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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.
Colors have certain cultural meanings and associations. Purple, for example, is often associated with royalty or magic. The color green is the universal symbol meaning "go." Throughout the world, drivers understand that a green light means it's safe to move forward. In this audio story, a historian explains how this came to be. Listen to learn why railroads started using green lights to signal trains and where the idea that green means “go” may have first originated.
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.
WNBA superstar Elena Delle Donne has been rookie of the year, a two-time MVP, and an Olympic gold medalist. Her successes on the basketball court have taught her valuable life lessons, but the challenges she has encountered off the court have also deeply affected her. Listen to Delle Donne reflect on what she has learned from sports and family, including how to persevere when things get tough, celebrate differences, and keep life in perspective.
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.
Nic Stone has written a sequel to her bestselling book, Dear Martin, titled Dear Justyce. In Dear Justyce, Quan is a young man in juvenile detention who writes letters to his friend Justyce, who is in college at Yale University. Stone’s books cast light on social justice efforts and issues in the criminal justice system. Listen to hear the author explain why she wrote a sequel to Dear Martin, and learn what she did in order to write authentically about the book’s difficult subject matter.
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.
Being Clem is the final book in the Finding Langston young adult trilogy by Lesa Cline-Ransome. The series focuses on life in mid-1940s Chicago for young Black boys and their families who have moved North during the Great Migration. Being Clem begins with the death of 9-year-old Clem's father in a massive explosion at Port Chicago, California, an event that upends Clem’s life and sets his family on a difficult new path. Listen to an interview with an award-winning author as she shares thoughts about her characters and how her books reveal the challenges of being Black in America.
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.