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Year In Space Results, Citizen Science Day, Cherry Blossoms. April 12, 2019, Part 2

From Science Friday - 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.  


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.

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


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.  


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.


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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?  


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.


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.  


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.


House Science Committee, Superbloom, Snowpack. March 22, 2019, Part 1
2019-03-22 13:33:18
There's been a changing of the guard in the U.S. House of Representatives. In January, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a democrat from Texas, took over as chair of the House Committee for Science, Space, and Technology from her predecessor Lamar Smith. Smith was in charge of the House Science Committee for six years—an era that was defined by partisan attacks on climate science, and the issuing of congressional subpoenas to scientists. Chairwoman Johnson is looking to restore credibility to the House Science Committee, listening to the scientific consensus on climate change and aiming for bipartisan oversight of scientific programs. She joins Ira to talk about bringing science back to the committee, changes she plans to make from previous leadership, and how much progress will the new committee make when it's up against an administration that's been hostile to many of the agencies that conduct scientific research. Plus: This El Niño year has been dumping rain and snow on California's Sierra Nevada mountains. But water managers don't just eyeball how much snow they think is up there, tucked away in those high mountain basins. Snow inventories these days are high tech, involving airplanes and lasers. Tom Painter of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech joins Ira to explain. The hills and deserts of the southwest have been putting on quite a show this spring—a superbloom that's better than some areas have seen in generations. Science Friday producer Christopher Intagliata headed down to Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, California, to check it out. See his photos and learn why superblooms aren't a regular occurrence in California. The New Mexico state legislature has passed a bill calling for the state to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2050. Laura Paskus, environmental reporter for the New Mexico Political Project, joins Ira to explain the details. And science journalist Annalee Newitz explains the surprising first results from Japan's Hayabusa2 mission to asteroid Ryugu in this week's News Roundup.


Frans de Waal, Inactive Ingredients, Street View, and Gentrification. March 15, 2019, Part 2
2019-03-15 13:32:49
Primatologist Frans de Waal has spent his lifetime studying the lives of animals, especially our closest cousins, the chimpanzees. de Waal has observed their shifting alliances and the structure of their political ranks. He has seen bitter conflicts break out, only to be mended by peaceful, respected mediators. And he has witnessed chimpanzees grieve for, and attempt to comfort, their dead and dying. But one of the most touching reflections in his new book, Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, is the story he tells of a female chimp who didn't produce enough milk to feed her young. When de Waal taught her to feed her baby with a bottle instead, she repaid him with what most of us would recognize as gratitude: holding both of de Waal's hands and whimpering sadly if he tried to leave. The book explores many stories of animal emotions from across the animal kingdom, and it might leave you wondering how unique humans really are. Gentrification happens when a previously low-income or working class neighborhood sees an influx of well-off new residents. Rents go up, new development sets in, and the neighborhood's original residents may be displaced by those with more money. Cities who can recognize gentrification in progress can take steps to prevent displacement and funnel resources, or even slow the neighborhood's changes directly. But while a new yoga studio or fancy coffee shop may be one obvious sign of rising rents, there are earlier indications that might help cities fend off some of the side effects sooner—building improvements like new siding, landscaping, and more go markedly up as new money arrives. Writing in the journal PLOS One this week, a research team at the University of Ottawa describes one new tool in the toolkit: they turned to Google's Street View, and taught an AI system to recognize when an individual house had been upgraded. Putting those upgrades on a map revealed not just areas the researchers already knew were gentrifying, but also other pockets where the process had begun unnoticed. Michael Sawada, a professor of geography, environment, and geomatics at the University of Ottawa, explains the big data approach to catching gentrification in action. Anyone who has glanced at the back of a bottle of aspirin or a box of allergy tablets has seen it: the "Inactive Ingredients" list. All medications include compounds that help stabilize the drug or aid in its absorption. They aren't given a second thought because they're "inactive," which suggests that these ingredients don't do any harm. But in fact, according to a new study out this week, over 90 percent of medications have inactive ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in certain patients, including peanut oil, lactose, and gluten.


