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Florida's Reefs Are Vanishing. Can Scientists Save Them?This was a bad year for Florida's coral reefs. Since the 1970s, reef cover in the Florida Keys has decreased by 90%. Those remaining reefs have been subjected to water temperatures higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, alongside other threats like disease and ocean acidification. This is a big problem for the largest reef in the continental U.S., which plays an important role in protecting the shorelines from erosion and storms.Scientists are scrambling to preserve as much of the reef as possible. One method marine biologists are focused on is selectively breeding corals in labs. Scientists look for the specimens most resilient to heat stress, then breed them together to create hardy offspring. Those spawn are then implanted into the reef, with hopes of bolstering the existing structure.Vox environmental reporter Benji Jones joins Ira to talk about his dives to Florida's Pickles Reef, and the differences he saw between this year and last year. Then, Ira speaks with marine biologist Andrew Baker at the University of Miami about his efforts to bolster Florida's reefs. The Ocean Is A Climate AllyDid you know that the ocean absorbs about a quarter of all CO2 emissions? And about 90% of excess heat? It's the largest carbon sink we have—and one of our biggest allies in the climate movement.Ira talks with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist and co-founder of the non-profit Urban Ocean Lab, as well as the climate initiative The All We Can Save Project. They chat about climate solutions—like the newly launched Climate Corps—the power of the ocean, and steps forward. Dr. Johnson is also the curator for Climate Futurism, an art exhibition at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York. Feeling Hopeless About Climate Change? Try Playing These Video GamesThis segment, originally from 2022, was re-aired this week.Five years ago, Stephanie Barish was tired of the public's attitude about climate change. “Most people at that time were just so negative about climate,” she said. “It was doom and destruction, and I thought, wow, to make positive change, you have to really look at this from a solutions perspective.” Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Indiecade, an organization that supports indie video game developers and hosts events like the Climate Jam—the goal of which was to change the gloomy public narrative around climate change. So, with the help of organizations like Earth Games, participants around the globe gather every year to make video games about climate change optimism, solutions, and justice.Teams can also consult with subject matter experts, like Dargan Frierson, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, and also a judge for the Climate Jam. If teams wonder what climate change would look like on a different planet, they can go to him for answers. “We always look for scientific accuracy,” he said. “I think it's very important to keep things within the realm of possibility, even when you're looking at fiction.”Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
A Week Of Climate Protests, Meetings, Pledges, And ActionClimate Week NYC is wrapping up, where hundreds of events took place across the city (including one from Science Friday), all with the goal of encouraging conversation and action around our climate crisis.The weeklong event takes place alongside the UN General Assembly meeting, where world leaders discussed climate change, alongside other topics, including the war in Ukraine and universal health coverage.While President Biden emphasized the importance of reducing the use of fossil fuels to combat climate change, there was a notable absence of leaders from the world's biggest polluters, including Biden and president Xi Jinping of China, from the meeting's Climate Ambition Summit. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that in order to participate, governments need to come with “credible, serious and new climate action.”Large demonstrations also took place across the city, pressuring leaders and companies to take bigger action to end gas, oil, and coal use.Swapna Krishna, a journalist based in Philadelphia, talks with Ira about these stories and more, including a new climate jobs program from the White House, a lawsuit from California against the five big oil companies, new battery recycling rules from the EU, and data from the Parker Solar Probe's recent flight through a sun explosion. Can Earth's Past Climate Help Us Understand Today's Crisis?A combination of factors led to Earth's climate being able to support life. And changes in the climate some 6,000 years ago created the conditions for human civilization to flourish. It's a delicate balance on the verge of collapse, due to our reliance on burning fossil fuels.Ira talks with paleoclimatologist Dr. Michael Mann about his forthcoming book Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from Earth's Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis, about the importance of understanding our planet's climate history, and strategies to get policymakers to take action before it's too late to reverse some of the worst consequences of climate change.Mann is a professor of earth and environmental science and director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Read an excerpt of the book on sciencefriday.com The Climate Movement Should Be FunnierHow do you know that climate change is funny? Even the Antarctic ice sheets are cracking up.The climate crisis is no joke, but that doesn't mean we can't laugh about it. Research suggests that comedy is a powerful way to connect people and get them to empathize with a cause—and the climate crisis is a pretty big one.So what does science say about the power of a good laugh? And how does that fit into the climate movement?Ira talks with Esteban Gast, comedian in residence at the clean energy non-profit Generation 180, and Dr. Caty Borum, executive director of the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
New COVID Boosters Arrive Amid Rise In InfectionsThis past week, the FDA and CDC recommended new COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna for anyone over the age of six months. They're expected to be in larger pharmacies by the end of the week. It's welcome news for some, as cases have ticked up over the summer, accompanied by higher hospital admissions and deaths.The boosters join a suite of other vaccines to combat respiratory illness this fall, including this year's flu shot and the new RSV vaccine, recommended especially for children and the elderly.Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist, adjunct professor at UTHealth School of Public Health, and author of the Your Local Epidemiologist newsletter, joins Ira to talk about the details of the new boosters, how long you should wait to get one if you were recently infected, masking recommendations, and if you can get all three shots at once. The Science Behind Devastating EarthquakesOn September 8, 2023 at 11:11 PM local time, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco's High Atlas mountains. So far, more than 2,500 people died and thousands more were injured or lost.Other natural disasters usually give off warning signs; we can predict when a volcano will explode, ring the alarms when a tsunami starts to build, or evacuate before a hurricane makes landfall, but we still can't detect earthquakes before they strike. And victims are left to face “the particular trauma that comes from watching the world around you crumble in an instant,” writes science journalist Robin George Andrews for The Atlantic.Ira talks with Andrews about the specifics of this earthquake, where the science stands with earthquake detection, and the particular kind of trauma that comes from watching the world crumble. The Buzz On Native Bees In Your NeighborhoodWhen you think ‘bees,' you probably think of a neat stack of white hive boxes and the jars of honey on the store shelves. But there's a lot more to bees than the agricultural staple, the European honey bee. Around the world there are over 20,000 known bee species, and around 4,000 of them are native to the United States. While these native bees play a key role in pollinating our plants and ensuring the health of ecosystems, they don't get a ton of recognition or support. Around three-quarters of flowering plant species rely on insects for pollination, and some native plants have evolved a partnership with specific native bee pollinators. Squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and the annual sunflower all have specific species of native bees as part of their life cycles. Native plants such as blueberries, cherries, and cranberries all developed without the European honeybee, which arrived in North America in 1622. Dr. Neal Williams, a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, joins Ira to talk about native bees, bee behavior and pollination. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Astronomers Find Exoplanet That May Be Covered In WaterScientists using the James Webb Space Telescope made an exciting discovery this week: Exoplanet K2-18 b, 120 light years away from our solar system, could be covered by a water ocean, similar to Earth. Astronomers say this could be a big leap in our exploration of life on other planets.This news comes amid another JWST discovery: The earliest black holes seem to be much larger than black holes today. This news also provides evidence that black holes can form without stars, a theorized phenomenon that has never been directly observed.Joining Ira to talk about these and other science stories of the week is Tim Revell, Deputy U.S. Editor of New Scientist, based in New York, New York. What Radioactive Animals Teach Us About Nuclear FalloutWhen you hear the words “radioactive wildlife,” your brain probably jumps to Chernobyl's wolves, which—despite the odds—are still thriving at the site of the nuclear disaster. Or maybe you've heard of the rat snakes in Fukushima that pick up radioactive contamination as they slither around.Well, it's time to add two more to that list of radioactive critters: turtles and wild boar. They're the subjects of two new studies that looked at radioactivity in wildlife and mapped out where it came from. Ira talks with Dr. Cyler Conrad, archaeologist at Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington who worked on the turtle study, and Dr. Georg Steinhauser, professor of applied radiochemistry at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, who studied boar. They chat about the two studies, how wildlife can clue us into radioactive contamination, and what we can learn from critters in nuclear fallout zones. Waiting for the Bus in Houston is Hot. And Dangerous.It was a hot summer day and Glory Medina and her daughter Jade, who was 3 at the time, were running a quick errand at the grocery store near their apartment in Gulfton. They had taken the bus and once they arrived, the two of them faced a giant unshaded parking lot, the black asphalt radiating heat into their faces as they walked across it.The blast of AC felt cool as they entered the store, and Medina bent down to lift her daughter into the grocery cart. That's when she noticed Jade's face was red, almost purple.“I got scared,” Medina said in Spanish, remembering that day four years ago.Read more at sciencefriday.com. The Psychology Behind Wide Receivers' Jersey NumbersFootball season is officially here, with the NFL's first game kicking off last Sunday. And if you've been watching the sport for a long time, you may have noticed some changes: better-padded helmets meant to reduce serious brain injury, new “sticky” gloves that make it easier for players to hold the ball, and lighter-weight jerseys that make it harder for other players to grab onto. But you'll also notice the numbers on those jerseys are different, too.For most of the NFL's history, wide receivers could only pick jersey numbers between 80 and 89. But in 2004, the league relaxed this policy, allowing players to also pick numbers between 10 and 19. Many players preferred these smaller values explaining that the 1 looked slimmer than the 8, and made them feel thinner and faster. As of 2019, 80% of wide receivers made the switch.But is there an actual association between smaller numbers and perception of body size?To investigate whether this was fact or superstition, Dr. Ladan Shams, professor of psychology, bioengineering, and neuroscience at UCLA, ran a study that found those wide receivers were onto something: the results suggest there is a correlation between smaller numbers and perceived body size. Her team's research was published in PLOS One. She joins Ira to talk about the study and what it could tell us about implicit bias. