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Earlier this week, the FDA approved brand new COVID-19 vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech that are designed to better protect people from the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants. At the same time, the U.S. is scaling back free testing and precautionary measures, putting more pressure on vaccines. Casey Crownhart, a climate and technology reporter at MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to talk about COVID updates and other science news of the week.
They also discuss how the U.S. is bracing for a record-breaking heatwave, the devastating floods in Pakistan, how the city of Jackson, MI ended up without running water, why Greenland’s “zombie ice” is causing concern, a massive investment in solar power, and a clue as to how the Ancient Egyptians built the pyramids of Giza.
New Jersey’s Lenape Nation Fights Ford’s Toxic Legacy
The Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lenape Nation has lived in the wooded hills around Ringwood for centuries, enduring the impacts of European settlement and the building up of America. But the toxic waste that now surrounds the Passaic County community is from an invasion of an entirely different kind. And it wasn’t long before residents started getting sick.
When the federal government created the National Priorities List, better known as Superfund, in 1980, abandoned iron mines in Ringwood were among the first sites to be listed; they made the list in 1983. Between 1965 and 1974, the Ford Motor Company dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of paint sludge, solvents and other waste into the mines scattered throughout the Turtle Clan’s homeland. By then, the southern portion of the site had been sold off by Ford to the Ringwood Solid Waste Management Authority, which went on dumping more waste onto and into the already toxic land. Arsenic and lead, benzene and 1,4-dioxane leached into groundwater. Kids played among slabs of hardened paint sludge. Adults scavenged the dump sites for copper and other valuable metals.
From restaurant tables to office door knobs, not to mention anything inside a hospital, the world is full of surfaces that need sanitizing, lest someone catch a surface-borne viral or bacterial infection like the flu or MRSA. The typical solution involves sanitizing those surfaces with sprays and fluid cleaners. Or, sometimes, using materials that are hostile to microbes, such as silver or copper.
But a team of engineers at the University of Michigan has another solution in mind: a spray-on coating that combines the stabilizing power of polyurethane with the well-documented germicidal qualities of essential oils such as cinnamon, tea tree, and lemon. As the team reports in the journal Matter this week, their coating seems to kill pathogens like SARS-CoV2, MRSA and E. coli within minutes—and lasts for months before it must be refreshed. Research co-author Anish Tuteja joins Ira to talk about the innovation, and how he thinks it might be useful.
The Surprising Animal Science Behind Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’
One of the summer’s biggest blockbusters has been the alien horror film “Nope,” from director Jordan Peele. “Nope” has elements of many classic UFO films, with the Spielbergian charm of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and the horror and destruction from “The War of the Worlds.”
For the spoiler-averse, this is your warning to turn back now. The big twist in “Nope” that differentiates it from other alien films is that it isn’t a UFO hanging out in the skies above our main characters. The saucer-shaped figure is the alien itself.
Writer and director Jordan Peele attributes much of the inspiration for the alien as coming from sea creatures. He enlisted the help of scientific consultants including marine biologist Kelsi Rutledge to help bring the creature, known in the film as Jean Jacket, to life. She even gave it a scientific name: Occulonimbus edoequus, meaning “hidden dark cloud stallion eater.” Kelsi, who is a PhD candidate at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, talks to Ira about the ingredients that went into creating a new creature to scare audiences.
Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.