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Quantum Leaps, Cancer Drugs, Cat Cameras. June 7, 2019, Part 2

From Science Friday - The "spooky physics" of the quantum world has long been marked by two key ideas: The idea of superposition, meaning that a quantum particle can exist in multiple states simultaneously, and the idea of randomness, meaning that it's impossible to predict when certain quantum transitions will take place. Writing in the journal Nature, Zlatko Minev and colleagues report that they may be able to make the quantum behavior slightly less mysterious. Minev joins Ira to talk about the finding, and what new directions it might open up in quantum research. For patients whose cancer has metastasis, the options can be limited. While new drugs are being developed, they are often only approved for a specific subset or stage of cancer—sometimes even a specific age group. However, researchers are looking to expand on a pool of patients that can get these new drugs. Dr. Sara Hurvitz, the director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at UCLA, joins Ira to talk about how a drug that was approved for breast cancer in postmenopausal women may soon be available for younger patients. Plus, Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, the director of the Genitourinary Oncology Program, to talk about a new treatment option for patients with metastatic prostate cancer. If you want the real scoop on what your cat is doing while you're away, researchers are studying that very question, using cat cameras. Our feline friends spend quite a lot of time outside of our line of sight, and we imagine them napping, bathing, playing, hunting. But that's merely speculation. To get the data, researchers need to catch them in the act. Maren Huck, Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby in the UK, recently published a methodological study where she successfully tracked the movements of 16 outdoor domestic cats to find out what they were up to. She joins Ira to discuss the findings, which she published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science. Plus, cat behavior specialist and University California Davis Veterinary School researcher Mikel Delgado joins the conversation to talk more about catching cat behavior on camera, and what we can learn from recording their secret lives.  


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.

Quantum Leaps, Cancer Drugs, Cat Cameras. June 7, 2019, Part 2
2019-06-07 13:46:14
The "spooky physics" of the quantum world has long been marked by two key ideas: The idea of superposition, meaning that a quantum particle can exist in multiple states simultaneously, and the idea of randomness, meaning that it's impossible to predict when certain quantum transitions will take place. Writing in the journal Nature, Zlatko Minev and colleagues report that they may be able to make the quantum behavior slightly less mysterious. Minev joins Ira to talk about the finding, and what new directions it might open up in quantum research. For patients whose cancer has metastasis, the options can be limited. While new drugs are being developed, they are often only approved for a specific subset or stage of cancer—sometimes even a specific age group. However, researchers are looking to expand on a pool of patients that can get these new drugs. Dr. Sara Hurvitz, the director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at UCLA, joins Ira to talk about how a drug that was approved for breast cancer in postmenopausal women may soon be available for younger patients. Plus, Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, the director of the Genitourinary Oncology Program, to talk about a new treatment option for patients with metastatic prostate cancer. If you want the real scoop on what your cat is doing while you're away, researchers are studying that very question, using cat cameras. Our feline friends spend quite a lot of time outside of our line of sight, and we imagine them napping, bathing, playing, hunting. But that's merely speculation. To get the data, researchers need to catch them in the act. Maren Huck, Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby in the UK, recently published a methodological study where she successfully tracked the movements of 16 outdoor domestic cats to find out what they were up to. She joins Ira to discuss the findings, which she published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science. Plus, cat behavior specialist and University California Davis Veterinary School researcher Mikel Delgado joins the conversation to talk more about catching cat behavior on camera, and what we can learn from recording their secret lives.  
47 minutes, 7 seconds