Youth Climate Protest, Science Talent Search Winners, Snowflake Changes. March 15, 2019, Part 1
2019-03-15 13:32:10
It all started with 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Last August, Thunberg started skipping school on Fridays to protest outside Sweden's parliament, insisting her country get behind the Paris Climate Agreement. Her protests have inspired thousands of young people around the world to join the #FridaysForFuture movement, skipping school to demand that their governments take action against climate change. And on Friday March 15th, these young people will take things a step further—joining together across more than 90 countries and 1,200 cities in the Youth Climate Strike. Sarah Kaplan, science reporter for the Washington Post, reports live from the scene of one of those stikes in Manhattan's Columbus Circle. Plus, Ira speaks with Isabella Fallahi, Youth Climate Strike organizer and Varshini Prakash, executive director and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement about what's inspiring this current moment of youth-led activism. Each year, approximately 1,800 high school science students take part in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (Regeneron STS), a program of Society for Science & the Public. This year's projects ranged from studying the viscosity of molten lava to investigating more fuel efficient airplane designs to creating a computer model to predict refugee migrations. Senior Samuel Weissman analyzed the genetic makeup of two HIV patients, and senior Ana Humphrey created a math model to look for exoplanets. Ira talks with them about their winning projects. As we can all attest, climate change is creating more fluctuating temperatures. Normally, snowflakes form high up in the atmosphere, and crystallize into their pretty structures as they pass through cold layers of air. But with warmer temperatures, snowflakes can partially melt on their way down. There's more water in the air these days, and it acts like a glue that can glom onto the snowflakes, covering them with little ice pellets. Add in the wind and the snowflakes can smash together, turning into mega snowflakes. To add insult to injury, after these snowflakes land they melt faster because they're less able to reflect light. This has serious implications for flooding and hydrology as well as spring vegetation. When melting occurs normally, the nutrients in the snowpack are absorbed into the soil. Not so when it melts away really fast.    


SciFri Extra: Celebrating The Elements
2019-03-12 10:08:44
Do you have a favorite chemical element? Neurologist Oliver Sacks did—he was partial to dense, high melting-point metals, especially those metals between hafnium and platinum on the periodic table. This month marks the 150th anniversary of chemist Dmitri Mendeleev's design for the periodic table—and we didn't want to miss out on the party. In this special podcast, we revisit Sacks' fascination with the elements, and Ira opens up the Science Friday vaults to share two tales of chemical discovery and creation. First, we take a trip back to 2004 for a chat with nuclear chemist Joshua Patin of a scientific team responsible for the creation of two new chemical elements (elements 113 and 115). Then, a voyage to 2010, for a conversation with the late Nobel laureate and buckyball co-discoverer Sir Harry Kroto.


HIV Remission, Bones, Jumping Spiders. March 8, 2019, Part 2
2019-03-08 13:36:46
Nearly twelve years ago, a cancer patient infected with HIV received two bone marrow transplants to wipe out his leukemia. Now, researchers in the United Kingdom reported in Nature earlier this week that their patient, a man known only as "the London patient," had been in remission and off anti-retroviral therapy for 18 months after undergoing a similar bone marrow transplant, with the same gene mutation involved, to treat leukemia. While the team is hesitant to call their patient cured, he is the first adult in twelve years to remain in remission for more than a year after stopping medication. But what do these two patients' recoveries, requiring risky and painful transplants, mean for the millions of others with HIV around the world? Two HIV researchers not involved in this research, Katharine Bar of the University of Pennsylvania and Paula Cannon of the University of Southern California, tell us about the latest treatments that could someday be more broadly accessible, including gene therapies and immunotherapy, and what hurdles clinical studies still face. Plus: Over 500 million years of evolution has resulted in the same bony framework underlying all mammal species today. But why is the leg bone connected to the ankle bone, as the song goes? And what can the skeletons of our ancestors tell us about how humans became the walking, talking bag o' bones we are today? Science writer Brian Switek, author of the new book Skeleton Keys, joins Ira to explain why our skeletons evolved to look the way they do. And jumping spiders are crafty hunters, but sometimes they need their own disguise to avoid their own predators. The Crematogaster jumping spider, for example, avoids detection by mimicking ants, and go as far as losing their ability to jump to look more ant-like. Sometimes, predators can be your own mates—male jumping spiders becoming a female's meal if their courtship displays don't impress. Biologist Alexis Dodson and  Entomologist Lisa Taylor talk about what jumping spiders can tell us about tell us about the evolution of coloration and communication in the natural world.


