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COVID In Prisons, How Sperm Swim. July 31, 2020, Part 2 from Science Friday

From Science Friday - 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 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.

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.
47 minutes, 36 seconds


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.


Great Indoors, Science Museums, Who Owns The Sky. July 10, 2020, Part 2
2020-07-10 08:44:17
A whole lot of folks' summer plans have been cut short this season. Maybe you were planning a family road trip to visit a national park. Or your local science museum. Now, you can watch from home, as Emily Graslie, executive producer, host, and writer for the PBS series "Prehistoric Road Trip," takes us along for the ride to some of the big geologic sites across the country. She talks about the future of museums and science communication. "Prehistoric Road Trip" is currently streaming on pbs.org.  There's a whole thriving, diverse microbiome that lives in your home. One 2010 study of North Carolina homes found an average of 2,000 types of microbes per house. And there's likely a menagerie of arthropods living with you, too. Another study found that homes contain an average population of about a hundred invertebrate species, including spiders, mites, earwigs, cockroaches, and moths. There's no need to panic: These thriving ecosystems are doing us more good than we give them credit for. Children who grow up exposed to an abundance of microbes are less sensitive to allergens, and appear to have better developed immune systems throughout their lives. Science journalist Emily Anthes talks about the indoor microbiome in her new book, The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness. She joins Ira to discuss what she learned about the unique microbiome of her own home while writing the book, and the vast biodiversity of the indoors. In the last year, Elon Musk's SpaceX company has launched more than 500 small satellites, the beginning of a project that Musk says will create a worldwide network of internet access for those who currently lack it. But there's a problem: The reflective objects in their low-earth orbit shine brighter than actual stars in the 90 minutes after sunset. In astronomical images taken during these times, the 'constellations' of closely grouped satellites show up as bright streaks of light that distort images of far-away galaxies. With SpaceX planning to launch up to 12,000 satellites, and other companies contemplating thousands more, the entire night sky might change–and not just at twilight. Astronomers have voiced concerns that these satellites will disrupt sensitive data collection needed to study exoplanets, near-earth asteroids, dark matter, and more. And there's another question on the minds of scientists, photographers, Indigenous communities, and everyone else who places high value on the darkness of the night sky: Who gets to decide to put all these objects in space in the first place?  Astronomers Aparna Venkatesan and James Lowenthal discuss the risks of too many satellites, both to science and culture, and why it may be time to update the laws that govern space to include more voices. Plus, astronomer Annette Lee of the Lakota tribe sends a message about her cultural relationship with the night sky. Plus, NASA is asking amateur astronomers and photography enthusiasts to take as many pictures as they can of the Starlink "streaks." You can help NASA document the night sky–and the changes happening there–by uploading your sky photos to the Satellite Streak Watcher research project. All you need to get started is a digital camera or smartphone, a tripod, and a long exposure on a clear evening. Click here to participate!


Degrees of Change: Changing Behavior. July 10, 2020, Part 1
2020-07-10 08:42:57
Over the past months, our Degrees of Change series has looked at some of the many ways our actions affect the climate, and how our changing climate is affecting us–from the impact of the fashion industry on global emissions to the ways in which coastal communities are adapting to rising tides. But beyond the graphs and figures, how do you get people to actually take action? And are small changes in behavior enough–or is a reshaping of society needed to deal with the climate crisis? Climate journalist Eric Holthaus and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, founder of the Urban Ocean Lab, talk with Ira about creating a climate revolution, the parallels between the climate crisis and other conversations about social structures like Black Lives Matter, and the challenges of working towards a better future in the midst of the chaos of 2020. Then Matthew Goldberg, a researcher at the Yale Project on Climate Communication, shares some tips for having difficult climate conversations with friends and family.  More than 200 scientists this week wrote a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), reporting there's a good chance that COVID-19 can be spread through the air. While the WHO has previously said most transmission happens from direct contact with droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze, these experts say the virus can actually stay suspended in the air. If this is true, it's bad news for people who gather in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. A lot of questions remain, however, about if this is accurate.  Joining Ira to talk about this story, and more is Nsikan Akpan, a science editor at National Geographic, based in Washington, D.C. 


