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May 16 2019

Nonstick chemicals that stick around and detecting ear infections with smartphones

The groundwater of Rockford, Michigan, is contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, chemicals found in everything from nonstick pans to dental floss to—in the case of Rockford—waterproofing agents from a shoe factory that shut down in 2009. Science journalist Sara Talpos talks with host Meagan Cantwell about how locals found the potentially health-harming chemicals in their water, and how contamination from nonstick chemicals isn’t limited to Michigan. Also this week, host Sarah Crespi talks with Shyamnath Gollakota of the University of Washington in Seattle about his work diagnosing ear infections with smartphones. With the right app and a small paper cone, it turns out that your phone can listen for excess fluid in the ear by bouncing quiet clicks from the speaker off the eardrum. Clinical testing shows the setup is simple to use and can help parents and doctors check children for this common infection. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Ads on this show: Science Rules! podcast with Bill Nye Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Dennis Wise/University of Washington; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

May 09 2019

Probing the secrets of the feline mind and how Uber and Lyft may be making traffic worse

Dog cognition and social behavior have hogged the scientific limelight for years—showing in study after study that canines have social skills essential to their relationships with people. Cats, not so much. These often-fractious felines tend to balk at strange situations—be they laboratories, MRI machines, or even a slightly noisy fan. Online News Editor David Grimm joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss several brave research labs that have started to work with cats on their terms in order to show they have social smarts comparable to dogs. So far, the results suggest that despite their different ancestors and paths to domestication, cats and dogs have a lot more in common then we previously thought. Also this week, host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Greg Erhardt, assistant professor of civil engineering at University of Kentucky in Lexington about the effect of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft on traffic in San Francisco, California. His group’s work showed that when comparing 2010 and 2016 traffic, these services contributed significantly to increases in congestion in a large growing city like San Francisco, but questions still remain about how much can be generalized to other cities or lower density areas. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Ads on this show: KiwiCo Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

May 02 2019

The age-old quest for the color blue and why pollution is not killing the killifish

Humans have sought new materials to make elusive blue pigments for millennia—with mixed success. Today, scientists are tackling this blue-hued problem from many different angles. Host Sarah Crespi talks with contributing correspondent Kai Kupferschmidt about how scientists are looking to algae, bacteria, flowers—even minerals from deep under Earth’s crust—in the age-old quest for the rarest of pigments. Also this week, host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Andrew Whitehead, associate professor in the department of environmental toxicology at the University of California, Davis, about how the Atlantic killifish rescued its cousin, the gulf killifish, from extreme pollution. Whitehead talks about how a gene exchange occurred between these species that normally live thousands of kilometers apart, and whether this research could inform future conservation efforts. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy Ads on this show: KiwiCo Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast

April 25 2019

Race and disease risk and Berlin’s singing nightingales

Noncancerous tumors of the uterus—also known as fibroids—are extremely common in women. One risk factor, according to the scientific literature, is “black race.” But such simplistic categories may actually obscure the real drivers of the disparities in outcomes for women with fibroids, according to this week’s guest. Host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Jada Benn Torres, an associate professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, about how using interdisciplinary approaches— incorporating both genetic and cultural perspectives—can paint a more complete picture of how race shapes our understanding of diseases and how they are treated. In our monthly books segment, book review editor Valerie Thompson talks with David Rothenberg, author of the book Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound, about spending time with birds, whales, and neuroscientists trying to understand the aesthetics of human and animal music. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Carlos Delgado/Wikipedia; Matthias Ripp/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

April 18 2019

How dental plaque reveals the history of dairy farming, and how our neighbors view food waste

This week we have two interviews from the annual meeting of AAAS in Washington D.C.: one on the history of food and one about our own perceptions of food and food waste.  First up, host Sarah Crespi talks with Christina Warinner from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, about the history of dairying. When did people first start to milk animals and where? It turns out, the spread of human genetic adaptations for drinking milk do not closely correspond to the history of consuming milk from animals. Instead, evidence from ancient dental plaque suggests people from all over the world developed different ways of chugging milk—not all of them genetic. Next, Host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-director of the Michigan State University Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, about the public’s perception of food waste. Do most people try to conserve food and produce less waste? Better insight into the point of view of consumers may help keep billions of kilograms of food from being discarded every year in the United States. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image:  Carefull in Wyoming/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

