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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


Office Air Pollution, Tetris Decisions, Alzheimer's Update. Oct 11, 2019, Part 2
2019-10-11 13:42:11
If you live and work in an urban area, you might think about the air quality outside your home or workplace. But what about the air quality inside the office? It turns out that on average, indoor environments have higher concentrations of potentially harmful substances, such as aerosols and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While past research has focused on chemical emissions from building materials, cleaning supplies, and even furniture, air pollution researchers are increasingly looking at another source of toxic air: us. New research from Purdue University to be presented at the American Association for Aerosol Research conference has found that the majority of indoor VOCs may be released by a seemingly innocuous source: human beings, their lunches and coffee breaks, and anything they may wear or bring to work. And many of these compounds, such as the terpenes released by peeling an orange, or the squalene released in human skin oil, react with ozone to form even more worrisome molecules. If you've ever played the classic puzzle-like computer game Tetris, you know that it starts out slowly. As the seven different pieces (called "zoids" by the initiated) descend from the top of the screen, a player has to shift the pieces horizontally and rotate them so that they fit into a gap in the stack of pieces at the bottom of the screen, or "well." In early levels, the pieces might take 10-15 seconds to fall. The speed increases at each level. In world champion Tetris matches, players often start play at Level 18—in which pieces are on the screen for about a second. Wayne Gray, a professor of cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic University, calls it a problem of "predictive processing and predictive action." Champion-level expert players, he says, are able to take in the state of the gameboard and react almost immediately, without going through the mental steps of figuring out how to move the piece and rotate it that a novice player requires. "They can see the problem and reach a decision at the same time," he said. Gray and colleagues have attended the Classic World Tetris Championship tournament for three years, collecting data from expert players using a modified version of the game that collects keystrokes and eye-tracking data. He joins Ira to discuss what the researchers are learning about expert decision-making, and what he hopes to study at this year's upcoming Tetris tournament. The pharmaceutical industry has been on a 30 year mission to develop a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease. The culprits behind the disease, they thought, were the amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of these patients. For many decades removing these plaques to treat Alzheimer's was the goal. But then drug after drug targeting amyloid failed to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer's—the so-called "amyloid hypothesis" wasn't bearing out. But drug companies kept developing and testing drugs that attacked amyloid from every angle—perhaps at the expense of pursuing other avenues of treatment. This past summer, two more high profile clinical trials of drugs to treat Alzheimer's failed. That brings the number of successful treatments for the disease, which affects 5.8 million Americans, to zero. George Perry, professor of biology at UT San Antonio and Derek Lower, a drug researcher and pharmaceutical industry expert join Ira to explain what led pharmaceutical companies to doggedly pursue the amyloid hypothesis for decades, and whether or not they are ready to start trying something else.  


Trust In Science, California Power Outages, Regrowing Cartilage. Oct 11, 2019, Part 1
2019-10-11 13:40:42
Despite widely reported attacks on science, the vast majority of Americans continue to trust scientists, according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center. Many listeners of Science Friday might take it as a given that we should trust science, but is that trust well-founded? Naomi Oreskes, history of science professor at Harvard University, argues that we should. In her new book, Why Trust Science?, she explains how science works and what makes it trustworthy. (Hint: it's not the scientific method.) Pacific Gas & Electric has generated confusion—not to mention outrage—with its power grid shutdowns. The situation continues for a second day in 34 California counties. On social media and phone calls to KQED's Forum radio program, people throughout PG&E's service area have asked how and why the investor-owned utility took this step. KQED reporters have some answers to some of the questions that have come in. Why Is PG&E Turning the Power Off? Is This PG&E's Fault? Bottom line, PG&E doesn't want to risk having its power lines start another fire, so it is pre-emptively turning the power off during this week's dry, windy weather. The company made the decision based on information from its wildfire center, where meteorologists keep watch on fire conditions. PG&E's power lines have sparked many catastrophic wildfires in California, including last year's Camp Fire in Butte County that caused 85 deaths, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in 100 years. PG&E lines started more than a dozen fires in 2017. Less than a month ago, the company agreed to pay billion in a settlement with victims of the recent fires. The shutoffs are part of its wildfire mitigation plan, mandated by the state and agreed to by the California Public Utilities Commission, the state's top power regulator. — Kevin Stark Who Made This Decision? When Did They Make It? If past practice tells us anything, PG&E has been making and remaking this decision, with the help of its meteorological team, over several days. The utility says it considers weather, fuel and other conditions and observations, as well as the need for notice by state and local parties, when it decides to implement shutoffs. As we've seen over the last few days, the planned outage times can change with shifting conditions. The fact is, there's nothing new about turning off power lines when conditions get risky: San Diego Gas and Electric, with the permission of the CPUC, has mitigated fire risk this way since 2012. What is new are the guidelines PG&E filed just a year ago for its public safety power shutoff procedures. For the last couple of years, the CPUC has required investor-owned utilities to describe their processes for arriving at decisions like the one affecting nearly three dozen California counties right now. PG&E shut off power two times last year; the last time PG&E called a public safety power shutoff, for two days in June, it affected about 22,000 customers in the North Bay and the Sierra foothills, including Butte County and Paradise. — Molly Peterson Read more questions and answers on Science Friday. Cartilage is the connective tissue that provides padding between your joints. As we age, the wearing down of cartilage can lead to different types of arthritis. It's been long believed that once humans lose cartilage, it can never grow back. Now, a team of researchers investigated this idea, and found that the cartilage in our ankles might be able to turnover more easily compared to our hips and knees. Their results were published in the journal Science Advances. Rheumatologist Virginia Byers Kraus, who was an author on the study, discusses how human cartilage might be able to regenerate and what this means for future treatments.      