NASA Administrator, California Wildfires, Lichens. March 8, 2019, Part 1
2019-03-08 13:35:58
On December 14, 1972, as Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan prepared to board the lunar module, he gave one last dispatch from the lunar surface. And yet, 47 years later, humankind has not set another foot on the lunar surface. But now, NASA's ready to return, with the Moon to Mars program. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine joins Ira in this segment to talk about the agency's ambitions beyond Earth, the role of commercial space companies in getting us there, and why he thinks plant science is "critical" to NASA. Plus: There aren't very many old-growth forest left in North America. And while it would be wonderful to be able to preserve all of them, resources to protect those forest patches are also in limited supply. So if you're forced to choose between two areas of old-growth forest, how do you prioritize which of these islands of biodiversity to focus on? A new study suggests to look at the lichens. Troy McMullin, a research scientist in lichenology at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Ontario, joins Ira to talk about the stories lichens can tell about the forest ecosystem. California has been experiencing its wettest winter in decades. That's good news in a state that has chronic water management issues and what feels like only recently recovered from a devastating multi year drought. The bad news? Researchers say that thanks to climate change and forest management practices, a wet winter like this one will no longer make a difference come next year's wildfire season.Valerie Trouet, Associate Professor of Dendrochronology at the University of Arizona, tells us more. And Amy Nordrum of IEEE Spectrum tells Ira about a SpaceX "crew" visiting the International Space Station and other top science headlines in this week's News Roundup.


Icefish, Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, Wireless Baby Monitoring. March 1, 2019, Part 2
2019-03-01 13:44:27
During an electrical system test early in in the morning of April 26, 1986, Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. The disaster at the plant was not caused solely by the test, however—a perfect storm of engineering and design missteps, operational errors, and cultural problems all aligned to bring about the catastrophe. In his new book, Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster, journalist Adam Higginbotham describes the events that led up to the meltdown, the dramatic, heroic, and perhaps futile attempts to lessen the extent of the accident, and the attempts by Soviet officials to contain the political ramifications of the explosion. He joins Ira to tell us more. Plus: Every vertebrate has red blood cells—that is, except for a small family of fish from the notothenoid family known collectively as "icefish." These Antarctic-dwelling fish have translucent blood, white hearts, and have somehow adapted to live without red blood cells or hemoglobin. H. William Detrich, a professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern University, explains how scientists are trying to decipher the secrets of the mysterious icefish. What's more terrifying than becoming a new parent? Starting out as new parents in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, where babies spend their first days entangled in wires attached to sensors that monitor their vital signs. But in the digital age, why must wires and sensors take up so much real estate on a tiny baby? That's the question driving the development of a new monitoring device—a small wireless sensor that takes the scary "science experiment" effect out of the NICU, and gives parents more time to cuddle with their newborn. John Rogers, professor of material science and engineering and director of the Center for Biointegrated Electronics at Northwestern University, joins Ira to discuss how the new device could transform neonatal care in the U.S. and in developing nations around the world.  