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Where Soil Grows Above The TreesYou might be used to the feeling of Earth under your feet, but did you know that there's soil high above your head? Way up in the treetops, where ferns, mosses, flowers, and even trees grow on top of the forest. A new study in Geoderma describes the factors that contribute to how canopy soil is formed.Ira talks with lead author Jessica Murray, an ecologist and PhD candidate at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. They discuss the importance of canopy soil, what we do and don't know about it, and what it's like to study it.Check out views from Murray's field sites at sciencefriday.com!‘I Will Not Be Vole Girl'—A Biologist Warms To RodentsThe path to becoming a scientist is not unlike the scientific process itself: Filled with dead ends, detours, and bumps along the way.Danielle Lee started asking questions about animal behavior when she was a kid. She originally wanted to become a veterinarian. But after being rejected from veterinary school, she found a fulfilling career as a biologist, doing the type of work she always wanted to do—but never knew was possible for her.Science Friday producer Shoshannah Buxbaum talks with Dr. Danielle Lee, a biologist, outreach scientist, and assistant professor in biology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Edwardsville Illinois about what keeps her asking questions, what rodents can help us understand about humans, and the importance of increasing diversity in science.This Soundscape Artist Has Been Listening To The Planet For DecadesJim Metzner is one of the pioneers of science radio—he's been making field recordings and sharing them with audiences for more than 40 years. He hosted shows such as “Sounds of Science” in the 1980s, which later grew into “Pulse of the Planet,” a radio show about “the sound of life on Earth.”Over the decades, Metzner has created an incredible time capsule of soundscapes, and now, his entire collection is going to the Library of Congress.John Dankosky talks with Metzner about what he's learned about the natural world from endless hours of recordings and what we can all learn from listening. Plus, they'll discuss some of his favorite recordings. To hear the best audio quality, it might be a good idea to use headphones if you can.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Scientists Develop Human Embryo Model Without Sperm Or EggsThis week, research published in the journal Nature detailed a model of a 14-day old human embryo created without using sperm or eggs. The hope is to shine a light into a previously unavailable window of an embryo's development, potentially helping to better understand miscarriages and side effects of medications taken during pregnancy. Ira talks with Casey Crownhart, climate and energy reporter at MIT Technology Review to talk about that and other top science news of the week including Japan's rocket launch to the moon, zinc batteries, and newly discovered toxic bird species.Sweating Is Our Biological SuperpowerSweat may feel like a constant summer companion, whether or not you exercise frequently. Being damp can feel uncomfortable, but the smells that follow—thanks to the lives and deaths of sweat-munching bacteria—are often socially stigmatized as well. (Deodorant itself is actually a very recent invention!)But sweat isn't just a cosmetic embarrassment: It's crucial to keeping us cool, as the evaporating liquid pulls heat energy from our bodies. If you look at animals that don't sweat, many have evolved alternate adaptations like peeing or even pooping on body parts to achieve that vital evaporative effect. People who are born unable to sweat run a constant risk of heatstroke.Ira talks to Sarah Everts, author of the new book, The Joy Of Sweat, about what makes sweat useful, the cool chemistry of this bodily fluid, and why it's our evolutionary superpower.Vocal Fry Serves Up Treats For Toothed WhalesToothed whales—species like orcas, bottlenose whales, and dolphins—use echolocation to zero in on prey about a mile deep into the ocean.Until now, scientists couldn't quite figure out how the whales were making these clicking sounds in the deep ocean, where there's little oxygen.A new study published in the journal Science, finds the key to underwater echolocation is vocal fry. Although in whales it might not sound like the creaky voice that some people love to hate, the two sounds are generated in a similar way in the vocal folds.Ira talks with the study's co-author, Dr. Coen Elemans, professor of bioacoustics and animal behavior at the University of Southern Denmark based in Odense, Denmark. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
What's That Smell? An AI Nose KnowsIf you want to predict the color of something, you can talk about wavelengths of light. Light with a wavelength of around 460 nanometers is going to look blue. If you want to predict what something sounds like, frequencies can be a guide—a frequency of around 261 Hertz should sound like the musical note middle C.Predicting smells is more difficult. While we know that many sulfur-containing molecules tend to fall somewhere in the ‘rotten egg' or ‘skunky' category, predicting other aromas based solely on a chemical structure is hard. Molecules with a similar chemical structure may smell quite different—while two molecules with very different chemical structures can smell the same.This week in the journal Science, researchers describe developing an AI model that, given the structure of a chemical compound, can roughly predict where it's likely to fall on a map of odors. For example, is it grassy? Or more meaty? Perhaps floral?Dr. Joel Mainland is one of the authors of that report. He's a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and an adjunct associate professor in the department of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Mainland joins Ira to talk about the mystery of odor, and his hope that odor maps like the one developed by the AI model could bring scientists closer to identifying the odor equivalent of the three primary colors—base notes that could be mixed and blended to create all other smells. As Temperatures Rise, Farmworkers Are UnprotectedJuan Peña, 28, has worked in the fields since childhood, often exposing his body to extreme heat like the wave that hit the Midwest last week.The heat can cause such deep pain in his whole body that he just wants to lie down, he said, as his body tells him he can't take another day on the job. On those days, his only motivation to get out of bed is to earn dollars to send to his 10-month-old baby in Mexico.To read more, visit sciencefriday.com. The Golden Lion Tamarin Rebounds From The Brink Of ExtinctionThe Golden Lion Tamarin is a small, charismatic monkey with a mane of red fur that's a local celebrity in Brazil's Atlantic Forest. This pint-sized primate was on the brink of extinction back in the 1970s, with only about 200 left in the wild.After decades of concentrated conservation efforts, an estimated 4,800 golden lion tamarins are now living in the wild. The multi-pronged effort involved reconnecting parts of the forest that had disappeared due to deforestation, vaccinating monkeys against yellow fever, and reintroducing zoo-bred primates to the wild.Ira speaks to Carlos Ruiz Miranda, associate professor of conservation and behavior at Northern Rio de Janeiro State University in Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil. Dr. Ruiz Miranda has worked on restoring golden lion tamarin populations for decades, and was involved in every facet of this effort. Unraveling the Mysteries Of The Y ChromosomeLast week, we briefly mentioned the sequencing and analysis of the human Y chromosome, which was recently reported in the journal Nature. It's an important achievement—the small Y chromosome is filled with repeated segments of genetic code that make reconstructing the full sequence difficult. Think of trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle—the unique parts of the picture are easy, but areas with repeated colors, like sky or waves, are more challenging. In addition to the complete sequence of one individual's Y, other researchers compared the Y chromosomes of 43 different individuals—and found that the structure of the chromosome can vary widely from one person to another.The Y chromosome plays a key role in sex determination and sperm production, making it of interest to fertility researchers. It's also linked to some diseases and health conditions.Adam Phillippy, a senior investigator in the computational and statistical genomics branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, and Kateryna Makova, a professor of biology at Penn State University, join Ira to talk about the challenges of sequencing the Y chromosome, and what doing so might mean for medical research. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
What To Expect From Hurricane SeasonWe're approaching the peak of hurricane season, which is usually around mid-September. It's that time of year when it feels like there's a new storm every week, and we blow through the alphabet trying to name them. This week, Hurricane Idalia made landfall around Florida's Big Bend as a Category 3 storm, which caused a few fatalities, left hundreds of thousands of people without power, and some without homes. So what do we know about Idalia, and what can we expect from the rest of the hurricane season?Ira talks with Rachel Feltman, editor at large at Popular Science, about hurricane season and other science news of the week. They chat about what we're learning from India's lunar rover, a three-inch roundworm pulled out of someone's brain, a new study about public health and air pollution, heavy metals in marijuana products, what an ancient Egyptian mummy smells like, and a turtle named Tally, who is far from home. The Surgeon General Warns About An Epidemic Of LonelinessThe early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were lonely for many, upending their social lives. But loneliness pre-dates COVID, especially among young people. In a recent advisory, the United States surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy warned that the negative health effects of loneliness and isolation are comparable to smoking daily. Despite being more technologically connected than ever before, the Surgeon General's Office is also raising concerns about the harms of social media on youth mental health.Ira sits down for a conversation with the United States surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, about the intersection of youth mental health, social media, and loneliness. Dr. Murthy outlines both public policy and community interventions that can help strengthen America's emotional well being and social connections. Keeping Tabs On Tick BitesIf you live in the Midwest or Northeast, you're probably aware of an issue that's gotten worse over the years: ticks, and the illnesses they can spread, including Lyme Disease and Alpha-gal syndrome.Scientists are still trying to learn more about how and where ticks are spreading. That's where The Tick App comes in. It's a community science effort where you can log your tick encounter and help scientists learn more about tick-borne disease. Science Friday digital producer Emma Gometz sat down with Ira to talk about her recent article profiling the app, and the scientists behind forms of tick monitoring research. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
