Since 18 December 2018, with time off on Christmas, I’ve been doing 90-second spots, Science Digest, on KRWG-FM, our local NPR station in Las Cruces, NM. I’ve made an index here so that you can replay them (and, in some cases, get the advance version). I thank KRWG and, especially, Fred Martino, for giving me the opportunity to have these on the air. They’re great fun to make.
Find your topic – follow the links, or do your own search with good old ^F. The links right below here take you to a summary; from there, you can link right to the audio file. Please note that the topic may appear just under the page menu, so you may need to scroll up a few lines.
Medicine and diseases – flu and llamas // CRISPR babies // mutations in our throats // peanut allergies // ”no” to thalidomide & birth defects // vaccines lose their edge // radioactive body imaging // a chip in your brain // what happened to malaria? // high-fructose corn syrup
The world of the quantum
Solar system –
planetary “bumper cars”
Monitoring the Earth – high-flying pseudosatellites //
– global cooling, reversed // the heat that stays // honeymoon on Venus? // fossil-fuel use in bicycling // can trees save us?
Careers in science– why it’s cool
Artificial intelligence – psychotic computers
our “adobe rains” //
Surprising tools of science – isotopes and ancient teeth
Science meets technology and politics
Science Digest segments, in chronological order
Llamas get the flu, too. Their tiny antibodies may be key to making a flu vaccine that protects us against many strains.
Stellar catastrophes gave us almost every element in our bodies, plus radioactive elements that heat our planet to help give us fertile soils (indirectly!). Hydrogen, however, is 13.8 billion years old.
The metric system revitalized scientific measurement. It was first based on physical objects, such
as a rare metal standard meter. Now it’s
based on fundamental constants that any lab anywhere can reproduce.
15 Jan. 19 Australia, so old it’s deficient>
The newest land in Australia is still 220 million years old. So much of Australia has lost key nutrients for plants and animals over time; it’s a case study in mineral deficiencies and plant adaptations to them.
22 Jan. 19 First CRISPR-edited baby
A scientist in China genetically edited an embryo that became a baby. The ethical and scientific shock waves went around the world. For many reasons, it was the wrong thing to do.
These exquisitely beautiful, simple animals illustrate that their nervous systems took a different branch from ours. Cells that made a glue-like substance evolved into nerves!
5 Feb. 19 Big impactors – Earth vs. Moon
Areas on Earth have been hit by meteors big and small, just like the Moon. Land renewal down here erased most craters, but the history of big impactors is still daunting.
While we’re warming the Earth alarmingly, it had been cooling the last few million years. Mountains that arose in beautiful Indonesia have been weathering and taking CO2 from the air!
All our cells don’t have the same DNA; different mutations accumulate. In our esophagus, a hot spot for that, we end up with lots of different patches but only 1% progress to cancer, luckily.
26 Feb. 19 Grazing the Sun
The Parker Solar Probe is going 95% of the way to the Sun to explore. How can it survive theintense solar radiation? Clever engineering, and a (fairly) fast fly-by.
5 Mar. 19 Plant roots sense water
Plants can’t move, so putting roots in the best places to find water is critical. They’ve been found to have sensitive proteins that start a cascade of growth responses to get to the best places.
Left-handers face some discrimination and have more physical problems than righties. Why hasn’t natural selection eliminated left-handedness? Lefties have been better fighters.
No one was around 3+ billion years ago but we have lots of information about how it likely happened. One new piece: the collision that made our Moon likely gave us a good atmosphere!
Practice hard for a 1 in 10,000 chance of a pro sports career, or save your knees and head for a much likelier career in science, and the rewards are many, beyond even money.
2 Apr. 19 Keeping warm on Mars
Getting to Mars is hard, keeping warm there is very hard. Now there are special materials that can gain the wimpy solar heat and keep it… though a 9-month dust storm might end that.
These allergies are life-threatening for many people. The immune system makes antibodies for many protective functions but also bad reactions. We might genetically engineer them!
Satellites high above the Earth are cool for monitoring so many things, but high-flying solar-powered planes could do an even better job for detailed, very frequent looks at the Earth.
The Earth spins and pooches out at the equator, just as if rock is a liquid… and so it acts at long times. We can calculate the shape as if the Earth were water, and also why you weigh less at the equator
30 Apr 19 Psychotic computer
Calvin and Hobbes wondered what’s left for humans when computers do other jobs better than humans. They could be better at being psychotic! There is a worry about robotic fighters.
Three hundred millionpeople in Africa face crop failure from a terrible root parasite of sorghum. Relief may come from using tiny amounts of chemicals that trick Striga into committing suicide.
Frances Oldham Kelsey was a federal bureaucrat to thank. At the Food and Drug Administration she refused, for excellent reasons, to allow thalidomide to be sold in the US.
21 May 19 A carcinogen in flour, with a purpose
Bromate in flour in the US – it strengthens flour…and is carcinogenic on its own, but on baking it gets reduced to harmless bromide.
Tough, red tomatoes have little taste. Now researchers know the identity of a gene that got accidentally turned off ; it might be restored to give us back the flavor.
Vaccines may lose effectiveness faster that we thought, even good old yellow fever vaccine. Still, getting a flu shot that protects you incompletely can save you some misery, or your life.
11 June 19 Radioactivity in my veins, purposefully
Technetium, element 43, is so radioactive that it proved impossible to find in nature till recently. Still, its predecessor can be made in nuclear reactors… for 10 million medical images each year!
Sleep physically clears your brain and even keeps you alive. How can animals such as dolphins, who must keep swimming, sleep? Half the brain at a time!
25 June 19 Adobe rains and real runoff
New Mexico is (in?)famous for tiny rains that barely wet anything. I’ve analyzed 10 years of rainfall records – only 14 storms hit 1 inch (25 mm) or over to feed our plants and rivers.