Synthetic Genomes, Climate Panel, Local Recycling. March 1, 2019, Part 1
2019-03-01 13:43:55
DNA is the universal programming language for life, and the specific code to that program are the combination of the base pairs adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. But are those the only base pairs that could be used to create DNA? Scientists looking into this question were able to create 4 different base pairs that don't exist in nature. Chemist Floyd Romesberg, biologist Jef Boeke, and bioethicist Debra Mathews tell Ira how altered genomes could be used for creating novel medicines and fuels—and whether this is considered a new form of life. Plus: The climate is changing. Globally, of course. But also in Washington, where growing numbers of Republicans are jumping behind policies that would result in meaningful action on climate change. And yet, even as Congress appears ready to at least discuss the issue, and the government's own scientists and military leaders sound louder alarms about the impending dangers of global climate change, the White House is assembling a group of climate change adversaries to counter those mainstream views. David Titley, a retired rear admiral who founded the Navy's task force on climate change, explains. Last year, China tightened standards for recycled materials it would accept, and now local recyclers nationwide find themselves struggling to find new homes for plastics, cardboard, and other materials that fell below par. Dana Bate, health and science reporter for WHYY, tells Ira how Philadelphia and its suburbs are handling the issue in the State of Science. And Sophie Bushwick, technology editor for Scientific American, explains how extreme climate change might cause stratocumulus clouds to disappear for good, and other top science news headlines, in this week's News Roundup.


SciFri Extra: A Night Of Volcanoes And Earthquakes With N.K. Jemisin
2019-02-27 10:05:27
The Science Friday Book Club discussion of N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season may have stopped erupting for the season, but we have one more piece of volcanic goodness for you. SciFri producer and chief bookworm Christie Taylor got the chance to speak with Jemisin at our book club meet-up, "Voyage To The Volcanoes," at Caveat in New York City. Listen for Jemisin's adventures in volcano research, how real-world events inspired her to build an entire society around disaster preparedness, and how knowing your neighbors can be lifesaving. At the event, we also spoke to volcanologist Dr. Janine Krippner, who helped debunk volcano myths. And SciFri staffers Lauren J. Young and Johanna Mayer explained how history's volcanic winters have influenced art (and religion) over the centuries. So, sit back and listen while you ponder what's percolating deep in our planet—from quakes to shifting plates.


Black Holes, California Megaflood. Feb 22, 2019, Part 2
2019-02-22 13:35:35
When it floods in California, the culprit is usually what's known as an atmospheric river—a narrow ribbon of ultra-moist air moving in from over the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric rivers are also essential sources of moisture for western reservoirs and mountain snowpack, but in 1861, a series of particularly intense and prolonged ones led to the worst disaster in state history: a flood that swamped the state. The megaflood turned the Central Valley into an inland sea and washed away an estimated one in eight homes. What would happen if the same weather pattern hit the state again? Los Angeles Times reporter Louis Sahagun and University of California, Los Angeles climate scientist Daniel Swain join Ira to discuss the storms, its potential impact on local infrastructure, and why disastrous flooding events like the one in 1861 are not only becoming more likely as the planet warms, but may have already been a more frequent occurrence than previously thought. Plus: As a grad student in astrophysics at Cambridge University, Priya Natarajan devised a theory that might explain a mysterious relationship between black holes and nearby stars, proposing that as black holes gobble up nearby material, they "burp," and the resulting winds affect the formation of nearby stars. Now, 20 years later, the experimental evidence has finally come in: Her theory seems correct. This hour, Ira talks with Priya about her theory. And Nergis Mavalvala of MIT joins to talk about why "squeezing light" may be the key to detecting more distant black hole collisions with the gravitational wave detector LIGO. Learn more here.


