounded up another batch of the year’s best books. On this year’s list, you’ll find enthralling tales of the deep ocean, a fun primer on how the immune system works, and a cosmologist’s view of how science can do better by those it’s excluded. Ira Flatow rounds up more than a dozen favorite titles, with help from editors Valerie Thompson, of Science, and Stephanie Sendaula, of Library Journal. Check out the list at sciencefriday.com.
31/12/2147m 6s

Celebration Of Weird Ice, Non-Melting Jelly, Former NIH Director Reflects On His Tenure. December 31, 2021, Part 2

From the Arctic To Enceladus: A Celebration Of Unusual Ice With the Arctic’s annual summer ice cover hovering at record lows; and a new record low in global sea ice coverage recorded earlier this year; and a large crack threatening the collapse of a large ice shelf in Antarctica, it can feel like the news about earth’s polar ice caps is all bad. But for researchers who spend time in the frigid polar seas, ice is also a beautiful and unique phenomenon. Ever heard of frazil ice? How about pancake ice? Far from goofy names, these are key steps in the evolution of sea ice from water to a solid sheet. Oceanographer Ted Maksym shares his insights into the ice at earth’s poles. Plus, how is Antarctica a good place for a painter of other planets? Astronomical artist Michael Carroll recounts how he explored Antarctica for hints about frozen moons like Europa and Enceladus. (See some of his art here.) Finally, planetary scientist Rosaly Lopes takes Ira into the coldest reaches of our solar system, where there’s growing evidence of volcanoes powered not by magma under rock, but by frigid water bursting through icy crusts. It Wiggles and Wobbles, But Won’t Melt Away Imagine a trip to the grocery or fish market, and seeing cuts of fresh fish laid out on beds of ice to chill. The shaved ice keeps the fish at the proper temperature—but what happens when that ice starts to melt, or gets dirty? Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have developed a reusable "jelly ice" cube that does not lose its shape when it warms. The cubes, which can take a variety of shapes, are a hydrogel material made from 10% protein-based gelatin in water. The researchers say the cubes can be rinsed off and re-frozen up to 10 times—and when their life cycle is done, can be composted or mixed into plant growth media. Luxin Wang, an associate professor of food science and technology at UC Davis, describes the material and its properties.   Francis Collins, Longest-Running NIH Director, Steps Down Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will be stepping down from his post at the end of the year. Collins is the longest serving NIH director, serving three presidents over 12 years: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden. Before his role at the NIH, Collins was an acclaimed geneticist, helping discover the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. He then became director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, where he led the project that mapped the human genome. A lot can happen in 12 years, especially in the fields of health and science. Collins joins Ira to talk about his long tenure at the NIH, as well as how his Christian faith has informed his career in science.
31/12/2147m 38s

American Chestnut, ‘Don’t Look Up’ Movie, Aurora Electrons. December 24, 2021, Part 1

The Resurrection Of The American Chestnut At the turn of the 20th century, the American chestnut towered over other trees in forests along the eastern seaboard. These giants could grow up to 100 feet high and 13 feet wide. According to legend, a squirrel could scamper from New England to Georgia on the canopies of American chestnuts, never touching the ground. Then the trees began to disappear, succumbing to a mysterious fungus. The fungus first appeared in New York City in 1904—and it spread quickly. By the 1950s, the fungus had wiped out billions of trees, effectively driving the American chestnut into extinction. Now, some people are trying to resurrect the American chestnut—and soon. But not everyone thinks that’s a good idea. Reporter Shahla Farzan and “Science Diction” host and producer Johanna Mayer bring us the story of the death and life of the American chestnut. ’Don’t Look Up’ Asks If Satire Can Stir Us From Climate Apathy What if scientists warned of a certain upcoming doomsday and no one took them seriously? That’s the plot of director Adam McKay’s latest dark comedy, Don’t Look Up. Two astronomers discover a comet that’s heading towards the Earth. The catch: There’s only six months and 14 days to avert a total annihilation of humanity. The scientists, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, embark on a media campaign to convince the world and the president, played by Meryl Streep, to take the threat seriously. Joining Ira to talk about the parallels between this movie and real world crises like climate change and COVID-19 are Sonia Epstein, executive editor and associate curator of science and film at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, and Samantha Montano, assistant professor of emergency management at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, based in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Montano is also the author of Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontline of the Climate Crisis. 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.   
24/12/2147m 52s

Looking Back On A Century Of Science, Holiday Math. December 24, 2021, Part 2

Looking Back On A Century of Science In 1921, the discovery of radium was just over 20 years in the past. And the double helix of DNA was still over thirty years in the future. That year, a publication that came to be the magazine Science News started publication, and is still in operation today. Editors Nancy Shute and Elizabeth Quill join Ira to page through the magazine’s archives, with over 80,000 articles covering a century of science—from the possibilities of atomic energy to discussions of black holes, to projections of the rise of the avocado as a popular fruit. There are mysteries—are spiral nebulae other universes? And there are missteps, like the suggestion that the insecticide DDT should be incorporated into wall paint.   How Can Math Make Your Holidays Merrier? Stumped on how to wrap an oddly shaped gift? Trying to figure out how to create the perfect Secret Santa game? Need to weigh the cost/benefit analysis of giving a present to that distantly-related aunt? Math is here to help make your holidays merrier. Mathematician Hannah Fry joins us to talk about how to view the holidays—and the world—from a mathematical angle. And in The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus, she and co-author Thomas Oléron Evans share their tips on how to have a geometrically superior holiday season.
24/12/2147m 13s

Big Trees, Masks And Singing, Capturing Holiday Scents, Unseen Body. Dec 17, 2021, Part 2

Big Trees, Big Benefits When you think about big trees, likely what comes to mind are some of the Earth’s biggest trees, like giant sequoias or redwoods, which can grow to roughly 25 stories tall. But big trees are actually an essential part of every forest ecosystem. Big trees capture a disproportionate share of carbon, provide important animal habitats, propel new tree growth and provide much needed shade. The largest one percent of trees or those which measure roughly 2 feet or larger in diameter are considered the big trees of any forest. Jim Lutz, an associate professor of forest ecology at Utah State University in Logan, Utah joins guest host John Dankosky to explore the wonderful world of big trees. Lutz is also the principal investigator for three forest dynamics plots in the American West through the Smithsonian network. How To Create Your Own Holiday Scent Memories What smells do you associate with the winter holiday season? Maybe it’s woodsmoke, cinnamon, or the ubiquitous scent of pine. Whatever fragrances you find festive, chances are good they’re strongly tied to memories of holidays past. Science educator Jennifer Powers returns to explain this enduring connection between scent and memory in the brain. She walks guest host John Dankosky through how to capture custom combinations of memorable holiday scents in your home this season.  
17/12/2147m 49s

James Webb Space Telescope, Vaccination And Church, Maine Puffins. Dec 17, 2021, Part 1

A Spike In Winter COVID Cases Begins The United States reached a grim milestone this week: 800,000 total deaths from COVID-19. A winter spike in COVID cases is beginning across the country. And Omicron is making up an increasing share of new cases. Early data shows that the new variant is likely more transmissible than previous ones. Joining guest host John Dankosky to discuss this and other science news this week is Rachel Feltman, Executive Editor of Popular Science and host of the podcast, The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week. They also discuss cracks in the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica and a new species of millipede with 1,036 legs.   The Webb Telescope Is Counting Down To Liftoff If current plans hold, the James Webb Space Telescope may launch from French Guiana late next week, no earlier than December 24. After the launch, the telescope must travel for over a month and a million miles to reach its final destination, an orbit at the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point. There, it will try to stay in the same position relative to the Earth and Sun, and position the telescope’s heat shield to block out unwanted infrared signals. The mission has been over 20 years in the making. In 1996, astronomers first proposed a next-generation space telescope capable of observing the universe in infrared light, which would be more capable of seeing through dust and gas clouds. The project has been plagued by a series of delays and shifting timelines—but at long last, the telescope is at its launch site, on top of an European Space Agency rocket, and awaiting liftoff. Dr. Amber Straughn, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Deputy Project Scientist for James Webb Space Telescope Science Communications, joins John Dankosky to talk about the upcoming launch and why the new telescope has astronomers excited.   Black Protestant Clergy Are Effectively Encouraging Vaccines For many people in or adjacent to the Christian faith, Christmas is one of the only times of year they go to church. But even though attendance has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people in the U.S. still attend church in person or virtually at least once a month. Research from the Pew Research Center has found that some of these regular church attendees are much more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to people who only attend a few times a year. The study found that this was the case in historically Black Protestant churches—in large part because clergy members in these churches are much more likely to encourage members to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Joining guest host John Dankosky to talk through this data, and the role historically Black Protestant churches play in public health education, is Greg Smith, associate director of religion research at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C, and pastor Gil Monrose, leader of the Historic Mount Zion Church of God in Brooklyn, New York.   What Is Causing Maine’s Puffins To Physically Shrink? The ocean islands off the coast of Maine are home to the Atlantic puffin, a peculiar and charismatic bird. This cold-weather species loves to hang out on rocky shores, chomping down on little fish. But like many species, these puffins are threatened by climate change. Rapid warming in the Gulf of Maine has changed the food available in their habitat, creating a bizarre problem of “micro-puffins”: members of the species 40 to 50% smaller than normal, due to malnutrition. Joining guest host John Dankosky to discuss the long history of oscillating puffin populations, and what’s being done to get them back to a healthy size, is Fred Bever, reporter at Maine Public Radio in Portland, Maine.
17/12/2147m 38s

Vocal Fry, Indigenous Tribes And The Colorado River, Year In Space. December 10, 2021, Part 2

The Why Of Vocal Fry For decades, vocal fry lived a relatively quiet existence. A creaky or breathy sound that occurs when your voice drops to its lowest register, this phenomenon was long known to linguists, speech pathologists, and voice coaches—but everyday people didn’t pay much attention to it. Then in 2011, people started noticing it everywhere. So, what happened? What’s going on in our vocal chords when we fry? And why does it bother so many people so very much? “Science Diction” host Johanna Mayer explains the history of vocal fry, and looks at languages where fry is a feature, not a bug.   Tribal Concerns Grow As Water Levels Drop In The Colorado River Basin Lorenzo Pena pulls off the highway and into a drive-through water distribution center on the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation in southwest Colorado. He parks his truck and connects the empty tank it’s hauling to a large hose and thousands of gallons of water quickly rush in. Pena, who works for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s hauled water program, has made this trip countless times to deliver water to tribal members who don’t have clean water piped to their homes from the local utility. “It’s pretty dry around here,” Pena said. “So if people have wells, they’re real slow or the wells aren’t really producing much water.” If a family on the reservation doesn’t use well water or lives outside of town, they have to haul water to fill their cistern to flow through their home.   The Colorado River is the lifeblood for the Southern Ute and dozens of federally recognized tribes who have relied on it for drinking water, farming, and supporting hunting and fishing habitats for thousands of years. The river also holds spiritual and cultural significance. Today, 15 percent of Southern Utes living on the reservation in southwest Colorado don’t have running water in their homes at all. That rate is higher for other tribes that rely on the Colorado River, including 40 percent of the Navajo Nation. Native American households are 19 times more likely to lack piped water services than white households, according to a report from the Water & Tribes Initiative. The data also show Native American households are more likely to lack piped water services than any other racial group. Leaders of tribes who depend on the Colorado River say the century-old agreement on managing a resource vital to 40 million people across the West is a major factor fueling these and other water inequalities. State water managers and the federal government say they will include tribes in upcoming Colorado River policymaking negotiations for the first time. Read more at sciencefriday.com.   Space Tourists, Asteroids, And Anti-Satellite Tests, Oh My! Space has been a busy place this year. In February, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars and embarked on its mission to collect samples, alongside the first ever helicopter to fly on the Red Planet. July and September saw the launches of billionaires, space tourists, and civilian astronauts to various elevations above the Earth. Human beings are arriving to the International Space Station via Cape Canaveral for the first time since the discontinuation of the shuttle program in 2011. In November, NASA launched a mission to test our ability to deflect dangerous asteroids. And China, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia have all continued to make their way through the solar system as well. But what about the continued concerns astronomers have about the steep rise and future plans for fleets of private telecommunications satellites in low Earth orbit, like SpaceX’s StarLink? Will the increasing footprint of private industry in space exploration have potential drawbacks for science? And what about that Russian anti-satellite test, which disrupted operations at the International Space Station for several days after? Ira and a trio of star space reporters—WFME’s Brendan Byrne, Axios’ Miriam Kramer, and The Verge’s Loren Grush—round up 2021’s out-of-this-world headlines.
10/12/2147m 7s

Michael Pollan On Mind-Altering Plants, A Second Pandemic Winter. December 10, 2021, Part 1

How America Is Preparing For Another Pandemic Winter The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and the world is approaching the two year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like last year, experts are wary that a winter surge in cases could happen again this year, even with the protection of vaccinations. The Biden administration is trying to get ahead of this possibility, especially as the Omicron variant looms. A new plan prioritizing booster shots and testing has been released to get the country through another pandemic winter. Joining Ira to break down this and other science news of the week is Umair Irfan, staff writer for Vox based in Washington, D.C. They also discuss the latest information on the Omicron variant’s virulence and genetic sequencing, and take a look at the complicated world of conserving the rarest marine mammal, the vaquita.   Three Plant-Based Chemicals That Can Change Your Brain If you’ve enjoyed a cup of coffee, tea, or certain soft drinks today, you’ve been making use of the mind-altering properties of the chemical caffeine, which bestows an alert buzz. And we probably all know a coffee addict, who becomes cranky and irritable without their morning mug. But there are also other plant-based compounds that affect the mind’s consciousness, including opium and mescaline—and the use of those compounds isn’t seen as acceptable in modern society. In his book This Is Your Mind On Plants, author Michael Pollan looks at the way these three compounds have been adopted or shunned by various cultures, and why. He joins Ira to talk about the science behind their action, the history of their use around the world, and the societal and cultural factors that go into deciding which drugs are seen as acceptable by a community.
10/12/2147m 0s

Omicron Variant, Quantum Computing, Xenobots, SciFri Trivia. Dec 3, 2021, Part 2

Decoding Quantum Computing The computer chips that are delivering these words to you work on a simple, binary, on/off principle. There’s either a voltage, or there’s not. The ‘bits’ encoded by the presence or absence of electrons form the basis for much of our online world.  Now, physicists and engineers are working to create systems based on the strange rules of quantum physics—in which quantum bits can exist simultaneously in a range of possible states, and two separated bits can be linked together via a phenomenon known as entanglement.  If practical quantum computers can be constructed, they have the potential to solve difficult types of problems—like finding the optimal route connecting a list of a few hundred cities, for instance. However, vast engineering challenges remain. A. Douglas Stone, deputy director of the Yale Quantum Institute and Carl A. Morse professor of applied physics at Yale University, joins Ira to give a primer on the disruptive technology of quantum computing, and where this research might lead.       Diving Into The Strange World Of Xenobots Just under two years ago, Science Friday reported on the strange world of ‘xenobots’—structures designed by an algorithm and crafted out of living cells taken from frog embryos. Those tiny constructs could slowly wriggle their way across a petri dish, powered by the contractions of frog heart cells. Now, the researchers behind the bots have created a new generation of structures that can swim—and, if provided with additional loose frog skin cells in their dish, organize those cells into clumps that eventually begin to move on their own.  Josh Bongard, a professor of computer science at the University of Vermont and a member of the xenobots research team, joins Ira to talk about the advance in what he likens to living wind-up toys. The work was reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Bongard and colleagues say that they were interested in learning more about self-replicating systems, and the various factors that go into either speeding up or slowing down a system’s ability to self-replicate. They’re also interested in exploring whether such cellular systems might be able to do useful work. However, fear not—Bongard explains that without a ready supply of loose frog skin cells, these bots peter out.     What We Do—And Don’t—Know About Omicron This week, the Omicron variant was detected in the United States, with the first case identified in California. The announcement joins a rush of news about the latest coronavirus variant: Last week, South African researchers first identified and then sequenced the variant. Since then, scientists all over the world have been working overtime, trying to understand this heavily mutated new strain.  Omicron has 32 mutations in the spike protein alone. But more mutations don’t necessarily mean it’s more contagious than the Delta variant, or more likely to evade the vaccine. Scientists still need a little more time to figure out what these genetic changes might mean for the pandemic.  Katelyn Jetelina, assistant professor in the University of Texas School of Public Health talks with Ira about how scientists are compiling data on omicron, both inside and outside of the lab. Jetilina is also the author of the newsletter, “Your Local Epidemiologist.” To hear more of Jetilina’s thoughts on the latest updates, read her explainer on what we know and don’t know about Omicron.     A 30th Anniversary Edition Of SciFri Trivia We’re celebrating our 30th anniversary this week—and with 30 years of radio comes more than enough material for a round of trivia. SciFri Trivia extraordinaire and host Diana Montano quizzes Ira on how well he remembers some of the stories he’s covered on SciFri during its last three decades. Want to join the fun? Diana hosts virtual SciFri Trivia every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on Youtube and you are invited! Play by yourself or with a group and, if you win, enjoy the honor of naming one of the many plants in the SciFri office—and more!
03/12/2147m 36s

Ralph Nader On 55 Years Of Car Safety, Spinal Cord Research, Omicron And Travel Bans. Dec 3, 2021, Part 1

Travel Bans Do Little To Slow Spread Of Omicron After South African researchers first detected the new COVID variant Omicron last week, it’s already been found in dozens of countries around the world, including in the United States. Travel restrictions imposed by the Biden administration and others have done little to slow its spread. Instead, experts say that increasing global vaccination rates is critical to stopping future troubling mutations from occurring and spreading. In other news, scientists are re-testing a foundational piece of science, the Miller-Urey experiment, first conducted in 1952, which simulated how life on earth could have originated. Scientists are questioning their old assumptions that the glass container in the original experiment was inert. Joining Ira to talk through these and other big science stories of the week is Sophie Bushwick, Technology editor at Scientific American.   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.   New Drug Reverses Paralysis In Mice With Spinal Cord Injuries Nearly 300,000 people are living with spinal cord injuries in the United States. Currently, recovery or effective treatment remains elusive. Researchers haven’t yet figured out a reliable way to knit back together severed spinal cords or nerves. Now, a new study in mice shows promising potential to prevent paralysis after injury. Researchers gave paralyzed mice a specially formulated injection that uses a novel technique called “dancing molecules.” And after a month, the mice were walking again. Joining Ira to better understand this new development in spinal cord treatment is Samuel Stupp, professor of materials science, chemistry, biomedical engineering and medicine, and director of the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.
03/12/2147m 48s

Futuristic Freezing, Koji, Cheese Microbiome, Wine-Bottle Resonators. November 26, 2021, Part 1

New Cold Storage Method Solves Freezer Burn—And Saves Energy Have you ever pulled a long-anticipated pint of ice cream out of the freezer, only to find the strawberries crunchy and the normally creamy substance chalky and caked with ice? Freezer burn, a phenomenon caused by water in food crystallizing into ice inside the ice cream or fruit or meat during freezing, is a menace to taste buds, a driver of food waste, and even damages some of the nutritional benefits of food. And it’s always a risk as long as food preservation relies on very cold temperatures. Even flash-freezing, which works much faster, can still create small ice crystals. But United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food scientists, working with a team at the University of California-Berkeley, have a method that could help solve this problem. Normal food freezing, called isobaric, keeps food at whatever pressure the surrounding air is. But what if you change that? Isochoric freezing, the new method, adds pressure to the food while lowering temperature, so the food becomes cold enough to preserve without its moisture turning into ice. No ice means no freezer burn. And, potentially, a much lower energy footprint for the commercial food industry: up to billions fewer kilowatt-hours, according to recent research. Ira talks to USDA food technologist Cristina Bilbao-Sainz and mechanical engineer Matthew Powell-Palm about how pressure and temperature can be manipulated to make food last longer, and hopefully taste better. Plus, the challenges of turning a good idea into a widespread technology. Koji: The Mold You Want In Your Kitchen When chef Jeremy Umansky grows a batch of Aspergillus oryzae, a cultured mold also known as koji, in a tray of rice, he says he’s “bewitched” by its fluffy white texture and tantalizing floral smells. When professional mechanical engineer and koji explorer Rich Shih thinks about the versatility of koji, from traditional Japanese sake to cured meats, he says, “It blows my mind.” Koji-inoculated starches are crucial in centuries-old Asian foods like soy sauce and miso—and, now, inspiring new and creative twists from modern culinary minds. And Shih and Umansky, the two food fanatics, have written a new book describing the near-magical workings of the fungus, which, like other molds, uses enzymes to break starches, fats, and proteins down into food for itself. It just so happens that, in the process, it’s making our food tastier.  You can grow koji on grains, vegetables, and other starchy foods, and make sauces, pastes, alcohols, and vinegars. Even cure meats. Umansky and Shih say the possibilities are endless—and they have the koji pastrami and umami popcorn to prove it.   The Bacteria Behind Your Favorite Blues, Bries, and More Cheese lovers, you can thank microbes for the flavorful funk of Camembert cheese and the perforated pattern of Swiss. According to microbiologist Rachel Dutton, one gram of cheese rind is home to 10 billion bacterial and fungal cells. Dutton describes our favorite cheese-microbe pairings and explains why the cheese rind is ripe for teaching us about the basic interactions of bacteria.   The World According To Sound: When Your Wine Bottle Sings A few years ago, Chris Hoff was making himself some plum wine. He had a nice big plum tree in the apartment he was renting in San Francisco, and it had been a plentiful year. During the process he came across a beautiful, simple sound that made him get out his recording gear. It came from his little metal funnel. Each time Hoff poured liquid through his funnel to fill a bottle, it made this pleasant rising arpeggio of bubbles. When the pitch reached its height, the bottle was filled, and Hoff moved on to the next one. He liked it so much that he grabbed his small handheld recorder and captured the sound. This simple, everyday sound is the result of a complex interaction of the liquid, bottle, air, and funnel. While water pours down through the funnel, air is being forced out of the bottle and up through the liquid, where it makes a bubble on the surface and then pops. As the level of liquid decreases in the funnel, the pitch of the popping bubbles rises. Read more at sciencefriday.com.    
26/11/2146m 59s

Candy COVID Test, Ig Nobel Prizes 2021. November 26, 2021, Part 2

A More Delicious COVID Screener One of the most bizarre symptoms of COVID-19—a nearly surefire way to know if you have been infected—is a loss of taste or smell. Estimates of how many people are impacted range wildly, with the highest estimates reaching 75 to 80% of COVID-19 survivors. There’s still a lot scientists don’t understand about why this happens and what part of the olfactory system or brain is actually responsible for this change. Researchers at Ohio State University are trying to figure out more about how COVID-19 impacts taste and smell using a familiar and tasty item: hard candy. Study participants eat an uncolored piece of candy each day and describe the flavor. If a participant is suddenly unable to identify which fruit the candy is emulating … well, it’s time to take a COVID test. Joining Ira to talk about this delicious research and learning more about how COVID-19 impacts our senses is Chris Simons, sensory scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.     Laugh And Learn With The Ig Nobel Prizes This year, even though many people may be still hesitant to gather together for the holidays, a Science Friday holiday tradition lives on—our annual post-Thanksgiving broadcast of highlights from the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, now in its 31st first annual year.  Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and master of ceremonies for the prizes, joins Ira to present some of the highlights from this year’s awards—from research into the microbiology trapped in the gum on the sidewalk to a transportation prize for scientists who discovered the best way to safely transport a rhinoceros long distances. (Dangle it upside down under a helicopter.) Tune in to hear about research involving the kinetics of crowds, the communications of cats, thoughts about the evolutionary history of human beards, and more.  
26/11/2147m 18s

Thanksgiving Food Science, Force of Infection, Food Inequality. Nov 19, 2021, Part 2

Blunting The Force Of Disease Is Complicated  COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease. But their efficacy in lab-controlled trials may not exactly correlate to how well they work in the real world. David Kaslow, chief scientific officer at the global public health nonprofit PATH, explains that a factor known as the “force of infection” plays a role in determining how well vaccines work. The force of infection describes the attack rate of a pathogen—the amount of time it takes a susceptible individual to get infected in a given population.  In a study recently published in the academic journal NPJ Vaccines, Kaslow and his colleagues found that in vaccine trials for rotavirus and malaria in Africa, efficacy could vary widely between two trial sites. When there were many infections in the community, the overall efficacy of the vaccines appeared lower than in communities where disease incidence was low.  While the same sort of studies haven’t yet been done on the coronavirus outbreak, Kaslow argues that similar factors may be at play now—pointing to a continued need for non-pharmaceutical measures to control transmission, from masking to social distancing.       The Chemistry Of The Perfect Cookie With several major food-related holidays on the horizon, we’ve got a challenge for you—checking your cookie chemistry. Each batch of cookies you make has the potential to be a mini-science experiment, with the specific ingredients you use, the ratios between them, and cooking times and temperatures all variables in the mix.  Jennifer Powers, a science educator at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, discusses the role of types of sugar in transforming your cookie’s texture from chewy to crispy. She encourages listeners to take on her educational resource—the Cookie Chemistry Challenge—to engineer the best batch of cookies possible.       Food Failures: Add A Dash Of Science To Your Thanksgiving Recipes This Thanksgiving, put your cooking skills to the test. Looking for tips to avoid singed sweet potatoes, acrid apple pies, and a burned bird? In this archival segment from November 18, 2016, Molly Birnbaum and Dan Souza from Cook’s Science help us understand the science behind favorite Thanksgiving recipes so you can avoid food failures, and get the most out of your roast and side dishes.      America Has A Food Disparity Problem As of 2016, more than half of American children had a diet that standard nutritional recommendations would consider “poor quality.” And there are stark differences between children in wealthier and poorer households. Poor nutrition can have lifelong impacts on health, including Type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and dental cavities. But it isn’t always clear what families need to provide healthier foods for their children. One popular explanation, now debunked, was the theory of food deserts: Poorer neighborhoods just don’t have grocery stores, and families must buy their food from convenience stores and gas stations. But if more grocery stores aren’t the solution, what is?  Sociologist Priya Fielding-Singh explores these questions in a new book, How The Other Half Eats: The Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America. Her research, the product of months of immersive time spent with families in their kitchens and as they navigated grocery stores with kids in tow, describes an alternative explanation for the socioeconomic disparity between kids’ diets. Fielding-Singh explains healthy food takes emotional and energy resources that lower-income parents must often spend in other ways.  Guest host Roxanne Khamsi talks to Fielding-Singh about her research on family food choices, and the kinds of changes that might allow children from all backgrounds to enjoy healthier foods.
19/11/2147m 49s

Picking Right COVID Test For Holidays, “Big Bang Theory” Of Cancer. Nov 19, 2021, Part 1

Here’s How Biden’s Infrastructure Bill Addresses Science President Joe Biden signed a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill into law this Monday. The measure focuses on a range of sectors. It would funnel billions into cleaning up pollution in the air and water with efforts that include eliminating lead service lines and cleaning up old, polluted manufacturing sites. The bill will also invest $7.5 billion to create a large-scale network of electric vehicle chargers across the country. In other big news this week, a new study confirms that masks are highly effective in combating COVID-19, reducing incidence of the disease by as much as 53% on its own. Researchers say this finding is significant and add that when masks are used in addition to other protective measures, like vaccines and hand washing, people can feel confident in their safety. Joining guest host Roxanne Khamsi to talk through these and other big science stories of the week is Nsikan Akpan, health and science editor for WNYC Public Radio in New York City. Happy (Holiday) Testing Season! The holiday season has snuck up once again, leaving many people to figure out familiar logistics: If travel will be involved, who to see, and what will be for dinner. But of course, we’re still in a pandemic, so questions of safety remain. At the end of the day, we want to keep our families, friends, and loved ones healthy. COVID-19 tests are becoming a popular tool, helping many people make social situations safer. Quickly swabbing your nose or spitting in a tube can indicate if someone has been infected with the coronavirus. But with so many options available, and a big season of holiday get-togethers up ahead, many are wondering what kind of test is best—and when is the best time to get tested? Joining guest host Roxanne Khamsi to talk through COVID-19 testing questions are Dr. Céline Gounder, epidemiologist and professor at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine in New York, and Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant director at the clinical virology laboratories at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. The Big Bang Theory Of Cancer Despite tremendous scientific advances, there’s still so much scientists don’t understand about cancer. One of the biggest remaining questions is how do tumors form in the first place? Researchers are getting closer to an answer. For years, the prevailing theory of tumor growth was that cancer cells gradually acquire a series of mutations that enable them to outcompete healthy cells and run amok. But improved genetic sequencing of cancers is revealing a more complicated picture. New technology has enabled a new theory of tumor development, called the big bang theory. It turns out that some types of cancer contain a whole hodge-podge of mutations right from the very beginning, even before the tumors are detectable on a scan. Researchers initially observed this pattern in colon cancer, and then replicated the findings in pancreatic, liver, and stomach cancers, too. Guest host Roxanne Khamsi talks to Christina Curtis, associate professor of medicine and genetics at Stanford University’s School of Medicine about her research into tumor development, and how to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.
19/11/2147m 31s

Mammoth Pool Fire, Fun Squirrel Facts, Soil Importance. Nov 12 2021, Part 2

As Wildfire Intensity Rises, So Does The Human Toll Of Blazes It was Labor Day 2020, and Mammoth Pool Reservoir, in California’s Sierra Nevada, was buzzing with campers. Karla Carcamo and her parents, siblings, cousins, and countless others, mostly from the Los Angeles area, have been coming here every Labor Day for 17 years. “Most of it is my family, and family that’s invited family, and those family friends have invited friends of theirs,” she says. “I’m telling you, we have over 200 people.” Alex Tettamanti and her husband Raul Reyes are also Labor Day regulars. Every year, they drive in from Las Vegas to meet up with an off-roading club made up of a few dozen families from across the West. They fill their weekend with jet-skiing, ATVing and hiking. “It’s beautiful,” says Tettamanti. “The smell of all the pine trees and stuff, and the trees are so big, it’s really cool. The campground and reservoir are nestled at an elevation of about 3,000 feet in the Central California foothills a few hours northeast of Fresno. The attraction is unfiltered Sierra Nevada: Sparkling blue water surrounded by a thick forest of stately ponderosa pines and black oaks. Plus, it’s isolated. There’s only one road in and out, which dead ends at the lake. “Being there, let me tell you, it’s like a little piece of paradise,” says Carcamo. That Friday passed like any other. Groups split up to go hiking, swimming and grilling, and Carcamo’s family prepared for their annual pupusa night later in the weekend. By Saturday morning, however, the atmosphere had changed. “When I woke up, I did notice it was kind of cloudy,” says Reyes. “The sky was orange and there was ash, like big pieces of ash falling,” says Reyes’ friend Vicky Castro. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.   Squirrel-Nut Economics And Other Agility Tricks In many parts of the country, the lead-up to winter is a busy time for squirrels, furiously collecting and hiding acorns and nuts for the cold months ahead. But how can squirrels recall where it has stashed all its stores? And what can studying squirrels tell researchers about memory, learning, and economic decision-making in other species? Ira talks with Lucia Jacobs, a professor in the department of psychology and the Institute of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley, about her studies of the campus squirrels—from learning about their cognition, learning, and memory to recording the acrobatic movements of a squirrel on the ground and in the treetops. Jacobs co-leads a "squirrel school," observing rescued and orphaned juvenile squirrels as they learn normal squirrel behavior, and is contributing to a project seeking to develop robots using agility tricks learned from the rodents.   What Will We Reap Without Topsoil? You may have missed the research when it came out this February: a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science reporting on satellite studies of farmland topsoil in the nation’s corn belt, states like Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois. And the news was not good. The team estimated that more than one-third of the topsoil in this region is gone, eroded mostly from hilltops and ridgelines, thanks to the plowing and tilling processes used to perform industrial agriculture. That topsoil, some of the richest in the world, is carbon-rich and crucial to our food supply. And yet it’s continuing to wash away, a hundred years after scientists like Aldo Leopold first called out the threat of erosion. This erosion, as well as other degradation of soil’s complex structure and microbiome, continues at a fast clip around the globe, hurting food production and ecosystems health. In addition, soil could be helping us contain more than 100 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—if we let it. But the good news, according to University of Wisconsin soil scientist Jo Handelsman, is that the solutions like cover crops and no-till farming are simple, well-understood, and easy to implement—as long as we give farmers incentives to make the leap. She talks to Ira about her forthcoming book, A World Without Soil: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet.
12/11/2152m 39s

Psychedelics Can Treat Depression, Climate Meeting, Dopesick Show. Nov 12 2021, Part 1

Psilocybin Effective In Treating Serious Depression Depression is often treatable with medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. But some 30% of patients don’t respond well to existing medications—and may try multiple antidepressant drugs with little or no improvement. This week, researchers reported that a new trial suggests psychedelics may be an effective therapy for treatment-resistant depression. A randomized, controlled, double-blind trial found that people with treatment-resistant depression who were given 25 milligrams of psilocybin, the psychedelic component of magic mushrooms, had a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. The treatment didn’t work for everyone, however, and more research needs to be done before the finding can move to clinical use. Sabrina Imber, a science fellow at the New York Times, joins Ira to talk about the trial and other stories from the week in science—including a new timeline for the planned Artemis missions to the moon, screaming bees, and a very wayward eagle. Activists And Vulnerable Nations At COP26 Seek More Than Promises There’s a big international climate summit wrapping up in Glasgow, Scotland this week. COP26 is the followup to 25 previous United Nations meetings about how the world must respond to the climate crisis—and its shortcomings in doing so. This year leaders had a big conversation to tackle: Countries needed to pledge to reduce emissions even further to prevent a global temperature rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. To do so, they needed to finish hashing out the details of how they will enforce the 2015 Paris Agreement’s provisions. Meanwhile, island nations and other vulnerable countries, who themselves don’t emit much carbon, have continued to lobby for payment for what’s called loss and damages. That’s the harm they’ve already encountered as seas rise, threatening to obliterate their existence. The first week kicked off with bold pledges about methane emissions, coal phaseouts, and ending deforestation. This week, former President Obama spoke about the need for urgent action, and called out large greenhouse gas polluters like Russia and China for not attending. And a grim United Nations report was released, forecasting that despite all the bold pledges, the world was on track to warm a dangerous 2.4 degrees Celsius. The team of Threshold, a podcast that tells stories about our changing environment, has been reporting on these updates from Glasgow, talking to attendees and occasionally witnessing negotiations. In today’s show, Ira talks to journalist Amy Martin, Threshold’s executive producer and host, about her opinion on the outcome of COP26—and if transformative change can still come out of this year’s meeting.   ”Dopesick” Takes On The Opioid Crisis The opioid epidemic has affected millions of people across the country—and more than 800,000 people are estimated to have died from an opioid overdose. At the root of this crisis is the painkiller Oxycontin, manufactured by Purdue Pharma. The company has made billions of dollars from the drug; but has also spent the better part of the last two decades fighting legal battles over its impacts, falsely arguing the drug is non-addictive and completely safe. Meanwhile, people from all walks of life, particularly in small towns across America, have been crippled by addiction to Oxycontin. The limited series “Dopesick” traces the story of the opioid epidemic, from the creation of the Oxycontin pill to a landmark legal battle where Purdue Pharma admitted it misbranded the drug as being less addictive than other prescription opioids. “Dopesick” follows a wide range of characters, from Purdue Pharma executives and federal prosecutors, to an Appalachian doctor and his pain-addled patients. Joining Ira to talk about bringing the show and its people to life is Danny Strong, creator and writer of “Dopesick,” joining from New York, New York.
12/11/2147m 21s

Kids Under 12 Vaccine, Reduced Cow Methane From Seaweed Diet, Lost SciFri Theme Song. November 5, 2021, Part 2

Fact Check My Feed: More Kids Can Get COVID-19 Vaccines. Now What? Many parents around the U.S. breathed a sigh of relief—or an even more intense emotional reaction—at the long-awaited news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had signed off on advising the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 this week. The recommendation came after a unanimous vote from the agency’s committee of outside vaccine experts. And last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the shot after a review of clinical trial data found both low risk and high efficacy in a smaller, kid-calibrated dose of the vaccine. University of Saskatchewan virologist Angela Rasmussen joins Ira to look at the data behind the FDA’s long-anticipated decision. They also discuss the rationale behind booster shots for high-risk adults, what it means that deer in Iowa have been caught transmitting the virus, COVID-pragmatic holiday planning, and other pandemic news.   In First Real-World Experiment, Red Seaweed Cuts Methane In Cows By More Than Half Methane emissions are a hot topic—largely because it’s a big contributor to climate change. Methane makes up about 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. 27% of that comes from the burps of ruminant animals, such as cows. In April, Science Friday did a story about research that showed promising results when steers were fed small amounts of the red algae Asparagopsis in their diets. At the time, these experiments were only done in a closely controlled university setting. Now, the first real-world study on a working dairy farm has been completed. The results? Methane released by the seaweed-eating cows was 52% less on average than their non-seaweed-munching counterparts. Coming on the heels of the Biden administration’s methane emissions reduction plan, SciFri producer Kathleen Davis sits down with three key players in this milestone: Joan Salwen, CEO of Blue Ocean Barns in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, the company that produces the Asparagopsis seaweed powder; Dr. Breanna Roque, animal science consultant at Blue Ocean Barns in Townsville, Queensland, Australia; and Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery in Marshall, California.   The Science Friday Theme Song That Got Lost In The Mail Back in 1998, comedian and author Steve Allen, first host of The Tonight Show, joined Ira on Science Friday to talk about the importance of critical thinking. Allen had written a book called Dumbth, calling for improvements in the public’s logical reasoning abilities. Ira was a longtime fan of Allen’s, and eagerly invited him to discuss the book. During the interview, Allen also took to the studio piano to play his signature song, “This Could Be The Start of Something Big.” As the comedian was leaving, Ira jokingly remarked that Science Friday could use a theme song of its own. Several years later, while cleaning the cluttered SciFri office, staff uncovered an unopened box of mail—including an envelope from Hollywood containing a single cassette tape, marked “Theme Song For Science Friday—Steve Allen.” As part of Science Friday’s 30th anniversary celebrations, Ira and SciFri director Charles Bergquist recount the story of the tape, and finally premiere the song, written and performed by the late Steve Allen.      
06/11/2147m 41s

30 Years Of Science Friday, Kansas’ Wind Energy Plan, Vaccinating Kids Under 12. November 5, 2021, Part 1

Behind The FDA’s Decision To Vaccinate Kids Under 12 This week, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 12 was officially recommended by the CDC, after a unanimous vote from its independent advisory committee and the FDA’s authorization based on safety and efficacy data. In their analysis, the FDA said the benefits of the vaccine “clearly outweigh” the risks. The risks, which were referenced in a cost-benefit examination of the data, included circumstances that popped up in the study that were unrelated to getting the vaccine (like a broken arm and an accidentally swallowed penny that occurred during the observational period). As parents around the U.S. race to find appointments, Ira talks to science journalist Maggie Koerth about the safety data and what’s next for parents of young kids, including those under 5. They also discuss a NASA test of a system to defend the planet from killer asteroids, a new prediction that climate change will change the availability of food crops within the next ten years, and other science news headlines.   What’s Next For Kansas After 20 Years Of Wind Power? The wind farm business in Kansas has hit its awkward adolescence. It’s still growing 20 years in, but unsure what the near future might hold. If it wants to get through those tough years and continue to grow, it needs to find more workers, to figure out what to do with the dated-but-not-obsolete turbines erected two decades ago and to sort out a way to carry all that wind-harvesting muscle beyond the state’s borders. Consider the burly, newest version of wind farming at the Cimarron Bend wind farm south of Dodge City. “We just watch and listen to the towers,” said project supervisor Dewain Pfaff, who’s responsible for keeping about 300 turbines up and running. “If you can hear a noise we want to mitigate those issues as soon as possible.” Standing at the base of one of the newest turbines on the site, he’s dwarfed by the tower that rises 300 feet into the air. That’s almost as tall as the Kansas State Capitol. Add in the blade when pointing straight up and it’s taller than the tallest building in the state. That mammoth size is one way wind turbines have changed over the past 20 years. While the turbine is nearly 300 feet tall, the turbines at the very first large-scale wind farm in the state stretched only 200 feet above the ground. Transporting larger towers and blades is trickier, but inevitable. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.   SciFri Reflects On Three Decades Of Covering Science News Thirty years ago this week, on Nov 8, 1991, the first episode of Science Friday aired as part of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” series. After 30 years, over 9,000 interviews, and several changes of distributors, offices, and studios, the program is still going strong. In this segment, host and executive producer Ira Flatow and SciFri director Charles Bergquist reminisce about some of the great guests and listener questions they’ve heard over the course of the program—from the very first episode, featuring the late Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland talking about the ozone hole, to a young fan helping to celebrate SciFri’s Cephalopod Week with her own ode to an octopus. Plus, moments with Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, astronaut Leland Melvin, the late Carl Sagan, and more.
06/11/2148m 18s

Kids Next For Pfizer Vaccine, Side-Channel Surveillance, Medical Maggots. Oct 29, 2021, Part 1

