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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.
Anyone interested in astronomy owes a debt of gratitude to Galileo Galilei, a Renaissance-era astronomer and physicist known as the “father of observational astronomy” and credited with inventing the telescope. This audio story describes our modern-day fascination with astronomy and looking deep into space, first made possible by the Italian inventor. Listen to learn about the secrets of the universe revealed by the Hubble telescope, and hear an astronomer predict a “mind-boggling” new discovery he expects in the future.
Galileo Galilei is known as the “father of modern science.” Fascinated by gravity, motion, and the movement of heavenly bodies, Galileo’s work influences how we understand our own world and the solar system. His contributions include improving the accuracy of telescopes and adding to our understanding of gravity and, most famously, our knowledge that the earth, and other planets, revolve around the sun. The latter claim would make Galileo famous and controversial in 16th century Italy. Listen to learn about the story of Galileo Galilei and why he was sentenced to prison for his revolutionary scientific ideas.
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.
In this episode of the vocabulary-building podcast Good Words, listeners dig deeply into the meaning of the word magnanimous by hearing about how someone donated a kidney to his best friend. Listen to hear more about a quintessential example of a magnanimous act.
The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has published collections of poetry, short stories and essays, books for children, numerous novellas, and—the works for which she is best known—fifteen novels. Atwood’s early novels were mainly works of realistic literary fiction, the sort of novels that literary critics and academics distinguish from “genre fiction” such as mysteries and thrillers, romance novels, and science fiction and fantasy novels. Atwood has written several novels that some critics and readers would call science fiction, but which she prefers to call “speculative fiction.” In this audio story, Atwood discusses her most recent novel, "The Heart Goes Last" and explains why she feels this is not a time for realistic fiction.
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.
In a real-life case that has shades of George Orwell’s "1984," the United States Supreme Court must weigh the public good against privacy. Does putting a GPS monitoring device on the car of suspected criminals violate their privacy? Or does it protect society? Listen to this audio story which addresses the issues in the novel "1984," as you discuss this recent case.
In 1963 there was tension in the South. African Americans were demanding the right to equal treatment under the law. They faced strong, often violent, opposition from Southern authorities. One such conflict arose at the University of Alabama. When the school admitted black students for the first time, Alabama’s governor George Wallace stood at the door to block their entrance. In doing so, he protested desegregation and clashed with President John F. Kennedy’s administration. Listen to hear more about George Wallace’s contentious views and his lasting impact on politics.
George Washington was the hero of the American Revolution with a victory at Yorktown in 1781. He could have used his victory to seize power, but he went home to Mount Vernon. In this audio story, the remarkable characteristics of George Washington are considered. He is a historic figure not only because he was a great general, statesman and politician, but also because he voluntarily gave up power. His action cemented the United States as a democracy, in which citizens, rather than absolute rulers, have the power to govern the nation. Listen to hear how Washington’s actions are analyzed and interpreted.
As the commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution and our country’s first president, George Washington was one of America’s most respected leaders. Washington spent his early years working on his family’s Virginia tobacco farm and inherited the farm as a young man, after his father’s death. He was schooled at home but learned most of what he knew from hands-on experience. Listen to learn more about the early days of George Washington and the experiences that shaped his views and molded his character.
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of the boundaries of voting districts in a way that favors one political party, usually by dividing up groups of opposing voters. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to draw congressional districts. Often, whichever party has power in the legislature gerrymanders in its own favor. The majority of legal experts agree that gerrymandering is unfair, but is there any legal way around the Constitution? In 2015, the United States Supreme Court heard a case about the state of Arizona’s strategy for avoiding gerrymandering. Listen to this audio story to learn about the arguments for and against an approach to redistricting that does not involve the legislature.
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.
Girls Scout cookies have long been a part of American culture. The origins of Girl Scout cookies go back to the sale of cookies during the First World War. Since then, it’s become something of an annual tradition to purchase them, something that connects millions of people to a sense of shared cultural identity. For some kids, selling Girl Scout cookies is a great introduction to the concepts of business and marketing. Listen to learn how young people today are using their entrepreneurial skills to sell cookies, and hear kids describe their visions for other businesses they’d like to start.
