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Science Friday | Best Science Podcasts (2018)

Our selection of the best science podcasts of 2018. New science podcasts are updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.


Science Friday
Covering everything about science and technology -- from the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies -- Science Friday is your source for entertaining and educational stories and activities. Each week, host Ira Flatow interviews scientists and inventors like Sylvia Earle, Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and more.

CRISPR, Colors, Narwhals. June 15, 2018, Part 2
2018-06-15 14:18:15
Over less than a decade, the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 has taken the biology world by storm. But two new studies indicate that there could be a downside to the CRISPR approach. Did you know a blue jay's feathers and a butterfly's wings aren't actually blue? Neither are your blue eyes. From the colors we see in flowers and birds, to the hues we use in art and decoration, there's more than one way to make a rainbow—and it all starts with molecules and structures that are too small to see. The elusive narwhal has captured the imaginations of many people. Now, scientists have outfitted a group of narwhals with audio tags that allowed them to capture their echolocation and communication sounds. 
47 minutes, 6 seconds


Dinosaurs, Celebrating Cephalopods. June 15, 2018, Part 1
2018-06-15 14:17:21
Like a kraken rising from the depths (or a cuttlefish emerging from the sand), Cephalopod Week is back! Every year, Science Friday spends a week honoring the mighty, clever, mysterious cephalopod. This year, Field Museum curator Janet Voight joins Ira and SciFri's chief cephalopod cheerleader Brandon Echter to talk about the unusual and brainy behaviors of these creatures—including a squid that uses bioluminescent bacteria to camouflage itself—and whether cephalopods could someday become a model organism as ubiquitous in labs as mice and fruit flies.  The story of the dinosaurs is one that's been told over millennia. But within the last few decades, what we thought we knew about their rise and fall is being rewritten.  Plus: A look at the latest science stories of the week, and a look at why Chicago Park District may shut down half of its outdoor drinking fountains. 
47 minutes, 31 seconds


Mars Organics, Museum Collections, Kelp Farming. June 8, 2018, Part 2
2018-06-08 13:33:43
In 1832, less than a year into the first voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin found a beetle in Argentina. Turns out, discovering new species in the depths of museum archives is not so uncommon. 180 years later, an entomologist who happened to specialize in rove beetles requested an assortment of samples from London's Natural History Museum. There, among 24 pinned beetle specimens, was Darwin's rove beetle. Dozens of such tales of are told by biologist and author Christopher Kemp in his new book The Lost Species. He describes the treasure hunts and serendipitous finding of species like the ruby seadragon and the olinguito, and why there may be many more discoveries waiting in the backlogged shelves of museums around the world. And Regina Wetzer, associate curator and director of marine biodiversity at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, explains how combining centuries-old museum specimens with modern techniques may help turn up new clues in understanding the past, present, and future of Earth's biodiversity. This week, scientists published a study in the journal Science that described organic molecules—building blocks for life—in mudstone near Gale Crater, a 3.5 billion-year-old dry lakebed. Another study measured methane in the Martian atmosphere that varied with the seasons.  Astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode, who is an author on those studies, discusses what this reveals about how ancient water and rock processes may have worked on the planet, and what the findings tells us about the possibility of life on the Red Planet. Plus: While it has been a tradition in many Asian cultures for centuries, kelp farming only reached U.S. shores in recent decades—and in part due to its environmental benefits. Ira is joined by Science Friday video editor Luke Groskin and Suzie Flores, a kelp farmer featured in our latest Macroscope video, to discuss the new wave of kelp farming.    
47 minutes, 2 seconds


Ocean Conservation, Dark Matter Hunt. June 8, 2018, Part 1
2018-06-08 12:44:58
Planets, stars, and physical "stuff" make up a tiny fraction of the universe. Most of the universe's mass is instead invisible dark matter, which makes itself known not by luminance, but by its gravitational influence on the cosmos. The motions of galaxies and stars require dark matter to be explained. Yet despite decades of searching and millions of dollars spent, physicists still haven't been able to track down a dark matter particle. In this segment, physicists Jodi Cooley and Flip Tanedo, and Gizmodo science writer Ryan Mandelbaum talk about how experimentalists and theorists are getting creative in the hunt for dark matter. Plus: Earlier this year Brazil made headlines and received accolades from ocean conservation advocates for turning 900,000 square kilometers of ocean in its exclusive economic zone into a marine protected area. That's the good news. But the question remains: Does that 10 percent really need protecting? Natalie Ban, associate professor at the University of Victoria, tells Ira more. And Tanya Basu, science editor at The Daily Beast, joins Ira to talk about advances in breast cancer research and more science headlines in this week's News Round-up.
47 minutes, 52 seconds


