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How Do You Know If A Feathered Dinosaur Could Fly? Not all birds can fly. Penguins, ostriches, and kiwis are some famous examples. It’s pretty easy to figure out if a living bird can fly. But it’s a bit tricker when it comes to extinct birds or bird ancestors, like dinosaurs. Remember, all birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs evolved into birds. Scientists at Chicago’s Field Museum wanted to figure out if there was a way to tell if a dinosaur could fly or not. They found that the number and symmetry of flight feathers are reliable indicators of whether a bird or dinosaur could lift off the ground. Ira talks with two of the study’s co-authors about their research and how it might help us understand how dinosaur flight evolved. Dr. Yosef Kiat is a postdoctoral researcher and Dr. Jingmai O’Connor is the associate curator of fossil reptiles at The Field Museum in Chicago. Sacre Bleu! Some French Cheeses At Risk Of Extinction There’s bad news for the Camembert and brie lovers out there: According to the French National Center for Scientific Research, some beloved soft cheeses are at risk of extinction. The culprit? A lack of microbial diversity in the mold strains used to make Camemberts and bries. As with many foods, consumers expect the cheese they buy to be consistent over time. We want the brie we buy today to look and taste like the brie we bought three months ago. But there’s a downside to this uniformity—the strain of Penicillium microbes used to make these cheeses can’t reproduce sexually, meaning it must be cloned. That means these microbes are not resilient, and susceptible to errors in the genome. Over the years, P. camemberti has picked up mutations that make it much harder to clone, meaning it’s getting harder to create the bries we know and love. Joining Ira to talk about this is Benji Jones, senior environmental reporter at Vox based in New York City. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann won a defamation lawsuit against two conservative writers last week. The verdict was 12 years in the making. In 2012 writers Rand Simberg and Mark Steyn accused Mann of manipulating his data related to his famous 1998 “hockey stick” graph, which depicts rising global temperatures after the industrial revolution. Simberg compared him to former Penn State football coach and convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky in a blog post for a libertarian think tank. Steyn later referenced Simberg’s article in a National Review piece, calling Mann’s work “fraudulent.” Reviews by Penn State (Mann’s home institution at the time) and the National Science Foundation, found no scientific wrongdoing. And in fact the iconic graph has since been supported by numerous studies. What does this ruling signal about the public’s understanding of climate change research? And the limitations of free speech? Ira talks with Dr. Michael Mann, professor of Earth & environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from Earth’s Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
If successful, Odysseus will be the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon since the Apollo mission. And, in East Palestine, Ohio, the stream that flows under residents’ houses is still polluted following a train derailment and chemical spill. Odysseus Lander Is On Its Way To The Moon Just after 1:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 15, SpaceX successfully launched a commercial spacecraft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Its destination? The moon. If the lander—named Odysseus—makes it all the way there, it’ll be the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon since the Apollo mission, more than 50 years ago. If successful, this mission will also mark another historic milestone: the first commercial spacecraft to touch down on the moon. Ira talks with Casey Crownhart, climate reporter at MIT Technology Review, about this latest lunar mission and other science news of the week, including: a satellite to detect methane leaks from space, the development of lithium-sulfur batteries, the first treatment for frostbite, the development of “heart-on-a-chip” devices, a frog with a mushroom growing out of its leg, and how eavesdropping on the love songs of Skywalker gibbons helped scientists estimate their population size. A Year After Chemical Spill, Ohio Community Is Still Recovering Christina Siceloff and Randy DeHaven walk down a short bank to Sulphur Run, a creek that winds between houses in East Palestine, Ohio. They make their way to a section of the stream about three-quarters of a mile from where the Norfolk Southern train derailed last February 3rd. Siceloff has brought a shovel, but she doesn’t even need one to show the condition of the stream. She just pushes her rubber boot into the sandy streambed, and an oily sheen erupts out of the muddy bottom, spreading on the top of the brownish-grey water. “Kind of like what you would see in a puddle at a gas station,” Siceloff said. Siceloff has brought a mask because the creek water still gives her headaches. For much of the past year, she’s been helping DeHaven and a group of volunteers document the condition of the stream. Siceloff lives a few miles away in Darlington, Pennsylvania, and could see smoke from the 2023 derailment and subsequent fire from her bedroom window. She was sick for five and a half months, as were her father and son. “I had migraines, congestion, runny nose. I had pressure in my ears, burning in my nose, eyes and throat,” Siceloff said. She now has tremors in her hands, and her eyes twitch. She sneezes in the laundry soap aisle at Walmart and can’t stand the chlorine smell at a swimming pool. In the days after the derailment and subsequent chemical spill, over 40,000 fish and other species died. DeHaven, who lives in town and has been filming the stream for much of the past year, saw it firsthand. “Most of the frogs were belly up,” DeHaven says. “There was a few fish floating, but a lot of them were just laying on the bottom.” Now, a year after the derailment, regulators say they have cleaned up the site, and that the air in town is clear. But the stream running through the middle of town is still contaminated and some in the area still worry about whether the chemicals sitting at the bottom of the stream are going to make their way into peoples’ bodies. Read more at sciencefriday.