Current Event March 30, 2020
Countries that have extensively tested their populations for the COVID-19 virus have generally succeeded in containing the outbreak. Now debate has begun in the U.S. over how much testing makes sense in this country. Although many medical experts say aggressive testing would help to slow the spread of the disease, production of test kits has not kept up with demand. Listen to hear a public health expert explain why he believes testing is important for controlling the spread of COVID-19 and when he expects enough test kits to become available.
This audio story was recorded in mid-March. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
Current Event February 5, 2020
Scientists have developed a new, more accurate way to count a dog’s age in human years. Until now, people have generally believed that one year in a dog’s life equals seven years of human life. But when scientists compared chemical marks on dog and human DNA to see where they matched, they found surprising results about the relationship between dog and human ages. Listen to hear a scientist explain how the new technique works and what the research on canine aging means for dogs and their human friends.
Current Event October 29, 2019
With their sharp teeth and thirst for blood, vampire bats can be frightening. They have been known to bite the feet of sleeping children, and they sometimes spread disease. But these fuzzy, wrinkle-nosed creatures are also loving friends. Listen to learn more facts, both scary and surprising, about the legendary vampire bat.
All animals, including humans, need to sleep. Scientists have several theories that help explain why we sleep. In this episode of But Why, a child sleep psychologist describes the evolutionary theory of sleep and explains how sleep benefits the brain and body. Listen to learn more about the science of sleep and its importance for healthy growth and development.
Current Event September 18, 2019
People have noticed more fireflies, or “lightning bugs,” than usual in Chicago this summer. In this story, a scientist who has been studying these insects explains why he thinks fireflies are currently thriving in the area, what this might mean for local ecosystems, and what can be done to help cultivate the firefly population. Listen to learn more about these popular summer insects and how they “light the way” in the ecosystems where they live.
Current Event September 4, 2019
In order to prevent the California condor from going extinct, conservationists created a captive breeding program for the unique bird species. In the 1980s, they began gathering all the remaining California condors, breeding them, and releasing their offspring into the wild. Listen to learn more about “chick number 1000” and find out why one scientist thinks California condors are among the most remarkable birds in the world.
Current Event August 23, 2019
Should some animals be considered “persons”? One lawyer is working to classify certain animals as “persons” so they can be protected under the law. Specifically, the lawyer wants to send three elephants from the “Big E” fair in New England to a sanctuary, where they will no longer have to give rides to customers. The fair owner disagrees and wants to keep the animals. Listen to hear the arguments on both sides of this complex animal rights issue and then debate: Should elephants be considered property?
Current Event August 15, 2019
Has a dog ever given you “puppy eyes”? If so, you probably did whatever your furry friend wanted. According to a recent study, “puppy eyes” result from thousands of years of evolution impacted by the relationship between humans and dogs. This distinctive expression comes from a specific muscle and creates unique effects that help dogs become “man’s best friend.” Listen to learn more about why “puppy eyes” are so powerful and how studying dogs can help humans learn more about themselves.
Current Event June 7, 2019
Researchers from the United Kingdom now have scientific evidence that using e-cigarettes is significantly more effective for quitting smoking than other methods. However, U.S. public health officials worry that promoting e-cigarettes could increase nicotine addiction. Listen to this story to hear about the research study findings and debate: Is reducing smoking worth increasing nicotine addiction?
Current Event May 30, 2019
Everyone feels stress, which can have a significant impact on health. A new book explains how and why stress affects the body and describes what people can do to lower the negative effects of stress on their health. Listen to this interview with the authors to learn about the evolutionary value of stress and how to keep it from causing burnout in today’s modern world.
Current Event April 18, 2019
Would you like to eat apples that never turn brown? Scientists hoping to genetically modify plants for crop development think they may have found a solution to a major problem they have been facing. The cell walls of plants make it difficult to insert genetic material into plant cells to change how those plant cells work. The solution–carbon nanotubes–was discovered by accident. Listen to learn about the discovery and implementation of this nanotechnology solution and how it could change the way scientists breed new crop varieties.
Current Event February 20, 2019
The governor of Washington state has declared a state of emergency because of a recent measles outbreak. The majority of those sick from measles are children who were not vaccinated. Washington state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Measles is very contagious, and people who are not vaccinated are at high risk of catching the disease when exposed to it. Listen to hear more about the role vaccinations play in public health and what Washington is doing to contain this dangerous measles outbreak.
Current Event January 23, 2019
Photosynthesis is the process that is foundationational for all life, in which plants use sunlight to change water and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen. Scientists have now genetically modified plants to perform that process more efficiently, thereby increasing agricultural productivity. Listen to this story to learn how researchers “hacked photosynthesis” and why it matters.
Current Event January 9, 2019
How do you remember a phone number? At a recent neuroscience conference, brain scientists found themselves debating this surprisingly difficult question. Storing a phone number turns out to be a complex working memory task with broader implications for how the brain works. Listen to this story to hear two different theories about how working memory operates and why understanding this basic function matters.
Current Event December 7, 2018
A Chinese scientist claims to have created genetically edited human babies, igniting a major ethical controversy. The scientist says he used a new genetic engineering technique to modify genes in human embryos to resist HIV infection and then created twin girls from those embryos. His claim has yet to be verified. The scientific community has responded with strong ethical concerns about the risks of this type of human experimentation. Listen to this story to learn more and then debate: Should humans be genetically modified?
Current Event October 19, 2018
Malaria is a devastating disease transmitted by mosquitoes, affecting millions each year. A team of scientists has been experimenting with genetic engineering that would cause the mosquito population carrying malaria to destroy itself. Listen to hear how the genetic engineering process works and how different groups are responding to the controversial experiment, and then debate: Should mosquitoes be genetically modified to self-destruct?
Current Event October 18, 2018
When plastic is thrown away, it crumbles into tiny pieces, known as microplastics. These small bits of plastic, less than 5 millimeters (or 0.2 inches) in size, are polluting rivers, lakes, oceans, and even soil. Scientists are studying how microplastics find their way into the ecosystem and what happens when they do. Listen to hear what research ecologists are doing to learn more about how microplastic waste may be affecting us and our world.