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Declining Insects, Sunny Day Flooding, Liquid Rules. Feb 15, 2019, Part 2

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


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.

Declining Insects, Sunny Day Flooding, Liquid Rules. Feb 15, 2019, Part 2
2019-02-15 15:07:31
 That once vibrant forest has gotten quieter and emptier, as many of the insects— and the animals that depend on them—have disappeared. In a worldwide report card on the state of insects in the journal Biological Conservation, the conclusion is dire: "This review highlights the dreadful state of insect biodiversity in the world, as almost half of the species are rapidly declining and a third are being threatened with extinction." We discuss the consequences of the "insect apocalypse." By 2035, scientist have predicted that over a hundred U.S. coastal communities could experience more than 26 days of low level floods. Researchers at Stanford University determined the economic impacts of this type of flooding in the tourist area of Annapolis, Maryland. Climate risk scientist Miyuki Hino, an author on the study, talks about the impacts of these small-scale effects of climate change. Fluids are all around you, of course—but how often do we take a moment to think about how liquids work? What makes one slippery and another sticky? Why does one make a good salad dressing, but another a good rocket fuel? Materials scientist Mark Miodownik tackles those questions in his book Liquid Rules. 
47 minutes, 6 seconds


A.I. And Doctors, Alzheimer's. March 22, 2019, Part 2
2019-03-22 13:33:48
When you go to the doctor's office, it can sometimes seem like wait times are getting longer while face time with your doctor is getting shorter. In his book, Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, cardiologist Eric Topol argues that artificial intelligence can make medicine more personal and empathetic. He says that algorithms can free up doctors to focus more time on their patients. Topol also talks about how A.I. is being used for drug discovery, reading scans, and how data from wearables can be integrated into human healthcare. Learn more and read an excerpt from Deep Medicine here. Plus: Alzheimer's disease is known for inflicting devastating declines in memory and cognitive function. Researchers are on the hunt for treatments are taking a number of approaches to slowing or preventing the neurodegenerative disease, including immune therapy, lifestyle changes, and targeting sticky buildups of proteins called amyloid beta. But at MIT, scientists have been trying something else: a combination of flashing strobe lights and a clicking sound played at 40 times per second, for just an hour a day. Mice given this treatment for a week showed significant reductions in Alzheimer's signature brain changes and had marked improvements in cognition, memory, and learning. But could an improvements in brains of mice translate to human subjects? Dr. Li-Huei Tsai, an author on the research, talks with Ira, and Wake Forest Medical School neuroscientist Dr. Shannon Macauley, who was not involved in the research, discusses how to take promising research of all kinds to the next level.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sleep and the Immune System, Measuring Carbon, Specimens of Hair. Feb 1, 2019, Part 2
2019-02-01 13:44:14
Some citizen scientists collect minerals or plants. But 19th-century lawyer Peter A. Browne collected hair—lots and lots of hair. His collection started innocently enough. Browne decided to make a scientific study of wool with the hope of jumpstarting American agriculture, but his collector's impulse took over. By the time of his death, Browne's hair collection had grown to include elephant chin hair, raccoon whiskers, hair from mummies, hair from humans from all around the world, hair from 13 of the first 14 U.S. presidents, and more. Bob Peck of Drexel University's Academy of Natural Sciences explains what Browne hoped to learn from all these tufts. See more images from Browne's collection. Whether you're a night owl or an early riser, we all sleep. But for something so universal, we don't understand much about what makes us sleep. Researchers looking into this question recently found a gene called neumri that triggered sleep in Drosophila flies. That gene produced a protein that is linked to antimicrobial activity, and the results were published in the journal Science. Neuroscientist Amita Seghal, who is an author on the study, talks about the role sleep might play in sickness and keeping us healthy.  It's one of the first things you learn in elementary school science class: Trees take in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. That may have satisfied our childhood questions about how trees work, but as adults, we understand the picture to be a lot more complex. Christopher Woodall, project leader with the USDA Forest Service joins guest host John Dankosky to crunch the numbers on carbon sequestration. And Christa Anderson, research fellow at the World Wildlife Fund, talks about how forests may be our best weapon for fighting carbon emissions.


