Science Friday

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


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Friday, February 27, 2015 Permalink

Bees On Planes, Cyborg Bacteria, NASA And The Civil Rights Movement


Airport Apiaries, Now Boarding

After you slide your bags past the scanner, put your shoes back on, and head down the airport concourse to your gate, take a moment to look outside. There's a lot of open space at an airport—around the runways and next to the control tower, and as “buffer” land set up between the airport and nearby properties. And while that space may not seem like a great natural habitat, at several airports around the world, hundreds of thousands of creatures are now calling it home. We’re talking bees. The trend started in Germany several years ago, but now several U.S. airports also host beehives. Bob Redmond, a beekeeper and director of The Common Acre, says the success of the hives that his group manages at Sea-Tac airport in Washington State is a sign of an improved habitat for other native pollinators.


Which Scientific Ideas Must Die?

Whether it’s the four bodily humors, the geocentric universe, or the steady state theory, sometimes an old idea has to die before new science can flourish. (Just ask Copernicus.) A new anthology edited by’s John Brockman aims to speed that process along by asking scientists and big thinkers which scientific concepts they’d target for extinction. Ira talks with two contributors to This Idea Must Die—theoretical physicist Sean Carroll and quantum mechanic Seth Lloyd— about the ideas they’d like to give a good shove out the door. Read an excerpt from the book here, and vote for which ideas you think should die.



Apps That Judge What's on Your Plate

Are you the type of person who instagrams glamour shots of food? Instead of sharing your snaps with followers, why not send them to a dietician to get some eating advice? A new class of food-coaching apps like “Rise” and “Noom Coach” connects you to pros and peers who offer tips on healthy eating, based on descriptions and photos of what you eat. Lauren Goode, managing editor of reviews at Re/code, gives us her take on the apps.


Dawn of the Cyborg Bacteria

In a basement laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, two roboticists have harnessed the sensing, swimming, and swarming abilities of bacteria to power microscopic robots. Even though their work sounds like the premise of a dark science fiction film, Ph.D. students Elizabeth Beattie and Denise Wong hope these initial experiments with nano bio-robots will provide a platform for future medical and micro-engineering endeavors.


NASA and Integration During the Civil Rights Movement

Morgan Watson started working at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1964. He described it as “its own little world.” But the facility, located in Huntsville, Alabama, was mere hours from Selma and Montgomery—two prominent battlegrounds in the Civil Rights Movement. Watson himself contributed to a little known piece of Civil Rights era history: He was one of NASA’s first African American engineers. He’s profiled in the book We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program, by Steven Moss and Richard Paul.
Racial integration occurred at NASA facilities throughout the South in the 1960s. Christine Darden, for example (pictured above), was an African-American mathematician who joined the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in 1967. Watson and Darden, along with Steven Moss, join Science Friday to discuss the work of African-American scientists at NASA during the Civil Rights Movement.

Future Crimes: The Next Generation of Security Threats

Finger scans might secure your smartphone today, but could they lead to identity theft in the future? In the new book Future Crimes, author Marc Goodman looks at how criminals are using emergent technology for their own benefit. Goodman leads us through an investigation of the next generation of security threats and how we might protect ourselves. Read an excerpt from the book here


After Decades of Dietary Warnings, Eggs Make a Comeback

For decades, the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines have warned Americans off eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods on the theory that dietary cholesterol increases one’s risk for heart disease. But last week, Americans woke up to a new egg paradigm. According to the nutrition experts on the government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern.” In fact, if they have their way, the government’s new dietary guidelines won’t include any prohibition against cholesterol at all. Why the reversal? Ira discusses the latest science on cholesterol and fat with the Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett and the Cleveland Clinic’s Steven Nissen.