Younger Kids Next In Line For COVID-19 Vaccines This week, an FDA advisory panel voted unanimously to recommend that the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer vaccine be approved for children as young as 5. If the FDA concurs and the CDC agrees, lower-dose Pfizer vaccinations could soon be available for children ages 5 to 11, via local pediatricians. Just who will be immediately eligible for the doses, and how vaccinating young children might affect school mask policies and other restrictions, remains to be seen. Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Sophie Bushwick to talk about the news and other stories from the week in science, including potential COVID-related criminal charges against Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, an experimental bionic vision implant, and the possible discovery of an exoplanet in the galaxy Messier 51.   Could Ordinary Household Objects Be Used To Spy On You? In the movies, if a room is bugged, the microphone might be hidden in a potted plant. But in recent years, researchers have come up with ways to use the trembling leaves of a potted plant, light glancing off a potato chip bag, and even tiny jiggles in the head of a spinning hard drive caused by a nearby conversation to be able to listen to what’s happening in a room, or to gain information about what’s going on nearby. On a larger scale, other researchers have been able to use the vibrations of an entire building to paint a picture of movements within it—and even the health status of the people inside. The approach is known as a side-channel attack: Rather than observing something directly, you’re extracting information from something else that has a relationship with the target. Many of the approaches are not straightforward—they require an understanding of the physics involved, and sometimes heavy data-processing or machine learning to interpret the hazy information yielded by these techniques. Jon Callas of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Hae Young Noh of Stanford, and Kevin Fu of the University of Michigan join host Sophie Bushwick to talk about the risks and opportunities afforded by these sneaky methods of surveillance, and how concerned you should be.   A Maggot Revolution In Modern Medicine In a bloody battle during World War I, two wounded soldiers were stranded on the battlefield in France, hidden and overlooked under some brush. Suffering femur fractures and flesh wounds around their scrotum and abdomen, they lay abandoned without water, food, or shelter for a whole week. At the time, outcomes for these kinds of wounds were poor: Patients with compound femur fractures had a 75 to 80% mortality rate. By the time the soldiers were rescued and brought to a hospital base, orthopedic surgeon William Baer expected their wounds to be festering, and their conditions fatal. But much to his surprise, neither showed any signs of fever, septicaemia, or blood poisoning. When his team removed the soldiers’ clothing, they discovered that their flesh wounds were filled with thousands of maggots, or baby flies—little larvae with a massive appetite for decaying matter. Baer was repulsed by the sight, and the team quickly washed off the wriggling maggots. Underneath, instead of the expected pus and bacteria-infected flesh, Baer marveled over “the most remarkable picture.” “These wounds were filled with the most beautiful pink granulation tissue that one could imagine,” Baer later wrote in a 1931 report in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Maggots have long been associated with death, but in this case, they were helping the soldiers stay alive. As these insects were simply tucking in for their typical meal of dead, decaying flesh, they were inadvertently aiding the soldiers by cleaning their wounds, keeping infection at bay. The soldiers recovered—saved by their tiny, wriggling “friends which had been doing such noble work,” Baer wrote. Baer’s paper is one of the first reports of maggots used in medicine, but these insects have been found healing wounds for thousands of years, with references in the Old Testament and in ancient cultures of New South Wales and Northern Myanmar. Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.
29/10/2146m 55s

Rising Seas Stories, Pseudo-Biology of Monsters, Howling Wolf Soundscape. Oct 29, 2021, Part 2

The Science Behind Cryptid Sightings People around the world have long been fascinated by the idea that there are strange creatures out there, ones that may or may not exist. Tales circulate about cryptids–animals whose existence can’t be proved—like Bigfoot hiding out in American forests, or sea serpents lurking just below the water in coastal towns. Despite the best efforts of monster hunting T.V. shows and amateur sleuths, there may never be concrete proof that these creatures exist. But that doesn’t stop people from analyzing strange photographs or odd carcasses and saying maybe, just maybe, cryptids do exist. Darren Naish, a paleontologist and author based in Southampton, U.K., has a particular interest in looking at cryptozoology—from a skeptical perspective. His breakdowns of cryptid sightings from a scientific perspective have been published in Scientific American, his website, and in his book, Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Darren speaks to guest host Sophie Bushwick about faked evidence, his relationship with cryptozoology, and how cryptids may lead to other pseudoscience beliefs.   Stories From Those On The Frontlines Of Sea Level Rise Next week marks the start of the UN’s annual conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s a big moment for global consensus on climate change: Nations are supposed to make new, aggressive pledges to lower their emissions in the attempt to prevent the planet from hitting 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Meanwhile, in the world we see and touch, seas are already rising. In some coastal areas, seas have risen between 0.5 to 1.5 feet in the last century. We’re also already seeing hurricanes with higher storm surge, and heavier rainfall. More change, of course, is projected. The SciFri Book Club has been talking about these risks, and reading about how these numbers have endangered wetlands, flooded homes, lost livelihoods, and sometimes scattered communities in Elizabeth Rush’s 2018 book Rising: Dispatches From The New American Shore. But while we’ve talked to wetland scientists and Elizabeth herself, the voices of community members most affected by climate change—a key part of Rising’s mission—were still missing. In a final conversation with guest host Sophie Bushwick, producer Christie Taylor shares some of the stories of people on the frontlines, including a real-estate agent who helped his neighbors relocate after Hurricane Sandy, and the leader of the Gullah Geechee people on the sea islands of the southeast coast. Plus, social scientist A.R. Siders’ insights into communities’ need to adapt to sea level rise, and how they can be most successful.   Listen To The Haunting Howls That Once Permeated Europe Last year, Melissa Pons, a field recordist and sound designer, set out to capture a sound that at one time would have been familiar to almost any European: the howl of an Iberian wolf. There was a time when the sounds of wolves filled the forests and mountains of Europe. But after centuries of persecution by humans, only some 12,000 wolves remain in all of Europe. Isolated pockets of wolves can be found in Italy, Spain, Greece, and Finland. A sixth of the entire remaining population lives in the mountains of Portugal. Pons headed to the remote, mountainous region of Picão—a settlement on the small island Príncipe off the west coast of Africa—where there is a rehabilitation center for the Iberian wolf. There are some 350 packs of wolves spread out over about 45 acres of the reserve. Pons first explored the region and observed the wolves. Then she set up her recording gear and gathered over 100 hours of tape. From those recordings, she composed an album where each track captures a distinct soundscape made by these wolves. The album is available online and half the proceeds go toward supporting the rehabilitation center in Portugal.  
29/10/2147m 18s

Genome Traces, Beavers and Wildfire, Halloween DIY, Volcanoes. Oct 22, 2021, Part 2

The Ancient Neanderthal Traces Hidden In Your Genome Just how much of your genome is uniquely human? It turns out the number of genetic components in the human genome that trace back only to modern humans, and not to other human lineages or ancient ancestors, are surprisingly small. In a paper published recently in the journal Science Advances, researchers estimate the uniquely human portion of the genome as being under two percent.  Many of the genes thought to be strictly connected to modern humans appear to relate to neural processes. However, traces of genes from Denisovans and Neanderthals can be found scattered throughout the genome—including strong Neanderthal genetic signals in parts of the genome dealing with the immune system.Ed Green, a professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California Santa Cruz and one of the authors of that paper, joins SciFri’s Charles Bergquist to talk about the study, and what can be learned by this approach to studying our genetic code.     Beavers Build Ecosystems Of Resilience Deep in the Cameron Peak burn scar, nestled among charred hills, there’s an oasis of green—an idyllic patch of trickling streams that wind through a lush grass field. Apart from a few scorched branches on the periphery, it’s hard to tell that this particular spot was in the middle of Colorado’s largest-ever wildfire just a year ago. This wetland was spared thanks to the work of beavers. The mammals, quite famously, dam up streams to make ponds and a sprawling network of channels. Beavers are clumsy on land, but talented swimmers; so the web of pools and canals lets them find safety anywhere within the meadow. On a recent visit to that patch of preserved land in Poudre Canyon, ecohydrologist Emily Fairfax emphasized the size of the beavers’ canal network. “Oh my gosh, I can’t even count them,” she said. “It’s a lot. There’s at least 10 ponds up here that are large enough to see in satellite images. And then between all those ponds is just an absolute spiderweb of canals, many of which are too small for me to see until I’m here on the ground.” The very infrastructure that gives beavers safety from predators also helps shield them from wildfire. Their work saturates the ground, creating an abnormally wet patch in the middle of an otherwise dry area. Dams allow the water to pool, and the channels spread it out over a wide swath of valley floor. Fairfax researches how beavers re-shape the landscapes where they live. Across the West, she’s seen beaver-created wetlands survive wildfires. Ira chats with Fairfax and KUNC's Water in the West reporter Alex Hager about how beavers are creating wetland oases that are surviving the West's new megafires.       DIY Halloween Hacks Trying to liven up your ghosts and goblins this Halloween? In this archival segment from 2013, Windell Oskay, cofounder of Evil Mad Scientist, shares homemade hack ideas for a festive fright fest, from LED jack-o’-lanterns, to 3D printed candy, to spine-chilling specimen jars.      The Burn Of Volcanic Beauty This week, Mount Aso, a volcano in Japan, erupted—spewing clouds of ash and smoke, but fortunately bringing no reported injuries. Meanwhile, on the island of La Palma, the Cumbre Vieja volcano has been erupting for over a month now, causing destruction and evacuations on the island, and dramatically changing the island’s coastline.  Robin George Andrews, author of the upcoming book Super Volcanoes, joins Ira to talk about the terror—and wonder—of volcanoes, and why their behavior can be so enigmatic to humans.  
22/10/2147m 10s

Filipino Nurses, Francis Collins Exit Interview. Oct 22, 2021, Part 1

Biden’s Administration Preps For A Crucial Climate Conference This week, CDC advisers gave their support to approve COVID-19 vaccine boosters for those who received Moderna and J&J vaccines. The recommendations would follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of “mixing and matching” booster shots from different vaccine developers. Ira provides new updates on the latest vaccine booster approvals, and a story about a successful transplant of a pig kidney… to a human. Plus, climate reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis gives us a closer look at how the United States is living up to its Paris Agreement pledges as a crucial international gathering looms, and Biden’s clean energy legislation appears to be faltering.      Seeing The History Of Filipinos In Nursing You may have seen a grim statistic earlier this year: 32% of U.S. registered nurses who died of COVID-19 by September 2020 were of Filipino descent, even though they only make up 4% of nurses in the United States. Yet an event like the pandemic is disproportionately likely to affect Filipino-American families: Approximately a quarter of working Filipino-Americans are frontline healthcare workers. There’s a deep history of Filipino immigrants and their descendants in frontline healthcare work. This Filipino-American History Month, Ira talks to nurse and photojournalist Rosem Morton and freelance journalist Fruhlein Econar about their recent collaboration for CNN Digital, using photographs from Morton’s “Diaspora on the Frontlines” project.  They talk about the long reliance of the U.S. healthcare system on the Philippines, and the importance of documenting the lives, not just the disproportionate hardship, of these frontline healthcare workers and their families.       Francis Collins, Longest-Running NIH Director, To Step Down Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will be stepping down from his post at the end of the year. Collins is the longest serving NIH director, serving three presidents over 12 years: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden. Before his role at the NIH, Collins was an acclaimed geneticist, helping discover the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. He then became director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, where he led the project that mapped the human genome.  A lot can happen in 12 years, especially in the fields of health and science. Collins joins Ira to talk about his long tenure at the NIH, as well as how his Christian faith has informed his career in science. 
22/10/2147m 0s

Shinnecock Nation, Marsh Science, Weekend Stargazing. Oct 15, 2021, Part 2

On Long Island, A Tribal Nation Faces Growing Pressures The Hamptons on Long Island are known as a mansion-lined escape for wealthy New Yorkers. But the area is also home to the Native residents of the Shinnecock Tribal Nation. An estimated 1,500 Shinnecock members are left in the U.S., and about half live on the Nation’s territory on Long Island. As with the rest of the island, Shinnecock Nation is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Receding shorelines threaten to eat up three-quarters of its territory by 2050, adding to the existing threat of development from the Hamptons. This issue of climate change and its impacts around Long Island is the subject of the new podcast, “Higher Ground,” from WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Connecticut. One of the stories told in the podcast is that of Tela Troge, Shinnecock tribal sovereignty attorney and kelp farmer, who lives on Shinnecock territory in Long Island.  Tela talks to Ira about seeing climate change and development affect Shinnecock land with her own eyes, and her venture into kelp farming as a tool for nitrogen sequestration.      The World According To Sound: Listening To Lightning There is more than one way to listen to a bolt of lightning. While you can pick up the boom and rumble of thunder with your ears, if you tune in with a radio receiver, you can hear an entirely different sound: an earth whistler. When lightning strikes, it releases electromagnetic radiation in the VLF or Very Low Frequency band, which runs from 3 Hz to 30 kHz. This falls within the human range of hearing, which spans from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. However, we can not hear whistlers with our own ears because the radiation is electromagnetic, not physical vibrations in the air. We can, though, capture the electromagnetic radiation with a radio receiver. Radio operators have been picking up the strange twanging of lightning ever since they started trying to tune into man-made signals. They dubbed the eerie electro-magnetic disturbances in their headphones “earth whistlers.” People first heard earth whistlers back in the 19th century. The electromagnetic radiation from lightning interfered with telephone lines and crept into phone conversations. You’d be talking with someone and hear these bursts of energy, like little phone ghosts.  Today, we know earth whistlers are made by the interaction of lightning with the planet’s magnetic field. There are over a million lightning strikes in the atmosphere, which means there is a nearly constant chorus around earth.  The whistlers in this piece were provided courtesy of NASA and The University of Iowa.  The World According to Sound is a live audio show, online listening series, and miniature podcast that focuses on sound, not story. Producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett create intentional, communal listening experiences as a way to “reclaim autonomy in a visually dominated world that is increasingly fracturing our attention.”  This recording is part of their next listening series, an immersive listening party where audiences from all over the globe will be invited to experience a world of sound together, beginning in January 2022. You can get a ticket to the series here.      Save The Wetlands, Save The World In Rising, the Science Friday Book Club pick for this fall, author Elizabeth Rush writes frequently of marshes. Rush explores the disappearing wetlands of Louisiana’s hurricane-battered coast, the San Francisco Bay Estuary, Staten Island’s newly abandoned flood zones, and other marshes around the country. But why, scientifically speaking, are wetlands such a feature of the conversation around coastal resilience to climate change and rising seas.  In a recording with a ‘live’ Zoom audience, SciFri producer Christie Taylor speaks with wetland ecologists Marcelo Ardón and Letitia Grenier about the resilience and adaptability of marshland, how climate change and sea level rise threatens them, and why protecting and restoring tidelands is good for everyone.      Widening The Lens On A More Inclusive Science In 2012, the Obama administration projected that the United States would need to add an additional 1 million college graduates in STEM fields per year for the next ten years to keep up with projected growth in the need for science and technology expertise. At the same time, though, native Americans and other Indigenous groups are underrepresented in the sciences, making up only 0.2% of the STEM workforce in 2014, despite being 2% of the total population of the United States. Why are Indigenous people still underrepresented in science?   In this re-broadcast of the 2019 conversation, Ira speaks with astrophysicist Annette Lee and anthropologist Kim TallBear about the historical role of science and observation in Indigenous communities, and how Western scientific culture can leave out other voices. They also discuss the solutions: What does an inclusive scientific enterprise look like, and how could we get there?      This Weekend, Take Time For The Moon This Saturday marks International Observe the Moon Night, a worldwide astronomy education event encouraging people to take time to look at the moon—through a telescope, if possible. Around the world, astronomers will be setting up public telescopes and encouraging passers-by to take a look.  Dean Regas, astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory, joins Ira to explain how to get in on the lunar-observation action. They also talk about other astronomical events, including the ongoing Orionid meteor shower and an upcoming partial lunar eclipse on November 19.  
15/10/2147m 29s

Native Biodata, Indigenous Carbon Resistance, COVID Boosters Next Steps. Oct 15, 2021, Part 1

More Boosters, For More People This week, an FDA advisory committee met to pore over data and debate the role of COVID vaccine boosters. And on Thursday, they voted to recommend Moderna boosters for older Americans, as well as people in certain at-risk groups. This recommendation came just a few weeks after the FDA authorized a Pfizer booster for similar individuals. The recommendations of the panel regarding boosters for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as the idea of mixing and matching different vaccine and booster types, will now go to FDA officials. The CDC will also weigh in. Amy Nordrum, commissioning editor at MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to talk about the vaccine meeting and other topics from the week in science—including the FDA authorization of an e-cigarette, efforts to map the brain, mysterious radio signals from space, and a mission to explore asteroids near Jupiter.   Indigenous-Led Biology, Designed For Native Communities Monday was Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in the United States: a holiday to honor Native Americans and their resilience over many centuries of colonialism. Due to a long history of discrimination, Native Americans face stark health disparities, compared to other American populations. Illnesses like chronic liver disease, diabetes, and respiratory diseases are much more common in Native communities. This is where the Native BioData Consortium (NBDC) comes in. It’s a biobank, a large collection of biological samples for research purposes. What sets this facility apart from others is its purpose—the biological samples are from indigenous people, and the research is led by indigenous scientists. This is important, say the founders, because for too long, biological samples from Native people have been used for purposes that don’t benefit them. Joining Ira to talk about the importance of having a biobank run by indigenous scientists are three foundational members of the project: Krystal Tsosie, co-founder and ethics and policy director of the NBDC and PhD candidate in genetics at Vanderbilt University, Joseph Yracheta, executive director and laboratory manager of the NCDC, and Matt Anderson, assistant professor of microbiology at Ohio State University and NCDC board member.   Indigenous Activists Helped Save Almost A Billion Tons Of Carbon Per Year This summer, Science Friday and other media outlets covered the protests against an oil pipeline project in northern Minnesota, where Canadian company Enbridge Energy was replacing and expanding their existing Line 3 infrastructure. Native American tribes in Minnesota—whose lands the pipeline would pass through and alongside—organized protests, direct action, and other resistance against the project. The pipeline was completed, and began moving tar sands oil at the beginning of October. But the protests and their non-Native allies drew arrests, news coverage, and social media attention to the debate over continued drilling of fossil fuels. Before Line 3, there were protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was completed against the wishes of the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Biden ultimately cancelled after objections and lawsuits from two Native American communities in Montana and South Dakota. So far, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has remained un-drilled, despite multiple attempts, with help from vocal opposition by Alaska’s Gwich’in people. A new report from two advocacy groups does the math on how much carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions these cancelled or delayed projects would have emitted in the last 10 years. According to their calculations, Indigenous resistance to pipelines and other fossil fuel projects has saved the U.S. and Canada 12% of their annual emissions, or 0.8 billion tons of CO2 per year. Ira talks to the co-authors, Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Kyle Gracey from Oil Change International, about the value of tallying these emissions in the fight to prevent future oil projects. Plus, why Native American protesters and their allies deserve credit for keeping fossil fuels in the ground—and the bigger environmental justice issue of pipeline projects alongside Native land.
15/10/2147m 18s

Air Conditioning, Face Recognition Neurons. Oct 8, 2021, Part 2

The Hot And Cold Past Of The Air Conditioner In the Northeast, the leaves have started changing colors, heralding the season of pumpkins, sweaters, and the smell of woodsmoke. But in some parts of the country, the heat hasn’t let up. In cities like Dallas, Phoenix, and Miami, temperatures were up in the high 80s and low 90s this week—and with climate change, the U.S. is only getting hotter.  But humans have come up with an ingenious way to keep the heat at bay: air conditioning. Widely considered one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century, the technology has transformed how and where people live—and it’s prevented countless deaths. But it comes at a cost, and if we’re going to keep up with a warming climate, we’re going to need some other tricks to stay cool.  Like what you hear? Dive deeper with some of the sources we turned to while reporting.      See A Familiar Face? Thank These Brain Cells What happens when you see a familiar face? Light reflected from the face enters your eye, is focused onto the retina, and a signal travels up your optic nerve. But what exactly goes on in your brain after that is still somewhat mysterious.   Recently, researchers reported in the journal Science that they had identified a group of brain cells that seem tuned to respond only to familiar faces. The theory is that the specificity of those neurons helps to speed up processing of potentially important visual information. The work was done in monkeys, but the researchers are currently trying to identify similar brain structures in people.   Sofia Landi and Winrich Freiwald, two of the authors of the report, join Ira to talk about the research, and what it may tell us about how the brain and memory are organized. 
08/10/2156m 24s

State Of COVID And Antiviral Pill, Future Pandemics. Oct 8, 2021, Part 1

First Malaria Vaccine Is Approved by WHO The malaria parasite is one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, killing on average about 500,000 people per year—half of them children under the age of 5, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Now, the World Health Organization has finally approved RTS,S or Mosquirix, the first vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum, which is the most deadly strain of the parasite. The vaccine has already been administered via a pilot program to 800,000 children in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi, and in clinical trials showed an efficacy rate of about 50% against severe disease. WNYC’s Nsikan Akpan explains this and other stories, including a climate change-linked Nobel Prize in physics, controversy over the naming of the James Webb Space Telescope, and a new surveillance method that uses only the shadows you cast on a blank wall. Will Improved Testing And New Antivirals Change The Pandemic’s Path? Late last week, the pharmaceutical company Merck released data on a new antiviral medication called molnupiravir—a drug taken as a course of pills over five days that the company said was dramatically effective at keeping people with COVID-19 out of the hospital. In a press release, the company said that trial participants on the medication had a 50% lower risk of hospitalization or death compared to people getting the placebo. And while eight people in the placebo group died during the trial, none of the people getting the new drug did. However, the full data from the trial has yet to be released—and the medication must still go through the FDA approval process before it can be used. Matthew Herper, senior writer at STAT covering medicine, joins Ira to talk about the drug and what questions remain. Then, infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist Céline Gounder discusses other recent coronavirus news—from a government plan to spend a billion dollars on at-home testing to recent data on the Delta variant, including projections of what might happen next. Preparing For The Next Pandemic Needs To Start Now The United States has a long history of public health crises. For many, our first pandemic has been COVID-19. But long before the SARS-CoV-2 virus arrived, HIV, measles, and the flu all left a lasting impact. As a wealthy country, you may think the United States would be prepared to deal with public health crises, since they happen here with a degree of regularity. However, that’s not the case. The longstanding issues that left the country vulnerable to COVID-19 are explored in a recent article from The Atlantic, called “We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic.” The piece was written by science writer Ed Yong, who won a Pulitzer Prize last year for his coverage of COVID-19. Ira speaks to Ed and Gregg Gonsalves, global health activist and epidemiologist at Yale, about the country’s history of public health unpreparedness, and what needs to happen to be ready for the next pandemic.  
08/10/2147m 14s

A Century Of Science, Book Club: Rising, Charismatic Creature Update. Oct 1, 2021, Part 2

Looking Back On A Century of Science In 1921, the discovery of radium was just over 20 years in the past. And the double helix of DNA was still over thirty years in the future. That year, a publication that came to be the magazine Science News started publication, and is still in operation today. Editors Nancy Shute and Elizabeth Quill join Ira to page through the magazine’s archives, with over 80,000 articles covering a century of science—from the possibilities of atomic energy to discussions of black holes, to projections of the rise of the avocado as a popular fruit. There are mysteries—are spiral nebulae other universes? And there are missteps, like the suggestion that the insecticide DDT should be incorporated into wall paint.     When The Water Comes The Science Friday Book Club is kicking off for fall. Producer Christie Taylor joins in a conversation with Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. They talk about the surprisingly fascinating science of coastal wetlands, and their role in protecting communities from sea level rise—plus how communities themselves, from Staten Island to southern Louisiana, are responding to rising seas and flooding. For the full rundown, excerpts, and more, check out our main Book Club page.   Who Will Sweep The Charismatic Creature Carnival? Our Charismatic Creature Carnival is coming to a close. Over the last month, SciFri has celebrated six overlooked or unfairly maligned species that deserve a chance under the spotlight. And now, out of our three semifinalist creature candidates, there can only be one winner. Will it be the colorful, tiny, but mighty mantis shrimp? Or perhaps the adaptable, dramatic opossum? Or will the endangered shoebill stork, with its prehistoric look, come out on top? The choice is up to our listeners: vote here.  
01/10/2146m 50s

Primate Parasites, Spider Mating Songs, Spotted Lanternfly. Oct 1, 2021, Part 1

Healthcare Is Hard Enough to Get. If You’re A Trans Youth, It’s Even Harder Healthcare can be difficult to access for anyone—that’s been made clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. But for transgender youth, the barriers are exponentially higher. A new study from the journal JAMA Pediatrics shows that trans youth don’t get the care they need because of a variety of obstacles. Those range from laws that prevent them from advocating for themselves, to stigma from doctors. Joining Ira to talk about this story and other big science news of the week is Sabrina Imbler, science reporting fellow for the New York Times based in New York City. Ira and Sabrina also discuss the massive undertaking of COVID-19 testing in school districts, and the impacts ivermectin misinformation is having on the livestock and veterinary industries.   See A Spotted Lanternfly? Squash It! If you live in Pennsylvania or any of its surrounding environs, you’ve probably seen a really interesting looking bug in the past few years: the spotted lanternfly. Around this time of year, it’s in its nymph stage. But when fully grown, these lanternflies sound a little like the joke—they’re black and white and red all over. They’ve also got spots, as their name suggests. The charming news about how interesting they look is offset by the bad news: They are an invasive species. And they frighten crop farmers because they have a taste for just about anything, and a fondness for grapes, which could have dramatic economic consequences. Many states have a unified stance on what to do if you spy a spotted lanternfly—stomp them out. But is that an effective way to stop their spread? Joining Ira to chat about stomping techniques and lanternfly biology is Julie Urban, associate research professor in entomology at Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania.   As Primates Go Extinct, So Do Their Parasites, Upsetting Ecosystems As of 2017, more than half of primate species—that’s apes, monkeys, lemurs, and our other relatives—were considered at risk of extinction. While the loss of these animals would be its own ecological crisis, this is causing another wave of die offs: the parasites that live on those primates, many of whom are specially adapted to live on just one species for their entire lives. That includes fungi and viruses, as well as the more grimace-inducing parasites like lice and intestinal worms. Producer Christie Taylor talks to Duke Lemur Center researcher James Herrera, the first author on new research that found if endangered primates do disappear, nearly 200 species of primate parasites might also. They talk about why that loss could have consequences—not just for dwindling primates, but also for us.   The World According To Sound: How Spiders Shake Things Up For Love Amorous arachnids sing to their lovers without making a sound. Instead, they like to shake things up. Spiders aren’t powerful enough to vibrate the air, the way actual singing does. Instead, they use the ground. Male spiders send vibrations down their legs, and into whatever they’re standing on. Nearby females “hear” the song vibrating up their legs. Humans can’t hear these spider songs with our ears, but we can listen to them with the help of a laser doppler vibrometer. This instrument can make non-contact vibration measurements of a surface. It shoots a laser beam at a particular surface, and depending on how much that surface moves, it can then measure the frequency and amplitude of the vibration, based on the Doppler shift of the reflected laser beam. Hear an example of these lovelorn spiders on The World According to Sound, a live audio show, online listening series, and miniature podcast that focuses on sound, not story. Producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett create intentional, communal listening experiences as a way to “reclaim autonomy in a visually dominated world that is increasingly fracturing our attention.” The spiders in this piece were recorded by researchers in Damian Elias’s lab at UC Berkeley. This recording is part of their next listening series, an immersive listening party where audiences from all over the globe will be invited to experience a world of sound together, beginning in January 2022. You can get a ticket to the series here.  
01/10/2146m 57s

Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Fauci Kid’s Book, Pigeon Vs Shoebill. Sept 24, 2021, Part 2

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant To Say Goodbye To Its Radioactive Waste Just before Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth is expected to reach a historic milestone. All the radioactive fuel that generated electricity—and controversy—for nearly half a century will finally be removed from the reactor building. It will be stored outside in special steel and cement casks. The rare occasion will be celebrated by both supporters and opponents of the plant. But as the decommissioning of Pilgrim proceeds, concern over the long-term safety of the highly radioactive waste continues. Even though Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant stopped producing electricity two years ago, there are still armed guards in watchtowers, surveillance cameras spread over the site, mazes of barbed wire fences and concrete vehicle barriers.  Bruce Gellerman, a senior reporter at WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts, explains what the decommissioning process has been like and the future of nuclear power in the Northeast.     Dr. Fauci’s Life Illustrated In A New Book For Kids Dr. Anthony Fauci became a household name at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, he’s the subject of a children’s book too: Dr: Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. The book takes us back to Fauci’s childhood filled with games of baseball in the streets of Brooklyn, bike rides to deliver medications for his family’s pharmacy, and his long history of asking questions about how the world works. Author Kate Messner talks to Ira about the surprises she found in Fauci’s life story, the value of showing kids that scientists were once children too, and why curiosity is such an important value to teach children.     A Charismatic Match-up Between Two Feathered Friends It’s the third and final matchup of this fall’s Charismatic Creature Carnival, our celebration of six overlooked, and often unfairly maligned, species that deserve a chance under the spotlight. Our audience submitted the carnival candidates, but only one will be crowned the very first inductee into the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame. This week, our match-up is between two fabulous, feathered creatures: the pigeon and the shoebill stork. Defending the pigeon is Elizabeth Carlen, postdoctoral research fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. Representing the shoebill stork is Judith Mirembe, shoebill researcher and chair of Uganda Women Birders based in Kampala, Uganda. 
24/09/2147m 36s

Two Climate Change Bills, COVID Vaccine Boosters. Sept 24, 2021, Part 1

Ice-Hunting Lunar Rover Robot Gets A Landing Site This week, NASA announced that it had selected a destination for a planned robotic lunar rover called VIPER, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover. The mission is planned for launch in 2023, and will rove about the Moon’s south pole, mapping the location and concentration of water ice deposits. The plan is for a commercial spaceflight mission to deliver the rover to a spot near the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the Moon’s south pole. Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins Ira to talk about the mission and other stories from the week in technology and science—including tiny airborne micro-machines, an upcoming voyage for the James Webb Space Telescope, and the discovery of ancient kids’ handprints that could be the world’s oldest-known art.   Congress Is Considering Two Climate Change Bills. What’s In Them? President Biden has made many promises about slowing climate change. During his campaign, he pledged to bring the United States’ energy sector to zero carbon emissions by 2035. On Earth Day this year, he pledged to reduce total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, and by 100% by 2050. But the key policy changes that will help the country get there remain pending as the relevant bills continue to make their way through Congress. The first is an infrastructure bill that would pledge billions toward cleaner transit and resiliency projects in disaster-stricken communities. But that measure is tied intricately with the fate of a second, $3.5 trillion budget bill that would direct billions of dollars to incentivize coal and natural gas-burning utilities to switch over to renewable energy. If both are to pass without substantial changes, they rely on consensus among the narrow majorities of Democrats in the Senate and the House—neither of which is guaranteed. New York Times reporter Coral Davenport walks through what’s in the bills, and why so much is still up in the air even after a summer of climate-driven disasters.   Behind The Booster Battle Update 9/24/2021: This week, CDC director Rochelle Walensky overruled the recommendations of an advisory panel and authorized a third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for the elderly and certain “high risk” individuals, mirroring an earlier FDA decision. In late August, President Biden had said that COVID-19 vaccine booster shots might soon be on the horizon for many Americans. In late August, President Biden said that COVID-19 vaccine booster shots might soon be on the horizon for many Americans. But last Friday, an FDA advisory committee voted to recommend booster doses only for people over age 65—and this Wednesday, the FDA authorized Pfizer boosters for use in the elderly and “high risk” individuals. In the republished article (which you can read on sciencefriday.com) from September 16, written before the FDA review, Kaiser Health News’ Arthur Allen and Sarah Jane Tribble examine the backstory behind the debate over boosters, and how leaders from the NIH got out in front of FDA and CDC recommendations.
24/09/2147m 14s

Endemic Diseases, Insects and Light, Opossum vs Aye-Aye. Sept 17, 2021

Nighttime Streetlights Are Stressing Out Urban Insects As insect populations—including bees, moths, and other pollinators—decline worldwide, researchers have established a variety of potential causes, including climate change, pesticides, and habitat loss. But now, new findings suggest yet another culprit may be part of the equation: night-time lighting, like street lights in populated areas. A team of entomologists in the United Kingdom looked at populations of moth caterpillars under street lights, compared to populations that lived in darkness all night. In conditions with night-time lighting, they found nearly half as many caterpillars, in some cases. In addition, caterpillars that grew up under street lights were bigger, suggesting that they might be stressed and attempting to rush into metamorphosis earlier than they should. Furthermore, the greatest threat seems to be coming from energy-efficient LED lights, whose bluer wavelengths may be more stressful than the warmer, redder light of older sodium bulbs. The team published their work in the journal Science Advanceslate last month. Guest host Umair Irfan talks to co-author Douglas Boyes about why nighttime lighting might be so bad for insects, and why ditching LED lights isn’t actually the best solution.     The Endemic End To The Pandemic Over the past year and a half, we’ve been talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s another stage of global virus spread to consider as well—the endemic stage. Instead of a sudden cacophony of viral noise, you can think of it as a constant low-level hum, with occasional bleeps.  Viruses such as the coronaviruses responsible for many colds, or the influenza virus, are already endemic worldwide. They’re pretty much everywhere, all the time—and sometimes make you ill. But they don’t usually threaten to overwhelm health systems the way COVID-19 is currently. Maureen Miller, an infectious disease epidemiologist and medical anthropologist at  Columbia University, joins guest host Umair Irfan to talk about pivoting from pandemic to endemic conditions, and what past outbreaks can teach us for future health decisions.       Charismatic Creature Carnival: Who Rules The Night? We’re in week two of our Charismatic Creature Carnival, our celebration of six overlooked or unfairly maligned species that deserve a closer look. Our audience submitted our candidates, but only one will be crowned the very first carnival inductee into the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame. This week’s friendly head-to-head battle is between the opossum and the aye-aye, submitted by listeners who remarked these creatures are cute, though unconventionally so. Defending the opossum is Lisa Walsh, postdoctoral researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, based in Washington, D.C. Squaring up against them to support the aye-aye is Megan McGrath, education programs manager at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina. Find out how to participate in the final creature face-off and check out what you said about the last round between the mantis shrimp and the hellbender salamander!   
17/09/2147m 33s

Living With Wildfire, 7,000 Steps A Day Okay, Kids’ Mars Questions. Sept 17, 2021, Part 1

Scientists Potty Train Cows To Lower Greenhouse Gasses Scientists have known it for a long time: Cattle are a major source of nitrogen emissions, contributing to the global warming crisis. Alternatives have been tossed around for years: from eating less meat to feeding cows seaweed. Now, a new study out of Germany and New Zealand has a more outside-the-box solution: potty-training calves. Scientists trained cows to pee in just one spot—dubbed the “MooLoo”—so their urine can be cleaned before it seeps into the environment. Most calves got the hang of it within 20-25 pees. Joining guest host Umair Irfan to talk about this and other science stories of the week is Roxanne Khamsi, science journalist based in Montreal, Quebec. With Worsening Wildfire Seasons, How Can We Learn To Live With Them? It’s another record year for fire in the American West, with more than two million acres already burning in the state of California, and the Dixie Fire alone well on its way to a million acres—if it gets that big, it would be the second “gigafire” on record, after 2020’s August Complex fire. As climate change and human habitation collide in worsening fire seasons, what is the long-term outlook? Guest host Umair Irfan talks to fire scientist Crystal Kolden about the way fires are changing as we change the landscape, and what coexisting with fire can look like—including learning from the time-proven burning and forestry practices of Indigenous peoples of the West. Do I Really Need 10,000 Steps A Day? Scientists Say 7,000 Is Fine You’ve probably heard someone say that they have to “get their steps in.” But does the number of steps you take in a day actually matter? For years, there was a mythology around the health benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day. But it turned out that number wasn’t based on actual data—it grew out of a marketing effort in Japan from a pedometer company in the 1960s. Now, Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has published a paper—based on actual data—to help answer this question in the academic journal JAMA Network Open. Mining data collected by the CARDIA cohort study, they compared the overall health outcomes of people who walked less than 7,000 steps a day, those logging 7,000 to 10,000 steps, and those trekking over 10,000. They found that people who walked over 7,000 steps a day had a significant decrease in mortality, compared to people who took fewer steps. They’re still trying to tease out exactly what health benefits the steps may bring. Paluch joins guest host Umair Irfan to talk about the research, and what you should know about how walking might improve health. NASA Scientist Answers Kids’ Questions About The Mars Rover It was big news last week when the Mars rover Perseverance collected its first rock samples. And just in time, we invited young listeners in our audience to ask research scientist Katie Stack Morgan of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory some of their most pressing questions about the Mars 2020 mission. Questions like, “How do samples get back to Earth from Mars?” And, “How does Perseverance dust itself off … if it can?    
17/09/2146m 54s

Covid And Disabilities, Alzheimer’s And Inflammation, Ultrasonic Sound. Sept 10, 2021, Part 1

New Policies Emerge In The Wake Of Climate-Connected Disasters This week, people across the United States continued to be reminded of the results of a shifting climate—with people in the Gulf states still recovering from Ida, northeastern states dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida-induced flooding, and western states battling wildfires and smoke. With climate-related disasters as a backdrop, President Biden announced a goal of shifting some 45% of U.S. energy production to solar power by 2050. Kendra Pierre-Louis, senior reporter for the Gimlet-Spotify podcast How to Save A Planet, joins Ira to talk about those stories and more, including new calculations of the importance of minimizing fossil fuel extraction, to a successful sample collection effort on Martian soil.   Is Inflammation In The Brain Causing Alzheimer’s Disease? The brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease has a few hallmark traits. First, a buildup of plaques made of proteins called amyloid beta. Second, are tangles of another protein, called tau, within individual neurons. A third major indicator is inflammation. While researchers have long thought brain inflammation was a byproduct of the disease itself, there’s a growing hypothesis that it might actually be a driver of the disease’s progression. That would help explain why researchers have found people whose brains are full of tau tangles and amyloid plaques, but with no outward symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Research on animals has supported this theory. But finding the same evidence in human brains is harder. Now, a team of scientists, writing in the journal Nature Medicine, thinks they have it: time-lapsed images of patient brains showing tau tangles and inflammation spreading through the brain in the exact same pattern. Ira talks to Dr. Tharick Pascoal, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the study’s first author, about this finding, and what it means for future research into Alzheimer’s therapies.   The World According To Sound: Ultrasonics The mating calls of the katydid, a large insect, are ultrasonic, beyond the audible limit of human hearing. What if we could hear them? That’s the focus behind a collaboration between the abstract audio podcast The World According To Sound and scientist Laurel Symes, the assistant director of the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at Cornell University. In this recording, you’ll hear the sounds of one of her study animals—a group of katydids in a forest in Panama. Bill McQuay, sound engineer and an audio producer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, slowed down Symes’ recording so you can hear a whole world of ultrasonic activity open up, from ultrasonic mating calls of katydids to the ultrasonic pings of bats echolocating their next meal. The World According to Sound is a live audio show, online listening series, and miniature podcast that focuses on sound, not story. Producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett create intentional, communal listening experiences as a way to “reclaim autonomy in a visually dominated world that is increasingly fracturing our attention.” This katydid recording and more are a part of their next listening series, an immersive listening party where audiences from all over the globe will be invited to experience a world of sound together, beginning in January 2022.   How COVID-19 Reveals Existing Biases Against The Disability Community In early July, I visit Ingrid Tischer at the Berkeley apartment she’s shared with her husband, Ken, for the past 10 years. When I arrive, she’s already sitting outside at the top of a gently sloping ramp that leads up to the door. We’re both vaccinated, but we’re still taking precautions: masks, outdoors, and social distancing. That’s because Ingrid has a severe disability. “I have muscular dystrophy,” she tells me, “which is a neuromuscular disorder that I’ve had my entire life because it’s genetic.” Muscular dystrophy is a progressive muscle wasting disease. It impacts her mobility, including her ability to walk unassisted. Ingrid says she’s most impacted by having a weak respiratory system and uses an oxygen device called a biPap to help her breathe. Earlier in the pandemic, her doctor told her that if she got COVID, it would likely be a death sentence. “I’d never heard my situation put in such stark, certain terms,” she says. Ingrid is in her mid 50s, with graying brown hair and bright blue eyes. She leads fundraising for DREDF, a disability rights and legal advocacy organization. She’s also a writer — she’s written a draft of a novel and has a blog called “Tales From the Crip.” In addition to a brilliant title, the blog is full of her personal reflections about navigating a world in which the needs and feelings of people with disabilities go mostly unseen and ignored. When COVID hit in the spring of 2020, Ingrid was terrified. Because of the risk of infection and smoke from the wildfires that summer, she stopped leaving her house entirely, developed severe anxiety and depression, and began noticing a host of new health issues. Her feet and legs began swelling and breathing became even more difficult than usual. Her doctor worried she might be developing congestive heart failure, but told her to stay home rather than come in for tests and risk infection. It’s a common story. A recent survey by the disability advocacy group #NoBodyIsDisposable found that many disabled people have delayed medical care for over a year due to concerns about COVID-19. Read more at sciencefriday.com.  
10/09/2146m 45s

Oyster Breeding, Climate Communication, Hellbender Vs Mantis Shrimp. Sept 10, 2021, Part 2

