Science Friday

By Science Friday and WNYC Studios

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 Mar 9, 2022

Herrera
 Aug 15, 2021
never mind my PREVIOUS review.


 Jul 25, 2021

Wanted to like
 Mar 31, 2021
I've heard a couple interesting things on here but the host gets a little grating after all

Christopher
 Dec 29, 2020
Science is a good investment. However, this program often dips into politics instead of the realm of Science, and it's disingenuous to mislead the audience. I will unsubscribe now and check back again perhaps in one year's time.

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Brain fun for curious people.

Episode Date
New Alzheimer’s Drug, Bangladeshi Water Machine, Recording Earth’s Sounds. Sept 30, 2022, Part 1
47:12

New Alzheimer’s Drug Reduces Cognitive Decline, Say Biotech Firms

This week, the biotech firms Biogen and Eisai released preliminary data from the clinical trials for their new Alzheimer’s drug, lecanemab. The companies said that the drug slowed cognitive decline by 27% in patients treated with the intravenous medication. It’s likely the drug will get the FDA’s approval by the end of the year.

This all comes after the recent controversy surrounding Biogen’s last Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm. Medicare recently announced that they will not cover that drug and others like it, unless patients are enrolled in a clinical trial.

Guest host John Dankosky talks with science journalist Roxanne Khamsi about this and other top science news of the week including a diamond that hints that Earth’s mantle contains water, brainy birds, and hearing aids made of false teeth.


 

Bangladeshi Farmers Found A Way To Save Massive Amounts Of Water

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, with a population of 165 million people living in an area a bit smaller than the state of Iowa. To feed all those people, farmers in Bangladesh work year-round: Instead of just growing crops during the rainy monsoon season, they grow a second or even third crop during the dry season—using groundwater to irrigate, and creating a more food-secure region.

Research published in the journal Science this month found something amazing about all that groundwater. By pumping water for crops in the dry season, Bangladeshi farmers were leaving space in the aquifers to recharge during the rainy monsoon season. And this space allowed the aquifers to recapture more than 20 trillion gallons of water, or twice the capacity of China’s massive Three Gorges Dam, over the last 30 years.

The researchers call this the Bengal Water Machine, evidence for a similar concept that was first proposed nearly 50 years ago called the Ganges Water Machine.

Guest host John Dankosky talks to lead author Mohammad Shamsudduha and International Water Management Institute researcher Aditi Mukherji about how this groundwater pumping benefits farmers, and the need for more data as climate change continues.


 

This Soundscape Artist Has Been Listening To The Planet For Decades

Jim Metzner is one of the pioneers of science radio—he’s been making field recordings and sharing them with audiences for more than 40 years. He hosted shows such as “Sounds of Science” in the 1980s, which later grew into “Pulse of the Planet,” a radio show about “the sound of life on Earth.”

Over the decades, Metzner has created an incredible time capsule of soundscapes, and now, his entire collection is going to the Library of Congress.

John Dankosky talks with Metzner about what he’s learned about the natural world from endless hours of recordings and what we can all learn from listening. Plus, they’ll discuss some of his favorite recordings. To hear the best audio quality, it might be a good idea to use headphones if you can.

 

Sep 30, 2022
DART Asteroid Mission, Rescue Robots, Raccoon Vaccination, Medical Marijuana and Workplace Rules, Lanternfly Signals. Sept 30, 2022, Part 2
47:16

After Hurricane Ian, Robots To The Rescue

Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida Wednesday, with winds over 150 miles per hour, high storm surge and heavy rains. As the storm, now weaker, is projected to move northward, search and rescue operations are setting out to assess the damage – with help from robots, both flying and swimming.

Producer Christie Taylor talks with David Merrick, who is leading the emergency management team responsible for flying drones over areas hit by disasters like Ian, about what it takes to use robots in these contexts and how they help speed up response and recovery efforts.


 

Vague Medical Marijuana Rules Leave Workers and Employers in the Dark

Vague legal safeguards for medical marijuana users in Pennsylvania are forcing patients to choose between their job and a drug they say has changed their life, and leaving skittish employers vulnerable to lawsuits, according to a three-month Spotlight PA investigation.

While state law protects workers from being fired or denied a job just for having a doctor’s permission to use marijuana, those protections become opaque when people actually take the drug — regardless of whether they do it in their personal time.

“It essentially makes no sense,” Pittsburgh attorney John McCreary Jr., who represents employers, told Spotlight PA.

Some jobs are specifically regulated by state and federal drug testing rules, but most fall into a gray area that leaves the interpretation of the rules up to employers and the courts. That leads to inconsistency and what employers see as a lose-lose scenario: Either risk a wrongful termination suit, or potentially allow an unsafe work environment.

Read the rest of the article at sciencefriday.com.


 

The DART Asteroid Impact Mission: It’s A Cosmic Smash

This week, a small spacecraft slammed into an asteroid—on purpose. The mission, known as DART (for ‘Double Asteroid Redirection Test’) was an effort to try out a potential means of planetary defense. NASA wanted to discover: Is it possible to change the path of an approaching asteroid by slamming something into it?

On Monday evening, the DART spacecraft slammed into the small asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, which orbits a slightly larger asteroid called Didymos. Pictures taken from onboard the spacecraft showed the rocky, rubbly terrain of Dimorphos approaching closer and closer, then disappearing, while telescopes observing the impact and cameras on a neighboring Italian Space Agency CubeSat showed a plume of debris ejected from the asteroid.

Dr. Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead and a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which built the spacecraft and is managing the mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, joins host John Dankosky. They talk about the impact, and what scientists hope to learn about asteroids and planetary defense from the crash.


 

High-Flying Trick-Or-Treat Delivers Rabies Vaccines For Raccoons

Rabies is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. It’s fatal in 99% of cases. Because of that, rabies prevention has been one of the most important—and successful—public health initiatives in the US.

To contain rabies outbreaks, the USDA leads a mass vaccination effort from August to October to keep the disease from being carried by critters. It’s an action-packed adventure involving raccoons, helicopters, and fish-flavored candy.

SciFri’s director of news and audio, John Dankosky, speaks with Jordona Kirby, the rabies field coordinator for the USDA’s National Rabies Management Program. She’s based in Milton, Florida.


 

Can Lanternflies’ Excretions Be Used To Quell Their Spread?

As the invasive spotted lanternfly continues to spread west in the United States, researchers are trying to better understand—and perhaps find a way to control —the behavior of the pretty, but ravenous, insects. Important agricultural crops, including grapes, peaches, and apples are especially at risk from the spreading infestation.

As the lanternflies feed on tree sap, they excrete a sweet-smelling liquid known as honeydew. That liquid can attract other insects, and can also allow fungus to grow on affected trees. Writing in the journal Frontiers In Insect Science this week, researchers from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service report that chemicals in the honeydew may act as a signaling agent among the lanternflies—in some cases attracting others of the species. The finding may help explain the way in which the insects can infest a given tree in huge numbers, while leaving neighboring trees largely alone.

John Dankosky talks with the paper’s lead author, Dr. Miriam Cooperband of USDA APHIS, about her research, and whether the finding may lead to a way to bait or repel the invasive insects.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

Sep 30, 2022
Undersea Rovers, Swimming Sperm, Teen Inventor, Soil Judging. Sep 23, 2022, Part 2
47:47

Sperm Swim Together To Help Each Other Reach The Egg

New research is complicating our understanding of how, exactly, sperm are able to reach eggs. The predominant theory is that sperm compete against each other, with the strongest swimmer fertilizing the egg.

But a new study, using cow sperm, suggests that sperm might actually swim together, forming clusters to help each other swim upstream to reach the egg.

Researchers created a device that has some of the features of a female reproductive tract, which they tested using a polymer substance that mimics cervical mucus. The intensity of the flow of this mucus-like fluid influenced how well the sperm clustered together. The faster the flow, the more likely the sperm were to band together to swim upstream.

Ira talks with Dr. Chih-Kuan Tung, associate professor of physics at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University about his research on sperm motility, and how it could improve infertility testing in the future.


 

Mars Rover, Move Over: Making A Rover To Explore The Deep Sea

 

When you hear the word ‘rover,’ it’s likely your brain imagines another planet. Take Mars, for instance, where the steadfast rolling science labs of Perseverance and Curiosity—and the half dozen robotic rovers before them—slowly examine the geology of the Red Planet for signs of past habitability.

But Earth has rovers too. The autonomous, deep-sea Benthic Rover II, engineered by researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), trawls a desolate surface too—this one 4,000 meters below the surface of the ocean, on a cold abyssal plain, under the crushing weight of 6,000 pounds per square inch of pressure.

Deep beneath the surface, the rover is seeking data about carbon: What carbon sources make it down to such a deep sea floor? And does that carbon return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, where it might contribute to global warming, or sequestered safely as an inert part of the ocean sediment?

Ira Flatow talks to engineer Alana Sherman and ecologist Crissy Hufford, both of MBARI, about the work it takes to make a rover for the deep sea, and the value of its data as we look to the future of our oceans.


 

Ukraine’s Ongoing Tragedy Inspires Teenage Inventor To Locate Landmines

Igor Klymenko is a 17-year-old inventor from Ukraine, and he recently won the Chegg.org Global Student Prize—a $100,000 award given to a young change-maker. Klymenko won it for his invention, the Quadcopter Mines Detector, which is designed to locate underground landmines. The issue of unexploded landmines cannot be understated—some estimates show there could be about 100 million of them scattered across the globe.

Klymenko is a student at both the University of Alberta in Canada and the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute in Ukraine. He joins Ira this week to talk about the Quadcopter Mines Detector, and how he’s trying to help his home country, Ukraine, through engineering.


 

Getting the Dirt On The World Of Competitive Soil Judging

If you’re looking for a new sport or hobby to try, forget about rock climbing or kitesurfing. If you don’t mind getting a bit dirty, consider competitive soil judging—a contest in which contestants work to best analyze, identify, and describe the layers of soil in a 5-foot-deep trench dug into a field. People can compete either individually, or in a team format, where different members of the team work to describe the soil’s characteristics—from color, to grain size, to how it interacts with water.

Clare Tallamy, a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in environmental science, recently won the individual competition in an international soil judging contest held in Scotland as part of the 2022 World Congress of Soil Science. She joins Ira to describe how soil judging works, gives an introduction to soil taxonomy, and explains the practical significance of being able to excel at judging a sample of soil.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Sep 23, 2022
Big Ideas In Physics, Saturn’s Rings, Soylent Green. Sep 23, 2022, Part 1
48:14

Biden Declares The COVID-19 Pandemic Over. Is It?

During an interview with 60 minutes last weekend, President Joe Biden said “the pandemic is over.”

“The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with covid, we’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, “ Biden said at the Detroit auto show.

This comment has prompted some dismay from the public health community. The World Health Organization hasn’t declared the pandemic over just yet. And the criteria to declare a pandemic over is nuanced and cannot be declared by the leader of a single country.

Ira talks with Katherine Wu, staff writer at the Atlantic, about that and other top science stories of the week including a new ebola outbreak in Uganda, the latest ant census, and Perseverance’s rock collection.


 Diving Into The Biggest Ideas In The Universe

Can mere mortals learn real physics, without all the analogies? Dr. Sean Carroll, Homewood Professor of Natural Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Biggest Ideas in the Universe: Space, Time, and Motion, says yes—if you’re willing to accept a bit of math.

Carroll says that he dreams of a world in which ordinary people can have informed ideas on physics, and might argue about the latest black hole news as urgently as they might debate a sports team’s performance in last night’s game. His new book starts with some of the basics of motion that might be taught in an introductory physics class, then builds on them up through concepts like time and black holes.

Carroll joins Ira to talk about the book, exploring where physics equations leave off and philosophical concepts begin, and the nebulous world in between.

To read an excerpt of The Biggest Ideas In The Universe: Space, Time, and Motion, visit sciencefriday.com.


Was Soylent Green Right About 2022?

In the spring of 1973, the movie Soylent Green premiered. The film drops us into a New York City that’s overcrowded, polluted, and dealing with the effects of a climate catastrophe. Only the city’s elite can afford clean water and real foods, like strawberry jam. The rest of the population relies on a communal food supply called Soylent. There’s Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow… and a new product: Soylent Green.

The year the film takes place? 2022. And spoiler alert: Soylent Green is people.

While the 2022 the film depicts is—thankfully—much darker than our current situation, the message still holds up. When the film premiered, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the Clean Air Act were very much in the country’s consciousness. 50 years later, warmer temperatures, soil degradation, and social inequality are more relevant than ever.

Joining Ira to talk about the importance of Soylent Green 50 years later is Sonia Epstein, associate curator of science and film at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Also joining is soil scientist Jo Handelsman, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in Madison, Wisconsin.


 Saturn’s Rings Might Be Made From A Missing Moon

Saturn’s rings are one of the most stunning, iconic features of our solar system. But for a very long time, Saturn was a ring-less planet. Research suggests the rings are only about 100 million years old—younger than many dinosaurs. Because Saturn wasn’t born with its rings, astronomers have been scratching their heads for decades wondering how the planet’s accessories formed. A new study in the journal Science suggests a new idea about the rings’ origins—and a missing moon may hold the answers.

Co-author Dr. Burkhard Militzer, a planetary scientist and professor at UC Berkeley, joins Ira to talk about the surprising origins of Saturn’s rings.

Want to know more? Listen to this previous Science Friday episode about Saturn’s formation.


 Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. 

Sep 23, 2022
Artemis Update, Stellar Art, AI for Mammography, Smoky Grapes, Harvesting Water From Air. Sept 16, 2022, Part 2
47:03

Pulling Water From Thin Air? It’s Materials Science, Not Magic.

You’ve probably seen a magic trick in which a performer makes a playing card, coin, or even a rabbit appear out of thin air. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at UT Austin describe an experiment where they seem to pull water out of dry air—but it’s not magic, and it’s not a trick. Carefully applied materials science and engineering allows the team to extract as much as six liters of water per day from one kilogram of their polymer, even in areas with 15% humidity. That’s drier than the Sahara Desert.

The material itself contains two main ingredients. First, a konjac gum, which can be found in Asian cooking, rapidly absorbs water from the air. (In scientific terms, it’s a “hygroscopic material.”) The second ingredient, hydroxypropyl cellulose, responds dramatically to changes in temperature. So at lower temperatures, the team’s polymer film absorbs water, but can rapidly release that water when the film is heated by the sun or artificial heating.

Dr. Guihua Yu, a professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at UT Austin and one of the authors of the report, joins Ira to talk about the material, its applications, and what challenges remain before it can be put into widespread use.


An AI Partnership May Improve Breast Cancer Screenings

Reading a mammogram is a specialized skill, and one that takes a lot of training. Even expertly-trained radiologists may miss up to 20% of breast cancers present in mammograms, especially if a patient is younger or has larger, denser breasts.

Researchers have been working since the advent of artificial intelligence to find ways to assist radiologists in making more accurate diagnoses. This July, a German research team, publishing in The Lancet Digital Health, found that when AI is used to help sort mammograms into low, uncertain, and high risk categories, a partnership between the radiologist and the algorithm leads to more accurate results.

To explain how this result may be translated into real clinical settings, Ira talks to Harvard’s Constance Lehman, a longtime researcher in the field of breast imaging. She talks about the promise of AI in breast cancer screening, its limitations, and the work ahead to ensure it actually serves patients.


A Smoky Aftertaste: Keeping Wildfires Out Of Your Wine Glass

Readers who love wine: It’s time to have a serious talk. California, Washington and Oregon are three of our largest wine-producing states. They’re also some of the states most prone to wildfires.

The West Coast is in the midst of its wildfire season, which makes us wonder: How does smoke impact the wines that come from this region? And what could this mean for those who enjoy a Napa Valley merlot, or an Oregon pinot noir?

There’s an area of food science research dedicated to answering these questions. Factors like the length of smoke exposure, the chemical composition of that smoke, and the type of wine being created all factor into how the final wine product tastes. The best side of a smoked wine spectrum is a mild campfire flavor. The bad side is burning tires.

Joining Ira to talk about how scientists are working to better understand how wildfire smoke impacts wine is Dr. Cole Cerrato, assistant professor of food science at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.


Artemis Update: What Will It Take To Make It Back To The Moon?

Sixty years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy gave an historic address at Rice University, in which he laid down a challenge to the nation and the world.

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Six decades later, going to space is still hard. This week, a flight of Blue Origin’s ‘New Shepard’ rocket experienced ‘an anomaly’ during a launch, triggering the escape system for the capsule (which, thankfully, was uncrewed.) And the Artemis 1 mission, the first test flight of America’s planned return to the moon, is on hold while a leaking fuel line is addressed.

Dr. John Blevins, the chief engineer for the Space Launch System, the massive rocket powering the Artemis 1 flight, joins Ira to provide an update on the mission, and why, after 60 years, the trip to the moon still contains so many challenges to be overcome.


 

This Astrophysicist Holds Star Data In The Palm Of Her Hand

When you look into the sky, the space between stars looks empty and void—but it isn’t. That’s where stars are born. And since astronomers and astrophysicists can’t reach these stellar nurseries, they rely on data collected by telescopes to peer into space.

But what if you could hold part of the galaxy in their hands? Or peer into an orb and see the birthplace of stars? By combining astrophysics and art, that’s exactly what Dr. Nia Imara does. She’s a visual artist and assistant professor of astronomy at UC Santa Cruz, based in Santa Cruz, California. Imara talks with Ira about studying stellar nurseries, how she creates stellar nursery spheres, and what she can learn from holding them in her hand.


Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Sep 16, 2022
How Do Antidepressants Work, Genetic Testing For Depression. Sept 16, 2022, Part 1
47:01

Why The Owner of Patagonia Gave Away The Whole Company

Earlier this week, the founder and owner of Patagonia Yvon Chouinard—the company known for their famous puffer jackets and outdoor gear—gave away the whole company. Who’d he give it to? The Earth.

“Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people,” Chouinard told David Gelles for The New York Times. “We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet.”

Purbita Saha, deputy editor at Popular Science, debriefs Ira on Chouinard’s decision, as well as other science stories of the week. They talk about if it’s safe to get the COVID booster and flu shot at the same time, how a new blood test could catch early stages of cancer, why the night sky is bluer, the reason why NASA is crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid, and the fight over trash between cockatoos and Australians.


 

Depression Isn’t Caused By Low Serotonin. So How Do Antidepressants Work?

In 2001, a now classic Zoloft commercial hit the airwaves—featuring a sad little blob with a rain cloud following it around. The commercial explains that “while the cause is unknown, depression may be related to an imbalance of natural chemicals between nerve cells in the brain. Prescription Zoloft works to correct this imbalance.”

