Public Media Science & Technology Posts

Online Content From APM, PRI, and PRX

The latest stories from South Dakota Public Broadcasting's national media partners: American Public Media, Public Radio International, and Public Radio Exchange.

There’s a running joke in the cybersecurity industry that squirrels pose a greater threat to the power grid than hackers. 

But that’s changing. 

Russia has been able to shut off parts of the power grid to cause massive blackouts in Ukraine on two separate occasions. 

And the technology they’ve developed is highly sophisticated and adaptable, which means that any country could be the next target of Russian hackers.

Dr. Mae Jemison on the need for science literacy

Jun 22, 2017

Physician, astronaut and engineer Dr. Mae Jemison says everybody needs to be "science literate" to think their way through the day, and be a contributing member of society.

What a 'Great Yellowstone Thaw' Means for Grizzlies

Jun 20, 2017

“Don’t wake the baby”—the constant refrain for new parents. One overly loud laugh or ring of the doorbell and nap time is over, just that quickly.

Turns out sleep can be just as touchy in the animal kingdom.

Tired of jogging? There’s an exosuit for that.

Jun 20, 2017
<a href="">Clem Onojeghuo</a> via <a href="">Unsplash</a>. Image cropped.

Talk about suiting up for a jog — researchers have developed an exosuit that helps runners use less energy.

The ensemble is no stiff, Iron Man-style exoskeleton — it looks more like a pair of belted spandex shorts. In the study, recently published in Science Robotics, researchers say that wearing the suit can cut the metabolic cost of a treadmill run by 5.4 percent.

Rolls-Royce and the state are chipping in to expand Purdue University’s work on making small gas-powered turbine engines more efficient.

The company already opened one big facility at Purdue this year. Now, it’s investing another $10 million into two new wind tunnels at Purdue’s turbine research lab.

Mechanical engineering professor Guillermo Paniagua leads the research there. He explains what gas turbine engines do.

For fish, the good and bad of warming ocean waters

Jun 19, 2017

As ocean temperatures rise, what will happen to the fish we eat?

According to a recent study published in “Progress in Oceanography,” some fish species will thrive in warmer waters — and others, not so much.

Using a detailed climate model and historical observation data, researchers at NOAA and The Nature Conservancy modeled the shifting thermal habitats of over 50 species along the Atlantic coast, from North Carolina to the Gulf of Maine.

How to make bionic limbs feel more natural

Jun 18, 2017
Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters

When you flex your bicep, your muscle sends information to your brain, allowing you to feel your muscle contract without even having to glance at it. But if you have a bionic limb, you don’t get that same sensory feedback.

“When I move my bionic ankles, I don’t feel the movement of the ankles, and when the torque increases on my bionic ankle joints, I don’t feel that torque,” says Hugh Herr, who co-directs the Center for Extreme Bionics at MIT, and whose legs are amputated below the knee.

Just how much science is in forensic science?

Jun 17, 2017
<a href="">West Midlands Police</a>/<a href="">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

On TV crime shows, forensic science always just manages to pinpoint the criminal in the span of a televised hour — and with 100 percent accuracy. But in real life, forensic science doesn’t always work so smoothly.

Daniel A. Gross/PRI

When President Donald J. Trump announced that he would pull the US out of the Paris Climate Accords, European leaders quickly piled on criticism. French president Emmanuel Macron addressed American scientists and engineers: "I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland. Come, and work here with us."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to control the message coming from most media outlets in his country. But he hasn't been so successful online, where many young Russians go to get their entertainment and news.

<a href="">Myriams-Fotos</a>/<a href="">CC&nbsp;BY 2.0</a>

Have you gotten your hands on a fidget spinner yet?

The brightly colored device can be spun, flipped and even tossed in one hand, and it’s been turning up in schools across the country.

Manufacturers say the fidget spinners can help relieve stress, but the toys have already been banned as distractions in some classrooms, sending kids back to the Stone Age of clicking pens and squeezing stress balls.

Science journalist David Baron tells the story of the 1878 total eclipse of the sun, visible over the American Wild West. It drew astronomers, scientists and a famous young inventor to witness the event.

"Thomas Edison, age 31, right after he invented the phonograph and immediately before he invented the incandescent lamp, went to Wyoming to see a total eclipse," says Baron.

And so did thousands of others.

Tucked into a corner of physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed’s otherwise very cerebral-looking office is a computer with the '90s TV show, “Twin Peaks,” paused midscene.

The cult classic is constantly on in the background as Arkani-Hamed works on physics problems at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey.

“I find watching it inspiring because, there, they’re trying to figure out some crazy stuff, and we’re trying to figure out some crazy stuff,” says Arkani-Hamed. “So, it’s actually really nice to have it playing in the background.”

Courtesy of Delta Airlines

With stories of unhappy air travelers blanketing social media in recent months, one major airline is trying something new.

Delta Air Lines plans to install special bag-check kiosks at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, giving customers the chance to skip waiting in line for an agent. One of the new kiosks will include facial-recognition technology, using a camera to confirm passengers’ faces against their passport photos.

Reality Winner/Instagram

Paper creases.

That appears to be the clue that helped authorities determine the identity of a National Security Agency contractor who leaked a highly classified report. 

The arrest of the suspected leaker was announced on Monday about an hour following the publication of a report by the The Intercept, which describes Russian hacking efforts in the days before the US presidential election in November last year.

