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Rank #17 in Science & Medicine category

Science & Medicine

Science Friday

Rank #17 in Science & Medicine category

Science & Medicine
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Brain fun for curious people.

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Brain fun for curious people.

iTunes Ratings

2324 Ratings
Average Ratings
1640
325
147
99
113

Grrreat

By ELOYHERE - Sep 30 2018
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I love the topics and the question and answer.

Wow

By Hey224456 - Aug 06 2018
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Such a great podcast. Interesting stories every week.

iTunes Ratings

2324 Ratings
Average Ratings
1640
325
147
99
113

Grrreat

By ELOYHERE - Sep 30 2018
Read more

I love the topics and the question and answer.

Wow

By Hey224456 - Aug 06 2018
Read more

Such a great podcast. Interesting stories every week.

Cover image of Science Friday

Science Friday

Rank #17 in Science & Medicine category

Read more

Brain fun for curious people.

Top Episodes

Most Popular Episodes of Science Friday

Rank #1: Weather Advances, Listening to Volcanoes, Phragmites. Jan 25, 2019, Part 1

Jan 25 2019
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Your smartphone gives you up-to-the-minute weather forecast updates at the tap of a button. Every newscast has a weather segment. And outlets like the Weather Channel talk weather all day, every day. But how much has the process of predicting the weather changed over the past 100 years? Though many of the basic principles are the same, improvements in data collection, satellite imagery, and computer modeling have greatly improved your local forecast—making a five-day look ahead as accurate as a one-day prediction was 40 years ago. Richard Alley, a professor of geoscience at Penn State, describes the evolution of meteorology, and what roadblocks still lie ahead, from data sharing to shifting weather patterns. And Angela Fritz, lead meteorologist for the Capital Weather Gang blog at the Washington Post, describes the day-to-day work of a meteorologist and the challenges involved in accurately predicting your local weekend weather. When the Chilean volcano Villarrica exploded in 2015, researchers trying to piece together the eruption had a fortuitous piece of extra data to work with: the inaudible infrasound signature of the volcano’s subsurface lava lake rising toward the surface. Volcano forecasters already use seismic data from volcanic vibrations in the ground. But these “infrasound” signals are different. They’re low-frequency sound waves generated by vibrations in the air columns within a volcanic crater, can travel many miles from the original source, and can reveal information about the shape and resonance of the crater… and whether it’s changing. And two days before Villarrica erupted, its once-resonant infrasound signals turned thuddy—as if the lava lake had gotten higher, and left only a loudspeaker-shaped crater to vibrate the air. Robert Buchsbaum walks into a salt marsh on Boston’s North Shore. Around him towers a stand of bushy-topped Phragmites australis, an invasive plant commonly known as the common reed. Phragmites is an enemy that this regional scientist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society knows all too well. The plant, which typically grows about 13 feet high, looms over native marsh plants, blocking out their sunlight. When Phragmites sheds its lower leaves, or dies, it creates a thick layer of wrack that keeps native plants from germinating. Its stalks clog waterways, thwarting fish travel. The roots secrete a chemical that prevents other plants from growing, and they grow so deep they are nearly impossible to pull out. But this stubborn bully of a plant might have a shot at redemption. A recent study from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center found that the very traits that make Phragmites a tough invader—larger plants, deeper roots, higher density—enable it to store more carbon in marshy peat. And as climate change races forward, carbon storage becomes a bigger part of the ecosystem equation.

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Rank #2: Nerve Agents, Straws, Soccer Flops, Happiness. July 13, 2018, Part 2

Jul 13 2018
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Four months ago, an ex-Russian spy and his daughter were hospitalized in the U.K. They came into contact with a substance known as Novichok—a nerve agent developed by Soviet scientists during the Cold War. And recently, two U.K. citizens were hospitalized. One died after apparent exposure to Novichok. Russia has so far denied any involvement in the attacks. The nuclear arms race wasn’t the only focus for the U.S. and Soviets during the Cold War. The proliferation of chemical weapons—nerve and blister agents like mustard gas—was also high on their priorities. The first nerve agent was the result of 1930’s German chemists’ experiments to develop new insecticides. The substance was toxic to insects but also, at certain doses, to animals and humans as well. Luckily, a brush with a nerve agent isn’t always fatal. Dr. Rick Sachleben joins Ira to discuss how nerve agents interact with our body chemistry and what can make a difference between life and death for someone who’s come into contact with the deadly substance. This week, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it was phasing out the use of plastic straws in its stores, instead using what some are calling “adult sippy cup” lids. Other restaurants have also made the move to scale back use of the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw, while some municipalities have considered total straw bans. New York Magazine food business reporter Clint Rainey joins Ira to talk about some of the alternatives companies are considering to plastic straws, from compostable paper straws to pasta tubes to reusable metal straws, and about the challenges restaurants need to address—from durability, to price, to usability by people with disabilities. In late April, FIFA announced that they would be adding four more referees to each soccer match. These refs won’t be running alongside players. Instead, they’ll be in a control room watching the match closely on computer monitors. The video assistant referees will be scanning instant replay for the typical fouls like hand balls and offside goals—but they will also be monitoring soccer dives. Soccer players are notorious for dives, or faking injuries. If players can successfully convince a referee they are temporarily injured, their team can get rewarded with a free kick, a yellow card for the opposing team, or the coveted penalty kick. If they get caught faking it, referees don’t really punish them. But there is a strategy to these flops. One study showed that players flopped when they were closer to referees and twice as much when the score was tied. Vox reporter Umair Irfan joins Ira to discuss some of the science, strategies, and behavior economics behind these soccer dives. What really makes a person happy? What is “the good life”?  Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos spends her research hours studying primate and canine cognition for clues to how humans think and learn. She also teaches Yale University’s most popular course (also available free online), “PSYC 157: Psychology and the Good Life.” She joins Ira to discuss her work and the psychology of happiness.  

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Rank #3: SciFri Extra: ‘Behind The Sheet’ Of Gynecology’s Darker History

Jan 22 2019
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The 19th-century physician J. Marion Sims may have gone down in history as the “father of modern gynecology,” but Sims’ fistula cure was the result of experimental surgeries, pre-Emancipation, on at least 11 enslaved black women. Only three of whose names have been remembered— Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. A new play, Behind The Sheet, imagines their life—not just the pain, but the friendships they might have formed to support each other through surgery after surgery. In this extended conversation, Science Friday producer Christie Taylor talks to playwright Charly Evon Simpson about the process of inventing a story for these women despite the limited documentation of their lives, the controversy around a J. Marion Sims statue in New York City, and Sims’ legacy in black women’s maternal health outcomes today. Behind The Sheet was funded in part by The Sloan Foundation, which is also a funder of Science Friday. Further Reading Read an essay by Rich Kelley about the scientific an historical context of Behind The Sheet. Listen to Undiscovered's episode covering Sims' research and how people of color are still underrepresented in medical research. Read an article reported by Vox on the removal of a statue of Sims in New York in April 2018.

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Rank #4: Neutrinos, Book Club, Air Conditioning. July 13, 2018, Part 1

Jul 13 2018
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In 1988, physicist Stephen Hawking’s wildly popular A Brief History of Time introduced general audiences around the world to scientists’ questions about the Big Bang, black holes, and relativity. Many of those questions remain unanswered, though the science has advanced in the 30 years since the book was first published. Hawking, who passed away this spring, was known not just for this book, but for his enthusiastic and persistent communication with the public about science. And this summer, the Science Friday Book Club celebrates his legacy on the page, and off. Join Ira and the team at Science Friday as we read A Brief History of Time and ponder the deep questions about matter, space, and time. We’ll read the book and discuss until late August. And we want to hear from you!  Neutrinos are particles that are constantly raining down in the universe. They are created from nuclear reactions in places like our sun, distant stars, and even on Earth. But the source of higher-energy cosmic neutrinos formed deeper in the universe is still a mystery. Researchers have built telescopes to detect these low and high energy neutrinos as they pass through the Earth. One of these telescopes is IceCube, which is buried deep beneath the ice in the Antarctic. In September, IceCube detected one of these cosmic neutrinos and alerted the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope and other observatories. These telescopes were able to trace the source of the neutrino to a flare up in a blazar—a black hole at the center of a galaxy—4 billion light-years away. When the mercury soars dangerously high, air conditioning can help save lives that might otherwise be lost to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other stresses brought about by heat waves. But there’s a downside: it can take a lot of electricity to keep you cool. New research published in PLOS Medicine earlier this month assesses what happens when the demand for air conditioning rises with the temperature, and why saving those lives might also cost lives. Senior author Tracey Holloway, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains.

