Science Friday

Fridays from 2pm to 4pm
  • Hosted by Ira Flatow

Science Friday is a weekly science talk show, broadcast live over public radio stations nationwide. Each week is focused on science topics that are in the news. The show is dedicated to bringing an educated, balanced discussion to bear on the scientific issues at hand. Call 1-800-989-8255 to join the conversation.

The next time you're visiting a website and your computer’s fan starts going crazy out of nowhere, there could be nefarious activity behind it.

New study sheds light on the debate over the origins of flamingos in Florida

Mar 10, 2018

Florida. Flamingos. The alliteration rolls right off the tongue. Yet for years there has been a question raised about whether the birds are actually native to the Sunshine State — a situation that could have major implications for the management of the species.

The ozone hole over the Antarctic is beginning to fill up. Here's the bad news.

Mar 4, 2018

Before the term global warming entered our collective lexicon, environmentalists and scientists had expressed major concern over the depletion of the ozone, the layer of gas that protects the Earth from extremely harmful solar ultraviolet (UV) rays. 

This heightened awareness led to the international adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, in which major restrictions were placed on products that contained chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — thought to be the biggest culprit in the matter.

Giant chocolate industry depends on tiny insects for survival

Mar 3, 2018

Chocolate is a global industry worth about $100 billion a year. What gets overshadowed in all those sweet treats and big profits are the bugs responsible for it all.

Yes, bugs.

Chocolate comes from cacao beans, which come from the tiny flower of the cacao plant. Those plants are pollinated by even smaller flies called biting midges. For years, the flies have been the focal point of research by Samantha Jay Forbes, a doctoral candidate in agriculture and environment at James Cook University in Australia.

A cure for the flu? It could be as simple as sitting under a lamp.

Feb 27, 2018

It’s an annual rite of fall and winter that everyone tries to avoid: flu season. This season, the influenza virus has been particularly brutal in the United States, claiming the lives of 84 children in the US alone.

A new study has recently come out could shed some new light — so to speak — on how to kill the flu bug before it has the ability to show up in your system.

Naked mole rats may not be the most attractive creatures on the planet, but what they lack for in looks, researchers say, they more than make up for in genetic wonders.

The list of biological anomalies tied to these small rodents is long and jaw-dropping. They include the ability to survive 18 minutes without oxygen, a practical immunity to cancer and Alzheimer’s and other diseases associated with aging. They also have the ability to live longer than any animal its size — up to 30 years.

In early November, Strava — a technology company that can track athletic activity for its users through its website and app — released an article on Medium that proudly announced its first major global “heat map” that the company had released since 2015.

The article contains a list of astounding numbers including a billion activities, three trillion latitude/longitude points, 13 trillion rasterized pixels, 10 terabytes of raw input data and 17 billion miles covered.

For years, China has been associated with dirty, smog-filled air — so much so that it has become custom for some hotels to give guests complementary masks. Recently, though, the country has started making large strides to clear the air.

It’s been said that music is a universal language. To a group of researchers who are mostly from Harvard University, it’s more than a trite saying: It's an idea that formed the basis of extensive work to get a better feel for that universality — regardless of cultures or geography.

Do songs share social functions around the world, such as being used to meet people at a dance, calm fussy infants or heal illness? Do they have convergent or contextual features such as the instruments being used, the gender of the singers or a similar melodic or rhythmic complexities?

How much do you know about jellyfish? OK, you might have been stung by one that one time on vacation in Florida, but what other information do you have?

The general public has based its relationship with the aquatic animals on fear. First, there is the fear of being stung — and now there is a growing concern that warmer waters caused by climate change will result in a surge in the creatures in waters worldwide

In spite of a request from the director of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for Americans to get vaccinated, only 40 percent of the US population had received the flu vaccination by November.

Looking for a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone. More than a third of adults aren’t getting the recommended seven hours of sleep (never mind the ideal eight), according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014.

It’s one of the most famous cases of mistaken identity in the literary world: Frankenstein. When the name comes up, a majority of people think of a tall, green fellow with a flat head and bolts in his neck — an image that began with the original “Frankenstein” movie in 1910. Or you may think of the 1931 film with the title character played by Boris Karloff.

