Science Friday Brain fun for curious people.
Science Friday

Science Friday

From WNYC Radio

Brain fun for curious people.

Most Recent Episodes

A Cheer For The Physics Of Baseball

College basketball's March Madness concluded this week, meaning that now the national sports attention can turn fully to baseball. The next time you're at the ballpark—whether you're devoted enough to fill in the box scores by hand, or are just there for the peanuts and crackerjacks—take some time to appreciate the physics of the game. There are tricky trajectories, problems of parabolas, converging velocities, and the all-important impacts. Dr. Frederic Bertley, the president and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, joins Ira to talk about the science of sports, and about how sports can be a gateway to scientific literacy. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Carbon Cost Of Urban Gardens And Commercial Farms | Why There's No Superbloom This Year

Some food has a larger carbon footprint when grown in urban settings than on commercial farms, while for other foods the reverse is true. Also, what's the difference between wildflowers blooming in the desert each spring, and the rare phenomenon of a "superbloom"? The Carbon Cost Of Urban Gardens And Commercial Farms If you have a home garden, you may be expecting that the food you grow has less of an environmental impact than food grown on large commercial farms. But new research throws some cold water on that idea. A study led by scientists at the University of Michigan examined 73 small urban gardening sites across the U.S., the U.K., France, Poland, and Germany, and found that food grown in urban settings produced six times more carbon emissions per serving than commercially grown food. The bulk of these emissions (63%) came from the building materials used for items like raised garden beds. However, there are some foods that have a smaller carbon footprint when grown at home. They include crops like tomatoes and asparagus, which sometimes need to be flown long distances or require power-hungry greenhouses when grown commercially. Jason Hawes, PhD candidate in the School for Environment and Sustainability at University of Michigan and lead author of the study which was published in Nature Cities, breaks down the results of the research with Ira. They talk about how urban farmers have responded to the findings, the positive social benefits of community gardens, and what home gardeners can do to lessen their carbon footprint. Why There Won't Be A Superbloom This Year In California, wildflowers are in bloom. Last year, there was a superbloom. Though there's no official criteria, a superbloom is when there is an above average number of wildflowers blooming, mostly in desert regions of California and Arizona. It's an explosion of color in regions that typically have sparse vegetation. About a month ago, a few news articles hinted that maybe, just maybe, we were in for another superbloom year. Turns out we're not. Who decides when there's a superbloom anyway? And why did this year turn out not to be a superbloom after all? To answer those questions and provide an update on the state of California's wildflowers, SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Dr. Naomi Fraga, director of conservation programs at the California Botanic Garden, and research assistant professor at Claremont Graduate University. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Carbon Cost Of Urban Gardens And Commercial Farms | Why There's No Superbloom This Year

Inside The Race To Save Honeybees From Parasitic Mites

Last year, almost half of the honeybee colonies in the U.S. died, making it the second deadliest year for honeybees on record. The main culprit wasn't climate change, starvation, or even pesticides, but a parasite: Varroa destructor. "The name for this parasite is a very Transformer-y sounding name, but ... these Varroa destructor mites have earned this name. It's not melodramatic by any means. [They are] incredibly destructive organisms," says Dr. Sammy Ramsey, entomologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. These tiny mites feed on the bees and make them susceptible to other threats like diseases and pesticides. They're also highly contagious: They arrived in the US in 1987, and now they live in almost every honeybee colony in the country. Honeybees pollinate many important crops, like apples, peaches, and berries, and their pollinator services add up to billions of dollars. Ramsey and his lab are trying to put an end to the varroa mites' spree. Part of their research includes spying on baby bees and their accompanying mites to learn how the parasites feed on the bees and whether there's a way to disrupt that process. In Boulder, Colorado, SciFri producer Rasha Aridi speaks with Dr. Ramsey and fellow entomologist Dr. Madison Sankovitz about how the varroa mites terrorize bees so effectively, and what it would take to get ahead of them. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

The Brain's Glial Cells Might Be As Important As Neurons

Half of the cells in the brain are neurons, the other half are glial cells. When scientists first discovered glia over a century ago, they thought that they simply held the neurons together. Their name derives from a Greek word that means glue. In the past decade, researchers have come to understand that glial cells do so much more: They communicate with neurons and work closely with the immune system and might be critical in how we experience pain. They even play an important role in regulating the digestive tract. Ira is joined by Yasemin Saplakoglu, a staff writer at Quanta Magazine who has reported on these lesser-known cells. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Limits On 'Forever Chemicals' In Drinking Water | An Important Winter Home For Bugs | Ecli...