April 11 2019

A new species of ancient human and real-time evolutionary changes in flowering plants

The ancient humans also known as the “hobbit” people (Homo floresiensis) might have company in their small stature with the discovery of another species of hominin in the Philippines. Host Sarah Crespi talks to Contributing Correspondent Lizzie Wade about what researchers have learned about this hominin from a jaw fragment, and its finger and toe bones and how this fits in with past discoveries of other ancient humans. Also this week, host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Florian Schiestl, a professor in evolutionary biology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, about his work to understand the rapid evolution of the flowering plant Brassica rapa over the course of six generations. He was able to see how the combination of pollination by bees and risk of getting eaten by herbivores influences the plant’s appearance and defense mechanisms. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Ads on this week's show: Kolabtree.com and Magellan TV Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Florian Schiestl; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

April 04 2019

A radioactive waste standoff and science’s debt to the slave trade

A single factory in Malaysia supplies about 10% of the world’s rare earth oxides, used in everything from cellphones to lasers to missiles. Controversy over the final resting place for the slightly radioactive byproducts has pushed the plant to the brink of closure. Host Meagan Cantwell talks with freelance writer Yao Hua Law about calls to ship the waste back to where it was originally mined in Australia, and how stopping production in Malaysia would mean almost all rare earth production would take place in China.  In another global trade story, host Sarah Crespi talks with freelance writer Sam Kean about close links between the slave trade and early naturalists’ efforts to catalog the world’s flora and fauna. Today, historians and museums are just starting to come to grips with the often-ignored relationships between slavers and scientists. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: James Petiver, 1695; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

March 28 2019

Mysterious racehorse injuries, and reforming the U.S. bail system

Southern California’s famous Santa Anita racetrack is struggling to explain a series of recent horse injuries and deaths. Host Meagan Cantwell is joined by freelance journalist Christa Lesté-Lasserre to discuss what might be causing these injuries and when the track might reopen. In our second segment, researchers are racing to understand the impact of jailing people before trial in the United States. Host Sarah Crespi talks with Online News Editor Catherine Matacic about the negative downstream effects of cash bail—and what research can tell us about other options for the U.S. pretrial justice system. Last up is books, in which we hear about the long, sometimes winding, roads that food can take from its source to your plate. Books editor Valerie Thompson talks with author Robyn Metcalfe about her new work, Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. *Correction, 1 April, 12 p.m.: A previous version of this podcast included an additional research technique that was not used to investigate the Santa Anita racetrack. Download the transcript (PDF)  Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Mark Smith/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

March 21 2019

Vacuuming potato-size nodules of valuable metals in the deep sea, and an expedition to an asteroid 290 million kilometers away

Pirate’s gold may not be that far off, as there are valuable metals embedded in potato-size nodules thousands of meters down in the depths of the ocean. Host Meagan Cantwell talks with Staff Writer Paul Voosen about the first deep-sea test of a bus-size machine designed to scoop up these nodules, and its potential impact on the surrounding ecosystem. In an expedition well above sea level, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down on the asteroid Ryugu last month. And although the craft won’t return to Earth until 2020, researchers have learned a lot about Ryugu in the meantime. Meagan speaks with Seiji Sugita, a professor at the University of Tokyo and principal investigator of the Optical Navigation Camera of Hayabusa 2, about Ryugu’s parent body, and how this study can better inform future asteroid missions. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

March 14 2019

Mysterious fast radio bursts and long-lasting effects of childhood cancer treatments

Host Sarah Crespi talks with Staff Writer Daniel Clery about the many, many theories surrounding fast radio bursts—extremely fast, intense radio signals from outside the galaxy—and a new telescope coming online that may help sort them out. Also this week, Sarah talks with Staff Writer Jennifer Couzin-Frankel about her story on researchers’ attempts to tackle the long-term effects of pediatric cancer treatment. The survival rate for some pediatric cancers is as high as 90%, but many survivors have a host of health problems. Jennifer’s feature is part of a special section on pediatric cancer. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: ESO/L. Calçada; Music: Jeffrey Cook] 

March 07 2019

Clues that the medieval plague swept into sub-Saharan Africa and evidence humans hunted and butchered giant ground sloths 12,000 years ago