Summer Science Books, Naked Mole Rats. July 3, 2020, Part 2
2020-07-03 10:41:24
The pandemic has nixed many summer vacation plans, but our summer science book list will help you still escape. While staying socially distant, you can take a trip to the great outdoors to unlock the mysteries of bird behaviors. Or instead of trekking to a museum, you can learn about the little-known history of lightbulbs, clocks, and other inventions. Our guests Stephanie Sendaula and Sarah Olson Michel talk with Ira about their favorite science book picks for summer reading. Naked mole rats, native to East Africa, are strange mammals: They're almost completely hairless. They live in underground colonies, like ants. And, like ants and bees, they have a single reproducing "queen." Their biology is also unique: They resist cancer, live a long time for such small rodents (often for 30 years or more), and have been found not just to tolerate high, normally toxic levels of carbon dioxide in their nests–but require them. And in the newest strange discovery, researchers writing in Cell earlier this year found that mole rats were prone to anxiety and even seizures when carbon dioxide levels get too low, such as in an environment similar to above-ground air. Ira talks to the paper's co-author Dan McCloskey, a neuroscientist at the City University of New York. McCloskey explains why mole rat brains might be helpful guides to human brains, especially in the case of infants who have seizures with high fevers. Plus, the mystery of how such homebodies found new colonies, and other naked mole rat oddities.


Making The Outdoors Great For Everyone. July 3, 2020, Part 1
2020-07-03 10:40:54
It's the start to a holiday weekend, which often means spending time outdoors, whether that's going to the beach, on a hike, or grilling in a park. But not everyone feels safe enjoying the great outdoors–and we're not talking about getting mosquito bites or sunburns. In late May, a white woman, Amy Cooper, called the police on a Black bird watcher who asked her to leash her dog. This incident felt familiar to many other Black outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom had encountered similar experiences of racism outside. To understand why the outdoors is an unwelcoming place for some people, we need to look back at our violent history. Joining Ira to talk about this is Dr. Carolyn Finney, author of the book Black Faces, White Spaces. She is also a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. And later in the conversation, Ira is joined by two scientists, biology graduate student Corina Newsome from Statesboro, Georgia, and exploration geoscientist Tim Shin from Houston, Texas. They'll talk about what it's like to do fieldwork while Black, and what responsibility academic institutions should have in keeping their students safe.   As coronavirus cases surge across the U.S., including in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and California, it's more important than ever to have an accurate and real-time understanding of transmission. Epidemiologists have been measuring the spread of the virus based on the number of individual people who test positive. But depending on when people get tested, and how long it takes to get their results, confirmed cases can lag days behind actual infections. Luckily, there's another way to find out where people are getting sick: The virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in feces, and for months, researchers have been studying whether sampling sewage systems can help identify new outbreaks faster. Scientific American technology editor Sophie Bushwick joins Ira to talk about the value of sewage tracing for COVID-19. Plus, a new sparrow song has gone viral in Canada, and why summer fireworks can damage not only your hearing, but also your lungs.


Honeybee Health, Assessing COVID Risk, Seeing Numbers. June 26, 2020, Part 2
2020-06-26 07:55:34
This past year was a strange one for beekeepers. According to a survey from the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership, U.S. beekeepers lost more than 40% of their honey bee colonies between April of 2019 and April of 2020. That's significantly more than normal. The Bee Informed Partnership has surveyed professional and amateur beekeepers for the past 14 years to monitor how their colonies are doing. They reach more than 10% of beekeepers in the U.S., so their survey is thought to be a pretty accurate look at what's going on across the country. That's why these latest results are so important–and they raise a lot of questions for honey bee researchers. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating a lot of the food grown in the U.S. If they're in trouble, we're in trouble. Nathalie Steinhauer, research coordinator for the Bee Informed Partnership in College Park, Maryland, joins producer Kathleen Davis to talk about the report, and what it means for our beloved pollinators. As coronavirus cases spike in re-opened states like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, you may be wondering how to weigh the risks of socializing–whether it's saying yes to a socially distant barbecue, going on a date, or meeting an old friend for coffee. Many health departments and media outlets have offered guides to being safer while out and about. But when the messages are confusing, or you're facing a new situation, how can you apply what you know about the virus to make the best choice for you? Ira talks to Oni Blackstock, a primary care physician and an assistant commissioner at the New York City Health Department, and Abraar Karan, a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, about minimizing risk, and why an all-or-nothing approach to COVID-19 can do more harm than good. Imagine looking at an elementary school poster that shows the alphabet, and the numbers one through 10. The letters make perfect sense to you, as do the numbers zero and one. But instead of a curvy number "2," or the straight edges of the number "4," all you see is a messy tangle of lines. That's the phenomenon experienced by RFS, a man identified only by his initials for privacy reasons. In 2011, RFS was diagnosed with a condition called corticobasal syndrome, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. Normally, that rare condition primarily affects motor circuitry in the brain. However, RFS had an additional symptom–while he was very skilled at math, he became unable to see the written digits 2 through 9. When RFS looked at one of those numbers, he saw in its place something "very strange" that he could only describe as "visual spaghetti." Even weirder, other images placed on top of or nearby the digits also became completely distorted. Teresa Schubert and David Rothlein, two scientists who studied RFS' case as graduate students, discuss what this unusual phenomenon tells us about how the human brain processes incoming visual information.