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Rank #5: Physics Mysteries, Appendix and Parkinson’s, Paralysis Treatment. Nov 2, 2018, Part 2

Nov 02 2018
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Ever wondered why your dog’s back-and-forth shaking is so effective at getting you wet? Or how bugs, birds, and lizards can run across water—but we can’t? Or how about why cockroaches are so darn good at navigating in the dark? Those are just a few of the day-to-day mysteries answered in the new book How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future, by David Hu. Once upon a time, there was very little hope for patients paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. The prevailing wisdom was that unless you could regenerate neurons across the spinal region of the injury these patients would never walk again. Now researchers say that perspective is based on an outdated way of thinking about the role of the spinal cord in movement. A new technique that delivers an electrical signal directly to the spinal cord has given a handful of patients the ability to move again and, as reported in a new study out this week in the journal Nature, has allowed them to walk. You’ve probably heard that you don’t necessarily need your appendix, especially if you’ve had it removed. But the appendix does have a function and scientists are learning more about how it affects our health. The organ plays a role in regulating the immune system, microbiome, and even Parkinson’s disease. A misfolding in the protein called alpha-synuclein has been linked to the disease, and researchers found abnormal clumps of this protein in the appendix. This week, a team of scientists found more evidence for the link. Reporting in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers found that, for Parkinson’s patients, there was a 3.6 year delay in onset of the disease for those who had an appendectomy.

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Rank #6: Gynecology’s Dark History, Antarctic Ice, Moon Craters. Jan 18, 2019, Part 2

Jan 18 2019
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Nineteenth-century physician J. Marion Sims has gone down in history as the “father of modern gynecology.” He invented the speculum, devised body positions to make gynecological exams easier, and discovered a method for closing vaginal fistulas, a painful, embarrassing and often isolating complication that can result from childbirth. But Sims’ fistula cure was the result of experimental surgeries, pre-Emancipation, on at least 11 enslaved black women, only three of whose names have been remembered—Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. Over a period of about five years, the women underwent dozens of surgeries as Sims attempted, and failed, to fix their fistulas. He rarely used anesthesia. What were the lives of those women like? A new play, Behind The Sheet, tackles this story from their perspective, imagining not just their pain, but the friendships they might have formed to support each other through surgery after surgery. In this story, the women tend each other’s ailments, make perfume to hide the smell from their fistula condition, and pledge to remember each other even if history forgets them.  Researchers monitoring the condition of the Antarctic ice sheet report that not only is the ice melting, but that the rate of ice loss is increasing rapidly. According to their estimates, around 40 gigatons of ice were lost per year in the 1980s. By the 2010s, that rate of loss had increased to more than 250 gigatons of ice per year. That melting ice has caused sea levels around the world to rise by more than half an inch, the researchers say. Eric Rignot, climate scientist at the University of California-Irvine and one of the authors of the report, joins Ira to discuss the trends in the ice sheet and what they portend for sea level rise. Our moon formed about 4.51 billion years ago and it’s been pummeled by meteorites ever since, leaving behind the lunar craters you can see on the surface today. Recently, scientists curious to know how often those impacts occurred came up with a clever way of determining the age of the craters. They discovered that many of them are relatively young—that is, the moon got hit by space rocks a lot more recently and a lot more frequently than scientists once thought. Sara Mazrouei, planetary scientist at the University of Toronto joins Ira to discuss the new research, out in the journal Science this week, and what it could tell us about Earth’s crater history.

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Rank #7: Heredity, Oldest Bread, Jupiter's Moons. July 20, 2018, Part 2

Jul 20 2018
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Have you ever taken a peek at your family tree? If you trace back along those branches, you might discover some long ago celebrities, kings, and philosophers among your ancestors. But what does it even mean to be “related” to an ancient queen when it’s hard to know what’s lurking inside our own DNA? It turns out even one generation back, the question of who we are gets made complicated. “We’re primed to think of our genomes as some kind of magical book. We just understand so little about genetics. Period.” says Carl Zimmer, author of the new book She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. Zimmer joins Ira to discuss Mendel’s Law, the history of eugenics, the power of CRISPR and the boundaries of what we understand of human heredity today. Bread is a staple food today. You can find dozens of varieties at the supermarket—tortillas and pita, naan and focaccia, rye bread and wonder bread and baguettes too. Bread is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine it was once a rare commodity, a labor-intensive specialty that could be made only by husking the seeds of wild grasses, hand-pounding and grinding them, then mixing the resulting flour with water and scorching on a hearth. Archaeologists working at a 14,000-year-old site in Jordan have now found evidence of an early bakery in the form of burned crumbs, similar to the ones at the bottom of your toaster. After analyzing the crumbs’ structure with a scanning electron microscope, the researchers were able to characterize the crumbs as the charred remains of a flatbread, similar to pita, baked with ingredients like wild einkorn wheat, barley, oats, and the roots of an aquatic plant similar to papyrus. They also determined that the crumbs predate the dawn of agriculture. When Galileo first saw Jupiter through a telescope, he also discovered “stars” that would orbit around the planet in the night sky. While Galileo named them the Medicean stars—after his future patron Cosimo II de’ Medici—we know them today as Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Since Galileo’s initial discovery, astronomers have found dozens more moons around Jupiter, and this week, researchers announced an additional 12 moons, bringing the total number up to a whopping 79.

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Rank #8: Yellow Fever and Ebola, Trans-boundary Aquifers, Probiotics. Aug 24, 2018, Part 2

Aug 24 2018
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From 1976 to 2017, the Democratic Republic of the Congo experienced eight outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus. Then, for 10 weeks earlier this year, the virus reemerged in the country, killing 33 people. Ministry of Health officials finally declared the crisis over on July 24. But just one week later, on August 1, the DRC reported a new outbreak of the Ebola virus in North Kivu province. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the The National Institutes of Health, joins Ira for an update on the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Plus, public health officials may not be able to control when and where a viral outbreak will occur. But, with the right strategy, they can keep it from becoming an epidemic. One of these strategies was used on yellow fever, a virus that emerged in Brazil last year and threatened major population centers like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Nuno Faria of the University of Oxford describes how his team used real time genome sequencing of the Yellow Fever virus to track where it came from and which groups might be at risk. In the Southwest, water is at a premium, with every drop in demand from agriculture, industry, and growing populations. The Mexico-Texas border is no exception. Strict rules govern who can take water from the Rio Grande, with each country owing a certain amount of water to the other as the river winds back and forth. But the surface water isn’t the only liquid in play. Far below the surface, hidden aquifers straddle the border—and the water within them is largely unregulated. Rosario Sanchez of the Texas Water Resources Institute and Zoe Schlanger, environment reporter for Quartz discuss the water regulations and border disputes.  Plus, are probiotics good for you? A new study suggests too much "good bacteria" could poison your brain.

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Rank #9: Heart and Exercise, Consumer Electronics Show, Black Holes. Jan 11, 2019, Part 2

Jan 11 2019
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You’ve heard the news that smoking is bad for your health. But it turns out not exercising could be even worse for your chances of survival, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Network Open. But is it possible to overdo it? While you’re trying to boost your overall health, could you instead be doing damage to your heart? In this segment, Wael Jaber of the Cleveland Clinic and Maia P. Smith of St. George’s University talk about how sports like weightlifting stack up to running and cycling in terms of health effects, and how the sport you choose could actually reshape your heart. Discovered only decades ago, black holes remain one of the universe’s most mysterious objects, with such a strong gravitational pull that  that light—and even data—can’t escape. Oftentimes researchers can only observe black holes indirectly, like from blasts of energy that come from when the massive bodies “feed” on nearby objects. But where is that energy generated, and how does that eating process actually progress through the geometry of the black hole? Erin Kara, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, describes new research published in Nature into how echoes of X-rays in small, stellar-mass black holes can point the way. At the other end of the spectrum, supermassive black holes billions of times the mass of our Sun are believed to dwell at the hearts of galaxies. Many are active, drawing in nearby gas and dust and emitting energy in response, but others are dormant, with nothing close to feed on. MIT postdoctoral fellow Dheeraj Pasham talks about what happens when these dormant black holes suddenly encounter and tear apart a star—and how the fallout can shed light on how these black holes spin. His research appeared in Science this week. The researchers also discuss how black holes could lead the way to understanding how galaxies evolve, and other black hole mysteries. Every year, the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, meets in Las Vegas to showcase the latest in consumer tech trends. This year was no different—but what should we expect in tech in 2019? WIRED news editor Brian Barrett was on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center all week and joins Ira to talk about what he saw, including a flying taxi and other concept cars, delivery drones, robot companions, and ‘5G’ products mean without a 5G network.    