Degrees Of Change: Urban Heat Islands. June 14, 2019, Part 1
2019-06-14 13:55:14
We've known for more than 200 years that cities are hotter than surrounding rural areas. All that concrete and brick soaks up the sun's rays, then re-emits them as heat long after night has fallen. On top of that, waste heat from the energy we use to power our buildings, vehicle emissions, and even air conditioning units can cause some cities to be as many as 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than their rural surroundings—creating "urban heat islands." Between the toll that heat takes on the body and the concurrent air quality problems that heat exacerbates, heat waves kill more Americans per year than any other weather-related event. And if enough city residents are using air conditioning to beat the heat, power outages from overworked grids can add to the risk of mortality. As the globe warms, urban heat islands are projected to become more pronounced, with even hotter temperatures and a more stark urban-rural divide. But scientists and engineers have been working on solutions to reflect the sun before it can raise temperatures, such as cooler roofing materials and heat-reflecting pigments, cool pavements, green roofs, and neighborhood green space. Ronnen Levinson of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory joins Ira to describe what we know about cool infrastructure, while Global Cool Cities Alliance executive director Kurt Shickman explains how cities around the world are implementing solutions—and why it may take something as bureaucratic as building codes to see mass adoption of cooling strategies. Los Angeles: Cool Roofs And Fitting The Solution To Landscapes The city of Los Angeles passed the first mandate for residential buildings to have high-reflectivity roofs, a step up from the past requirements, which only applied to flat, commercial roofs. Los Angeles is also pouring cool pavements to test their effectiveness in lowering temperatures. But how do you pick the right intervention for any given neighborhood in a city with as big and varied a landscape as Los Angeles? USC scientist George Ban-Weiss talks about his work tailoring cool solutions to individual neighborhoods. New York City: Green Roofs And Community Activists  While heat waves are projected to kill thousands of New Yorkers per year by 2080, that pain is not likely to be distributed evenly. Research has found hotter urban heat islands are home to higher percentages of poor people and people of color. Meanwhile, while New York City alerts residents of heat events and offers cooling shelters for them to go to, the shelters can be difficult for people to access, or even hear about. Community groups in the Bronx, Harlem, and other parts of the city are working both to cool down their neighborhoods, and connect residents to life-saving cooling. Justine Calma, a reporter for Grist, details the environmental justice problem of the urban heat island, and how New York City is responding. Phoenix: The Hottest City In The U.S. Is Trying Everything Phoenix, Arizona, experiences temperatures over 100 degrees in the summer, and researchers are only expecting summers to get hotter and longer. Hot season durations are projected to increase by several weeks on both ends, while the likelihood of temperatures that exceed 115 degrees is only expected to grow. In 2017, an estimated 155 people died of heat-related causes in the Phoenix area. But the city has been taking the heat seriously. Phoenix has been painting municipal building roofs white since 2006. The city also has ambitious goals to establish shade trees, shelters along public transit routes, and a HeatReady program that would put heat planning on par with disaster preparedness—all with help from scientists like Arizona State University researcher David Hondula. Hondula joins Ira to describe the challenges of getting cities invested in heat preparedness, both short-term and long-term, and what's next for Phoenix. What Are The Presidential Candidates' Climate Plans? The first Democratic presidential debate will take place at the end of the month and climate change is becoming a central issue. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and other presidential hopefuls have released their versions of a climate plan. The different proposals range from increases in spending to executive action. Climate and environment reporter Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones outlines the major differences between these plans.


The Best Summer Science Books. June 14, 2019, Part 2
2019-06-14 13:53:35
The Best Science Books To Read This Summer They say a vacation is only as good as the book you bring with you. And these days it feels like there are as many ways to consume science writing as there are fields of science. Whether you're a fan of historical nonfiction, graphic novels, poetry or short essays, this year's panel of summer science books experts has the one you're looking for to take with you on your journey. Alison Gilchrist is a graduate student researcher at CU Boulder and host of the podcast Buff Talk Science, and editor in chief of Science Buffs. Caren Cooper is an associate professor of public science at NC State University and author of Citizen Science: How Ordinary People Are Changing the Face of Discovery. Stephanie Sendaula is associate editor for Library Journal Reviews. They join Ira to talk about what they have chosen for their best summer science reads. Chronic Wasting Disease In Wildlife Chronic wasting disease is a fatal illness affecting the brains of deer, moose, and elk. Since its discovery in 1967, the disease has been detected in at least 26 states, three Canadian provinces, Norway, Sweden, and South Korea. Rae Ellen Bichell, a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau and KUNC, talks about the disease, research into its origin and spread, and what's known about the possible effects of human exposure.


