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Science & Medicine

Science Friday

Updated 10 days ago

Science & Medicine
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Brain fun for curious people.

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Brain fun for curious people.

iTunes Ratings

2719 Ratings
Average Ratings
1907
375
174
125
138

Fun and engaging

By Transfer RNA - Jun 03 2019
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As a former biology teacher I find Science Friday very entertaining.

Better than 5 stars!!!

By Rarthlight - Apr 09 2019
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As a scientist I enjoy the varied and up to the minute research!!

iTunes Ratings

2719 Ratings
Average Ratings
1907
375
174
125
138

Fun and engaging

By Transfer RNA - Jun 03 2019
Read more
As a former biology teacher I find Science Friday very entertaining.

Better than 5 stars!!!

By Rarthlight - Apr 09 2019
Read more
As a scientist I enjoy the varied and up to the minute research!!
Cover image of Science Friday

Science Friday

Updated 10 days ago

Read more

Brain fun for curious people.

Live in San Antonio: Deadly Disease, Bats, Birds. Aug. 16, 2019, Part 2

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Imagine stepping into a white suit, pulling on thick rubber gloves and a helmet with a clear face plate. You can only talk to your colleagues through an earpiece, and a rubber hose supplies you with breathable air. Sounds like something you wear in space, right? In this case, you’re not an astronaut. You’re at the Texas Biomedical Institute in San Antonio, one of the only places where the most dangerous pathogens—the ones with no known cures—can be studied in a lab setting. Dr. Jean Patterson, a professor there, and Dr. Ricardo Carrion, professor and director of maximum containment contract research, join Ira live on stage for a safe peek inside the place where the world’s deadliest diseases are studied

Bracken Cave, 20 miles outside of San Antonio, is the summer home to 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Each night, the bats swarm out of the cave in a “batnado“ in search of food. Fran Hutchins, director of Bat Conservation International’s Bracken Cave Preserve, talks about how the millions of individuals form a colony and the conservation efforts to preserve this colony in the face of housing developments and the encroaching city.

San Antonio is a great place for birding. Along with Texas Hill country, the Edwards Plateau, and the gulf coast, the region’s intersecting ecosystems make it a good home—and a welcome pitstop—for birds. Iliana Peña, the Director of Conservation Programs at the Texas Wildlife Association, talks about sustainable grazing and other changes to ranching procedures that would make the tracts of land held by large Texas landowners more welcoming to grassland birds. Plus, Jennifer Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Ecology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, describes her research on the effects of wind farms on prairie chickens in Nebraska.

Aug 16 2019
47 mins
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Lightning, Electric Scooters, News Roundup. Aug. 16, 2019, Part 1

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Lightning during a heavy rainstorm is one of the most dramatic phenomena on the planet—and it happens, somewhere on Earth, an estimated 50 to 100 times a second. But even though scientists have been puzzling over the physics of lightning for decades, stretching back even to Ben Franklin’s kite experiment, much of the science remains mysterious. Ira and IEEE Spectrum news editor Amy Nordrum speak with Farhad Rachidi, a lightning researcher at Säntis Tower in Switzerland, as well as Bill Rison, a professor of electrical engineering at New Mexico Tech and Ryan Said, a research scientist at Vaisala, about what potentially causes lightning, lightning-sparked wildfires, and why it's hard to study it in a lab.

Plus: Scooters are electric, emission-free, and must be replacing gas-guzzling car trips. That has to be good for the climate, right? But a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters says electric scooters actually aren’t very green. Sigal Samuel, a staff writer for Vox based in Washington D.C., joins Ira to talk more about the study.

And this week, the Trump administration announced it would change the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented starting in September. Regulators would soon be able to conduct economic assessments to decide whether a species should be protected or not. Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science reporter for FiveThiryEight, joins Ira to discuss the roll back as well as other science headlines in this week's News Roundup.

Aug 16 2019
47 mins
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Northwest Passage Project, Birds and Color. Aug 9, 2019, Part 1

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First, tardigrades on the moon, feral hogs on Earth, and more news from this week’s News Roundup.

Scientists and students navigated the Northwest Passage waterways to study how the Arctic summers have changed. Last year, one day into expedition, the boat ran aground and cut the mission off before it could get started. This year, the team successfully launched from Thule, Greenland and completed their three-week cruise.

Birds don’t just see the world from higher up than the rest of us; they also see a whole range of light that we can’t. How does that shape the colors—both spectacular and drab—of our feathered friends?

Aug 09 2019
47 mins
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Wiring Rural Texas, Visiting Jupiter and Saturn. Aug 9, 2019, Part 2

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High-speed internet access is becoming a necessity of modern life, but connecting over a million rural Texans is a challenge. How do we bridge the digital divide in Texas' wide open spaces?

