Living Lab on The Point

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Living Lab on The Point is a forum for the stories behind science headlines — the people who do the research, the unexpected ways that science gets done, and how the results make their way into our everyday lives.

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Host and producer Dr. Heather Goldstone.
Credit Maura Longueil

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Living Lab on The Point is Produced by Dr. Heather Goldstone. The Executive Producer is Mindy Todd.

Major support for the Living Lab is provided by the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment and The Kendeda Fund. Additional support is provided by Lee McGraw and the Elizabeth B. McGraw Foundation.

Friends of Herring River

In 1909, the Town of Wellfleet and the State of Massachusetts built a dike at the mouth of the Herring River to dry out a wetland and get rid of a plague of mosquitos. 

It worked, and tourism flourished. But there was a cost. Water quality in the estuary got worse. Shellfish beds disappeared. And migratory fish couldn’t reach their spawning ponds.

Heat and minerals from hydrothermal vents fuel abundant microbial and animal life, as well as intense scientific research.

It’s known as the deep biosphere, or the dark energy biosphere. What is it? Microbes - bacteria, archaea, even fungi - living not at the bottom of the ocean, but in the bottom of the ocean. We aren't just talking about the ocean version of soil bacteria, living in the seafloor mud (although that is part of the story). No, we're talking about microbes living in cracks in the rocks deep below that mud, in the most extreme case to date, a mile and a half below the seafloor.

Marie Curie Museum/Susan Marie Frontczak

Ever since she was a girl, Susan Marie Frontczak's love of theater and of science have gone side-by-side.

"I was in my first play when I was 5, and I did math puzzles with my dad," she tells WCAI. "I produced things on his workbench. I produced my first play when I was 17. I was a founding member of a community theater in my 20s when I was working at Hewlett Packard as an engineer. So I've always had both sides of my life."


Three big scientific non-profits in Woods Hole have hired new presidents in the last year, marking a major moment of change for this science and engineering town.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Biological Laboratory, and Woods Hole Research Center all have new chiefs. And they’re all dealing with similar pressures, especially when it comes to government funding.

Sharon Petersen of PJ's Cranberries in East Sandwich loads cranberries into a cranberry seperator. Owner Pete Hanlon says he's concerned about climate change.
Steve Haines / Cape Cod Times

What if climate change isn’t something that is going to happen in the distant future, somewhere far away? What if it’s happening right here, right now? That's the question the Cape Cod Times is asking - and answering - all week in a special series on the local impacts of climate change, from shrinking beaches and disappearing lobsters to more aggressive storms.

Photo courtesy of ©Entergy Nuclear

Entergy Corporation announced last week that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth will shut down for good by the year 2019, but that’s far from the end of questions or concerns about the plant. In fact, legislators and activists who've been calling for the plant's shutdown say the closure will eliminate few health and safety risks, and will add some new ones. 

Candle smoke transitions from straight, laminar flow to confused, turbulent flow. How and why aren't well understood. Nigel Goldenfeld sees parallels between such physical processes and the evolution of life.
Gary Settles / Wikimedia Commons

Nigel Goldenfeld sees patterns everywhere in the natural world. The physicist from the University of Illinois is a member of its top-ranked Condensed Matter Theory group, and studies how patterns evolve in time, “be they snowflakes, the microstructures of materials, the turbulent flow of fluids, geological formations, or even the spatial organization of microbes.”

Tote Services

As the Navy continues to search for the doomed cargo ship El Faro, the loss has an eerie resemblance to the Derbyshire disaster some three decades before. 

Some ferns have remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. Others, like this seed fern, Neuropteris flexuosa, exist only in fossilized form.
James St. John / Wikimedia Commons

Chances are, you have a pretty good idea what a plant looks like. Roots, stems, leaves, flowers ... these are the things that make plants, plants. But it wasn’t always so.

Plants arose some 500 million years ago, and the fossil record is full of bizarre evolutionary dead-ends, as well as amazing innovations. For example, some extinct ferns looked much like modern ferns on the outside, but their insides appear jumbled. And then, there's the fact that early plants had no leaves.  

Jiuguang Wang / Creative Commons

Intelligence, compassion, consciousness. These are some of the most fundamental aspects of what it means to be human. Yet, biologists struggle to settle on common definitions for these complex traits, let alone explain how they arise from the electrical signals fired by the million of neurons that make up our brain.

Major American and European initiatives are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into mapping and modeling the electrical circuitry of the human brain. But not everyone in the neuroscience community thinks these projects are on the right track.