How Early Humans May Have Transformed L.A.'s Landscape ForeverJoin us on a time traveling adventure, as we go back 15,000 years to visit what's now southern California. During the last Ice Age, saber-toothed cats, wooly mammoths, and dire wolves prowled the landscape, until … they didn't. The end of the Ice Age coincided with the end of these species. And for decades, scientists have been trying to figure out a big question: Why did these animals go extinct? A new study in the journal Science offers new clues and suggests that wildfires caused by humans might've been the nail in these critters' coffins. Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with paleoecologist Dr. Emily Lindsey and paleobotanist Dr. Regan Dunn, both curators at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles, California, about what we can learn from animals preserved in tar pits, how fire transformed the ecosystem, and why we have to look to the past for modern day conservation and land management. How Scientifically Accurate Are The Sharks In ‘Meg 2: The Trench'?“Meg 2: The Trench” is the sequel to the 2018 movie “The Meg,” in which a team of ocean scientists discover a megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived, thriving at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Megalodon went extinct over 2.6 million years ago … or so the movie's characters thought.When the team's research sub gets damaged, a skilled rescue diver, played by Jason Statham, is brought in, who happened to have encountered the same megalodon years earlier. Over the course of the movie, the team discovers how this long-thought extinct apex predator survived, and what they can do to stop it before it wreaks havoc on the surface world.“Meg 2: The Trench” largely follows in that movie's footsteps, but this time, it features not just one, but multiple megalodons. Oh, and they're even bigger this time. Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt chats with Dr. Sora Kim, an associate professor of paleoecology at University of California, Merced, about what science the movie got wrong (and right) and how these over-the-top blockbusters can inspire the scientists of the future. Scientists Discover Dinosaur ‘Coliseum' In Alaska's Denali National ParkResearchers recently discovered a rocky outcrop at Denali National Park in Alaska covered in dinosaur tracks, which they dubbed the “Coliseum.” It's the largest dinosaur track site ever found in Alaska. The area has thousands of prints from generations of dinosaurs living about 70 million years ago, including: duck-billed dinosaurs, horned dinosaurs, raptors, tyrannosaurs. Flora Lichtman talks with Dustin Stewart, former graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and paleontologist for the environmental consulting firm Stantec, based in Denver, Colorado, about this dino hotspot. Your Guide To Conquering History's Greatest CatastrophesGuest host Flora Lichtman takes us back to some of the scariest, deadliest moments in history. Think along the lines of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Ice Age, and the asteroid that wiped out the dinos. But we're going to revisit them using what we know now—and science, of course—to figure out if and how we could survive those events.The idea of using science and hindsight to survive history is the premise of a new book, How to Survive History: How to Outrun a Tyrannosaurus, Escape Pompeii, Get Off the Titanic, and Survive the Rest of History's Deadliest Catastrophes by Cody Cassidy. We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Countries Seek To Return To The MoonOn Wednesday, the Indian space agency ISRO celebrated as its Chandrayaan-3 craft successfully made a soft landing at the lunar south pole. This is the first mission to explore the region around the moon's southern pole, and a major success for ISRO. The mission plans to use a robotic rover to conduct a series of experiments over the course of about 2 weeks, largely centered around the availability of water and oxygen-containing materials.Less than a week earlier, a Russian craft, Luna-25, crashed onto the moon. It would have been Russia's first moon landing in 47 years. The cause of the crash is not yet known. Maggie Koerth, science journalist and editorial lead for CarbonPlan, joins guest host Flora Lichtman to talk about the two lunar missions and whether the flurry of activity signals a new space race.They'll also discuss other stories from the week in science, including a new analysis of the Y chromosome, work on the camouflage skin of the hogfish, and a setback in a mission to clear up space junk. What's The Human Cost Of Alaska's Mineral Boom?A dusting of snow clings to the highway as Barbara Schuhmann drives around a hairpin curve near her home in Fairbanks, Alaska. She slows for a patch of ice, explaining that the steep turn is just one of many concerns she has about a looming project that could radically transform Alaskan mining as the state begins looking beyond oil.Roughly 250 miles to the southeast, plans are developing to dig an open-pit gold mine called Manh Choh, or “big lake” in Upper Tanana Athabascan. Kinross Alaska, the majority owner and operator, will haul the rock on the Alaska Highway and other roads to a processing mill just north of Fairbanks. The route follows the Tanana River across Alaska's interior, where spruce-covered foothills knuckle below the stark peaks of the Alaska Range. Snowmelt feeds the creeks that form a mosaic of muskeg in nearby Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, a migration corridor for hundreds of bird species.To read the full article, visit sciencefriday.com. Salmon Flourish After Mine Damage Restored In AlaskaOn Friday, July 28, there were hundreds of juvenile salmon clustered in a pool, in clear water surrounded by a bank of fresh woody debris. Not 100 yards away, a spinning drum processed sediment to extract gold.This land is managed by a mining company, but it's also the site of a major stream restoration project. Thousands of salmon are returning to this stream in Hope, more than 100 years after aggressive gold mining affected the path of the river. The project to restore Resurrection Creek has brought together a coalition of stakeholders, including the present-day mining company that occupies the site.The restoration of Resurrection Creek began in the early 2000s. The goal was to correct habitat damage caused by historic mining.More than 100 years ago, heavy mining activity in the gold rush town affected the stream pattern, turning it from a meandering creek to a straight ditch. Jim Roberts is vice president of Hope Mining Company, and he said hydraulic mining in the early 1900s fundamentally changed the waterway.To read the full article, visit sciencefriday.com. All About Sea OttersLast month, a rowdy sea otter was stealing surfboards off the coast of Santa Cruz California, biting chunks out of surfboards, and even catching a few waves. It's rare for a sea otter to get so close to humans in the wild. Authorities are trying to capture the otter, named 841, for her safety and that of the surfers. But, a month later, she remains at large. Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with Jessica Fujii, sea otter program manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to get the 411 about Otter 841, and talk all things sea otter—including their sophisticated use of tools, carrying food in their armpits, and busting myths about hand holding. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Challenging The Gender Gap In Sports ScienceThis weekend, Spain and England face off in the Women's World Cup Finals in Sydney, Australia.The first Women's World Cup was in 1991, and the games were only 80 minutes, compared to the 90-minute games played by men. Part of the rationale was that women just weren't tough enough to play a full 90 minutes of soccer.This idea of women as the “weaker sex” is everywhere in early scientific studies of athletic performance. Sports science was mainly concerned with men's abilities. Even now, most participants in sports science research are men.Luckily things are changing, and more girls and women are playing sports than ever before. There's a little more research about women too, as well as those who fall outside the gender binary.SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Christine Yu, a health and sports journalist and author of Up To Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes, about the gap in sport science about women. Using Stem Cells For Cornea Repair Is Worth A LookEach year in the US, over 40,000 people receive transplants of the cornea—the clear front part of the eye that light goes through first. Still more patients with damaged corneas might receive artificial corneas to help restore clear vision. But if an eye has been damaged by a chemical burn or another severe eye injury, neither of those treatments may be possible.Now an early, Phase 1 clinical trial is reporting positive results using a stem cell technique called CALEC. It grows cells from a patient's healthy eye, and then grafts them back into the damaged eye, either to support corneal tissue regrowth or as a foundation for a traditional transplant. Dr. Ula Jurkunas, associate director of the Cornea Service at Mass Eye and Ear, and Dr. Jerome Ritz, the executive director of the Connell and O'Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, join Ira to talk about how the process works, and the challenges of manufacturing stem cell tissues in the lab for use in the human body.From Skyscrapers to Sand Thieves—Digging Into The World Of SandWhen you think of sand, thoughts of the ocean and sand castles probably come to mind. But sand can be found in much more than beachfronts. Sand is a key ingredient in concrete for skyscrapers, silicon for computer chips, and the glass for your smartphone.Vince Beiser, journalist and author of the book The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization, traveled to sand mines in India and beach nourishment projects around the world to follow the story of how sand has become a vital resource. He talks about the many uses of sand in our everyday lives and some of the consequences that come from our dependence on this natural resource.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Youth Climate Activists Score A Win In MontanaThis week, a state court in Montana ruled in favor of a group of 16 youth climate activists, who argued that a state environmental law was in violation of a provision in the state constitution. The Montana constitution states: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” The ruling will allow (but not require) regulators to consider climate impacts when evaluating proposed energy projects for approval.Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Ira to talk about the decision and what it might mean for other climate-related litigation around the country. They'll also discuss other science news of the week, including some strange particle physics from Fermilab, the end of the road for the common incandescent light bulb, and how researchers decoded a snippet of song — using electrodes on a brain. COVID-19's Summer Wave Raises New QuestionsStep outside into a public place, and you may experience some deja-vu: Masking is back up, the coughs and sniffles are echoing, and coworkers are calling in sick. It's not just your imagination—hospitalizations from COVID-19 are up 14.3 percent for the week of August 5. This new wave has a name: EG. 5, named for the recent Omicron variant that is now the most prevalent.With new boosters on the horizon, Ira catches up with Dr. Angela Rasmussen, virologist at VIDO, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, at the University of Saskatchewan. They answer questions about the new monovalent booster, testing guidance, and why COVID-19 is still a public health problem.New Research Suggests Neurological Culprit For COVID Brain FogAmong the most debilitating symptoms of Long Covid is brain fog, a condition which includes symptoms like confusion or inability to concentrate. A recently published study using mice cells in petri dishes suggests that brain fog might be the result of neurons fusing together. The results have yet to be tested in live animals or humans. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with study author, Dr. Ramón Martínez-Mármol, research fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute, at the University of Queensland, based in Brisbane, Australia, about what his research might help us better understand about brain fog. Reno Is Preparing To Turn Its Wastewater Into Drinking WaterInside a water treatment plant in north Reno, Nev., on a recent Wednesday, recycled wastewater was running beneath a floor grate inside a small testing room. Inside the space is a system of serpentine-like PVC pipes with 19 different ports, used to test water samples at different intervals.