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science

This is what a concussion sounds like

Jun 20, 2016
Despite missing much of her freshman year of high school because of a concussion, Daisy Emminger will be attending the New School in New York this fall.
KUOW Photo/Conor Gormally

A school assembly on the first day at Garfield High School sounds like this:

But to Daisy Emminger, a Seattle freshman suffering from a concussion, it sounded like this:

"It was just overwhelming," Emminger said. "And painful." 


Will Genetic Advances Make Sex Obsolete?

Jun 16, 2016

Stanford law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely predicts that in the future most people in developed countries won't have sex to make babies. Instead they'll choose to control their child's genetics by making embryos in a lab.

Scientists announced Wednesday that they have once again detected ripples in space and time from two black holes colliding far away in the universe.

The discovery comes just months after the first-ever detection of such "gravitational waves," and it suggests that smaller-sized black holes might be more numerous than many had thought.

The luminous glow of light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of people in North America from seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.

That's according to a new atlas of artificial night sky brightness that found our home galaxy is now hidden from more than one-third of humanity.

Despite Rise Of Superbugs, Syphilis Still Has A Kryptonite

Jun 10, 2016

Lola Stamm fell in love with the bacterium that causes syphilis when she was in grad school.

Other bacteria are rod-shaped or blobby. Treponema pallidum, the syphilis culprit, is a long, skinny corkscrew — and it slithers.

"Under the dark-field microscope they look like little snakes," says Lola Stamm, a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "It's really rather creepy, but they're just fascinating organisms."

Sharon Belvin's nightmare with cancer began in 2004, when she was just 22.

Belvin was an avid runner but said she suddenly found she couldn't climb the stairs without "a lot of difficulty breathing."

Eventually, after months of fruitless treatments for lung ailments like bronchitis, she was diagnosed with melanoma — a very serious skin cancer. It had already spread to her lungs, and the prognosis was grim. She had about a 50-50 chance of surviving the next six months.

"Yeah, that was the turning point of life, right there," she says.

Editor's note: This longform journalism project chronicles a soldier-scientist's quest to figure out how battlefield explosions injure brains. It was first published on Shots in June. The project includes a second story on how the U.S. military changed its response to traumatic brain injury based on this discovery.

A powerful new technique for changing genes in insects, animals and plants holds great promise, according to a report from an influential panel of scientists released Wednesday. But the group also says it's potentially very dangerous.

So-called "burn pits" were common at U.S. military outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Legislation in the Senate would create a center to study the effects of breathing their smoke.

Zunika Crenshaw cringes as a tire swing whips her children around in circles just a little too fast. It's a sunny afternoon in the park, in Pleasanton, Calif. As her children play, she keeps a close watch on their breathing.

She says asthma is in her genes.

"You have a family, a person who has four kids, and all of them have it, including me," she says. "And then my mom has it, and my sister's two kids."

A little girl, 3-year-old Jhase, runs over to her, wheezing. Crenshaw grabs an inhaler, and her daughter breathes deeply from it.

"Women belong in all places where decisions are being made," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said.

Thanks to scientists from The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, it might be time for an update:

Male orb-weaving spiders get devoured by the females they mate with, but a newly published study shows that at least the poor guys get to choose the lovely lady who will cannibalize them.

What do large tables, large breakfasts and large servers have in common? They all affect how much you eat. This week on Hidden Brain, we look at the hidden forces that drive our diets. First we hear from Adam Brumberg at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab about how to make healthier choices more easily (hint: good habits, and pack your lunch!). Then, Senior (Svelte) Stopwatch Correspondent Daniel Pink returns for another round of Stopwatch Science to tell you about those tables, breakfasts and servers.

Flowers generate weak electric fields, and a new study shows that bumblebees can actually sense those electric fields using the tiny hairs on their fuzzy little bodies.

"The bumblebees can feel that hair bend and use that feeling to tell the difference between flowers," says Gregory Sutton, a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Why Are The Trees Green?

May 27, 2016

Consider the logical beauty of the blood test.

Its underlying theory is simple: The cocktail of molecules that is your blood is actually the mirror of active processes throughout the body in which chemicals — fats, proteins, sugars, enzymes, hormones, etc. — push and pull against each other.

Disease is what happens when, perhaps as a result of the admission of a germ from the outside or as a result of some unfortunate growth process, the amount of one molecule or another or the ratio of different substances to each other gets out of whack.

