2013 Was a Good Year, in Science!

The team considers noteworthy science on the last day of 2013. What’s worth mentioning? Too many people, too much carbon, and way too much fun in astronomy!

AlanWeisman_Countdown.shrunkBiology and Health (start time 00:56). This year marked the passing of long-time Boulder resident, Al Bartlett. Bartlett was one of the world’s most eloquent voices calling for population control. He will be missed. One of the champions picking up the torch is New York Times bestselling author, Alan Weisman. Weisman offers exciting solutions to population growth in Countdown:  Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth.

How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender reports that this is a hard book to read, because it’s long, and thorough, and urgency of the need for population reduction worldwide is often not a happy topic. She admits that sometimes, she even switched to a detective novel before reading more of Countdown. But she kept at it because Countdown provides some exciting solutions to population growth. One of the most compelling is to provide women with education and access to birth control. It turns out these two offerings are often a key to women deciding, voluntarily, to limit their families to two children, and sometimes, fewer.

Co-host Shelley Schlender hosts this interview with Weisman about perhaps the greatest problem facing humanity–too many people.

 

The late Professor John Mainstone cared for the pitch drop experiment. (University of Queensland, Australia, School of Mathematics and Physics)

The late Professor John Mainstone cared for the pitch drop experiment. (University of Queensland, Australia)

Physics and Astronomy (start time 08:56). Co-host Jim Pullen couldn’t decide on the best physics and astronomy story of 2013, so he dipped into the rich happenings of the year, taken from all over the world: superbolides skipping over Russia, bitumen dripping in Ireland, Voyager 1 long-ranging somewhere in the galaxy, and Icecube spying far-flung neutrinos down at the bottom of the world (and beyond). We’ll learn that the news of 2013 owes much to 2012, 1977, 1944 and even 1927. And that leaves WIMPS, dark matter, LUX, two-dimensional graphene, trapped quantum states, quantum computers, and so much more for 2014!

 

 

Flood crumpled truck in Jamestown Canyon, Colorado (photo courtesy Jim Pullen)

Flood crumpled truck in Jamestown Canyon, Colorado (photo courtesy Jim Pullen)

Environment (start time 16:44). What a year it’s been! We shot past 400 ppm of CO2 in the ever-warming blanket of air skinned over the planet. And disasters! Mighty and perilous Super Typhoon Haiyan, with the fastest winds ever recorded, crashed into the Philipines in November. More locally, in September here on the Northern Front Range, a flood of historic proportion. Co-hosts Susan Moran and Tom Yulsman look at the perils of 2013 and portents.

 

 

Happy 2014 to you, our KGNU and How On Earth family!

Hosts: Shelley Schlender, Jim Pullen, Susan Moran
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel

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Fairy Science // Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count

We offer two features on this Christmas Eve How On Earth.

Oxygen and Hydrogen fairies bond to make water. From Real Fairy Folks: Explorations in the World of Atoms, by Lucy Rider Meyer, 1887. (Chemical Heritage Foundation collections)

Fairies in 19th century science education (start time: 3:52): Victorian educators used the magical world to teach young children about science. That was before fairies fell out of favor in science, alas. How On Earth co-host Jim Pullen talks with Melanie Keene, director of Studies for History and Philosophy of Science at Homerton College in Cambridge, England, about the understanding of fairies in science education in the Victorian age.

 

 

BoulderCBC_ValmontTeam2_Schmoker_14DEC2008Christmas Bird Count (start time: 12:51) It’s the time of year when humans are flying hither and yon to gather with family for Christmas. Others are heading somewhere south for vacation to escape the winter chill.  Many birds are on the move as well, heading south to overwinter. Others are sticking around.  These human and avian patterns are converging with the annual Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.  Steve Jones and William Schmoker of the Boulder County Audubon Society talk with co-host Susan Moran about how the Bird Count emerged more than 100 years ago and why it’s important.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Jim Pullen
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel
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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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Salt Lake City’s Drier Future // Spruce Beetle Outbreak

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, How On Earth brings you one short report and two features:

Feature 1 – Salt Lake City’s Drier Future (start time 4:25): Guests Laura Briefer and Tim Bardsley talk with How On Earth’s Jim Pullen about how science is helping water management planners in Salt Lake City prepare for an uncertain—and drier—future.  Briefer is the water resource manager for Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Utilities and Bardsley is a hydrologist working with Salt Lake City via University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment.

bark beetleFeature 2 – Spruce Beetle Outbreak (start time 15:12): We continue with the climate theme, but bring it away from the cities and into the forests.  Picture this: Up high, in the mountains of Colorado, a small beetle, about the size of a grain of rice, works its way into the bark of a spruce tree, where it burrows in to find some tasty morsels—the tree’s reproductive tissues.  Here it will feast, and, under the right conditions, kill the tree.  This is not the more familiar mountain pine beetle, but a spruce beetle.  Same idea, different tree.  And the scale of a current spruce beetle outbreak in our state is being referred to by CU researchers as “massive.”  University of Colorado ecologist Sarah Hart tells How On Earth’s Beth Bartel more about Colorado’s spruce beetle outbreak and the drought that’s causing it.

