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Best Science Books and Board Games of 2019. Dec 6, 2019, Part 2 from Science Friday

From Science Friday - In a year jam-packed with fast-moving science news and groundbreaking research, books can provide a more slower-paced, reflective look at the world around us—and a precious chance to dive deep on big ideas. But how do you decide which scientific page-turner to pick up first? Science Friday staff pawed through the piles all year long. Listen to Ira round up his top picks, along with Valerie Thompson, Science Magazine senior editor and book reviewer, and Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and director of MIT's Knight Science Journalism program. See a list of their 2019 science book selections. And we have been asking you for your favorite reads of the year. Find your recommendations here! Plus, Science Diction correspondent Johanna Mayer reviews a lexicological classic, Isaac Asimov's Words of Science.  And, we rolled out a roundup of the best science board games! Some board games go beyond rolling dice, collecting $200, and passing "go." Newer games have elaborate story-building narratives with complex strategies. And some of those board games focus on science themes that teach different STEM concepts.  Board game creator Elizabeth Hargrave talks about how she turned her birding hobby into the game Wingspan. She and Angela Chuang, whose board game reviews have appeared in the journal Science, discuss their favorite STEM board games and what makes a good science game. Check out a list of recommended board games here!  


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.

Best Science Books and Board Games of 2019. Dec 6, 2019, Part 2
2019-12-06 14:53:41
In a year jam-packed with fast-moving science news and groundbreaking research, books can provide a more slower-paced, reflective look at the world around us—and a precious chance to dive deep on big ideas. But how do you decide which scientific page-turner to pick up first? Science Friday staff pawed through the piles all year long. Listen to Ira round up his top picks, along with Valerie Thompson, Science Magazine senior editor and book reviewer, and Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and director of MIT's Knight Science Journalism program. See a list of their 2019 science book selections. And we have been asking you for your favorite reads of the year. Find your recommendations here! Plus, Science Diction correspondent Johanna Mayer reviews a lexicological classic, Isaac Asimov's Words of Science.  And, we rolled out a roundup of the best science board games! Some board games go beyond rolling dice, collecting $200, and passing "go." Newer games have elaborate story-building narratives with complex strategies. And some of those board games focus on science themes that teach different STEM concepts.  Board game creator Elizabeth Hargrave talks about how she turned her birding hobby into the game Wingspan. She and Angela Chuang, whose board game reviews have appeared in the journal Science, discuss their favorite STEM board games and what makes a good science game. Check out a list of recommended board games here!  
47 minutes, 19 seconds


Feather Communication, Thermal Imaging Wildfires, Tick Saliva. September 25, 2020, Part 2
2020-09-25 10:12:46
Thermal Imaging Technology Helps Firefighters See Through Smoke Wildfires are still raging out west, and states are using anything in their arsenals to fight back. This year, for the first time, Oregon's Department of Forestry is using thermal imaging technology to see through thick smoke to the fires below. The state's firefighting teams say this technology has been game-changing during this devastating wildfire season.  Thermal imaging technology uses infrared waves to detect heat, and then presents that information visually. These graphics make it possible to see exactly where the fire is moving, which areas are the hottest, and how much is actually burning. This information is crucial to firefighting teams on the ground, who can know with more certainty which areas are safe to enter. Freelance tech reporter Kate Kaye from Portland, Oregon joins Ira to talk about seeing this tech in action in a plane several miles above the wildfires.  Birds Of A Feather Flutter Together Bird feathers have many different functions. Softer down keeps a bird warm and stiffer wing feathers are used for flight. Feathers are also important in communication. Bright plumage can say 'hey, look at me.' And some birds even use the shape of their feathers as a communication tool–by using the sound their feathers make to relay messages. The results were published this week in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology. Biologists Valentina Gomez-Bahamón and Christopher Clark, both authors on that study, describe how birds might develop different wing-fluttering dialects, and how this could play a role in the evolution of bird species. Check out more sounds, videos and images from the research! To Milk A Tick  Ticks are masters of breaking down the defenses of their host organism to get a blood meal. They use anesthetics to numb the skin, anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing, and keep the host's immune system from recognizing them as invaders and kicking them out. And the key to understanding this is in the tick's saliva. Biochemist and microbiologist Seemay Chou discusses how she milks the saliva from ticks to study what compounds play key parts in these chemical tricks. She also talks about how ticks are able to control the microbes in their saliva. 


Indigenous Fire Management, Oliver Sacks Film. September 25, 2020, Part 1
2020-09-25 10:12:19
Down a long, single-lane road in the most northern part of California is Karuk territory–one of the largest Indigenous tribes in the state. It's here that Bill Tripp's great-grandmother, who was born in the 1800s, taught him starting as a 4-year-old how to burn land on purpose. "She took me outside–she was over 100 years old–and walked up the hill with her walker," Tripp recalled, "and handed me a box of stick matches and told me to burn a line from this point to that point." Those cultural burns–or prescribed burns, as they're often called now by fire agencies–are a form of keeping wildfire in check, a practice the state and federal agencies do use, but experts say isn't leaned on enough as a fire prevention tactic. Climate change is a driving factor of California wildfires, but so is a build-up of excess fuels. That's often attributed to a century of fire suppression dating back to the era of the Great Fire of 1910. But what experts say is often missing from this conversation is the racist removal of Native American people from California. Along with their physical beings, the knowledge of taking care of the land was also removed resulting in overgrown forests, experts say. Read the rest of this story at ScienceFriday.com. Plus, the neurologist Oliver Sacks died just over five years ago after a sudden diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Over his long career, Sacks explored mysteries of both human mental abnormalities and the natural world. Endlessly empathetic and curious, Sacks shared his clinical observations through a series of books and articles, and appeared on Science Friday many times to discuss his work. A new film released this week describes Sacks' life through his own words and reflections from those close to him–including the story behind the book 'Awakenings,' which later became a major motion picture and propelled Sacks into worldwide prominence. It also details his difficult childhood, his addiction to amphetamines in young adulthood, and his homosexuality, including three decades of celibacy before he found love in the last four years of his life. Ric Burns, director of the film Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, joins Ira to talk about the life and legacy of Oliver Sacks. The film premieres nationwide this week on the Kino Marquee and Film Forum virtual platforms.  


