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Scientists are beginning to answer questions about whether our physical appearances and behaviors are linked to the DNA of an extinct species of hominid. Unexpectedly large portions of Neanderthal DNA are being found in the genomes of many modern humans. New evidence suggests that inherited Neanderthal DNA can vary dramatically from individual to individual, with some receiving beneficial genes as well as rejecting others. Listen to hear how these new findings are affecting our understanding of human evolution.
In 2014, astronomers discovered a new dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system. This discovery has changed scientists’ understanding of what exists in the solar system beyond the more well known dwarf planet, Pluto. The new planet is a pink ball of ice, and scientists believe there could be an unseen and undiscovered planet larger than Earth in the far reaches of our solar system.
Human behavior continues to have an effect on marine life under the water. This story highlights how humans make the ocean so noisy. Scientists are worried that the noise is causing a disruption to animals and threatening their existence. Listen to learn what humans are doing and what can be changed.
Oceans around the world see declines in healthy reefs. The increase in ocean temperatures due to global warming is one of the factors that cause this deterioration. Part of the coral reefs are endangered, but some corals are still thriving despite the increase in ocean temperature. Listen to learn who relies on coral reefs and what would happen if they completely deteriorated.
In 1991, hikers discovered a corpse frozen in the Alps. Investigators discovered that the body was 5,300 years old and had been so well-preserved in the ice that it served as a time capsule from the early Copper Age. They named the natural mummy Otzi after the region where he was found. Scientists have examined Otzi’s body and his belongings, which were surprisingly intact, and learned a great deal about his origins, diet, health, and lifestyle. Listen to learn what scientists have discovered about Otzi and his life in the mountains thousands of years ago.
There is debate whether fish like the bluefin tuna are going to go extinct. Some argue that the decline in bluefin results from excessive fishing. However, long time bluefin fishers like Eric Stewart, disagree with this stance as he sees an increasing population of bluefin. Listen to hear from both sides, and how one bluefin tuna can swim across the entire ocean.
The fastest animal on Earth is not a land animal. The peregrine falcon can fly at speeds of over 200 miles per hour when it hunts for its next meal. It is difficult to study something that moves so fast, so scientists have to use different methods to gather information. Listen to a scientist explain how physics and mathematical equations are used to answer questions about the flight of a peregrine falcon.
Scientists have now figured out the genetic code to one of the oldest known plagues. Eight hundred years before the Black Death struck in 1347, there was another plague that occurred in Europe in the 6th century CE. Scientists have now figured out the genetic code to the oldest known epidemic and discovered that the “Justinian plague” was the first outbreak of bubonic plague. Listen to hear about how a farmland gave scientists answers to centuries worth of questions.
Infectious diseases like plague don’t just impact humans, they can spread and decimate animal populations as well. One scientist saw the impact of plague in prairie dog colonies and among black footed ferrets. He questioned whether the scientific understanding of plague cycles and transmission was accurate. Listen to learn what scientists discovered about plague and its larger impact on ecosystems.
Can talking to a plant make it grow faster? In the past, scientists studied the effect that human speech has on a plant’s growth. Those results were inconclusive. But here is another question to ponder: can plants talk to each other? If so, what’s the result? In this audio story, a scientist shares information about the world of plant communication. Listen to hear how plants communicate with each other -- and humans!
The glaciers in the European Alps started melting rapidly in the 1860s. But that didn’t correspond with the warming of the European climate at the end of what is known as the Little Ice Age. That warming didn’t occur until the 1910s. To understand the causes of the glacial melt, scientists considered the possible impact of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 1840s. The recent melting in the Rocky Mountains of America could be caused by the same reasons. Listen to this story to learn about the theory that dust and soot are contributing to how quickly glaciers are melting.
Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by carrying pollen from one flower to another. Many plants that benefit from the help of pollinators bear fruit or nuts, providing healthy foods for people and other animals to eat. A variety of pollinators carry powdery pollen on their bodies from one flower to another, but bees are pollination superstars. Bees live in well-organized colonies and work quickly and productively. Their populations are in decline, however, and scientists are trying to understand why. Listen to hear how queen bees keep hives running smoothly and learn what can be done to help bees survive.
