Short Wave New discoveries, everyday mysteries, and the science behind the headlines — in just under 15 minutes. It's science for everyone, using a lot of creativity and a little humor. Join hosts Emily Kwong and Regina Barber for science on a different wavelength.

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New discoveries, everyday mysteries, and the science behind the headlines — in just under 15 minutes. It's science for everyone, using a lot of creativity and a little humor. Join hosts Emily Kwong and Regina Barber for science on a different wavelength.

If you're hooked, try Short Wave Plus. Your subscription supports the show and unlocks a sponsor-free feed. Learn more at plus.npr.org/shortwave

Most Recent Episodes

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Sperm whale families talk a lot. Researchers are trying to decode what they're saying

Scientists are testing the limits of artificial intelligence when it comes to language learning. One recent challenge? Learning ... whale! Researchers are using machine learning to analyze and decode whale sounds — and it's just as complicated as it seems.

Sperm whale families talk a lot. Researchers are trying to decode what they're saying

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Aline Ranaivoson/AFP via Getty Images

Scientists reveal mysterious origin of Baobab trees, Rafiki's home in 'The Lion King'

Baobabs are sometimes called the "tree of life" with their thick trunks, crown of branches and flowers that only open at twilight. But theories about their geographic origin was divided among three places: the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, the Kimberley region of western Australia and the dry forests of the island nation of Madagascar. To solve this mystery, a global research team led by scientists at the Wuhan Botanical Garden at the Chinese Academy of Sciences examined high-quality genomic data from all eight baobab species.

Scientists reveal mysterious origin of Baobab trees, Rafiki's home in 'The Lion King'

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Why a changing climate might mean less chocolate in the future

Chocolate may never be the same. The majority of chocolate is made in just two countries and erratic weather from climate change is decreasing cocoa production. A handful of extreme weather events—from drought to heavy rainfall—could have lasting effects on the chocolate industry. Yasmin Tayag, a food, health and science writer at The Atlantic, talks to host Emily Kwong about the cocoa shortage: What's causing it, how it's linked to poor farming conditions and potential solutions. Plus, they enjoy a chocolate alternative taste test.

Why a changing climate might mean less chocolate in the future

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The inside of a cell is a complicated orchestration of interactions between molecules. Keith Chambers/Science Photo Library hide caption

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Keith Chambers/Science Photo Library

AI gets scientists one step closer to mapping the organized chaos in our cells

As artificial intelligence seeps into some realms of society, it rushes into others. One area it's making a big difference is protein science — as in the "building blocks of life," proteins! Producer Berly McCoy talks to host Emily Kwong about the newest advance in protein science: AlphaFold3, an AI program from Google DeepMind. Plus, they talk about the wider field of AI protein science and why researchers hope it will solve a range of problems, from disease to the climate.

AI gets scientists one step closer to mapping the organized chaos in our cells

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NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a strong solar flare on May 8, 2024. The Wednesday solar flares kicked off the geomagnetic storm happening this weekend. NASA/SDO hide caption

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NASA/SDO

NOAA Issues First Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch Since 2005

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed a cluster of sunspots on the surface of the sun this week. With them came solar flares that kicked off a severe geomagnetic storm. That storm is expected to last throughout the weekend as at least five coronal mass ejections — chunks of the sun — are flung out into space, towards Earth! NOAA uses a five point scale to rate these storms, and this weekend's storm is a G4. It's expected to produce auroras as far south as Alabama. To contextualize this storm, we are looking back at the largest solar storm on record: the Carrington Event.

NOAA Issues First Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch Since 2005

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When the boys spent a year in the same school, Sam did fine, but John struggled and had some noisy meltdowns. Jodi Hilton for NPR hide caption

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Jodi Hilton for NPR

How autism can look very different, even in identical twins

Sam and John Fetters, 19, are identical twins on different ends of the autism spectrum. Sam is a sophomore at Amherst College and runs marathons in his free time. John attends a school for people with special needs and loves to watch Sesame Street in his free time. Identical twins like Sam and John pose an important question for scientists: How can a disorder that is known to be highly genetic look so different in siblings who share the same genome?

How autism can look very different, even in identical twins

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A. Martin UW Photography/Getty Images

A look at the sea slug utility belt, from solar power to stealing stings

Emily gets super nerdy with former host Maddie Sofia get as they dive into the incredible world of nudibranchs in this encore episode. Not only are these sea slugs eye-catching for their colors, some of them have evolved to "steal" abilities from other organisms — from the power of photosynthesis to the stinging cells of their venomous predators. These sea slugs are going to blow your mind!

A look at the sea slug utility belt, from solar power to stealing stings

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'Stealing the past': A spat between twins leads to a theory of disputed memories

It's not unusual for siblings to quibble over ownership of something — a cherished toy, a coveted seat in the car — or whose fault something is. If you're Mercedes Sheen, you not only spent your childhood squabbling with your sister over your memories, you then turn it into your research career. Mercedes studies disputed memories, where it's unclear who an event happened to. It turns out these memories can tell us a lot about people — they tend to be self-aggrandizing — and how the human brain remembers things.

'Stealing the past': A spat between twins leads to a theory of disputed memories

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Deer are expanding north. That could hurt some species like boreal caribou

Wildlife ecologists have seen white-tailed deer expanding their range in North America over many decades. And since the early-2000s these deer have moved north into the boreal forests of western Canada. These forests are full of spruce and pine trees, sandy soil and freezing winters with lots of snow. They can be a harsh winter wonderland. And ecologists haven't known whether a warmer climate in these forests or human land development might be driving the deer north. A recent study tries to disentangle these factors – and finds that a warming climate seems to play the most significant role in the movement of deer.

Deer are expanding north. That could hurt some species like boreal caribou

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This illustration shows the Milky Way, our home galaxy. NASA/JPL-Caltech hide caption

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NASA/JPL-Caltech

The mysterious 'Great Attractor' pulling the Milky Way galaxy off course

No matter what you're doing right now – sitting, standing, walking – you're moving. First, because Earth is spinning around on its axis. This rotation is the reason we have days. Second, because Earth and other planets in our solar system are orbiting the sun. That's why we have years. Third, you're moving because the sun and the rest of our solar system is orbiting the center of the Milky Way galaxy at over 500,000 miles per hour. If all of that isn't nauseating enough, everything in the entire universe is expanding outward. All the time.

The mysterious 'Great Attractor' pulling the Milky Way galaxy off course

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