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Trees can stand up to 100-mile an hour winds during strong hurricanes. Why do some trees survive and others don’t? The answer may be in a mathematical pattern in tree growth—first observed by Leonardo da Vinci. The rule states that smaller tree branches have a precise, mathematical relationship to the branch they came from. A scientist that is studying how air flows around objects is also studying this pattern in tree branches and looking for an explanation. Listen to hear more about these observations about trees and mathematics in nature.
Which animal holds the title of “man’s best friend”? Of course, the answer is the dog. Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years. Scientists’ understanding of how this came to be has changed in recent years. Additionally, scientists now study dog DNA in the hope of learning more about human DNA. Listen to hear a scientist explain the current understanding of the bond between humans and dogs, and how man’s best friend is helping to uncover mysteries hidden in human DNA.
A new source of energy is being developed by using Michigan's industrial food waste. Using existing technology for converting manure into electricity, these anaerobic digesters are doing their work on pudding packs and canned peaches, among other delicacies. Listen to learn how they are turning waste into electricity.
When getting knocked around by the ocean waves, a scientist realized the only things that were staying in place were the barnacles and mussels. This is due to the natural glue they produce that scientists are trying mimic to create a power glue that is non-toxic and can be used for things such as medical surgeries. Listen to learn more about how scientists developed these experiments and how this discovery could lead to a very useful resource.
The system we use to organize life is called the Linnean system, named after Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. The name of every living thing has a place because of Linnaeus. But now new DNA technology is changing the way to think about the classification system. Scientists are debating whether it is possible to change a system that has been strictly followed for the past few hundred years. Listen to learn how scientists discovered this change in the system.
Earthquakes can have far-reaching consequences not just on homes but on the power infrastructure. A 2008 earthquake in Southwest China left officials and engineers monitoring the structural integrity of enormous hydroelectric dams built to generate power. A fear of flooding caused by a cracked dam led some to wonder if they had taken the strengths of the region, its rivers and irrigation systems, and turned them into a potential threat. Listen to learn how hydroelectric power systems impact places and people.
Across the globe, people consume many different types of foods, but some food choices are better for the environment than others. This audio story introduces cricket protein, a different food source than many of us are used to eating and a more sustainable option than animal proteins such as beef or lamb. Listen to learn more about cricket protein and why it is a good protein choice for the planet.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has inspired widespread fear throughout the U.S. and in many other countries. In reality, the threat of Ebola is actually quite small with only 1,700 deaths since 1976. The rarity of the Ebola virus has given major pharmaceutical companies very little incentive to develop a treatment for the virus given that the market for such a drug would be almost nonexistent. However, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, a small pharmaceutical company based in Frederick, MD, has been given government help to develop a cure for the virus. Listen to learn more about the complexity of the Ebola virus and what is being done to develop a cure.
We live in an age when genetic engineering has the capacity to affect the course of human evolution. Scientists can edit human DNA, which could have profound benefits for society, but this ability also comes with dangers. Editing human DNA can allow for the treatment and prevention of disease, but this modified DNA can also become a permanent part of human genes, passed down from generation to generation. The scientific community met to discuss these issues. While experts agreed that creating a baby with edited DNA is unsafe, the support continued research to see what is possible. Listen to hear more about this issue and what scientists have concluded.
Animals adapt to their environment in ways that protect them from predation and allow them to find prey. Electric eels look like water snakes but use electricity to hunt. New scientific studies have gained insight into how electric eels use different electric volts to find and kill their prey. Listen to learn how the eel’s hunting method is adapted to their environment.
In this story, we hear from the head of Ecovative, a company that uses mycelium fibers from fungi to create useful and environmentally-friendly products. There are advantages of using mycelium fibers in place of plastics and foams, as well as challenges faced by the inventors in trying to create useful products. Listen to this story to hear how the engineering design process is described, as well as how scientists used this method to get to where they are today.
Our bodies react differently to extreme heat depending on how much humidity is in the air. Heat index is a measure of how hot it feels outside, taking into account both air temperature and relative humidity. As the humidity rises, the heat index rises. In dry heat, our sweat quickly evaporates, which helps lower our internal temperature; but on a humid day, our sweat cannot fully evaporate as the air is already damp, and this prevents us from effectively cooling off. It also raises our risk of heat stroke and even death. To illustrate the science, this podcast considers the case of a man who was lost for three weeks in a remote desert in southern Utah and survived. Listen to hear more about dry versus wet heat and how it affects the human body.
Scientists are using computer computations to link cases of extreme weather to global warming. Scientists set out to link major flooding in England and Wales in the fall of 2000 to climate change. This task was undertaken by scientists and citizens alike - running thousands of computer simulations and comparing the result in a world with climate change and one without it. Listen to learn what these simulations found.