Carl Hart is among the most ardent opponents of “drug myths” — stereotypes depicting meth and crack users as violent zombies.

His field, neuropsychopharmacology, sounds hopelessly niche. Yet his work generates notoriety. The Columbia University professor is widely recognized for research suggesting neither meth nor crack is as addictive as most governments claim.

Luis Galdamez

It's a bad time to be a sea turtle. They’re threatened by pollution — they die from ingesting plastic and get caught in fishing nets. Their habitat is being destroyed by coastal development — sea walls cut off their paths to nesting beaches.

And don’t even get me started on global warming.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, turtles must also contend with egg poachers.

<a href="">Kenta Morigami</a>/<a href="">CC-BY-SA 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

This year marks 50 years since the first microwave oven entered home kitchens. Called the Radarange, the machine sold for a whopping $495 in 1967, and we’ve been nuking our food ever since — but not without lingering questions about how the appliance even works.

Consider, for a moment, the musk ox.

The ancient animal looks a bit like a shaggy, long-haired bison and can be found roaming the cold, Arctic landscapes of places like Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland

Musk oxen “actually went extinct in Alaska in the 1890s, and the state brought them back,” says wildlife biologist Joel Berger, a professor at Colorado State University and senior scientist for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

Science has some good news for worriers

Jun 3, 2017
US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony

Whatever it is that you’re fretting about, here's a bit of good news: Worrying can be beneficial, under certain circumstances.

Dr. Kate Sweeney, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and co-author of new research on the upside of worrying, says it serves a few useful functions.

“The most important function that worry serves is that it acts as a motivator,” Sweeney says. “It essentially tells us there is something we should be doing. And it gives us the motivation to do it.”

Sleep More, Make More Money (Yes, Really)

Jun 2, 2017

This article appeared originally on Next Avenue.

If you’d like to earn more money, science has a simple and attractive solution: Sleep more. Turns out, sleep deprivation is not only bad for your health; it’s bad for your bank account.

Rather Than Your 'Real' Self, Be Your Best Self

Jun 2, 2017

Bear with me while I get a little deep: Who is the real you?

No, seriously, it’s a valid question: Is the real you the person you are today—all posturing aside—or is it the person you aspire to be—the best self you’re working to carve out from the proverbial block of marble each day?

The Surprising Creative Science of 'Microdreams'

May 31, 2017

The human brain is a masterful engine of creativity and improvisation during our waking hours. We take images, sounds and experiences and turn them into sculptures, movies and poems. By developing creative talents, we can improve our ability to translate the stimuli of the real world into fantasy, art and escape.

The experience of creativity during our “awake” hours is intentional, though; we have to find time for it among the competing distractions of work, school and social obligations.


On August 21, the continental United States will experience its first total solar eclipse in nearly four decades. With the eclipse’s path stretching from Oregon all the way to South Carolina, cities like Kansas City, Missouri, and Nashville, Tennessee, will be swathed in daytime darkness for a few minutes — and at least a partial eclipse will be visible around the country.  

Marijuana could give a cognitive boost to older brains

May 30, 2017
<a href="">MarihuanayMedicina</a>/<a href="">CC-BY-SA 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Researchers have found a drug that reverses the effects of brain aging in mice — marijuana.

In the study, published in Nature Medicine, German and Israeli researchers tested the memory and cognition of 2-month-old “young” mice, 12-month-old “mature” mice and 18-month-old “old” mice after exposing them to low doses of THC (the main psychoactive component in marijuana) over a monthlong period. 

Once populous on the country’s mainland, the New Zealand sea lion was hunted to extinction there centuries ago. Recently, however, the mammal has been making a comeback: Fifteen New Zealand sea lion pups were born on the mainland last year.

Video producer Chelsea Fiske chronicled government efforts to protect the baby animals in a new film for Science Friday’s Macroscope series, “How to Save the World’s Rarest Sea Lion Pups.” She also discovered a pup in the process. 

By now, most everyone knows this dirty truth about our oceans: Tons and tons of plastic waste in the form of bottles, bags, fishing nets, Styrofoam, and a myriad other containers are routinely discarded into the sea. Marine scientists estimate that over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the oceans.

So is there any way to clean up that mess, and how feasible is it?

<a href="">David Phan</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Stargazers living in upper latitudes occasionally glimpse shimmering splashes of pink, blue and green in the night sky. The phenomenon, known as the aurora, is “a glitter bomb” of charged particles from the sun, says Liz MacDonald, a space plasma physicist at NASA.

The aurora is also notoriously ephemeral and can be difficult to track — which is where citizen science comes in. Recently, a group of aurora chasers in Canada saw something strange in the night sky: a purplish streak occurring further south than most auroras. “And they said, ‘What is this thing?’” MacDonald recalls.

When avians and airplanes collide, we tend to hear the big stories — like when a flock of birds crippled the engines of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009, forcing a crash-landing in the Hudson River. (All 155 passengers and crew survived.)

But thousands of birds hit planes in the United States each year, to less fanfare. “There are somewhere around 13,000 bird strikes reported to civil aviation and another 4,000 to 5,000 from the military, so it’s quite a few birds every year,” says forensic ornithologist Carla Dove.


NASA’s spacesuit closet is looking a little bare these days, according to an audit released last month by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.