SciFri Extra: After 20 Years, The 'Cosmic Crisp' Has Landed
2020-09-21 09:00:00
This fall, there's a new apple all around town. After 20 years of development, the Cosmic Crisp has landed. Today, we're bringing you an episode of another podcast called The Sporkful. They're a James Beard Award-winning show that uses food as a lens to talk about science, history, race, culture, and the ideal way to layer the components of a PB&J.  This episode is all about the Cosmic Crisp, how scientists developed it, and how it got that dazzling name. Guests: Helen Zaltzman is the host of The Allusionist podcast. Dan Charles is a food and agriculture reporter at NPR. Kate Evans is a horticulturist and the leader of the pome fruit breeding program at Washington State University. Kathryn Grandy is Chief Marketing Officer for Proprietary Variety Management. Footnotes & Further Reading: For more episodes, subscribe to The Sporkful podcast. Credits: The Sporkful is produced by Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Jared O'Connell and Harry Huggins.


Nursing Homes, Volcano Science. Sept 18, 2020, Part 2
2020-09-18 11:08:14
America's Elder Care Has A Problem Since the pandemic began, long-term care facilities across the country have experienced some of its worst effects: One of the first major outbreaks in the U.S. began in a nursing home in Washington state. Since then, the virus has ravaged through care centers across the country–as of September 16, more than 479,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in U.S. care facilities.  But COVID-19 is merely adding stress to an already fragile system of long-term care facilities–including nursing homes, assisted living, and other rehabilitation centers. Coronavirus outbreaks have only exacerbated pre-existing problems, including overworked and underpaid staff, limited funding, and poor communication with families.   In Kansas, more than half of the state's COVID-19 deaths have been among nursing home residents, with 50 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities as of August 26, reports Celia Llopis-Jepsen for the Kansas News Service. In the midst of these challenges, facility administrators have reported major issues with staff turnover and availability.  When facilities are so vulnerable, COVID-19 won't be the only hazard that becomes a problem. A recent KQED investigation, Older and Overlooked, found that thousands of long-term care facilities in California are also located in high risk wildfire areas. Many of these facilities have inadequate or poorly communicated evacuation plans, reports KQED's Molly Peterson. This adds to the growing concern over this year's devastating wildfire season, with fires currently threatening facilities in Vallejo and Fairfield.  Re-thinking long-term care will become even more important as our population ages. In the United States, the number of those 85 and older is expected to nearly triple from 6.7 million in 2020 to 19 million by 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau's analysis of U.S. census data. This is the demographic that most relies on long-term care facilities–but experts doubt the current system can support the demands of our growing elderly population.  In this week's segment hosted by radio producer Katie Feather, Celia Llopis-Jepsen and Molly Peterson give a closer look at the issues inside nursing homes in Kansas and California. Then, gerontology professor Robert Applebaum and gerontologist Sonya Barsness dig into the root of the systemic problems, and look for solutions that can build better long-term care for our aging population. Hunting For The Crystalline Clues Of A Volcano's Eruption We notice volcanoes when they erupt. It's hard to miss the huge, dramatic plumes of ash, or red glowing lava spewing high into the air.  But the geologic precursors of these giant eruptions are less obvious. To learn more about when and why these catastrophic events occur, scientists study the gases and rocks inside of volcanoes. Volcanologist Kayla Iacovino, for example, conducts research on volcanoes from Costa Rica to Antarctica–and now, is even looking to other planets.  Iacovino is featured in our second season of Breakthrough: Portraits of Women in Science, a video series profiling scientists and how their lives and work intersect. Here, she explains how the gases and crystals released by volcanoes provide important clues into why volcanoes erupt.


West Coast Fires, Sen. Ed Markey, Deafness Cures. Sept 18, 2020, Part 1
2020-09-18 11:07:35
Peak wildfire season is just beginning on the West Coast, but 2020 is already another unprecedented year. In California, more than 2.2 million acres have burned so far this year, beating an all-time record of 1.6 million set just two years ago. And in the Pacific Northwest, where Portland's air quality hit the worst in the world on Monday, raging fires have produced never-before-seen poor air quality that threatens the health of millions. More than 500,000 people in California, Washington and Oregon are under evacuation orders, and dozens of people have died. Kerry Klein of Valley Public Radio in California's San Joaquin Valley, and Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Erin Ross talk about the toll of the fires in their regions, the role of climate change and other factors, and what the rest of the fire season may bring.  Plus, with record heat and fires raging in the American west, and the Gulf Coast facing still more hurricane activity, is climate change becoming a more prominent issue for U.S. voters? Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts thinks so. He recently repelled a primary challenge in what he calls "a referendum on the Green New Deal." Now, just weeks before the November elections, candidates from both parties are forced to confront hazards worsened by climate change. Senator Markey joins Ira to discuss the Green New Deal, energy options, and environmental policy priorities for this election year–and many years to come.   


Medium Black Holes, World of Wonders, Warsaw Typhus. Sept 11, 2020, Part 2
2020-09-11 08:44:47
Why A Medium-Sized Black Hole Is Surprising Physicists If you're looking for a black hole, they normally come in two sizes. There's the basic model, in which a large, dying star collapses in on itself, and the gravity of its core pulls in other matter. Then there are the supermassive black holes, millions of times the mass of our sun, that tend to be found at the center of a galaxy. But recently researchers reported that they had evidence for two colliding black holes that created a surprising offspring. Their collision formed a middle-weight black hole, around 142 times the mass of our sun.  Daniel Holz, a member of the LIGO team that spotted the collision, and a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago, joins Ira to talk about what the observation means for theories of how black holes form and grow. Against Impossible Odds, The Warsaw Ghetto Stopped A Typhus Outbreak This year marks the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto in November of 1940. The Nazis purposefully tried to starve to death almost half a million Jews, who were kept with little food and water in a space about the size of Central Park.  Theoretical mathematician Lewi Stone of Tel Aviv University has been studying a concurrent public health crisis that happened in the Warsaw Ghetto: a Typhus outbreak. The infectious disease is spread by lice, and can be deadly.  Typhus ran rampant in the Warsaw Ghetto for the better part of 1941. But when the winter rolled around, the expected second wave never came. Researchers have found evidence that public health measures enacted under these impossible circumstances–think public education and social distancing–actually worked. Stone talks to SciFri producer Kathleen Davis about this research, and potential takeaways for 2020's public health crisis.  It's Still A Wild, Wonderful World The table of contents for poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil's new book of essays reads like a list of evolution's most fantastic products. The comb jelly, which pulses with rainbow bioluminescence. The smiling-faced axolotl, which can regrow lost limbs and is a star of biology research labs, but is considered critically endangered in the wild. The human-sized corpse flower, which blooms for a mere 24 hours, smelling of dead flesh. It's also a deeply personal book: Nezhukumatathil says the screaming pink of dragonfruit signals "summertime, pop music, sunglasses balanced on the top of my head, weather too warm for socks." A firefly's spark might send her back to her grandmother's backyard, or "to splashing in an ice-cold creek bed, with our jeans rolled up to our knees, until we shudder and gasp, our toes fully wrinkled." Even the horizontal eye of an octopus becomes a "door that judges us," as the oceans become increasingly difficult to inhabit, thanks to humans' ravages. Science Friday's Christie Taylor talks to Nezhukumatathil about her experiences in natural wonder, and why in a world of changing climate, rising seas, and burning forests, she finds it important to share her joy in learning about the creatures we share the planet with. 


