Island on Fire (04:45): In 1783, a crack opened up in the Earth, began to spew out lava and ash and poisonous gases, and didn’t stop for eight months. The volcano was Laki, one of many volcanoes in Iceland, and the effects of the eruption went global. Laki’s story is one of geology, chemistry, atmospheric science, and biology. Co-host Beth Bartel talks with long-time science writers and co-authors Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe about what we’ve learned from Laki and how we can apply the lessons of Laki today.
War of the Whales: A True Story (starts at 3:35): In the early hours of March 15th, of the year 2000, a Cuvier beaked whale washed ashore a mere 100 feet from Ken Balcomb’s house on the island of Abaco in the Bahamas. It was, for the whale, a fortuitous coincidence: Balcomb was a marine mammal researcher who was uniquely placed to rescue the creature. But that day 17 more whales of various species washed up on nearby islands and some of them weren’t quite so fortunate. The event was the largest mass stranding in recent history but what might have caused it was a total mystery. To Balcomb, it was a mystery that cried out for a solution.
So begins the book “War of the Whales: A true story.” It’s a book that has been described by critics as a tense, page turning eco-thriller, even though it is a work of non-fiction. How On Earth’s Jane Palmer talks with author Joshua Horwitz about what happened after Ken Balcomb’s discovery, and the attempts to solve the mystery.
A Tough Summer Vacation (start time 10:52) It’s summer! And although the town feels empty of students for many around here, some researchers may be feeling a sad little void this week as summer internships tie up and interns leave town for a short break before beginning their normal school years. Three Boulder institutions run and coordinate comprehensive research internship programs that just finished on Friday of last week, ending with a bang: Colloquiums and poster sessions for the young scientists to show off their work. The three institutions are UCAR, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network, and UNAVCO. UNAVCO’s internship program is geared towards bringing underrepresented populations into the Earth sciences. The program is called RESESS, and no, it’s really not a playful break like recess was in elementary school. RESESS stands for Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science for Students. And this internship is intense.
Thanks to 2014 RESESS interns Josh Russell, Ann Marie Prue, Brian Chung, Wesley Weisberg, Amy Asanuma, Belinda Gonzalez, Garth Ornelas, Ashlyann Arana-Morales, Jaqueline Romero, and Diana Rattanasith.
You drive to Starbucks with your cell phone in your pocket, go online, read your favorite newspaper, share an interesting book review on Facebook and then go and order the bestseller from Amazon. It’s only 9:00am, but you’ve already left a data trail—a big one—on your whereabouts, your taste, your friends, and your financial habits.
Dr. Mihaly Horanyi and his colleagues at the University of Colorado are on the brink of watching an instrument they developed crash into the moon. It’s okay—it’s designed to. In the meantime, the instrument, LDEX, is measuring impacts from dust particles a fraction of the width of a human hair on NASA’s LADEE mission. It’s measured more than 11,000 of these tiny impacts since falling into orbit in October.
How On Earth’s Beth Bartel is on her own mission to figure out just what is so interesting about space dust. Think: space colonization, geologic mapping, and searching for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Hosts: Beth Bartel, Joel Parker Producer: Beth Bartel Engineer: Joel Parker Additional Contributions: Jane Palmer Executive Producer: Joel Parker
For the patient and interested listener, here’s more of How On Earth host Beth Bartel’s conversation about space dust with University of Colorado’s Mihaly Horanyi. We talk about why we should colonize the moon, how Dr. Horanyi got into studying dust in the first place—which is a very interesting Cold-War-era story—how space dust may give us hints about climate change ( via the phenomenon of “night-shining” or noctilucent clouds), and what zodiacal light is.
Quantum Computers [starts at 7:05] Dr. David Wineland has worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, for 38 years. In 2012, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with France’s Dr. Serge Haroche for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”. Dr. Wineland and his colleagues use electromagnetic fields to trap individual ions for long periods of time, and lasers to place the ions in quantum superposition states. Superposition is like being both here and there at the same time.