Sea Floor Mapping, Hurricane Season Forecast. June 1, 2018, Part 2
2018-06-01 13:33:44
The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth, but it's also one of the least understood. As mining companies eye the mineral resources of the deep sea—from oil and gas, to metal deposits—marine biologists like London's Natural History Museum's Diva Amon are working to discover and describe as much of the deep sea as they can. Amon has been on dozens of expeditions to sea, where she's helped characterize ecosystems and discover new species all over the world. And she says we still don't know enough about deep sea ecology to know how to protect these species, the ones we've found and the ones we haven't yet, from mining. But accessing the deep ocean is expensive; it can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a day to run a research ship. So roboticists and artificial intelligence designers are developing underwater drones to map and sniff out the secrets of the deep with the help of sophisticated chemical sensors.  June 1 marks the start of the official "hurricane season" in the Atlantic, the time when powerful storms are most likely to spin their way out of the tropics. Each year, teams of forecasters try to anticipate the number and severity of storms to come. Some try to run climate models that simulate atmospheric behavior over multi-month timeframes, while other teams rely on statistics and comparisons with historic data for their estimates of the upcoming storm season. Michael Bell, co-author of Colorado State University's seasonal hurricane forecast, says that after looking at factors including Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, vertical wind shear levels, and El Niño, their team is predicting 13 additional named storms during the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season (in addition to Alberto, which formed before the Atlantic hurricane season began). Of those storms, the forecast calls for six to become hurricanes and two to reach major hurricane strength. That's in line with a separate forecast from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center estimating between 10-16 named storms and 5-9 hurricanes.  
47 minutes, 14 seconds


Scientist Politicians, Microbiome, Wildlife Car Accidents. June 1, 2018, Part 1
2018-06-01 12:48:08
This year's midterm elections have seen an upswing in the number of scientists running for office. There are approximately 60 candidates with STEM backgrounds in the races for federal offices, and 200 for state positions, according to 314 Action, an advocacy organization that helps scientists run for office. But why would a scientist want to leave the lab for the Hill? According to volcanologist and Congressional candidate Jess Phoenix, "Science by definition is political because the biggest funder of scientific research in our country is the government." And Aruna Miller, who is a Maryland State Delegate for District 15 and a former civil engineer for the Department of Transportation, says that "Your job as an engineer isn't only your profession. It is to be a citizen of your country.... You have to be engaged in our community." By now, we all know about the microbes that live in our gut and digestive tract—different species of bacteria living together in the same environment. Now researchers are trying to learn more about what keeps these bacteria living together in harmony. Scientists suspect the secret "microbe whisperer" is actually a member of the immune system—a molecule called immunoglobulin A. That molecule keeps the gastrointestinal system free of pathogens and, researchers hope, might one day be used to combat diseases of the digestive tract. States like Wyoming and Montana are high risk for wildlife-vehicle collisions. These accidents result in expensive damages and sometimes even death for both wildlife and drivers. One group of scientists found an unlikely solution. You've probably driven by one before and not noticed it, but wildlife reflectors are poles on the side of the road. There have been a lot of studies on reflectors, but Riginos said the results are mixed and not very impressive. So Riginos and her team developed an experiment. They'd cover up some reflectors, leave others uncovered, and then compare the results. "We covered them with this cheap, easily available and durable material, which just happened to be white canvas bags," Riginos said. And to their surprise—the bags turned out to be more effective than the reflectors. "We could actually see that in the white bags situation, that the deer were more likely to stop and wait for cars to pass before crossing the road, instead of just running headlong into the road," said Riginos.
46 minutes, 57 seconds


