Rank #1: Randall Munroe, Football Concussion Research. Sept 6, 2019, Part 2
If you’ve ever been skiing, you might have wondered how your skiis and the layer of water interact. What would happen if the slope was made out of wood or rubber? Or how would you make more snow in the most efficient way if it all melted away? These are the questions that comic artist Randall Munroe thinks about in his book How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. He answers these hypothetical scenarios and other everyday questions—from charging your phone to sending a digital file—with uncommon solutions. Munroe joins Ira to talk about how he comes up with his far-fetched solutions and why “…figuring out exactly why it’s a bad idea can teach you a lot—and might help you think of a better approach.”
Read an excerpt of Munroe’s new book where tennis legend Serena Williams takes to the court to test one of his hypotheses: How to catch a drone with sports equipment.
Plus: Researchers have long known about the connection between concussions sustained on the football field and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative illness caused by repeated head injuries. But another group of researchers wondered—what about the hits that don’t result in a concussion? They found that even when a player didn’t show outward signs of having a concussion, their brains were showing symptoms of injury. Brad Mahon, associate professor in the department of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and Adnan Hirad, MDPhD candidate in the Medical Sciences Training Program at the University of Rochester, share the results of their investigation into the unseen impacts of head injuries on football players.
Rank #2: Widening The Lens On A More Inclusive Science. Sept 6, 2019, Part 1
In 2012, the Obama administration projected that the United States would need to add an additional 1 million college graduates in STEM fields per year for the next ten years to keep up with projected growth in the need for science and technology expertise. At the same time, though, native Americans and other indigenous groups are underrepresented in the sciences, making up only 0.2 percent of the STEM workforce in 2014, despite being 2 percent of the total population of the United States. Why are indigenous people still underrepresented in science?
Ira speaks with astrophysicist Annette Lee and anthropologist Kim TallBear about the historical role of science and observation in indigenous communities, and how Western scientific culture can leave out other voices. They also discuss the solutions: What does an inclusive scientific enterprise look like, and how could we get there? Learn more about the efforts in North America to recognize indigenous astronomy.
Plus: After Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas, Florida braced itself for a brutal start to hurricane season. The storm didn’t cause catastrophic damage to the state this time, but Florida is just beginning peak hurricane season—and its nursing homes, which care for over 70,000 people, may not be prepared. Caitie Switalski of WLRN tells Ira more in the latest "State Of Science."
And writer Annalee Newitz talks about the Trump administration's decision to roll back lightbulb efficiency standards, and other science headlines, in this week's News Roundup.
Rank #3: Vaping Sickness, Teaching Science. Aug 30, 2019, Part 2
Over 10 million Americans vape, or smoke electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes are also the most popular tobacco product among teenagers in this country. Some of them are marketed with bright colors and fun flavors like chocolate, creme brulee, and mint—or they’re advertised as a healthier alternative to regular cigarette smoking. But last week, public health officials reported that a patient in Illinois died from a mysterious lung illness linked to vaping. In 29 states across the country, there are 193 reported cases of this unknown illness as of August 30.
Most patients are teenagers or young adults and have symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Patients with more severe cases have to be put on oxygen tanks and ventilators—and some may suffer from permanent lung damage. “Acute lung injury happens in response to all kinds of things, like inhaling a toxic chemical or an infection. This is similar to what we’d see there. The lungs’ protective response gets turned on and doesn’t turn off,” Dr. Frank Leone, a professor of medicine and the director of the Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Science Friday in a phone call earlier this week. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is still investigating the cause, but the illness is raising questions about the health effects of a growing smoking trend and how it should be regulated. “It’s sort of a Wild West out there,” Anna Maria Barry-Jester, a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, tells SciFri on the phone about current regulation of electronic cigarettes. Ira talks with Anna Maria Barry-Jester and Dr. Frank Leone about the illness and vaping’s health effects.