A long-awaited rule from the EPA limits the amounts of six PFAS chemicals allowed in public drinking water supplies. Also, some spiders, beetles, and centipedes spend winter under snow in a layer called the subnivium. Plus, a drumroll for the total solar eclipse. EPA Sets Limits On 'Forever Chemicals' In Drinking Water This week, the EPA finalized the first-ever national limits for the level of PFAS chemicals that are acceptable in drinking water supplies. Those so-called "forever chemicals," per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have long been used in products like fire retardants and oil-and water-repellent coatings, and are now ubiquitous in the global environment. Water treatment plants will now have to test and treat for several varieties of the chemicals, which have been linked to a variety of health problems in people. Sophie Bushwick, senior news editor at New Scientist, joins SciFri producer Kathleen Davis to talk about the rule and its potential impact on water agencies. They'll also talk about other stories from the week in science, including research into a new vaccine against urinary tract infections, theories that extend the multiverse into a many-more-worlds interpretation, the passing of particle physicist Peter Higgs, and a new front in the war on pest rats: rodent contraceptives. Where Snowpack Meets Soil: An Important Winter Home For Bugs When winter rolls around and snow piles up, many insects head down to a small layer called the subnivium for the season.. This space, between snowpack and soil, shelters small insects, amphibians,and mammals from freezing temperatures. Arthropods as a whole are understudied, says Chris Ziadeh, graduate of the University of New Hampshire and lead author of a recent study about the distinct communities that live in the subnivium. Better understanding which creatures call the subnivium home in the winter, as well as their behavior, could help us conserve them as the climate warms. Guest host Kathleen Davis talks to Ziadeh about winter arthropod activity, species diversity, and why we should all care about protecting insects in our communities. Drumroll Please! A Performance For The Solar Eclipse People found all manner of ways to celebrate the solar eclipse that happened earlier this week, but one Science Friday listener found a particularly musical way to take in the experience. Matt Kurtz, a sound artist and musician based in Akron, Ohio, realized his town would be in the path of totality for the April 8 eclipse. So with some funding from Akron Soul Train, a local artist residency, he put together a percussion section (complete with a gong) to perform a drumroll and build suspense up until the moment of totality. They performed in Chestnut Ridge Park to a crowd of onlookers. "When you hear a [drumroll], it forces you to be like, something's about to happen," he said in an interview. "It's a way to pay attention." As the gong rang out and the crowd cheered, Kurtz put down his sticks and experienced his first solar eclipse totality. "It was a release," he said. "I had a couple minutes of peace where I got to look at the stars and feel where all this work went to." Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Limits On 'Forever Chemicals' In Drinking Water | An Important Winter Home For Bugs | Ecli...

Investigating Animal Deaths At The National Zoo

When a critter meets its end at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, it ends up on a necropsy table—where one of the zoo's veterinary pathologists will take a very close look at it, in what is the animal version of an autopsy. They'll poke and prod, searching for clues about the animal's health. What they do—or don't—find can be used to improve the care of living animals, both in the zoo and in the wild. On stage in Washington, D.C., Ira talks with Dr. Kali Holder, veterinary pathologist at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, about her work, and they embark on a case of CSI: Zoo. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Eating More Oysters Helps Us—And The Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay produces around 500 million pounds of seafood every year, providing delicious blue crabs, striped bass, oysters, and more to folks up and down the coast. It's one of the most productive bodies of water in the world, but the bay is constantly in flux due to stressors like overfishing, pollution, and climate change. But scientists have a plan to conserve the bay's biodiversity, support the people who rely on it, and keep us all well fed—and it involves oyster farming. On stage in Washington, D.C., Ira talks with Imani Black, aquaculturist, grad student at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and founder of the nonprofit Minorities in Aquaculture, as well as Dr. Tara Scully, biologist and associate professor at George Washington University. They discuss the bay's history, the importance of aquaculture, and how food production and conservation go hand in hand. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