That theory of depression as a chemical imbalance is based on a simple premise: Depressed people’s brains lack serotonin. If a patient takes a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), like Prozac or Zoloft, it boosts their serotonin levels, and their depression lifts. The trouble is that when researchers started testing this theory they found it didn’t hold up. Serotonin is certainly involved in depression. But it’s way more complicated than it originally seemed.To be clear, there is a body of research showing that antidepressants do work—it’s just unclear exactly how they work.

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


Understanding Metabolism Genes Might Improve Depression Treatment

Sometimes finding the right antidepressant medication is basically trial and error. Scientists are still trying to figure out why some antidepressants work for some people, but not others. Researchers at the Veterans Administration wanted to know if genetic testing might help doctors with prescribing the antidepressant best suited for their patients. Specifically, they examined genes that indicate whether or not someone is able to properly metabolize a medication.

Ira is joined by Dr. David Oslin, professor of psychiatry at the Crescenz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, to explain his latest research and its broader implications.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Sep 16, 2022
Fish Kills, Potential Sulfuric Acid Shortage, Goats for Invasives Control. Sep 9, 2022, Part 1
46:43

COVID-19’s Lingering Toll On The Heart

As new omicron-specific boosters against COVID-19 unroll in cities around the US, research is revealing more about the longterm consequences of even one infection with the SARS-CoV2 virus. Writing this week in Nature Medicine, a team of researchers from Germany describe finding long-lasting signs of heart disorders in the majority of recovered patients in their study group–even up to nearly a year later.

FiveThirtyEight’s Maggie Koerth joins Ira to describe the research and how it fits into what we’re learning about the scope of Long Covid. Plus taking the temperature of the melting Thwaites Glacier, new insights into the genes of both immortal jellyfish and human astronauts, and a post-mortem of the world’s first known amputation.


Why Are Dead Fish Piling Up Across The San Francisco Bay?

Thousands of dead fish are piling up across the Bay Area.

From the concrete outer edges of Oakland’s Lake Merritt to the sandy beaches of San Francisco’s Fort Funston and the pebbled banks of Oyster Point in San Mateo County, the carcasses of fish likely poisoned by a harmful algal bloom — more commonly known as a red tide — are washing ashore.

It’s a mass-death event the San Francisco Bay hasn’t seen the likes of in years, says Jon Rosenfield, senior scientist with environmental group San Francisco Baykeeper.

“From a fish’s point of view, this is a wildfire in the water,” he said.

By SF Baykeeper’s count, the number of fish dying off in the San Francisco Bay could easily exceed hundreds of thousands, and that, Rosenfield said, might even be a “low” estimate.

His field investigator confirmed “easily tens of thousands of fish dead” in Lake Merritt alone. But Rosenfield cautioned, “What you see is just the hint of what’s actually happening further beneath the water’s surface and in places you’re not getting to on the shoreline. So it’s really an uncountable number.”

It may be harmful to humans, too. An algal bloom of this size can cause skin irritation and respiratory problems, and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board is advising people to avoid swimming, kayaking or other activities on the water until the bloom subsides.

Read the full story at sciencefriday.com.


As Temperatures Get Warmer, Fish Are At Risk

Climate change is expected to have a big effect on a sensitive group of creatures: fish. A new study out of the University of Arkansas predicts that there is likely to be a six-fold increase in large fish mortality events between now and 2100, specifically in freshwater lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Known as “summerkills” and “winterkills”, seasonal die-offs are a part of fishy nature, but have been happening at a greater frequency as temperatures increase. That’s due to climate change-related factors like algal blooms, infectious disease, and oxygen deprivation.

Joining Ira to talk about the future for freshwater fish is Simon Tye, PhD candidate in biology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.


 As The World Decarbonizes, Sulfuric Acid May Be In Short Supply

A move towards more alternative energy sources and away from fossil fuel production is a net positive for the world. But there’s an unanticipated side effect—a possible global sulfuric acid supply shortage.

Eighty percent of the world’s sulfuric acid is the byproduct of fossil fuel production. Cutting back on coal, oil, and natural gas means producing less sulfur acid. That’s important as sulfuric acid is critical to making fertilizer, as well as green technology like solar panels and batteries.

Ira talks with Mark Maslin, professor of Earth System Science at University College London, about his latest research, which points to a looming sulfur shortage.


The New G.O.A.T Of Park Systems Is An Actual Goat

If you walk into a park, the odds are pretty high that you’ll find an invasive plant species, like buckthorn, giant hogweed, or multiflora rose. These resilient plants can often grow uncontrollably and out-compete native species for resources, which has consequences for native wildlife that depend on other native plants. They can also be incredibly difficult to remove. That’s why a growing number of parks across the United States are turning to unlikely helpers: goats.

Conservation grazing is a practice in which livestock are used to maintain biodiversity. Because goats eat almost everything, they chow down on invasive plants and make them much easier to remove.

Radio producer Rasha Aridi speaks with Hillary Steffes, the chief goat herder at Allegheny GoatScape in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about using goats as a conservation tool. Then, Rasha takes a trip to Riverside Park in NYC to meet some goats, and talk with Marcus Caceres, a field supervisor at the Riverside Park Conservancy.


Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

 

 

Sep 09, 2022
Remembering Frank Drake, History of Air Conditioning. Sep 9, 2022, Part 2
56:16

The Hot And Cold Past Of The Air Conditioner

In the Northeast, the leaves have started changing colors, heralding the season of pumpkins, sweaters, and the smell of woodsmoke. But in some parts of the country, the heat hasn’t let up. In cities like Dallas, Phoenix, and Miami, temperatures were up in the high 80s and low 90s this week—and with climate change, the U.S. is only getting hotter.

But humans have come up with an ingenious way to keep the heat at bay: air conditioning. Widely considered one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century, the technology has transformed how and where people live—and it’s prevented countless deaths. But it comes at a cost, and if we’re going to keep up with a warming climate, we’re going to need some other tricks to stay cool.


Remembering Frank Drake, Who Listened To The Cosmos

Last week, astronomer and SETI pioneer Dr. Frank Drake died at the age of 92. Dr. Drake was a key figure in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence—from Project Ozma in 1960, to the founding of the SETI Institute. He collaborated on the ‘Golden Record’ that Earth sent to the stars on board the Voyager space probes. Drake also created a mathematical way of estimating the probability of discovering signs of intelligent life, a calculation that became known as the Drake Equation, and spent years advocating for the search for alien life.

Drake appeared on Science Friday many times over the years. Here, in excerpts from conversations recorded in 2010 and 2016, he talks with Ira about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and his role with the Voyager Golden Record project. Our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.


Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

Sep 09, 2022
New COVID Vaccines, “Nope” Creature, NJ Toxic Site, Germicidal Coating. Sep 2, 2022, Part 1
47:21

New, Extra Protective COVID Vaccines Are On The Way

Earlier this week, the FDA approved brand new COVID-19 vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech that are designed to better protect people from the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants. At the same time, the U.S. is scaling back free testing and precautionary measures, putting more pressure on vaccines. Casey Crownhart, a climate and technology reporter at MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to talk about COVID updates and other science news of the week.

They also discuss how the U.S. is bracing for a record-breaking heatwave, the devastating floods in Pakistan, how the city of Jackson, MI ended up without running water, why Greenland’s “zombie ice” is causing concern, a massive investment in solar power, and a clue as to how the Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids of Giza.


 

New Jersey’s Lenape Nation Fights Ford’s Toxic Legacy

The Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lenape Nation has lived in the wooded hills around Ringwood for centuries, enduring the impacts of European settlement and the building up of America. But the toxic waste that now surrounds the Passaic County community is from an invasion of an entirely different kind. And it wasn’t long before residents started getting sick.

When the federal government created the National Priorities List, better known as Superfund, in 1980, abandoned iron mines in Ringwood were among the first sites to be listed; they made the list in 1983. Between 1965 and 1974, the Ford Motor Company dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of paint sludge, solvents and other waste into the mines scattered throughout the Turtle Clan’s homeland. By then, the southern portion of the site had been sold off by Ford to the Ringwood Solid Waste Management Authority, which went on dumping more waste onto and into the already toxic land. Arsenic and lead, benzene and 1,4-dioxane leached into groundwater. Kids played among slabs of hardened paint sludge. Adults scavenged the dump sites for copper and other valuable metals.

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


Coming Soon: A Germ-Killing Countertop?

From restaurant tables to office door knobs, not to mention anything inside a hospital, the world is full of surfaces that need sanitizing, lest someone catch a surface-borne viral or bacterial infection like the flu or MRSA. The typical solution involves sanitizing those surfaces with sprays and fluid cleaners. Or, sometimes, using materials that are hostile to microbes, such as silver or copper.

But a team of engineers at the University of Michigan has another solution in mind: a spray-on coating that combines the stabilizing power of polyurethane with the well-documented germicidal qualities of essential oils such as cinnamon, tea tree, and lemon. As the team reports in the journal Matter this week, their coating seems to kill pathogens like SARS-CoV2, MRSA and E. coli within minutes—and lasts for months before it must be refreshed. Research co-author Anish Tuteja joins Ira to talk about the innovation, and how he thinks it might be useful.


 

The Surprising Animal Science Behind Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’

One of the summer’s biggest blockbusters has been the alien horror film “Nope,” from director Jordan Peele. “Nope” has elements of many classic UFO films, with the Spielbergian charm of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and the horror and destruction from “The War of the Worlds.”

For the spoiler-averse, this is your warning to turn back now. The big twist in “Nope” that differentiates it from other alien films is that it isn’t a UFO hanging out in the skies above our main characters. The saucer-shaped figure is the alien itself.

Writer and director Jordan Peele attributes much of the inspiration for the alien as coming from sea creatures. He enlisted the help of scientific consultants including marine biologist Kelsi Rutledge to help bring the creature, known in the film as Jean Jacket, to life. She even gave it a scientific name: Occulonimbus edoequus, meaning “hidden dark cloud stallion eater.” Kelsi, who is a PhD candidate at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, talks to Ira about the ingredients that went into creating a new creature to scare audiences.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Sep 02, 2022
When Life Begins, Open Access Research, Wasps. Sep 2, 2022, Part 2
47:16

Why Is It So Hard To Agree On When Human Life Starts?

After decades of deliberations involving physicians, bioethicists, attorneys, and theologians, a U.S. presidential commission in 1981 settled on a scientifically derived dividing line between life and death that has endured, more or less, ever since: A person was considered dead when the entire brain—including the brainstem, its most primitive portion—was no longer functioning, even if other vital functions could be maintained indefinitely through artificial life support.

In the decades since, the committee’s criteria have served as a foundation for laws in most states adopting brain death as a standard for legal death.

Now, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and dozens of states rushing to impose abortion restrictions, American society is engaged in a chaotic race to define the other pole of human existence: When exactly does human life begin? At conception, the hint of a heartbeat, a first breath, the ability to survive outside the womb with the help of the latest technology?

To read the full article, visit sciencefriday.com.


 

Taxpayer-Funded Science Is Finally Becoming Public

Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a new directive requiring federally-funded science be made available to the public for free, and faster.

Set to take effect by the end of 2025, the new rule would do away with the Obama-era policy that journals can keep research with taxpayer funding behind paywalls for up to one year. In addition, more kinds of research would qualify than previous policies have required.

So how does freely accessible research benefit the people who pay for it—or the scientists who do the work itself? Nobel Prize-winning medical researcher and open science advocate Harold Varmus joins Ira to discuss.


 

Why You Should Thank Your Local Wasp

It’s late in the summer, meaning any outdoor gathering with food and drink has a good chance of being visited by a pesky, buzzing wasp. But don’t reach for that rolled-up newspaper or can of bug spray. The wasps in your world play an important role that’s often overlooked.

Far beyond the social hornets and yellowjackets people think about when they picture a wasp, the wasp world includes thousands of species. Some are parasitic, injecting their eggs into unwilling prey. Others hunt, either paralyzing prey for their young to feed on, or by bringing bits of meat back to a nest for their young. Some are strictly vegetarian, and live on pollen. Some are needed for the pollination of figs and certain species of orchids.

Dr. Seirian Sumner, a behavioral biologist at University College London, says that if people understood the services provided by wasps the same way that they understand the need for bees, they might be more willing to overlook an occasional wasp annoyance—and might even be thankful for the wasps in their lives. In her book Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps, Sumner makes the case for wasps as nature’s pest control agents, as important pollinators that should be celebrated.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Sep 02, 2022
Autistic Researchers Studying Autism, Canned Salmon Insights, Medieval Friars’ Parasites. August 26, 2022, Part 1
47:00

California Accelerates Its Push For Electric Cars

This week, air pollution regulators in California voted to phase out sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles, with a complete ban on gas car sales by 2035. The decision could have a larger impact on the automobile industry, however, as many states choose to follow California’s lead with regard to air quality and emissions decisions. Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins guest host Roxanne Khamsi to help unpack the decision.

They also discuss some of the other science stories from this week, including a survey-based study showing that Americans really do care about climate change and support mitigation measures, a look at how sugar substitutes can change the microbiome, and an engineer’s advice for how to build the sturdiest sandcastles.


 

Meet Two Autistic Researchers Changing How Autism Research Is Done

For many decades, autistic people have been defined by non-autistic people, including in science. Since the very beginning of research about autistic people, neurotypical scientists and institutions have been at the helm. The field has largely been defined by what neurotypical researchers are curious about learning, instead of prioritizing research that the autistic community asks for.

Because of that, and the invisibility of autistic adults in our society, a large chunk of this research has neglected the needs of autistic people. In many cases, it’s caused harm to the very people the research aims to help. Until recently, there have been very few openly autistic researchers who study autism. But there is a growing body of openly autistic scientists who are using both their expertise and their own lived experiences to help shape the future of autism research.

Guest host Roxanne Khamsi speaks with Dr. TC Waisman, a leadership coach and researcher studying autism and higher education, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Patrick Dwyer, a Ph.D. candidate studying sensory processing and attention in autism at the University of California, Davis. They talk about the history of autism research, why the inclusion of autistic people in research leads to more helpful outcomes, and how they see the future of autism research changing.

Ira Kraemer consulted on this story.


 

Ecological Data From Deep In The Pantry

Most people wouldn’t be excited by a call offering a basement full of canned salmon dating back to the 1970s. But for researchers trying to establish baselines for what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to aquatic parasite populations, the archive of fishy tins, maintained by the Seattle-area Seafood Products Association, was a valuable resource.

Natalie Mastick and colleagues combed through the tins with tweezers, counting the numbers of parasitic anisakid worms they found. (Since the salmon was cooked, the worms—though gross—posed no risk to human eaters.) The team found that in their samples of chum and pink salmon, the incidence of parasitic infection increased over the 40 years covered by the salmon archive. The finding might be good news—an increase in the numbers of marine mammals in the area, key hosts for the parasites, could be responsible for the wormy increase. Natalie Mastick, a PhD candidate in the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, joins guest host Roxanne Khamsi to explain the study.


 

Medieval Friars’ Farming May Have Caused Tummy Troubles

What was life like back in medieval England? You might think that the learned friars who lived in the town of Cambridge—scholars, with access to innovations like latrines and places to wash their hands—might have lived healthier lives than the common folk. But a recent study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology says that, at least when it comes to intestinal parasites, the friars may have been worse off.

Dr. Piers Mitchell runs the Cambridge Ancient Parasites Laboratory and is a senior research associate in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Mitchell and colleagues excavated soil samples from around the pelvises of medieval skeletons in one Cambridge cemetery, then examined the soil microscopically looking for parasite eggs. They found that friars in the cemetery had almost twice the incidence of intestinal parasites as commoners in the town—a fact they speculate could be related to friars using human feces, from the friary latrine, to fertilize the gardens. Mitchell joins guest host Roxanne Khamsi to explain the study.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Aug 26, 2022
Endangered Birds, Urban Wildlife, Lyme Disease Test, Rodent Social Behavior. August 26, 2022, Part 2
46:54

Attracting Birds To Prime Habitat By Playing Recordings Of Their Calls

How do you know a restaurant is good? If the parking lot is full of cars, that’s a pretty good indication. If it’s empty, you probably won’t bother stopping.

In this case, the restaurant is a newly restored wetland in Michigan and the customers are rails. The birds migrate at night, so if they don’t hear other rail calls in an area, they’re not likely to stop. Researcher Dustin Brewer is broadcasting recorded rail calls to try to bring the secretive birds to prime habitat—to feed and mate. Rails are declining, mostly due to habitat loss. Experts say if rails are influenced by these recordings, it could help increase the bird’s population.


 

Collars, Cameras, And Carcasses: Studying Urban Wildlife

When you hear the words “urban wildlife,” you might think of rats scampering across a street, pigeons plopped on railings, or crows fighting over a pizza crust. But urban wildlife are so much cooler and more diverse than they get credit for, and scientists have a lot to learn from them. In the blink of an evolutionary eye, urban wildlife have quickly adapted to changing landscapes and learned to take advantage of sprawling urban areas.

Guest Roxanne Khamsi speaks with Dr. Chris Schell, an assistant professor studying urban ecology at the University of California, Berkeley. They chat about why urban wildlife is so cool, how scientists can study them, and what we can learn from our scrappy neighbors.


 

A New Lyme Disease Test In Development May Help Improve Treatment

Roughly 476,000 people in the United States are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates. However, the CDC says that this number is likely an overcount because many patients receive treatment based on symptoms without a positive test result.

On top of that, there are some limitations of the diagnostic tests available for Lyme disease. The FDA-approved Lyme disease tests can only determine if a patient has had Lyme disease in the past, not if they currently have an infection. The test cannot determine if antibiotic treatment was successful, or if a positive test result is due to a re-infection.

Guest host Roxanne Khamsi talks with Pete Gwynne, a molecular and microbiologist at the Tufts Lyme Disease Initiative, who is working to solve some of these problems by developing a new diagnostic test for Lyme disease.


 

‘I Will Not Be Vole Girl’—A Biologist Warms To Rodents

The path to becoming a scientist is not unlike the scientific process itself: Filled with dead ends, detours, and bumps along the way.

Danielle Lee started asking questions about animal behavior when she was a kid. She originally wanted to become a veterinarian. But after being rejected from veterinary school, she found a fulfilling career as a biologist, doing the type of work she always wanted to do—but never knew was possible for her.

Science Friday producer Shoshannah Buxbaum talks with Dr. Danielle Lee, a biologist, outreach scientist, and assistant professor in biology at Southern Illinois University about what keeps her asking questions, what rodents can help us understand about humans, and the importance of increasing diversity in science.

