Science FridayAuthor: Science Friday and WNYC Studios
23 Jun 2018

Science Friday

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Brain fun for curious people.

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    Math And Social Justice, Chicago Coyotes, Meteorites. June 22, 2018, Part 2

    Math isn’t often thought of as a tool for social justice. But mathematical thinking can help us understand what’s going on in society too, says mathematician Eugenia Cheng. For example, abstract math can be used to examine the power structures between men and women, or white and black people, and to more clearly define the relationships and power differentials at play.

    At our live event at the Harris Theater in Chicago, we called on WBEZ’s Curious City to help us out. Chicago resident Devin Henderson reached out to the Curious City team including editor Alexandra Solomon to learn more about the coyote population that call Chicago home. Wildlife biologist Chris Anchor, who’s part of Cook County’s Urban Coyote Project, talks about how coyotes made their way into Chicago and how they survive in an urban environment.

    Many people in Chicago probably remember the day meteorites fell from the sky. It’s known as the “Park Forest Meteor Shower” but it wasn’t the kind you stay up at night to watch streaking across the sky. Around midnight on March 27th, 2003, a meteorite exploded into pieces, showering the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Illinois. People reported seeing stones falling through roofs and causing damage to homes. In the aftermath of the event, meteorite hunters descended on Park Forest looking to buy the rocks, creating a meteorite frenzy. But that didn’t stop Meenakshi Wadhwa, former curator of meteorites at the Chicago Field Museum, from getting her hands on one of these prized space rocks for the museum’s collection. Hear Ira and Chicago comedians Jimmy Adameck, Ross Taylor, and Jen Connor bring the event to life on stage in a play with musical scoring by Mary Mahoney.


  • Posted on 22 Jun 2018

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    Alcohol Study, Cephalopod Week, Coral Oasis. June 22 2018, Part 1

    Last week, the National Institutes of Health cancelled a $100 million study of alcohol and health after an internal investigation found “early and frequent” engagement with none other than the alcohol industry, to an extent that would “cast doubt” on the scientific results. But prior to the cancellation, the research was setting out to answer an ongoing question about alcohol and our health: Are moderate drinkers actually better off than nondrinkers? Study after study has found that light or moderate drinkers have a slight health advantage, especially in avoiding nonfatal heart attacks, but is that because they drink, or is it due to some other factor like wealth?

    Cephalopod Week 2018 has been a worldwide cephalo-bration of octopus, squid, cuttlefish, nautilus, and other undersea friends—but like a fast-jetting octopus, it goes by too quickly. As we wrap up Cephalopod Week this year, squid biologist Sarah McAnulty joins Ira to talk about her research into a symbiotic bacterial relationship in the Hawaiian bobtail squid, a lime-sized beastie that likes to bask on the Hawaiian sand. And Science Friday web producer Lauren Young joins the party to tell the story of a 19th-century self-taught French naturalist, Jeanne Villepreux-Power, who investigated the shell of the paper nautilus—and helped shape the design of early aquariums in the process.

     

    Worldwide, corals are suffering from bleaching events due to rising ocean temperatures and human activity. The Great Barrier Reef has had bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, and the Pacific and western Atlantic ocean is currently experiencing a bleaching event that began in 2014. But in these tropical areas, there are pockets of coral that are surviving these events while neighboring coral die out. A study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology described that “coral oases” provide a “glimmer of hope,” according to marine biologist Ilsa Kuffner. She talks about how these corals might be surviving and how it could be used for conservation.

     


  • Posted on 22 Jun 2018

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    CRISPR, Colors, Narwhals. June 15, 2018, Part 2

    Over less than a decade, the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 has taken the biology world by storm. But two new studies indicate that there could be a downside to the CRISPR approach.

    Did you know a blue jay’s feathers and a butterfly’s wings aren’t actually blue? Neither are your blue eyes. From the colors we see in flowers and birds, to the hues we use in art and decoration, there’s more than one way to make a rainbow—and it all starts with molecules and structures that are too small to see.

    The elusive narwhal has captured the imaginations of many people. Now, scientists have outfitted a group of narwhals with audio tags that allowed them to capture their echolocation and communication sounds. 


  • Posted on 15 Jun 2018

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    Dinosaurs, Celebrating Cephalopods. June 15, 2018, Part 1

    Like a kraken rising from the depths (or a cuttlefish emerging from the sand), Cephalopod Week is back! Every year, Science Friday spends a week honoring the mighty, clever, mysterious cephalopod. This year, Field Museum curator Janet Voight joins Ira and SciFri’s chief cephalopod cheerleader Brandon Echter to talk about the unusual and brainy behaviors of these creatures—including a squid that uses bioluminescent bacteria to camouflage itself—and whether cephalopods could someday become a model organism as ubiquitous in labs as mice and fruit flies. 

    The story of the dinosaurs is one that’s been told over millennia. But within the last few decades, what we thought we knew about their rise and fall is being rewritten. 

    Plus: A look at the latest science stories of the week, and a look at why Chicago Park District may shut down half of its outdoor drinking fountains. 


  • Posted on 15 Jun 2018

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    Mars Organics, Museum Collections, Kelp Farming. June 8, 2018, Part 2

    In 1832, less than a year into the first voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin found a beetle in Argentina. Turns out, discovering new species in the depths of museum archives is not so uncommon. 180 years later, an entomologist who happened to specialize in rove beetles requested an assortment of samples from London’s Natural History Museum. There, among 24 pinned beetle specimens, was Darwin’s rove beetle. Dozens of such tales of are told by biologist and author Christopher Kemp in his new book The Lost Species. He describes the treasure hunts and serendipitous finding of species like the ruby seadragon and the olinguito, and why there may be many more discoveries waiting in the backlogged shelves of museums around the world. And Regina Wetzer, associate curator and director of marine biodiversity at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, explains how combining centuries-old museum specimens with modern techniques may help turn up new clues in understanding the past, present, and future of Earth’s biodiversity.

    This week, scientists published a study in the journal Science that described organic molecules—building blocks for life—in mudstone near Gale Crater, a 3.5 billion-year-old dry lakebed. Another study measured methane in the Martian atmosphere that varied with the seasons.  Astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode, who is an author on those studies, discusses what this reveals about how ancient water and rock processes may have worked on the planet, and what the findings tells us about the possibility of life on the Red Planet.

    Plus: While it has been a tradition in many Asian cultures for centuries, kelp farming only reached U.S. shores in recent decades—and in part due to its environmental benefits. Ira is joined by Science Friday video editor Luke Groskin and Suzie Flores, a kelp farmer featured in our latest Macroscope video, to discuss the new wave of kelp farming.

     

     


  • Posted on 08 Jun 2018

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