Elsa Partan

Producer for Living Lab

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.
 

Ways to Connect

The influenza virus can kill tens of thousands of Americans in any given year. And this year’s flu season looks like it could be a doozy. Infection rates are higher than they were at this time in recent years, and the strain that hit the southern hemisphere caused record hospitalizations and deaths in Australia. One problem: although the virus strain that scientists selected for the vaccine was the correct one, it mutated once it was put into eggs. Researchers say this kind of situation highlights the need for a universal flu vaccine.

A protest this weekend at the site of a proposed natural gas power generator on the Cape Cod Canal highlights the controversy surrounding the rise of natural gas. Some say it’s an improvement over other fossil fuels, and a necessary bridge to a more renewable energy system. Others say it’s still a fossil fuel, and we should be investing in solar instead.

Teen depression rates jumped thirty three percent between 2010 and 2015, while suicide attempts rose by almost a quarter. Psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University has sifted through the various possible explanations and says only one factor explains the abrupt shift in American teens’ mental health – smart phones.

Scientists are working to expand the genetic code.
Duncan Hull / flickr.com

Autumn Oczkowski made headlines earlier this month, not for her science, but for the fact that EPA leadership told her she couldn’t present that science at a conference about the future of Narragansett Bay. EPA leadership never said why they made that decision, but many assumed it was because climate change would be a major theme. A week later, though, Oczkowski was allowed to present her research at a different conference.

David Bailey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Food insecurity and climate change are affecting millions of people today. Some experts say ocean farming (aquaculture) could help address both of those issues. On Living Lab, we talk with Scott Lindell, aquaculture researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

NASA

An asteroid strike took out the dinosaurs. And a meteor that struck Chelyabinsk, Russia a few years ago woke the astronomy community up to the need for a better system for tracking asteroids that could affect Earth. Now, an international asteroid warning network has gotten its first test. Luckily for us all, NASA aced it. We talk with Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer for NASA. 

It’s time for your yearly flu shot. But why do we have to do this every year? Why can’t we get a flu shot once – maybe a booster now and again – and be done with it, like we do with other vaccinations? There are scientists working to accomplish just that. David Topham at University of Rochester Medical Center is on the task, but he warns that some efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine may not be as successful as hoped.

NASA

This fall marks 20 years since NASA began continuous, global measurements of life on Earth from space. This kind of thing is unprecedented, and it helps us get a much better idea of how climate change and other environmental factors are affecting life on Earth. 

biomimicry.org

Humans have always been designers and engineers, but we’ve only been on this planet a few million years. Life and evolution have been going for nearly four billion years. And the millions of species on this planet today have evolved millions of ways to meet the challenges of survival. Increasingly, human engineers are turning to nature for solutions to our own challenges, like energy production, water use, transportation, and advanced materials. For example, there’s a way to make concrete using the same method as corals do, to build their structures.

There are scientists studying how spending time in nature restores us physically and mentally.

A cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Utah noticed that after he spent a few days backpacking in nature, he got great ideas. He wanted to quantify it, so he gave people pencil-and-paper tests before and after they took hikes. The scientist, Dr. David Strayer, found that the people experienced a 50 percent increase in their creativity after the hike.

Florence Williams is the author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. She says even 15 minutes of walking in the woods reduces the blood pressure, reduce your cortisol stress hormones, and change your heart rate variability – all things that lead to better health.  

Florence Williams is a journalist and contributing editor to Outside magazine. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic among others. Her first book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012 and the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science and Technology. Williams lives in Washington, DC.

Yoshiki Hase, mos.org

There are a lot of questions, in life and politics, that science can inform, but not answer. What should we do about gun violence? Should we ban high concussion risk sports for young athletes? Boston’s Museum of Science is asking provocative questions, and getting interesting results.  We talk to Christine Reich of the Boson Museum of Science.

 

Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 50 million people worldwide, yet there are only a handful of drugs to treat the symptoms. None of them address the underlying disease processes, and it’s been years since a major new drug got approved. But there are 126 drugs in clinical trials. A leading researcher breaks down the prospects and obstacles to treating Alzheimer’s disease. We talk with Rudy Tanzi of Harvard & Massachusetts General Hospital. 

There have been ten mass shootings this year, and plenty of talk about the factors that contribute to the high rate of these devastating events in the U.S. Most research points to gun availability, but social contagion also plays a role. And, as with contagious diseases, researchers say early intervention is best. Sherry Towers of Arizona State University joins us. 

J. Junker

We turned our clocks back an hour yesterday, and plenty of us feel a bit strange today. No wonder. Our body clocks influence everything from blood pressure to mental health. To learn more about circadian rythms we turn to Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at Brandeis University. He’s also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. And as of a month ago, he’s a Nobel laureate. He and two colleagues won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on circadian rhythms.  

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