Engineering for Kids // Antarctica’s Ross Sea

On Tuesday, Nov. 26, How On Earth brings you two features:

Feature #1: (start time 5:53) STEM, as you may well know, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Many math and science topics are introduced throughout most years of primary education, but technology and engineering — not so much. We live in a world surrounded by things imagined and designed and built by engineers, from roads and buildings to computers and appliances and even food, drugs and clothing. So it’s important to understand engineering if we want to understand these life necessities. An educator tackling this issue is  Dr. Christine Cunningham, vice president of research and educator resource development for a project called “Engineering is Elementary.” It was developed by the Museum of Science in Boston. Cunningham is featured in an article, written by former How On Earth contributor Breanna Draxler, called “E is for Engineering” in the December issue of Discover magazine. Cunningham talks with host Joel Parker about how teaching engineering to very young students can be done.

Adelie Penguins in the Ross Sea
Photo courtesy John Weller

Feature #2: (start time 14:45) Arguably the healthiest marine ecosystem on Earth is the Ross Sea in Antarctica. It’s so pristine largely because it is protected by a 500-mile-wide shield of floating sea ice, and, well, it’s not exactly easy to get to.  But in recent years the Ross Sea has come under threat, largely from New Zealand industrial fishing ships that are hunting as far south as they can for the Antarctic toothfish, which was rebranded as Chilean sea bass for U.S. and other consumers. John Weller is a nature photographer and conservationist living in Boulder. He has documented the beauty and fragility of the Ross Sea in his new book, The Last Ocean. Weller also co-founded a nonprofit, called The Last Ocean Project, that is dedicated to protecting the Ross Sea and other fragile marine ecosystems. Weller talks about the science and art of these environments with host Susan Moran. (You also can hear a previous interview with Weller on KGNU’s Morning Magazine.)

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel
Additional contributions: Brian Calvert, Jim Pullen

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Why Calories Count//Boulder Gold Lab Symposium

Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim

Why Calories Count (start time 7:10). More than a billion people in the world suffer from too few of them. About the same number suffer from too many. We’re talking about calories. They’re vital to human health, indeed our very survival. A new book, called “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” delves into the many dimensions of calories – personal, scientific, and political. How On Earth co-host Susan Moran interviews the book’s co-author, Marion Nestle, a molecular biologist and professor at New York University. Her co-author is Malden Nesheim of Cornell University.

Gold Lab Symposium (start time: 17:24). This Friday, CU Boulder presents the annual Gold Lab Symposium.  This year’s theme is “Tempus Fugit.”  That means, “Time Flies,” and speakers this year will focus on why scientists and policy makers must remember that real people and real patients need innovations that lead to better healthcare, right now.  For a sneak preview of what “better” might mean, up next, How On Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with Symposium founder, Larry Gold about one of this year’s speakers, Allen Jacobson.  Jacobson has a cure for some, not all, but some children who have the deadly disease, muscular dystrophy.

Hosts: Susan Moran and Jim Pullen
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headline contributions: Breanna Draxler and Joel Parker
Feature contribution: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Communicating with dolphins

Dolphins are intelligent and communicative creatures within their own species and with the other animals native to their waters. Still, a hundred million years of evolutionary history and pressures imposed by radically different environments separate dolphins and humans. Can that enormous chasm be crossed? Can we have a conversation with an alien, a different and intelligent species? Twenty-seven years ago, Dr. Denise Herzing first slipped into the warm and clear Bahaman waters in a quest to answer those questions. And every spring since then, she has gathered the crew, the equipment, the money, the courage and the patience to return to work cooperatively with them, unfettered in the wild. Dr. Herzing believes that first we have to understand dolphin society and give them the freedom to choose to communicate with us. This week on How On Earth, Jim Pullen talks with Dr. Herzing about how she communicates with Atlantic Spotted dolphins (start at 6:48).

Hosts: Breanna Draxler and Beth Bartel
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Kinetic Sculptures Refocus the Human Perspective

Jeff Lieberman's art redefines the way people see themselves and their world. Image courtesy of Jeff Lieberman.