Aug 26, 2022
Back-To-School Health Concerns, Artemis Moon Mission, Designing A Better Lanternfly Trap. August 19, 2022, Part 2
47:03

Teen Innovator’s New AI Tool Helps Create Affordable Drugs

The U.S. has some of the highest prescription drug prices in the world, which can push patients into bankruptcy over medications they cannot afford. More than three in four American adults think the prices of prescription drugs are unaffordable, prompting the Senate to recently pass a bill intended to help lower prescription drug costs for seniors.

One young innovator set out to find his own solution. 17 year-old Rishab Jain developed ICOR, a tool to improve the rapid production of drugs like COVID-19 vaccines. Ira talks with  Jain from Portland, Oregon, about his innovation and vision for the future.


 

When Trapping Invasive Bugs Is Science Homework

The spotted lanternfly, an invasive species, was first introduced to the U.S. in Pennsylvania, around 2014. Since then, it has spread aggressively, and has now been spotted in 11 states. The bug is pretty—adult spotted lanternflies are about an inch long, and feature striking spotted forewings and a flashy red patch on the hindwings. But they are also very hungry, and pose a significant threat to agricultural crops, including grapevines.

Many control efforts have focused on either stomping the insects on sight, or on spotting and destroying the egg masses that the lanternflies lay in the fall. However, researchers have been developing trapping techniques for the bugs as well. One, involving a sticky band looped around a tree, is effective—but can also snare other insects and even birds. Experts at the Penn State Extension have come up with a new style of circle trap for lanternflies, based upon an existing trap for pecan weevils. Now, STEM educators at Rutgers University are using that design as the starting point for an engineering design challenge, asking K-12 teachers and students to come up with improvements to the design. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


Should Kids Get Vaccinated If They’ve Already Had COVID-19?

It’s nearing the end of August, which means it’s back-to-school season. There’s a big difference between this school year and last: All children are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. This means the risk of disease will likely be way down, compared to the past two autumns, according to vaccine researcher and pediatrician Paul Offit.

But for kids who have already been infected by COVID-19, will the vaccine add meaningful immunity?

“My answer to that question is yes,” Dr. Offit tells Ira. “Then you can be sure that they will then develop the kind of immunity that will likely lead to fairly long-lived protection against serious illness.” Ira and Dr. Offit also discuss the risk of monkeypox and polio spreading in schools, and how to best keep our kids safe against infectious disease this fall.


 

The Countdown Begins For Humanity’s Return To The Moon

NASA’s largest and most powerful rocket ever began inching its way to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday night. Over twelve years in the making, the long-delayed, over-budget Space Launch System rocket is finally nearing its first chance for liftoff at the end of this month. The August 29th targeted launch will mark the beginning of the Artemis program—NASA’s series of missions designed to send humans to the Moon and, eventually, Mars.

The multi-billion dollar orange rocket now stands taller than the Statue of Liberty, resembling a colossal upside-down carrot. Its maiden uncrewed flight will carry a trio of mannequins equipped with radiation sensor vests in preparation for crewed flights slated for 2024. These future missions will be the first to return people to the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Aug 19, 2022
How Viruses Shaped Our World, A Seagrass Oasis For Manatees. Aug 19, 2022, Part 1
47:27

Will A Colorado River Drought Dry Up Energy Supplies?

This week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that manages water in the Western U.S., started the process of cutting water use allotments along the Colorado River after seven states missed a deadline for coming up with their own reduction plan.

The area has been under a long-running drought—and with water in demand for everything from drinking to agriculture to industry, and with the population of the area on the rise, agreements over water use are difficult to come by. The drought has another less obvious effect on the area as well—drops in water allocation could lead to declines in power production in a region that relies on several major hydroelectric facilities.

Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Ira to talk about the plan for distributing western water and other stories from the week in science—including a possible reprieve for nuclear power plants in Germany and California, a geomagnetic storm sparking an astronomical light show, orders for future supersonic aircraft, and investigations into why thinking hard makes you physically tired.


 

How Viruses Have Shaped Our World

SARS-CoV2. HIV. CMV. HSV-1 and HSV-2. MPX. EBV. HPV. WPV. WNV.

The alphabet soup of viruses that infect us may seem long and daunting. But as scientist and author Joseph Osmundson writes in Virology: Essays for the Living, the Dead, and the Small Things In Between, these viruses are vastly dwarfed by the total number of harmless or even beneficial viruses on our planet. “It’s a rounding error larger than zero,” he writes. A single ounce of seawater will contain more than seven billion individual viruses incapable of doing us harm.

Osmundson’s book is both COVID-19 quarantine memoir, and reflections of a self-described queer man coming of age after the identification of the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. In it, he questions the war-like language we ascribe to “fighting” pathogens, explores the non-binary nature of health and illness, and advocates for a world where we are more ready to care for each other.

“The problem wasn’t illness,” he writes of HIV’s death toll before the development of effective treatments. “The problem never is. Illness is a fact of life. The problem is our inability to provide care to all.”

Osmundson talks to producer Christie Taylor about making new meanings for viruses through biomedicine and public health interventions. Plus, lessons for the monkeypox global public health emergency, and all the viruses to come.

Seagrass Oasis In Gulf Of Mexico Signals Good News For Manatees

Florida’s offshore marine habitat is in peril. Populations of fish are dwindling in many places, and manatees have been dying in record numbers. The basis for much of this life lies in seagrass just under our boats. We join scientist on a trip into one of the healthiest seagrass meadows in the Gulf of Mexico. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Aug 19, 2022
New Prosthetic Arm, CAR T Cell Therapy, Climate Games. August 12, 2022, Part 2
46:56

Some Grasses Can Stop Lead From Spreading In Soil

Lead left behind in soil from mining and smelting poses a major health risk to people who live nearby. Researchers in Nebraska and Kansas believe plant life and organic material can limit lead’s spread.
In parts of the Midwest where lead mining and smelting lasted for over a century, communities are still dealing with toxic waste left behind by the industry.

Lead, a dangerous neurotoxin, persists in the environment, including in water and soil, where it can pose a threat to the health of people living nearby. The risk is especially acute for children, who can unintentionally ingest lead by putting their hands in their mouths and whose brains and bodies are still developing.

It can be spread to other areas, like yards and schools, by rainfall, and can also taint aquifers or vegetables in gardens, making them harmful to consume.

Now researchers are working to limit the impact of lead in the environment on people, and they believe they’ve found a promising solution: Plant life.

Phytostabilization involves moving lead from soil into the roots, stems and leaves of plants to prevent it from spreading and to limit people’s contact with it.

“One of the goals of phytostabilization is to take the site with lead and put it in a stable state, so that the risk is reduced, and the issues related to lead in the soil can be managed,” said Larry Erickson, a professor emeritus at Kansas State University and former director of the university’s Center for Hazardous Substance Research.

Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.


 

A High School Student Invented An Affordable Brain-Reading Prosthetic

Artificial limb technology has come a long way since the first prosthetic—a big toe made of wood and leather developed in ancient Egypt.

Today’s cutting-edge robotic limbs use mind-control and even give users a sense of touch, helping them feel sensations like a warm cup of coffee or a mushy banana. Still, these state-of-the-art prosthetics often involve invasive brain surgeries and can be exorbitantly expensive.

Hearing of these issues, one teenager set out to create a solution. Seventeen-year-old Benjamin Choi has developed a non-invasive, affordable prosthetic arm. His Star Wars-inspired technology reads a user’s mind with only two sensors—one on the forehead and the other clipped to the earlobe. And he doesn’t plan on stopping there. He sees his work in artificial intelligence expanding to help ALS patients, wheelchair users, and beyond.

Ira speaks with Benjamin Choi from McLean, Virginia about how he developed this arm and what it means to be a young innovator.


 

New Immunotherapy Shows Promise Far Beyond Cancer

CAR T cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy in which a patient’s own immune cells are modified to create a hybrid immune cell that destroys cancer cells, was first developed over a decade ago.

Now, researchers are continuing to find success in treating new types of blood cancers with the therapy, and are working on applying the technology to solid state cancers like those of the pancreas and brain.

Scientists are also at the early stages of testing CAR T cells to treat autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus.

Ira talks with Dr. Carl June, one of the pioneers of CAR T cell therapy, a professor of immunotherapy and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia.


 

Feeling Hopeless About Climate Change? Try Playing These Video Games

Five years ago, Stephanie Barish was tired of the public’s attitude about climate change. “Most people at that time were just so negative about climate,” she said. “It was doom and destruction, and I thought, wow, to make positive change, you have to really look at this from a solutions perspective.”

Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Indiecade, an organization that supports indie video game developers and hosts events like the Climate Jam—the goal of which was to change the gloomy public narrative around climate change. So, with the help of organizations like Earth Games, participants around the globe gather every year to make video games about climate change optimism, solutions, and justice.

Teams can also consult with subject matter experts, like Dargan Frierson, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, and also a judge for the Climate Jam. If teams wonder what climate change would look like on a different planet, they can go to him for answers. “We always look for scientific accuracy,” he said. “I think it’s very important to keep things within the realm of possibility, even when you’re looking at fiction.”

Read the rest of the article and check out some of the games at sciencefriday.com.


 

Analogue Animation: Turning The Pages Of A Flipbook Machine

Brooklyn-based artist J.C. Fontanive is a master of the moving image—but in analogue. As an animator, he creates mechanical, perpetual motion ‘flipbooks,’ with help from old clocks and colorful illustrations of flying birds, butterflies, and other scenes from nature.

Fontanive joins Ira to talk about the act of invention, the ‘primal’ language of art, and how to create visceral work in a digital age.

See the flipbooks in gorgeous action at sciencefriday.com.


Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Aug 12, 2022
Insulin Price Plan, Monkeypox Facts, Milky Way Memoir. August 12, 2022, Part 1
47:24

A Plan to Cap Insulin Prices May Not Be Helpful

30 million people in the U.S. live with diabetes, and access to insulin can be expensive. More than 1 in 5 people with private insurance pay more than $35 a month for this necessary medication. The U.S. Senate has a plan to cap insulin prices for certain diabetics, but critics say this plan would not help make insulin affordable for a majority of people.

Plus, many people have been following the discoveries of the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, with baited breath. Astronomers may have found the youngest exoplanet we know of. And a deep space hoax of a chorizo slice fooled the astronomy community.

Joining Ira to talk about these stories and other science news of the week is Katherine Wu, staff writer for The Atlantic based in New Haven, Connecticut.


 

What You Need To Know About Monkeypox

Last week, the White House declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Currently there are a little over 9,000 confirmed cases in the United States, and just under 30,000 worldwide. Since the end of May, monkeypox has been spreading in countries where it has not been previously reported.

The virus is mainly spreading within gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men. And because of that there is stigma associated with the outbreak.

Ira talks with Rachel Roper, virologist at the Brody Medical School at East Carolina University, and Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers University School of Public Health, to explain the basics of transmission, answer listener questions, and debunk misinformation about the monkeypox outbreak.


 

Frenemies, Lovers, And The Fate Of The Cosmos: Our Galaxy Tells All

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 13.6 billion years old, all-knowing, and a little sassy. It has a rich social life of friends, frenemies, and even love interests—all other galaxies in the local group, including the stunning Andromeda. And the Milky Way is a little disappointed that we’ve stopped telling as many stories about it.

Or at least, that’s how folklorist and astronomer Dr. Moiya McTier imagines the galaxy’s personality when writing her new book, “The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy.” The book stretches from the beginning of the universe to the birth of our planet, and then on to the eventual theoretical end of the cosmos. Along the way, we learn both the science of how stars form and galaxies collide, and the many stories and myths humans have told about these bodies throughout our relatively brief lives.

McTier joins Ira to tell all (on behalf of the Milky Way), and explain the importance of story in scientific knowledge and discovery.

Read an excerpt of the book on sciencefriday.com.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Aug 12, 2022
Clean Energy Bill, Heatwave Infrastructure, Etana Teen Innovator. August 5th, 2022, Part 2
46:59

What’s Inside A Sudden, Second Chance At A Climate Bill

Last week, climate activists received a surprise gift from Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin. It turns out they had been in secret negotiations to put out a spending package that might tackle some of the same climate mitigation projects as last year’s failed Build Back Better initiative.

The $369 billion dollars for climate mitigation in the Inflation Reduction Act covers tax credits for renewable energy, methane leak reduction, and the largest environmental justice investment in history. But will it pass before Congress goes on recess?

Ira talks to University of California-Santa Barbara political scientist Leah Stokes, who helped advise Senate Democrats during the bill’s crafting, about what the bill might do, and some of the politics shaping climate action.


 

Engineering and Infrastructure In A Collapsing Climate

Roads buckling. Power grids flickering. Roads washing out and basements flooding. Climate change brings new hazards for both human health and the infrastructure that keeps our communities functioning. So how do we build for the conditions that are coming–and in many ways already here?

Arizona State University engineer Mikhail Chester talks to Ira about the physical alterations we’ll need and, perhaps more importantly, the way the process of building must change too. Plus why building things to fail—but with less deadly consequences—may be necessary in an uncertain future.


 

A Teen Inventor Builds A Fingerprint Scanner for Gender Equity

The World Bank estimates that around one billion people worldwide don’t have official proof of identity. Without legal identity verification, opening bank accounts, voting, and even buying a cell phone is challenging or even impossible. This issue disproportionately affects women—around half the women in low-income countries do not have proof of identity, which limits their independence and the resources they are able to access.

Looking for a solution, 16-year-old Elizabeth Nyamwange invented Etana—an affordable fingerprint scanner that could provide women with a form of digital identity. Her project to close the gender identification gap earned her first place in HP’s Girls Save the World challenge.

Ira speaks with Nyamwange, based in Byron, Illinois, about her innovation.


 

Remembering Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Pioneering Lieutenant Uhura

Actress Nichelle Nichols died this week at the age of 89. She was known to people throughout the galaxy for her role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, the communications officer on the Starship Enterprise. Her casting as a Black woman in a highly skilled, technical position on a major television program in 1966 was crucial representation—and helped many viewers see science and technology careers as something within their grasp as well.

When Nichols considered leaving Star Trek to return to Broadway, a meeting with “her biggest fan”—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr—helped convince her to stay on to contribute to the civil rights movement.

Later, Nichols became an ambassador for NASA, working to help recruit people to the space shuttle program, especially women and minorities. In this remembrance, astronaut Leland Melvin helps tell her story, and Tarika Barrett, CEO of the STEM organization Girls Who Code, talks about the importance of role models and representation.


Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Aug 05, 2022
Cancer Vaccines, Planting Wildflowers, Eating Copi Fish. August 5th, 2022, Part 1
47:23

White House Declares Monkeypox Outbreak A Public Health Emergency

The Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Thursday.

Earlier in the week the White House appointed Robert Fenton, regional administrator at FEMA to direct the federal government’s response to the monkeypox outbreak, along with a deputy director from the CDC.

This comes after criticism from activists and public health experts, who have said that the federal government has been dragging its feet on access to vaccines, testing and treatment for the virus.

Ira talks with Tim Revell, deputy United States editor for New Scientist, about the latest monkeypox updates and other top science stories including; new research into the shape of the human brain; how hand gestures can improve zoom calls and a plant that harnesses the power of a raindrop to gulp down insects.


 

New Steps Toward a Vaccine For Cancer

Vaccines have long been used to prevent infection from viruses. But now, scientists are working on a different kind of vaccine—one that targets cancer.

Dr. Kai Wucherpfennig is working on a cancer vaccine that would target tumors that tend to spread quickly and are resistant to treatment, like melanoma and triple negative breast cancer. This type of vaccine is intended to be used after a patient has had their tumor removed. The goal is to prevent the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body, which is called metastasis.

So far, this type of cancer vaccine is effective in animals, and the results were recently published in the journal Nature.

Ira talks with Dr. Kai Wucherpfennig, chair of cancer immunology and virology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, about his latest research into cancer vaccines, and how recent advances in understanding the immune system has jump-started research into new types of cancer immunotherapies.


 

Restoring A Sensitive Ecosystem, One Wildflower At A Time

The New England blazing star is more than just a pretty blossom: it’s an integral part of a globally-rare ecosystem called a “sandplain grassland.” Just like the name suggests, sandplain grasslands have sandy soil with tall grass, no trees and an exceptionally high number of rare plant and animal species.

That includes plants like the New England blazing star, an important food source for various grassland insects. Today volunteers would plant 1,000 of them to help restore Bamford Preserve, a 60-acre parcel of sandplain grassland on Martha’s Vineyard.

As climate change threatens both human health and the natural world, experts say that protecting biodiversity hotspots like this one will offer the most bang-for-the-buck — protecting threatened species while offering other ecosystem benefits, like open space and flood protection.

Read the full story on sciencefriday.com.


 

A Fish By Any Other Name: Inside The Effort To Bring ‘Copi’ To Dinner

People who live near freshwater rivers or lakes are likely familiar with Asian Carp. The fish are not native to the U.S., but over the last few decades their populations have exploded in waterways like the Mississippi River Basin and the Illinois River.

Over the last few years, there’s been a major PR campaign to move away from the name Asian Carp, in favor of a new name: “Copi.” The reason is two-fold: First, it joins a general trend of moving species’ names away from nationalistic associations, considering anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other goal is to make the fish sound more delicious—creating a market that would incentivize fishing the Copi, hopefully reducing their populations.

Joining Ira to talk about this is Jim Garvey, director of fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic sciences at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

Aug 05, 2022
Alzheimer’s Research Fraud, Extreme Heat Health, Piping Plovers, Octaglove. July 29, 2022, Part 1
46:04

Decades Of Alzheimer’s Research Could Be Based On Fraudulent Data

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating brain disorder that slowly affects memory and thinking skills. For many people who worry that loved ones may succumb to this disorder, the possibility of research in the field of Alzheimer’s is a balm of hope. However, a massive report from Science Magazine highlights a startling discovery: that decades of Alzheimer’s research are likely based on faulty data. Alzheimer's researchers are grappling with the revelation, and what it means for future research of the disease.

In other science news of the week, scientists have identified pits on the moon that are a comfortable temperature: averaging 63 degrees Fahrenheit. But don’t plan that space vacation yet—research finds that air pollution from space-bound rockets has an exorbitantly high effect on global warming—much more than traditional airplane travel.

