50 episodi

Brain fun for curious people.

Science Friday Science Friday and WNYC Studios

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Brain fun for curious people.

    Clean Energy Bill, Heatwave Infrastructure, Etana Teen Innovator. August 5th, 2022, Part 2

    Clean Energy Bill, Heatwave Infrastructure, Etana Teen Innovator. August 5th, 2022, Part 2

    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.

     

    • 46 min
    Cancer Vaccines, Planting Wildflowers, Eating Copi Fish. August 5th, 2022, Part 1

    Cancer Vaccines, Planting Wildflowers, Eating Copi Fish. August 5th, 2022, Part 1

    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.

     

     

    • 47 min
    Alzheimer’s Research Fraud, Extreme Heat Health, Piping Plovers, Octaglove. July 29, 2022, Part 1

    Alzheimer’s Research Fraud, Extreme Heat Health, Piping Plovers, Octaglove. July 29, 2022, Part 1

    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.

    • 46 min
    Fire Of Love Film, Accessible Tech, Vagina Book. July 29, 2022, Part 2

    Fire Of Love Film, Accessible Tech, Vagina Book. July 29, 2022, Part 2

    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.

     

    • 46 min
    Kahneman on ‘Noise,’ CHIPS Act, Great Salt Lake Dryness, Hybrid Toads. July 22, 2022, Part 2

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

    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.

     

    • 47 min
    Global Heat Wave, Indigenous Peoples Genetic History, Heat-Adaptive Plants. July 22, 2022, Part 1

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

    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.

    • 46 min

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