To Breed An Oyster In the ocean, climate change involves more than just warming temperatures. Water levels are shifting, and ocean chemistry is changing.  Changes to ocean salinity caused by shifting amounts of freshwater could have big effects on the health of oysters, who need a certain range of saltiness in the water to be happy.   As part of her doctoral work at Louisiana State University, researcher Joanna Griffiths bred hundreds of families of oysters, looking for clues to what makes an oyster more able to endure salinity changes. She found that there is a genetic component to an oyster’s salinity resilience.  Griffiths joins Scifri’s Charles Bergquist to talk about the work, and the challenges of conducting a laboratory oyster breeding program—in which it’s difficult convince an oyster that it’s time for romance, and often even hard to discern the sex of the oysters involved.     Talking Through The Tangled Terms Of Climate Change When scientists talk about climate change, there are certain words and phrases that get brought up often. Terms like “mitigation,” “carbon neutral” and “tipping point” are used frequently to explain how the climate crisis is unfolding. They’re often found in reports meant to educate the public on climate change, such as the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It turns out a lot of words and phrases that scientists use to talk about climate change are not understood by the general public. That’s according to a recent study from the University of Southern California and the United Nations Foundation. This begs the question: if the public scientists are trying to reach don’t understand what’s being discussed, what’s the point? Joining Ira to talk about better communicating climate change is Wändi Bruine de Bruin, lead author of the study and provost professor of public policy, psychology and behavioral science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California. Also joining Ira is Anthony Leiserowitz, founder and director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in New Haven, Connecticut.      An Aquatic Charismatic Creature Showdown: Mantis Shrimp vs. Hellbender It’s time to kick off SciFri’s Charismatic Creature Carnival! Welcome to our celebration of creatures that are overlooked or unfairly maligned by the general public, which, if you look a little closer, have an undeniable charm. Six audience-suggested creatures were chosen, but only one will be crowned the very first carnival inductee into the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame. The first friendly head-to-head battle in this fall’s Charismatic Creature Carnival is between the mantis shrimp and the hellbender, a giant aquatic salamander. Defending the mantis shrimp is Jason Dinh, PhD candidate in biology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. And representing the hellbender is Lauren Diaz, PhD student in fisheries science at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Find a list of upcoming carnival celebrations below! 
10/09/2147m 22s

COVID Fact Check, Ocean Circulation and Climate, Bread Culture. Sept 3, 2021, Part 2

Fact Check My Feed: Why Are People Taking Discredited Horse Medicine For COVID-19? If you’ve been online at all in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen discussion about the drug ivermectin. It was originally developed as an antiparasitic treatment for livestock, and in 2015, the Nobel Prize in Medicine went to scientists who found that it helped control parasitic diseases in humans as well. But recently, non-medical groups have been incorrectly promoting the drug as a treatment for COVID-19—even though the coronavirus is a virus, not a parasite. Virologist Angela Rasmussen of the University of Saskatchewan joins Ira to look at the data behind sometimes hyperbolic COVID-19 claims, from the latest on booster shots to the emergence of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa.     What Happens If Atlantic Ocean Currents Cease To Churn? Early last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report. It was a grim document, concluding that global warming had already set in motion irreversible levels of sea level rise, along with other changes that are threatening lives and health around the globe. The report focused in part on climate tipping points, or phenomena that, if they occur, could lead to a long term re-setting of our global climate and cascades of dangerous changes. Included among tipping points like the loss of the Amazon rainforest and melting of the permafrost, was the potential shutdown of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation—the AMOC, for short. That circulation, a set of currents that includes the Gulf Stream, ferries cold water from the poles toward the equator, and distributes heat from the equator to northern latitudes. And it’s powered by two things that are both changing as the climate warms: the temperature of ocean water, and the varying concentrations of salt in that water.  Climate models that use data from thousands of years ago can help us predict what might happen if the AMOC shuts down. Because the currents are a huge source of heat redistribution globally, a shutdown could have a complex array of consequences, from rainfall disruptions in the southern hemisphere, to even greater sea level rise on North America’s east coast. And if it shuts down completely, it may not come back on again in any of our lifetimes. Unfortunately, researchers have been finding evidence that the circulation is, in fact weakening, including a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change in early August. Ira talks to Levke Caesar, a researcher at Maynooth University’s ICARUS Climate Research Center. While not affiliated with the latest research, her work has helped map the ongoing pattern of weakening in the AMOC.       A Sourdough Saga, From Starter To Slice What makes sourdough taste sour? Was the first bread invented, or discovered? How did scientists eventually figure out that yeast and bacteria were the true master bakers? Will commercial bread ever be as good as that hand-baked loaf? Ira releases his inner breadmaking nerd in this conversation with Eric Pallant, author of the forthcoming book Sourdough Culture: A History of Breadmaking From Ancient to Modern Bakers.  
03/09/2147m 30s

Schools And The Delta Variant, Doubts For High-Tech Air Purifiers. Sept 3, 2021, Part 1

Nation Grapples With Several Climate Disasters At Once Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc on the eastern U.S. this week. It all started in Louisiana, leaving daunting damage and a long road to recovery for residents. Even though Ida was downgraded to a tropical storm after leaving the state, it left a trail of destruction through the eastern U.S. and mid-Atlantic, flooding cities and damaging homes. In the New York area, at least a dozen people died after the region was pummeled by more than half a foot of rain in just a few hours. This happened all while the western U.S. continues to battle wildfires, from Oregon to Colorado. In California, the extreme wildfire season led the state to close its National Forests through Labor Day weekend, a time where many people get outside and enjoy nature. If it feels like these apocalyptic-level events are happening more and more frequently, you’re correct. Extreme weather is inextricably tied to climate change, and the science backs that up. Joining Ira to talk about these climate stories and more is Maggie Koerth, science reporter for FiveThirtyEight based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Florida Schools With Mask Mandates Lose Funding The state Department of Education said Tuesday it was investigating the school districts of Hillsborough, Sarasota and Orange counties over mask mandates that do not allow for a parental exemption. In a letter to district officials, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote the districts were in violation of a state Department of Health emergency rule triggered by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order intended to block districts from enacting school mask mandates. On Friday, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled the executive order was unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. However, DeSantis said an appeal is planned and his office has said it will continue to act in defense of parents’ rights until a signed judge’s order was issued. Corcoran’s letters were sent Friday, and the three districts were given until 5 p.m. Wednesday to respond. If they remain noncompliant, they could face financial penalties. All three counties have mandates that allow exemptions only for medical reasons with a medical professional’s note. Read more at sciencefriday.com. Back to School During The Delta Variant Back-to-school is usually an exciting time, with some nerves mixed in. But this year is a little different. All across the country, arguments about mask mandates are exploding in school board meetings and courtrooms. In places with no mask mandates, parents are weighing difficult decisions over how much risk is too much. But masks are just part of the equation for school safety. Air ventilation and distance are both important parts of the COVID-19 transmission equation, and many parents have questions about how their schools are preparing. With pediatric COVID-19 cases rising, and Delta’s high transmission rates, many are wondering how we’re going to keep our kids safe in schools. Joining Ira to mull over this question is Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, Texas. Many Schools Are Buying High-Tech Air Purifiers. Do They Actually Work? As students head back to school, parents are getting a lot of mail about what schools are doing to better protect kids in the classroom—from mask policies to spacing to lunch plans. One item on many administrators’ lists of protective measures is improving classrooms’ ventilation. Many studies have shown that better ventilation and air circulation can greatly reduce COVID-19 transmission. But rather than stocking up on HEPA filters, some districts are turning to high-tech air purification schemes, including untested electronic approaches and airborne chemicals. Christina Jewett, a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, has written extensively about school air filtration and purification. She joins Ira to explain why some air quality experts are less than convinced by the marketing claims made by many electronic air purifier companies.
03/09/2147m 2s

Medieval Bones, Bird Ancestors And Dinosaurs. August 27, 2021, Part 2

A Skeletal Record Of Medieval England Society Whether you like it or not, a record of your life is constantly being chronicled. No, not through the internet or on social media—through your bones. If you’ve ever fractured a bone, that skeletal trauma stays with you forever, even after it heals. So researchers across the pond are using bones from medieval times to put together a picture of what life was like. The bones in the study came from ordinary people in medieval Cambridge in the United Kingdom, from between the 10th and 14th century. The researchers found that you can often guess who was working class, and who had more money based on what their bones looked like. In this re-broadcast, SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks to Jenna Dittmar, a research fellow in osteoarchaeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, about this new research.      Birds Are The Last Dinosaurs. Why Did They Survive? Sixty-six million years ago, thanks to the Chicxulub meteor—and possibly additional stressors like volcanic eruptions—85% of the species on Earth went extinct, and the Cretaceous period drew to a close. The loss of species included most dinosaurs, but not all. Today’s birds are the last of the dinosaurs, descendents of ancestors that didn’t just survive this mass extinction, but evolutionarily exploded into thousands of species distributed around the world.  Paleontologists are still searching for why birds didn’t die, and what traits their ancestors possessed that allowed them to inherit the planet, along with mammals and other survivors. Writing in the journal Science Advances last month, a team of researchers looked at a newly discovered fossil skull from a cousin of modern birds, a bird called Ichthyornis, which went extinct with the rest of the non-avian dinosaurs. Their logic was that if the brain of Ichthyornis was different from modern birds, that difference might explain why Ichthyornis died with the dinosaurs, while the ancestors of modern birds survived. Paleontologists Julia Clarke and Chris Torres, co-authors on the new research, join producer Christie Taylor for a conversation about the clues, the unknowns, and what fossils still can’t reveal. Plus, why studying the end-Cretaceous mass extinction could provide data for understanding what animals will survive modern global warming.
27/08/2146m 55s

Pfizer Vaccine Approval, Making Solar Power For Everyone. August 27, 2021, Part 1

Pfizer’s Vaccine Is Now Fully Approved. What’s Next For The Pandemic? This week, the COVID-19 vaccine marketed by Pfizer finally received full FDA approval, moving out of the realm of “emergency use” to the status of a regular drug. In the wake of that change, many organizations—from the Pentagon to Ohio State University to the city of Chicago—are moving to require vaccinations against the coronavirus. It remains to be seen just how much the status change will move the needle on vaccination numbers—and more importantly, new cases and hospitalizations—in the U.S. Sarah Zhang, staff writer at The Atlantic, joins Ira to talk about what might be next for the pandemic, discussing the virus becoming endemic and how the Delta variant is changing people’s risk calculations. They also explore how different countries, from the U.K. to Vietnam to New Zealand, are coping. Plus, ways that the virus continues to upend business as normal—from SpaceX launches to water treatment.   How To Make Solar Power Work For Everyone If you follow Ira on social media, you may have noticed a trend in his posts over the last few months: They’ve become very joyful about the cost of his energy bill. Why? This year, he installed solar panels on his roof—and he’s not alone. The cost of solar panels has dropped nearly 70 percent since 2014, so more and more individuals and companies are jumping in. Even during COVID-19, solar installations in the U.S. reached a record high in 2020. For Ira and many others, solar panels turn homes into their own power generators. During some times of the day, the panels produce enough excess power that it’s fed back to the grid. As more and more people jump into solar power, big questions remain about how an energy grid designed for fossil fuels will be impacted. If everyone’s home is a utility, how do you best distribute power to a region? Accessibility is also a big concern. If there’s a need to retool how the country thinks about energy creation and use, how do we make sure it’s accessible to everyone? Joining Ira to talk through these big-picture solar energy quandaries are Joseph Berry, senior research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, and Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire based in Concord, New Hampshire.
27/08/2147m 27s

Third Thumb, Nostalgia, Orcas. Aug 20, 2021, Part 2

You, Too, Can Be All Thumbs. Or At Least Three. Take a look at your hand and fingers—and imagine that instead of five digits, you had an additional thumb, approximately opposite your natural thumb. Researchers at University College London built what they call the “Third Thumb”—a flexible, 3D-printed prosthetic device, controlled by pressure on sensors under the wearer’s big toes.The researchers studied how people wearing the thumb adapted their mental models of the world to incorporate their new, augmented body part, which they were able to use to perform tasks that usually take two hands, from picking up multiple wine glasses to plugging a USB cable into an adapter held in the air.  The scientists were interested in learning how the brain adapts to such a change, and whether there’s any mental cost associated with controlling a body part that may not always be there.  SciFri’s Charles Bergquist talks with Dani Clode, the designer of the thumb, and Paulina Kieliba, an engineer working on the project, about what they’ve learned from their interactions with extra body parts.      The Healing Power Of Nostalgia One of the trends we saw over the course of the pandemic was returning to memories from one’s childhood. The 1977 Fleetwood Mac song Dreams reappeared on music charts worldwide, entertainment industry surveys found that over half of TV consumers rewatched their old favorite shows, and even sales of old Pokémon cards reached record highs. Believe it or not, there’s a scientific basis to us getting nostalgic during lockdown. Nostalgia may be an emotionally protective force for people in times of crisis. In hindsight, this finding is no stretch of the imagination—just hearing the way people talk about nostalgic memories indicates a deep emotional effect. Though nostalgia hits us in the gut, evolutionarily, what do humans stand to benefit from indulging in our forever-lost pasts? And perhaps the biggest question of all—is such reminiscing good for us? Should we be actively trying to reflect, or thinking ahead? (Or just living in the moment?) Joining us to talk about the science of nostalgia, and the important role it has to play in our daily lives, are Clay Routledge, a professor in the Department of Management and Marketing at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota and Andrew Abeyta, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University-Camden, in Camden, New Jersey.     The Future Of Orcas Threatened In Changing Waters When Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes heard of a mother killer whale in the Salish Sea whose baby died shortly after it was born, she was captivated. The grieving mother carried her baby for 1,000 miles, and Mapes chronicled her story for millions of readers who followed along. She said the story resonated because it “wasn’t an animal story, but a story about a mother who happened to be a whale.” Now, she’s chronicled the plight of the Southern Resident orcas in a new book, Orca: Shared Waters, Shared Home.  Orcas are known as fast and ferocious predators, sometimes called the “Tyrannosaurus Rex of the sea.” They’ve been swimming the oceans for millions of years. But it’s not these facts that drew Mapes to chronicle their story. It’s that these animals live in ancient societies, with long lineages and strong cultural ties. Their communities are well-known to the native people of the Pacific Northwest, where these orcas swim in the inland waters known as the Salish Sea.  But in recent years, human pressures have forced orcas away from their long-time fishing habitat. They face multiple threats, including climate change, boat traffic, development, noise, and the dwindling numbers of Chinook salmon they rely on for food. Guest host John Dankosky talks with Mapes about her new book, and ongoing efforts to help save these majestic mammals. 
20/08/2147m 18s

Delta Variant in Kids, Myers-Briggs Personality Test, Suicide in Communities of Color. Aug 20, 2021, Part 1

Why The Delta Variant Will Make More Kids Sick As cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 continue to spike around the U.S., children are one of the hardest-hit groups. As children under 12 remain ineligible for vaccination, they and other unvaccinated groups are facing the highest rates of infection and hospitalization of the entire pandemic.  Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control announced Wednesday that adults in the general population would be eligible for a third booster shot of their mRNA vaccine beginning eight months after their first dose. While the CDC cited concern about rising breakthrough cases in vaccinated adults, some epidemiologists have objected that the data does not support more vaccines for most already-vaccinated adults. MIT Technology Review’s Amy Nordrum walks through these stories, plus a new human trial for mRNA vaccines against HIV, how historic drought in the West will mean the first-ever limits on farmers’ use of water next year, a promising experiment in fusion energy generation, and why the core of Saturn may be more liquid than solid.      Pandemic Unveils Growing Suicide Crisis For Communities Of Color Rafiah Maxie has been a licensed clinical social worker in the Chicago area for a decade. Throughout that time, she’d viewed suicide as a problem most prevalent among middle-aged white men. Until May 27, 2020. That day, Maxie’s 19-year-old son, Jamal Clay—who loved playing the trumpet and participating in theater, who would help her unload groceries from the car and raise funds for the March of the Dimes—killed himself in their garage. “Now I cannot blink without seeing my son hanging,” said Maxie, who is Black. Clay’s death, along with the suicides of more than 100 other Black residents in Illinois last year, has led locals to call for new prevention efforts focused on Black communities. In 2020, during the pandemic’s first year, suicides among white residents decreased compared with previous years, while they increased among Black residents, according to state data. But this is not a local problem. Nor is it limited to the pandemic. Interviews with a dozen suicide researchers, data collected from states across the country and a review of decades of research revealed that suicide is a growing crisis for communities of color—one that plagued them well before the pandemic and has only been exacerbated since. Overall suicide rates in the U.S. decreased in 2019 and 2020. National and local studies attribute the trend to a drop among white Americans, who make up the majority of suicide deaths. Meanwhile, rates for Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans—though lower than their white peers—continued to climb in many states. (Suicide rates have been consistently high for Native Americans.) “COVID created more transparency regarding what we already knew was happening,” said Sonyia Richardson, a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on serving people of color and an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where she researches suicide. When you put the suicide rates of all communities in one bucket, “that bucket says it’s getting better and what we’re doing is working,” she said. “But that’s not the case for communities of color.” Read the full story, produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News.     The Minds Behind The Myers-Briggs Personality Test If you’re one of the 2 million people who take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator every year, perhaps you thought Myers and Briggs are the two psychologists who designed the test. In reality, they were a mother-daughter team who were outsiders to the research world: Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers.  They may have been outsiders, but Katharine and Isabel did their homework, and approached the test the way a trained psychologist likely would have. And the product they created—the Myers Briggs Type Indicator—would eventually become the world’s most popular personality test. But how did it all begin? Science Diction is releasing a special three-part series on the rise of the Myers-Briggs. In the first episode: A look at the unlikely origins of the test, going all the way back to the late 1800s when Katharine Briggs turned her living room into a “cosmic laboratory of baby training” and set out to raise the perfect child. Science Diction host Johanna Mayer and reporter Chris Egusa join John Dankosky to tell that story.
20/08/2146m 41s

Elephantquakes and Margaret Atwood. August 13, 2021, Part 2

A Stomp, A Roar, An Elephantquake? An adult African elephant, the largest land animal on Earth, can weigh as much as two tons. Their activities—walking, playing, even bellowing—might shake the ground beneath them. But research in the journal Current Biology finds that the signals from an elephant’s walk are capable of traveling as far as three kilometers, while a roaring bull, or male elephant, might be detectable a full six kilometers away with just seismological monitoring tools. Biologist Beth Mortimer and seismologist Tarje Nissen-Meyer, both at the University of Oxford and co-authors of the new research, describe the signals they captured in the ground and explain how a network of seismological sensors might help us study elephants from a distance, and even protect endangered elephants from poaching.      Margaret Atwood On The Science Behind ‘Oryx And Crake’ Author Margaret Atwood’s book, Oryx and Crake is set in a post-pandemic world and a genetically engineered dystopian future. In this archival interview, recorded in April 2004, Atwood says science is “a tool for expressing and perfecting human desires—and sometimes it’s a tool for counteracting human fears.” She talks about how she pulls inspiration for her ‘speculative fiction’ from news headlines, and discusses how her entomologist father influenced her writing. 
13/08/2145m 51s

Electric Fish Communication, Science Crimes, Lighting Cave Art. August 13, 2021, Part 1

This Fish Is The Master Of The Poignant Pause When listening to a well-practiced speaker, like during a lecture, a political event or during a favorite public radio show, you may notice they use pauses for dramatic effect.  This type of nuance in communication may seem distinctly human, but we’re not the only species that takes advantage of pauses in speech to make a point. Enter the electric fish: It discharges electric pulses nearly constantly, which tells other fish basic identifying information. But when they want to alert other fish to something of high importance, they pause. These fish and their unique mode of communication has inspired researcher Bruce Carlson to study them for decades. This latest breakthrough in communication pauses sheds more light on the world of non-human communication, he tells SciFri producer Kathleen Davis.   Science Crimes: From Grave Robbers To An Icepick Surgeon Imagine a novel full of true crime thrillers, with just one twist: every crime in it was committed in the name of science. This is the premise of the new book The Icepick Surgeon, which covers the biggest scientific crimes in history, starting all the way back in Ancient Egypt. From Cleopatra to Thomas Edison, scientists have been responsible for some dastardly crimes throughout history. We’re talking grave robbing, torture, murder, espionage, and more. All of these crimes were committed in the name of research. So how do scientists lose sight of their humanity as they conduct their experiments? And what science crimes may be in our future? Author Sam Kean joins Ira to talk about the book.     Lighting Design For Your Paleolithic Cave In the modern world, you have dozens of options for illuminating your home. There’s floor lamps, table lamps, chandeliers, not to mention an overwhelming number of choices in light-bulbs. But in paleolithic times, once the sun went down, there were about three options for cave lighting—a fireplace, torches, and stone lamps that burned animal grease. In an article published in the academic journal PLOS One, a group of researchers described exploring a cave using reproductions of each type of flame. The goal was to collect data on the advantages, disadvantages, and optical properties of each type of light—both to better understand how cave artists may have worked, and to develop a 3D computer model that would let modern viewers experience cave paintings in a manner closer to that intended by ancient artists. Iñaki Intxaurbe, a student in the department of geology at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, talks about the research with SciFri’s Charles Bergquist, explaining what researchers are learning about Paleolithic cave paintings.  
13/08/2146m 24s

Bad Data, CRISPR Therapies, Wildfire Impact, Oilbirds. August 6, 2021, Part 2

How Imperfect Data Leads Us Astray Datasets are increasingly shaping important decisions, from where companies target their advertising, to how governments allocate resources. But what happens when the data they rely on is wrong or incomplete? Ira talks to technologist Kasia Chmielinski, as they test drive an algorithm that predicts a person’s race or ethnicity based on just a few details, like their name and zip code, the Bayseian Improved Surname Geocoding algorithm (BISG). You can check out one of the models they used here. The BISG is frequently used by government agencies and corporations alike to fill in missing race and ethnicity data—except it often guesses wrong, with potentially far-reaching effects.     CRISPR Stops Rare Genetic Disease In New Human Trial When the gene-editing technique CRISPR first came on the scene in 2012, researchers were excited by the potential the technology offered for editing out defects in genetic code, and curing genetic diseases. The researchers behind the technique, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, won a 2020 Nobel Prize.  In one of the first clinical applications of the technique, last month researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that CRISPR had stopped a genetic disease called amyloidosis, which occurs when an abnormal protein accumulates in your organs. They’re not the only group moving toward using CRISPR on humans; recently, the FDA approved a human clinical trial that will use the technique to edit genes responsible for sickle cell disease.  Fyodor Urnov, a professor in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley and the director of the Innovative Genomics Institute, joins Ira to discuss the clinical trials, as well as what other therapeutic targets for CRISPR-based gene editing lie on the horizon.     Latinos In The West Are Twice As Likely To Be Affected By Wildfires  A housing crisis, mixed with the location of farmwork and frontline jobs that attract Latino residents, particularly migrant workers, have put the community at greater risk of being impacted by wildfires, California activists and experts say. According to reporting by Politico, which analyzed data from risQ, “The Latino population makes up about 18 percent of the U.S. but represents 37 percent of the people who live in the areas that risQ identified as facing the most extreme wildfire risks.” José Trinidad Castañeda, a climate activist in Orange County who serves as the Beautification and Environmental Commissioner for the city of Buena Park, says that in order to address the wildfire issue, California must address its housing crisis.  “Climate does not discriminate, but our housing crisis has,” said Trinidad Castañeda. Read the full story and listen to a conversation with Abbie Veitch, editor in chief at Currently.      Consider The Nocturnal, Whiskered Oilbird At first glance, the oilbird doesn’t seem so strange. It’s a chestnut-colored, hawk-like bird that lives in South America. But with a closer look, its strange qualities start to stack up. Oilbirds are nocturnal creatures that roost in caves in huge colonies. Sure, some other birds, like nightjays, do the same. But oilbirds also have a triple threat for navigating the darkness: They’re one of the few birds that use echolocation, they have incredible eyesight and sense of smell, and they have whiskers on their faces. Unlike bats, their ecolocating peers, oilbirds exclusively live off a fruit diet, confounding researchers looking into why they evolved so many specialized traits.  They also have an incredible screech—when deployed in large numbers, it’s easy to understand why local populations have given them a name that translates to “little devils." “It’s wrong in every way, as far as birds go,” says researcher Mike Rutherford, curator of zoology and anatomy at the Hunterian museum at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Rutherford studied oilbirds in Trinidadian caves to learn more about their population sizes. “A lot of people say every species is unique, but some are more than others, and the oilbird is one of those.” Rutherford joins Ira and SciFri producer Kathleen Davis to make the argument that the oilbird deserves to be labeled a charismatic creature, and join the ranks of the Charismatic Creature Corner.  
06/08/2147m 21s

Infrastructure Package, Covid News, Line3 Pipeline. August 6, 2021, Part 1

President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill Sees The End Of The Road President Biden’s huge infrastructure bill is finally seeing the end of the road. The nearly 2,000 page bill covers infrastructure improvements—everything from roads to broadband. The package also includes funding for projects that would build up the country’s climate change resilience. Some climate change experts say the budget doesn’t go far enough and other analysis says the bill would not pay for itself. Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, walks us through the bill, new fuel economy rules for electric vehicles, a Tesla lithium-ion battery fire, and more science news from the week.          Wait, Am I Going To Need A Booster Shot? Just this week, health officials announced that New York City will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for some indoor activities, like dining and exercise. It’s the first city to institute this type of policy, and it’s all in an effort to get more people vaccinated, as the Delta coronavirus variant has forestalled efforts to curb the pandemic. Spikes in cases are happening all around the country, just as kids are getting ready to go back to the classroom. This is renewing debates about masks, and prompting lots of questions: Are we going to need booster shots? How much should we worry about breakthrough infections? And is full FDA approval of vaccines going to make a difference for those hesitant to get vaccinated? Joining Ira to break down the latest pandemic quandaries is Céline Gounder, epidemiologist and professor at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.     Local Communities Spar Over Minnesota Oil Pipeline After months of lawsuits, protests, and arrests in northern Minnesota, a controversial oil pipeline is still under construction. Candian energy company Enbridge, Inc., says the Line 3 replacement pipeline, necessary to improve the safety of an aging pipeline.  In 1991, Line 3 ruptured, causing the largest inland oil spill in the United States. The new pipeline will be both higher capacity, and follow a different route past lakes, rivers, and other state waters. But in the midst of a severe state-wide drought, the pipeline’s construction process requires the company to temporarily pump tens of millions of gallons of groundwater. Meanwhile, drilling fluids have been spilled at least once into a nearby river. Science Friday news director John Dankosky talks to two reporters, Minnesota Public Radio’s Kirsti Marohn and Indian Country Today’s Mary Annette Pember, about the water impacts of the pipeline construction, and why communities along the route remain divided about its value. Visit here to read a statement provided by Enbridge Energy.  
06/08/2146m 58s

Gut Fungi, Olympic Challenges, Planetary Seismology. July 30, 2021, Part 2

Getting To Know The Fungus Among Us (In Our Guts) Your gut microbiome is composed of more than bacteria—a less populous, but still important, resident is fungi. Many people’s lower digestive tract is home to the yeast Candida albicans, the species implicated in vaginal yeast infections and oral thrush. But new research published in the scientific journal Nature this month suggests that Candida in the gut may also be related to severe cases of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. Candida comes in multiple forms: a single-celled, rounded yeast, and a multicellular, branched version, known as the hyphal form. The latter is capable of invading other cells, and is associated with tissue damage, like that of IBD. The research team writes that our immune system reacts to candida by targeting a protein found on that second, invasive state. Conversely, our bodies seem to leave the rounded, yeast form alone.  Better understanding what drives these distinct responses may provide clues to developing a vaccine that could help people with candida-linked health problems. And postdoctoral researcher Kyla Ost tells guest host Roxanne Khamsi that the relationship appears to be mutualistic—that is, the fungi themselves benefit from being managed in this way.  She explains the nuanced relationship she and her colleagues uncovered, and how uncovering more about gut fungi may bring new insights into the relationship between our microbial communities and our health.      COVID And Climate Change Collide At The Olympics The Tokyo Olympics have been underway for a week, with talented athletes competing at their peak. But this year, it’s hard to watch the Olympics without thinking about two of the biggest science stories of the summer: COVID-19, and the record heat and humidity athletes are facing as part of this year’s games. Holding the Olympics during a global pandemic is uncharted territory, and keeping the virus out of the games has been a huge logistical challenge. There are more than 11,000 athletes participating in this summer’s games, coming from 206 nations. Factor in the coaches, staff, press, and service workers, and that’s a lot of people to keep healthy. As if that wasn’t enough, Tokyo is experiencing extreme heat and humidity, consistently reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity at about 80%. While the city has always had hot summers, they have gotten worse with climate change. Tokyo’s average annual temperature has risen by more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, according to NASA. Athletes have had to take additional measures to keep themselves cool. To tackle these stories, guest host Roxanne Khamsi talks to sports writer Hannah Keyser, from Yahoo Sports, about the Olympics’ COVID-19 protocols, as well as her experience as a reporter covering the games in Tokyo. Then, Roxanne speaks with Scott Delp, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University and director of the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, about athletic performance and safety.   What’s Shaking Below Mars’ Surface? You’ve seen the effects of earthquakes on our planet. The ground shakes, the earth trembles, and if a quake is strong enough, it can bring widespread damage and devastation. But it turns out that ours is not the only quaking planet around—there are quakes caused by geologic activity on Mars too. While Mars doesn’t have plate tectonics like Earth, other processes, from volcanic activity to planetary cooling, can cause tremors in the ground. Seismologists have been using these marsquakes almost like sonar signals through the planet’s interior to provide clues as to what’s going on below the Martian surface.   Several new papers based on the data from the Mars InSight lander were recently published in the academic journal Science. Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator, and Sue Smrekar, deputy principal investigator for the InSight lander, join guest host Roxanne Khamsi to talk about the results and how they compare to Earth geology. Smrekar also gives a preview of the planned VERITAS mission to Venus, which will attempt to deduce some of Venus’ geologic processes from orbit. Smrekar is principal investigator for VERITAS, which might launch in 2027.
30/07/2147m 19s

New CDC Mask Rules, Viral Persistence, Disaster Preparedness. July 30, 2021, Part 1

With Delta Rising, New Rules On Masks And Vaccines This week, the CDC released new guidelines for mask use in the U.S., just months after many cities and towns relaxed mask mandates. The guidance says that “to reduce their risk of becoming infected with the Delta variant and potentially spreading it to others: CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.” Right now, many parts of the country fall under that category. In response to the guidance, several municipalities re-instituted mask mandates for their communities. This week, New York chose to require either COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing for public employees. Other municipalities have also announced vaccine requirements—and some private companies, including Facebook, have also indicated that vaccination will be required for employment. Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins guest host Roxanne Khamsi to talk about the new rules and other stories from the week in science, including studies of clouds and climate change, Olympic psychology, and caffeinated bees. How Long Do Viruses Hang Out In Your Body? Throughout the pandemic, scientists have been learning more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. But there are still big questions, like how long the virus can survive in your body. This week, infectious disease specialist Diane Griffin talks about how viruses—from SARS-CoV-2 to HIV to measles—persist in the body, and how this can provide new insights into how long people might stay contagious. A Disasterologist On Coming Together To Weather The Climate Crisis As climate change amplifies the risks of natural hazards like wildfires, hurricanes, drought, and more, there’s a group of scientists hoping to change the way the United States responds to the disasters that often result. They are disaster researchers: the people who study the engineering, sociology, and even psychology of what makes the difference between an easily handled hurricane, and a catastrophe like Hurricane Maria, which wiped out infrastructure, destroyed 800,000 homes, and killed an estimated 5,000 people in Puerto Rico in 2017. Emergency management researcher Samantha Montano is the author of the forthcoming book Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis. She talks to producer Christie Taylor about the nuts and bolts of preparing for a disaster, how climate change is changing the equation, and how justice in disaster response will be more important than ever.
30/07/2146m 36s

Shellfish Deaths, Chemical Safety, Humpback Songs. July 23, 2021, Part 2

Billions Of Sea Creatures, Lost To Heat Waves A couple weeks ago, the Pacific Northwest saw record-breaking temperatures. News coverage captured countless people suffering, and dying, during triple-digit heat the region had never seen before. Portland and Seattle reached their highest temperatures ever recorded. Canada set a new record for the highest temperature ever seen in the country with a measurement of 118 degrees Fahrenheit in British Columbia. However, there are still more victims of the climate crisis tragedy in the Pacific Northwest: coastal wildlife. Experts estimate that over the course of that one scorching weekend, over a billion sea creatures died. Starfish, mussels, oysters, clams, barnacles, sea snails—all of these animals and more virtually baked to death on the beach as they sat, helpless, in the intense heat during low tide.  Chris Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, witnessed this die-off firsthand. He joins Ira to talk about what this loss means for the future of life along the coast.      EPA Whistleblowers Allege ‘Atmosphere Of Fear’ Earlier this month, four whistleblowers from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical safety office went public with allegations of intimidation and downplayed chemical risks, stating: “The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention is broken… The entire New Chemicals program operates under an atmosphere of fear—scientists are afraid of retaliation for trying to implement TSCA the way Congress intended, and they fear that their actions (or inactions) at the direction of management are resulting in harm to human health and the environment.” John Dankosky spoke with two of the whistleblowers, along with Sharon Lerner, an investigative reporter who originally broke this story for The Intercept. As EPA staff, they were not authorized to speak with the press, but chose to participate in this interview as private citizens regarding a matter of public concern. We contacted the EPA and received the following statement: “This Administration is committed to investigating alleged violations of scientific integrity. It is critical that all EPA decisions are informed by rigorous scientific information and standards. As one of his first acts as Administrator, Administrator Regan issued a memorandum outlining concrete steps to reinforce the agency’s commitment to science. EPA takes seriously all allegations of violations of scientific integrity. EPA’s scientific integrity official and scientific integrity team members will thoroughly investigate any allegation of violation of EPA’s scientific integrity policy that they receive and work to safeguard EPA science. Additionally, EPA is currently reviewing agency policies, processes, and practices to ensure that the best available science and data inform Agency decisions. EPA is committed to fostering a culture of evaluation and continuous learning that promotes an open exchange of differing scientific and policy positions. Additionally, retaliation against EPA employees for reporting violations alleged to have occurred will not be tolerated in this administration.   EPA leadership are reviewing these complaints, and any appropriate action will be taken.”   How The Humpback Says Hello A humpback whale makes two kinds of noises. The first are songs, long, elaborate, patterned and rhythmic vocalizations made by mature males, with some connection to the mating ritual. Within any given pod, every male sings the same song, but the songs themselves are different in pods around the world. The second kind are calls, short sounds made by every whale, that seem much more consistent across populations and over time. Of around 50 documented kinds of calls, scientists have settled on the meaning of one for sure: the sound the whales make when feeding on one specific kind of fish. In the decades since scientists first began to investigate the calls and songs of humpback whales, the exact function of these noises has been a tough mystery to crack. Humpbacks’ watery habitat makes researching them difficult and expensive, and the whales themselves live on slow time scales that make leaps in understanding a process that can take decades.  Now, the new documentary Fathom tells the story of two researchers working to further understand what humpback whales are saying, and why they say it. Cornell University researcher Michelle Fournet investigated a call—the ‘whup’ call—that seems to be a greeting, and found when she played the sound underwater, the whales responded back to her. And University of St. Andrews scientist Ellen Garland scoured recordings of South Pacific humpbacks to find out how pods will suddenly adopt new songs despite little contact with other populations. Ira talks to Garland and Fournet about their work, the complexity of whale communication, and how understanding it better could help save them from human threats.
23/07/2146m 50s

Surgeon General, Blockchain. July 23, 2021, Part 1

Flooding Worldwide Fits Climate Change Models While the western United States is burning again this summer, other parts of the world are drowning. Germany, Belgium, and China saw floods this week after intense rainstorms that dropped many inches of rain in matters of hours, killing hundreds and displacing thousands. In Turkey and Nigeria, less deadly rain events throughout July have still flooded streets and destroyed homes. And as climate change continues around the globe, scientists say these intense rain events will only worsen, putting flood-prone areas at risk of longer-lasting, and faster-raining storms. FiveThirtyEight science writer Maggie Koerth talks to Ira about the rising cost of rain events under climate change. Plus, why climate change may be hurting monarch butterflies more than a lack of milkweed, a first step toward experiments in geoengineering, and how Australia’s cockatoos are spreading a culture of dumpster-diving.     Biden’s Surgeon General On How To Tackle Vaccine Hesitancy It’s a tale of two pandemics. In some parts of the country, communities are opening up, saying it’s time to get back to normal. In other pockets of the country, infection numbers and hospital admissions are creeping up again—and some places, such as Los Angeles County, have moved to reinstate mask mandates, even for the vaccinated.   The key factor in the pandemic response in many communities is the local vaccination level, with outlooks very different for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. But even as public health workers advocate for widespread vaccination, misinformation and disinformation is discouraging some vulnerable people from taking the vaccine. Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, joins Ira to talk about vaccine hesitancy, the U.S. response to the pandemic, preparing for public health on a global scale, and post-pandemic public health priorities.      Will Blockchain Really Change The Way The Internet Runs? The internet has changed quite a bit over the last few decades. People of a certain age may remember having to use dial-up to get connected, or Netscape as the first web browser. Now, social networking is king, and it’s easier than ever to find information at the click of a mouse. But the modern internet has massive privacy concerns, with many sites collecting, retaining, and sometimes sharing user’s personal information. This has led many technology-minded people to think about what the future of the web might look like. Enter blockchain, a decentralized database technology that some say will change the way the internet runs, while giving users more control over their data. Some say that blockchain will be the basis for the next version of the internet, a so-called “Web 3.0.”  But where are we now with blockchain technology, and can it be everything we want it to be? Joining Ira to wade through the jargon of blockchain and the future of the internet is Morgen Peck, freelance technology journalist based in New York.  
23/07/2147m 4s

Songbird Mystery, Sweat, Betelgeuse. July 16, 2021, Part 2

Songbirds Suffer Mystery Illness From The East Coast To The Midwest The reports started in late May: Songbirds in Washington, D.C. and neighboring regions were being found dead, often with swollen and crusty eyes. In the days that followed, similar sightings came from many states, including Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Now, the symptoms have been seen as far west as Indiana—but wildlife experts still aren’t sure what’s causing the deaths.  The illness has affected many species, including American robins, blue jays, common grackles, and European starlings. So far, investigators have found no signs of   salmonella and chlamydia; avian influenza virus; West Nile virus and other flaviviruses; Newcastle disease virus and other paramyxoviruses; herpesviruses and poxviruses; or Trichomonas parasites. But unfortunately, their tests have been inconclusive as to the actual cause. Experts are asking people in the affected areas to be on the lookout for birds with crusty eyes or behaving strangely—and in an effort at avian social distancing, they’re suggesting removing bird feeders until the cause of the ‘mortality event’ is known.  Ira talks with Allisyn Gillet, state ornithologist for Indiana, and Lisa Murphy, a toxicologist and co-director of the Wildlife Futures Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, about what’s known so far about the illness, and about what steps investigators are taking to try to solve the medical mystery.  If you find a bird exhibiting these symptoms, researchers encourage you to report it to the Wildlife Futures Program at the University of Pennsylvania.     Sweating Is Our Biological Superpower Sweat 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.      Betelgeuse’s False Supernova Alarm The famous red giant star, Betelgeuse, sits on the left shoulder of the constellation Orion. It’s one of the brightest stars in the night sky, distinguishable by its faint red hue.  In December 2019, the star suddenly dimmed to about a third of its usual brightness. Scientists called this the ‘Great Dimming.’ And there was some speculation in the news that the dimming meant Betelgeuse was about to explode in a giant supernova. But within months, Betelgeuse quietly returned to its original brightness, leaving astronomers perplexed. Now, nearly two years after the initial dimming, a study recently published in Nature proposed a theory for Betelgeuse’s Great Dimming. Supernova expert Sarafina Nance joins Ira to talk about Betelgeuse, give an outside perspective on the new Nature study, and discuss her science communication work.   
16/07/2147m 7s

New Battery Technology, COVID Rise From Unvaccinated Populations. July 16, 2021, Part 1

Research For New Battery Technology Is Gaining Steam As countries around the world set their goals for decarbonizing their economies, it’s becoming clear that batteries may play a pivotal role in smoothing out the peaks and valleys of solar and wind power productions, as well as driving a shift to electric vehicles, and providing power for other parts of our lives. Lithium-ion batteries are now the standard. They run electric cars and power your laptop and cell phone. But they have major drawbacks, like overheating and their high costs. The supply chain and environmental impact of lithium-ion power cells also raise concerns: mining the materials—like lithium, cobalt, and other metals—requires polluting, water-intensive processes. While many deposits are only found in foreign locations, some U.S. companies are now looking to mine domestically, concerning environmental advocates. The search for a better battery is on, and promising developments include new chemistries for efficiently storing energy, and smarter ways to plug them into the grid. This week, Ira talks to IEEE Spectrum senior editor Jean Kumagai, and Argonne National Laboratory’s Venkat Srinivasan about the promises, the roadblocks, and what to watch for in future battery technology.     A Tale Of Two Pandemics During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen many different aspects of the illness—the early surges and community shutdowns, the debates over schools and masks, and, now, signs of hope as more people are vaccinated and communities reopen. But the story is different among unvaccinated populations. In many snapshots of new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, those affected are overwhelmingly unvaccinated people. Even as the value of vaccination becomes more apparent, some people are still resistant to the vaccines. And in Tennessee, government officials told public health workers to stop vaccination outreach to young people—not just for COVID-19, but for all childhood vaccinations. Amy Nordrum of MIT Technology Review talks with Ira about the latest in the pandemic, and the importance of vaccination in the face of the rising COVID variant known as Delta. They also talk about the role of cities in climate change, a new list of drinking water contaminants for possible regulation that includes the socalled “forever” PFAS chemicals, a disappearing group of ransomware hackers, and more.
16/07/2147m 12s