Joining guest host Sophie Bushwick to discuss these stories is Maggie Koerth, science writer for FiveThirtyEight based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They also discuss how childhood vaccinations have dropped dramatically during the COVID pandemic, and why this is likely tied to New York’s first Polio case in nearly a decade


 

Higher Temperatures Are Bad For The Body

Across the globe, hundreds of millions of people have been dealing with extreme heat. The three most populated countries in the world—China, India and the United States—have been gripped by heat waves throughout the summer.

Extreme heat isn’t just uncomfortable: it can be deadly, putting strain on the organs and systems that keep us in equilibrium. Heat is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, pregnant people, and those without access to air conditioning. In the United States, heat is responsible for more deaths than any other type of weather event.

Joining guest host Sophie Bushwick to talk about what high temperatures do to the body, and how we can protect our health and safety in a heat wave is Chris Uejio, associate professor of public health at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. 


 

Protecting Piping Plovers Isn’t A Walk On The Beach

July is nearly through, and so is the piping plover’s nesting season. It's make-or-break time for these small, endangered shorebirds. There are roughly 8,000 piping plovers in the entire world. To put that in context, birders often get really excited to see a rare bird like a snowy owl. But there are about 28,000 snowy owls in the world, three times the number of piping plovers. 

Since piping plovers make their nests along the water and out in the open, their chicks are very vulnerable to being gobbled up by predators. And a major reason for their decline in numbers is human development along the beaches, lakes, and rivers where piping plovers lay their eggs. 

SciFri radio producer Shoshannah Buxbaum went out to Fort Tilden in Queens, NY to report on a volunteer-run conservation effort along the New York City coastline. And later in the segment, Michigan radio reporter Lester Graham talks with guest host Sophie Bushwick about the unique challenges and triumphs of the piping plovers who nest along the Great Lakes.


 

This Glove Takes Inspiration From An Octopus’ Arm

Octopuses have more than 2,000 suckers on eight arms, and each one is controlled individually, making these critters incredibly dextrous. So when a team of researchers wondered how to design a glove that could hold onto slippery objects underwater, they turned to octopuses for inspiration. Ultimately, they created something they’re calling an octa-glove. Guest host Sophie Bushwick talks with Michael Bartlett, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, about his team’s engineering, and what they learned from the ambidextrous creatures.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jul 29, 2022
Fire Of Love Film, Accessible Tech, Vagina Book. July 29, 2022, Part 2
46:39

For The Love Of Volcanoes

A new documentary, “Fire of Love,” tells the story of French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. The married couple spent two decades chasing volcanic eruptions across the world. Katia was a geochemist and Maurice a geologist. Together, they studied the science of volcanoes and produced films showcasing their power. That is, until their deaths in 1991, when they were killed by the very thing they loved so much.

Guest host Sophie Bushwick talks with Sara Dosa, director of the documentary “Fire of Love,” which is in theaters nationwide, and will be available on Disney+ later this year.


 

A Blind Researcher Making A More Accessible World

Joshua Miele has spent his career trying to make the world more accessible for blind and visually impaired people. As a blind person, his lived experiences have shaped the way he thinks about technology and how it can be used to better serve disabled people. He’s invented products like YouDescribe—a tool that adds audio description to YouTube videos—and Tactile Maps Automated Production, a software that creates tactile maps for people to feel.

Although adaptive technologies try to help disabled people access information, it isn’t always driven by the input and needs of disabled people. There needs to be more disabled designers, engineers, and researchers spearheading this work, Miele says. Now, he works as a principal accessibility researcher at Amazon’s Lab126, where he helps make products like the Echo and Fire tablets more accessible.

Guest host Sophie Bushwick speaks with Miele about how his own experiences shape his work, and the importance of disability inclusion in designing new technologies.


 

What You Might Not Have Known About The Vagina

When it comes to researching human genitals and the organs called, in simple terms, “reproductive,” the penis has long been the star of the show.

“It doesn’t help to only look at one or the other. Only by zooming out can we see them in their full range of variation and possibility,” writes science journalist Rachel E. Gross in her book, Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage, which tells the long history of neglected research into the vagina and its companion organs—the uterus, clitoris, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries. The book takes readers through myths, mysteries, and the legacy of shame around sexuality. It also introduces researchers who are finally making breakthroughs in our understanding of fertility, pleasure, and even immune health that’s been linked to these organs.

The book interviews doctors who are using that knowledge to make life better for everyone—including cancer patients and older people going through menopause, transgender women who want their own vaginas, people with endometriosis, and those, including intersex people, looking to regain pleasure and agency after childhood genital cutting.

Producer Christie Taylor interviews Gross about our growing understanding of clitoral anatomy, the long-misunderstood egg cell, the uterus’ ability to heal, and more. Plus, why these organs are important for whole-body health, and why everyone needs to understand them better.

To read an excerpt from Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage by Rachel E. Gross, visit sciencefriday.com.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available a week after the show airs at sciencefriday.com.

 

Jul 29, 2022
Kahneman on ‘Noise,’ CHIPS Act, Great Salt Lake Dryness, Hybrid Toads. July 22, 2022, Part 2
47:20

When Times Get Tough, These Toads Make Hybrid Babies

Scientists have long thought that when two animals from two different species mate, it’s a colossal error and the end of the road for the mismatched couple. It’s called interspecies breeding, and many hybrid offspring often end up sterile, such as zonkeys —a cross between a zebra and donkey. Or they can develop serious health problems, like ligers and tigons.

One biologist even went as far to call interspecies breeding “the grossest blunder in sexual preference.” But is breeding across species lines always a dead end? One critter —the plains spadefoot toad—shows us that maybe it isn’t. In fact, it can give them a leg up in survival.

Katherine Wu, staff writer for The Atlantic, talks with Ira about the complicated sex lives of the female plains spadefoot toads, the trade-offs females make when choosing a mate, and why hybridizing critters may not be such a biological abomination after all.


 

 

Major Semiconductor Support Bill Passes First Hurdle

Earlier this week, the Senate voted in favor of the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act. If passed, the bill would provide more than $50 billion to companies that will build semiconductor factories here in the United States. Semiconductors are versatile materials—such as silicon—often used in electronics and in microchips. But the bulk of semiconductors, known as “chips,” are produced in other countries, mostly Taiwan. If the CHIPS Act is passed, the government will fund tech companies to build factories at home instead. Although the bill still has to go through the House and be signed by President Biden, this Senate vote is still a monumental moment in the tech world.

Jesús del Alamo, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, joins Ira to talk about why this bill is such a big deal, and what’s at stake.


 

Drought Could Raise Toxic Dust Around Utah’s Great Salt Lake

Utah’s Great Salt Lake holds a unique ecological niche as the western hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake. The body of water is three to five times saltier than the ocean, with salinity ranging between 12 and 28 percent. According to the Great Salt Lake Institute, millions of birds from more than 250 species rely on the lake yearly, alongside a diverse variety of plants and animals.

Like many bodies of water in the U.S., climate change is affecting the status quo in the Great Salt Lake. The water is drying up at an alarming rate, reaching its lowest level in recorded history this month. Now, researchers warn that toxic dust could increase as water levels continue to drop.

Joining Ira to discuss the Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem and future is Bonnie Baxter, director of the Great Salt Lake Institute and biology professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah.


 

A Flaw in Human Judgment: How Making Decisions Isn’t As Objective As You Think

If two people are presented with the same set of facts, they will often draw different conclusions. For example, judges often dole out different sentences for the same case, which can lead to an unjust system. This unwanted variability in judgments in which we expect uniformity is what psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “noise.”

The importance of thoughtful decision-making has come in stark relief during the pandemic and in the events leading up to the January 6th insurrection.

Ira talks with Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman about the role of ‘noise’ in human judgment, his long career studying cognitive biases, and how systematic decision-making can result in fewer errors.

Kahneman is the co-author of “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,” along with Oliver Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein, now available in paperback.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Jul 22, 2022
Global Heat Wave, Indigenous Peoples Genetic History, Heat-Adaptive Plants. July 22, 2022, Part 1
46:55

Earth Faces A Global Heat Wave

Temperatures are higher than normal for much of the planet this week—and while the heat wave in Europe has had much of the attention, over 100 million Americans in 28 states were under extreme heat advisories this week.

Yasmin Tayag, a freelance science editor and writer based in New York, joins Ira to talk about the global heat wave and other stories from the week in science—including the president’s COVID diagnosis, an uptick in drug-resistant infections, and the question of whether previously uninfected people are “sitting ducks” when it comes to new COVID variants. They’ll also tackle some lighter topics, including new studies of how an elephant’s trunk works, and the genetics of how penguins came to prefer colder climates.

Genetics Suggest Indigenous People Arrived In Americas Earlier Than Some Thought

For years, grade school textbooks have told the story of how the Americas were populated by people crossing a land bridge from Asia and migrating in the safe havens between glaciers. In this version of history, its inhabitants arrived 13,000 years ago.

But that story needs an update, thanks to both new archaeological evidence, and the increasingly robust tools of genetic analysis—ancient genomes extracted from millennia-old human remains suggest a much longer history of people in the Americas, perhaps by thousands more years, and aligns with the oral histories of Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples. The genetic evidence also brings up new mysteries, including evidence of some groups of ancient peoples with no direct descendants today.

Producer Christie Taylor talks to University of Kansas anthropological geneticist Jennifer Raff, the author of Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas, about the growing evidence for the need to revise the history of the First Peoples. Plus, why researchers seeking to tell that story need to work directly with contemporary tribes to ensure that exploitative scientific practices of the past are not repeated.

Can Genetic Modification Help Plants Survive Climate Change?

Temperatures around the world are reaching all-time highs as major heat waves cause extreme weather and climate events. Earlier this year, temperatures in India and Pakistan soared to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by months of unrelenting, unseasonably hot weather. A brutal heat wave is now moving across Europe, fueling devastating wildfires, and producing Britain’s highest temperature on record. Propelled by climate change, future heat waves promise to increase in frequency and intensity, posing a dangerous threat to human health.

But people aren’t the only ones at risk. Many plants—including essential food crops—struggle to survive as temperatures rise. When conditions heat up, a plant’s immune system can shut down, eliminating its defense mechanism. With key agricultural regions already experiencing record highs, global food supplies face potentially devastating consequences.

Ira talks to Sheng-Yang He about his research published in Nature last month that offers a potential solution—using gene editing to strengthen a plant’s defenses against increased temperatures.

Jul 22, 2022
JWST Images, Solar System Exploration, Monkeypox. July 15, 2022, Part 2
47:23

Stunning JWST Images Show New Details Of The Universe

After many delays, a Christmas launch, and a months-long period of travel and testing, the first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) were unveiled this week. The JWST has a huge multi-segmented mirror that allows it to gather faint light—and it sees in the infrared, allowing it to see through dust and gas and reveal details about the universe that were previously unseeable.

On Monday, a short ceremony at the White House unveiled the first image, a “deep field” image taken by staring for hours at a piece of sky the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. The image shows thousands of galaxies, including ones so distant that their images have been warped by the gravitational lensing effect of massive objects in between. On Tuesday, four more images were unveiled, including a spectrograph describing the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet, a cluster of galaxies known as Stephan’s Quintet, the dying stars of the Southern Ring Nebula, and the star formation region known as the Carina Nebula.

Amber Straughn, an astrophysicist and deputy project scientist for James Webb Space Telescope Science Communications joins Ira to talk about the images, and what lies ahead now that the JWST has entered its operational phase.

To compare the JWST images side-by-side with the Hubble images of the same subjects, visit www.sciencefriday.com.


 

A Busy Time For Space Launches

While much of the astronomical world was gazing at the first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope, there’s been a lot of other space news to discuss—from launches and testing associated with the Artemis I mission to the moon to new data from the Martian rovers. There’s also big news with commercial space flights, and even plans from some commercial vendors to work on a replacement for the aging International Space Station.

Ira talks with Brendan Byrne, space reporter from WMFE and host of podcast “Are We There Yet?”, along with planetary scientist Matthew Siegler, about recent solar system news, and space events to keep an eye on in the months ahead.


 

U.S. Attempts To Catch Up With Rising Monkeypox Cases

The outbreak of the orthopox virus currently known as monkeypox continues to spread in hotspots around the United States, with symptoms ranging from fever to intensely painful, contagious lesions. From five cases in late May, the known number has grown to at least 1,053 as of Wednesday afternoon, with epicenters including New York City, the Bay Area, Chicago, Washington D.C., and other major cities. But the current numbers most certainly are an undercount, as people seeking diagnosis report difficulty accessing tests. Meanwhile, the rollout of the existing monkeypox vaccine, Jynneos, remains slow and inadequate for demand, with more than a million doses still stuck in a stockpile in Denmark.

So far, the virus, which is known to spread through respiratory droplets and skin-to-skin contact, has been detected predominantly in men who have sex with men. New York public health researcher Keletso Makofane and San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer speak to the frustration of LGBTQ men and nonbinary people in the most at-risk networks, as resources and response lag.

And Ira talks to UCLA monkeypox researcher Anne Rimoin, who twelve years ago published a warning that cases were rising in African countries as immunity to the related smallpox virus waned. He also speaks with Brown University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo about the outlook for global and domestic containment, and the pressing need for more data.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 15, 2022
A Land Return, A COVID Update, Texas’ Power Grid, and A Gene-Editing Thriller. July 15, 2022, Part 1
47:16

1,000 Acres Of Ancestral Land Returned To Onondaga Nation

Earlier this month, more than 1,000 acres of land in central New York were returned to the Onondaga Nation, the original steward of the land. This decision stems from a 2018 settlement between the Natural Resource Trustees and Honeywell International, Inc., which previously owned the land and polluted it with dangerous toxins, such as mercury and heavy metals. Under this agreement, Honeywell will fund and implement 18 restoration projects, and the Onondaga Nation will lead the restoration and preservation of its land.

“It is with great joy that the Onondaga Nation welcomes the return of the first substantial acreage of its ancestral homelands. The Nation can now renew its stewardship obligations to restore these lands and waters and to preserve them for the future generations yet to come,” Onondaga Nation Chief Tadodaho Sid Hill said in a statement. “The Nation hopes that this cooperative, government-to-government effort will be another step in healing between themselves and all others who live in this region which has been the homeland of the Onondaga Nation since the dawn of time.”

Roxanne Khamsi, science writer based in Montreal, Canada, joins Ira to talk about this “landback victory,” which marks one of the largest returns of land to an Indigenous nation in U.S. history.

Roxanne and Ira also discuss other science news of the week, including why pulse oximeters aren’t inclusive of people with dark skin, how some mosquito-borne viruses trick their hosts into attracting more mosquitoes, the discovery of a one-of-a-kind carnivorous plant that hides its traps underground, why some flowers act as cesspools for bumblebees, and how relocating sea turtle eggs can lead to health issues for newborn turtles.


 

A New COVID Wave Is Here, Raising The Risk Of Reinfections

Coronavirus is surging again in the United States. The latest sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 are now dominant. Right now, things are feeling a little different: People who were recently sick are getting reinfected. And those who have so far evaded the virus are getting it for the first time.

A new booster based on the new omicron sub-variants is slated to roll out in the fall. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is pushing to allow people under 50 to get a second dose of the currently available booster.

Ira is joined by Katelyn Jetelina, adjunct professor at UTHealth School of Public Health and author of the newsletter, Your Local Epidemiologist and Jessica Malaty Rivera, epidemiology fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and senior advisor at the Pandemic Prevention Institute to debunk the latest pandemic misinformation and update us on the current state of the virus.


 

Texas Heatwave Puts Strain on Electric Grid

Texans woke up Monday morning to a familiar fear, worried that the state’s electric grid may not provide enough energy to see them through the day. While the anxiety is understandable, a shortfall of energy reserves on the system does not automatically mean the grid operator will order rolling blackouts. If you, like millions of others, are wondering about the likelihood of blackouts, here’s a review of what happens if the state falls short of power.

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


 

Gene Editing Is Easy—And A Crime—In This New Techno Thriller Book

Logan Ramsay wakes up one morning and feels different. It’s not allergies, and it’s not the flu. If anything, he feels sharper: He needs less sleep, and can multitask and read at lightning speed. What’s going on with him? It turns out his genome has been hacked: tiny changes were made to his DNA to make him a bit of a superhuman. But at what cost?

This is the plot of Upgrade, Science Friday’s next book club pick, and a new science fiction novel that mixes real science concepts—notably CRISPR—with a fast-paced plot. It’s written by author Blake Crouch, who was inspired to write the book in part because of a Science Friday appearance in 2016. It’s also our current book club pick.

Blake joins Ira to discuss a future where gene editing is used to hack drugs, people, and animals, and how far off we are from the book’s climate disaster surveillance state.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jul 15, 2022
Big Bang Debate History, Black Hole Sounds, Maggot Healthcare, Forest Lichens. July 8, 2022, Part 2
47:05

A Debate Over How The Universe Began

Even though it’s commonly accepted today, the Big Bang theory was not always the universally accepted scientific explanation for how our universe began. In fact, the term ‘Big Bang’ was coined by a prominent physicist in 1949 to mock the idea.

In the middle of the 20th century, researchers in the field of cosmology had two warring theories. The one we would come to call the Big Bang suggested the universe expanded rapidly from a primordial, hot, and ultra-dense cosmos. Conversely, the so-called ‘Steady State’ theory held that the universe, at any given point in time, looked roughly the same.

The story of how the Big Bang became the accepted theory of physics is also a story of two men. One, Fred Hoyle, was a steady state supporter who thought the universe would last forever. Meanwhile, George Gamow, the major public advocate of the Big Bang, begged to differ. They debated in the pages of Scientific American and in competing popular books, as both dedicated scientists and earnest popularizers of their field.

And while Gamow ended up winning the debate, for the most part, the two men managed to come together in one way: They accidentally explained the origins of every element of matter by being part right, and part wrong. The truth, it turned out, would lie in the middle. Ira talks to physicist and science historian Paul Halpern about this story, detailed in his book, Flashes of Creation: George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, and the Great Big Bang Debate.


 

The World According To Sound: Listening To Black Holes Collide

In this piece, you can actually listen to gravitational waves, the ripples in spacetime made by the tremendous mass of colliding black holes. It is possible to hear them, because their wavelengths have been shifted all the way into the human range of hearing by MIT professor Scott Hughes.

Drawn together by their immense gravity, nearby black holes will swirl faster and faster until they are finally absorbed completely into one another. When the pitch rises, it means the force of gravity is increasing as the black holes collide.

Not all black holes come together at the same rate or release the same amount of gravitational waves, so each combining pair has its own particular sonic signature. Some black holes collide quickly. Others slowly merge. Some produce relatively high pitches, because of the intensity of the gravitational waves, while others have a low bass rumbling. Some even make the sound of a wobbling top as the two black holes swirl around each other, before eventually meeting and becoming totally absorbed into one another.


