Public Media Science & Technology Posts

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

Bacteria are thriving in the sky — and they influence the weather

21 hours ago
<a href="">Chris Waits</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>

Ever since Antoni van Leeuwenhoek first observed “animalcules” through a microscope in the late 1600s, we’ve been finding bacteria all over. They’ve been discovered in deep sea vents, on human skin, and deep in Antarctic ice. There are even bacteria all the way up in the clouds. Strange and wonderful, no?

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

If much of the US was transfixed by the sight on Monday of two of America’s top intelligence officials sitting in Congress, addressing allegations of Russian meddling in the US elections, the Kremlin claimed it had better things to do.

“We have many concerns in the Kremlin and following that [debate] isn’t one of them,” said presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“New information we’re not hearing and doubtfully will hear,” said Peskov, who went on to compare the hearings to a “broken record” being played ad nauseum.

There's a sweet new test for pee in the pool

Mar 21, 2017
tpsdave/Creative Commons

The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium (ACE) can be found in everything from chewing gum, to baked goods, to the packets of sugar substitute on restaurant tables. But researchers at the University of Alberta recently made headlines with the announcement that they’d found ACE somewhere else: in 31 swimming pools and hot tubs.

The pros and cons of 'gene drives'

Mar 20, 2017

Scientists have used genetics to alter mosquito populations for several decades, to try to eliminate diseases such as malaria and more recently Zika. But these efforts — when they've worked at all — have only partially addressed the problem.

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

Here’s an unexpected story: Scientists are working on a drug to stimulate ear hair growth.

In this case, the ear hairs in question are actually tiny, sensory hair cells in our cochlea. We have about 15,000 of them in each ear, and they’re crucial to helping us detect sound waves. But the little cells are also very fragile.

New report gives cautious support for embryonic gene editing in humans

Mar 19, 2017
<a href="">lunar caustic</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Last month, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine released a report about the use of gene editing techniques like CRISPR on human embryos. The new report, coming from two globally respected scientific organizations, suggests the technique could be warranted in certain cases — not just in the laboratory, but in real life.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA was big on the internet in late February, when it announced that scientists had discovered seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star, 40 light-years away.

The planets are closer to their cool star than Mercury is to the sun, and scientists think they could all be temperate enough to hold liquid water — a key ingredient for life. Not surprisingly, the scientific community is abuzz about what the planets hold, water and otherwise.

Trump’s plan for the EPA is death by ‘a thousand cuts’

Mar 17, 2017
<a href="">Mike</a>/<a href="">CC BY-ND 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

If President Donald Trump has his way, the Environmental Protection Agency will be downsized quite a bit: 31 percent, with more than 50 programs eliminated, as laid out in his budget proposal released on Thursday. But penny-pinching isn’t the only tool his administration and Republican lawmakers have at their disposal, to undermine the agency.  

As two environmental law experts explain, different congressional actions and executive orders can also be used to chip away at the EPA. Some already have.   

'Asteroid hunters' search for space rocks that could collide with Earth

Mar 15, 2017
<a href="">ESO</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0 (image cropped)</a>

Millions of rocky and metallic leftovers from the formation of the universe orbit the same sun that we do, many of them found between Mars and Jupiter in what is known as the asteroid belt. And while most of these asteroids peacefully coexist with planet Earth, some of them end up on more hostile trajectories.

It may be terrifying to think that an asteroid could collide with Earth at any moment, but some of our planet's citizens have a plan for dealing with hazardous space rocks.

Six years after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, officials are still seeking ways to deal with the huge amount of hazardous waste being generated at the nuclear power plant.

Tokyo-based journalist James Simms has been covering the Fukushima cleanup since shortly after the effort was crippled by a tsunami in March 2011.

He told The World that six years on, there has been some progress toward decommissioning the plant, “but many unforeseen issues may mean that the cleanup and dismantling and decontamination will take longer than previously expected.”

Steven Davy

Every March in Austin, Texas, an explosion of technology entrepreneurs show off their latest ideas and hobnob at parties, tweeting, snapping and gramming epic stories about who they met and what they saw.

South by Southwest — referred to as SXSW — is known for the music and films that premiere here. But the weekend before the music is SXSW Interactive. It’s full of energy and deal-making.

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

It may look like shrink wrap, but a film recently developed by a team of researchers has a secret power: It’s incredibly sensitive to temperature.

“Just to give you a sense, it … can detect, for example, the presence of warm bodies like a rabbit, or a human body or a hand at a distance of up to a meter,” says Chiara Daraio, a professor of mechanical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and a co-author of the new study, published in Science Robotics.

Kelvin Brown/BBC

The place where the first Soviet atomic bomb was dropped looks like a small natural pond.

The bumpy roads that lead to it course through stark, but picturesque, countryside. The river Irtysh, which flows down from China and on to Russia, divides this northeastern part of Kazakhstan into steppes to the south and forests to the north. 

The beauty hides an ugly history.  

The older people here grew up watching huge clouds mushroom in the sky overhead. Man-made earthquakes regularly shook the ground under their feet.

The very real science behind 'The Expanse'

Mar 13, 2017

Imagine for a moment that we’ve colonized Mars and the asteroid belt. We mine the asteroid belt for ice and minerals and live — not always peacefully — in different factions, split up across the solar system.

