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Science Friday

Podcast Science Friday
Podcast Science Friday

Science Friday


Episodi disponibili

5 risultati 150
  • Smart Toilet, Soft Robotics, Naked Mole Rats. March 17, 2023, Part 2
    Stop Flushing Your Health Data Down The Toilet You could be flushing important information about your health right down the toilet—quite literally. Pee and poop can tell you a lot about your health, so what if your waste…didn’t go to waste? What if, instead, it could tell you more about your health? Like number one, it can catch a condition like diabetes early. Or number two, check out what’s going on in your gut microbiome. That’s the goal of the smart toilet—a device that gets all up in your business to tell you more about your health. Ira talks with the inventor of the PH Smart Toilet, Dr. Seung-min Park, instructor of urology at Stanford’s School of Medicine in California, about how the toilet works, how it can be used to catch diseases early on, and the ethical implications of such a device.   50 Years Later, Reflecting On The Treaty That Controls Wildlife Trade 50 years ago this month, a collection of nations met in Washington and reached agreement on a way to regulate international trade in certain wildlife species—from orchids to gorillas. That agreement came to be known as CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The treaty has come to cover over 30,000 different plants and animals. Some, listed in Appendix 1 of the treaty, are under a complete ban on commercial use, while other species have their trade tightly regulated via a system of permits. Dr. Susan Lieberman, the vice president for international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society, has attended the last 13 meetings of the CITES signatories. She joins Ira to talk about the convention, and what it has meant for conservation over the last 50 years.   This Skin-like Robot Can Heal Itself Think of a robot, and the image that may come to mind is a big, hulking body building cars or working in factories. They battle each other in the movies. But a growing field called softbotics focuses on thin, flexible materials—closer to human skin than to a Transformer. There’s been a breakthrough in this field out of Pittsburgh: softbotics that can not only conduct electricity, but can heal itself from damage. This replicates the healing abilities of organic materials, like skin, but can happen in seconds. Dr. Carmel Majidi, mechanical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, joins Ira to break down possible futures for this material, including a new generation of prosthetics.   Naked Mole-Rats Are Eternally Fertile There may be no stranger—or more impressive—critter than the naked mole-rat. They may look unassuming, but they can defy aging, have an astonishingly high pain tolerance, and are resistant to cancer. And their list of superpowers doesn’t stop there. Scientists recently discovered yet another way these rodents reject the mammalian status quo: by producing egg cells, and staying fertile, until the day they die. This makes them unlike humans, whose ovaries eventually stop producing eggs. So what can we learn about fertility from these strange critters? Ira talks with the lead researcher of this study, Dr. Miguel Brieño-Enriquez, assistant professor at the Magee-Womens Research Institute and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on    
  • Drugs Designed By AI, The Phosphorus Paradox, Regulating PFAS Chemicals. March 17, 2023, Part 1
    At Long Last, More Regulations For Forever Chemicals This week, the EPA proposed the first national standards for drinking water that would set limits on the amount of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals that would be allowed in water systems. There are thousands of different PFAS chemicals, which are often used industrially for properties such as heat, water and stain resistance—from fire-fighting foams to coatings on clothing and paper plates. They have come to be known as “forever chemicals” as they are extremely slow to break down in the environment. The chemicals have been linked to health problems, including cancer. Katherine Wu, staff writer for The Atlantic, joins Ira to talk about the proposed regulations and how such a sweeping rule might be implemented nationwide. Wu also discusses her latest article on COVID-19 origins, and genetic analysis that could tie the pandemic back to raccoon dogs in the Wuhan market. They also talk about other news from the week in science, including research hinting at active volcanoes on Venus, a study of the effects of COVID-19 on maternal health during pregnancy, and research into curing HIV with stem cells from cord blood. Plus an explosion of seaweed, and the unveiling of a new space suit design.   How AI Is Changing The Drug Development Pipeline Researching and developing new drugs is a notoriously long and expensive process, filled with a lot of trial and error. Before a new drug gets approved scientists must come up with something they think might work in the lab, test it in animals, and then if it passes those hurdles, clinical trials in humans. In an effort to smooth out some of the bumps along the road, a growing number of pharma companies are turning to new artificial intelligence tools in the hopes of making the process cheaper and faster. Ira talks with Will Douglas Heaven, senior editor for AI at MIT Technology Review about his reporting on the topic.    