Jeff Lieberman is a jack of all science trades, and many non-science trades too, actually.  He is a mechanical engineer, a design consultant, a photographer, composer and kinetic sculptor. He hosts the Discovery Channel’s “Time Warp” TV show, has performed at Carnegie Hall, and gave a TedX talk at Cambridge.  But the common thread that runs through Lieberman’s various endeavors is his use of technology to elicit a sense of wonder.  His science/art combination challenges and shifts human perspectives on the universe (start time 6:05).

Hosts: Breanna Draxler and Beth Bartel
Producer: Breanna Draxler
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender and Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Bees and Pesticides // Radiometers and Weather

Bees and Pesticides (start at 6:40). Two studies published last week in the journal Science (here and here) make a strong case for beekeepers who worry that a new class of pesticides called “neonicotinoids” hurts honeybees and bumblebees.   In recent years, honeybee populations have rapidly declined, in part due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Bumblebee populations have been suffering as well. Researchers have proposed many causes for these declines, including pesticides, but it’s been unclear exactly how pesticides cause damage. Both of the new studies looked at the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides, which were introduced in the early 1990s and have now become one of the most widely used crop pesticides in the world. One study, from the United Kingdom, shows that the pesticides reduce a bee’s ability to store enough food and to produce new queens.  In a second study, French researchers tied tiny radios to honeybees then exposed them to low levels of the pesticides; a high number of the bees lost their sense of direction and died away from the hive.  These two new studies add to concerns raised in January by a Purdue University study, which indicated that neonicotinoids persist, as poisons, in both plants and soil for much longer than thought, increasing the chance of the pesticide to harm bees and other insects.  Despite the increasing number of studies calling into question the safety of these pesticides, the EPA has done little to restrict their use.  Local beekeeper Tom Theobald talks with How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender that when it comes to honeybees, these are dangerous pesticides.  You can hear the extended version of this interview on this website.

Radiometers and Weather (start at 12:50). Predicting the weather is a tough job, and climate change is bringing unseasonal conditions that make it even more difficult to predict.  But a monitoring device produced here in Boulder may be able to improve local weather forecasts significnatly.  These radiometers work by creating 3-D profiles of the moisture in the air, which is a key element for meteorologists and climate modelers alike.  They are now being put to various weather-related uses all over the planet.  Stick Ware is the founder and lead scientist of the Boulder-based company, Radiometrics, and he’s here in the studio with us today to give us the scoop on these radiometers.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Breanna Draxler
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headline Contributors: Susan Moran, Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Fukushima Anniversary: global impacts one year later

Damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, courtesy Air Photo Service

Fukushima’s impacts a year later: In today’s show we offer a full-length feature (start at 4:57) to mark the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster — the worse nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl in 1986. We explore the longer-term impacts on public health, the environment, and the nuclear power industry, both in Japan and in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. Co-host Susan Moran interviews two nuclear experts: Jeff King, the interim director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Program at the Colorado School of Mines; and Len Ackland, co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is also author of “Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West.”  (King and Ackland also joined us on March 22, last year.)

Hosts: Breanna Draxler, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Fukushima Cleanup // Space Debris

Today, Feb. 28, we feature two interviews.

Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant meltdown, Image courtesy of Yomiuri Shimbun

Fukashima Cleanup (start at 7:23).  A daunting and ongoing cleanup task is that of removing radioactively contaminated material from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant suffered a meltdown in the wake of a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011. The tsunami swallowed whole towns and killed more than 20,000 people. How On Earth Executive Producer Shelley Schlender interviews Steve Rima, vice president of Radiological Services and Engineering at AMEC, in Grand Junction, Colorado.  AMEC is assisting with radiation cleanup in the 500-square-mile Fukushima evacuation area. (Scroll down to previous post to hear extended version of the interview.)

Space debris, image courtesy of Wikipedia

Space Debris (start at 14:10). You thought cleaning your room was a chore. Imagine the problem if your room was the size of, say, the space around Earth where real, full-sized rockets and satellites are in orbit.  Who is going to clean all that up?  Or is it even a problem?  How On Earth cohost Joel Parker interviews Dr. Darren McKnight about this issue of “space junk” or “space debris.”  Dr. McKnight is the technical director at Integrity Applications Incorporated. He has served on the National Research Council’s Committee on NASA’s Orbital Debris and Micrometeoroid Program, and is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics. He is coauthor of the book “Artificial Space Debris.”

