Science Friday

by Science Friday and WNYC Studios

46m

average length

282

episodes

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Brain fun for curious people.

Best Science Friday episodes upvoted by the community

Last updated on August 08, 2020, 3:39 pm

#1

Office Air Pollution, Tetris Decisions, Alzheimer's Update. Oct 11, 2019, Part 2

October 11, 2019 • 48m

If you live and work in an urban area, you might think about the air quality outside your home or workplace. But what about the air quality inside the office? It turns out that on average, indoor environments have higher concentrations of potentially harmful substances, such as aerosols and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While past research has focused on chemical emissions from building materials, cleaning supplies, and even furniture, air pollution researchers are increasingly looking at another source of toxic air: us. New research from Purdue University to be presented at the American Association for Aerosol Research conference has found that the majority of indoor VOCs may be released by a seemingly innocuous source: human beings, their lunches and coffee breaks, and anything they may wear or bring to work. And many of these compounds, such as the terpenes released by peeling an orange, or the squalene released in human skin oil, react with ozone to form even more worrisome molecules. If you’ve ever played the classic puzzle-like computer game Tetris, you know that it starts out slowly. As the seven different pieces (called “zoids” by the initiated) descend from the top of the screen, a player has to shift the pieces horizontally and rotate them so that they fit into a gap in the stack of pieces at the bottom of the screen, or “well.” In early levels, the pieces might take 10-15 seconds to fall. The speed increases at each level. In world champion Tetris matches, players often start play at Level 18—in which pieces are on the screen for about a second. Wayne Gray, a professor of cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic University, calls it a problem of “predictive processing and predictive action.” Champion-level expert players, he says, are able to take in the state of the gameboard and react almost immediately, without going through the mental steps of figuring out how to move the piece and rotate it that a novice player requires. “They can see the problem and reach a decision at the same time,” he said. Gray and colleagues have attended the Classic World Tetris Championship tournament for three years, collecting data from expert players using a modified version of the game that collects keystrokes and eye-tracking data. He joins Ira to discuss what the researchers are learning about expert decision-making, and what he hopes to study at this year’s upcoming Tetris tournament. The pharmaceutical industry has been on a 30 year mission to develop a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The culprits behind the disease, they thought, were the amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of these patients. For many decades removing these plaques to treat Alzheimer’s was the goal. But then drug after drug targeting amyloid failed to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s—the so-called “amyloid hypothesis” wasn’t bearing out. But drug companies kept developing and testing drugs that attacked amyloid from every angle—perhaps at the expense of pursuing other avenues of treatment. This past summer, two more high profile clinical trials of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s failed. That brings the number of successful treatments for the disease, which affects 5.8 million Americans, to zero. George Perry, professor of biology at UT San Antonio and Derek Lower, a drug researcher and pharmaceutical industry expert join Ira to explain what led pharmaceutical companies to doggedly pursue the amyloid hypothesis for decades, and whether or not they are ready to start trying something else.  

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#3

Degrees of Change: Building Materials. Feb 28, 2020, Part 1

February 28, 2020 • 49m

In order to slow a warming planet on track to increase by 2 degrees celsius, nearly every industry will be forced to adapt: airlines, fashion, and even the unglamorous and often overlooked building materials sector.  Just like the farm to table movement, consumers are increasingly thinking about where the raw materials for their homes and cities come from, and how they impact climate change. And in response to this concern, the materials sector is serving up an unusual menu option: wood. “Mass timber” is the buzzword these days in the world of sustainable building materials. Architects are crazy for it, engineers praise its excellent structural properties, and even forestry managers are in support of its use.  Of course cutting down trees to curb carbon emissions seems counterintuitive at first. And there are skeptics who doubt whether wood is strong enough to build future city skyscrapers.  Frank Lowenstein, Chief Conservation Officer with the New England Forestry Foundation and Casey Malmquist, Founder and CEO of timber company SmartLam North America, join Ira to explain why the hype over mass timber’s potential to mitigate climate change is the real deal.  And as the popularity of sustainable mass timber rises, big carbon-emitting industries like steel and concrete are facing pressure to address their role in the climate crisis. One steel company out of Sweden is aiming to make it’s product carbon-neutral by 2026 by replacing coal with hydrogen in the steel-making process. And other researchers are hoping to make concrete more sustainable by using ingredients that would actually trap carbon inside the material.  We hear from Martin Pei, Chief Technology Officer of European steel company SSAB, and Jeremy Gregory, Director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, about how the traditional building materials sector is going green.  Plus, architect and structural engineer Kate Simonen of the University of Washington talks about the need for more sustainable building materials to construct homes for an estimated 2.3 billion more people by the year 2050.