Animal species evolve and adapt over time. This ability to change lays the groundwork for human evolution. Over 375 million years ago an important transition in this lineage occurred - animals living in the sea began living on land. This complex process happened gradually over generations and an unusual fish fossil found in the Canadian Arctic may help enhance our understanding of this progression.
Marine biologists are studying the sounds that fish make. They believe that sounds are vital to understanding fish behavior. By studying the sounds that fish make when trying to attract mates and when breeding, biologists may be able to stay clear of them during those times to help them reproduce more productively. This protects the fish from human behavior. Listen to learn how this will help fishermen ensure the species don't die out.
Cats are mysterious creatures to us humans for many reasons. One of these reasons is that cats seem to always land on their feet whenever they fall. In fact, cats can be dropped upside down and still land on their feet, every time. But, how do they do this? It seems to defy the laws of physics. The answer has to do with momentum, and is explained by an expert. Listen to hear about how cats achieve this amazing feat.
Fall in North America, the start of flu season, is when many people receive their yearly flu vaccine. The flu shot differs from other vaccines, such as measles or mumps, which are generally given only once during a person’s lifetime. The flu shot is given every year because the flu virus is constantly changing, and vaccines must keep up with new forms of the virus. Listen to learn more about the flu, including how cold weather helps it spread, which animals can get the flu, and why it’s important to get a flu vaccine each year.
Forests provide much more than public spaces for exercise, relaxation, and enjoying nature. They are complex ecosystems characterized by biodiversity. Forests are vital to Earth’s water cycle and ensure the survival of all living things by absorbing carbon dioxide and transforming it into oxygen. However, forests also provide valuable resources, especially wood and paper, that people need. Listen to an interview with a forestry expert to discover how forests are being managed to provide both resources for consumers and lasting benefits to the environment.
Frogs are well adapted to their environment. They absorb water and oxygen through their skin which allows them to eat and breathe underwater. They are powerful jumpers and good hunters. But perhaps their most unusual adaptation is metamorphosis, the process of changing from tadpole to frog. Metamorphosis helps frogs live successfully in both wet and semi-dry environments, vary their diets, and avoid predators. Listen to hear an animal scientist explain how metamorphosis helps frogs survive, and why they eat their own tails in the process.
Fungi play a crucial role in decomposition. As they follow this process, fungi release nutrients that the trees around it absorb. Eventually, the fungi attach itself to the roots of the nature around them and begin the cycle of giving and getting to keep the environment in balance. Listen to learn how fungi first colonized land and what would happen if fungi were not able to spread.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge area of ocean where hundreds of millions of tons of plastic garbage floats, brought there by a swirling ocean current. Much of the waste comes from single use items like plastic bags, straws, and water bottles. As time passes the trash breaks into smaller fragments but never disappears entirely, posing a threat to ocean life. Listen to hear a reporter describe what this “island of plastic” looks like, and learn what businesses and individuals, including young people, can do to help clean up ocean pollution.
Scientists say it’s nearly certain that human activity and fossil fuels are warming the planet. The mainstream discussion focuses on alternative energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions. But the field of geoengineering is looking for more large scale and proactive things we can do to offset warming. Some see this as an exciting way to help the planet, others as a threat. Listen to learn about the strategies geoengineers are exploring to prevent further global warming.
A geologist has turned decades worth of data into music. He created a multitrack sequencer for data instead of music. The data and music show a tight correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide and the amount of ice on the earth. Listen to hear what climate change sounds like and how it is helping scientists understand how humans affect our climate.
Scientists have wondered why giant squid and colossal squid have such enormous eyes. Their eyes are the size of basketballs. Their thinking about this question has been hampered by the rarity of these animals and the difficulty of preserving eye specimens. Using some clever techniques and luck, researchers have been able to measure the size of giant squid eyes. This has led to an interesting hypothesis about why their eyes are so enormous.
Throwing a curveball is one of the most difficult pitches in baseball. Bill Lee, a former pitcher for the Red Sox, explains how important it is to consider physics when trying to throw a curveball. Listen to learn how objects travel through space and how gravity affects a curveball.
Gravity keeps our feet on the ground, it creates a curve ball, and it can also be used to find new planets. The star at the center of our solar system maintains life on Earth and its gravitational pull creates the orbit of planets. But our sun is just one of many stars in an ever expanding universe. Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to our solar system and new technology is allowing us to better understand our neighbor. Observations of Alpha Centauri date back to 1592, but it wasn’t until 2012 that astronomers in Chile were able to identify a planet orbiting one of the stars in Alpha Centauri because of its gravitational wobble. Listen to learn more about the properties and potential of this new planet.