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Rank #10: Water Wars, Air Pollution And Fetuses, Electric Blue Clouds. Sept. 28, 2018, Part 2

Sep 28 2018
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Yemen is gripped by civil war—and some experts say it could be the first of many “water wars” to come, as the planet grows hotter and drier. In This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-Offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America, Jeff Nesbit writes of the Yemeni conflict and many other geopolitical consequences of a warming world, including the precarious future of the Indus River, under the control of China, India and Pakistan, and why Saudi Arabia’s biggest dairy company is buying farmland in the Arizona desert. Nesbit joins Ira to discuss the future of our planet.  Our understanding of how protective the placenta is during pregnancy has been changing. Some ingested substances, like alcohol and pthalates, are known to cross the boundary and cause harm. And in the case of air pollution, a mother’s exposure is increasingly correlated with health problems in the infant, from cardiovascular to neurodevelopment. But how do inhaled particles lead to these problems? New research in the Journal of American Medicine this month points to one potential mechanism: changes in the thyroid hormones, which are critical to early development. What’s going on—and what can be done to protect the most vulnerable from potentially lifelong health effects?  NASA’s PMC Turbo mission sent up a balloon to capture images of one of the rarest clouds, polar mesospheric clouds. These clouds, called noctilucent clouds, only form during the summer 50 miles up in the atmosphere, and they nucleate around meteor dust. Researchers explain what these clouds tell us about climate change and the physics of gravity waves and turbulence. 

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Rank #11: Gene-Editing Humans, Asymmetry, Ancient Whale Ancestor. Nov 30, 2018, Part 2

Nov 30 2018
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The first CRISPR-edited babies are (probably) here. The news raises social, ethical, and regulatory questions—for both scientists and society. Then, why are human bodies asymmetrical? A single protein could help explain why. And finally, ever wondered how whales got their mouth bristles? It's possible that they went through a phase where they sucked up their food like vacuums before they evolved baleen.

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Rank #12: Endangered Crow, Hawaiian Biodiversity, Mars Simulation. Sept. 21, 2018, Part 2

Sep 21 2018
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About five million years ago, the island of Kauai emerged from the ocean waves, and a new chain of island habitats was born, right in the middle of the Pacific. In those Hawaiian islands, birds would have found a multitude of microclimates, a lack of most predators, and a pretty safe spot to grow and evolve—which they did, diversifying into a wide range of species, each suited to a different lifestyle and habitat. But today Hawaii’s diverse birds are under attack by invasive mongooses, cats, rats and other predators. Some birds no longer breed in the wild and need the help of humans to reproduce and survive. Alison Greggor, a post-doctoral research associate at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, joins Ira to talk about efforts to rehabilitate the nearly extinct Hawaiian crow, the ʻAlalā, and the race to save delicate bird eggs before predators get them first. When people talk about evolution and islands, it seems like the Galapagos get all the credit. But just like that island chain, with Darwin’s famous finches, the Hawaiian archipelago is itself a stunning natural lab for adaptation and evolution. As new lands is created and as old islands erode, the Hawaiian islands have developed a fantastic array of microclimates and habitats—and unusual species have evolved to take advantage of each one. Perched on the side of the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is an otherworldly experiment—a Mars colony where half a dozen crew members spend eight months living together and simulating life on the Red Planet. The location looks altogether unearthly, with rusty red rock fields that look a lot like the images being sent back from the surface of Mars. What happens when you jam six people in a 1,200 ft2 habitat for months at a time? Kim Binstead, the principal investigator on the HI-SEAS project and a professor of information and computer sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, joins Ira to give a glimpse of what life is like inside.

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Rank #13: Ant Socialization, Smoky Skies, Dust Storm, Mars Lake. July 27, 2018, Part 2

Jul 27 2018
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Many ant species have a queen, the member of the colony that lays eggs. The rest of the ants are divided into different roles that support the queen and the colony. So what ants become queens versus workers? Scientists found that the gene ilp2 that regulates insulin played a role in determining what ant becomes the queen. Biologist Ingrid Fetter-Pruneda talks to John Dankosky about how this gene works in determining a queen. The Rocky Fire and the Jerusalem Fire scorched nearly 100,000 acres in northern California in July and August of 2015… and when the prevailing winds were right, smoke drifted all the way down into the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s when locals began tweeting their observations. Now, scientists at the U.S. Forest Service have analyzed 39,000 tweets like these from the 2015 wildfire season, and found that social media data can be a reliable way to augment existing air quality monitoring data in predicting the extent—and the public health effects—of wildfire smoke. Sonya Sachdeva joins Science Friday to talk about how tweets can be a useful tool in tracking wildfires. Plus: Earlier this month, a cloud of dust rolled into the atmosphere above Texas and the Gulf Coast. It was a remnant of a storm blown over from the Saharan desert. But, according to a new study, that Saharan dust also brings with it a silver lining—it suppresses the formation of major storms. Bowen Pan joins John Dankosky to explain why a dusty atmosphere could mean a less severe hurricane season. Researchers have been scouring Mars for water since the early 1970s. Since then, they’ve found frozen water in the poles of Mars as well as trace amounts locked up in Martian soil, but nothing liquid—until this past week. A team of scientists from Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics announced in Science they found liquid water underneath the glaciers of the planet’s south pole. Angel Abbud-Madrid joins John to talk about how the researchers found the liquid water and what this discovery means for future Martian water research, and Bonnie Meinke tells SciFri the best ways to see Mars as it will be the closest it’s been to Earth in 15 years.  

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Rank #14: Hemp and CBD, Phytosaurs, Mosquito Control. Dec 7, 2018, Part 1

Dec 07 2018
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Good news could be coming soon for anyone interested in hemp, the THC-free, no-high strain of cannabis whose use ranges from fibers to food to pharmaceuticals. If the 2018 Farm Bill passes Congress in its current form, growing hemp would be legal and products derived from hemp would be removed from their current legal gray area. Cornell horticulture professor Larry Smart explains why a plant that hasn’t been grown legally in the U.S. for nearly a century will require a monumental effort from scientists to catch up to crops like soybean and tomatoes. Plus, Dr. Esther Blessing, an assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, breaks down where the research stands on other uses of CBD, and what we still don’t know. Then: Mass extinctions are a window into past climate disasters. They give a glimpse of the chemical and atmospheric ingredients that spell out doom for the Earth’s biodiversity. Scientists have identified five big mass extinctions that have happened in the past. The end Triassic mass extinction—number four on the list—happened around 200 million years ago, when three-quarters of the Earth’s species went extinct. But the exact play-by-play is still a mystery. Paleontologist Randy Irmis at the Natural History Museum of Utah and his team are searching for phytosaur fossils, and Science Friday producers Katie Hiler and Lauren J. Young joined him in the field. Plus, could the answer to controlling mosquitos be...more mosquitos? Or, at least, more mosquitos with a bacterial infection. We check in with Valley Public Radio reporter Kerry Klein on the State Of Science. And it's been a big week for space news. Science Friday director Charles Bergquist joins Ira for the News Round-up.  

