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Science Friday | Best Science Podcasts (2019)

Our selection of the best science podcasts of 2019. 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.

New Human Species, Census, Plankton, Brain Etchings. April 19, 2019, Part 2
2019-04-19 13:41:39
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.  
46 minutes, 57 seconds


5G, Pig Brains, Privacy For Nature. April 19, 2019, Part 1
2019-04-19 13:41:04
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.
47 minutes, 2 seconds


Year In Space Results, Citizen Science Day, Cherry Blossoms. April 12, 2019, Part 2
2019-04-12 13:37:12
To find out what was happening to astronauts over longer periods of space flight, NASA put together a 10-team study of twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. Scott spent a year on International Space Station, while his brother Mark lived a relatively normal life on Earth—though both regularly sent the researchers samples of their blood, urine, cognitive test results, and other data to assess their physiology over time. Scott Kelly returned to Earth in 2016, and researchers have been studying and comparing the twins ever since. The conclusion? A year in space caused a cascade of changes in Scott's gene expression and physiology—some of which remained even after he returned to Earth. Dr. Susan Bailey, a radiation biologist at Colorado State University, explains one surprising mystery: The average length of Scott's telomeres, a part of DNA that usually shortens with aging or other kinds of stress, increased. And Dr. Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell Medicine explains how spaceflight ramped up genes associated with Scott Kelly's immune system and what remained different even months after his return to Earth. Patients with Alzheimer's disease can experience decreased blood flow in their brains caused by white blood cells sticking to blood vessels that can cause a block. Researchers at Cornell University have found that these stalls happen in the tiniest blood vessels, the capillaries. Understanding these capillary blocks could help find new Alzheimer's treatments—and to do that, the researchers have to look through hundreds of thousands of images of blocked capillaries. Now, you can help. Physicist Chris Shaffer, who is on the Cornell University team, teamed up with Pietro Michelucci to develop a citizen science game called Stall Catchers that uses the power of the crowd to help identify these stalls. They talk about how Stall Catchers can help with their data—and the one-day megathon when you can participate. By 1918, the British naturalist and ornithologist Collingwood Ingram had tired of studying birds, but soon became obsessed with two magnificent flowering cherry trees planted on his property. He went to Japan and hunted for wild cherries all over the country on foot, horseback, and even from the sea, using binoculars to spot prime specimens. Throughout his travels, he became convinced that Japan was in danger of losing its multitude of cherry varieties, through modernization, development, and neglect, and he went on to evangelize for the wondrous diversity of flowering cherries in Japan, and back home in the western world. In The Sakura Obsession, Japanese journalist Naoko Abe tells Ingram's story, and the cultural history of cherry blossoms in Japan.  
46 minutes, 29 seconds


Event Horizon Telescope, Biosphere 2. April 12, 2019, Part 1
2019-04-12 13:36:43
"As I like to say, it's never a good idea to bet against Einstein," astrophysicist Shep Doeleman told Science Friday back in 2016, when the Event Horizon Telescope project was just getting underway. At an illuminating press conference on Wednesday, April 10th, scientists shared the image for the first time: a slightly blurry lopsided ring of light encircling a dark shadow. But even as the image confirms current ideas about gravity, it also raises new questions about galaxy formation and quantum physics. Event Horizon Telescope Director Shep Doelemen and Feryal Özel, professor of astrophysics at the University of Arizona and EHT study scientist, help us wrap our minds around the image. And Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, assistant professor of physics and Canada research chair at the University of Montreal joins the conversation to talk about what scientists would like to discover next. Plus: A project aims to use the artificial sea of Biosphere 2 as a testing ground for bringing back coral reefs affected by climate change. Christopher Conover from Arizona Public Media reports in this edition of The State Of Science. And the image of a black hole isn't the only space news that came out this week. Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Ira to talk about the crash of the Israeli lunar lander Beresheet and other stories from the week in science in this week's News Roundup.
46 minutes, 51 seconds


SciFri Extra: Picturing A Black Hole
2019-04-06 09:00:00
The Event Horizon Telescope is tackling one of the largest cosmological challenges ever undertaken: Take an image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, using a telescope the size of the Earth. Now, the Event Horizon team has announced they have big news to share about those efforts. On Wednesday April 10th, it's anticipated they will show a photo of the event horizon. Before they do, we wanted to share this 2016 conversation with Event Horizon project director Shep Doeleman and black hole expert Priya Natarajan, in which they discuss how you image an object as dark and elusive as a black hole.
17 minutes, 2 seconds


