John W. Iwanski via Flickr CC /

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In times of mourning, we emphasize the cyclical nature of life and death - and yet, American burial practices are mostly designed to halt the natural process of decomposition. Today on Word of Mouth, a look at the historical forces that pushed America towards embalming and containment, and the growing "green burial" movement. Plus, how American judges are grappling with a difficult to interpret form of evidence that's starting to be introduced in the courtroom - the emoji.

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For decades, environmentalists have fought to keep plastic, glass, paper and other recyclables out of landfills where they’d sit for thousands of years…so, is recycling truly making a difference in the health of the planet? Today, some data that challenges recycling’s sanctified status. Then, India’s government says it will clean up the horribly polluted Ganges, the river which supports ten percent of the world’s population. The first step: working with the Hindu belief that the Ganges is holy, self-purifying and the place to be buried. 

Thomas Heyman via Flickr CC /

From the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer to the temperance movement, America’s relationship with alcohol is complicated and often contentious. Today, we’ll explore America’s history through the bottom of the bottle. Then, our collective image of dinosaurs has undergone a massive transformation in recent years. Instead of herds of lizard-like grayish brown creatures, fossil recovery has revealed not only the presence of feathers for some, but also clues to what color dinosaurs actually were. 

Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka via Flickr CC /

The Barbie doll has been targeted for her unrealistic proportions and for setting up an unattainable ideal for girls. Well, meet the new model - equipped with artificial intelligence, Barbie just got even more persuasive. Plus, “when a daddy really loves a mommy…” has long kicked off the story of how babies are made.  But what about now,  when surrogacy, same sex couples, and fertility labs are challenging old norms? We talk with the author of a series of books about sex for kids without gender, and without judgment. Today, we learn about the birds, bees, and biology.

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Among the things we take for granted in today’s America is knowing the time …which makes transportation, business and national events possible. This, however, was not always the case. Today, from building sewers to standardizing time, we’ll talk about the invisible innovations that got us where we are today. Then, more than 30,000 African elephants are poached every year, mostly out of East Africa. In an effort to understand the illegal ivory trade, a journalist commissioned a tusk made of fake ivory with a GPS tracker inside. We speak with the man behind that tusk.

Chris Lott via Flickr CC /

Grocery lists, to-do lists, guest lists – human beings seem compelled to put things into manageable order…but the result can be anything but mundane.  We take a look at some of the most memorable lists ever written – from Walt Disney’s un-used dwarf names, to a day in the life of  country legend Johnny Cash. And, we’ll talk with a computer scientist who will forever be remembered not for his AI research, but as inventor of the emoticon. Plus, a writer attends her first autopsy, and says Hollywood gets it all wrong.

8.19.15: The Case Against C8 & The Power of Two

Aug 19, 2015
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C8 - it’s a chemical you may or may not have heard of.  And yet…“99.7% of Americans have some amount in their blood. It’s a manmade chemical that didn’t exist a century ago.” Today, an investigative reporter dives into chemical giant DuPont’s role in a tobacco-industry scale cover-up of the dangers of C8.  And, the myth of the lone genius gets knocked down by an exploration of creative duos. We’ll find out why artistic and scientific breakthroughs often come from dynamic collaborations.

xandert / Morguefile

The humble little mouse has become big business at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The research center uses selective breeding to create mice that have the genetic traits to make them useful for scientists searching for cures to human diseases. David Brooks recently visited Jackson Labs and learned a lot about the business of mice. He’s a columnist for the Nashua Telegraph and writer at He spoke with NHPR's All Things Considered host Peter Biello.

Hannah McCarthy/NHPR

Monday afternoon, high school students in a program with University of New Hampshire launched a weather balloon they designed and assembled themselves.

The SEE Science Center offers scientific explorations for all ages. Barnstead teacher Annie Bourque makes an annual trip with her 6th grade class to take advantage of the chemistry lab there. 