It turns out the Great Red Spot might not be so great—it's shrinking. Plus, other news from the giant planets.

Aug 09 2019
46 mins
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Is Chemical Sunscreen Safe, Slime, Amazon Deforestation. August 2, 2019, Part 2

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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.

Aug 02 2019
46 mins
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Ethics Of Hawaiian Telescope, Bird Song, Alaska Universities Budget Cut. August 2, 2019, Part 1

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Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii, towering over the Pacific at nearly 14,000 feet. That high altitude, combined with the mountain’s dry, still air and its extreme darkness at night, make it an ideal place for astronomy. There are already 13 observatories on the summit plateau. Now, astronomers want to build another, called the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, which would become the largest visible-light telescope on the mountain. 

But many native Hawaiians don’t want it there, for a multitude of reasons. Science Friday talked with Kawika Winter, a multidisciplinary ecologist at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the He'eia National Estuarine Research Reserve, who summed it up this way: 

"The notion of pursuit of knowledge is an important one here. But is it pursuit of knowledge at all costs? Is it pursuit of knowledge at the expense of our humanity? 

From the native Hawaiian perspective this is just the same thing that's happened before. It's preventing people from accessing sacred places. It's desecration of sacred places through construction. It's all of these issues, but this time it's for a ‘good reason.’ This time it's for science, this time it's for knowledge, so now it should be ok, right? But it's the same thing that's been happening for 200 years. It doesn't matter what the reason is.

Engaging native Hawaiians is not a box to check off in the process. And you check it off at the end, say 'yeah, we checked with native Hawaiians.' That's not the proper way to engage in science in indigenous places. So we're trying to advocate for a different model for approaching science, and integrating native peoples, indigenous peoples, and indigenous cultures into the process. And that's how we can make sure the science we conduct doesn't come at the expense of our humanity." 

Many native Hawaiians say the way this fight has been portrayed in the media—as Hawaiian culture versus science—is disrespectful of their culture, ignorant of their motives, and oblivious to the fact that science has long been an important part of traditional Hawaiian culture. Nearly a thousand scientists and astronomers have now signed an open letter in solidarity with those who would like to see a halt in construction. 

When a baby human learns to talk, there’s a predictable pattern of learning: First, they listen to the language spoken around them, then they babble and try to make the same sounds, and then they eventually learn the motor skills to shape that babble into words and meaning.

Researchers who study songbirds know this is also the process by which a baby male zebra finch learns the unique songs that as an adult he will use to mate and defend territory. The same holds true for canaries, nightingales, warblers, and beyond. And for many birds, like humans, the window where they learn their “language” best is a short one that closes early in life. In fact, bird song is studied closely as an analogy for human speech—an example of sophisticated brain machinery for learning that evolved separately in birds and humans. 

Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy’s budget cuts to the University of Alaska total about $136 million, or roughly 41 percent of state support. As a result, the University of Alaska Board of Regents voted 8 to 3 to move towards consolidating the entire university system to a single accredited university.

UA president Jim Johnsen says under any plan, it’s likely that the cuts will have a ripple effect on enrollment and research. He says both are avenues that could result in less money for the university as a whole. A task force has been put together to determine how to move forward with the single university model.

Aug 02 2019
47 mins
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Ice Cream Science, Online Language. July 26, 2019, Part 2

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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.

Jul 26 2019
46 mins
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Anonymous Data, Birding Basics. July 26, 2019, Part 1

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The Science Friday Book Club is buckling down to read Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds this summer. Meanwhile, it’s vacation season, and we want you to go out and appreciate some birds in the wild.

But for beginning birders, it may seem intimidating to find and identify feathered friends both near and far from home. Audubon experts Martha Harbison and Purbita Saha join guest host Molly Webster to share some advice. They explain how to identify birds by sight and by ear, some guides that can help, and tips on photographing your finds. Plus the highlights of summer birding: Shore bird migration is already underway, and baby birds are venturing out of the nest. We challenge you to get outside to see your local clever birds in action! Join the Science Friday Bird Club on the citizen science platform iNaturalist

In this era of the Equifax breach and Facebook’s lax data privacy standards, most people are at least somewhat anxious about what happens to the data we give away. In recent years, companies have responded by promising to strip away identifying information, like your name, address, or social security number. 

But data scientists are warning us that that isn’t enough. Even seemingly harmless data—like your preferred choice of cereal—can be used to identify you. In a paper from Nature Communications out this week, researchers published a tool that calculates the likelihood of someone identifying you after offering up only a few pieces of personal information, like your zip code and your birth date. 