Quantum Leaps, Cancer Drugs, Cat Cameras. June 7, 2019, Part 2
2019-06-07 13:46:14
The "spooky physics" of the quantum world has long been marked by two key ideas: The idea of superposition, meaning that a quantum particle can exist in multiple states simultaneously, and the idea of randomness, meaning that it's impossible to predict when certain quantum transitions will take place. Writing in the journal Nature, Zlatko Minev and colleagues report that they may be able to make the quantum behavior slightly less mysterious. Minev joins Ira to talk about the finding, and what new directions it might open up in quantum research. For patients whose cancer has metastasis, the options can be limited. While new drugs are being developed, they are often only approved for a specific subset or stage of cancer—sometimes even a specific age group. However, researchers are looking to expand on a pool of patients that can get these new drugs. Dr. Sara Hurvitz, the director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at UCLA, joins Ira to talk about how a drug that was approved for breast cancer in postmenopausal women may soon be available for younger patients. Plus, Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, the director of the Genitourinary Oncology Program, to talk about a new treatment option for patients with metastatic prostate cancer. If you want the real scoop on what your cat is doing while you're away, researchers are studying that very question, using cat cameras. Our feline friends spend quite a lot of time outside of our line of sight, and we imagine them napping, bathing, playing, hunting. But that's merely speculation. To get the data, researchers need to catch them in the act. Maren Huck, Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby in the UK, recently published a methodological study where she successfully tracked the movements of 16 outdoor domestic cats to find out what they were up to. She joins Ira to discuss the findings, which she published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science. Plus, cat behavior specialist and University California Davis Veterinary School researcher Mikel Delgado joins the conversation to talk more about catching cat behavior on camera, and what we can learn from recording their secret lives.  


Gender Bias In Research Trials, Antarctica, Tornado Engineering. June 7, 2019, Part 1
2019-06-07 12:54:21
For half a century, most neuroscience experiments have had one glaring flaw: They've ignored female study subjects. The reason? Researchers claimed, for example, that female rats and mice would skew their data, due to hormonal cycling. Writing in the journal Science, neuroscientist Rebecca Shansky says that view is out of date—and it's been harming science too. She and Radiolab producer and co-host Molly Webster join Ira to talk about the past, present, and future of laboratory research, and whether science can leave these outdated gender stereotypes behind. The Onyx River is the longest river in Antarctica, flowing for 19 miles from the coastal Wright Lower Glacier and ending in Lake Vanda. This seasonal stream also has a long scientific record—it has been continuously monitored by scientists for 50 years. Science Friday's education director Ariel Zych took a trip to the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica to visit scientists in the field who are part of this monitoring project. She and limnologist and biogeochemist Diane McKnight, who has spent decades studying these rivers, talk about the frozen desert ecosystem these waterways transect, and how climate change has affected the continent in the last 50 years. Plus: researchers in Missouri are examining the after-effects of recent tornadoes to engineer stronger homes. Eli Chen of St. Louis Public Radio tells Ira more in The State of Science. And science journalist Annalee Newitz talks about the Trump Administration's recent fetal tissue research ban in this week's News Roundup.


SciFri Extra: Remembering Murray Gell-Mann
2019-06-04 10:08:36
Physicist Murray Gell-Mann died recently at the age of 89. He received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles, and is credited with giving quarks their name. But he was known for more than just physics—he was a co-founder of the Santa Fe Institute, and a champion of creativity and interdisciplinary research.   One of his biggest interests was exploring the "chain of relationships"  that connects basic physical laws and the subatomic world to the complex systems that we can see, hear, and experience. He joined Ira in 1994 to discuss those chains, the topic of his book "The Quark and the Jaguar."


Climate Politics, Football and Math, Ether. May 31, 2019, Part 2
2019-05-31 14:11:53
A green wave is sweeping through Washington, and it's picking up Republicans who are eager to share their ideas on clean energy and climate change. But even as Republican lawmakers turn to shaping climate policy, the White House is doubling down on climate denial, forming a "climate review panel" to vet and discredit the already peer-reviewed science on climate change. So where will climate science end up? Ira's joined by marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and climate scientist Michael Mann for a round table conversation about climate politics, policy, and science activism. Growing up, John Urschel grew up playing both math puzzles and high school football, and he would follow both of those passions. After playing for the Baltimore Ravens, he is now currently a mathematics Ph.D. candidate at MIT. He joins Ira to discuss seeing the world from a mathematical perspective and how he was able to balance the challenges of math and football. Albert Michelson was a Polish immigrant who grew up in the hard-scrabble atmosphere of the California gold rush. In his physics career, Michelson also measured the speed of light to an unprecedented degree of accuracy, and designed one of the most elegant physics experiments in the 19th century, to detect something that ultimately didn't even exist: the "luminiferous ether." Science historian David Kaiser tells the story of how that idea rose and fell in this interview with Ira and Science Friday's Annie Minoff.      