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Rank #15: Ant Traffic Flow, Natural Reactors, David Quammen. August 17, 2018, Part 2

Aug 17 2018
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Worker ants keep the nest alive. They look for food, take care of the eggs, and dig all the tunnels. Fire ant colonies, for example, have hundreds of thousands of worker ants. You’d think traffic jams happen all the time. But they don’t! The majority of the ants aren’t working, according to a study published in Science this week from the Georgia Institute of Technology. They remain idle to stay out of the way, leaving only 30% of the ants to dig a new hole. The researchers also believe the dynamic between idle and active ants could be applied to teaching small robots to dig together at an earthquake site or find shelter underground during a natural disaster. Long before humans enriched uranium to create nuclear fission, the Earth was doing it on its own. Two billion years ago, some natural deposits of uranium contained enough Uranium-235 to undergo spontaneous fission reactions. Those deposits are no longer undergoing fission. But, new research of the Oklo natural nuclear reactor in Gabon has found something curious. Not all the cesium (a toxic waste product of fission reactions both natural and man-made) was released into the environment. Rather, some remained bound in the reactor, with the help of other molecules. How could this finding help lead to safer nuclear waste storage? In The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, science writer David Quammen tells the tale of the microbiologist Carl Woese, who discovered in 1977 that a certain methane-belching microbe was not a bacterium, but instead belonged to another, altogether new branch of the evolutionary tree, the Archaea. The news shook up scientists’ understanding of the tree of life, Quammen writes—and our human place in it.

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Rank #16: Caves And Climate, Environmental Archeology, Scanning The Past. Nov 23, 2018, Part 2

Nov 23 2018
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When you think of an archaeologist, you might imagine a scientist in the field wielding shovels and pickaxes, screening through dirt to uncover artifacts and structures buried deep in the ground. But what about those areas that you can’t reach or even see? That’s when you call archaeologist Lori Collins from the University of South Florida. Collins uses LIDAR—a detection system that uses lasers—to map out the cracks and details of a prehistoric cat sculpture created by the Calusa people, sinkholes that pop up in Florida, and even a former NASA launch pad. She talks how this technology can preserve these archaeological finds in the face of climate change, natural disaster, and war. When archaeologists unearth past societies, the story of those people is written in human remains and artifacts. But it’s also written in environmental remains: bones of animals, preserved plants, and even the rocks around them. Kitty Emery and Nicole Cannarozzi, both environmental archaeologists at the Florida Museum, lead an onstage expedition through the earliest known domestication of turkeys in Guatemala and Mexico, the 4,000-year-old shell middens of indigenous people of coastal Southeast United States, and even sites that could tell us more about the African American diaspora and the lives of slaves mere hundreds of years ago. Plus, the two archaeologists tell us how understanding the environmental choices of past people can lead to better insight into ourselves. Sea level rise and fall over hundreds of thousands of years. Ancient vegetation. The diets of early human ancestors and the temperatures they lived in. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and how it changed over time. All of these are data sought by paleoclimatologists, who study the prevailing climate during times past. And the clues of this data are buried in the rock formations of caves around the world. Paleoclimatologist and cave researcher Bogdan Onac of the University of South Florida travels from New Mexico to Romania to Spain to find the stories hidden in millenia-old cave ice, bat guano, and rock formations. He joins Ira to tell tales from the trail.

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Rank #17: Soil Future, Plant Feelings, Science Fair. Sept 14, 2018, Part 2

Sep 14 2018
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Climate change is increasing temperatures and causing heavier rainfalls across the country. Scientists are studying how these changes will affect different natural resources, including the soil ecosystem. For example, in Wisconsin, soil erosion is predicted to double by 2050 due to heavier rainfalls, according to a report by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. Agricultural scientist Andrea Basche talks about how soil formation and health is tied to climate. She joins microbiologist Kristen DeAngelis, who is conducting a long-term study to determine how increased temperatures affect soil microbiome, how to protect this resource, and what our soil reserves might look like in the next fifty years. Plants have a unique challenge in staying alive long enough to produce offspring. Unable to move and at the mercy of their surroundings, they present a tempting source of nutrition for bacteria and animals alike. But they’re not helpless. Botanists have long known plants are capable of sensing their environments and responding to them. They can grow differently in response to shade or drought, or release noxious chemicals to fend off predators, even as a caterpillar is mid-way through chewing on a leaf. But how does that information travel? New research published in the journal Science shows a first glimpse, in real time, of distress signals traveling from one leaf, snipped, crushed, or chewed, to other healthy leaves in the same plant. The signal, a wave of calcium ions, seems linked to the amino acid glutamate, which in animals acts as a neurotransmitter. University of Wisconsin-Madison botany professor Simon Gilroy, a co-author on the new research, explains this chemical signaling pathway and other advances in how we understand plant communication.  At some science fairs, baking soda volcanos can grab the blue ribbon prize. But at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), a winning project is a design to kill cancer cells. ISEF is the grand championship of science fairs, where students from around the world submit their best research projects and compete in a high-stakes, hormone-filled challenge, which is showcased in full display in the new film, Science Fair. Like any high school experience, it can be a pressure cooker of anxiety, but also a time when many students find their calling—a crucible from which our future scientists are born. Ira talks with one of the film’s directors, Cristina Costantini, and catches up with a former ISEF participant Robbie Barrat, to discuss life after Science Fair. View a trailer of the film below and find screening times and locations here.

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Rank #18: Music And Technology, Social Critters, Sleep And Genetics. Oct 19, 2018, Part 2

Oct 19 2018
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Mark Ramos Nishita, more popularly known as Money Mark from the Beastie Boys, has created the “Echolodeon.” The custom-built machine converts original piano rolls, created from actual performances by greats like Debussy and Eubey Blake, into MIDI signals routed through modern-day synthesizers. Step aside, honeybees, there’s a new pollinator in town. We talk about the intricate life cycle of bumblebees, whose queens spend most of their life cycles solitary and underground, but then emerge in the spring to single-handedly forage for food, build a nest, and start colonies that eventually grow to number hundreds. Researchers study the behavior of bees and other social insects, and why ant, bee, and spider societies are more than just an amalgam of individuals—but collective behaviors that emerge from the masses. How did you sleep last night? If you’re one of the estimated one in three American adults who gets less than seven hours of sleep per night, you may not want to answer that one. As researchers cement the connection between sleep and health, others are still asking why some people have fewer problems sleeping, and others recover more easily from lost sleep. We'll talk about where our genes come into the picture when it comes to sleep. 

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Rank #19: Eric Kandel and the Disordered Mind, Death. Aug 31, 2018, Part 2

Aug 31 2018
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The human brain contains an estimated 100 billion neurons. When those cells malfunction, the disrupted process can lead to schizophrenia, PTSD, and other disorders. In his book The Disordered Mind, Nobel Prize-winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel looks at where the processes fault to give insight into how the brain works. According to Kandel, the understanding of these disorders offers a chance “to see how our individual experiences and behavior are rooted in the interaction of genes and environment that shapes our brains.” Earlier in 2018, Utah became the 15th state to legalize water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis. Unlike traditional cremation, which burns human remains at 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, water cremation uses a mixture of water and lye, along with heat and pressure, to break down the remains. Meanwhile, many cemeteries across the country now offer green burial sites—sites that ban embalming fluid and use biodegradable caskets. As climate-conscious consumers consider their final arrangements, alternative funerals like a water cremation or a green burial are becoming more popular in the face of resource-heavy traditional funerals. 

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Rank #20: Math And Social Justice, Chicago Coyotes, Meteorites. June 22, 2018, Part 2

Jun 22 2018
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Math isn’t often thought of as a tool for social justice. But mathematical thinking can help us understand what’s going on in society too, says mathematician Eugenia Cheng. For example, abstract math can be used to examine the power structures between men and women, or white and black people, and to more clearly define the relationships and power differentials at play. At our live event at the Harris Theater in Chicago, we called on WBEZ’s Curious City to help us out. Chicago resident Devin Henderson reached out to the Curious City team including editor Alexandra Solomon to learn more about the coyote population that call Chicago home. Wildlife biologist Chris Anchor, who’s part of Cook County’s Urban Coyote Project, talks about how coyotes made their way into Chicago and how they survive in an urban environment. Many people in Chicago probably remember the day meteorites fell from the sky. It’s known as the “Park Forest Meteor Shower” but it wasn’t the kind you stay up at night to watch streaking across the sky. Around midnight on March 27th, 2003, a meteorite exploded into pieces, showering the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Illinois. People reported seeing stones falling through roofs and causing damage to homes. In the aftermath of the event, meteorite hunters descended on Park Forest looking to buy the rocks, creating a meteorite frenzy. But that didn’t stop Meenakshi Wadhwa, former curator of meteorites at the Chicago Field Museum, from getting her hands on one of these prized space rocks for the museum’s collection. Hear Ira and Chicago comedians Jimmy Adameck, Ross Taylor, and Jen Connor bring the event to life on stage in a play with musical scoring by Mary Mahoney.