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Over the past few years, many cities around the world have changed dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with shifts in office use and commuting patterns as well as where people choose to live, work, and play. But there are other major changes to communities on the horizon as well—such as the need to adapt to the changing climate and sea level rise, and move urban infrastructure away from dependence on fossil fuels. Andy Cohen and Diane Hoskins are co-CEOs of Gensler, a global architecture and design firm, and authors of the new book Design for a Radically Changing World. They join guest host John Dankosky to talk about how design can help communities adapt to global crises, and the importance of involving local communities in design decisions. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Looking into space can be pretty daunting. How do we make sense of the vast expanse above our heads, the millions of stars we might be able to see, and the billions more we can’t? Now, what about listening to space? That’s the task that Sam Harnett and Chris Hoff gave themselves, for their series “Cosmic Visions.” They’re the team behind “The World According to Sound,” a podcast that’s brought our listeners close to the sounds of science over the last few years. This new series takes listeners through the history of astronomy and the study of the cosmos, from ancient Babylon to the Hubble Telescope. Harnett and Hoff join guest host John Dankosky to talk about why different ways of knowing are helpful for scientists, how images of nebulae share a striking resemblance to photos of the American West, and what their favorite space sounds are. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Colorectal Cancer Rates Are Rising In Young People Gastrointestinal medicine practitioners have noticed something strange in recent years: More and more young people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It used to be incredibly rare for anyone under the age of 50 to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Cases were generally limited to people with excess weight who live a sedentary lifestyle. But practitioners are increasingly seeing people in their 40s, 30s, and even 20s without prior risk factors being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Jennifer Fijor is one nurse practitioner who has seen this rise in cases firsthand at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Seattle, Washington. Jennifer has been spreading awareness about this rise on her social media accounts. Jennifer speaks with guest host Kathleen Davis about the warning signs of colorectal cancer, such as sudden changes in bowel movements, and how patients can advocate for themselves to get screened early. What An AI Learns From A Baby’s-Eye View Of The World There’s a lot to learn in the first couple of years of a child’s life—not the least of which is how to talk. But little kids don’t sit down and study a vocabulary book. They soak up language from daily experiences, which are often filled with parents and caregivers saying things like “look at the kitty cat.” Scientists wondered whether an artificial intelligence model could learn about language using a similar strategy—not by being fed a curated set of pictures and words, but by eavesdropping on the day-to-day activities of a small child. They found that associating images and sounds from 60 hours of video captured by a camera mounted on a baby’s head could teach a computer model a set of several dozen basic nouns, such as “car,” “cat,” and “ball.” And the learning was generalizable, meaning that the computer was able to properly identify cars and cats that it had not seen before. Dr. Wai Keen Vong, a research scientist in the Center for Data Science at New York University and one of the authors of a study recently published in the journal Science, joins SciFri’s Kathleen Davis to talk about the research and what it can teach us about learning. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Uché Blackstock always knew she wanted to be a doctor. Her mother was a physician at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Uché and her twin sister, Oni, would often visit their mother at work, watching her take care of patients. And they loved to play with their mother’s doctor’s bag. The sisters went on to become the first Black mother-daughter legacy students to graduate from Harvard Medical School. SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Dr. Uché Blackstock, emergency physician and founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, about her new memoir, Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine. Read an excerpt from Legacy at sciencefriday.