It’s back to school season for everyone: students, teachers, and Science Friday. Our Educator Collaborative is back with nine teaching resources from nine amazing educators—all inspired by Science Friday media. From a lesson in sauropod digestion, complete with simulated poop (yes, it’s gross), to inventing a way to get plastic out of the oceans, these resources offer learners in the classroom or at home chances to engage directly with complex science and engineering topics.
Program member Andrea La Rosa, an eighth-grade science teacher from Danbury Connecticut, joins Ira to talk about a topic near to our hearts: analog and digital technology. She explains how she used a drawing activity to help her students understand how the two kinds of signals are different. Plus, in a world that’s getting increasingly complicated, with more concepts to learn every year, how do you make the most of students’ time in science class? Science Friday education director Ariel Zych talks about the ways educators are teaching young learners to learn, think critically, and take on increasingly high-tech concepts.
Rank #4: Quantum Leaps, Cancer Drugs, Cat Cameras. June 7, 2019, Part 2
The “spooky physics” of the quantum world has long been marked by two key ideas: The idea of superposition, meaning that a quantum particle can exist in multiple states simultaneously, and the idea of randomness, meaning that it’s impossible to predict when certain quantum transitions will take place. Writing in the journal Nature, Zlatko Minev and colleagues report that they may be able to make the quantum behavior slightly less mysterious. Minev joins Ira to talk about the finding, and what new directions it might open up in quantum research.
For patients whose cancer has metastasis, the options can be limited. While new drugs are being developed, they are often only approved for a specific subset or stage of cancer—sometimes even a specific age group. However, researchers are looking to expand on a pool of patients that can get these new drugs. Dr. Sara Hurvitz, the director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at UCLA, joins Ira to talk about how a drug that was approved for breast cancer in postmenopausal women may soon be available for younger patients. Plus, Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, the director of the Genitourinary Oncology Program, to talk about a new treatment option for patients with metastatic prostate cancer.
If you want the real scoop on what your cat is doing while you’re away, researchers are studying that very question, using cat cameras. Our feline friends spend quite a lot of time outside of our line of sight, and we imagine them napping, bathing, playing, hunting. But that’s merely speculation. To get the data, researchers need to catch them in the act. Maren Huck, Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby in the UK, recently published a methodological study where she successfully tracked the movements of 16 outdoor domestic cats to find out what they were up to. She joins Ira to discuss the findings, which she published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science. Plus, cat behavior specialist and University California Davis Veterinary School researcher Mikel Delgado joins the conversation to talk more about catching cat behavior on camera, and what we can learn from recording their secret lives.
Rank #5: Neuroscientists Peer Into The Mind's Eye, Alexander von Humboldt. May 3, 2019, Part 2
It sounds like a sci-fi plot: Hook a real brain up to artificial intelligence, and let the two talk to each other. That’s the design of a new study in the journal Cell, in which artificial intelligence networks displayed images to monkeys, and then studied how the monkey’s neurons responded to the picture. The computer network could then use that information about the brain’s responses to tweak the image, displaying a new picture that might resonate more with the monkey’s visual processing system.
In 1799, the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt embarked on the most ambitious scientific voyage of his life. On the Spanish ship Pizarro, he set sail for South America with 42 carefully chosen scientific instruments. There, he would climb volcanoes, collect countless plant and animal specimens, and eventually come to the conclusion that the natural world was a unified entity—biology, geology and meteorology all conjoining to determine what life took hold where. In the process, he also described human-induced climate change—and was perhaps the first person to do so. Author Andrea Wulf and illustrator Lillian Melcher retell the voyages of Alexander von Humboldt in a new, illustrated book that draws upon Humboldt’s own journal pages.
Rank #6: New Human Species, Census, Plankton, Brain Etchings. April 19, 2019, Part 2
Last week, researchers announced they’d found the remains of a new species of ancient human on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. It was just a few teeth and bones from toes and hands, but they appeared to have a strange mix of ancient and modern human traits scientists had never seen before. Enter: Homo luzonesis. However, Homo luzonesis’ entry on the hominid family tree is still fuzzy and uncertain. Dr. Shara Bailey, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at New York University, joins Ira to weigh in on the new find and to discuss how we determine what makes a species “human.”