The Wonders of Moss, Clean. Sept 11, 2020, Part 1
2020-09-11 08:44:09
These Moss Are Living Their Best Life–Under Rocks Desert mosses live a much different life than their cousins in lush, water-rich forests. In fact, they spend most of their time dormant: dried out, waiting for the rare rainfall to bring them to life so they can grow and reproduce. Once exposed to water, though, these same mosses can re-animate quickly–within minutes they're back to photosynthesizing. And in research published in PLoS One this summer, scientists working in the Mojave Desert discovered another bryophyta trick. They found some moss species were using rocks as sun shades, preventing them from drying out as quickly. But not just any rock will do–with the help of semi-translucent quartz, moss are still able to receive small amounts of sunlight, thriving in small shady oases for weeks past the most recent rainfall.  Science Friday producer Christie Taylor talks to Jenna Ekwealor, a co-author on the research and PhD candidate at the University of California-Berkeley.  An Argument For The Benefits Of Not Bathing  If the idea of not showering every day makes you feel icky, how about not showering for years? Writer James Hamblin says he stopped showering five years ago and never looked back. He says his skin has never been better, thanks to his healthy, well-functioning skin microbiome. Hamblin joins Ira to talk about his new book Clean: The New Science of Skin, breaking the rules when it comes to cleanliness, and discovering the benefits of skipping that shower.  COVID-19 Vaccine Developers Promise Not To Rush Testing Pharmaceutical companies are racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19. And there is a huge financial incentive to be the first to produce the first vaccine. But as President Donald Trump promises a vaccine "very soon," nine of the biggest pharma companies signed a letter that pledged not to put profit–or politics–over sound science.  Science writer Maggie Koerth talks about that letter, as well as bad news for a vaccine clinical trial, which paused this week after an unexplained illness in a participant.


Fact Check Your Feed, Climate And Fungi, Cells Solve A Maze. September 4, 2020, Part 2
2020-09-04 09:00:00
Can Fungus Survive Climate Change? One of the most extensive global networks for sharing information and moving around essential nutrients is hidden from us–but it's right below our feet.  Networks of fungi often connect trees and plants to one another. But scientists are just starting to untangle what these fungal connections look like, and how important they are. Mycologist Christopher Fernandez explains how these fungal systems might be affected by climate change–and what that means for the entire forest ecosystem. A Cellular Race Through A Maze Cells are the basic building blocks of life. Our bodies are made up of trillions and trillions of them, and they all serve a specific purpose. But these tiny workers don't always stay in the same place. Many move around the body–whether they're creating a developing embryo, helping the immune system, or, distressingly, spreading cancer.   A team of scientists in the UK recently set up an experiment to learn more about how cells move. They put dirt-dwelling amoebas and mouse cancer cells at the start of a maze, to see how well each would migrate.  While amoebas proved speedier than their cancerous counterparts, Luke Tweedy, a postdoctoral researcher at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, Scotland, says the cancer cells were surprisingly mobile.  Tweedy joins Ira to talk about what his team learned about cancer cell movement, and explains why recreating a famous English hedge maze proved to be a little too difficult for his cellular subjects.  Fact Check Your Feed: Are Kids Really COVID-19 'Super Spreaders'? Late last month, as parents and teachers were gearing up for an unusual and stressful start to the school year, conflicting media reports of coronavirus transmission among children started populating our news feeds. One headline proclaimed, "New study suggests children may be COVID-19 'super spreaders,'" while other articles cited researchers saying the opposite. But the disagreement didn't stop there. Some outlets reported that very few preschoolers are catching the coronavirus, while others cited a study that suggests children younger than 5 may harbor up to 100 times as much of the virus as adults. Angela Rasmussen, associate professor in the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, joins Ira to talk about the data behind these stories in a round of Fact Check Your Feed. She also explains new testing guidelines issued by the CDC, and a misleading report on the coronavirus death rate. 


Urban Forests And Climate Change, HIV Treatment Progress. September 4, 2020, Part 1
2020-09-04 08:30:23
New York City's skyline is dominated by tall skyscrapers–but there's a surprising amount of forest in the city known as a concrete jungle. Tree canopy actually covers about 20% of the city. In fact, woodlands are one of the few natural resources the city has. Reporter Clarisa Diaz, in collaboration with John Upton from Climate Central, shares how the city's green spaces, both large and small, are needed to create an urban forest ecosystem in the face of climate change. Plus, forester David Nowak talks about the science behind planting an urban forest, and how to determine the value of a tree. Plus, while all eyes are currently on the COVID-19 pandemic, the coronavirus isn't the only disease circulating the world. Lockdowns have hindered access to medical care, and supply chains for both tests and medications have been disrupted. With countries allocating limited public health resources to battle COVID-19, longstanding public health threats like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS may be at risk of resurging. However, there is also hopeful news for communities facing HIV/AIDS. Last week, a study published in the journal Nature examined 64 unusual people who seem to be able to naturally keep HIV at bay. Researchers investigated what makes these so-called 'elite controllers' able to manage their infections. They now think powerful T cells–a type of white blood cell which helps regulate the immune system–may hold a clue to these cases. Furthermore, earlier in the summer, a trial of a long-lasting injectable drug to prevent HIV infection was found to be at least as protective as the existing "pre-exposure prophylaxis," or PrEP drug, which must be taken daily. Health and science reporters Apoorva Mandavilli of the New York Times and Jon Cohen of Science join Ira to discuss recent HIV/AIDS developments, and to reflect on 40 years of AIDS research. 