Predictive algorithms have been aiding us for years (see several of Google’s products, for instance) under the guise of making our lives easier by helping us make decisions.

But when do predictive algorithms cross the ethical line? Recently more jurisdictions at the state and local levels in the US have been buying software products from companies that use such algorithms along with data mining to make decisions that could have irreversible impacts on individuals and communities — such as determining jail sentences and predicting public policies.

As cold weather grips a majority of the country, it may be easy to think that all life is dead when the ground is frozen, at least until spring breathes new life into the plant systems and surrounding environments.

The signs have been there all along when it comes to using mechanical stimulation to stimulate regeneration and growth of tissue by simply pulling or pushing on cells. Think of a pregnant woman whose womb expands as the baby grows or a doctor telling a patient to lift weights to fight off osteoporosis by promoting bone growth.

How much do you know about the science that goes into making bourbon? One would think the citizens of Kentucky — the epicenter of the corn-based whiskey — would know more than the average Joe on the topic.

At a taping of PRI’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow earlier this year at the Brown Theatre in Louisville, two teams composed of local bourbon enthusiasts tried their luck at a few questions connected to the popular hard liquor. The teams’ names reflected two the most popular bourbon-based concoctions: Hot Toddy and Old Fashioned.

Get out and get some fresh air. This phrase has been uttered for decades in an attempt to promote the exercise of walking, which has always been thought to have health benefits for nearly everyone's cardiovascular system.

Scientists warn we may be creating a 'digital dark age'

Jan 1, 2018

You may think that those photos on Facebook or all your tweets may last forever, or might even come back to haunt you, depending on what you have out there. But, in reality, much of our digital information is at risk of disappearing in the future.

Unlike in previous decades, no physical record exists these days for much of the digital material we own. Your old CDs, for example, will not last more than a couple of decades. This worries archivists and archaeologists and presents a knotty technological challenge.

These days it is hard not hear about the latest massive wildfires that have ravaged Southern California. The Thomas fire, in particular, has now become the largest of its kind in the state’s history after destroying more than 280,000 acres and thousands of homes and buildings.

While a warming climate and the record drought that the state suffered from 2012 to 2015 certainly appear to be major culprits for the rash of monstrous blazes, the human/urban component may shoulder the biggest blame, according to new research.

Many of us have our cellphones within an arm’s reach at all times. It’s either in a pocket or a purse or maybe just a few inches from our face on a daily basis. Given how tethered we are to these devices, scientists have been studying any possible health maladies that could result from cellphone exposure — radiation amounts, in particular.

Today, as the Trump administration continues to bolster the fossil fuel industry — loosening regulations and giving large tax breaks to fossil fuel companies — environmentalist Bill McKibben says that it would be wise to follow the dollar to see where the future of energy is headed, globally. 

“Right now, of course, politics is making it difficult to deal with climate change in DC, but it's not stopping cold all the work that's going on,” says McKibben, co-founder of

Even when it's not the holiday season, outdoor lighting is on the rise

Dec 27, 2017

Lighting displays are popular and fun during the holiday season, but it seems that outdoor lighting is now big all year round — and everybody wants the new, energy-efficient LEDs. But it turns out these new lights may have a dark side.

Louisiana’s coast is disappearing for a few reasons: the natural sinking of the land, saltwater intrusion and sea level rise. Now there’s another threat: a little tiny bug from the other side of the ocean. It’s killing plants and destroying marshes at the mouth of the river, worrying the state and the shipping industry.

The best science books of 2017

Dec 24, 2017

It’s that magical time of year, when Science Friday rounds up the best science books to hit shelves in 2017.

Maria Popova, the founder and editor of Brain Pickings, and Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, joined host Ira Flatow to share a few of their favorites. For their full list of picks, check out Science Friday's website.

The year's best science books for kids have something for everyone

Dec 23, 2017

Finding the perfect science book for an inquisitive kid isn’t always easy. Luckily, Science Friday education program assistant Xochitl Garcia has done the legwork: She’s curated a list of 10 scientifically accurate, gorgeously illustrated and engaging books for kids ages 0 to 11. The list also includes activities you can do together after reading the books.

Steering Toward Greener Transportation

Dec 18, 2017

How Can Math Make Your Holidays Merrier?

Dec 18, 2017