Digital Art, Lava Lab, Desalination. Feb 1, 2019, Part 1
2019-02-01 13:43:45
A series of lines on a wall, drawn by museum staff, from instructions written by an artist. A textile print made from scanning the screen of an Apple IIe computer, printing onto heat transfer material, and ironing the result onto fabric. A Java program that displays its source code—plus the roving attention of the programmer writing that code, and the even speedier attention of the computer as it processes it. All three are works of art currently on display at the Whitney Museum of Art's 'Programmed' exhibition, a retrospective of more than 50 years of art inspired or shaped by coding. Host John Dankosky is joined by Whitney adjunct curator Christiane Paul, plus artists Joan Truckenbrod and W. Bradford Paley, to discuss the past and future of digital art. If you want to make a lava flow from scratch, the ingredients are fairly simple: one big crucible, and 200 to 700 pounds of 1.2 billion-year-old basalt dug from a quarry in Wisconsin. Combine these two, at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and you have The Lava  Project—a scientific study of the flow of molten lava in an upstate New York parking lot. Syracuse University geology professor Jeffrey Karson tells SciFri more. Plus: Desalination is the process that converts saltwater into water that can used for drinking, agriculture, or industrial uses—but desalination produces brine, a salty byproduct that can contain other chemicals. Journalist Tik Root talks about the trade-offs when it comes to desalination in this week's Good Thing, Bad Thing. Finally, Vox staff writer Umair Irfan joins SciFri for a look at the Midwest's Arctic temperatures, and other top science headlines, in this week's News Round-up.


Medical Conflict Of Interest, Saturn's Rings, Bear Brook Podcast. Jan 25, 2019, Part 2
2019-01-25 13:56:36
Most scientific journals go by the honor system when it comes to conflicts of interest: They ask, and the researchers tell. But that system might be due for an overhaul. A recent ProPublica and New York Times investigation found that a top cancer researcher at Sloan Kettering had received millions of dollars in payments from health and drug companies, but failed to disclose his industry ties in more than 100 articles. Within days, the researcher resigned, more conflicts came to light, leading to a moment of reckoning for the institution. But a more recent investigation shows the problem goes far beyond Sloan Kettering. New York Times reporter Katie Thomas, a co-author of the recent investigations, and Eric Campbell, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, discuss how these conflicts of interests could affect patients, why they aren't being consistently disclosed, and what's being done about the problem. Saturn stands out in our solar system because of the rings that circle the planet. But the rings may not have always been there and may disappear in the far future. Researchers using data collected by Cassini's final plunge into the planet were able to estimate the mass of the rings. From this information they were able to estimate that the rings were between 10 to 100 million years old, much younger than the planet itself. The finding were published in the journal Science. Planetary scientist Burkhard Militzer, who was an author on the study, tells us what the rings of Saturn can reveal about the formation of the solar system and universe. Last year's arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, better known as the Golden State Killer, drew lots of attention for the clever use of consumer genetic testing websites to identify a suspect—and for all the murky ethical questions that came with it. But this wasn't the first time law enforcement had used the technique to solve a cold case. Detectives looking for DeAngelo took their inspiration from an earlier case in New Hampshire, known as the "Bear Brook murders." In that case, police were up against both an unknown killer and unidentified victims, until they relied on the genealogy database GEDmatch to help them with a crack in the case. It was a strategy that would change the game for forensic investigations in cold case murders. And the story of how it all got started is now told in a new true crime podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio called Bear Brook. Jason Moon, reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio and host of the podcast joins guest host John Dankosky to discuss. 