Milky Way Gas, COVID Ventilation, Immunotherapy And The Microbiome. August 28, 2020, Part 2
2020-08-28 11:00:23
Recently, a group of scientists studying the Milky Way through the world's largest ground-based radio telescope identified something they had never seen–a cold, dense gas that had been ejected at high speed from the galaxy's center. The mystery of this gas–what caused it, how it could move so fast, and where it will end up–prompted research by Enrico Di Teodoro, a scientist in the department of astrophysics at Johns Hopkins University. He joined Science Friday producer Katie Feather to talk about the new discovery, as well as answer some fundamental questions about what is happening at the center of our galaxy. Plus, this year, back-to-school season comes with some major challenges to keeping students and teachers safe. Recently, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced a plan to give K-12 classes the option to move outdoors; the idea is that an open space, with a fresh breeze, lessens the chance of spreading the coronavirus. We've been brain-storming, too: What if you could bring the benefits of the outdoors inside, by creating better ventilation in the classrooms, akin to outside winds? What would it take to re-design or modify a typical classroom–not to mention your office building or home? Most modern buildings ventilate space with 80% recycled indoor air, and 20% of fresh outdoor air, to save on energy costs. But Shelly Miller, professor of mechanical engineering at University of Colorado, Boulder says, "In a pandemic, we don't care about energy efficiency." Miller explains that to lower the risk of infection, ideally indoor spaces would be ventilated with 100% outdoor air–but most building HVAC systems aren't strong enough to handle that. Miller joins Jose-Luis Jimenez, professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at University of Colorado, Boulder to discuss what we know about the coronavirus, and our indoor air space and how we could build safer, healthier indoor spaces for the future. And cancer immunotherapy, especially a type known as checkpoint inhibitors, has given new hope to many people with cancer. The treatment takes the brakes off the body's own immune system, allowing it to attack tumor cells. But some people respond to the therapy, while others don't–and it's not entirely clear why. In recent years, researchers have been looking into the microbiome–the collection of microorganisms that live in and on your body–for clues. Studies have found that there's a microbial difference between people who respond to immunotherapy, and those who don't. Research recently published in the academic journal Science, suggests scientists may have finally unraveled how one of those bacteria has an effect. The researchers discovered that Bifidobacterium pseudolongum, a species of bacteria found in elevated levels in the tumors of mice who responded well to immunotherapy, produces a small molecule called inosine–and that under the right conditions, inosine can help to turn on the immune T cells needed to attack a cancerous tumor. Kathy McCoy, one of the authors of the study, and the director of the IMC Germ-Free Program at the University of Calgary, joins Ira to talk about the study, and the challenges of raising mice without any microbiome at all.    


Coronavirus Immunity, Ask A Cephalopod Scientist. August 28, 2020, Part 1
2020-08-28 10:59:53
How well you fare in fighting a new pathogen like SARS-CoV2 depends in large part on how your immune system responds to–and kills–the virus. The immune system's job is to protect you from invasions, both right after you're infected as well as when you encounter similar viruses in the future. As the pandemic marches on, we still don't know exactly how our immune systems tackle this virus. The people who get the sickest seem to have an exaggerated, but ineffective immune response that turns on their own bodies. Others have lasting symptoms, sometimes for months. Immune responses even seem to vary based on your sex. Increasingly, research suggests that COVID-19 is a disease like many others, at least in some important ways. Your body remembers the virus, and may therefore fight it more effectively the next time you encounter it–which has big implications for eventually developing an effective vaccine. Immunobiologist Deepta Bhattacharya and New York Times science journalist Katherine J. Wu talk to Ira about the complicated and varied response of the immune system to SARS-CoV2–and why current research suggests we can be optimistic about gaining long-lasting immunity from future COVID-19 vaccines. Plus, cephalopods–mollusks like octopus, squid, and cuttlefish–seem to universally excite people. Many marine enthusiasts have a favorite, from the color-changing octopus to the multi chambered nautilus. But these smart, colorful undersea creatures also raise a lot of questions. How do they move? How do they change shape and color? How intelligent are they? How do researchers study these animals? Squid biologist Sarah McAnulty answers listeners' questions, and catches us up on the latest cephalopod news.  And Hurricane Laura made landfall Wednesday night in Louisiana after strengthening from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm in less than a day. As residents try to find shelter in pandemic-safe ways, meteorologists are warning of an "unsurvivable" storm surge reaching as far as 30 miles inland. National Geographic editor Nsikan Akpan describes the factors that have caused the storm to so quickly gain strength. Plus, why recent changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations on who should get a coronavirus test and when people should quarantine are alarming epidemiologists and other experts–and other news from the week. 


Pregnancy And Coronavirus, Good News For Corals. August 21, 2020, Part 1
2020-08-21 13:07:25
There's no guidebook for how to have a baby during a pandemic. Experiences like having loved ones present at the delivery, or inviting grandparents over to meet a newborn have not been an option for everyone during this time. Lockdowns across the U.S., and varying procedures at hospitals and clinics, have created a whole new set of limitations and concerns for new parents. Many new parents are dealing with changed birth plans, less in-person health, and the realization that there isn't much data about how COVID-19, pregnancy and childbirth mix. Joining Ira to talk about what it's like to have a baby during COVID-19 are Oge Emetarom, a birth doula and certified lactation counselor at Your Baby Your Birth in Brooklyn, New York, and Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, a clinical instructor at the Infectious Diseases Clinic at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Davis is also a physician at the John Cochran Veterans Hospital. Plus, over the past few years, news about coral reefs around the world has largely followed one theme: bad news. Coral populations are declining dramatically, with climate change remaining a big threat. But this month, we got some good news about corals in the Florida Keys. Researchers at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Summerland Key found propagated coral they had outplanted in the ocean spawned in the wild. This is a big deal, as it's the first time restored corals like these have been observed to reach this sexual reproduction milestone. Joining Ira to talk about this big breakthrough is Hanna Koch, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Summerland Key, Florida, and Hollie Putnam, assistant professor of biology at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. And on Monday, Interior Secretary Secretary David Bernhardt announced the plan that would auction drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Yasmin Tayag of Medium's OneZero talks about the details of the leases and criticisms of the plan–and checks in on wildfires in California from station KQED.


Iowa Derecho, Showering And Hygiene, Parasites. August 21, 2020, Part 2
2020-08-21 09:00:00
Dealing With The Aftermath Of Iowa's Devastating Derecho  It's been more than a week since the state of Iowa was hit by a surprise visitor: a line of thunderstorms with unusual power and duration, known as a derecho. The storms swept from South Dakota to Ohio in the course of a day. At its most powerful, the derecho hit Iowa's Linn County and surroundings with hurricane-force winds amid the rain. Crops like corn and soybeans were flattened, while thousands of homes were damaged–if not completely destroyed.  Ira talks to Iowa Public Radio reporter Kate Payne and University of Northern Iowa meteorology professor Alan Czarnetzki about the devastating effects and unpredictable power of last week's storm. An Argument For The Benefits Of–Not Bathing COVID has us all taking personal hygiene a lot more seriously these days. But for some, staying home during the pandemic has them rethinking their hygiene routines, including not showering. If the idea of not showering every day makes you feel icky, how about not showering for years? Writer James Hamblin says he stopped showering five years ago and never looked back. He says his skin has never been better, thanks to his healthy, well-functioning skin microbiome.  In his new book Clean: The New Science of Skin, Hamblin challenges the conventional wisdom about staying clean, and digs into the history of why we started showering in the first place. He discovered our modern notions of cleanliness have more to do with marketing and advertising than what's really good for your skin. Hamblin joins Ira to talk about breaking the rules when it comes to cleanliness and discovering the benefits of skipping that shower.  Should We Conserve Parasites? Some Scientists Say Yes The idea of a parasite–an organism that needs a host organism–has always captured our attention and has been the theme of countless movies, from the sci-fi horror film Alien to the Oscar-winning movie Parasite. But a group of scientists say that parasites undeservedly get a bad reputation, and that some of them should even be conserved. They published their 12-point parasite conservation plan in the journal Biological Conservation. Parasite ecologist Skylar Hopkins and museum curator Kayce Bell, who are both authors on the recent article, talk about the role of parasites in the ecosystem and how a conservation plan might work. 


