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


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Friday, February 6, 2015 Permalink

Science Friday: Smartphone STD Testing, SciFri Book Club, Lost Cities Of The Amazon


Honey, I Shrunk the Lab: Testing for STDs on a Smartphone


Samuel K. Sia started working on how to miniaturize tools for diagnostic tests 10 years ago. When smartphones hit the scene, Sia—a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University—decided to incorporate them into his research. He and a team of scientists have developed a new device that plugs directly into a smartphone and can simultaneously test for HIV and syphilis with just the prick of the finger. The results of their research were published inScience Translational Medicine this week. Sia discusses how this type of technology can make medical care more accessible in developing countries and what it might mean for consumer-driven healthcare in the United States.

The SciFri Book Club Talks ‘The Lost City of Z’


Join novelist Jeff VanderMeer and archaeologist Sarah Parcak for the SciFri Book Club’s discussion of David Grann’s tale of Amazonian exploration, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. What reallyhappened to Victorian-era explorer Percy Fawcett after he disappeared into the Amazon’s “Green Hell”? Is Fawcett’s “lost city of Z” a figment of his imagination or an archeological reality? It’s all up for debate when the SciFri Book Club talks The Lost City of Z.

Uncovering the Amazon’s Real ‘Lost Cities’


This week, the SciFri Book Club concludes its discussion of David Grann’s non-fiction tale of Amazonian exploration, The Lost City of Z. The book recounts the life—and mysterious disappearance—of Victorian explorer Percy Fawcett, who once posited the existence of a lost Amazonian city called “Z.” But was “Z” a real place? And could the harsh Amazonian landscape ever have supported ancient, complex civilizations? Anthropologist Michael Heckenberger studies archaeological sites in the Amazon’s Xingu region, and features in the conclusion of Grann’s tale. He describes the “garden cities” he’s uncovered, suggesting that ancient civilizations once thrived in the Amazon.

How Budget Plans on Earth Might Stop Opportunity Rover on Mars


This week, NASA unveiled its preliminary budget plans for the coming years. The budget request contains $1.36 billion for planetary science. The Mars rover Opportunity, however, is slated to receive no money in 2016. NASA officials said that the budget was a matter of balancing priorities in a time of limited funds, and that if there continued to be a scientific need for Opportunity, the agency would look for ways to continue funding the project. Steven Squyres, the principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, says that he’s still excited about the rover’s science prospects, and expects that funding for continued operations will be restored.

Can the FCC Proposal Protect the Open Internet?


This week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced an Internet regulation plan that he described as “the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.” Will the proposal secure an open Internet, or will it stymie innovation, as some critics say? Kevin Werbach, a professor from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and former FCC counsel, takes us through the proposal and describes how it will affect consumers, Internet service providers, and innovators.  

Fess Up: We're Taking Your 'Climate Confessions'


Do you have a predilection for beef? Forget to flick off the lights? Or maybe you're a much-too-frequent flier? Then join Flora Lichtman, host of The Adaptors podcast, and Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything to confess your climate sins. And don't worry—no judgment here. We'll talk about how the carbon emissions of out-of-season fruit measure up with your washer/dryer habits. To get you started, listen to some of the SciFri staff's confessions below.

Catching Up on Sea Slug Science


Northern California has seen a population explosion in the bright pink Hopkins’ rose sea slug as a result of warmer waters. Terry Gosliner, senior curator of invertebrate zoology and geology at the California Academy of Sciences, discusses why the nudibranch is a good indicator of the surrounding environment, and fills us in on the latest sea slug science.

Remembering ‘The Father of the Pill’


The chemist Carl Djerassi, often known as “the father of the pill,” passed away on January 30, 2015, at the age of 91. He came to the United States at 16, an Austrian Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe. He later went on to do research foundational to the development of the birth control pill—for which he received the National Medal of Science. At age 75, he became a full-time writer, penning dozens of books and plays. We remember him here with a clip from an interview we recorded with him on February 13, 2004, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.