Weather Advances, Listening to Volcanoes, Phragmites. Jan 25, 2019, Part 1
2019-01-25 13:56:03
Your smartphone gives you up-to-the-minute weather forecast updates at the tap of a button. Every newscast has a weather segment. And outlets like the Weather Channel talk weather all day, every day. But how much has the process of predicting the weather changed over the past 100 years? Though many of the basic principles are the same, improvements in data collection, satellite imagery, and computer modeling have greatly improved your local forecast—making a five-day look ahead as accurate as a one-day prediction was 40 years ago. Richard Alley, a professor of geoscience at Penn State, describes the evolution of meteorology, and what roadblocks still lie ahead, from data sharing to shifting weather patterns. And Angela Fritz, lead meteorologist for the Capital Weather Gang blog at the Washington Post, describes the day-to-day work of a meteorologist and the challenges involved in accurately predicting your local weekend weather. When the Chilean volcano Villarrica exploded in 2015, researchers trying to piece together the eruption had a fortuitous piece of extra data to work with: the inaudible infrasound signature of the volcano's subsurface lava lake rising toward the surface. Volcano forecasters already use seismic data from volcanic vibrations in the ground. But these "infrasound" signals are different. They're low-frequency sound waves generated by vibrations in the air columns within a volcanic crater, can travel many miles from the original source, and can reveal information about the shape and resonance of the crater... and whether it's changing. And two days before Villarrica erupted, its once-resonant infrasound signals turned thuddy—as if the lava lake had gotten higher, and left only a loudspeaker-shaped crater to vibrate the air. Robert Buchsbaum walks into a salt marsh on Boston's North Shore. Around him towers a stand of bushy-topped Phragmites australis, an invasive plant commonly known as the common reed. Phragmites is an enemy that this regional scientist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society knows all too well. The plant, which typically grows about 13 feet high, looms over native marsh plants, blocking out their sunlight. When Phragmites sheds its lower leaves, or dies, it creates a thick layer of wrack that keeps native plants from germinating. Its stalks clog waterways, thwarting fish travel. The roots secrete a chemical that prevents other plants from growing, and they grow so deep they are nearly impossible to pull out. But this stubborn bully of a plant might have a shot at redemption. A recent study from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center found that the very traits that make Phragmites a tough invader—larger plants, deeper roots, higher density—enable it to store more carbon in marshy peat. And as climate change races forward, carbon storage becomes a bigger part of the ecosystem equation.


SciFri Extra: 'Behind The Sheet' Of Gynecology's Darker History
2019-01-22 10:45:28
The 19th-century physician J. Marion Sims may have gone down in history as the "father of modern gynecology," but Sims' fistula cure was the result of experimental surgeries, pre-Emancipation, on at least 11 enslaved black women. Only three of whose names have been remembered— Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. A new play, Behind The Sheet, imagines their life—not just the pain, but the friendships they might have formed to support each other through surgery after surgery. In this extended conversation, Science Friday producer Christie Taylor talks to playwright Charly Evon Simpson about the process of inventing a story for these women despite the limited documentation of their lives, the controversy around a J. Marion Sims statue in New York City, and Sims' legacy in black women's maternal health outcomes today. Behind The Sheet was funded in part by The Sloan Foundation, which is also a funder of Science Friday. Further Reading Read an essay by Rich Kelley about the scientific an historical context of Behind The Sheet. Listen to Undiscovered's episode covering Sims' research and how people of color are still underrepresented in medical research. Read an article reported by Vox on the removal of a statue of Sims in New York in April 2018.