Checking In On Kids' Mental Health During the Pandemic. June 26, 2020, Part 1
2020-06-26 07:55:03
In the U.S., we're heading into the fourth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and lockdowns have taken a toll on everyone's mental and emotional well-being–including children and teens, many of whom may be having trouble processing what's going on.  Psychologists Archana Basu and Robin Gurwitch discuss the unique issues the pandemic brings up for children and teens. They talk about how parents and caregivers can support the mental health of the kids and teens in their lives, helping them better cope with isolation and uncertainty, as well as learning remotely during the pandemic. 


SciFri Extra: A Pragmatic Wishlist For AI Ethics
2020-06-24 13:50:49
Earlier this month, three major tech companies publicly distanced themselves from the facial recognition tools used by police: IBM said they would stop all such research, while Amazon and Microsoft said they would push pause on any plans to give facial recognition technology to domestic law enforcement. And just this week, the city of Boston banned facial surveillance technology entirely. Why? Facial recognition algorithms built by companies like Amazon have been found to misidentify people of color, especially women of color, at higher rates–meaning when police use facial recognition to identify suspects who are not white, they are more likely to arrest the wrong person.  CEOs are calling for national laws to govern this technology, or programming solutions to remove the racial biases and other inequities from their code. But there are others who want to ban it entirely–and completely re-envision how AI is developed and used in communities. In this SciFri Extra, we continue a conversation between producer Christie Taylor, Deborah Raji from NYU's AI Now Institute, and Princeton University's Ruha Benjamin about how to pragmatically move forward to build artificial intelligence technology that takes racial justice into account–whether you're an AI researcher, a tech company, or a policymaker.


Facial Recognition, Hummingbird Vision, Moon Lander. June 19, 2020, Part 2
2020-06-19 07:57:51
Protests Shine Light On Facial Recognition Tech Problems Earlier this month, three major tech companies publicly distanced themselves from the facial recognition tools used by police. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna explained their company's move was because of facial recognition's use in racial profiling and mass surveillance. Facial recognition algorithms built by companies like Amazon have been found to misidentify people of color, especially women of color, at higher rates–meaning when police use facial recognition to identify suspects who are not white, they are more likely to arrest the wrong person. Nevertheless, companies have been pitching this technology to the government. CEOs are calling for national laws to govern this technology, or programming solutions to remove the racial biases and other inequities from their code. But there are others who want to ban it entirely–and completely re-envisioning how AI is developed and used in communities. SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to Ruha Benjamin, a sociologist, and AI researcher Deborah Raji about the relationship between AI and racial injustice, and their visions for slower, more community-oriented processes for tech and data science. Hummingbirds See Beyond The Rainbow Conventional wisdom suggests hummingbirds really like the color red–it's the reason many commercial hummingbird feeders are made to look like a kind of red blossom. But it turns out that two items that both look "red" to humans may look very different to a hummingbird. That's because these birds can see colors that humans cannot. Humans see colors through photoreceptors called cones, and we have three of them for red, green, and blue colors. But most birds, reptiles, and even some fish also have fourth cone that's sensitive to UV light. That means they can see further into the spectrum than we can, and that they can see "non-spectral colors"–combinations of colors that aren't directly adjacent on the rainbow, such as red+UV and green+UV. Mary Caswell Stoddard, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, set out to study whether hummingbirds actually make use of that ability in their everyday lives. Her team's research was published this week in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A NASA Rover Is Catching A Private Ride To The Moon Last week, NASA announced that it had signed a $199.5 million contract with the private company Astrobotic to deliver NASA's VIPER rover to the moon in 2023. The company will be responsible for the rover for getting the rover from Earth into space, up until the moment the rover rolls onto the lunar surface near the moon's south pole. The rover is designed to explore for water and other resources–especially the large stores of water ice that scientists suspect may be frozen in lunar polar regions. Astrobotic CEO John Thornton joins Ira to talk about the challenges of building a new lunar lander, and the increasing involvement of commercial industry in the U.S. space program.  


