The Science of Habit Formation

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: If you’re like most of us you’ve tried over and over again to break a bad habit —  be it procrastinating, gorging on chocolate chip cookies every night, or watching TV rather than exercising.  And you know how hard it is to “kick” bad habits.  This week on How On Earth we offer one full-length feature (start at 7:57). Co-host Susan Moran interviews New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, author of a new book titled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. Duhigg sheds light on why our brains form habits, how they serve (or don’t)  individuals, as well as companies and societies, and how we can turn bad habits into positive ones once we understand what scientists call the habit “loop.” You can also hear an extended version of that interview by clicking here.

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

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The Science of Habit Formation [extended version]

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

This is the extended version of the interview by How On Earth host Susan Moran of New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, author of a new book titled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business.  The interview first aired on March 27, 2012

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The Accelerating Expansion of The Universe // Pine Bark Beetles

The Accelerating Expansion of The Universe (start at 5:11).   Have you ever had the feeling that things are moving faster and faster these days?  Well, maybe it’s not your imagination.  Proof that the universe is not just expanding but is accelerating garnered a Nobel Prize last year.   To help explain what’s going on, we talk to Dr. Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University and is a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.   When he was a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1996 to 1999, Dr. Riess and his colleagues conducted the research that was to win him a share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.  The citation for the prize stated it was: “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.”  In today’s show, Dr. Riess translates what that means and the implications about the ultimate fate of the universe.

Pine Bark Beetle - photo by Jeff Mitton

Pine Bark Beetles (start at 19:22).  The tree-killing pine bark beetles used to breed once a year.  Warming annual temperatures now allow them to breed twice, resulting in 60 times more offspring.  Hungry, tree-eating offspring.  University of Colorado biologists Jeff Mitton and Scott Ferrenberg have just published their findings that the doubled-up breeding season explains why the recent pinebark beetle epidemic has killed so many trees.  And it’s not over yet.  How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with the scientists about which trees are the most vulnerable to pinebark beetles.  You also can hear the extended version of that interview.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Beth Bartel
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headline Contributor: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Pine Bark Beetles – Extended Interview with Jeff Mitton and Scott Ferrenberg

Pine Bark Beetle - photo by Jeff Mitton

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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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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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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.

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