Science Friday Brain fun for curious people.
Science Friday

Science Friday

From WNYC Radio

Brain fun for curious people.

Most Recent Episodes

New Rule Sets Stage For Electric Grid Update | Harnessing Nanoparticles For Vaccines

Upgrades to the power grid under a new rule could help accommodate an increasing renewable energy supply and meet data center demands. Also, extremely small particles might help scientists develop vaccines that are stable at room temperature and easier to administer. New Rule Sets Stage For Electric Grid Update The US electric grid is straining to keep up with demand. For starters, our warming climate means more electricity is needed to keep people cool. Last summer—which was the hottest on record—energy demand in the US experienced an all-time hourly peak. And even though more renewable energy is being produced, our current grid, largely built in the 1960s and 1970s, was not built to handle those needs. Increased use of AI and cryptocurrency, which require power-hungry data centers, have only increased the burden on the grid. But on Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved new rules to upgrade the grid to accommodate rising demands. The policy includes approval for the construction of new transmission lines and modification of existing transmission facilities. Casey Crownhart, climate reporter for the MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to talk about this and other science stories of the week, including how a recent ocean heatwave will impact ocean life and the upcoming hurricane season, a new self-collection test for cervical cancer, and how a tiny beetle uses audio mimicry to avoid being eaten by bats. Could Vaccines Of The Future Be Made With Nanoparticles? In 2021, vaccines for COVID-19 were released, a little over a year after the SARS-CoV-2 virus triggered a global pandemic. Their remarkably short production time wasn't the result of a rush-job, but a culmination of decades of advancements in infrastructure, basic science, and mRNA technology. But despite the years of innovations that allowed those vaccines to be developed and mass-produced so quickly, their delivery method—an injection—still has some drawbacks. Most injected vaccines need to be kept cold, and some require multiple trips to a pharmacy. And people with needle phobias may be reluctant to get them altogether. So what could the vaccines of the future look like? Dr. Balaji Narasimhan, distinguished professor and director of the Nanovaccine Institute at Iowa State University, joins Ira Flatow onstage in Ames, Iowa, to talk about how his lab is using nanotechnology to develop the next generation of vaccines, and how they could be more effective than current vaccines in the face of the next pandemic. 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.

New Rule Sets Stage For Electric Grid Update | Harnessing Nanoparticles For Vaccines

How Climate Change Is Changing Sports

Sports are a critical part of human culture just about everywhere in the world. Maybe you played little league as a kid, or like to go to the park for a game of pickup basketball, or even just cheer for your favorite team on the weekends. Unfortunately, like so many other things, climate change is taking a toll on the world of sports. It's getting too warm for appropriate ski conditions at ski resorts. Rising temperatures put athletes at risk of heat stroke. Globally, sports are a trillion dollar industry, and billions of people rely on them for their jobs, fitness, and health. Guest host Sophie Bushwick talks with Dr. Madeleine Orr, sports ecologist and author of Warming Up: How Climate Change is Changing Sport, about how our warming climate is altering how we play sports, and what to do about it. Read an excerpt from Warming Up at sciencefriday.com. 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.

Why Is Tinnitus So Hard To Understand And Treat?

Tinnitus, a condition commonly described as a persistent ringing in the ears, affects millions of people around the world. In the US, the prevalence of tinnitus is estimated at around 11% of the population, with 2% affected by a severe form of the condition that can be debilitating. But despite it being so common, the exact causes of some tinnitus, and how best to think about treating the condition, are still unclear. In some cases, it's brought on by exposure to loud noise, while in others, an ear infection or even earwax can be to blame. Dr. Gabriel Corfas, director of the Kresge Hearing Research Institute at the University of Michigan, joins guest host Sophie Bushwick to talk about current research into the condition and possible treatments, from regrowing nerve cells, to devices that provide electrical stimulation. 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.

Finding Purpose In A 'Wild Life'

Wildlife ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant has tracked bears through the mountains, lived with lions, been chased by elephants, and trekked after lemurs in a rainforest. Now, she co-hosts the renowned nature television show "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild." Dr. Wynn-Grant's new memoir, Wild Life: Finding My Purpose in an Untamed World, documents her many adventures as well as her experience navigating conservation as a Black woman and landing her dream job as a nature television host. Read an excerpt from Wild Life here. 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.

