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Brain fun for curious people.


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NFTs and Art, Neuralink, Preserving Endangered Foods. May 14, 2021, Part 2

What’s Behind The Blockchain-Based Art Boom? From multi-million dollar art sales to short NBA video clips, non-fungible tokens have taken off as a way to license media in the digital realm. The blockchain-based tokens, which function as a certificate of ownership for purchasers, produce a dramatic amount of carbon emissions and aren’t actually new—but in the first quarter of 2021, buyers spent $2 billion dollars purchasing NFTs on online marketplaces. Writers, musicians, and artists are all...


New Mask Rules, Pain Algorithm, Assorted Nuts, Muldrow Glacier. May 14, 2021, Part 1

Fully Vaccinated Can Unmask Often, CDC Says As the number of vaccinated Americans continues to rise and evidence mounts that the vaccines may reduce viral transmission in addition to lessening disease severity, the CDC announced Thursday that fully-vaccinated people may be able to go mask-free except in specific crowded indoor situations. The announcement caused celebration in some circles and anxiety in others, with people wondering how the new guidelines fit into their personal risk...


Beetles, Wildfires, Woodchip Bioreactor. May 7, 2021, Part 2

A Beetle’s Chemical (And Plastic) Romance For many species of beetle, the key to finding a mate is scent: Both females and males give off pheromones that signal their species, their sex, and even their maturity level. How do researchers know? In experiments with dead beetles that have been sprayed with female pheromones, live males reliably attempt to mate with the dead insects. But when one team of researchers based at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and Syracuse University in...


Herd Immunity, Crossword Program. May 7, 2021, Part 1

Weighing COVID-19 Vaccinations For Teens Federal officials are reporting that the Food and Drug Administration is poised to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 by early next week—just as Canada became the first country to do so on Wednesday of this week. Pfizer has said they will seek out emergency authorization for even younger kids by the fall. But as most countries still lag far behind the United States in vaccine access for adults, public health officials are...


Viking Metal, Possible Futures, Global Pollination. April 30, 2021, Part 2

Uncovering Metal Crafts Of The Viking Age Vikings are often associated with scenes of boats and fiercely-pitched battles. But new research, published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, shows they also had other, calmer skills. The paper details advances in the cast metalwork of objects, such as keys and ornamental brooches, that occurred in the trading city of Ribe, Denmark in the 8th and 9th century. Researchers analyzed samples of metal taken from a variety of...


The Past And Future Of Plastics Tech. April 30, 2021, Part 1

The Future Of Plastics Plastics do a lot of good. They’re sturdy, they’re clean, and the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted their benefits, with personal protective equipment like disposable gloves and masks. But its durability is also its biggest problem. We’ve all seen photos of piles of plastic trash washed up on beaches, and animals surrounded by plastic bags and straws. Those materials will take decades, if not centuries, to break down. Even as it breaks apart, it can become...


Gender-Affirming Health Care, Defining ‘Life’. April 23, 2021, Part 2

Proposed Legislation Threatens Trans Rights Nationwide Since the start of the 2021 legislative session, members of more than 30 state legislatures have proposed over 100 bills that would limit transgender children’s ability to play sports, or access gender-affirming medical care such as puberty blocking medications. One such proposal, restricting access to gender-affirming medical treatments for anyone under 18, passed the Arkansas State Legislature earlier this month, over the veto of...


Climate Summit, Offshore Wind, Hummingbirds. April 23, 2021, Part 1

World Leaders Gather Virtually For Climate Summit Forty world leaders attended an international summit on climate change to discuss how each country would commit to decreasing emissions. Sophie Bushwick from Scientific American fills us in on the commitments stated during the meeting. Plus, she talks about China launching its space station and how researchers were able to read a 17th-century letter without opening it. Offshore Wind Power Moves Forward In Massachusetts Back in 2016, the...


History Of Conservation, Right Whales Decline. April 16, 2021, Part 1

Conserving More Than Just the Planet’s ‘Beloved Beasts’ Historically, “conservation” simply meant not overhunting a game animal, preserving sufficient populations to continue to hunt the following year. Over time, however, conservationists have learned to broaden their focus from individual animals to entire ecosystems, protecting not just species, but the food webs and habitat they need to thrive. But the evolution of conservationist thought hasn’t been straightforward. In her new book...


Understanding Caribbean Volcano Eruption, Billions Of T-Rexes, Pterosaur Necks, Lost Feasts. April 16, 2021, Part 2

Understanding St. Vincent’s Volcanic Eruption Since April 9th, the Caribbean island of St. Vincent has been rocked by eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano. Over the last week, plumes of ash and gas have rained down on the island, and dense masses of debris, called pyroclastic flows, are destroying everything in their path. Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated. La Soufrière has only erupted a handful of times in recorded history, most recently in 1979. But the volcano has a...