Right-To-Repair, Exercise Recovery, Gov. Inslee. April 5, 2019, Part 2
2019-04-05 13:44:49
Whenever your smartphone or video game console breaks down, you usually have to go back to the manufacture or a technician affiliated with the company to have your device fixed. Oftentimes, companies don't release parts or guides to their devices, making it difficult to repair them own your own. 20 different states have introduced right-to-repair legislation, which calls for companies to open up the ability for individuals to fix their own devices. Recently, senator Elizabeth Warren called for a national right-to-repair law for farming equipment made by John Deere and other agricultural manufacturers. Jason Koebler from Motherboard and agricultural lawyer Todd Janzen discuss the debate between right-to-repair advocates who want more choice in the hands of consumers and companies who cite security issues and intellectual property rights for keep devices closed. If you're a runner, hitting the road after a long winter indoors feels invigorating... until you get back home, 10 miles later, and your legs feel like jelly. How do you start to recover? Ibuprofen, ice, lots of water, and stretching might sound like good place to start. But it turns out that following these seemingly logical steps for a faster recovery achieves just the opposite. Icing your muscles slows down the process of recovery. Too much water can be harmful. And stretching? You can put that in the same category as compression boots and cupping—they don't help recovery one bit. Science writer Christie Aschwanden, author of Good To Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, a new book on the science of recovery, joins Ira to share what she discovered debunking our most commonly-held beliefs about recovery with science. "Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come." So goes the saying. And for Washington state governor Jay Inslee, that idea is climate change. He has staked his run for the White House in 2020 on what he calls "America's Climate Mission," and his campaign platform says "defeating climate change is the defining challenge of our time and [it] must be the foremost priority for the next president." For a little historical perspective, however, consider that climate change was practically a non-issue in the last presidential election. There were no specific questions about climate policy in the debates. And only five minutes and twenty-seven seconds—two percent of total talking time—were spent on climate change across all three presidential debates. In this conversation, Ira discusses Gov. Inslee's presidential ambitions, and the science issues that have defined his time as governor of Washington.
47 minutes, 1 second


Coal Ash, Soil Loss, Sap, Bristlecone Pines. April 5, 2019, Part 1
2019-04-05 13:44:14
Maple tapping season is underway in the sugar maple stands of the United States. Warm days and below-freezing nights kick off a cycle of sap flow crucial for maple syrup production. But why is the flow of sap so temperature dependent in sugar maples? University of Vermont maple researcher Abby van den Berg explains how ice crystals in the trees' cells power sap flow, while Yale University's Craig Brodersen tackles how other trees and plants move gallons of fluid per day from roots to leaves—all without using any energy at all. In mid-March, a late winter storm dumped inches of rain on frozen soil in the Midwest, flooding the Missouri River and tributaries—particularly in agriculture-intensive Iowa, eastern Nebraska, and western Illinois. The storm has submerged farm fields under water, washed-out roads and bridges, caused grain silos to burst from flood damage, and drowned livestock. Many farmers may be unable to plant their fields in time this year, or even at all. But soil experts looking at that same damage will notice another thing: erosion of precious topsoil. This first layer of soil is the key to the Midwest's immense fertility and agricultural strength, but a resource that is slow to rebuild after major losses like farms are currently experiencing. Mahdi Al-Kaisi, a soil scientist at Iowa State University, explains why erosion is bad news for farmers, and how the damage from this flood event could ripple for years to come. Bristlecone pine trees grow in harsh, dry mountain climates and can live up to 5,000 years old. The trees have adapted to these rough habitats by building up dense woody trunks that can hold up against insects, and rely on the wind to disperse their hard seeds. Ecologist Brian Smithers became interested in these species because "they epitomized growing and living on the edge of what is possible." Smithers talks about the adaptations and competition the species will face as rising temperatures from climate change force the trees to move up in elevation. Washington University's analysis of data from Missouri utility companies shows high levels of toxic coal ash contamination near ponds power plants use to dump waste from coal combustion. Will proposed new regulations be enough?  
47 minutes, 3 seconds