“It's about halfway through the treatment process at the wastewater facility,” said Lydia Teel, an engineer with the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, or TMWA, which serves about 440,000 people in the greater Reno area. “So, it's clean, but there's still some color, there's bacteria in it, some solids.”Teel spearheads a demonstration project called OneWater Nevada, an effort to show that the region can recycle the water that flushes down people's toilets and shower drains and – eventually – turn it back into clean, pure drinking water flowing from faucets, effectively creating a new water resource. The project is a collaboration between TMWA, the cities of Reno and Sparks, the University of Nevada, Reno, Washoe County, and the Western Regional Water Commission.The Reno area doesn't have a history of threatened water supplies, and historic snowfall this past winter eased drought conditions in Nevada and across parts of the Mountain West. But that could shift quickly with climate change.To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. In ‘The Pod Generation,' Pregnancy Goes High-Tech In the new movie The Pod Generation, a wife named Rachel, played by Emilia Clarke, and her husband Alvy, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, want to start a family. In the movie's near future, you don't have to have a baby by getting pregnant, or using IVF, or going through a surrogate. If you're lucky, you can get a reservation at The Womb Center, where you can grow your baby inside a convenient, high-tech, egg-shaped pod. Pressured by her friends and her work's HR department, Rachel decides to give The Womb Center a shot. Science Friday producer and Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt sat down with the film's writer and director, Sophie Barthes, to talk about what inspired her to make the movie, and what may be lost in the thoughtless pursuit of technology. The Rising Tide Against Deep Sea Mining The ocean's seabed is filled with minerals like copper, nickel, and cobalt—the very raw materials that tech companies use to make electronics and batteries. Some view it as fertile ground to mine and exploit, launching an underwater mining rush. Last month, world leaders gathered in Kingston, Jamaica to hash out the future of deep sea mining. For years, the International Seabed Authority—the organization in charge of authorizing and controlling mineral operations on the seafloor—has been trying and failing to put together a set of guidelines for deep sea mining. Ira talks with Dr. Diva Amon, marine biologist at the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory at the University of California Santa Barbara and director of the non-profit SpeSeas, based in Trinidad and Tobago. They talk through the science of deep sea mining, the policies being debated, and what the world risks losing. Then, Ira talks with Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala, Chairperson of the non-profit Maui Nui Makai Network and Native Hawaiian Elder of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Advisory Council. August Skies Set To Dazzle August is shaping up to be a great month for stargazing, with or without a telescope. Celestial wonders such as a Perseid meteor shower and a Super Blue Moon will take place soon. Saturn will also be lit up for the remainder of August, and should be visible to the naked eye on a clear night. Joining Ira to talk about what we can see this month in the night sky is astronomer, author, and podcaster Dean Regas. Regas also talks about recently leaving his long tenure at the Cincinnati Observatory, and what's next for his love for astronomy. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Devastating Fires Might Become More Common In Hawaii As of Friday morning, at least 55 were dead and thousands were seeking shelter on Maui, after wildfires tore across the Hawaiian island. Officials there say that the fires, once rare, have caused billions of dollars in damage, and the Biden administration has made federal disaster relief available. The fires were driven by strong, dry winds from nearby Hurricane Dora, and were made worse by ongoing drought conditions. The region has grown hotter and drier, and highly flammable invasive grasses have been crowding out native vegetation. Bethany Brookshire, freelance science journalist and author of the book Pests: How Humans Created Animal Villains, joins Ira Flatow to talk about this story and others from this week in science news, including an investigation into unknown genes in our genome, a 390 million year-old moss that might not survive climate change, and a fish that plays hide and seek to get to its prey. A Tuna's Reel Life Adventures Bluefin tuna is typically sliced into small pieces, its ruby red flesh rolled into sushi. But don't let those tiny sashimi slices fool you. Bluefin tuna are colossal creatures—on average, they're about 500 pounds. The biggest one ever caught was a whopping 1,500 pounds. They can travel thousands of miles at breakneck speeds, and their skin changes color! The fish, once in danger of extinction, have now rebounded due to a combination of scientific advances and possibly as a result of climate change. Ira talks with Karen Pinchin, science journalist and author of the new book, Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and The Future of Our Seas about a tuna nicknamed Amelia who traveled across the world, the fisherman who tagged her, and what their stories can help us better understand about the mighty fish. Read an excerpt of the book here. Preserving Acadia National Park's Vanishing Birdsong Acadia National Park in Maine is home to more than 300 bird species. Climate change is affecting the range of many of these birds, to the extent that some may not be found in the area in the future. A team of volunteers has made it their mission to record as many bird sounds as possible—while they still can. Laura Sebastianelli is the founder and lead researcher of the Schoodic Notes Bird Sounds of Acadia project. She's helped collect more than 1,200 bird sounds on tape, with the hopes of aiding future researchers. Sebastianelli joins Ira to talk about the project. World's Richest Lithium Deposit Faces Opposition To Mining Five years ago, professional gem hunters Mary and Gary Freeman stumbled upon the richest known lithium deposit in the world in the woods of western Maine. Lithium is a silvery metal many consider to be key to the transition to a clean energy future, thanks to its role in technology like lithium-ion batteries. The Maine deposit could be a way for the United States to be independent in their lithium sourcing. But there's stiff opposition to digging up the mineral within Maine. Kate Cough, reporter and enterprise editor for The Maine Monitor, reported this story in collaboration with Time Magazine. Cough is a Report For America corps member. She joins Ira to discuss the debate. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Protecting Other Planets From Earth's Germs For decades, people have been trying to figure out how to avoid contaminating other planets as they explore them—an idea called planetary protection. As missions venture forth to places such as Mars or Jupiter's moon, Europa, the need to protect worlds that could support life becomes more critical. And at the same time, as space programs begin to bring samples back to Earth from places like Mars or asteroids, planetary protection becomes a concern in another way—the need to protect Earth from potential unknown life forms from the cosmos. Sending humans to another world raises the stakes even more. NASA has a limit of no more than 300,000 spores (single-celled organisms) allowed on board robotic Mars landers. But human bodies contain trillions of microorganisms, making it impossible for human missions to achieve the same level of microbial cleanliness as robotic landers. Dr. Nick Benardini is a NASA official responsible for ensuring that the proper precautions are made to prevent humans from contaminating outer space. Ira Flatow spoke to him about how to avoid spreading microbes between planets. Ask An Expert: An Evolution Education Most people raised in the U.S. were taught about evolution in science class growing up. But how much do you actually remember? Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species or Gregor Mendel's pea plant experiments may ring a bell, but it's likely most of us could use a refresher. A good grasp on the science of evolution is extra important these days, argues Prosanta Chakrabarty, author of the new book, Explaining Life Through Evolution, and curator of fishes at Louisiana State University. In 2008, Louisiana's governor signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows schools to teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. Chakrabarty joins Ira to talk about the science behind evolution and take questions from listeners. Read an excerpt of the book here. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. A Possible Breakthrough Superconductor Has Scientists Split Recently, a superconducting material went viral in the scientific community. Researchers in South Korea say they've discovered a room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor. If it works, it would create electricity under normal, everyday conditions. But some scientists are hesitant to applaud this purported breakthrough. This field has a long history of supposed breakthroughs, many of which turn out to be not so superconducting after all. In other science news, NASA has detected a ‘heartbeat' from the Voyager 2 spacecraft, which lost contact last month. This may allow scientists to reestablish contact with the spacecraft before its expected October 15 date. Joining Ira to talk about these stories and more is Sophie Bushwick, technology editor for Scientific American, based in New York, New York. How Oppenheimer's Bombs Compare To Today's Nukes On the day the film Oppenheimer came out, Science Friday discussed the history of the Manhattan Project, including the legacy of the Trinity Test, where the world's very first nuclear weapon was detonated in the desert of New Mexico. We also heard from a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing and a New Mexican downwinder. But our listeners responded with even more questions that we couldn't get to—including this, from Randy in Orlando, who wrote, “I've heard Neil deGrasse Tyson say the new bombs aren't that dirty?” Randy's referring to the astrophysicist's interview last November, in which he said: “Modern nukes don't have the radiation problem … it's a different kind of weapon than Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” We wanted an answer to this question—and others—about current nuclear weapons technology, an issue that Russia's implied threats of using nuclear weapons against Ukraine also raise. Ira talks with Dr. Zia Mian, a physicist and co-director of Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security, about how nuclear weapons technology has evolved over the last 80 years, how many there are, and the new threats they pose. From Splenda to Aspartame: Are the Artificial Sweeteners We Use Hurting Us? The World Health Organization recently classified aspartame as a “possible carcinogen.” While the designation may seem scary, it simply indicates that the agency cannot rule out that the substance causes cancer. There is not enough evidence to suggest that aspartame, found in many sugar-free beverages, is linked to cancer. Ira breaks down the science behind that decision, what we know about the health effects of artificial sweeteners, and takes listener calls with guests Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society and Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. What Is Your Cat's Meow Trying To Tell You? Cats have formed bonds with humans for thousands of years. But what exactly is going on in our furry friends' brains? What are they trying to tell us with their meows? And why did humans start keeping cats as pets anyway? To help answer those questions and more, John Dankosky talks with Jonathan Losos, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and author of the new book, The Cat's Meow: How Cats Evolved from the Savanna to Your Sofa. Read an excerpt of the book at sciencefriday.com. Researchers Quantify The Navajo Nation's Water Crisis In Fort Defiance, one of five main communities situated on the Arizona-New Mexico border in the Navajo Nation, Taishiana Tsosie and Kimberly Belone are standing in a mobile office's cramped bathroom. The two researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health turn off the lights and hold up plastic bags filled with water from the bathroom sink. Each bag has five small compartments, filled with the same sink water. Where they differ is in the chemicals added to each compartment. “This is our compartment bag, and we use this and several other chemicals and tablets to test for E. coli in the water,” Tsosie said. Today, the researchers are testing for harmful bacteria, but they also run separate tests for dangerous metals in drinking water. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com. Chumash Tribe Champions National Marine Sanctuary For generations, the Chumash tribal nation have been stewards of a vital marine ecosystem along the central coast of California, bordering St. Louis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County. The area is home to species like blue whales, black abalone, and snowy plovers. And it's also an important part of the Chumash tribe's rich traditions and culture. Tribal leaders have pushed for decades to designate the area as a national marine sanctuary. Now, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is in the final stages of the approval process, which would make it the first tribally nominated national marine sanctuary in the country. John Dankosky talks with Stephen Palumbi, professor of marine sciences at Stanford University and Violet Sage Walker, chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, about the importance of this region and their collaborative research project. Where The Rubber Meets The Road For Electric Cars You might not give your car's tires a lot of thought unless you get a flat, or you live somewhere you need to swap in snow tires. But as more people in the US make the switch to electric vehicles, some are finding they have to think about their tires more often. Some EV drivers are finding that their tires wear out more rapidly than they had with traditional internal combustion-driven vehicles—in some cases, 20 percent faster. The problem has multiple causes. Many EVs are heavier than regular cars of a similar size, which puts more load on the tires. When combined with the almost instant torque provided by electric motors, that can lead to leaving rubber on the road—even when a driver isn't attempting to burn rubber. Ryan Pszczolkowski, tire testing program manager at Consumer Reports, joins Diana Plasker to talk about the special engineering that comes into play when the rubber meets the road in an electric car. Is The Plastic In Your Old Barbie Toxic? ‘Barbie' is going gangbusters at the box office, and it's prompted a whole new interest in the iconic, if occasionally problematic, toy doll. If you've been moved by the movie to dig your old Barbie out from the attic, don't be surprised if she looks…different. The PVC (polyvinyl chloride) toy dolls of the 1950s—and for the next 50 years after that—contained plasticizers that, over time, can degrade, discolor, and even become sticky. And the chemical compounds being released by an old PVC toy might be toxic to your toddler. Science Friday's AAAS Mass Media Fellow Chelsie Boodoo is a big Barbie fan. She wanted to find out more about what these old Barbies are made of, and whether we should be worried. So, she turned to Dr. Yvonne Shashoua, a research professor from the National Museum of Denmark. She explains what happens to plastic dolls over time, how museums like hers preserve vintage toys, and even some tips to keep Barbie looking like new. (Hint: make room in the freezer!) To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. No, The Gulf Stream Is Not Collapsing A sobering climate study came out this week in the journal Nature Communications. It suggests that a system of ocean currents—called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC)—could collapse sometime between 2025 and 2095, which could have dire climate consequences for the North Atlantic. SciFri director of news and audio John Dankosky talks with Swapna Krishna, a journalist based in Philadelphia, about what this means and what could be at stake. They also chat through other big science news of the week, including the detection of water vapor around a very distant star, a new image depicting the first detection of gas giants being formed around stars, a new theory for the origin of the world's “gravity hole,” why the fuzzy asp caterpillar packs such a scary sting, and what scientists can learn from ticklish rats. The State Of Reproductive Health, One Year After Dobbs In the year since the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, overturning the federal right to an abortion, states jumped into action. Thirteen states banned abortion with limited exemptions, and three others have banned abortion after the first trimester. A handful of other states have extremely restrictive abortion access, or otherwise remain in legal limbo, awaiting court decisions or new laws to be signed. Leading up to Dobbs decision, SciFri delved into the science behind reproductive health and the potential ripple effects on access to care. Now, a little over a year later, we're following up what's going on. SciFri guest host and experiences manager Diana Plasker talks with Usha Ranji, associate director for Women's Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, based in San Francisco, California, about her survey of 569 OB-GYNs across the country. They discuss the growing disparities in states between where abortion is banned and where it remains legal. Later, John Dankosky talks with Dr. Rebecca Cohen, chief medical officer at the Comprehensive Women's Health Center, based in Denver, Colorado, about providing abortion and pregnancy care in a state where abortion is legal, and seeing patients who are traveling from states with bans in place. The Kākāpō Parrot Returns To New Zealand Before humans arrived in New Zealand, parrots called kākāpō freely roamed across the islands. They are the world's only living flightless parrots, and they're a bit smaller than the average chicken. But the kākāpō's population started crashing centuries ago, due to human interference and the arrival of predators like cats, rats, and stoats. At one point, the species was teetering on the brink of extinction. For decades, scientists have been capturing and relocating kākāpō to safe islands, hoping their population would grow. It did, and the kākāpō's recovery team just reached a huge milestone: bringing four birds back to the mainland, a place they haven't existed since the 1980s. Guest host and SciFri events manager Diana Plasker talks with Deidre Vercoe, operations manager for the New Zealand Department of Conservation's kākāpō and takahē teams, about the history of kākāpō conservation, what this win means, and what's next for these beloved birds. Far Beyond Their Native Habitat, Parrots Rule The Roost In many urban areas across the U.S. and abroad, feral, non-native parrots have become established. This is true in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, where a colony of lime green monk parakeets have inhabited a massive nest on top of the gothic entrance gate. How exactly these parrots wound up here is a bit of a mystery. “The lore that's passed around is that at some point a box of parrots, perhaps at the airport, got overturned,” said science writer Ryan Mandelbaum. “What's more likely is a combination of people releasing their [pet] parrots and parrots escaping in some critical mass.” Mandelbaum wrote the cover story for July's issue of Scientific American all about the resilience of parrots. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis interviewed them at Green-Wood Cemetery, where they discussed why these parrots are not just surviving, but thriving. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Astronomers Spy A Two-Faced Star This week, astronomers report in the journal Nature that they've discovered a white dwarf—a dying star's dense inner core—that, instead of being uniform in composition, has a surface that appears to be hydrogen on one face and helium on the other. The star rotates on its axis once every 15 minutes, bringing each face into view. Researchers spotted the unusual object with an instrument called the Zwicky Transient Facility, which initially singled out the star because of its rapidly changing brightness. The astronomers aren't sure why the white dwarf, which they've nicknamed Janus after the two-faced Roman god, has this strange divided surface. Some possible theories include shifting magnetic fields which produce areas of different density, or that it's a step in stellar evolution only partially complete. Tim Revell, deputy US editor at New Scientist, joins John Dankosky to talk about the two-faced star and other stories from the week in science, including the resignation of the Stanford University president amidst an ethics probe, discovery of ancient natural graphene, an earthworm invasion in the Arctic, and investigations of alcoholic fruit. How Does The Brain Control Your Every Move? As you read this, every small action your body makes—eyes scanning the page, fingers scrolling a mouse, scratching an itch on your face—must be dictated by your brain. These actions usually happen without a second thought. But inside the brain, the motor cortex is hard at work making the body move. For nearly a century, every neuroscience student came across the “homunculus”—a visual representation of which areas of the brain control certain body parts. But for the last few decades, some researchers have disputed this traditional view of brain mapping. This includes a recent study, led by Washington University in St. Louis. Joining guest host John Dankosky to discuss how the brain and body are connected are study lead author Evan Gordon, assistant professor of radiology at Wash U., and Michael Graziano, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Revisiting The Nuclear Age With ‘Oppenheimer' This weekend, Christopher Nolan's long awaited film Oppenheimer hits theaters. It tells the story of American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his road to becoming the “father of the atomic bomb.” With its release, audiences will be faced with the United States' contentious history in developing and deploying the world's first atomic weapons, marking a point of no return for the entire world. Nearly 80 years since the bombs were first developed and tested in the New Mexican desert—and then dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the world is still reckoning with the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer's legacies. In this live call-in show, Science Goes To The Movies, we analyze the roles of scientists during the Manhattan project, hear from the people most affected by Oppenheimer's work, and pick apart his life and legacy—one which asks to what extent scientists are responsible for the things they create. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Where's The Beef? Lab-Grown Meat Gets U.S. Approval People have been looking for meat-alternatives for decades. Vegetarians avoid animal products for many reasons, from concerns over animal treatment and slaughtering practices to the meat industry's climate impacts. Methane from cows and other livestock contribute about 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. There have been plant-based alternatives on the market for awhile now, but another method has quietly gained steam over the past decade: meat grown in a lab, using cultured cells. This past June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved two companies—Eat Just and Upside—to grow and sell cultivated chicken products in the U.S. Lab-developed beef will likely be next, while some companies are even working on cultivated pet food meat. (Lab-grown mouse meat kibble, anyone?) But will growing tissue in a lab actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and … will people even want to eat it? Joining Ira to discuss this beefy topic is Casey Crownhart, climate reporter at the MIT Technology Review, who talks about how this kind of meat is made in a lab, the challenges the industry faces, and what lab-grown beef patty tastes like. How Rising Temperatures Are Shifting The Ground Beneath Chicago As global temperatures rise, cities are typically hotter than rural areas. Tall buildings trap heat and temperatures don't drop nearly as low at night. Out of sight, just below the surface, it's also getting hotter. Scientists are beginning to document the unexpected consequences of underground climate change. A new study measuring the phenomenon used sensors to track increasing temperatures underground in Chicago and map how the earth has shifted beneath the city as a result. Ira talks with the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Alessandro Rotta Loria, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University, based in Chicago, Illinois. A Fish By Any Other Name: Inside The Effort To Bring ‘Copi' To Dinner People who live near freshwater rivers or lakes are likely familiar with Asian Carp. The fish are not native to the U.S., but over the last few decades their populations have exploded in waterways like the Mississippi River Basin and the Illinois River. Over the last few years, there's been a major PR campaign to move away from the name Asian Carp, in favor of a new name: “Copi.” The reason is two-fold: First, it joins a general trend of moving species' names away from nationalistic associations, considering anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other goal is to make the fish sound more delicious—creating a market that would incentivize fishing the Copi, hopefully reducing their populations. Joining Ira to talk about this is Jim Garvey, director of fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic sciences at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Thanks To A Mesozoic Hot Spot, We Finally Know How Old The Utahraptor Is Sometimes Jim Kirkland wishes he had been alive 150 years ago. That's when the golden age of North American dinosaur discovery began, and early titans of paleontology crisscrossed the Rocky Mountains unearthing dozens of new species that became household names, from the Stegosaurus to the Brontosaurus to the Triceratops. But a close second to that era is what Kirkland gets to see these days in Utah. “I am doing that kind of discovery right now,” Kirkland said. “I'm just lucky to be alive.” Kirkland, Utah's state paleontologist, uncovered and named the Utahraptor in 1993. The deadly predator became the official state dinosaur in 2018. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it's all about artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. The Oceans Are Getting Hotter—And Greener It's hot out there, and more so than normal July weather. It's estimated that more than 100 million Americans are under heat watches, warnings, and advisories, spanning the west coast and southern states. Not only is the land hot, but the oceans are, too. The water temperature near the Florida Keys this week reached 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, just shy of the record for global ocean temperature. A warmer climate is having some visual effects on our oceans, too. The color of the ocean surface near the equator has gotten greener. The culprit? Phytoplankton, which are full of the pigment chlorophyll. Joining Ira to talk about these stories and other science news of the week is Rachel Feltman, Editor at Large for Popular Science and host of the podcast “The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week,” based in Jersey City, New Jersey. Understanding The Reasons For The Mental Health Crisis In Youth You've probably read the headlines about a spike in youth suicide rates, or about how social media and screen time are exacerbating teen anxiety and depression. Or maybe you read about the shortage of services for kids who need mental health treatment, waiting in emergency rooms for inpatient beds to open up. And of course the pandemic accelerated all of these issues, leaving kids who might have been already struggling without the support of friends and teachers in their school communities. Ira takes a closer look at what's driving these trends with Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, associate chief for clinical services in the department of psychiatry and behavioral services at the Boston Children's Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Tami Benton, psychiatrist-in-chief in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. Rewriting Sharks' Big, Bad Reputation… For Kids It's that time of year when sharks are on our minds. Summer is filled with Shark Week content, viral reports of attacks, and shrieks on the beach when someone spots a fin in the water… from a dolphin. But sharks don't deserve this bad reputation. They are beautiful, fascinating, and—more than anything—the Earth needs them. A new children's book called “Mother of Sharks,” by Melissa Cristina Márquez, aims to teach kids exactly that. Ira talks with Márquez, a shark scientist and wildlife educator, about the book, shark conservation, and why she loves sharks so much. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Meet The Blind Birder Reimagining Accessibility In The Outdoors For many blind and low vision people, accessing outdoor spaces like parks can be challenging. Trails are often unsafe or difficult to navigate, signs don't usually have Braille, guides generally aren't trained to help disabled visitors, and so on. But nature recordist Juan Pablo Culasso, based in Bogata, Colombia, is changing that. He's designed a system of fully accessible trails in the cloud forests of southwest Colombia that are specifically tailored to help visually disabled people connect with nature. The trails are the first of their kind in the Americas, and Culasso drew on his own experiences as a blind person and a professional birder to design the system. He talks with Maddie Sofia about how he designed the trail system and takes listeners on an adventure through the cloud forest he works in. Listen To Ethereal Sounds Derived From Space You've probably heard that if you scream in space, no one will hear a thing. Space is a vacuum, so sound waves don't have anything to bounce off of. But that doesn't necessarily mean that space is silent. A team of researchers are taking data from a variety of telescopes and assigning them sounds, creating song-length sonifications of beloved space structures like black holes, nebulas, galaxies, and beyond. The album, called “Universal Harmonies” aims to bring galaxies to life and allow more people, such as those who are blind and low-vision, to engage with outer space. Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with two of the scientists behind “Universal Harmonies,” Dr. Kimberly Arcand, visualization scientist at NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, and Dr. Matt Russo, astrophysicist and musician at the University of Toronto. Listen to a selection of the ethereal sonifications of “Universal Harmonies.” Why You Should Thank Your Local Wasp It's late in the summer, meaning any outdoor gathering with food and drink has a good chance of being visited by a pesky, buzzing wasp. But don't reach for that rolled-up newspaper or can of bug spray. The wasps in your world play an important role that's often overlooked. Far beyond the social hornets and yellowjackets people think about when they picture a wasp, the wasp world includes thousands of species. Some are parasitic, injecting their eggs into unwilling prey. Others hunt, either paralyzing prey for their young to feed on, or by bringing bits of meat back to a nest for their young. Some are strictly vegetarian, and live on pollen. Some are needed for the pollination of figs and certain species of orchids. Dr. Seirian Sumner, a behavioral biologist at University College London, says that if people understood the services provided by wasps the same way that they understand the need for bees, they might be more willing to overlook an occasional wasp annoyance—and might even be thankful for the wasps in their lives. In her book, "Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps," Sumner makes the case for wasps as nature's pest control agents, as important pollinators that should be celebrated. And the pesky yellowjacket at your picnic? It's probably being driven by a late-summer shift in functions within the nest, in which many of the workers die off and are replaced by sexual brood. Earlier in the year, worker wasps can bring bits of meat to the developing young, which reward them with sugary secretions. But later in the season, that food source dries up—so visiting wasps are probably searching for a bit of sugar just to get by. “Watch the wasp, see what she wants at your picnic,” Sumner advises. “Is she going for sugar, or is she going for some meat? Whatever you can work out that she wants, give her a little bit of it. Make a little wasp offering.” Sumner joins SciFri producer Charles Bergquist to talk about wasps, and make a case for why you should be thankful for the wasps in your neighborhood. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
How The Humble Beaver Shaped A Continent The American beaver, Castor canadensis, nearly didn't survive European colonialism in the United States. Prized for its dense, lustrous fur, and also sought after for the oil from its tail glands, the species was killed by the tens of thousands, year after year, until conservation efforts in the late 19th century turned the tide. In her new book, Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America, author Leila Philipp tells that tale—and the ecological cost of this near-extermination. But she also has good news: beavers, and their skillful engineering of waterways, have the potential to ease the fire, drought and floods of a changing climate. She talks to Ira about the powerful footprint of the humble beaver. The Sweet Song Of The Largest Tree On Earth For this story, we're taking a trip to south central Utah and into the Fishlake National Forest to visit the largest tree on earth, an aspen named Pando. The strange thing about Pando is that it doesn't really look like the world's biggest tree. It has rolling hills with thousands of tall, lean aspens swaying in the wind. But Pando is there, hiding in plain sight. All those tree trunks you see aren't actually individual trees. Technically, they're branches, and that's because Pando is one massive tree—sprawling more than 100 acres, with 47,000 branches growing from it. There is a lot to learn about Pando, and our guests turned to sound to understand the tree better. Together, they created an “acoustic portrait” to hear all the snaps, splinters, and scuttles that happen in and around the tree. Ira talks with Jeff Rice, a sound artist and co-founder of the Acoustic Atlas at the Montana State University Library, and Lance Oditt, executive director of the non-profit Friends of Pando, which is dedicated to preserving the tree. This $7 Violin May Be $7... But How Does It Sound? Stringed instruments can be a joy to the ears and the eyes. They're handcrafted, made of beautiful wood, and the very best ones are centuries old, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, or sometimes even millions. But there's a new violin in the works—one that's 3D-printed. It costs just a few bucks to print, making it an affordable and accessible option for young learners and classrooms. Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Brown is a concert violinist and the founder and director of the AVIVA Young Artists Program in Montreal, Quebec, and she's been tinkering with the design of 3D-printed violins for years. She talks with Ira about the science behind violins, the design process, and how she manages to turn $7 worth of plastic into a beautiful sounding instrument. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
How Fungi Are Breaking The Binary: A Queer Approach To Ecology As Pride month comes to a close, many people are reflecting on the past, present, and future of the LGBTQIA+ community. An interdisciplinary group of scientists, researchers, and artists are using queerness as a lens to better understand the natural world, too. It's a burgeoning field called queer ecology, which aims to break down binaries and question our assumptions of the natural world based on heterosexuality. For example, there are plenty of examples of same-sex animal pairings in the wild, like penguins, chimps, and axolotls. There are also plants that change sexes, or have a combination of male and female parts, like the mulberry tree. But perhaps the most queer kingdom of all is fungi. Mushrooms are not easily forced into any type of binary. For example, the Schizophyllum commune, or the split gill mushroom, has 23,000 sexes, making it somewhat of a queer icon in the field of mycology. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Patty Kaishian, incoming curator of mycology at the New York State Museum, about how fungi might help us expand our understandings of sexuality, identity, and hierarchy. They also discuss how queer ecology can help people of all sexualities reconnect with the natural world. Scientists Think Cloning Could Help Save Endangered Species Earlier this year, a baby Przewalski's horse was born at the San Diego Zoo. But this foal isn't any ordinary foal, he's a clone. He's the product of scientists aiming to save his dwindling species using genetics. This endangered horse species once roamed Europe and Asia, but by the 1960, threats like poaching, capture, and military presence drove the horses to extinction in the wild. Conservationists raced to save this wild horse through captive breeding programs, but with a population so small, there just wasn't enough genetic diversity to grow a healthy herd. But with careful genetic management, the Przewalski's horse's population is now nearly 2,000 horses strong, and this new foal will one day help boost his species' genetic diversity even more. Producer Kathleen Davis talks with Dr. Oliver Ryder, conservation geneticist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, about cloning Przewalski's horse, and how doing so will infuse genetic diversity into the small population. Then Davis talks with Dr. Sam Wisely, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, about how cloning can help other endangered species, like the black-footed ferret, and the ethics involved in cloning. Twenty Years On, The Little CubeSat Is Bigger Than Ever The story of the CubeSat started with a big problem for one Cal Poly professor. “It was actually a critical problem for us, but it was a problem that nobody else cared about,” said Jordi Puig-Suari, an Emeritus Professor from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He co-invented the CubeSat with Bob Twiggs from Stanford. Puig-Suari is now retired and has spent the last four years sailing around the world with his wife. I talked to him over Zoom from somewhere along that journey. He takes me back two decades to his time as a professor at Cal Poly where he was hired to develop their aerospace engineering department. Read the rest of this article at sciencefriday.com. Remembering Engineer And Author Henry Petroski Last week the world watched as rescuers from across the globe searched for a tiny experimental submersible that had disappeared, carrying five people on a dive to the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic. That search turned out, sadly, to be in vain. The Titan submersible is believed to have imploded in the North Atlantic, killing all aboard. The intersection of design, engineering, and human risk-taking is a recurring theme throughout modern history. One of the finest chroniclers of those tales was Henry Petroski, who died earlier this month at the age of 81. He was a professor of engineering and history at Duke University, and author of many books. Petroski was known for his critical eye and insightful view of various missteps and faults in pursuit of progress—from improving bridge designs for safety to the tragic loss of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Some called Petroski the “poet laureate of technology” for his prolific writings on everything from the design of bridges to the fabrication of pencils. In this recording from 2012, Ira Flatow spoke with the late professor Petroski about engineering failures, and humanity's follies. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Scientists Can Now Hear The Background Hum Of The Universe For the first time ever, scientists have heard the “low pitch hum” of gravitational waves rippling through the cosmos. It's this ever-present background noise set off by the movement of massive objects—like colliding black holes—throughout the universe. Scientists have theorized that it's been there all along, but we haven't been able to hear until now. So what does this hum tell us about our universe? SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with science writer Maggie Koerth about this discovery, as well as other science news of the week. They chat about the possibility of an icy planet hiding in the Milky Way, air quality problems due to wildfire smoke, an experimental weight loss drug that's currently being tested, if our human ancestors were cannibals, and how dolphin moms use baby talk with their calves. Celebrating The Weird, Wonderful World Of Cephalopods Every year, Cephalopod Week reminds us of the fascinating and weird world of these sea creatures. And in this segment, recorded live at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science Auditorium, two cephalopod scientists share new research about our squishy sea-faring neighbors, how climate change is affecting squids and octopuses, and why they love working with them. Ira Flatow talked to Dr. Lynne Fieber PhD., professor of marine biology and ecology who has studied the nervous systems of all types marine invertebrates including cephalopod and sea slugs, and Dr. Andrea Durant Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Grosell Environmental Physiology and Toxicology Lab, who studies how tiny glass squid live in a rapidly-changing ocean. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it features conversations with artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. When The Promise Of Social Media Becomes Perilous Despite social media's early promises to build a more just and democratic society, over the past several years, we've seen its propensity to easily spread hate speech, misinformation and disinformation. Online platforms have even played a role in organizing violent acts in the real world, like genocide against the Rohinga people in Myanmar, and the violent attempt to overturn the election at the United States capitol. But how did we get here? Has social media fundamentally changed how we interact with the world? And how did big tech companies accumulate so much unchecked power along the way? Remembering Roger Payne, Who Helped Save The Whales Americans haven't always loved whales and dolphins. In the 1950s, the average American thought of whales as the floating raw materials for margarine, animal feed, and fertilizer—if they thought about whales at all. But twenty-five years later, things changed for cetaceans in a big way. Whales became the poster-animal for a new environmental movement, and cries of “save the whales!” echoed from the halls of government to the whaling grounds of the Pacific. What happened? Shifting attitudes were due, in large part, to the work of scientist Roger Payne, who died earlier this month at the age of 88. His recordings helped to popularize whalesong, and stoked the public imagination about intelligent underwater creatures who used vocalizations to communicate. In 2018, our podcast “Undiscovered” explored the history of Payne's work, and that of his colleagues. We're featuring this episode as a way of remembering his life and groundbreaking work. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
We have a new podcast! It's called Universe Of Art, and it features conversations with artists who use science to bring their creations to the next level. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. A See-Through Squid Success Story Adult octopuses have about 500 million neurons, which is about as many neurons as a dog. Typically, more neurons means a more intelligent and complex creature. But it's a bit more complicated than that. Unlike dogs, or even humans, octopuses' neurons aren't concentrated in their brains—they're spread out through their bodies and into their arms and suckers, more like a “distributed” mind. (Scientists still haven't quite figured out exactly why this is.) And that's just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of unanswered cephalopod questions. Now, researchers have successfully bred a line of albino squid that were first engineered using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, creating a see-through squid. Their unique transparency allows scientists to more easily study their neural structure, and a whole lot more. SciFri experiences manager Diana Plasker talks with Joshua Rosenthal, senior scientist at the University of Chicago's Marine Biological Laboratory, based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, about this see-through squid success story. When Eye-Grabbing Results Just Don't Pan Out You know the feeling — you see a headline in the paper or get an alert on your phone about a big scientific breakthrough that has the potential to really change things. But then, not much happens, or that news turns out to be much less significant than the headlines made it seem. Journalists are partially to blame for this phenomenon. But another guilty culprit is also the scientific journals, and the researchers who try to make their own work seem more significant than the data really supports in order to get published. Armin Alaedini, an assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, recently co-authored a commentary on this topic published in The American Journal of Medicine. He joins Ira and Ivan Oransky — co-founder of Retraction Watch and a medical journalism professor and Distinguished Writer In Residence at New York University — to talk about the tangled world of scientific publishing and the factors that drive inflated claims in publications. How Art Can Help Treat Dementia And Trauma We might intrinsically know that engaging with and making art is good for us in some way. But now, scientists have much more evidence to support this, thanks in part to a relatively new field called neuroaesthetics, which studies the effects that artistic experiences have on the brain. A new book called Your Brain On Art: How The Arts Transform Us, dives into that research, and it turns out the benefits of the arts go far beyond elevating everyday life; they're now being used as part of healthcare treatments to address conditions like dementia and trauma. Universe of Art host D. Peterschmidt sits down with the authors of the book, Susan Magsamen, executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at the Pederson Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and Ivy Ross, vice president of design for hardware products at Google, to talk about what we can learn from neuroaesthetic studies, the benefits of a daily arts practice, and the kinds of art they both like making. Testing Mars Rovers In Utah's Red Desert Take a 20-minute drive down Cow Dung Road, outside of Hanksville, Utah, and you'll stumble across the Mars Desert Research Station. This cluster of white buildings—webbed together by a series of covered walkways—looks a little alien, as does the red, desolate landscape that surrounds it. “The ground has this crust that you puncture through, and it makes you feel like your footprints are going to be there for a thousand years,” said Sam Craven, a senior leading the Brigham Young University team here for the University Rover Challenge. “Very bleak and dry, but very beautiful also.” This remote chunk of Utah is a Mars analogue, one of roughly a dozen locations on Earth researchers use to test equipment, train astronauts and search for clues to inform the search for life on other planets. While deployed at the station, visiting scientists live in total isolation and don mock space suits before they venture outside. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Curly Hair Keeps Your Scalp Cooler According to a fascinating new study, curly locks are better than straight hair at keeping your scalp cool. Researchers shone bright lights on three different manikins—one with no hair, one with loosely curled hair and another with tight curls. Solar radiation bounced off the tightly curled hair, and less heat reached the manikin's scalp than the straight haired manikin. The manikin with loose curls was right in the middle. The research is part of an effort to better understand the role of hair texture in human evolution, as humans are the only mammals with the majority of body hair atop our heads. Ira talks with Dr. Tina Lasisi, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of quantitative and computational biology at the University of Southern California, and incoming assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Unprecedented Avian Flu Outbreak Continues Avian influenza has been circulating for decades among wild birds, but the US is now experiencing the worst outbreak in its history. That's because of a specific strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has left around 60 millions birds—mostly poultry—dead. This has implications for us all, whether you're frustrated about the price of eggs, worried about your backyard chickens, or concerned about yet another threat to public health. In this live call-in, Ira talks with Ashleigh Blackford, the California Condor Coordinator at the US Fish & Wildlife Service about the initiative to vaccinate California condors—the first of its kind to vaccinate any bird. Then Ira explores what this outbreak means for other wildlife, poultry, and for us. He talks with Dr. Kristy Pabilonia, professor and director of the Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratories at Colorado State University, and Dr. Richard Webby, director of the WHO's Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds and a researcher at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Why Have Ocean Temperatures Spiked? Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic have risen dramatically in recent weeks, to as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous record—and over 1 degree C warmer than average temperatures from 1982 to 2011. The reason for the unusually toasty waters isn't entirely clear. Some climatologists attribute part of the rise to an El Niño ocean circulation pattern this year, replacing the La Niña pattern that had been suppressing temperatures. Other factors may include a decline in atmospheric dust from the Sahara, and atmospheric circulation patterns that are allowing warm surface water to stay in place longer. The warmer temperatures aren't just limited to the North Atlantic, however—for the past three months, global average sea surface temperatures have also been reaching new highs. Casey Crownhart, a climate reporter at MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to talk about the warming trend, and other stories from the week in science, including accusations of body part sales from the Harvard Medical School morgue, studies of the economics of heat pumps, and a lawsuit brought by youth in Montana over global warming. The Best Summer Books, According To Two Science Writers Summer is one of the best times to crack open a book and read the hours away, according to Jaime Green and Annalee Newitz. The two science writers are voracious readers, and they've compiled a list of their summer reading recommendations for Science Friday listeners. Green and Newitz join Ira from New Britain, Connecticut and San Francisco, California respectively, to discuss their favorite nonfiction and fiction books for the summer, and take questions from listeners. To read the full list of summer book recommendations, visit sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Exposing Texas' Excess Emissions Problems In the early hours of August 22, 2020, Hurricane Laura was still just a tropical storm off the coast of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. But effects from the monstrous storm, which would ultimately take at least 81 lives, were already being felt on the U.S. Gulf Coast. As rain poured down on the Sweeney refinery in Old Ocean, Texas, that afternoon, two processing units failed, releasing nearly 1,400 pounds of sulfur dioxide, which can cause trouble breathing, and other chemicals. Over the next few days, Laura siphoned up moisture from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and transformed into a Category 1 hurricane. In Texas, chemical plants began shutting down, hurriedly burning off unprocessed chemicals and releasing vast amounts of pollution in anticipation of the storm making landfall. On August 24, Motiva's Port Arthur refinery released 36,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other noxious pollutants. The next morning, Motiva began purging chemicals its plant had been processing, emitting nearly 48,000 pounds of carbon monoxide and propylene, among other pollutants. The following day, a Phillips 66 refinery in southwest Louisiana shut down, releasing more than 1,900 pounds of sulfur dioxide. Then, as gale-force winds swept through coastal communities and the relentless rain poured down, the chemical facilities increasingly malfunctioned. To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com. A Scientist's Catalog Of 100 Days Under The Sea In February, Dr. Joe Dituri put on his scuba gear, dove 30 feet below the surface, and entered a 100-square-foot underwater lodge. This former US Navy diving officer didn't come up again for air until June 9, spending 100 days underwater. And even before the end of his stay, he broke the record for living underwater. He did all of this in the name of science—to understand how the human body handles long-term exposure to pressure. This mission is called Project Neptune 100, and because those 100 days are finally up, we're taking a deep dive into the underwater habitat to hear what is to be learned from so many days below the waves. We recorded this interview with Dituri on Day #94 with a live virtual audience, whom you'll hear from later. Ira talks with Dr. Deep Sea, aka Dr. Joe Dituri, a biomedical engineer and associate professor at the University of South Florida, and Dr. Sarah Spelsberg, wilderness emergency specialist and the medical lead for Project Neptune 100 coming to us from the Maldives. To see some photos of Dr. Dituri's undersea life, visit sciencefriday.com. Unmasking Owls' Mysteries Don't let owls' cute faces fool you—they're deadly predators. This duality is part of what makes them so mysterious to humans. And their contradictions don't end there: Their hoots are among the most distinctive bird sounds, yet owls are nearly silent when gliding through the air to catch their prey. Scientists are learning more about why owls are such good predators—how their hearing and night vision are so sharp, and their flight so silent. With new technology, researchers are also decoding owl communications, increasing our understanding of their social structures and mating habits. John Dankosky talks about all things owls with Jennifer Ackerman, author of the new book, What An Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Canadian Wildfire Smoke Drifts Across The United States This week, smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted south, enveloping the Northeastern United States, casting an ominous orange glow. The smoke continued spreading outwards to the Southeast and to the Midwest. While climate change is extending and worsening the Canadian wildfire season, it's still rare for this many fires, so early in the season. Ira talks with Katherine Wu, staff writer at The Atlantic, about the latest on the Canadian wildfires and other top news stories of the week, including; a new type of cat contraception, drilling into the Earth's mantle, and a ‘virgin' crocodile birth. 30 Years Later, 'Jurassic Park' Still Inspires On June 11th, 1993, what would become one of the biggest movies of all time was released in theaters: Jurassic Park. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, the film is about people's belief that they can control nature. Wealthy businessman John Hammond creates a dinosaur nature park. Things go awry quickly. Electric fences break down, dinosaurs get loose, and people are eaten. At the time of its release, the film became the highest-grossing movie of all time. In the decades since it came out, the film has spawned a multi-movie franchise, amusement park rides, video games, and every type of merchandise imaginable. The movie also had a tremendous impact on visual effects, both computer animated and practical, which are still seen today in the media. When the first Jurassic Park movie came out, many of the paleontologists of today were children—or not even born yet. Ira speaks with a trio of paleontologists about the film's impact on them as kids, and its continuous use as an educational tool to inspire young dino enthusiasts: Riley Black, Steve Brusatte and Yara Haridy. A Biotech Offensive Against Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes Mosquitoes are the primary spreaders of some highly dangerous diseases for people: The insect spreads diseases like yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria, and zika, which kill millions of people globally each year. There's one species of mosquito that's invasive to the United States, and whose populations are spreading: Aedes aegypti, which is recognizable by black and white markings on its legs. Lee County, Florida is taking aim at this species with biotechnology. Their strategy is to release 30,000 sterilized male mosquitoes into the environment, who will go on to mate with females, who then will release eggs that do not hatch. Male mosquitoes don't bite, only females do. The goal of this method is to decrease the Aedes aegypti population with every generation. Biotechnology to combat this mosquito species is nothing new. Ira speaks with reporter Cary Barbor at WGCU in Fort Myers about this strategy in her city. He also speaks with Dr. Omar Akbari, professor of cell and developmental biology at UC San Diego, about his research on using CRISPR to alter Aedes aegypti into harmless insects. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Tomato Breeding Project Fueled By Over 1,000 Backyard Gardeners In 2005, gardeners Craig LeHouiller and Patrina Nuske-Small created the Dwarf Tomato Project. They wanted to preserve the flavor and beauty of heirloom tomatoes, without taking up too much space. They started crossbreeding heirloom tomatoes with smaller dwarf tomato plants. To do so, they enlisted volunteers from all over the world. Over 1,000 people have participated so far. You can even buy the seeds and plant them in your own garden! Ira talks with the project's co-founder, gardener and author, Craig LeHoullier, based in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Southwestern States Break The Dam On Water Stalemate Southwestern states have been aware for decades that their use of Colorado River water is not sustainable. Forty million people depend on the watershed across seven states, several tribes, and northern Mexico. After intense pressure from the federal government, Arizona, California, and Nevada presented a plan last month to cut water use in these states. While the proposal isn't final, it's an important step in a long stalemate among southwestern states hesitant to use less water. The three states propose cutting 3 million acre-feet in water use through 2026—about ten percent of their total water allocation. The federal government plans to spend $1.2 billion to pay water users for the cuts. Joining Ira to break down what this plan means for southwest states is Dr. Sharon Megdal, director of the University of Arizona's Water Resources Research Center in Tucson, and Luke Runyon, managing editor and reporter for KUNC, in Grand Junction, Colorado. Tracking The Saguaro Cacti Decline One of the most iconic symbols of the American Southwest is the saguaro cactus—the big, towering cactus with branching arms. Saguaro are the most studied variety of cactus, yet there's still much we don't know about them. Once a decade, researchers from the University of Arizona survey plots of roughly 4,500 saguaro to assess the health of the species. This past year there was a record low number of new cacti growing—the fewest since they started decadal surveys in 1964. What's driving this decline? Ira talks about the state of saguaro cacti with Peter Breslin, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona's Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, based in Tucson, Arizona. These Conservation Scientists Are Keeping The Sonoran Desert Diverse Many Americans might be surprised just how expansive and diverse the Sonoran Desert actually is. The 100,000 square-mile desert stretches across the border between the U.S. and Mexico, with the northernmost regions in southern California and Arizona making up just one third of the desert. The sweeping terrain is home to thousands of plant and animal species and contains every existing biome in the world—from timber tundras to rolling grasslands to arid desert basins. The majority of the Sonoran is within the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican state of Sonora, which includes the Gulf of California. The gulf alone is teeming with life—famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once called the desert, “the world's aquarium.” Ira talks about the rich biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert and the importance of scientific collaboration across the border with Ben Wilder, director and co-founder of Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers, and Michelle María Early Capistrán, a conservation fellow at Stanford University and board member of the Next Generation of Sonoran Desert Researchers. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Could Restoring Animal Populations Store More Carbon? Did you know that land and ocean ecosystems absorb about half of the carbon dioxide we emit each year? But what if the earth had the capacity to absorb even more? With the help of some furry, scaly, and leathery critters, maybe it can. A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change claims that by restoring the populations of just a handful of animals—like gray wolves, bison, and sea otters for example—the Earth could capture around 6.41 more gigatons of CO2 each year. This idea of restoring wildlife is called rewilding. Ira talks with the co-author of this study, Dr. Trisha Atwood, an associate professor at Utah State University, based in Logan, UT. They chat about what critters make the rewilding list, and how they fit into the carbon cycle. Allergy Season Is Blooming With Climate Change Spring is in the air, and for many people that means allergy season is rearing its ugly head. If it feels like your allergies have recently gotten worse, there's now data to back that up. New research shows that since 1990, pollen season in North America has grown by 20 days and gotten 20% more intense, with the greatest increases in Texas and the Midwest. This is because climate change is triggering plants' internal timing to produce pollen earlier and earlier. It's a problem that's expected to get worse. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis speaks with William Anderegg, assistant professor at the University of Utah's School of Biological Sciences about pollen counts, and pollen as a respiratory irritant. Why This Scientist Shares Vulnerable Career Moments Dr. Rachel Lupien, a paleoclimatologist at Aarhus University, makes it a point to be honest about the challenges she runs into at work. She hopes that other scientists can learn from them. So last year, when a paper she wrote was rejected from journals five times, she tweeted about the experience. While the responses ranged from supportive replies to harsh emails, Rachel says that it feels good to talk about professional headaches with peers who understand. Digital producer Emma Gometz interviews Rachel about why it's important to be honest about setbacks as a scientist, and how transparency helps all professional scientists do better work. Read more personal stories from scientists, including Rachel's experience working as a paleoclimatologist across the world, and building mentorship networks of her own, on SciFri's six-week automated email newsletter, “Sincerely, Science.” To learn more about Sincerely Science and read Rachel's paper, visit sciencefriday.com. To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.