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Brain fun for curious people.






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New NASA Science Head, Climate and Fungus, Whiskey Fungus, Animal Testing Alternatives. March 24, 2023, Part 2

Can Medicine Move To Animal-Free Testing? Before a new drug can begin clinical trials in humans, it gets tested on animals. But things are changing. Late last year, Congress passed the FDA Modernization Act 2.0, which cleared the way for new drugs to skip animal testing. Can we expect to phase out animal testing altogether? Is it safe? And what technologies might make that possible? Guest host Flora Lichtman talks with Dr. Thomas Hartung, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for...


March Mammal Madness, Underwater Volcano, Listening to Space. March 24th, 2023, Part 1

The Latest IPCC Report Is Full Of Warnings—And Hope It’s that time of year: another IPCC report has hit the presses. These reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are like a check up—to let us know how we’re doing on the climate front and what Earth’s future is projected to look like. And to no one’s surprise, this year’s report is full of warnings. But also, it has a lot of room for hope. Maggie Koerth, senior science writer at FiveThirtyEight, joins guest host Charles...


Smart Toilet, Soft Robotics, Naked Mole Rats. March 17, 2023, Part 2

Stop Flushing Your Health Data Down The Toilet You could be flushing important information about your health right down the toilet—quite literally. Pee and poop can tell you a lot about your health, so what if your waste…didn’t go to waste? What if, instead, it could tell you more about your health? Like number one, it can catch a condition like diabetes early. Or number two, check out what’s going on in your gut microbiome. That’s the goal of the smart toilet—a device that gets all up in...


Drugs Designed By AI, The Phosphorus Paradox, Regulating PFAS Chemicals. March 17, 2023, Part 1

At Long Last, More Regulations For Forever Chemicals This week, the EPA proposed the first national standards for drinking water that would set limits on the amount of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals that would be allowed in water systems. There are thousands of different PFAS chemicals, which are often used industrially for properties such as heat, water and stain resistance—from fire-fighting foams to coatings on clothing and paper plates. They have come to be known...


Tips And Tricks To Grow Your Garden In A Changing Climate. March 10, 2023, Part 2

Tips And Tricks To Grow Your Garden In A Changing Climate For many of us, spring is right around the corner—or already here—which means it’s time to start thinking about what is going into your garden this year. But largely thanks to climate change, our seasons are getting wonkier every year. Gardens are feeling the heat as climate change affects the timing of the seasons, temperature extremes, the amount of rainfall, the intensity of droughts, and more. So it’s more important than ever to...


A New Controversial Black Hole Theory, Saving The Great Salt Lake. March 10, 2023, Part 1

Despite Superconductor Breakthrough, Some Scientists Remain Skeptical This week, researchers unveiled a new superconductor which they say works at room temperature. Scientists have been working on identifying new superconductors for decades—materials that can transmit electricity without friction-like resistance. However, previously discovered superconductors only work at super cold temperatures, and under incredibly high pressures. The newly discovered superconductor, lutetium, could be...


Science At The Oscars, Finding Shackleton’s “Endurance” Ship. March 3, 2023, Part 1

Insulin Maker Eli Lilly Finally Caps The Drug’s Cost In 1923, drug manufacturer Eli Lilly became the first company to commercialize insulin. Since then, its cost has skyrocketed. But this week, the company announced that it is capping the cost of insulin at $35. This comes as a huge relief to many Americans, since insulin has become the face of pharmaceutical price gouging. Over the last 20 years, the price of insulin has grown by six times, making this essential, life-saving drug...


Social Media’s ‘Chaos Machine,’ Whale Vocal Fry, Distant Galaxies. March 3, 2023, Part 2

Inside The ‘Chaos Machine’ Of Social Media Despite social media’s early promises to build a more just and democratic society, over the past several years, we’ve seen its propensity to easily spread hate speech, misinformation and disinformation. Online platforms have even played a role in organizing violent acts in the real world, like genocide against the Rohinga people in Myanmar, and the violent attempt to overturn the election at the United States capitol. But how did we get here? Has...


AI And Hip Hop, Self-Planting Seeds, Abortion Pill Facing Restrictions. Feb 24, 2023, Part 1

A Medication Abortion Drug Faces Potential Nationwide Restriction A federal court case underway in Texas this week could have big implications for medication based abortion care across the U.S. The case involves the FDA’s approval of the drug mifepristone, which is used as part of a two-drug combination in most medication abortions. The plaintiffs in the case are arguing that the FDA went against its own guidelines regarding drug safety when it approved the medication in 2000, though the...


“All That Breathes’ Film, Repatriating Native American Remains, Benjamin Banneker. Feb 24, 2023, Part 2

‘All That Breathes:’ A Story Of Two Brothers Saving New Delhi’s Raptors The Oscars are right around the corner, and one of the nominees in the documentary category is called “All That Breathes.” It tells the story of two brothers—Nadeem and Saud—who dedicate their lives to rescuing black kites, a type of raptor that dominates the skies of New Delhi. Since they were children, the brothers have rescued more than 25,000 of these birds, who are quite literally falling out of the thick,...


