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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]

December 20 2018

End of the year podcast: 2018’s breakthroughs, breakdowns, and top online stories

First, we hear Online News Editor David Grimm and host Sarah Crespi discuss audience favorites and staff picks from this year’s online stories, from mysterious pelvises to quantum engines. Megan Cantwell talks with News Editor Tim Appenzeller about the 2018 Breakthrough of the Year, a few of the runners-up, and some breakdowns. See the whole breakthrough package here, including all the runners-up and breakdowns. And in her final segment for the Science Podcast, host Jen Golbeck talks with Science books editor Valerie Thompson about the year in books. Both also suggest some last-minute additions to your holiday shopping list. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

December 13 2018

‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ turns 50, and how Neanderthal DNA could change your skull

In 1968, Science published the now-famous paper “The Tragedy of the Commons” by ecologist Garrett Hardin. In it, Hardin questioned society’s ability to manage shared resources, concluding that individuals will act in their self-interest and ultimately spoil the resource. Host Meagan Cantwell revisits this classic paper with two experts: Tine De Moor, professor of economics and social history at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and Brett Frischmann, a professor of law, business, and economics at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. They discuss how premodern societies dealt with common resources and how our current society might apply the concept to a more abstract resource—knowledge. Not all human skulls are the same shape—and if yours is a little less round, you may have your extinct cousins, the Neanderthals, to thank. Meagan speaks with Simon Fisher, neurogeneticist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, about why living humans with two Neanderthal gene variants have slightly less round heads—and how studying Neanderthal DNA can help us better understand our own biology. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Phillip Gunz; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

December 06 2018

Where private research funders stow their cash and studying gun deaths in children

A new Science investigation reveals several major private research funders—including the Wellcome Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—are making secretive offshore investments at odds with their organizational missions. Host Meagan Cantwell talks with writer Charles Piller about his deep dive into why some private funders choose to invest in these accounts. In the United States, gun injuries kill more children annually than pediatric cancer, but funding for firearm research pales in comparison. On this week’s show, host Sarah Crespi talks with Staff Writer Meredith Wadman and emergency physician Rebecca Cunningham about how a new grant will jump-start research on gun deaths in children. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Bernard Spragg; Music: Jeffrey Cook] *Correction, 27 December, 5 p.m.: The interview on studying gun deaths in children in the United States incorrectly says that NIH spent $3.1 million on research into pediatric gun deaths. The correct figure is $4.4 million.

November 29 2018

The universe’s star formation history and a powerful new helper for evolution

In a fast-changing environment, evolution can be slow—sometimes so slow that an organism dies out before the right mutation comes along. Host Sarah Crespi speaks with Staff Writer Elizabeth Pennisi about how plastic traits—traits that can alter in response to environmental conditions—could help life catch up. Also on this week’s show, host Meagan Cantwell talks with Marco Ajello a professor of physics and astronomy at Clemson University in South Carolina about his team’s method to determine the universe’s star formation history. By looking at 739 blazars, supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies, Ajello and his team were able to model the history of stars since the big bang. Finally, in this month’s book segment, Jen Golbeck interviews Christine Du Bois about her book Story of Soy. You can listen to more book segments and read more reviews on our books blog, Books et al. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Read a transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

November 22 2018

Exploding the Cambrian and building a DNA database for forensics

First, we hear from science writer Joshua Sokol about his trip to the Cambrian—well not quite. He talks with host Megan Cantwell about his travels to a remote site in the mountains of British Columbia where some of Earth’s first animals—including a mysterious, alien-looking creature—are spilling out of Canadian rocks.   Also on this week’s show, host Sarah Crespi talks with James Hazel a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Genetic Privacy and Identity in Community Settings at Vanderbilt University in Nashville about a proposal for creating a universal forensic DNA database. He and his co-authors argue that current, invasive practices such as law enforcement subpoenaing medical records, commercial genetic profiles, and other sets of extremely detailed genetic information during criminal investigations, would be curtailed if a forensics-use-only universal database were created.     This week’s episode was edited by Podigy.   Read a transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts.   About the Science Podcast  

November 15 2018

The worst year ever and the effects of fasting

When was the worst year to be alive? Contributing Correspondent Ann Gibbons talks to host Sarah Crespi about a contender year that features a volcanic eruption, extended darkness, cold summer, and a plague. Also on this week’s show, host Meagan Cantwell talks with Andrea Di Francesco of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland, about his review of current wisdom on fasting and metabolism. Should we start fasting—if not to extend our lives maybe to at least to give ourselves a healthy old age?  In a special segment from our policy desk, Deputy Editor David Malakoff discusses the results of the recent U.S. election with Senior Correspondent Jeffrey Mervis and we learn what happened to the many scientist candidates that ran and some implications for science policy. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Photo: Scott Suchman; Styling: Nichole Bryant; Music: Jeffrey Cook]   

November 08 2018

A big increase in monkey research and an overhaul for the metric system

A new report suggests a big increase in the use of monkeys in laboratory experiments in the United States in 2017. Online News Editor David Grimm joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss which areas of research are experiencing this rise and the possible reasons behind it. Also this week, host Meagan Cantwell talks with staff writer Adrian Cho about a final push to affix the metric system’s measures to physical constants instead of physical objects. That means the perfectly formed 1-kilogram cylinder known as Le Grand K is no more; it also means that the meter, the ampere, and other units of measure are now derived using complex calculations and experiments.  This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Peter Nijenhuis/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook] 

November 01 2018

How the appendix could hold the keys to Parkinson’s disease, and materials scientists mimic nature

For a long time, Parkinson’s disease was thought to be merely a disorder of the nervous system. But in the past decade researchers have started to look elsewhere in the body for clues to this debilitating disease—particularly in the gut. Host Meagan Cantwell talks with Viviane Labrie of the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about new research suggesting people without their appendixes have a reduced risk of Parkinson’s. Labrie also describes the possible mechanism behind this connection. And host Sarah Crespi talks with Peter Fratzl of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, about what materials scientists can learn from nature. The natural world might not produce innovations like carbon nanotubes, but evolution has forged innumerable materials from very limited resources—mostly sugars, proteins, and minerals. Fratzl discusses how plants make time-release seedpods that are triggered by nothing but fire and rain, the amazing suckerin protein that comprises squid teeth, and how cicadas make their transparent, self-cleaning wings from simple building blocks. Fratzl’s review is part of a special section in Science on composite materials. Read the whole package, including a review on using renewables like coconut fiber for building cars and incorporating carbon nanotubes and graphene into composites. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download the transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Roger Smith/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]
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