Characterizing Microbial Communities

dustMicrobesMicrobial communities are all around us: in our homes, gardens, oceans, even deep underground but their roles in the function of the biosphere are poorly understood. Today Beth spoke with Professor Noah Fierer, at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, who uses DNA to identify microbes in communities ranging from insect microbiomes to Antarctic soils. He has discovered lots of previously unknown bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic critters which are everywhere, eat everything, and perform surprising roles in ecosystems ranging from our guts to Antarctic soils. You can see more at the Fierer Lab website. And check out the New Yorker article on shower heads. With this episode we resume our series on Our Microbes, Ourselves.

Hosts: Beth Bennett & Chip Grandits
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Chip Grandits
Executive Producer
: Beth Bennett
Listen to the show:

Play
Share

Composting & Carbon Farming

Eco-Cycle truck dumping organic waste at a compost facility. Photo credit: Dan Matsch

Eco-Cycle truck dumping organic waste at a compost facility. Photo credit: Dan Matsch

Why Compost? (start time: 7:01) Many of us may feel a little less guilty letting fruits and vegetables go bad, because we figure that this waste, thanks to curbside compost pickup, will be turned into nutritious food for crops, lawns or grasslands down the road. And landfills will spew less methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. The story of food waste and reuse is a complicated one. Our two guests are working on getting composting right — and ultimately on how to make our food-production and consumption systems more sustainable, starting here on the Front Range.  Dan Matsch directs the compost department for Eco-Cycle, the nonprofit recycler that works with cities along the Front Range. He also directs Eco-Cycle’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM). Mark Easter is an ecologist at Colorado State University’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory.  Matsch and Easter discuss with host Susan Moran the journey of a rotten zucchini, how composting is tied to the emerging practice of carbon farming, and how we all do our part.

Calendar advisory: Join KGNU and Eco-Cycle on Thursday, January 31, at the Longmont Museum (6:30 to 8:00 P.M) for a special community conversation on plastic waste–challenges and solutions. The event will include representatives from Eco-Cycle, the Inland Ocean Coalition, and local business and sustainability leaders. For more info, go to this website.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Chip Grandits
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Chip Grandits
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett
Additional contributions: Beth Bennett

Listen to the show here:

 

Play
Share

Titan Talk with Sarah Hörst

Headlines: Inheritance of mitochondrial DNA.  Coffee and Parkinson’s disease. Sending your name and a message to the New Horizons spacecraft.  Winds on Mars.  Water on Asteroids.

16278_PIA20016Feature: Titan (starts at 8:55) The solar system has so many different worlds that come in all shapes and sizes and histories, from boiling hot Mercury and Venus to icy Pluto and the Kuiper belt.  Such extreme alien worlds are exciting, but perhaps the places that catch our imaginations the most are the ones that are more familar – perhaps with the hope of humans one day visiting there and even living there.  So we think of places that have atmospheres and have – or once had – liquid water. But then there are those places that live in what you might call “the uncanny valley” between familiar and alien, and perhaps Saturn’s moon Titan fits into that category, with an atmosphere (but not one that you would want to breathe) and lakes (but not ones you would want to swim in).

Our guest today is Titan researcher  Dr. Sarah Hörst, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, where she also is a member of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute. She is a Co-Investigator in the proposed Dragonfly mission to Titan.  You can also follow her on Twitter as @PlanetDr.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Chip Grandits, Gretchen Wettstein
Producer and Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Contributor: Beth Bennett

Listen to the show here:

Play
Share

National Assessment on Climate Change

coverClimate Change (starts at 6:30)  Volume II of the fourth National Assessment on Climate Change was released on the day after Thanksgiving. The findings are stark. It is already too late to prevent major long term effects of climate change.  The scientific community has now turned to predicting and quantifying those effects and how human civilization can respond to mitigate what might be catastrophic results. Today we talk with one of the co-authors of the chapter on Transportation,  Professor Paul Chinowksy, of the CU Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.  He elaborates on the findings of the report and his frustration at the lack of a serious response by the federal government.

Host, Producer, Engineer: Chip Grandits
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

Listen to the show:

Play
Share

Living in a World of Thinking Machines

solomonscodebookimg

Book Cover: Solomon’s Code by Olaf Groth and Mark Nitzberg, published by Pegasus Books, November 2018

It has been 50 years since the original 2001, A Space Odyssey, where movie viewers first heard Captain Powers asking, “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” and found HAL thought differently about whether that was a good idea.  For most of that half-century, artificial intelligence still seemed a long way off, but in the last decode, it has permeated our every day life with unexpected swiftness and thoroughness.