Even though it is the weakest of all forces, gravity is why we exist. Gravity keeps the earth, moon, and sun in orbit. It keeps us on the ground instead of floating in space. Listen to hear how gravity affects the velocity in rockets, the shapes of planets, the trajectories of baseballs, and even the strength of the human leg bones.
Heirloom seeds are more than 50 years old and are not genetically modified. Jere Gettle, author of "The Heirloom Life Gardener," is particularly fascinated by heirloom seeds and he noticed they were being dropped by seed catalogs in the 1980s. The plants they produce are typically different from what we see in the grocery store. Listen to learn more about Gettle’s fight to bring heirloom plants back to our dinner tables.
Cells are used in research to make scientific discoveries. A certain set of cells are among the most widely used in biomedical research worldwide. These HeLa cells have been used to research almost every disease and have played an important role in many scientific breakthroughs including the development of the polio vaccine. The cells come from a woman named Henrietta Lacks who has been mentioned in more than 70,000 published scientific papers. Listen to hear more about how these cells are used and the issues of privacy with her family.
There is no minimum age for scientific discovery. Young scientists ask questions about topics that have puzzled humans for hundreds of years. This audio story introduces a high school senior who uses math to help astronomers search for undiscovered planets. Listen to hear more about this project and other amazing work done by Ana Humphrey.
Picture this: a gardener hears a humming sound in a garden full of flowers. What is the source of the noise? It might be a hummingbird! These tiny creatures fly so fast that they can be hard to see. Listen to hear a scientist describe the unique features of a hummingbird, including extra fast wing speed and a quick metabolism, that make them expert flyers, and learn how to attract them to a garden.
Animals communicate through sounds, touch, visual signals, and scent, and each species has its distinct communication methods. In this audio story, Earth Ranger Emma presents examples of communication among various species, including elephants, and explains the messages and emotions that are being communicated. Listen to learn how and why animals communicate, how animal sounds reflect an environment’s health, and how people can safely respond to communications from animals.
When a person lays their head down to sleep, their brain does not stop thinking. The thoughts they have while they sleep are their dreams. Sleep allows the brain to recover from the work it does during the day. While the brain recovers, the logical part of the brain takes a break, which means during dreams anything can happen. Listen to a psychiatrist explain more about how dreaming works and how someone can have the ability to influence their dreams.
The Grand Canyon has amazed visitors and scientist alike since it was discovered. The debate over what created this geologic wonder has been reignited in recent years. Is the Grand Canyon 6 million years old or 70 million? Listen to learn more about this debate between two geologists who have very opposing viewpoints.
The phrase “no two snowflakes are alike” is actually scientifically accurate. Snow forms high in the atmosphere, and despite its uniform appearance, each snowflake is different based upon where and how it was formed. Although snowflakes are non-living, they grow and change from the time they are formed to the time they reach the ground. Listen to learn how snow is formed and why it exists in some places but not others.
Time is something that every person on the planet thinks about every day. It is talked about like a commodity: “spend time” or “waste time” are phrases that are often used. But, what is time? Scientists have grappled with this subject for a long “time”! Listen to hear more about time and why the current system is used to keep track of time.
Language is complex, but children are natural language learners. Language itself is unique to humans, and many scientists want to know more about how humans are capable of learning language. Some theories suggest humans are born to be able to process and use language; however, a researcher studying language learning in children thinks differently. He has been studying the sounds, grammar, vocabulary as well as eye movements and brain activity in children, and he has made some discoveries. Listen to learn more about language research that helps to explain why we have language and how we learn it.
A United Nations report in 2014 shows that human activities are changing the planet. The scientists are more confident in their conclusions that humans are causing global warming. There are rising sea levels, higher temperatures and impacts on wildlife. This conversation with a public radio reporter looks at the long term trend in global temperatures and what humans can do to reverse the trend.
Hurricanes are huge storms that can cause major damage and destruction. Scientists predict that hurricanes will gain in strength due to climate change. Since nothing can be done to stop hurricanes, scientists are working on methods to better predict hurricanes so that people can prepare well in advance. This audio story describes how climate change affects hurricanes. Listen to hear how hurricanes affect land and why predicting a hurricane is so challenging.
The Tibetan Plateau is one of the highest and coldest places on Earth. Many of the world’s tallest mountains, including Mt. Everest, is on the Tibetan Plateau. For millions of years, animals living in this region have needed to adapt to extremely cold temperatures. When an ice age took over Europe and Asia about 2.5 million years ago, this adaptation may have given animals living on the plateau an evolutionary advantage. Listen to hear about the discovery of the woolly rhino on this plateau and the new theories resulting from the discovery.