African Wild Dogs, Spotted Lanternfly, Seashells. July 9, 2021, Part 1

Sniffing Out How To Save African Wild Dogs One of the most endangered mammals on Earth, African wild dogs are known for their oversized ears, social bonds, and highly efficient hunting style. That predatory nature is now contributing to their threatened status, as their territory in sub-Saharan Africa increasingly overlaps with human farmers, who often use poison or other lethal deterrents to protect their livestock from wild dogs and other predators. Producer Christie Taylor talks to carnivore biologist Gabi Fleury about their research on African wild dogs and other threatened wildlife, and how thoughtful applications of technology could help solve conflicts between farmers and hungry predators—hopefully saving dogs’ lives. Plus, she talks about what it’s like to make it into conservation biology, after a lifetime of dreaming about it. See A Spotted Lanternfly? Squash It! If you live in Pennsylvania or any of its surrounding environs, you’ve probably seen a really interesting looking bug in the past few years: the spotted lanternfly. Around this time of year, it’s in its nymph stage. But when fully grown, these lanternflies sound a little like the joke—they’re black and white and red all over. They’ve also got spots, as their name suggests. The charming news about how interesting they look is offset by the bad news: They are an invasive species. And they frighten crop farmers because they have a taste for just about anything, and a fondness for grapes, which could have dramatic economic consequences.  Many states have a unified stance on what to do if you spy a spotted lanternfly—stomp them out. But is that an effective way to stop their spread? Joining Ira to chat about stomping techniques and lanternfly biology is Julie Urban, associate research professor in entomology at Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania. Listening To Shells, An Oracle Of Ocean Health If you’re a beach person, few things are more relaxing than slowly wandering along the shore, looking for seashells. Your goal might be a perfect glossy black mussel shell, or a daintily-fluted scallop, or a more exotic shell full of twists and spirals, like a queen conch. The human fascination with seashells dates back to prehistory. Shell trumpets have been found in Mayan temples. Shell beads abound in the remains of the midwestern metropolis of Cahokia. And the Calusa Kingdom, in what is now Florida, literally built their civilization on shells.  But seashells are more than just a beachgoer’s collector’s item. They’re homes to living creatures known as mollusks, built through a complex process called biomineralization. They’re also a harbinger of environmental change—and warming seas and acidifying oceans could change the outlook for shells around the world.  Environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett joins Ira to talk about the biology, history, and environmental significance of the seashell. She’s the author of the new book, The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Ocean.
09/07/2147m 11s

John McPhee’s Annals Of The Former World. July 9, 2021, Part 2

Writing, Like Geology, Requires A Little Digging When author John McPhee first considered the piece of writing that would become his 1998 book, Annals of the Former World, he envisioned a short, un-bylined article in The New Yorker, in which he would visit a road cut on Route 80—a piece that could probably be completed in a few days. Instead, that idea became a 700-page coast to coast exploration of the geology of North America, a project that took over 20 years to complete. In this archival interview, recorded in June 1999, McPhee talks with Ira Flatow about the process of reporting Annals of the Former World, which had just won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. They talk about rocks, maps, and geology, of course—but also about characters, nuclear physics, migrating fish, and the craft of writing. McPhee, who also teaches nonfiction writing at Princeton University, likened his teaching role to that of a previous job as a swimming coach. “The people I was teaching swimming [to] all knew how to swim,” he said. “What I was trying to do was to help them swim better, to streamline them. And that's very analogous to talking to people about writing. I'm not teaching anyone to write. I'm just helping people with little ideas that they may or may not pick up."
09/07/2146m 39s

Garden Hotline, Benjamin Franklin. July 2, 2021, Part 2

The Science Of Your Summer Vegetable Garden Planting and tending to a vegetable garden is both an art and a science. If all goes well, you’ll be enjoying delicious homemade salads all summer long. But if your tomatoes get too little water, or if the soil is too acidic, or if pests get to the lettuce before you do, then all that hard work may have been for nothing. Whether you’re a seasoned grower or first-time gardener, it’s never a bad idea to hear what the experts have to say. Years ago there was a radio program in New York called “The Garden Hotline,” hosted by horticultural expert the late Ralph Snodsmith. Every Sunday morning on WOR, Snodsmith fielded listeners’ questions, such as: “Can coffee and tea grounds help acidify my soil? Not to any marked degree. Can seedlings thinned from a row of lettuce be used as transplants? If you’re careful with their tiny roots, yes. Is it better to plant my tomato transplants into the garden on a sunny or cloudy day? Cloudy, since reduced light exposure reduces transpiration.”  This week, Science Friday pays homage to Snodsmith’s original radio program and others like it, answering questions about the science of your summer vegetable garden. Ira is joined by Elizabeth Buck, fresh market vegetable production specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Gary Pilarchik, hobbyist gardener and host of the YouTube channel The Rusted Garden, to answer SciFri listener questions in front of a live Zoom audience. Recalling The Life Of Benjamin Franklin, Scientist Benjamin Franklin was a printer, politician, diplomat, and journalist. But despite only two years of schooling, he was also an ingenious scientist. In this conversation from 2010, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dudley Herschbach and Ben Franklin biographer Philip Dray discuss the achievements of the statesman-scientist.  
02/07/2147m 6s

Extreme Heat, COVID Delta Variant, Poe’s Science. July 2, 2021, Part 1

The Alarming Impacts Of Extreme Heat This week, the Pacific Northwest was hit by a record breaking heat wave, with temperatures rising as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Oregon. Experts say of all the extreme weather events brought on by climate change and heat waves stand to do the most damage to the environment, infrastructure, and human health. Umair Irfan, staff writer for Vox, joins Ira to share more about the alarming impacts of such extreme heat. Plus, as record-breaking heat becomes more common, air travel may get more difficult. And physicist Rhett Allain explains why airplanes have trouble getting off the ground as the temperature rises.   How Alarmed Should You Be About The Delta Variant? It’s been six months since the first variant of COVID-19 raised alarm bells around the world. Now, a particular variant seems to be spreading rapidly: the Delta variant, first identified in India, and now the dominant strain in many countries, including the United Kingdom. In the United States, the variant makes up more than 20% of cases. South Africa, Australia, Germany, and other countries are re-imposing limits on travel and daily life. And Israel, where more than 60% of people are vaccinated, has reinstated mask requirements. In fact, the World Health Organization is recommending that all fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks as this variant spreads. What does that mean for you? Virologist Angela Rasmussen helps take the temperature of the Delta variant and other COVID-19 news—including promising results on the Novavax vaccine, clues about long-lasting immunity from Pfizer’s mRNA shot, and more.     How Edgar Allan Poe Exposed Scientific Hoaxes—And Perpetrated Them “Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door! Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” When you think of Edgar Allen Poe, poems like “The Raven” and “The Telltale Heart” may pop to mind. But throughout the poet’s life, he was absolutely fascinated by science. His love of subjects like astronomy and physics—along with the tragedy that followed him throughout his life—informed his poems and essays. Through this work, Poe may have also had an impact on science itself. Poe’s scientific life is investigated in the new book, The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science. In many ways, it explains, Poe’s scientific fascination was a product of its time. He grew up in the early 1800s, which was a time when a widespread thirst for knowledge was beginning to flourish. Poe loved to expose scientific hoaxes, while simultaneously perpetrating them himself. And his self-proclaimed magnum opus, a largely unsuccessful venture, was a nonfiction essay about the nature of the universe, called “Eureka.” Author John Tresch joins Ira to discuss Poe’s life, legacy, and works. Tresch is professor of history of science at the Warburg Institute in the University of London, based in London, England.
02/07/2146m 59s

Cephalopod Week Wrap Up, California Carbon Credits Error. June 25, 2021, Part 1

California’s Climate Program Is Actually Adding Carbon To The Atmosphere California has a reputation as the state that’s doing the most about climate change. And the lynchpin of those efforts is California’s Cap-and-Trade program, where the state’s biggest polluters—like ExxonMobil, BP, and others—are required to offset their carbon dioxide emissions by investing in carbon reduction strategies. But according to a recent investigation by ProPublica and others, this climate solution is actually adding millions of tons of carbon to the atmosphere. They discovered a loophole in the state’s forest offset program, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions by preserving trees. Uncovered by additional reporting, they found that the Massachusetts Audubon Society, a forest conservation organization, enrolled 9,700 acres it owned into California’s program and received the credits, even though it was unlikely that Mass Audubon ever intended to cut down its preserved forests. The intended use of these offsets was to change the behavior of landowners who were likely to cut down trees, releasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The result, in this instance, seemed to go against the spirit of the Cap-And-Trade program, that the state’s biggest polluters’ emissions weren’t truly being offset. Guest host Sophie Bushwick is joined by Lisa Song, a ProPublica reporter who broke this story with MIT Technology Review, with help from Carbon Plan, a nonprofit that analyzes the scientific integrity of carbon removal efforts. Read Lisa’s investigative story here.     A Monterey Bay Aquarium Scientist Gives Fun Facts About Cephalopods It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the holidays—it’s Cephalopod Week, and SciFri uses any excuse to celebrate the mysterious squid, the charismatic octopus and the cute cuttlefish. If anyone matches SciFri’s enthusiasm for marine invertebrates, it’s the folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Guest host Sophie Bushwick talks to Christina Biggs, senior aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. Biggs spills behind-the-scenes details about everything from raising cephalopods from eggs to how their dietary preferences can resemble those of picky toddlers. “She’ll come right over to grab food,” Biggs says of one of the aquarium’s Giant Pacific Octopuses. “And on Sardine Sundays, she just tosses it right over her head and just waits for something better.” Can’t get enough of Cephalopod Week? Listen to the latest episode of SciFri’s Science Diction podcast, or check out some fun cephalopod-themed videos on TikTok.     The Long Tail Of Long COVID As the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread, it now makes up more than 20% of cases in the United States—including in Missouri, where cases are the highest since mid-February. Meanwhile, a new report finds the number of people experiencing long-term COVID symptoms is as high as 23% of those who have ever had the disease, including people who never had symptoms in their initial infection. The report from FAIR Health, which surveyed the insurance records of more than two million people, is the largest yet to investigate long COVID. Guest host Sophie Bushwick talks to the MIT Technology Review’s Amy Nordrum about the long reach of COVID-19. Plus a bet about improbable physics, the arrival of baby bobtail squid at the International Space Station, and what happens when a spider eats a snake.
25/06/2146m 54s

UFO Report, Animal Play, Alzheimers and Music. June 25, 2021, Part 2

Is The Truth About UFOs Out There? Over the past several years, U.S. Navy pilots have reported several instances of ”unexplained aerial phenomena” while in flight. They’ve recorded videos that show shapes that appear to move in unusual ways, zooming and turning in ways  beyond the capabilities of our own aircraft. After several members of Congress requested an explanation for the videos, the government put together a report on the phenomena.   The report, however, doesn’t definitively answer the question of what the observations show. While it does say that the observations aren’t of secret U.S. technology, it has no conclusions on whether the reports show foreign technology, camera artifacts, or something else—like alien technology. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, spends his time searching for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. He says that while he does believe intelligent alien life exists—and may even be discovered within the next 20 years or so—he does not think the sightings included in the government report indicate alien visitors. He shares his reasons for skepticism with host Sophie Bushwick, as well as talks about people’s desire to believe in extraterrestrials.  Rats Learn To Hide And Seek  One of the most wonderful things about the internet is how you could spend years watching videos of animals at play. There’s the classic cat-playing-with-a-box genre. You can also watch a dog playing jenga. And you can type in pretty much any combination of animals, along with the word “playing,” and find adorable videos—like a baby deer, rough-housing with a lemur. Incredible stuff.  Neuroscientist Juan Ignacio Sanguinetti of the Humboldt University of Berlin gets inspiration for his work by watching home videos like that. And in his latest work, in the journal Science, he describes playing hide-and-seek—with rats. Making Music To Sharpen Aging Brains While research continues on drugs that can slow or reverse the- damage of Alzheimer’s disease, there is already evidence for a lower-tech intervention: music. Research on the benefits of listening to music has found some evidence that it can activate regions of the brain not damaged by disease progression, soothe emotional disturbances, and promote some cognitive improvement in later stages of Alzheimer’s. A new analysis in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society earlier this year looked at a different question. Can making music, whether by playing a musical instrument or singing, have an effect on the brains of people in the early stages of cognitive decline? The team focused specifically on people experiencing ‘mild cognitive decline,’ which can be the first step in a progression toward Alzheimer’s disease or more serious dementia. The researchers found evidence from 21 studies, involving more than 1,400 participants around the world, that yes, playing musical instruments, singing, or otherwise participating in making music can have a small but consistent benefit in recall, and other measures of brain health. Lead author Jennie Dorris, a professional percussionist turned PhD student studying rehabilitation sciences, talks to guest host Sophie Bushwick about the evidence for cognitive improvement, and what questions still remain about the effects of active music participation on the brain.
25/06/2147m 1s

Immunocompromised and Covid, Summer SciFi Reading. June 18, 2021, Part 2

COVID-19 Vaccines May Not Protect Immunocompromised People This week, California and New York, two of the states hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, announced that they were relaxing almost all coronavirus-related business restrictions. Across the country, vaccination numbers are slowly ticking up—although a troubling COVID-19 variant known as Delta is picking up as well. As things reopen, experts warn that people with compromised immune systems may not be well protected, even if they do get the vaccine.  There are many reasons someone might have a weakened immune system, including an illness, cancer treatment, or the use of immune-suppressing drugs needed for an organ transplant. But regardless of the reason, immunocompromised people may not be able to mount a strong antibody response to the vaccines.  Dr. John Mellors, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Dr. Lindsay Ryan, an internist at UCSF in San Francisco who is herself immunocompromised, talk with Ira about what we know about the performance of COVID-19 vaccines in immunocompromised people, and what people with weakened immune systems can do to help protect themselves against the illness.   The Best Sci-Fi Books To Read This Summer Whether you’ve had a hard time reading during the pandemic, or you zoomed through your book pile and are craving more, Science Friday’s annual list of the best summer science books is here for you.  As the world begins to open up, many of us are not quite comfortable traveling like we once did. But what a better way to escape without going too far than by immersing ourselves in some science fiction? Hit the beach—and another dimension, travel to space from the safety of your backyard, or take a hike back in time to an alternate era.  And this summer we tapped two sci-fi aficionados to help build our list. Annale Newitz, science journalist and author of Four Lost Cities, and Gretchen Treu, co-owner of A Room of One’s Own Bookstore, in Madison Wisconsin, share their superb summer selections with Ira in front of a live Zoom audience.  Get the list of the books recommended by our guests! 
18/06/2147m 18s

Marijuana And Medicine, Cephalopod Week, Environmental Antidepressants. June 18, 2021, Part 1

How To Talk About Medical Marijuana With Your Doctor Over the last decade, cannabis has had a moment. Thirty-six states and Washington D.C. have legalized it for medical use. (Fifteen states, plus D.C., have also legalized weed recreationally.) Altogether, about 5.5 million people in the U.S. now have medical marijuana cards. One of the primary arguments for expanding marijuana laws is the drug’s potential usefulness for medical treatments. While each state has its own rules for which conditions are eligible, issues like chronic pain are nearly universally accepted as a reason for using medical marijuana. But there’s still a large divide between the traditional medical establishment and the cannabis industry. Cannabis is still illegal federally, and a recent study showed that many clinicians feel they don’t know enough about medical marijuana to make a recommendation to patients. This in turn impacts how patients feel about talking to their doctor about using cannabis to treat medical conditions. Joining Ira to talk about the ins and outs of connecting cannabis to the larger medical establishment are Dr. Ziva Cooper, research director for UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative in San Francisco, California, and Dr. Donald Abrams, integrative oncologist and professor emeritus at University of California San Francisco’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.     What Can Crayfish Tell Us About Drugs In Our Waterways? Wastewater is a grab bag of chemicals. There’s industrial run-off, bits of animal and viral DNA, and then there are compounds that trickle out from our households. The medicines we’re flushing down the toilet or releasing through urine are making their way into countless bodies of water. Antidepressants are one of the drugs that frequently end up in the environment. A team of scientists wanted to study the effects of these antidepressants on streams wending their way through ecosystems. So they looked to none other than the crayfish. They found that crayfish exposed to these drugs were a bit bolder. Their results were published this week in the journal Ecosphere. Freshwater ecologist Lindsey Reisinger and freshwater biogeochemist A.J. Reisinger, who are both authors on that study, talk about how these drugs affect crayfish and potential downstream effects on waterways and the ecosystem.     We Aren’t Squidding Around—It’s Cephalopod Week 2021! The wait is over—Cephalopod Week 2021 is finally here. It’s Science Friday’s annual ceph-lo-bration of all things mostly-tentacled, and this year’s lineup of events is going to be ceph-tacular. Visit behind-the-scenes at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, play deep sea trivia, watch mini documentaries, chat with real scientists working with cephalopods every day, and a whole lot more. Diana Montano, SciFri’s outreach manager and emcee of the deep sea, joins Ira and Science Diction host Johanna Mayer to kick things off, with some trivia about the origins of squiddy words.     Kids Are Benefiting From Adult Vaccinations, Too Something interesting is happening in some communities where most adults are vaccinated against COVID-19: infection rates in kids are going way down, too. Right now, Americans 12 and older are eligible for the vaccine, leaving the country’s youngest still exposed. So this is a promising sign, considering about two-thirds of U.S. adults have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. But some experts are saying we still need to be cautious about throwing kids together again before they’re vaccinated. Joining Ira to chat about this story is Maggie Koerth, senior science writer at FiveThirtyEight in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They also talk about other top science stories of the week, including news that cicada broods might emerge more often with climate change.        
18/06/2147m 14s

Health Equity And Trans Health, Human-Robot Relationship. June 11, 2020, Part 1

Biden’s New Assistant Secretary Of Health On Protecting Trans Youth The American healthcare system is facing some incredible challenges: Black and Latino communities were hit harder by COVID-19, and have lower vaccination rates than white, Asian, and Native American communities. The opioid crisis is still raging, climate change is disproportionately impacting the health of communities of color, and a wave of anti-trans healthcare bills are being pushed by Republican lawmakers through multiple states. Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s appointee for assistant secretary of health for the department of Health and Human Services, is aiming to take on all of that, and more. She previously served as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health and physician general, combating both the opioid and COVID-19 crises there. Now, she wants to scale those efforts to a federal level, in addition to helping meet President Biden’s goal of getting 70% of adults with at least one vaccine dose by July 4. She also made history as the highest-ranking, openly transgender person to have served in the federal government. Levine talks to Ira about the steps needed to achieve health equity, advocating for the healthcare rights of trans youth and adults, and her ambitions for her time in office.   Why Oxen Were The Original Robots In media and pop culture narratives about robotic futures, two main themes dominate: there are depictions of violent robot uprisings, like the Terminator. And then there are those that circle around the less deadly, more commonplace, fear that machines will simply replace humans in every role we excel at. There is already precedent for robots moving into heavy lifting jobs like manufacturing, dangerous ones like exploring outer space, and the most boring of administrative tasks, like computing. But roboticist Kate Darling would like to suggest a new narrative for imagining a better future—instead of fighting or competing, why can’t we be partners? The precedent for that, too, is already here—in our relationships with animals. As Darling writes in The New Breed: What Our History With Animals Reveals About Our Future With Robots, robotic intelligence is so different from ours, and their skills so specialized, that we should envision them as complements to our own abilities. In the same way, she says, a horse helps us travel faster, pigeons once delivered mail, and dogs have become our emotional companions. Darling speaks with Ira about the historical lessons of our relationships with animals, and how they could inform our legal, ethical, and even emotional choices about robots and AI.  
11/06/2147m 45s

Alzheimer’s Treatment Controversy, Science Mistakes, Chonky Fish. June 11, 2020, Part 2

FDA’s Approval Of Debated Alzheimer’s Treatment Raises Controversy This week, the FDA gave the green light to a drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug, a monoclonal antibody called aducanumab, is the first Alzheimer’s treatment to receive approval in almost 20 years. It targets the amyloid protein that forms the tangled plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. But while researchers agree that aducanumab leads to less amyloid plaque, no one really knows what that means in terms of real benefits for people with the disease. Researchers still don’t understand the role of amyloid in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease—and in two studies conducted by the company Biogen, only one showed taking aducanumab provided a slight cognitive benefit to people with early Alzheimer’s. The other study showed no effect compared to a placebo. However, the FDA elected to ignore the recommendations of an outside advisory panel, and approved the medication under an accelerated approval process. The drugmaker will be required to conduct additional testing on the treatment while it is on the market, and the FDA has the option to rescind approval if a Phase 4 trial fails to show efficacy. Biogen will sell the treatment under the trade name Aduhelm, at a list price of around $56,000 per year—not including the extensive office visits, tests, brain scans, and monitoring that will go along with the course of treatment. Pam Belluck, a writer covering science and medicine for the New York Times, joins host John Dankosky to explain the decision, and how the drug might fit into the larger picture of Alzheimer’s research. When Scientists Get It Wrong A couple of years ago, Julia Strand was trying and failing to replicate a study she’d published. At the time, she was an assistant professor without tenure, and the original study had presented her most exciting finding to date. But when she and her co-authors tried to replicate it, they got the opposite results. Then one night, Julia discovered why. In her original code, she’d made a tiny but critical error, and now, with her reputation and job on the line, she was going to have to tell the world about it. Science is often said to be “self-correcting”—through peer review, replication, and community dialogue, scientists collectively find mistakes in their work, and continually revise their understanding of the world. But what does self-correction look like in practice? And how likely are scientists to admit they’re wrong? Julia eventually submitted her story to the Loss of Confidence Project, which invited psychologists to publicly admit mistakes in their published research. Our guest, Julia Roher, a lecturer in psychology, organized the project, along with two others. In an anonymous survey of 316 researchers, almost half said they had lost confidence in one of their findings, but ultimately, only 13 researchers submitted public testimonials to the project. Brian Resnick, who co-created Vox’s Unexplainable podcast and has written about intellectual humility, explains why we often think we’re right when we’re wrong, how others perceive us when we fess up to mistakes, and what all this means for our trust in science.     Charismatic Creature Corner: Chonky Fish Edition In South Africa in 1938, a young museum curator named Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer was performing one of her regular duties when she saw something incredible. Courtenay-Latimer was tasked with inspecting fish brought in by local fishermen that were considered out of place in the region. That’s how she found what she later called the most beautiful fish she had ever seen: a coelacanth, thought to be long extinct. Courtenay-Latimer’s discovery did not immediately register as a coelacanth, because the creature was thought to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, 66 millions years ago. The fish was seen as a modern Lazarus—a mysterious creature brought back from the dead, stumping scientists. At six feet long and 200 pounds, some consider the coelacanth to be a big, beautiful fish. According to Dr. Prosanta Chakrabarty, professor and curator of fishes at Louisiana State University, the coelacanth is the meathead of the sea. “They are chunky,” Chakrabarty said. “You can hold their fin and it feels like you’re shaking somebody’s hand.” Because they’re so old, coelacanths are closer to the human genealogical lineage than they are to any modern fish. But because this is the Charismatic Creature Corner, only one thing really matters: Is it charismatic enough to enter the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame? Joining guest-host John Dankosky to argue for the coelacanth entering the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame is SciFri producer Kathleen Davis and Dr. Chakrabarty.
11/06/211h 0m

Genetics of Depression, Engineering Humans for Space, Tech Ethics. June 4, 2021, Part 2

Research Reveals 178 Genes Are Associated With Depression If you have a family member that suffers from depression, chances are you may have more than one. Doctors often say “depression runs in families,” but scientists really had no good idea how—until a major analysis of the genomes of 200,000 military veterans uncovered the 178 genes that influence your risk of major depression.  Science Friday producer Katie Feather talked to Dr. Daniel Levey, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. He explains why there are so many associated genes, and more about the massive database that helped scientists find them. Can Genetic Engineering Help Humans Live In Space? The next ambitious goal for space flight is to send a human to Mars. After decades of sending space probes and rovers, there are now actual plans for human voyages. Elon Musk says the deadline for Space X’s Mars Mission may be as early as 2024.    This raises big questions, both about how to survive the trip, and then inhabit a world hostile to humans. In his new book, The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds, geneticist Christopher Mason says the biggest technical challenges could be met by genetically engineering humans to survive long-term space living.  He is joined by astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent one year in space, to talk about how we might genetically engineer ourselves, and the effects that space flight has on the body.  How Might Technology Shift Our Morality? What is right, and what is wrong? Today’s debates range from the ethics of eating meat, to abortion rights. Conversely, some questions are much less contentious than they once were: we no longer debate whether abducting and enslaving human beings is wrong—it is. And we no longer question technologies like in vitro fertilization.  Author Juan Enriquez says we can thank technological changes for modern shifts in ethical rights and wrongs, from energy technologies that reduce the value of manual labor to social media that boosts the visibility of LGBTQ people. Enriquez writes that technology changes over history have—and will continue to—change the nature of what we consider right and wrong. As he writes in Right/Wrong: How Technology Transforms Ethics, published in 2020, scientific advances in genetic engineering and neuroscience are bound to shift our ethical conversations even further. Think about CRISPR-edited genomes, or the potential privacy violations posed by being able to interpret brain activity. Climate change, and how to combat it, also raises important ethical questions. Enriquez talks to Ira about his work, and what he predicts our future ethical quandaries might look like. 
04/06/2147m 1s

Fauci On 40 Years Of HIV/AIDS, Watermelon Origins, Venus Missions. June 4, 2021, Part 1

Anthony Fauci Reflects On 40 Years Of HIV/AIDS Research Every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases its regular report of the latest developments on emerging diseases—a living record documenting decades of medical history, known as the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). In May 1981, former MMWR editor Michael B. Gregg got a call about an unusual deadly pneumonia, seen in young gay men in Los Angeles. The tip was from epidemiologist Wayne Shandera, Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Health. He described the cases of five men, ages 29 to 36, who had developed Pneumocystis carinii, a kind of pneumonia typically seen in cancer and immunosuppressed patients. These men were previously healthy, yet they struggled to fight off the illness with treatment. Two of the patients died. All five were gay. Gregg didn’t know what to make of the cases, but he and CDC experts were compelled to publish the observations in the June 5, 1981 issue of MMWR. Soon after, clinicians around the country began to flag similar cases. The number of infected people rose, as did awareness of the strange collection of symptoms. That summer, the media ran stories about the mysterious disease; the New York Times ran the headline, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” At that time, Ira was a science correspondent for NPR, and was in the thick of covering the nuances of the illness. Today marks 40 years since the first official report on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, and the beginning of a long-puzzling medical mystery. “I was totally baffled, and did not know what was going on. I thought it was a fluke,” recalls Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an interview this week with Science Friday. Read more at sciencefriday.com.     Where Did Watermelon Come From? You may think of watermelon as a red, sweet taste of summer. The watermelon itself is ancient—paintings have been found in Egyptian tombs depicting a large green-striped object resembling a watermelon next to grapes and other sweet, refreshing foods. But if you look at many of the melon’s biological cousins, its red, sweet pulp is nowhere to be found—most close relatives of the watermelon have white, often bitter flesh. So how did the modern watermelon become a favorite summer snack? Back in the 1960s, Russian researchers suggested that one sweeter melon species found in south Sudan might have been a close relative of the modern watermelon. Now, a detailed genetic analysis of a handful of wild melon species, and 400 modern varieties of watermelon from around the world, has concluded that the Kordofan melon from Sudan is, in fact, the closest living relative of the watermelon. Susanne Renner, an emeritus professor at the University of Munich and an honorary professor of biology at Washington University in St Louis, explains the work on the origins of the modern melon—and how knowing the history of the watermelon could lead to new varieties. NASA Plans Two New Trips To Venus This week, President Biden announced the U.S. will donate 75% of its unused COVID-19 vaccine doses to foreign countries via the COVAX global vaccine program. The U.S. has promised to promptly send it’s surplus to South and Central America, Asia, and Africa, where countries are experiencing major shortages. Plus on Wednesday, NASA announced plans to launch not one, but two new missions to explore Venus by the end of 2030. It’s the first time the agency has devoted any mission to Venus in 30 years. MIT Technology Review editor Amy Nordrum joins Ira to discuss the biggest science stories of the week.  
04/06/2147m 14s

Sand Sustainability, Jane Goodall, Morphing Pasta, Cicada Snacks. May 28, 2021, Part 2

Shifting The Sand Business To Greener Practices Sand is one of the most in-demand natural materials on the planet—some 50 billion tons of sand and gravel are mined every year. It’s because the humble sand is a key ingredient in many materials, from concrete and asphalt to microchips and glass. But sand is also heavy, needed in large quantities, and costly to ship—meaning that in some regions, local demand for sand outstrips supply. A ‘sand mafia’ exists in parts of the globe, and in others, international conflicts have arisen over accusations of illicit cross-border beach theft.Dr. Aurora Torres, a postdoctoral researcher in Michigan State University’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and at the Catholic University of Louvain, joins host John Dankosky to talk about ways to make the business of sand extraction more ecologically-friendly—from manufacturing sand via high-tech rock crushing machines to reducing demand by recycling construction materials.  A Trip Back In Time With Jane Goodall On September 27, 2002, Ira sat down for his first interview with the pioneering conservationist and primatologist Jane Goodall, to hear about her life, work, and vision for our relationship with our environment. Goodall is the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize for her work with animals and her contributions to humanity. When this interview originally aired, Goodall was already 40 years distant from her initial breakthrough discovery of tool use in chimpanzees, was the subject of a newly released IMAX movie, and had just been named a UN Ambassador for Peace. Learn more about her in the latest Science Friday Rewind, a series exploring historic interviews and scientific discoveries captured in our audio archives. A Bowl Full Of Pasta Engineering When you walk down the pasta aisle at the supermarket, there are so many tasty choices: There’s the humble spaghetti, the tubes of ziti, the tiny shells, and the butterfly-like farfalle. But every pound of pasta is not created equal—some of the boxes pack mostly air.In recent work published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Lining Yao of Carnegie Mellon’s Morphing Matter Lab and her colleagues discuss an innovative way to solve the problem of puffed-up pasta boxes: What if different pasta shapes could be flat-packed into containers like DIY IKEA furniture?   The researchers developed a way to map out tiny grooves and ridges on the surface of a flat noodle sheet. When the pasta is cooked in hot water, it swells at different rates around the ridges and grooves, causing it to fold on its own into shapes such as boxes, rose-like flowers, and helix curls. Yao joins SciFri’s Charles Bergquist to talk about the research, and the challenges of making your dinnertime pasta plate into an origami craft project.  How To Take A Bite Of The Brood X Cicada Swarm After 17 years underground, billions, maybe even trillions, of cicadas are finally emerging in a group that scientists are calling Brood X. The cicadas will mate and die all within about six weeks—filling the air with a collective hum, and leaving behind their exoskeletons.  For some this might sound like a horror movie, but for Bun Lai, chef at Miya’s Sushi in Connecticut, he sees this as an opportunity for a sustainable snack. He talks about how to hunt and cook a cicada, and how they fit in as a sustainable food source.        
28/05/2147m 15s

Vaccine Hesitancy, Colorado River Drought, Alternative Syrups. May 28, 2021, Part 1

How Do We Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy? This Memorial Day weekend, many people will be traveling to the beach, hitting the road or socializing with friends—maskless—for the first time in over a year. As of this week, 50% of people over 18 are now fully vaccinated. Another 15 to 20% of people are taking a “wait and see” approach. Of those still on the fence, some are concerned about the vaccine’s side effects; others have a long standing mistrust of the institutions responsible for the vaccine rollout. In order to fully end the pandemic, public health officials will have to find a way to get the vaccine-hesitant on board. Dr. Gary Bennett, professor of psychology and global health at Duke University sheds light on the hurdles that must be overcome. And a new segment of the population can now receive the Pfizer vaccine: children 12 years and older, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave approval in mid-May. But many American parents don’t want their children vaccinated at all—including for measles or the flu. One recent report from this past April showed that over 30% of parents would wait to get their child vaccinated—nearly double the percentage of adults who were hesitant. Matthew Simonson, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University and lead author on the report, joins us to break down the numbers.     What Happens When The Colorado River Runs Dry? Dry conditions are the worst they’ve been in almost 20 years across the Colorado River watershed, which acts as the drinking and irrigation water supply for 40 million people in the American Southwest. As the latest round of federal forecasts for the river’s flow shows, it’s plausible, maybe even likely, that the situation could get much worse this year. Understanding and explaining the depth of the dryness is up to climate scientists throughout the basin.  Read the full article at sciencefriday.com.     Making Syrup From More Than Maple Trees Researchers at the University of New Hampshire are studying new ways to make syrup out of the northern forest—not from maple trees, but from beeches, birches, sycamores and more. They want to create new markets for an industry that, right now, depends on just one kind of tree—making it vulnerable to disease and climate change. At the tail end of maple sugaring season, other kinds of sap were still flowing freely in the woods of Lee. UNH researcher David Moore had sensors plugged into a stand of beech trees to measure that sap and the conditions helping produce it. “You can see I have three trees with sensors here that are all tied back to one data logger,” Moore said, pointing to the tubes and wires running from the beech trunks. Nearby, a bucket collected the resulting sap, while other equipment gathered weather data. Researchers say monocultures, like the all-maple syrup industry, are more at risk from climate change, pests and other unpredictable threats. So Moore sees untapped potential in other common species, like the American beech. It’s found throughout New Hampshire’s forests, farms and sugar bushes—almost like a tree weed. “If you can think of some economical use—if you can make syrup from them, that would be a nice way to actually generate a little profit from them,” Moore said. Read the full article at sciencefriday.com.     Big Oil Reckons With Climate Change Depending on your perspective, Wednesday was a bad day to be an oil company, or a good day to be a climate activist. Three major oil companies had climate change pushed higher on their agendas: Shell was ordered by a Dutch court to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030; Chevron was told by its shareholders to reduce not just its emissions from oil production, but also those of its customers; and at Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting, a small advocacy firm managed to score two, and possibly three, spots on its board of directors. So where did these climate coups come from, and what could come next? Vox staff writer Umair Irfan talks to John Dankosky about this week’s wins for the planet, as well as the limits of such reforms. Plus other stories from the week, including Moderna’s promising COVID-19 vaccine results in adolescents aged 12-17, and President Biden’s call for more investigation into COVID-19’s origins.  
28/05/2147m 16s

Cybersecurity, Baseball Physics, Opioid Trial. May 21, 2021, Part 2

Americans’ Online Security Needs An Update Last week, all eyes were on the shutdown of a gas pipeline that delivered fuel to large portions of the Southeastern US. The shutdown was not due to a leak or planned pipeline maintenance, but to a ransomware attack that took billing computers at the pipeline operator offline. The attack had encrypted data on those computers, rendering the data unusable to the pipeline operator until they paid a ransom.In recent years, similar ransomware attacks have affected other significant industries, from computers in a hospital cancer clinic to the Irish health system. Cybersecurity specialist Katie Moussouris, founder and CEO of Luta Security, joins Ira to talk about what’s behind the rise of ransomware attacks, and what businesses need to do to lessen their risks. Among the causes, she says, are increasing availability of anonymous money transfers via cryptocurrency, nation-states that sometimes turn a blind eye to hacking activities, and businesses who grow quickly without expanding their security to match. In West Virginia, Opioid Distributors Are Finally On Trial A trial is underway in West Virginia against the nation’s three largest opioid distributors: Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson. The companies are accused of funneling massive amounts of painkillers to West Virginia communities, fueling the opioid crisis that has devastated parts of the region. By some measures, Cabell County has the worst drug overdose rate in the country, and its rate of overdose deaths is six times the national average. While the companies say the doctors who prescribed the pills are to blame, this trial is a community’s attempt to hold the massive companies accountable. The city of Huntington, West Virginia and the Cabell County Commission brought the case against the companies.  Joining Ira to talk about this trial and what led up to it is Eric Eyre, investigative reporter at Mountain State Spotlight in Charleston, West Virginia. Eric won a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, and is the author of the book Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic. Video Game Skills May Make Better Surgeons The classic board game Operation—in which players try to use conductive tweezers to remove a patient’s funny bone and other ailing imaginary organs—may not be the best tool for training real life surgeons for the operating room. But according to a recent paper published in the journal Surgery, playing video games may have a benefit for training surgeons in specific medical fields.  Arnav Gupta, a third-year medical student at the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study, told Ira that the largest benefits of gaming seemed to come in two specific areas. Gains seen in robotic surgery skills might be due to the similarity of the robotic controls to a game controller joystick. Improvements in laparoscopic surgery, where surgeons operate using instruments inserted through tubes in a thin slit in a patient, may increase doctors’ ability to translate images on a screen to three-dimensional movements. (The researchers didn’t see major improvements in other types of surgery.) Gupta discusses the research with Ira, as well as possible next steps for ways gaming could improve medical training. What A Rare Baseball Collision Tells Us About The Physics Of The Game Recently during a pre-game warmup, Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper was doing some batting practice when he hit a line drive to right field, and it collided with another ball in midair. It was an extremely rare event we’ll probably never see again. But if someone were to try and duplicate the collision, would physics work in their favor?  Ira is joined by Rhatt Allain, assistant professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University and writer for Wired’s Dot Physics blog, for a quick back of the envelope discussion. Plus, baseball players and fans are learning more about the physics of the game—exit velocity and launch angle are now statistics that people can calculate and tally. Dr. Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at University of Illinois and professional baseball consultant, talks about how physics is changing how America’s pastime is played.  The Resonating Room Tones Of Composer Alvin Lucier Alvin Lucier is one of the giant figures in experimental, electronic and electro-acoustic music, known for “making the inaudible…audible.”  Last week, he turned 90, and the celebration included a 27 hour marathon of his most famous piece, “I Am Sitting In A Room.” The piece, first recorded in 1969, is very simple in concept but deceptively complex. It consists of a short passage of text, read aloud in a room. That sound is recorded and then played back into that same room, picked up by the same microphone, over and over, until the room resonance renders the speech otherworldly and unintelligible. "I Am Sitting In A Room" has been performed around the world, and has even prompted a series of adaptations by YouTubers, including one who uploaded his video 1,000 times, resulting in bizarre video degradation over time. Lucier’s work has been academically studied for years, and presented and championed at MIT’s Media Lab in seminars devoted to the “quality of sound as experience.”  Listen to his work and a SciFri Soundscape of the music.  
21/05/2147m 24s

Global Vaccination, Malaria Vaccine, Zombie Wildfires. May 21, 2021, Part 1

How Do You Solve a Problem Like World Vaccination? Here in the U.S., it feels as if we’ve turned a corner in the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the population can be vaccinated, and restrictions for masks and distancing are loosening. But we won’t be able to get a handle on the pandemic until the rest of the world has access to a vaccine. If you thought distributing shots to rural areas here in the U.S. was hard, imagine distributing them to every corner of the globe. President Joe Biden this week pledged to send an additional 20 million vaccine doses abroad, bringing the total promised to 80 million. But the U.S. is hardly the only country that plans to share doses. So where does the world vaccination effort stand? One international effort, led by organizations including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, is called COVAX, or COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access. Joining Ira to discuss this effort is implementation team member Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the Director-General at the World Health Organization. Ira also speaks to medical supply chain expert Prashant Yadav, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and professor at the INSEAD Business School, based in Washington, D.C. Can A New Vaccine Put An End To Malaria? The World Health Organization estimates that every two minutes, a child somewhere in the world dies of malaria. As of 2018, the parasite-induced disease kills a total of more than 400,000 people every year—most of them children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. While the quest for a malaria vaccine is more than 50 years old, there is still no licensed, fully approved option. The closest to approval, called RTS,S, is being piloted in several countries, with efficacy estimates hovering around 56 percent. But after a new vaccine, called R21, demonstrated more than 75% efficacy in a small trial in Burkina Faso, is there hope for a more efficient push to reduce the global burden of malaria? Ira talks to malaria vaccine researcher Prakash Srinivasan and Biden administration malaria coordinator Raj Panjabi about the implications of a vaccine milestone—and the work remaining ahead. Plus, how the COVID-19 pandemic might inform future progress in global health. Zombie Wildfires Can Rage On For Months Wildfires are becoming more intense. California saw a record breaking wildfire season—burning 4 million acres across the state last year. Scientists say there is an increase in another type of wildfires called “zombie wildfires.” Forest fires that ignite in the summer and pop back up during the spring. Roxanne Khamsi talks about a new study that tracks the occurrence and causes of these wildfires. Plus, a look at a “black fungus” infection COVID-19 patients in India.  
21/05/2146m 43s