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#5

Sea Floor Mapping, Hurricane Season Forecast. June 1, 2018, Part 2

June 01, 2018 • 49m

The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth, but it’s also one of the least understood. As mining companies eye the mineral resources of the deep sea—from oil and gas, to metal deposits—marine biologists like London’s Natural History Museum’s Diva Amon are working to discover and describe as much of the deep sea as they can. Amon has been on dozens of expeditions to sea, where she’s helped characterize ecosystems and discover new species all over the world. And she says we still don’t know enough about deep sea ecology to know how to protect these species, the ones we’ve found and the ones we haven’t yet, from mining. But accessing the deep ocean is expensive; it can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a day to run a research ship. So roboticists and artificial intelligence designers are developing underwater drones to map and sniff out the secrets of the deep with the help of sophisticated chemical sensors.  June 1 marks the start of the official “hurricane season” in the Atlantic, the time when powerful storms are most likely to spin their way out of the tropics. Each year, teams of forecasters try to anticipate the number and severity of storms to come. Some try to run climate models that simulate atmospheric behavior over multi-month timeframes, while other teams rely on statistics and comparisons with historic data for their estimates of the upcoming storm season. Michael Bell, co-author of Colorado State University’s seasonal hurricane forecast, says that after looking at factors including Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, vertical wind shear levels, and El Niño, their team is predicting 13 additional named storms during the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season (in addition to Alberto, which formed before the Atlantic hurricane season began). Of those storms, the forecast calls for six to become hurricanes and two to reach major hurricane strength. That’s in line with a separate forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center estimating between 10-16 named storms and 5-9 hurricanes.  

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#6

Infant Formula, AI Weirdness, Venus Fly Traps. Nov. 8, 2019, Part 2

November 08, 2019 • 50m

Would you feel comfortable consuming a product that listed “whey protein concentrate” and “corn maltodextrin” on its list of ingredients? What about feeding it to your baby? Most of the ingredients found in baby formula are actually just carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and are perfectly safe—and necessary—for infant health. But this inscrutable list of ingredients is one reason why many parents are opting to buy European formula for their little ones. Word is spreading around parenting blogs and websites—and among parents themselves—that European formulas, with their simpler ingredients lists, are “cleaner” and therefore healthier for babies. But is there any truth to this claim? Baby formula expert and clinical researcher Bridget Young, PhD and professor of pediatrics Anthony Porto, MD, MPH, join Ira to discuss what the data says about the differences between infant formulas, as well as what those ingredients actually mean for your baby’s health. And, AI may be short for “artificial intelligence,” but in many ways, our automated programs can be surprisingly dumb. For example, you can think you’re training a neural net to recognize sheep, but actually it’s just learning what a green grassy hill looks like. Or teaching it the difference between healthy skin and cancer—but actually just teaching it that tumors always have a ruler next to them. And if you ask a robot to navigate a space without touching the walls, sometimes it just stays still in one place.  AI researcher Janelle Shane, author of a new book about the quirky, but also serious errors that riddle AI—which, at the end of the day, can only do what we tell them to.  Plus, learn about the surprising facts and common misconceptions about the Venus flytrap. In our latest Macroscope video, researchers Elsa Youngsteadt and Laura Hamon are rushing to understand more about the Venus flytraps found in North Carolina before it’s too late. Science Friday video producer Luke Groskin joins Ira to talk about what we know and don’t know about this famous carnivorous plant. 