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Rank #1: Weather Advances, Listening to Volcanoes, Phragmites. Jan 25, 2019, Part 1

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Your smartphone gives you up-to-the-minute weather forecast updates at the tap of a button. Every newscast has a weather segment. And outlets like the Weather Channel talk weather all day, every day. But how much has the process of predicting the weather changed over the past 100 years? Though many of the basic principles are the same, improvements in data collection, satellite imagery, and computer modeling have greatly improved your local forecast—making a five-day look ahead as accurate as a one-day prediction was 40 years ago. Richard Alley, a professor of geoscience at Penn State, describes the evolution of meteorology, and what roadblocks still lie ahead, from data sharing to shifting weather patterns. And Angela Fritz, lead meteorologist for the Capital Weather Gang blog at the Washington Post, describes the day-to-day work of a meteorologist and the challenges involved in accurately predicting your local weekend weather. When the Chilean volcano Villarrica exploded in 2015, researchers trying to piece together the eruption had a fortuitous piece of extra data to work with: the inaudible infrasound signature of the volcano’s subsurface lava lake rising toward the surface. Volcano forecasters already use seismic data from volcanic vibrations in the ground. But these “infrasound” signals are different. They’re low-frequency sound waves generated by vibrations in the air columns within a volcanic crater, can travel many miles from the original source, and can reveal information about the shape and resonance of the crater… and whether it’s changing. And two days before Villarrica erupted, its once-resonant infrasound signals turned thuddy—as if the lava lake had gotten higher, and left only a loudspeaker-shaped crater to vibrate the air. Robert Buchsbaum walks into a salt marsh on Boston’s North Shore. Around him towers a stand of bushy-topped Phragmites australis, an invasive plant commonly known as the common reed. Phragmites is an enemy that this regional scientist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society knows all too well. The plant, which typically grows about 13 feet high, looms over native marsh plants, blocking out their sunlight. When Phragmites sheds its lower leaves, or dies, it creates a thick layer of wrack that keeps native plants from germinating. Its stalks clog waterways, thwarting fish travel. The roots secrete a chemical that prevents other plants from growing, and they grow so deep they are nearly impossible to pull out. But this stubborn bully of a plant might have a shot at redemption. A recent study from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center found that the very traits that make Phragmites a tough invader—larger plants, deeper roots, higher density—enable it to store more carbon in marshy peat. And as climate change races forward, carbon storage becomes a bigger part of the ecosystem equation.

Jan 25 2019
45 mins
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Rank #2: Nerve Agents, Straws, Soccer Flops, Happiness. July 13, 2018, Part 2

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Four months ago, an ex-Russian spy and his daughter were hospitalized in the U.K. They came into contact with a substance known as Novichok—a nerve agent developed by Soviet scientists during the Cold War. And recently, two U.K. citizens were hospitalized. One died after apparent exposure to Novichok. Russia has so far denied any involvement in the attacks. The nuclear arms race wasn’t the only focus for the U.S. and Soviets during the Cold War. The proliferation of chemical weapons—nerve and blister agents like mustard gas—was also high on their priorities. The first nerve agent was the result of 1930’s German chemists’ experiments to develop new insecticides. The substance was toxic to insects but also, at certain doses, to animals and humans as well. Luckily, a brush with a nerve agent isn’t always fatal. Dr. Rick Sachleben joins Ira to discuss how nerve agents interact with our body chemistry and what can make a difference between life and death for someone who’s come into contact with the deadly substance. This week, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it was phasing out the use of plastic straws in its stores, instead using what some are calling “adult sippy cup” lids. Other restaurants have also made the move to scale back use of the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw, while some municipalities have considered total straw bans. New York Magazine food business reporter Clint Rainey joins Ira to talk about some of the alternatives companies are considering to plastic straws, from compostable paper straws to pasta tubes to reusable metal straws, and about the challenges restaurants need to address—from durability, to price, to usability by people with disabilities. In late April, FIFA announced that they would be adding four more referees to each soccer match. These refs won’t be running alongside players. Instead, they’ll be in a control room watching the match closely on computer monitors. The video assistant referees will be scanning instant replay for the typical fouls like hand balls and offside goals—but they will also be monitoring soccer dives. Soccer players are notorious for dives, or faking injuries. If players can successfully convince a referee they are temporarily injured, their team can get rewarded with a free kick, a yellow card for the opposing team, or the coveted penalty kick. If they get caught faking it, referees don’t really punish them. But there is a strategy to these flops. One study showed that players flopped when they were closer to referees and twice as much when the score was tied. Vox reporter Umair Irfan joins Ira to discuss some of the science, strategies, and behavior economics behind these soccer dives. What really makes a person happy? What is “the good life”?  Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos spends her research hours studying primate and canine cognition for clues to how humans think and learn. She also teaches Yale University’s most popular course (also available free online), “PSYC 157: Psychology and the Good Life.” She joins Ira to discuss her work and the psychology of happiness.  

Jul 13 2018
46 mins
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Rank #3: SciFri Extra: ‘Behind The Sheet’ Of Gynecology’s Darker History

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The 19th-century physician J. Marion Sims may have gone down in history as the “father of modern gynecology,” but Sims’ fistula cure was the result of experimental surgeries, pre-Emancipation, on at least 11 enslaved black women. Only three of whose names have been remembered— Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. A new play, Behind The Sheet, imagines their life—not just the pain, but the friendships they might have formed to support each other through surgery after surgery. In this extended conversation, Science Friday producer Christie Taylor talks to playwright Charly Evon Simpson about the process of inventing a story for these women despite the limited documentation of their lives, the controversy around a J. Marion Sims statue in New York City, and Sims’ legacy in black women’s maternal health outcomes today. Behind The Sheet was funded in part by The Sloan Foundation, which is also a funder of Science Friday. Further Reading Read an essay by Rich Kelley about the scientific an historical context of Behind The Sheet. Listen to Undiscovered's episode covering Sims' research and how people of color are still underrepresented in medical research. Read an article reported by Vox on the removal of a statue of Sims in New York in April 2018.

Jan 22 2019
29 mins
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Rank #4: Neutrinos, Book Club, Air Conditioning. July 13, 2018, Part 1

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In 1988, physicist Stephen Hawking’s wildly popular A Brief History of Time introduced general audiences around the world to scientists’ questions about the Big Bang, black holes, and relativity. Many of those questions remain unanswered, though the science has advanced in the 30 years since the book was first published. Hawking, who passed away this spring, was known not just for this book, but for his enthusiastic and persistent communication with the public about science. And this summer, the Science Friday Book Club celebrates his legacy on the page, and off. Join Ira and the team at Science Friday as we read A Brief History of Time and ponder the deep questions about matter, space, and time. We’ll read the book and discuss until late August. And we want to hear from you!  Neutrinos are particles that are constantly raining down in the universe. They are created from nuclear reactions in places like our sun, distant stars, and even on Earth. But the source of higher-energy cosmic neutrinos formed deeper in the universe is still a mystery. Researchers have built telescopes to detect these low and high energy neutrinos as they pass through the Earth. One of these telescopes is IceCube, which is buried deep beneath the ice in the Antarctic. In September, IceCube detected one of these cosmic neutrinos and alerted the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope and other observatories. These telescopes were able to trace the source of the neutrino to a flare up in a blazar—a black hole at the center of a galaxy—4 billion light-years away. When the mercury soars dangerously high, air conditioning can help save lives that might otherwise be lost to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other stresses brought about by heat waves. But there’s a downside: it can take a lot of electricity to keep you cool. New research published in PLOS Medicine earlier this month assesses what happens when the demand for air conditioning rises with the temperature, and why saving those lives might also cost lives. Senior author Tracey Holloway, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains.

