Soon after the sun sets on winter nights, if you live in the northern hemisphere you can look into the sky and find the Orion constellation near the eastern horizon. Astrophysicist Sarafina El-Badry Nance has always been drawn to a particular star in Orion: Betelgeuse, a red supergiant nearing the end of it's life on the hunter's left shoulder. But what stages of life did Betelgeuse — or any star — go through before it reached this moment? Regina G. Barber talks to Sarafina about three winter...
It's easy to overlook the soil beneath our feet, or to think of it as just dirt to be cleaned up. But soil wraps the world in an envelope of life: It grows our food, regulates the climate and makes the planet habitable. "What stands between life and lifelessness on our planet Earth is this thin layer of soil that exists on the Earth's surface," says Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a soil scientist at the University of California-Merced. In honor of World Soil Day tomorrow, we're revisiting our...
Sleep. It's an essential biological function that has long intrigued scientists. Researchers have studied everything from mice to fruit flies in the lab to get a better understanding of what happens when animals sleep — and why so many do it. This week, scientists finally added one piece to the elusive sleep puzzle: How wild chinstrap penguins sleep amid their noisy colony. Turns out, they do it over 10,000 times in seconds-long bursts throughout the day — totaling 11 hours when all is said...
In which we meet the pioneers of one of the most exciting — and controversial — fields of biomedical research: in vitro gametogenesis, or IVG. The goal of IVG is to make unlimited supplies of what Hayashi calls "artificial" eggs and sperm from any cell in the human body. That could let anyone — older, infertile, single, gay, trans — have their own genetically related babies. As such, the field opens up a slew of ethical concerns. But that isn't stopping researchers from pressing forward. So,...
As kids, some of us dream of multiple careers: being an astronaut AND the next president. Or digging up dinosaurs AND selling out concert stadiums. As we get older, there's pressure to pick one path. But what if we didn't have to? After all, John Urschel didn't. He's a mathematician and professor at MIT. But before that, he played football for the Baltimore Ravens. Today on the show, Monday night football! Host Regina G. Barber talks to Urschel about linear algebra and following his dream of...
Walking into Karen Chin's office at the University of Colorado, Boulder, one of the first things you might notice is that petrified poops are everywhere. They're in shallow boxes covering every surface and filling up shelves, cabinets and drawers. She's a leading expert in the fossils, known as coprolites. They delight her because of what they reveal about the ancient eating habits and food webs of dinosaurs — rare insights for the paleontology world. This episode, she talks with Short Wave...
Turkey is the usual centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner, but it's all too easy to end up with a dry, tough, flavorless bird. For NPR science correspondent Maria Godoy, it got so bad that several years ago, her family decided to abandon the turkey tradition altogether. Can science help her make a better bird this year? That's what she hopes as she seeks expert advice from food science writers and cookbook authors Nik Sharma and Kenji López-Alt. Want to know what other delectable food...
Every five years, the United States government releases the National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive analysis of how climate change is affecting the country. The fifth assessment was recently released. It's the first to include includes standalone chapters about climate change's toll on the U.S. economy, as well as the complex social factors driving climate change and the nation's responses. Climate reporters Rebecca Hersher and Alejandra Borunda walk us through three major takeaways from...
How much salt is too much salt? Most likely, the amount you're consuming. A new study published this week in the journal JAMA found that cutting one teaspoon of salt a day results in a decline in blood pressure comparable to taking medication. Plus, other science news from this week, like the oldest confirmed black hole and how climate change and pollution are causing a big imbalance in the sexes of turtles. Got other science news for us to consider? Email us at [email protected]
Saturday, the entire coastal town of Grindavik, Iceland was evacuated. That's because over the weekend, the country experienced nearly 2,000 earthquakes within 48 hours. And they've kept coming since then – in swarms. Scientists think the quakes are indicative of magma moving closer to the surface in the country's southwestern peninsula and that a local volcano could erupt at any moment. Today on the show, host Regina G. Barber talks to volcanologist Diana Roman about the science behind these...
In the 18th century the world was focused on Venus. Expeditions were launched in pursuit of exact measurements of Venus as it passed between Earth and the Sun. By viewing its journey and location on the Sun's surface, scientists hoped to make a massive leap in scientific knowledge. With a little help from math, Scientist in Residence Regina G. Barber recounts how humanity came closer to understanding our cosmic address — and relative distances to other planets — in the solar system. If you...