Spoiler Alert, Glyphosate, Unisexual Salamanders. May 31, 2019, Part 1
2019-05-31 13:07:30
How many times has this happened to you? You're standing in front of an open freezer, wondering what type of mystery meat has been left in there, when you purchased it, and if it's still safe to eat? If you're puzzled by sell-by dates, freezer burn, and just how long food can remain edible, you're not alone. Studies show that more than 80 percent of Americans misinterpret date labels and throw food away prematurely to protect their families' health. That adds up to $218 billion worth of food each year. Janell Goodwin, with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, and Francisco Diez-Gonzales, professor and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, join Ira for a master class in food microbiology and safety. Then, Roni Neff of Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health explains how confusion over date labeling is worsening food waste and climate change. Plus: A population of mole salamanders in the Midwest is throwing a curveball at our understanding of sex and reproduction. Some populations of this salamander are unisexual—they're females that can reproduce without males. Katie Greenwald, an associate professor of biology at Eastern Michigan University, joins Ira to explain what advantages living a single-sex life may have for the mole salamander. The herbicide glyphosate, found in products such as Roundup, has become a crucial tool on midwestern farms—but weeds are becoming resistant. What's next? Chris Walljasper, a reporter from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, tells Ira more on the State Of Science. And The Atlantic's Sarah Zhang tells us what's whipping up 2019's active tornado season in this week's News Roundup.


SciFri Extra: A Relatively Important Eclipse
2019-05-28 09:00:00
This week marks the 100th anniversary of an eclipse that forever changed physics and our understanding of the universe. In May 1919, scientists set out for Sobral, Brazil, and Príncipe, an island off the west coast of Africa, to photograph the momentarily starry sky during a total eclipse. Their scientific aim was to test whether the sun's gravity would indeed bend light rays from faraway stars, as predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. After analyzing the data from the brief minutes of darkness, they declared Einstein correct. Carlo Rovelli, physicist and author, tells Ira the story.


Bees! May 24, 2019, Part 2
2019-05-24 13:39:08
For the hobby beekeeper, there's much to consider when homing your first domestic honey bee colonies—what kind of hive to get, where to put them, where to get your bees, and how to help them survive the winter. But when left to their own devices, what do the bees themselves prefer? From smaller nests to higher openings, wild honey bees seem to prefer very different conditions from the closely clustered square boxes of traditional beekeeping. But there are ways to adapt! Seeley joins Ira to explain his theory of "Darwinian beekeeping" as a way to keep bees healthy even in the age of varroa mites and colony collapse. Plus, apiculturalist Elina L. Niño of the University of California Davis talks about the microbial world of bees, such as whether probiotics could benefit bee health, and how honey bees and bumblebees could be used to distribute beneficial microbes to plants, an idea called 'apivectoring.'


Ebola Outbreak, Climate Play, Navajo Energy. May 24, 2019, Part 1
2019-05-24 13:38:30
What would it take to power a subsea factory of the future? Plus, other stories from this week in science news. Then, as the last coal-fired power plant plans to shut down at the end of the year, the Navajo Tribe is embracing renewables.  Next, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, distrust of the government and healthcare workers are hampering efforts to contain the current outbreak. Finally, in a new climate change play, a playwright explores what kinds of narratives we need to stir action on climate. 


New Horizons Discovery, Science Fair Finalists, Screams. May 17, 2019, Part 2
2019-05-17 14:49:15
The most happening New Year's Party of 2019 wasn't at Times Square or Paris—it was in the small town of Laurel, Maryland, halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. There, scientists shared the stage with kids decked out in NASA gear, party hats, and astronaut helmets. They were there to count down not to the new year, but to the New Horizons spacecraft flying by a very distant, very ancient, snowman-shaped object: MU69. Now, the first haul of data about that mysterious object has returned. They reveal that MU69 is one of the reddest objects we've explored in the solar system, built from two skipping-stone-shaped bodies, each the size of small cities. Those details are featured in a cover story in the journal Science. Lead author Alan Stern joins Ira here to talk about it. This week, more than 1,800 student scientists from 80 countries converged in Phoenix to present their projects for Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair, a competition founded by the Society for Science and the Public. Ira chats with two of the finalists. Colorado high school junior Krithik Ramesh came up with an idea for a real-time virtual tool for surgeons doing spinal surgeries, and Arizona high school freshman Ella Wang, along with her partner Breanna Tang, cooked up an innovative use for waste from soybean food products—enriching depleted farm soils. When you hear a scream, you automatically perk up. It catches your attention. But scientists are still working to define what exactly makes a scream. People scream when they are scared or happy. It's not just a humans, either—all types of animals scream, from frogs to macaques. Psychologist Harold Gouzoules and his team measured the acoustic properties of a human scream by actually playing screams for people: Screams of fright, screams of excitement, and even a whistle. He joins Ira to talks about the evolutionary basis of screaming and what it can tell us about how human nonverbal communication.