NFTs and Art, Neuralink, Preserving Endangered Foods. May 14, 2021, Part 2

What’s Behind The Blockchain-Based Art Boom? From multi-million dollar art sales to short NBA video clips, non-fungible tokens have taken off as a way to license media in the digital realm. The blockchain-based tokens, which function as a certificate of ownership for purchasers, produce a dramatic amount of carbon emissions and aren’t actually new—but in the first quarter of 2021, buyers spent $2 billion dollars purchasing NFTs on online marketplaces. Writers, musicians, and artists are all now experimenting with them, and big brands are also jumping on the bandwagon. Ira talks to Decrypt Media editor-in-chief Dan Roberts, and LA-based artist Vakseen about the appeal, and how NFTs are bringing new audiences both to the blockchain economy, and artists themselves. How Novel Is Neuralink? Last month, the company Neuralink, co-founded by Elon Musk, released a video update of their technology. The company makes brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs—implants in the brain that detect signals and send them to a computer. In the video, a macaque named Pager sits in front of a screen, while a narrator explains Pager had two Neuralinks implanted in both sides of his brain six weeks before. Pager is playing Pong. Not with a joystick or controller, but with his brain, according to the narrator. As with any Elon Musk venture, this Neuralink video got a lot of buzz. But brain-computer interfaces themselves are not a new concept. Where does this fit into the realm of neurotechnology research? Joining Ira to talk about this Neuralink update is Dr. Paul Nuyujukian, director of Stanford University’s Brain Interfacing Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. Ira also turns to Nathan Copeland, a neurotechnology consultant and brain-computer interface participant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Six years ago, Copeland had four BCI devices implanted, and is one of just a handful of people to have BCI implants in his brain. Decolonizing And Diversifying The Future Of Food The Science Friday Book Club has been talking about food all spring while reading Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food. We discussed the impacts of meat consumption, the extinction of beloved birds and plants, and the declining variety of fruit and vegetable varieties available in stores—and even about the flow of pollinator-produced crops in global food systems.  Producer Christie Taylor shares highlights from our off-radio Zoom event series, which asked, “What is the future of food, and who can help influence it for the better?” At this April 20th panel, Lost Feast author and food geographer Lenore Newman joined farmer and former chef Mimi Edelman to talk about the future of food and flavor—from preserving heirloom seeds to the stories behind beloved flavors, and how policy changes and individual actions might contribute to a sustainable future. At this May 4th panel, food researchers Katie Kamelamela, Noa Kekuewa Lincoln, and Melissa K. Nelson talked about their work researching and restoring Indigenous foods to Hawaii and the mainland United States. They explained how these foods were disrupted by colonization, and how food relationships fit into a future vision of sustainable food worldwide.
14/05/2147m 29s

New Mask Rules, Pain Algorithm, Assorted Nuts, Muldrow Glacier. May 14, 2021, Part 1

Fully Vaccinated Can Unmask Often, CDC Says As the number of vaccinated Americans continues to rise and evidence mounts that the vaccines may reduce viral transmission in addition to lessening disease severity, the CDC announced Thursday that fully-vaccinated people may be able to go mask-free except in specific crowded indoor situations. The announcement caused celebration in some circles and anxiety in others, with people wondering how the new guidelines fit into their personal risk assessments. Sarah Zhang, staff writer at The Atlantic, joins Ira to talk about the latest news in the pandemic and beyond, including a WHO committee report discussing the early days of the outbreak, the latest on the Colonial gas pipeline shutdown, research into cats’ love of sitting in boxes, and more.   Can An Algorithm Explain Your Knee Pain? In an ideal world, every visit to the doctor would go something like this: You’d explain what brought you in that day, like some unexplained knee pain. Your physician would listen carefully, run some tests, and voila—the cause of the issue would be revealed, and appropriate treatment prescribed. Unfortunately, that’s not always the result. Maybe a doctor doesn’t listen closely to your concerns, or you don’t quite know how to describe your pain. Or, despite feeling certain that something is wrong with your knee, tests turn up nothing. A new algorithm shows promise in reducing these types of frustrating interactions. In a new paper published in Nature, researchers trained an algorithm to identify factors often missed by x-ray technicians and doctors. They suggest it could lead to more satisfying diagnoses for patients of color. Dr. Ziad Obermeyer, associate professor of Health Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkley joins Ira to describe how the algorithm works, and to explain the research being done at the intersection of machine learning and healthcare.   Ever Wonder Why Big Cereal Chunks Are Always On Top? You may not have heard of it, but you’ve probably seen the “brazil nut effect” in action—it’s the name for the phenomenon that brings larger nuts or cereal chunks to the top of a container, leaving tinier portions at the bottom of the mix. But the process by which granular materials mix is weirdly hard to study, because it’s difficult to see what’s going on away from the visible surfaces of a container. In recent work published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers turn the power of three-dimensional time-lapse x-ray computer tomography onto the problem. By using a series of CT scans on a mixed box of nuts as it sorted itself by size, the researchers were able to capture a movie of the process—finally showing how the large Brazil nuts turn as they are forced up to the top of the mix by smaller peanuts percolating downwards. Parmesh Gajjar, a research associate in the Henry Moseley X-ray Imaging Facility at the University of Manchester, talks with SciFri’s Charles Bergquist about the imaging study, and the importance of size segregation in mixing of materials—with applications from the formation of avalanches to designing drug delivery systems.   This Alaskan Glacier Is Moving 100 Times Faster Than Usual One of the glaciers on Alaska’s Denali mountain has started to “surge.” The Muldrow Glacier is moving 10-100 times faster than usual, which is about three feet per hour. About 1% of glaciers “surge,” which are short periods where glaciers advance quickly. Geologist Chad Hults has been on the glacier to study it during this surge period. He talks about how the glacier’s geometry and hydrology contribute to this surge period.          
14/05/2146m 42s

Beetles, Wildfires, Woodchip Bioreactor. May 7, 2021, Part 2

A Beetle’s Chemical (And Plastic) Romance For many species of beetle, the key to finding a mate is scent: Both females and males give off pheromones that signal their species, their sex, and even their maturity level. How do researchers know? In experiments with dead beetles that have been sprayed with female pheromones, live males reliably attempt to mate with the dead insects. But when one team of researchers based at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and Syracuse University in New York tried to investigate whether this was true for the flea beetle Altica flagariae, they got a strange result. Males seemed confused when presented with scented dead beetles, leaving the team wondering if the dead beetles were still exuding their original chemicals. What is a research team to do? They attempted the same experiment, but with 3D-printed replicas. This time, the male beetles seemed clearly attracted to the female scent, the researchers wrote in the journal Chemoecology last month. Producer Christie Taylor talks to Syracuse University biologist Kari Segraves about the intricacies of studying beetle intimacy, and the implications for evolutionary biology. Nature’s Early Warning Signs For A Bad Wildfire Season Last year, California saw a record breaking wildfire season. Nearly 10,000 fires burned over four million acres in the state.  Now, wildfire researcher Craig Clements is investigating natural indicators, like the chamise plant, for clues to predict what this wildfire season might look like. Normally, the wildfire season peaks during the late summer. This year, he’s observed a lower moisture content in these plants, possibly indicating the fire season may begin earlier.  Clements joins SciFri to explain how landscape, temperatures, drought, and atmospheric conditions all play a role in wildfire risk.  Arctic Wildfires Are Burning An Important Carbon Sink California wildfires have made national headlines for the last several years, but important—and large—wildfires have also been burning in the forests above the U.S. Canadian border and near the Arctic circle.  A group of researchers wanted to know how these fires affected the northern forests and how this impacted their ability to store carbon. Their results were recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Jonathan Wang, an author on that study, discusses what this might mean for future climate change predictions.  Can Woodchips Help The Gulf Of Mexico’s Dead Zone? In the Gulf of Mexico is an ecological dead zone, caused by algal blooms at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Warmer ocean temperatures provide the perfect conditions for algae to grow out of control, suffocating seagrass beds and killing fish, dolphins, and manatees. Fueling this toxic algae’s growth is nitrogen. The Mississippi river empties into the gulf, and drainage water from farms along it carries fertilizer ingredients—straight into the marine ecosystem.  While farmers have tried using practices to reduce fertilizer runoff, like cover crops, no-till farming and conservation buffers, for decades, the problem has only gotten worse. According to a new paper published in the journal Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, a creative new approach involves denitrifying bioreactors—a system that allows bacteria to help convert nitrate in the water to harmless dinitrogen gas. “It’s a complicated name, but it’s really a very simple idea,” says Laura Christianson, assistant professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and lead author on the study. She talks with SciFri producer Katie Feather about how a simple system involving woodchips in a trench can help keep nitrogen out of drainage water from farms across the midwest. Katie also speaks to Shirley Johnson, a farm-owner from Peoria, Illinois, about why she adopted the bioreactor technology, and what farmers can do to help their downstream neighbors. 
07/05/2147m 24s

Herd Immunity, Crossword Program. May 7, 2021, Part 1

Weighing COVID-19 Vaccinations For Teens Federal officials are reporting that the Food and Drug Administration is poised to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 by early next week—just as Canada became the first country to do so on Wednesday of this week. Pfizer has said they will seek out emergency authorization for even younger kids by the fall. But as most countries still lag far behind the United States in vaccine access for adults, public health officials are questioning the ethics of prioritizing American teens over adults from other countries. Science writer Maggie Koerth joins Ira with more on the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines for children, new projections of rapid sea level rise under climate change, and other stories from the week. Is COVID-19 Herd Immunity Even Possible Anymore? Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve equated getting out of this mess with the concept of herd immunity—when a certain percentage of the population is immune to a disease, mostly through vaccination. With COVID-19, experts have said we need somewhere around 70 to 90% of the population to be immunized to meet this goal. Now that all adults in the U.S. are eligible for the vaccine, how far are we from that goal? And what is our trajectory? Some experts now say with variants and vaccine hesitancy, herd immunity may not be possible here in the U.S. Joining Ira to break down this and other coronavirus quandaries is Angela Rasmussen, research scientist at VIDO-InterVac, the University of Saskatchewan’s vaccine research institute in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This Computer Won The 2021 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament In 2012, a computer program named Dr. Fill placed 141st out of some 660 entries in that year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, a competition for elite crossword puzzle solvers. This year, the algorithm beat the human competition, completing the final playoff puzzle in just 49 seconds.  The A.I. relies on a collection of different techniques to make sense of a puzzle. Sometimes, a simple fact is needed—who was the First Lady before Eleanor Roosevelt? (Lou Henry Hoover.) More often, however, crossword puzzle solutions rely not just on factual knowledge, but an ability to recognize themes that puzzle constructors have embedded in the crosswords, along with an understanding of puns, homonyms, and word play. (Think: Five letters, “dining table leaves”—SALAD!) The program makes a series of statistical calculations about likely answers, then tries to fit those possibilities into the puzzle squares.  This year, researchers from the Berkeley Natural Language Processing group added their expertise to Dr. Fill’s algorithms—a contribution that may have helped push Dr. Fill to its crowning victory.  But the program isn’t infallible. This year, it made three mistakes solving puzzles during the tournament, while some human solvers completed the puzzles perfectly. It can make these errors with any unique puzzle form it’s never seen before.  Matt Ginsberg, the computer programmer behind Dr. Fill, joins Ira to talk about the competition and the advances his program has made over the years. 
07/05/2147m 16s

Viking Metal, Possible Futures, Global Pollination. April 30, 2021, Part 2

Uncovering Metal Crafts Of The Viking Age Vikings are often associated with scenes of boats and fiercely-pitched battles. But new research, published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, shows they also had other, calmer skills. The paper details advances in the cast metalwork of objects, such as keys and ornamental brooches, that occurred in the trading city of Ribe, Denmark in the 8th and 9th century.  Researchers analyzed samples of metal taken from a variety of metal objects found in Ribe, along with metalworking tools, crucibles, molds, and samples of metal slag. They found that while the Vikings began working in brass with a very experimental approach, they quickly standardized their production to use specific blends and alloys of metals. They also adopted more heat-resistant clays for crucibles, and made extensive use of recycling throughout their work processes.  Vana Orfanou, an European Research Commission (ERC) postdoctoral research scientist In the School of Archaeology at University College, Dublin, and lead author on the paper, joins SciFri’s Charles Bergquist to discuss the state of the art in early Scandinavian brass making.    An Illustrated Exploration Of Hypothetical Futures Futurist and Flash Forward host Rose Eveleth spends her time asking a lot of ‘what if’ questions, and then exploring the answers with experts. For example, what if human light sources forever drowned out our dark night sky? What if we relocated endangered species to save them from climate change? What if, as she asked in 2018, we saw a deadly pandemic consume the globe? With a new book that illustrates even more hypothetical futures, she poses even more far-reaching questions: What if we could change our gender like our hair color? What if we could live on as robots after our death? What if we had to pirate the basic pharmaceuticals, like insulin, that keep so many alive?  Eveleth sits down with SciFri’s John Dankosky to explore the nuances of imagining possible futures, whose choices influence what may actually happen, and why this work matters, even when she gets it wrong. Plus, what was predictable—and what was not—about the COVID-19 pandemic.    The Global Pollinating Forces Behind Your Food Importing food from one country to another also means importing the resources that went into growing that food: Nutrients. Water. Sunlight. Human labor. And the labor of the bees, butterflies, or other insects and animals that provide pollination in that country’s ecosystems. Take Brazil, for example—Europe and the United States consume a large proportion of the country’s pollinator-dependent crops, from soybeans to mangoes, avocados, and other fruits. Writing in the scientific journal Science Advances in March, an interdisciplinary team of Brazilian researchers describe a way to quantify and visualize this flow of pollinator effort, from one country to another. They created an interactive web tool that lets anyone see this pollinator flow, for a specific country or a group of countries.  Importantly, the researchers say, the model makes it clear that this flow occurs mostly from poor countries to rich ones—with economic and ecological consequences for the poorer countries. Farmers, for example, may clear more land to grow crops for export, removing valuable pollinator habitat in the process. Those same farmers might then see their yields drop as pollinators die off, thanks to loss of habitat. Producer Christie Taylor talks to two members of the research team, economist Felipe Deodato da Silva e Silva, and ecologist Luisa Carvalheiro, about the importance of considering pollinators in global food trade, and how better informed policy and consumer choices might help preserve threatened biodiversity.  This segment is part of our spring SciFri Book Club. For another culinary exploration, join us in reading Lenore Newman’s Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food.
30/04/2146m 49s

The Past And Future Of Plastics Tech. April 30, 2021, Part 1

The Future Of Plastics Plastics do a lot of good. They’re sturdy, they’re clean, and the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted their benefits, with personal protective equipment like disposable gloves and masks. But its durability is also its biggest problem. We’ve all seen photos of piles of plastic trash washed up on beaches, and animals surrounded by plastic bags and straws. Those materials will take decades, if not centuries, to break down. Even as it breaks apart, it can become millions of microplastic particles that cause their own problems. So how do we tackle one of the biggest environmental crises of our time? Scientists are working on both ends of the plastic life cycle to come up with solutions. Breaking down the plastic that’s already out there, and coming up with alternative materials that could be better for the planet. Guest host John Dankosky interviews two scientists doing great work on this topic: Dr. Francesca Kerton, professor of chemistry at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, Canada, works on alternative polymers that could replace some plastics. Her latest research is focused on a polymer made from fishery waste. She’s joined by  Dr. Gregg Beckham, senior research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, who works on enzymes that can break down plastics to its smaller building blocks for easier recycling. Ask An Expert: What The Heck Are Microplastics? Despite their small-sounding name, microplastics are a big deal. That’s because these tiny pieces of plastic debris can wind up just about anywhere. In fact, we know microplastics are in our oceans and our soil, and they can also get into what we eat and what we drink. Since this is a relatively new problem, we don’t have a lot of long-term research on their effects. But investigations studying microplastics have already influenced legislation, and prompted innovations for combating plastic pollution. Dr. Imogen Napper, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, studied microbeads in facial scrubs. Her work led to a microbead ban in the United States and other countries. She says we need to rethink how we use plastic in our everyday lives for the health of the planet. “It’s a fantastic material that’s so durable,” Napper tells Science Friday. “But we don’t need to make so many single-use applications that could last a lifetime,” especially when these products are only used briefly. Napper and host John Dankosky talk about all the strange places microplastics have been found, and what role individual consumers play in combating an issue that can seem insurmountable. This conversation was held in front of a live Zoom audience.
30/04/2147m 23s

Gender-Affirming Health Care, Defining ‘Life’. April 23, 2021, Part 2

Proposed Legislation Threatens Trans Rights Nationwide Since the start of the 2021 legislative session, members of more than 30 state legislatures have proposed over 100 bills that would limit transgender children’s ability to play sports, or access gender-affirming medical care such as puberty blocking medications. One such proposal, restricting access to gender-affirming medical treatments for anyone under 18, passed the Arkansas State Legislature earlier this month, over the veto of Republican governor Asa Hutchinson. Ira talks to Kate Sosin, LGBTQ+ reporter for The 19th News, about the scope of bills limiting access to medical care. Sosin explains why lawmakers say they’re pushing them—and what misconceptions about both trans kids and trans adults may be fueling these proposals.  We had editing and consultation help for this segment from Jaye McAuliffe. Why Gender-Affirming Healthcare Is ‘Lifesaving Care’ State legislatures around the country are proposing bills to remove access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth. Meanwhile, doctors, parents, and trans adults warn that restricting access to commonplace interventions, like puberty blocking medications, will endanger the mental health and social well-being of trans children across the country.  Learn more about the bills passing through statehouses this year. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Pediatric Endocrine Society have all condemned bills like Arkansas’ AB1570, which passed the state legislature in early April. It prohibits healthcare providers from giving puberty blockers or gender-affirming hormones to anyone under the age of 18. The World Professional Organization For Transgender Healthcare (WPATH), which produces standards of care for transgender youth and adults, has stated that the ability to pause puberty supports the mental health of trans youth while they navigate their gender identities. Ira talks to pediatric endocrinologist Kara Connelly and family therapist Alex Iantaffi about their work with trans youth, and what gender-affirming health care provides, to young people and throughout a person’s lifespan.  We had editing and consultation help for this segment from Jaye McAuliffe. What Does It Mean To Be Alive? What is life? This question has caused headaches for humanity for centuries. But if it’s taken out of philosophy classes or past Frankenstein’s monster, this question becomes an important legal and biological discussion. If we’re searching for life on other planets, how will we know when we’ve found it? Scientists throughout history have come up with what they think the constraints of life are, whether it needs to meet certain physiological criteria, or reproduce. But despite hundreds, if not thousands of theories that have been proposed, the scientific community can’t come to a consensus about what makes something alive. The complexities of defining life are the subject of the new book, Life’s Edge: The Search For What It Means To Be Alive, by New York Times science columnist and author Carl Zimmer. He joins Ira to talk about the creatures that complicate our understanding of life, and if synthetic biology and artificial intelligence might ever be classified as alive.
23/04/2147m 17s

Climate Summit, Offshore Wind, Hummingbirds. April 23, 2021, Part 1

World Leaders Gather Virtually For Climate Summit Forty world leaders attended an international summit on climate change to discuss how each country would commit to decreasing emissions. Sophie Bushwick from Scientific American fills us in on the commitments stated during the meeting. Plus, she talks about China launching its space station and how researchers were able to read a 17th-century letter without opening it. Offshore Wind Power Moves Forward In Massachusetts Back in 2016, the state of Massachusetts pledged to begin buying wind energy from local sources within the decade. The next year, a company called Vineyard Wind filed paperwork proposing an offshore wind farm that would involve 62 turbines situated about 12 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The project has been stalled in regulatory review and limbo ever since. Now, there are signs that the project may finally be moving forward.   Environmental journalist Miriam Wassser of WBUR updates Ira on the project, including how it may contribute to Biden administration plans to go all-in on wind power.  Setting New Goals At An Earth Week Climate Summit This week, world leaders met online to discuss global climate policy and targets for carbon emissions reductions. The climate summit, organized by the Biden White House, comes just after the United States formally rejoined the Paris climate accords that were abandoned by the Trump administration. In connection with the summit, the Biden administration announced a national goal of a 50% reduction (based on 2005 levels) in carbon emissions by 2030—a significant boost to the targets proposed in the original Paris accords. And European Union nations announced the outlines of a climate deal that would put the EU on target for “climate neutrality” by 2050. The EU also committed to a 55% reduction in emissions over 1990 levels by 2030. Other climate policy actions are in the works at home as well—including major support for renewable energy projects in the Biden administration’s proposed infrastructure plan. Emily Atkin, who writes the climate-focused newsletter HEATED, joins Ira to discuss the latest goings-on in climate policy, and whether the federal government is finally getting serious about the threat of climate change. The Dazzling Rufous Hummingbird, Threatened By Climate Change The Rufous hummingbird has a reputation as one of the continent’s most tenacious birds of its size. Weighing less than a nickel and topping out at three inches long, it’s migratory journey is one of the world’s longest. Each spring, just as flowers start to bloom, it will travel nearly 4,000 miles—from Mexico to Alaska. Yet climate change is taking its toll on even these tenacious birds. The population of rufous hummingbirds, one of the most common hummingbird species in the U.S., is decreasing dramatically. And the Rufous may soon join the list of 37 hummingbird species currently threatened with extinction, according to an analysis by BirdLife International. Jon Dunn, natural history writer and photographer set out to document as many of these remarkable bejeweled birds as he could before they are gone. He joins Ira to talk about their shared fascination with hummingbirds and his new book, The Glitter In the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds.
23/04/2147m 32s

History Of Conservation, Right Whales Decline. April 16, 2021, Part 1

Conserving More Than Just the Planet’s ‘Beloved Beasts’ Historically, “conservation” simply meant not overhunting a game animal, preserving sufficient populations to continue to hunt the following year. Over time, however, conservationists have learned to broaden their focus from individual animals to entire ecosystems, protecting not just species, but the food webs and habitat they need to thrive. But the evolution of conservationist thought hasn’t been straightforward. In her new book Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis profiles some key figures in the history of the conservation movement–from well-known names such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson, to lesser known figures such as 1930s-era bird lover Rosalie Edge. Nijhuis explains how some of these conservationists did the wrong thing for the right reasons, while others managed to do the right thing despite misguided or short-sighted thinking. SciFri’s Charles Bergquist talks with Nijhuis about how conservationist thought has progressed, and her hopes for the future of the movement.     The Plight Of The North Atlantic Right Whale Every year, Earth Day is a reminder that we share this planet with many other species, large and small. And every year, humans have to reckon with the impact we have on those species—like the recent case of the disappearing North Atlantic Right Whale. Experts estimate there are fewer than 400 right whales living off the coast of the North Atlantic. Less than 90 are reproductive age females. Their declining population and poor birth rate can be largely explained by one thing: humans. Boat strikes and entanglements in lobster fishing gear accounted for nearly two thirds of right whale deaths in the last decade—and new research suggests those deaths are being undercounted. A new documentary called “Entangled,” by Boston Globe reporter and filmmaker David Abel, gives us a glimpse of what these encounters are doing to right whales, introducing a slew of researchers, conservationists, lobstermen, lawmakers and politicians who are tangled up in the effort to save the species from extinction. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a Senior Scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies, and Melanie White, a project manager for the North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute—both featured in the film—join Ira to discuss the tragic story of the right whales, and the simple, high-tech solution that is getting little attention and even less research funding. Plus, Massachusetts implemented a nearly state-wide ban on lobster fishing in all state waters from February through early May, giving right whales an opportunity to feed unencumbered in Cape Cod Bay as they migrate. The ban also gives local scientists an opportunity to monitor the pods, tracking which whales have returned, and how they’re fairing. WCAI environment reporter Eve Zuckoff shares thoughts on her recent journey out into the bay with right whale scientists.     It’s Okay To Be Confused About J&J’s Vaccine This week, the FDA and CDC both recommended a temporary pause in distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine, after the emergence of a very rare, very unusual blood clotting side effect. The clots, which block blood leaving the brain, have been found in only six of the nearly seven million people who have already received the vaccine in the U.S. One has died, and another is in critical condition. Vox staff writer Umair Irfan has been reporting on the Johnson & Johnson pause, and joins Ira to explain the challenging balance between side effect risks—the rarest of which cannot be detected in clinical trials and therefore naturally emerge when vaccination moves to the general population—and the benefits of protecting people from COVID-19. Plus, what recommendations the FDA may end up making. He also talks about why a small number of people are still getting COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, the grim outlook for wildfire in the West this summer, and more science stories from the week.
16/04/2147m 24s

Understanding Caribbean Volcano Eruption, Billions Of T-Rexes, Pterosaur Necks, Lost Feasts. April 16, 2021, Part 2

Understanding St. Vincent’s Volcanic Eruption Since April 9th, the Caribbean island of St. Vincent has been rocked by eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano. Over the last week, plumes of ash and gas have rained down on the island, and dense masses of debris, called pyroclastic flows, are destroying everything in their path. Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated.   La Soufrière has only erupted a handful of times in recorded history, most recently in 1979. But the volcano has a deadly legacy, both for St. Vincent and beyond. Joining Ira to discuss La Soufrière’s impact is Jazmin Scarlett, a social and historical volcanologist based in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.     How Many T-Rexes Once Roamed the Earth? Maybe Billions Tyrannosaurus rex is probably one of the most popular dinosaurs, but there’s still a surprising amount of mystery surrounding these animals, including basic facts like how many there once were. One team of researchers recently decided to figure out how many T-rexes existed during their long reign. The group of scientists did some back of the envelope calculations and came up with a rough population size estimate of 2.5 billion T-rexes over 2.5 million years, with an error rate of plus or minus a factor of 10. Their results were published in the journal Science. Paleontologist Charles Marshall, who was one of the authors on the study, joins Science Friday to explain how they combined fossil records and data from present day animals to calculate the population density of these charismatic carnivores.     Pterosaurs Had A 40-Foot Wingspan And A Giraffe-Like Neck During the age of dinosaurs, there were all sorts of creatures flying through the air with different body shapes and sizes. One of those was a flying reptile called the azhdarchid pterosaur. This stork-like creature had the neck of a giraffe, and a 40-foot wingspan. A group of scientists wanted to know more about the internal structure of the pterosaur’s long neck. Their results were published in the journal iScience. Paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim talks about what this pterosaur can tell us about the evolution of flight, and how it might inform our understanding of other prehistoric animals and dinosaurs found in Africa.     SciFri Book Club Digs Into The Foods We’ve Loved To Death Did humans kill off the mammoths? What happened to the mysterious Roman herb, known as silphium, that was once worth its weight in gold? Can lab-grown meats help save what’s left of our planet’s biodiversity from climate change and habitat loss? Food geographer Lenore Newman sets out to answer these questions, and more, in her 2019 book, Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food, this spring’s Science Friday Book Club pick. In the book, she eats her way around the world and through history, examining the stories of the dodo bird, Icelandic dairy cows, the passenger pigeon, the Bartlett pear—and all its cousins—and the food species threatened by the sixth great mass extinction. SciFri producer and Book Club captain Christie Taylor talks to Newman about some of the surprises from her research, and what might be next for the foods we love.  
16/04/2147m 9s

Piano AI, Giraffes, Alzheimer’s, Mime Psychology. April 9, 2021, Part 2

New AI Composes Songs From Silent Performance Videos There have been many awkward attempts in the quest to train algorithms to do what humans can. Music is a prime example. It turns out that the process of turning the individual notes of a composed piece into a fully expressive performance—complete with changes in loudness and mood—is not easy to automate.  But a team at the University of Washington has been closing in on a way to get close, in research they presented at a machine learning conference late last year. Their AI tool called “Audeo,” combining the words “audio” and “video,” watches a silent video of a piano performance. Then, using only the visual information, Audeo produces music with the expressiveness and interpretative idiosyncrasies of the musician it just watched.  Producer Christie Taylor talks to lead author Eli Shlizerman about how one trains an algorithm to make art, and how such tools could help make music both more accessible, and easier to engage with. A Daring Rescue Highlights Giraffes’ Silent Extinction For the past several months, a daring and unprecedented rescue mission has been underway in western Kenya. Local conservationists have been slowly puzzling out how to ferry nine stranded giraffes trapped on a flooded peninsula back to the mainland. The team rescued the most vulnerable first by sedating them for the duration of the journey. But for others they tried a less dramatic approach—coaxing the giraffe with food onto a wooden barge. “We called it the girRAFT,” said David O’Connor, president of the non-profit group Save Giraffes Now. “Some were better sailors than others.” This week, the final four Rothschild giraffes will be moved to safety. It was a valiant, months-long effort, for the sake of nine giraffes. But this small tower—the technical word for a group of giraffes—represents one percent of the total population of its species. There are only about 800 northern giraffes left in Africa. O’Connor calls this charismatic animal’s decline a “silent extinction.” He joins Science Friday to talk about why giraffe populations are plummeting, and why we should be paying attention. Untangling Alzheimer’s Connection To Insulin Resistance Over the past two decades, research into the degenerative dementia of Alzheimer’s disease has been building an interesting case: This crippling brain disease involves some of the same mechanisms and pathologies as Type 2 diabetes—and could in fact represent an insulin resistance of the brain. Even having Type 2 diabetes has been found in some research to increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.  Last month, new research in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia looked at the gene expression of cells in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients, and found an additional piece of evidence for this theory. Every type of brain cell the team looked at demonstrated changes consistent with a diminished ability to obtain energy from glucose. The lead author Benjamin Bikman is a physiologist and developmental biologist at Brigham Young University, who also works as a diet coach with a supplement business designed around reducing insulin resistance. He says “the brain is becoming increasingly insulin-resistant. It’s becoming increasingly less able to obtain adequate glucose, and then it becomes more reliant on ketones [for energy].” Ketones, a product of burning fat, are also harder for the body to make when it is insulin resistant, which Bikman says can lead the brain into a chronic energy deficit. Ira talks to Alzheimer’s researcher Shannon Macauley, who was not involved in the new research, about how energy systems shape brain health, why they could be driving Alzheimer’s, and this might lead to new treatments. The Mime And The Mind When you watch a mime pull an invisible rope or run into an invisible wall you as the viewer are tricked into visualizing something that isn’t there. But is it all in the mime? Or does the mind play a role?  Chaz Firestone, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University joins Ira to discuss his latest research on how the mind “helps” us see these invisible objects.  
09/04/2147m 23s

Future For Long COVID Patients, Getting COVID Info To Sihk Truckers. April 9, 2021, Part 1

What Does The Future Look Like For COVID-19 Long-Haulers? There’s something strange happening with some people who’ve gotten sick with COVID-19: Somewhere between 10 and 30% of people who are infected are stuck with long-lasting effects and complications.   People dealing with long-term symptoms after a coronavirus infection are known as COVID long-haulers, and as the pandemic gets longer, their numbers grow. Long-haul COVID is still a mystery in a lot of ways, but work is being done to understand it better. Joining Ira to talk about the various effects of Long COVID and its possible treatments are Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and David Putrino, director of Rehabilitation Innovation for the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, New York.     Punjabi Sikh Truckers Lack Access To COVID-19 Information The cab of Sunny Grewal’s 18-wheeler is neat and tidy. He’s got bunk beds with red checkered sheets and gray interior cabinets that hide a fridge, microwave, paper plates and spices for long days on the road. One plastic container holds bite-sized sweets from his native India. “We call it gur, G-U-R,” Grewal says. “You can put it in tea, or you can have a small piece after food.” Grewal is a trucking company owner-operator based in Fresno. He’s on the road upwards of 150,000 miles a year, delivering produce and cleaning supplies like hand sanitizer to and from the East Coast, the Midwest, and the South. In other words, his work is essential to keeping this country running. “If nurses want to take care of you, they need the stuff that we bring,” he says. “You want to buy food to stay home, you’re going to stock the food in your house, we bring that food.” Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of California designated truckers as essential workers, but that status hasn’t materialized into any tangible advantages or privileges:No requirements that rest stops remain open, no hazard pay, and no priority access to the vaccine. “It is strange that our day didn’t come sooner,” says Lovepreet Singh, a truck driver from Bakersfield who was hoping momentum in support of his industry would build after the White House honored truck drivers with a rally in April 2020. Singh and Grewal are also among an estimated hundreds of thousands of truckers in the U.S. who are Sikh, from the northern Indian state of Punjab. The North American Punjabi Trucking Association estimates Punjabi Sikhs make up 20 percent of the country’s truckers and control as much as 40 percent of the industry in California, and yet few public health departments in the state offer critical COVID-related information in the Punjabi language. “It makes me feel left over, you know?” says Grewal. That lack of information has had consequences for the whole Punjabi-speaking community, says Manpreet Kaur of the non-profit Jakara Movement, especially in the early days of the pandemic. “The information was just always missing or it was too late or it was shared in a way that wasn’t easily understood,” she says. Read more at sciencefriday.com.     Particle Behavior Disobeys Laws Of Physics As We Know Them Physicists have confirmed the unexplainable behavior of an elementary particle first noticed 20 years ago. Experiments at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, showed that a certain subatomic particle, called a muon, disobeys the laws of physics as scientists have written them. This is a big deal for scientists in a field where much is still unknown. Plus, our hotter Earth will officially become the new normal next month. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its once-a-decade update to “climate normals”, baseline temperatures meteorologists rely on for their forecasts. While some places won’t see much of a change, this new update will substantially change what’s “normal” across the coasts and in the southern U.S. Joining Ira to talk about these science stories and other big news of the week is Roxanne Khamsi, science journalist based in Montreal, Quebec.  
09/04/2147m 20s

Pollination, Beekeeping How-To, Sunflower Project. April 2, 2021, Part 2

The Buzz Over Non-Bee Pollinators When you think of pollinators, bees are probably the first insect that comes to mind. But there are actually all sorts of insects and animals that contribute to pollination, like moths, beetles and many kinds of flies—from hoverflies to gnats. Pollination biologist Robert Raguso joins SciFri to explain how different pollinators have different ‘personalities,’ with different strategies and roles—and how they are being affected by climate change. So You Wanna Be A Beekeeper? Pollinators are one of our favorite things at Science Friday, and caring for our local bees means caring for the environment. While we can plant native wildflowers for our native wild bees, some pollinator enthusiasts may want to go the next step and care for their own honey bee hive. So how do you get started? Joining Ira to talk about tips for amateur beekeepers are Timothy Paule Jackson and Nicole Lindsey, beekeepers and co-founders of Detroit Hives, an organization that turns vacant lots into honey bee farms in Detroit, Michigan. They’re also joined by SciFri contributing editor John Dankosky, a first-time beekeeper. They discuss how to dive into this buzzy world, setting up your hive, and troubleshooting problems with pests. Who’s Pollinating Your Backyard? April is Citizen Science month, and Science Friday is celebrating with events and activities all throughout the month. SciFri’s Education Director Ariel Zych talks about our partnership with the Great Sunflower Project, which asks participants to observe a plant for five minutes, and record all of the pollinators that visit it. The data will be collected in a national database, helping scientists examine how pesticides are affecting pollinators—and how to improve pollinator habitats.    
02/04/2146m 31s

Unexpected Physics, Controlling Cow Methane, Spring Break. April 2, 2021, Part 1

Signs The Standard Model Of Physics May Be Incomplete The pandemic has slowed many projects around the world, but scientists and engineers are nearing completion of a long-planned upgrade and maintenance period at CERN’s massive Large Hadron Collider project in Switzerland. The collider is currently cooling down and testing components, and aiming to start up for its third major run late this year. In the meantime, researchers have had time to sift through the data from previous experiments—and last week, they announced a finding that might indicate new physics at work. The Standard Model of physics describes three of the universe’s fundamental forces, and how subatomic particles interact. One of the things it predicts is how particles decay into other components. Researchers at CERN analyzing particles called b-mesons found signs that their decay may not produce equal quantities of electrons and muons—as would be predicted by the Standard Model. While that discrepancy might not seem like a big deal, it could mean that there’s a previously undetected particle or force at play. However, the researchers don’t yet have enough data to say with confidence that their finding is real. They’ll need to collect several more years of data once the LHC restarts, as well as hope for confirmation from another major experiment in Japan. Sheldon Stone, a distinguished professor of physics at Syracuse University and a member of the management committee of the LHCb Collaboration at CERN, joins Ira to talk about the anomaly in the data—and what it might mean if it’s proven to be real. Seaweed Might Help Cows Go Green When it comes to the bodies of humans and animals, there are a few functions that we’re usually discouraged from talking about. Specifically, the ones that involve releasing gas. (Yep, burps and farts.) But if you’re a cow, there’s a lot of scientific work that goes into analyzing what’s coming out in the gas you release. That’s because the cattle industry is one of the largest producers of methane gas, a huge contributor to global warming. Some scientists are experimenting with feeding cows new things, to try to limit their methane output from the inside. New research shows a very promising result: By feeding beef cattle just a few ounces of dried seaweed per day, methane emissions from the cows went down as much as 82%. Ira talks to the lead author of that paper, Ermias Kebreab, associate dean and professor of animal science at the University of California, Davis about how seaweed inhibits methane production in cows. They’re also joined by Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery in Marshall, California, who will be testing the seaweed diet on his cows this summer. Even During A Pandemic, Florida’s Spring Break Party Continues The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, even after a long and painful year. Spring break always attracts attention but this year, there’s another reason spring breakers are coming to Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis basically invited them: “Let me just tell ya’. There’s no lockdowns in Florida, OK? It’s not gonna happen,” he told a cheering crowd earlier this month. One South Beach visitor, Christina Thomas, summed up spring breakers’ options this way: “California is closed.” Even with that open-door policy, Miami Beach is more closed than it used to be, too. There’s an 8 p.m. curfew from Thursdays through the weekend in a particular stretch of Miami Beach and also a limit on eastbound traffic on the Julia Tuttle, Venetian and MacArthur Causeways starting at 10 p.m. City officials made that decision after days of people gathering along Ocean Drive, listening to music and dancing harmlessly ended, and tragic incidents began: A 27-year-old was shot and killed in South Beach. A woman was found dead in a hotel room, after she was allegedly drugged and raped. Last Friday night, the Miami Beach police chief said gunshots were fired and crowds ran through the streets. Over this past weekend, the city declared a state of emergency. By then, the bar at the Clevelander on Ocean Drive had already closed, a notable decision, because the iconic establishment is built on the party scene. Management said things just got too hectic and they were worried about their staff. “We really should stop calling it spring break as this is not about college kids on their vacation,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said on Monday. He partially blames that “open for business” message from the governor. “Over the last weeks and longer, our city has been one of the only true destination cities open for business anywhere,” Gelber said. Read more at sciencefriday.com. Biden Administration Opens Up OffShore Wind Energy The Biden administration announced a wind power plan that aims to support more offshore deployment—expanding jobs and infrastructure investment. The plan includes development of a new Wind Energy Area in shallow waters between Long Island and the New Jersey coast. The goal: deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2033. Amy Nordrum from MIT Technology, joins Science Friday to discuss that story along with Biden’s proposed $250 billion budget for scientific research and a mysterious interstellar visitor.    
02/04/2146m 19s

Spring Climate Effects, Octopus Sleep, Housing and Health. March 26, 2021, Part 2

In New York, Essential Workers Face Eviction If you walk through many towns during this pandemic, you can tell that something is different just by looking at the storefronts. Some businesses have limited hours, others have capacity restrictions. Still other businesses are temporarily closed. Some are gone altogether. The pandemic has also had other financial effects that are harder to see—and often, that financial stress is hitting the same people who are already most likely to have gotten sick. According to a recent analysis of court data, New York City landlords seek evictions nearly four times more often in the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 deaths—neighborhoods that also tend to be largely Black and Latino. Areas with high numbers of evictions also tend to be where many of the city’s “essential workers” live—people with public-facing jobs, with limited options for avoiding the risk of infection.  A recent New York Times article dove into the dataset created by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. Stefanos Chen, the article’s author, joins Ira to talk about how the housing market in New York has been affected by the pandemic, and the ways that certain neighborhoods have been disproportionately threatened by eviction.  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. Flowers Are Finding New Hues In A Climate Crisis It’s that time of the year where flowers bloom and the world starts to feel more colorful after a dormant winter. But what if the colors of the flowers we see now aren’t the same as they were a century ago? New research from Clemson University scientists finds that climate change has impacted the hues of flowers. Temperature and aridity changes since 1895 have caused some flowers to go from purple to white, and others from white to purple. Ira is joined by the lead researcher and Clemson Department of Biological Sciences graduate student Cierra Sullivan to talk about these strange changes, and the possible impact on the pollinators we know and love. I Dream Of Octopuses, But Do They Dream About Me? Sleep is nearly universal in the animal kingdom, but how animals sleep is not the same. Studies have found that in mammals, giraffes get the least amount of shut eye, while koalas can sleep up to 22 hours a day.  There are also different types of sleep cycles—including a stage called rapid-eye movement or REM, which is often compared to non-REM sleep. A team of researchers wanted to study these different sleep cycles to understand how they might be connected to learning and memory. The scientists turned to the octopus as their study subject, selected for their complex behaviors and large brains. Their results were recently published in the journal iScience.  Neuroscientist Sidarta Ribeiro, one of the authors on the study, joins Science Friday to explain how you measure the sleep cycles of an octopus, and what this can tell us about if an octopus might dream.
26/03/2146m 54s

