science

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The human voice paints powerful pictures in the minds of listeners – just listen to some of public radio’s distinctive voices …have you ever imagined what they look like or what kind of person they might be? 

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Our favorite content of the week, wrapped up in one audio-licious program. This week, author Chuck Klosterman defines villainy, the Cronut craze catches a Harvard researcher's eye, head transplants are given an examination, robots roll into vinyards, and a pair of hard-partying vegetarians share their take on potato salad (spoiler alert: it's got Doritos in it!)

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In 1970, Dr. Robert White attempted an experimental surgical procedure that might as well have been lifted from the pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – he removed the head of one living monkey, and attached it to the body of another. Dr. White called it a head transplant and a success. His detractors called it a medical and ethical nightmare. In June of this year, Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero declared that advances in medical technology have made head transplants possible. A number of medical professionals greeted his announcement with skepticism. The Atlantic’s health editor James Hamblin wrote about how Canavero says the procedure will work.

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Human beings have long worked to prolong life and cheat death – but few efforts have been as ambitious, and speculatively optimistic, as the nearly fifty year-old field of cryonics. The scientific pursuit of preserving human bodies at sub-zero temperatures was once regarded with public disgust, but is now gaining new traction ­­­– in Silicon Valley.  Our guest is Josh Dean, author of Showdog, and contributor to Buzzfeed, where his long-form article “Inside the Immortality Business” was featured earlier this month.

ericsimons.net

If you’re a New England sports fan of a certain age, chances are you can describe exactly what happened during game 6 of the 1986 World Series when Bill Buckner missed a roller at first.

That error allowed the Mets a winning run and further cemented the “Curse of the Bambino” in the minds of Red Sox fans…many of those same fans still get weepy when thinking of 2004 – when the Sox finally reversed the curse and won the World Series.

Along with the thrill comes the agony …just ask any Bruins fan who watched Boston’s 2 - 1 lead in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals squandered  by two Blackhawk goals in the last 76 seconds of the game.

We spoke to science writer and Radiolab contributor Eric Simons before the Bruins crushing defeat. Eric’s latest book “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans,” is his attempt to figure out the science and psychology of sports fans…and it begins with a play-by-play of heartbreak.

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You’ve likely heard about the seventeen-year cicada, last seen when the Macarena was popular. Long before the insects began to poke out of the ground along the east coast, the species was making headlines for its wacky life cycle. Nature has plenty of examples of biological oddities… science journalist Brandon Keim compiled a list of nature’s strangest life-cycles for Wired magazine.

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In 1959 scientists caught their first glimpse of a genetic mutation, ‘the Philadelphia chromosome’ and began unraveling the mysterious role it plays in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and led to the development of Gleevec, a groundbreaking drug that made this once-fatal cancer treatable with a single daily pill. Jessica Wapner is a freelance science writer, and her new book chronicling the back story behind the breakthrough, “The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level” was released this month.

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A government lab announced earlier this month that it’s been operating a quantum internet at Los Alamos for the past two years. Which led us to wonder, um, WHAT IS A QUANTUM INTERNET???  Joining us to explain it is Rob Fleischman, Chief Technology Officer at Xero-Cole, and the guy we call to help us understand things like, you know, quantum technology.

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Nearly 10 million cases of food poisoning occur in the United States every year. Moreover, one in five outbreaks of food-borne illnesses are caused by food that people eat in their homes. A new report looked at the parts of the kitchen most and least likely to harbor bacteria and the results might not be what you’d expect. Here to discuss the matter is Lisa Yakas, Microbiologist and Manager of NSF International's  Home Product Certification Program and co-author of the report.

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Over seventy years ago, mankind completed an ambitious map unlike any other - the periodic table of the elements – which contained and organized all the known elements at the time. Like other maps, the period table has changed as the geography of its contents - especially since 1941, when researchers at the University of California, Berkeley produced the first man-made element… plutonium.  Many more elements have been added to the list, and efforts to create and research new ones continues –here to discuss this difficult scientific quest is Rob Dunn, biologist and writer in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University. He recently wrote about element hunting for National Geographic.

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A new study by German researchers sheds light on men’s inability to read the expressions of women.  It seems that males are better wired to interpret the non-verbal signals of other men.  Here to add neurological and historical context to our understanding of male/female communication is Tom Jacobs, staff writer for Pacific Standard, who wrote about the study.

Joe Hanson courtesy of his blog, It's Okay To Be Smart

Drive south of the Massachusetts border this summer and you’re bound to hear the deafening buzz of the 17-year cicada.  From the Carolinas to Connecticut, residents can expect a full-on plague of these large, loud, winged creatures to emerge after nearly two decades of underground hibernation.  We wanted to better understand these bizarre bugs – called “brood-two” cicadas - so we called biologist Joe Hanson, host and writer of PBS digital studios’ It’s Okay To Be Smart.

And if you're interested in a cheap snack this summer, David George Gordon is author of The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook.  We called him to ask, what does a Cicada taste like?

Pebble Kickstarter

Every year, the MIT technology review publishes a list of ten breakthrough technologies. From health care to environmental sustainability to consumer electronics, the list covers at it all. Here to discuss this year’s picks, just released yesterday, is Brian Bergstein, deputy editor of the MIT Technology Review.

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For a long time, outer space was conceptually  and legally a no-man’s land – that changed on October 4th, 1967 when the Soviet Union launched a satellite called Sputnik into Earth’s orbit, triggering an international space race and calls for internationally binding laws to govern  space exploration.  Last amended in 1979, the outer space treaty drafted in 1967 facilitated smooth, peaceful interactions between nations capable of probing space.  As the prospect of civilian space travel and settlement appears more accessible, international space law may be in need of revision. Joining us to discuss the field is Michael Listner, President of the International Space Safety Foundation.