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Hycean planets were thought to be covered by oceans of water, but a new study suggests it could be magma instead. And, author Rafi Kohan explains the psychological and physiological responses to trash talk, ahead of Super Bowl Sunday. Faraway Planets Could Have Oceans Of Magma Far beyond our solar system are hycean planets—planets that have hydrogen-rich atmospheres and are covered in giant oceans. Scientists have long believed that those oceans were made of water, but a new study throws a wrench in that idea, suggesting that they could actually be oceans of magma. SciFri’s John Dankosky talks with Sophie Bushwick, senior news editor at New Scientist based in NYC, about this and other science news of the week, including a new type of thunderstorm, how droughts are affecting the Panama Canal, inhalable nanoparticles that could carry antibiotics, which dog breeds live longest, and a fern whose dying leaves can sprout roots. The Art And Science Of Trash Talk As frivolous as it may sound, the use of trash talk has a long, hilarious history that dates back to the Bible and the Homeric poems. Fundamentally, this insult-slinging is the presentation of a challenge, and it’s found its way into sports, politics, and even cutthroat family board game nights. But there’s a science to trash talk that explains why it’s stuck around all these millennia, the psychology behind it, and how it can either rev up or fluster an opponent. Just in time for the 2024 Super Bowl, guest host John Dankosky talks with Rafi Kohan, author of Trash Talk: The Only Book About Destroying Your Rivals That Isn’t Total Garbage. Read an excerpt from Trash Talk at sciencefriday.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
A new study uses artificial intelligence to show that each of our ten fingerprints are remarkably similar to one another. Plus, honey could be the secret ingredient in building a more eco-friendly “memristor,” which transmits data through malleable pathways. Is Each Fingerprint On Your Hand Unique? We often think about each fingerprint as being completely unique, like a snowflake on the tip of your finger. But a new study shows that maybe each person’s fingerprints are more similar to each other than we thought. Researchers trained artificial intelligence to identify if a thumbprint and a pinky print came from the same person. They found that each of a person’s ten fingerprints are remarkably similar in the swirly center. Ira talks with study author Gabe Guo, an undergraduate at Columbia University majoring in computer science, based in New York City. In This Computer Component, Data Slides Through Honey A honey bear is probably one of the weirder things you’d see in a science lab, especially in a lab making computer parts. “It’s just processed, store-bought honey,” said Ph.D. student Zoe Templin. “Off the shelf — a little cute bear so we can put it in photos.” But for Templin and her colleagues at Washington State University, Vancouver, the honey is key. “It is cheap and it is easily accessible to everyone,” said master’s student Md Mehedi Hassan Tanim. The honey also has natural chemical properties that make it a promising foundation for a new kind of environmentally friendly computer component — one that could make computing faster and more energy efficient while reducing the impact on the environment. Read the rest of this article on sciencefriday.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Last month the FDA approved a new treatment for sickle cell disease, the first medical therapy to use CRISPR gene editing technology. It works by identifying the gene or genes causing the disorder, modifying those genes and then returning them to the patient’s body. There are now two gene therapies offered by pharmaceutical companies for sickle cell disease: Casgevy from Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics, and Lyfgenia from BlueBird Bio. But prices for these one-time treatments are steep: Casgevy costs $2.2 million per patient and Lyfgenia $3.1 million. Both promise a full cure, which would be life-changing for patients with this debilitating condition. Over 100,000 Americans, mostly of African descent, have sickle cell disease. This milestone raises more questions: What will be the next disease that CRISPR can help cure? And is it possible to reduce the costs of gene therapy treatments? Ira talks with Dr. Fyodor Urnov, professor of molecular and cell biology and scientific director of technology and translation at the Innovative Genomics Institute, based at the University of California, Berkeley, about the future of CRISPR-based cures. Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
A team of scientists in Ecuador is on a mission to describe new-to-science tarantula species to help secure conservation protections. And, undergraduate researchers pasted striped capes onto termites’ backs to see if a well-known warning sign would fend off predators. Protecting The ‘Satan’ Tarantula and Other Lovable Giant Spiders A team of scientists in Ecuador is on a mission to find and describe species of an understudied, often unpopular group of critters: mygalomorphs, a group of large, stocky spiders that includes tarantulas. In late 2023, two of these researchers published a paper in the journal ZooKeys describing two new-to-science tarantula species, including one named Psalmopoeus satanas—affectionately called the “Satan tarantula” because of its erratic behavior. Tarantulas are understudied in Ecuador, and there are many species left to describe. They’re also threatened by mining, agriculture, and the illegal pet trade. That’s what led Pedro Peñaherrera-R., a researcher at Universidad San Francisco de Quito to found the Mygalomorphae Research Group. Its members are working to describe these spiders and secure conservation protections before they possibly disappear. Producer Rasha Aridi talks with Peñaherrera-R. and his co-author and fellow group member Roberto José León about how the Satan tarantula earned its name, how they discover and classify spiders, and why we should all show spiders a little more love. If Termites Wore Stripes, Would Spiders Still Eat Them? The animal kingdom is filled with colors and patterns. Sometimes, those colors are to signal to members of an animal’s own species, in a mating display for instance. In other cases, a bright color or vibrant pattern serves as a warning to potential predators—a