Gynecology's Dark History, Antarctic Ice, Moon Craters. Jan 18, 2019, Part 2
2019-01-18 14:14:24
Nineteenth-century physician J. Marion Sims has gone down in history as the "father of modern gynecology." He invented the speculum, devised body positions to make gynecological exams easier, and discovered a method for closing vaginal fistulas, a painful, embarrassing and often isolating complication that can result from childbirth. But Sims' fistula cure was the result of experimental surgeries, pre-Emancipation, on at least 11 enslaved black women, only three of whose names have been remembered—Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. Over a period of about five years, the women underwent dozens of surgeries as Sims attempted, and failed, to fix their fistulas. He rarely used anesthesia. What were the lives of those women like? A new play, Behind The Sheet, tackles this story from their perspective, imagining not just their pain, but the friendships they might have formed to support each other through surgery after surgery. In this story, the women tend each other's ailments, make perfume to hide the smell from their fistula condition, and pledge to remember each other even if history forgets them.  Researchers monitoring the condition of the Antarctic ice sheet report that not only is the ice melting, but that the rate of ice loss is increasing rapidly. According to their estimates, around 40 gigatons of ice were lost per year in the 1980s. By the 2010s, that rate of loss had increased to more than 250 gigatons of ice per year. That melting ice has caused sea levels around the world to rise by more than half an inch, the researchers say. Eric Rignot, climate scientist at the University of California-Irvine and one of the authors of the report, joins Ira to discuss the trends in the ice sheet and what they portend for sea level rise. Our moon formed about 4.51 billion years ago and it's been pummeled by meteorites ever since, leaving behind the lunar craters you can see on the surface today. Recently, scientists curious to know how often those impacts occurred came up with a clever way of determining the age of the craters. They discovered that many of them are relatively young—that is, the moon got hit by space rocks a lot more recently and a lot more frequently than scientists once thought. Sara Mazrouei, planetary scientist at the University of Toronto joins Ira to discuss the new research, out in the journal Science this week, and what it could tell us about Earth's crater history.


Book Club, Green New Deal, Louisiana Shrimpers. Jan 18, 2019, Part 1
2019-01-18 13:50:36
In a world roiled continuously by earthquakes, volcanoes, and other tectonic disasters large and small, a cataclysmic earthquake is about to change the course of human history... again. On the same day, a woman comes home to find her son dead, killed by his father for being an "orogene," one of the few people in the world with strange powers to manipulate geophysics to start—and stop—these disasters. Thus begins The Fifth Season, the first book of N.K. Jemisin's triple Hugo-winning Broken Earth trilogy, and this winter's SciFri Book Club pick. Join Ira and the team as we ponder seismology, volcanology, and how societies respond to disaster. We'll read the book and discuss until mid-February. A Green New Deal is the idea of an economy based on renewable energy, green jobs, and other policies that combat climate change. The idea was recently proposed by newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; former President Obama put out a stimulus plan (in year) that included elements of a Green New Deal. But the term was first coined over a decade ago by the journalist Thomas Friedman. Friedman talks about what possible green proposals could entail and what obstacles it might face. Louisiana shrimpers are facing low prices. They say the business is tougher than it's ever been, and recently considered striking. Many are looking for creative ways to make more money. Charles Robin IV, a shrimper, says the shrimp are great—the problem is selling them. Like most shrimpers, after a fishing trip he'll pull up to the local dock, refuel his boat, stock up on ice, and sell his catch to the dock. The dock owner then turns around and sells it to bigger buyers. But that's not paying much these days. Shrimp prices have been low. "It's been really bad," Robin says. "And you need to catch a lotta lotta shrimp to make up for the difference." That's why he goes to the seafood market—to cut out the middleman, make a little more money by selling directly to customers. Julie Falgout, Seafood Industry Liaison for Louisiana Sea Grant, says more and more shrimpers are doing this. She says selling direct makes a lot of sense for some people, but it's not easy. Cutting out the middleman means becoming the middleman. "And so it becomes a business where you have more things that you have to do and it's less time fishing."  