AI is popping up everywhere nowadays. From medicine to science to the Hollywood strikes. Today, with computer scientist and AI pioneer Fei-Fei Li, we dig deeper into the history of the field, how machines really learn and how computer scientists take inspiration from the human brain in their work. Li's new memoir The Worlds I See traces the history of her move to the U.S. from China as a high school student and her coming-of-age with AI. Host Regina G. Barber talks to Li about her memoir,...
If you've ever looked up at the clouds and wondered where they came from, you're not alone. Atmospheric researcher Lubna Dada is fascinated by the mystery of how clouds form and what role they play in our climate. Today, host Aaron Scott talks to Dada about a recent study on the role of trees in cloud formation, and how this data will improve our current climate models. Want more stories on the environment or climate change? Email us at [email protected]
Scientists have mapped less than 25% of the world's seafloor. Experts say that getting that number up to 100% would improve everything from tsunami warnings to the Internet and renewable energy. That's why there's currently a global effort to create a full, detailed map of the seabed by 2030. Today, we talk to Dawn Wright, a marine geographer and chief scientist at the Environmental Systems Research Institute about this effort.Curious about ocean science? Email us at [email protected]
What your parents didn't tell you about pulling an all-nighter? It just might ease depression for several days. At least, that's what researchers found happens to mice in a study published in the journal Neuron Thursday. Most people who've stayed up all night know the "tired and wired" feeling they get the next day. Scientists know this feeling can have a strong antidepressant effect in people that lasts for several days, even after the other changes wear off. But this new study may help...
Every year, the USDA drops millions of oral rabies vaccines across fourteen states, mostly along the eastern seaboard. In urban and suburban areas, they use vehicles, but in rural areas, they drop the vaccines from planes. Host Regina G. Barber talks to USDA wildlife biologist Jordona Kirby about the agency's goal to wipe out rabies in one population in particular: raccoons.
Antibiotics have changed the world. They've made it possible to treat diseases that used to mean anything from discomfort to death. But no new classes of antibiotics have made it to the market since the 1980s. What if humans' closest, ancient relatives held the answer to antibiotic resistance? Some scientists want to discover new antibiotics using machine learning ... and some very, very old relatives of humans. Host Aaron Scott talks to César de la Fuente about using computers to discover...
The human brain has more than 170 billion cells. A newly published atlas offers the most detailed maps yet of the location, structure and, in some cases, function of more than 3,000 types of brain cells. The atlas could help scientists understand what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom and the roles different brain cells play in disease. Science correspondent Jon Hamilton talks to host Regina G. Barber about the findings from this new map, a product of the NIH's BRAIN initiative....
Some people keep dogs in their backyards. In the Florida Keys, some residents have deer the size of a golden retriever in their yards. As sea levels rise and salt water climbs higher on the islands, it's shrinking habitat for this deer — which already has an estimated population of at most 1,000. Today, host Regina G. Barber hears from reporters Nate Rott and Ryan Kellman about the Key deer, and how rising sea levels are forcing wildlife managers to ask big questions about the future of the...
As a kid, host Aaron Scott would dress up for Halloween as an older version of himself — complete with a cane, a set of polyester britches and painted gray hair. These days, that costume is becoming a bit more of a day-to-day reality. At least, the gray hair is. So today, in honor of all you out there flirting with gray hair, whether for a witch costume or just that exciting and terrifying thing called aging, we're digging into why hair turns gray.
We're about to hit peak Orionid meteor shower! According to NASA, it's one of the most beautiful showers of the year. The Orionids are known for their brightness and speed — they streak through the sky at 66 km/s! And today, we learn all about them — where they come from, what makes a meteor a meteor and how to get the best view of them this weekend.Have a cosmic question? Email us at [email protected]
That spider you squished? It could have been used for science! Today, we're bringing you Halloween a little early – Short Wave style! Host Regina G. Barber talks to Anil Oza about the scientists reanimating dead spiders: How they do it and why this might one day become a cheap, green way to do delicate science. Listen to Short Wave on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.
Artificial intelligence can code computer programs, draw pictures and even take notes for doctors. Now, researchers are excited about the possibility that AI speeds up the scientific process — from quicker drug design to someday developing new hypotheses. Science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel talks about his visit to one protein lab already seeing promising results. Have an AI query? Send us your questions to [email protected]
Microbiologist Monsi Roman joined NASA in 1989 to help design the International Space Station. As the chief microbiologist for life support systems on the ISS, Roman was tasked with building air and water systems to support crews in space. That meant predicting how microbes would behave and preventing them from disrupting missions. And so, on today's show, host Aaron Scott talks to Roman about microbes in space: the risks they pose and where they might take us in the future of space travel....