Bread Baking Science And Denial In Climate Report. Oct 4, 2019, Part 2
2019-10-04 15:03:51
Flour, salt, yeast and water are the basic ingredients in bread that can be transformed into a crusty baguette or a pillowy naan. But what happens when you get a sticky sourdough or brick-like brioche? Chef Francisco Migoya of Modernist Cuisine breaks down the science behind the perfect loaf. He talks about how gluten-free flours affect bread structure, the effects of altitude and humidity on dough and how to keep your sourdough starter happy. Plus, amateur baker and "Father of the Xbox" Seamus Blackley describes how he baked a loaf of bread from an ancient Egyptian yeast. The Bureau of Land Management issued an environmental impact statement last month that examines the effects that oil development will have on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Buried deep in the appendix of the report was this BLM response to a public comment: "The BLM does not agree that the proposed development is inconsistent with maintaining a livable planet (i.e., there is not a climate crisis). The planet was much warmer within the past 1,000 years, prior to the Little Ice Age, based on extensive archaeological evidence (such as farming in Greenland and vineyards in England). This warmth did not make the planet unlivable; rather, it was a time when societies prospered." The comment alludes to the so-called "Medieval Warm Period," which is commonly referenced by climate change deniers to justify their beliefs. The BLM has since said the comment had no bearing on the scientific conclusions contained elsewhere in the report. Adam Aton, a climate reporter at E&E News, joins Ira to talk about the report, and what fossil fuel development in the Arctic might mean for local wildlife and the planet.


Data-Collecting Smart TVs, Microbiome Cooking, Cannabis Pollution. Oct 4, 2019, Part 1
2019-10-04 15:02:47
Today, it's much easier to find smart TVs on the market. Companies like Vizio and Samsung create devices capable of internet connection and with built-in apps that let you quickly access your favorite streaming services. But that convenience comes with a hidden cost—one you pay for with your data.  Smart TVs have joined the list of internet connected devices looking to harvest your data. They can track what shows you watch, then use that data to deliver targeted ads, just like Facebook. Not worried about what media companies know about your binge watching habits? New research suggests that's not everything smart TVs are doing. If you are the owner of just one of many "internet of things" devices in your home, those devices could be talking to each other, influencing what gets advertised to you on your phone, tablet, and TV screen. Dave Choffnes, associate professor of computer science at Northeastern University, and Nick Feamster, director of the Center for Data and Computing at the University of Chicago, join Ira to share what they each found when they looked into the spying habits of your smart devices. Cooking food changes it in fundamental ways. Cooked starches are easier to digest. Seared meats are less likely to give us foodborne pathogens. And overall, we get more energy out of cooked foods than raw. But scientists are still pursuing a pivotal question about cooking: How did its invention change our bodies and shape our evolution? Did it shrink our teeth and digestive tracts? Or did it increase our brain size? Researchers writing in Nature Microbiology reported a new chapter in our understanding of how cooking has changed us: The microbial communities in our guts change dramatically if our food is cooked or raw. And mice whose microbiomes were associated with raw foods seem to gain weight more easily—but their microbiomes also showed signs of damage from plant-generated antimicrobial chemicals. Harvard researcher Rachel Carmody explains the findings, and what our microbiomes might say about cooking food and evolution. Between water and electricity, Colorado's legal cannabis industry already has a big environmental footprint. But what about Front Range air quality? Could the plant itself be contributing to air pollution? No, it's not the pot smoke. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is conducting a study of terpenes, the organic compounds that make the cannabis plant smell so strong. Terpenes are classified as volatile organic compounds. Many consumer products release VOCs, like acetone in nail polish remover and butanal from barbecues and stoves. VOCs from terpenes are harmless until they combine with combustion gases to create ozone. That's why the state is studying marijuana emissions—it's about where it's grown. Unlike other VOC-emitting crops, like lavender, cannabis is often cultivated in greenhouses in the industrial areas of cities, near highways and lots of cars. "Here in Colorado, as far as air quality concerns go, ozone is our largest pollutant of concern. We are not meeting the national ambient air quality standards for ozone," said CDPHE's lead researcher on this project, Kaitlin Urso. Denver's ozone problem is especially bad. According to the American Lung Association, it has the nation's 12th worst air quality. Usually, it's the Environmental Protection Agency that studies emissions from new industries. Since marijuana is still a federally controlled substance, it can't. With the feds on the sideline, Urso said it's now up to the state to figure out, essentially, "how many pounds of VOCs are emitted into our atmosphere per pound of marijuana grown?"  