Jul 13 2018
47 mins
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Rank #5: Physics Mysteries, Appendix and Parkinson’s, Paralysis Treatment. Nov 2, 2018, Part 2

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Ever wondered why your dog’s back-and-forth shaking is so effective at getting you wet? Or how bugs, birds, and lizards can run across water—but we can’t? Or how about why cockroaches are so darn good at navigating in the dark? Those are just a few of the day-to-day mysteries answered in the new book How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future, by David Hu. Once upon a time, there was very little hope for patients paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. The prevailing wisdom was that unless you could regenerate neurons across the spinal region of the injury these patients would never walk again. Now researchers say that perspective is based on an outdated way of thinking about the role of the spinal cord in movement. A new technique that delivers an electrical signal directly to the spinal cord has given a handful of patients the ability to move again and, as reported in a new study out this week in the journal Nature, has allowed them to walk. You’ve probably heard that you don’t necessarily need your appendix, especially if you’ve had it removed. But the appendix does have a function and scientists are learning more about how it affects our health. The organ plays a role in regulating the immune system, microbiome, and even Parkinson’s disease. A misfolding in the protein called alpha-synuclein has been linked to the disease, and researchers found abnormal clumps of this protein in the appendix. This week, a team of scientists found more evidence for the link. Reporting in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers found that, for Parkinson’s patients, there was a 3.6 year delay in onset of the disease for those who had an appendectomy.

Nov 02 2018
47 mins
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Rank #6: Gynecology’s Dark History, Antarctic Ice, Moon Craters. Jan 18, 2019, Part 2

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Nineteenth-century physician J. Marion Sims has gone down in history as the “father of modern gynecology.” He invented the speculum, devised body positions to make gynecological exams easier, and discovered a method for closing vaginal fistulas, a painful, embarrassing and often isolating complication that can result from childbirth. But Sims’ fistula cure was the result of experimental surgeries, pre-Emancipation, on at least 11 enslaved black women, only three of whose names have been remembered—Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. Over a period of about five years, the women underwent dozens of surgeries as Sims attempted, and failed, to fix their fistulas. He rarely used anesthesia. What were the lives of those women like? A new play, Behind The Sheet, tackles this story from their perspective, imagining not just their pain, but the friendships they might have formed to support each other through surgery after surgery. In this story, the women tend each other’s ailments, make perfume to hide the smell from their fistula condition, and pledge to remember each other even if history forgets them.  Researchers monitoring the condition of the Antarctic ice sheet report that not only is the ice melting, but that the rate of ice loss is increasing rapidly. According to their estimates, around 40 gigatons of ice were lost per year in the 1980s. By the 2010s, that rate of loss had increased to more than 250 gigatons of ice per year. That melting ice has caused sea levels around the world to rise by more than half an inch, the researchers say. Eric Rignot, climate scientist at the University of California-Irvine and one of the authors of the report, joins Ira to discuss the trends in the ice sheet and what they portend for sea level rise. Our moon formed about 4.51 billion years ago and it’s been pummeled by meteorites ever since, leaving behind the lunar craters you can see on the surface today. Recently, scientists curious to know how often those impacts occurred came up with a clever way of determining the age of the craters. They discovered that many of them are relatively young—that is, the moon got hit by space rocks a lot more recently and a lot more frequently than scientists once thought. Sara Mazrouei, planetary scientist at the University of Toronto joins Ira to discuss the new research, out in the journal Science this week, and what it could tell us about Earth’s crater history.

Jan 18 2019
46 mins
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Rank #7: Heredity, Oldest Bread, Jupiter's Moons. July 20, 2018, Part 2

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Have you ever taken a peek at your family tree? If you trace back along those branches, you might discover some long ago celebrities, kings, and philosophers among your ancestors. But what does it even mean to be “related” to an ancient queen when it’s hard to know what’s lurking inside our own DNA? It turns out even one generation back, the question of who we are gets made complicated. “We’re primed to think of our genomes as some kind of magical book. We just understand so little about genetics. Period.” says Carl Zimmer, author of the new book She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. Zimmer joins Ira to discuss Mendel’s Law, the history of eugenics, the power of CRISPR and the boundaries of what we understand of human heredity today. Bread is a staple food today. You can find dozens of varieties at the supermarket—tortillas and pita, naan and focaccia, rye bread and wonder bread and baguettes too. Bread is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine it was once a rare commodity, a labor-intensive specialty that could be made only by husking the seeds of wild grasses, hand-pounding and grinding them, then mixing the resulting flour with water and scorching on a hearth. Archaeologists working at a 14,000-year-old site in Jordan have now found evidence of an early bakery in the form of burned crumbs, similar to the ones at the bottom of your toaster. After analyzing the crumbs’ structure with a scanning electron microscope, the researchers were able to characterize the crumbs as the charred remains of a flatbread, similar to pita, baked with ingredients like wild einkorn wheat, barley, oats, and the roots of an aquatic plant similar to papyrus. They also determined that the crumbs predate the dawn of agriculture. When Galileo first saw Jupiter through a telescope, he also discovered “stars” that would orbit around the planet in the night sky. While Galileo named them the Medicean stars—after his future patron Cosimo II de’ Medici—we know them today as Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Since Galileo’s initial discovery, astronomers have found dozens more moons around Jupiter, and this week, researchers announced an additional 12 moons, bringing the total number up to a whopping 79.

Jul 20 2018
46 mins
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Rank #8: Yellow Fever and Ebola, Trans-boundary Aquifers, Probiotics. Aug 24, 2018, Part 2

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From 1976 to 2017, the Democratic Republic of the Congo experienced eight outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus. Then, for 10 weeks earlier this year, the virus reemerged in the country, killing 33 people. Ministry of Health officials finally declared the crisis over on July 24. But just one week later, on August 1, the DRC reported a new outbreak of the Ebola virus in North Kivu province. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the The National Institutes of Health, joins Ira for an update on the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Plus, public health officials may not be able to control when and where a viral outbreak will occur. But, with the right strategy, they can keep it from becoming an epidemic. One of these strategies was used on yellow fever, a virus that emerged in Brazil last year and threatened major population centers like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Nuno Faria of the University of Oxford describes how his team used real time genome sequencing of the Yellow Fever virus to track where it came from and which groups might be at risk. In the Southwest, water is at a premium, with every drop in demand from agriculture, industry, and growing populations. The Mexico-Texas border is no exception. Strict rules govern who can take water from the Rio Grande, with each country owing a certain amount of water to the other as the river winds back and forth. But the surface water isn’t the only liquid in play. Far below the surface, hidden aquifers straddle the border—and the water within them is largely unregulated. Rosario Sanchez of the Texas Water Resources Institute and Zoe Schlanger, environment reporter for Quartz discuss the water regulations and border disputes.  Plus, are probiotics good for you? A new study suggests too much "good bacteria" could poison your brain.

Aug 24 2018
48 mins
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Rank #9: Heart and Exercise, Consumer Electronics Show, Black Holes. Jan 11, 2019, Part 2

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You’ve heard the news that smoking is bad for your health. But it turns out not exercising could be even worse for your chances of survival, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Network Open. But is it possible to overdo it? While you’re trying to boost your overall health, could you instead be doing damage to your heart? In this segment, Wael Jaber of the Cleveland Clinic and Maia P. Smith of St. George’s University talk about how sports like weightlifting stack up to running and cycling in terms of health effects, and how the sport you choose could actually reshape your heart. Discovered only decades ago, black holes remain one of the universe’s most mysterious objects, with such a strong gravitational pull that  that light—and even data—can’t escape. Oftentimes researchers can only observe black holes indirectly, like from blasts of energy that come from when the massive bodies “feed” on nearby objects. But where is that energy generated, and how does that eating process actually progress through the geometry of the black hole? Erin Kara, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, describes new research published in Nature into how echoes of X-rays in small, stellar-mass black holes can point the way. At the other end of the spectrum, supermassive black holes billions of times the mass of our Sun are believed to dwell at the hearts of galaxies. Many are active, drawing in nearby gas and dust and emitting energy in response, but others are dormant, with nothing close to feed on. MIT postdoctoral fellow Dheeraj Pasham talks about what happens when these dormant black holes suddenly encounter and tear apart a star—and how the fallout can shed light on how these black holes spin. His research appeared in Science this week. The researchers also discuss how black holes could lead the way to understanding how galaxies evolve, and other black hole mysteries. Every year, the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, meets in Las Vegas to showcase the latest in consumer tech trends. This year was no different—but what should we expect in tech in 2019? WIRED news editor Brian Barrett was on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center all week and joins Ira to talk about what he saw, including a flying taxi and other concept cars, delivery drones, robot companions, and ‘5G’ products mean without a 5G network.    