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#7

PFAS, Urban Evolution, Science Diction. July 27, 2018, Part 1

July 27, 2018 • 46m

If you thought city life was stressful, imagine being a wild animal trying to outlive speeding cars, toxic chemicals and heavy metals, or even the unnaturally bright nights and din of traffic. Why stick around at all? Yet our urban areas still teem with wildlife. Pigeons, mice, lizards, moths, and plants all eke out their livelihoods in sidewalk cracks, subway tunnels, and building ledges. But how is city living affecting how these organisms evolve? Evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen, author of Darwin Comes to Town, tells guest host John Danksosky tales from the front lines of urban evolution research. Plus: Did you know the word robot was only coined in 1922? And that quark was inspired by Finnegan’s Wake?Words like these weren’t just plucked from thin air… behind each one is a fascinating origin story. Scientists use words and language just like us, and encoded in the language they use are etymologies, histories, and stories that often stretch back centuries—some even bleeding into the words we use in our everyday life. SciFri digital producer Johanna Mayer joins John to talk about our project "Science Diction." States across the country are holding public hearings on what to do about contamination with a class of persistent chemicals known as PFAS. New Hampshire Public Radio environmental reporter Annie Ropeik tells us more in "The State of Science." And Tanya Basu, science editor at The Daily Beast, explains the top science headlines in the News Round-up.

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#8

COVID-19 Supplies Shortage, Citizen Science Month, Mercury Discovery. April 3, 2020, Part 1

April 03, 2020 • 49m

April is Citizen Science Month! It’s a chance for everyone to contribute to the scientific process—including collecting data, taking observations, or helping to analyze a set of big data. And best of all, a lot of these projects can be done wherever you happen to be personally isolating. Caren Cooper, an associate professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh and co-author of the new book A Field Guide To Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference, joins Ira to talk about what makes a good citizen science project, how to get involved, and suggestions for projects in all fields of science. Cooper is also the project leader for the citizen science project Crowd The Tap, looking at mapping water infrastructure and the prevalence of lead pipes throughout the country. For more projects to keep you company through this Citizen Science Month and beyond, head over to sciencefriday.com/citizenscience.   Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system and the closest to the sun. The temperature there can reach up to 800 degrees, but the planet is not an inert, dry rock. Scientists recently found water ice at the poles of the planet, and another team found possible evidence for the chemicals building blocks of life underneath Mercury’s rocky terrain—a landscape pitted with impact craters and haphazardly strewn hills. Those results were published in the journal Scientific Reports. Planetary astronomer Deborah Domingue takes us on a planetary tour and talks about what Mercury can tell us about the rest of the solar system.   All sorts of COVID-19 treatments have been proposed, but some are more promising than others. One of these experimental treatments is using the blood plasma from recovered patients to infuse antibodies into those who are currently sick. This week, New York put out a call for plasma donations, becoming the first state to attempt this approach. Sarah Zhang of The Atlantic talks about what we know about the effectiveness and hurdles of this type of treatment. She also discusses the second wave of COVID-19 infections hitting Asia, and the CDC’s changing stance on personal face mask usage.  

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#9

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

June 22, 2018 • 47m

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.  

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#10

Local Science Issues, Dolphin Calls, Kepler Death. Nov 2, 2018, Part 1

November 02, 2018

With the midterm elections less than a week away, science is on voters’ minds even when it’s not on the ballot. From coastal floods in Florida, to the growing pains of renewable energy in Hawaii, to curbing the opioid addiction crisis in Kentucky, different stories hit closer to home depending on what state you’re in. We'll share stories of salmon conservation policy, meat substitute labeling, renewable energy expansion, and more from their respective states. And they take listener input: What’s the most important science story YOU see in your state? The oceans can be a noisy place filled with boats and an increasing number of wind farms. The animals who call the sea home have had to adapt to the increased sounds. Researchers found that bottlenose dolphins in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Maryland were simplifying the calls that they use to identify one another. Their results were published in the journal Biology Letters. Marine biologist Helen Bailey, who was an author on that study, talks about the benefits and costs that these adaptations have on the health of these dolphins. This week, NASA announced we will soon be saying goodbye to another old friend. For nine years, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has been orbiting deep space, giving us an unprecedented look at the objects within it. But after confirming the existence of over 2,600 exoplanets, and extending its mission for another five and half years, Kepler has run out of fuel. NASA says that the agency will soon be sending it’s final command to the telescope, shutting it down permanently.  