AI Conversation, Robot Trust, AI Music. May 18, 2018, Part 2
2018-05-25 12:48:28
Should autonomy be the holy grail of artificial intelligence? Computer scientist Justine Cassell has been working for decades on interdependence instead—AI that can hold conversations with us, teach us, and otherwise develop good rapport with us. She joined Ira live on stage at the Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall in Pittsburgh to introduce us to SARA, a virtual assistant that helped world leaders navigate the World Economic Forum last year. Cassell discusses the value of studying relationships in building a new generation of more trustworthy AI. Robot assistants talk to us from our phones. Home robots have faces and facial expressions. But many of the robots that might enter our lives will have no such analogs to help us trust and understand them. What's a roboticist to do? Madeline Gannon, a Carnegie Mellon research fellow, artist, and roboticist for NVIDIA, trains industrial robots to use body language to communicate, while Henny Admoni, psychologist and assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, teaches assistive technology to anticipate the needs of its users.  The pop hits of the future might be written not by human musicians, but by machine-learning algorithms that have learned the rules of catchy music, and apply them to create never-before-heard melodies. Those tunes may not even require human hands to be heard, because a growing army of musical robots, from bagpipes to xylophones, can already play themselves—even improvise too. We talk with computer scientist Roger Dannenberg and artist-roboticist Eric Singer about the implications of computerized composition, and unveil a song created by AI. (We'll let you judge whether it's worthy of the top 40.)
1 hour, 2 minutes, 23 seconds


Sleep Questions, Portable Museums, Digital Health Records. May 25, 2018, Part 1
2018-05-25 12:46:27
What's the difference between being fatigued and sleepy? Do melatonin and other sleeping aids work? And what can you do if you just can't sleep?Neurologist and sleep specialist W. Chris Winter, author of the book The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It, talks about how the brain and body regulate sleep. He also gives ideas for controlling your behavior to improve your "sleep hygiene."  Science museums can be a fun and educational way to spend a day—but what if you don't have a day? What if there's no museum near you? Or what if you don't think you like science enough to spend money on an entry fee? All of these are reasons one nonprofit is working to shrink the museum, and bring it to you—starting with the Smallest Mollusk Museum. It's a vending machine-sized exhibit on the slimy tricks, strange brains, and ecological importance of snails, squids, octopuses, and their chitinous cousins. Amanda Schochet, co-founder of the project and a former computational biologist, explains what goes into making a small museum that can still share big ideas. In recent years, medical providers have largely moved away from scrawled paper charts to electronic health records. But a team of researchers argues that the transformation of medical records hasn't gone far enough. While there has been widespread adoption of electronic health records, most are just static, flat translations of the format of the old fashioned paper file. If we can subscribe to specific categories of news online, the researchers say, why shouldn't medical specialists be able to subscribe to a given patient's medical records to get updates and alerts of specific interest to them? Why shouldn't medical teams be able to get notifications and share information when patients needing special care plans arrive at the hospital? Plus, a satellite launched this week would aid in planned Chinese lunar exploration.  
46 minutes, 55 seconds


Psychedelics With Michael Pollan And Intel Student Science Fair. May 18, 2018, Part 2
2018-05-18 13:58:48
In his latest book, How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan writes of his own consciousness-expanding experiments with psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin, and he makes the case for why shaking up the brain's old habits could be therapeutic for people facing addiction, depression, or death. Pollan and psychedelics researcher Robin Carhart-Harris discuss the neuroscience of consciousness, and how psychedelic drugs may alter the algorithms and habits our brains use to make sense of the world.  This week, science students gathered in Pittsburgh for the finals of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a competition founded by the Society for Science and the Public. Nearly 2,000 students from 75 countries came to present their projects. Two of the finalists share their projects: Everett Kroll discusses how he created and tested an affordable 3D-printed prosthetic foot, while Alyssa Rawinski explains how she studied the feasibility of using mealworms to recycle plastics. 
47 minutes, 19 seconds


Consciousness In 'Westworld,' Heart Cells On Graphene, Bike Safety App. May 18, 2018, Part 1
2018-05-18 13:47:47
In HBO's series Westworld, human-like robots populate a theme park where human guests can have violent, gory adventures in the Wild West without the repercussions. The robots are so lifelike that they fool the visitors and themselves. They bleed, die, grieve, and love—thinking themselves human. But as Westworld's robots grow increasingly independent of their repetitive, programmed loops, the show incites viewers to question whether AI can truly be autonomous or conscious—and who in this story deserves empathy. Roboticist Robin Murphy and neuroscientist Steve Ramirez discuss the show's science and social commentary.   The jury is still out on whether graphene—the carbon-based substance people have called "wonder material"—will be part of every gadget in the future, but scientists are finding it to be an extremely powerful tool in the biomedical laboratory. In a study out this week in the journal Science Advances, scientists used graphene's electrical properties to stimulate lab grown heart cells that could be used in patients after they've had a heart attack. Plus, a Pittsburgh cyclist designed a crowdsourcing navigation app to help other city bikers find the safest roads to travel.
46 minutes, 39 seconds




Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
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