How Trees Keep D.C. And Baltimore Cool

Springtime is a great reminder of just how beautiful trees can be. Cherry blossoms and magnolias put on a gorgeous show, but trees aren't just there to look good. They play an important role in absorbing heat, sequestering carbon dioxide, and preventing soil erosion. Dr. Mike Alonzo, assistant professor of environmental science at American University, is using satellites to determine just how effective urban trees are at keeping neighborhoods cool. He's been able to track changes to the tree canopy over time, and identify when during the day trees do their best cooling work. In Baltimore, Ryan Alston with the Baltimore Tree Trust has been working with the community to help residents understand the importance of planting trees. The city has a history of redlining, which affected the number of big trees in historically Black neighborhoods, leading to major differences in how hot certain neighborhoods get in the summer. Alonzo and Alston join Ira Flatow live on stage at George Washington University to discuss the power of urban trees. The transcript for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Predicting Heart Disease From Chest X-Rays With AI | Storing New Memories During Sleep

Dr. Eric Topol discusses the promise of "opportunistic" AI, using medical scans for unintended diagnostic purposes. Also, a study in mice found that the brain tags new memories through a "sharp wave ripple" mechanism that then repeats during sleep. How AI Could Predict Heart Disease From Chest X-Rays Research on medical uses for artificial intelligence in medicine is exploding, with scientists exploring methods like using the retina to predict disease onset. That's one example of a growing body of research on "opportunistic" AI, the practice of analyzing medical scans in unconventional ways and for unintended diagnostic purposes. Now, there's some evidence to suggest that AI can mine data from chest x-rays to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease and detect diabetes. Ira talks with Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and professor of molecular medicine. Neurons 'Tag' New Memories For Storage During Sleep All day long we're taking in information and forming memories. Some stick around, others quickly fade away. But how does your brain push those memories into long term storage? And how does our brain recognize which memories should be kept and which should be discarded? This topic has been debated for decades, and a recent study in mice may help scientists understand this process. Researchers found that during the day, as the mice formed memories, cells in the hippocampus fired in a formation called "sharp wave ripples." These are markers that tell the brain to keep those memories for later. Then, while the mice slept, those same sharp wave ripples activated again, and locked in those memories. Ira talks with Dr. György Buzsáki, professor of neuroscience at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, about the findings of the study, which was published in the journal Science. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Predicting Heart Disease From Chest X-Rays With AI | Storing New Memories During Sleep

Recipient Of Pig Kidney Transplant Recovering | Answering Your Questions About April 8 Eclipse

A Massachusetts man who received a kidney from a genetically modified pig is recovering well. Also, on April 8, a total solar eclipse will plunge parts of North America into darkness. Scientists answer the questions you asked. Recipient Of Pig Kidney Transplant Leaves The Hospital Last month, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston announced that a team of doctors had transplanted a kidney from a genetically engineered pig into a living human for the first time. This week, that patient, a 62-year-old man living with end-stage kidney disease, was sent home from the hospital, having recovered enough to be discharged. Sixty-nine genes were edited in the donor pig, including three that coded for a certain sugar found on the surface of pig cells. The edits, hopefully, will make it less likely for the human recipient to reject the transplant. Umair Irfan, senior correspondent at Vox, joins Ira Flatow to talk about the xenotransplantation advance, and how it could affect patients awaiting donor organs. They'll also talk about other stories from the week in science, including how power grid operators are preparing for the upcoming solar eclipse, NASA's search for a new lunar rover, an advance in getting robots to make appropriate faces, research into using a drug similar to the obesity medication Ozempic to delay Parkinson's symptoms, and plans for a new time zone—on the moon. Answering Your Questions About Monday's Eclipse After months of excitement, the 2024 total solar eclipse is almost here! On Monday, April 8, the moon will line up perfectly between the Sun and the Earth. For a few short minutes, it'll plunge parts of North America into total darkness—right in the middle of the day. More than 30 million people live in the path of totality—where the moon will completely block off the sun. It stretches from northwest Mexico, across the US, and into southeastern Canada. Depending how far you are from the path, you might experience a partial eclipse. Magical, nonetheless. Ira talks with Dr. Padi Boyd, astrophysicist at NASA and host of the agency's podcast Curious Universe, and Mark Breen, meteorologist and planetarium director at the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in Vermont. They answer questions our readers and listeners have submitted about the eclipse, and discuss why we should be excited, how to prepare, and what scientists can learn from this phenomenon. For more eclipse-day tips and facts, visit our website. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Recipient Of Pig Kidney Transplant Recovering | Answering Your Questions About April 8 Eclipse