An Ambitious Plan To Build Back Louisiana’s Coast Louisiana will receive more than $2 billion to pay for an ambitious, first-of-its-kind plan to reconnect the Mississippi River to the degraded marshes on Plaquemines Parish’s west bank. A collective of federal and state agencies—the Louisiana Trustees Implementation Group—signed off on the multibillion-dollar Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on Wednesday. The funding will come out of settlement dollars resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Once constructed, the two-mile-long sediment diversion is expected to build up to 27 square miles of new land by 2050. In the next 50 years, as Louisiana’s coast continues to sink and global sea levels rise, the diversion is also projected to sustain one-fifth of the remaining land. “The Trustees believe that a sediment diversion is the only way to achieve a self-sustaining marsh ecosystem in the Barataria Basin,” wrote the implementation group in its decision. Read the rest at Balancing The Good And Bad Of Phosphorus Phosphorus is critical to life as we know it. In fact, every cell in the human body contains this important element. It’s also a key component in fertilizer. But not all of that fertilizer stays on crops—much of that phosphorus flows into waterways. Therein lies the rub: the runoff fertilizes the plant life growing in the water, creating toxic algal blooms. To top it all off, the phosphorus reserves in the United States are on track to disappear in just a few decades, according to some estimates.  Ira talks about the past, present, and future of phosphorus with Dan Egan, journalist in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, and author of the new book, The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and A World out of Balance. Want to read The Devil’s Element with us? Join the SciFri Book Club and read along!   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on
  • Tips And Tricks To Grow Your Garden In A Changing Climate. March 10, 2023, Part 2
    Tips And Tricks To Grow Your Garden In A Changing Climate For many of us, spring is right around the corner—or already here—which means it’s time to start thinking about what is going into your garden this year. But largely thanks to climate change, our seasons are getting wonkier every year. Gardens are feeling the heat as climate change affects the timing of the seasons, temperature extremes, the amount of rainfall, the intensity of droughts, and more. So it’s more important than ever to plant a garden that can be more resilient to these changes. In this live show, Ira talks with a panel of guests about planting a climate-resilient garden, and how to set your plants up for success. He’s joined by Laura Erickson, a birder and author of “100 Plants to Feed the Birds: Turn Your Home Garden Into a Healthy Bird Habitat,” Dr. Lucy Bradley, a horticulturist and extension specialist at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Tiffany Carter, research soil scientist at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on
  • A New Controversial Black Hole Theory, Saving The Great Salt Lake. March 10, 2023, Part 1
    Despite Superconductor Breakthrough, Some Scientists Remain Skeptical This week, researchers unveiled a new superconductor which they say works at room temperature. Scientists have been working on identifying new superconductors for decades—materials that can transmit electricity without friction-like resistance. However, previously discovered superconductors only work at super cold temperatures, and under incredibly high pressures. The newly discovered superconductor, lutetium, could be much more useful in applications, like strong magnets used in MRIs, magnetically floating trains, and even nuclear fusion, than those which must be kept super-cold. But there’s a bit of a wrinkle. The research team which published their results in the journal Nature this week, had their previous study on another superconductor retracted in 2020. As a result, many scientists in the field have concerns about the quality of this new research Ira talks with Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, to make sense of this superconductor saga and other big science news of the week including bumblebee culture, extreme ways to save mountain glaciers, and identifying the worms in Mezcal. Can Utah’s Great Salt Lake Be Saved Before It’s Too Late? Utah’s Great Salt Lake is one of the state’s treasures and is vital to the local ecosystem and economy. But since the 1980s, it’s been drying up—and now the lake’s water level is at a record low. The lake is fed by three rivers, which are fed by Utah’s snowpack. It’s also a terminal lake, meaning that there’s no outlet for water to exit. And as the population of Utah has increased, more water has been diverted from those rivers to agriculture, industry, and local residents. As