Contraceptive Access, Robot Bias, Story Structure. August 14, 2020, Part 2
2020-08-14 08:25:22
Roboticists, like other artificial intelligence researchers, are concerned about how bias affects our relationship with machines that are supposed to help us. But what happens when the bias is not in the machine itself, but in the people trying to use it? Ayanna Howard, a roboticist at Georgia Tech, went looking to see if the "gender" of a robot, whether it was a female-coded robotic assistant like Amazon's Alexa, or a genderless surgeon robot like those currently deployed in hospitals, influenced how people responded. But what she found was something more troubling sexism–we tend not to think of robots as competent at all, regardless of what human characteristics we assign them. Howard joins producer Christie Taylor to talk about the surprises in her research about machines and biases, as well as how to build robots we can trust. Plus, how COVID-19 is changing our relationships with helpful robots. Plus, contraceptives have been around since the 19th century, but for decades, more than half of the pregnancies in the United States were unintended. In recent years, that number has improved, but it's still an astonishingly high 45%. Why is that? Family planning is a balancing act. Access to contraception, education on how to use it, and new developments that fit the needs of the public are needed. Even though there have been advances in all these fronts we somehow are still not completely hitting the mark. This is reflected in the high percentages of unintended pregnancies. How can we do better? Linda Gordon, a historian and professor at New York University and author of the book The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America and Cynthia Harper a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco join producer Alexa Lim to discuss this.  And, if you hear the words "once upon a time," you might guess that you're hearing the beginning of a child's fairy tale. And if you hear the words "and they all lived happily ever after," you know you've probably come to the end of the story. But what happens in between? Writing in the journal Science Advances, researchers report that by using computerized text analysis methods, they've been able to identify words that help indicate the structure of a narrative. The team analyzed thousands of stories–from fiction found on Project Gutenberg to the transcripts of TED Talks–and found some common rules that seem to apply to most narratives. During a story's introduction and scene-setting parts, for instance, articles such as "a," "an," and "the" feature heavily. Conversely, during moments of crisis and conflict, words like "think," believe," and "cause" appear. The researchers wanted to find out if these patterns might function as a sort of signal, helping an audience follow plot lines. However, these patterns don't necessarily make a story any better–the study did not find that stories using these rules were necessarily more popular. Ryan Boyd, a psychologist at Lancaster University in the UK, joins Ira to talk about the structure of stories and the rules we use when navigating a narrative.       


Faster COVID-19 Testing, Hell Ants. August 14, 2020, Part 1
2020-08-14 08:24:37
Throughout the pandemic, testing has continued to be one of the biggest issues, particularly in the United States. Some scientists say that the solution is to rethink our COVID-19 testing strategy, focusing on making faster, cheaper tests. While these more cost-effective tests may be lower in sensitivity than the PCR tests and perhaps not as accurate, they would allow for more people to get tested and receive faster results. The system can also help improve case tracking–which is essential as more people return to work, school, and daily lives. Eric Topol, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, talks about how these tests can look ahead for infectious patients rather than those already infected. Plus, epidemiologist Anne Wylie walks us through what the process would look like to develop a rapid test. Plus, we're back with another installment of the Charismatic Creature Corner! This is Science Friday's place to highlight creatures (broadly defined) that we think are charismatic (even more broadly defined). This month, we're bringing you an ancient ant relative with a possibly offputting name: the Hell Ant. This insect was a subspecies of ants that lived in the Cretaceous period, when T. rexes and velociraptors roamed the earth. The largest hell ants were about a centimeter and a half long, which isn't much different than some modern ants. What makes hell ants so cool, however, is their dramatic headgear. They sport jaws that look like mammoth tusks, sticking out of their faces and moving up and down, a motion similar to our own jaws. Hell ants also had horn-like protrusions coming out of their foreheads, which may have helped them catch and eat prey. SciFri's new Charismatic Creatures Correspondent Kathleen Davis tries to convince Ira that these extinct insects are worthy of the coveted Charismatic Creature title, with the help of Phil Barden, assistant professor of biology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey.  Also, climate activists have struggled to convince lawmakers to meaningfully reduce the country's carbon footprint. Now, new research ties air pollution's monetary cost to arguments for change. As Vox reports, a Duke University researcher presented findings to Congress last week that air pollution's effects are roughly twice as bad as previously thought, potentially costing the United States as much as $700 billion per year in avoidable death, illness, and lost productivity–more than the estimated price tag for transitioning to clean energy.  


SciFri en Español: El Río Hirviente De Perú Tiene Más De Lo Que El Ojo Ve
2020-08-12 09:00:00
En el verano del 2019, Rosa Vásquez Espinoza bioquímica y candidata a Ph.D. en la Universidad de Michigan Ann Arbor, fue en una expedición al Río Hirviente en la Amazonía peruana para colectar microbios. Ahora, está tratando de comprender el papel que juegan los microbios en la creación de productos naturales, y cómo esa maquinaria se podría utilizar más adelante para manufacturar posibles medicamentos y terapéuticos. En esta nueva entrevista de SciFri en Español, recipiente de la beca en medio de comunicación de la AAAS (siglas en inglés) Attabey Rodríguez Benítez habla con Vásquez Espinosa sobre su investigación en el Río Hirviente de Perú.  ¡Queremos saber tu opinión! ¿Estas interesado en más contenido multilingüe de SciFri? ¡Tenemos un favor que pedirte! ¡Completa nuestra encuesta para ayudarnos a crear más contenido!  Are you interested in more multilingual content from SciFri? We've got a favor to ask! Please fill out our survey to help us create future content!