Superposition, if taken literally (as many physicists believe it should, although some disagree), results in some very strange behaviors, like in a thought experiment designed by Erwin Schrodinger. Schrodinger’s thought experiment describes how a cat in a box can both dead and alive at the same time. Dr. Wineland talks with How On Earth’s Jim Pullen about the connection between his work and Schrodinger’s famous cat. He says quantum computers are in the news.
In a two part series in early 2013, Jim Pullen also interviewed Dr. Wineland on the occasion of the award of his Nobel Prize (on the physics and the human side of winning the Nobel Prize).
Host, Engineer, Producer: Joel Parker Additional contributions: Jim Pullen, Jane Palmer, Beth Bartel, Kendra Krueger
1964 Alaska Earthquake (start time 04:37) This week 50 years ago, in 1964, the Beatles were huge, Alaska had only been a state for a mere five years, and the theory of plate tectonics was in toddlerhood. This Thursday, March 27, also marks the 50th anniversary of the magnitude 9.2 Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.
This earthquake changed our thinking about how the world works by showing us the hard way that tsunamis can arrive before the ground even stops shaking, that we can look in sedimentary records to recognize past great earthquakes offshore in places like the Pacific Northwest, and that these huge earthquakes rip the Earth open along a plane rather than in bits and pieces. What you’ll hear on today’s show is just the tip of the seismic iceberg: How the earthquake confirmed subduction, which is where one tectonic plate plunges under another. Beth Bartel speaks with Dr. Mike West, the Alaska State Seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, about his recent paper, “Why the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake Matters 50 Years Later,” published in Seismological Research Letters.
Neuroscience of Dying (start time 12:38) If there’s one thing more certain than taxes—pardon the reminder—it’s death. It may be certain, but it’s still one of life’s biggest mysteries. On today’s show, we explore what neuroscience can tell us about chemical and hormonal releases that can occur as we near the threshold of death.
For instance, many people have written about so-called near-death experiences. It’s when your heart stops. You walk effortlessly toward a tunnel. You see a blast of white light. You might call it Heaven. Visions like these that people report they’ve had have some biochemical underpinnings.
To help us understand the limited but fascinating body of scientific research regarding the neurobiology and chemistry of dying, Susan Moran talks with Dr. Ilene Naomi Rusk. Rusk is a psychologist who specializes in neuropsychopharmacology and co-directs The Brain and Behavior Clinic in Boulder.
Hosts: Beth Bartel and Susan Moran Producer: Beth Bartel Engineer: Shelley Schlender Executive Producer: Jim Pullen Additional contributions: Jane Palmer and Ted Burnham
Plants in Space (start time 04:36) What would you miss if you were to spend an extended time in space—driving a car? Going to the movies? Hiking? Playing with your dog? Gravity, maybe? Or maybe something as simple as eating good, nutritious vegetables. How On Earth’s Beth Bartel speaks with University of Colorado undergraduate researcher Lizzy Lombardi about harvesting healthier veggies for our astronauts. Or, as we like to think about it, plants in space.
Relativity (start time 13:30) Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity in 1905 and his general theory in 1915. Special relativity revealed bizarre and powerful ideas, including the famous equation E=mc2, but the basic theory hinges on a single realization: all observers, no matter how fast they are moving, always measure the same speed of light in space. A decade later, general relativity, the result of Einstein’s “happiest thought” that “the gravitation field has only a relative existence” unseated Newton’s law of gravitation. General relativity has passed every observation trial—so far. Relativity is important in everyday experience, for example enabling the incredible accuracy of the Global Positioning System, but the theory, especially the general form, can be a tough mathematical challenge. Boulder astrophysicist Dr. Jeffrey Bennett’s just-published book, What Is Relativity? An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter, gently straightens the curved spacetime. Join Jeff and host Jim Pullen live in the studio to learn why ‘black holes don’t suck’!
Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen Producer: Beth Bartel Engineer: Jim Pullen Executive Producer: Jim Pullen Additional contributions: Jane Palmer