Next year, the United States Census Bureau will send out its 10-year census to collect demographic data on every person in the country. That survey happens once a decade and asks a handful of questions, but the agency also sends out the yearly American Community Survey, or ACS, which is an ongoing survey that collects more detailed data on smaller populations. How is your data used once you turn in your survey? Demographer Catherine Fitch talks about how the information surveys are used for research and policies, why certain questions appear on the forms, and new ways that the census is trying to survey the country.
Plus: For half a century, merchant ships have hitched humble metal boxes to their sterns, and towed these robotic passengers across some 6.5 million nautical miles of the world’s oceans. The metal boxes are the “Continuous Plankton Recorder” or CPR, a project conceived, in a more innocent time, to catalogue the diversity of plankton populating the seas. But the first piece of plastic twine got caught up in the device in 1957; the first plastic bag appeared in 1965. In the decades since, the device has picked up more and more plastic pollution. Clare Ostle, a marine biogeochemist and lead author on a study about the CPR’s plastic finds in the journal Nature Communications, joins Ira to talk about the treasures and trash the CPR has collected over the years.
And back in 2011, after Greg Dunn completed his PhD in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, he didn’t return to the lab. Instead, he decided to focus on art. “The only difference between a landscape of a forest and a landscape of a brain is you need a microscope to see one and not the other,” Dunn told Science Friday. Using the techniques of microetching and lithographing, Dunn has created a project called “Self Reflected,” which visualizes what it might look like to see all the neurons of the brain connected and firing. He joins Ira to discuss his work, which is also the subject of our latest SciArts video.
Rank #7: Mosquitos and Smell, Fermentation, Model Rocket Launch. July 12, 2019, Part 2
If you’ve ever tried brewing your own beer or raising your own sourdough, then you know that the process of fermentation isn't easy to get right. How do you control the growth of mold, yeast, or bacteria such that it creates a savory and delicious new flavor, and not a putrid mess on your kitchen counter? David Zilber is Director of Fermentation at the restaurant Noma, and he tells his fermentation secrets.
The human scent is made up of a combination of 100 odor compounds. Other mammals such as guinea pigs also emit the same odor compounds—just in different blends. And even though human odor can also differ from person to person, mosquitoes can still distinguish the scent of a human from other mammals. We'll talk about how mosquitos have evolved to hunt for the prey of their choice.
Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. But before astronauts could take that one small step on the moon, they had to take off from Earth. On Tuesday, July 16, in commemoration of the 9:32 am launch of the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew, model rocketeers from around the world will conduct a global launch event—by firing off thousands of rockets planet-wide.
Rank #8: Degrees Of Change: Urban Heat Islands. June 14, 2019, Part 1
We’ve known for more than 200 years that cities are hotter than surrounding rural areas. All that concrete and brick soaks up the sun’s rays, then re-emits them as heat long after night has fallen. On top of that, waste heat from the energy we use to power our buildings, vehicle emissions, and even air conditioning units can cause some cities to be as many as 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than their rural surroundings—creating “urban heat islands.” Between the toll that heat takes on the body and the concurrent air quality problems that heat exacerbates, heat waves kill more Americans per year than any other weather-related event. And if enough city residents are using air conditioning to beat the heat, power outages from overworked grids can add to the risk of mortality.
