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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.

Future Telescopes, Caterpillars. Dec 14, 2018, Part 2
2018-12-14 13:58:26
28 years ago, astronauts on the space shuttle Discovery gently raised the Hubble Space Telescope, or HST, up from the shuttle bay, and released it into space. Geologist and astronaut Kathryn Sullivan commemorated the moment with a short speech, as she floated in the shuttle. It would be a few years (and a repair job) before the truly historic nature of the telescope was revealed, showing us new views of the cosmos, and wonders it wasn't even designed to study, like exoplanets. But Hubble is getting up there in years, and it's time for new history to be made. Lots of new telescopes are waiting in the wings: The James Webb Space Telescope, W-FIRST, plus a collection of others vying to be the next big thing in space telescopes. Caterpillars might be the squirming, crawling larval stage of butterflies and moths, but they have defenses, behaviors, and lives of their own. Second grader Nina Del Bosque from Houston, Texas was stung by an asp caterpillar. She wanted to know about other stinging caterpillars in the world and what role they play in the ecosystem—so she sent Science Friday a handwritten letter with her questions. We invited Nina on the show with biologist David Wagner, author of Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History, to talk about the stinging asp caterpillar, the woolly bear, and all things caterpillar. View a few of these unique critters below.
47 minutes, 58 seconds


Cancer Immunotherapy, Raccoons, Frog Calls. Dec 14, 2018, Part 1
2018-12-14 13:57:47
For years, cancer treatment has largely involved one of three options—surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. In recent years, however, a new treatment option, immunotherapy, has entered the playing field. It has become the first-line preferred treatment for certain cancers. Immunotherapy is a class of treatments that use some aspect of the body's own immune response to help battle cancer cells. There are several different approaches, each with their own advantages and weaknesses.This year, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation." The Nobel committee called their discoveries a landmark in our fight against cancer. Treatments based on their work are now in use against several forms of cancer, with many more trials underway. Still, the approach doesn't work in all cases, and researchers are working to try to better understand why. How do raccoons keep getting into people's trash? It might just be one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time. No matter what kind of fancy lid, bungee cord, or alarm system we use, somehow these masked creatures always find a way into our smelly garbage. But are they just dexterous or actually smart? Lauren Stanton, Ph.D. candidate in the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab at the University of Wyoming, joins Ira to talk about testing the animal's smarts. City mouse and country mouse aren't just characters from stories—cities are unique ecosystems built by humans, and animals adapt when they move into urban areas. Researchers recently compared the calls of male túngara frogs in Panama that lived in the forest with those in the city. They found that the city frogs had more complex calls and that female frogs preferred these calls—but the less complex calls of country frogs made them easier to hide from predators. Biologist Alex Trillo, an author on the study, talks about the costs and benefits of changing calls for the túngara frog.
47 minutes, 39 seconds


Microbes and Art, Science Books 2018. Dec 7, 2018, Part 2
2018-12-07 13:46:53
Here at Science Friday, our jobs involve reading a lot of science books every year. We have piles and piles of them at the office. Hundreds of titles about biology and art and technology and space, and sometimes even sci-fi. Now, the time has come for our annual roundup of the books we couldn't forget. We have plenty of picks from you, our listeners, as well as from our panel of expert guests: Stephanie Sendaula of Library Journal Reviews, Deborah Blum of MIT's Knight Science Journalism Program, and Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research. See our favorite science books of 2018 here. Fungi, bacteria and lichens can grow on paintings, monuments, and other types of artwork. They feed on different pigments, oils, and canvas. In a study out this week in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers analyzed a 17th century painting and found microbes that could degrade and others that could protect the painting. Robert Kesseler, the Director of the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute (who was not a part of that study), discusses why microbes like to munch on paintings and what can be done to protect these works of art.    
47 minutes, 28 seconds


Hemp and CBD, Phytosaurs, Mosquito Control. Dec 7, 2018, Part 1
2018-12-07 12:51:37
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.  
47 minutes, 51 seconds


Gene-Editing Humans, Asymmetry, Ancient Whale Ancestor. Nov 30, 2018, Part 2
2018-11-30 14:03:50
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.
47 minutes, 26 seconds


