This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. It's been almost three years since astronomers found the first planet outside our solar system they called a Goldilocks planet, meaning that it's not too close, not too far, but just the right distance from its sun to potentially sustain life. And since then, more of these just right planets have been found, one at the time.
LICHTMAN: That's right. Speaking of consumers and energy and sustainability on the personal level, this serves as a perfect segue, actually, to our Video Pick, which is about a couple in Snohomish, Washington - so outside of Seattle - who have built their own home. But here's the thing.
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. President Obama announced a plan this week calling on the environmental protection agency to regulate how much carbon power plants are allowed to emit. He had tried and failed to get Congress to act on climate change from the very first days of his presidency. This week in a speech at Georgetown University, he announced it was time to take matters into his own hands.
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. Seems like every other week, a new study, complete with a colorful brain scan and a great headline, links a spot on the brain with the way we act. This is your brain on love; this is your brain on prayer; this is your brain on politics. But can a scan of your brain really tell you something about your beliefs and behaviors?
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. Back in 2007, Congress funded, and the president signed into law, a new kind of research organization, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. You had heard of DARPA? This was ARPA-E. And its mission is to back energy technologies that are too risky for investors but offer a potentially huge payoff if they work.
Her techniques aren't super-sophisticated. She's not a leader in the field. She's more or less an amateur. This is what you can do with ordinary genetic engineering tools right now. Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg can find a cigarette lying on the sidewalk on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, and working from traces of saliva, by pulling DNA out of those saliva cells and using a bunch of simple algorithms available online, she can make some very educated guesses about what the smoker might look like.
What if we could get our gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from yeast instead of from oil wells? That's not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, it's already happening on a small scale. And there's a vigorous research effort to ramp this up on a massive scale.
One of the more innovative approaches uses a new technology called "synthetic biology." Jay Keasling is one of the leaders in this hot field.
The U.S. is ready for tornadoes, but not tsunamis.
That's the conclusion of a panel of scientists who spoke this week on "mega-disasters" at the American Geophysical Union's science policy meeting in Washington, D.C.
The nation has done a good job preparing for natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, which occur frequently but usually produce limited damage and relatively few casualties, the panelists said. But government officials are just beginning to develop plans for events like a major tsunami or a large asteroid hurtling toward a populated area.
Climate change seems like this complicated problem with a million pieces. But Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT's business school, says there's really just one thing you need to do to solve the problem: Tax carbon emissions.
"If you let the economists write the legislation," Jacoby says, "it could be quite simple." He says he could fit the whole bill on one page.
Basically, Jacoby would tax fossil fuels in proportion to the amount of carbon they release. That would make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive. That's it; that's the whole plan.
Global Thermostat's pilot plant in Menlo Park, Calif., pulls carbon dioxide from the surrounding air. The next challenge is to find uses for the captured gas.
Credit Courtesy of Global Thermostat
"If they don't tell you you're crazy, you're not doing something worthwhile," says Peter Eisenberger, co-founder of Global Thermostat, a firm that's building a device to pull carbon dioxide from the air.
Every year, people add 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the air, mostly by burning fossil fuels. That's contributing to climate change. A few scientists have been dreaming about ways to pull some of that CO2 out of the air, but face stiff skepticism and major hurdles. This is the story of one scientist who's pressing ahead.
Harry Kaplan practices pitching during Home Run Baseball Camp at Friendship Recreation Center in June. Kaplan's arm is stretched long and toward the ground as his hips are faced away from the catcher. A chimp, in contrast, could never throw a fastball.
Credit Heather Rousseau / NPR
Barry Zito, of the San Francisco Giants, pitches against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver, in May.
Credit Justin Edmonds / Getty Images
Coach John McCarthy, with Home Run Baseball Camp, talks Harry Kaplan, 12, through a proper pitch at Friendship Recreation Center in Bethesda, Md., in June.
The ability to throw a baseball or any object with speed and precision is unique to us humans. And that ability depends on certain features of our anatomy that arose in our ancestors over 2 million years ago, according to a study published in this week's issue of the journal Nature.
"There are no two ways about it: the bullsh*t is strong with wine."
That's what Robert T. Gonzales recently wrote on io9.com in a post that eviscerated wine tasting as a form of skilled craft. "Wine tasting. Wine rating. Wine reviews. Wine descriptions," he writes. "They're all related. And they're all egregious offenders, from a [expletive deleted] standpoint."