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.

This pressurized, skirt-like machine helps keep astronauts fit

Apr 29, 2017
Courtesy of NASA 

Many engineers spend their entire careers focused on a single area of research — say, the design of airplane components. Then there's Christine Dailey: Put simply, she's not your average engineer. 

Dailey has explored everything from fluids to electronics and has built an exercise machine for astronauts. She has designed autonomous vehicles and much more (some of which she's not allowed to talk about), all while finishing her PhD at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and working as a mechanical engineer for the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.

Courtesy of NRK

The annual migration of reindeer across Norway is a spectacle of nature. The majestic animals are currently moving from their southern winter grazing grounds to greener spring pastures.

This year you can watch it happen in real time — all of it.

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) is following a herd of almost 1,500 reindeer on its Slow TV channel. Tune in and you’ll see reindeer, reindeer, and more reindeer. 


Astronauts are baffled by Trump's space travel plans

Apr 27, 2017
Kevin Lamarque

American astronauts may be walking on Mars in the next eight years, or ideally the next four, if President Donald Trump has his way. But the new timetable has baffled experts in space travel. 

The surprise announcement — or rather instruction — took place this week during a live video conference between President Trump and veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson, who is currently aboard the International Space Station.

The March for Science, happening Saturday in Washington, DC, started as a reaction to the Trump administration’s attitudes toward science. But since it was dreamed up in late January, the movement has spread well beyond the Beltway.

As of Friday afternoon, organizers say there are more than 600 demonstrations planned, including roughly 200 outside of the United States.  

Science events — not all of them actual marches — are happening from the North Pole to Cape Town, from Bhutan to Greenland.

The Key to Reading Facial Expressions

Apr 26, 2017

We know from experience—and cartoons—that we open our eyes wide when we see something that surprises or excites us, and squint when we’re wary.

Petr Josek/Reuters

Here's some news for the lovelorn.

If you’ve ever used the dating app Tinder to meet interesting people, then maybe you’ve come across a handsome devil named Sudan who describes himself as "the most eligible bachelor in the world.” He's one of a kind and “looking for love."

Tempted to find out more?

A closer look at Sudan’s profile will reveal that he also “likes to eat grass and chill in the mud.”

That's because he's a rhino. The last surviving male northern white rhino on the planet.

Francois Lenoir/ Reuters

The phrase “climate change” triggers images of a huge, global phenomenon. Rising seas. Drought. Ocean acidification.

But it's actually experienced on a much smaller scale, by individual plants, animals and people.

And most of the world’s organisms experience it much differently than humans do.

“As humans, we have this really biased view of the world. Well over 95 percent of the organisms on Earth, they’re completely dependent on the ambient environment for their temperature,” says Northeastern University marine biologist Brian Helmuth.

Edward Snowden was bigger than a rock star at his SXSW panel today

Apr 23, 2017

We haven’t heard from Edward Snowden in a while. The former NSA contractor does few interviews. But that changed in Austin, Texas, on Monday.

Snowden joined a panel moderated by the American Civil Liberties Union at the SXSW Interactive Festival. He appeared on a video screen near an image of the constitution — in a packed exhibition hall, the largest at SXSW. The festival also simulcast his talk in several other locations. The crowd welcomed him like a rock star.

How to hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence

Apr 23, 2017
<a href="">Jiuguang Wang</a>/<a href="">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence — known as SETI — got a boost in 2015, when philanthropist Yuri Milner announced plans to inject up to $100 million into the field over the next decade.

Danielle Dana

It was a rainy day in Washington, DC — but that didn’t stop thousands from gathering on the National Mall to voice their support for science.

The March for Science in Washington was one of nearly 500 marches around the world scheduled on April 22, 2017—Earth Day. Science Friday‘s Danielle Dana, Otherhood's Catherine Whelan and Lauren Owens Lambert from the GroundTruth Project were all on the ground to get a sense of what it was like.

Here are a few of their photos:

Studying splashes to learn more about how disease spreads

Apr 22, 2017

Lydia Bourouiba, an applied mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studies sneezes at a level of detail most of us have never imagined — under bright lights, using advanced imaging technology.

“When you zoom in, parts of the clouds look like snowflakes,” she explains in Science Friday’s new video, “Breakthrough: Connecting the Drops.”

“It’s really beautiful.”

How Dinosaurs Could Bridge Our Political Divide

Apr 21, 2017

Plenty has been written about how our country’s political divide, but there’s one thing even Republicans and Democrats can agree on: Dinosaurs.

No, seriously. Research has shown that although Republicans and Democrats don’t share a lot of interests when it comes to science, people on both sides of the aisle want to read about dinos. SUE the T. Rex 2020?

Courtesy of Sona Hosseini

This is a story about what happens when you finally get to touch the light you’ve longed for your whole life.

Sona Hosseini passes through the doors of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. She exits the stairwell, and stands beside a dome that holds one of the observatory’s telescopes.

“It feels like home,” she says. And not just here — she’s at home anywhere associated with outer space.

“It’s been a long friendship between me and astronomy,” Hosseini admits.

Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Some day in the future, you’ll hail a cab, then a few minutes later, a driverless, autonomous vehicle will pull up to the curb.

You’ll hop into the back seat and off you go, leaving the driving to the computer.

Not so fast.

Driverless cars are indeed coming. Automakers are already road testing them in select US cities with standby drivers ready to take control of the steering wheel if anything goes haywire.

Solar energy disparity emerges among Minnesota schools

Apr 20, 2017

Dateline: Arden Hills, Minn.
Mounds View High School's flat roof sports a colorful solar array capable of reducing the school's electricity costs and giving students a real-world learning experience.