more of the lakebed has become exposed, wind has picked up dust plumes and blown them into local communities. Dr. Kevin Perry, a professor of atmospheric science sciences at the University of Utah, discovered that those lakebed dust plumes contain heavy metals, including arsenic. But despite these challenges, Perry and local politicians are confident that if the right water usage reductions are put in place, the lake will have a chance to bounce back. Science Friday digital producer Emma Gometz visited Perry at the Great Salt Lake in January, who describes how we got here and what the future holds. Exploring A New Theory About Dark Energy’s Origins Black holes remain one of the great mysteries of the universe. Another enigma? Dark energy. Little is known about this concept, aside from the belief that dark energy accelerates the expansion of the universe. These are two of the most mind-bending concepts in physics. There’s a new theory that brings together black holes and dark energy into one mind-bending solution: research led by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa posits that dark energy could actually come from supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. If true, this would be a massive breakthrough in what we know about astrophysics. But many experts in the field have reservations about this idea. Two of those experts join Ira to talk about this theory, and other recent black hole breakthroughs: Janna Levin, PhD, author of “Black Hole Blues” and “Black Hole Survival Guide,” and a physics and astronomy professor at Barnard College in New York City, and Feryal Özel, a professor and chair of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, Georgia. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on
  • Science At The Oscars, Finding Shackleton’s “Endurance” Ship. March 3, 2023, Part 1
    Insulin Maker Eli Lilly Finally Caps The Drug’s Cost In 1923, drug manufacturer Eli Lilly became the first company to commercialize insulin. Since then, its cost has skyrocketed. But this week, the company announced that it is capping the cost of insulin at $35. This comes as a huge relief to many Americans, since insulin has become the face of pharmaceutical price gouging. Over the last 20 years, the price of insulin has grown by six times, making this essential, life-saving drug unaffordable to many who need it. Purbita Saha, deputy editor at Popular Science, joins Ira to talk about this announcement and other science news of the week. They chat about a new at-home test for COVID-19 and the flu, how the bird flu outbreak is faring, what we learned from NASA’s DART mission, and why scientists are growing a mushroom computer.   It’s Spacetime And Science Season At The Oscars The Academy Awards are almost upon us, airing March 12. Movie buffs may have already seen many of the nominated films. But for science geeks, there’s another form of criteria for what films go on the top of their watchlist: Do these movies include science? This year, a whole bunch of Oscar nominees are driven by science as part of the plot. The Best Picture category has three: the multiverses in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the water-based society in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and the gravity-defying aerial stunts in “Top Gun: Maverick.” The Documentary Feature Film category is also ripe for science analysis: “Fire of Love” follows the love story between two French volcanologists, “All That Breathes” follows brothers who run a bird hospital in Delhi, and “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” spotlights Nan Goldin’s advocacy against the opioid-creating Sackler family. Ira is joined by Sonia Epstein, curator of science and technology at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, to discuss these films and more—including science-oriented films that were snubbed from this years’ awards.   The Lasting Allure Of Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ There are few stories about heroic survival equal to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic rescue of his crew, which turned disaster into triumph. In August of 1914, 28 men set sail from England to the South Pole. Led by Shackleton himself, the group hoped to be the first to cross Antarctica by foot. However, their ship, the Endurance, became stuck in ice. It sank to the bottom of the frigid Antarctic waters, leaving most of the men stranded on a cold, desolate ice floe. Shackleton, with five of his crew, set out in a small boat to bring help from hundreds of miles away. Finally, after many months of fighting the cold, frostbite and angry seas, Shackleton was able to rescue all his men with no loss of life. Over the years, there have been many attempts to find the Endurance shipwreck. None were successful until a year ago, when the wreck was located for the first time since it sank back in 1915. Ira is joined by Mensun Bound, maritime archeologist and the director of exploration on the mission that found the Endurance. His new book, The Ship Beneath the Ice, is out now.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on

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