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Science Friday
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Science Friday is your trusted source for news and entertaining stories about science. It started as a radio show, created in 1991 by host and executive producer Ira Flatow. Science Friday produces award-winning digital videos and publishes original web content covering everything from octopus camouflage to cooking on Mars. SciFri is brain fun, for curious people.

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  • COP28 Host Had Plans to Promote Oil and Gas, Documents ShowThe United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, began this week in Dubai. This is an annual event, where leaders and delegates from around the world come together to discuss how to collaboratively reach important milestones for the future of the planet. Goals like slowing the rise of temperatures on Earth will require buy-in from all major players to be successful.But this week, a document leaked that showed the United Arab Emirates planned something at odds with the event: promotion of the oil and gas industries. This has led to increased skepticism of COP and its goals among both critics and attendees.Ira is joined by Tim Revell, deputy US editor of New Scientist, to talk about this story. Plus, how a single bitcoin transaction uses enough water to fill a swimming pool, the way nutrients in soil drive biodiversity, and how amino acids could be formed alongside stars.Researchers Detected Cicada Emergence With Fiber-OpticsIf you were in the eastern United States during the summer of 2021, you likely heard the incessant, whirring buzz caused by the mass emergence of Brood X periodical cicadas. That event, which occurs once every 17 years, brought forth countless cicadas to shed their skins, mate, lay eggs, and die. But it turns out their arrival wasn’t just something that you could witness out the lawn or against your car windshield. The sound of their emergence was something that could be detected by fiber-optic cables.Dr. Sarper Ozharar, a researcher who studies optical networking and sensing at NEC Labs in Princeton, New Jersey, has worked on techniques using fiber-optics to sense the vibrations of things like traffic, sirens, and gunshots. Loud noises produce vibrations that subtly distort optical “backscatter” within a glass fiber-optic cable. Using AI, researchers can decode those vibrations and determine what, and where, a noise may have occurred near the fiber.In the summer of 2021, Ozharar and colleagues detected an unusual frequency signal in their test data. With the help of entomologist Dr. Jessica Ware of the American Museum of Natural History, they eventually determined that it was the whirring of the cicada swarm. Their find is the topic of a report published this week in the Journal of Insect Science.Ozharar joins Ira Flatow to talk about how fiber-optic sensing works, and how an electronics and communications lab ended up publishing in an entomology journal. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
  • It’s hard to imagine a world without seatbelts or airbags. But five decades ago, it was the norm for car manufacturers to put glamour over safety.“It was stylistic pornography over engineering integrity,” Ralph Nader, prolific consumer advocate and several-time presidential candidate, tells Science Friday.This winter marks the 55th anniversary of Nader’s groundbreaking investigation, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a damning look at how little auto safety technology was in vehicles back in the 1960s. The book had a massive effect on auto safety in the U.S., setting the groundwork for laws about seatbelts, and the creation of the United States Department of Transportation.Nader joins Ira to discuss what’s happened over 55 years of auto safety advances, and what kind of work is needed to make sure new technology, like self-driving cars, have the safety checks they need before going out on the roads.To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
  • If you want to predict the color of something, you can talk about wavelengths of light. Light with a wavelength of around 460 nanometers is going to look blue. If you want to predict what something sounds like, frequencies can be a guide—a frequency of around 261 Hertz should sound like the musical note middle C. Predicting smells is more difficult. While we know that many sulfur-containing molecules tend to fall somewhere in the ‘rotten egg’ or ‘skunky’ category, predicting other aromas based solely on a chemical structure is hard. Molecules with a similar chemical structure may smell quite different—while two molecules with very different chemical structures can smell the same. This week in the journal Science, researchers describe developing an AI model that, given the structure of a chemical compound, can roughly predict where it’s likely to fall on a map of odors. For example, is it grassy? Or more meaty? Perhaps floral?Dr. Joel Mainland is one of the authors of that report. He’s a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and an adjunct associate professor in the department of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Mainland joins Ira to talk about the mystery of odor, and his hope that odor maps like the one developed by the AI model could bring scientists closer to identifying the odor equivalent of the three primary colors—base notes that could be mixed and blended to create all other smells. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday’s newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
  • Few living scientists are as iconic as Dr. Jane Goodall. The legendary primatologist spent decades working with chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. More recently, Goodall has devoted her time to advocating for conservation, not just in Africa, but worldwide.Ira spoke with Goodall in 2002, after she had published her book The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for the Animals, and an IMAX film about her work with chimpanzees had just been released. To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
  • Ever wondered why your dog’s back-and-forth shaking is so effective at getting you soaked? Or how bugs, birds, and lizards can run across water—but we can’t? Or how about why cockroaches are so darn good at navigating in the dark?Those are just a few of the day-to-day mysteries answered in the new book How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future, by Georgia Tech mathematician David Hu.The book answers questions you probably won’t realize you even had, but they’re questions with serious answers that span the worlds of physics, fluid mechanics, and biology. Throughout the book, Hu demonstrates the extraordinary value day-to-day curiosity brings to science.But, while he explores how science can reveal wonders of the mechanisms in our world, Hu writes how his work has been the target of politicians for so-called “wasteful” science spending. One of the studies under attack, an inquiry into the average length of urination across the animal kingdom, might have had a laughable premise, but eventually led to serious attention by urologists and researchers working on treatments, prostheses, and artificial organs.“The concept of waste is based on the notion of a limited gas tank and a single known destination,” Hu writes. “People expect scientists to save gas as they go from A to B. But the real power of science is to take us to destinations that we have never been to.”To stay updated on all things science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.