NPR Picks


Voyager 2 Bids Adieu To The Heliosphere, Entering Interstellar Space

"When you hit your 40s, it's only natural to want to try new things."

"That little platitude holds true not only for those suffering midlife crises, but also, apparently, for at least one spacecraft launched by NASA. Just a few months after celebrating its 41st birthday, the Voyager 2 probe has left its familiar environs and entered interstellar space — only the second human-made object in history to do so, after Voyager 1 did it in 2012."

"'I think we're all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,' Suzanne Dodd, the Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement released Monday. 'This is what we've all been waiting for.'"

"The moment they were waiting for arrived early last month, when Voyager 2 left what's known as the heliosphere — the vast bubble of plasma and particles generated by the sun and stirred in solar winds. This bubble ends at a boundary called the heliopause, where the sun's magnetic field peters out and solar winds give way to interstellar space."

"'Inside the bubble, most of the material has come from our sun and the magnetic field has come from our sun,' Voyager project scientist Ed Stone explained in a video provided by NASA. 'Outside the bubble, most of the material comes from other stars that exploded 5, 10, 15 million years ago.'"



Biography Captures The Charisma And Confidence Of Photographer Inge Morath

"'I'm fascinated by the necessity of quick decisions,"' Inge Morath told me more than 30 years ago, when she came to NPR for an interview. Morath was in the business of quick decisions — as a photographer and photojournalist she was the first woman to be accepted as a full member of the Magnum photo agency."

"Now, her life is the subject of a new biography by Linda Gordon. It recounts Morath's escape from Nazi Germany, her boundary-breaking career, and her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller."

Morath met Miller — and his then-wife Marilyn Monroe — in 1960 while she was taking publicity stills on the set of the film The Misfits. It was Monroe's last film, and Miller had written it for his wife.

"'Inge took some very, very beautiful and sympathetic photographs of Marilyn Monroe,' Gordon says. 'But Miller had struck her as intensely interesting — and he was quite impressed," Gordon says."

"Miller and Monroe's relationship had been on the rocks for some time. He and Morath had an affair and the two married in 1962. They were together for 40 years, until Inge's death in 2002."


How A Shorter Sea Ice Season Is Changing Life In The Arctic

"People who live in the town of Utqiaġvik have seen dramatic effects of climate change during their lifetimes."

"Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, sits right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean at the very top of Alaska. It's the northernmost town in the United States, and home to about 4,400. The coastline here used to be edged with sea ice for nearly the whole year. But that period is getting shorter and shorter, and as a result Utqiaġvik locals are dealing with coastal erosion and are changing how they hunt in the fall."

"Billy Adams is an Iñupiaq hunter in his 50s who's lived in Utqiaġvik his whole life. He grew up hunting ringed seals in the fall by going out onto ice attached to the coastline."

"'We would have [ice formed] by...October, mid-October. Somewhere around there,' says Adams."

"Iñupiat hunters eat ringed seal meat, use the skin for clothing and the oil to build hand-made boats. They can only hunt on the ice when it's thick and stable enough to support their weight."


World's First Insect Vaccine Could Help Bees Fight Off Deadly Disease

"Bees may soon get an ally in their fight against bacterial disease — one of the most serious threats the pollinators face — in the form of an edible vaccine. That's the promise held out by researchers in Finland, who say they've made the first-ever vaccine for insects, aimed at helping struggling honeybee populations."

"The scientists are targeting one of bees' most deadly enemies: American foulbrood, or AFB, an infectious disease that devastates hives and can spread at a calamitous rate. Often introduced by nurse bees, the disease works by bacteria feeding on larvae — and then generating more spores, to spread further."

"The idea of a potential new weapon to fight AFB has generated excitement in the beekeeping community, along with some skepticism about the claim of a vaccine — which remains in the testing phase. The news comes three years after the same researchers were hailed in Entomology Today as discovering the 'key to bee vaccination.'"



Carbon Dioxide Emissions Are Up Again. What Now, Climate?

"As climate negotiators from around the world meet in Poland this week and next to figure out how to keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, they are hearing some discouraging news: Emissions of the biggest pollutant, carbon dioxide, are going up."

"For three years — 2014 through 2016 — the amount of atmospheric CO2 had leveled off. But it started to climb again in 2017, and is still rising."

"'Last year, we thought, was a blip — but it isn't,' says Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University in California."