Jan 11 2019
47 mins
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Rank #10: Water Wars, Air Pollution And Fetuses, Electric Blue Clouds. Sept. 28, 2018, Part 2

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Yemen is gripped by civil war—and some experts say it could be the first of many “water wars” to come, as the planet grows hotter and drier. In This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-Offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America, Jeff Nesbit writes of the Yemeni conflict and many other geopolitical consequences of a warming world, including the precarious future of the Indus River, under the control of China, India and Pakistan, and why Saudi Arabia’s biggest dairy company is buying farmland in the Arizona desert. Nesbit joins Ira to discuss the future of our planet.  Our understanding of how protective the placenta is during pregnancy has been changing. Some ingested substances, like alcohol and pthalates, are known to cross the boundary and cause harm. And in the case of air pollution, a mother’s exposure is increasingly correlated with health problems in the infant, from cardiovascular to neurodevelopment. But how do inhaled particles lead to these problems? New research in the Journal of American Medicine this month points to one potential mechanism: changes in the thyroid hormones, which are critical to early development. What’s going on—and what can be done to protect the most vulnerable from potentially lifelong health effects?  NASA’s PMC Turbo mission sent up a balloon to capture images of one of the rarest clouds, polar mesospheric clouds. These clouds, called noctilucent clouds, only form during the summer 50 miles up in the atmosphere, and they nucleate around meteor dust. Researchers explain what these clouds tell us about climate change and the physics of gravity waves and turbulence. 

Sep 28 2018
46 mins
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Rank #11: Gene-Editing Humans, Asymmetry, Ancient Whale Ancestor. Nov 30, 2018, Part 2

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The first CRISPR-edited babies are (probably) here. The news raises social, ethical, and regulatory questions—for both scientists and society. Then, why are human bodies asymmetrical? A single protein could help explain why. And finally, ever wondered how whales got their mouth bristles? It's possible that they went through a phase where they sucked up their food like vacuums before they evolved baleen.

Nov 30 2018
47 mins
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Rank #12: Endangered Crow, Hawaiian Biodiversity, Mars Simulation. Sept. 21, 2018, Part 2

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About five million years ago, the island of Kauai emerged from the ocean waves, and a new chain of island habitats was born, right in the middle of the Pacific. In those Hawaiian islands, birds would have found a multitude of microclimates, a lack of most predators, and a pretty safe spot to grow and evolve—which they did, diversifying into a wide range of species, each suited to a different lifestyle and habitat. But today Hawaii’s diverse birds are under attack by invasive mongooses, cats, rats and other predators. Some birds no longer breed in the wild and need the help of humans to reproduce and survive. Alison Greggor, a post-doctoral research associate at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, joins Ira to talk about efforts to rehabilitate the nearly extinct Hawaiian crow, the ʻAlalā, and the race to save delicate bird eggs before predators get them first. When people talk about evolution and islands, it seems like the Galapagos get all the credit. But just like that island chain, with Darwin’s famous finches, the Hawaiian archipelago is itself a stunning natural lab for adaptation and evolution. As new lands is created and as old islands erode, the Hawaiian islands have developed a fantastic array of microclimates and habitats—and unusual species have evolved to take advantage of each one. Perched on the side of the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island is an otherworldly experiment—a Mars colony where half a dozen crew members spend eight months living together and simulating life on the Red Planet. The location looks altogether unearthly, with rusty red rock fields that look a lot like the images being sent back from the surface of Mars. What happens when you jam six people in a 1,200 ft2 habitat for months at a time? Kim Binstead, the principal investigator on the HI-SEAS project and a professor of information and computer sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, joins Ira to give a glimpse of what life is like inside.

Sep 21 2018
1 hour 14 mins
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Rank #13: Ant Socialization, Smoky Skies, Dust Storm, Mars Lake. July 27, 2018, Part 2

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Many ant species have a queen, the member of the colony that lays eggs. The rest of the ants are divided into different roles that support the queen and the colony. So what ants become queens versus workers? Scientists found that the gene ilp2 that regulates insulin played a role in determining what ant becomes the queen. Biologist Ingrid Fetter-Pruneda talks to John Dankosky about how this gene works in determining a queen. The Rocky Fire and the Jerusalem Fire scorched nearly 100,000 acres in northern California in July and August of 2015… and when the prevailing winds were right, smoke drifted all the way down into the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s when locals began tweeting their observations. Now, scientists at the U.S. Forest Service have analyzed 39,000 tweets like these from the 2015 wildfire season, and found that social media data can be a reliable way to augment existing air quality monitoring data in predicting the extent—and the public health effects—of wildfire smoke. Sonya Sachdeva joins Science Friday to talk about how tweets can be a useful tool in tracking wildfires. Plus: Earlier this month, a cloud of dust rolled into the atmosphere above Texas and the Gulf Coast. It was a remnant of a storm blown over from the Saharan desert. But, according to a new study, that Saharan dust also brings with it a silver lining—it suppresses the formation of major storms. Bowen Pan joins John Dankosky to explain why a dusty atmosphere could mean a less severe hurricane season. Researchers have been scouring Mars for water since the early 1970s. Since then, they’ve found frozen water in the poles of Mars as well as trace amounts locked up in Martian soil, but nothing liquid—until this past week. A team of scientists from Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics announced in Science they found liquid water underneath the glaciers of the planet’s south pole. Angel Abbud-Madrid joins John to talk about how the researchers found the liquid water and what this discovery means for future Martian water research, and Bonnie Meinke tells SciFri the best ways to see Mars as it will be the closest it’s been to Earth in 15 years.  

Jul 27 2018
46 mins
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Rank #14: Hemp and CBD, Phytosaurs, Mosquito Control. Dec 7, 2018, Part 1

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Good news could be coming soon for anyone interested in hemp, the THC-free, no-high strain of cannabis whose use ranges from fibers to food to pharmaceuticals. If the 2018 Farm Bill passes Congress in its current form, growing hemp would be legal and products derived from hemp would be removed from their current legal gray area. Cornell horticulture professor Larry Smart explains why a plant that hasn’t been grown legally in the U.S. for nearly a century will require a monumental effort from scientists to catch up to crops like soybean and tomatoes. Plus, Dr. Esther Blessing, an assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, breaks down where the research stands on other uses of CBD, and what we still don’t know. Then: Mass extinctions are a window into past climate disasters. They give a glimpse of the chemical and atmospheric ingredients that spell out doom for the Earth’s biodiversity. Scientists have identified five big mass extinctions that have happened in the past. The end Triassic mass extinction—number four on the list—happened around 200 million years ago, when three-quarters of the Earth’s species went extinct. But the exact play-by-play is still a mystery. Paleontologist Randy Irmis at the Natural History Museum of Utah and his team are searching for phytosaur fossils, and Science Friday producers Katie Hiler and Lauren J. Young joined him in the field. Plus, could the answer to controlling mosquitos be...more mosquitos? Or, at least, more mosquitos with a bacterial infection. We check in with Valley Public Radio reporter Kerry Klein on the State Of Science. And it's been a big week for space news. Science Friday director Charles Bergquist joins Ira for the News Round-up.  

Dec 07 2018
47 mins
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Rank #15: Ant Traffic Flow, Natural Reactors, David Quammen. August 17, 2018, Part 2

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Worker ants keep the nest alive. They look for food, take care of the eggs, and dig all the tunnels. Fire ant colonies, for example, have hundreds of thousands of worker ants. You’d think traffic jams happen all the time. But they don’t! The majority of the ants aren’t working, according to a study published in Science this week from the Georgia Institute of Technology. They remain idle to stay out of the way, leaving only 30% of the ants to dig a new hole. The researchers also believe the dynamic between idle and active ants could be applied to teaching small robots to dig together at an earthquake site or find shelter underground during a natural disaster. Long before humans enriched uranium to create nuclear fission, the Earth was doing it on its own. Two billion years ago, some natural deposits of uranium contained enough Uranium-235 to undergo spontaneous fission reactions. Those deposits are no longer undergoing fission. But, new research of the Oklo natural nuclear reactor in Gabon has found something curious. Not all the cesium (a toxic waste product of fission reactions both natural and man-made) was released into the environment. Rather, some remained bound in the reactor, with the help of other molecules. How could this finding help lead to safer nuclear waste storage? In The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, science writer David Quammen tells the tale of the microbiologist Carl Woese, who discovered in 1977 that a certain methane-belching microbe was not a bacterium, but instead belonged to another, altogether new branch of the evolutionary tree, the Archaea. The news shook up scientists’ understanding of the tree of life, Quammen writes—and our human place in it.