Degrees Of Change: Sea Level Rise, Coal-Use Decline. May 17, 2019, Part 1
2019-05-17 14:48:33
As the frequency of tropical storms and droughts increase and sea levels rise with climate change, forested wetlands along the Atlantic coast are slowly filling with dead and dying trees. The accelerating spread of these "ghost forests" over the past decade has ecologists alarmed and eager to understand how they are formed and what effect they will have regionally and globally.  One interdisciplinary group of researchers from North Carolina State University and Duke University are examining the causes and effects of repeated saltwater exposure to the coastal wetlands of North Carolina. Using soil and sediment sampling, remote hydrological monitoring, vegetation plotting, as well as spatial maps, the research team is determining the tipping point for when a struggling forest will become a ghost forest. According to ecologist Emily Bernhardt, their preliminary findings suggest that climate change is not the only culprit in the region. Agricultural irrigation and wastewater ditches that criss-cross much of the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula facilitate the flow of saltwater intrusion deep into the landscape, wreaking ecological and economic havoc. Working with Brian Boutin, director of the Nature Conservancy's Albemarle-Pamlico Program, Dr. Bernhardt and colleagues hope to provide valuable scientific insights to local farmers, wetlands managers, and regional decision-makers to plan for the further intrusions and hopefully mitigate the effects. Meanwhile, less than 100 miles up the coast from the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula, the cities of Hampton Roads, Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay are facing some of the worst flooding due to sea level rise in the country. In Norfolk, home of the United States Navy, tides have increased as much as eight inches since the 1970s, and roads that lead from the community directly to naval installations are particularly vulnerable to flooding. But in the last 10 years, Hampton Roads has begun to adapt. "When we first started having these discussions, there was a lot of concern about, should we be having discussions like this in public. What would be the potential impacts on economic development or on the population growth here?" said Ben McFarlane, senior regional planner with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. "Now it's recognized and people know it's happening. I think the strategy has changed to being more of a 'Let's stop talking about how bad it is and how bad it's going to get. And let's start talking about solutions.'" The Planning District Commission supports the use of living shorelines and ordinance changes that discourage developing in flood prone areas. Norfolk has even been named one of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities in part for its efforts promoting coastal resiliency in the face of sea level rise. Plus, the latest investment report from the International Energy Agency was released this week, and shows that in 2018, final investment decisions were made to support bringing an additional 22GW of coal-fired electric generation online—but in the same year, around 30 GW of coal-burning generating capacity were closed. Of course, coal plants are still under construction, and there are thousands of terawatts of coal-generating capacity worldwide, so the end of coal is nowhere in sight yet—but the investment report may indicate a tipping point in the global energy budget. Kendra Pierre-Louis, a reporter on the climate desk at the New York Times, joins Ira to talk about that and other climate news—including the President's energy policy remarks at a natural gas plant, the discovery of another ocean garbage patch of plastic, and the rise of "climate refuge cities."


Biodiversity Report And The Science Of Parenting. May 10, 2019, Part 2
2019-05-10 13:47:17
According to a new UN report on global biodiversity, as many as one million species—both plants and animals—are now at risk of extinction, according to a new UN report on global biodiversity. That number includes 40% of all amphibian species, 33% of corals, and around 10% of insects. One might assume that this type of devastating species loss could only come as a result of one thing—climate change. But in fact, as the report highlights illustrate, it's deforestation, changes in land and sea use, hunting, poaching, pollution, invasive species—in short, human interventions—that are causing species to disappear at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than what has been seen over the last 10 million years. Walter Jetz, professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, joins Ira to discuss why the damage we do to biodiversity in our lifetimes may never be undone. Plus, if you're a new parent, you've probably had one of these nights. You're up at 3 a.m., baby screaming, searching the internet for an answer to a question you've never thought to ask before: Are pacifiers bad for your baby? What about that weird breathing? Is that normal? Or is it time to head to the emergency room?  Emily Oster is a health economist and mother of two who had a lot of those same questions as she raised her kids. She dove into the data to find out what the science actually says about sleep training, breastfeeding, introducing solid foods, and lots more in her new book, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool. Ira chats with Oster and Nikita Sood of Cohen Children's Medical Center, who monitors the underground market for breastmilk and explains why parents should be cautious. 