Telescope Decisions, Grape Plasma, Israeli Moon Lander. Feb 22, 2019, Part 1
2019-02-22 13:34:59
The American Astronomical Society meeting is the largest annual gathering of astronomers and astrophysicists. It's not known for drama. But this year, the buzz in the room wasn't too different from the nervous energy during an awards night. That's because there is a competition underway for what will be NASA's next big space telescope—the next Hubble or James Webb. There are four nominees, and eventually there will be a winner. Science Friday assistant producer Katie Feather reported on the event from the not-quite red carpet. Learn more about the nominees here. The painter Georgia O'Keeffe is known for her bold paintings of landscapes and flowers. Recently, scientists took a closer look at those paintings and noticed smaller details that O'Keeffe did not intend to include. They found "art acne"—small pock marks—on many of her paintings caused by age and reactions of the pigments. Marc Walton, co-director of the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts at Northwestern University and Art Institute of Chicago, talks about the chemistry behind the "art acne," and how these paintings might be conserved in the future. From tenured physicists to home experimenters, many researchers have been plagued by a question—why do grapes spark when you microwave them? More than a few microwaves have been destroyed to answer this top physics question. A team of researchers decided to rigorously test this question so you don't have to. Physicist Aaron Slepkov, an author on that study, tells us how grapes are able to harness the energy of these home kitchen waves and what this can tell us about the field of photonics. During the last sixty years, only three countries have sent landers to the moon: the U.S., China and the Soviet Union. Israel may become the fourth. On Thursday, SpaceIL—an Israeli company—launched the Beresheet spacecraft. If the spacecraft does reach the moon, it will be the first mission completed by a private company without the financial backing of one of the big space agencies. Jason Davis, digital editor for the Planetary Society, talks about what this mission means for lunar science and its implications for nonprofit and commercial companies sending missions to the moon. This week, talks between California state and federal government officials concerning rules for car fuel efficiency standards broke down. Under the Clean Air Act of 1970, California had previously been given special permission to set higher standards for mileage and fuel economy—but now the Trump administration says that only the federal government can set those standards. Lauren Sommer, science and environment reporter at KQED, joins Ira to discuss what that decision means, and what might come next in the confrontation. And finally Ryan Mandelbaum, science writer at Gizmodo, tells Ira about the Japanese mission to shoot a bullet into an asteroid and other top science headlines in this week's News Roundup.


Declining Insects, Sunny Day Flooding, Liquid Rules. Feb 15, 2019, Part 2
2019-02-15 15:07:31
 That once vibrant forest has gotten quieter and emptier, as many of the insects— and the animals that depend on them—have disappeared. In a worldwide report card on the state of insects in the journal Biological Conservation, the conclusion is dire: "This review highlights the dreadful state of insect biodiversity in the world, as almost half of the species are rapidly declining and a third are being threatened with extinction." We discuss the consequences of the "insect apocalypse." By 2035, scientist have predicted that over a hundred U.S. coastal communities could experience more than 26 days of low level floods. Researchers at Stanford University determined the economic impacts of this type of flooding in the tourist area of Annapolis, Maryland. Climate risk scientist Miyuki Hino, an author on the study, talks about the impacts of these small-scale effects of climate change. Fluids are all around you, of course—but how often do we take a moment to think about how liquids work? What makes one slippery and another sticky? Why does one make a good salad dressing, but another a good rocket fuel? Materials scientist Mark Miodownik tackles those questions in his book Liquid Rules. 


SciFri Book Club: 'The Fifth Season.' Feb 15, 2019, Part 1
2019-02-15 14:55:01
In this final installment of the winter Book Club, we wrap up a winter of exploring The Stillness, learning how volcanologists research lava flows and crater tremors, and even diving into the center of the earth. Ira joins Science Friday SciArts producer Christie Taylor, Caltech seismologist Lucy Jones, and University of Colorado disaster sociologist Lori Peek to talk about the power of earthquakes, volcanoes, and other hazards that shape societies. We also talk about how a natural hazard becomes a human-scale disaster—and who suffers most when a community is insufficiently prepared. Plus, a roundup of the week's biggest science news, and a story from Arizona about dealing with drought. 