More money is spent on treating cancer than preventing it within the United States. However, scientists are getting closer to finding out if cell growth within our bodies promotes already existing cancer. Scientists are examining microscopic cells to test if certain spices and foods affect the reduction of cell growth. Listen to learn about the budget behind cancer research and how human behavior can increase the chance of cancer.
Do you ever wonder what happens to the trash you throw away? Jenna Jambeck is an environmental engineer specializing in waste management, and she is on a crusade to raise public awareness of plastic waste and its impact on the environment. As she takes a reporter on a tour through a landfill, she explains what happens to different types of trash. Listen to this story to hear about how scientists and their research shape public policy and behavior, and what everyone can do about the problem of too much plastic.
The "cash for clunkers" program was a limited federal government program in the U.S. that gave people credits to trade in their old, gas guzzling, polluting cars for newer ones. The goal was to get older cars off the road to improve pollution. Because the “cash for clunkers” program did not allow the re-sale of old car engines, junkyards were forced to turn the cars into scrap metal. Listen to learn what this scrap metal can be turned into.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of putting liquid into shale to remove natural gas. There's concern that when the drillers get rid of wastewater from fracking, it goes into the ground and causes earthquakes. This is happening in places such as Arkansas, and now residents are speaking up to try to put a stop to it. Listen to learn how residents figured out where the earthquakes were coming from and how they are taking the issue to court.
As the ocean rises, some island nations might disappear and the coastlines change. This is critical for some island nations that are at risk of slipping under water as sea levels rise. Political, economic and personal consequences are factors in how the climate problems in these nations are dealt with. Listen to learn what can be done to prevent these catastrophic changes in our geography.
Small green sea slugs puzzle scientists because they can photosynthesize energy, just like plants. These Eastern Emerald Elysia sea slugs also appear to have several different types of DNA. Scientists are hopeful these sea slugs might help them discover more about human DNA and treat human diseases. Listen to learn how these tiny creatures are teaching us more about genetics.
As plants and animals reproduce over time, they are able to change and adapt to ensure or improve their chances of survival. The evolutionary goal of reproduction is paired with the concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest to determine who will reproduce. From colorful plumage to size, different species use different strategies to ensure reproduction and mate selection. The sand tiger shark has a unique strategy to ensure successful reproduction - and it depends on the timing of mating. Listen to learn more about the ultimate sibling rivalry while in the womb.
The increasing acidity of the oceans could eventually affect your dinner plate. There is a decrease in the number of juvenile oysters known as "seed" due to the increase of CO2 in the ocean. Listen to learn how workers are dealing with the issues and how it affects the seafood we eat.
The apples we are used to seeing in the supermarket are the same basic size and shape and they have familiar flavor profiles. But there are more apple varieties than you might imagine. There's a whole world of biodiversity in apples, but these apples don’t make it to the supermarket. Listen to learn more about America’s history with apples and the apple Renaissance taking place today!
To lower dependency on fossil fuels, some Americans have installed solar panels on their homes to produce their own clean energy. This decision involves a cost-benefit analysis of cost value and environmental impact. In some regions this cost-benefit ratio has been upset by fracking, and the cheap natural gas that it produces. How does supply and demand impact the cost of energy? How does the cost of energy impact people seeking alternatives such as solar energy? Listen to learn how one family has dealt is dealing with this shifting energy landscape.
There is no natural hole to the center of the planet Earth, so seeing what is in the center is difficult. Scientists haven’t ever drilled deeper than 2,000 feet into the Earth’s crust. Seismographs are used to measure earthquakes, which send waves of motion through the earth’s crust. Listen to hear about how scientists have tried to discover what is in the center of our planet.
Ice is an essential component of the ecosystem of the Bering Sea region. For example, sea ice cover can dramatically affect the levels of phytoplankton which has enormous effects on the entire food web. In this public radio story we hear about the health of the Bering Sea ecology by studying scientific observations.
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.
Human beings have a long-standing fascination with dinosaurs that dates back to the discovery of the first fossils. To this day, people of all ages visit museums and fossil sites to study and learn more about these prehistoric creatures. This audio story features the answer to a seemingly simple question: how did the dinosaur age begin? Listen to hear what scientists know about the beginning of the age of dinosaurs. The story may contain a few surprises!