"Look at the solar through the course of the day and see how that peaks and see if there's any correlation at all with cosmic ray collection data," teacher Mike Cartwright suggested to one of his physics students recently.

Every year, the survivors gathered on the last night of Passover to tell the story of their own miraculous escape from bondage to freedom.

Their story doesn’t take place in the desert of Egypt but in the killing pits of Lithuania.

Shortly after the Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941, they started bringing groups of Jews from the nearby city of Vilnius, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, to the Ponar forest. The Nazis lined them up, shot them at close range, and tossed the bodies into pits.

Scientists say the Great Barrier Reef is officially dying

Apr 18, 2017
<a href="">Tchami</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0 (image cropped)</a>

In recent years, things have been overwhelmingly bad for the Great Barrier Reef.

Joshua Roberts, Reuters&nbsp;

Of all the questions swirling around the rise of self-driving cars, from how safe they’ll be to how we regulate them, one essential question is often overlooked.

What will self-driving cars mean for the environment?

Backers of the technology argue that autonomous vehicles will drive more efficiently than humans do — no more slamming on breaks or gunning it at yellow lights — so they’ll save gas and reduce pollution.

But early research reveals a wide range of emissions possibilities for driverless cars.  

The dinosaur family tree isn't quite what we thought it was

Apr 15, 2017

Since the 1880s, we’ve classified dinosaurs into two major groups, based on the shapes of their hips — the Saurischia are “lizard-hipped,” and the Ornithischia, “bird-hipped.”

David Gray/Reuters&nbsp;

President Donald Trump is selling his energy policies as an end to job-killing regulations and a boost to the US energy industry.

But around the world, many people from developing countries view the changes to the US climate policy differently. 

“I know that there is this new policy, that it’s this 'America First,'” says Anote Tong, former president of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.

“But [that] doesn’t mean that you destroy our home by putting America first.”

&nbsp;<a href="">South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology</a>

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Ötzi the Iceman, Europe's oldest natural mummy. The best guess is that 5,300 years ago, Ötzi was crossing an alpine ridge in the Italian Alps, where he was murdered and his body preserved in the ice.

His frozen corpse was discovered accidentally by hikers back in 1991, along with his clothing and equipment, on the Schnalstal/Val Senales Valley glacier. The 5,300-year-old mummy was so well-preserved that scientists have been able to piece together — gradually — a compelling picture of how he lived, and his equally fascinating death.

My grandfather, Charles Barton Sr., was a man of many contradictions. The son of religious Appalachian parents, he ended up working on some of the most cutting-edge chemistry of his day for the US Atomic Energy Commission.

How do tiny little bee brains do so much?

Apr 4, 2017
<a href="">USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab</a>

Recently, researchers at Queen Mary University of London trained a group of buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to get little balls into goals — in a soccer-like game — in exchange for sweet treats.

By now, you've probably noticed that Google rolled out a pretty comical April Fools' Day feature this year: plopping Ms. Pac-Man right in the middle of the street of the Google Maps mobile app. We used the opportunity to look at some of the weirder places in the world to play the game.

Baarle-Hertog, Belgium and Baarle-Nassau, Netherlands

From Clark Boyd, senior producer, PRI’s The World:

Climate change might leave a bad taste in your mouth. Literally.

Apr 3, 2017

The conversation about food and climate change often centers on how a warming climate will affect the quantity of food we can harvest. But as it turns out, a warmer world could change the quality, even the flavor, of our favorite foods, too — from the maple syrup that we slather on our pancakes to the tea that we brew before work.

“Tea is similar to maple syrup, in that it needs specific environmental conditions for an ideal harvest,” says Selena Ahmed, an assistant professor of sustainable food and bioenergy systems at Montana State University.

Kathryn Hansen/NASA via Reuters/File Photo&nbsp;

Over President Donald Trump's first 100 days, we're asking him questions that our audience wants answers to. Join the project by tweeting this question to @realDonaldTrump with the hashtag #100Days100Qs.

#71. @realDonaldTrump, why are scientists finding their research suddenly being censored by the government?

Convincing the public about the threat of climate change is hard enough as it is, but what happens when climate scientists don't even have the numbers to prove it? 

Does the idea of a self-driving ambulance freak you out?

Apr 2, 2017
<a href="">Paul Sableman</a>/<a href="">CC BY 2.0</a>&nbsp;(image cropped)

Would you want a ride to the hospital in a self-driving ambulance?

If you caught yourself hesitating, you’re not alone. Researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University recently found that many people are less willing to be transported in a driverless ambulance than a regular one — significantly less willing, as it turns out.


The mid-March blizzard that blanketed parts of the Northeast in several feet of snow may have been a freaky turn of weather, but it didn’t take us by surprise, thanks to the "eagle eyes" of satellites.

A week before the storm hit, a weather satellite run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began monitoring the collision course of two low-pressure systems, from its position 22,300 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

When President Donald Trump talks about Mexico taking advantage of NAFTA to rip off the US — and he brings this up a lot — people like Fernando Turner can’t believe what they’re hearing.

“We appreciate his tremendous confidence in Mexicans’ ability to cheat US people, no? But that’s totally the contrary. History tells you that it has been the other way,” says Turner, the secretary of economic development and labor for the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León.

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

President Donald Trump may be trying to scrub his predecessor's initiatives to fight climate change from just about every corner of the federal government — Exhibit A being this week’s executive order aimed at undoing Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan — but the reality of the climate crisis is not going away.