Spy Balloons, Cost of Cancer Care, Seaweed, Chocolate Mouthfeel. Feb 17, 2023, Part 2

Eyes In The Sky: The Science Behind Modern Balloons This month, the news cycle has been dominated by updates about suspicious objects being detected in the stratosphere. This bonanza started with a balloon from China, and escalated as four more objects—not all confirmed as balloons—have been shot down from the sky. Although this might sound like a new problem, there are probably thousands of balloons floating above us—some for spying, others for exploring near space, or studying weather...


Ohio Train Spill, Mushroom And Memory, Water Infrastructure. Feb 17, 2023, Part 1

UFOs? Balloons? Spy Cams? Here’s What’s Going On This week, the saga over UFOs, balloons, and spyware continues. The drama all started with a Chinese surveillance balloon, and then—one by one—governments kept finding others in the U.S. and Canada. Earlier this week, President Biden announced, “We don’t know yet exactly what these three objects were. But nothing right now suggests they are related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”...


Rethinking Dementia Care. February 10, 2023, Part 2

Rethinking The Future Of Dementia Care Scientists estimate that the number of people living with dementia will triple within the next 30 years, but healthcare systems, policies, and public health measures in the US aren’t prepared to accommodate this growing population. This week, we’re digging into dementia care, and taking listener calls live. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia. Ira talks with Dr. Suman Jayadev, a neurogeneticist at the University of Washington School of...


ChatGPT And The Future Of AI, Turkey Earthquakes. February 10, 2023, Part 1

How Scientists Predict Where Earthquakes Will Strike Next The pair of earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria this week left the region grappling with death and destruction. Despite the region being seismically active, this particular area hadn’t seen an earthquake of this size for decades. There are ways of knowing where the next big earthquakes will happen—but not when. Scientists use knowledge of fault lines and historical data to make their predictions, but saving areas from mass...


Climate Change Music, Industrial Animal Husbandry, Grief Book. Feb 3, 2023, Part 2

How Grief Rewires The Brain Being a human can be a wonderful thing. We’re social creatures, craving strong bonds with family and friends. Those relationships can be the most rewarding parts of life. But having strong relationships also means the possibility of experiencing loss. Grief is one of the hardest things people go through in life. Those who have lost a loved one know the feeling of overwhelming sadness and heartache that seems to well up from the very depths of the body. To...


Science Of ‘The Last Of Us’ Fungi, New U.S. Nuclear Power. Feb 3, 2023, Part 1

Wind And Solar Were Europe’s Top Energy Sources In 2022 The European Union reached a major renewable energy milestone in 2022. For the first time, wind and solar generated more energy in the European Union than any other power source. Ira talks with science writer Roxanne Khamsi about Europe’s energy future and other top science stories of the week, including deer harboring old COVID strains, an endangered marsupial who’s losing a lot of sleep in search of sex, and why mammals live longer...


Accessible Birding, Human Water Consumption, Road Salt Impacts, Terraformers Book. Jan 27, 2023, Part 2

Meet The Blind Birder Reimagining Accessibility In The Outdoors For many blind and low vision people, accessing outdoor spaces like parks can be challenging. Trails are often unsafe or difficult to navigate, signs don’t usually have Braille, guides generally aren’t trained to help disabled visitors, and so on. But nature recordist Juan Pablo Culasso, based in Bogata, Colombia, is changing that. He’s designed a system of fully accessible trails in the cloud forests of southwest Colombia...


Art Crime Science, Long Covid Update, Earth's Slowing Core. Jan 27, 2023, Part 1

What’s Behind The Strange Slowing Of The Earth’s Core? Even though some days feel more chaotic than others, the rotation of the surface of the planet proceeds at a pretty constant rate—about one full rotation every 24 hours. But the rotational speed of the inner core is less stable, and has been known to shift over time. Now, researchers are reporting in the journal Nature Geoscience that according to seismic data, the Earth’s inner core may have recently paused its rotation, and could even...


Gas Stoves, Next Gen Vaccines, Printed Violins. January 20, 2023, Part 2

Why Are Gas Stoves Under Fire? If you were online at all last week, you probably encountered conversations about gas stoves. The sudden stove discourse was sparked by a comment made by a commissioner on the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to a Bloomberg reporter, in which the commissioner discussed plans to regulate gas stoves. Those comments morphed via repetition into inaccurate rumors of an impending ban on stoves fueled by ‘natural gas,’ or methane, currently used in around...


Children’s Antibiotics Shortage, Bat Vocalizations, Life’s Biggest Questions. January 20, 2023, Part 1

Why Are Children’s Antibiotics So Hard To Find Right Now? Mary Warlo has been extremely worried lately. Her baby Calieb, who is six months old, has sickle cell disease. In early December he went for a few days without liquid penicillin, a medication that he—and thousands of other children in the U.S.—rely on to prevent potentially life threatening infections. Warlo couldn’t easily find a pharmacy in Indianapolis that had the medicine in stock. She and her husband frantically drove around...