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Science Friday
Fridays at 2pm

Science Friday explores science-related topics -- from subatomic particles and the human genome to the Internet and earthquakes. Listen to in-depth discussion with scientists and others from all walks of life whose work influences our daily lives.

Eugene Stoltzfus Architects is proud to sponsor Science Friday on WMRA.

  • There’s a little bit of Neanderthal in most of us. Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had a long history of intermingling, before the former went extinct about 40,000 years ago. That mixing means most modern humans have some amount of Neanderthal DNA—and it accounts for up to 3% of the genome in some people.While these genetic remnants don’t have much impact on our day-to-day lives, they may be responsible for one surprising effect: pain tolerance. Recent research shows that people with Neanderthal variants in the gene SCN9A have a lower pain tolerance than people without the gene.This isn’t the only Neanderthal remnant that’s been passed down. A study from earlier this year pinpointed a certain genome region that impacts nose shape. Taller, wider noses were passed down from our Neanderthal ancestors who lived in colder climates. A larger nose warmed air before it hit the sensitive lungs. Ira speaks with Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari, assistant professor of statistics at the Open University in the United Kingdom, who worked on both of these studies. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • Climate change is having a profound effect on agriculture. Farmers over the past decade have faced intensifying drought and heat stress on crops, leading many to wonder, what will agriculture look like 50 years from now?In May, at SciFri Live at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Ira Flatow discussed the future of agriculture, and potential solutions to these problems, from innovative farming techniques, to ensuring that Iowa’s farmers of color have the resources they need to succeed. He was joined by Todd Western III, a sixth-generation Iowan farmer with Western Family Farms and senior donor advisor at Greater Twin Cities United Way, and Dr. Patrick Schnable, a distinguished professor at Iowa State University and co-founder of Dryland Genetics.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • These days, the 4th of July is known for its fireworks and cookouts. But the holiday commemorates the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, one of the most important founding documents of the United States.The Declaration of Independence, alongside the Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitution, and countless other documents, is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Like any other museum, the National Archives doesn’t just house these items, it preserves them, protecting them from the degradation that happens over time. In March, at SciFri Live in Washington D.C., Ira spoke to two restoration experts about what goes on behind the scenes of the National Archives: Conservator Saira Haqqi and physicist Mark Ormsby. They discuss the history of papermaking in the US, changes in restoration science, and what “National Treasure” really got right.Transcript for this segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • Earlier this year, the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington announced that pandas would be returning to the capitol. This news was met with great fanfare because the zoo’s resident pandas had returned to China last fall, leaving the District panda-less for the first time in more than 50 years.After the pandas left D.C. in the fall, SciFri producer Rasha Aridi and journalist Aja Drain dug into the juicy political history of panda conservation and how it shaped panda research. In this segment from December 2023, they look back at 80 years of panda conservation, and how “panda diplomacy” paved the way for groundbreaking science. And they try to answer the multi-million dollar question: Was it all worth it?Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • It’s officially summertime, and a new season of reading is here! Two science writers and voracious readers have compiled their summer reading recommendations, just for Science Friday fans. Before you head out for a week at the beach, start packing for that road trip, or stock up for a long staycation, we’ve got the list of science-y summer reads, straight from those familiar with the best on the shelf.Joining guest host Diana Plasker to offer listeners their recommendations are Riley Black, a Salt Lake City-based science writer and the author of several books, including The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World; and Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of several books, including The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Transcripts for this segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • In a conversation from 2014, Ira talks marinade myths, charcoal chemistry, and the elusive “smoke ring”—the science behind barbecue and grilling.Are marinades a myth? How does the elusive “smoke ring” form? And can the debate over gas versus charcoal be settled at last? In this episode of our “Food Failures” series, barbecue and grilling expert Meathead Goldwyn looks at the science behind the grill and offers tips for controlling smoke, temperature, and moisture. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • When you think about Earth, you might think of a giant rock, floating around in space, making laps around the sun. A rock that just happens to have critters, plants, and people crawling around its surface. A new book by Ferris Jabr called Becoming Earth: How Our Planet Came to Life argues otherwise: Life doesn’t just exist on Earth, but life is Earth, and the Earth itself is alive. That idea might sound radical, and it is. There’s a shift happening in how we understand the planet, and what it’ll take to save it, and ourselves, from the future humans are creating. Becoming Earth takes readers on adventures across the world to learn how life has transformed the Earth, from changing the color of the sky to reshaping the continents. Guest host Anna Rothschild talks with author Ferris Jabr, a science writer based in Portland, Oregon. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • If you have teenagers in your life, you may have noticed that kids these days seem to be getting their periods earlier than previous generations did. It’s not just in your head: A recent study from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health confirms what many people have assumed, as well as additional findings about period regularity in younger generations.The study, which analyzed self-reported data from more than 71,000 participants in the US, found that menstrual periods are arriving earlier for younger generations, with the average age dropping from 12.5 years old for people born in 1950 to 11.9 years old for those born in 2005. More staggering, however, is that both early menarche—a person’s first menstrual period—and irregular periods were much more common in the non-white and low-income study participants. And period irregularity has become more common for younger generations compared to their older counterparts.These findings are a big deal, because early menarche and irregular periods can be a signal of future health issues, including pregnancy complications and mental health changes. Joining guest host Anna Rothschild to discuss the findings and their implications is lead study author Dr. Zifan Wang, postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • Most scientific studies that get published have “positive results,” meaning that the study proved its hypothesis. Say you hypothesize that a honeybee will favor one flower over another, and your research backs that up? That’s a positive result.But what about the papers with negative results? If you’re a researcher, you know that you’re much more likely to disprove your hypothesis than validate it. The problem is that there aren’t a lot of incentives to publish a negative result.But, some argue that this bias to only publish papers with positive results is worsening existing issues in scientific research and publishing, and could prevent future breakthroughs.And that’s where the Journal of Trial and Error comes in. It’s a scientific publication that only publishes negative and unexpected results. And the team behind it wants to change how the scientific community thinks about failure, in order to make science stronger.Guest host Anna Rothschild talks with Dr. Sarahanne Field, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Trial And Error, and assistant professor in behavioral and social sciences at University of Groningen.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
  • China’s Chang’e 6 return capsule landed in Mongolia, carrying samples from the far side of the moon. Also, Paris has invested $1.5B in cleaning up the Seine for open-water swimming events, but recent tests indicate it’s not yet safe.A Sample From The Far Side Of The Moon Lands On EarthThis week, the return capsule from China’s Chang’e 6 lunar mission returned to Earth, touching down in a remote part of Inner Mongolia. Inside were dust and rock samples collected from the far side of the moon. Researchers hope that the samples could shed light on both the moon’s formation, and conditions in the ancient solar system.Rachel Feltman, host of the podcast “The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week,” joins guest host Anna Rothschild to talk about the mission and other stories form the week in science, including a CDC warning about dengue fever, a trans-oceanic butterfly flight, and the possibility of seeing a stellar nova in the coming weeks.Will The Seine Be Clean Enough For Olympic Swimmers?The Paris Summer Olympics are fast approaching. Opening ceremonies for the games kick off on July 26. And all eyes are on the notoriously polluted River Seine. Due to aging infrastructure, sewage has sometimes flowed directly into it. For the past 100 years swimming in the river was banned. Now, the French government has spent roughly $1.5 billion to upgrade sewage treatment in Paris in order for athletes to be able to swim in the Seine.Earlier this week, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo was set to take a dip in the river to prove its cleanliness. In protest some Parisians threatened to poop in the Seine to show their dislike of the disruptions and high price tag of the Games.The dip was postponed until after upcoming elections, but recent water quality tests indicate that the river is not yet safe to swim in.Guest host Anna Rothschild talks about the current state of the river with Dr. Dan Angelescu, founder and CEO of Fluidion, a water testing company based in Paris, France.Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com. Subscribe to this podcast. Plus, to stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.