Do we currently live in a world of thinking machines?  Is it just around the corner? Far off? Never?  And what will that really be like for us humans (I’ll assume for the moment your not a machine reading this…)   This is the subject  of Solomon’s Code: Humanity in a World of Thinking Machines by Olaf Groth and Mark Nitzberg.  With the recent backlash against Facebook, fake news algorithms or headlines about Cambridge Analytica and Russian bots, this book’s release on November 6 could not be more well timed.  The book covers economic, social, personal and political implications of living in a world of thinking machines.  For this edition of How On Earth, we spoke with co-author Mark Nitzberg, Executive Director of the Center for Human compatible Artificial Intelligence at UC Berkeley and principal at Cambrian.ai.  Dr. Nitzberg studied AI at M.I.T. and completed his PhD at Harvard university.  His co-author Olaf Groth is Professor of Strategy, Innovation and Economics at Hult International business School, and founder and CEO of Cambrian.ai.  The name Cambrian.ai is taken from a metaphor from biological evolution and the Cambrian Geological Period, where most of the major groups of animals first appeared in the fossil record; an event sometimes also known as the “Cambrian Explosion.”

Are we now at a similar point in the evolution of artificial intelligence?  Is the metaphor fanciful or very accurate.  Chip Grandits talks with Mark Nitzberg co-author of Solomon’s Code to find out what are the forms of AI, if they are different from their progenitors, and whether they really can think.

Host: Chip Grandits
Producer: Chip Grandits
Engineer: Chip Grandits
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

Listen to the show…

Play
Share

How Skin Begins // Dr. Dan

Yi_4_epidermis_dermis

Images of Epidermis and Dermis using fluorescent tags. Courtesy of Rui Yi, CU Department Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology

Boulder researchers have discovered a key mechanism by which skin begins to develop in embryos, shedding light on the genetic roots of birth defects like cleft palate and paving the way for development of more functional skin grafts for burn victims.  We bring you an interview with lead researchers, Associate Professor Rui Yi of CU Department of Molecular, Cellular and Development Biology, who explains some of the secrets he has been uncovering about “How Skin Begins” [3:27]

 

 

 

 

 

drdan

Doctor Dan

How do you reconcile a flair for competition and performance with a penchant for science and learning.  We’ll hear from Doctor Daniel Rudnicki, who’s first career was as a competitive and professional figure skater, then after getting an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and PhD in Organic Chemistry from CU he then founded a biotech company.  But still needing an outlet for his urge to perform he has created the persona of Doctor Dan to bring enthralling and flashy science presentations to local schools. [19:08]

Host: Chip Grandits
Producer: Chip Grandits
Engineer: Chip Grandits
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

Listen to the show here:

Play
Share

Email Anxiety // Food Waste

Bedtime laptop workThis week’s How On Earth offers two features:
Work-Email Anxiety (start time: 7:58) If you’re wondering why you often feel anxious on Monday mornings, despite having spent time with your family and friends over the weekend, you might recall the amount of time you spent glued to your smart phone or laptop, checking email because you worried that your boss would be expecting you to be virtually on hand. You’re hardly alone. Samantha Conroy, an assistant professor of business management at Colorado State University, discusses with How On Earth host Susan Moran a new survey-based study (under review) that she co-authored. It found that not only employees but their partners at home suffer from high anxiety when the employee feels pressured to be virtually available via email after hours.

WWF-Food rpt coverFixing Food Waste  (start time: 17:59)  We’re all guilty of it: waste. Tossing out peaches, broccoli and other food that has gone bad in the fridge. Or leaving pasta on our plate untouched at an Italian bistro. More than one-third of all food that is produced in the United States is wasted – in the field, at restaurants, in our own kitchens. The conservation organization World Wildlife Fund recently published a report on the huge environmental and health impacts of food waste, and on what can be done to reduce waste, and ultimately preserve grasslands and other natural habitat. Monica McBride, manager of Food Loss & Waste  at World Wildlife Fund, co-wrote the report, called “No Food Left Behind.” She shares the findings and recommendations with Susan Moran. Check out these resources at WWF on what you can do: A Food Waste Quiz and tips on reducing waste.

