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  • New Prosthetic Arm, CAR T Cell Therapy, Climate Games. August 12, 2022, Part 2
    Some Grasses Can Stop Lead From Spreading In Soil Lead left behind in soil from mining and smelting poses a major health risk to people who live nearby. Researchers in Nebraska and Kansas believe plant life and organic material can limit lead’s spread.In parts of the Midwest where lead mining and smelting lasted for over a century, communities are still dealing with toxic waste left behind by the industry. Lead, a dangerous neurotoxin, persists in the environment, including in water and soil, where it can pose a threat to the health of people living nearby. The risk is especially acute for children, who can unintentionally ingest lead by putting their hands in their mouths and whose brains and bodies are still developing. It can be spread to other areas, like yards and schools, by rainfall, and can also taint aquifers or vegetables in gardens, making them harmful to consume. Now researchers are working to limit the impact of lead in the environment on people, and they believe they’ve found a promising solution: Plant life. Phytostabilization involves moving lead from soil into the roots, stems and leaves of plants to prevent it from spreading and to limit people’s contact with it. “One of the goals of phytostabilization is to take the site with lead and put it in a stable state, so that the risk is reduced, and the issues related to lead in the soil can be managed,” said Larry Erickson, a professor emeritus at Kansas State University and former director of the university’s Center for Hazardous Substance Research. Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.   A High School Student Invented An Affordable Brain-Reading Prosthetic Artificial limb technology has come a long way since the first prosthetic—a big toe made of wood and leather developed in ancient Egypt. Today’s cutting-edge robotic limbs use mind-control and even give users a sense of touch, helping them feel sensations like a warm cup of coffee or a mushy banana. Still, these state-of-the-art prosthetics often involve invasive brain surgeries and can be exorbitantly expensive. Hearing of these issues, one teenager set out to create a solution. Seventeen-year-old Benjamin Choi has developed a non-invasive, affordable prosthetic arm. His Star Wars-inspired technology reads a user’s mind with only two sensors—one on the forehead and the other clipped to the earlobe. And he doesn’t plan on stopping there. He sees his work in artificial intelligence expanding to help ALS patients, wheelchair users, and beyond. Ira speaks with Benjamin Choi from McLean, Virginia about how he developed this arm and what it means to be a young innovator.   New Immunotherapy Shows Promise Far Beyond Cancer CAR T cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy in which a patient’s own immune cells are modified to create a hybrid immune cell that destroys cancer cells, was first developed over a decade ago. Now, researchers are continuing to find success in treating new types of blood cancers with the therapy, and are working on applying the technology to solid state cancers like those of the pancreas and brain. Scientists are also at the early stages of testing CAR T cells to treat autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus. Ira talks with Dr. Carl June, one of the pioneers of CAR T cell therapy, a professor of immunotherapy and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia.   Feeling Hopeless About Climate Change? Try Playing These Video Games Five years ago, Stephanie Barish was tired of the public’s attitude about climate change. “Most people at that time were just so negative about climate,” she said. “It was doom and destruction, and I thought, wow, to make positive change, you have to really look at this from a solutions perspective.” Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Indiecade, an organization that supports indie video game developers and hosts events like the Climate Jam—the goal of which was to change the gloomy public narrative around climate change. So, with the help of organizations like Earth Games, participants around the globe gather every year to make video games about climate change optimism, solutions, and justice. Teams can also consult with subject matter experts, like Dargan Frierson, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, and also a judge for the Climate Jam. If teams wonder what climate change would look like on a different planet, they can go to him for answers. “We always look for scientific accuracy,” he said. “I think it’s very important to keep things within the realm of possibility, even when you’re looking at fiction.” Read the rest of the article and check out some of the games at sciencefriday.com.   Analogue Animation: Turning The Pages Of A Flipbook Machine Brooklyn-based artist J.C. Fontanive is a master of the moving image—but in analogue. As an animator, he creates mechanical, perpetual motion ‘flipbooks,’ with help from old clocks and colorful illustrations of flying birds, butterflies, and other scenes from nature. Fontanive joins Ira to talk about the act of invention, the ‘primal’ language of art, and how to create visceral work in a digital age. See the flipbooks in gorgeous action at sciencefriday.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
    8/12/2022
    46:56
  • Insulin Price Plan, Monkeypox Facts, Milky Way Memoir. August 12, 2022, Part 1