The End of Everything, Bright Fluorescence, Gene Editing a Squid. August 7, 2020, Part 2
2020-08-07 08:39:39
When it comes to the eventual end of our universe, cosmologists have a few classic theories: the Big Crunch, where the universe reverses its expansion and contracts again, setting the stars themselves on fire in the process. Or the Big Rip, where the universe expands forever–but in a fundamentally unstable way that tears matter itself apart. Or it might be heat death, in which matter and energy become equally distributed in a cold, eventless soup. These theories have continued to evolve as we gain new understandings from particle accelerators and astronomical observations. As our understanding of fundamental physics advances, new ideas about the ending are joining the list. Take vacuum decay, a theory that's been around since the 1970s, but which gained new support when CERN confirmed detection of the Higgs Boson particle. The nice thing about vacuum decay, writes cosmologist Katie Mack in her new book, The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking), is that it could happen at any time, and would be almost instantaneous–painless, efficient. Mack joins Ira to talk about the diversity of universe-ending theories, and how cosmologists like her think about the big questions, like where the universe started, how it might end, and what happens after it does.  Over the years, researchers have created thousands of chemical dyes that fluoresce in every color of the rainbow–but there's a catch. Most of those dyes fluoresce most brightly when they're in a dilute liquid solution. Now, researchers say they've created what they call a "plug-and-play" approach to locking those dyes into a solid form, without dimming their light.   The new strategy uses a colorless, donut-shaped molecule called a cyanostar. When combined with fluorescent dye, cyanostar molecules insulate the dye molecules from each other, and allow them to pack closely together in an orderly checkerboard–resulting in brightly-fluorescing solid materials.  Amar Flood, a professor of chemistry at Indiana University, says the new materials can be around thirty times brighter than other materials on a per-volume basis, and the approach works for any number of off-the-shelf dyes–no tweaking required. Flood joins SciFri's Charles Bergquist to discuss the work and possible applications for the new technology. Scientists at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory recently thrilled the genetics world by announcing they've successfully knocked out a gene in squid for the first time.  "I'm like a kid in a candy store with how much opportunity there is now," says Karen Crawford, one of the researchers and a biology professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Crawford explains this modification has huge implications for the study of genetics: Squids' big brains mean this work could hold the key to breakthroughs in research for human genetic diseases, like Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis. Joining Ira to talk about the news are Crawford and her co-lead on the research, Josh Rosenthal, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. 


Biden Climate Plan, Boiling River. August 7, 2020, Part 1
2020-08-07 08:39:10
Last month, former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled his plan for climate change–a sweeping $2 trillion dollar platform that aims to tighten standards for clean energy, decarbonize the electrical grid by 2035, and reach carbon neutrality for the whole country by 2050. Biden's plan, like the Green New Deal, purports to create millions of jobs at a time when people are reeling financially from the pandemic–proposing employment opportunities including retrofitting buildings, converting electrical grids and vehicles, and otherwise transforming the country into an energy efficient, emissions-free economy. But are the foundations of this plan on solid scientific ground? Yes, say Ira's guests, political scientist Leah Stokes and energy systems engineer Sally Benson. Stokes and Benson run through Biden's proposals, explaining what's ambitious, what's pragmatic, and what people might show up to vote for. Deep in the largest rainforest of Latin America is the Peruvian Boiling River, a name earned from water that can reach 100°C–or about 212°F.  While the river is hot enough to cook any animal unfortunate enough to wind up in it, its microbes don't mind. They can handle the heat–and their odd survival mechanisms might have medicinal value.  Joining Ira to talk about these tiny heat-seekers and the Peruvian Boiling River is Rosa Vásquez Espinoza, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical biology at the University of Michigan.  See photos and video of Rosa Vásquez Espinoza's expedition to the Boiling River and learn more about her research on extreme microbes in a feature article on SciFri.  It's been a busy week for science news. Cities are still grappling with COVID-19, and in New York City, previously the country's largest coronavirus hotspot, health commissioner Oxiris Barbot has resigned. She cited Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the pandemic as her reason for doing so, issuing a scathing statement on her way out the door. Barbot is just one of the many health officials around the country who have butted heads with the politicians that oversee them during the pandemic. And across the world, devastating explosions in Beirut, Lebanon have injured thousands and killed several dozen. As officials piece together why this happened, they're pointing to a warehouse of ammonium nitrate as the source of the blasts.  Joining Ira to talk about these stories, and other science news of the week, is Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American in New York, New York.


COVID In Prisons, How Sperm Swim. July 31, 2020, Part 2
2020-07-31 09:36:24
As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, it's become clear certain populations are particularly at risk–including those serving sentences in prisons and jails. The virus has torn through correctional and detention centers across the U.S., with more than 78,000 incarcerated people testing positive for COVID-19 as of July 28, according to the Marshall Project's data report.  "Prisons are just the worst possible environment if we are trying to reduce infectious disease," Zinzi Bailey told SciFri earlier this week on the phone. She is a social epidemiologist at the University of Miami and a principal investigator of the COVID Prison Project, which tracks and analyzes coronavirus data in U.S. correctional facilities. "A lot of people would argue that the conditions are inhumane." Disease outbreaks have swept through prisons in the past, often due to poor living conditions and limited access to proper health care, Bailey explains. Hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV are just a few of the diseases that have historically hit inmates hard. Now, the incarcerated, correctional officers, and staff members are battling COVID-19. Detention centers are notoriously overcrowded, making it easy for the virus to spread. The cramped, dormitory-style living conditions, shared spaces, and infrequent sanitation can contribute to increased risk of exposure and infection. In Ohio, for example, the prison system is at 130% capacity, making it "basically impossible" to socially distance inmates, Paige Pfleger, health reporter at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, told SciFri on the phone last week.  Yet incarcerated people living in these conditions have little to no access to protection. Some have resorted to making face coverings out of shirts and boxer shorts. At the beginning of the pandemic, some correctional officers in Arizona prisons were not allowed to wear masks.  "Correctional officers were originally told that if they did wear masks, it would scare inmates–that they're going to think, 'Oh my gosh, this is a really serious virus,'" says Jimmy Jenkins, senior field correspondent and criminal justice reporter at KJZZ in Phoenix, Arizona. "I got letters from all these inmates saying they were scared of dying." Access to testing among the incarcerated population has also varied state to state. Ohio conducted mass tests in some of the facilities in April, but have been unable to retest in order to track community spread, says Pfleger. In Arizona, inmates are reporting that "only the sickest of the sick are actually getting tested," says Jenkins. Coronavirus outbreaks in prisons often spill over into the rest of the community. Contract workers and correctional officers coming in and out of detention facilities can cause further spread of the virus. This is concerning, particularly in Black, Latino, and Native American communities with an already increased risk of contracting the disease. "We believe that there's going to be a connection between the communities of color that are around prisons, and the prisons themselves," says John Eason, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who spoke to Science Friday over the phone earlier in the week. In an ongoing study with the Dane County Criminal Justice Council, "we're going to be able to parse that out to see the role of corrections officers." He suspects they may find officers are "basically incubators–or vectors between communities and the prisons that they work in." The inmates are like "guinea pigs," says Zinzi Bailey. "It's like an experiment, and we are letting it run its course in these prisons," she says–but one without an ethical review. "What is being made clear through this pandemic is the United States' reliance on incarceration makes us more vulnerable to pandemics like this." Paige Pfleger and Jimmy Jenkins tell us more about how their states are responding to coronavirus outbreaks in prisons. Then, social epidemiologist Zinzi Bailey provides a closer look at the trends in American prisons–and what COVID-19 is revealing about public health in these systems.  We didn't always understand the basic science of where babies come from. Theories abounded, but until the 19th century, there was little understanding of how exactly pregnancy occurred, or even how much each parent actually contributed to the reproductive process.  In 1677, a Dutch scientist named Antonie van Leeuwenhoek peered into a microscope and observed, for the first time in recorded history, the side-to-side swimming of tiny sperm cells. He wrote they looked like "an eel swimming in water." At the time, van Leeuwenhoek thought those cells were tiny worms–maybe even parasites. It took several hundred more years before scientists understood even the crude theory of reproduction as most of us are taught: That a sperm and an egg cell combine inside the fallopian tubes. But, as it turns out, even the movement of sperm first described by van Leeuwenhoek–and corroborated ever since in two-dimensional, overhead microscope views–might be wrong. A team of scientists writing in the journal Science Advances this week report finally viewing sperm movement in three dimensions. With the help of 3D microscopy and high-speed photography, they describe a "wonky," lopsided swimming motion that would keep sperm swimming in circles–if they didn't also have a corkscrew-like spin that let them move forward "like playful otters." Hermes Gadelha, a senior lecturer in mathematical and data modeling at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, talks to John Dankosky about the complexity and beauty of these swimming cells, and why understanding their movement better could lead to breakthroughs in infertility treatment–or even other kinds of medicine.