Superconductivity Search, Ride-Share Congestion, Lions Vs. Porcupines. May 10, 2019, Part 1
2019-05-10 13:46:43
Six decades ago, a group of physicists came up with a theory that described electrons at a low temperature that could attract a second electron. If the electrons were in the right configuration, they could conduct electricity with zero resistance. The Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer theory, named after the three physicists, is the basis for how superconductivity works at a quantum level. Superconductivity would allow electricity to flow with no loss of heat from its system. Since that time, scientists have been trying to find a real-world material that fits that theory. One way to achieve this is by turning hydrogen into a metal. This is accomplished by squeezing hydrogen gas between two diamonds at such a high pressure that it solidifies. That metal then becomes a superconductor at room temperature. Previously, achieving zero resistance had only been possible by cooling the superconductor to near absolute zero. Ira and Gizmodo science writer Ryan Mandelbaum talk with physicist Maddury Somayazulu and theoretical chemist Eva Zurek about the progress towards creating a room-temperature superconductor and how this type of material could be used in quantum computing and other technology. During times of drought or disease, lions have to turn to other sources of food like the East African porcupine. But while the lion may get a quick meal when it attacks a porcupine, the porcupine may win in the long run. Writing in the Journal of East African Natural History, Julian Kerbis Peterhans and colleagues found that an untreated porcupine quill wound is often enough to severely injure a lion. If the wound becomes infected or hinders eating, it can lead to death. And, when a lion is injured and has difficulty hunting its usual prey, it can sometimes turn to easier sources of food—like humans. Kerbis joins Ira to talk about the study, and what this seemingly mismatched battle can teach us about survival in the animal kingdom. Plus, a new study found that the presence of services like Uber and Lyft increased road congestion in San Francisco. And a roundup of the week's science news, including a rattling remark about climate change from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at an Arctic Council meeting.


Neuroscientists Peer Into The Mind's Eye, Alexander von Humboldt. May 3, 2019, Part 2
2019-05-03 13:47:11
It sounds like a sci-fi plot: Hook a real brain up to artificial intelligence, and let the two talk to each other. That's the design of a new study in the journal Cell, in which artificial intelligence networks displayed images to monkeys, and then studied how the monkey's neurons responded to the picture. The computer network could then use that information about the brain's responses to tweak the image, displaying a new picture that might resonate more with the monkey's visual processing system. In 1799, the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt embarked on the most ambitious scientific voyage of his life. On the Spanish ship Pizarro, he set sail for South America with 42 carefully chosen scientific instruments. There, he would climb volcanoes, collect countless plant and animal specimens, and eventually come to the conclusion that the natural world was a unified entity—biology, geology and meteorology all conjoining to determine what life took hold where. In the process, he also described human-induced climate change—and was perhaps the first person to do so. Author Andrea Wulf and illustrator Lillian Melcher retell the voyages of Alexander von Humboldt in a new, illustrated book that draws upon Humboldt's own journal pages.


Business Planning For Climate Change,The Digital Afterlife. May 3, 2019, Part 1
2019-05-03 13:46:21
Scientists have built all sorts of models to predict the likelihood of extreme weather events. But it's not just scientists who are interested in these models. Telecomm giant AT&T teamed up with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois to build a climate map of the Southeastern part of the country, overlaid with a map of AT&T's infrastructure. Climate scientist Rao Kothamarthi from Argonne Labs discusses the process of creating hyperlocal climate change models, and Shannon Carroll, director of environmental sustainability at At&T, talks about how the company can use that information for making decisions on how to protect their infrastructure. Social media is, in many ways, the record keeper of our lives. It may be time to start thinking about how we preserve that record for the future. How should we think about the online profiles of the deceased? As the person's property or as their remains? Should they be inherited or passed on? Preserved or deleted? We discuss planning for the digital afterlife. 