    A Plan to Cap Insulin Prices May Not Be Helpful 30 million people in the U.S. live with diabetes, and access to insulin can be expensive. More than 1 in 5 people with private insurance pay more than $35 a month for this necessary medication. The U.S. Senate has a plan to cap insulin prices for certain diabetics, but critics say this plan would not help make insulin affordable for a majority of people. Plus, many people have been following the discoveries of the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, with baited breath. Astronomers may have found the youngest exoplanet we know of. And a deep space hoax of a chorizo slice fooled the astronomy community. Joining Ira to talk about these stories and other science news of the week is Katherine Wu, staff writer for The Atlantic based in New Haven, Connecticut.   What You Need To Know About Monkeypox Last week, the White House declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency. Currently there are a little over 9,000 confirmed cases in the United States, and just under 30,000 worldwide. Since the end of May, monkeypox has been spreading in countries where it has not been previously reported. The virus is mainly spreading within gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men. And because of that there is stigma associated with the outbreak. Ira talks with Rachel Roper, virologist at the Brody Medical School at East Carolina University, and Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers University School of Public Health, to explain the basics of transmission, answer listener questions, and debunk misinformation about the monkeypox outbreak.   Frenemies, Lovers, And The Fate Of The Cosmos: Our Galaxy Tells All Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 13.6 billion years old, all-knowing, and a little sassy. It has a rich social life of friends, frenemies, and even love interests—all other galaxies in the local group, including the stunning Andromeda. And the Milky Way is a little disappointed that we’ve stopped telling as many stories about it. Or at least, that’s how folklorist and astronomer Dr. Moiya McTier imagines the galaxy’s personality when writing her new book, “The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy.” The book stretches from the beginning of the universe to the birth of our planet, and then on to the eventual theoretical end of the cosmos. Along the way, we learn both the science of how stars form and galaxies collide, and the many stories and myths humans have told about these bodies throughout our relatively brief lives. McTier joins Ira to tell all (on behalf of the Milky Way), and explain the importance of story in scientific knowledge and discovery. Read an excerpt of the book on sciencefriday.com.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
    8/12/2022
    47:24
  • Clean Energy Bill, Heatwave Infrastructure, Etana Teen Innovator. August 5th, 2022, Part 2
    What’s Inside A Sudden, Second Chance At A Climate Bill Last week, climate activists received a surprise gift from Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin. It turns out they had been in secret negotiations to put out a spending package that might tackle some of the same climate mitigation projects as last year’s failed Build Back Better initiative. The $369 billion dollars for climate mitigation in the Inflation Reduction Act covers tax credits for renewable energy, methane leak reduction, and the largest environmental justice investment in history. But will it pass before Congress goes on recess? Ira talks to University of California-Santa Barbara political scientist Leah Stokes, who helped advise Senate Democrats during the bill’s crafting, about what the bill might do, and some of the politics shaping climate action.   Engineering and Infrastructure In A Collapsing Climate Roads buckling. Power grids flickering. Roads washing out and basements flooding. Climate change brings new hazards for both human health and the infrastructure that keeps our communities functioning. So how do we build for the conditions that are coming–and in many ways already here? Arizona State University engineer Mikhail Chester talks to Ira about the physical alterations we’ll need and, perhaps more importantly, the way the process of building must change too. Plus why building things to fail—but with less deadly consequences—may be necessary in an uncertain future.   A Teen Inventor Builds A Fingerprint Scanner for Gender Equity The World Bank estimates that around one billion people worldwide don’t have official proof of identity. Without legal identity verification, opening bank accounts, voting, and even buying a cell phone is challenging or even impossible. This issue disproportionately affects women—around half the women in low-income countries do not have proof of identity, which limits their independence and the resources they are able to access. Looking for a solution, 16-year-old Elizabeth Nyamwange invented Etana—an affordable fingerprint scanner that could provide women with a form of digital identity. Her project to close the gender identification gap earned her first place in HP’s Girls Save the World challenge. Ira speaks with Nyamwange, based in Byron, Illinois, about her innovation.   Remembering Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Pioneering Lieutenant Uhura Actress Nichelle Nichols died this week at the age of 89. She was known to people throughout the galaxy for her role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, the communications officer on the Starship Enterprise. Her casting as a Black woman in a highly skilled, technical position on a major television program in 1966 was crucial representation—and helped many viewers see science and technology careers as something within their grasp as well. When Nichols considered leaving Star Trek to return to Broadway, a meeting with “her biggest fan”—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr—helped convince her to stay on to contribute to the civil rights movement. Later, Nichols became an ambassador for NASA, working to help recruit people to the space shuttle program, especially women and minorities. In this remembrance, astronaut Leland Melvin helps tell her story, and Tarika Barrett, CEO of the STEM organization Girls Who Code, talks about the importance of role models and representation. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.  
