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Science Friday

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Brain fun for curious people.

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Smoke Chasers, Colorado Apples, Pikas. June 21, 2019, Part 2

When wildfires rage in the West, Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Emily Fischer hops into a plane, and flies straight into the smoke. The plane is a flying chemistry lab, studded with instruments, and Fischer's goal is to uncover the chemical reactions happening in smoke plumes, to determine how wildfire smoke may affect ecosystems and human health. Pikas—those cute little animals that look like rodents but are actually more closely related to rabbits—used to roam high mountain habitats across the West. But global warming is pushing temperatures up in their high mountain habitats, and pikas are now confined to a few areas. And thanks to those warmer temperatures, which are threatening the pikas' way of life, they may be in danger of disappearing—potentially as early as the end of the century. In this segment, recorded as part of Science Friday's live show at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colorado, Ira speaks with Chris Ray, a population biologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Ray is tagging and tracking the pikas to investigate how closely their fate is tied to climate change—and whether there's a way to save them before it's too late. In the late 1800, Colorado was one of the top apple growing states, but the industry was wiped out by drought and the creation of the red delicious apple in Washington state. But even today, apple trees can still be found throughout the area. Plant ecologist Katharine Suding created the Boulder Apple Tree Project to map out the historic orchards. She talks about Boulder's historic orchards, some of the heirloom varieties like the Surprise and Arkansas Black, and a surprising connection to a hit Hollywood franchise. Plus, cider maker Daniel Haykin talks about how he uses the information from the Boulder Apple Tree Project combined with sugar, yeast and apples to make the bubbly beverage.

Cephalopod Week 2019, Climate and Microbes, Puppy Eyes, Wave Energy. June 21, 2019, Part 1

For eight glorious days during the end of June, Science Friday honors the mighty mollusks of the ocean—Cephalopod Week returns for the sixth year! And we're cephalo-brating with a tidal wave of ways for you to participate. This year, we want to know your favorite cephalopod. Is it the charismatic giant Pacific octopus or the long-lived chambered nautilus? Science Friday digital producer Lauren Young and biologist Diana Li add their own favorite cephalopods to the ultimate undersea showdown. They talk about the bizarre defenses of the blanket octopus, speedy squid getaways, and octopuses that play with LEGOs. We may refer to Earth as "our planet," but it really belongs to the microbes. All the plants and animals on Earth are relatively new additions to the planetary ecosystem. But despite living basically everywhere on the planet, and playing a role in many of the processes that affect the climate, the connection between microbes and the climate is often ignored. That needs to change, says a consensus statement published this week by researchers in the journal Nature Reviews: Microbiology. Take the issue of methane emissions from agriculture, particularly beef production. "The methane doesn't come from the cows," said David Mark Welch, director of the Division of Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. "It comes from microbes in the cows." In a similar way, emissions coming from rice paddies aren't caused by the rice—they are caused by microbes living in stagnant water around the rice. David Mark Welch, one of the co-authors of the consensus statement, joins Ira to discuss the deep connections between microorganisms and the climate, and why scientists and policymakers should pay more attention to microbes in the climate arena. If you've ever suspected your dog of looking extra cute to get a bite of your steak or pizza, it's probably because you couldn't resist their puppy dog eyes. Over time, dogs have evolved to make their eyes look bigger and more baby-like. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers have discovered that dogs have muscles around their eyes that help them make puppy dog eyes at you. They also found that wolves, the wild ancestor of the dog, don't have these muscles. Anne Burrows, one of the researchers in their study, joins Ira to discuss how dogs have evolved these muscles and why people are so susceptible to their big, sad-looking eyes. Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere also joins to talk about other ways that dogs have evolved to strengthen the human-dog bond. A renewable energy project planned off the coast of Newport is taking a step forward. Oregon State University has submitted a final license application for a wave energy testing facility with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If built, it would be the largest of its kind in the United States. Oregon's potential to use the motion of the waves to generate electricity is very high. But nationally, the development of wave energy has lagged behind other green energy sources. Part of the delay is the time and expense involved in permitting new technology. Not only do companies have to pay to develop this kind of clean tech, they also have to go through a lengthy and expensive permitting process before being allowed to see if their ideas work in the real world. This is where Oregon State University's PacWave South Project comes in. The university plans to create a wave energy testing facility about six miles off the Oregon Coast. The idea is that energy developers will be able to by-pass the permitting and just pay the University to test their wave energy converters in the water.

Cephalopod Week 2019, Climate and Microbes, Puppy Eyes, Wave Energy. June 21, 2019, Part 1

Degrees Of Change: Urban Heat Islands. June 14, 2019, Part 1

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

The Best Summer Science Books. June 14, 2019, Part 2

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

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

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

Gender Bias In Research Trials, Antarctica, Tornado Engineering. June 7, 2019, Part 1

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

Gender Bias In Research Trials, Antarctica, Tornado Engineering. June 7, 2019, Part 1

SciFri Extra: Remembering Murray Gell-Mann

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

Climate Politics, Football and Math, Ether. May 31, 2019, Part 2

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

Spoiler Alert, Glyphosate, Unisexual Salamanders. May 31, 2019, Part 1

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

SciFri Extra: A Relatively Important Eclipse

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

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