New archaeological evidence suggests the same black plague that decimated Europe also took its toll on sub-Saharan Africa. Host Sarah Crespi talks with Contributing Correspondent Lizzie Wade about diverse medieval sub-Saharan cities that shrank or even disappeared around the same time the plague was stalking Europe. In a second archaeological story, Meagan Cantwell talks with Gustavo Politis, professor of archaeology at the National University of Central Buenos Aires and the National University of La Plata, about new radiocarbon dates for giant ground sloth remains found in the Argentine archaeological site Campo Laborde. The team’s new dates suggest humans hunted and butchered ground sloths in the late Pleistocene, about 12,500 years ago. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Ife-Sungbo Archaeological Project; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

February 28 2019

Measuring earthquake damage with cellphone sensors and determining the height of the ancient Tibetan Plateau

In the wake of a devastating earthquake, assessing the extent of damage to infrastructure is time consuming—now, a cheap sensor system based on the accelerometers in cellphones could expedite this process. Host Sarah Crespi talks with Contributing Correspondent Lizzie Wade about how these sensor systems work and how they might assist communities after an earthquake. In another Earth-shaking study, scientists have downgraded the height of the ancient Tibetan Plateau. Most reconstructions estimate that the “rooftop of the world” reached its current height of 4500 meters about 40 million years ago, but a new study suggests it was a mere 3000 meters high during this period. Host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Svetlana Botsyun, a postdoctoral researcher at Tübingen University in Germany, about her team’s new approach to studying paleoelevation, and how a shorter Tibetan Plateau would have impacted the surrounding area’s climate. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Martin Luff/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

February 21 2019

Spotting slavery from space, and using iPads for communication disorders

In our first segment from the annual meeting of AAAS (Science’s publisher) in Washington, D.C., host Sarah Crespi talks with Cathy Binger of University of New Mexico in Albuquerque about her session on the role of modern technology, such as iPads and apps, in helping people with communication disorders. It turns out that there’s no killer app, but some devices do help normalize assistive technology for kids. Also this week, freelance journalist Sarah Scoles joins Sarah Crespi to talk about bringing together satellite imaging, machine learning, and nonprofits to put a stop to modern-day slavery. In our monthly books segment, books editor Valerie Thompson talks with Judy Grisel about her book Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction, including discussions of Gisel’s personal experience with addiction and how it has informed her research as a neuroscientist. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

February 14 2019

How far out we can predict the weather, and an ocean robot that monitors food webs

The app on your phone tells you the weather for the next 10 days—that’s the furthest forecasters have ever been able to predict. In fact, every decade for the past hundred years, a day has been added to the total forecast length. But we may be approaching a limit—thanks to chaos inherent in the atmosphere. Staff writer Paul Voosen joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about how researchers have determined that we will only be adding about 5 more days to our weather prediction apps. Also this week, host Meagan Cantwell interviews Trygve Fossum from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim about his article in Science Robotics on an underwater autonomous vehicle designed to sample phytoplankton off the coast of Norway. The device will help researchers form a better picture of the base of many food webs and with continued monitoring, researchers hope to better understand key processes in the ocean such as nutrient, carbon, and energy cycling. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts About the Science Podcast [Image: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

February 07 2019

Possible potato improvements, and a pill that gives you a jab in the gut

Because of its genetic complexity, the potato didn’t undergo a “green revolution” like other staple crops. It can take more than 15 years to breed a new kind of potato that farmers can grow, and genetic engineering just won’t work for tackling complex traits such as increased yield or heat resistance. Host Sarah Crespi talks with Staff Writer Erik Stokstad about how researchers are trying to simplify the potato genome to make it easier to manipulate through breeding. Researchers and companies are racing to perfect an injector pill—a pill that you swallow, which then uses a tiny needle to shoot medicine into the body. Such an approach could help improve compliance for injected medications like insulin. Host Meagan Cantwell and Staff Writer Robert F. Service discuss a new kind of pill—one that flips itself over once it hits the bottom of the stomach and injects a dose of medication into the stomach lining. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Michael Eric Nickel/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

