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What is electricity? How does it work? Where does it come from? Everyone has heard of electricity, but most people don’t understand much about it. Scientists have studied electricity for centuries, and they still have many unanswered questions! Listen to an electrical engineer explain some of the things we know, and still don’t know, about electricity.
Executive privilege, or the idea that the president has the right to withhold sensitive information from the public, goes all the way back to the very first president of the United States. The idea has become increasingly relevant lately, as since President Nixon, several presidents have invoked executive privilege in an effort to cover up scandals and other damaging information. Listen to learn about executive privilege, how it works, and when it can and can’t be used.
Nurses save lives. They practice in a variety of traditional healthcare settings, and classifications of nurses earn different salaries. On average, nursing salaries in the United States are 7% higher than the average job salary nationwide. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nursing will be among the ten fastest growing occupations of the next decade. For people who want a good-paying, stable nursing job, one class stands in the way: Anatomy and Physiology. Listen to learn how one technical college adapted its nursing program to increase its rate of student success.
Books allow us to transcend the world we live in, but they also help us to connect to the people and places around us. In this audio story, several young students at a school in Washington D.C. talk about the plot, characterization, themes, and motifs in the book “When You Reach Me.” The author, Rebecca Stead, discusses what motivates and inspires her to write. This book includes clues to solve a puzzle, mysterious notes, time travel, and the excitement of figuring out a book as you read it. Listen to more about the novel, “When You Reach Me” as these students discuss the elements of fiction and question the author about her own creative process.
One of the challenges of learning history is that, without visuals, it is sometimes difficult to know what people, places, or events looked like. In American history, this is true of the Revolutionary War. As a companion piece to his book 1776, writer David McCullough includes an illustrated edition, using art to give readers some idea of what the Revolution looked like. In this audio story, McCullough is interviewed about his book. He discusses some of the most famous paintings of the Revolution, the motivations of the artists, and the historical accuracy of some of the works of art.
America’s Founders borrowed from the ancient Roman Republic when they created the U.S. Government. The Senate, separation of powers, and checks and balances all came from the Romans. The Founders hoped that America would one day be as strong as the great Roman Republic had been. But every empire rises and then falls, and the author interviewed in this audio story says that Americans today can learn a lot about where the United States may be heading by studying the fall of Rome.
Many Internet services are free: email, Internet search, and maps, for example. But what if you had to pay to use them? An economist sets out to discover how much people value various Internet services by asking how much they would need to be paid to give them up. It’s an example of a core economic principle: decision making. Listen to find out which Internet services people value most.
A group of Asian Americans were asked the question: Do you consider yourself brown? Some said “yes,” others said “no,” and the reasons they gave for their answers varied. For some, their answer was based solely on their skin tone. For others, their answer was more complicated and took into account cultural and social factors. In this audio story, a group of Asian Americans discuss the discrimination they have faced based on their skin color. Listen to learn more about why some Asian Americans do or do not consider themselves “brown” and how the way others view them affects their lives.
In modern times, we often remember the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra as a beautiful temptress largely defined by the men in her life. But a new biography presents another, more complicated picture of this intriguing historical figure. The author reminds us that historians have agendas and biases, and that Cleopatra’s traditional depiction may not be complete or entirely accurate. He explains that Cleopatra was a skilled diplomat and leader, who was very well-educated, strategic, and articulate. Listen to learn more about the many, surprising sides of Cleopatra.
William Shakespeare is commonly considered one of western civilization's greatest playwrights. But a persistent debate continues to rage around his legacy. Did the man we know as William Shakespeare actually write all those poems and plays? This story features two Shakespearean actors who have come to doubt the author. Listen to learn more about the debate surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare's works.
People of all ages laugh, even babies as young as a few months old, although the things they laugh at change as they reach different stages of life. Scientists believe that laughter is a way for people to socialize, have fun, and communicate positive feelings to others like trust and acceptance. Listen to hear a researcher explain what makes babies of different ages laugh and why people sometimes laugh at jokes that are not really funny.
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.
Wildlife in the city? It may seem odd to hear the word “wildlife” linked to the word “city.” However, animals live wherever they can find food and shelter. Cities can provide both for many types of wildlife. Animals use their survival skills to turn just about any environment into their home. Listen to hear a scientist explain which animals can be found in suburbs and cities and how they adapt to these environments.
President John F. Kennedy’s supports and efforts to jump-start a U.S. space program were in response to the perceived threat from the Soviet Union. Kennedy did not want the Soviets to be the first to send a human being to the Moon. This public radio story describes the differences between the Soviet and the U.S. space programs and why it was successful.
Today witches are a popular Halloween costume. But in the 16th and 17th centuries, many women were accused of witchcraft, which was a capital offense. The witch trials in Salem led to the execution of 19 people. Why were these women targeted? They often didn’t fit the image you may have of someone with supernatural powers. They were mostly poor and without power or influence, but they instilled fear in the community. Have we learned from the scapegoating and stereotyping hundreds of years ago? Listen to this radio story to hear the social and cultural conditions that led to the Salem witch trials, and the allure of what is dangerous and powerful.
