NPR Picks

Friday
Sep232011

Physicists Wary of Junking Light Speed Limit Yet

"GENEVA (AP) — Physicists on the team that measured particles traveling faster than light said Friday they were as surprised as their skeptics about the results, which appear to violate the laws of nature as we know them."

"Hundreds of scientists packed an auditorium at one of the world's foremost laboratories on the Swiss-French border to hear how a subatomic particle, the neutrino, was found to have outrun light and confounded the theories of Albert Einstein."

"To our great surprise we found an anomaly," said Antonio Ereditato, who participated in the experiment and speaks on behalf of the team."

Wednesday
Sep212011


"Look around. There's a good chance you'll spot a tablet computer, if you don't have one yourself. Touch-screen phones are even more common. Biometric scanners scan your fingerprints at your bank, or your irises at the airport. They're devices that used to be the stuff of science fiction — the sort of thing you'd see in Star Trek or Blade Runner or Minority Report. Now they're here in the real world. And they're everywhere"

"How did so many films and TV shows get so much right about what was coming down the technological pipeline?"

Tuesday
Sep202011

Gamers Solve Stubborn Viral Mystery: The Shape of a Key Enzyme

"See, Mom? Playing online video games can pay off."

"An online group of gamers has correctly deduced the structure of an enzyme that AIDS-like viruses use for reproduction. By playing the online-game Foldit, the group figured out the structure of an important viral protein that has baffled scientists for more than a decade."

"The enzyme is a retroviral protease and plays a critical role in how the AIDS virus matures and proliferates. Gamers, who weren't experts in viruses, solved the puzzle in just three weeks."

Sunday
Sep182011

Glowing Kittens Help In Fight Against AIDS

 "Here's an experiment: Turn off your lights, shine a blue flashlight on the cats in the room and look for the ones that turn neon green, like a glow stick."

"That's how scientists at the Mayo Clinic identify cats that they've successfully treated against the feline immunodeficiency virus."

Friday
Sep162011

Artic Ice Hits Near-Record Low, Threatening Wildlife

"Ice on the Arctic Ocean has melted to its second-lowest level on record, according to researchers in Colorado who track this trend. The summertime melt coincides with a dramatic warming over the past decade, and it's already affecting wildlife in the Arctic Ocean."

"The Arctic ice comes and goes with the seasons; typically about half of the wintertime ice melts away by mid-September. After that low-point, the ice regrows. In 2007, the amount of ice left in September hit a dramatic low."

Wednesday
Sep142011

Photographers Capture Evolving Face Of Poverty

"Photographers have long played a special role in capturing what it means to be poor in America. People like Dorothea Lang, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks helped illustrate what it was like to live in hunger and face material hardships."

"But as the country has changed, so too has the face of poverty."

Friday
Sep022011

Human Brain Responds To Animals, Cute or Creepy

"Animals have a special place in the human heart. Now, researchers are reporting that creatures great and small also have a special place in our heads."

"A team led by researchers at Caltech has found individual brain cells that respond when a person sees an animal, but not when that person sees another person, a place, or an object."

Thursday
Sep012011

Hubble Captures Time-Lapse Videos of Stars Being Born

"The birth of star is just as traumatic as the birth of a person, only on a much larger scale."

"For years, astronomers have known that newly formed stars fire powerful beams of gas into space called "protostellar jets." Because almost every young star forms these jets, astronomers have been desperate to get a better understanding of their evolution and their role in the star formation process. Until recently, however, astronomers had to be content with simple snapshots of the infant stars and their jets — not a great help when it comes to understanding how something moves."

Monday
Aug292011

Does Jobs Have Place In History Beside Edison, Ford?

"Steve Jobs stepped down this week as CEO of Apple after running the company for nearly 25 years."

"The first Macintosh computer, the iPod audio player and most recently the iPad are just a few of the products Jobs created that have changed the way millions of people live their lives."

"Comparisons can be drawn between Jobs and other great American innovators like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, both technological titans in U.S. history."

Saturday
Aug272011

At New Madrid Fault, Shaky Guesses On Next Quake

"The magnitude-5.8 earthquake that rattled the eastern U.S. on Tuesday took everyone — even geoloThe New Madrid earthquakes broke up rock like this section of rock face, which was later filled with sand. This photo, from Mississippi County, Mo., was taken in 1904.gists — by surprise. But even when there are reasons to think an earthquake could be around the corner, scientists still can't make good predictions."

"It has now been 200 years since the last major earthquakes rocked the New Madrid Seismic Zone — a fault system that runs down the central U.S. through parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. The region has had plenty of smaller quakes since then, but there's no clear answer to the question of when the next big one is coming."