 

A Maggot Revolution In Modern Medicine

In a bloody battle during World War I, two wounded soldiers were stranded on the battlefield in France, hidden and overlooked under some brush. Suffering femur fractures and flesh wounds around their scrotum and abdomen, they lay abandoned without water, food, or shelter for a whole week. At the time, outcomes for these kinds of wounds were poor: Patients with compound femur fractures had a 75 to 80% mortality rate. By the time the soldiers were rescued and brought to a hospital base, orthopedic surgeon William Baer expected their wounds to be festering, and their conditions fatal. But much to his surprise, neither showed any signs of fever, septicaemia, or blood poisoning.

 

Read more at sciencefriday.com.


 

Trying To Determine Forest Health? Look To The Lichens

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?

One of the standard ways to identify significant patches of forest is to look at the size of the trees. But new work published this week in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment suggests that examining the lichens in a forest plot may give a better picture of the ecological health of an area. Because lichens feed from the air flowing over them, they’re quite sensitive to changes in moisture, nutrients, and pollution, and need long, continuous periods undisturbed.

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.


 

Transcripts are available on sciencefriday.com.

Jul 08, 2022
Bird Poop Importance, The Wonders Of Sweat, Invertebrate Butts. July 8, 2022, Part 1
47:34

We Need To Talk About Bird Poop

Seabird poop—sometimes called guano—was the “white gold” of fertilizers for humans for millennia. Rich in nitrogen and phosphorus from birds’ fish-based diets, the substance shaped trade routes and powered economies until chemical fertilizers replaced it.

But while people may no longer find bird poop profitable, these same poop deposits—often found on islands or coasts where the birds nest and rear their young—may also be nurturing ecosystems that would be left high and dry if the birds were to disappear. As seabird populations quickly decline, that’s becoming an increasing risk.

Australian researchers Megan Grant and Jennifer Lavers talk to Ira about the under-appreciated role of bird guano in ecosystems, and why scientists should be looking more closely at the poop patterns of endangered seabirds.


 

 

Sweating Is Our Biological Superpower

Sweat may feel like a constant summer companion, whether or not you exercise frequently. Being damp can feel uncomfortable, but the smells that follow—thanks to the lives and deaths of sweat-munching bacteria—are often socially stigmatized as well. (Deodorant itself is actually a very recent invention!)

But sweat isn’t just a cosmetic embarrassment: It’s crucial to keeping us cool, as the evaporating liquid pulls heat energy from our bodies. If you look at animals that don’t sweat, many have evolved alternate adaptations like peeing or even pooping on body parts to achieve that vital evaporative effect. People who are born unable to sweat run a constant risk of heatstroke.

Ira talks to Sarah Everts, author of the new book, The Joy Of Sweat, about what makes sweat useful, the cool chemistry of this bodily fluid, and why it’s our evolutionary superpower.


 

From Zero To 100 Butts: The Wild World Of Invertebrate Behinds

Recently, the staff of Science Friday came across a tweet that caught our attention, sent out by researcher Dr. Maureen Berg. Turns out, it was a call to source comic ideas for Invertebrate Butt Week, a celebration of—you guessed it—the butts of invertebrates. “Invertebrates really get the short end of the stick,” says Rosemary Mosco, the creator of the comic series Bird And Moon and #InverteButtWeek organizer. “People are not as excited about them as, say, a majestic whale or a beautiful bird. And I love my birds, but [invertebrates have] such an incredible diversity. So, butts are sort of a cheeky way to access some of that amazing diversity and celebrate it.”

Rosemary and other scientists and illustrators teamed up to create #InverteButtWeek, a celebration of the behinds of the backbone-less. “It’s a chance for some people who do science communication to do the silliest thing that they can possibly think of,” says Dr. Ainsley Seago, curator of invertebrate zoology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

 

Science Friday’s D Peterschmidt talks to the organizers of #InverteButtWeek about how it came together, their favorite invertebrate butt facts (like how sea cucumbers have anal teeth), and how you can participate in the celebration.


 

Transcripts are available on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

 

Jul 08, 2022
Summer Science Books, Effect of Roe on Obstetric Care, Female Athletic Injuries. July 1, 2022, Part 2
47:03

How Will Doctors Train For A Post-Roe World?

It’s been one week since Roe v Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court. Many people are still wrapping their heads around what this overturn means for their states— and for their lives.

For physicians and medical professionals, there’s another level of fear and concern about what practicing in a world without Roe v. Wade will mean. Questions are circulating about how training for OB/GYN’s may change, or if abortion care will stop being taught in medical school in states that do not allow the practice. For years, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has warned that a shortage of gynecologists will persist, and many in the industry fear the overturn will exacerbate this issue. 

Joining Ira to talk about how the Roe overturn could impact training of medical professionals is Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon.


 

Why Are Female Athletes At A Higher Risk Of ACL Injuries?

During 2021’s NCAA March Madness tournament, photos and videos from inside the athletes’ weight rooms went viral. The images showed the difference between what was available to the men’s and women’s teams. 

The men’s weight room was chock full of fitness training devices. For the female athletes, the only weights were six pairs of dumbbells.

This was just one example of a harmful stereotype that has persisted about women in sports: strength training is for men, not for women. This kind of thinking is not only wrong, but can have serious consequences.

Research shows female athletes are more prone to certain injuries, most strikingly ACL injuries. Women and girls are up to six times as likely to get an ACL injury compared to boys and men. Joanne Parsons, physical therapist and associate professor at the University of Manitoba, says, “A high school girl who plays basketball or soccer for one season, so let’s say three to four months-ish, will have a 1% chance of rupturing their ACL.”

Parsons and her colleague Stephanie Coen, health geographer and associate professor at the University of Nottingham, UK, join Ira to talk about how the way athletic training works now puts women and girls at a disadvantage, and what can be done to better protect athletes.

Watch the live call-in at sciencefriday.com.


 

The Best Science Books To Read This Summer, 2022 Edition

Whether you’re on the beach this summer, taking a staycation, or whiling away too many hours spent delayed in airports, you’ll want something to read. Ira and guest authors Riley Black and Deb Blum are here for you, with recommendations for the best books to soak in during the season of escapism. 

The full list of book recommendations can be found at sciencefriday.com.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available a week after the show at sciencefriday.com.

 

Jul 01, 2022
SCOTUS Restricts EPA, Scientist Rebellion Protests, Kansas Wheat Problems, Early Science Films. July 1, 2022, Part 1
47:11

Supreme Court Limits EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulating Ability

This week, in its final round of opinions for the term, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had not explicitly given the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants under the terms of the Clean Air Act. 

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day.’ But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d). A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion in the case, West Virginia v. EPA. 

 The ruling could hinder efforts globally to combat climate change, and could also affect regulations issued by other federal agencies dealing with "major questions" that would dramatically affect the economy.

Timothy Revell, deputy U.S. Editor at New Scientist, joins Ira to talk about the decision and other stories from the week in science, including new studies of the canine evolutionary tree, a look back at 10 years of the CRISPR gene-editing technique, the launch of the CAPSTONE mission, and what our nose can tell us about potential relationships.


 

The Scientist Rebellion: “We’re Not Exaggerating” About The Climate Crisis

Earlier this year, more than 1,000 scientists in 26 countries risked arrest during protests against climate change inaction. In Washington D.C., Rose Abramoff and other demonstrators chained themselves to the White House fence before being arrested. Across the country, Peter Kalmus chained himself to the doors of a JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bank in Los Angeles and gave an impassioned speech: “The scientists of the world are being ignored. And it’s got to stop. We’re going to lose everything. And we’re not joking. We’re not lying. We’re not exaggerating.”

Just recently, the Supreme Court recently cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s power (EPA) to regulate carbon emissions, a major step back in the climate movement.

Abramoff, a global change ecologist based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab based in Los Angeles, California, are members of an international group of scientists called Scientist Rebellion, who committed to sounding the alarms about the climate crisis. They join Ira to talk about the state of the climate movement, what it’s like to be a climate activist in the United States, and the power of disruption.


 

Drought In Western Kansas Exacerbates Global Wheat Shortage

Russia's war in Ukraine has disrupted global food supplies, driving up demand and prices for wheat. But after months of drought, many western Kansas farmers won’t have a crop to sell. This time of year, the wheat growing in this part of western Kansas should be thigh-high and lush green.But as a months-long drought continues to parch the region, many fields tell a different story. “There’s nothing out there. It’s dead,” farmer Vance Ehmke said, surveying a wheat field near his land in Lane County. “It’s just ankle-high straw.”

Across western Kansas, many fields planted with wheat months ago now look like barren wastelands. The gaping spaces between rows of brown, shriveled plants reveal hardened dirt that’s scarred with deep cracks from baking in the sun. Of all the years for drought to hit western Kansas wheat farmers, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Even with wheat selling for near-record-high prices as the war in Ukraine disrupts the world’s food supplies, a lot of farmers in western Kansas won’t have any to sell. And those who made it through the drought with enough crop to harvest will likely end up with far fewer bushels than they had last year, a downturn that limits the state’s ability to help ease the global food crisis.

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


 

See Science In Motion At “Twitch, Pop, Bloom”

It’s not unusual for people to crowd into a theater to see a big blockbuster about science. But when’s the last time you saw people clamoring for seats for an educational film made by scientists? The answer is likely never.

But this was not unusual in the early 1900s, when film was an up-and-coming medium and science was capturing the public’s imagination. This summer, the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) in Queens, New York, is highlighting science education films of the past in the new exhibit “Twitch, Pop, Bloom: Science in Action.”

SciFri producer Kathleen Davis speaks to Sonia Epstein, MOMI’s associate curator of science and film, about how these early videos and research went hand-in-hand at the dawn of cinema, and the historical significance of some of the videos in the exhibit.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jul 01, 2022
HIPAA Explained, Trans Research, Queer Scientists. June 24, 2022, Part 2
47:07

What Does HIPAA Actually Do?

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is name dropped a lot, but frequently misunderstood. Many are surprised to find that the “P” stands for portability, not privacy. 

Misunderstandings about what’s protected under the law go way deeper than its name. The law outlines protections only for health information shared between patients and health care providers. This means that any personal health data shared with someone who is not specifically mentioned in the law is not covered. 

If a period tracking app shares personal health information with Facebook, that’s not a violation of HIPAA. Neither is asking for someone’s vaccination status. 

Guest host Maddie Sofia talks with Tara Sklar, professor of health law and director of the Health Law & Policy Program at the University of Arizona, to explain what’s actually covered under HIPAA.


 

“Research By Us And For Us”: How Medical Research Can Better Serve Trans Communities

Trans medical care isn’t new or experimental, and study after study has shown that transition-related procedures—such as hormone therapies and surgeries—are incredibly safe and effective. But most long-term studies on trans health focus on the first few years after transitioning, leaving unanswered questions about the years after.

Similar to members of other marginalized groups, trans people have long been treated like “case studies,” rather than potential experts when it comes to scientific research. So while researchers have studied trans bodies for decades, they haven’t always asked trans people what they need to know about their own bodies, such as: If I’m pursuing medical transition, how will my bone density change after years of taking estrogen? If I take testosterone, will I also need to get a hysterectomy? How will my hormonal and surgical options affect my fertility? 

Now, a new wave of medical research—led by trans medical experts themselves—is trying to fill in those blanks and address the needs of trans communities.

Guest host Maddie Sofia speaks with Dr. Asa Radix, the senior director of research and education at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, and Dallas Ducar, nurse practitioner and founding CEO of Transhealth Northampton. They talk about the state of research on trans health, and how studies can better address the needs of the trans and gender diverse communities.


 

Food Pantry Venison May Contain Lead

Iowa requires warning labels about the possible presence of lead in shot-harvested venison. Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska do not. A walk-in freezer about two stories high sits in one corner of a warehouse owned by a food bank called Hawkeye Area Community Action Program Inc. in Hiawatha, Iowa. Chris Ackman, the food bank’s communication manager, points to the shelving racks where any donated venison the organization receives is typically stored.

Known as the Help Us Stop Hunger, or HUSH, program, the venison is donated by hunters from around the state, and Ackman says the two-pound tubes of ground meat go pretty quickly, lasting only a few months.

“It’s a pretty critical program, I think, because there are a lot of hunters in Iowa,” he said. “And, it’s well enjoyed by a lot of families as well.”

Similar programs around the country have been applauded as a way for hunters to do something they enjoy while also helping feed those in need. Iowa hunters donate around 3,500 deer a year through the program. From the hunters, the deer goes to a meat locker, where it’s ground, packaged and shipped off to food pantries around the state. But before it hits the shelves, Iowa officials require a warning label on the venison package.

The label reads:

“Lead fragments may be found in processed venison. Children under 6 years and pregnant women are at the greatest risk from lead.”

Then, in bold type, the label notes: “Iowa has not found cases of lead poisoning from lead in venison,” along with a number to call for more information.

Iowa stands out among Midwestern states in requiring a label warning about the potential hazard of lead ammunition and the fragments it can leave behind in shot-harvested game meat like venison. Donated venison in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska come with no similar warning label.

Read more at sciencefriday.com.


Museum Exhibit Celebrates Queerness In Science

Last year, the California Academy of Sciences debuted “New Science: The Academy Exhibit,” which celebrates 23 incredible LGBTQIA+ scientists. The folks in this exhibit are challenging the exclusionary practices that are all too common in scientific spaces, with the aim of creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment. It is a celebration of queerness in science.

Guest host Maddie Sofia talks with the curator of this exhibit, Lauren Esposito, who is a curator of arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences and founder of 500 Queer Scientists, based in San Francisco. They discuss the exhibit, the importance of LGBTQIA+ representation in STEM, and, of course, arachnids.

The exhibit is free and open to the public at the California Academy of Sciences, and it is also available online.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs at sciencefriday.com.

 

 

 

Jun 24, 2022
Roe V. Wade Overturned, Animals’ Amazing Sensory Abilities. June 24, 2022, Part 1
46:37

U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Roe V. Wade

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday to overturn Roe v Wade. While there have been rumblings that this decision was going to happen, it’s still a shock to many people in the U.S.

In early May, a draft opinion was leaked that had circulated among the court justices, showing a majority of them were in support of the overturn. This will have huge ripple effects throughout the U.S. when it comes to reproductive healthcare.

A study from the University of California predicts a quarter of abortion clinics in the U.S. are likely to shut down under this rule, with the biggest impact in the South and Midwest.

Guest host Maddie Sofia talks with SciFri radio producer Kathleen Davis about what’s next for abortion rights in America and other science news of the week, including evidence of community transmission of polio in London and Canada’s single-use plastic ban.


 

The Millions Of Ways Animals Sense The World

A shark tracks its victims by smell, but uses the unmissable signal of a fish’s electrical field to make its final strike. Fire-chaser beetles can detect the heat of distant forest fires with specialized cells in their heads. Baby tree frogs can detect the seismic signals of a striking snake from within the egg—and seem to hatch earlier in defense. And the prey-hunting visual system of one unassuming-looking Mediterranean fly, known as the killer fly, works faster than any other species we’ve observed.

All of these are examples of an animal’s umwelt, their specialized sensory bubble or window onto the world, as described by German biologist Jakob Johann von Uexküll over one hundred years ago.

As science writer Ed Yong writes in his newest book, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal The Hidden Realms Around Us, our history of studying animals’ umwelten has been fraught with hubris, misunderstandings, and mistakes. But bit by bit, we’re learning to appreciate the truly spectacular perceptive abilities of the owl, the elephantfish, and the humble jumping spider.

Yong joins guest host Maddie Sofia to share stories of amazing animal sensory abilities and the challenges of both imagining and describing these other realms using human-centric language. Plus, the uniquely human capacity to imagine other animals’ umwelten, and how we can use it to make the world better for them.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jun 24, 2022
The Rise Of Mammals And A Cephalopod Celebration. June 17, 2022, Part 2
47:32

The Wild and Wonderful World of Mammals

Mammals may be the most diverse group of vertebrates that have ever lived. (Don’t tell the mollusk enthusiasts over at Cephalopod Week.) Many people share their homes with another mammal as a pet, like a dog or cat. The largest creatures on earth are mammals: Ocean-dwelling blue whales are the biggest animals that have ever lived, and African elephants are the biggest animals on land. And lest we forget, humans, too, are mammals.

The history and diversity of mammalians is the subject of a new book by paleontologist Steve Brusatte, “The Rise and Reign of the Mammals.” Steve joins Ira to talk about why mammals have been so successful over the years, and why extinct mammals deserve as much love as the beloved dinosaurs. 


A Squid-tastic Night Out 

How do you fossilize a squishy squid? Do octopuses see in color, and do they have arms or tentacles? Which came first, the hard-shelled nautilus or the soft-bodied octopus, squid, or cuttlefish? And what does ‘cephalopod’ mean, anyhow?  

This week, Ira ventured to the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut for a special Cephalopod Week celebration. He was joined by experts Barrett Christie, the director of animal husbandry for the Maritime Aquarium, and Christopher Whalen, a postdoctoral researcher and invertebrate paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. 

They also discussed the challenges of caring for cephalopods in an aquarium environment, some of the amazing abilities of these animals, and what it’s like to discover a previously unknown cephalopod genus and species in fossilized material stored in museum archives. Together, they tackled audience cephalopod questions large, small, and multi-armed.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jun 18, 2022
COVID Vaccines For Kids Under 5, IVF Status After Roe V. Wade. June 17, 2022, Part 1
47:18

FDA Approves COVID Vaccines For Kids Under Five

Parents of young kids may finally breathe a big sigh of relief.

On Friday the FDA granted emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines for kids under the age of five. The agency approved a two-dose regimen from biotech firm Moderna and three-dose regimen from Pfizer. Small children could begin getting vaccinated as early as next week.

Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Ira to talk about COVID vaccines for little kids, the largest forest fire in New Mexico’s history and a Google engineer who claims an AI chatbot is sentient and more.


 

 

What Would Happen To IVF If Roe V. Wade Is Overturned?

An overturn of Roe v. Wade could have rippling effects far beyond access to abortions. Some state laws designed to ban or severely restrict abortion could also disrupt the process of fertilizing, implanting, and freezing embryos used in in vitro fertilization. That’s because some of these laws include language about life beginning at conception, raising questions about in vitro fertilization’s (IVF) legality.

Roughly 2% of all infants in the United States are born following the use of some form of artificial reproductive technology. While that figure might seem small, it’s nearly double what it was just a decade ago.