As the globe warms, urban heat islands are projected to become more pronounced, with even hotter temperatures and a more stark urban-rural divide. But scientists and engineers have been working on solutions to reflect the sun before it can raise temperatures, such as cooler roofing materials and heat-reflecting pigments, cool pavements, green roofs, and neighborhood green space. Ronnen Levinson of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory joins Ira to describe what we know about cool infrastructure, while Global Cool Cities Alliance executive director Kurt Shickman explains how cities around the world are implementing solutions—and why it may take something as bureaucratic as building codes to see mass adoption of cooling strategies.Los Angeles: Cool Roofs And Fitting The Solution To Landscapes
The city of Los Angeles passed the first mandate for residential buildings to have high-reflectivity roofs, a step up from the past requirements, which only applied to flat, commercial roofs. Los Angeles is also pouring cool pavements to test their effectiveness in lowering temperatures. But how do you pick the right intervention for any given neighborhood in a city with as big and varied a landscape as Los Angeles? USC scientist George Ban-Weiss talks about his work tailoring cool solutions to individual neighborhoods.New York City: Green Roofs And Community Activists
While heat waves are projected to kill thousands of New Yorkers per year by 2080, that pain is not likely to be distributed evenly. Research has found hotter urban heat islands are home to higher percentages of poor people and people of color. Meanwhile, while New York City alerts residents of heat events and offers cooling shelters for them to go to, the shelters can be difficult for people to access, or even hear about. Community groups in the Bronx, Harlem, and other parts of the city are working both to cool down their neighborhoods, and connect residents to life-saving cooling. Justine Calma, a reporter for Grist, details the environmental justice problem of the urban heat island, and how New York City is responding.Phoenix: The Hottest City In The U.S. Is Trying Everything
Phoenix, Arizona, experiences temperatures over 100 degrees in the summer, and researchers are only expecting summers to get hotter and longer. Hot season durations are projected to increase by several weeks on both ends, while the likelihood of temperatures that exceed 115 degrees is only expected to grow. In 2017, an estimated 155 people died of heat-related causes in the Phoenix area.
But the city has been taking the heat seriously. Phoenix has been painting municipal building roofs white since 2006. The city also has ambitious goals to establish shade trees, shelters along public transit routes, and a HeatReady program that would put heat planning on par with disaster preparedness—all with help from scientists like Arizona State University researcher David Hondula. Hondula joins Ira to describe the challenges of getting cities invested in heat preparedness, both short-term and long-term, and what’s next for Phoenix.What Are The Presidential Candidates’ Climate Plans?
The first Democratic presidential debate will take place at the end of the month and climate change is becoming a central issue. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and other presidential hopefuls have released their versions of a climate plan. The different proposals range from increases in spending to executive action. Climate and environment reporter Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones outlines the major differences between these plans.
Rank #9: Paternity, Musical Proteins, Microbiome In Runners. June 28, 2019, Part 2
These days, a scientific paternity test is easily acquired, and its results are seen as almost indisputable. But what about the days before so-called foolproof DNA analysis? For most of human history, people considered the identity of a child’s father to be more or less “unknowable.” Then in the 20th century, when a flurry of events sparked the idea that science could help clarify the question of fatherhood, and an era of “modern paternity” was born. The new science of paternity, which includes blood typing and fingerprinting, has helped establish family relationships and made inheritance and custody disputes easier for the courts. But it’s also made the definition of fatherhood a lot more murky in the process.
Proteins are the building blocks of life. They make up everything from cells and enzymes to skin, bones, and hair, to spider silk and conch shells. But it’s notoriously difficult to understand the complex shapes and structures that give proteins their unique identities. So at MIT, researchers are unraveling the mysteries of proteins using a more intuitive language—music. They’re translating proteins into music, composing orchestras of amino acids and concerts of enzymes, in hopes of better understanding proteins—and making new ones.
Though the ads tell you it’s gotta be the shoes, a new study suggests that elite runners might get an extra performance boost from the microbiome. Researchers looking at the collection of microbes found in the digestive tracts of marathon runners and other elite athletes say they’ve found a group of microbes that may aid in promoting athletic endurance. The group of microbes, Veillonella, consume lactate generated during exercise and produce proprionate, which appears to enhance performance. Adding the species Veillonella atypica to the guts of mice allowed the mice to perform better on a treadmill test. And infusing the proprionate metabolite back into a mouse’s intestines seemed to create some of the same effects as the bacteria themselves.
Rank #10: Bees! May 24, 2019, Part 2
For the hobby beekeeper, there’s much to consider when homing your first domestic honey bee colonies—what kind of hive to get, where to put them, where to get your bees, and how to help them survive the winter.
