Living Lab Radio

Mondays at 9am and 7pm

Each week, Living Lab Radio brings you conversations at the intersection of science and culture. Connect with scientists for fresh perspectives on the week's news (science and otherwise), and a deeper - and deeply human - understanding of the world around us.  

Host and producer Dr. Heather Goldstone.
Credit Maura Longueil

Do you have a question, story, or photo to share? Send it to livinglabradio@capeandislands.org. Or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Living Lab Radio is produced by Heather Goldstone and Elsa Partan.

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

With 2012 drawing to a close, we’ve taken a look back at some of the big moments in science this year. Joining me on this walk down memory lane were Susan Avery, president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Eric Davidson, president and senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center; and Gary Borisy, outgoing president and director of the Marine Biological Laboratory.

  1. Discovery of the Higgs Boson has garnered the title of Breakthrough of the Year from Science Magazine. Although fundamental to physicists’ understanding of how the universe functions, Higgs Boson is undeniably esoteric – difficult for most of us to cozy up to. That’s why I so enjoyed Cape Cod Times columnist Sean Gonsalves very personal take on the discovery.
  2. Humans return to deepest spot on Earth. Mars rovers are all well and good but there’s plenty left to explore here on Earth, and this year marked an historic return to the deepest spot on Earth. In March, James Cameron became the third person ever – and the first in over fifty years – to dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Physicist, philosopher and historian Dr. Thomas Kuhn, 1922-1996.
Public domain image

Could Thomas Kuhn’s ideas about the scientific process be behind the divided public opinions we see today on issues like climate change and evolution? The physicist-turned-philosopher would probably turn over in his grave to think so. And, to be fair, no single idea can be held entirely responsible for the current situation. But, 50 years ago, Thomas Kuhn radically changed the way both scientists and the public view science.

An aptly named fishing boat in New Bedford Harbor.
animaltourism.com / flickr

There’s nothing new about tension between New England’s fishermen and the scientists and regulators who oversee their industry. But the situation has reached fever pitch in the past two years, in large part due to a federally mandated deadline to end overfishing and the introduction of a new management scheme, known as catch shares, in which a total catch limit is set and the catch is divvied up among eligible fishermen.

An unnamed mushroom found in South Carolina and posted on mushroomobserver.org.
Patrick R. Smith / Encyclopedia of Life

I feel like I'm becoming a broken record. Each week, my guests wow me with just how little we know about their chosen field. Today, it was the diversity of life on Earth. Earlier this year, Encyclopedia of Life (EOL.org) passed the one million page mark. While that's impressive, it's nowhere close to the project's goal of one page for every species on Earth. In fact, Nathan Wilson, technical director for EOL.org and a curator on the site, says we don't even have a good handle on how many species there are on Earth.

At least ninety percent of household dust contains chemicals that pose a health risk.
Heather Goldstone / WCAI

Dust is unsightly, a sign of poor housekeeping, perhaps. But toxic? Unfortunately, yes.

In 2003, researchers from Massachusetts-based Silent Spring Institute sampled dust from 120 homes on Cape Cod looking for hormone-like chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. They followed that up with a study of 50 homes in California. In both cases, they found what they were looking for.

One of the chemicals they found in high levels was a banned flame retardant called PBDE. So they went back, again, to look for other flame retardants in those California homes. And, again, they found what they were looking for in abundance. One class of flame retardants, known as chlorinated Tris compounds, made up as much as 0.1% of dust. That's a lot for a single chemical.

An eruption of an underwater volcano in the Mariana Arc, 2006.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, so it’s no surprise that three quarters of volcanic activity happens on the sea floor. Understanding those volcanoes has ramifications for everything from climate science to the evolution of life. But studying volcanoes covered, in some cases, by miles of water is no mean feat. So it’s also no surprise that there are still plenty of discoveries yet to be made and questions remaining to be answered.

Factory-farmed beef has one of the highest carbon footprints of any food.
Rick Harrison / Flickr

While conversations about climate change typically focus on cars or power plants, the food we eat is a major factor that often flies under the radar. Food - it's production, processing, and transport - accounts for nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The irony is that putting a dent in that portion of our carbon footprint could be fairly simple. If everyone in the U.S. avoided meat and dairy one day a week for a year, it would be the carbon-cutting equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road. On the other hand, since transportation actually accounts for just 2% of food-related emissions, eating locally may not be the climate panacea some have made out.

Artist Cornelia Kavanagh visited WHOI biologist Gareth Lawson’s lab in November 2011 to show him some of the pteropod sculptures on which she was working.
Tom Kleindinst / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Audio Pending...

You've no doubt heard of the butterfly effect. Well, Gareth Lawson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has his own version: the sea butterfly effect.

Ari Daniel Shapiro interviews renowned ecologist E. O. Wilson.
Tracy Barbaro / Encyclopedia of Life

Ari Daniel Shapiro is a scientist-turned-radio producer. He earned a PhD from the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Biological Oceanography. Rather than continue his research on killer whale behavior, though, he became a radio producer.

A 2.5 foot storm surge brought modest coastal flooding at high tide in Woods Hole as Hurricane Sandy approached the Jersey Shore Monday morning.
Heather Goldstone / WCAI

Hurricane Sandy. It’s been called Frankenstorm and it’s causing flashbacks to the Perfect Storm of 1991, when a Halloween Nor’Easter absorbed Hurricane Grace and caused millions of dollars in damage. Hurricane Sandy is an enormous category one hurricane – more than one thousand miles in diameter - due to hit the eastern seaboard later today. The Cape, Islands and South Coast are bracing for the worst but hoping for a glancing blow.

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