Bitters And Botany, Whale Evolution. Sept 27, 2019, Part 2
2019-09-27 13:42:32
Can conservation be concocted in your cocktails? Yes, according to the botanist authors of Botany at the Bar, a new book about making your own bitters—those complex flavor extracts used to season a Manhattan or old-fashioned. They experiment with an array of novel recipes using underappreciated plants found around the world, from tree resin, to osha root, to numbing Szechuan peppercorns. Ira talks to ethnobotanist Selena Ahmed and plant geneticist Ashley DuVal about their recipes, how you can make complex and flavorful tinctures for cocktails and other seasonings, and their not-so-secret ulterior motive to share the stories of how people have used plants—common and rare—for thousands of years. Plus, mixologist Christian Schaal talks about the art and science of combining flavors. Fifty million years ago, the ancient ancestors of whales and dolphins roamed the land on four legs. But over time, these aquatic mammals have evolved to live fully in the ocean—their genetic makeup changing along the way. Now, a group of scientists have investigated the changes in 85 different genes that were lost in this land-to-sea transition. Mark Springer, evolutionary biologist, discusses the genetic trade-offs that cetaceans have evolved, including an inability to produce saliva and melatonin, and the benefits they provide for a deep-diving, aquatic lifestyle.


Oceans And Climate, Quantum Mechanics. Sept 27, 2019, Part 1
2019-09-27 13:41:40
A new report issued this week by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change paints a troubling picture of the world's ice and oceans. The ocean effects of climate change, from warming waters to ocean acidification to sea level rise, are already altering the weather, fisheries, and coastal communities. The authors of the report state that the ocean has already taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system since 1970, the surface is becoming more acidic, and oxygen is being depleted in the top thousand meters of the water column. All those conditions are projected to get worse in the years ahead. Ocean scientist and former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco joins Ira to talk about the risks to the ocean, its effects on the global ecosystem, and how the ocean can also help to blunt some of the worst climate outcomes—if action is taken now. In his new book, Something Deeply Hidden, quantum physicist Sean Carroll offers a different ending for Schrödinger's imaginary cat. Carroll ascribes to the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics, originally proposed by American physicist Hugh Everett in the 1950's. According to Everett, when you look inside the box you are also in two states at once. Now there are two worlds—one in which you saw the cat alive, and one in which you saw the cat dead. If thinking about this makes your head hurt, you're not alone. Carroll joins Ira to talk about the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics, and why he thinks not enough physicists are taking on the challenge of trying to understand it. Plus: World leaders convened in New York City this week for the United Nations Climate Action Summit. But there wasn't a whole lot of action at the Climate Action Summit, at least not from the greenhouse-gas-emitting elephants in the room: India, China, and the United States. Umair Irfan, who writes about energy, tech and climate for Vox.com, catches Ira up on how countries around the world are tackling—or ignoring—the climate crisis.  And Sarah Zhang, staff writer at the Atlantic, tells Ira about NASA's new infrared telescope to detect near-Earth objects and other science headlines in this week's News Roundup.


Bird Populations In Decline, Real Life Sci-Fi Disasters, Brain Wiring. Sept 20, 2019, Part 2
2019-09-20 13:40:37
There may be almost 3 billion fewer birds in North America today than there were in 1970, according to a study published this week in the journal Science. The decline over time works out to a loss of about one in 4 birds. However, the decline does not appear to be evenly distributed. Then, journalist Mike Pearl investigates what the world would look like after technology breakdowns, a real-life Jurassic Park, and other sci-fi doomsday scenarios in his book, The Day It Finally Happens. Finally, new research on the brains of people who paint with their toes reveal how our limbs affect our internal maps from birth. 


Degrees Of Change: Climate And Fashion. Sept 20, 2019, Part 1
2019-09-20 13:38:56
Climate change has been trending in the news recently—and if there's one industry out there that knows something about trends, it's the fashion industry. Long known for churning out cheap garments and burning through resources, some fashion labels like fast fashion giant H&M are now embracing sustainable fashion trends. But can this industry—which is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions—really shed its wasteful business model in favor of one with a lower carbon footprint? Marc Bain, a fashion reporter at Quartz, Maxine Bédat from the New Standard Institute, and Linda Greer, global policy fellow with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs talk with Ira about the industry's effort to reduce its climate impact. Plus, a check in on the Trump administration's rollback of the Clean Air Act waiver, and more of the week's biggest climate headlines. 


