Science Friday

Saturday 12 p.m.

Science Friday is your trusted source for news and entertaining stories about science. We started as a radio show, created in 1991 by host and executive producer Ira Flatow. Since then, we’ve grown into much more: We produce award-winning digital videos and publish original web content covering everything from octopus camouflage to cooking on Mars. SciFri is brain fun, for curious people. The radio show is broadcast on many public radio stations Fridays from 2-4 p.m. Eastern Time. You can join the conversation by calling 1-844-724-8255 or tweeting us your questions @scifri.

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When it comes to getting new drugs on the market, testing and clinical trials can take years — but patients with rare or life-threatening illnesses don’t always have that long to wait.

To treat these patients, the Food and Drug Administration accelerates approval of some promising drugs, letting them onto the market based on physical indicators and lab measurements. But afterward, manufacturers must conduct post-approval clinical trials to confirm the drugs’ safety and efficacy.

From day one of the Oroville spillway crisis in February, the California Department of Water Resources has never wavered in its declarations that, despite the disintegration of the massive concrete flood control outlet — and a near-disaster caused by uncontrolled emergency reservoir flows down a rapidly eroding hillside — the stability of the massive dam itself was not and has never been threatened.

What the aye-aye and the woodpecker can tell us about how evolution works

Sep 3, 2017

Is the evolution of particular traits predictable or random? Or put it this way: If we rewound the tape on Earth’s history and started life over again from the very beginning, would the same animals — even humans — still emerge?

The sweet stories of fake fruit flavors

Sep 3, 2017

What do icy cherry popsicles, sweet grape sodas and sticky banana taffy have in common?

For one, we don’t expect them to taste much like the real fruits they’re meant to mimic — but their artificial flavors are familiar and intense, all the same. Where did these fake fruit flavors come from, and why, in 2017, do they still taste so little like the real thing?

How to make biometric technology more secure

Sep 2, 2017

Fingerprint scanners now come standard on most new smartphones, and some devices even feature iris scanners and 2-D facial recognition technology. But with every new step forward in biometrics, it seems a way to “spoof” the technology follows soon behind — from fingerprint replicas to high-resolution photographs of faces and eyes. So, what’s on the horizon in biometric security, and how can we make the technology more secure?

Why we still remember a ‘relatively’ important eclipse nearly a century later

Aug 17, 2017

Millions of onlookers may find themselves pausing in awe of the cosmos on Aug. 21, as a total solar eclipse darkens swaths of North America. (And at PRI, we want your eclipse plans, stories and photos.)

Alan Alda's secret to better communication? Have a little more empathy.

Aug 13, 2017

Actor Alan Alda is on a mission to help scientists make their research more relatable to the public. He even co-founded an organization at New York’s Stony Brook University, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, to get the message out.

What’s your game plan for the Great American Eclipse?

Aug 13, 2017

If you’re reading this in the United States, you’re perfectly positioned for a dazzling glimpse of the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21.

In the US, the total eclipse will cross 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina, and, according to NASA, a partial eclipse will be visible across North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe.

Mark your calendar: Aug. 21 is the Great American Eclipse.

Slowing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by helping patients relearn lost skills

Aug 12, 2017

For people with Alzheimer’s, the disease brings a gradual, devastating loss of ability to manage basic daily needs — a decline known as retrogenesis. First, patients lose higher planning functions, then skills like money management and then simpler skills like dressing and bathing.

Drugs can slow this decline, but new research has pinpointed an approach that could stall the slide even further: pairing medication with supportive care to help patients relearn basic skills. The findings were presented in July at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Probing Humanity’s Endless ‘Why?’

Aug 12, 2017

Panting, Perspiration, And Puddles

Aug 12, 2017

In small collisions, scientists find big new physics questions

Aug 7, 2017
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Pierre Albouy/Reuters

In physics, the Standard Model describes how particles like quarks, leptons and bosons should interact. But as a review paper detailed in the journal Nature in June, recent experiments at particle colliders around the world have turned up anomalies that the rule book doesn’t quite account for.

You may not know what a Quindar tone is, but you have definitely heard one.

Quindar tones are the beeps heard in the background of famous space communications, like Neil Armstrong’s “the Eagle has landed” message to Mission Control when the lunar module first reached the moon.

Can we pay people to save the rainforests?

Aug 6, 2017

Earth’s forests are crucial for controlling the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and for maintaining biodiversity, so efforts are underway around the world to stop deforestation. But what happens when those same trees are also crucial to a family’s livelihood?

One solution being tried in countries like Costa Rica and Uganda is to pay landowners not to cut down their trees.

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<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/widnr/">Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources</a>/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">CC-BY-ND 2.0</a>

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor — a lightweight plastic frame covered in wire mesh that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days — and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets in eastern Iowa.

The demand for beef, pork and chicken raised on smaller farms closer to home is growing. Now, some Midwest farmers, like Johnson, are exploring how to graze livestock to meet those demands while still earning a profit.

The Midnight Scan Club

Aug 5, 2017

How fire ants manage to build ‘Eiffel Tower’-like structures using their own bodies

Jul 30, 2017

As a child, you probably watched ants tunneling into cracks in a sidewalk or building elaborate, networked colonies in a toy ant farm. But have you ever seen a tower of fire ants?

The swirling structure is formed when fire ants pile together in a shape resembling an upside-down tornado, or the Eiffel Tower. Ant researcher David Hu estimates that for humans, the equivalents of some ant towers would stretch tens of stories high.

A new way to go local: Buy solar energy from your neighbors

Jul 28, 2017

The green trend these days is to go local — and if urbanites can source everything from veggies to craft beer in their neighborhoods, why not solar energy?

LO3 Energy, a New York-based startup, is working on one way to do so. Its project, Brooklyn Microgrid, aims to help electricity users buy energy from their energy-producing neighbors, using smart meters and an app.

Alan Alda: To Talk Better, Listen

Jul 28, 2017

Seawater in the pores? It’s what made Roman concrete great.

Jul 25, 2017
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Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

The ancient Romans mastered concrete more than 2,000 years ago and used it to build piers, breakwaters and other structures. Despite the batterings of time and seawater, some of those structures still stand today.

In fact, their concrete has grown stronger over time — the result, scientists now say, of complex interactions between seawater and volcanic ash used in the mortar.

The kilogram is getting a new look

Jul 23, 2017

For over a century, we’ve been using the same object to define the kilogram: a pingpong-ball-size chunk of platinum-iridium kept in Paris under lock and key. That will soon change.

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