Racism And Mental Health, How To Milk Ticks. March 26, 2021, Part 1

The Mental Health Costs Of ‘Everyday’ Racism On March 16, a 21-year-old white man killed six Asian women and two other people in multiple shootings in Atlanta. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians and Asian-Americans in the U.S. have experienced a rise in racist attacks, which psychologists say are tied to anti-Chinese rhetoric from the former White House administration, as well as others who have scapegoated Asian Americans. The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center was created in March of 2020 to track these events. The project is a collaboration between the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department. The center reports that more than 3,700 acts of hate were brought to their attention between their founding and February 28 of this year, including verbal harassment or shunning, physical assault, and civil rights violations. At the same time, people who identify as Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) have increasingly reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, or requested screenings for mental health diagnoses. Charissa Cheah, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County has found that even witnessing acts of hate or discrimination can affect someone’s mental health—and spill over to their children. And Kevin Nadal, a psychology researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, has documented how microaggressions, considered a more covert form of racism than physical violence, can cause trauma. Cheah and Nadal discuss the connection between chronic exposure to racist behavior and mental health, along with resources for people who may be experiencing the effects of trauma, as well as the long history of anti-Asian racism in the United States.   To Milk A Tick Ticks are masters of breaking down the defenses of their host organism to get a blood meal. They use anesthetics to numb the skin, anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing, and keep the host’s immune system from recognizing them as invaders and kicking them out. And the key to understanding this is in the tick’s saliva. Biochemist and microbiologist Seemay Chou discusses how she milks the saliva from ticks to study what compounds play key parts in these chemical tricks. She also talks about how ticks are able to control the microbes in their saliva.   A Year Of Staying Home Has Led To A Global Chip Crisis The global pandemic has led to a different kind of worldwide crisis: a global chip shortage. Demand for semiconductor chips—the brains behind “smart” devices like TV’s, refrigerators, cars, dishwashers and gaming systems—has spiked after a year of staying and working from home. And the pressure on global supply chains has never been greater. Sarah Zhang, staff writer at The Atlantic, joins Science Friday to explain what happened. Plus, why AstraZeneca came under fire from U.S. regulators this week and how one scientist has finally solved a 20-years-long mystery about the bald eagle.
26/03/2147m 8s

SciFri Extra: The Origin Of The Word 'Introvert'

Science Diction from Science Friday is back! Their latest episode is all about a recent buzzword: "Introvert."  In 2013, introverts staged their comeback. For decades, they’d been told to get out of their shells and *smile*, while those  showy, gregarious extroverts were held up as the American ideal. But when one author published a kind of introvert’s manifesto, she sparked an introvert pride movement. Since then, the war of the ‘verts has only escalated, with self-identified introverts accusing extroverts of being shallow and incessantly chatty party monsters, and extroverts declaring introverts self-absorbed shut-ins who are just jealous because extroverts are actually happy. (A contention that studies support.) It all feels like a very 21st Century, internet-era drama. But the history of the dubious and divisive introvert-extrovert binary began 100 years ago, when Carl Jung fell out with Sigmund Freud, and tried to make sense of where they’d gone wrong. In the process, Jung coined a couple of new terms, and unleashed an enduring cultural obsession with cramming ourselves into personality boxes. For more stories like these, subscribe to Science Diction wherever you get your podcasts. GUESTS: Dan McAdams is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University.  Wiebke Bleidorn is a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis. Kelly Egusa is producer Chris Egusa’s sister, and a proud introvert. FOOTNOTES & FURTHER READING:  For an introvert’s manifesto, check out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.Looking for a personality test backed by science? This one comes closest. Curious about the 18,000 words in “Trait Names: A Psycho-lexical Study”? Read them here. Read the 2019 study that suggests that introverted people feel happier when they force themselves to act extroverted. (And you can also check out a different study from the same year that adds a wrinkle to this finding.) Take a look at a study that analyzes the Big Five personality dimensions as they relate to career success. CREDITS:  This episode was produced by Chris Egusa, Johanna Mayer, and Elah Feder. Elah is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our Composer and did sound design for this episode. They wrote all the music, except for the Timbo March by Tim Garland from the Audio Network. Robin Palmer fact checked this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
20/03/2128m 18s

Greenland Plants, Privacy and Big Data, Rainbows. March 19, 2021, Part 2

Under A Mile Of Ice, A Climate Clue Scientists studying sediment taken from a core sample of the Greenland ice sheet just 800 miles from the North Pole have found remnants of ancient plants, freeze-dried under more than a mile of ice. Using several different dating techniques, they say the soil, twigs, and leaves date to sometime within the last million years—probably on the order of several hundred thousand years ago—a time when Greenland’s massive ice cap did not exist. The finding that the ice sheet may have been missing so recently in geologic time provides clues to the stability of the ice, and just how sensitive it might be to modern global warming. The samples themselves have an unusual history. In the 1960s, the US Army set out to build a base under the surface of the ice in Greenland. Ostensibly, the outpost, named Camp Century, was to be used for research into polar conditions, and how best to work in them. In reality, the US also hoped to secretly bury nuclear missiles under the ice cap within close reach of the Soviet Union. As part of that effort, codenamed Project Iceworm, core samples were taken of the ice and sediment. Year later, those samples would become the basis for this climate study, reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Drew Christ, one of the authors of that report and a geologist at the University of Vermont, joins Ira to talk about the study, and explain what ancient dirt can teach us about the future climate. Decrypting Big Tech’s Data Hoard The era of Big Data promised large-scale analytics of complex sets of information, harnessing the predictive power of finding patterns in the real world behaviors of millions of people.  But as new documentaries like The Social Dilemma, Coded Bias, and other recent critiques point out, the technologies we’ve built to collect data have created their own new problems. Even as powerhouses like Google says it’s done tracking and targeting individual users in the name of better advertising, educational institutions, housing providers, and countless others haven’t stopped. Ira talks to two researchers, mathematician Cathy O’Neil and law scholar Rashida Richardson, about the places our data is collected without our knowing, the algorithms that may be changing our lives, and how bias can creep into every digital corner. The Rainbow Connection—To Physics You may have seen a double rainbow, but did you know there are moonbows at night, and even white rainbows? And did you know, if we stood next together to watch a rainbow, the colors we see are coming from two different sets of droplets in a rain shower. That means each of us have our own unique rainbow. This all has to do with the optics, physics, and atmospheric science, which Steven Businger studies at the University of Hawaii Mānoa. Rainbows have captured many people’s attention (including Ira’s! Check out the cover of his book featuring rainbow science below). There is equally fascinating physics responsible for those multicolor beams, which Businger describes in a recent study published in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Businger talks about the science behind rainbows, and discusses why Hawaii might be the rainbow capital of the world. 
19/03/2148m 1s

COVID Questions, Introvert Origin. March 19, 2021, Part 1

Rise In Anti-Asian Violence Is At The Intersection Of Racism And Disease Earlier this week, eight people were killed at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. Six of the victims were Asian-American women. In 2020, reported attacks on Asian-Americans increased by 150% over those reported the previous year in some of the country’s most populous cities, according to data compiled by California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism that was provided to the Voice of America. The attacks came in the midst of a pandemic that has been falsely blamed on China by some politicians, including former President Trump.This isn’t the first time that the Asian-American community has been the victim of racist scapegoating connected to a disease, however. Maggie Koerth, senior science reporter for FiveThirtyEight, joins Ira to discuss some of the other instances, from SARS in 2003 back to the bubonic plague in 1899. They also discuss other coronavirus news, including an update on a debate over the safety of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that is now taking place in the European Union, and talk about non-COVID news of the week, including the development of an artificial mouse uterus and research into water on Mars. This Infectious Disease Specialist Is Answering Your COVID-19 Questions On Instagram Last week marked one year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. As the people all over the world struggled to wrap their head around terms like “flatten the curve,” many took their questions to scientists via their social media accounts. Laurel Bristow is one of those scientists. Although you may know her better by her Instagram handle @kinggutterbaby, Bristow is an infectious disease specialist who started making informal videos  last March, explaining the science around the pandemic. One year later, she’s unwittingly fostered a fandom of over 360,000 followers hungry for simple, straightforward scientific information about COVID-19.  Bristow joins Ira to answer listener questions about vaccine schedules, social distancing, and the slow return to normal life, sharing what it’s been like to be a “science influencer” on social media. The False Personality Binary Do you prefer one-on-one conversations, like to read books, and quake at the idea of a party? You probably call yourself an introvert. On the other hand, if you thrive in crowds and thrive in social settings, you may check the ‘extrovert’ box on personality tests. But the idea of introversion, coined by self-described introvert and Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, started with a different definition—one centered on where you get your energy. Does it come from your own thoughts and inwardness? The term introvert comes from the Latin intro, or “inward,” and vertere, meaning “to turn.” Conversely, the word extrovert (“outward turning”) describes being energized by things happening outside of yourself. Jung’s idea took off, and many of us eagerly categorize ourselves into personality “types.” But in recent decades, psychologists have developed an even more nuanced understanding of introversion—one that may make the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” irrelevant. Introvert is the last word in this mind-focused season of the podcast Science Diction. Radio producer Christie Taylor talks to Science Diction producer and host Johanna Mayer about the origin of the term, and how our understanding of personality has matured in the 100 years since Jung’s inward-turning revelation.
19/03/2148m 7s

Virtual Disease, Daydreaming, Geoengineering. March 12 2021, Part 2

Learning From World Of Warcraft’s Virtual Pandemic The widespread infection of roughly four million virtual characters all started with a giant snake demon. In 2005, the massively multiplayer online video game World Of Warcraft introduced a special event raid, where groups of players could team up to fight a giant snake demon named Hakkar the Soulflayer. Hakkar would cast a spell called “Corrupted Blood” on players, which would slowly whittle down their health. The effect of the spell was only supposed to last inside the raid arena—when players returned to the main world of the game, the spell would dissipate. But thanks to a software glitch, that wasn’t the case if the player had a pet companion. When the pets returned to the main world, they started infecting players and non-playable characters with the Corrupted Blood spell. If the player wasn’t powerful enough to heal themselves, they would die and erupt in a fountain of blood before turning into a skeleton. What followed was a virtual pandemic that startlingly resembled today’s COVID-19 pandemic, from the spread, human behavior, and cultural response. Blizzard, the developer of the game, wanted players to social distance. Some players listened, others flouted the rules, traveling freely and spreading the disease with them. Conspiracy theories formed about how the virus was engineered by Blizzard on purpose, and others placed blame on players with pets as the cause of the outbreak, mirroring the racist anti-Asian attacks and rhetoric surrounding COVID-19 today.  Coincidentally, two epidemiologists, Nina Fefferman and Eric Lofgren, were there to witness the World Of Warcraft outbreak unfold. They studied and used the incident to model human behavior in response to a pandemic. Their findings were published in The Lancet in 2007. Many of their observations came to pass in 2020 when COVID-19 appeared.  SciFri producer Daniel Peterschmidt sat down with Eric Molinsky, host of the podcast Imaginary Worlds, who reported this story for his show. He talks about the epidemiologists who studied the outbreak and how it prepared them for public responses to COVID-19. Why Is Daydreaming Difficult For Grownups? Children have a natural talent for imagination. Even in moments of boredom, their imagination can take them away into daydreams that help pass the time in a flash. But for many adults, falling into a daydream is hard, especially when our minds are filled with worries about tomorrow’s obligations, finances, and a global pandemic.  Turns out those who feel this way are not alone. New research shows that adults report getting to a daydreaming state is harder than experiencing their unguided thoughts. Adults often require a prompt to think about something pleasant, and tend to ruminate on unpleasant things.  Daydreaming can be an antidote to boredom, and researcher Erin Westgate of the University of Florida says that’s important. Her previous research shows that boredom can cause sadistic behavior in people. Westgate joins guest host John Dankosky and Manoush Zomorodi, host of the TED Radio Hour and author of the book “Bored and Brilliant,” who argues leaning into boredom can unlock our most creative selves. Can We Geoengineer Our Way Out Of A Natural Disaster? Humans have always altered their landscapes—from simple agriculture used to cultivate specific crops to huge projects like damming rivers to change the flow of entire ecosystems. And many of these human interventions have unintended consequences and have led to major environmental disasters. In her book Under A White Sky: The Nature Of The Future, author Elizabeth Kolbert talks to scientists and people working on geoengineering projects and technology to mitigate and avert damage caused by humans in the natural world like climate change. The projects range from electrifying rivers to turning CO2 emissions into rocks. Kolbert discusses if we can solve these natural problems with the tools that created the problems in the first place, and at what cost?
12/03/2147m 10s

Jackson Water Woes, Giant Telescope Mirror, Shark Sex. March 12 2021, Part 1

What Went Wrong With Jackson, Mississippi’s Water? Residents of Jackson, Mississippi have been dealing with a water crisis since a storm rolled through town on February 15th. The city’s water system was damaged, leaving thousands of residents without running water at home. People have relied on water distribution sites to get by, and even those who can still use their taps are on boil water notice. Impacted residents are largely low-income, and the limited access to water has raised worries about staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before this fiasco, Jackson’s water system was in need of a change. Boil water advisories were common, and many of the city’s pipes date back to the 1950s. Water service is expected to be restored this week, but getting the taps running again will just be a Band-Aid: A true overhaul would require millions, if not billions of dollars. Mississippi Public Broadcasting reporter Kobee Vance joins guest host John Dankosky to discuss what’s happening in Jackson, and why its infrastructure was particularly vulnerable to this crisis.   Spinning Glass To See The Stars Last weekend, a giant furnace built under the east stands of the University of Arizona football stadium began to spin. That furnace contained some 20 tons of high-purity borosilicate glass, heated to 1,165 degrees C. As the glass melted, it flowed into gaps in a mold. The centrifugal force of the spinning furnace spread the material up the edges of the mold, forming the curved surface of a huge mirror, with a diameter of 8.4 meters. The piece is just one of seven sections that will eventually form the 25-meter primary mirror of the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile. It’s not a fast process—it will take several months to cool, and then another two years to measure, grind, and polish. When that’s complete, the surface of the mirror segment will be accurate to within twenty-five nanometers. Steward Observatory mirror polishing program project scientist Buddy Martin says that when it’s complete, the Giant Magellan Telescope should be ten times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope—if it was positioned in Washington, DC, it would be able to make out a softball in the hand of a pitcher in San Francisco. Martin talks with SciFri’s Charles Bergquist about the mirror production process, and the challenges of working with glass on massive scales. Watch a video and see photos of the process at scienefriday.com.   It’s Time To Rethink Shark Sex—With Females In Mind Sharks, rays, and skates—all fish in the subclass Elasmobranchii—are a beautifully diverse collection of animals. One big way they differ is in how they reproduce. They lay eggs, like traditional fish, and let them mature in a select corner of the ocean. Or, they might let the eggs hatch inside their bodies. But they can also give live birth to pups gestated like mammals: with an umbilical cord and a placenta in a uterus. It doesn’t end there. These fish, like many other members of the animal kingdom, have two uteruses. Females are capable of reproducing asexually, without help from a male. As genetic sequencing has advanced, researchers have been finding another curious pattern: Many litters of pups will have more than one father, a phenomenon known as multiple paternity. Evolutionary ecologists seeking to explain why sharks would use this strategy of multiple paternity have hypothesized it’s one of convenience for females. In species with aggressive and competitive mating practices, like many sharks and rays, it’s possible females find it saves them precious resources to acquiesce to multiple males. But what if there’s something in it for the female, and her likelihood of having successful, biologically fit offspring? That’s the question a team of researchers sought to answer in new research published in Molecular Ecology this month, where they asked what kinds of physiological mechanisms a female shark or ray might use to wield agency in her own reproduction. The researchers also write that a male-dominated field may be more likely to miss a female-driven reproductive strategy, and push for more study of female reproductive biology. John Dankosky talks to the lead author on the research, Georgia Aquarium shark biologist Kady Lyons, about the vast wonderland of reproductive strategies in this fish subclass—and what a history of male-centered research may have missed.   What Next For The Fully Vaccinated? In the U.S., vaccines have been rolling out since December. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 95 million doses have been administered which equates to over 18% of the population. This week, the agency also put out guidelines for those who have been fully vaccinated. Sophie Bushwick of Scientific American fills us in on those guidelines and also talks about research on the effectiveness of mask mandates and a headless sea slug.    
12/03/2146m 56s

Conversations, Baby Teeth, Tasmanian Tiger. March 5, 2021, Part 2

When Is It Time To Say Goodbye? Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone. You may get the sense that they have somewhere else to be. Or you might start feeling restless, and use an excuse to cut the conversation short. Sometimes, you feel like you could talk for HOURS. Chances are you’re wrong every time.  In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Adam Mastroianni and colleagues tried to figure out how good humans are at judging the ideal length of a conversation. They found that both participants agreed a conversation ended at the right time in only 2% of their trials. And the difference between one partner’s desired conversation length and the actual length of a conversation could be as much as 50%—so in a 10 minute conversation, your partner might have wanted to talk to you for as little as 5 minutes, or as much as 15 minutes. SciFri’s Charles Bergquist talks with Mastroianni about these results, and why the “exit ramps” to a conversation are rarely where you want them to be. Talking Through The History Of Our Teeth Most of us have never thought much about why we have teeth. But if you’re the parent of a teething infant, the question becomes a whole lot more relevant: While you impatiently wait for baby’s teeth to poke through, or soothe your teething toddler in the middle of the night, you might find yourself wondering why humans go through all this trouble for a set of teeth that are only temporary. In a decade, your child will have shed their baby teeth to make room for their adult counterparts, and all this fuss will be but a distant—albeit painful—memory for both you and your former infant. But one such question can lead to another. Are baby and adult teeth made of the same stuff? Why can’t we just grow a new tooth if we lose one? And how did ancient people take care of their teeth? Biological anthropologist and ancient tooth expert Shara Bailey joins Ira to discuss why our teeth are the way they are.  A Look Back At The Time Of The Tasmanian Tiger Last week, conservation biologists on Twitter were all aflutter as rumors circulated that a creature called a “thylacine,” better known as a “Tasmanian tiger,” had been caught on camera in the Tasmanian bush. Thylacines have been considered extinct since the mid 80’s, but there are still those who believe—or hope—they still exist.  In a video posted to YouTube, Neil Waters, President of the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia, shared the news of what he thought looked like images of two adult thylacines and a baby. Unfortunately, this time the animal caught on camera was identified as a pademelon. But at Science Friday, we’ll never pass up an opportunity to celebrate a charismatic creature. Last January, SciFri’s Elah Feder spoke with Neil Waters and Gregory Berns, a psychology professor at Emory University, about the fascinating history of the Tasmanian tiger. 
05/03/2147m 13s

Implementing Oregon’s Drug Policy, Wisconsin Wolf Hunt, Johnson & Johnson Vaccine. March 5, 2021, Part 1

Oregon Just Decriminalized Small Amounts of All Drugs. Now What? On February 1, a big experiment began in Oregon: The state has decriminalized small amounts of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. In the November election, voters passed ballot Measure 110 by a 16-point margin. Now, if you’re caught with one or two grams of what some refer to as “hard drugs”, you won’t be charged. Instead, you’ll either pay a maximum $100 dollar fine, or complete a health assessment within 45 days at an addiction recovery center. This new system for services will be funded through the state’s marijuana tax. But the measure is still controversial, and members of Oregon’s addiction and recovery community are split on if it’s a good idea. So how did we get here? Read and listen to the full story here.     Wisconsin Oversteps in Wolf Hunt One of the final acts of the Trump Administration in late 2020 was to remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the species, which was once nearly extinct in the lower 48 states, in January. The wolves now number more than 6,000 in the northern Rockies and the western Great Lakes states. In Wisconsin, a 2012 state law requires an annual wolf hunt when the animals are not under federal protection. State wildlife officials had begun planning for a hunt next November, but were forced by a lawsuit from an out-of-state hunting group to hold one before the end of February. That hunt lasted only three days before state officials shut it down: Licensed hunters killed 216 wolves in that time, more than 80 percent over the allowed quota of 119, and nearly 20 percent of the state’s estimated 1,000-plus wolves. SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Danielle Kaeding and environmental science professor Adrian Treves about how hunters were able to kill so many wolves so fast—and what effect this year’s hunt might have on the health of wolf populations in the state.   What Does Johnson & Johnson’s Shot Mean for Our Vaccine Timeline? The U.S. now has a third COVID-19 vaccine in our arsenal, as Johnson & Johnson’s shot got emergency approval last weekend. This one is different from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already in use: It’s only one dose, it’s inexpensive, and it doesn’t require very cold temperatures for storage. This means rural communities might get vaccinated faster, and our timeline to possible COVID-19 herd immunity could improve. Scaling up vaccinations will be critical as the homegrown U.S. COVID-19 variants are taking hold. Variants from California and New York are becoming more widespread, though it doesn’t seem like we’ll need to change our strategy for fighting COVID-19 yet. Ira is joined by Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, to talk about these stories and other big science news of the week.    
05/03/2147m 10s

Texas Storm, NASA Climate Advisor, Mars Sounds. Feb 26, 2021, Part 1

Does A Vaccine Help You If You’ve Already Had COVID-19? Vaccines doses have started to rollout and are getting into the arms of people. We know that if you already had COVID-19, you build up antibodies against the virus. So do the vaccines affect you if you’ve already had COVID-19?  Science writer Roxanne Khamsi talks about recent studies showing that a single dose of vaccine could boost immunity for former COVID-19 patients. She also discusses a study that found over 140,000 viral species in the human gut and Elizabeth Ann, the first cloned black-footed ferret. The Aftermath Of Texas’ Winter Storm While power has been mostly restored, journalists report Texans are now facing water shortages, housing damage, and crop losses.  Texas grocery store shelves have begun filling out again. But for the state’s agriculture industry, recovering from the winter storm will take time, and consumers are likely to feel it in their pockets. The historic freeze and power outages brought agriculture across the state to a halt. Dairy farmers were forced to dump gallons of unpasteurized milk for days as processing plants were left without power. Packing houses also shut down with machinery cut off from electricity and employees unable to make their shifts, said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. Meanwhile, the products on the market were quickly bought up by panicked Texans just before and after the storm. By Monday, Miller said he had seen the price of hamburgers go up to $8.50 a pound, and he expects prices to remain elevated as the food supply chain stabilizes. “It’s not going to be back to normal for at least six to eight weeks,” Miller said. “You’ll still see shortages of some stuff, and even though the shelves may be full, the prices will be high.” Read and listen to the full story in the State of Science series.  Keeping An Eye On The Climate, From Space The climate is changing, and so is the U.S. government’s approach to it. The Biden White House has made the climate crisis a high priority, and has created several new positions focused on climate science. One of those new climate posts can be found at the space agency NASA. While rockets and Mars rovers may seem far removed from climate issues, NASA is actually the lead federal agency in climate observations, with a fleet of satellites tracking everything from sea temperature to CO2 levels to chlorophyll. Ira talks with Gavin Schmidt, who has recently been named in an acting role to be the senior climate advisor for NASA. He’s also director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. They discuss upcoming climate-focused NASA programs, last week’s cold weather in Texas, and the challenge of making better decisions in an uncertain climate future.
26/02/2146m 33s

Lucid Dreaming, Sex As A Biological Variable, Parachute Science, Global Vaccine Access. Feb 26, 2021, Part 2

Memory And The Dreaming Mind If you’ve ever stayed up too late studying for a test, you know that sleep impacts memory—you need that precious shut-eye in order to encode and recall all that information. But what is it about sleep that aids memory?  Researchers have pinpointed a specific stage of sleep, REM sleep, as an area of interest for studying memory consolidation. REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, is the same stage in which dreams occur. So researchers at Northwestern University devised a way to communicate with lucid dreamers—people who are aware of their dreams and can control what they do in them—as a way to study how memories get made. Science Friday producer Katie Feather talks with Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern University to discuss what lucid dream research has taught us about memory. Progress In Considering Sex As A Biological Variable Back in 2013, Charles Hoeffer from the University of Colorado Boulder was studying memory and learning in mice. He was looking at a specific protein in the brain called AKT1, which helps mice forget an old task and learn a new one. In humans, a mutation in that protein has been linked to disorders like schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and depression.  But in a follow-up study, Hoeffer did something different. He included both male mice and female mice, and then tested them separately. As expected, he discovered that male mice had a much tougher time learning the task when AKT1 wasn’t working. But in female mice, he found the unexpected: It didn’t make any difference whether the protein was removed or not. In other words, the sex of the mouse became an important variable that affected the outcome of the research. Hoeffer’s study is one example of considering sex as a biological variable (SABV) in pre-clinical research. And in 2016, the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health made it an official policy for researchers applying for funding.  But that didn’t change things overnight. Five years later, the approach is still catching on in many areas of research. Chyren Hunter, from the Office of Research on Women’s Health, joins Ira to discuss the progress that’s been made, and what lies ahead for the effort to make pre-clinical research more inclusive. Further information on the NIH’s policy on sex as a biological variable is on its website. The Problem With ‘Parachute Science’ “Parachute science” is a term describing how researchers sometimes drop down from an ivory tower in the wealthy Western world into a foreign community for field work. They gather their data, and then zip off home without engaging with or acknowledging the contributions of the local researchers in that community. This week in the journal Current Biology, researchers tried to quantify just how widespread that tendency is in one area of study—coral reefs.Searching through fifty years of publications published on the topic of warm water coral reef biodiversity research, they found that in 22% of the studies on coral reef ecosystems in Australia, there were no Australian researchers included as authors on the publication. The effect was even more noticeable in lower-income countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines—where 40% of the published studies on coral reefs included no local scientists.  Ira talks with two of the study’s authors, Paris Stefanoudis and Sheena Talma, about what they found, and how researchers can work to make science more inclusive. The Global COVID-19 Supply Problem  Of the more than 200 million COVID-19 vaccines that have made it to patients’ arms this winter, more than a quarter have gone to people in the United States—a country with 4 percent of the total world population. Just last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that 75% of the world’s vaccinations so far had been in just 10 countries—while 130 countries had not received a single dose.  Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the nation of Ghana was the first to receive vaccines—600,000 doses—shipped as part of COVAX, a multi-national program which aims to provide as many as two billion free vaccines to poor and middle-income countries by the end of the year. Ira talks to Yale global health expert Saad Omer about the international effort to move vaccines equitably around the world, and the remaining hurdles for poorer countries.
26/02/2146m 9s

Tech Unions, Color Perception, Fish Vs Birds. Feb 19, 2021, Part 2

Reprogramming Labor In Tech More than 6,000 warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama are midway through voting on whether they should unionize. If the ‘yes’ votes win, it would be unprecedented for the company: The last time a unionization vote was held by Amazon’s United States employees, back in 2014, a group of 30 technicians ultimately voted not to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers. Meanwhile, at Google, a group of more than 800 have recently joined the Alphabet Workers Union, which was formed in early January. The AWU is a minority union, a kind of union that cannot negotiate contracts. But, the union has said, they will still be able to advocate for workers who would be excluded from a traditional union, like the temporary workers, contractors, and vendors who make up more than half of Google’s global workforce. And in the world of app-based gig workers, a debate has been raging for years about whether Uber and Instacart workers are full employees with rights to overtime and collective bargaining—or contractors, which have neither. In California, state law has changed twice in the last year to try to answer this question. SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to legal scholar Veena Dubal, and historian Margaret O’Mara, about this rise in union activity, and the way tech companies have impacted our lives—not just for their customers, but also for their workers. Fish Versus Feather: Georgia’s Salt Marsh Smackdown At Science Friday, we love a smackdown, whether it’s a debate over which mammal has better sonar—dolphins versus bats—or which planet is the best to host signs of life—Mars or Venus? But when it comes to fish versus birds, we don’t need to manufacture drama. Nature gave us its own. Corina Newsome, a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, was studying how seaside sparrows adapt to nest flooding, an environment where the most likely predators are animals like minks and raccoons. That’s when she caught on film a very unusual interaction: A fish entered a sparrow’s nest, and killed one of the new hatchlings. Newsome joins Ira to explain what she saw, and how climate change is helping to turn the tables on this predator-prey relationship. The Neuroscience Behind Seeing Color The basic mechanics of how we see color sounds simple enough—light hits an object and bounces into our eye. Then, our brain processes that information. But how we perceive color is much more complicated. Neuroscientist and artist Bevil Conway is mapping out how the neurons in our brain respond to color to make a neurological color model. He explains how color might encode meaning, and the plasticity of our visual system.
19/02/2147m 15s

Fauci On Vaccines and Variants, Mummy Mystery, Texas Power Grid Failure. Feb 19, 2021, Part 1

Fauci Says Majority Of U.S. Adults Likely To Be Vaccinated By Late Summer We’re about a month shy of a big anniversary: one year since the World Health Organization officially labeled COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, a lot has changed—and a lot has not. We have more information than ever about COVID-19, but there are still a lot of unknowns about the illness. While about 40 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a vaccine, it’s unclear when we can expect to return to a sense of normalcy. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joins Ira to shed some light on the latest news about variants and vaccines—and the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. He predicts vaccines are likely to be open to all adults starting in May or June. “By the time you get everyone vaccinated who could be vaccinated, that’s going to take several months,” Fauci says. “So it won’t be until the end of the summer.” Fauci and Ira also discuss when it’s ok for families to get together without a laundry list of precautions, as well as his legacy from decades at the NIH.   Uncovering An Ancient Mummy Mystery Ever since the discovery of King Seqenenre-Taa-II’s mummy in Egypt in the mid-1800s, it was clear that the king had met an untimely demise. His hands were clenched in a claw-like gesture, and the pharaoh’s head bore several fatal wounds. But the exact nature of his death was lost to time: Had he died in some sort of palace intrigue? Or was he executed? Writing in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, radiologist Sahar Saleem and her collaborators argue that a CT scan of the mummy supports the theory that the king died during conflict with the Hyksos, an Asian group that invaded and controlled northern Egypt. The researchers say that the wounds and other signs on the body suggest the king was captured, bound, and executed by multiple assailants. SciFri’s Charles Bergquist spoke with Saleem about her research, and how it fills in clues about the ancient mystery. Why Did The Texas Power Grid Fail? More than 500,000 Texans were still without power Thursday as another round of snow and ice moved through the state, three days after a historic wave of cold and snow that prompted the state power regulator to initiate rolling blackouts in an effort to prevent a larger, months-long outage. But as Texans remain without power in freezing temperatures, the side-effects of infrastructure failure are their own disaster: people freezing in their homes, risking carbon monoxide poisoning, or struggling to get food and water. Why was the electric grid so damaged by winter weather? The MIT Technology Review’s Amy Nordrum explains the fragility of Texas’ power grid, and how a lack of winterized infrastructure has ripple effects for the whole state. Plus, she talks about the successful landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars, new smells in the toolbox against invasive bark beetles, and more recent science stories.    
19/02/2147m 43s

Fish Eye Secrets, Human Genome Project, Science Diction 'Mesmerize.' Feb 12, 2021, Part 2

Seeing The World Through Salmon Eyes The saying goes, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” But for fish, the eyes are the window to the stomach.  As one California biologist recently learned, the eyes of Chinook salmon are like a tiny diet journal of everything it ate. But to read that journal, you have to peel back the layers of the eye, like it’s the world’s tiniest onion.  Miranda Tilcock, assistant research specialist at the Center for Watershed Science at the University of California, Davis talks to Ira about why she goes to such gooey lengths to understand what these salmon eat.  Two Decades Beyond The First Full Map Of Human DNA In February 2001, the international group of scientists striving to sequence the human genome in its entirety hit a milestone: a draft of the complete sequence was published in the journals Nature and Science. The project took 13 years to complete: In that time, genome sequencing became faster and cheaper, and computational biology ascended as a discipline. It laid the groundwork for the greater cooperation and open data practices that have made rapid vaccine development possible during the pandemic. In the decades since, researchers have been trying to better understand how genetics impact health. We’re still working toward the dream of personalized treatments based on a person’s specific genetic risks. Ira looks back at the successes and challenges of the Human Genome Project with Shirley Tilghman, a molecular biologist who helped plan the project, and served on its advisory committee. Then, with bioinformatician Dana Zielinski and Indigenous geneticist-bioethicist Krystal Tsosie, he looks to the contemporary hurdles for genetic research, including privacy, commercialization, and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples over their own genetic data. Meet The Man Behind The Word ‘Mesmerize’ In the 18th century, a man named Franz Anton Mesmer came to Paris with a plan: to practice a controversial form of medicine involving magnets and gravity. Mesmer claimed his treatments cured everything from toothaches to deafness. His critics, however, weren’t so sure about that. Mesmer made enemies in high places, labeling him a con, and calling his type of practice “mesmerism.”  The story behind the word “mesmerize,” and other words about mind control are the focus of season three of Science Diction, a podcast about words and the science behind them from Science Friday.  Joining Ira to talk about the story behind “mesmerize,” and what else is coming this season is Science Diction host, Johanna Mayer.
12/02/2147m 28s

The Effectiveness Of Double-Masking, Mars Landing Preview. Feb 12, 2021, Part 1

Two Masks Are Better Than One Masks have been a big issue throughout the pandemic, from supply shortages to debates about when they should be required to be used. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out research and guidance on the effectiveness of double masking—wearing one mask over another. Engineer and aerosol scientist Linsey Marr talks about how a face mask traps a virus, the effectiveness of double masking, and other other questions about face masks.   Next Week, A Return To Martian Soil It’s a busy time on Mars. This week, spacecraft from both China and the United Arab Emirates successfully maneuvered into position in Martian orbit. And next week, if all goes according to plan, the Mars 2020 mission will deliver the Perseverance rover to its new home in Jezero Crater on the planet’s surface. Scientists hope to use it there for at least two Mars years, exploring the geology and chemistry of what once was a catch-basin for a river delta on the Red Planet. Lori Glaze, head of the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, joins Ira to give a preview of the landing process, and an overview of some of the experiments on board Perseverance—from a ground-penetrating radar system to an experimental helicopter that may make the first controlled, powered flight on another planet.   Some People Had COVID-19 For So Long That It Mutated Inside Them COVID-19 variants have been front and center in the news over the past few months. Mutations are a natural part of the course of life for viruses. But to us humans, they’re adding more unknowns to an already stressful time. Groups of researchers around the world have found something interesting in a select few COVID-19 patients: individuals who seem to be reservoirs for coronavirus mutations. Essentially, these patients were infected with COVID-19 for so long that the virus was able to mutate inside them. Experts are scratching their heads at these strange cases, and now are looking into what this means for our efforts to fight the virus. Meanwhile, South Africa has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because it doesn’t clearly stop the coronavirus variant that originated in the country. This is a problem for AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which planned on deploying this vaccine en masse in developing countries. Joining Ira to break down these stories and other science news of the week is Maggie Koerth, senior science reporter for FiveThirtyEight.  
12/02/2146m 48s

Four Lost Cities, Sourdough Microbiome, Queen Bees, Bison. Feb 5, 2021, Part 2

National Bison Range Returns To Indigenous Management Hundreds of years ago, tens of millions of bison roamed North America. They were an essential resource and cultural foundation for many Native American tribes. And by 1890, European colonists had hunted them nearly to extinction.  When President Theodore Roosevelt moved to conserve the remaining bison in 1908, he established the National Bison Range, an 18,800-acre reserve that the government took directly from the tribes of the Flathead Reservation—the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille. The tribes were not invited to help manage the recovery of a bison herd that they had helped save. At times, they were even excluded from the land entirely. For the past several decades, the tribes have been lobbying for the land—and management of its several hundred bison—to be returned. Then, in December 2020, Congress included in its COVID-19 relief package an unrelated bill with bipartisan approval: returning that land to the tribes.  Ira talks to Montana journalist Amy Martin, who has been covering the National Bison Range for Threshold, a podcast about environmental change, about why the return of the land is meaningful in the context of U.S. colonization, and the relationship between the environment and justice. Listen to the full report on the National Bison Range on Threshold.  A Reproductive Mystery In Honey Bee Decline As global honey bee decline continues through yet another decade, researchers have learned a lot about how complicated the problem actually is. Rather than one smoking gun, parasites like the varroa mite, combined with viruses, pesticides, and other factors are collectively undermining bee health to an alarming degree.   One part of the mystery is the increasing rate of ‘queen failure,’ when a reproducing queen is no longer able to produce enough fertilized eggs to maintain the hive. When this happens, beekeepers must replace the queen years before they ordinarily might.   Producer Christie Taylor talks to North Carolina State University researcher Alison McAfee about one possible reason this may occur—a failure to maintain the viability of the sperm they store in their bodies after a single mating event early in life. The condition may be caused by temperature stress, immune stress, or a combination of factors. McAfee explains this problem, plus the bigger mystery of how queens manage to keep sperm alive as long as they do. Mapping Sourdough Microbes From Around The World With more time at home over the last year, many people have experimented with baking sourdough bread. In new work published in the journal ELife, researchers are taking sourdough science to a new level. The team collected and genetically-sequenced 500 sourdough starters sent in by bakers on four different continents to try to draw a map of their microbial diversity. A sourdough starter culture contains a microbial community made up of both yeasts and bacteria. As the starter is fed and grows, those microbes ferment the carbohydrates in flour, producing the carbon dioxide gas that makes the bread dough rise. Over the years, a mythology has grown up around sourdough—that certain places have special types of wild yeasts that are particularly suited for breadmaking. However, the researchers found that on a global level, it was hard to tell the microbes in Parisian bread apart from those found in San Francisco or elsewhere. The differences in the starter culture seemed largely to be based on specific conditions within each bakery kitchen, and how the starter is grown and maintained.   Erin McKenney, one of the authors on the report and an assistant professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, joins SciFri director Charles Bergquist to slice into the bread study, and explain the team’s findings. Ancient Cities Provide A New Perspective On Urban Life There are certain skylines that come to mind when you think of big, urban cities. Maybe it’s New York City, dotted with skyscrapers and lit up by Times Square. Or it could be the central plaza of Mexico City, and its surrounding galleries and museums. But in Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, author Annalee Newitz considers long-lost urbanity like Cahokia or Angkor.  These were huge, sprawling ancient metropolitan areas, constructed thousands of years ago. They had complicated infrastructure, and equally complex political systems that governed the tens of thousands of residents that lived there. But these cities were also eventually abandoned.  Newitz explains who built these places, and how their residents lived, providing a new perspective on how the ecosystem of a city works.
05/02/2147m 17s

COVID Variants And Vaccines, U.S. Energy Justice. Feb 5, 2021, Part 1

Will Vaccines Work Against New Variants Of The Coronavirus? The rollout of COVID-19 vaccination programs around the world has been anything but smooth. Complicating the effort is the virus itself. The original coronavirus genome that the current vaccines were based on has mutated. Now, there are three virus variants, and experts are somewhat concerned. How will the vaccines scientists have worked so hard to make fare against these three variants, and future ones? Stephen Goldstein, post-doctoral researcher in evolutionary virology at the University of Utah, joins Ira to talk about what the new numbers on vaccine effectiveness against these variants really mean. This Biden Appointee Is Bringing Justice To Green Energy President Joe Biden has the most ambitious climate change agenda of any U.S. president in history. A large part of the plan is a shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy, like wind and solar power. A new member of Biden’s energy team wants to prioritize something we don’t normally hear from the federal government: energy justice, or making sure communities aren’t left behind, or stepped on, in pursuit of a greener world.  Shalanda Baker, deputy director for energy justice at the U.S. Department of Energy and law professor on leave at Northeastern University in Boston, joins Ira to talk about equitable energy, “The Big Greens,” and her new book, Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition. The Thinking Behind New Double-Masking Recommendations If you’re at the grocery store or taking a walk in the brisk winter air, you might see someone sporting the new pandemic trend—double masks. Sometimes it’s a cloth mask over an N95; sometimes it’s two fabric masks layered together. And it’s not because it’s cold out (although the extra warmth is nice). This week the CDC says it’s considering updating its masking guidelines to include wearing two masks, to protect against new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus. Sarah Zhang, staff writer for The Atlantic, joins Ira to discuss whether two masks are really better than one. Plus, how the U.K. is studying whether mixing Astrazeneca’s new vaccine with a dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s formula might actually be more effective at obtaining immunity.
05/02/2147m 19s

Medieval Bones, Vaccine Rollout, Florida Panthers. Jan 29, 2021, Part 2

A Skeletal Record Of Medieval England Society If you’ve ever fractured a bone, that skeletal trauma stays with you forever, even after it heals. So researchers across the pond are using bones from medieval times to put together a picture of what life was like. The bones in the study came from ordinary people in medieval Cambridge in the United Kingdom, from between the 10th and 14th century. The researchers found that you can often guess who was working class, and who had more money based on what their bones looked like. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks to Jenna Dittmar, a research fellow in osteoarchaeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, about this new research. Deploying President Biden’s ‘Wartime’ COVID-19 Plan On his first day in office, President Biden released the national COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness plan. Announced on January 21, the strategy introduces a newly created advisor, the COVID-19 Response Coordinator, and the Defense Production Act, which aims to ramp up vaccine production. The goal is to administer 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days—a vaccination plan that the Biden Administration declares a “wartime effort.” Public health experts Thomas Bollyky of the Council on Foreign Relations and Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security discuss what steps will be needed to deploy the federal plan. They also look to the future and evaluate how we can better plan for pandemics, reframe our approach, and budget for public health campaigns.  Lack Of Enforcement Threatens The Endangered Species Act It’s been nearly 50 years since the Endangered Species Act passed. The 1973 legislation, designed to give government agencies tools to protect species threatened by development or other economic activity, still enjoys high amounts of public support. But, as investigative reporter Jimmy Tobias writes for The Intercept and Type Investigations this week, one of the main government agencies tasked with enforcing the Act seems to be increasingly hesitant to use its power to block development, a trend that’s stretched back at least since the Clinton administration. Tobias writes about how this lack of enforcement threatens the survival of one particular animal, the Florida panther—whose Southwest Florida habitat, and roughly 150 remaining members, are at risk from a major proposed development.  Ira talks to Tobias about the panther, the ESA, and what conservationists think needs to change. 
29/01/2146m 41s