Climate Report, Wind Energy, SciFri Educator Collaborative. Nov 30, 2018, Part 1
2018-11-30 14:02:38
This Monday, Mars fans rejoiced as NASA's lander Mars InSight successfully parachuted safely onto the large, flat plain of Elysium Planitia. In the days that followed, the lander successfully has deployed its solar panels and begun to unstow its robotic arm. Learn more about the landing, plus the latest science news.  Then, wind energy development is spreading around the nation. But as developers move to identify promising locations for wind farms, however, they may need to consider more than just logistics, wind speeds, and distribution lines. Researchers report that "wake effects" from one wind farm can sap the energy of a downwind generating facility as far as 50 km away. Part II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment describes how every part of our society and every state in our country will be impacted by a warmer world. Not just by hurricanes, floods and wildfires, but by more rainfall in the Midwest, thawing permafrost in Alaska, and drier air in the Southeast.  And finally, calling all science educators! We're teaming up with science educators across the country in our Science Friday Educator Collaborative Program, in which educators work with SciFri staff to develop resources for science learners everywhere. Applications are open now. 
47 minutes, 34 seconds


Caves And Climate, Environmental Archeology, Scanning The Past. Nov 23, 2018, Part 2
2018-11-23 09:00:00
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.
47 minutes, 39 seconds


2018 Ig Nobel Prizes. Nov 23, 2018, Part 1
2018-11-23 09:00:00
When you go to the zoo, maybe you imitate the chimps, copying their faces, their gestures, or their walk. But it turns out the chimps imitate you just about as often—and as well, according to scientists. Other researchers have found that a trained nose can detect the odor of a single fly floating in a glass of wine. And that sometimes, a trip to the amusement park may be an effective treatment to aid in the passage of kidney stones.   These projects are among the 10 selected by the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research to be honored at this year's 28th first annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies. The prizes, awarded in September at Harvard's Sanders Theatre, salute work that "first makes you laugh, and then, makes you think."
47 minutes, 47 seconds


California Fires, Fire Engineering, Flu Near You. Nov 16, 2018, Part 1
2018-11-16 14:14:37
When wildfires strike, the conversation typically centers around natural factors: forest management, climate change, or hot dry winds that fan the flames. But there's another important factor in wildfire risk: what humans build. Not just where we build, adjacent to flammable landscapes, but how we build it. Fire historian Stephen Pyne joins us to talk about what we might learn from the way we build in big city centers, where we've been largely successful at stamping out big blazes, and Sascha von Meier of UC Berkeley tells us a few ways power companies might fortify the grid to avoid sparking fires. And could California use more planned burns to prevent forest fires? Molly Peterson of KQED tells us more. Plus: Flu season has already begun, and Science Friday is teaming up with Flu Near You to recruit a national team of everyday citizens to build a real-time map of the rise and fall of influenza-like-illness in the United States. It's as simple as reporting how you feel each week. Science Friday education director Ariel Zych and Flu Near You co-founder John Brownstein of Boston Children's Hospital kick off the project with information and some of the trends they'll be tracking throughout the season, and biologist Matt Smith tells about the dangers of flu season for people living with cystic fibrosis. Plus, Annalee Newitz joins Ira to tell us the latest science news in the News Round-up.
46 minutes, 54 seconds


Smell Science, Reader Come Home, Sonar Smackdown. Nov 16, 2018, Part 2
2018-11-16 14:13:46
If you had to give up one of your senses, which would you pick? If you think that "smell" might be the obvious answer, consider that your nose plays a crucial role in how you perceive the taste of your food or that it's a sophisticated sensor capable of synthesizing the hundreds of different molecules into the floral fragrance we know as "roses."  University of Florida professor Steven Munger explains the nuances of smell. Plus: The digital world is changing how we read. What does that mean for the next generation of readers? As Maryanne Wolf describes in her newest book, Reader, Come Home, we may be at risk of raising a generation of people who don't have those skills simply because of our changing reading habits. She joins Ira to discuss how our reading brain has changed since moving into the digital world and what we can do to fall in love with reading again. Are you team bat? Or team dolphin? Earlier this month at the Acoustical Society of America Conference two groups of scientists argued the finer points of each animal's echolocation excellence. Things got heated, words were exchanged. But in this battle between the sonar specialists, which creature comes out the winner? To settle the debate, two researchers join Ira for a good, old-fashioned "rumble on the radio." Laura Kloepper, assistant professor at St. Mary's College backs up the agile, winged masters of the sky, while Brian Branstetter, research scientist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, vouches for the swift swimmers of the sea. Both are ready for Science Friday's first ever "Sonar Smackdown."
46 minutes, 55 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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#504 The Art of Logic
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