January 31 2019

Treating the microbiome, and a gene that induces sleep

Orla Smith, editor of Science Translational Medicine joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about what has changed in the past 10 years of microbiome research, what’s getting close to being useful in treatment, and how strong, exactly, the research is behind those probiotic yogurts. When you’re sick, sleeping is restorative—it helps your body recover from nasty infections. Meagan Cantwell speaks with Amita Sehgal, professor of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania and an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, about the process of discovering a gene in fruit flies that links sleep and immune function. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Music: Jeffrey Cook]

January 24 2019

Pollution from pot plants, and how our bodies perceive processed foods

The “dank” smelling terpenes emitted by growing marijuana can combine with chemicals in car emissions to form ozone, a health-damaging compound. This is especially problematic in Denver, where ozone levels are dangerously high and pot farms have sprung up along two highways in the city. Host Sarah Crespi talks with reporter Jason Plautz about researchers’ efforts to measure terpene emissions from pot plants and how federal restrictions have hampered them. Next, host Meagan Cantwell talks with Dana Small, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University, about how processed foods are perceived by the body. In a doughnut-rich world, what’s a body to think about calories, nutrition, and satiety? And in the first book segment of the year, books editor Valerie Thompson is joined by Erika Malim, a history professor at Princeton University, to talk about her book Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America, which follows the rise and fall of the “killer ape hypothesis”—the idea that our capacity for killing each other is what makes us human. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Wornden LY/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

January 17 2019

Peering inside giant planets, and fighting Ebola in the face of fake news

It’s incredibly difficult to get an inkling of what is going on inside gas giants Saturn and Jupiter. But with data deliveries from the Cassini and Juno spacecraft, researchers are starting to learn more. Science Staff Writer Paul Voosen talks with host Sarah Crespi about new gravity measurements from Cassini’s last passes around Saturn. Using these data, researchers were able to compare wind patterns on Saturn and Jupiter and measure the mass and age of Saturn’s rings. It turns out the rings are young, relatively speaking—they may have formed as recently as 10 million years ago, after dinosaurs went extinct. Megan Cantwell then talks to science writer Laura Spinney about how researchers are fighting conspiracy theories and political manipulation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the country’s ongoing Ebola outbreak. In a first, the government, nongovernmental organizations, and scientists are working with community leaders to fight misinformation—and they might actually be winning. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Stuart Rankin; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

January 10 2019

A mysterious blue pigment in the teeth of a medieval woman, and the evolution of online master’s degrees

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide free lectures and assignments, and gained global attention for their potential to increase education accessibility. Plagued with high attrition rates and fewer returning students every year, MOOCs have pivoted to a new revenue model—offering accredited master’s degrees for professionals. Host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Justin Reich, an assistant professor in the Comparative Media Studies Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, about the evolution of MOOCs and how these MOOC professional programs may be reaching a different audience than traditional online education. Archaeologists were flummoxed when they found a brilliant blue mineral in the dental plaque of a medieval-era woman from Germany. It turned out to be lapis lazuli—an expensive pigment that would have had to travel thousands of kilometers from the mines of Afghanistan to a monastery in Germany. Host Sarah Crespi talks to Christina Warinner, a professor of archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, about how the discovery of this pigment shed light on the impressive life of the medieval woman, an artist who likely played a role in manuscript production. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image:Oberlin.edu/Wikimedia Commons; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

January 03 2019

Will a radical open-access proposal catch on, and quantifying the most deadly period of the Holocaust

Plan S, an initiative that requires participating research funders to immediately publish research in an open-access journal or repository, was announced in September 2018 by Science Europe with 11 participating agencies. Several others have signed on since the launch, but other funders and journal publishers have reservations. Host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Contributing Correspondent Tania Rabesandratana about those reservations and how Plan S is trying to change publishing practices and research culture at large. Some 1.7 million Jewish people were murdered by the Nazis in the 22 months of Operation Reinhard (1942–43) which aimed to eliminate all Jews in occupied Poland. But until now, the speed and totality of these murders were poorly understood. It turns out that about one-quarter of all Jews killed during the Holocaust were murdered in the autumn of 1942, during this operation. Meagan talks with Lewi Stone, a professor of biomathematics at Tel Aviv University in Israel and mathematical science at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, about this shocking kill rate, and why researchers are taking a quantitative approach to characterizing genocides. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Michael Beckwith; Music: Jeffrey Cook]
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