Science In Space, Sports and COVID, Science Diction. July 31, 2020, Part 1
2020-07-31 09:35:47
Astronauts have conducted all sorts of experiments in the International Space Station–from observations of microgravity on the human to body to growing space lettuce. But recently, cosmonauts bioengineered human cartilage cells into 3D structures aboard the station, using a device that utilizes magnetic levitation.  The results were recently published in the journal Science Advances. Electrical engineer Utkan Demirci and stem cell biologist Alysson Muotri what removing gravity can reveal about basic biological questions, and how you design experiments to run in space.  Major League Baseball's season opened to great fanfare last week, amid the pandemic. But 18 players and staff of the Miami Marlins have already tested positive for COVID-19–forcing the team to pause their season until at least next week. Meanwhile, the NBA has quarantined their entire roster in a bubble in the Magic Kingdom in Florida.  Sports reporter Ben Cohen and epidemiologist Zachary Binney talk about the strategies and effectiveness of different leagues as competitive sports attempt to make a COVID-19 comeback.  Ketchup has long been central to American culture. We use it in hot dogs, burgers, fries–and the list goes on. But have you ever wondered why we even call it 'ketchup,' or where the condiment came from?   It turns out there are many words related to food–like restaurant, umami, and "rocky road"–that have an interesting science backstory. To trace the origins of these words, Science Friday's word nerd Johanna Mayer joins John Dankosky to talk about the origins of the word ketchup, and the new season of her podcast 'Science Diction.' As American pharmaceutical company Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine candidate entered Phase 3 of human clinical trials this week–an important step in what is still an early phase of its development–Russia claims a vaccine of its own will be approved for use as soon as mid-August, prompting safety concerns. But questions about vaccines extend far beyond who is first. What happens next for the people around the world waiting for protection from the pandemic? As Science Magazine reports, rich nations have placed hundreds of millions of advance orders for successful vaccines, while poorer countries worry that there will be little left for everyone else. Maggie Koerth, senior science reporter for FiveThirtyEight, discusses this story and more news from the week, including the discovery of 100-million-year-old microbes living beneath the ocean floor.  


SciFri Extra: The Origin Of The Word 'Ketchup'
2020-07-28 09:00:00
Science Diction is back! This time around, the team is investigating the science, language, and history of food. First up: Digging into America's favorite condiment, ketchup! At the turn of the 20th century, 12 young men sat in the basement of the Department of Agriculture, eating meals with a side of borax, salicylic acid, or formaldehyde. They were called the Poison Squad, and they were part of a government experiment to figure out whether popular food additives were safe. (Spoiler: Many weren't.) Food manufacturers weren't pleased with the findings, but one prominent ketchup maker paid attention. Influenced by these experiments, he transformed ketchup into the all-American condiment that we know and love today. Except ketchup–both the sauce and the word–didn't come from the United States. The story of America's favorite condiment begins in East Asia. Want more Science Diction? Subscribe on Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Harvey Wiley (back row, third from left) and the members of The Poison Squad. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) Members of the Poison Squad dining in the basement of the Department of Agriculture. Harvey Wiley occasionally ate with them, to offer encouragement and support. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)  The members of the Poison Squad came up with their own inspirational slogan, which hung on a sign outside the dining room. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration ) Guest Alan Lee is a freelance linguist and native Hokkien speaker.  Footnotes And Further Reading The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum tells the very entertaining history of Harvey Wiley, the early days of food regulation in the United States, and, of course, the Poison Squad. The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky is a word nerd's dream, and contains more on ketchup's early history. Special thanks to Dan Jurafsky for providing background information on the early history of ketchup for this episode.  Can't get enough ketchup history? Check out Pure Ketchup: A History of America's National Condiment With Recipes by Andrew F. Smith. Learn more about ketchup's early origins in Dan Jurafsky's Slate article on "The Cosmopolitan Condiment."  Credits Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our editor and producer is Elah Feder. We had additional story editing from Nathan Tobey. Our Chief Content Office is Nadja Oertelt. Fact checking by Michelle Harris, with help from Danya AbdelHameid. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and they wrote our version of the "Song of the Poison Squad." We had research help from Cosmo Bjorkenheim and Attabey Rodríguez Benítez. Sound design and mastering by Chris Wood.