But when left to their own devices, what do the bees themselves prefer? From smaller nests to higher openings, wild honey bees seem to prefer very different conditions from the closely clustered square boxes of traditional beekeeping.
But there are ways to adapt! Seeley joins Ira to explain his theory of “Darwinian beekeeping” as a way to keep bees healthy even in the age of varroa mites and colony collapse.
Plus, apiculturalist Elina L. Niño of the University of California Davis talks about the microbial world of bees, such as whether probiotics could benefit bee health, and how honey bees and bumblebees could be used to distribute beneficial microbes to plants, an idea called ‘apivectoring.’
Rank #11: New Horizons Discovery, Science Fair Finalists, Screams. May 17, 2019, Part 2
The most happening New Year’s Party of 2019 wasn’t at Times Square or Paris—it was in the small town of Laurel, Maryland, halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. There, scientists shared the stage with kids decked out in NASA gear, party hats, and astronaut helmets. They were there to count down not to the new year, but to the New Horizons spacecraft flying by a very distant, very ancient, snowman-shaped object: MU69. Now, the first haul of data about that mysterious object has returned. They reveal that MU69 is one of the reddest objects we’ve explored in the solar system, built from two skipping-stone-shaped bodies, each the size of small cities. Those details are featured in a cover story in the journal Science. Lead author Alan Stern joins Ira here to talk about it.
This week, more than 1,800 student scientists from 80 countries converged in Phoenix to present their projects for Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair, a competition founded by the Society for Science and the Public. Ira chats with two of the finalists. Colorado high school junior Krithik Ramesh came up with an idea for a real-time virtual tool for surgeons doing spinal surgeries, and Arizona high school freshman Ella Wang, along with her partner Breanna Tang, cooked up an innovative use for waste from soybean food products—enriching depleted farm soils.
When you hear a scream, you automatically perk up. It catches your attention. But scientists are still working to define what exactly makes a scream. People scream when they are scared or happy. It’s not just a humans, either—all types of animals scream, from frogs to macaques. Psychologist Harold Gouzoules and his team measured the acoustic properties of a human scream by actually playing screams for people: Screams of fright, screams of excitement, and even a whistle. He joins Ira to talks about the evolutionary basis of screaming and what it can tell us about how human nonverbal communication.
Rank #12: Biodiversity Report And The Science Of Parenting. May 10, 2019, Part 2
According to a new UN report on global biodiversity, as many as one million species—both plants and animals—are now at risk of extinction, according to a new UN report on global biodiversity. That number includes 40% of all amphibian species, 33% of corals, and around 10% of insects.
One might assume that this type of devastating species loss could only come as a result of one thing—climate change. But in fact, as the report highlights illustrate, it’s deforestation, changes in land and sea use, hunting, poaching, pollution, invasive species—in short, human interventions—that are causing species to disappear at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than what has been seen over the last 10 million years. Walter Jetz, professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, joins Ira to discuss why the damage we do to biodiversity in our lifetimes may never be undone.
Plus, if you're a new parent, you’ve probably had one of these nights. You’re up at 3 a.m., baby screaming, searching the internet for an answer to a question you’ve never thought to ask before: Are pacifiers bad for your baby? What about that weird breathing? Is that normal? Or is it time to head to the emergency room?
Emily Oster is a health economist and mother of two who had a lot of those same questions as she raised her kids. She dove into the data to find out what the science actually says about sleep training, breastfeeding, introducing solid foods, and lots more in her new book, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool.
Rank #13: The Bastard Brigade, Spontaneous Generation. July 5, 2019, Part 2
Much has been written about the Manhattan Project, the American-led project to develop the atomic bomb. Less well known is Nazi Germany’s “Uranium Club”—a similar project started a full two years before the Manhattan Project. The Nazis had some of the greatest chemists and physicists in the world on their side, including Werner Heisenberg, and the Allies were terrified that the Nazis would beat them to the bomb—meaning the Allies were willing to try anything from espionage to assassination to bombing raids to stop them.
Science writer Sam Kean joins Ira to tell the high-stakes story written in his new book The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb.