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#11

Scientist Politicians, Microbiome, Wildlife Car Accidents. June 1, 2018, Part 1

June 01, 2018 • 48m

This year’s midterm elections have seen an upswing in the number of scientists running for office. There are approximately 60 candidates with STEM backgrounds in the races for federal offices, and 200 for state positions, according to 314 Action, an advocacy organization that helps scientists run for office. But why would a scientist want to leave the lab for the Hill? According to volcanologist and Congressional candidate Jess Phoenix, “Science by definition is political because the biggest funder of scientific research in our country is the government.” And Aruna Miller, who is a Maryland State Delegate for District 15 and a former civil engineer for the Department of Transportation, says that “Your job as an engineer isn’t only your profession. It is to be a citizen of your country…. You have to be engaged in our community.” By now, we all know about the microbes that live in our gut and digestive tract—different species of bacteria living together in the same environment. Now researchers are trying to learn more about what keeps these bacteria living together in harmony. Scientists suspect the secret “microbe whisperer” is actually a member of the immune system—a molecule called immunoglobulin A. That molecule keeps the gastrointestinal system free of pathogens and, researchers hope, might one day be used to combat diseases of the digestive tract. States like Wyoming and Montana are high risk for wildlife-vehicle collisions. These accidents result in expensive damages and sometimes even death for both wildlife and drivers. One group of scientists found an unlikely solution. You’ve probably driven by one before and not noticed it, but wildlife reflectors are poles on the side of the road. There have been a lot of studies on reflectors, but Riginos said the results are mixed and not very impressive. So Riginos and her team developed an experiment. They’d cover up some reflectors, leave others uncovered, and then compare the results. “We covered them with this cheap, easily available and durable material, which just happened to be white canvas bags,” Riginos said. And to their surprise—the bags turned out to be more effective than the reflectors. “We could actually see that in the white bags situation, that the deer were more likely to stop and wait for cars to pass before crossing the road, instead of just running headlong into the road,” said Riginos.

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#13

Climate And Farming, Mars 2020, Fireflies. August 23, 2019, Part 2

August 23, 2019 • 48m

From cutting back on fossil fuels to planting a million trees, people and policymakers around the world are looking for more ways to curb climate change. Another solution to add to the list is changing how we use land. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released a special report this month that emphasized the importance of proper land management, such as protecting forests like the Amazon from being converted to farmland, has on mitigating climate change. Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, joins Ira to discuss the ins and outs of the report. Cynthia Rosenzwieg, a senior research scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the lead authors, also joins to talk about ways we can use land to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Plus: NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is just around the corner. Next fall, the Mars rover will launch with an upgraded suite of instruments to study the red planet in a way Curiosity and Opportunity never could. When it lands on Mars, it will search for and try to identify signs of ancient life. But how will it know what to look for? Katie Slack Morgan, deputy project scientist on the Mars 2020 mission, and Mitch Schulte, a Mars 2020 Program Scientist, talk to Ira about the chances of finding evidence for ancient life on Mars—and why the Australian Outback might be a good testing ground. And if you take a walk at night during the summertime, you might catch a glimpse of fireflies lighting up the sky. But scientists are learning that these bioluminescent insect populations are vulnerable to habitat loss, pesticides, and light pollution. Biologist Sara Lewis talks about conservation efforts including Firefly Watch, a citizen science project that maps out firefly populations around the country. She joins geneticist Sarah Lower to discuss how individual species of fireflies create different blink patterns, as well as the difference between fireflies, lightning bugs, and glow worms.

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#14

Outdoor Influencers, Northwest Passage, Undersea Volcanoes. Aug 31, 2018, Part 1

August 31, 2018 • 47m

NASA is exploring a deep-sea volcano off the coast of Hawaii as a test run for human and robotic missions to Mars and beyond. The mission, dubbed SUBSEA, or Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog, will examine microbial life on the Lō`ihi seamount. The mission has two objectives. The first is to learn about the operational and communication challenges of a real space mission through a deep ocean dive. The second is to learn more about the geology and chemistry that support life in the deep ocean, as a glimpse of what alien life might require in places like the oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. You’ve probably had the experience of scrolling through your Instagram feed, coming across a picture of some hidden swimming hole, secluded mountain trail, or pristine beach, and thought, “I want to go THERE.” Popular accounts on Instagram and other social media services can increase the visibility of remote places, making them more accessible and encouraging people to venture into the outdoors. But some are worried that the accounts can attract too much attention to fragile places that may not be able to withstand hordes of visitors. Zoe Schiffer, who recently wrote about the issue for Racked, joins Ira to talk about social media and the great outdoors, and whether guidelines for “leaving no trace” need to be updated for the digital age. On August 23rd, a team of scientists, students, and a professional film crew aboard the research vessel Academik Ioffe set out from Resolute Bay in Northern Canada. Their mission? To study the arctic environment as part of the Northwest Passage Project. The expedition was supposed to last three weeks, but just one day after the crew embarked the vessel became grounded and the expedition had to be suspended. Brice Loose, chief scientist aboard the Academik Ioffe, and microbiologist Mary Thaler, a passenger aboard the vessel, join Ira to share what happened and discuss the science that had to be put on hold.  

