Science Friday

Science, technology, environment and health news and discussion with host Ira Flatow.


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Friday, October 3, 2014 Permalink

Science Friday: Do Chimps Have Culture? And Other Burning Questions.

Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr

Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr

Do Chimps Have Culture?

Researchers at Uganda’s Budongo Forest say they’ve spotted the first instance of social learning in wild chimps. Reporting in PLOS Biology, they used a statistical model to show that chimps who saw another chimp use a new water-drinking tool were 15 times more likely to adopt the new tool themselves. Lead author Catherine Hobaiter probes the question: If chimps can learn from one another, could they also have culture?
In the video below, individual KZ (right of the screen) picks a leaf-sponge from the ground while his mother, KW, extracts water from the waterhole. He then chews the used tool before leaf-sponging himself at the waterhole. Video by Catherine Hobaiter.


Mining the Internet for Clues to Chinese Censorship


Protests continue in Hong Kong, but only partial glimpses of that activity make it into mainland China. Gary King, a professor of government at Harvard, uncovered data on what kinds of social media posts are and are not censored in China. He used that data to try to reverse-engineer how China’s Internet censorship apparatus works, and found that calls to collective action, not direct criticism, were most likely to face the censor’s eraser.

Dance and Physics Collide in ‘Quantum’


As a choreographer, Gilles Jobin says that he “organizes his thinking in systems of movement.” For his piece Quantum, he took inspiration from physics and the behavior of the particles in the Large Hadron Collider. Jobin and CERN particle physicist Michael Doser discuss this collision of art and science.



A Whiff of What’s to Come: What Sense of Smell Says About Health


Researchers from the University of Chicago asked 3,005 adults between the ages of 57-85 to suss out the citrusy scent of orange and the earthiness of leather, among other odors. Participants who did poorly on this smelling test were at a significantly higher risk of dying within five years than their counterparts with a normal sense of smell. Lead author Jayant Pinto discusses the findings, published this week in PLOS ONE, and explains what our sense of smell might say about the state of our overall health.

Community Labs Practice Do-It-Yourself Biology


Inspired by hackerspaces and hobbyist groups like the Homebrew Computer Club, intrepid citizen scientists are taking the tools of synthetic biology into their own hands. At community labs like Brooklyn’s Genspace, the Bay Area’sBioCurious, and Baltimore’s BUGSS, members play around with PCR machines and bioprinters, extract their own DNA, and make bacteria glow in the dark. We’ll hear about some of their biology hacks and ask what’s safe in a DIY lab.



Catching a Glimpse of an Eclipse


This month, North America will be under the skies of a full lunar eclipse on October 8 and a partial solar eclipse on October 23. Dean Regas, outreach astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory, gives us a heads-up on the best viewing spots. Amateur astrophotographer Eric Teske shares tips on how to snap a photo of the night sky with your smartphone camera.