1,100 episodes

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

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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

    The Brain Makes A Lot Of Waste. Here's How It Cleans Itself Up

    The Brain Makes A Lot Of Waste. Here's How It Cleans Itself Up

    Scientists have long studied the relationship between sleep and the brain, and why poor sleep is linked to neurological diseases like Alzheimer's. NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton talks to host Regina G. Barber about the brain's washing system and the particular sound researchers have found that seems to turn it on in mice.

    Read Jon's full piece here.

    Interested in more science about the brain? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    • 13 min
    How An Ambitious River Rerouting Plan Could Change India's Weather

    How An Ambitious River Rerouting Plan Could Change India's Weather

    More than a hundred years ago, a British engineer proposed linking two rivers in India to better irrigate the area and cheaply move goods. The link never happened, but the idea survived. Today, due to extreme flooding in some parts of the country mirrored by debilitating drought in others, India's National Water Development Agency plans to dig thirty links between rivers across the country. It's the largest project of its kind and will take decades to complete. But scientists are worried what moving that much water could do to the land, the people — and even the weather. Host Emily Kwong talks to journalist Sushmita Pathak about her recent story on the project.

    Read Sushmita's full story here.

    Interested in more science stories like this? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    • 13 min
    The Magic — And Science — Of Synchronous Firefly Displays

    The Magic — And Science — Of Synchronous Firefly Displays

    Every year for two weeks between mid-May and mid-June, Congaree National Park in South Carolina is home to a fairy-tale-like display of flashing lights. These rhythmic performances happen all because of thousands of fireflies, flashing their belly lanterns at exactly the same time. According to the National Park Service, there are just three types of these synchronous fireflies in North America, making the experience all the more magical for the lucky visitors who get the chance to see them.

    Firefly scientists and enthusiasts hope these displays in places like Congaree will inspire people to care about other kinds of fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, in the U.S., which are not as well-studied – or well-protected – as synchronous ones. Some community scientists are already taking on this mission with projects like the Firefly Atlas, where volunteers can help survey for fireflies and report sightings.

    This story was originally reported for NPR by science correspondent Pien Huang. Read Pien's full story here.

    Want more of the science behind wildlife wonders? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    • 13 min
    This Mysterious Energy Is Everywhere. Scientists Still Don't Know What It Is

    This Mysterious Energy Is Everywhere. Scientists Still Don't Know What It Is

    The universe — everything in existence — is expanding every second! It's only been about a hundred years that humanity has known this, too — that most galaxies are traveling away from us and the universe is expanding. Just a few decades ago, in the late 1990s, scientists started to notice another peculiar thing: The expansion of the universe is speeding up over time. It's like an explosion where the debris gets faster instead of slowing down. The mysterious force pushing the universe outward faster and faster was named dark energy. Cosmologist Brian Nord joins host Regina G. Barber in a conversation that talks about what dark energy could be and what it implies about the end of our universe.

    Check out more of our series on space at https://www.npr.org/spacecamp.

    Curious about other happenings in our universe? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    • 14 min
    The Dubious Consent Question At The Heart Of The Human Genome Project

    The Dubious Consent Question At The Heart Of The Human Genome Project

    The Human Genome Project was a massive undertaking that took more than a decade and billions of dollars to complete. For it, scientists collected DNA samples from anonymous volunteers who were told the final project would be a mosaic of DNA. Instead, over two-thirds of the DNA comes from one person: RP11. No one ever told him. Science journalist Ashley Smart talks to host Emily Kwong about his recent investigation into the decision to make RP11 the major donor — and why unearthing this history matters to genetics today.

    Read Ashley's full article in Undark Magazine here.

    Questions or ideas for future episodes? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    • 14 min
    Teens Are Following Skincare Trends On TikTok. Some Dermatologists Are Wary

    Teens Are Following Skincare Trends On TikTok. Some Dermatologists Are Wary

    TikTok is fuel for many trends, including a skin care craze among teens, pre-teens — okay, and us. The "glass skin" trend calls for a multi-step routine, often involving pricey products. It's all in pursuit of dewy, seemingly poreless, glowing complexion – like glass. But some dermatologists say these attempts can backfire, irritating, burning and even peeling sensitive pre-teen skin. As teens and tweens have become major consumers of skin care products, dermatologists are seeing more of these cases and are cautioning against these elaborate routines.

    Want more science behind what's going viral? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    • 9 min

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