signal saying “don’t eat me, I’m toxic.” That type of warning coloration, known as aposematism, can be seen in the bright colors of a poison dart frog, or the black, white, and yellow stripes of a monarch butterfly caterpillar. Bigger animals, like birds, are known to consider that sort of warning signal when hunting. Researchers at the University of Florida were interested in whether jumping spiders might also take that sort of striped warning coloration into account when choosing their prey. To find out, they applied tiny striped capes to the backs of laboratory termites to study whether those stripes affected the behavior of hungry jumping spiders. They found that while the test spiders did notice the striped termites more than termites wearing solid colors, the spiders were less likely to attack striped termites when given the chance to do so. Behavioral ecologist Dr. Lisa Taylor joins Ira to discuss the purpose of the project—and former lead undergraduate researcher Lauren Gawel describes the challenges of trying to get termites to dress up as superheroes. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Cancer, at its core, is a genetic disease: the result of DNA mutations that cause cells to grow out of control and develop tumors. And over the years, scientists have identified certain chemicals, called carcinogens, that are directly linked to those cancer-causing mutations, like those found in cigarettes. But the rates of some cancers, like colorectal and lung, are rising dramatically in certain populations, leaving scientists to wonder what carcinogens they might be missing, and how traditional models of detecting them are falling short. Last year, a landmark study published in the journal Nature confirmed a theory that toxicologists and cancer researchers had long suspected: that certain chemicals, like those found in air pollution, may not directly lead to cancerous mutations, but instead prime already vulnerable mutated cells to become cancerous. Some scientists have dubbed these chemicals “dark matter” carcinogens; they know they’re out there, exerting some kind of effect on increasing cancer rates, but they don’t fully understand what these chemicals are. Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, wrote about this scientific detective mystery in The New Yorker. This week, he joins Ira to talk about how scientists are rethinking their approach to identifying carcinogens, and why he’s hopeful for the future of cancer research in light of this new paradigm. Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
There has been a boom of syphilis cases, including a 180% increase in congenital syphilis cases, despite other STI levels staying stable. Also, the world's largest deep-sea reef stretches for hundreds of miles in near-freezing waters and total darkness, but it’s bustling with life. Syphilis Cases Are Up 80% Since 2018 Syphilis is rearing its ugly head again in the United States. A new report on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a shocking statistic: Cases of syphilis are up by nearly 80% among adults since 2018. Congenital syphilis cases, which occur when an infection is passed from parent to child during pregnancy, are up by more than 180%. Strangely, cases of other STIs have stayed about the same or decreased in the same timeframe. Rachel Feltman, host of “The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week,” joins Ira to talk about this and other science stories from the week, including the first cases of transmitted Alzheimer’s disease, and why closing the toilet seat doesn’t keep aerosolized viruses from contaminating other bathroom surfaces. Revealing The Largest Deep-Sea Coral Reef In The World Scientists recently discovered the largest known deep-sea coral reef in the world. It’s called Million Mounds, and it stretches from Miami, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina, covering around 6.4 million acres of the seafloor. Unlike the colorful reefs found in sunlit tropical waters, this one is mostly made up of a stony coral that’s usually found from about 650 to 3,300 feet underwater—depths where it’s very cold and pitch black. Ira Flatow talks with Dr. Erik Cordes, marine biologist and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who collaborated on the study. They discuss what makes deep-sea corals different from those found in shallower waters, why it’s important to map them, and what it’s like to visit one in a submarine. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Take a quick moment to think about your surroundings. Tune into your senses, and contemplate what’s happening around you. What do you see, hear, and smell? Now take a moment to imagine: What if you were a bat? How would you experience your environment differently? Maybe you could sense a nearby spider through echolocation, or feel minute changes in air pressure and temperature to know where to fly next. This world of perception is unique to each organism. It’s what scientists call umwelt, from the German word meaning “environment” or “surroundings,” and it is the subject of this month’s SciFri Book Club pick. Science writer, author, and birder Ed Yong returns to talk about how senses both familiar and foreign to us help animals experience their environment, and to tell us what he’s learned in the past year since his book, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal The Hidden Realms Around Us (now available in paperback), was published. The SciFri Book Club read An Immense World together this January, and readers joined Yong and guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross via a live Zoom Call-in for a conversation on how writing about animals changed his experience in nature, how educators can help students become better connected to the Earth, and how readers are still connecting with his work on the umwelten of the animal kingdom. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