Plus, "spontaneous generation" was the idea that living organisms can spring into existence from non-living matter. In the late 19th century, in a showdown between chemist Louis Pasteur and biologist Felix Pouchet put on by the French Academy of Sciences, Pasteur famously came up with an experiment that debunked the theory. He showed that when you boil an infusion to kill everything inside and don’t let any particles get into it, life will not spontaneously emerge inside. His experiments have been considered a win for science—but they weren’t without controversy.
In this interview, Undiscovered’s Elah Feder, Ira Flatow, and historian James Strick talk about what scientists of Pasteur’s day really thought of his experiment, the role the Catholic church played in shutting down “spontaneous generation,” and why even Darwin did his best to dodge the topic.
Rank #14: Climate And Farming, Mars 2020, Fireflies. August 23, 2019, Part 2
From cutting back on fossil fuels to planting a million trees, people and policymakers around the world are looking for more ways to curb climate change. Another solution to add to the list is changing how we use land. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released a special report this month that emphasized the importance of proper land management, such as protecting forests like the Amazon from being converted to farmland, has on mitigating climate change. Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, joins Ira to discuss the ins and outs of the report. Cynthia Rosenzwieg, a senior research scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the lead authors, also joins to talk about ways we can use land to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
Plus: NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is just around the corner. Next fall, the Mars rover will launch with an upgraded suite of instruments to study the red planet in a way Curiosity and Opportunity never could. When it lands on Mars, it will search for and try to identify signs of ancient life. But how will it know what to look for? Katie Slack Morgan, deputy project scientist on the Mars 2020 mission, and Mitch Schulte, a Mars 2020 Program Scientist, talk to Ira about the chances of finding evidence for ancient life on Mars—and why the Australian Outback might be a good testing ground.
And if you take a walk at night during the summertime, you might catch a glimpse of fireflies lighting up the sky. But scientists are learning that these bioluminescent insect populations are vulnerable to habitat loss, pesticides, and light pollution. Biologist Sara Lewis talks about conservation efforts including Firefly Watch, a citizen science project that maps out firefly populations around the country. She joins geneticist Sarah Lower to discuss how individual species of fireflies create different blink patterns, as well as the difference between fireflies, lightning bugs, and glow worms.
Rank #15: Is Chemical Sunscreen Safe, Slime, Amazon Deforestation. August 2, 2019, Part 2
Sunscreen has been on the shelves of drugstores since the mid-1940s. And while new kinds of sunscreens have come out, some of the active ingredients in them have yet to be determined as safe and effective. A recent study conducted by the FDA showed that the active ingredients of four commercially available sunscreens were absorbed into the bloodstream—even days after a person stops using it.
Ira talks to professor of dermatology and editor in chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology Kanade Shinkai about what the next steps are for sunscreen testing and what consumers should do in the meantime.
Often called the planet’s lungs, the trees of the Amazon rainforest suck up a quarter of Earth’s carbon and produce a fifth of the world’s oxygen. The National Institute for Space Research in Brazil has been using satellite images of tree cover to monitor the Amazon’s deforestation since the 1970s—and new data shows a potentially dangerous spike in deforestation. In the first seven months of 2019, the rainforest lost 50% more trees than during the same period last year.
That spike in tree loss has coincided with Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsanaro, taking office in January and slashing environmental protections. Bolsanaro even called the new data a lie. But climate scientists warn deforestation is pushing the Amazon rainforest to a tipping point that would disrupt both its ecosystem and the global climate.
Ira talks to Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute of Advanced Studies, about the new data and why deforestation in the Amazon is so risky for the planet.
When you think of algae, one of the first images that might come to mind is the green, fluffy stuff that takes over your fish tank when it needs cleaning, or maybe the ropy seaweed that washes up on the beach. But the diversity of the group of photosynthetic organisms is vast—ranging from small cyanobacteria to lichens to multicellular mats of seaweed. Author Ruth Kassinger calls algae “the most powerful organisms on the planet.” She talks about how this ancient group of organisms produces at least 50% of the oxygen on Earth, and how people are trying to harness algae as a food source, alternative fuel, and even a way to make cows burp less methane.
