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.

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.

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.

The making and drinking of alcoholic beverages dates back thousands of years, and may be as old as the human race, itself.
Public Domain

Which is older – beer or wine? And just how old is that? Based on the fact that some modern primates consume naturally fermented fruit juices, chances are good that the tradition of drinking alcoholic beverages is as old as the human race. But the earliest versions might best be described as “extreme beverages” made from combinations of ingredients that would seem bizarre by today’s standards.

PapaDunes /

What does the ocean mean to you? How do you interact with the sea? Maybe you enjoy fishing, or enjoy eating what others have caught. Maybe you own a home on the water, or relish long days at a favorite beach. Maybe you’re worried about climate change and sea level rise; maybe you’re not.

We are all connected to the ocean, through weather, climate, and the very air we breathe (marine life produces half the oxygen in the atmosphere). But everyone experiences that connection differently.

Functional MRI can reveal patterns of brain activity in patients who cannot otherwise communicate.
DrOONeil /

Patients in a persistent vegetative state may not be as unaware as their diagnosis suggests. Neuroscientists have found that 15-20 percent may be fully conscious but unable to make that known.

A new device may be able to help those individuals communicate with family, friends, and caregivers.

There are tens of thousands of people in the United States who have been diagnosed as being in a vegetative state – unresponsive and unaware of their surroundings. But as many as 15 to 20 percent of those people may actually be fully conscious and simply unable to make that known. Unless, of course, you put them in a high-end brain scanner and ask them to imagine playing tennis.

No joke.

Rob Phillips has pursued an unusual career path.

Most scientists walk a well-worn path to their careers – high school leads to college, then to graduate school. Rob Phillips skipped college. Now he’s pushing the boundaries of how we interpret DNA. He’s the Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. 

So, how did that career happen?

Phillips can trace his love for science back to one day – April 30, 1977.