The Center Of The Milky Way, Rats At Play, And Geometry. Sept 13, 2019, Part 2
2019-09-13 13:59:35
The Greek mathematician Euclid imagined an ordered and methodical universe, but his vision struggled to catch on for centuries, until Renaissance painters and French monarchs found a way connect the ancient science of geometry to the real world. Science historian Amir Alexander joins Ira to share the story of geometry's rising global influence in his new book Proof!: How The World Became Geometrical.  Plus, a million years ago, the black hole at the center of our galaxy burped. Now, scientists are exploring what the resulting bubbles might say about our kinship with other galaxies. And here on Earth, neuroscientists say they can learn a lot by observing brains at play—particularly those of rats playing hide and seek.


How AI Is Influencing Decisions In Police Departments And Courtrooms. Sept 13, 2019
2019-09-13 13:58:35
Facial recognition technology is all around us—it's at concerts, airports, and apartment buildings. But its use by law enforcement agencies and courtrooms raises particular concerns about privacy, fairness, and bias, according to some researchers. Some studies have shown that some of the major facial recognition systems are inaccurate. Amazon's software misidentified 28 members of Congress and matched them with criminal mugshots. These inaccuracies tend to be far worse for people of color and women. We'll talk about how AI is guiding the decisions of police departments and courtrooms across the country—and whether we should be concerned. Plus: Scientists were threatened with firings after the National Weather Service projections for Hurricane Dorian contradicted President Trump's tweets, and more of the biggest science stories from the week. Finally, wind turbines are great at producing green energy. But when they reach they end of their life-span, their parts are incredibly difficult to recycle.  


SciFri Extra: Bird Nerds Of A Feather Flock Together
2019-09-11 09:00:00
The Science Friday Book Club is done birding—for now. But after wrapping up our summer discussion of Jennifer Ackerman's The Genius of Birds, bird enthusiasts flocked together at Caveat, a venue in New York City, for one last celebration of bird brains and feathered phenomena. We pitted audience members up against some local bird geniuses in tests of memory, pattern recognition, and problem-solving. Then, we brought on a gaggle of experts to talk about the special and smart birds of New York City, along with some of the threats they face—including bright lights and deceptive glass. And with fall migration underway, we're talking about many more species than pigeons. Science Friday SciArts producer and book club flock leader Christie Taylor hosted the conversation with NYC Audubon conservation biologist Kaitlyn Parkins, Wild Bird Fund director Rita McMahon, Fordham University evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Carlen, and National Audubon editor and Feminist Bird Club vice president Martha Harbison.


Randall Munroe, Football Concussion Research. Sept 6, 2019, Part 2
2019-09-06 13:42:27
If you've ever been skiing, you might have wondered how your skiis and the layer of water interact. What would happen if the slope was made out of wood or rubber? Or how would you make more snow in the most efficient way if it all melted away? These are the questions that comic artist Randall Munroe thinks about in his book How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. He answers these hypothetical scenarios and other everyday questions—from charging your phone to sending a digital file—with uncommon solutions. Munroe joins Ira to talk about how he comes up with his far-fetched solutions and why "...figuring out exactly why it's a bad idea can teach you a lot—and might help you think of a better approach." Read an excerpt of Munroe's new book where tennis legend Serena Williams takes to the court to test one of his hypotheses: How to catch a drone with sports equipment. Plus: Researchers have long known about the connection between concussions sustained on the football field and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative illness caused by repeated head injuries. But another group of researchers wondered—what about the hits that don't result in a concussion? They found that even when a player didn't show outward signs of having a concussion, their brains were showing symptoms of injury. Brad Mahon, associate professor in the department of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and Adnan Hirad, MDPhD candidate in the Medical Sciences Training Program at the University of Rochester, share the results of their investigation into the unseen impacts of head injuries on football players.    


Widening The Lens On A More Inclusive Science. Sept 6, 2019, Part 1
2019-09-06 13:41:34
In 2012, the Obama administration projected that the United States would need to add an additional 1 million college graduates in STEM fields per year for the next ten years to keep up with projected growth in the need for science and technology expertise. At the same time, though, native Americans and other indigenous groups are underrepresented in the sciences, making up only 0.2 percent of the STEM workforce in 2014, despite being 2 percent of the total population of the United States. Why are indigenous people still underrepresented in science? Ira speaks with astrophysicist Annette Lee and anthropologist Kim TallBear about the historical role of science and observation in indigenous communities, and how Western scientific culture can leave out other voices. They also discuss the solutions: What does an inclusive scientific enterprise look like, and how could we get there? Learn more about the efforts in North America to recognize indigenous astronomy. Plus: After Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas, Florida braced itself for a brutal start to hurricane season. The storm didn't cause catastrophic damage to the state this time, but Florida is just beginning peak hurricane season—and its nursing homes, which care for over 70,000 people, may not be prepared. Caitie Switalski of WLRN tells Ira more in the latest "State Of Science." And writer Annalee Newitz talks about the Trump administration's decision to roll back lightbulb efficiency standards, and other science headlines, in this week's News Roundup.  