Short Report – Animal Tagging (start time 1:07): Does tagging animals affect the very behavior scientists are trying to study? Susan Moran reports on how one study finds that even small tags and equipment can drag marine creatures down. For more information, check out NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center page and photos or, better yet, videos of model (mock?) turtles and their wind tunnels.

Hosts: Beth Bartel, Jim Pullen
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel
Additional Contributions: Susan Moran

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Antarctica Research // The Cancer Chronicles

We offer two features on the Tuesday, Oct. 22, show:

Lake Hoare, Antarcita / Photo: Beth Bartel 2004

The camp at Lake Hoare in Taylor valley, Antarctica. (Photo: Beth Bartel)

Feature 1 – Antarctica Research (start time 4:15): Diane McKnight, a professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, talks with How On Earth contributor Brian Calvert about scientific discoveries from Antarctica. During the temporary government shutdown the United States Antarctic Program, which facilitates government-funded scientific research in Antarctica, was unplugged. Several expeditions were cancelled. Her research on the McMurdo Dry Valleys on the continent will resume, but a future government shutdown would threaten scientific research on penguins, extreme microbes, climate change-induced sea ice melt and so many other subjects.

Feature 2 – The Cancer Chronicles (start time 12:22): In his new book, The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery , science writer George Johnson takes readers on his very personal quest to understand cancer on a cellular level: how it begins with one “renegade cell” that divides, mutates, and becomes a tumor. In the process Johnson also digs deep into history – per-history, in fact — to learn that not only our ancient human ancestors had cancer, but even some dinosaurs suffered from them. And the author dissects many scientific studies that debunk myths about the role environmental toxins play in cancer. And he challenges false beliefs that cancer in modern times is on the rise. “Yet running beneath the surface is a core rate of cancer, the legacy of being multicellular creatures in an imperfect world,” he writes. Johnson speaks via phone to host Susan Moran about the mysteries and discoveries of cancer.

And as we mentioned in today’s headlines, if you want to see the large fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteor being recovered from Lake Chebarkul, you can see the video here.

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

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Monarch Migration // Better Batteries

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Courtesy Tom Ranker.

Feature #1: (start time 4:45) As we unpack our coats and boots from storage boxes, so are insects, in their own way, planning for a seasonal change.  Monarch butterflies in our neighborhood, east of the Rockies, fly south to very specific forests high in the mountains of Mexico. Their journey, and life at their destination, is a precarious one.  Dr. Deane Bowers, a professor and curator of entomology at the CU Boulder Museum of Natural History, speaks with co-host Susan Moran about what is happening now with monarchs and other butterflies. And she discusses how the ability of certain insects, such as caterpillars, to defend themselves against predators by making themselves taste disgusting is being affected by human disturbances, such as nitrogen fertilizer runoff. To get involved in monarch conservation, go to Monarch Watch.

Feature #2: (start time 14:30) One of the greatest limitations of effectively using clean and renewable energy sources is a simple device with which we are all undoubtedly familiar — the battery.  Dr. Conrad Stoldt is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder and co-founder of Solid Power, Inc., where he is developing an all-solid-state lithium metal battery. Stoldt talks with co-host Beth Bartel about how batteries work, why batteries are such a stumbling block in the current race to energy solutions, and how his research may just lead to the next big thing.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Beth Bartel
Producer: Susan Moran/Shelley Schlender
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Safer Rocket Fuel // Inland-Ocean Connection

The Tuesday, Sept. 17, show offers two features:
Feature #1 (start time TK): Once hadrazine, now green. Ball Aerospace’s Chris McLean, the Program Manager for the Green Propellent Fusion Mission, talks with co-host Jim Pullen about testing a much safer spacecraft fuel.

