Gregory Benford – Science Fiction/Fact and Starshot

What are the qualities that make a good scientist?
What are the qualities that make a good science fiction writer?
515tlGA1GTL._UX250_Those skills do not necessarily overlap, but when they do, they not only can produce wonderful works of speculative fiction based on hard science, but they also can generate exciting new ideas for science research.

Our guest on today’s show inhabits both worlds; he is a professional scientist and a well-known science fiction writer. Dr. Gregory Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvin, where he has been a faculty member since 1971. Benford conducts research in plasma turbulence theory and experiment, and in astrophysics. He has published papers in fields of physics including condensed matter, particle physics, plasmas, mathematical physics, and even in biological conservation and geoengineering.

image3Dr. Benford also is a Nebula Award winning author of over twenty novels, including “Timescape”, “Jupiter Project”, “Artifact”, and “Against Infinity”, and the 6-book “Galactic Center Saga” series.  He also is an advisor on the Breakthrough Starshot project that has the goal to fly a spaceship to the nearest star.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Alejandro Soto
Producer and Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Methane Emissions From Natural Gas

Oil and gas wells in Four Corners region. Credit: NASA

Methane Madness (start time: 2:20)  More than a decade ago, scientists noted that the area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet, known as Four Corners, appeared to be emitting a curiously large amount of methane. In a new study, a team of scientists have traced the source: more than 250 gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants associated with oil and gas development in the San Juan Basin. The basin is one of many places where new drilling technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have propelled a boom in natural gas extraction. The boom has transformed the U.S. energy mix. Our two guests discuss with hosts Daniel Glick and Susan Moran the science and public health aspects of this study as well as the human side of living near natural gas wells in Colorado. Dr. Colm Sweeney co-authored the recent Four Corners study. He is the lead scientist for NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab Aircraft Program, and he is a research scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, at the University of Colorado Boulder. Our other guest, Dr. Christopher Clack, is a physicist and mathematician with CIRES whose research focuses on renewable electricity. He shares his personal experience with and documentation of natural gas extraction.

Hosts: Daniel Glick, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Contributor: Joel Parker

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Lessons From Flint’s Lead-In-Water Crisis

flint water

Corroded lead pipes in Flint, Mich. Photo credit: flintwaterstudy.org

Tackling Lead Contamination: Flint and Beyond (start time: 6:27) When you pour yourself a glass of water from the tap, do wonder whether it’s truly clean and safe? How would you know for sure? Flint, Mich., is a haunting example of how a breakdown in water-supply infrastructure, and political integrity, can result in lead contamination of a city’s tap water. Last year, thanks to the dogged investigation of an environmental engineer from Virginia, all of us nationwide were rattled by the disclosure that Flint residents were drinking poisoned tap water and that their city and federal officials were doing little to disclose the problem, much less tackle it. Since then, lead-poisoning outbreaks have emerged in Portland, Ore., Cleveland, Ohio, and elsewhere. Dr. Marc Edwards is the Virginia Tech professor who led the investigation in Flint, and previous water-contamination probes, most notably in Washington, D.C. He talks with How On Earth host Susan Moran about the public health, political and racial-justice facets of the Flint water crisis, and how many more similar crises around the country can be prevented in the future.
For more info, check out NRDC’s recent report on Flint, Marc Edwards’ and his team’s research, and ACLU Michigan‘s investigations.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker

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Zika Update

CDC targets Zika

CDC targets Zika

In headlines and 2 interviews with Zika researchers,Beth covers new material on this disturbing disease. CDC Chief of Virology, Dr Ann Power (start time 3’45”) and Dr Rushika Ferrara of CSU (start time 10’45”), describe aspects of the viral life cycle, including transmission, symptom variability, and promising avenues leading to potential treatments and preventions. For more information, cdc.gov and http://source.colostate.edu/dancing-through-the-lab-no-but-science-requires-fancy-footwork/; also http://www.ancestralhealth.org/
Host: Beth Bennett
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Additional Contributions: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
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The Keeling Curve//Electric Airplanes//Moth Parties


Keeling CurveThe Keeling Curve 
(starts 5:00) Friday, August 12th the Boulder Shambala Center hosts:  Living Beyond Hope And Fear:  Social Confidence And Climate Change.  One leader of the event is the daughter of scientist who created the Keeling Curve for tracking CO2.  Emily Takahashi talks about how the memory of her father’s work inspired her to do the symposium.

courtesy ElectraflyerElectric Airplanes (starts 8:12) The constant drone of airplanes has many nature lovers wishing planes could be quieter.  It’s starting to happen, thanks to tinkerers and scientists who are building reliable electric powered airplanes, such as Randall Fishman of ElectraFlyer.  

credit: Boulder Audubon Society

courtesy: Boulder Audubon Society

Moth Parties (starts 15:03)   It’s that time of year when butterflies, dragonflies and other colorful insects fill the air.  A more humble flying creature is the lowly moth.  Boulder Audubon Society‘s, Pam Piombino .says moths are gaining enough of a following, some people now hold Moth Parties about . . . moths.  (Moth music is “Moths Around the Candle Flame.”)

Hosts: Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender
Producer: Shelley Schlender
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Headlines: Alejandro Soto, Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender, Kendra Krueger
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Impacts of Fracking

A natural gas rig near Rifle, Colorado. © AP Photo/David Zalubowsk

A natural gas rig near Rifle, Colorado.
© AP Photo/David Zalubowsk

In Colorado, a boom in methane development over the past few years has raised questions about whether the environmental impacts are outpacing scientists’ ability to measure them. Shelley Schlender and Daniel Glick discuss the current state of the science looking into fracking’s impacts.  Here is a compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking.