Buttons, Grand Canyon Maps, Mosquitoes. Feb 8, 2019, Part 2
2019-02-08 14:20:58
The button is everywhere. It allows us to interact with our computers and technology, alerts us when someone is at the front door, and with a tap, can have dinner delivered to your home. But buttons also are often associated with feelings of control, panic, and fear. Rachel Plotnick, author of Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing, discusses the development of buttons and what they reveal about our interactions with technology. New research finds that the same pathways in the brain that control human hunger can shut down a mosquito's interest in biting you. Rockefeller University professor Leslie Vosshall tells us about how this technique can potentially inhibit female mosquitoes from seeking out human blood—and stop the spread of disease.    Later this month, the Grand Canyon celebrates the 100th anniversary of becoming a national park. But the natural wonder has way more than 100 years of stories to tell. The millions of years of geologic history, coupled with the massive scale of the canyon, make it challenging to create a comprehensive view of the Grand Canyon. Matthew Toro, director of maps, imagery, and geospatial data for the Arizona State University Libraries, tells us about maps of the iconic park to share its geologic and cultural stories.   


Earth's Core, Govt Data In The Cloud, Book Club. Feb 8, 2019, Part 1
2019-02-08 14:01:13
At the very center of the Earth is a solid lump of iron and nickel that might be as hot as the surface of the Sun. This solid core is thought to be why our magnetic field is as strong as it is. As the core grows, energy is transferred to the outer core to power the "geodynamo," the magnetic field that protects our atmosphere and deflects most solar wind. But geophysicists think that the core was originally completely liquid, and at one point between 2 billion and 500 million years ago, transitioned from molten metal to a solid. At that time, our magnetic field was much weaker than it is today, according to new research in Nature Geoscience. The scientists looked at new samples of crystals that first cooled from lava 565 million years ago and found evidence in their magnetic signatures that the core must have solidified at the younger end of the previously predicted range—much more recently than expected. Whether we're aware of it or not, "the cloud" has changed our lives forever. It's where we watch movies, share documents, and store passwords. It's quick, efficient, and we wouldn't be able to live our fast-paced, internet-connected lives without it. Now, federal agencies are storing much of their data in the cloud. For example, NASA is trying to make 20 petabytes of data available to the public for free. But to do that, they need some help from a commercial cloud provider—a company like Amazon or Microsoft or Google. But will the government's policy of open data clash with the business model of Silicon Valley? Mariel Borowitz, Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech and Katya Abazajian, Open Cities Director with the Sunlight Foundation join guest host John Dankosky to discuss the trade offs to faster, smarter government data in the cloud. The Science Friday Book Club has had three weeks of lively discussion of N.K. Jemisin's geology-flavored apocalypse, The Fifth Season. Producers Christie Taylor and Johanna Mayer share some of the best listener comments about the story's science, sociology, and real-world connections—and invite you to add your voice for one final week of literary nerding out. One morning after the next, semi-trailer trucks get off Interstate 70 near Colby in west-central Kansas. They haul parts of giant wind turbines in 150-foot-long sections, the pieces to the Solomon Forks wind farm and the next monumental phase of the Kansas bet on wind energy. The farm will plant 105 turbines in the prairie, each towering 250 feet high. The project is one of a wave of wind farms under construction in Kansas that will add 20 percent more electrical generation to the state's output. Earlier building surges sprung from tax breaks and from pressure by regulators on utilities to wean themselves off fossil fuels. This time, Fortune 500 companies that are new to the electricity business risk their own money on the straight-up profit potential of prairie breezes. The Solomon Forks project developed by ENGIE North America will crank enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes. Target and T-Mobile already cut deals to buy hundreds of megawatts from the wind farm. The retailer and cell company will become electricity wholesalers, playing a direct role in generating less-polluting energy and banking that the marketplace can make them money even without the subsidies that drove the industry for decades.


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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#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".