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headline contributor: Breanna Draxler
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Leaky Natural Gas Wells // Measuring Glaciers and Ice Caps

Leaky Natural Gas Wells (start time 6:22).   We speak with Greg Frost, a scientist from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about a new study, which is being published by the Journal of Geophysical Research.  The study indicates that natural gas drilling creates higher amounts of methane leakage into the atmosphere than previous estimates had indicated.  Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and unless this problem of leakage is solved, there is concern that drilling for natural gas might cause higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than burning coal.  We also offer an extended version of this interview.

Recent Contributions of Glaciers and Ice Caps to Sea Level Rise (start time 14:25).  Scientists at CU’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research now have used eight years worth of satellite data to a clearer picture of how climate change is impacting the cryosphere, or ice-covered parts of the planet. (See animations here.)  Knowing how much ice has been lost during this time can help scientists understand how melting ice might contribute to sea level rise, both now and in the future. But there have been conflicting stories in the press about how the results should be interpreted.  We talk with Tad Pfeffer, one of the study’s coauthors, to discuss what’s really happening to the Earth’s ice.

Hosts: Joel Parker & Breanna Draxler
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineers: Jim Pullen & Shelley Schlender
Additional contributions: Beth Bartel
Executive producer: Shelley Schlender

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Snowshoe Hare // Cubelets Robotics

Snowshoe Hare Faces Uncertain Future (start time 6:35). They don’t get much cuter than bunnies. One of the cutest of them all is the snowshoe hare. It’s elusive, and well camouflaged, so you may well never have seen one. To survive, these hares change their coats with the seasons – white in the snowy winter and rusty brown in the summer.  So  now, some hares’ fur turns white before the snow covers the ground. Think what it’d be like to be naked in public, an easy meal for eagles and other predators.  Whether these fragile hares can evolve and adapt to their changing homes fast enough is a question some biologists are studying hard.  Hillary Rosner, a local science journalist and author, wrote about the plight of the snowshoe hare in the current issue of High Country News and now talks with How on Earth’s Susan Moran.

Cubelets Robotics (start time 15:00) is an award-winning modular robotics kit created and made in Boulder. The concept is simple:  you take these magnetic blocks and snap them together to make an endless variety of robots with no programming and no wires. You can build robots that drive around on a tabletop, respond to light, sound, and temperature, and have surprisingly lifelike behavior. But instead of programming that behavior, you snap the cubelets together and watch the behavior emerge like with a flock of birds or a swarm of bees.  To find out more, How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with Modular Robotics Design Director, Eric Schweikardt. Cubelet theme song by Blorp Corp.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Susan Moran
Contributor: Breanna Draxler
Producer: Shelley Schlender
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Algae oil omega-3 // Little Ice Age

algae samples growing in a DSM lab; photo courtesy of DSM

Algae Oil Omega-3 (start time 5:28).  Omega-3 dietary supplements are all the rage. Many studies claim that this family of fatty acids benefits your brain, heart and vision, among other things. A non-fish source that already is infused in milk and other foods we consume is oil derived from marine algae. Cohost Susan Moran interviews Dr. Bill Barclay, a microbial ecologist who manages the Boulder division of Martek Biosciences (now DSM). He talks about how he discovered how to produce DHA omega-3 oils from microalgae, and how they can boost our health in an environmentally sustainable way (or at least free of concern about overfishing).

Gifford Miller collecting dead plant samples from beneath a Baffin Island ice cap; photo courtesy of Gifford Miller

Little Ice Age (start time 15:25). Shortly after the Middle Ages, something strange happened.  Suddenly, the entire world got a little cooler.  And then it hung on. The cooling lasted over 500 years, all the way to the 1800s.  Those five cool centuries are known as the Little Ice Age.  How it happened has been a mystery that modern climate scientists have worked hard to figure out, and one they’ve argued about.  Now, a University of Colorado Boulder-led study appears to have finally solved the mystery.  HOE’s Shelley Schlender interviews the lead author of the study, CU-Boulder Professor Gifford Miller.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon, Susan Moran
Contributor: Breanna Draxler
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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