This year's Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be "near-normal," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says. The season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Here's a mystery found in a French cave. It appears that a group of Neanderthals walked into that cave about 176,000 years ago and started building something. Neanderthals were our closest living relatives but they weren't known as builders or cave explorers.

Scientists identify the forms as "constructions," but they can't figure out what they were for.

At the end of 2013, snowy owls started showing up far south of their usual winter range. The big white birds were reported in South Carolina, Georgia, even Florida.

Dave Brinker, an ecologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, had never seen anything like it.

Antibiotics can save lives, but sometimes they can work too well.

Most antibiotics can't tell the difference between good and bad bacteria. That means the medicines kill helpful bacteria in your gut while they're obliterating the bacteria making you sick.

Sometimes astronomy can be challenging, but spotting Mars this weekend should be a breeze.

Step 1: Head outside right after sunset and look toward the southeastern sky.

Step 2: Find the full moon. (So far, so good, right?)

Step 3: Look up and to the right, and find what looks like a bright red star.

That's Mars, our planetary neighbor — getting up close and personal.

Snakes and lizards and crocodiles, oh my!

All of these creatures, which include Burmese pythons and carnivorous lizards, have turned up in Florida in recent years, sparking concerns about possible damage from invasive species and questions about how the nonnative animals came to be in the state.

A handful of scientists around the United States are trying to do something that some people find disturbing: make embryos that are part human, part animal.

The researchers hope these embryos, known as chimeras, could eventually help save the lives of people with a wide range of diseases.

One way would be to use chimera embryos to create better animal models to study how human diseases happen and how they progress.

Perhaps the boldest hope is to create farm animals that have human organs that could be transplanted into terminally ill patients.

Uber is built on the scourge of surge. When demand is high, the company charges two, three, even NINE-POINT-NINE times as much as normal for a ride. Riders hate it... but not so much that they stop riding. "Dynamic pricing" has helped the company to grow into one of the largest ride-booking services in the world. What's the psychology behind it? Shankar sits down with Uber's Head of Economic Research Keith Chen to talk about when we're most likely pay for surge, when we hate it the most, and why monkeys would probably act and feel the same way.

Gently bouncing up and down in microgravity aboard the International Space Station, NASA's Jeffrey Williams delivered a message to the people of Earth.

"Monday, May 16, 2016, at 06:10 at GMT, the ISS will begin its 100,000th orbit as it crosses the equator," Williams said in a video, calling the feat a "significant milestone."

As researchers work to understand the human genome, many questions remain, including, perhaps, the most fundamental: Just how much of the human experience is determined before we are already born, by our genes, and how much is dependent upon external environmental factors?

Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross the answer to that question is complicated. "Biology is not destiny," Mukherjee explains. "But some aspects of biology — and in fact some aspects of destiny — are commanded very strongly by genes."

Pork shoulder, cauliflower and cheese curds are all trending in 2016, according to Google's tracking of food-related searches. That list might either nauseate you or make your mouth water.

Consider the following recent headlines:

"Don't touch baby wild animals, no matter how cute they might be" (Alaska Dispatch News)

"Animals are smarter than humans give them credit for" (New York Magazine)

Fear Of Knowing

May 16, 2016

Science can sometimes come across as a stuffy, inflexible collection of facts — absolute truths not to be questioned. At least, that's the way it is often taught in schools.

The reality of science is very different. Scientists are always questioning, holding out the possibility of being wrong, and learning new things by making mistakes. The progress of science is one long sequence if trials and errors — mostly errors.

Not long after publishing his first book, London designer Thomas Thwaites found himself with no real job and in relationship trouble. His book, The Toaster Project — about his attempt to build a toaster from scratch — was a huge success, but he found the whole business of being a celebrity thinker a hard act to follow.

To be human is to worry about getting by, doing better, finding love and accepting the march of mortality. Thwaites decided to try to escape the burden of being human — and he would do it by becoming a goat.

If you think your job is painful, try spending a workday with Justin Schmidt.

Schmidt is an entomologist who focuses on a group of insects called Hymenoptera — we know them as stinging ants, wasps and bees.

Schmidt has traveled all over the world looking for bugs ... and getting stung by them. The result of his work is an alarmingly comprehensive pain index, ranking 83 insect stings on a spectrum of 1 to 4.

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