Your Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines Answered, Placenta Science. Jan 29, 2021, Part 1

Everything You Want To Know About COVID-19 Vaccines The U.S. has been vaccinating people against COVID-19 for a little over a month. While there have been plenty of hiccups, over 20 million people in the country have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna shots. For the past few weeks, Science Friday has been collecting your questions about the COVID-19 vaccines on the SciFri VoxPop App—and we heard from a lot of listeners. The questions and concerns ranged from if people with antibodies should get vaccinated to if the vaccines are safe for pregnant women. Joining Ira to tackle these listener questions is Benhur Lee, professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.   How Scientists Unravel The Mysteries Of The Placenta Here’s a fun fact for your next virtual trivia night: What’s the only organ that we can grow temporarily, and discard after it’s been used? The answer: the placenta. It may be a disposable organ, but scientists have a tricky time studying it: You can’t poke at it, sample it, or pull it out to see how it works while it’s doing its job of growing a human baby. In an effort to understand how this squishy, purplish, pancake-shaped organ performs some of its most important functions, researchers have had to turn to creative techniques. Ann-Charlotte Iverson, professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Nicholas Heaton, assistant professor at Duke University, join Science Friday to discuss how the placenta protects a fetus from viral infection and inflammation, and what happens when something goes wrong.   A New President, A New Climate Policy When President Biden was running for office, he campaigned on re-entering the Paris climate accords his first day in the White House. He followed through shortly after being sworn in. But in the week that followed, the new President has also taken additional steps focused on reducing carbon emissions and adapting to the changing climate—like a push to move the government vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, establishing a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, and pausing oil and gas exploration leases on federal lands. Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins Ira to talk about Biden’s climate moves, as well as other stories from the week in science, including a study of global ice loss, a halt to Merck’s COVID-19 vaccine trials, and a question about the aquatic habits of an ancient dinosaur.
29/01/2146m 52s

Orange Bat, Greenland Bacteria, COVID Anniversary, Alien Argument. Jan 22, 2021, Part 2

Orange Is The New Black—For Bats For a newly-described bat from West Africa, dubbed Myotis nimbaensis (mouse-eared bat from the Nimba Mountains), scientists are reaching for a different part of the color wheel. While Myotis does have some black on its body, the overwhelming majority of the bat’s fur is bright orange.   A team of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History and Bat Conservation International stumbled on the new species while surveying populations of another endangered bat in the Nimba Mountains. It lives in abandoned mine tunnels in the northern part of the mountain range. As those aging tunnels are beginning to collapse, the researchers are working to build new bat-tunnels to help preserve the threatened species.   Winifred Frick, chief scientist of Bat Conservation International, joins SciFri director Charles Bergquist to discuss the new species, and what’s being done to help protect it. Greenland’s Microbial Melt-Down The Greenland ice sheet covers nearly 700,000 square miles—three times the size of Texas. The ice sheet is estimated to have lost nearly 4 trillion tons of ice in the past three decades. A team of researchers recently investigated how the bacteria in the sediments on the ice sheet could be contributing to the melting of the ice. Their results were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  Producer Alexa Lim talks to glaciology Asa Rennermalm about how the mix of bacteria and sediments can darken the ice, impacting how the ice sheet melts. Life Of A Coronavirus Scientist During A Pandemic Unfortunately, we’ve arrived at a grim pandemic milestone: One full year of a global health crisis. The first COVID-19 cases were reported in December 2019 by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.  Last spring, we talked with three coronavirus researchers—Matthew Frieman, Andrea Pruijssers, and Lisa Gralinski—who discussed what the pandemic was like for them, including working in a BSL3 biosafety lab, and how their lives, and research, had been impacted. Ira checks back in with one of them, Matthew Frieman, to reflect on his experience in the last year, and what he expects for the coming year.  Searching For Extraterrestrial Life Like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Back in October 2017, our solar system received a strange visitor, unlike any seen before. Scientists couldn’t decide if it was an asteroid, a comet, or an ice chunk. To this day, it’s simply classified as an “interstellar object,” dubbed ‘Oumuamua.’ For his part, Harvard astrophysicist Ari Loeb is pretty sure what it is. It’s so hard to classify, he reasons, because it’s a byproduct of intelligent life outside our solar system. But how it found its way here is anyone’s guess. In his new book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, Loeb wants you to take the possibility of aliens seriously. He joins Ira to talk about his theory, how an early love of philosophy shaped his views as an astrophysicist, and why searching for extraterrestrial life is a little like being Sherlock Holmes. 
22/01/2146m 50s

Finding Lead Pipes Through Algorithm, How Soil Could Save The Planet. Jan 22, 2021, Part 1

After Flint’s Crisis, An Algorithm Helps Citizens Find Lead Pipes It’s been nearly seven years since the beginning of Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, when high levels of lead from corroded lead pipes led to water shortages and health issues for city residents. Since then, many other cities around the country have had their own problems with lead. Researchers estimate that millions of Americans are living with pipes that need to be replaced. As Wired reported earlier this month, Toledo, Ohio is one of the latest cities trying to get ahead of its legacy of lead plumbing, with the help of an algorithm created by University of Michigan researchers. The model was originally created to help the city of Flint more quickly—and less expensively—target which homes were most likely to need their pipes replaced. The same researchers are now working as a private company, called BlueConduit, to help other cities do the same work. And in Toledo, they’re working in close partnership with the city and community organizations. Ira talks with University of Michigan professor and BlueConduit co-founder Eric Schwartz, and Alexis Smith of the nonprofit Freshwater Future, about the work ahead for Toledo, and why deploying an algorithm effectively depends on community trust and input. Curious if your own water pipes contain lead? EPA-funded project Crowd The Tap has a free tutorial for finding your water service line—and determining the materials of your pipes. The organization’s mission is to ensure safe drinking water in the United States. By sharing what you observe, you can help identify areas for tap water testing and infrastructure replacement. Learn about your pipes, and how you can help at CrowdTheTap.org. Former Michigan Governor, Other Officials Charged for Flint Water Crisis In Flint, criminal and civil cases stemming from the city’s lead tainted drinking water crisis are converging this week. New criminal charges may be coming while many in Flint still question whether they will ever get justice. Nearly seven years ago, government leaders here pushed the button that switched the city of Flint’s drinking water source from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River. The intent was to save money. The result was a complete disaster. Improperly treated river water damaged pipes, which then released lead and other contaminates into the city’s drinking water. Eighteen months later the water was switched back, but the damage was done. Blood lead levels soared in young children. People were forced to use bottled water for drinking and washing clothes. The city was forced to rip out thousands of old pipes. While testifying about the Flint water crisis before Congress in 2016, former Governor Rick Snyder acknowledged the mistakes. “Local, state and federal officials, we all failed the families of Flint,” Snyder told a congressional committee. Snyder was not among the 15 state and local government officials who faced criminal charges for their handling of the crisis. Half of them pled guilty to lesser charges in exchange for no jail time. And in 2019, Michigan’s new Attorney General dropped charges against the remaining defendants citing problems with the original investigation. The investigation seemed over. Until Tuesday, when the Associated Press reported that several former government officials, including former Governor Snyder, would be facing new charges. If that happens, legal experts say it would be a difficult case for prosecutors. Read more at sciencefriday.com. How Soil Could Save The Planet There’s a scene in the 2014 film Interstellar that imagines the hypothetical impact of climate change on Earth’s food system. The film takes place in a dystopian future where a global crop blight is slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Corn is the last viable crop and dust storms threaten humanity’s survival. But it’s not just science fiction. Scientists are warning that if we don’t adopt more sustainable farming practices we’ll deplete the soil of vital nutrients and actually accelerate climate change. The Earth’s soils contain about 2,500 gigatons of carbon—that’s more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals. And the soil—in union with the plants that grow on and in it—may have an unlimited capacity to suck CO2 out of the air and store it underground. Tom Newmark, founder of The Carbon Underground, joins Ira to discuss the potential of carbon sequestration through a farming technique called “regenerative agriculture.” And Diana Wall, professor of biology at Colorado State University, discusses the role microbes play in the carbon cycle. President Biden Makes Immediate Changes To U.S. Science Policy This week’s peaceful transition of power from one administration to another was a win for democracy, but it was also a win for science. Among his first acts in the Oval Office, President Biden signed executive orders allowing the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization, and put the brakes on plans for the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in the arctic national wildlife refuge. And there will be more policy changes to come, as the president considers signing a new set of orders designed to ramp up U.S. COVID vaccination efforts in the coming days and weeks. Umair Irfan, staff reporter for Vox, discusses the major science policy news of the week. Plus, an update on new variants of SARS-CoV-2 and what scientists have discovered about coronavirus immunity.
22/01/2147m 42s

Valley Fever And COVID-19, Structure of Conspiracy Theories, New Climate Wars. Jan 15, 2021, Part 2

How The West Is Battling COVID-19 And Valley Fever For the past year, the COVID-19 crisis has taken up much of our attention. But the pandemic can come with complications: Some states face an onslaught of pre-existing diseases. In the American West, doctors, scientists, and patients continue to battle valley fever, a respiratory illness caused by breathing in the fungus Coccidioides. In desert hot spots, communities are now facing what doctors at Kern Medical’s Valley Fever Institute in Bakersfield, California are calling it a “triple threat”: COVID-19, valley fever, and the flu. Valley fever is already a commonly misdiagnosed disease. Initial symptoms often overlap with other respiratory diseases, raising concern that the pandemic could further delay proper diagnosis. SciFri producer Lauren Young tells the story of patients who have encountered both COVID-19 and valley fever. She speaks with Valley Fever Institute clinicians Rasha Kuran and Arash Heidari about diagnosing the disease, and checks in with UC Merced immunologist Katrina Hoyer on delays in valley fever research during the pandemic.  How To Spot A Conspiracy Theory 2020 was a fruitful year for conspiracy theories: QAnon gained followers, COVID-19 misinformation proliferated in viral YouTube videos, and in November, President Trump helped proliferate the entirely false narrative that the election he’d lost was, in fact, stolen. The details holding these falsehoods together get complicated quickly. But according to a group of researchers at UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley, even the most convoluted of conspiracy theories has a distinct structure. That’s different from real-life scandals, which tend to unravel as new evidence emerges—take former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’ scandal, a completely verified event in which several of the governor’s staff and appointees colluded to close toll bridge lanes during morning rush hour, intentionally clogging traffic to the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey. The researchers wrote in the journal PLOS One in June that applying machine learning tools to conspiracy theories reveal them to be less complex than things that actually happen. Ira talks to UC Berkeley’s Tim Tangherlini, a co-author on the research, about how these analyses might help actually disarm dangerous conspiracy theories. A New President, An Ongoing Climate Crisis In The New Climate War, author and climate scientist Michael Mann writes that climate messaging is distorted. To prevent a climate crisis, individual actions are useful, but insufficient. In the past, focusing on individual action distracted viewers from focusing on the harm of industrial polluters. For real change, we have to fight the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry.  On January 20th the United States has a new opportunity to do just that. The incoming Biden Administration will have a full plate of issues to tackle—among them, hustling to re-engage with foreign allies, and reversing the climate damage of the last four years. But there is room for cautious optimism. President-elect Biden campaigned more aggressively on climate issues than any of his opponents, and has appointed John Kerry to the newly created position of Climate Envoy within his administration.  Climate scientist Michael Mann joins Ira to discuss what President Biden can do in his first 100 days to show he’s serious about enacting climate policy, and his new book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet.
15/01/2146m 48s

How The COVID-19 Vaccine Was Developed And Is Being Distributed. Jan 15, 2021, Part 1

How Did A Vaccine Get Developed In Less Than A Year? From the first discovery of a strange new respiratory virus in Wuhan, China, in January of 2020, it took less than a year to get a vaccine into the arms of frontline healthcare workers. More than two dozen vaccine candidates have made it from basic safety trials to Phase 3, where efficacy against COVID-19 is tested. That’s particularly remarkable as before the pandemic, it was rare for a vaccine to take fewer than 5 years from start to finish. The extraordinary speed of these critical developments is thanks to decades and decades of previous work, including research on the original SARS virus, and even HIV. Ira talks to two researchers who have contributed to COVID-19 vaccines about the foundations these innovations rest on, and how increased resources and collaboration helped save time in 2020. How COVID-19's Vaccine Development Will Benefit Future Vaccines For months, much of the world’s attention has been on COVID-19 vaccines—people want to know when they will come, how well will they work, and when can I get one?  Fortunately, the pharmaceutical industry has rapidly developed and tested multiple vaccines for SARS-CoV2. Now, the discovery that two vaccines based on messenger RNA technology have over 94% efficacy is drawing attention to new ways to think about vaccines. We’ve come a long way from the days of the inactivated poliovirus vaccine used by Salk, or the attenuated virus vaccines developed by Sabin. Ira talks to vaccine researcher Paul Duprex and biotech reporter Ryan Cross about how these new developments improve our ability to fight infectious disease, and looks ahead to where the future of vaccine development might lie. West Virginia Leads In Race To Distribute Vaccines Healthcare workers have had mixed success getting COVID-19 vaccines into people’s arms across the U.S. A big reason for the unequal rollout is the lack of federal requirements for who gets vaccinated, and in what order. There are, however, federal recommendations—for example, this week Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recommended that vaccination strategies should prioritize people age 65 and older. But states are on their own when it comes to distribution, resulting in 50 different plans. One of the states with the highest percentages of residents vaccinated for COVID-19 is West Virginia. Though it’s predominantly rural, the state’s high population of elderly people has resulted in a large-scale, largely successful effort to reach its residents. New York state, on the other hand, has been less successful. Bureaucratic infighting between state and city officials delayed vaccination, and many residents eligible for vaccination are turning down the opportunity, citing concerns about safety. Joining Ira to talk about COVID-19 vaccine distribution are Fred Mogul, health and government reporter for New York Public Radio in New York City and Dave Mistich, senior reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting in Morgantown.
15/01/2146m 55s

COVID Fact Check, Aging Cells, News Roundup. Jan 8, 2021, Part 1

Fact Check My Feed: What’s Up With These COVID-19 Mutations? It’s a new year, and that means there’s a whole slew of new COVID-19 news to dive into, including an overwhelming amount of new information about vaccines and mutations. The U.S. has now administered roughly five million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, far behind the nation’s goal of vaccinating 20 million by the end of 2020. The two approved COVID-19 vaccines, one from Pfizer and one from Moderna, are intended to be given over the course of two doses. But there’s a discussion within the medical community about whether or not both doses are necessary for every patient.  Mutations are also an increasing concern. Variants from the U.K. and South Africa are concerning epidemiologists, and appear to be spreading. Though there’s no proof that either are more deadly, they may be more infectious. Joining Ira to explain is Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, based in Seattle, Washington.   Can Cells Rewind The Wrinkles Of Time? As a cell ages, its DNA goes through a process called “methylation”—gaining extra methyl chemical groups. These groups can affect how the genes’ encoded information is expressed, without actually changing the sequence of genes. In work published in Nature, researchers explore whether reversing that methylation can reprogram the cells back to a more youthful state. They used modified adenoviruses to introduce three specific transcription factors into mouse retinal ganglion cells, a type of neuron found in the eye. These transcription factors helped revert the cell to a more immature state—and also seemed to let the cell behave in a more ‘youthful’ way. David Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and one of the authors of the study, joins Ira to discuss what the work means, and what it could tell scientists about the aging process.   Trump’s New EPA ‘Transparency’ Rule Could Hamper Science This week, the Environmental Protection Agency passed the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated that “the American public has the right to know what scientific studies underline the Agency’s regulatory decisions.” But critics say that this outgoing policy by the Trump administration can be used to hamper new environmental regulations. Amy Nordrum lines out the policy and other science headlines from the week.    
08/01/2147m 19s

Fundamentals of Physics, Giant Ancient Birds, 2021 Space Outlook. Jan 8, 2021, Part 2

Finding New Particles On The Frontier of Physics As a theoretical physicist, Frank Wilczek has made a career out of dreaming up new ways to understand our physical universe—and he’s usually right.  In the early 1980’s, he predicted the existence of a new quasiparticle, called the anyon—which was confirmed in experiments last summer. In 2004, Wilczek was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution decades earlier to the theory of quantum chromodynamics. And in addition to the anyon, he has predicted the existence of a hypothetical particle known as the axion, a possible component of cold dark matter.  Wilczek joins Ira for a sweeping, mind-bending conversation about physics and the universe as discussed in his latest book, Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality. Giant, Toothed Birds Once Ruled The Skies More than 62 million years ago, a few million years after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, a group of seafaring birds known as pelagornithids first appeared in the fossil record. They had long wings, and, unusually for a bird, teeth. They had a much  simpler structure than modern mammal teeth, known as pseudoteeth.  While alive, pelagornithids successfully took over the planet. Their remains have been found on every continent, and their existence stretched for more than 50 million years. New research, published in Scientific Reports late last year, reveals that by the time the pelagornithids had been around for 12 million years, they’d already evolved to gigantic sizes never seen since in birds. They had 6-meter wingspans, nearly twice the size of modern albatrosses. SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to Peter Kloess, a co-author on the new research, about these giants of the past, plus the mystery of the pelagornithids’ disappearance.
08/01/2147m 8s

Christmas Bird Count, Black Birders Week, Science Diction: Vaccine. Jan 1, 2021, Part 1

Where Did The Word ‘Vaccine’ Come From? As we head into 2021, there’s one word on all of our minds: Vaccine. It may be in headlines right and left these days, but the word was actually coined more than a century ago.  In the 1700s, smallpox seemed unbeatable. People tried all sorts of things to protect themselves, from taking herbal remedies to tossing back 12 bottles of beer a day. Nothing worked.  Then Edward Jenner, an English doctor, heard a rumor about a possible solution. It wasn’t a cure, but Jenner thought he might be able to stop smallpox infections, before its dreaded symptoms began. One spring day, with the help of a milkmaid, an eight-year-old boy, and a cow named Blossom, he decided to run an experiment.  In this segment, Science Diction host Johanna Mayer tells the story of that ethically questionable, but ultimately world-altering experiment, and how it gave us the word “vaccine.” New Year, New Birds This year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count is anything but usual: Since gatherings are unsafe, it’s up to individuals to count what they can, where they are. But eager birders are still out there counting crows, chickadees, and grosbeaks in the name of community science. Ira joins a flock of bird nerds—Audubon’s Geoff LeBaron and Joanna Wu, and author and nature photographer Dudley Edmondson—to talk about the wonders of winter birding, and what decades of data show about how birds are shifting in a warming, changing world. Plus, how to make the most of birding while sheltering in place. Birds Of A Feather: Making Science More Inclusive It’s been six months since Black birders took over Twitter in solidarity with New York City birder and science writer Christian Cooper, who posted a video of a white woman threatening to call the police on him the very same day that George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. In response, Black naturalists and birders celebrated their communities and told stories about similar harassment in the outdoors for #BlackBirdersWeek. Other Black scientists have held their own visibility campaigns with #BlackInNeuro, #BlackInAstro, and dozens of other disciplines. SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to herpetologist Chelsea Connor, a co-founder of Black Birders Week, about her relationship with the outdoors, and what comes next for creating, and maintaining, spaces where Black scientists can thrive. 
01/01/2147m 10s

They Might Be Giants, Animal Sounds Quiz, Luxury Ostrich Eggs. Jan 1, 2021, Part 2

They Might Be Giants With A Timely Reminder: “Science Is Real” Fans of the band They Might Be Giants are likely to be familiar with the band’s version of the 1959 Tom Glazer song “Why Does The Sun Shine?” As they sing, “The sun is a mass / of incandescent gas / a gigantic nuclear furnace.” In their album “Here Comes Science,” the band revisits that song, and follows it with a fact-checking track titled “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?” In the lyrics, they describe the science of plasma. The album also includes an ode to the elements, descriptions of what blood does in the body, and songs describing the scientific process. In a reminder that resonates for the start of 2021, one song is titled “Science is Real.”   In this archival segment from 2009, John Linnell and John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants join Ira in the studio to discuss the album, and to play some science songs. Name That Call: Test Your Animal Sound Trivia Can you differentiate the cry of an Antarctic Weddell seal from the song of an emperor penguin? How about the bellows of a howler monkey from a warthog’s rumbling roar? The animal kingdom is filled with diverse calls and sounds, and for World Wildlife Day earlier this week on Tuesday, we curated them—in a quiz. SciFri’s digital producer Daniel Peterschmidt teamed up with Google Earth to create an interactive quiz that hops you around the world and highlights the many (sometimes surprising) sounds that species make. Daniel challenges Ira to an animal sound showdown. Test your knowledge and explore the wide world of screeches, howls, and growls with the Science Friday Google Earth Animal Sound Quiz! The Luxury Ostrich Eggs Of The Bronze And Iron Age Upper Class Today, if you want to show off that you’ve made it, you might buy a top-of-the-line Rolex watch, or line your garage with Ferraris and Rolls Royces. But in the Iron and Bronze age, one of the luxury goods of choice was to put a highly decorated ostrich egg in your tomb. These status symbols have been found in multiple European Iron and Bronze Age locations, despite ostriches not being indigenous to the area. A team of scientists wanted to know the origins of these eggs—and just how they made it from Africa into the hands of the Iron and Bronze Age elite. Mediterranean archaeologist Tamar Hodos, an author on the study recently published in Antiquity, explains how the team determined that these eggs came from wild ostriches, rather than captive birds, and what this reveals about the ancient luxury trade. See a gallery of these ostrich eggs below!
01/01/2146m 28s

2020 In Review, Charismatic Tubeworms, Dog Evolution. Dec 25, 2020, Part 1

2020: The Year In Science, With Wendy Zukerman It’s the end of the year, and time to reflect. While there’s no doubt the coronavirus and efforts to combat it led the science pages this year, there was more to this year than masks and hand sanitizer.  Wendy Zukerman, host and executive producer of the Gimlet podcast Science Vs, joins Ira to talk about this very strange year, and recap some of the best science—from the rise of COVID-19, to climate change and wildfires, to the discovery of fluorescent platypuses. Plus, check out some of Science Friday’s favorite stories from the year. These Worms Are Superheroes Of The Sea If winter has felt gray and colorless for you lately, cheer up and join us for a special, festive edition of the Charismatic Creature Corner. This month, we’re looking not at one creature, but a whole class of them: Meet the polychaetes, also known as bristle worms. (“Polychaete” translates to “many bristles.”) Yes, they may seem short on charm—they’re worms, after all. Many, like the bloodworm, the bobbit worm, and the bearded fireworm, pack either razor-sharp jaws, or a painful venom.  But they’re also both gorgeous and mighty. Polychaetes come in iridescent colors, with feathery fronds or intricate patterns. Just in time for the holidays, consider the cone-shaped branches of the Christmas Tree worm, which makes its home on coral reefs. Others, like tube worms, produce energy for whole ecosystems from chemicals in the deep ocean’s hydrothermal vents or even the bones of dead whales. Still others, like alciopids, have remarkably human-like eyes. Gossamer worms can shoot yellow bioluminescence out of their arm-like bristles. And thousands more species provide lessons in marine evolution and invertebrate biology for the eager explorer.  This week’s Charismatic Creature Correspondent, producer Christie Taylor, asks Ira to consider polychaetes—all 10,000 known species—for entry to the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame. Helping make the case is Karen Osborn, curator of marine invertebrates for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and a seasoned ocean explorer and discoverer of new species. How Did Dogs Evolve To Be Domesticated? Human DNA ancestry kits have become very popular in the last few years—and now, the trend has arrived for canines. A group of scientists recently mapped out the genomes of twenty-seven ancient dog genomes, looking back as far as 11,000 years ago to trace the evolution of the domesticated dog. Their findings were published in the journal Science.  Producer Alexa Lim talks to two of the study’s authors, evolutionary biologists Anders Bergstrom and Greger Larson, about what this tells us about the origins of the domesticated dog, and how they evolved to be pets.
25/12/2048m 18s

Indigenous Astronomy, Auroras, Inclusive Science. Dec 25, 2020, Part 2

Nature’s Own Holiday Light Show The spectacular glowing green of the Northern Lights is caused by charged particles from the solar wind interacting with gas molecules, atoms, and ions in the atmosphere. Protons and electrons streaming from the sun follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines, accelerating down towards the poles. The aurora process is similar to a neon sign—the charged particles excite atmospheric gas, causing it to emit light.  Don Hampton, research associate professor in the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, explains how the aurora borealis forms, what accounts for its typical green glow, and offers tips for snapping a photo of the lights should you be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this astronomical light show.   Relearning The Star Stories Of Indigenous People In 2012, the Obama administration projected that the United States would need to add an additional 1 million college graduates in STEM fields per year for the next ten years to keep up with projected growth in the need for science and technology expertise. At the same time, though, native Americans and other Indigenous groups are underrepresented in the sciences, making up only 0.2% of the STEM workforce in 2014, despite being 2% of the total population of the United States. Why are Indigenous people still underrepresented in science? Ira speaks with astrophysicist Annette Lee and anthropologist Kim TallBear about the historical role of science and observation in Indigenous communities, and how Western scientific culture can leave out other voices. They also discuss the solutions: What does an inclusive scientific enterprise look like, and how could we get there?
25/12/2048m 11s

Black Holes, Scallop Die-off, River Sound Map. Dec 18, 2020, Part 2

What Would Happen If You Fell Into A Black Hole? A new book, Black Hole Survival Guide, explores different theories of what would happen if you jumped into a black hole. Most of them are grizzly. As the reader traverses one of the great mysteries of the universe, they meet different fates. Author Janna Levin, a physics and astronomy professor at Barnard College at Columbia University in New York, makes a convincing argument that black holes are unfairly maligned—and are actually perfect in their creation. Levin joins Ira to talk black hole physics and theories, and answer some SciFri listener questions along the way. The Case Of The Vanishing Scallops Over the last two years, Long Island's Peconic Bay has lost more than 90% of its scallops—bad news for a community where harvesting shellfish has long been an important part of the economy. Researchers are scrambling to discover why this is happening. Is it predation, climate change, illness—or maybe a combination of everything? Joining Ira to talk about his research with the Peconic Bay’s scallops is Stephen Tomasetti, PhD candidate in marine science at Stony Brook University in Southampton, New York. They talk about what could be causing this devastation, and how a “scallop FitBit” could shed light into how these shellfish are feeling. Composing A Sound Map Of An Ever-Changing River Annea Lockwood thinks of rivers as “live phenomena” that are constantly changing and shifting. She’s been drawn to the energy that rivers create, and the sound that energy makes, since she first started working with environmental recordings in the 1960s. One of her projects has been to create detailed “river maps” of the Hudson, Danube, and Housatonic rivers. Using stereo microphones and underwater hydrophones, she captures the gentle, powerful sounds of the water, along with the noises of insects, birds, and occasional humans she finds along the way. Lockwood’s composition, “A Sound Map of the Housatonic River”—a decade old, this year—takes listeners on a 150-mile tour, from the headwaters in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, past sites of toxic PCB contamination, to the Connecticut Audubon sanctuary, where the river spills into Long Island Sound.
18/12/2048m 51s

Future Of Climate Change, Tongue Microbiome. Dec 18, 2020, Part 1

How The Past Hints About Our Climate’s Future Ask a climate scientist how much the earth will warm as a result of the carbon dioxide we’re emitting right now, and the answer will be a range of temperatures: likely anywhere from 1 to 5 degrees Celsius. But all the models we have to predict the future are based on data from the past, most of it collected in the last 140 years. As carbon dioxide rises further past the unprecedented-in-human-history 400 parts per million (ppm), we are increasingly in a world never before seen by human eyes—or measured by thermometers. While we are certain the Earth’s climate will warm as CO2 increases, it’s harder to pin down exactly how sensitive the climate is. Scientists are working hard to narrow down our uncertainties about the coming temperature changes, sea level rises, and new patterns of rainfall and drought. And paleoclimatologists can examine ancient rocks, sediments, ice, and fossilized shells for clues about how past climates changed in response to different levels of carbon dioxide. Climates from past epochs have not only experienced that 400 ppm mark, but also levels higher than 1,000 ppm—and correspondingly, higher temperatures and higher seas. In Science last month, a team of researchers made the case for using more data from these climates, millions of years ago, to help us map out the future we face. Science Friday producer Christie Taylor talks to University of Arizona geoscientist Jessica Tierney, who is lead author on the new research. Mapping Out The ‘Microbial Skyscrapers’ On Your Tongue Your mouth is home to billions of bacteria, and they’re very particular—some prefer to live on the inside of the cheeks, while others prefer the teeth, the gums, or the surface of the tongue. Writing in the journal Cell Reports, researchers describe their efforts to map out the various communities of bacteria that inhabit the tongue. In the average mouth, around two dozen different types of bacteria form tiny “microbial skyscrapers” on the tongue’s surface, clustered around a central core made up of individual human skin cells. In this study, scientists mapped out the locations of tiny bacterial colonies within those clusters, to get a better understanding of the relationships and interdependencies between each colony. Jessica Mark Welch, one of the authors of the report and an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, talks about what we know about the microbiome of the human mouth—and what researchers would still like to learn. Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine May Soon Be Approved In The U.S. As the national rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTec vaccine began this week, Moderna’s own formula looks ready to add to the options for the nation’s healthcare workers and high-priority patients, at least according to a panel tasked with deciding whether the benefits outweigh the risks. On Thursday, the FDA’s independent advisory committee voted 20-0, with one abstention, to recommend the vaccine for emergency use. Now, the FDA itself must decide whether to follow through, a decision that is expected to come in the next few days. Vox staff writer Umair Irfan talks about the similarities and differences between Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine, what we’re learning about side effects for both injections, and the concerns about COVID-19 transmission to animals. Plus, why researchers say President-elect Biden’s goal for net-zero carbon emissions will require drastic, but feasible changes to how the nation operates. And how to view Monday’s conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter—a phenomenon theorized to be the explanation for the biblical Star of Bethlehem.
18/12/2048m 42s

Science Books of 2020, ANWR Drilling, Science Diction. Dec 11, 2020, Part 2

Trump Administration Rushes To Sell Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Land For Drilling In a last-minute push, the Trump administration announced Thursday that it plans to auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in just over a month, setting up a final showdown with opponents before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The sale, which is set for Jan. 6, could cap a bitter, decades-long battle over whether to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain, and it would seal the administration’s efforts to open the land to development. But conservation and tribal groups who oppose oil and gas development in the coastal plain strongly disagree. And they blasted the administration on Thursday, saying it’s cutting corners so it can hand over leases to oil companies before Biden, who opposes drilling in the refuge, is sworn in and can block it. Tegan Hanlon, Alaska energy desk reporter at Alaska Public Media, gives us the story and is joined by Sarah James, a Neetsa’ii Gwich’in elder and an anti-drilling advocate based in Arctic Village, Alaska. The Best Science Books Of 2020 As 2020 comes to a close, it’s hard to find ways to celebrate a year that brought so much frustration, loneliness, disappointment, and heartache.  But however difficult the world got, we at Science Friday could still find joy in awesome science stories and comfort in tales of remarkable science fiction.  And, given that science was so much at the center of our lives this year, it’s not a surprise that we saw so many interesting science books published in 2020. Books about the pandemic, about climate change, and about the algorithms that rule our lives. But also books about curiosity—those things about the human condition that you (maybe) finally had time to notice.   Guest host John Dankosky is joined by librarian Brian Muldoon and Science senior editor Valerie Thompson to highlight some of the science books you may have missed this year. Get the list of the books recommended by our guests!  What’s In A (Hurricane) Name? This year was the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record—we saw a whopping 30 named storms. In fact, there were so many storms that we exhausted the list of predetermined names for the season, and had to resort to using the Greek alphabet. The most recent hurricane (for now), was Hurricane Iota. But why do we name hurricanes in the first place? The practice of naming storms goes back to the 19th century, and it was a bumpy ride to land on the system we use today.  Science Diction host Johanna Mayer tells the story of a meteorologist in Australia, a novel, and a second-wave feminist from Florida—and how they brought us hurricane names.
11/12/2048m 42s

Vaccination Logistics, Europe’s Green Deal. Dec 11, 2020, Part 1

COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin In The U.K. This week, the U.K. began its vaccination effort against COVID-19 with Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old woman from Coventry, becoming the first U.K. resident to receive the shot. She received a first dose of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, and will require a second dose in several weeks to achieve the full effect. Nations around the world are racing to implement vaccination programs. The clinical use of the vaccine in the U.K. came just six days after the vaccine obtained emergency approval. This week, Canada also gave emergency approval to the Pfizer approach, and could start vaccinations next week. And the FDA is meeting this week to examine trial data and could soon approve treatments here. Sophie Bushwick of Scientific American joins guest host John Dankosky to talk about the vaccination effort and other stories from the week in science, including the return to Earth of asteroid material sampled by the Hayabusa2 mission, the finding that human-made stuff now outweighs all living things on Earth, and an advance in bionic eye development. What Has Europe’s Green New Deal Accomplished In Its First Year?  Just over a year ago, the Youth Climate Movement was at its peak. Millions of people were protesting government inaction in the face of rising global temperatures.  Nearly everything about the world has changed since then. And while the incoming Biden Administration has said it will adopt parts of the “Green New Deal,” the U.S. has failed to capitalize on the momentum of last year’s Global Climate Strikes. In Europe, however, the European Commission unveiled the “European Green New Deal in December of 2019. This 24-page document lays out a plan to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. Despite the pandemic, the commission has since made progress on many of its climate goals. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took pains in her European “State of the Union” address this past September to spell out how the European economy could emerge stronger from the global pandemic, with help from the Green Deal.  On the one year anniversary of the announcement of the European Green Deal, guest host John Dankosky talks with Frederic Simon, energy and environmental editor for EUROACTIV and Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, as they reflect back on the progress the EU has made towards its ambitious climate goals. Charting A Path To Deliver The COVID-19 Vaccine Last week, the United Kingdom approved a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer through an emergency authorization, and vaccinations began this week. There is still not an approved vaccine in the United States, but according to Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine team, the goal is to produce and deliver 300 million doses by the end of January 2021.  Journalist Maryn McKenna and physician Uché Blackstock discuss how states and health departments are preparing to distribute the vaccine—and the hurdles they may face. 
11/12/2048m 16s

Virtual Worlds And Wildfire Health Effects. Dec 4, 2020, Part 2

Science Friday’s Second Life: The Voyage Home Do you remember Second Life? That online virtual world where you can create an avatar, build whatever you want, and meet people? It was a hit in the late 2000s, quickly becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Within the first few years, an average of 38,000 users were logged in at any given time. Second Life was so big that Science Friday created a community there in 2007. We livestreamed our show in-world every Friday, and a huge community of avatars—humans, fairies, wolves, dogs with wings—would gather with us every week to listen. Sadly, after a couple years, our staff left Second Life, and the space was dismantled. But we recently learned that for the last ten years, some members of that original community have still been meeting up virtually to listen to the show every week.  Producer Daniel Peterschmidt catches up with the group to find out what they had to do to survive in the virtual landscape, what the online community is like today, and what they’ve learned while spending over a decade in Second Life. We’ll also hear from Celia Pearce, an associate professor of game design at Northeastern University, and Katherine Isbister, a human computer interaction and games researcher at the the University of California, Santa Cruz, about how virtual worlds like Second Life can help us cope with the quarantine-induced reality we live in now. How Do Wildfires Affect Our Bodies? This summer, the skies in California, Oregon, and other West Coast states turned sickly orange—a hue that lingered in many places for days, due to the smoke and ash from wildfires.  It’s estimated that more than eight million acres of land have been scorched this year, and wildfires are still blazing: Nearly 40 fires are still active out west. Climate change is creating warmer, drier conditions in western states, resulting in a season that starts earlier and ends later than in the past. The foregoing of historically effective indigenous burning practices has also exacerbated the problem.  Joining Ira to explain what we know about the health effects of wildfires are Colleen Reid, assistant professor of geography at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Chris Migliaccio, immunologist and research associate professor at the University of Montana in Missoula. 
04/12/2048m 53s

David Attenborough, China’s Moon Mission, COVID Approved In U.K. Dec 4, 2020, Part 1

David Attenborough Observes A Natural World In Crisis If you were to make a list of celebrities of the natural world, Sir David Attenborough would most likely make the cut. You probably know him from television series such as Life on Earth, The Secret Life of Plants, Living Planet, and so many more. Now, at age 94, he’s written a new book, A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, and filmed an accompanying Netflix documentary. The book and film talk about the changes to the natural world in the time he’s been alive—from overfishing, to deforestation, to climate change—and urge us to adopt a more sustainable future. David Attenborough and BBC producer and science writer Jonnie Hughes join Ira to talk about the challenges the world is facing today, and steps we can take toward sustainability. Read an excerpt of Attenborough’s new book. China’s Chang’e-5 Lander Touches Down On The Moon It was an historic week for space news. On Tuesday, China’s Chang’e-5 lander touched down on the moon’s near-side, near Mons Rumker, a mountain in the “Ocean of Storms” region. Over the course of two days, the lander collected several kilograms of lunar soil—the first samples collected in over 40 years. If all goes well, the Chang’e-5 ascension module and its cargo will reunite with the orbiter on December 6th.   Also this week, a video from the control tower of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico captured the moment its final cable snapped. The platform came crashing down on the dish, effectively ending the future—but not the legacy—of this iconic observatory. Ira and Loren Grush, senior science reporter for The Verge, pay tribute, and discuss the historic space news of the week. This Wednesday, the United Kingdom announced approval for a COVID-19 vaccine through an emergency authorization, beating out the U.S. and most other countries. The vaccine is being produced by the U.S. pharma company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech. And the first U.K. vaccinations may start as early as next week.  Nsikan Akpan of National Geographic talks about how this vaccine works and what it means for the vaccination schedule for the rest of the world.    
04/12/2047m 55s

Your Cheese’s Microbiome, COVID Reinfection Questions, Future Of Meat. Nov 27, 2020, Part 1

Can You Get COVID-19 More Than Once? SciFri producer Elah Feder’s friend tested positive for antibodies a few months ago—but last month, she developed COVID-19 symptoms again. So far, only a handful of cases of COVID reinfection have been confirmed, but we don’t yet know the true rates. Cases could be missed if the first or second infection is asymptomatic, and sometimes, what looks like a case of reinfection is something else entirely. Over the past few months, we’ve seen both concerns that antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 fade quickly and reassurances that immunity probably endures. Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale, along with Alessandro Sette and Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, explain what we know about the immune system’s ability to remember this virus, and what cases of reinfection could mean for the efficacy of vaccines. What Is The Future of Meat? More and more people are trying meat alternatives, and for good reason: The meat industry is a major contributor to climate change. Almost 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, with cattle making up about two-thirds of that. Others avoid meat because of ethical problems with slaughtering animals. Altogether, plant-based meats are having a major moment, making their way onto the shelves of major grocery stores, and the menus of fast food chains. It’s now possible to eat a burger that tastes, looks, and feels like beef—while being entirely made of plants. Some scientists are devoting their careers to creating a future where more meat comes from plants, or even cells grown in a lab. Joining Ira to mull over the future of meat is Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, and Isha Datar, executive director of New Harvest, a non-profit that promotes the research and development of cell-based animal products.  
27/11/2046m 54s

Ig Nobel Prizes, Koji Alchemy. Nov 27, 2020, Part 2

Laugh Along At Home With The Ig Nobel Awards We know traditions are different this year. Maybe you’re having a small family dinner instead of a huge gathering. Maybe you’re just hopping on a video call instead of going over the river and through the woods. At Science Friday, our holiday tradition of broadcasting highlights from the annual Ig Nobel Awards ceremony is different this year too. Rather than being recorded live in front of a cheering crowd at Harvard’s Sanders Theater, the ceremony was virtual this year. But one thing remains the same—awards went to a bunch of genuine scientists for research that first makes you laugh, then makes you think. This year marks the ceremony’s 30th anniversary.  Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research and master of ceremonies for the awards, joins Ira to talk about Ig Nobel history, and to share highlights from this year’s winners. Koji: The Mold You Want In Your Kitchen When chef Jeremy Umansky grows a batch of Aspergillus oryzae, a cultured mold also known as koji, in a tray of rice, he says he’s “bewitched” by its fluffy white texture and tantalizing floral smells. When professional mechanical engineer and koji hobbyist Rich Shih thinks about the versatility of koji, from traditional Japanese sake to cured meats, he says, “It blows my mind.” Koji-inoculated starches are crucial in centuries-old Asian foods like soy sauce and miso—and, now, inspiring new and creative twists from modern culinary minds. And Shih and Umansky, the two food fanatics, have written a new book describing the near-magical workings of the fungus, which, like other molds, uses enzymes to break starches, fats, and proteins down into food for itself. It just so happens that, in the process, it’s making our food tastier.  You can grow koji on grains, vegetables, and other starchy foods, and make sauces, pastes, alcohols, and vinegars. Even cure meats. Umansky and Shih say the possibilities are endless—and they have the koji pastrami and umami popcorn to prove it. Plus, Urmansky and Shih share some of their favorite koji-inspired holiday dishes and leftover recipes—from turkey amino spreads to cranberry sauce amazake to soy sauce-infused whipped cream. Read more on Science Friday!
27/11/2047m 19s