Hosts: Chip Grandits, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Chip Grandits
Headline Contributions: Beth Bennett, Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

Listen to the show here:

Play
Share

City Nature Challenge BioBlitz Citizen Science enhanced with iNaturalist

Boulder City Nature ChallengeAttention all Nature Lovers and Amateur Naturalists, Friday April 27th kicks of the City Nature Challenge, where Boulder will compete with 65 cities throughout the world to identify the most species within their area over a 4 day period. It’s a competition to identify biodiversity powered by the enthusiasm of citizen scientists. Chip Grandits speaks with Dave Sutherland and Melanie Hill two members of the Wild Boulder Team, which is organizing the City Nature Challenge for Boulder.

Citizen science is enhanced with iNaturalist a crowd sourcing platform developed by the California Academy of Sciences with applications for you smartphone which can help you can tap into a global network of amateurs and experts to help identify what species that thing is which you can never quite identify.

Host: Chip Grandits

Producer: Chip Grandits

Engineer: Chip Grandits

Additional contributions: Joel Parker

Executive Producer: Joel Parker

Listen to the Show:

Play
Share

Urban Air Pollution: A new culprit

Los Angeles Smog. Image Courtesy of Clean Air Coalition

Los Angeles Smog. Image Courtesy of Clean Air Coalition

It’s the endless stream of tailpipes on the L.A. freeway which  causes that unsightly smog, nagging cough and chronic respitory problems, right?  Perhaps not any more, a new scientific study helps build the case that the major culprit may now be purchases made at the corner drug store or hardware store.  Chip Grandits speaks with Dr. Brian McDonald of NOAA about perhaps changing tactics for the next stage in the human race’s campaign to keep the air clean and healthy in both the indoor and outdoor environments of the urban areas many of us call home.

A couple headlines focus on related aspects of the changing climate in our Alpine environment and what it really means.  Does it seem like spring comes earlier every year, or is that just your imagination?  Well, the science says probably not, especially if you live in the Northern latitudes.  Science journalist Tom Yulsman, who writes about climate change and beyond in his blog ImaGeo for Discover magazine,  offers a headline  the declining snowpack in the Rockies.

Producer, Host, Engineer:  Chip Grandits
Contributors: Tom Yulsman, Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

Listen to the show:

Play
Share

Plastic Pollution in Ocean

Photo credit: Conserve Energy Future

Photo credit: Conserve Energy Future

In today’s show we offer two related features:
Plastic Pollution in the Arctic, Green Chemistry  (start time: 7:48) Try to wrap your brain around this statistic: by mid-century the mass of plastic in the oceans will weigh more than the total mass of fish if we continue with ‘business as usual,’ according to the World Economic Forum. Plastic debris, ranging from plastic water bottles to fish nets to invisible fragments, is choking seabirds and mammals all the way up to the Arctic, and quite possibly harming human health. How On Earth host Susan Moran recently attended the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway, where she interviewed one of the speakers, Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia. Dr. Jambeck directs the Center for Circular Materials Management, where researchers are designing materials and processes that both reduce waste and, like nature itself, reuse waste.

Photo credit: Chris Jordan

Photo credit: Chris Jordan

Grassroots Efforts Curb Plastic Pollution (start time: 20:24) In case you’re wondering what’s land-locked Colorado and your daily life got to do with plastic pollution in the ocean, our guest, Vicki Nichols Goldstein, founder and executive director of the Inland Ocean Coalition, discusses regional and national campaigns to curb plastic waste. The Suck the Straws Out campaign is one of many. You can get involved, starting with attending the Colorado Ocean Coalition‘s Blue Drinks happy hour on Feb. 15 in Boulder.

Hosts: Chip Grandits, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineers: Maeve Conran, Chip Grandits, Evan Perkins
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

Listen to the show here:

Play
Share
Page 1 of 212»

Support KGNU


How On Earth is produced by a small group of volunteers at the studios of KGNU, an independent community radio station in the Boulder-Denver metro area. KGNU is supported by the generosity and efforts of community members like you. Visit kgnu.org to learn more.

Podcast

Subscribe via iTunes
 
How On Earth episodes can be downloaded as podcasts via iTunes, or streamed to a mobile device via Stitcher or Science360 Radio.
 
Listen on Stitcher
 
Listen on Science360 Radio
 
For more info about podcasting, and more subscription options, visit our Podcast page.