Archeopteryx Specimen Unveiled | Trees And Shrubs Burying Great Plains' Prairies

The Field Museum has unveiled a new specimen of Archaeopteryx, a species that may hold the key to how ancient dinosaurs became modern birds. Also, a "green glacier" of trees and shrubs is sliding across the Great Plains, burying some of the most threatened habitat on the planet. Remarkably Well-Preserved Archeopteryx Specimen Unveiled The Field Museum in Chicago just unveiled a new specimen of one of the most important fossils ever: Archaeopteryx. It lived around 150 million years ago, and this species is famous for marking the transition from dinosaurs to birds in the tree of life. The Field Museum now has the 13th known fossil—and it may be the best-preserved one yet. So what makes this specimen so special? And what else is there to learn about Archaeopteryx? To answer these questions, guest host Sophie Bushwick talks with Dr. Jingmai O'Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles at the Field Museum, about what makes Archaeopteryx such an icon in the world of paleontology and why they're so excited about it. Trees And Shrubs Are Burying Prairies Of The Great Plains In the Flint Hills region of Kansas, the Mushrush family is beating back a juggernaut unleashed by humans — a Green Glacier of trees and shrubs grinding slowly across the Great Plains and burying some of the most threatened habitat on the planet. This blanket of shrublands and dense juniper woods gobbling up grassland leads to wildfires with towering flames that dwarf those generated in prairie fires. It also eats into ranchers' livelihoods. It smothers habitat for grassland birds, prairie fish and other critters that evolved for a world that's disappearing. It dries up streams and creeks. New research even finds that, across much of the Great Plains, the advent of trees actually makes climate change worse. Now a federal initiative equips landowners like Daniel Mushrush with the latest science and strategies for saving rangeland, and money to help with the work. Read more at sciencefriday.com. 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.

Archeopteryx Specimen Unveiled | Trees And Shrubs Burying Great Plains' Prairies

JWST Detects An Atmosphere Around A Rocky Exoplanet | Boeing Plans To Fly Humans To The IS...

Astronomers have confirmed they found an atmosphere around an Earth-like rocky exoplanet for the first time. Also, Boeing's Starliner craft was scheduled to carry humans to the International Space Station in 2017. Its launch is now set for May 17, 2024. In A First, JWST Detects An Atmosphere Around A Rocky Exoplanet Earlier this week, astronomers announced they had discovered an atmosphere around a rocky Earth-like planet named 55 Cancri e, about 40 light-years away from Earth, thanks to instruments onboard the JWST telescope. Finding an atmosphere around a rocky planet is a big step for exoplanet exploration: Earth's atmosphere is crucial to its ability to sustain life, and astronomers need to be able to identify rocky planets that have atmospheres to search for life outside the solar system. However, 55 Cancri e is likely far too hot to have any life: Researchers estimate the surface temperature to be about 3,100 F, thanks to its close proximity to its sun and a probable magma ocean that envelops the planet. But this could also give clues to Earth's formation, as its own surface was also once covered by lava. Jason Dinh, climate editor at Atmos, joins guest host Sophie Bushwick to talk about this and other top news in science this week, including tightening restrictions on risky virus research in the US, possible evidence for a sperm whale "alphabet," and how environmental changes are leading to an increase in disease in humans, animals, and plants. Boeing Plans To Fly Humans To The ISS Next Week When NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the agency had to find a new way to transport astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Russia's Soyuz program has met that need in the meantime, but NASA has wanted a more local solution. So they started awarding contracts to private US companies who could act as space taxis, including SpaceX, with its Dragon capsule, and Boeing with its Starliner capsule, through the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Unlike SpaceX, Boeing has yet to fly humans in its spacecraft. But it plans to do so no earlier than next Friday, carrying Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, NASA astronauts and former Navy pilots to the ISS. Starliner was originally supposed to launch this week, but due to issues with a pressure regulation valve on the Atlas V rocket's upper stage, ULA had to delay the launch to replace the valve. Brendan Byrne, assistant news director at Central Florida Public Media, talks with guest host Sophie Bushwick about Boeing's rocky road to the ISS and how NASA hopes to split the workload of ferrying astronauts between Boeing and SpaceX. 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.

JWST Detects An Atmosphere Around A Rocky Exoplanet | Boeing Plans To Fly Humans To The IS...