The CO2 increase in 2017 over the previous year was 1.6 percent, and in 2018 it's looking like emissions will have grown a further 2.7 percent. With the economy strong throughout most of the world, 2019 looks to be headed in the same direction, in terms of carbon emissions. 

"The recent slowdown in emissions and the subsequent uptick are both largely the result of what's been happening in China."

"'Their economy has been slowing a bit,' says Jackson, which is one reason global emissions stalled (China is the largest emitter of CO2 in the world). But now, says Jackson, 'the government is trying to boost growth, and they're green-lighting some coal projects that had been on hold.'" 



When And Where Fruit Flies First Bugged Humans

"The next time you swat a fruit fly in your kitchen, take heart from the fact that people have apparently been struggling with these fly infestations for around 10,000 years."

"A study published Thursday suggests Drosophila melanogaster first shacked up with humans when the insects flew into the elaborately painted caves of ancient people living in southern Africa."

"That's according to a report published Thursday in the journal Current Biology."

"Scientists say the flies would have been following the alluring smell of stored marula fruit, which were collected and stored by cave-dwelling people in Africa. This tasty yellow fruit was a staple in the region in those days — and was also the fruit that wild flies apparently evolved to depend on in nearby forests."

"The humble fruit fly now lives with humans all over the planet and is one of the world's most studied creatures. For more than a century, biology and medical laboratories have depended on this fly — one scientist notes that at least nine times, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded for research on Drosophila. One of those prizes was won by Thomas Hunt Morgan of Columbia University, whose fly research in the early 1900s plucked this species from obscurity and transformed it into a mainstay of genetics."

"'It's small; it's cheap to raise; it has interesting genetics,' explains Thomas Kaufman, a biologist at Indiana University in Bloomington. '"We think that flies are quite charismatic. They're wonderful. They're beautiful little animals, and we love them. Seriously.'"


Infections May Raise The Risk Of Mental Illness In Children

"Researchers have traced a connection between some infections and mental illnesses like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. New research from Denmark bolsters that connection. The study, published Thursday in JAMA Psychiatry, shows that a wide variety of infections, even common ones like bronchitis, are linked to a higher risk of many mental illnesses in children and adolescents."

"The findings support the idea that infections affect mental health, possibly by influencing the immune system."

"'This idea that activation of the body's immune inflammatory system as a causative factor in ... select mental illnesses is one that has really caught on,' says Dr. Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychology and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, who wasn't involved in the study. 'This study adds to that generally, but builds the case further in a compelling way.'"

"In the new study, the researchers gathered data on hospitalizations and prescription medications for the 1.1 million children born in Denmark between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 2012."



Fishermen Sue Big Oil For Its Role In Climate Change

"While oil companies built seawalls and elevated their oil rigs to protect critical production infrastructure from the rising sea level, they concealed from the public the knowledge that burning fossil fuels could have catastrophic impacts on the biosphere."

"That's what citizens and local governments across the United States are asserting in lawsuits against oil, gas, and coal companies. Plaintiffs in the cases have alleged that fossil fuel producers knowingly subjected the entire planet and future generations to the dire consequences of their actions."

"On Nov. 14, fishermen in California and Oregon joined the legal fray by filing suit against 30 companies, mainly oil producers. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the plaintiff, contends that the fossil fuel industry is at direct fault and must be held accountable for recent warming-related damages to the West Coast's prized Dungeness crab fishery, which catches millions of the tender-fleshed crustacean most years, and coastal chefs turn the critters into classics like Crab Louie and Crab Cioppino."


How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

"The marketing is enticing: Get stronger muscles and healthier bodies with minimal effort by adding protein powder to your morning shake or juice drink. Or grab a protein bar at lunch or for a quick snack. Today, you can find protein supplements everywhere — online or at the pharmacy, grocery store or health food store. They come in powders, pills and bars."

"With more than $12 billion in sales this year, the industry is booming and, according to the market research company, Grand View Research, is on track to sell billions more by 2025. But do we really need all this supplemental protein? It depends. There are pros, cons and some ho-hums to consider."

"For starters, protein is critical for every cell in our body. It helps build nails, hair, bones and muscles. It can also help you feel fuller longer than eating foods without protein. And, unlike nutrients that are found only in a few foods, protein is pretty much ubiquitous. 'The typical American diet is a lot higher in protein than a lot of us think,' says registered dietitian Angela Pipitone with Johns Hopkins McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine."


