Science Friday

Science Friday and WNYC Studios

Brain fun for curious people.

  • 18 minutes 47 seconds
    New Evidence Questions Dark Energy’s ‘Constant’ Nature

    After the Big Bang, the universe expanded rapidly. And, once upon a time, conventional wisdom held that that expansion would eventually slow, dragged back inwards by the gravitational pull of all the matter in the universe. But in 1998, two groups studying supernovae discovered that not only was the universe continuing to expand, but that the expansion was accelerating.

    That accelerating expansion has been attributed to a force cosmologists have called dark energy. The energy itself has been represented by a number—thought to be a universal constant—called the cosmological constant. But recent data presented by a group called DESI, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, says that possibly, the constant may not be a constant. Instead, dark energy may be evolving over time.

    The finding, if it holds true, would be a big deal, requiring cosmologists to redo their equations for the way the universe works and, possibly, develop new physics to explain the phenomenon. Dr. Dillon Brout, an assistant professor of astronomy at Boston University and part of the DESI collaboration, joins Ira to talk about the data from the first year of the DESI instrument, and what may lie ahead in years to come.

    Transcript for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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    21 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 17 minutes 31 seconds
    New Guidelines Recommend Earlier Breast Cancer Screening

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has updated its recommendations for breast cancer screening once again. The recommendations now stipulate that women and people assigned female at birth should begin getting mammograms at age 40, and continue every other year until age 74. The previous guidelines recommended beginning screening at age 50. These guidelines carry a lot of weight because they determine if mammography will be considered preventive care by health insurance and therefore covered at no cost to the patient.

    Why have the guidelines changed? And how are these decisions made in the first place? To answer those questions and more Ira Flatow talks with Dr. Janie Lee, director of breast imaging at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and professor of radiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

    Transcript for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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    20 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 26 minutes 36 seconds
    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.

     

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    17 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 17 minutes 46 seconds
    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.

    16 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 17 minutes 50 seconds
    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.

    15 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 17 minutes 59 seconds
    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.

    14 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 24 minutes 58 seconds
    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.

    13 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 18 minutes 14 seconds
    JWST Detects An Atmosphere Around A Rocky Exoplanet | Boeing Plans To Fly Humans To The ISS Next Week

    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.

    10 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 16 minutes 6 seconds
    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.

     

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    9 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 18 minutes 14 seconds
    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.

    8 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 11 minutes 19 seconds
    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.

    7 May 2024, 8:00 pm
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