Measles, Poetry Month, Lemur Hibernation. April 26, 2019, Part 2
2019-04-26 13:44:22
Back in 1963, before the development of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, there were 4 million cases of measles every year. It took nearly four decades, but by 2000, enough people had become vaccinated that the measles virus was eliminated in the U.S. But since then, the ranks of unvaccinated people have grown, and the measles virus has been reintroduced into the U.S. This week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials report over 600 cases of measles across 22 states. Dr. Saad Omer, professor of Global Health, Epidemiology, and Pediatrics at Emory University joins Ira to answer questions about the current outbreak, including how much worse conditions could get. Every year, hundreds pack Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York for "The Universe In Verse," a live celebration of writing that has found inspiration from science and scientists. This year's event, which featured readings from guests including Amanda Palmer, David Byrne, and Josh Groban, celebrated the 100th anniversary of Sir Arthur Eddington's groundbreaking experiment to prove general relativity. The poems also honored Albert Einstein's legacy in describing the universe as we understand it today. Maria Popova, founder and editor of Brain Pickings, and astrophysicist Janna Levin, both writers as well, join Ira for a conversation about the enduring link between art and science, and share readings of their favorite works. What has big eyes, a bushy tail, and is the only primate to go into hibernation six months out of the year? It's the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, an endangered species endemic to the island of Madagascar. During their hibernation period, the lemurs enter a state of torpor, which essentially disables the animals' internal thermostat. It turns out we humans possess the same gene that is activated when the lemur initiates torpor—we just don't know how to activate it. Science Friday video producer Luke Groskin traveled to the only captive colony of dwarf lemurs in the world outside of Madagascar, the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina, to investigate the sleeping cuties' hibernation habits—and how they could apply to humans.


Degrees of Change: Sponge Cities and Pocket Prairies. April 26, 2019, Part 1
2019-04-26 13:43:52
Climate change is happening—now we need to deal with it. Degrees of Change, a new series of hour-long radio specials from Science Friday, explores the problem of climate change and how we as a planet are adapting to it. In this first chapter, SciFri looks at how climate change affects water systems. This year, there were record downpours in the American Midwest that washed out levees and caused catastrophic flooding. Meanwhile, California is recovering from a seven year-long drought that led to water shortages across the state. Cities are starting to rethink their water futures and how they can make their communities more resilient. Here are two examples of how cities around the world are adapting to their climate change future. The 'Sponge Cities' Of China In China, more people are leaving the countryside and moving into big cities. Shenzhen in the south has gone from a city of 50,000 people to over 13 million in just three decades. This rapid urbanization has led to more construction, more concrete, and entire landscapes that have been paved over. Mix that with stronger storms driven to climate change, and the stage is set for future water disasters. To combat this, the Chinese government started the "Sponge Cities" program in 2014, which calls for cities to soak up and reuse 70% of their rainwater. Journalist Erica Gies and Chris Zevenbergen, flood risk management expert, talks about the pedestrian bridges, green roofs and terraced urban landscapes that architects and engineers are designing to build resiliency and what needs to be done to expand these ideas to the rest of the country. The 'Pocket Prairies' Of Houston In 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit some areas of Houston with nearly four feet of rain, causing widespread flooding throughout the city. As the city rebuilds, "pocket prairies" are among the tools being used to manage future flooding. These patches of native prairie grass can be planted anywhere—in front yards, traffic medians, parking lots, vacant lots, and between city buildings—and high quality prairie habitat can hold up to nine inches of rainwater during a storm, reducing the likelihood of catastrophic floods. "At a neighborhood level, they can manage the 'flash' part of 'flash floods,'" says Laura Huffman, Texas regional director of The Nature Conservancy. Plus, pocket prairies provide additional benefits, she says. As rainwater seeps into soil, it pre-treats chemicals in the rain, helping to keep them out of the water supply. In this conversation, Gies and Huffman explain the benefits of pocket prairies and other green infrastructure. The Climate Effects Of A Heated Campaign Season The Democratic presidential primary field is vast—where do the candidates stand on climate issues? Scott Waldman, White House reporter with Climatewire and E&E News, joins Ira to talk about how 2020 presidential campaigns are addressing climate change, plus other climate-related stories of the week—from Facebook's plans to fact-check hot button issues like climate change to a new study that attempts to put a price tag on the effects of Arctic melting.    


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?  


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