Rank #16: 5G, Pig Brains, Privacy For Nature. April 19, 2019, Part 1
Last week, President Trump announced a new initiative to push forward the implementation of 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity for smartphones and other devices. How is this faster speed possible, and how quickly will it become accessible to consumers? Washington Post technology reporter Brian Fung explains the innovations that would enable greater rates of data transmission. Plus: Harold Feld, a lawyer and consumer advocate, says not everyone will benefit equally from 5G as plans currently stand—including rural communities.
One of the top technology candidates for 5G relies on higher frequencies and bringing more smaller-signal base stations much closer to the people using them. But what does research say about how it will affect human health? Researchers review what the literature has suggested so far about non-ionizing radiation from 2G and 3G, including a 2018 study from the National Toxicology Program (NTP) that found an increase in tumors for male rats. The NTP’s John Bucher and Jonathan Samet of the Colorado School of Public Health join Ira to discuss the data, and the limitations of research to date. Plus, toxicologist and epidemiologist Devra Davis of the Environmental Health Trust provides a statement on the health concerns of 5G.
Plus: Spring is a great time to get out and enjoy the outdoors—and increasingly, people are using citizen science apps like eBird and iNaturalist to record sightings and share data. But the public nature of some citizen science platforms can make them liable for abuse, such as people using location data collected by the apps to disturb—or even poach—threatened species. April Glaser, a technology reporter for Slate, tells Ira more.
And Sarah Kaplan, science reporter at the Washington Post, joins Ira to talk about post-death pig brains, Jovian moons, and more in this week's News Roundup.
Rank #17: Smoke Chasers, Colorado Apples, Pikas. June 21, 2019, Part 2
When wildfires rage in the West, Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Emily Fischer hops into a plane, and flies straight into the smoke. The plane is a flying chemistry lab, studded with instruments, and Fischer’s goal is to uncover the chemical reactions happening in smoke plumes, to determine how wildfire smoke may affect ecosystems and human health.
Pikas—those cute little animals that look like rodents but are actually more closely related to rabbits—used to roam high mountain habitats across the West. But global warming is pushing temperatures up in their high mountain habitats, and pikas are now confined to a few areas. And thanks to those warmer temperatures, which are threatening the pikas’ way of life, they may be in danger of disappearing—potentially as early as the end of the century. In this segment, recorded as part of Science Friday’s live show at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colorado, Ira speaks with Chris Ray, a population biologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Ray is tagging and tracking the pikas to investigate how closely their fate is tied to climate change—and whether there’s a way to save them before it’s too late.
In the late 1800, Colorado was one of the top apple growing states, but the industry was wiped out by drought and the creation of the red delicious apple in Washington state. But even today, apple trees can still be found throughout the area. Plant ecologist Katharine Suding created the Boulder Apple Tree Project to map out the historic orchards. She talks about Boulder’s historic orchards, some of the heirloom varieties like the Surprise and Arkansas Black, and a surprising connection to a hit Hollywood franchise. Plus, cider maker Daniel Haykin talks about how he uses the information from the Boulder Apple Tree Project combined with sugar, yeast and apples to make the bubbly beverage.
Rank #18: Measles, Poetry Month, Lemur Hibernation. April 26, 2019, Part 2
Back in 1963, before the development of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, there were 4 million cases of measles every year. It took nearly four decades, but by 2000, enough people had become vaccinated that the measles virus was eliminated in the U.S.
But since then, the ranks of unvaccinated people have grown, and the measles virus has been reintroduced into the U.S. This week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials report over 600 cases of measles across 22 states. Dr. Saad Omer, professor of Global Health, Epidemiology, and Pediatrics at Emory University joins Ira to answer questions about the current outbreak, including how much worse conditions could get.