Roman Mars, Disinformation, Ancient Female Big Game Hunters. Nov 20, 2020, Part 2

Exploring The Invisible Architecture Of Cities With Roman Mars On a walk through your city or town, there are all sorts of sights and sounds to take in—big buildings, parks and patches of green space, roaring vehicles, and people strolling around. But according to Roman Mars, host of the 99% Invisible podcast, you need to look at the smaller, often unseen details to decode what’s really going on in the city.  In the new book The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, co-authors Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt show that you can learn a lot about the place you live in by taking a closer look at tucked-away architecture and pavement markings. There’s meaning behind the etchings on the covers of maintenance holes and water lines, and the cryptic spray painted symbols on the street that signify network and telecommunication cables. These signs and structures can tell stories about a city’s past and present. Ira chats with Mars about the overlooked details built into our cities and how our urban environments are adapting to the pandemic. Big Tech Can’t Stop The Lies As the dust continues to settle from the 2020 presidential election, unfounded rumors persist about stolen ballots, dead people voting, and other kinds of alleged fraud—all without evidence. But as slow results trickle in, President-Elect Joe Biden has won by large but plausible margins, and investigations into the process have held up the results as inarguable.   Anticipating a wave of misinformation, Twitter and Facebook both took unprecedented steps in the weeks leading up to the election to put election claims in context, marking questionable posts as misinformation. And yet large numbers of Americans continue to disagree about reality. How did this happen? And why have we seen so much of other kinds of misinformation this year—like anti-mask beliefs, or other COVID-19 hoaxes? Or take the QAnon conspiracy theories, all of which are completely baseless, yet somehow still spreading? Ira talks to New York Times reporter Davey Alba, and misinformation researcher Joan Donovan, about the patterns of media manipulation and how misinformation succeeds in our digital world. Ancient Big Game Hunters May Have Included Women In ancient hunter-gatherer societies, it’s been predominantly thought that men were the hunters and the women were the gatherers. This narrative has persisted for centuries. But researchers say the story might be more complicated. In Peru, a team of anthropologists uncovered a burial site containing 9,000-year-old remains of a possible female big game hunter. Their findings were published in the journal Science Advances. Producer Alexa Lim talks with one of the authors on that study, anthropologist Randy Haas from UC Davis, about what this can tell us about the social structure of hunter-gatherers. 
20/11/2047m 58s

Famous Arecibo Observatory Decommissioned, Biden’s Climate Change Plan. Nov 20, 2020, Part 1

Puerto Rico's Famous Arecibo Observatory Decommissioned The astronomical observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, has been standing since 1963. It has weathered hurricanes, earthquakes, and time itself. But in August, a large cable—holding up one of three towers that help suspend the telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform above the collecting dish—slipped out of its socket. It fell into the dish below, leaving a trail of broken panels. One broken cable seemed like a fixable problem, but in early November a second cable broke. Now, after engineers assessing the damage said it’s likely these breakages have increased strain on the remaining cables, and pointed to fraying strands on additional cables, scientists and others worried of the odds of an accelerating spiral of broken cables, which would cause the massive receiver to collapse onto the dish below and destroy the observatory beyond repair. On Thursday, it seemed the National Science Foundation agreed with these worries: The agency announced it would decommission the historic observatory, and plan for a demolition process that could eliminate the portions at risk of collapse while preserving as much of the structure as possible. As National Geographic contributor (and daughter of one-time observatory director Frank Drake) Nadia Drake wrote Thursday, “It’s game over.” SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to Drake, former observatory director Mike Nolan, and astronomer Edgard Rivera-Valentín about the damage, as well as the telescope’s irreplaceable role in detecting Earth-threatening asteroids, and its huge importance as a symbol for Puerto Ricans. What Our Climate Can Look Like Under Biden The transition from a Trump presidency to a Biden administration will be a stark contrast for many sectors—perhaps most notably for climate change. While Trump spent his time in office rolling back environmental rules and regulations and setting the country’s climate progress back, president-elect Joe Biden has promised the most ambitious climate plan of any incoming American president in history. The plan is sprawling: investing $400 billion over ten years in clean energy, conserving 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030, and prioritizing environmental justice are just the tip of the plan. Biden also promises to take executive action to reverse the harmful climate rollbacks made during the Trump administration. But is this plan realistic, or even possible if Republicans continue control of the Senate? Joining Ira to talk about the Biden plan is Emily Atkin, author and founder of HEATED, a daily newsletter about the climate crisis, and Rebecca Leber, climate and environment reporter for Mother Jones. What The Latest Promising Pfizer And Moderna Vaccine Trials Mean After a long ten months, the moment we’ve been waiting for is almost here. This week, drug companies Moderna and Pfizer both announced that clinical trials on their respective COVID-19 vaccines had concluded, and both were found to be 95% effective against the coronavirus. While that may be very welcome good news, it comes in the same week that deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 250,000 in the United States. The Atlantic staff writer Sarah Zhang joins Ira to talk about what we can expect over the coming months as these vaccines roll out—with more still to come. Plus, the prehistoric parasites that likely killed a dinosaur, and a scientific debate is sparked on TikTok.  
20/11/2048m 18s

Body Temperature, COVID Vaccines, Dog Genomics. Nov 13, 2020, Part 2

Our Average Body Temperature Is Getting Cooler We’ve all been getting our temperature checked on the regular these days. Most restaurants and businesses have been scanning peoples’ foreheads with thermometer guns to check for signs of fever as a safety precaution for COVID-19. We’ve been told that our temperature should be around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 37 degrees Celsius), the “normal” human body temperature. The value was set over 150 years ago by the German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich. But 98.6 degrees may no longer be the golden standard.  In several studies, researchers have found that the average human body temperature may be lowering. Producer Alexa Lim talks with infectious disease specialist Julie Parsonnet about what temperature can tell us about our body and overall human health.  Fact Check My Feed: How Excited Should You Be About COVID-19 Vaccines? As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations set new records, worse than even the initial surge this spring, there was one piece of promising pandemic news this week: a press release from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, one of several racing toward developing a vaccine. Pfizer, working with German company BioNTech, announced Monday that their vaccine candidate, which uses a new technology involving mRNA, had reached an efficacy of 90 percent based on interim data. Trial participants were either given the vaccine or a placebo. Enough of the participants in the placebo group have since gone on to get COVID-19 to offer clues to its success: These rates suggest that nine out of 10 people who receive the vaccine will be protected from symptoms of disease.  But, as many have pointed out, Pfizer’s optimistic claims did not come with any release of data to back them up—nor an understanding of whether the most vulnerable would receive the same level of protection. Furthermore, this is only an interim analysis, meaning there’s more the company still has to learn before settling on a final efficacy number.  There are many questions yet to answer: For example, the process of understanding a vaccine’s safety takes much longer, and more people, than any trial period can fully assess. And even if Pfizer’s vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, how will a vaccine that requires two doses and expensive deep-freeze storage be distributed to all the people who need it?  Other vaccine candidates are also moving quickly. Another mRNA vaccine maker, Moderna, also indicated this week by press release that they will have their own interim analysis ready soon. Ira fact—and reality—checks the latest news on COVID-19 vaccine trials with virologist Angela Rasmussen and biostatistician Natalie Dean. How To Decode Your Dog’s DNA While we have been sitting at home for months, some of you have been spending a lot more time with your pets. You might stare at your dog and wonder: What exactly is your breed? Well, some people have been taking the extra step in finding out more about their furry quarantine companion—by getting a dog DNA test. Producer Katie Feather talks with pet genomics experts (yes, they exist!) about what you can and can’t learn from these direct-to-consumer genetics tests for dogs. They also discuss a citizen science project that studies connections between your pup’s genes and their behavior.
13/11/2048m 32s

Biden’s COVID Transition Team, Election Drug Policy Reform. Nov 13, 2020, Part 1

The New Biden Administration Plans For COVID-19 It’s been less than a week since it became clear that Joe Biden would be the president elect. While President Trump and his allies continue to push unsubstantiated claims of election misdeeds—with no evidence—the Biden transition team is moving into action.  This week, as coronavirus cases spike alarmingly around the country, the president-elect unveiled his own coronavirus task force. The team of experts will help guide the incoming administration’s COVID-19 response, as well as potentially shape the fight against the pandemic once the Biden administration is sworn in in January.  The panel will be co-chaired by three prominent names: David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner; Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate dean at Yale Medical School focusing on health equity research; and Vivek Murthy, former U.S. surgeon general. The remainder of the panel is made up of experts from across academia, industry, and government roles.   Lev Facher, Washington correspondent for STAT, joins Ira to talk about the makeup of the task force, and how a Biden administration coronavirus response might differ from existing policy.  The Election Shows Americans Are Rethinking The War On Drugs Last week, all eyes were on the presidential election. But across the country, another major referendum was put before many voters.  In every state where drug reform was on the ballot, it passed. Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota legalized recreational marijuana. And medical marijuana got approved in Mississippi and South Dakota. In Washington D.C., residents voted to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. And in Oregon, all drugs, including heroin and cocaine, will now be decriminalized. The state will also legalize the use of psilocybin, the psychedelic drug found in magic mushrooms. With so many states approving pro-drug measures, from the deep blue to the deep red, does this signal a major turning point for how Americans view the war on drugs? Joining Ira to talk about this are Amelia Templeton, health reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland and Lee Strubinger, politics and public policy reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting in Rapid City.  Everywhere In America, COVID-19 Is Surging It’s been another bad week for COVID-19 in the United States. Every state in the country is seeing increased cases, most at rates indicating completely unchecked community spread. Hospitalizations are at their highest rate ever: more than 60,000 people were in the hospital with coronavirus infections on Tuesday. And following the now-expected pattern, deaths are also rising, with more than 1,000 being recorded every day and that number, too, steadily increasing. Experts are predicting that an additional 20,000-25,000 people could die in the next two weeks alone, and 160,000 new deaths by February 1, 2021. MIT Technology Review’s Amy Nordrum briefs Ira on the latest alarming pandemic numbers, what President-Elect Biden said he wants to do about the climate crisis, and, on a lighter note, some stories you might have missed—like how Alphabet is unrolling optical internet in Kenya, and the amazing discovery of advanced water filtration in the ancient Mayan city of Tikal.    
13/11/2048m 17s

Climate Policy And The Election, COVID Winter Forecast, Murder Hornets. Nov 6, 2020, Part 1

What Will The Pandemic Look Like During The Winter? It’s been almost a year since officials in China announced the spread of a mysterious pneumonia, and identified the first COVID-19 patients. On January 21, the first U.S. COVID-19 case was confirmed in Washington State. And new record highs for cases were set this week.  Since March, just about every country in the world has tried to get a handle on the pandemic using different interventions. Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm and physician Abraar Karan discuss what pandemic planning might look like heading into the winter and during the second year of the virus.  Key Congressional Races That Could Affect Future Climate Change Legislation In addition to the presidential race, there were hundreds of local congressional elections that may be important in determining what type of climate change legislation will be passed in the next few years. Reporter Scott Waldman from E&E News/Climatewire talks about some of these races in areas affected by climate change. Not So Fast, Murder Hornets This past spring, you might have seen many headlines about murder hornets making it to the U.S. This is the sensationalist nickname for the Asian Giant Hornet, a large insect native to East and South Asia that preys on honey bee colonies.  Since late 2019, there have been several sightings of these hornets in Washington state. Just last month, the first Asian Giant Hornet nest was discovered in the U.S., in Blaine, Washington, which is on the U.S. and Canada border. On October 24th, that nest was successfully eliminated by a group of scientists from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Joining Ira to talk about why it was so important to destroy this nest are two entomologists who worked closely on this effort: Chris Looney, with the WSDA in Olympia, and Jackie Serrano with the USDA in Wapato, Washington.
06/11/2047m 17s

Ancient Algae, COVID Holidays, Accessible Pregnancy Test. Nov 6, 2020, Part 2

How Algae Survived A Mass Extinction Sixty-six million years ago when an asteroid slammed into what is now the Yucatan peninsula, it set off a period of near global darkness for almost two years. Scientists think a majority of land species went extinct during that time, but what was going on in the planet’s oceans? And how were these ecosystems able to bounce back?  In a new paper published in Science Advances, researchers say what saved Earth’s oceans may have been a type of algae that could hunt for food. Ira is joined by one of the paper’s authors, Andrew Ridgwell, a professor of earth system science at the University of California, Riverside, to discuss the little algae that could.  Gathering Together (Carefully) For A Pandemic Holiday The winter holidays hinge on gatherings of multiple generations of family and friends, indoors, for long periods of time. These are all factors that increase the risk of spreading COVID-19, or unintentionally infecting your loved ones. The CDC now defines a “close contact” as spending 15 minutes within less than 6 feet of an infected person, over the course of 24 hours—encompassing pretty much any holiday gathering.  With Thanksgiving looming, new cases are setting records all over the country, and mayors like New York’s Bill de Blasio are urging people not to travel. Many are rightfully now weighing whether they can in good conscience get together. Some epidemiologists, including Anthony Fauci, aren’t outright telling people to cancel their holiday plans, even as they worry about a further surge in the pandemic tied to winter gathering. But if you do choose to travel, there are things you can do to reduce the risk you’re taking, like isolating before you go, getting your flu shot, and taking well-timed COVID-19 tests. Science journalist Kate Baggaley and epidemiologist Julia Marcus discuss how to identify the risks you might encounter, and minimizing those risks you can control—like the choice between driving and flying, how much faith to put in coronavirus testing, and indoor versus outdoor spaces.  This Accessible Pregnancy Test Has Results You Can Touch Whatever answer you’re hoping for from a pregnancy test, taking one is rarely a low-stress occurrence. And for many who are blind or vision-impaired, taking a pregnancy test can be even more tricky: the tests use visual displays, and often the only solution for knowing the result is to call a friend, family member, or even stranger into a very private moment. The app Be My Eyes is now partnering with pregnancy test maker ClearBlue to offer volunteer services in reading pregnancy tests—but that still brings a stranger into the process. The UK’s Royal National Institute for the Blind, however, now has a new design for a tactile, accessible test that could be taken privately. It’s colorful, high-contrast, and big enough to use without full sight. And the results appear as bumps that anyone can feel. SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to Gizmodo reporter Victoria Song, Blind Motherhood blogger Holly Bonner, and Procter & Gamble accessibility leader Sumaira Latif about the value of accessibility in pregnancy testing, and how a good idea might become an actual product.
06/11/2047m 20s

Book Club Finale, Floating Nuclear Plants. Oct 30, 2020, Part 2

Pushing Boundaries In Fantastical Fiction The Science Friday Book Club has spent all of October immersed in short stories by Indigenous, Black, Chicanx and South Asian authors. But at the end of the day, where do these stories fit in the bigger picture of fiction writing in 2020? In the final conversation of this fall’s speculative fiction focus, SciFri’s Book Club joins writer and ‘New Suns’ editor Nisi Shawl in a conversation about the expanding footprint of writers of color in science fiction and fantasy, and the ways both science and science fiction can be re-imagined and redefined when you look outside of the perspectives of white, Western authors who have dominated these genres in the past.  Shawl suggests broadening what stories we call science fiction. What happens when we think of writing, or even religion, as forms of technology?  SciFri producer Christie Taylor and Journal of Science Fiction editor Aisha Matthews join Nisi Shawl in front of a live Zoom audience for this conversation about the diverse and dynamic future of science fiction. Shipping Nuclear Power Out To Sea When the Green New Deal was proposed last year, it called for the United States to become fully energy independent, moving to 100% renewable energy sources within the next decade. It specifically mentions solar and wind power as two alternatives the country should invest in. And it conspicuously leaves out nuclear power.  But the nuclear industry is fighting to be part of the renewable conversation. While it’s been innovating at a slower pace, there is one old idea that engineers say still holds water: floating nuclear power plants.  Ira talks to Nick Touran, a nuclear engineer and reactor physicist from Seattle, Washington about the advantages of shipping nuclear out to sea, as well as some newer technology keeping nuclear power in the renewable energy conversation.
30/10/2047m 45s

Science And The Election, Disinformation, Vampire Bats. Oct 30, 2020, Part 1

Choosing the next U.S. president is not the only decision voters will make in the upcoming 2020 elections. Major science policies are also on the ballot. In some states, people will be casting votes on propositions that influence scientific research and the environment. While in other local elections, candidates with scientific backgrounds are in the running for public office. Jeffrey Mervis of Science Magazine talks about California stem cell research policies and Nevada renewable energy propositions, and how a science platform could help or harm candidates. Plus, this election season has been filled with disinformation—unverified stories of voter fraud, rumors of uncounted and tossed out mail-in ballots, claims of third parties hacking voter results, and other false information. And with possible delayed election results due to the overwhelming number of absentee ballots, driven in part by COVID, there could be even more of this disinformation spread before the final polls are announced. Disinformation expert Deen Freelon discusses how these unverified and fake news stories take hold. Freelon also provides techniques on how to decipher fact from fiction in your overfilled news feeds. Relatedly, the November election will likely have big consequences for climate policy in the United States. It comes at a critical time. Scientists say major action is needed by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of global warming. President Donald Trump does not have a climate policy. His administration has rolled back Obama-era climate initiatives. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is promising to put the country on a path toward a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions from the U.S. no later than 2050. Polls show about 70% of Pennsylvanians want their state lawmakers to do more to address climate change. But polls rarely carry examples of what actions people want. A recent StateImpact survey shows Pennsylvanians want a lot — from state and federal lawmakers. The one-question survey attracted responses from more than 200 people, who asked for everything from specific policy proposals such as Pennsylvania’s entrance into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Green New Deal, to desperate pleas such as “listen to science!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (Read the full piece at ScienceFriday.com.) And it’s almost Halloween, which means it’s time to get a little spooky. A perfect time for the newest installment of our Charismatic Creature Corner! This month, we’re diving into the wild world of vampire bats. These little mammals are native to Central and South America, and have bodies about the size of a mouse.  And yes, let’s address the elephant in the room: Vampire bats have a diet that consists entirely of blood. They gravitate toward livestock, but have been known to feed on people too. Their status as blood-suckers makes them one of the only mammals classified as parasites. Despite their gruesome diets, vampire bats are extremely social creatures, and are known to display acts of friendships with other bats. In fact, a study last year found that vampire bat friendships forged in captivity actually last when the bats are released into the wild. Friendships are important for vampire bats: They result in food sharing, which is integral to keeping everyone fed and happy. Science Friday’s Charismatic Creature Correspondent, producer Kathleen Davis, is back to convince Ira that this creature is worthy of entry into the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame. Joining them is Dan Riskin, an evolutionary biologist and adjunct professor of biology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.          
30/10/2047m 24s

Should We Trust Election Forecasting, COVID Dreams. Oct 23, 2020, Part 1

The first “scientific” election poll was conducted in 1936 by George Gallup, who correctly predicted that Franklin D. Roosevelt would win the presidential election. Since Gallup, our appetite for polls and forecasts has only grown, but watching the needle too closely might have some unintended side effects. Solomon Messing, chief scientist at ACRONYM, a political digital strategy nonprofit, tells us about a study he co-authored that found people are often confused by what forecast numbers mean, and that their confidence in an election’s outcome might depress voter turnout. Sunshine Hillygus, professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, also joins to tell us about the history of polling in the United States. Next up, say you're standing in a crowded room and realizing nobody is wearing a mask. Or a family dog that has passed away protectively guarding grandkids. Maybe having a pleasant get-together with someone you haven’t thought of in years, then suddenly realizing everyone is a little too close, and a little too sick. Do any of these instances sound familiar? A few weeks ago, we asked Science Friday listeners if their dreams have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We heard from many listeners who said yes, their dreams have become more vivid, with elements of the pandemic included. A change in dreams due to a crisis is very common, says Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When we’re in a dream state, the brain is processing the same things we think about during the day. But when we’re asleep, the parts of our brain that handle logic and speech are damped down. The parts that handle visuals, however, are ramped up. Barrett has been collecting dreams from people all over the world since the start of the pandemic. She says common dream themes range from actually getting the virus, natural disasters and bug attacks. Healthcare workers have regularly reported the highest level of stressful COVID-19 dreams, according to her data. “The typical dream from the healthcare workers is really a full-on nightmare,” Barrett says. “Just as bad as you’d see in war zones.” Barrett joins SciFri producer Kathleen Davis to talk about her research into crisis dreams, and what people can do if they want to experience stressful dreams less often. And, search engine giant Google was served an antitrust lawsuit by the Justice Department this week, which alleges the company abuses its near-monopoly status to harm consumers and competitors. This is the first such action against the company, which, over the last couple decades, has grown into one of the more powerful tech companies in history.  Meanwhile, early data from New York City schools shows a promising picture of what back-to-school in the age of COVID means. Out of more than 16,000 randomly tested students and staff members, only 28 positive results came back—20 from staff members, and eight from students. While COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools across the country are not zero, low rates are the norm so far.  Joining Ira to talk about these stories and other news from the week is Nsikan Akpan, a science editor at National Geographic in Washington, D.C.  
23/10/2047m 2s

Teaching in a Pandemic, Inheriting Stress, Book Club. Oct 23, 2020, Part 2

Even In A Pandemic, Science Class Is In Session This academic year, school campuses across the United States look very different. Instead of crowded hallways and bustling classrooms, students are spaced six feet apart, sometimes behind plastic barriers, while others are at home on camera in a video call. Since some states do not weigh in on school operations, communities witnessed a myriad of learning approaches, such as fully virtual, fully in-person, or a mixture of both. All are subject to change as COVID-19 rates fluctuate throughout regions. For instance, on October 1, all New York City public schools reopened and shifted 500,000 students to in-person class. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, October 21, Boston Public Schools announced that it suspended all in-person learning as numbers of COVID-19 cases rose in the region. Teachers, students, parents, caregivers, and staff have all felt the stress and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is academically, mentally, and emotionally overwhelming. While the pandemic has presented many challenges in learning, STEAM educators are adapting. They are coming up with creative solutions to continue to meet the needs of all students, like holding outdoor biology classes, dissecting flowers at home, and even delivering materials and devices to students who need them.   STEAM educators Rabiah Harris, Josa Rivas, and Rick Erickson join Ira for a roundtable discussion on how the pandemic has impacted school this academic year.  Can Trauma Today Affect Future Children? We typically think of a traumatic event as a sudden thing—something that has a beginning and an end. Stress and trauma can of course have lasting psychological effects—and, in some cases, physical effects such as elevated blood pressure or premature aging. But now researchers are considering whether stress to an organism can be somehow transmitted to that animal’s future offspring, via epigenetic changes that modify how genetic code is expressed in the young. Bianca Jones Marlin is a neuroscientist studying such changes. In one study, she found that if researchers trained mice to associate the smell of almonds with an electric shock, the offspring of the mice tended to be afraid of an almond smell—even if they were raised separately, by foster parents that had no experience with the odor. Jones Marlin joins Ira to talk about her research, and her experience as a young researcher starting her own lab in the neurosciences. Making Peace With The End Of Your Species Welcome to week four of the Science Friday Book Club’s reading of ‘New Suns’! Our last short story assignment is ‘The Shadow We Cast Through Time’ by Indian writer Indrapramit Das. On a far-off planet, a human colony has been cut off from the rest of space: but they’ve also encountered other life, a fungus-like organism that infects and distorts human bodies into horned “demon”-like creatures. And as one human woman, Surya, approaches her death at their hands willingly, she makes a discovery that speaks of a new future for both species. Author Indrapramit Das joins SciFri producer Christie Taylor and Journal of Science Fiction managing editor Aisha Matthews to talk about creating new worlds, and the “modern mythology” of writing science fiction and fantasy.
23/10/2047m 30s

U.S. COVID Spikes, Blockchain Chicken Farm, Book Club: Chicanafuturism. Oct 16, 2020, Part 2

Across The Country, A Spike In Coronavirus Cases Over 217,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and many states are seeing an upswing in case numbers as we head into fall.  In rural Wyoming, there have been over 8,100 cases, with 57 deaths to date. More populated Wisconsin has seen over 167,000 cases—and recently crossed the grim threshold of 1,500 deaths due to the disease. Both states have reported more hospitalizations, with Wisconsin this week opening a field hospital to help deal with the increased demand for medical care and pressure on hospitals. In this State of Science segment, Ira talks with Bob Beck, news director at Wyoming Public Radio, and Will Cushman, associate editor for WisContext, about how their communities are responding to the pandemic. Blockchain And Big Tech In China’s Countryside Many of us are familiar with blockchain: the decentralized, anonymous ledger system. In the U.S., blockchain is usually talked about in terms of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But in China, chicken farmers are using blockchain to monitor food safety.  There are hundreds of million people living in the Chinese countryside. Chinese tech companies are investing in all sorts of projects in the country’s rural areas—from villages built around e-commerce to internet gaming sites getting into the pork industry. In Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside, author Xiaowei Wang traveled through China to investigate how this technology is shaping the people and countryside.   Science Friday Book Club: Conjuring An Alternate History Of Colonization It’s week three of the SciFri Book Club’s exploration of New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. This week’s story is ‘Burn the Ships,’ by author Alberto Yáñez. It’s set in a world that could be the Cortés-conquered Aztec Empire of 1520—but in this fictional version, the Spanish conquerors have modern guns, radios, railroads, and even scientific developments like vaccines. And as the Indigenous people are contained and slaughtered in camps, they use powerful magic to animate their dead against the invaders. SciFri producer Christie Taylor, Journal of Science Fiction managing editor Aisha Matthews and University of California Santa Cruz professor Catherine S. Ramirez talk about how a story about the past can still be science fiction, and introduce Chicanafuturism—a literary cousin of the Afrofuturism we discussed in last week’s conversation about Andrea Hairston’s story ‘Dumb House.’
16/10/2047m 8s

The Black Hole At The Center Of The Galaxy, Shipwreck Microbes. Oct 16, 2020, Part 1

The 2020 Nobel Prize winners have been announced, and among them is UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez, who split the prize with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel. Ghez, also the fourth woman to ever win the Physics prize, won for her 1998 work that resolved a decades-old debate among astronomers: What lurks at the difficult-to-observe heart of the Milky Way? After innovating new ways to peer through the obscuring gas and dust, Ghez and her team observed the orbits of stars around the galaxy’s seemingly empty center—and found they fit a pattern explained so far only by a supermassive black hole of at least four million times the mass of our Sun. In the decades since, she and her team have investigated the gravitational forces of the galactic center, and how well they match Einstein’s theory of relativity. (So far, her team has concluded, Einstein seems mostly right, but his theories may not fully explain what’s going on.) Ira talks to Ghez about how our understanding of the center of the galaxy has evolved, plus the questions that still puzzle her. Plus, off the coast of North Carolina is a large lagoon called the Pamlico Sound, which supports a diverse ecological landscape. It’s also home to the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck, a World War II vessel that’s partially submerged in the Sound. This wreck has become an artificial reef, and the life that surrounds it, big and small, is ripe for research. Just as humans have their own microbiomes, which are different for everyone, shipwrecks have microbiomes, too. Scientists study them to better understand what’s living on these sunken ships, and how to preserve them for future generations. While the vessel is not a natural part of the Sound, its role as an artificial reef makes it an important part of the ecosystem. By better understanding its microbes, scientists hope to help preserve this non-renewable cultural artifact. Joining Ira to talk about the marvelous microbes on the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck is Erin Field, assistant professor of biology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. 
16/10/2047m 5s

Science News, Nobel Roundup, Book Club. Oct 9, 2020, Part 1

What Is The Status Of President Trump’s COVID-19 Case? Late last week, President Trump announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  This Tuesday, he left the hospital and returned to the White House. And many questions still remain. Reporter Umair Irfan discusses the status of President Trump’s health, the experimental treatments he received and who else in the White House and in Congress may have been infected.  Talking About Black Holes And CRISPR With 2020 Nobel Prize Winners This week, a few researchers around the world received that legendary early-morning wake up call from Sweden, bearing word of the 2020 Nobel Prizes. This week, the prize in Medicine or Physiology went jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice “for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.” In Chemistry, Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California at Berkeley won the prize for their work on the technique known as CRISPR. In 2017, Doudna described the technique on Science Friday. In Physics, the award was split among different types of black hole research. One half went to mathematician Richard Penrose, “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.” He described his work with physicist Stephen Hawking in a 2015 Science Friday interview. The other half of the physics prize was split between Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for the discovery of one such supermassive black hole—”a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.” Doomscrolling? Here’s Non-COVID Science News You Might Have Missed   Among all the COVID-19 news of the past week, other stories have gotten less attention than they deserve—including a discussion of climate issues at the presidential debate a week ago. The 12 minutes the candidates spent on climate change and the policy surrounding it marks the first substantive discussion of climate at a presidential debate in years. Science journalist Annalee Newitz joins Ira to unpack the climate discussion, and other science news—including a gruesome ancient punishment, and research into the savviness of crows.   The Science Friday Book Club: Technology, Magic, And Afrofuturism  The Science Friday Book Club continues this week, this time reading another short story from the speculative fiction collection New Suns. African-American author Andrea Hairston’s story ‘Dumb House,’ is about a woman named Cinnamon who finds herself pestered by a pair of traveling salesmen, who hope to persuade her to upgrade her house into something smarter. This week, we talk about ‘Dumb House,’ plus its place in Afrofuturism—culture and storytelling that imagines futures with African-descended people and culture at the forefront.  SciFri producer Christie Taylor, Journal of Science Fiction managing editor Aisha Matthews, and speculative fiction author K. Tempest Bradford discuss trust and community in ‘Dumb House,’ the relationship between technology and magic, and other elements that contribute to the story’s Afrofuturist theme.
09/10/2046m 55s

Solar System Smackdown: Mars v. Venus, Mussel Mystery. Oct 9, 2020, Part 2

Solar System Smackdown: Mars Vs. Venus One of the fiercest hunts in the solar system is the scientific search for signs of extraterrestrial life—whether that’s in a methane ocean on Titan, under the icy crusts of Europa or Enceladus, in newly discovered subsurface salty lakes of Mars or, in the case of hypothetical long-dead fossils, in the rocks of ancient Martian river deltas. But just as the next Mars rover—equipped with life-sensing instruments of all kinds—is barreling toward the Red Planet for a February landing, comes news from another planet. A research team writing in Nature in September say they’ve found high concentrations of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. That much phosphine is not known to exist without help from bacteria—and researchers dating all the way back to Carl Sagan have suggested that the thick, acidic clouds of Venus would be a plausible place to harbor microscopic, extreme-loving life. Is this a good reason to send more missions to Venus? Or is Mars still the best candidate for investment of finite resources? Science Friday producers Katie Feather and Christie Taylor host this completely made-up argument about which planet is the best bet for finding life, with help from genetics and astrobiology researcher Jaime Cordova, and planetary scientist Briony Horgan. A Breakthrough In A Mollusk Mystery Freshwater mussels in the United States are having a bad time. It’s estimated that 70 percent of freshwater mussel species in North America are extinct or imperiled—a shocking number.  There’s a good chance you haven’t heard about this. Mussels aren’t the most engaging creatures, and they don’t pull at the heartstrings like easy anthropomorphised mammals. These mussels also aren’t the ones that wind up on a restaurant’s seafood platter. But mussels play an extremely important role in aquatic ecosystems, so scientists are doing their best to figure out what’s going on with their drastically declining populations.  Scientists recently discovered 17 viruses present in mussels in the Clinch River, a waterway in Tennessee and Virginia, where about 80,000 mussels have died since 2016. This is a huge breakthrough in a mystery that has plagued researchers for years—though it may just be one piece of evidence for a multi-dimensional decline. Joining Ira to talk about mussels in trouble are Jordan Richard, a fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Madison, Wisconsin, and Eric Leis, a parasitologist and fish biologist at the La Crosse Fish Health Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
09/10/2047m 5s

Antarctic Ice, Itching, Ancient Birds. Oct. 2, 2020, Part 2

New Study Shows No Second Chance For Antarctic Ice Shelves From the heat waves and wildfires in the western U.S. to the active hurricane season in the Gulf, the climate crisis is intensifying. Sea ice is melting in the Arctic, and the ice sheets covering Antarctica are shrinking.  Now, researchers have released the results of a study using satellite data, radar readings, and a massive computer simulation looking at the effects of gravity on ice in Antarctica. Their projections aren’t hopeful. Once Antarctic glaciers melt, the scientists found, they don’t re-freeze the same way, even if temperatures drop again.  That spells bad news for sea level rise. Even if the world manages to hold to the 2 degrees Celsius rise targeted in the Paris climate agreements, the study predicts enough ice will likely to melt to cause roughly five meters of sea level rise—leading to flooding in cities from New York to Shanghai to London to Calcutta.  Anders Levermann, a professor of the dynamics of the climate system at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany joins Ira to talk about the team’s ice melt predictions, and the need for fundamental changes in society to forestall even more catastrophic climate results. Ask An Expert: Why Do We Itch? The pandemic has us feeling a lot of things: anxious, stressed, tired. But what about itchy?  Have you ever had a hard time not scratching or rubbing your face in public? Or had an unreachable itch beneath a mask? This week on Science Friday, we ask an expert: why do we itch? And is there any relief to be found in understanding the neuroscience behind why we scratch?  Ira asks these questions and more to Diana Bautista, professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of California Berkeley. They were joined by a live Zoom audience, who were also itching to ask their own questions. Digging For Answers To Avians’ Ancestors One of the biggest questions in paleontology is figuring out how dinosaurs transitioned into the modern birds we see today—and all of the intermediate steps involved in that process.  China is becoming one of the latest hotspots for unearthing fossils of these prehistoric birds and bird-like dinosaurs. Paleontologist Jiangmai O’Connor is featured in our second season of ‘Breakthrough: Portraits of Women in Science,’ a video series profiling scientists and how their lives and work intersect. Here, she discusses her work in China, where she’s spent ten years trying to uncover clues about the diversity of ancient birds by examining their bones and preserved soft tissues, like lungs and ovaries.   
02/10/2047m 33s

Trump Tests Positive For Coronavirus, COVID-19 Fact Check, SciFri Book Club. Oct. 2, 2020, Part 1

The news hit us overnight: President Trump, the First Lady, and at least one member of the president’s staff tested positive for COVID-19. Just before 1 a.m. ET, the president tweeted that “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Sean Conley, the White House physician, confirmed the positive COVID test and said that, “The President and First Lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.” The president reportedly has mild symptoms of the virus. Joining Ira to talk about the medical ramifications and possibilities presented by the president’s infection with COVID-19 is Angela Rasmussen, an associate research scientist in the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, New York. Plus, this week, the U.S. had its first televised presidential debate of the election season. It was interesting, to say the least. During the debate, the President’s COVID-19 response came under question, prompting President Trump to allege the U.S. is just weeks away from a COVID-19 vaccine. This isn’t the first time Trump has claimed something along these lines. In fact, he’s repeatedly said he wants a vaccine before election day. But is rushing out a vaccine possible—or safe? Joining Ira for another round of Fact Check Your Feed—election edition, this time—is Angela Rasmussen, associate professor in the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York, New York. She also explains why New York City has not yet reached herd immunity, and fact checks Trump’s claims that the Obama administration botched its H1N1 response.   And, the Science Friday Book Club is back! Imagine: A planet inhabited by parasitic life forms that turn human settlers into demonic figures. An aging woman who just wants to live in peace in a “dumb house” with no technological upgrades. A woman who starts to experience the presence of otherworldly visitors. A taxi driver who takes tourists from other planets on rides far above the New York City skyline. And, in the case of Darcie Little Badger’s short story “Kelsey and the Burdened Breath,” a young woman helps the last breaths of the dying, literally their souls or “shimmers,” depart for the next adventure. That is, until she is asked to track down one that has committed the unthinkable: murder and cannibalism of other souls. All these are stories in the Nisi Shawl-edited collection, New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction By People Of Color, this fall’s Science Friday Book Club pick. Over the next five weeks, we’ll talk about stories from the book, starting with Little Badger’s story about burdens—literal, metaphorical, and metaphysical. SciFri Book Club captain Christie Taylor kicks off the first in of a series of conversations about short stories from New Suns with Aisha Matthews, managing editor of The Journal of Science Fiction, and Darcie Little Badger, a Lipan Apache writer and author of the New Suns story “Kelsey and the Burdened Breath.”   
02/10/2047m 2s

Feather Communication, Thermal Imaging Wildfires, Tick Saliva. September 25, 2020, Part 2

Thermal Imaging Technology Helps Firefighters See Through Smoke Wildfires are still raging out west, and states are using anything in their arsenals to fight back. This year, for the first time, Oregon’s Department of Forestry is using thermal imaging technology to see through thick smoke to the fires below. The state’s firefighting teams say this technology has been game-changing during this devastating wildfire season.  Thermal imaging technology uses infrared waves to detect heat, and then presents that information visually. These graphics make it possible to see exactly where the fire is moving, which areas are the hottest, and how much is actually burning. This information is crucial to firefighting teams on the ground, who can know with more certainty which areas are safe to enter. Freelance tech reporter Kate Kaye from Portland, Oregon joins Ira to talk about seeing this tech in action in a plane several miles above the wildfires.  Birds Of A Feather Flutter Together Bird feathers have many different functions. Softer down keeps a bird warm and stiffer wing feathers are used for flight. Feathers are also important in communication. Bright plumage can say ‘hey, look at me.’ And some birds even use the shape of their feathers as a communication tool—by using the sound their feathers make to relay messages. The results were published this week in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology. Biologists Valentina Gomez-Bahamón and Christopher Clark, both authors on that study, describe how birds might develop different wing-fluttering dialects, and how this could play a role in the evolution of bird species. Check out more sounds, videos and images from the research! To Milk A Tick  Ticks are masters of breaking down the defenses of their host organism to get a blood meal. They use anesthetics to numb the skin, anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing, and keep the host’s immune system from recognizing them as invaders and kicking them out. And the key to understanding this is in the tick’s saliva. Biochemist and microbiologist Seemay Chou discusses how she milks the saliva from ticks to study what compounds play key parts in these chemical tricks. She also talks about how ticks are able to control the microbes in their saliva. 
25/09/2046m 51s

Indigenous Fire Management, Oliver Sacks Film. September 25, 2020, Part 1

Down a long, single-lane road in the most northern part of California is Karuk territory—one of the largest Indigenous tribes in the state. It’s here that Bill Tripp’s great-grandmother, who was born in the 1800s, taught him starting as a 4-year-old how to burn land on purpose. “She took me outside—she was over 100 years old—and walked up the hill with her walker,” Tripp recalled, “and handed me a box of stick matches and told me to burn a line from this point to that point.” Those cultural burns—or prescribed burns, as they’re often called now by fire agencies—are a form of keeping wildfire in check, a practice the state and federal agencies do use, but experts say isn’t leaned on enough as a fire prevention tactic. Climate change is a driving factor of California wildfires, but so is a build-up of excess fuels. That’s often attributed to a century of fire suppression dating back to the era of the Great Fire of 1910. But what experts say is often missing from this conversation is the racist removal of Native American people from California. Along with their physical beings, the knowledge of taking care of the land was also removed resulting in overgrown forests, experts say. Read the rest of this story at ScienceFriday.com. Plus, the neurologist Oliver Sacks died just over five years ago after a sudden diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Over his long career, Sacks explored mysteries of both human mental abnormalities and the natural world. Endlessly empathetic and curious, Sacks shared his clinical observations through a series of books and articles, and appeared on Science Friday many times to discuss his work. A new film released this week describes Sacks’ life through his own words and reflections from those close to him—including the story behind the book ‘Awakenings,’ which later became a major motion picture and propelled Sacks into worldwide prominence. It also details his difficult childhood, his addiction to amphetamines in young adulthood, and his homosexuality, including three decades of celibacy before he found love in the last four years of his life. Ric Burns, director of the film Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, joins Ira to talk about the life and legacy of Oliver Sacks. The film premieres nationwide this week on the Kino Marquee and Film Forum virtual platforms.  
25/09/2046m 52s

SciFri Extra: After 20 Years, The ‘Cosmic Crisp’ Has Landed

This fall, there’s a new apple all around town. After 20 years of development, the Cosmic Crisp has landed. Today, we're bringing you an episode of another podcast called The Sporkful. They’re a James Beard Award-winning show that uses food as a lens to talk about science, history, race, culture, and the ideal way to layer the components of a PB&J.  This episode is all about the Cosmic Crisp, how scientists developed it, and how it got that dazzling name. Guests: Helen Zaltzman is the host of The Allusionist podcast. Dan Charles is a food and agriculture reporter at NPR. Kate Evans is a horticulturist and the leader of the pome fruit breeding program at Washington State University. Kathryn Grandy is Chief Marketing Officer for Proprietary Variety Management. Footnotes & Further Reading: For more episodes, subscribe to The Sporkful podcast. Credits: The