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    Short Wave

    New discoveries, everyday mysteries, and the science behind the headlines — in just under 15 minutes. It's science for everyone, using a lot of creativity and a little humor. Join hosts Emily Kwong and Regina Barber for science on a different wavelength.

    If you're hooked, try Short Wave Plus. Your subscription supports the show and unlocks a sponsor-free feed. Learn more at plus.npr.org/shortwave
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    Episodes (1101)

    Outer Space Changes You, Literally. Here's What It Does To The Human Body

    Outer Space Changes You, Literally. Here's What It Does To The Human Body
    Lower gravity. Higher radiation. No ER access. These are just a few of the challenges that humans face in outer space. Emily and Regina talk to a NASA astronaut (and astronaut scientist) about the impact of spaceflight on the human body. Plus, we learn about telomeres (hint: They change in space)!

    Check out more of our series on space: https://www.npr.org/spacecamp

    Interested in more space science? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    Short Wave
    en-usJuly 23, 2024

    The Brain Makes A Lot Of Waste. Here's How It Cleans Itself Up

    The Brain Makes A Lot Of Waste. Here's How It Cleans Itself Up
    Scientists have long studied the relationship between sleep and the brain, and why poor sleep is linked to neurological diseases like Alzheimer's. NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton talks to host Regina G. Barber about the brain's washing system and the particular sound researchers have found that seems to turn it on in mice.

    Read Jon's full piece here.

    Interested in more science about the brain? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    Short Wave
    en-usJuly 22, 2024

    How An Ambitious River Rerouting Plan Could Change India's Weather

    How An Ambitious River Rerouting Plan Could Change India's Weather
    More than a hundred years ago, a British engineer proposed linking two rivers in India to better irrigate the area and cheaply move goods. The link never happened, but the idea survived. Today, due to extreme flooding in some parts of the country mirrored by debilitating drought in others, India's National Water Development Agency plans to dig thirty links between rivers across the country. It's the largest project of its kind and will take decades to complete. But scientists are worried what moving that much water could do to the land, the people — and even the weather. Host Emily Kwong talks to journalist Sushmita Pathak about her recent story on the project.

    Read Sushmita's full story here.

    Interested in more science stories like this? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    Short Wave
    en-usJuly 19, 2024

    The Magic — And Science — Of Synchronous Firefly Displays

    The Magic — And Science — Of Synchronous Firefly Displays
    Every year for two weeks between mid-May and mid-June, Congaree National Park in South Carolina is home to a fairy-tale-like display of flashing lights. These rhythmic performances happen all because of thousands of fireflies, flashing their belly lanterns at exactly the same time. According to the National Park Service, there are just three types of these synchronous fireflies in North America, making the experience all the more magical for the lucky visitors who get the chance to see them.

    Firefly scientists and enthusiasts hope these displays in places like Congaree will inspire people to care about other kinds of fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, in the U.S., which are not as well-studied – or well-protected – as synchronous ones. Some community scientists are already taking on this mission with projects like the Firefly Atlas, where volunteers can help survey for fireflies and report sightings.

    This story was originally reported for NPR by science correspondent Pien Huang. Read Pien's full story here.

    Want more of the science behind wildlife wonders? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 17, 2024

    This Mysterious Energy Is Everywhere. Scientists Still Don't Know What It Is

    This Mysterious Energy Is Everywhere. Scientists Still Don't Know What It Is
    The universe — everything in existence — is expanding every second! It's only been about a hundred years that humanity has known this, too — that most galaxies are traveling away from us and the universe is expanding. Just a few decades ago, in the late 1990s, scientists started to notice another peculiar thing: The expansion of the universe is speeding up over time. It's like an explosion where the debris gets faster instead of slowing down. The mysterious force pushing the universe outward faster and faster was named dark energy. Cosmologist Brian Nord joins host Regina G. Barber in a conversation that talks about what dark energy could be and what it implies about the end of our universe.

    Check out more of our series on space at https://www.npr.org/spacecamp.

    Curious about other happenings in our universe? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 16, 2024

    The Dubious Consent Question At The Heart Of The Human Genome Project

    The Dubious Consent Question At The Heart Of The Human Genome Project
    The Human Genome Project was a massive undertaking that took more than a decade and billions of dollars to complete. For it, scientists collected DNA samples from anonymous volunteers who were told the final project would be a mosaic of DNA. Instead, over two-thirds of the DNA comes from one person: RP11. No one ever told him. Science journalist Ashley Smart talks to host Emily Kwong about his recent investigation into the decision to make RP11 the major donor — and why unearthing this history matters to genetics today.

    Read Ashley's full article in Undark Magazine here.

