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.

Researchers explore the fascinating biomechanics and neuroscience of bats

Apr 13, 2018

They are associated with dark caves, bloodthirsty vampires and one of the most famous superheroes of all time. But for all we know about bats, a lot is unknown to the general public — from how they fly and land to how they find objects in front of them.

Book creates buzz about native bees of North America

Apr 12, 2018

When it comes to bees, honeybees get all the attention. But as a new book will tell you, honeybees are just one fraction of the many types of bees buzzing outside the collective consciousness of most Americans.

Study examines how diseases really spread during air travel

Apr 11, 2018

We’ve all heard it before: With tight quarters and recirculated air, commercial airplane passengers are just asking to catch a cold or some other spreadable disease — especially if another passenger is coughing in close proximity.

Gabriel Ugueto largely cultivated his lifelong fascination with dinosaurs by going to the movies as a kid. He cannot name his favorite one.

"There's nothing that looks like them today and they are so impressive. They dominated life on Earth for so long. They were so well adapted to the environment,” he says.

"I think I'm a little bit partial to theropods, which is this group of dinosaurs that are carnivorous like Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor, but honestly it's very difficult. I love them all."

Researchers still struggle to get funding to study gun violence

Apr 9, 2018

The debate on gun control has been going for years, but those who support tougher restrictions seem to have never been so organized as they have been after 17 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were gunned down Feb. 14 by a former classmate.

The most obvious signs of this, of course, were the March for Our Lives rallies that took place in Washington, DC and other cities around the country March 24. Participants demanded that elected officials take steps such as banning assault weapons, eliminating background check loopholes and other actions.

Blockchain. At the most recent South by Southwest Conference earlier this month, it was one of the top buzzwords floating around the various pockets of conversation. A large majority of the people talking about it there, though, were men.

Even though the blockchain movement has the potential to have innumerable effects on our everyday lives, one estimate puts this new tech space at being currently 95 percent filled by men — but there are growing initiatives to bring more women into the fold.

Can the US protect its power grid from hackers?

Apr 7, 2018

One does not have to go far these days to hear or read a story about Russian cyber interference affecting life in the United States.

There is one mode of meddling that could hit closest to home: a possible attack on the American power grid.

New book sheds light on overlooked women pioneers who paved the way for today’s internet

Mar 31, 2018

Author Claire Evans says over the past few years her gender has made her feel slightly disconnected from the technology that has connected people since its creation: the internet. 

Study begins to reveal genetic ties behind a neurological phenomenon

Mar 31, 2018

When you hear a particular piece of music, can you see an accompanying color? Or do certain letters stir up certain colors?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, than you may have what is known as synesthesia. An estimated four percent of the world’s population have the neurological condition that may best be described as a blurring of the senses.

It maybe be hard to believe, but the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station’s initial launch will take place in November. In those soon-to-be two decades, the ISS has proven to be immensely helpful in helping facilitate research on microgravity — and it remains the only destinations for astronauts moving through Earth’s lower orbit.

It may be hard to believe, but the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station’s initial launch will take place in November. In those soon-to-be two decades, the ISS has proven to be immensely helpful in facilitating research on microgravity — and it remains the only destinations for astronauts moving through Earth’s lower orbit.

New book looks at medical cures now considered 'quackery'

Mar 23, 2018

Placing red-hot irons on someone's temple for headaches. Drinking mercury for syphilis. Rubbing pimples on dead bodies for acne. All of these remedies to various maladies seem ridiculous now, but at one point they were not.

They are just some of the some of the crazy “medical cures” that are highlighted in a new book written by Lydia Kang: “Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.”

New book explains the secrets behind famous skyscrapers, other structures

Mar 23, 2018

Roma Agrawal spends a lot of time thinking of the sheer power of concrete. She’s a structural engineer who helped design The Shard in London, an iconic 95-story skyscraper that opened in 2012.

“What I really like about it is that it has so many different forms,” Agrawal says. “It's quite an indeterminate material … I just love the fact that it can be anything you want it to be."

Chinese space station likely to land in Europe in a few weeks

Mar 23, 2018

Sometime this spring, a falling Chinese space station will crash to Earth. That is known. What is not as clear is when it will hit — or where.

“Scientists have left it pleasantly vague,” says Maggie Koerth-Baker, a senior science reporter for FiveThirtyEight.com.

AI-based fake videos pose the latest threat to what we perceive as reality — and possibly our democracy

Mar 18, 2018

First, “fake news” from questionable news sites permeated social media during the 2016 presidential campaign. Now, behold the next trend in skewed reality that experts say could threaten US democracy: fake videos that appear authentic by embedding real people's faces onto other bodies through artificial intelligence algorithms. It has sparked a debate on how to verify videos shared online.  

This phenomenon also began during the presidential campaign. People began slicing videos to falsely make it look as if events took place.

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.

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