The Giver is a story about a world without memories. Years after the novel was published, a movie version was produced, depicting this world as a sterile, emotionless place, where order is thought to prevent conflict. Listen to hear an interview with author Lois Lowry about what sparked the idea for the book, which asks, “Would it be easier if we didn’t have memories?”
Venezuela has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, but its economy has collapsed, and its government isn’t doing too well either. The country is beset by shortages—of everything. Listen to this story to find out how a country rich in natural resources has descended from wealth and democracy into financial and political chaos.
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.
In 1741, New York City was shaken by an uprising led by African slaves. New York was a British colony and had a very large slave population. After a series of fires burned homes in Manhattan, including the Governor’s house, many black slaves were imprisoned, hanged, or burned. There was a great fear that slaves were conspiring against their owners. Listen to hear about the history of the revolt and what the revolt of 1741 can tell us about society today.
We owe a lot to the Ancient Greek civilization. Everything from architecture to medicine to music is based on Greek culture. This audio story describes the influence of ancient Greek culture, specifically in music, and how it has shaped what we know today.
A series of young-adult novels called Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan has struck a chord with millions of readers. In the novels, Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood to train with other demigods (the children of gods and humans). He then goes on various adventures involving Greek mythology mixed in with the modern world. Recently, independent bookstores have been running day camps for children, inspired by the fictional camp from Riordan’s novels. Listen to hear about how an actual Camp Half-Blood harnesses Greek mythology to create learning experiences for kids, and about Greek mythology’s continued appeal today.
Ancient Greek plays called tragedies were often about characters dealing with the aftermath of war. Today, these sad stories may help modern veterans recover from the emotional consequences of returning home from battle. Listen to find out what today’s veterans can learn from Sophocles’ play “Ajax,” written over 2,000 years ago.
Cassandra Gonzalez is a very young single mother. She had her daughter while she was still a teenager, and as she approaches her early twenties she is struggling to balance her desire to enjoy her life with the responsibilities and expectations of motherhood. Listen to learn more about the challenges she faces, and what she does to confront them.
Author Marjane Satrapi created the graphic novel “Persepolis”—later adapted as a movie—about her experience growing up during the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Satrapi was a rebellious teenager, fighting to maintain her beliefs and individuality while living under a government that dictated how its people should live—for example, mandating that women must wear veils. Listen to hear about the Iranian government’s reaction to the movie and how others reacted to it.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was an American anthropologist and writer who focused her research and writing on African American folklore and racial struggles in the American South. In the mid-1930s, Hurston was hired by the Works Progress Administration, an arm of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal aimed at creating jobs, to write a travel guide for Florida. In this story, a present-day writer details what she observed and learned as she made her way through Florida with Hurston’s work as her guide. Listen to learn more about Hurston’s experience working for the WPA and how specific areas in Florida have or have not changed over the past 70 years.
Johannes Gutenberg is one of history’s most important inventors for having invented the printing press. His invention ushered in the “Gutenberg revolution”, leading to the mass production of books, the influence of which on world history is incalculable. One of the most important early printings by Gutenberg was the famous Gutenberg Bible, of which only three “perfect” copies survive. This audio story focuses on the copy at the Library of Congress. The story details efforts to digitally analyze each page and how this analysis is raising new questions about the process by which mass production of books evolved.
Everyone has fears and worries of one kind or another. When dealing with them, it can be helpful to have support and to know that others have similar feelings. The book Guts, by Raina Telgemeier, is the story of Raina, a young girl who is experiencing stomach problems that continue to worsen the more she worries. Raina’s therapist helps her deal with her anxiety and gives her strategies to help her when she’s nervous, just like many therapists do in real life. Listen to hear more about the story Guts and to hear a psychologist talk about dealing with worries.