Heart and Exercise, Consumer Electronics Show, Black Holes. Jan 11, 2019, Part 2
2019-01-11 14:57:04
You've heard the news that smoking is bad for your health. But it turns out not exercising could be even worse for your chances of survival, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Network Open. But is it possible to overdo it? While you're trying to boost your overall health, could you instead be doing damage to your heart? In this segment, Wael Jaber of the Cleveland Clinic and Maia P. Smith of St. George's University talk about how sports like weightlifting stack up to running and cycling in terms of health effects, and how the sport you choose could actually reshape your heart. Discovered only decades ago, black holes remain one of the universe's most mysterious objects, with such a strong gravitational pull that  that light—and even data—can't escape. Oftentimes researchers can only observe black holes indirectly, like from blasts of energy that come from when the massive bodies "feed" on nearby objects. But where is that energy generated, and how does that eating process actually progress through the geometry of the black hole? Erin Kara, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, describes new research published in Nature into how echoes of X-rays in small, stellar-mass black holes can point the way. At the other end of the spectrum, supermassive black holes billions of times the mass of our Sun are believed to dwell at the hearts of galaxies. Many are active, drawing in nearby gas and dust and emitting energy in response, but others are dormant, with nothing close to feed on. MIT postdoctoral fellow Dheeraj Pasham talks about what happens when these dormant black holes suddenly encounter and tear apart a star—and how the fallout can shed light on how these black holes spin. His research appeared in Science this week. The researchers also discuss how black holes could lead the way to understanding how galaxies evolve, and other black hole mysteries. Every year, the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, meets in Las Vegas to showcase the latest in consumer tech trends. This year was no different—but what should we expect in tech in 2019? WIRED news editor Brian Barrett was on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center all week and joins Ira to talk about what he saw, including a flying taxi and other concept cars, delivery drones, robot companions, and '5G' products mean without a 5G network.    


Shutdown and Science, Smartphone and Overdoses. Jan 11, 2019, Part 1
2019-01-11 14:56:27
The partial shutdown of the U.S. government is approaching its third week, and it has caused a backlog for scientists employed or funded by the government. Scientists have had to leaving data collection and experiments in limbo. The Food and Drug Administration has had to suspend domestic food inspections of vegetables, seafood, and other foods that are at high risk for contamination. Journalist Lauren Morello, Americas bureau chief for Nature, puts the current shutdown in context to previous government stoppages. Morello also tells us how agencies and scientists are coping during this time and what we might see if the shutdown continues. And Science Friday producer Katie Feather reports back from the American Astronomical Society conference about how the shutdown has affected the meeting and the work of scientists. Last year, about 47,000 people in the United States died from an opioid overdose, including prescription and synthetic drugs like fentanyl, according to the CDC. And as the epidemic of opioid abuse continues, those looking to reduce death rates are searching for ways to keep drug users safer. But what if your smartphone could monitor your breathing, detect early signs of an overdose, and call for help in time to save your life? Researchers writing in Science Translational Medicine this week think they have just that: smartphone software that can 'hear' the depressed breathing rates, apnea, and changes in body movement that might indicate a potential overdose. University of Washington PhD candidate Rajalakshmi Nandakumar explains how the software, which uses smartphone speakers and microphones to mimic a bat's sonar, can 'hear' the rise and fall of someone's chest—and could someday even coordinate with emergency services to send help. Starting January 1, 2019, hospitals have been required to post online a machine-readable list of detailed prices for materials and procedures—from the cost of an overnight stay in a hospital bed, to a single tablet of Tylenol, to the short set of stitches you get in the emergency room. The new requirement is a Trump administration expansion of Obama-era rules growing out of the Affordable Care Act, which required that this list of prices be made available upon request. But while the increased availability of this pricing information might seem like a win for consumers, it's not actually all that useful in many cases. First, the price lists don't give a simple number for common procedures, but break down each part of every procedure item by item, in no particular order, and labeled with acronyms and abbreviations. Second, the price lists, called 'Chargemasters,' are the hospital equivalent of the car sticker price—they represent what the hospital would like to be paid for a service, not the price that most consumers actually do pay, or the prices that may have been negotiated by your insurance company. Julie Appleby, senior correspondent at Kaiser Health News, joins Ira to explain what the price lists actually show, why they matter, and what consumers might be able to do to get a better estimate of potential health care costs.


Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
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