Doctor Burnout, International Doctors. June 19, 2020, Part 1
2020-06-19 07:57:14
A Crisis Of Health In Healthcare Workers Content Warning: This segment contains talk of suicide. For help for people considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Depression and anxiety are extremely common in healthcare workers, and they have higher rates of suicide than the general public–doctors in particular are twice as likely to die by suicide. That's when the world is operating normally. Now, healthcare workers are also dealing with a devastating pandemic, and the uncertainty surrounding a new disease. And some healthcare workers are using what little emotional labor they have left to advocate in the streets and online for racial justice.  Joining Ira to talk about burnout in the healthcare industry are Steven McDonald, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, and Kali Cyrus, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Insights From International Doctors On The Frontlines Of The Pandemic   In March, governors Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsome in California put out a call for medical professionals to come to their states to help with the COVID-19 crisis. Many of those on the frontlines aren't just from out of the state, but from out of the country. International medical professionals are estimated to make up a quarter of working doctors in the U.S.   Journalist Max Blau talks about the role of international doctors in the U.S. medical system and how they have been affected during the pandemic. Then international resident physicians Quinn Lougheide and Muhammad Jahanzaib Anwar share stories from aiding COVID-19 patients in Bronx, New York. PG&E Guilty Plea Sets A Precedent For Climate Change Culpability   In 2018, the devastating Camp Fire wildfire swept through northern California, killing 84 people. Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, was deemed to be responsible for the spark that caused the fire. This week, the company pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the deaths, marking the first case of its kind. The decision sets a precedent for future legal battles over holding companies accountable for climate change, and how that burden should be split.  Vox staff writer Umair Irfan joins Ira to talk about the PG&E case, plus more on why a second round of COVID-19 lockdowns might not work as well as the first shelter in place orders.  


Proactive Policing, The Social Brain. June 12, 2020, Part 2
2020-06-12 08:53:13
In the 1980s and 1990s, in the midst of rising crime rates and a nationally waning confidence in policing, law enforcement around the country adopted a different approach to addressing crime. Instead of just reacting to crime when it happened, officers decided they'd try to prevent it from happening in the first place, employing things like "hot spots" policing and "stop and frisk," or "terry stops." The strategy is what criminologists call proactive policing, and it's now become widely used in police departments across the nation, especially in cities. Critics and experts debate how effective these tactics are in lowering crime rates. While there's some evidence that proactive policing does reduce crime, now public health researchers are questioning if the practice–which sometimes results in innocent people being stopped, searched, and detained–comes with other unintended physical and mental health consequences. Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Nebraska Omaha and an expert in police accountability, reviews what led police departments to adopt a more proactive approach, while medical sociologist Alyasah Ali Sewell explains the physical and mental health impacts of stop-question-and-frisk policing. Over the past few months, people's social lives have transformed. We're now told to stay home, and when we do go out, to maintain at least six feet between ourselves and others–forget about a handshake or a hug. Many are now isolated in their homes, with just a screen and its two-dimensional images to keep them company. But our brains are wired for social connections. "We're social primates," says psychiatrist Julie Holland. "It's in the job description."  Holland's new book, Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics, looks at what happens to the brain's chemistry when we connect socially, and how devastating disconnections can be. She joins Ira to talk about the social life of the brain, community, and the mental health impact of the stressful times we're living in.


Anthony Fauci On The Pandemic's Future. June 12, 2020, Part 1
2020-06-12 08:52:34
During the pandemic, immunologist Anthony Fauci has gained fame as "America's doctor." He's a leading scientist in the government's response to COVID-19, and a celebrated teller of truths–uncomfortable as they may be–like how long the world may have to wait for a vaccine, or the lack of evidence for using the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients. He's also not new to public health crises created by new pathogens. If history is any indicator, it is not a matter of if, but when another outbreak of disease will come, Fauci says. "There will be emerging and re-emerging infections in our history, it's been that way forever. We're seeing it now. And we will continue to see emerging and re-emerging infections," Fauci tells Ira during the interview. "We can expect, but you can't predict when. It may be well beyond the lifespan of you and I. But sooner or later, we're going to get other serious outbreaks. So we have to maintain the memory of a degree of preparedness that would allow us to respond in an effective way the next time we get something like this." He and Ira reflect on the AIDS epidemic, lessons learned from past pandemics, and what the path out of the COVID-19 crisis may look like.