Challenging The Gender Gap In Sports Science

The first Women's World Cup was in 1991, and the games were only 80 minutes, compared to the 90-minute games played by men. Part of the rationale was that women just weren't tough enough to play a full 90 minutes of soccer. This idea of women as the "weaker sex" is everywhere in early scientific studies of athletic performance. Sports science was mainly concerned with men's abilities. Even now, most participants in sports science research are men. Luckily things are changing, and more girls and women are playing sports than ever before. There's a little more research about women too, as well as those who fall outside the gender binary. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Christine Yu, a health and sports journalist and author of Up To Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes, about the gender data gap in sports science. Read an excerpt of Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes at sciencefriday.com. 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.

What Martian Geology Can Teach Us About Earth

At first glance, Mars might seem rather different from our own planet. Mars is dry, with little atmosphere, and no liquid water on its surface. It is half the size of Earth, lacks a planetary magnetic field, and does not appear to have active plate tectonics or volcanic activity. In some ways it is a world frozen in time, affected only by the force of wind and the occasional meteorite impact. That static nature, however, could give scientists clues to conditions that once existed on Earth, but have been lost to the effects of plate tectonics and weathering. Ira talks with planetary geologist Dr. Valerie Payré of the University of Iowa about her research into the geology of Mars, and what it could tell scientists about early Earth. 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.

How Louisiana Is Coping With Flooding In Cemeteries

Emily Dalfrey lives across the street from Niblett's Bluff Cemetery, where generations of her family are buried, in Vinton, Louisiana. In 2016, a period of prolonged rainfall caused flooding so severe that people could drive boats over the cemetery. The water put so much pressure on the graves that some of the vaults, which are located near the surface, popped open. Some of Dalfrey's own family members' caskets were carried away and deposited in her yard. Unsure how to restore the cemetery, the community contracted Gulf Coast Forensic Solutions, a company that helps people locate and rebury loved ones after natural disasters damage cemeteries. Read the rest of this article on sciencefriday.com. 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.

Inside Iowa State's Herbarium | Science-Inspired Art From 'Universe of Art' Listeners

The Ada Hayden Herbarium preserves hundreds of thousands of specimens, including some collected by George Washington Carver. And, as the "Universe of Art" podcast turns one, listeners discuss solar music boxes and what it's like making art with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Inside Iowa State's Herbarium With 700,000 Plant Specimens Herbariums are plant libraries—they contain fragile specimens of plants collected from near and far, and they are meticulously described and cataloged so that someone can reference them in the future. At Iowa State University, the Ada Hayden Herbarium contains more than 700,000 specimens, about half of which are from Iowa. Ira talks with herbarium's director, Dr. Lynn Clark, and curator Deb Lewis about how plants are preserved, why herbariums are so important, and what it takes to manage a plant archive. Science-Inspired Art From Two 'Universe of Art' Listeners Last week, we kicked off a first-anniversary celebration for Universe of Art, our science-meets-art spinoff podcast. A lot of listeners have written in since the start of the podcast, telling us about the science-inspired art they've made in their spare time. Last week, host D. Peterschmidt spoke with Todd Gilens, a visual designer who worked with the city of Reno, Nevada, to create a mile-long poem on the city's sidewalks about the connections between urbanism and stream ecology. This time, we'll meet two listeners. Craig Colorusso is a punk rock guitarist-turned-sound artist who creates public sculptures and experiences that enhance visitors' connection to nature. Two of his projects, Sun Boxes and The Bridges At Coler, use solar panels to play reflective, calming music he composed. "You have this idea where you are in nature and you are listening to something that is powered by nature," he said. "I think that's perfect." And we'll meet a listener who prefers to go by Chris, who was an engineer and avid artist who made mosaics and crocheted before developing Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). It's a debilitating condition characterized by extreme fatigue that can't be improved by rest, and can also include brain fog, pain, and dizziness. It's similar to what many Long COVID patients experience. Chris' condition is considered severe, and caused her to lose the use of her hands, and thus her preferred art mediums. However, Chris could still use her left hand with a rollerball mouse and realized that she could use programs like Chaotica to create fractals that she adds to collages in Photoshop, resulting in colorful collages. "They're just beautiful and I'm doing art again and I'm so happy about it," she said. 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.

Inside Iowa State's Herbarium | Science-Inspired Art From 'Universe of Art' Listeners