    Questions or ideas for future episodes? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 15, 2024

    Teens Are Following Skincare Trends On TikTok. Some Dermatologists Are Wary

    Teens Are Following Skincare Trends On TikTok. Some Dermatologists Are Wary
    TikTok is fuel for many trends, including a skin care craze among teens, pre-teens — okay, and us. The "glass skin" trend calls for a multi-step routine, often involving pricey products. It's all in pursuit of dewy, seemingly poreless, glowing complexion – like glass. But some dermatologists say these attempts can backfire, irritating, burning and even peeling sensitive pre-teen skin. As teens and tweens have become major consumers of skin care products, dermatologists are seeing more of these cases and are cautioning against these elaborate routines.

    Want more science behind what's going viral? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 12, 2024

    Like Humans, These Ants Can Perform Leg Amputations To Save Lives

    Like Humans, These Ants Can Perform Leg Amputations To Save Lives
    Some ants herd aphids. Some farm fungi. And now, scientists have realized that when an ant injures its leg, it sometimes will turn to a buddy to perform a lifesaving limb amputation. Not only that — some ants have probably been amputating limbs longer than humans! Today, thanks to the reporting of ant enthusiast and science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce, we behold the medical prowess of the ant.

    Want to hear more cool stories about the tiny critters among us? Email us at shortwave@npr.org — we'd love to know!

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    en-usJuly 10, 2024

    The Invisible Substance That Structures Our Universe

    The Invisible Substance That Structures Our Universe
    The universe is so much bigger than what people can see. Visible matter — the ground, the Sun, the screen you're reading this on — makes up only about 4 or 5 percent of our known universe. Dark matter makes up much more of the universe. It's all around us even though we can't see it. So what is it? What's it made out of? How do we even know it exists? Host Emily Kwong and Rebecca Ramirez try to find out with the help of astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan.

    This episode is part of our series Space Camp, all about the weird and mysterious depths of our universe. Check out the full series: https://www.npr.org/spacecamp.

    Our team would love to hear your episode ideas. Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 09, 2024

    Sharks Often Get A Bad Rap, But Oceans Need Them

    Sharks Often Get A Bad Rap, But Oceans Need Them
    It's that time of the year again: Shark Week. The TV program is so long-running that if you're under 37, you've never known a life without it. In honor of this oft misunderstood critter, we revisit our conversation with shark scientist Melissa Christina Marquez. She explains just how important sharks are to keeping the oceans healthy, including their role in mitigating climate change. Plus, there may be some talk about shark poop.

    Have another animal with a bad rap you want us to clear the reputation of? Email the show at shortwave@npr.org — we'd love to hear from you!

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    en-usJuly 08, 2024

    From Cars To Leaf Blowers: Noise Pollution's Toll On Human Health

    From Cars To Leaf Blowers: Noise Pollution's Toll On Human Health
    When's the last time you were in a place that was quiet — really quiet? No roadway noise, construction work or even the hum of a refrigerator. Our world is full of sounds, some of which are harming our health. The World Health Organization says "noise is an underestimated threat." Today, host Emily Kwong talks to health reporter Joanne Silberner about those health costs, what is too loud and some of the history of legislation to limit noise pollution in the United States.

    Read Joanne's full article in Undark Magazine here.

    Curious about other health stories? Email us at
    shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 05, 2024

    Researchers Are Figuring Out How African Ancestry Can Affect Certain Brain Disorders

    Researchers Are Figuring Out How African Ancestry Can Affect Certain Brain Disorders
    Black Americans have been underrepresented in most genomic studies of neurological disorders. As a result, scientists don't know much about whether African ancestry affects a person's risk for these disorders or their response to a particular treatment. To help close this gap, the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, African American community leaders in Baltimore, and researchers from Duke University and Morgan State University created the African Ancestry Neuroscience Research Initiative in 2019. The team found that genes associated with African ancestry appear to affect certain brain cells in ways that could increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and stroke.

    Read science correspondent Jon Hamilton's full story here.

    Curious about brain science? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 03, 2024

    Could '3 Body Problem's Aliens Exist? The Science Behind Netflix's New Hit

    Could '3 Body Problem's Aliens Exist? The Science Behind Netflix's New Hit
    Before the '3 Body Problem' became a bestselling book and a smash TV show ... it was a physics concept, with big implications for how we understand planetary orbits. In this episode, we learn about the science behind the screen. Plus, why it's plausible a nearby, mysterious planet could hold life.

    This story is part of Short Wave's Space Camp series about all the weird, wonderful things happening in the universe —check out the full series.

    Curious about other science behind the things you love? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 02, 2024

    Want Juicy Barbecue This Fourth Of July? Cook Low And Slow

    Want Juicy Barbecue This Fourth Of July? Cook Low And Slow
    Perfecting your grilling technique ahead of the Fourth of July? Chefs will tell you that cooking is not just an art — it's a science. And the spirit of summer barbecues, NPR science correspondent Sydney Lupkin brings us this encore piece about how understanding the chemistry of cooking meat can help you perfect your barbeque. It's all about low and slow cooking.