Ira talks with Stephanie Boys, associate professor of social work and adjunct professor of law at Indiana University, about the legal implications of an overturn of Roe v. Wade on IVF treatment. Later, Ira also interviews Dr. Marcelle Cedars, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at UC San Francisco and president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, about the science behind IVF and what people often get wrong about when and how life begins.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jun 17, 2022
Race And Medicine, Salmon Recovery, Emergency Mushroom ID. June 10, 2022, Part 1
48:21

Americans’ Knowledge Of Reproductive Health Is Limited

As the nation awaits a momentous Supreme Court decision that could overturn or severely limit the 1973 Roe V. Wade opinion on abortion, a new poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found serious gaps in Americans’ understanding of certain scientific aspects of reproductive health.

For instance, the poll found that while medication abortion now accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., fewer than three in ten U.S. adults (27%) say they have heard of the medication abortion pill known as mifepristone—though that number is up slightly from a 2019 poll, which found that 21% of adults had heard of the medication. And even among those who had heard of it, poll respondents were unsure over when and how it was used, or how to obtain the drug.

Rachel Feltman, executive editor at Popular Science, joins John Dankosky to talk about the poll findings and other stories from the week in science—including an experimental drug for rectal cancer, an ancient jawbone of a polar bear, an EU ruling regarding charging ports for electronic devices, and a micrometeorite ding on the shiny mirror of the recently-launched JWST.


 

Some Doctors Want To Change How Race Is Used In Medicine

Several months ago, a lab technologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital mixed the blood components of two people: Alphonso Harried, who needed a kidney, and Pat Holterman-Hommes, who hoped to give him one.

The goal was to see whether Harried’s body would instantly see Holterman-Hommes’ organ as a major threat and attack it before surgeons could finish a transplant. To do that, the technologist mixed in fluorescent tags that would glow if Harried’s immune defense forces would latch onto the donor’s cells in preparation for an attack. If, after a few hours, the machine found lots of glowing, it meant the kidney transplant would be doomed. It stayed dark: They were a match.“I was floored,” said Harried.

Both recipient and donor were a little surprised. Harried is Black. Holterman-Hommes is white. Could a white person donate a kidney to a Black person? Would race get in the way of their plans? Both families admitted those kinds of questions were flitting around in their heads, even though they know, deep down, that “it’s more about your blood type—and all of our blood is red,” as Holterman-Hommes put it.

Read more at sciencefriday.com.


 

How A $2 Billion U.S. Plan To Save Salmon In The Northwest Is Failing

CARSON, Wash.—The fish were on their way to be executed. One minute, they were swimming around a concrete pond. The next, they were being dumped onto a stainless steel table set on an incline. Hook-nosed and wide-eyed, they thrashed and thumped their way down the table toward an air-powered guillotine.

Hoses hanging from steel girders flushed blood through the grated metal floor. Hatchery workers in splattered chest waders gutted globs of bright orange eggs from the dead females and dropped them into buckets, then doused them first with a stream of sperm taken from the dead males and then with an iodine disinfectant.

The fertilized eggs were trucked around the corner to an incubation building where over 200 stacked plastic trays held more than a million salmon eggs. Once hatched, they would fatten and mature in rectangular concrete tanks sunk into the ground, safe from the perils of the wild, until it was time to make their journey to the ocean.

 

Read more at sciencefriday.com.


 

How A Facebook Group Helps People Identify Mysterious Mushrooms

Mushroom season has begun. A wide variety of fungi are sprouting up in forests and yards, especially after a heavy rainstorm. While wild mushrooms are generally safe to touch, eating mysterious fungi is a terrible idea. But, sometimes a child or a dog gobbles up an unknown species. In order to determine if it’s poisonous or not, you’ll need an expert opinion—quickly.

That’s why Kerry Woodfield helped start a Facebook group to help people correctly identify poisonous mushrooms and plants. She recruited over 200 botanists and mycologists from all over the world to volunteer their time. In the past few years, the group has mushroomed to over 130,000 members.

Guest host John Dankosky talks with Woodfield, co-founder of the Facebook group, Poisons Help; Emergency Identification For Mushrooms & Plants and foraging instructor at Wild Food UK. She discusses why she decided to start the group, its role within the poison control system, and how to talk to the kids in your life about poisonous plants and mushrooms.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jun 10, 2022
Cephalopod Wonders, Jumping Worms, Early Plastic Surgery. June 10, 2022, Part 2
48:38

Are Invasive Jumping Worms Taking Over?

Most gardeners are thrilled when they find earthworms tunneling through their gardens. Normally, they’re a sign of rich soil, happy plants, and a bustling ecosystem. But one unwanted visitor is squirming its way into gardens and forests all across the country: the invasive jumping worm, known for its thrashing, restless behavior.

Gardeners and scientists have become more and more concerned with these worms, which can cause damage in yards and forests. They’re known for taking dense, healthy soil and churning it into a coffee ground-like mixture, which can lead to erosion and make it more challenging for plants to anchor themselves. But it turns out that most earthworms we find in the U.S. are already invasive, and the jumping worm is just the newest one to join the party. How different is this invasive worm from the ones we’re more familiar with?

To learn more, guest host John Dankosky speaks with Bernie Williams, a plant pest and disease specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources based in Madison, Wisconsin. They talk about how to spot these worms, what kind of damage they inflict, and just how concerned we should be.


 

The Strange, Scrambled Genomes of Squid and Octopus

Squids, octopuses, cuttlefishes, and other humble members of the cephalopod class of mollusks are many-armed (or tentacled) wizards. They change colors—despite being unable to see color themselves—to camouflage themselves. They squirt ink to escape danger. They have huge brains compared to their body sizes, which, in the case of octopuses, are distributed throughout their bodies. They can even edit their RNA to allow whole new kinds of chemistry in their bodies, potentially allowing them to adapt more quickly to changing environments.

This year, SciFri continues the tradition of Cephalopod Week, celebrating the fancy tricks and ineffable strangeness of these animals. Cephalopod researchers Carrie Albertin and Z. Yan Wang talk to John Dankosky about the newest puzzles coming to light in cephalopod genomes, including genes never seen in any other animals. Plus, learn more about the dramatic, self-destructive process by which mother octopuses die after laying their eggs—powered, it seems, by steroids.


 

Plastic Surgery, Born In The Trenches

The phrase “plastic surgery” may evoke different connotations for different people. For many, what’s conjured is a procedure done for cosmetic purposes, something likely not deemed medically necessary, and probably not covered by insurance.

But the history of plastic surgery goes back to a time where facial reconstruction was often a matter of life and death. The practice got its start on the gritty, European battlefields of World War I, where surgeons and nurses had to learn fast to fix the often horrific facial injuries sustained in battle. For the men with these injuries, the innovative, often traumatic procedures were life-changing.

No matter the reason, the decision to get plastic surgery is very personal, and reflects a desire to change something about one’s appearance. The World War I history of plastic surgery, and how it set the stage for today’s uses, is the subject of the new book The Facemaker, written by medical historian and author Lindsey Fitzharris. Lindsey joins guest host John Dankosky from Washington, D.C.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Jun 10, 2022
Medical And Recreational Cannabis, Ocean Viruses, The Sound of Wi-Fi. June 3, 2022, Part 2
47:10

20,000 Viruses Under The Sea: Mapping The Ocean’s Viral Ecosystem

The ocean is the largest region of the planet and remains a source of newly discovered species. But what do you do with a treasure trove of new viruses? A research team wrote in Science last month about finding thousands of new RNA viruses, and five new taxonomic phyla, in water samples from around the globe.

The new species more than doubles the known number of RNA viruses on the planet, painting a clearer picture of the vast abundance and diversity of viruses in ocean ecosystems. Though they may be small, research on DNA viruses in the ocean has previously suggested tiny viruses may have a role in something as large as the global carbon cycle.

Producer Christie Taylor interviews microbiologist and study co-author Ahmed Zayed about the importance of the ocean virome.


 

How Recreational Weed Transformed A Small California Town

From the outside, Jose Rivas’s gray, one-story office building seems just as unassuming as Woodlake, the small Tulare County City where it’s located. But once you’ve been escorted inside the wrought iron gate and checked in at the security desk, you’ll see a chemistry lab of so many potheads’ dreams: bubbling evaporators, storage tanks of liquid nitrogen, and trays and trays of drying marijuana buds.

But Rivas isn’t a pothead – he’s the CEO of a cannabis company known as Premium Extracts that squeezes, distills and steams everything it can from the flower. “Essentially what we’ve developed here is a methodology to isolate the components and molecules of the cannabis plant, which are responsible for its taste, its flavor, and all the nuanced aroma that comes from each individual cannabis strain,” Rivas said.

 

Read more at sciencefriday.com.


 

Meet The Doctor Trying To Bring Medical Marijuana Into The Mainstream

An increasing number of states in the U.S. are legalizing medical cannabis, which means millions of people have access to medical marijuana cards. These can be used to buy cannabis to manage pain, treat mental health conditions, and help sleep issues.

But a majority of U.S. medical schools offer no education about medical marijuana and its effects on the body. As a result, many physicians and medical professionals do not feel knowledgeable enough about cannabis to make recommendations to patients about what their options are: With so many methods of taking marijuana, and an endless combination of dosages and strains, many patients and doctors feel at a loss.

Dr. Mikhail Kogan is trying to change that. As the medical director for the George Washington University Center for Integrative Medicine in Washington, D.C., Dr. Kogan is one of the foremost experts on using medical cannabis to treat a variety of conditions. A majority of his patients are geriatric and suffer from conditions as wide-ranging as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Dr. Kogan traces his experience using marijuana as an alternative medicine in his book, Medical Marijuana: Dr. Kogan’s Evidence-Based Guide to the Health Benefits of Cannabis and CBD.

Ira chats with Dr. Kogan about why marijuana is successful as a treatment for so many medical conditions, and how interested patients should approach their physicians if they feel it could be right for them.


 

The World According to Sound: Listening to WiFi

When you walk down a city street, you may not know it, but you’re being bombarded with WiFi data streaming from people’s home routers, phones, and businesses.

Frank Swain and Daniel Jones recorded the WiFi signals while walking down a few streets in London. They used smartphones to capture the data and turn it into sounds. It’s like a geiger counter, but for WiFi instead of radiation. Faster clicks mean higher wifi signal strength, robotic beeps are the router ID numbers. They call this project “Phantom Terrains.” They want us to consider how much of our urban world is saturated by invisible streams of data.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

Jun 03, 2022
History Of Sex, Plastic Battery, Mosquito Smell, Postpartum Art. June 3, 2022, Part 1
48:11

Scientists Found The Biggest Known Plant On Earth

This week, an underwater seagrass meadow claimed the title for the world’s largest plant. This organism sprawls across 77 square miles of shallow ocean and has survived 4,500 years. To accomplish this, it kept cloning itself and created identical offshoots to spread along the sand. The ocean has changed wildly over the last 4,500 years, yet this plant has survived.

Researchers believe that cloning itself may have helped the plant adapt to a changing ocean, offering hope that seagrass meadows may be more resilient than expected in the face of climate change.

Sophie Bushwick, a technology editor at Scientific American, joins Ira to talk about how this mighty meadow persisted for millennia and what it tells scientists about climate change.

Sophie and Ira also discuss other stories from this week in science, including what countries are most responsible for fueling the extinction of wildlife, what a well-preserved fossil tell us about the sex lives of ancient trilobites, why male mice are terrified of bananas, the creation of a flea-sized robot that walks like a crab, and how scientists developed an algorithm to pinpoint the whereabouts of unknown asteroids.


 

Building A Better Battery… Using Plastic?

The lithium-ion battery in your cell phone, laptop, or electric car is a crucial component of the modern world. These batteries can charge quickly, and pack a lot of power into a small space. But they’re also expensive, require mining scarce lithium, and need to be handled carefully.

Other battery technologies have issues as well. For example, the heavy lead-acid battery that starts your car is quite reliable—but lead has its own environmental and health costs. That’s why PolyJoule, a startup company based near Boston, is trying to create a new kind of battery, somewhere on the performance curve between those old lead-acid batteries and lithium-ion cells. Their technology relies not on a metal, but on polymer plastics.

Read more at sciencefriday.com.


 

Bug Off: Why Mosquitoes Have An Annoyingly Amazing Sense Of Smell

Mosquitoes use their sense of smell to find their next meal: us. So what would happen if you tweaked their smell so that humans smell really gross to them?

That’s what Dr. Chris Potter and his lab recently tried to do—they changed the neurons responsible for the insect’s smell detection, so that in the presence of animal odors, their olfactory systems would be overwhelmed. Instead of smelling like a nice meal, mosquitoes would be repelled by the scent of humans, like if you were stuck in a small room with someone wearing too much cologne.

This method worked in Drosophila, the common fruit fly, so Potter and his team were hopeful that would also be the case for mosquitoes. Instead, the experiment didn’t go as planned. Because finding a blood meal is so important for mosquitoes, those little buggers evolved backups for their backup receptors. When Potter turned one pathway off, another one kicked in.

Ira talks with Dr. Chris Potter, an associate professor of neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, based in Baltimore, Maryland, about his findings, and why we can never quite get mosquitoes to bug off.


 

So You Think You Know About Sex

When it comes to sex, there’s really no such thing as normal. What was once considered taboo, sometimes goes mainstream. And some things considered new have been around as long as sex itself, like birth control, abortion, and sexually transmitted infections.

All that and more is contained in the new book, Been There, Done That: A Rousing History of Sex, by Rachel Feltman, executive editor of Popular Science, based in New York City.

Radio producer Shoshannah Buxbaum talks with author Rachel Feltman about queer animals, crocodile dung contraception, ancient STIs, what led to the United States’ original abortion ban, and more.


 

Processing Postpartum With AI And Synthetic Breast Milk Art

One of Ani Liu’s strengths as an artist is her ability to process emotion through different scientific mediums: machine learning, chemistry, 3D-printing. The result is often visceral: she’s used organic chemistry to concoct perfumes that smell like people emotionally close to her and engineered a device that enables the wearer to control the direction of swimming sperm with their mind.

And at her new exhibition—next to a 3D-printed sculpture of a pig’s uterus—lies 328 feet of clear tubing with a milky-white substance pumped through it, a commentary on pumping breast milk as a new parent. “I wanted to use my own breast milk, but it wouldn’t be stable for the duration of the show,” she said.

Liu became a parent shortly before the pandemic, and she channeled that experience into a new show called “Ecologies of Care,” to process her postpartum period and the communities in her life that helped her through that time.

“I hope that this can allow new parents to bond and maybe feel less lonely,” she said. “In making it, I was questioning how do we create better communities of care? I made all of this work before the formula shortage, before our reproductive rights were even more under threat. When I look at this, I’m hoping that you see this particular slice of love and labor.”


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Jun 03, 2022
SIDS Research, Period Tracking Apps, Women And Girls In Science. May 27, 2022, Part 2
46:43

‘Breakthrough’ In Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Research Is Misleading

Last week, headlines made the rounds in online publications and social media that there was a massive breakthrough in research about SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A study out of Australia concluded that babies who died of SIDS had significantly lower levels of an enzyme called BChE. This study was met with cheers by people desperate to understand why SIDS happens.

But many experts say we need to pump the brakes on the celebration. While the study may be promising, it was based on a very limited sample—just 26 babies who had died of SIDS. A variety of factors could explain their different levels of BChE, says Dr. Rachel Moon, a professor of pediatrics and SIDS research at the University of Virginia.

Moon explains that there are two major hurdles for researchers trying to investigate the causes of SIDS. First, as grieving parents are very unlikely to consent to their deceased child’s use in medical studies, the sample pool for genetic testing of SIDS death is incredibly small. Secondly, there are just very few people who specialize in the syndrome; Dr. Moon suspects there are one hundred or fewer researchers of SIDS in the entire world. She joins guest host John Dankosky to discuss how these factors make it hard for researchers to study why some babies continue to die prematurely.


 

Period Tracking Apps And Digital Privacy In A Post-Roe World

After the leak of the Supreme Court’s pending decision on Roe v. Wade law, digital privacy experts have been raising an alarm about digital privacy.

Millions of people use apps to track their menstrual cycles—the popular app Flo has 43 million active users. And Clue, a similar company, says they have 12 million monthly active users. But in recent weeks, many on social media have been urging others to delete their period tracking apps, saying that the data you share on them could be potentially be used against you if abortion becomes criminalized in states across the country.

Guest host John Dankosky talks with Laura Lazaro Cabrera, legal officer at Privacy International, about what kinds of data period tracking apps collect, how personal health data can be used in court, and how to protect your digital privacy.


 

How Can We Inspire The Next Generation Of Female Scientists?

The work of pioneering female scientists like Marie Curie and Jane Gooddall have served as an inspiration to many aspiring scientists. But less well-known are the early and mid-career female scientists who are working to answer some of today’s biggest scientific questions.

A new book from National Geographic offers kids and tweens a look into the day-to-day lives of women working in the fields of volcanology, biology, anthropology, astronomy, and more. A central theme among the profiles is persistence in the face of obstacles.

Producer Shoshannah Buxbaum talks with Clare Fiesler, conservation biologist, National Geographic explorer, and co-author of No Boundaries: 25 Women Explorers and Scientists Share Adventures, Inspiration, and Advice.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

May 27, 2022
Gun Violence, Baby Formula, Monkeypox, Milk Banking, Wondrous Sharks. May 27, 2022, Part 1
47:19

Gun Violence Is A Public Health Issue

As illustrated by the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas this week, gun violence is a pervasive issue in the United States. The entire Science Friday team extends our condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.

One reason gun violence is so difficult to understand is that for a long time, there was a federal freeze on funding gun-violence research. That was due to the “Dickey Amendment” which was instated in 1996. This rule barred the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using funds to fund research into gun violence, with the reasoning that research into this area would “advocate or promote gun control.”

The 2020 federal omnibus spending bill reinstated funding for this research for the first time in more than 20 years, opening up research into gun violence. This comes during a time where healthcare professionals, including pediatricians and epidemiologists, have elevated their voices to say that gun violence is a public health issue. Firearm-related injury is now the leading cause of death of children and adolescents in the United States.

Joining guest host John Dankosky to discuss gun violence as a public health issue is Roxanne Khamsi, science writer based in Montreal, Quebec.


 

Don’t Panic About Monkeypox Yet, Says Expert

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it was investigating five cases of purported monkeypox that had been found in the United States. This is a disease that’s endemic to parts of central and west Africa, and is rarely seen outside of those regions. The small number of cases here in the U.S is unusual.

