Science Friday

Friday 2 p.m.
  • Hosted by Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow hosts a weekly talk show about science.

Photo by ESA/CNES/Arianespace

Last year, the European Space Agency accidentally launched two Galileo satellites into the wrong orbit.

Their elongated orbits made them inoperable for the ESA’s global-navigation system, but a group of researchers have repurposed the satellites to test an aspect of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Photos from New Horizons' trip past Pluto have revealed new details of the dwarf planet's surface — including three-mile-high water-ice mountains and deep layered craters.

“This is the apex, these are the highest resolution images,” says planetary scientist William McKinnon, who is New Horizons' deputy lead for geology, geophysics and imaging. He and his team have recently received a new batch of photos from the outer reaches of our solar system, and they’re beginning to theorize about what the images might reveal from Pluto’s history

Backing Up the World Wide Web

Dec 19, 2015

Are we close to curing cancer?

Dec 19, 2015
Image by NIAID

Just months ago, former President Jimmy Carter announced he had melanoma that had spread to his brain. Recently, however, he made the shocking announcement that he was cancer-free. He owes his condition to a new cancer immunotherapy drug known as Keytruda that is giving researchers, cancer patients and doctors new hope in the war on cancer.

Dr. Antoni Ribas who work on immunotherapy treatments for cancer at UCLA says the idea behind the drug is to use the patient's own immune system to attack the cancer.

What happens when you give scientists comedy improv lessons?

Dec 14, 2015
Courtesy of Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

Improv is something you expect to find on Saturday Night Live, not in the science lab. A couple of acting teachers, however, are beginning to introduce improv acting and communication techniques to the science syllabus. “JRN 503: Improvisation for Scientists” is a course now on offer at New York’s Stony Brook University.

Alan Alda is an actor, director, screenwriter and board member for the World Science Festival. He’s also one of the people behind the new improv class for scientists at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.

Could you explain the electromagnetic spectrum, continental drift, or the basics of nuclear power using just the 1,000 most common English words? That’s the challenge XKCD’s Randall Munroe took on in his latest book, "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words."

Munroe has had many different jobs: comic artist, NASA roboticist. Now he has combined his many skills to put out an illustrated book explaining some of the world’s more difficult concepts in simple language. 

Fighting Cancer With Your Own Immune System

Dec 12, 2015

Pluto Comes Into Focus

Dec 12, 2015

Why Science Needs Failure to Succeed

Dec 12, 2015

The Best Science Books of 2015

Dec 12, 2015

Are algorithms racist — and can we fix that?

Dec 6, 2015
Shutterstock

Some believers in big data have claimed that, in big data sets, “the numbers speak for themselves.” Or in other words, the more data available to them, the closer machines can get to achieving objectivity in their decision-making.

But data researcher Kate Crawford says that’s not always the case. In fact, big data sets can perpetuate the same biases present in our culture, teaching machines to discriminate when scanning resumes or approving loans, for example.

Kurt Vonnegut in the ‘House of Magic’

Dec 5, 2015

The little-known world of endangered plant poaching

Nov 30, 2015
Becky Fogel

There are plenty of news stories about lions, leopards and elephants being poached, but animals aren’t the only endangered species out there. Rare and protected plants are also harvested by poachers, smuggled across borders and illegally sold online. 

What brainless slime mold can teach us about making better decisions

Nov 30, 2015

There is a mindless, senseless yellow-tinted blob of an organism that lives on the forest floor. It’s called slime mold and even though it lacks a brain, it can be relied upon to make a healthy decision more often than most humans. 

“It lives on the forest floor, and it loves moisture and darkness. And it just meanders around looking for food,” Science Friday video producer Luke Groskin. “It has no eyes, and it can only feel for food. So how does it make a decision? How does that creature decide, ‘Oh, it's time to go over here. It's time to go over there.'”

Randall Munroe’s Thousand-Word Challenge

Nov 28, 2015

Scientists say they have a new cure for hearing loss

Nov 28, 2015
Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Jay Alan Zimmerman is a successful composer who writes music for movies and musicals. There's something that sets him apart from other composers, however. He's deaf. 

Zimmerman wasn’t always deaf. He came to New York and began his career in music. Over time he realized he had lost quite a bit of hearing at the top of his range. He didn’t realize just how bad his hearing loss was until one day when he was trying to work on a new track. 

This is a microscopic image of MDMA, the psychoactive drug popularly known as ecstasy, or Molly, that “produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth and empathy toward others, and distortions in sensory and time perception,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The smell inside the warehouse of Nine Pin Ciderworks in Albany, New York, on a recent afternoon was unmistakable: alcohol, with a hint of sweetness.

The aroma wafted from three large plastic vats nearly filled to the brim with the juice of 21,000 pounds of apples recently picked from a nearby orchard. Gurgling loudly, the liquid belched carbon dioxide in a process crucial to turning pure apple juice boozy — fermentation. A gaseous haze hung over the vats at eye level.

The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have reopened the debate over whether the government should have expanded abilities to crack open encrypted messages and access encrypted devices. The director of the FBI in testimony on Capitol Hill this week that messages are going unread, even from those responsible for known attacks.

Two experts, however, say the real problem isn’t lack of access, but lack of analysis. 

After the Paris attacks CIA Director John Brennan warned that encryption could hinder security services from tracking potential dangers.

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