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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The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess

For our annual Spring Pledge Drive, we feature a book about race, religion and DNA.  The book is The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess, by Jeff Wheelwright.   It’s a story about a beautiful young, Hispano woman in the San Luis Valley of Colorado who one day finds a pea-sized lump in her breast.  Her name is Shonnie Medina.  She is both Spanish and Native American – and the Spanish side of her family has been in the San Luis Valley for many centuries, farming, ranching, for the most part devout Catholics, often proud of their Catholic Spanish heritage.  We learn that Shonnie is a carrier of a potentially deadly condition, because her DNA includes “the breast cancer gene” that increases the risk of breast cancer, in some cases, by 80%, while also increasing the risk of other cancers, including some in men.  It’s a mutation that is over a thousand years old, and surprisingly, the version of this mutation that Shonnie carries is sometimes known as a “Jewish” cancer. For more, here’s Shelley talking with The Wandering Gene’s author, Jeff Wheelwright.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Shelley Schlender
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Contributor: 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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Boulder Robotics // Compassion

Image courtesy of Boulder is for Robotics

 

Boulder is for Robotics (start time 4:00). “It starts really with the fact that a lot of robotics materials, sensors and manufacturing are here in Colorado.” Boulder as a hub for robotics? You bet. KGNU’s Tom McKinnon reports from the first Boulder is for Robotics meetup, which drew over 100 participants. Learn about some local projects, from robots for agriculture to robots for kids.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user gelinh, used under Creative Commons

The Neurology of Compassion (start time 12:50). “Someone on the street asks you for money. Do you give or not? What drives that decision?” Researchers Jessica Andrews-Hanna and Yoni Ashar from University of Colorado’s Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab talk to us about the causes and effects of compassion. The first of their studies on compassion looks at charitable giving. What determines whether a person will decide to donate part of their earnings? They also talk to us about their current study, which involves using brain scans to evaluate the effect of compassion meditation.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon & Beth Bartel
Producer: Beth Bartel
Engineers: Jim Pullen and Shelley Schlender
Additional contributions: Breanna Draxler & Susan Moran
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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Underwater Volcanoes // Sleep

Underwater Volcanoes (start time 5:45). Most of our planet’s volcanoes are out of sight, and largely out of mind. Hidden under sometimes thousands of feet of water, volcanoes on the sea floor bubble and boil away without our knowledge and largely without our understanding. We talk with Oregon State University volcanologist Bill Chadwick about some of his research on these buried giants. More information (with photos and videos) are available at NOAA’s VENTS Program.

Sleep (start time 15:50).  As any mother knows, when children get cranky, one of the best solutions is to “go take a nap.” What is less understood is whether or not those naps can be now and then, or whether it’s important to keep them regular. We speak with an expert who has just published a study that looks at the question of napping among preschool children. Her name is Monique LeBourgeois and she’s a professor of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado’s Sleep and Development Lab.

Co-hosts: Joel Parker and Shelley Schlender
Contributors: Beth Bartel, Breanna Draxler, Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Producer: Joel Parker
Executive producer: Shelley Schlender

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20th Anniversary Science Show

Bucky Ball 1991 “Molecule of the Year”

We celebrate 20 years of How on Earth, featuring the 1st ever KGNU science show, 20 years ago, including Bucky Balls, Electromagnetic Radiation and Cows, Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble, and along the way, we give updates on current science issues, including Tom McKinnon talking about applications for Bucky Balls (Fullerenes) today, a conversation with CU Electrical Engineer Frank Barnes, who is one of the world’s most sought-after experts on EMFs,  Southwest Research Institute Astrophysicist Joel Parker gives an update on space telescopes, and CU Science Journalism professor Tom Yulsman talks about an issue NOT on the radar 20 years ago — global climate change.  We also share information about tonight’s Denver Cafe Sci, with Brian Hynek, about “Mars:  Are We Alone?”  Special thanks to How on Earth original producers Sam Fuqua and Jeff Orrey for being here as part of the show.

Co-hosts: Joel Parker and Susan Moran
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Producer: Shelley Schlender
Executive producer: Shelley Schlender

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Nicotine Patches // Restoring the Desert

Do nicotine patches really help you stop smoking?  Shelley Schlender interviews a scientist who says they don’t.  Lois Biener and her colleagues at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University  have done a study that  indicates that out in the real world, people who use nicotine replacement therapy in the hopes of an easier “quit” don’t fare any better than people who use will power and community support.  Some people who use nicotine replacements are actually MORE likely to relapse.  (Extended interview version here).

Great plumes of dust rising from the desert forms an iconic image of the West, but much of that dust is a result of humans altering the desert soil structure.  Several Boulder scientists are investigating a new technology that may allow us to restore the desert, and sequester large amounts of carbon at the same time.  Tom McKinnon interviews Jim Sears, president of  A2BE Carbon Capture and  Bharath Prithiviraj, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado.  They are developing a large scale deployable technology that would enable agricultural aircraft to re-inoculate and restore arid soils using indigenous strains of soil-crust-based cyanobacteria. For additional information on airborne soil crust reseeding, its research and its applications please contact jimsears@algaeatwork.com for an overview paper on the topic.

Co-hosts: Tom McKinnon and Shelley Schlender
Engineer: Joel Parker
Producer: Tom McKinnon
Executive producer: Shelley Schlender

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