Vaping Sickness, Teaching Science. Aug 30, 2019, Part 2
2019-08-30 14:52:17
Over 10 million Americans vape, or smoke electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes are also the most popular tobacco product among teenagers in this country. Some of them are marketed with bright colors and fun flavors like chocolate, creme brulee, and mint—or they're advertised as a healthier alternative to regular cigarette smoking. But last week, public health officials reported that a patient in Illinois died from a mysterious lung illness linked to vaping. In 29 states across the country, there are 193 reported cases of this unknown illness as of August 30. Most patients are teenagers or young adults and have symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Patients with more severe cases have to be put on oxygen tanks and ventilators—and some may suffer from permanent lung damage. "Acute lung injury happens in response to all kinds of things, like inhaling a toxic chemical or an infection. This is similar to what we'd see there. The lungs' protective response gets turned on and doesn't turn off," Dr. Frank Leone, a professor of medicine and the director of the Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Science Friday in a phone call earlier this week. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is still investigating the cause, but the illness is raising questions about the health effects of a growing smoking trend and how it should be regulated. "It's sort of a Wild West out there," Anna Maria Barry-Jester, a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, tells SciFri on the phone about current regulation of electronic cigarettes. Ira talks with Anna Maria Barry-Jester and Dr. Frank Leone about the illness and vaping's health effects. It's back to school season for everyone: students, teachers, and Science Friday. Our Educator Collaborative is back with nine teaching resources from nine amazing educators—all inspired by Science Friday media. From a lesson in sauropod digestion, complete with simulated poop (yes, it's gross), to inventing a way to get plastic out of the oceans, these resources offer learners in the classroom or at home chances to engage directly with complex science and engineering topics. Program member Andrea La Rosa, an eighth-grade science teacher from Danbury Connecticut, joins Ira to talk about a topic near to our hearts: analog and digital technology. She explains how she used a drawing activity to help her students understand how the two kinds of signals are different. Plus, in a world that's getting increasingly complicated, with more concepts to learn every year, how do you make the most of students' time in science class? Science Friday education director Ariel Zych talks about the ways educators are teaching young learners to learn, think critically, and take on increasingly high-tech concepts.


Degrees of Change: Tourism. Aug 30, 2019, Part 1
2019-08-30 14:50:49
Each year, outdoor enthusiasts in the country spend nearly $900 billion dollars on hiking, fishing and other types of outdoor recreation. The different types of business that take part in that tourism economy span a wide range—from big all inclusive ski resorts to mom and pop shops that sell tours of their local hiking spots.  But with shrinking snowpacks, more extreme weather, and the unpredictable changes from season to season, these businesses must wrestle with a challenge: climate change. Winter tourism operations are adding on summer water sports to stay afloat, while the number of ski resorts have dwindled almost in half since the 1950s. How will these local businesses adapt? In Capital Public Radio's podcast TahoeLand, reporter Ezra David Romero investigates how the community of Lake Tahoe in California, which sees 30 million tourists each year, is responding to these changes. Romero talks with Ira about how a pair of residents are trying to establish the area as the "Outdoor Capital of the World" in order to expand outdoor activities that can take place between the big winter and summer tourism seasons. He discusses how local businesses, from casinos to sleigh ride operators, are re-envisioning how they will operate in the future. Daniel Scott, who studies the effects of climate change on tourism, joins the conversation to discuss how the ski resorts are implementing different attractions that can be used year round. And Mario Molina from Protect Our Winters talks about how his organizations trains professional athletes and businesses that depend on the outdoors to become advocates for sustainable practices and policies. Plus, all eyes are on the Atlantic this week as Hurricane Dorian makes its way towards Florida. While Puerto Rico was spared the brunt of the storm, the hurricane still comes at a time when both Florida and Puerto Rico are especially vulnerable to storms. Rebecca Leber, climate and environment reporter at Mother Jones, joins Ira to discuss why—and the contributions a changing climate has to storms such as Dorian. They'll also talk about other climate stories from recent days, including statements from presidential candidates regarding their climate policy plans, the sailboat arrival of climate activist Greta Thunberg in New York, and a federal rule change that would loosen restrictions on methane gas emissions.


