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


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Friday, April 3, 2015 Permalink

Science Friday: A Climate Pledge, A Medieval Antibiotic, And An Exoskeletal Boot

A Climate Pledge, a Medieval Antibiotic, and an Exoskeletal Boot

This week, the U.S. submitted its pledge to the United Nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels over the next 10 years. Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate, joins us to break down the promise.

Plus, modern-day microbiologists have brewed up an antibiotic potion from a medieval book. The tincture contains garlic, onion, wine, copper, and cow bile—and in preliminary tests, it appears to work as well as the antibiotic vancomycin at destroying antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

And Arielle Duhaime-Ross, a science reporter at The Verge, tells us about an exoskeletal boot and other stories that crossed her desk this week.


Cracking the Egg

We've all been there: You boil some eggs, timing it down to the minute to get that perfect yolk, and then shock them in cold water. Now for the fun part: peeling. Often it's a total mess, with tiny bits of shell sticking to meaty bits of white, and in the end you have a pockmarked, albeit shell-less, mess in your hands.
Dear listeners, there is a better way. The cooking geek to guide us is Jeff Potter, a software engineer by day, kitchen science ninja by night, who has cooked his way through dozens of eggs—including those of the emu and ostrich variety—to develop the perfect recipe for easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs. And here's the thing: It doesn't even involve boiling. All of Potter’s egg science secrets will be revealed in this eggstravagant episode of Food Failures. 

Catching a Non-Stop, Transatlantic Flight on a Songbird’s Back

Scientists have suspected that the blackpoll warbler—a small, 12-gram songbird—made non-stop migrations over open water to its winter habitats. To find out, ecologist Bill DeLuca and his team caught a flight on the birds by strapping small geolocators onto their backs. The researchers published their findings in the journal Biology Letters. DeLuca discusses just how far these birds journeyed.

Mercury: The Ashtray of the Solar System?

Scientists have been puzzled by why the surface of Mercury reflects such a small amount of light. Reporting in Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers hypothesize that the planet could be covered in carbon left by passing comets. “That carbon acts like a stealth darkening agent…like an invisible paint,” says Peter Schultz, a planetary geologist and co-author on the study.

Festival of Fake Hypotheses Generates Real Laughs

What puts a thousand scientists in stitches? A festival of “Bad Ad hoc Hypotheses” (BAHs), convincingly argued. Ira talks with Zach Weinersmith, creator of the science-savvy webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, about creating BAHFest: a satirical festival that challenges science fans to construct real arguments for completely bogus hypotheses. Ira also hears from BAHFest participant Sarah Hird, who argues, using graphs and equations, that sleep evolved as an evolutionary mechanism for animals so they could escape their feelings of self-loathing. Plus, how good is your B(ad) S(cience) detector? Take our quiz and find out. 

Building Cancer Vaccines From Tumor Mutations

Scientists are tapping the body’s immune system for potential new cancer treatments. In a study out this week in Science, researchers describe their experimental technique that used the tumor genome of three patients to build a cancer vaccine. They believe this approach could be used to create personalized treatments. Immunologist and lead author of the study, Beatriz Carreno, along with Nicholas Restifo of the National Cancer Institute, discuss what it would take to move these cancer vaccines from the lab to the clinic.