    This story was originally reported for NPR by Gisele Grayson. Read her reporting.

    Curious about other science powering the things you love? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJuly 01, 2024

    Move Over Norse Mythology, There's A New Loki In Town — A Dinosaur

    Move Over Norse Mythology, There's A New Loki In Town — A Dinosaur
    A brand new species of ceratops, or horned dinosaur, was recently discovered in northern Montana. The dinosaur is called Lokiceratops rangiformis, after the Norse god Loki, and is believed to have lived roughly eighty million years ago. The bones of the plant-eating dinosaur were found on private land in an area well known for its large amount of fossils, and at first, researchers thought the bones belonged to another species of dinosaur!

    Want to hear more about dinosaurs or other paleontological discoveries? Email us at shortwave@npr.org to let us know. We'd love to hear from you!

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    Short Wave
    en-usJune 28, 2024

    The Human Brain Is Hardwired To Recognize Faces. But What If You Can't?

    The Human Brain Is Hardwired To Recognize Faces. But What If You Can't?
    Humans are hardwired to see faces — even in inanimate objects. We have a lima bean-shaped part of our brains dedicated to facial recognition. But this process isn't always straightforward. Science journalist Sadie Dingfelder is one of 10 million Americans who are face blind, or struggle to recognize the faces of people they know. In her new book, Do I Know You? she dives into this, as well as the science of memory and imagination.

    Want more episodes on the wonder of the human brain? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    en-usJune 26, 2024

    Some Stars Explode As They Die. We Look At Their Life Cycle

    Some Stars Explode As They Die. We Look At Their Life Cycle
    This summer, scientists have their eyes and telescopes trained on the small constellation system T Coronae Borealis. They think it will explode as part of a periodic nova — a once-in-a-lifetime event according to NASA scientists. And so, with the help of astrophysicist Sarafina El-Badry Nance, we continue our journey farther and deeper into spacetime with a look at the stars: How they're born and how they die. Sarafina has always been drawn to one particular star: Betelgeuse, a red supergiant in the shoulder of the constellation Orion that is nearing the end of its life. What stages of life did Betelgeuse — or any star — go through before it reached this moment?

    This episode is part of our series Space Camp — all abut the weird, wonderful phenomena in our universe. Check it out here: https://npr.org/spacecamp

    Curious about the night sky? Email us at shortwave@npr.org — we'd love to hear from you!

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    en-usJune 25, 2024

    Earth Is More Than A Planet With Life On It. It's A "Living Planet"

    Earth Is More Than A Planet With Life On It. It's A "Living Planet"
    About ten years ago, science writer Ferris Jabr started contemplating Earth as a living planet rather than a planet with life on it. It began when he learned that the Amazon rainforest doesn't simply receive the rain that defines it; rather, it helps generate that rain. The Amazon does that by launching bits of biological confetti into the atmosphere that, in turn, seed clouds. After learning this, he began looking for other ways life changes its environment. That led to his new book Becoming Earth: How Our Planet Came to Life. He talks to host Regina G. Barber about examples of life transforming the planet — from changing the color of the sky to altering the weather.

    Have a story about the environment you'd like us to cover? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

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    Short Wave
    en-usJune 24, 2024

    We're In For A Brutal Hurricane Season, According To Predictions

    We're In For A Brutal Hurricane Season, According To Predictions
    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a record number of hurricanes this season, which began on June 1 and runs through Nov. They're forecasting anywhere from 17 to 25 storms in the Atlantic basin, including at least four major hurricanes. Scientists think this storm activity could be due to strong winds, warmer ocean temperatures and a scientific mystery unfolding in the Atlantic.

    Questions about hurricanes or other weather disasters? Email us at shortwave@npr.org — we'd love to consider it for a future episode!

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    Short Wave
    en-usJune 21, 2024

    What 'Inside Out 2' Got Right About Anxiety, Per A Psychologist

    What 'Inside Out 2' Got Right About Anxiety, Per A Psychologist
    Pixar's new movie, Inside Out 2 came out Friday. It's the sequel to the 2015 movie Inside Out, which follows the life of 11-year-old Riley and her family as they move to San Francisco. In Inside Out 2, Riley is 13 and thriving in her new city. She has friends and is a star on her hockey team. But when puberty hits one night, four new emotions come into play: Envy, Ennui, Embarrassment and most of all, Anxiety.

    Clinical psychologist and Inside Out 2 consultant Lisa Damour says the movie is surprisingly accurate when it comes to experiencing anxiety and puberty. Plus, she offers some guidance to help make the most of our anxiety.

    Have other pop culture science you want us to decode? Email us at shortwave@npr.org — we'd love to consider it for a future episode!

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    Short Wave
    en-usJune 19, 2024

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