Aug 17 2018
47 mins
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Rank #16: Caves And Climate, Environmental Archeology, Scanning The Past. Nov 23, 2018, Part 2

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When you think of an archaeologist, you might imagine a scientist in the field wielding shovels and pickaxes, screening through dirt to uncover artifacts and structures buried deep in the ground. But what about those areas that you can’t reach or even see? That’s when you call archaeologist Lori Collins from the University of South Florida. Collins uses LIDAR—a detection system that uses lasers—to map out the cracks and details of a prehistoric cat sculpture created by the Calusa people, sinkholes that pop up in Florida, and even a former NASA launch pad. She talks how this technology can preserve these archaeological finds in the face of climate change, natural disaster, and war. When archaeologists unearth past societies, the story of those people is written in human remains and artifacts. But it’s also written in environmental remains: bones of animals, preserved plants, and even the rocks around them. Kitty Emery and Nicole Cannarozzi, both environmental archaeologists at the Florida Museum, lead an onstage expedition through the earliest known domestication of turkeys in Guatemala and Mexico, the 4,000-year-old shell middens of indigenous people of coastal Southeast United States, and even sites that could tell us more about the African American diaspora and the lives of slaves mere hundreds of years ago. Plus, the two archaeologists tell us how understanding the environmental choices of past people can lead to better insight into ourselves. Sea level rise and fall over hundreds of thousands of years. Ancient vegetation. The diets of early human ancestors and the temperatures they lived in. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and how it changed over time. All of these are data sought by paleoclimatologists, who study the prevailing climate during times past. And the clues of this data are buried in the rock formations of caves around the world. Paleoclimatologist and cave researcher Bogdan Onac of the University of South Florida travels from New Mexico to Romania to Spain to find the stories hidden in millenia-old cave ice, bat guano, and rock formations. He joins Ira to tell tales from the trail.

Nov 23 2018
47 mins
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Rank #17: Soil Future, Plant Feelings, Science Fair. Sept 14, 2018, Part 2

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Climate change is increasing temperatures and causing heavier rainfalls across the country. Scientists are studying how these changes will affect different natural resources, including the soil ecosystem. For example, in Wisconsin, soil erosion is predicted to double by 2050 due to heavier rainfalls, according to a report by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. Agricultural scientist Andrea Basche talks about how soil formation and health is tied to climate. She joins microbiologist Kristen DeAngelis, who is conducting a long-term study to determine how increased temperatures affect soil microbiome, how to protect this resource, and what our soil reserves might look like in the next fifty years. Plants have a unique challenge in staying alive long enough to produce offspring. Unable to move and at the mercy of their surroundings, they present a tempting source of nutrition for bacteria and animals alike. But they’re not helpless. Botanists have long known plants are capable of sensing their environments and responding to them. They can grow differently in response to shade or drought, or release noxious chemicals to fend off predators, even as a caterpillar is mid-way through chewing on a leaf. But how does that information travel? New research published in the journal Science shows a first glimpse, in real time, of distress signals traveling from one leaf, snipped, crushed, or chewed, to other healthy leaves in the same plant. The signal, a wave of calcium ions, seems linked to the amino acid glutamate, which in animals acts as a neurotransmitter. University of Wisconsin-Madison botany professor Simon Gilroy, a co-author on the new research, explains this chemical signaling pathway and other advances in how we understand plant communication.  At some science fairs, baking soda volcanos can grab the blue ribbon prize. But at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), a winning project is a design to kill cancer cells. ISEF is the grand championship of science fairs, where students from around the world submit their best research projects and compete in a high-stakes, hormone-filled challenge, which is showcased in full display in the new film, Science Fair. Like any high school experience, it can be a pressure cooker of anxiety, but also a time when many students find their calling—a crucible from which our future scientists are born. Ira talks with one of the film’s directors, Cristina Costantini, and catches up with a former ISEF participant Robbie Barrat, to discuss life after Science Fair. View a trailer of the film below and find screening times and locations here.

Sep 14 2018
47 mins
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Rank #18: Music And Technology, Social Critters, Sleep And Genetics. Oct 19, 2018, Part 2

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Mark Ramos Nishita, more popularly known as Money Mark from the Beastie Boys, has created the “Echolodeon.” The custom-built machine converts original piano rolls, created from actual performances by greats like Debussy and Eubey Blake, into MIDI signals routed through modern-day synthesizers. Step aside, honeybees, there’s a new pollinator in town. We talk about the intricate life cycle of bumblebees, whose queens spend most of their life cycles solitary and underground, but then emerge in the spring to single-handedly forage for food, build a nest, and start colonies that eventually grow to number hundreds. Researchers study the behavior of bees and other social insects, and why ant, bee, and spider societies are more than just an amalgam of individuals—but collective behaviors that emerge from the masses. How did you sleep last night? If you’re one of the estimated one in three American adults who gets less than seven hours of sleep per night, you may not want to answer that one. As researchers cement the connection between sleep and health, others are still asking why some people have fewer problems sleeping, and others recover more easily from lost sleep. We'll talk about where our genes come into the picture when it comes to sleep. 

Oct 19 2018
1 hour
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Rank #19: Eric Kandel and the Disordered Mind, Death. Aug 31, 2018, Part 2

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The human brain contains an estimated 100 billion neurons. When those cells malfunction, the disrupted process can lead to schizophrenia, PTSD, and other disorders. In his book The Disordered Mind, Nobel Prize-winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel looks at where the processes fault to give insight into how the brain works. According to Kandel, the understanding of these disorders offers a chance “to see how our individual experiences and behavior are rooted in the interaction of genes and environment that shapes our brains.” Earlier in 2018, Utah became the 15th state to legalize water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis. Unlike traditional cremation, which burns human remains at 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, water cremation uses a mixture of water and lye, along with heat and pressure, to break down the remains. Meanwhile, many cemeteries across the country now offer green burial sites—sites that ban embalming fluid and use biodegradable caskets. As climate-conscious consumers consider their final arrangements, alternative funerals like a water cremation or a green burial are becoming more popular in the face of resource-heavy traditional funerals. 

Aug 31 2018
46 mins
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Rank #20: Math And Social Justice, Chicago Coyotes, Meteorites. June 22, 2018, Part 2

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Math isn’t often thought of as a tool for social justice. But mathematical thinking can help us understand what’s going on in society too, says mathematician Eugenia Cheng. For example, abstract math can be used to examine the power structures between men and women, or white and black people, and to more clearly define the relationships and power differentials at play. At our live event at the Harris Theater in Chicago, we called on WBEZ’s Curious City to help us out. Chicago resident Devin Henderson reached out to the Curious City team including editor Alexandra Solomon to learn more about the coyote population that call Chicago home. Wildlife biologist Chris Anchor, who’s part of Cook County’s Urban Coyote Project, talks about how coyotes made their way into Chicago and how they survive in an urban environment. Many people in Chicago probably remember the day meteorites fell from the sky. It’s known as the “Park Forest Meteor Shower” but it wasn’t the kind you stay up at night to watch streaking across the sky. Around midnight on March 27th, 2003, a meteorite exploded into pieces, showering the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Illinois. People reported seeing stones falling through roofs and causing damage to homes. In the aftermath of the event, meteorite hunters descended on Park Forest looking to buy the rocks, creating a meteorite frenzy. But that didn’t stop Meenakshi Wadhwa, former curator of meteorites at the Chicago Field Museum, from getting her hands on one of these prized space rocks for the museum’s collection. Hear Ira and Chicago comedians Jimmy Adameck, Ross Taylor, and Jen Connor bring the event to life on stage in a play with musical scoring by Mary Mahoney.

Jun 22 2018
55 mins
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