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#16

Police Behavior Research, Dermatology In Skin Of Color, Coffee Extraction. June 5, 2020, Part 1

June 05, 2020 • 50m

This week, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans by police brutality and racial inequality continue to fuel demonstrations around the nation. In many cities, police are using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other control tactics on protesters.  A history of 50 years of research reveals what makes a protest safe for participants and police alike. The findings show that police response is what makes the biggest difference: de-escalating and building trust supports peaceful demonstrations rather than responding with weapons and riot gear. And, as thousands of protesters risk abrasive, cough-inducing tear gas and mass arrests, health researchers are concerned a militant response could increase demonstrators’ risk of acquiring COVID-19.  Maggie Koerth, senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight and a Minneapolis, Minnesota resident, joins Ira to discuss these stories.   Dermatologists presented with a new patient have a number of symptoms to look at in order to diagnose. Does the patient have a rash, bumps, or scaling skin? Is there redness, inflammation, or ulceration? For rare conditions a doctor may have never seen in person before, it’s likely that they were trained on photos of the conditions—or can turn to colleagues who may themselves have photos. But in people with darker, melanin-rich skin, the same skin conditions can look drastically different, or be harder to spot at all—and historically, there have been fewer photos of these conditions on darker-skinned patients. And for these patients, detection and diagnosis can be life-saving: people of color get less melanoma, for example, but are also less likely to survive it. Dr. Jenna Lester, who started one of the few clinics in the country to focus on such patients, explains the need for more dermatologists trained to diagnose and treat people with darker skin tones—and why the difference can be both life-saving and life-altering. A cup of coffee first thing in the morning is a ritual—from grinding the beans to boiling the water and brewing your cup. But following those steps won’t always get you a consistent pour. Researchers developed a mathematical model to determine how the size of grind affects water flow and the amount of coffee that gets into the final liquid. Their results were published in the journal Matter. Computational chemist Christopher Hendon, who was an author on that study, talks about how understanding atomic vibration, particle size distribution, and water chemistry can help you brew the perfect cup of coffee.

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#17

Undiscovered Presents: The Magic Machine. Sept. 25, 2018

September 25, 2018

As a critical care doctor, Jessica Zitter has seen plenty of “Hail Mary” attempts to save dying patients go bad—attempts where doctors try interventions that don’t change the outcome, but do lead to more patient suffering. It’s left her distrustful of flashy medical technology and a culture that insists that more treatment is always better. But when a new patient goes into cardiac arrest, the case doesn’t play out the way Jessica expected. She finds herself fighting for hours to revive him—and reaching for a game-changing technology that uncomfortably blurs the lines between life and death.  Subscribe to Undiscovered HERE, or wherever you get your podcasts.   Resources Talking about end-of-life stuff can be hard! Here are some resources to get you started. (Adapted from Jessica Zitter’s Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life. Thanks Jessica!)   I want to…  ...figure out what kind of care I might want at end of life: Prepare uses videos of people thinking about their end-of-life preferences to walk you through the steps for choosing a surrogate decision maker, determining your preferences, etc.  ...talk with family/friends about my preferences (or theirs!): The Conversation Project offers a starter kit and tools to help start the conversation.  ...put my preferences in writing (and advance directive):  Advance Directive forms connects you to advance directive forms for your state.  My Directives For those who like their documents in app form! Guides you through creating an end-of-life plan, then stores it in the cloud so it’s accessible anywhere. For those who like their documents in app form! Guests Jessica Nutik Zitter, MD, MPH, Author and Attending Physician, Division of Pulmonary/Critical Care and Palliative Care Medicine, Highland Hospital Thomas Frohlich, MD, Chief of Cardiology, Highland Hospital Kenneth Prager, MD, Professor of Medicine and Director of Clinical Ethics, Columbia University Medical Center Daniela Lamas, MD, author and Associate Faculty at Ariadne Labs David Casarett MD, author and Chief of Palliative Care, Duke University School of Medicine Footnotes Read the books: Jessica Zitter’s book is Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life. Daniela Lamas’s book is You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death, and In Between. David Casarett’s book is Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead Read the memoirs of Amsterdam’s “Society in Favor of Drowned Persons,” the Dutch group that tried to resuscitate drowning victims (including Anne Wortman!) Learn more about ECMO, its success rates, and the ethical questions it raises (Daniela also wrote an article about it here) Read Daniela’s study about quality of life in long-term acute care hospitals (LTACHs). And for an introduction to LTACHs, here’s an overview from The New York Times Watch Extremis, the Oscar-nominated documentary (featuring Jessica Zitter), about families facing end-of-life decisions in Highland Hospital’s ICU. Credits This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Lorna Fernandes and the staff at Highland Hospital in Oakland. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. Our mid-break theme for this episode, “No Turning Back,” is by Daniel Peterschmidt and I am Robot and Proud. Thanks to the entire Science Friday staff, the folks at WNYC Studios, and CUNY’s Sarah Fishman. Special thanks to Michele Kassemos of UCSF Medical Center, Lorna Fernandes of Highland Hospital, and the entire staff at Highland.