Breast Cancer Cultural History, Butterfly Wings. June 5, 2020, Part 2
2020-06-04 23:22:15
'Radical' Explores The Hidden History Of Breast Cancer  Nearly 270,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, along with a couple thousand men. But the disease manifests in many different ways, meaning few patients have the same story to tell.  Journalist Kate Pickert collects many of those stories in her book Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America. And one of those stories is her own. As she writes about her own journey with breast cancer, Pickert delves into the history of breast cancer treatment–first devised by a Scottish medical student studying sheep in the 1800s–and chronicles the huge clinical trials for blockbuster drugs in the 80s and 90s–one of which required armies of people to harvest timber from the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest.  She joins Ira Flatow to tell her story, and the surprising cultural history of breast cancer.  With Butterfly Wings, There's More Than Meets The Eye  Scientists are learning that butterfly wings are more than just a pretty adornment. Once thought to be made up of non-living cells, new research suggests that portions of a butterfly wing are actually alive–and serve a very useful purpose.  In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Naomi Pierce, curator of Lepidoptera at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, found that nano-structures within the wing help regulate the wing's temperature, an important function that keeps the thin membrane from overheating in the sun. They also discovered a "wing heart" that beats a few dozen times per minute to facilitate the directional flow of insect blood or hemolymph.  Pierce joins Ira to talk about her work and the hidden structures of butterfly wings. Plus, Nipam Patel, director of the Marine Biological Laboratory, talks about how butterfly wing structure is an important component of the dazzling color on some butterfly wings.


Police Behavior Research, Dermatology In Skin Of Color, Coffee Extraction. June 5, 2020, Part 1
2020-06-04 23:21:26
This week, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans by police brutality and racial inequality continue to fuel demonstrations around the nation. In many cities, police are using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other control tactics on protesters.  A history of 50 years of research reveals what makes a protest safe for participants and police alike. The findings show that police response is what makes the biggest difference: de-escalating and building trust supports peaceful demonstrations rather than responding with weapons and riot gear. And, as thousands of protesters risk abrasive, cough-inducing tear gas and mass arrests, health researchers are concerned a militant response could increase demonstrators' risk of acquiring COVID-19.  Maggie Koerth, senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight and a Minneapolis, Minnesota resident, joins Ira to discuss these stories.   Dermatologists presented with a new patient have a number of symptoms to look at in order to diagnose. Does the patient have a rash, bumps, or scaling skin? Is there redness, inflammation, or ulceration? For rare conditions a doctor may have never seen in person before, it's likely that they were trained on photos of the conditions–or can turn to colleagues who may themselves have photos. But in people with darker, melanin-rich skin, the same skin conditions can look drastically different, or be harder to spot at all–and historically, there have been fewer photos of these conditions on darker-skinned patients. And for these patients, detection and diagnosis can be life-saving: people of color get less melanoma, for example, but are also less likely to survive it. Dr. Jenna Lester, who started one of the few clinics in the country to focus on such patients, explains the need for more dermatologists trained to diagnose and treat people with darker skin tones–and why the difference can be both life-saving and life-altering. A cup of coffee first thing in the morning is a ritual–from grinding the beans to boiling the water and brewing your cup. But following those steps won't always get you a consistent pour. Researchers developed a mathematical model to determine how the size of grind affects water flow and the amount of coffee that gets into the final liquid. Their results were published in the journal Matter. Computational chemist Christopher Hendon, who was an author on that study, talks about how understanding atomic vibration, particle size distribution, and water chemistry can help you brew the perfect cup of coffee.


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The Wubi Effect
When we think of China today, we think of a technological superpower. From Huweai and 5G to TikTok and viral social media, China is stride for stride with the United States in the world of computing. However, China's technological renaissance almost didn't happen. And for one very basic reason: The Chinese language, with its 70,000 plus characters, couldn't fit on a keyboard.  Today, we tell the story of Professor Wang Yongmin, a hard headed computer programmer who solved this puzzle and laid the foundation for the China we know today. This episode was reported and produced by Simon Adler with reporting assistance from Yang Yang. Special thanks to Martin Howard. You can view his renowned collection of typewriters at: antiquetypewriters.com Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.