Dr. Julien Hendrickx, co-author of the study out in Nature Communications, joins guest host Molly Webster to discuss the risk of being discovered among anonymous data. And Joseph Jerome, policy council for the Privacy and Data project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, joins the conversation to talk about whether data can ever truly be anonymous.

Plus, the Ebola crisis in the D.R.C. is now the second biggest outbreak on record. That, and other science stories in the news this week. 

Jul 26 2019
45 mins
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Moon Art, Space History, And NASA's Megarocket. July 19, 2019, Part 2

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Our Lunar Muse

Most of us remember that iconic photograph of the Apollo 11 moon landing: Buzz Aldrin standing on a footprint-covered moon, one arm bent, and Neil Armstrong in his helmet’s reflection taking the picture. 

But there’s a much longer, ancient history of trying to visually capture the moon that came before the 1969 photo—from Bronze Age disks with crescent moons to Galileo’s telescope drawings to 19th-century photos and modern photographs. For millennia, we’ve been obsessed with the moon’s glow, its craters and blemishes, its familiar, but mysterious presence in the sky. The moon has mesmerized experts from all fields of study, from scientists, historians, curators, to artists, including this segment’s guest, Michael Benson. Benson is a filmmaker, artist, and author of Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time, a history of humanity’s quest to visualize the moon and space. In his own art, he uses raw data from space missions to create lunar and planetary landscapes. 

Benson isn’t the only person who’s thinking about how science and art has impacted how we see the moon. Mia Fineman recently curated Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibit explores how humanity has interpreted the moon through drawings, paintings, and photographs for the last 400 years.

Preserving Space History

We’ve all heard the iconic stories of the early space program—from   Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech, to The Right Stuff, to Armstrong’s “one small step,” to the dramatic story of Apollo 13. 

But how do we find new stories to tell, locate hidden figures of history, or even know they exist? The answer may lie in museum collections, old paper archives, and in the memories of ordinary people. Ed Stewart, the curator of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and Reagan Grimsley, head of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, join Ira to talk about preserving artifacts of the early space program, and the importance of the archival record in telling the tales of historic space flight.

NASA's Megarocket Bet

The Trump administration says it wants to go back to the moon—but how will we get there? You’ve seen the advances in spaceflight from private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. But a big part of the current U.S. plan for returning to the moon involves something called SLS, the Space Launch System—a megarocket assembled from a combination of parts repurposed from the Shuttle program, and new hardware. 

John Blevins, deputy chief engineer for the Space Launch System, and Erika Alvarez, lead systems engineer for the Space Launch System Vehicle, join Ira to talk about the rocket’s design, capabilities, and NASA’s plans to use it to go back to the moon and beyond

Jul 19 2019
46 mins
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Apollo Anniversary And Bird Book Club. July 19, 2019, Part 1

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Celebrating Apollo's 'Giant Leap'

July 20, 1969 was a day that changed us forever—the first time humans left footprints on another world. In this segment, Ira Flatow and space historian Andy Chaikin celebrate that history and examine the legacy of the Apollo program.

Apollo ushered in a new age of scientific discovery, with lunar samples that unlocked the history of how the moon and the solar system formed. It accelerated the development of new technologies, like the integrated circuit. And most of all, says Chaikin, it taught us how to work together, to achieve seemingly impossible goals

We also take a look at what comes next for NASA’s historic launchpads. Science Friday producers Alexa Lim and Daniel Peterschmidt went to NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida a few months ago. They got to see how the space agency is upgrading some of its storied launchpads—and leaving others behind to rising sea levels.

Take Flight With Science Friday's Book Club

Called anyone a “bird brain” recently? There was a time when we thought this meant “stupid,” deceived by the small size and smooth surface of birds’ brains into thinking they were mere mindless bundles of feathers.

But researchers are finding out what birds themselves have always known: Our feathered friends come with mental skills that might stump even humans. Be it tool-making, social smarts, navigation across vast distances, or even the infinitely adaptable house sparrow, Jennifer Ackerman writes of dozens of examples in this summer’s SciFri Book Club pick, The Genius of Birds. Take homing pigeons, which can be released hundreds of miles from the roof and still eventually wing their way home. Or mockingbirds, who can memorize and mimic, with astonishing accuracy, the songs and calls of as many as 200 different other birds. And birds have other kinds of genius: Bowerbirds craft intricate displays to lure their mates, each species with its own particular aesthetic preferences, like the satin bowerbird’s penchant for blue.

Ira, Book Club captain Christie Taylor, and bird brain researchers Aaron Blaisdell and Lauren Riters convene for the summer Book Club kickoff, and a celebration of avian minds everywhere.

Jul 19 2019
44 mins
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