    8/5/2022
    46:59
  • Cancer Vaccines, Planting Wildflowers, Eating Copi Fish. August 5th, 2022, Part 1
    White House Declares Monkeypox Outbreak A Public Health Emergency The Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Thursday. Earlier in the week the White House appointed Robert Fenton, regional administrator at FEMA to direct the federal government’s response to the monkeypox outbreak, along with a deputy director from the CDC. This comes after criticism from activists and public health experts, who have said that the federal government has been dragging its feet on access to vaccines, testing and treatment for the virus. Ira talks with Tim Revell, deputy United States editor for New Scientist, about the latest monkeypox updates and other top science stories including; new research into the shape of the human brain; how hand gestures can improve zoom calls and a plant that harnesses the power of a raindrop to gulp down insects.   New Steps Toward a Vaccine For Cancer Vaccines have long been used to prevent infection from viruses. But now, scientists are working on a different kind of vaccine—one that targets cancer. Dr. Kai Wucherpfennig is working on a cancer vaccine that would target tumors that tend to spread quickly and are resistant to treatment, like melanoma and triple negative breast cancer. This type of vaccine is intended to be used after a patient has had their tumor removed. The goal is to prevent the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body, which is called metastasis. So far, this type of cancer vaccine is effective in animals, and the results were recently published in the journal Nature. Ira talks with Dr. Kai Wucherpfennig, chair of cancer immunology and virology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, about his latest research into cancer vaccines, and how recent advances in understanding the immune system has jump-started research into new types of cancer immunotherapies.   Restoring A Sensitive Ecosystem, One Wildflower At A Time The New England blazing star is more than just a pretty blossom: it’s an integral part of a globally-rare ecosystem called a “sandplain grassland.” Just like the name suggests, sandplain grasslands have sandy soil with tall grass, no trees and an exceptionally high number of rare plant and animal species. That includes plants like the New England blazing star, an important food source for various grassland insects. Today volunteers would plant 1,000 of them to help restore Bamford Preserve, a 60-acre parcel of sandplain grassland on Martha’s Vineyard. As climate change threatens both human health and the natural world, experts say that protecting biodiversity hotspots like this one will offer the most bang-for-the-buck — protecting threatened species while offering other ecosystem benefits, like open space and flood protection. Read the full story on sciencefriday.com.   A Fish By Any Other Name: Inside The Effort To Bring ‘Copi’ To Dinner People who live near freshwater rivers or lakes are likely familiar with Asian Carp. The fish are not native to the U.S., but over the last few decades their populations have exploded in waterways like the Mississippi River Basin and the Illinois River. Over the last few years, there’s been a major PR campaign to move away from the name Asian Carp, in favor of a new name: “Copi.” The reason is two-fold: First, it joins a general trend of moving species’ names away from nationalistic associations, considering anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other goal is to make the fish sound more delicious—creating a market that would incentivize fishing the Copi, hopefully reducing their populations. Joining Ira to talk about this is Jim Garvey, director of fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic sciences at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.    
    8/5/2022
    47:23
  • Alzheimer’s Research Fraud, Extreme Heat Health, Piping Plovers, Octaglove. July 29, 2022, Part 1
    Decades Of Alzheimer’s Research Could Be Based On Fraudulent Data Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating brain disorder that slowly affects memory and thinking skills. For many people who worry that loved ones may succumb to this disorder, the possibility of research in the field of Alzheimer’s is a balm of hope. However, a massive report from Science Magazine highlights a startling discovery: that decades of Alzheimer’s research are likely based on faulty data. Alzheimer's researchers are grappling with the revelation, and what it means for future research of the disease. In other science news of the week, scientists have identified pits on the moon that are a comfortable temperature: averaging 63 degrees Fahrenheit. But don’t plan that space vacation yet—research finds that air pollution from space-bound rockets has an exorbitantly high effect on global warming—much more than traditional airplane travel. Joining guest host Sophie Bushwick to discuss these stories is Maggie Koerth, science writer for FiveThirtyEight based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They also discuss how childhood vaccinations have dropped dramatically during the COVID pandemic, and why this is likely tied to New York’s first Polio case in nearly a decade.    Higher Temperatures Are Bad For The Body Across the globe, hundreds of millions of people have been dealing with extreme heat. The three most populated countries in the world—China, India and the United States—have been gripped by heat waves throughout the summer. Extreme heat isn’t just uncomfortable: it can be deadly, putting strain on the organs and systems that keep us in equilibrium. Heat is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, pregnant people, and those without access to air conditioning. In the United States, heat is responsible for more deaths than any other type of weather event. Joining guest host Sophie Bushwick to talk about what high temperatures do to the body, and how we can protect our health and safety in a heat wave is Chris Uejio, associate professor of public health at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.    Protecting Piping Plovers Isn’t A Walk On The Beach July is nearly through, and so is the piping plover’s nesting season. It's make-or-break time for these small, endangered shorebirds. There are roughly 8,000 piping plovers in the entire world. To put that in context, birders often get really excited to see a rare bird like a snowy owl. But there are about 28,000 snowy owls in the world, three times the number of piping plovers.  Since piping plovers make their nests along the water and out in the open, their chicks are very vulnerable to being gobbled up by predators. And a major reason for their decline in numbers is human development along the beaches, lakes, and rivers where piping plovers lay their eggs.  SciFri radio producer Shoshannah Buxbaum went out to Fort Tilden in Queens, NY to report on a volunteer-run conservation effort along the New York City coastline. And later in the segment, Michigan radio reporter Lester Graham talks with guest host Sophie Bushwick about the unique challenges and triumphs of the piping plovers who nest along the Great Lakes.   This Glove Takes Inspiration From An Octopus’ Arm Octopuses have more than 2,000 suckers on eight arms, and each one is controlled individually, making these critters incredibly dextrous. So when a team of researchers wondered how to design a glove that could hold onto slippery objects underwater, they turned to octopuses for inspiration. Ultimately, they created something they’re calling an octa-glove. Guest host Sophie Bushwick talks with Michael Bartlett, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, about his team’s engineering, and what they learned from the ambidextrous creatures.   Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
    7/29/2022
    46:04

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