Mississippi River Basin
Courtesy U.S. EPA

Feature #2 (start time TK): The 100-year flood ravaging Colorado has shown us painfully clearly the power of water. We’re seeing how surging rainfall and overflowing streams can destroy homes, roads, indeed whole communities in their path.  But what’s less visible is how extreme weather events like this one in the nation’s interior affect oceans in powerful ways. Our watersheds east of the Continental Divide carry water, and tons of nutrients, into the Mississippi River Basin.  Rainfall, storm water, and fertilizer runoff from croplands and backyard lawns contribute to the humongous Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. To discuss our inland connection to oceans Dr. David Guggenheim, a marine scientist and founder of the nonprofit Ocean Doctor, talks with co-host Susan Moran. Vicki Goldstein, founder of Colorado Ocean Coalition, also discusses the inland ocean movement, including the second annual Making Waves event this coming weekend.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Jim Pullen
Producers: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Boulder Science Festival // Insect Chorus Songs

Headlines:  CU Scientists explore ways to combat methicillin-resistant staff infections; Yale survey indicates Coloradans concerned about climate change; Denver and Boulder Cafe Sci’s begin for fall; Farewell to Population scientist, Al Bartlett.

Boulder Science Festival (starts at 5:58) Many people in Boulder are familiar with the large number of local science groups and institutes, so what better place to celebrate and learn about science?  That is exactly what our next two guests plan to do: create the Boulder Science Festival, which will be held October 12-13 at the Millennium Harvest House hotel.  In the studio today we have Marcella Setter, the Director of the Boulder Science Festival, and an experienced administrator who loves organizing events that get the public excited about science. As the Director of Science Getaways, Marcella plans group trips for science enthusiasts who want to add some learning and discovery to their vacations.  Joining Marcella here in the studio is her husband, Phil Plait, an astronomer, author, and writer of the Bad Astronomy Blog for Slate.com. An internationally-acclaimed speaker, Dr. Plait has appeared on numerous television science documentaries and is a self-proclaimed “science evangelizer”.

Insect Chorus Songs (starts at 14:58) You’ve heard it. It’s the sound of summer – or rather, the looming end of summer. The chorus of crickets, cicadas and who knows what else outside that is now in prime time.  As an ode to summer, we thought we’d bring in a cicada and other insect specialist to share with us who the heck these critters are, and what’s their role in biodiversity. Maybe he’ll even tell us how we can eat them – like billions of people around the world do with delight. Brian Stucky is a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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

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Wildfires & Water Reservoirs // Comet ISON

For the Sept. 3rd How On Earth show we offer two features:

The Hetch Hetchy reservoir

Wildfires Threaten Water Supplies: (start time 5:45) The wildfire burning in and around Yosemite National Park is now the fourth-largest in California’s history. Covering nearly 350 square miles, the Rim Fire is threatening the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies residents in the San Francisco Bay Area with most of their water and power. It’s a lot like the 2012 High Park Fire—which sent ash and debris into the water supply of Fort Collins. These fires offer lessons on the risks wildfires pose to reservoirs.  Dr. Bruce McGurk, a former water manager for Hetch Hetchy and a water consultant, speaks with How On Earth contributor Brian Calvert about the risks and future prospects.

Comet ISON Cometh: (start time 12:50) Comets have fascinated humans for millenia.  Aristotle argued comets were hot, dry exhalations gathered in the atmosphere and occasionally burst into flame.  Some people thought that comets replenished Earth’s air. Still others  believed they were a source of disease.  Scientists today study comets because some are thought to be relatively pristine leftover debris from the formation of the solar system. And studying what comets are made of can provide us a glimpse back to the beginning of the solar system 4 billion years ago.  Comet ISON, as scientists call it, is one that scientists predict will be relatively easy to view later this year. Dr. Carey Lisse, a senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Institute Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, speaks with co-host Joel Parker about comet ISON and its fascinating tails. For more information on ISON, go to NASA’s ISON toolkit, and this cool interactive model.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Additional contribution: Brian Calvert
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Noise Pollution

Population impacted by aircraft noise greater than 55 dB day–night noise level in 2005 (from “Development of an income-based hedonic monetization model for the assessment of aviation-related noise impacts” by Q. He, MIT Master’s thesis) [click on image to see large version]

Noise Pollution (starts at 6:15) –  How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with research scientist Larry Finegold about noise pollution and about a workshop being held today in Denver about Noise Management in Communities and Natural Areas.  Dr. Finegold has authored or contributed to over 80 publications on noise including the US National Academy of Engineering report, “Technology for a Quieter America,” the World Health Organization report, “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise,” and the article “Community Annoyance and Sleep Disturbance: Updated Criteria for Assessing the Impacts of General Transportation Noise on People.”

Host / Producer / Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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