Climate And Farming, Mars 2020, Fireflies. August 23, 2019, Part 2
2019-08-23 14:20:37
From cutting back on fossil fuels to planting a million trees, people and policymakers around the world are looking for more ways to curb climate change. Another solution to add to the list is changing how we use land. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released a special report this month that emphasized the importance of proper land management, such as protecting forests like the Amazon from being converted to farmland, has on mitigating climate change. Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, joins Ira to discuss the ins and outs of the report. Cynthia Rosenzwieg, a senior research scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the lead authors, also joins to talk about ways we can use land to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Plus: NASA's Mars 2020 mission is just around the corner. Next fall, the Mars rover will launch with an upgraded suite of instruments to study the red planet in a way Curiosity and Opportunity never could. When it lands on Mars, it will search for and try to identify signs of ancient life. But how will it know what to look for? Katie Slack Morgan, deputy project scientist on the Mars 2020 mission, and Mitch Schulte, a Mars 2020 Program Scientist, talk to Ira about the chances of finding evidence for ancient life on Mars—and why the Australian Outback might be a good testing ground. And if you take a walk at night during the summertime, you might catch a glimpse of fireflies lighting up the sky. But scientists are learning that these bioluminescent insect populations are vulnerable to habitat loss, pesticides, and light pollution. Biologist Sara Lewis talks about conservation efforts including Firefly Watch, a citizen science project that maps out firefly populations around the country. She joins geneticist Sarah Lower to discuss how individual species of fireflies create different blink patterns, as well as the difference between fireflies, lightning bugs, and glow worms.


Book Club Birds, Amazon Burning. August 23, 2019, Part 1
2019-08-23 14:11:33
"Bird-brain" has long been an insult meant to imply slow-wittedness or stupidity. But in reading Jennifer Ackerman's The Genius of Birds, SciFri Book Club readers have been learning that birds often have wits well beyond ours—take the mockingbird's capacity to memorize the songs of other birds, or the precise annual migrations of hummingbirds and Arctic terns. Or the New Caledonian crow, which make tools and solve puzzles that might mystify human children. UCLA pigeon researcher Aaron Blaisdell and University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Lauren Riters join Ira and producer Christie Taylor to talk about the brightest minds of the bird world, and the burning questions remaining about avian brains. The Brazilian rainforest is experiencing a record number of fires this year—an 83% increase over 2018. Since last week, smoke from an estimated 9,500 fires has blocked out the sun for thousands of miles, covering cities like São Paulo in a dark cloud. Environmental agencies and researchers suspect the fires are human caused, cattle ranchers and loggers who are looking to clear the land for their own use. Ryan Mandelbaum, science writer for Gizmodo, gives us a rundown of the unprecedented destruction currently underway, and other science headlines, in this week's News Roundup. Plus: In North Carolina, electric vehicle charging stations will start operating more like gas pumps. David Boraks, from WFAE 90.7 in Charlotte, tells Ira more in "The State Of Science."


Live in San Antonio: Deadly Disease, Bats, Birds. Aug. 16, 2019, Part 2
2019-08-16 12:46:41
Imagine stepping into a white suit, pulling on thick rubber gloves and a helmet with a clear face plate. You can only talk to your colleagues through an earpiece, and a rubber hose supplies you with breathable air. Sounds like something you wear in space, right? In this case, you're not an astronaut. You're at the Texas Biomedical Institute in San Antonio, one of the only places where the most dangerous pathogens—the ones with no known cures—can be studied in a lab setting. Dr. Jean Patterson, a professor there, and Dr. Ricardo Carrion, professor and director of maximum containment contract research, join Ira live on stage for a safe peek inside the place where the world's deadliest diseases are studied.  Bracken Cave, 20 miles outside of San Antonio, is the summer home to 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Each night, the bats swarm out of the cave in a "batnado" in search of food. Fran Hutchins, director of Bat Conservation International's Bracken Cave Preserve, talks about how the millions of individuals form a colony and the conservation efforts to preserve this colony in the face of housing developments and the encroaching city. San Antonio is a great place for birding. Along with Texas Hill country, the Edwards Plateau, and the gulf coast, the region's intersecting ecosystems make it a good home—and a welcome pitstop—for birds. Iliana Peña, the Director of Conservation Programs at the Texas Wildlife Association, talks about sustainable grazing and other changes to ranching procedures that would make the tracts of land held by large Texas landowners more welcoming to grassland birds. Plus, Jennifer Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Ecology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, describes her research on the effects of wind farms on prairie chickens in Nebraska.  


