Living Lab Radio

Mondays at 9am and 7pm

Living Lab Radio 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.

Host and producer Dr. Heather Goldstone.
Credit Maura Longueil

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Living Lab Radio is produced by Heather Goldstone and Elsa Partan. The executive producer is Mindy Todd.

Major support for Living Lab Radio is provided by The Kendeda Fund.

Human activities are altering rivers and ocean ecosystems in dramatic ways. Science is one way of knowing this, and of communicating it. But it’s not always the most effective way.

Robert F. Perkins is a multimedia artist who has been solo canoeing in the Arctic for close to thirty years. He’s also canoed the Limpopo River in Africa, and the Connecticut River – right here in our own backyard.

Not surprisingly, he says there's a common theme: more people, more contamination and degradation.

Mud plumes follow Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawlers like con trails follow airplanes.
NASA image by Jesse Allen, data from Univ. Maryland Global Land Cover Facility. / Public Domain

Roughly a fifth of all fish eaten globally are caught using nets towed along the bottom of the ocean. There’s long been concern that this method – known as trawling – destroys or severely damages the ecosystems where it’s used. Now, a new meta-analysis of the science available on this topic offers some quantification of the impacts of different type of trawls.  

Dunk Works opens to a wider group of organizations on August 1.
Elsa Partan

Maker spaces have popped up everywhere, typically outfitted with tools and materials that allow people to try making their prototype dreams a reality. Now, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has just launched a maker space for ocean-related innovations called “Dunk Works,” a play on Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works lab.

President Trump has nominated former talk radio host and campaign advisor, Sam Clovis, to be chief scientist at USDA.
Alex Hanson/flickr /

President Trump last week nominated Sam Clovis to be chief scientist for the USDA, formally known as the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics.  Clovis is a former economics professor, better known as a conservative talk radio host and Trump campaign advisor. One thing he is not is a scientist, and that has drawn harsh criticism professional organizations of scientists.

CC0 Public Domain

Researchers at Griffiths University in Australia have tackled the age-old question of why birds do, or don't, cross the road. After hours observing birds near and crossing roads around Brisbane, they found that many birds - particularly small, forest-dwelling species – avoid crossing roads, even when they can fly across them. The bigger the road, the stronger the effect.

They’re not sure exactly why, but say it may be fear of exposing themselves to predators. Or, they may be using roads as territorial boundaries.

Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project is currently one of the largest energy storage systems in Massachusetts.
Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project

Massachusetts is pushing hard on the renewable energy front, with more than 1600MW solar installed and a target of 1600MW offshore wind energy by 2020. Since sunshine and wind don’t always match consumer demand for electricity, the Commonwealth has set a goal of 200MWh of energy storage capacity by 2020, and is putting more than $10 million into energy storage research and demonstration projects.

The team aboard the E/V Nautilus explores the deep sea using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with cameras and tools for bringing back samples of rocks or marine life.
Courtesy of OET/Nautilus Live

Amy Fleischer is a teacher at Nauset Regional Middle School. But for most of July, she’s part of a team exploring California’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and mapping the seafloor aboard the exploration ship E/V Nautilus. One of the main goals of the mission is to find where the coastline was during the last ice age.

Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the leading causes of death for endangered North Atlantic right whales.
NOAA Photo Library /

2017 is shaping up to be one of the worst years on record for North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered large whale species. There are only about five hundred individuals left, and numbers have been declining in recent years. A spate of recent deaths has sparked particular concern.

Courtesy of Lora Hooper

There are at least as many bacterial cells in your body as their human cells. And there’s a growing recognition that they’re critical for everything from digestion to mental health. They also play a big role in immunity – our ability to fight off diseases. But the relationship isn’t always easy or friendly. For all the good they do, if gut bacteria get into the wrong places, it can be problematic.

Joel Brenner recommends getting critical infrastructure off the web.
Elsa Partan

People around the world have been getting a crash course in cybersecurity in recent weeks. Ransomware attacks have crippled everything from traffic cameras in Australia, multi-billion dollar international companies, healthcare networks, and the Ukrainian electricity grid.

Analysts have caused the attacks worrisome, concerning, and other adjectives clearly intended to not cause mass hysteria. But they also warn that attacks are likely to continue and get worse.