Poetry of Science, The Power of Calculus. March 29, 2019, Part 2
2019-03-29 13:41:17
April is National Poetry Month, a time of readings, outreach programs, and enthusiastic celebration of the craft. And for a special Science Friday celebration, we'll be looking at where science and poetry meet. Tracy K. Smith, the current U.S. poet laureate, wrote the 2011 book Life On Mars, which touches on dark matter, the nature of the universe, and the Hubble Telescope—all as an elegy for her deceased engineer father, Floyd. Rafael Campo, a physician, poet, and editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association's poetry section, writes poems about illness, the body, and the narratives each patient brings to medical settings. The two talk to Ira about where science fits into their work—and how poetry can inform science and scientists. Read some of the poems, and a syllabus of science-related works suggested by SciFri listeners, here. Calculus underpins many of the greatest ideas about how the universe works: Newton's Laws, Maxwell's Equations, quantum theory. It's been used to develop ubiquitous technologies, like GPS. It was even used to model the battle between HIV and the human immune system, which helped researchers fine tune triple-drug therapies to combat the virus. In his book Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe, mathematician Steven Strogatz takes readers on a journey around the world, detailing the bright ideas that contributed to modern calculus and citing the many ways those mathematical ideas have changed the world. Learn more here.
48 minutes, 22 seconds


Growing Glaciers, Expanding Universe, Flu Near You. March 29, 2019, Part 1
2019-03-29 13:40:45
Once upon a time, everything in the universe was crammed into a very small space. Then came the Big Bang, and the universe has been expanding ever since. But just how fast is it expanding? Calculating that number is a challenge that dates back almost a hundred years, when Edwin Hubble used data from Harvard astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt to try to answer that question. His value came to be called the Hubble constant, H0. But the exact value of that constant has been hard to pin down. And now two different approaches to measuring the Hubble constant have come up with close, but different answers—and each team says they're pretty confident in the accuracy of their measurements. Ira speaks to science writer and author Anil Ananthaswamy and Nobel laureate Adam Riess to discuss the discrepancy. This flu season, Science Friday teamed up with Flu Near You to ask listeners to track their symptoms to create a map of influenza-like illness across the country. Nearly three thousand SciFri users participated. Science Friday education director Ariel Zych and biostatician Kristin Baltrusaitis, who was a research assistant for Flu Near You, tells us how the SciFri community results stacked up to the rest of participants. Plus, epidemiologist Karen Martin gives an update on how this season compares to years past and how the Minnesota Department of Health uses Flu Near You data for surveillance on a local level. See the results here. It's become the familiar refrain in this era of climate change: Warmer temperatures, retreating glaciers, and rising sea levels. But when it comes to Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier, it seems the drumbeat of disaster may have halted—for now. Scientists report in the journal Nature Geoscience this week that the once fast-retreating ice sheet has been thickening over the last few years instead. It's a reversal of a twenty-year trend of thinning and retreating, but perhaps not for long. Ala Khazendar, researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, joins Ira to explain why this glacial about-face may not be the cause for celebration that we think it is in this week's Good Thing, Bad Thing. And Gizmodo writer Ryan Mandelbaum talks about the canceled all-female space walk, NASA's lunar ambitions, and more in this week's News Roundup.  
48 minutes, 43 seconds


A.I. And Doctors, Alzheimer's. March 22, 2019, Part 2
2019-03-22 13:33:48
When you go to the doctor's office, it can sometimes seem like wait times are getting longer while face time with your doctor is getting shorter. In his book, Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, cardiologist Eric Topol argues that artificial intelligence can make medicine more personal and empathetic. He says that algorithms can free up doctors to focus more time on their patients. Topol also talks about how A.I. is being used for drug discovery, reading scans, and how data from wearables can be integrated into human healthcare. Learn more and read an excerpt from Deep Medicine here. Plus: Alzheimer's disease is known for inflicting devastating declines in memory and cognitive function. Researchers are on the hunt for treatments are taking a number of approaches to slowing or preventing the neurodegenerative disease, including immune therapy, lifestyle changes, and targeting sticky buildups of proteins called amyloid beta. But at MIT, scientists have been trying something else: a combination of flashing strobe lights and a clicking sound played at 40 times per second, for just an hour a day. Mice given this treatment for a week showed significant reductions in Alzheimer's signature brain changes and had marked improvements in cognition, memory, and learning. But could an improvements in brains of mice translate to human subjects? Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, an author on the research, talks with Ira, and Wake Forest Medical School neuroscientist Dr. Shannon Macauley, who was not involved in the research, discusses how to take promising research of all kinds to the next level.
46 minutes, 58 seconds




Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
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