Lightning, Electric Scooters, News Roundup. Aug. 16, 2019, Part 1
2019-08-16 12:45:58
Lightning during a heavy rainstorm is one of the most dramatic phenomena on the planet—and it happens, somewhere on Earth, an estimated 50 to 100 times a second. But even though scientists have been puzzling over the physics of lightning for decades, stretching back even to Ben Franklin's kite experiment, much of the science remains mysterious. Ira and IEEE Spectrum news editor Amy Nordrum speak with Farhad Rachidi, a lightning researcher at Säntis Tower in Switzerland, as well as Bill Rison, a professor of electrical engineering at New Mexico Tech and Ryan Said, a research scientist at Vaisala, about what potentially causes lightning, lightning-sparked wildfires, and why it's hard to study it in a lab. Plus: Scooters are electric, emission-free, and must be replacing gas-guzzling car trips. That has to be good for the climate, right? But a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters says electric scooters actually aren't very green. Sigal Samuel, a staff writer for Vox based in Washington D.C., joins Ira to talk more about the study. And this week, the Trump administration announced it would change the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented starting in September. Regulators would soon be able to conduct economic assessments to decide whether a species should be protected or not. Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science reporter for FiveThiryEight, joins Ira to discuss the roll back as well as other science headlines in this week's News Roundup.


Northwest Passage Project, Birds and Color. Aug 9, 2019, Part 1
2019-08-09 14:17:51
First, tardigrades on the moon, feral hogs on Earth, and more news from this week's News Roundup. Scientists and students navigated the Northwest Passage waterways to study how the Arctic summers have changed. Last year, one day into expedition, the boat ran aground and cut the mission off before it could get started. This year, the team successfully launched from Thule, Greenland and completed their three-week cruise. Birds don't just see the world from higher up than the rest of us; they also see a whole range of light that we can't. How does that shape the colors—both spectacular and drab—of our feathered friends?


Wiring Rural Texas, Visiting Jupiter and Saturn. Aug 9, 2019, Part 2
2019-08-09 14:14:24
High-speed internet access is becoming a necessity of modern life, but connecting over a million rural Texans is a challenge. How do we bridge the digital divide in Texas' wide open spaces? It turns out the Great Red Spot might not be so great—it's shrinking. Plus, other news from the giant planets.


Is Chemical Sunscreen Safe, Slime, Amazon Deforestation. August 2, 2019, Part 2
2019-08-02 13:38:29
Sunscreen has been on the shelves of drugstores since the mid-1940s. And while new kinds of sunscreens have come out, some of the active ingredients in them have yet to be determined as safe and effective. A recent study conducted by the FDA showed that the active ingredients of four commercially available sunscreens were absorbed into the bloodstream—even days after a person stops using it. Ira talks to professor of dermatology and editor in chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology Kanade Shinkai about what the next steps are for sunscreen testing and what consumers should do in the meantime. Often called the planet's lungs, the trees of the Amazon rainforest suck up a quarter of Earth's carbon and produce a fifth of the world's oxygen. The National Institute for Space Research in Brazil has been using satellite images of tree cover to monitor the Amazon's deforestation since the 1970s—and new data shows a potentially dangerous spike in deforestation. In the first seven months of 2019, the rainforest lost 50% more trees than during the same period last year. That spike in tree loss has coincided with Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsanaro, taking office in January and slashing environmental protections. Bolsanaro even called the new data a lie. But climate scientists warn deforestation is pushing the Amazon rainforest to a tipping point that would disrupt both its ecosystem and the global climate. Ira talks to Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of Sao Paulo's Institute of Advanced Studies, about the new data and why deforestation in the Amazon is so risky for the planet. When you think of algae, one of the first images that might come to mind is the green, fluffy stuff that takes over your fish tank when it needs cleaning, or maybe the ropy seaweed that washes up on the beach. But the diversity of the group of photosynthetic organisms is vast—ranging from small cyanobacteria to lichens to multicellular mats of seaweed. Author Ruth Kassinger calls algae "the most powerful organisms on the planet." She talks about how this ancient group of organisms produces at least 50% of the oxygen on Earth, and how people are trying to harness algae as a food source, alternative fuel, and even a way to make cows burp less methane.