China Expands Research Funding, Luring U.S. Scientists And Students

"In 2003, Jay Siegel was up for a new challenge. Siegel was a tenured professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, but he took a job at the University of Zurich."

"'When I first moved, people said, 'Oh, you're crazy to leave San Diego; it's a paradise. Why would you go to Europe? Blah, blah blah,' "recalls Siegel. "And after 10 years people were saying, 'Oh, man, that was the smartest thing you ever did. Zurich is wonderful.' "

"Then he told his friends he was moving to China. 'And again, people said 'What? Are you crazy?' ' Siegel says. But he thinks they'll soon realize he again made the smart choice."

"In the past decade or so, China has been expanding its commitment to scientific research, and it shows. Chinese researchers now produce more scientific publications than U.S. scientists do, and the global ratings of Chinese universities are rising."

"Five years ago Siegel became dean of the school of pharmaceutical science and technology at Tianjin University. He says the university president recruited him to build an undergraduate program that would attract students from all over — not just China. Siegel says the program is taught entirely in English."



Facing Backlash, Chinese Scientist Defends Gene-Editing Research On Babies

"The scientist who stunned the world by claiming he created the first genetically modified babies defended his actions publicly for the first time on Wednesday, saying that editing the genes of the twin girls while they were embryos would protect them from HIV."

"He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, addressed hundreds of scientists gathered at an international gene- editing summit in Hong Kong that has been rocked by ethical questions swirling around his research."

"Earlier, He stunned the scientists just as they were gathering for the historic meeting with his claim, which he outlined in a series of YouTube videos, bypassing scientific norms of first subjecting his experiment to scientific scrutiny by other scientists."

"'First, I must apologize that this result was leaked unexpectedly," He told some 700 attendees. 'This study has been submitted to a scientific journal for review.'"


New U.S. Climate Assessment Forecasts Dire Effects On Economy, Health

"The Trump administration released a major climate assessment on Black Friday, the culmination of years of research by the country's top climate scientists. It's well over 1,000 pages and touches on a daunting range of topics."

"President Trump said Monday that he has read parts of it. "It's fine," he told reporters at the White House, although he said he doesn't believe the report's assessment that climate change will cause devastating economic impacts for the U.S."

"The report is required by Congress every four years and is issued by 13 federal agencies and the U.S. Global Change Research Program. This one marks the most detailed and blunt assessment yet of the dangers of unchecked global warming."

"'Climate change is happening here and now,' co-author Katherine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University told Weekend Edition Saturday. 'It is affecting all of us no matter where we live. And the more climate changes, the more serious and even more dangerous the impacts will become.'"



Look Out Mars, Here Comes InSight

"Mars gets a new visitor from Earth on Monday. If all goes well, a NASA probe named InSight will land near the Martian equator shortly before 3 p.m. EST. Once it lands on Mars, it will stay put. InSight isn't a rover. Its mission is to stick to one place after it lands — and study the interior of Mars from the planet's surface."

"But before it can carry out that mission, it has to land safely. That means slowing down from 12,300 mph as it enters the top of the Martian atmosphere — to a complete stop on the ground six and a half minutes later."

"'The landing is all completely automatic and autonomous,' says Rob Grover, leader of the Entry, Descent and Landing team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. 'We have no ability to actually, kind of, fly the lander to the surface,' Grover says."

"The reason real-time control isn't possible is because it takes a radio signal approximately eight minutes to travel from Earth to Mars. Because the entire landing sequence only takes six and a half minutes, the lander would already be on the ground by the time a signal from Earth arrived."



How The 'New World' Symphony Introduced American Music To Itself

"Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out what's great about a culture. That's exactly what Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was when he came to the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, an immigrant thrown into a new world and new sounds."

"Out of that experience, he wrote a symphony for America: Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, subtitled 'From the New World,' has become one of the world's most beloved orchestral works. It also produced a melody that is a hymn and an anthem to what American music can be."

"When Dvorak came to America in 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance was new. So were Carnegie Hall, the game of basketball and Edison's wax cylinders. Classical music in America wasn't new — but it needed a reboot. Already a celebrated composer in Europe, Dvorak was hired to run the National Conservatory of Music in New York to help American composers find their own voices and shake off the European sound."


Climate Change Is Already Hurting U.S. Communities, Federal Report Says

"Climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the U.S., and the country is poised to suffer massive damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue, according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date."