Three Missions To Mars, COVID Fact Check, Solar Probes. July 24, 2020, Part 1
2020-07-24 13:13:12
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, your news feed is likely still overflowing with both breaking research and rumors. Virologist Angela Rasmussen of Columbia University joins Ira once again to Fact Check Your Feed, discussing everything from two vaccine trials' hopeful early results to what antibody production might mean for long-term protection against the COVID-19 virus. They also discuss kids' response to SARS-CoV-2–a topic of great interest to parents and educators trying to make plans for the coming school year–as well as the confusing terminology around 'aerosol' and 'airborne,' and research into mutations of the spike protein in one coronavirus variant. Recently, the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter satellite sent photos of surprising events on the sun's surface. Scientists are calling these swirling areas "campfires," though no one is quite sure what causes them. Joining Ira to talk about these new images is Anik de Groof, instrument operations scientist for the Solar Orbiter, based in Madrid, Spain. They talk about what kind of data the satellite is collecting, how COVID-19 impacted the mission, and what solar mysteries Anik is most excited to learn more about. This month, three different countries are launching missions to Mars–the first for The United Arab Emirates, China is sending an orbiter and a rover, and NASA's Perseverance will join the Curiosity rover already on the ground. Amy Nordrum from MIT Technology Review talks about the science that each of these missions will be conducting. 


Long-Term COVID Effects, Dicamba and Agriculture, Mosquitoes. July 24, 2020, Part 2
2020-07-24 13:11:54
Since the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals have been treating and triaging an influx of COVID-19 patients. Hundreds of thousands of seriously ill patients have been hospitalized, with some having to stay and receive care for months at a time.   But now as some of those patients return home, hospitals are opening post-COVID clinics to help with their transition. Health care professionals are monitoring the recovery process and taking note of persisting health issues from the disease. Mafuzur Rahman, clinician and leader of the post-discharge COVID-19 clinic at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, New York, and Margaret Wheeler, a physician at the Richard Fine's People Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, talk about the health effects they have seen in their patients and what patients may need for recovery. A federal court in California recently vacated the three popular dicamba herbicides–Xtendimax, Fexipan, and Engenia–after the court determined the EPA violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by registering the chemicals for use. Environmental advocates rejoiced, while farm groups lamented the decision as yet another hurdle for farmers to overcome during a difficult year. More herbicides could face legal challenges in the coming years. But they were once part of a golden era of U.S. agriculture, and a key player in the rise of modern industrialized growing systems. There are over 3,000 mosquitoes, but only a handful feast on blood, like the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Other mammals also have blood running through their veins, but are bit less frequently. So why do mosquitoes love humans so much? New research on these bugs look into the cause, investigating mosquitoes' preference for certain mammal odors and human population densities. Another paper examines a potential gene solution to decrease mosquito bites–thus lowering transmission of mosquito-borne diseases. Joining Ira to talk about the latest research and more mosquito science is "Lindy" McBride, biology assistant professor at Princeton University and Jake Tu, biochemistry professor at Virginia Tech.


How Brains Organize Smells, Plant Evolution In Art, New Hearing Aids. July 17, 2020, Part 2
2020-07-17 17:25:10
How we smell has been a bit of a mystery to scientists. Other senses are easier to understand: For example, it's possible to predict what a color will look like based on its wavelength. But predicting what a new molecule will smell like is more difficult. Our sense of smell can be quite complex. Take the delicious smell of morning coffee–that aroma is made up of more than 800 individual molecules. How does our brain keep track of the millions of scents that we sniff? To find out, a group of scientists gave mice different molecules to smell, and tracked what patterns were formed in their brains. Their results were recently published in the journal Nature. Neurobiologist Robert Datta, one of the authors on that study, joins Ira to discuss how our brains make patterns every time we sniff, and how wine aficionados train their noses to decode the different scents in wine. To understand variation in living things, scientists often compare specimens, recording the details. This kind of scientific investigation has long been practiced: Charles Darwin, for example, made sketches of everything from finch beaks to barnacles shells in his field notebooks. Today, natural history museums store these catalogues in shelves and drawers of preserved specimens. But scientists can also draw from less likely forums. Recently, one team of researchers–an art historian and a plant biologist–documented the different plant species represented in historical paintings and sculptures. Their results were published in the journal Trends in Plant Science. Plant biologist Ive de Smet and art historian David Vergauwen discuss what a 17th century painting by Giovanni Stanchi can reveal about watermelon evolution, as well as other trends in strawberries, potatoes, and other plants spotted in works of art. Have you ever met a friend for dinner at a restaurant, only to have trouble hearing each other talk over the din of other diners? And as we get older, this phenomenon only gets worse and can be compounded by age-related hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus. Unfortunately there is no silver bullet for tinnitus or other forms of hearing loss, and researchers don't even understand all the ways in which the auditory system can go awry. But we now have more sophisticated technology to help us cope with it.  Nowadays, there are over-the-counter hearing aids and assistive listening devices that connect with your smartphone. Certain tech allows you to amplify softer sounds and cancel out the noise of a crowded room–it can even focus on the sound waves created by the person you're speaking with.  Ira chats with David Owen, New Yorker staff writer and author of the new book Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World about the industry that's helping millions of Americans cope with hearing loss.


Coronavirus And Schools, New Mars Rover. July 17, 2020, Part 1
2020-07-17 13:10:02
As we approach August, many of our young listeners and their parents are starting to think about going back to school. Usually, that might mean getting new notebooks and pencils, and the excitement of seeing classmates after a summer apart. But COVID-19 makes this upcoming school year different. Big districts, including Los Angeles and San Diego public schools, will be completely remote this fall. Other districts are looking at hybrid programs, with some time in the classroom and some at home. Still others want kids to return to the classroom full-time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools should adjust plans based on how many coronavirus cases are in the community. Schools with little transmission may be able to go back to the classroom, but with more sanitation efforts and no sports events. For communities with high levels of spread, the CDC says stronger measures are needed, like staggered arrivals and dismissals, kids staying in one classroom, or all-remote education. However, Vice President Mike Pence said this week that CDC guidance should not dictate whether schools open for in-classroom instruction. Joining Ira to talk about what to consider in back-to-school plans are Pedro Noguera, dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and Laura Fuchs, a high school history teacher and secretary of the Washington Teachers' Union in Washington, D.C. In just a few weeks, NASA is scheduled to launch its newest rover in the direction of Mars. Perseverance, the formal name for the Mars 2020 mission's rover, is now safely at Cape Canaveral, strapped to its Atlas V rocket, waiting only for the launch window to open. If all goes well, Perseverance will begin roving Mars next February. Once on Mars, it will join its cousin Curiosity in combing through the dust and rocks of the red planet–but where Curiosity hunts inside a meteor crater for water and other signs of suitability for life, Perseverance will scour an ancient river delta for the traces left by potential microscopic life. Ira talks to two Perseverance masterminds, deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan and aerospace engineer Diana Trujillo, about the challenges of building for space exploration, and what it takes to conduct science experiments 70 million miles from Earth.


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