Science FridayAuthor: Science Friday and WNYC Studios
25 May 2019

Science Friday

Download, listen or watch all podcasts

Brain fun for curious people.

  • Listen

    Bees! May 24, 2019, Part 2

    For the hobby beekeeper, there’s much to consider when homing your first domestic honey bee colonies—what kind of hive to get, where to put them, where to get your bees, and how to help them survive the winter.

    But when left to their own devices, what do the bees themselves prefer? From smaller nests to higher openings, wild honey bees seem to prefer very different conditions from the closely clustered square boxes of traditional beekeeping.

    But there are ways to adapt! Seeley joins Ira to explain his theory of “Darwinian beekeeping” as a way to keep bees healthy even in the age of varroa mites and colony collapse.

    Plus, apiculturalist Elina L. Niño of the University of California Davis talks about the microbial world of bees, such as whether probiotics could benefit bee health, and how honey bees and bumblebees could be used to distribute beneficial microbes to plants, an idea called ‘apivectoring.’


  • Posted on 24 May 2019

    download
  • Listen

    Ebola Outbreak, Climate Play, Navajo Energy. May 24, 2019, Part 1

    What would it take to power a subsea factory of the future? Plus, other stories from this week in science news.

    Then, as the last coal-fired power plant plans to shut down at the end of the year, the Navajo Tribe is embracing renewables. 

    Next, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, distrust of the government and healthcare workers are hampering efforts to contain the current outbreak.

    Finally, in a new climate change play, a playwright explores what kinds of narratives we need to stir action on climate. 


  • Posted on 24 May 2019

    download
  • Listen

    New Horizons Discovery, Science Fair Finalists, Screams. May 17, 2019, Part 2

    The most happening New Year’s Party of 2019 wasn’t at Times Square or Paris—it was in the small town of Laurel, Maryland, halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. There, scientists shared the stage with kids decked out in NASA gear, party hats, and astronaut helmets. They were there to count down not to the new year, but to the New Horizons spacecraft flying by a very distant, very ancient, snowman-shaped object: MU69. Now, the first haul of data about that mysterious object has returned. They reveal that MU69 is one of the reddest objects we’ve explored in the solar system, built from two skipping-stone-shaped bodies, each the size of small cities. Those details are featured in a cover story in the journal Science. Lead author Alan Stern joins Ira here to talk about it.

    This week, more than 1,800 student scientists from 80 countries converged in Phoenix to present their projects for Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair, a competition founded by the Society for Science and the Public. Ira chats with two of the finalists. Colorado high school junior Krithik Ramesh came up with an idea for a real-time virtual tool for surgeons doing spinal surgeries, and Arizona high school freshman Ella Wang, along with her partner Breanna Tang, cooked up an innovative use for waste from soybean food products—enriching depleted farm soils.

    When you hear a scream, you automatically perk up. It catches your attention. But scientists are still working to define what exactly makes a scream. People scream when they are scared or happy. It’s not just a humans, either—all types of animals scream, from frogs to macaques. Psychologist Harold Gouzoules and his team measured the acoustic properties of a human scream by actually playing screams for people: Screams of fright, screams of excitement, and even a whistle. He joins Ira to talks about the evolutionary basis of screaming and what it can tell us about how human nonverbal communication.


  • Posted on 17 May 2019

    download
  • Listen

    Degrees Of Change: Sea Level Rise, Coal-Use Decline. May 17, 2019, Part 1

    As the frequency of tropical storms and droughts increase and sea levels rise with climate change, forested wetlands along the Atlantic coast are slowly filling with dead and dying trees. The accelerating spread of these “ghost forests” over the past decade has ecologists alarmed and eager to understand how they are formed and what effect they will have regionally and globally.

     One interdisciplinary group of researchers from North Carolina State University and Duke University are examining the causes and effects of repeated saltwater exposure to the coastal wetlands of North Carolina. Using soil and sediment sampling, remote hydrological monitoring, vegetation plotting, as well as spatial maps, the research team is determining the tipping point for when a struggling forest will become a ghost forest. According to ecologist Emily Bernhardt, their preliminary findings suggest that climate change is not the only culprit in the region.

    Agricultural irrigation and wastewater ditches that criss-cross much of the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula facilitate the flow of saltwater intrusion deep into the landscape, wreaking ecological and economic havoc. Working with Brian Boutin, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Albemarle-Pamlico Program, Dr. Bernhardt and colleagues hope to provide valuable scientific insights to local farmers, wetlands managers, and regional decision-makers to plan for the further intrusions and hopefully mitigate the effects.

    Meanwhile, less than 100 miles up the coast from the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula, the cities of Hampton Roads, Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay are facing some of the worst flooding due to sea level rise in the country. In Norfolk, home of the United States Navy, tides have increased as much as eight inches since the 1970s, and roads that lead from the community directly to naval installations are particularly vulnerable to flooding.

    But in the last 10 years, Hampton Roads has begun to adapt. “When we first started having these discussions, there was a lot of concern about, should we be having discussions like this in public. What would be the potential impacts on economic development or on the population growth here?” said Ben McFarlane, senior regional planner with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. “Now it’s recognized and people know it’s happening. I think the strategy has changed to being more of a ‘Let’s stop talking about how bad it is and how bad it’s going to get. And let’s start talking about solutions.’”

    The Planning District Commission supports the use of living shorelines and ordinance changes that discourage developing in flood prone areas. Norfolk has even been named one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities in part for its efforts promoting coastal resiliency in the face of sea level rise.

    Plus, the latest investment report from the International Energy Agency was released this week, and shows that in 2018, final investment decisions were made to support bringing an additional 22GW of coal-fired electric generation online—but in the same year, around 30 GW of coal-burning generating capacity were closed. Of course, coal plants are still under construction, and there are thousands of terawatts of coal-generating capacity worldwide, so the end of coal is nowhere in sight yet—but the investment report may indicate a tipping point in the global energy budget.

    Kendra Pierre-Louis, a reporter on the climate desk at the New York Times, joins Ira to talk about that and other climate news—including the President’s energy policy remarks at a natural gas plant, the discovery of another ocean garbage patch of plastic, and the rise of “climate refuge cities.”


  • Posted on 17 May 2019

    download
  • Listen

    Biodiversity Report And The Science Of Parenting. May 10, 2019, Part 2

    According to a new UN report on global biodiversity, as many as one million species—both plants and animals—are now at risk of extinction, according to a new UN report on global biodiversity. That number includes 40% of all amphibian species, 33% of corals, and around 10% of insects.

    One might assume that this type of devastating species loss could only come as a result of one thing—climate change. But in fact, as the report highlights illustrate, it’s deforestation, changes in land and sea use, hunting, poaching, pollution, invasive species—in short, human interventionsthat are causing species to disappear at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than what has been seen over the last 10 million years. Walter Jetz, professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, joins Ira to discuss why the damage we do to biodiversity in our lifetimes may never be undone.

    Plus, if you're a new parent, you’ve probably had one of these nights. You’re up at 3 a.m., baby screaming, searching the internet for an answer to a question you’ve never thought to ask before: Are pacifiers bad for your baby? What about that weird breathing? Is that normal? Or is it time to head to the emergency room? 

    Emily Oster is a health economist and mother of two who had a lot of those same questions as she raised her kids. She dove into the data to find out what the science actually says about sleep training, breastfeeding, introducing solid foods, and lots more in her new book, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool.

    Ira chats with Oster and Nikita Sood of Cohen Children’s Medical Center, who monitors the underground market for breastmilk and explains why parents should be cautious. 


  • Posted on 10 May 2019

    download

Follow Playlisto