Hosts: Daniel Glick, Shelley Schlender
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Headlines: Beth Bennett, Natalia Bayona, Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Exploring your DNA // Cellular Innards Revealed

Genomic exploration by Carl Zimmer

Genomic exploration by Carl Zimmer

This week on How on Earth we speak with 2 notables. NY Times columnist Carl Zimmer describes his exploration of his genome sequence, yes all 3 billion bases! See the series he has produced detailing this journey at https://www.statnews.com/feature/game-of-genomes/season-one/. Then, local cell biologist Gia Voeltz studies how the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is formed. It is a large continuous structure in the cell, with many different functions and an elaborate shape. The ER was long thought to be the site of synthesis of proteins and other large biologically important molecules. Work in the Voeltz lab has expanded its role considerably. Visit her website to see beautiful moving pictures of ER in action: http://www.voeltzlab.org/#!research-projects/c10g1
Host: Beth Bennett
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
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Toward Sustainable Agriculture

Corn fields in Illinois

Corn fields in Illinois

Sustainable Agriculture (starts 3:06): We couldn’t feed the planet without nitrogen, a vital nutrient for crops. But most soils don’t produce enough of it to feed anywhere near our 7 billion-plus humans on the planet. So, for nearly a century we’ve been applying synthetic fertilizer—mainly nitrogen and phosphorus — to grow crops for animals and people. But we have overindulged, creating vast amounts of waste, in the form of nitrogen pollution of waterways and the atmosphere. State and federal regulations have pressured growers to dramatically reduce fertilizer runoff from their fields. But it’s not been enough. Another approach – call it the carrot versus the stick – is also taking hold. Major food retailers, wholesalers, and producers, such as Walmart, United Suppliers and Unilever are transforming their whole supply chains, making food production less carbon- and nitrogen-intensive. Suzy Friedman, a sustainable agriculture expert with the Environmental Defense Fund, discusses with host Susan Moran how programs such as SUSTAIN help large food companies shrink their environmental footprint.

Hosts: Natalia Bayona, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Tim Russo
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Quantum Dot Antibiotics // Shrinking Ozone Hole

Quantum Dot Antibiotics (c Shelley Schlender)

Quantum Dot Antibiotics (c Shelley Schlender)

Quantum Dot Antibiotics (starts 1:00) This programmable antibiotic might keep pace with quickly evolving superbugs.  Unlike most drugs – it’s not derived from biological sources.  It’s a tiny version of the semiconductors in everything from TVs to iphones to solar panels.  This “antibiotic” is made of nanoparticles, known as quantum dots.  CU Biofrontiers scientists Prashant Nagpal and Anushree Chatterjee explain their new invention.

South Pole ozonesonde (balloon) launch. c NOAA

South Pole ozonesonde (balloon) launch. c noaa

Shrinking Ozone Hole – (starts 15:24) The ozone hole is finally growing smaller – we’ll find out why and how long it will take to completely “heal” the ozone hole from Birgit Hassler, a researcher with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Hosts: Shelley Schlender, Susan Moran
Producer:Shelley Schlender
Engineer:Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Pollinators Matter // Denver BioLabs

Butterfly girl

Photo credit: Butterfly Pavilion

Pollinators Matter (starts at 4:43): Now that backyard gardens are in full bloom it’s a good time to think about pollinators. Honeybees, butterflies, beetles and other pollinators depend on many flowering plants for nectar. And we depend on these pollinators for many foods we love in our diet, from almonds to apples to blueberries. Some of these pollinators, especially honeybees and monarch butterflies, are facing severe threats, here in Colorado as well as globally. Among the culprits are habitat destruction and insecticides called neonicotinoids.  The Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster is not only a popular destination for kids and adults who want to walk among butterflies, and tough tarantulas. It is also conducting research on pollinators and their habitat. Mary Ann Colley, vice president of science and conservation at the Pavilion, discusses with host Susan Moran some pollinator-focused research and educational campaigns. Info on Butterfly Pavilion’s citizen science efforts–Colorado Butterfly Monitoring Network and Urban Prairies Project–are on the Pavilion’s website. Related citizen science projects: The Bees’ Needs and Xerces Society. For more info on pollinators go to the National Wildlife Federation and USDA Agriculture Research Service.

IMG_6213

Denver Biolabs Co-founder RJ Duran shows how synthetic biology is used to make bacteria glow. Photo credit: Denver Biolabs

The New Biology (starts at 16:48): Denver Biolabs is the first community do-it-yourself bio-lab in Colorado. It focuses on making synthetic biology–where biology meets engineering–accessible to everyone. Biolabs is a community resource, giving students, researchers, entrepreneurs and others access to a community lab space. It also offers training in building bio-tools, learning lab fundamentals and experimenting with molecular gastronomy. Biolabs also develops technologies related to bioinformatics, biomimicry, bio-hacking and bio-printing. Dr. Heather Underwood is the co-founder and executive director of Denver Biolabs, which she discusses with host Leslie Dodson. For info on similar labs that have inspired Denver Biolabs, go to: Berkeley Biolabs, BioCurious, and Counter Culture Labs.

Hosts: Leslie Dodson, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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