Most people don’t like to spend time thinking about snot, slime, and mucus. Believe it or not, these are important substances that keep humans and animals safe. In fact, there are scientists who study snot! Listen to hear one of these scientists talk about what snot is made of, which animals produce the most slime, and how humans and animals use snot and slime to stay safe and healthy.
Does tickling have a purpose? Why are certain parts of the human body especially sensitive to tickling? Scientists believe the tickling response evolved in early humans to help them protect themselves from predators and insects. Tickling also gives scientists clues about how the brain signals other parts of the body to respond. Listen to hear more about the protective response of tickling, and learn why it is impossible to tickle yourself.
Animals use their whiskers for more than just looking cute. This audio story features an interview with a scientist who studies how whiskers are used by different animals. Listen to hear how animals use whiskers to learn about the world around them and about an experiment that helps scientists learn how whiskers work.
Tsunamis are created by tectonic plates thrusting against each other and then lifting the sea floor and dropping it down, which creates a giant wave. A 2010 earthquake in Chile was caused by a shift in the seafloor. This same shift set off tsunami detection buoys and left scientists waiting for the tsunami to hit. But it ended up being small. Listen to learn more about this quake and how tsunamis are created.
When people started using large nets to capture tuna in the 1960s, many spotted dolphins were killed because they were found living with tuna. Scientists responded by sending “observers” on tuna boats to keep track of the number of dolphins killed. Listen to hear from a scientist who is studying the spotted and spinner dolphins to try to learn how to preserve dolphin populations.
Scientists are creating bacteria batteries by using wastewater to generate electricity. The microbes from sewage can be harnessed to develop microbial fuel cells. The process could provide ways to provide energy in remote places for very little money. Listen to learn how scientists are developing this energy and what they are learning from it.
One of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded struck recently, with minimal damage, no tsunami and it barely made the news. That’s because there are two kinds of earthquakes. This earthquake happened when two tectonic plates moved past each other horizontally, while more damaging earthquakes are caused when one plate slips beneath another. This radio story explains the two types of earthquakes and how they are gradually redefining the boundaries of the tectonic plates.
Global warming is expected to increase summer temperatures making cities even hotter. As concrete and asphalt within cities retain heat, it can increase health risks. The sun mixes with city pollution to create ozone that can irritate people's lungs, especially if they have breathing problems such as asthma. Listen to learn how public health officials are trying to help those living in the hottest areas.
Game wardens in California are now using DNA fingerprinting analysis to help protect illegal poaching of wildlife. There are many species, from large game to shellfish, which are being illegally caught or killed for food. Since there are so few game wardens to patrol the state, they are relying on forensic evidence to help track poachers. Listen to learn about the latest in DNA fingerprinting technology.
As nations look for clean energy alternatives many are turning to wind and solar, but Indonesia is turning to its volcanoes. Indonesia has 130 active volcanoes. These volcanoes generate geothermal heat that is releases through vents and hot springs throughout the country. Power companies are learning to harness and redirect this heated steam into power plants in order to generate electricity. Indonesia’s geothermal energy potential is huge, but start up costs and oil subsidies might prevent this burgeoning clean energy from taking off.
It's easy to imagine what it's like to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. However, the day-to-day life of a shellfish and wetland ecologist can be a little more difficult to understand. Help your students find out what an ecologist does by hearing from Danielle Kreeger. She's the science director for a group that works to protect and improve the Delaware River and Bay. Listen to hear more about her career as an ecologist.
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.
Woolly mammoths were large, elephant-like creatures that lived tens of thousands of years ago, during the last great ice age. The thick, furry coat is one of several traits that gave woolly mammoths an advantage in a very cold environment. Today, the closest biological relative is the Asian elephant, which prefers warmer climates. Scientists were curious about the genetic variations between the woolly mammoth and the Asian elephant, and what might account for the differences between the two species. In this audio story, we hear from a scientist who studied the DNA from the extinct mammoth and compared it to its contemporary descendant. Listen to learn more about what researchers discovered.