Ethics Of Hawaiian Telescope, Bird Song, Alaska Universities Budget Cut. August 2, 2019, Part 1
2019-08-02 13:37:58
Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii, towering over the Pacific at nearly 14,000 feet. That high altitude, combined with the mountain's dry, still air and its extreme darkness at night, make it an ideal place for astronomy. There are already 13 observatories on the summit plateau. Now, astronomers want to build another, called the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, which would become the largest visible-light telescope on the mountain.  But many native Hawaiians don't want it there, for a multitude of reasons. Science Friday talked with Kawika Winter, a multidisciplinary ecologist at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the He'eia National Estuarine Research Reserve, who summed it up this way:  "The notion of pursuit of knowledge is an important one here. But is it pursuit of knowledge at all costs? Is it pursuit of knowledge at the expense of our humanity?  From the native Hawaiian perspective this is just the same thing that's happened before. It's preventing people from accessing sacred places. It's desecration of sacred places through construction. It's all of these issues, but this time it's for a 'good reason.' This time it's for science, this time it's for knowledge, so now it should be ok, right? But it's the same thing that's been happening for 200 years. It doesn't matter what the reason is. Engaging native Hawaiians is not a box to check off in the process. And you check it off at the end, say 'yeah, we checked with native Hawaiians.' That's not the proper way to engage in science in indigenous places. So we're trying to advocate for a different model for approaching science, and integrating native peoples, indigenous peoples, and indigenous cultures into the process. And that's how we can make sure the science we conduct doesn't come at the expense of our humanity."  Many native Hawaiians say the way this fight has been portrayed in the media—as Hawaiian culture versus science—is disrespectful of their culture, ignorant of their motives, and oblivious to the fact that science has long been an important part of traditional Hawaiian culture. Nearly a thousand scientists and astronomers have now signed an open letter in solidarity with those who would like to see a halt in construction.  When a baby human learns to talk, there's a predictable pattern of learning: First, they listen to the language spoken around them, then they babble and try to make the same sounds, and then they eventually learn the motor skills to shape that babble into words and meaning. Researchers who study songbirds know this is also the process by which a baby male zebra finch learns the unique songs that as an adult he will use to mate and defend territory. The same holds true for canaries, nightingales, warblers, and beyond. And for many birds, like humans, the window where they learn their "language" best is a short one that closes early in life. In fact, bird song is studied closely as an analogy for human speech—an example of sophisticated brain machinery for learning that evolved separately in birds and humans.  Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy's budget cuts to the University of Alaska total about $136 million, or roughly 41 percent of state support. As a result, the University of Alaska Board of Regents voted 8 to 3 to move towards consolidating the entire university system to a single accredited university. UA president Jim Johnsen says under any plan, it's likely that the cuts will have a ripple effect on enrollment and research. He says both are avenues that could result in less money for the university as a whole. A task force has been put together to determine how to move forward with the single university model.  


Ice Cream Science, Online Language. July 26, 2019, Part 2
2019-07-26 14:13:32
Have you ever tried to make your favorite rocky road flavored ice cream at home, but your chocolate ice cream turns out a little crunchier than you hoped? And your ribbons of marshmallow are more like frozen, sugary shards? Chemist Matt Hartings and ice cream maker Ben Van Leeuwen, co-founder of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in New York City, talk about the science behind how milk, sugar, and eggs turn into your favorite frozen desserts. They'll chat about the sweet science behind other frozen delights, too—like how the size of water crystals affect texture and how you can make a scoopable vegan ice cream.  Are you a fluent texter? Are you eloquent with your emoji? DOES WRITING IN ALL CAPS SOUND LIKE SCREAMING TO YOU? Maybe you've become accustomed to delivering just the right degree of snark using ~~sparkly tildes~~... Or you feel that slight sense of aggression when someone ends a simple text to you with a period.     In her new book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores some of the ways that online communication has changed the way we write informally, from the early days of computer bulletin boards to today's Facebook and Twitter memes.


Anonymous Data, Birding Basics. July 26, 2019, Part 1
2019-07-26 14:13:14
The Science Friday Book Club is buckling down to read Jennifer Ackerman's The Genius of Birds this summer. Meanwhile, it's vacation season, and we want you to go out and appreciate some birds in the wild. But for beginning birders, it may seem intimidating to find and identify feathered friends both near and far from home. Audubon experts Martha Harbison and Purbita Saha join guest host Molly Webster to share some advice. They explain how to identify birds by sight and by ear, some guides that can help, and tips on photographing your finds. Plus the highlights of summer birding: Shore bird migration is already underway, and baby birds are venturing out of the nest. We challenge you to get outside to see your local clever birds in action! Join the Science Friday Bird Club on the citizen science platform iNaturalist.  In this era of the Equifax breach and Facebook's lax data privacy standards, most people are at least somewhat anxious about what happens to the data we give away. In recent years, companies have responded by promising to strip away identifying information, like your name, address, or social security number.  But data scientists are warning us that that isn't enough. Even seemingly harmless data—like your preferred choice of cereal—can be used to identify you. In a paper from Nature Communications out this week, researchers published a tool that calculates the likelihood of someone identifying you after offering up only a few pieces of personal information, like your zip code and your birth date.  Dr. Julien Hendrickx, co-author of the study out in Nature Communications, joins guest host Molly Webster to discuss the risk of being discovered among anonymous data. And Joseph Jerome, policy council for the Privacy and Data project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, joins the conversation to talk about whether data can ever truly be anonymous. Plus, the Ebola crisis in the D.R.C. is now the second biggest outbreak on record. That, and other science stories in the news this week. 


Best Science Podcasts 2019

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