Wednesday
Aug242011

What is BitCoin?

 "The U.S. has the dollar. Japan has the yen. Now some people are trying to invent a new currency that's not tied to any country or government. It's called bitcoin."

"Bitcoin is a lot like cash — for the online universe. It doesn't actually exist in the physical world. You can't hold bitcoins in your hand because they just live on computers and the Internet."

Tuesday
Aug232011

Giant Camera Will Hunt For Dark Energy

"A giant and powerful digital camera is about to be shipped from a lab near Chicago to a telescope in Chile to study a mysterious part of the universe called dark energy."

"Dark energy makes up most of our universe, but scientists currently know almost nothing about it except that it seems to be making the expansion of our universe speed up."

Monday
Aug222011

Much More Than A Muse: Lee Miller and Man Ray

"A new exhibit celebrates the work of two Surrealist artists: first lovers, and later, friends. Elizabeth Lee Miller was an actress, a model, and a war correspondent, who had an intoxicating effect on her lovers. One of those lovers was the avant-garde American artist Man Ray. His love for her nearly drove him to madness — and also inspired some of his most well-known work."

"Miller was Ray's muse, but she became an accomplished photographer in her own right. Now, their work is displayed together for the first time at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., in an exhibit called Man Ray/Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism."

Sunday
Aug212011

Trying To Unravel The Mysteries of Arctic Warming

"The Arctic is heating up faster than anyplace on Earth. And as it heats, the ice is growing thinner and melting faster. Scientists say that sometime this century, the Arctic Ocean could be free of ice during the summers. And that transition is likely to be chaotic."

"Arctic sea ice has always seen dramatic swings. Every winter, the ocean is completely covered with ice. It starts to melt in the late spring, and by September about half that ice has melted away."

Saturday
Aug202011

Don't Throw It Out: 'Junk DNA' Essential In Evolution

"There's a revolution under way in biology. Scientists are coming to understand that genetics isn't just about genes. Just as important are smaller sequences of DNA that control genes."

"These so-called regulatory elements tell genes when to turn on and off, and when to stop functioning altogether. A new study suggests that changes in these non-gene sequences of DNA may hold the key to explaining how all species evolved."

Thursday
Aug182011

Scientists Crack The Physics of Coffee Rings

"A lot of simple things in science turn out to be quite complicated. Take, for example, coffee: You may have noticed that a spilled drop of coffee doesn't dry as a brown blob, but rather as a clear blob with a dark ring around the edge."

"It's taken physicists more than a decade to figure out why this effect, known technically as "the coffee ring effect," happens. But now they think they have an answer."

Wednesday
Aug172011

Magician Penn Jillette Says 'God, No!' To Religion

"Even if you believe in God, you might still be atheist. That's what Penn Jillette argues in his new book God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales."

"The louder half of the magician duo Penn & Teller — of Showtime's Pen & Teller: Bull - - - - — frames his new book as the atheist's Ten Commandments. In it, he wanders from rants about the war on drugs to stories of eating shellfish and bacon cheeseburgers with Hasidic Jews."

Tuesday
Aug162011

Why Cleaned Wastewater Stays Dirty In Our Minds

"At the time, a number of California's local water agencies were proposing a different approach to the state's perennial water problems. They wanted to build plants that would clean local wastewater — aka sewage water — and after that cleaning, make it available as drinking water. But, says Haddad, these proposals were consistently shot down by an unwilling public."

Monday
Aug152011

Jumping Dogs And Photo-Toons: Meet Photographer Elliott Erwitt

"Photographer Elliott Erwitt loves babies, bare bottoms and dogs — specifically, jumping dogs. And he'll go to great lengths — however unorthodox — to get the shot. To get a dog to jump? Bark at it, Erwitt says: "You have to speak their language. ... Sometimes they bark back, sometimes they jump." But it's a perilous approach. "Once, one of them peed on my leg as a consequence," he says."

Saturday
Aug132011

The Human Toll Of The War 'To End All Wars'

"The human cost of World War I was enormous. More than 9 million soldiers and an estimated 12 million civilians died in the four-year-long conflict, which also left 21 million military men wounded."

"Many of them were missing arms, legs, hands, genitals or driven mad by shell shock," says historian Adam Hochschild. "But there was also a human cost in a larger sense, in that I think the war remade the world for the worse in every conceivable way: It ignited the Russian Revolution, it laid the ground for Nazism and it made World War II almost certain. It's pretty hard to imagine the second world war without the first."