This radio interview is an abbreviated version of the full video interview, available with ASL interpretation on Youtube. Think back to your favorite childhood TV show—was it “Blue’s Clues”? “Little Bear”? “Winnie the Pooh”? Animated TV shows are important for kids because they can teach them to read, draw, spell, and talk. Plus, the ways these shows tell stories and create colorful, fictitious worlds can broaden children’s knowledge and capacity to imagine. But children’s shows aren’t accessible to all deaf children, which means they could miss out on a common learning experience. Among other things, that can set kids back in learning both American Sign Language (ASL) and English language skills during their formative early childhood years. Melissa Malzkuhn is third-generation Deaf and the founder and director of the Motion Light Lab at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Her lab is creating ASL-focused children’s media that is made by and for the Deaf community, using motion capture technology, avatars, animation, and signing storytellers. She talks with guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross about ASL access in childhood, the science of learning, and how she’s creating “Here Comes Mavo!”—the first animated TV series with signing characters. Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Over the past few months, there have been reports about a mysterious canine respiratory illness. It’s easy to get a little scared: Some dogs are developing a severe illness that lasts a long time and doesn’t respond to treatment. And in some cases, dogs have died. In the age of social media, it’s hard to know just how widespread this actually is, and how it compares to a more familiar canine illness like kennel cough. Joining guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross to break down this potential new pathogen are Dr. Deborah Silverstein, professor of critical care medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. David Needle, a pathologist at the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and a clinical associate professor at the University of New Hampshire. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Irth is a “Yelp-like” app to help expectant parents make informed decisions by exposing bias and racism in healthcare systems. Also, a new video camera system shows the colors of the natural world as different animals see them. An App For People Of Color To Rate Their Birthing Experiences For some patients, finding a good doctor can be as simple as looking up a doctor’s degrees and accolades. But for people who are more likely to experience discrimination in a medical setting—perhaps due to their gender, disability, sexual orientation or race—credentials only tell half the story. So how do you know where to go? And who to trust? One app aims to help Black and brown parents-to-be make informed decisions about where they choose to give birth. Black people who give birth in the United States are far more likely than their white counterparts to experience mistreatment in hospitals, develop complications, or die due to childbirth. Irth allows parents to leave reviews about how their birthing experience went, like: Did doctors and nurses listen to them? Was their pain taken seriously? Did they develop complications that could’ve been prevented? Guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross talks with Kimberly Seals Allers—journalist, activist, and founder of Irth—about why she founded the app and how it can help people. You can learn more about Irth and download the app on their website. Are Roses Red, And Violets Blue? Depends On Your Species Over the millenia, animal eyes have evolved along different paths, adding or subtracting capabilities as they adapt to specific niches in the world. The result of all that evolution is that a bee, bird, or bull doesn’t see the world the same way you do. There are differences in the spatial resolution different animals can see, in the speed of their visual response, in the depth of focus, and in the way they process color. Dogs, for instance, can’t really see red—their vision is best at seeing things that are blue or yellow. Birds and bees can see into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, making a flower look quite different from the way humans perceive it. This week, researchers published details of a video camera system that tries to help make sense of the way different animals view color. By combining different cameras, various filters, and a good dose of computer processing, they can simulate what a given video clip might look like to a specific animal species. It’s work that’s of interest to both biologists and filmmakers. Dr. Daniel Hanley, one of the researchers on the project and an assistant professor of biology at George Mason University, joins guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross to describe the system and its capabilities. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Engineers had to design bespoke tools to open the OSIRIS-REx capsule nearly four months after it arrived back on Earth. Also, prescription rates for ADHD drugs rose by 30% from 2020-2022, with large increases among women and young people. NASA Finally Opens Canister Containing Asteroid Sample NASA’s OSIRIS-REx was the first U.S. mission to retrieve fragments of an asteroid, which arrived in September 2023. There was just one small issue: NASA technicians couldn’t open the capsule, which held space rocks from an asteroid called Bennu. NASA announced this week that they finally managed to open the capsule on January 10. Engineers designed new tools to remove the final two of 35 fasteners, which would not budge. Guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross talks with Maggie Koerth, science writer and editorial