Piano AI, Giraffes, Alzheimer’s, Mime Psychology. April 9, 2021, Part 2

New AI Composes Songs From Silent Performance Videos There have been many awkward attempts in the quest to train algorithms to do what humans can. Music is a prime example. It turns out that the process of turning the individual notes of a composed piece into a fully expressive performance—complete with changes in loudness and mood—is not easy to automate. But a team at the University of Washington has been closing in on a way to get close, in research they presented at a machine learning...


Future For Long COVID Patients, Getting COVID Info To Sihk Truckers. April 9, 2021, Part 1

What Does The Future Look Like For COVID-19 Long-Haulers? There’s something strange happening with some people who’ve gotten sick with COVID-19: Somewhere between 10 and 30% of people who are infected are stuck with long-lasting effects and complications. People dealing with long-term symptoms after a coronavirus infection are known as COVID long-haulers, and as the pandemic gets longer, their numbers grow. Long-haul COVID is still a mystery in a lot of ways, but work is being done to...


Pollination, Beekeeping How-To, Sunflower Project. April 2, 2021, Part 2

The Buzz Over Non-Bee Pollinators When you think of pollinators, bees are probably the first insect that comes to mind. But there are actually all sorts of insects and animals that contribute to pollination, like moths, beetles and many kinds of flies—from hoverflies to gnats. Pollination biologist Robert Raguso joins SciFri to explain how different pollinators have different ‘personalities,’ with different strategies and roles—and how they are being affected by climate change. So You...


Unexpected Physics, Controlling Cow Methane, Spring Break. April 2, 2021, Part 1

Signs The Standard Model Of Physics May Be Incomplete The pandemic has slowed many projects around the world, but scientists and engineers are nearing completion of a long-planned upgrade and maintenance period at CERN’s massive Large Hadron Collider project in Switzerland. The collider is currently cooling down and testing components, and aiming to start up for its third major run late this year. In the meantime, researchers have had time to sift through the data from previous...


Spring Climate Effects, Octopus Sleep, Housing and Health. March 26, 2021, Part 2

In New York, Essential Workers Face Eviction If you walk through many towns during this pandemic, you can tell that something is different just by looking at the storefronts. Some businesses have limited hours, others have capacity restrictions. Still other businesses are temporarily closed. Some are gone altogether. The pandemic has also had other financial effects that are harder to see—and often, that financial stress is hitting the same people who are already most likely to have gotten...


Racism And Mental Health, How To Milk Ticks. March 26, 2021, Part 1

The Mental Health Costs Of ‘Everyday’ Racism On March 16, a 21-year-old white man killed six Asian women and two other people in multiple shootings in Atlanta. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians and Asian-Americans in the U.S. have experienced a rise in racist attacks, which psychologists say are tied to anti-Chinese rhetoric from the former White House administration, as well as others who have scapegoated Asian Americans. The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center was created in...


SciFri Extra: The Origin Of The Word 'Introvert'

Science Diction from Science Friday is back! Their latest episode is all about a recent buzzword: "Introvert." In 2013, introverts staged their comeback. For decades, they’d been told to get out of their shells and *smile*, while those showy, gregarious extroverts were held up as the American ideal. But when one author published a kind of introvert’s manifesto, she sparked an introvert pride movement. Since then, the war of the ‘verts has only escalated, with self-identified introverts...


Greenland Plants, Privacy and Big Data, Rainbows. March 19, 2021, Part 2

Under A Mile Of Ice, A Climate Clue Scientists studying sediment taken from a core sample of the Greenland ice sheet just 800 miles from the North Pole have found remnants of ancient plants, freeze-dried under more than a mile of ice. Using several different dating techniques, they say the soil, twigs, and leaves date to sometime within the last million years—probably on the order of several hundred thousand years ago—a time when Greenland’s massive ice cap did not exist. The finding that...


COVID Questions, Introvert Origin. March 19, 2021, Part 1

Rise In Anti-Asian Violence Is At The Intersection Of Racism And Disease Earlier this week, eight people were killed at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. Six of the victims were Asian-American women. In 2020, reported attacks on Asian-Americans increased by 150% over those reported the previous year in some of the country’s most populous cities, according to data compiled by California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism that was provided to the Voice of America....


Virtual Disease, Daydreaming, Geoengineering. March 12 2021, Part 2

Learning From World Of Warcraft’s Virtual Pandemic The widespread infection of roughly four million virtual characters all started with a giant snake demon. In 2005, the massively multiplayer online video game World Of Warcraft introduced a special event raid, where groups of players could team up to fight a giant snake demon named Hakkar the Soulflayer. Hakkar would cast a spell called “Corrupted Blood” on players, which would slowly whittle down their health. The effect of the spell was...