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#18

Does Time Exist, Elephant Seismology, Produce Safety. May 11, 2018, Part 2

May 11, 2018 • 47m

How do you think about time? Most people experience it as Newton described it—as something that passes independent of other events, that’s the same for everyone, and moves in a straight line. Still, others have come to embrace Einstein’s view that time instead forms a matrix with space and acts like as a substance in which we are submerged. But physicist and author Carlo Rovelli has an even different approach to time. He’s working on a way to quantify gravity in which time doesn’t exist.  An adult African elephant can weigh as much as two tons. Their activities—walking, playing, even bellowing—might shake the ground beneath them. But new research finds that the signals from an elephant’s walk are capable of traveling as far as three kilometers, while a male elephant might be detectable a full six kilometers away with just seismological monitoring tools. This new research could protect endangered elephants from poaching. The E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce has now spread to 29 states, and it’s claiming more victims. The CDC now reports that 149 people have been infected, more than a dozen have developed kidney failure, and one victim has died. In this segment, Ira talks with Rachel Noble, a molecular biologist at the University of North Carolina, about current methods of testing farm fields for pathogens like E. coli, which can take 24 to 48 hours to show results, and a DNA test Noble has developed that could cut that to less than an hour.

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#20

Vaccine Rate Decrease, Mind-Body Music. May 29, 2020, Part 1

May 29, 2020 • 50m

One unintended consequence of families sheltering at home is that children’s vaccination rates have gone way down. In New York City, for example, vaccine doses for kids older than two dropped by more than 90 percent. That could mean new outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, even while we’re struggling with COVID-19. Joining Ira to talk about decreasing vaccination rates are two pediatricians, James Campbell, professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, and Amanda Dempsey, professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Denver. Electronic musician Grace Leslie makes music that creates a sense of calm—long notes held on the flute, creating rich tones, and layered sounds. But her method for creating her songs sets her apart from most other electronic musicians: Leslie collects heartbeats, neuroelectric activity, and other biofeedback with sensors on people’s bodies. She feeds this input into a computer, which then converts the data into flowing waves of sound.  As a researcher at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, she explores how the brain and body react to music at the university’s School of Music. Leslie joins Ira to talk about her methods for creating art, and the mysteries of why music elicits an emotional response from those who listen. Hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug the president promoted as a treatment for COVID-19, has not been proven effective against the virus. And new research published in The Lancet, involving 96,000 patients around the world, found the drug is linked to irregular heartbeats and increased risk of death for people who take it. As a result, numerous trials to further understand the drug have been put on hold, including one planned by the World Health Organization. IEEE Spectrum news editor Amy Nordrum joins Ira to explain what this means for the future of understanding hydroxychloroquine as a potential help against coronavirus. Plus, understanding false negative results in COVID-19 tests, engineering virus-killing masks, and how researchers found a way to trail elusive narwhals and record their sounds—all in the name of understanding these shy, sea ice-dwelling mammals better even as the world they depend on changes.  

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