7.2.15: Helium, Nitrate Film, & Hunting for Elements

Jul 2, 2015
Glen Van Etten via Flickr Creative Commons /

It's the stuff that makes you sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks when you inhale it, it's the gas that fills balloons at birthday parties and is used in MRI machines and nuclear reactors -- and turns out, it's an increasingly rare element. Helium. (He) On today's show, we learn that it's not here to stay. Then, a hunt for elements. The periodic table has changed a lot, especially since 1941, when researchers at the University of California Berkeley produced the first man-made element: plutonium. (Pu) And the search to make more continues. And finally, a conversation about the Nitrate Picture Show in Rochester New York, a festival that screens incredibly flammable nitrate (NO3) films. 

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Jurassic World opened this weekend to big crowds but mixed reviews from the scientific community. On today’s show a paleoartist takes issue with the film’s inaccurate depiction of dinosaurs.

Then, from tips for Hollywood filmmakers, to tips for aspiring comics, a comedy insider, and former editor of The Onion, explains what it takes to earn a living making people laugh.

©John Conway /

When Jurassic Park was released in theaters back in 1993, the scientific community was in shock. Happy shock, that is. For once, Hollywood got the science part—mostly­­—right. Long thought to be lumbering beasts, who slogged around the earth, Jurassic Park ushered in a new era of understanding when it came to dinosaurs: they were actually fast and smart.

Nic McPhee via flickr Creative Commons /

Vocal anti-vaxxers like Jenny McCarthy have got some in the science community saying if you don’t have an advanced degree, you have no right to question the experts.  But are they right?

On today’s show, a science journalist makes a bold argument: that free speech trumps good science. Then, we’ll tackle a controversial question for pet owners: whether or not to keep domestic cats indoors in the name of saving birds.

Plus, we’ll find out why more and more Europeans are ditching Darwin’s theory of evolution and embracing creationism.

Listen to the full show or click read more for individual segments.

Eugene Mirman Majored In Comedy

Apr 2, 2015
Photo by Brian Tamborello via

Eugene Mirman is a writer, stand-up comedian, the voice of Gene on Fox’s animated series Bob’s Burgers, Neil Degrasse Tyson’s partner in crime on the show Star Talk Radio, creator of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival and proprietor of the post-stru

Werner via Flickr/CC -

It’s time to talk about cats.

Yes, it’s hard to believe that in the internet era, where Grumpy Cat and Keyboard Cat have become celebrities, and seemingly every third item we see on Facebook is a cat video, that we’d need to spend more time on felines.

Russell Darling via flickr Creative Commons /

Human beings spend a lot of time satisfying primal urges, but relatively little talking about or studying them. On today’s show, what we can learn by studying hedonism.

Then, at the height of the Ebola epidemic last fall, the hardest hit areas in West Africa not only struggled with containing the virus, but respectfully burying the dead. We’ll take a look at how funeral rites were handled during history’s worst epidemics.

Listen to the full show or click read more for individual segments.

Zoe Cormier is a scientist turned science journalist. Her first book, Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll, is a collection of surprising and revealing research into the biology and neurochemistry of hedonism and the human pursuit of pleasure. And while some may wag a finger at those who indulge in sex, drugs, and even rock and roll, Zoe is quick to point out that these indulgences are a vital component in what defines us. 

Nor are these specific aspects of our condition that should be repressed. 

Listen to Virginia's entire interview with Zoe below. 

Elizabeth via flickr Creative Commons /

With a market value up to $2.50 an ounce, and online sales on the rise, it’s been called liquid gold. On today’s show, a look into the breast milk market, and how the biotech industry is getting in on the game.

Then, the question of why Homo sapiens thrived while Neanderthals became extinct has long been debated among scientists. We’ll hear from an anthropologist with a stunning new theory that explains their extinction: humans had dogs.

Listen to the full show or click read more for individual segments.

Logan Shannon / NHPR

Think about the shape of an icicle: it’s pointy at the end and wider at the base. But why are they that shape? The key thing to remember when talking about icicles is that icicles are long and skinny because the tip is growing faster than the base. And there are 3 reasons for why that is:

Every drip, as it travels down the icicle, carries heat away. This is because water is an incredible vehicle for conducting heat. It has the highest specific heat of any material we know of. 