Monkeypox can spread from person to person through skin-to-skin contact or respiratory droplets. Its most striking symptom is an active rash and lesions in the mouth, though can also present as flu-like and include fever, headache, and soreness.

As we’re still grappling with our COVID world, many people are concerned about this new illness. Dr. Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at UCLA’s School of Public Health in Los Angeles, California, joins guest host John Dankosky to explain what’s going on with this wave.


 

Baby Formula 101: Feeding During A Shortage

If you’re the parent of a newborn, you’ve likely experienced how difficult it’s gotten to find your little ones’ favorite baby formula. In February, Abbott Nutrition, a major manufacturer of baby food and formula, shut down a factory in Michigan. This came after the FDA began investigating serious—and even fatal—bacterial infections in infants who were fed formula from the plant.

This one factory produces around a quarter of the United States’ baby formula, so closing it has left store shelves empty and parents scrambling to feed their babies. In a desperate state, many parents have resorted to switching their babies’ formula, seeking out donated breast milk, and even making formula at home.

Guest host John Dankosky speaks with Dr. Bridget Young, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester and founder of Baby Formula Expert, about the makeup of baby formula, why it’s so important, and how parents can safely feed babies during the ongoing shortage.

Breast Milk Banks Are Struggling To Meet Demand

The nationwide shortage of baby formula is also impacting Hoosier families. More than 40 percent of retailers across the country reported being out of formula stock during the first week of May, according to Datasembly, a firm that collects data from grocery stores and other retailers. The Milk Bank is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that provides donated breast milk to babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and babies with medical needs who benefit from human milk. Advancement Director Jenna Streit said the organization is seeing an increase in requests from families desperate to feed their babies.

Read more at sciencefriday.com.


 

Diving Into The Deep World Of Sharks

Sharks are some of the longest-enduring residents of our planet—there were shark relatives in the oceans before Earth had trees, and before the planet Saturn got its rings. But now, many species of shark are threatened, mainly as a result of unsustainable fishing practices.

Dr. David Shiffman, marine researcher and social media shark advocate, writes in his new book Why Sharks Matter: A Deep Dive with the World’s Most Misunderstood Predator about people’s fascination with sharks. He shares some amazing shark facts—did you know that Greenland sharks can live for 400 years, and some have been found with the remains of polar bears in their stomachs?

Shiffman joins John Dankosky to share his shark lore, and to talk about the role of sharks in the ocean ecosystem, safety around sharks, threats to their survival, and what individuals can do to help protect these powerful, yet misunderstood, creatures.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

May 27, 2022
Seabird Poop, ‘Prehistoric Planet’ TV Show, Dry Great Plains, Six Foods For A Changing Climate. May 20, 2022, Part 2
47:46

We Need To Talk About Bird Poop

Seabird poop—sometimes called guano—was the “white gold” of fertilizers for humans for millennia. Rich in nitrogen and phosphorus from birds’ fish-based diets, the substance shaped trade routes and powered economies until chemical fertilizers replaced it.

But while people may no longer find bird poop profitable, these same poop deposits—often found on islands or coasts where the birds nest and rear their young—may also be nurturing ecosystems that would be left high and dry if the birds were to disappear. As seabird populations quickly decline, that’s becoming an increasing risk.

Australian researchers Megan Grant and Jennifer Lavers talk to Ira about the under-appreciated role of bird guano in ecosystems, and why scientists should be looking more closely at the poop patterns of endangered seabirds.


 

How Did ‘Prehistoric Planet’ Make Dinosaurs Look So Real?

Being a fan of dinosaurs has its challenges. The largest, perhaps, is that no human has seen these creatures with their own eyes. Depictions of prehistoric creatures in film and media have been based on the research available at the time, but accurate knowledge about feathers, colors, and behavior have changed as science has progressed.

The much-anticipated docuseries “Prehistoric Planet” dives into the most recent research about dinosaurs and their environment and illustrates what the world might have looked like 66 million years ago. The show uses hyper-realistic computer imaging to make the most realistic dinosaurs seen on film yet. The result is an epic look at how dinosaurs once lived.

Joining Ira to talk about “Prehistoric Planet” is producer Tim Walker and paleontologist Darren Naish, who served as the show’s lead science consultant. 


 

Midwestern Farmers Face Drought And Dust

Even with a few recent rains, much of the Great Plains are in a drought. Wildfires have swept across the grasslands and farmers are worried about how they’ll make it through the growing season. Randy Uhrmacher is in his tractor, planting corn and soybeans in central Nebraska. But it’s hard to see his work. The soil is so dry that clouds of dust hang in the air as he drives through his fields. “Not sure how I’m supposed to see what I’m doing tonight,” Uhrmacher said on a recent night of planting.

Even turning on the windshield wipers didn’t help him see through the dust storm. If he didn’t use soil conservation practices like reduced tillage and cover crops, he said his fields could look like something out of the 1930s Dust Bowl. It’s the driest spring Uhrmacher can remember in his 38 years of farming. Drought is a challenge many farmers and ranchers are facing in the middle of the country.

Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.


 

When Climate Change Reaches Your Plate

No matter how you slice it, climate change will alter what we eat in the future. Today, just 13 crops provide 80% of people’s energy intake worldwide, and about half of our calories come from wheat, maize and rice. Yet some of these crops may not grow well in the higher temperatures, unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather events caused by climate change. Already, drought, heat waves and flash floods are damaging crops around the world.

“We must diversify our food basket,” says Festo Massawe. He’s executive director of Future Food Beacon Malaysia, a group at the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus in Semenyih that studies the impact of climate change on food security.

That goes beyond what we eat to how we grow it. The trick will be investing in every possible solution: breeding crops so they’re more climate resilient, genetically engineering foods in the lab and studying crops that we just don’t know enough about, says ecologist Samuel Pironon of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London. To feed a growing population in a rapidly changing world, food scientists are exploring many possible avenues, while thinking about how to be environmentally friendly.

Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

May 20, 2022
Miscarriage Care, End of Astronauts, COVID Deaths Milestone. May 20, 2022, Part 1
47:46

A Grim Milestone, As Cases Continue

This week, COVID-19 case trackers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hit a grim milestone, logging over one million deaths in the country from the pandemic. The true total is likely to be much higher, as many cases go unreported, or are logged as deaths due to other factors in death certificates. And the pandemic continues, with locations such as New York City reaching “high” transmission levels, and recommending that people mask again indoors.

Timothy Revell, deputy United States editor for New Scientist, joins Ira to talk about the groups that have been most affected by the pandemic death toll, and the continuing battle against the coronavirus—including the availability of another round of free tests via the postal service.

They also tackle other stories from the week in science, including Congressional hearings on UFO sightings, new theories about what helps make a planet habitable, what can be learned from a fossilized tooth in Laos, and the important psychological question of why some word pairings are funnier than others.


 

How Texas’ Abortion Restrictions Limit Access To Miscarriage Care

As the Supreme Court appears poised to return abortion regulation to the states, recent experience in Texas illustrates that medical care for miscarriages and dangerous ectopic pregnancies would also be threatened if restrictions become more widespread.

One Texas law passed last year lists several medications as abortion-inducing drugs and largely bars their use for abortion after the seventh week of pregnancy. But two of those drugs, misoprostol and mifepristone, are the only drugs recommended in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines for treating a patient after an early pregnancy loss. The other miscarriage treatment is a procedure described as surgical uterine evacuation to remove the pregnancy tissue — the same approach as for an abortion.

“The challenge is that the treatment for an abortion and the treatment for a miscarriage are exactly the same,” said Dr. Sarah Prager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle and an expert in early pregnancy loss.

Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.


 

The End Of Astronauts: Why Robots Are The Future Of Exploration

Sending astronauts into space is arguably one of society’s most impressive scientific achievements. It’s a marvel of engineering, and it also taps into the human desire for exploration.

But just because we can send humans into space, should we? Robots are already good space explorers. And they’re only going to get smarter in the near future. Martin Rees, the United Kingdom’s Astronomer Royal, and Donald Goldsmith, astrophysicist and science writer, argue that the cost of human space travel largely outweighs its benefits. They talk with Ira about their new book, The End of Astronauts: Why Robots Are the Future of Exploration.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

May 20, 2022
Abortion Medication, Rat Island, Access To Parks, Climate And Seafood. May 13, 2022, Part 2
47:24

Abortion Pills Are Used For Most U.S. Abortions. What Are They?

The draft Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade means abortion access is once again in jeopardy. Nearly half of U.S. states will immediately ban abortion upon a Roe v. Wade overturn.

Medication abortion, or abortion by pill, is currently the most common method of abortion in the United States. In 2020, 54% of abortions in the United States were medication abortions, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute.

If the Supreme Court decision is overturned, it’s expected that the ease and convenience of an abortion pill may make medication abortion an even larger share of all abortions nationwide.

Ira talks with Ushma Upadhyay, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at UC San Francisco. Upadhyay explains how medication abortion works, how its regulated, and its role in a possible post Roe v. Wade era.


 

One Alaskan Island’s Fight For A Rodent-Free Future

For millions of years, birds lived nearly predator free in the Aleutian Islands. The volcanic archipelago stretches westward for 1,200 miles from the Alaska Peninsula, dotting a border between the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. Hundreds of bird species thrived here.

But then came the rats. When a Japanese boat sank in the Western Aleutians around 1780, stowaway rats jumped ship and made it to one of the islands, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. The rodents proliferated during World War II, when American Navy ships traveled along the chain, expanding the rats’ domain. “The rats are like an oil spill that keeps on spilling, year after year,” said Steve Delehanty, the refuge manager for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. “We would never allow an oil spill to go on for decades or centuries, nor should we allow rats to be a forever-presence on these islands.”

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.

Campsites At National Parks ‘Harder Than Getting Beyonce Tickets’

Access to the outdoors has long had an equity problem. Whether it’s the expense of equipment or hostility from fellow hikers, marginalized groups have had more barriers to enjoying recreation in nature.

Now, new research in the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration has data on one tool that was supposed to improve access for more people: the online system of reserving campgrounds at national parks. Compared to people camping at first-come first-serve campsites in the same parks, the people who successfully use the reservation systems are wealthier, better-educated, and more likely to be white.

Ira talks to research co-author Will Rice about the factors that make reservations harder to access, how wealthier people succeed in working the system to their advantage, and how publicly-funded campgrounds like the national parks could more fairly manage rising demand.


 

How Restaurant Menus Mirror Our Warming Ocean

Before the 1980’s, you probably wouldn’t have found Humboldt squid on a restaurant menu in Vancouver. But now, the warm water-loving critter has expanded towards the poles as ocean temperatures rise, and you can see that change on restaurant menus.

In a new study in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes, researchers from the University of British Columbia looked at more than 360 menus, dating back to 1880. They found a connection between climate change and which seafood types rose to fame on restaurant menus over the years… and which ones flopped off.

Ira speaks with study co-author Dr. William Cheung about how our menus mirror what’s happening to our oceans. Plus, a conversation with Chef Ned Bell about why it’s important that our plates adapt to changes in our local ecosystems.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

May 13, 2022
Second Black Hole Image, Last Days Of The Dinosaurs, Rising COVID Cases. May 13, 2022, Part 1
47:21

As COVID Cases Rises, Effectiveness Of Vaccines Lessens In Kids

As parts of the country continue to see waves of infection from the omicron variant of COVID-19, parents of children over age five have taken heart at the availability of vaccines—while parents of kids five and under have continued to wait for an approved dose. But even as the case numbers continue to climb, the vaccines are less effective against the more-virulent omicron variants—and, for some reason, dramatically less effective in kids.

Koerth joins Ira to discuss the story, and why experts say it’s still worthwhile getting vaccinated even if the vaccines don’t have the dramatic performance seen at the beginning of the vaccination phase of the pandemic. They also talk about a bird flu outbreak troubling poultry farms around the world, the odd immune system of the sleepy lizard, and how scientists are trying to catch a whiff of the odors of ancient Egypt.


 

Meet The ‘Gentle Giant,’ Your Friendly Neighborhood Black Hole

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of capturing an image of a black hole sounded like a joke, or an oxymoron. How do you take a picture of something so dense that it absorbs the very light around it?

But three years ago, we got our first good look with help from the Event Horizon Telescope, which is actually multiple radio telescopes all linked together. That picture was a slightly blurry, red-and-orange doughnut—the best picture to date of the supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy called Messier 87, which is called Messier 87* or M87*. (Black holes are given an asterisk after the name of their location). Today, it’s possible to buy jewelry and t-shirts with that picture, drink out of a M87*-adorned coffee cup, or just make it your phone background. Now that the first picture of a black hole is practically a pop culture meme, how do you one-up that? In the past weeks, the Event Horizon Telescope team alluded to a new ‘breakthrough’ hiding in the Milky Way.

On Thursday, the team unveiled that breakthrough: the first image of our nearest black hole neighbor in the heart of our galaxySagittarius A* is a “gentle giant,” says Feryal Ozel, a member of the global collaboration that created this image. It consumes far less of the gas swirling nearby than M87*, and is far fainter as a result. The Milky Way’s black hole also lacks the galaxy-spanning jets of M87* and, due to its smaller size, the gas around it moves so fast that it took years longer to capture a clear picture.

Ira talks with Ozel about what it takes to obtain such a picture, and what it can tell us about the extreme, high-temperature physics of black holes throughout the universe.


 

What Was It Like To Witness The End Of The Dinosaurs?

66 million years ago, a massive asteroid hit what we know today as the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Many people have a general idea of what happened next: The age of the dinosaurs was brought to a close, making room for mammals like us to thrive.

But fewer people know what happened in the days, weeks, and years after impact. Increased research on fossils and geological remains from this time period have helped scientists paint a picture of this era. For large, non-avian dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex, extinction was swift following the asteroid impact. But for creatures that were able to stay underwater and underground, their post-impact stories are more complicated.

Joining Ira to discuss her book The Last Days of the Dinosaurs is Riley Black, science writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

May 13, 2022
Revisiting The Titanic, STEM Drag Performers As Science Ambassadors. May 6, 2022, Part 2
47:20

The Seafaring Life Of ‘Modern-Day Captain Nemo,’ Robert Ballard

In 1985, oceanographer Robert Ballard was sent on a secret deep-sea search operative with a very specific mission: to seek two sunken nuclear submarines. Ballard, who by then had explored the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and helped design deep-sea research submersibles, was assigned by the U.S. Navy to investigate and take images of the U.S.S. Thresher and U.S.S. Scorpion. But locating these two wreckages wouldn’t bring him to fame—instead, it was another watery grave he would find along the way. After he located the two subs, Ballard had time left in the mission to satiate a hunt he had begun nearly a decade prior: He discovered the R.M.S. Titanic, which sank into the North Atlantic 110 years ago.

While the Titanic might be his most publicized finding, the famed marine archaeologist has adventured beneath the waves on more than 150 expeditions that have broadened our understanding of the oceans and the planet. “We think there’s probably more history in the deep sea than all of the museums of the world combined—and we’re only now opening those doors to those museums,” he says. Ballard’s recorded the activity of hydrothermal vents, the ecology of hot springs on the ocean floor, and the diversity of incredible marine creatures.

In excerpts from two conversations in the Science Friday archives (originally recorded in 2000 and 2009), Ballard describes the 1985 expedition in which he discovered the wreck of the Titanic. He also discusses the value of combining the efforts of oceanographers, engineers, and social scientists to study the world’s deep oceans. Plus, Ballard elaborates on his belief that some undersea finds should be left preserved and protected, and his work in expanding access to ocean research via telepresence and computer links.


 

Meet The Drag Artists Who Are Making Science More Accessible

Each generation has had science communicators who brought a sometimes stuffy, siloed subject into homes, inspiring minds young and old. Scientists like Don Herbert, Carl Sagan, and Bill Nye are classic examples. But our modern age of social media has brought more diverse communicators into the forefront of science communication, including the wild, wonderful world of STEM drag stars.

These are queer folk who mix the flashy fashions of the drag world with science education. Some, like Kyne, use TikTok as a medium to teach concepts like math. Others, like Pattie Gonia, use drag to attract more people to the great outdoors. The accessibility of the internet has made these personalities available to a wide audience.

Kyne and Pattie Gonia join Ira to talk about the magic drag can bring to science education, and why they think the future of SciComm looks more diverse than the past.

This segment originally aired on February 11, 2022. 


Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

May 06, 2022
How The Brain Deals With Grief, Listening To Noisy Fish Sounds. May 6, 2022, Part 1
46:53

How Grief Rewires The Brain

Being a human can be a wonderful thing. We’re social creatures, craving strong bonds with family and friends. Those relationships can be the most rewarding parts of life.

But having strong relationships also means the possibility of experiencing loss. Grief is one of the hardest things people go through in life. Those who have lost a loved one know the feeling of overwhelming sadness and heartache that seems to well up from the very depths of the body.

To understand why we feel the way we do when we grieve, the logical place to turn is to the source of our emotions: the brain. A new book explores the neuroscience behind this profound human experience.

Ira speaks to Mary-Frances O’Connor, author of The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss, a neuroscientist, about adjusting to life after loss.

This segment originally aired on February 11, 2022.


 

Fish Make More Noise Than You Think

One of the most famous films of undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau was titled The Silent World. But when you actually stop and listen to the fishes, the world beneath the waves is a surprisingly noisy place.

In a recent study published in the journal Ichthyology & Herpetology, researchers report that as many of two-thirds of the ray-finned fish families either are known to make sounds, or at least have the physical capability to do so.

Some fish use specialized muscles around their buoyancy-modulating swim bladders to make noise. Others might blow bubbles out their mouths, or, in the case of herring, out their rear ends, producing “fish farts.” Still other species use ridges on their bodies to make noises similar to the way crickets do, grind their teeth, or snap a tendon to sound off. The noises serve a variety of purposes, from calling for a mate to warning off an adversary.

Aaron Rice, principal ecologist in the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, walks Ira through some of the unusual sounds produced by known fish around the world—and some mystery noises that they know are produced by fish, but have yet to identify.

This segment originally aired on February 18, 2022.


 

Transcripts for these segments are available on sciencefriday.com.

May 06, 2022
Covid Court Cases, Sharing Viruses for Research, Hepatitis Spike. April 29, 2022, Part 1
46:52

What’s Up With The Spike In Hepatitis Among Young Kids?

This spring, there’s been a strange spike in hepatitis cases among young children. Hepatitis can leave kids with stomach pain, jaundice, and a generally icky feeling. 169 cases have been recorded globally, and one death. A majority of these cases have been found in the United Kingdom, with the others in Spain, Israel, and the U.S.