We owe our stabilizing Moon to a collision early in time. Planetary “bumper cars” isn’t finished yet, far out near Pluto. Are we nearly through, near Earth?
The axolotl, a permanently immature salamander, can regenerate whole limbs; we can’t do a finger. It may be because we have thyroid hormones and warm blood
16 July 19 Repairing heart-attack damage… maybe
A helpful virus can make the damaged heart make special small RNA molecules that rebuild muscle… but this keeps happening, and the pigs die of arrhythmias; not ready for prime time
The Sun’s hotter than we are, but, “pound for pound,” it’s easy to calculate that we produce heat at a faster rate. Good thing – that means the Sun will last so much longer.
30 July 19 Are you a big corn chip?
About 80% of the American diet comes from corn, directly or indirectly. How do we know this? By tracing the stable isotopes of carbon in our body tissues!
6 Aug. 19 Why is 100 km up considered space?
Virgin Galactic wants to call its passengers to 62 miles’ altitude space travelers. Why? Winged flight stops and orbiting is the only way there. Internationally, all national air spaces stop there.
Vast deposits of volcanic ash across a vast swath of the US came from an astounding eruption of the Yellowstone volcano 630,000 years ago. It might be time for a repeat!
Everyone…except orcas, the killer whales. Great whites fear them so much that they abandon feeding grounds before seeing them. What do the great whites sense?
Hint – it’s not anything in humans or any other animal. It’s in plants, and it does the second-hardest biochemical reaction in the world
In Latin, ignoramus means We do not know. That attitude was the key to breaking out from dogma and tradition. Yuval Noah Harari made the clear case!
If you can’t forget you suffer, and you may be pretty mediocre at many tasks. Some people who remember their lives poorly are hard to distract and do jobs well that require novel thinking .
No cholesterol? You’re dead, or, were never born. It’s critical in all cells and especially in the brain. It has to be replaced as it can go “rancid,” and now we’ve found how it gets recycled
Burn some ordinary fuel and you release heat. You also release carbon dioxide, and that traps heat for 85 times more degree-days than the initial “fire.”
Face it, we evolved for Earth’s gravity and radiation shielding. Long space travel has many adverse physiological effects. A trip to Mars will also stress our psychology enormously
Some cases of epilepsy or mood disorders are being treated with computer chips to or even in the brain. Do you lose some key emotional control? Can your brain be “hacked?”
Venus, goddess of love, but a planet of hellish temperatures… but up to 715 million years ago it may have harbored the first life in the Solar System!
Isotopes of the same chemical element react at rate that differ by tiny amounts, but finding isotope ratios tells us so much. In teeth of a 2-million-year-old hominid they tell of hungry times.
The US had malaria until 1951, the last bit in Farmington, NM! One little-known weapon was window screens. Malaria is likely to come back, for a number of reasons – hang on.
A penny saved for beverage companies but bad for your health. Sugar has its problems, too ; why do we eat so much? Can’t stop eating other processed foods? It’s the flavor researchers.
Riding a bike still uses fossil fuels… in growing, processing, and transporting the biker’s food. Still, it’s only about 1/8 as much as fuel use in driving a car. Pile 8 people into a van!
19 Nov. 19 Sweat
We sweat, horses and dogs don’t. It’s why we can ultimately run down a horse. It’s also why you shouldn’t shave your dog in summer. Also, wear long sleeves and pants in the sun.
26 Nov. 19 Colonizing Mars
Elon Musk proposes some methods and reasons to colonize Mars. His look at a “race” between biological and stellar evolution is intriguing. His hope for the human species to last far longer than 2 million years is misplaced.
3 December 19 Can trees save us?
There are major research and pragmatic efforts to plant trees to take up CO2 and mitigate climate change. The limitations are striking, pointing to the need for complementary approaches.
(These next 4 have no definite order on KRWG, so I made up one)
10 December 19 The humble creosotebush
The odor of its wet leaves is captivating. Its resins are both useful and toxic. Its tolerance of water stress is unmatched, and it comes from the ability to keep water under fantastic tensions.
17 December 19 Why are plants green?
I look at the physical behavior of the molecules – the kind of light it must absorb (right energy level) and the way it handles that light with internal processes, unmatched by other molecules
24 December 19 – I think this is a pass
31 December 19 Light as a wave, and a particle
Light acts clearly as a wave, giving us both blue butterflies and gravity-wave detectors. It also acts as a particle, a bunch of energy. So do electrons and even molecules!
7 January 20 Quantum computers vs. Ewin Tang
Heavy investors are hoping that quantum computers can be made that vastly outperform classical computers. Undergraduate computer science major Ewin Tang gives the edge back to the classical!
Bacteria have to contend with other bacteria and with viruses. One of two different defenses against hordes of viruses works well when other bacteria are absent, the other when other bacteria are present…and then the bacterium is more virulent toward us!
Almost unthinkable conditions in exploding stars and in neutron star mergers have provided us with chemical elements we need in our bodies. Now their creation has been imaged, in a way.
The US government broke up monopolies, including AT& T and its Bell Labs that created so much technology. Other US companies could use the technologies but the Japanese used them even better. Tread carefully, regulators.
4 Feb. 20 Growing ancient bacteria
The Archaebacteria from strange places hold clues to our own evolution with cells having nuclei. They are extraordinarily difficult to grow in the lab but a 12-year effort succeeded in growing one that may be right on our evolutionary track.
11 Feb. 20 Breast milk and obesity
Breast milk has many nutrients, as well as small molecules that train our immune systems as infant so that we don’t become obese later.
Energy and climate issues have potential technology-by-political solutions but not yet our extravagant use of materials. Become part of the solution!