Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

When you think of Polynesia, what images first come to mind?

Well, it looks like women have been balancing a full-time job and motherhood for thousands of years. All the while, they haven't gotten much credit for it.

By studying the bones of ancient women in Europe, archaeologists at the University of Cambridge have uncovered a hidden history of women's manual labor, from the early days of farming about 7,500 years ago up until about 2,000 years ago.

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Dan Katz has two cellos. The better one — the one he prefers to play with the orchestra — is 200 years old and has rosewood tuning pegs. When the orchestra went on an 11-concert European tour in January, he purposefully left it home.

"I worry with that instrument about international travel now, because of those pegs," Katz said after rehearsing for a performance of Schubert's Ninth Symphony earlier this month.

Last week, my 13.7 co-blogger Tania Lombrozo reported on a study she developed with graduate student Sara Gottlieb on whether science can explain the human mind.

As Tania wrote, this was a survey-based study asking the participants "whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love."

Scientists say they have created a partly man-made bacterium that can produce proteins not found in nature. This new life form, the latest development in a field called "synthetic biology," could eventually be used to produce novel drugs.

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Eli Wheatley and Christian Guardino are among a growing number of patients whose lives are apparently being saved or radically improved by gene therapy.

Wheatley, 3, of Lebanon, Ky., and Guardino, 17, of Patchogue, N.Y., were both diagnosed with what were long thought to be incurable genetic disorders. In the past, Wheatley's condition would have probably killed him before his first birthday. Guardino's would have blinded him early in life.

But after receiving experimental gene therapies, both seem to be doing fine.

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So new research suggests that you can tell a lot about people by the way they talk. In particular, there's a difference between people who ask questions and people who do not. Our own Rachel Martin asked some questions of NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

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The NHL And CTE

Nov 29, 2017

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Several years ago, Charles Tator was in Vancouver for an NHL hockey game. He had a personal connection to one of the players. It was his friend Paul Montador's son, Steve, and Steve even scored a goal.

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Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term "climate change" in public grant summaries.

An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase "climate change" in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term's use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as "extreme weather" appears to be rising slightly.

The delicate art of paper folding is playing a crucial role in designing robotic artificial muscles that are startlingly strong. In fact, the researchers say they can lift objects 1,000 times their own weight.

Women are more likely to have asthma than men, and though sex hormones have been suspected as one reason why, just how they might be affecting asthma risk has been something of a mystery.

Seventy-five years ago this week, scientists from the University of Chicago created the first controlled, self-sustained nuclear chain reaction, a feat that was essential in the development of an atomic bomb during World War II.

Enrico Fermi and his team of physicists secretly conducted the Chicago Pile 1 experiment on a squash court under the stands of a football stadium on Dec. 2, 1942. The anniversary of this unprecedented achievement comes as tensions escalate between the U.S. and North Korea, which launched a new ballistic missile on Tuesday.

Talking about clay makes Amilcar Apaza nostalgic for his childhood in Juliaca, Peru, a city in the Andean highlands. He remembers gathering with his family in his grandmother's fields in the nearby countryside for the potato harvest. There, they would build a small oven to cook the fresh potatoes and eat them, dipping the potatoes in a sauce made of clay, water and salt.

"The flavor is like a creamy milk, very thick and salty," says Apaza, who now lives in Lima. During harvest time, the clay sauce is eaten nearly everywhere in the altiplano or high plateau region, he adds.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Internet lit up with the remarkable video of Boston Dynamics' robot Atlas doing a backflip.

Between last year's historic November supermoon and August's partial solar eclipse, a lunar event that's coming on Dec. 3 has taken a bit of a back seat. But 2017's first and only visible supermoon is nothing to sneeze at.

The term "supermoon" is popular vernacular. Its scientific name is perigee syzygy. University of Arizona professor Gurtina Besla says the phrase means two specific things in reference to the moon's placement and phase.

In Caguas, south of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jared Haley is fighting a daily battle at C-Axis, the medical device manufacturer where he's the general manager. The power has been out at his plant for nearly three months, since Hurricane Irma.

Operating on emergency generators, the plant restarted operations last month and, Haley says, is delivering all its work on schedule. But he's not happy now with the plant's condition. Walking into his factory, he laments, "This shop used to look like a doctor's office."

For this post-Thanksgiving week, I'd like to suggest a remarkable video produced over two decades by NASA scientists.

Satellites monitored populations of plant life on land and oceans, mapping variations of green regions of vegetation and snow cover on the North and South Poles. As seasons pass, we witness a rhythmic dance between white and green, as if the planet itself were breathing.

If you're losing sleep over the blue light coming from your phone, there's an app for that.

In fact, there are now lots of apps that promise to improve sleep by filtering out the blue light produced by phones, tablets, computers and even televisions.

But how well do these apps work?

There haven't been any big studies to answer that question. So I phoned a couple of scientists who study the link between blue light exposure and sleep.

As the months grow colder and darker, many people find themselves somewhat sadder and even depressed.

Bright light is sometimes used to help treat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Researchers are now testing light therapy to see if it also can help treat depression that's part of bipolar disorder.

Some 100,000 people in Bali are being evacuated from a danger zone around a volcano that has been spewing ash thousands of feet into the air since last week, forcing the closure on Monday of the airport on the Indonesian resort island.

The eruption, which is sending white and gray ash streaking off the top of the cone, began on Tuesday and was a first for the volcano in 50 years. Loud explosions from Mount Agung could be heard miles away. Officials say lava is welling up in its crater — a sign that a larger eruption is possible.

In a high mountain valley in central Idaho over 6,000 feet in elevation, the last hint of a glow from sun fades in the western sky. The conditions are perfect as Steve Botti, an astronomy enthusiast and city councilman for the tiny town of Stanley, holds his sky quality meter to the heavens. There are no clouds, and the moon has dipped behind the craggy Sawtooth Mountains as he assesses the darkness of the sky with the little device that looks like a pager.

Food waste is a huge problem globally — starting with our own refrigerators. Over this Thanksgiving week, Americans will throw out almost 200 million pounds of turkey alone, according to figures from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But before you toss that bird, read on. We asked Massimo Bottura, one of the world's best chefs, to help us figure out what to do with our holiday leftovers.

When I was a kid, my mom always told me to rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. This was especially true for dishware with tacky residue. Peanut butter, cream cheese, frosting — these adversaries were simply too powerful for the dishwasher's meek cleanse. Today, still harboring a distrust of dishwashers, I tend to wash my dishes by hand.

But I often wonder about the consequences of my sponge-scrubbing ways — am I wasting water by avoiding the dishwasher, or saving it?

The world's oceans are rising. Over the past century, they're up an average of about eight inches. But the seas are rising more in some places than others. And scientists are now finding that how much sea level rises in, say, New York City, has a lot to do with exactly where the ice is melting.

A warming climate is melting a lot of glaciers and ice sheets on land. That means more water rolling down into the oceans.

But the oceans are not like a bathtub. The water doesn't rise uniformly.

NASA has big hopes for virtual reality technology. The agency is developing a suite of virtual reality environments at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland, that could be used for everything from geological research to repairing orbiting satellites.

One displays fiery ejections from the Sun. In another, scientists can watch magnetic fields pulse around the earth. A virtual rendering of an ancient lava tube in Idaho makes scientists feel like they're standing at the bottom of an actual cave.

A brain system involved in everything from addiction to autism appears to have evolved differently in people than in great apes, a team reports Thursday in the journal Science.

The system controls the production of dopamine, a chemical messenger that plays a major role in pleasure and rewards.

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