lead for Carbon Plan, about the asteroid capsule and other top science news of the week, including chimpanzees catching human colds, advances toward a cure for autoimmune disorders and honeybee crimes. ADHD Prescription Rates Spiked During The Pandemic–Why? The rate of prescriptions for ADHD medications rose by 30% during the height of the pandemic, from 2020 to 2022. Most of these new prescriptions were given to people between the ages of 20 and 39. And the prescription rate for those assigned female at birth, including women and some trans people, doubled during this time as well, according to a recent study. Prescriptions for anxiety and depression medications did not rise at a similarly high rate during that time. While it’s still not entirely clear what led to this dramatic increase, experts point to several contributing factors: The pandemic changed routines and made lifelong ADHD symptoms more apparent, content creators on social media platforms like TikTok increased awareness of symptoms, and a proliferation of online pharmacies expedited diagnosis and prescriptions for ADHD medications like Adderall. Guest host Arielle Duhaime-Ross speaks with Dr. Julia Schechter, co-director of Duke University’s Center for Girls & Women with ADHD, to make sense of these trends. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Researchers in Michigan modeled a prehistoric land bridge and used AI to predict where caribou–and humans–might have traveled along it. Also, artist Sarah Rosalena uses Indigenous weaving, ceramics, and sculpture practices to create art that challenges tech’s future. Using AI To Help Find Ancient Artifacts In The Great Lakes At the bottom of Lake Huron there’s a ridge that was once above water. It’s called the Alpena Amberley Ridge and goes from northern Michigan to southern Ontario. Nine thousand years ago, people and animals traveled this corridor. But then the lake rose, and signs of life were submerged. Archaeologists were skeptical they’d ever find artifacts from that time. But then John O’Shea, an underwater archaeologist based at the University of Michigan, found something. It was an ancient caribou hunting site. O’Shea realized he needed help finding more. The ridge is about 90 miles long, 9 miles wide and 100 feet underwater. “Underwater research is always like a needle in a haystack,” said O’Shea. “So any clues you can get that help you narrow down and focus … is a real help to us.” That’s where artificial intelligence comes in. He teamed up with computer scientist Bob Reynolds from Wayne State University, one of the premier people creating archaeological simulations. And Reynolds and his students created a simulation with artificially intelligent caribou to help them make predictions. An Artist Combines Indigenous Textiles With Modern Tech When multidisciplinary artist Sarah Rosalena looks at a loom, she thinks about computer programming. “It’s an extension of your body, being an algorithm,” she says. Rosalena, a Wixárika descendant and assistant professor of art at the University of California Santa Barbara, combines traditional Indigenous craft—weaving, beadmaking, pottery—with new technologies like AI, data visualization, and 3D-printing. And she also works with scientists to make these otherworldly creations come to life. She involved researchers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab to make 3D-printed pottery with simulated Martian clay. And she collaborated with the Mount Wilson Observatory to produce intricately beaded tapestries based on early-1900s glass plates captured by the observatory’s telescope, which women mathematicians used to make astronomical calculations. And that’s also a big focus for Rosalena: spotlighting the overlooked contributions women made to computer science and connecting it to how textiles are traditionally thought of as a woman-based craft. When she first started making this kind of art, Rosalena learned that the Jacquard loom—a textile advancement in the 1800s that operated on a binary punch card system which allowed for mass production of intricate designs—inspired computer science pioneer Ada Lovelace when she was developing the first computer program. “[They] have this looped history,” she says. “And when I weave or do beadwork, it’s also recalling that relationship.” But for Rosalena, there is tension and anxiety in her decision to combine new and ancient mediums. “We’re at this point of the technological frontier and that’s actually terrifying for a lot of people, especially for people from my background and my Wixárika background,” she says. “It’s progress for some, but it’s not for all.” Part of Rosalena’s work is anticipating future forms of colonization, especially amid rapid change in our planet’s climate and the rise of AI. “What happens when we bring traditional craft or Indigenous techniques with emerging technology to think about current issues that we are facing? Digital technologies are always chasing after ways that we could simulate our reality, which also produces this way that we could re-envision our reality,” she says. SciFri producer and host of our podcast Universe Of Art D. Peterschmidt sat down with Rosalena to talk about how she approaches her work, why she collaborates with scientists, and how she hopes her art makes people consider today’s technological advancements through an Indigenous lens. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
When Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple Macintosh in January of 1984, the visual user interface, all-in-one design, and mouse-controlled navigation were revolutionary. Design team member Andy Hertzfeld and industry observer Steven Levy look back on the early days of personal computing, and talk about how the Macintosh came to be. Transcripts for each segment are available on sciencefriday.com Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.