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Thirty years ago, a North American ship dumped ballast water containing comb jellyfish into the black sea and triggered a catastrophic decline in marine life. A decade later, discharged ballast containing a strain of cholera contaminated shellfish of the coast of Peru, killing more than 12,000 Latin Americans. These cases of biological stowaways are being targeted by the United Nations for regulation – but the treaty that would prevent future catastrophes has yet to be ratified. Fred Pearce is the environment consultant for New Scientist discusses the stowaway problem and potential solutions with us.

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We bring you a collection of tasty segments we know you'll love, using the powers of public radio telepathy. 

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As of last month, over forty-thousand patents on DNA molecules have been submitted by private research companies –essentially claiming the entire human genome sequence for profit. The Supreme Court will review the matter at hearing on April 15th, and the outcome could have a significant impact on personalized medicine and scientific research. Joining us is Doctor Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College’s department of Physiology and Biophysics. He’s co-author of a new study that got our attention, on the issue of genomic liberty.

Telepathic Rats

Apr 1, 2013
via telegraph.co.uk/video

Mr. Spock’s Vulcan ability to transfer his consciousness into another being was a technique he used on numerous occasions in the Star Trek franchise. His colleague Dr. McCoy was, on several occasions, an unwitting recipient of the 'green blooded, inhuman' Spock’s consciousness…impossible science fiction, right? Well, maybe not. Recently, we came across a story about scientists creating telepathic rats in a lab at Duke University. On the line to tell us more is Douglas Heaven, who wrote about the experiment for New Scientist Magazine.

Getting Kids Excited About Science On The Seacoast

Mar 23, 2013
Cheryl Senter / NHPR

At the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne Point in Rye, visitors learn about the science and beauty of marine life and the Gulf of Maine. Myra Sallet is a 13-year-old volunteer who particularly likes working with younger kids who come to explore.

Sheryl Rich-Kern

A team of Nashua High School students is trying to create a bacteria-powered battery that runs off a composter. The team is one of 16 around the country that received up to 10-thousand-dollars in seed money from the Lemelson-MIT Program.

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Our niftiest and spiffiest content, all in one great show. This week, a look at the shifting human condition. Holocaust survivors being turned into holograms, a Russian "Swiss Family Robinson" that missed most of the 20th Century, corporate anthropologists, transplant "tourism," the nasty effect of internet comments, and a former professor pens a memoir about being stalked by an ex- student online.

Logan Shannon via Rob Fleischman's Brain

Want to keep your home as signal-secure as the Sistine Chapel will be during the Conclave? 

Today's segment on Faraday Cages really inspired my inner maker-bot so I asked Rob Fleischman to give me instructions on exactly how to make one. It really does seem surprisingly easy to create one out of a few relatively inexpensive materials easily acquired from your local hardware store.

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The internet is a technological forum for public conversation, debate and cross-cultural interaction and their very opposites. Reader comments often take on characteristics more like the roman forum…it’s in the comments section where sniping, shaming and mean-spirited insults are pelted like rotten tomatoes onto a stage. A study published in the journal of computer-mediated communication measured the influence of reader comments on the articles they describe.   Dietram Scheufele, John E. Ross Professor in Science Communication at the University of Wisconsin, Madison discusses reader comments and their influence on the articles they cling to. He recently co-authored an article on the subject for the New York Times with Dominique Brossaard, "This Story Stinks"; the comments section for the article closed with 400 comments.

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Our shiniest and sparkliest content, all in one show-tacular program. This week, a Salon writer contemplates the history of "white Southern defeat," a foremost expert on gluten explores the hype around the latest food trend, New Hampshire author Ben Nugent talks about his new novel, "Good Kids," and illustrator Danny Gregory explains how grief was overcome with art. Oh, and Sean Hurley contemplates the danger of skating on thick ice.

You can also hear the show on SoundCloud:

Two years ago, a press conference was held at NASA headquarters, where it was declared that an alien life form had been discovered in Earth’s backyard. It wasn’t green and it didn’t say “take me to your leader”.  But still, this tiny microbe dubbed “arsenic-life” caused quite a ruckus in the scientific community. Dan Vergano is a science correspondent for USA Today and he joins us to discuss his investigation into the study.

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Word of Mouth's weekly show that wraps up the best of our content in one great-to-listen-to package.

The Kraken Lives!

Jan 16, 2013
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Last summer, a team of scientists and filmmakers from Japan’s National Museum and the Discovery Channel captured the first-ever video of a giant squid in its natural habitat off the coast of Japan. The team recently released a clip of the video, which has gone viral on Facebook.

As long as humans have navigated the seas, the idea that these fierce and slippery creatures are lurking just beneath us has evoked fascination and fear. Their elusiveness plays into our love of the chase, which probably explains why every development in the world of giant squid science is big news.

High Heels Are Sexy and Other "No Duh" Research

Jan 7, 2013
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The high heel—ever the fashion accessory—has always attracted attention. Turns out (insert astonishment here) that they make the wearer more attractive and more feminine. 

In honor of this not quite surprising research, here are our top scientific no-brainers inspired by the Ig Nobel prizes for thoughtful, humorous and sometimes absurd research.

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A study finds that the very act of holding a gun (even a wii gun!) prompts subjects to identify an object held by another person as a firearm...even when it's just a shoe.

We talk to the researcher behind this work, Jessica Witt of Colorado State University.

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TED is the world-wide home for “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and the non-profit organization’s event videos are watched by an eager audience of millions.  People wanted their own local TED experience, and the TEDx phenomenon grew quickly with over 5700 events since starting in 2009.

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