"The fourth National Climate Assessment is the culmination of years of research and analysis by hundreds of top climate scientists in the country. The massive report details the many ways in which global climate change is already affecting American communities, from hurricanes to wildfires to floods to drought."

"'Climate change is already affecting every part of the United States, almost every sector of the United States, be it agriculture or forestry or energy, tourism,' says George Mason University professor Andrew Light, who is one of the report's editors. 'It's going to hurt cities, it's going to hurt people in the countryside, and, as the world continues to warm, things are going to get worse.'"

"President Trump, numerous Cabinet members and some members of Congress have questioned whether climate change is caused by humans or whether it is happening at all."



Researchers Find 115 Plastic Cups In Dead Whale's Stomach

"A dead sperm whale found in Indonesia had at least 13 pounds of garbage in its stomach, including 115 plastic cups and two sandals, according to a team of researchers including the World Wide Fund For Nature."

"'Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful,' Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia, told The Associated Press."

"The dead animal was found earlier this week on Kapota Island, Southeast Sulawesi by a team from Wakatobi National Park, according to The Jakarta Post. The newspaper reported that the animal was starting to decompose when it was found."

"In addition to the cups and sandals, the WWF said the following items were found in the animal's stomach: 19 pieces of hard plastic, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, and about seven pounds of rope."


Optimized Prime: How AI And Anticipation Power Amazon's 1-Hour Deliveries

"By the time someone clicks "buy" on Amazon, Jenny Freshwater's team has probably expected it."

"Freshwater is a software director in Amazon's Supply Chain Optimization Technologies group. Her team forecasts demand for everything sold by Amazon worldwide."

"This task, into which NPR got exclusive insight, underlies the entire Amazon retail operation. And it's central to Amazon's wooing of some 100 million people who shell out up to $119 a year for a Prime subscription, which guarantees two-day shipping."

"Inside Amazon, corporate executives like to evoke magic when they talk about fast delivery. For months, they used the code name Houdini before launching their fastest service, Prime Now, which delivers household basics within hours."

"But a lot of it is thanks to artificial intelligence. With AI, computers analyze reams of data, making decisions and performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. AI is key to Amazon's retail forecasting on steroids and its push to shave off minutes and seconds in the rush to prepare, pack and deliver."



Airbnb Plans To Remove Listings In Israeli Settlements

"Property-renting company Airbnb says it plans to remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank."

"Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin described it as a 'disgraceful surrender,' while senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it an 'initial positive step.'"

"Broadly, settlements are viewed as an obstacle to peace by Palestinians and the international community, and the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. Security Council have said settlements on land captured by Israel are illegal under international law."

"Airbnb said in a statement that its decision impacts about 200 Airbnb listings. It said it had previously allowed listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank 'because we believe that people-to-people travel has considerable value,' adding that it had made the latest decision after weighing the issue over time and speaking to experts."



Michael Bloomberg Gives $1.8 Billion To Financial Aid At Johns Hopkins University

"In what is the largest individual donation ever made to a single university, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Sunday that he is donating $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University to assist students with financial aid."

"The donation is designed to make the private research university in Baltimore both need blind and loan-free. 'Need-blind' means the school will no longer take financial need into account during the admissions process, instead focusing solely on the merit of the applicant. 'Loan-free' means the school will no longer package loans in their financial aid award letters, replacing that money with scholarships that don't need to be paid back."

"Bloomberg announced the donation in an op-ed published in The New York Times."

"America is at its best when we reward people based on the quality of their work, not the size of their pocketbook," he wrote. "Denying students entry to a college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity."

"Bloomberg — who earned a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins in 1964, using federal student loans and a campus job to help pay his way — went on to urge donors both big and small to focus their philanthropic efforts on financial aid."



Science, Technology, Math, Engineering And Now Congress

"Chrissy Houlahan has done a lot with her industrial engineering degree over the last 30 years including serving in the Air Force, working in the aircraft manufacturing industry, being the COO of a sports apparel company and even teaching high school chemistry."

"Houlahan says her science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – background has allowed her to be fluid in her career by helping her tackle everyday problems through a unique lens."

"'Somebody with a technical background might think in a little bit different than the way, for instance, that a lawyer would think,' Houlahan says. This was one of her biggest motivators for running for office in Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District, she says."

"'I think a person with a technical background could be really useful in Washington,' says Houlahan, noting that Congress is called to pass laws on issues the Founding Fathers would have never thought imaginable."


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