Jesús Perera Aracil via flickr Creative Commons /

Across the world more than 750 million people lack access to safe drinking water, and at least two billion don’t have proper sanitation. On today’s show, we’ll look at a project aiming to solve both problems by turning waste into drinkable water. And why disgust may prevent it from becoming a reality.

Then, we investigate a problem facing many American workers: food theft. We’ll find out why some people feel it’s ok to steal treats from the office fridge. 

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Colin Dunn via flickr Creative Commons /

The word vitamin has only been around for just over 100 years. But today vitamins are a $36 billion dollar-a-year industry. On today’s show, we’ll look at the history and science behind a largely unregulated market. Plus, a new hotline for emotionally distressed teens aims to help teens by communicating in a space where they feel comfortable – via text message.     

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

VCU Tompkins-McCaw Library Special Collections /

  Malaria threatens more than half the world’s people. Yet there is still no way to immunize against it. On today’s show, why a promising vaccine developed by an upstart in the biotech scene is not getting funded. 

Plus, Levi Strauss started making jeans during the gold rush, introducing the  most iconic symbol of American style. Today’s Good Gig profiles the Levi’s in-house historian who sifts through mine shafts and dusty attics to find the stories behind every crease. 

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

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To protect children from predators, some schools have rules against physical contact so strict that students can be sent to the principal’s office for holding hands or high-fiving. On today’s show – are schools being too touchy about physical contact?

And a reporter profiles the inaugural class of Thiel fellows – twenty teenagers who were given one-hundred thousand dollars to drop out of higher education and pursue success as young entrepreneurs.

Plus a columnist and comedian argues college kids today can’t take a joke. 

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Sound In Focus

Feb 19, 2015

We have a listening problem. One music teacher is out to conquer it.

Mike Alberici is a music teacher at Maple Street School in Hopkinton, who was awarded the 2015/2016 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation – an award that grants teachers leave to develop new ideas for classroom teaching, and covers all the costs of doing so.

University of New Hamshire

  Researchers at the University of New Hampshire say it’s not just bad diets and little exercise causing rising rates of obesity and diabetes.    In fact, synthetic chemicals used in household items like couches and carpet padding may play a part in both of those conditions.

When Nutritional Scientist Gale Carey at UNH exposed healthy rats to high doses of flame retardant chemicals, and then inspected their fat tissue, she found that "metabolically, chemically, it behaves like it's from an animal that is obese. But the animal is not obese."

clotho98 via flickr Creative Commons /

Scents can evoke memories, arouse appetite, and even alter moods. On today’s show we’ll sniff out the science of smell.

Then, internet trolling can be a hobby for angry people with a sadistic bent, but now crowd funding is supporting a new brand of professional troll. We’ll take a look into the lucrative business of posting hate.

Plus, for the latest installment of our series Good Gig we’ll talk to a music editor who’s compiled the 101 strangest records on Spotify.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Alice via flickr Creative Commons /

Have you ever heard someone say, “I can be a little bit OCD”? On today’s show: the clear difference between ordinary obsession and the disease known as obsessive-compulsive disorder.And we’ll stay in the cerebral realm for a look at music’s affect on the human brain, and its power to evoke feelings of sadness, serenity, and awe.  

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

northeast naturalist via Flickr Creative Commons

How's this for a typical day at the office: get into a helicopter, fly just above treetops in parts of northern New Hampshire, and find moose to tag, track and monitor. It's part of the work New Hampshire Fish and Game is doing to study the effect of winter tick and other parasites on the state's moose population.

Benjamin Chun via flickr Creative Commons /

For students hoping to get into a competitive college or university, high SAT scores are crucial. On today’s show, law professor and civil rights activist argues that the SAT is a more accurate measurement of family wealth, race and ethnicity than merit. 

Then, The Uncommon Core, our series on offbeat college courses, continues with golf course management. We’ll also hear from a husband and wife research team going to great lengths to end the bedbug epidemic– including offering themselves up as food!

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.