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.

NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

How many planets are there in our solar system? It used to be such an easy question. Nine - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. Then Pluto got demoted to a dwarf planet, so eight. But scientists now say they've found evidence of a ninth planet - likely an icy, gaseous planet about 10 times the mass of Earth - far beyond Neptune.

George Joch / Courtesy Argonne National Laboratory

The Space Race inspired a generation of students interested in science. Today, the issues facing aspiring scientists are no less momentous. For one, there's NASA's efforts to put people on Mars. But, closer to home, science issues touch each of us, every day – from climate change, to genetically modified organisms, and cutting edge medical treatments. And, of course, most of us have access to the world's collective knowledge via tiny, powerful computers we carry around in our pockets.

Community is a subjective thing. Merriam Webster defines it as people living in the same area or sharing a common trait or interest. That's pretty broad, as it is, but artist Jon Goldman wants us to go one step further and include animals, as well as people, in our sense of community.*

Ghost Swimmer is a fish-shaped robot, currently used by the Navy, but design firm Boston Engineering says it could be modified to monitor fish farms.
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Edward Guttierrez III / U.S. Navy

Experts in fish farming and robotics gathered in Woods Hole, MA, this week to discuss how they could work together to produce more seafood with less money, less risk to humans, and less damage to the environment.

To give you an idea, here's what fish farming in U.S. waters looks like right now.

International Press of Boston

Just last month, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider saw an unusual disturbance in their signal that they couldn’t explain. They’re working right now to figure out whether it was a fluke, or a game-changing discovery.

Jayne Doucette / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, and there's even more water trapped inside the Earth. Where did it all come from? And when? There have long been two possible answers to those questions: it could have been here since the very beginning, or it could have arrived later, carried by bombarding asteroids and comets.

The prevailing thought has been that the latter is more likely because, when the planets were forming nearly four and a half billion years ago, Earth's neck of the solar system would have been too hot for there to be water around.

Some 3,800 illegally captured Palawan forest turtles were found in a warehouse in the Philippines last summer.
© Katala Foundation Inc.

In June of 2015, 3,800 endangered Palawan forest turtles were found stacked like cordwood in a warehouse in the Philippines – intended for turtle soup. Government officials raided the warehouse after someone gave them a tip about the illegal activity there.

The local expert on the Palawan forest turtle, Sabine Schoppe, was surprised to see such a large number in one place because it was thought that the entire population of the species was less than 3,800. That means that the illegal poaching operation was close to wiping out the species completely. 

A recently rescued Kemp's ridley sea turtle floating in a recovery tank in the New England Aquarium's Quincy facility.
New England Aquarium

Each summer, young Kemp's ridley sea turtles follow the Gulf Stream north from the tropics to feed. Each fall, some number of those are caught off-guard by falling water temperatures and may wash ashore, dehydrated and paralyzed by cold. It's a story as old as Cape Cod, but it's been changing in recent years.


It was a year of big scientific achievements, with New Horizon's flyby of Pluto and the discovery of what may be a new species of early human topping the list. The historic climate agreement reached in Paris might be called a victory for science, though many consider it a victory of diplomacy. 

Chemicals from household products can make their way into Cape Cod waters.
National Park Service

Antibiotics, pain medications, birth control pills, facial cleansers, shampoo, laundry detergent, dish detergent, the non-stick coating on those skillets, and even the waterproofing on that winter coat. In addition to being found in your home, they can now be found in groundwater, ponds, and coastal bays around Cape Cod.

Many of the medicines we take and the household products we use end up going down our drains and straight through our septic systems into the environment. Some actually come full circle and make it back into our drinking water.