The sudden rise in cases is unusual, and physicians are trying to unlock the mystery of where this is coming from.

Joining guest host Umair Irfan to talk about this story and other science news of the week, including the holdup over COVID-19 vaccines for kids under five years old, is Science Friday producer Kathleen Davis.


 

COVID-19 Vaccines Are Some Divorced Parents’ Newest Divide

Heather and Norm have had their share of disagreements. Their separation seven years ago and the ensuing custody battle were contentious. But over the years, the pair has found a way to weather disputes cordially. They’ve made big decisions together and checked in regularly about their two kids, now ages 9 and 11.

But the rhythm of give and take they so carefully cultivated came to an abrupt end last fall, when it came time to decide whether to vaccinate their kids against COVID-19 — Heather was for it; Norm was against. (WHYY News has withheld their last names to protect the privacy of their children.)

In Pennsylvania, decisions about children’s health must be made jointly by parents with shared legal custody, so the dispute went to court. And Heather and Norm weren’t the only ones who couldn’t come to an agreement on their own. In the months since the vaccine was approved for children, family court judges across the commonwealth have seen skyrocketing numbers of similar cases: Divorced parents who can’t agree on what to do.

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


 

Why Sharing Viruses Is Good… For Science

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an unprecedented era of global scientific collaboration. Just a few days after the SARS-CoV-2 virus was isolated, its genomic sequence was posted online and accessible to researchers around the world. Scientists quickly went to work trying to understand this brand new pathogen, and began to counter it with treatments and vaccines.

But genetic sequences have their limits, and scientists also have to work with the real viruses. Sometimes there’s no substitute for a specimen. Sharing pathogens across borders is where things get a lot more complicated. A web of international laws govern some, but not all aspects of how pathogens are shared and stored. Science isn’t the only factor here—global politics shape responses to the tracking and detection of disease.

What happens if countries are not on the friendliest terms with each other, or if they aren’t up to the same safety standards? Could viruses be misused or mishandled, potentially escaping containment? There are some historical examples that could be instructive. And while the COVID-19 pandemic spurred cooperation between scientists, some governments downplayed or misled the world about the state of the pandemic. Does misinformation remain a threat, and if so, how can we prevent it?

Guest host Umair Irfan talks with Amber Hartman Scholz, head of science policy at Leibniz Institute DSMZ German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures based in Braunschweig, Germany, to unpack the complex system of scientific virus sharing, and the importance of developing a better process.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Apr 29, 2022
Dog Breeds And Dog Behavior, Polar Science Update, Decarbonizing Transportation. April 29, 2022, Part 2
47:35

Your Dog’s Breed Doesn’t Always Determine How They’ll Behave

The dog world abounds with stereotypes about the personalities of different breeds. The American Kennel Club describes chihuahuas as “sassy,” and malamutes as “loyal,” while breed-specific legislation in many cities target breeds like pit bulls as stereotypically aggressive. But do these stereotypes say anything true about a dog’s personality and behaviors?

New research in the journal Science looked at the genomes of thousands of dogs, both purebred and mutt, plus owner reports on personality traits. And their findings were more complicated: Yes, many behaviors have a genetic or heritable component. But breed, it turns out, may be a poor predictor of many things, including aggression or friendliness.

Guest host Umair Irfan talks to co-author Elinor Karlsson about the complexities of genetics, personality, and breed in our best friends.


 

Life At The Poles Is Changing. What Do These Frozen Regions Forecast?

It’s been a spring of alarming headlines for the coldest climates on Earth, from record heat waves at both poles, to a never-before-seen ice shelf collapse in East Antarctica. But what can we say for sure about how the Arctic and Antarctic are changing under global warming?

In this Zoom taping, guest host Umair Irfan talks to two scientists, Arctic climate researcher Uma Bhatt and Antarctic biological oceanographer Oscar Schofield, about the changes they’re seeing on the ice and in the water, and the complex but different ecologies of both these regions. Plus, answering listener questions about the warming polar regions.


 

Can Hydrogen-Fuel Cells Drive The Car Market?

If you’ve been shopping for a new car recently, you may have been struck by the number of electric vehicles available from different manufacturers. According to Kelley Blue book data, Americans bought almost twice as many EVs in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the first quarter of 2021, with battery-powered electric vehicles reaching 5% of the new car market for the first time.

But electric isn’t the only alternative to the traditional gasoline or diesel powered car—there are also hydrogen fuel cell car options, such as the Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell car from Toyota. In those vehicles, compressed hydrogen is used in conjunction with a catalytic fuel cell membrane to generate the electricity to drive the vehicle. Cars using the technology can have a 300-mile range, with fuel-ups taking as little as five minutes. And while today much of that hydrogen comes from fossil fuels, there is the potential for it to come from electrolysis of water via renewable energy, such as solar or wind.

But there are big technological and infrastructure challenges to solve before fuel cell technology could compete with the battery-powered electric car. Joan Ogden, a professor emeritus of environmental science and policy at UC Davis, joins Umair Irfan to talk about the requirements for building the refueling infrastructure that would make fuel cell vehicles a more attractive option to consumers.


 

Is It Possible To Decarbonize Shipping?

It’s said that 90% of all goods at some point travel on a ship. Much of that transportation is on container ships, gargantuan vessels that carry thousands of the 20-foot or 40-foot shipping containers that serve as the foundation of the global economy.

But those big cargo ships have a massive energy appetite, and the “bunker oil” fuel they devour is notoriously dirty. If the global shipping industry was a country, it would be the sixth-largest greenhouse gas emitting country in the world.

Lee Kindberg, head of environment and sustainability for North America for the shipping giant Maersk, joins Umair Irfan to talk about the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. Maersk recently placed an order for a dozen methanol-fueled cargo ships, the first of which it plans to launch next year.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Apr 29, 2022
Plastics And Ocean Life, Building An Animal Crossing, Indigenous Restoration. April 22, 2022, Part 2
46:57

Building The World’s Largest Animal Crossing Outside of LA

There’s a spot on Highway 101 in Agoura Hills, it’s pretty inconspicuous. There’s brown and green rolling hills on either side of the highway. Homes are sprinkled here and there. And then a small metal gate that leads off on a hiking trail. You probably wouldn’t know it, but soon this spot will be the location of the world’s largest animal crossing. This crossing will reconnect habitats that have been cut off from each other for three quarters of a century and it’ll do it over a highway that is constantly buzzing with cars — 300,000 pass by this spot every single day. In this piece we’re going on a geography voyage — from the north side of the highway to the south, and up the hills, above the highway, to get the real view.

We’ll start here — there’s a big open space on the northern side of the highway. It’s at the entrance to Liberty Canyon and where I meet Beth Pratt. “You have oak trees, a little creek area here. And we’re listening to, actually, an Anna’s hummingbird giving a little song for us that is actually resonating even over that, that noise of traffic,” Pratt said. She is the California Regional Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “For me what’s kind of remarkable, but also sad. It’s the last sixteen hundred feet of protected space on both sides of the freeway,” said Pratt.

Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.


 

Life Has Found A Way On The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge collection of trash floating in the North Pacific Ocean. It’s made up mostly of plastic—things like water bottles, shoes, and fishing gear, but also a large amount of microplastics, tiny bits of broken-down plastic that can be invisible to the naked eye.

A giant, swirling patch of trash seems bad. But recent research has revealed a complicating factor: Marine life has colonized the garbage patch, making the floating plastic their new homes. As the classic Jurassic Park quote goes, “Life finds a way.”

Joining Ira to talk about life on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Linsey Haram, AAAS fellow at the U.S. Department of Agriculture based in Alexandria, Virginia. Her research on the Garbage Patch was done for the Smithsonian.


 

Enzymes Are Taking On Our Plastic Problem

Flip over a plastic water bottle, or a takeout container, and it’s very likely you’ll find the number “1” stamped on the bottom. This is the sign of the problematic plastic PET, which is a large source for plastic pollution. It’s estimated that only a third or less of this type of plastic is recycled into something new.

Scientists are getting creative in trying to outsmart plastics that don’t want to be recycled. Some are looking into enzymes that can break down plastic into its more basic molecular building blocks. The idea is that these smaller molecules are easier to turn into new things, making upcycling an easier task.

Joining Ira to talk about the frontier of enzymes as recycling powerhouses is Jennifer DuBois, professor of chemistry at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana.


 

Indigenous Knowledge Is Central To Climate Solutions

As the United States observes Earth Day this year, many will be thinking about their personal relationship with—and responsibility to—the planet. But in an era of multiple planetary crises, including extinctions, global warming, and contaminated water, what about the Indigenous peoples whose millennia-old relationship with their land has been disrupted and sometimes severed by colonialism and other displacements?

Indigenous environmental scientist and author Jessica Hernandez talks to Ira about the harms the Western science has perpetuated against colonized people, as white environmentalists created national parks on Indigenous lands and “helicopter scientists” continue to do research in the global south while using the wealth of Western institutions.

And she explains why greater recognition of Indigenous science, and partnerships that center Indigenous peoples and their research questions, is good for the entire planet.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

Apr 22, 2022
Carbon Removal Technology, IPCC And Policy, Sustainability News, Listening To A River. April 22, 2022, Part 1
47:10

Celebrating Earth Day With Sustainable Action

Today is Earth Day, when many people around the world are taking time to think about their relationship with the planet and to focus on activities helping to mitigate the existential problems our environment faces. And we will be doing the same: devoting our program to Earth Day stories, ideas, and issues.

Sara Kiley Watson, assistant editor at Popular Science in charge of their sustainability coverage, joins Ira to talk about some challenges facing our planet—from air pollution in megacities to the tension between ethanol biofuels and food supplies. She also offers some tips for actions individuals can take to make a small difference on their own, such as improving home energy efficiency even if you’re a renter, reducing the impact of your takeout order, or considering a neighborhood microgrid.


 

Can The Latest IPCC Report Pave The Way To Better Climate Policy?

One of the best resources to understand the state of our climate crisis is the report developed by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), every six to seven years.

The most recent installment of the IPCC report, compiled by Working Group III, was released earlier this month. It outlined ambitious steps needed to mitigate some of the worst possible climate futures.

It’s increasingly unlikely that we’ll be able to keep the planet from warming by an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Yet, the report optimistically focuses on achieving that 1.5 degree benchmark.

The report’s recommendations include things like phasing out coal entirely, slashing methane emissions by a third, reducing our carbon output among all sectors of the global economy, and developing new technologies to help us do it. But how do governments make laws to reach these goals? That’s not addressed in the IPCC report.

Ira is joined by David Victor, professor of innovation and public policy in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego to discuss the difficulty in developing climate policy solutions and some that seem promising.


 

Can Carbon Removal Actually Make A Difference In Reducing Emissions?

One of the technologies highlighted in the latest IPCC report is carbon removal. Not to be confused with carbon capture, CO2 removal is a process that absorbs CO2 already in the atmosphere and stores it elsewhere. Carbon capture, on the other hand, is removing CO2 from smokestacks, for example, before it gets into the air.

CO2 removal technology has some climate scientists worried about pouring money into this new technology, in lieu of cutting back on our reliance on fossil fuels.

Joining Ira is Amar Bhardwaj, energy technology policy fellow at the International Energy Agency, to talk about the pros and cons of carbon removal.


 

Composing A Sound Map Of An Ever-Changing River

Annea Lockwood thinks of rivers as “live phenomena” that are constantly changing and shifting. She’s been drawn to the energy that rivers create, and the sound that energy makes, since she first started working with environmental recordings in the 1960s.

One of her projects has been to create detailed “river maps” of the Hudson, Danube, and Housatonic rivers. Using stereo microphones and underwater hydrophones, she captures the gentle, powerful sounds of the water, along with the noises of insects, birds, and occasional humans she finds along the way.

Lockwood’s composition, “A Sound Map of the Housatonic River”—a decade old, this year—takes listeners on a 150-mile tour, from the headwaters in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, past sites of toxic PCB contamination, to the Connecticut Audubon sanctuary, where the river spills into Long Island Sound.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

 

 

Apr 22, 2022
Inaccurate COVID Case Numbers, Spending A Trillion Dollars To Solve Problems. April 15, 2022, Part 1
47:11

FDA Approves First Breathalyzer COVID Test

The FDA approved a new COVID breathalyzer test, which gives results in just three minutes. It’s the first test that identifies chemical compounds of coronavirus in breath. The testing unit is about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage and is intended to be used in medical offices and mobile testing sites.

Nsikan Akpan, health and science editor at WNYC Radio based in New York City, talks with Ira about this new COVID test and other science news of the week, including new research on ocean warming and storm frequency, the story behind moon dust that sold for $500,000, and President Biden’s decision to allow higher-ethanol gasoline sales this summer, which is usually banned from June to September.


 

Major Undercount In COVID Cases Makes Our Tracking Data Less Useful

For many, it’s become routine to pull up a chart of COVID-19 case counts by state or county. Though imperfect, it’s been a pretty good way to assess risk levels: Follow the data.

But recently, that data has become even more imperfect, and less useful at determining individual risk. Thanks to a variety of factors, case counts are now so inaccurate that a COVID surge could be missed entirely.

“We are really flying blind,” said epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina, assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and the author of the newsletter, Your Local Epidemiologist.

Currently, for every 100 COVID-19 cases in the United States, only seven are being officially recorded, according to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. As a point of comparison, during the Delta wave 43 out of 100 cases were recorded, and during the Omicron wave the figure was 26 out of 100 cases.

The reasons behind the current undercount are due in part to the unintended consequences of good public health policies, like increased vaccinations and the availability of at-home tests, both of which lead to fewer cases being included in official CDC data. Mild cases are more common now, thanks to vaccines and changing variants. “People may just not get tested because they just have the sniffles,” said Jetelina. 

Others may forgo testing altogether. The virus can spread asymptomatically from there. “We just haven’t done the groundwork as a nation to systematically capture these cases,” said Jetelina.

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


 

How Would You Spend A Trillion Dollars?

Imagining what you might do if you won the lottery or received a huge inheritance from a long-lost relative is a classic daydream. But in a new book, journalist Rowan Hooper imagines spending a trillion dollars—not on fancy dinners, sparkly jewels or mega yachts, but on tackling ten global challenges. While a trillion dollars can’t solve every problem, he estimates it would go a long way towards tackling disease, combating global warming, protecting biodiversity, or even establishing a moon base.

Hooper joins Ira to talk about his book, How to Save the World for Just a Trillion Dollars: The Ten Biggest Problems We Can Actually Fix, and to daydream about where and how an infusion of cash might do the most to accelerate solutions to some of the planet’s problems.


 

 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

Apr 15, 2022
NSF Director, Soylent Green In 2022, Colorado Snowpack, Springtime On Neptune. April 15, 2022, Part 2
47:18

Did ‘Soylent Green’s’ Predictions About 2022 Hold Up?

In the spring of 1973, the movie Soylent Green premiered. The film drops us into a New York City that’s overcrowded, polluted, and dealing with the effects of a climate catastrophe. Only the city’s elite can afford clean water and real foods, like strawberry jam. The rest of the population relies on a communal food supply called Soylent. There’s Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow… and a new product: Soylent Green.

The year the film takes place? 2022. And spoiler alert: Soylent Green is people.

While the 2022 the film depicts is—thankfully—much darker than our current situation, the message still holds up. When the film premiered, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the Clean Air Act were very much in the country’s consciousness. 50 years later, warmer temperatures, soil degradation, and social inequality are more relevant than ever.

Joining Ira to talk about the importance of Soylent Green 50 years later is Sonia Epstein, associate curator of science and film at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Also joining is soil scientist Jo Handelsman, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in Madison, Wisconsin.


 

The National Science Foundation Has A New Goal: Entrepreneurship

The South By Southwest festival in Austin this year was the site of at least one unusual event: a press announcement by the head of the National Science Foundation, the primary federal agency tasked with funding and supporting fundamental research and investing in the education of young scientists in those fields.

NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan announced he was creating a new directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) to focus on “use-inspired” research that can be brought to commercial markets, in partnership with businesses and entrepreneurs. The goal, Panchanathan said in a press release in March, was to “accelerate the development of new technologies and products that improve Americans’ way of life, grow the economy and create new jobs, and strengthen and sustain U.S. competitiveness for decades to come.”

Panchanathan talks to Ira about what this new chapter means for the NSF, the future of basic research with no immediate commercial uses, and the challenges of persuading the public that failure, as much as success, is inherent to science.


 

The Colorado River Misses Its Snow

High in the Rocky Mountains, under thin air and bluebird skies, the Colorado River basin is slowly filling its savings account. Craggy peaks become smooth walls of white and piles of snow climb conifer trunks, covering even the deepest, darkest corners of the woods with a glimmering blanket.

The snow that accumulates in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming will eventually become water in the Colorado River. Some of it will flow as far south as Mexico, running through kitchen faucets in cities and suburbs along the way, or watering crops that keep America fed through the winter.

Year by year, those piles are getting slightly smaller and melting earlier — slowly exhibiting the sting of a warming climate. The way we measure the snow is changing too, as a shifting baseline for what counts as “average” paints a somewhat deceptive picture of how much snow is stored up in the mountains.

Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.


 

Exploring Neptune’s Unusual Seasons

Planetary scientists monitoring how the outer planets change over time have made a surprising observation of springtime on the planet Neptune. As the planet moves towards summer in its southern hemisphere, one might expect it to get warmer—but in data taken over 17 years, researchers observed that the average temperature actually seems to be declining. One theory involves the conversion of atmospheric methane, which traps heat, to ethane or other hydrocarbon compounds that release heat more readily, but more research is needed.

The researchers also spotted the rapid formation of a hot-spot at the south pole of Neptune, with an increase of some 11 degrees C over just two Earth years. Models had predicted a temperature swing of perhaps 15 degrees over the entire seasonal cycle.

These findings were reported this week in the Planetary Science Journal. Scientists don’t know very much about Neptune—it’s over 30 times Earth’s distance from the sun, and gets only one nine-hundredth of the sunlight. It takes around 165 Earth years to complete an orbit, meaning that the researchers’ 17 years of data account for only a small fraction of one season. Because of the planet’s tilt and its long orbit, the last time the planet’s north pole was visible from Earth was in the 1960s. And we’ve only visited once, via the Voyager spacecraft, over 30 years ago.

Michael Roman, a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester in the UK, and one of the authors of the report, joins Ira to talk about the strange springtime on Neptune—and the planet’s many remaining mysteries.


 

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

 

Apr 15, 2022