Every year, hundreds pack Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York for “The Universe In Verse,” a live celebration of writing that has found inspiration from science and scientists. This year’s event, which featured readings from guests including Amanda Palmer, David Byrne, and Josh Groban, celebrated the 100th anniversary of Sir Arthur Eddington’s groundbreaking experiment to prove general relativity. The poems also honored Albert Einstein’s legacy in describing the universe as we understand it today.
Maria Popova, founder and editor of Brain Pickings, and astrophysicist Janna Levin, both writers as well, join Ira for a conversation about the enduring link between art and science, and share readings of their favorite works.
What has big eyes, a bushy tail, and is the only primate to go into hibernation six months out of the year? It’s the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, an endangered species endemic to the island of Madagascar. During their hibernation period, the lemurs enter a state of torpor, which essentially disables the animals’ internal thermostat. It turns out we humans possess the same gene that is activated when the lemur initiates torpor—we just don’t know how to activate it. Science Friday video producer Luke Groskin traveled to the only captive colony of dwarf lemurs in the world outside of Madagascar, the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina, to investigate the sleeping cuties’ hibernation habits—and how they could apply to humans.
Rank #19: Ice Cream Science, Online Language. July 26, 2019, Part 2
Have you ever tried to make your favorite rocky road flavored ice cream at home, but your chocolate ice cream turns out a little crunchier than you hoped? And your ribbons of marshmallow are more like frozen, sugary shards? Chemist Matt Hartings and ice cream maker Ben Van Leeuwen, co-founder of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in New York City, talk about the science behind how milk, sugar, and eggs turn into your favorite frozen desserts. They’ll chat about the sweet science behind other frozen delights, too—like how the size of water crystals affect texture and how you can make a scoopable vegan ice cream.
Are you a fluent texter? Are you eloquent with your emoji? DOES WRITING IN ALL CAPS SOUND LIKE SCREAMING TO YOU? Maybe you’ve become accustomed to delivering just the right degree of snark using ~~sparkly tildes~~… Or you feel that slight sense of aggression when someone ends a simple text to you with a period.
In her new book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores some of the ways that online communication has changed the way we write informally, from the early days of computer bulletin boards to today’s Facebook and Twitter memes.
Rank #20: Degrees of Change: Tourism. Aug 30, 2019, Part 1
Each year, outdoor enthusiasts in the country spend nearly $900 billion dollars on hiking, fishing and other types of outdoor recreation. The different types of business that take part in that tourism economy span a wide range—from big all inclusive ski resorts to mom and pop shops that sell tours of their local hiking spots.
But with shrinking snowpacks, more extreme weather, and the unpredictable changes from season to season, these businesses must wrestle with a challenge: climate change. Winter tourism operations are adding on summer water sports to stay afloat, while the number of ski resorts have dwindled almost in half since the 1950s. How will these local businesses adapt?
In Capital Public Radio’s podcast TahoeLand, reporter Ezra David Romero investigates how the community of Lake Tahoe in California, which sees 30 million tourists each year, is responding to these changes. Romero talks with Ira about how a pair of residents are trying to establish the area as the “Outdoor Capital of the World” in order to expand outdoor activities that can take place between the big winter and summer tourism seasons. He discusses how local businesses, from casinos to sleigh ride operators, are re-envisioning how they will operate in the future.
Daniel Scott, who studies the effects of climate change on tourism, joins the conversation to discuss how the ski resorts are implementing different attractions that can be used year round. And Mario Molina from Protect Our Winters talks about how his organizations trains professional athletes and businesses that depend on the outdoors to become advocates for sustainable practices and policies.
Plus, all eyes are on the Atlantic this week as Hurricane Dorian makes its way towards Florida. While Puerto Rico was spared the brunt of the storm, the hurricane still comes at a time when both Florida and Puerto Rico are especially vulnerable to storms. Rebecca Leber, climate and environment reporter at Mother Jones, joins Ira to discuss why—and the contributions a changing climate has to storms such as Dorian.
They’ll also talk about other climate stories from recent days, including statements from presidential candidates regarding their climate policy plans, the sailboat arrival of climate activist Greta Thunberg in New York, and a federal rule change that would loosen restrictions on methane gas emissions.