What defines your identity? Is it what you believe? Where you were born? Or what you look like? In this audio story, African American poet, writer, and artist Claudia Rankine talks about her exploration of the connections between race and blonde hair. Rankine’s initial response to the question, “Why might a person choose to go blonde?” was that people simply wanted to lighten their hair. But she soon wondered if there might be more to it. To find out, she interviewed and photographed women of all skin tones who chose to dye their hair blonde. The result was a gallery exhibit entitled “Stamped.” Listen to hear about what the artist discovered when she explored the connections between race, identity, and blondeness.
In 1791, in what is now known as Haiti, Toussaint Louverture led a revolt against slavery that led to independence from France. In a time of many other attempted revolts, this was perhaps the most famous and successful. It went on for many years until 1804 the independent state of Haiti was formed. Louverture is interesting in that he is a complex and contradictory historical figure. Previously enslaved, Louverture gained his freedom in 1776 and, according to recently discovered evidence, gained wealth and social standing before the revolution. The story shares details about some of the contradictions of Louverture’s life, including the fact that he may have, at one time, been a slave overseer himself. Listen to hear about the revolt in Haiti and more about this politically smart and charismatic leader.
Education for females in Pakistan is not easy. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban, showed the world just how difficult it is to receive an education as a female in Pakistan. Other girls similar to Malala are struggling to become educated and earn the right to have a career in Pakistan. Listen to learn more about Malala and other young Pakistani girls like her who are fighting for their rights to receive an education.
The Harlem Globetrotters are a traveling team of skilled basketball players known for their flashy moves, entertaining shows, and for educating youth about health. They got their start in the 1920s, when Black players were excluded from playing professional basketball in the NBA. The original Globetrotters were five African American semi-pro players who traveled the midwest looking for other teams to play against. Eventually, they challenged the top team in the NBA, twice. Listen to hear the results of those widely watched games and learn how the Harlem Globetrotters helped transform the face of American basketball.
Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist and activist who escaped from slavery, and then returned to the South to lead dozens of other enslaved people to freedom. As a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, a path leading from slave to free states, Tubman never lost a single passenger. She worked for antislavery causes in the North and during the Civil War, served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union army. Listen to learn more about the remarkable life and contributions of American icon Harriet Tubman.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. She escaped and came back to lead hundreds of enslaved people to New York and Canada along the route of the Underground Railroad. She was also a spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Nearly 200 years after her birth, Harriet Tubman is being honored with a visitor center in her name, located near her birthplace in Maryland. The visitor center depicts her life and the Underground Railroad, including interactive images that show her journey to the north. Listen to learn more about Harriet Tubman and this inspirational and historic place.
Angie Thomas’ novel, The Hate U Give, tells the story of Starr, a young woman of color, who turns toward activism after witnessing the murder of her friend Khalil by a police officer when she is 16 years old. The novel is closely modeled after Thomas’ experiences as a student, and on the stories of several of the young men who have been victims of racialized police violence in recent years. Listen to this audio story to hear the author talk about what inspired her to write this groundbreaking novel.
Modern Hebrew is one of the two official languages of Israel. But for 1,700 years it wasn't spoken. This radio story describes how new words are added to the Hebrew language today. It also explores the history of Hebrew, its decline over the centuries to a point where almost no one spoke it, and how it was revived in the 1800s by one dedicated Israelite.
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.
Helen Keller was a pioneer in the disability rights movement. She was also a pacifist, advocate for workers’ rights, and supporter of women’s suffrage. Her life began with childhood struggles when she lost the ability to both see or hear. Thanks to her hard work and that of her teacher Anne Sullivan, Keller would learn to read, write, and communicate through sign language. Listen to learn about the life of Helen Keller, and how she overcame early challenges to become an accomplished author and reformer.
Budgeting, paying bills, and managing bank accounts are all important personal finance skills. One high school in Vermont gave students an opportunity to learn about the world of personal finance in a unique way. A local non-profit group teamed up with employers and financial institutions to create a game that resembled the classic “Game of Life,” and invited students to play the game and learn about money management in the process. Listen to hear about the challenges and insights students had as they participated in the process of learning about personal finance.