Wolves often get a bad rap, especially in fairytales. But are they really as bad as they seem? Yes, wolves are top predators, but there is much more to these awesome animals than simply their hunting habits. Listen to an expert explain fascinating details about wolves, from the complexity of their packs to how the dogs and wolves of today stem from the same extinct species.
Most of the more than 7,000 US women who served in Vietnam were nurses. In this public radio story you hear first hand from a woman who was a nurse in Vietnam. The experience had a strong impact on her life. She later realised she suffered post traumatic stress disorder. After visiting the Vietnam Memorial she created the Vietnam Women’s Memorial because she says she believes in the healing power of memorials.
Published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in a near future version of America. It tells the story of Offred, a woman living in the theocratic, authoritarian country of Gilead. More than 30 years since it was published, a TV adaptation sparked renewed interest in the novel. Listen to three journalists discuss how Offred’s story relates to contemporary American society.
Farming in California has become more difficult in recent years as there aren’t enough people to do the arduous work involved in farming. Incentives of higher pay don’t always work to attract enough workers. So the owner of one California farm has adjusted to this labor shortage in a few different ways and reached a conclusion about the cause of his problem and the best way to solve it. Listen to find out about the surprising decision he has made.
The World Trade Organization is an international organization that regulates global trade. Established in 1995, the WTO oversees trade disputes among 164 member nations that agree to abide by its decisions. The goal is to create a level playing field in international trade. Critics of the WTO complain that, among other things, adherence to an international organization is a threat to a nation’s sovereignty. President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of the WTO and America’s participation in it. This audio story explores the tension between the Trump administration and the WTO, with its potential global consequences.
In World War I a group of American airmen called Flyboys gave air support to the war in France. Their assistance during the Meuse-Argonne offensive was key in forcing the Germans to agree to an armistice. This public radio story looks at how Europe still remembers the Americans and their cooperation in the war at yearly commemorations.
The massacre of more than 150 Sioux Native Americans in 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota was the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. A book was written about this in 1970 titled "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", and a movie was recently made. They tell the story of the efforts of the United States government to assimilate Native Americans into American life, which nearly destroyed the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples. Listen to hear more about how this history of mistreatment is portrayed in the movie about these events.
"A Wrinkle in Time," a famous novel by Madeleine L’Engle, is the story of teenager Meg Murry. Meg is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother and friend as they try to rescue her father. When it was originally published in 1963, no publisher knew how to promote it. What is it about “A Wrinkle in Time,” and why is it so controversial 50 years after its publication?
The Art of Secrets is a young-adult novel focused on Saba Khan, a high school sophomore and an American of Pakistani descent living in Chicago. Saba’s high school rallies behind her family after a suspected hate crime destroys their apartment. This event changes Saba’s life in unexpected ways. Listen to an interview with the author to hear about how he used different perspectives to help readers understand the story in a way that the characters within it cannot.
Throughout history, spies and intelligence gathering have been essential in war. In Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, spies were important to gathering information and organizing resistance. Perhaps the most successful spy of the day was Virginia Hall, who worked for both British and American intelligence agencies to aid the Allied war effort. Her efforts against Hitler’s secret police prompted the Germans to label her “most dangerous spy.” Listen to learn about the remarkable life of Virginia Hall, including how she disguised herself to fool the enemy and how being a woman affected her career.
Just one day after President Obama urged citizens of the United States “to reject discrimination against Muslim-Americans,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2015 suggested that all Muslims be blocked from entering the U.S. He later softened his position. But some say that Trump’s idea was no different than when Japanese-Americans were detained by the U.S. government in internment camps during World War II. Xenophobia, a fear or dislike of people from other countries, may be triggered by real events, such as crime or terrorist attacks, but is often shown to be irrational. Listen to hear how the power of fear and anger can lead to hate and discrimination.
One of the most enduring novels written for young adults is "Anne of Green Gables," by Lucy Maud Montgomery, published in 1908. It was one of the first YA novels to feature a strong, unconventional female lead—Anne, the unwanted, unloved, but unbowed orphan who grabs hold of a chance for a new life and refuses to let go, no matter how difficult things get. Before Anne, most heroines were beautiful and angelic. "Anne of Green Gables" is over 100 years old, but its heroine measures up to any female lead contemporary YA novels have to offer.
Dystopian fiction is tremendously popular with young people all over the US right now. Books like "The Hunger Games" dominate bestseller lists for young people. But what is so appealing about this genre? This story features commentary from teens themselves and from scholars who study the subject. Listen to find out why this genre has such an impact on its audience.
Zora Neale Hurston was an anthropologist, folklorist and writer. She had a deep love for Eatonville, Florida, the town where she grew up and one of the first all-black towns created after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. In this story you’ll hear a commentator explain that Hurston’s writing “instantly transports” her to Hurston’s world, and she is moved and inspired by the strong women characters Hurston created. Listen to learn more about Hurston and why the commentator believes the author deserves the recognition she has received.