Mining nature for the next groundbreaking antibiotic

Mar 12, 2017

It’s been just shy of 90 years since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in his London lab, but as the World Health Organization recently cautioned, we’re already headed for a “post-antibiotic era.”

In the future, people might really wear their emotions on their sleeves

Mar 10, 2017

Picking up on subtle cues in our conversations with other people is tough — and it can be even trickier for people with social anxiety or Asperger’s syndrome.

Every passport tells a story

Mar 9, 2017
Courtesy of

The smudged travel stamps in passports are a record of international border crossings that went smoothly or perhaps not so smoothly. The photos are freeze frames of the travelers who made those journeys. And then there are the cool, invisible security features.

These are just a few of the things that fascinate Tom Topol about passports. He's been collecting passports and investigating their history ever since he stumbled on an interesting one in Kyoto, Japan.

National Academy Mining Health Study Underway

Mar 7, 2017

A committee with National Academy of Sciences has started work on a study of the health effects of surface mining in central Appalachia.  

The eleven-member panel gathered in Washington, D.C., to hear about earlier research on how mining affects nearby residents.

How tech companies are trying to combat trafficking

Mar 6, 2017
Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Sex trafficking and human slavery are certainly nothing new, but the internet has created a lawless space for predators to buy and sell people. Today, more than 150,000 escort ads are posted in the US every day, many of them for children. The human trafficking industry enslaves an estimated 27 million people worldwide.

Scientists are trying to make the perfect battery

Mar 5, 2017
<a href="">Kevin Doncaster</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Lithium-ion batteries power everything from our laptops to phones to electric vehicles, but they’re far from perfect. In fact, they were the culprits behind Samsung’s recent exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones. 

“The word ‘bomb’ is not out of place here,” says David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance and the host of NOVA’s documentary “The Search for the Super Battery.”

Scientists make a battery that runs on stomach acid

Mar 4, 2017
<a href="">ChristianSW</a>. Own work/<a href="">CC BY 3.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

A new wave of “ingestible electronics” is poised to transform health care from the inside out. Researchers are experimenting with sensors that can wirelessly monitor vital signs like heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature from the squishy interior of our gastrointestinal tract.


It’s Lydia’s “Gotcha Day!”

Four years ago to the day, the Great White was hauled onto a boat off the coast of Florida and fitted with a satellite tag.

Since then, scientists have been tracking her every move.

And thousands of regular people have been following her on Twitter. (She has a thing for emojis.)

No more snow days? It could happen in Minnesota

Mar 2, 2017

Dateline: St. Paul
Updated: 4 p.m. | Posted: 6:34 a.m.

Minnesota lawmakers are considering legislation that could spell the end for snow days.

In an attempt to curb the amount of days tacked onto the end of the school year, a House committee heard legislation that would let schools substitute snow days for home learning, or e-learning, days. Families would be notified at least two hours before school starts and students would begin their online coursework at the beginning of the school day.

About 100 Rochester students to be removed if not vaccinated

Mar 1, 2017

Dateline: Rochester, Minn.
More than 100 students in Rochester will be sent home from school on Wednesday unless they can prove they've been vaccinated or are exempt.

School officials said last week that starting March 1, students who can't provide proper immunization paperwork will be sent home. State law requires that students be immunized or be officially exempt for reasons such as health or religion.

Courtesy&nbsp;<a href="">Conexión Migrante</a>

No abra la puerta! Don't open the door!

That may be the No. 1 piece of advice activists have for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, many of whom fear possible deportation. If the authorities come knocking without a proper warrant, US residents have a right not to open the door.

Advance notice of when an immigration raid on a workplace is about to go down certainly helps, too.

Should artificial intelligence be used in science publishing?

Feb 28, 2017
blickpixel/CC0. Image cropped.&nbsp;

Advances in automation technology mean that robots and artificial intelligence programs are capable of performing an ever-greater share of our work, including collecting and analyzing data. For many people, automated colleagues are still just office chatter, not reality, but the technology is already disrupting industries once thought to be just for humans. Case in point: science publishing.

Fear that environmental data could disappear under the Trump administration has spurred hundreds of volunteer researchers, hackers and archivists around the country to start saving federal data on secure, non-government servers.

In Minneapolis, some 150 volunteers brought their laptops to the basement of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota last weekend. They worked on digging through various not-yet-archived pockets of the massive .gov system.

• Full coverage: Environment

Taylor Wilson astounded the science world when he built a bomb at age 10, and at age 14 became the youngest person in history to produce fusion. The young nuclear scientist is still only 22, and he believes science can potentially solve some of the most important problems of our time.

Eddie Keogh/Reuters&nbsp;

It's a new twist on an old classic. 

Seventeen years after its debut as a sturdy, indestructible device, on Sunday Nokia rolled out its once-popular cellphone: the Nokia 3310. 

Compared to the original, it's got a much bigger screen; a larger battery; it's slimmer; and it comes with a camera attached to the back. The updated version also comes in fetching new colors: yellow and red, in addition to the standard blue.  

Fifth-graders turn classroom into a trout fishery

Feb 27, 2017

Fifth-graders at Lake Elmo Elementary School are learning about watersheds by raising hundreds of baby fish.

When 500 eggs the size of orange pinheads arrived at their classroom a few months ago, 10-year-old Jordan Kimlinger said she thought the whole project was going to be boring.

Had she known anything about fish before this?

"I didn't know there was trout, so, no," she said. "I've been really into science, and I think this is a very good science experiment."