Month: May 2018

070: The Nipah Virus, Scientific Reports Retracts HPV Paper, Stolen Asteroid, and Survivor Birds!

What a great episode! JD was in rare form as he ranted…and ranted…and ranted about the A**h*le of the Month. We had dinosaurs, asteroids, mysterious viruses, and scientific self-correction. Oh, and this was also Chris’ first go at the Pub Quiz!

069: Talking LOUDLY About Sea Level Rise

With thunder rolling in the background, as if on cue, Tom Di Liberto takes us into the Climate Lounge. Amrita Sule and Sophie McManus get us up to speed on the Science News. JD emcees the boisterous bacchanalia we call the Pub Quiz.

068: Amphibians, Solar Panels, Transitional Fossils, and Richard Feynman

It was just Chris and JD running this mighty podcast today, and don’t you think they did a great job? Check it out!

067: Volcanos, Bird Beaks, Glass Houses, and the Multiverse

Coming up on this week’s show

The Climate Lounge with Tom Di Liberto, and the return of the What the Hell Was That game!

Science News:

  • Kilauea Volcano Erupts
  • How birds got their beaks
  • Kew Gardens Glasshouse Reopens
  • Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory About The Multiverse

Science News with Sophie McManus and Nevena Hristozova

Kilauea Volcano Erupts

Can you imagine living on top of an active volcano?! I am sure you are aware, but Kilauea has been kicking off lately. Nearly 2000 people have been evacuated around the south side of the island. They will probably move back soon, depending on developments, obviously. Move back to live on top of their active volcano.

So, what happened?

A series of small earthquakes was recently followed by a quake with mag 6.9 last Friday. A new fissure then opened up and started letting out hot lava. Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and has been in a state of eruption for the past 35 years.

Tropical Visions video (co. Paradise Helicopters) is amazing to watch. It is like the cartoons of volcanoes you see as a child. Spectacular bright red lava fizzing everywhere and engulfing cars. Less appealing, by the sounds of it, are the emissions of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. Kinda toxic. That’s why the people have been evacuated. Also the lava.

A nice quote by the excellently-named Mika McKinnon, volcanologist and disaster researcher, “Hawaiian volcanoes can be extremely deadly, but it’s a hazard you can walk away from.” This explains the footage of people strolling away from the lava flows. I mean strolling as a relative term.

In other Hawaiian news, Hawaii became the first state to ban sunscreens that contain chemicals harmful to marine life. Let’s hope that Kilauea calms down a bit – and that other places follow the lead on the sunscreen front.

How Birds Got Their Beaks

This story comes from Yale University and it’s telling us how scientists were able to reconstruct a missing link. Not between apes and humans, but between dinosaurs and birds. This bird-like dinosaur had wings and a breastbone which look very much like the ones of modern birds and it had a beak too, but very much like reptilian dinosaurs. It’s mouth was apparently full of teeth.

This species is not new. It’s been known to scientists for over 150 years, but due to the bad condition of the fossils it was hard to reconstruct its head to get more details. In 2014 though, a new fossil of the Ichthyornis dispar was found and this time it had a perfectly preserved skull. A 3D reconstruction showed that it could move its upper part of the beak independently, like birds today can and reptilian dinosaurs definitely can’t. The fossils also showed these indentations on the surface of the skull, which are were a rather strong set of muscles were attaching, to allow the ancient dino-bird to grab, hold on to and chew its food with the help of its sharp teeth. Having such strong muscles operate a beak that is also capable of performing some of the tasks a hand sound have also probably played a role in freeing the front limbs to be used for flight.

Kew Gardens Glasshouse Reopens

This is great news! A few days ago, Kew gardens reopened its glasshouse (Temperate house). It houses 10,000 plants from the ‘Goldilocks’ zone – some of these are exceedingly rare and the glasshouse represents a final refuge. I remember going to Kew a long time ago to the glasshouses. Temperate house is the world’s LARGEST glasshouse, and it is beautiful.

In an interview with the BBC, the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough said he had first visited Kew Gardens “back when it cost a penny…When I had an office job at the BBC, when I used to be stuck in the office and get really depressed, I would come here at the weekend and take a deep breath, because there was a smell of the tropics.” He reiterated the importance of such institutions in avoiding extinctions.

Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory About The Multiverse

One of the last (so far) legacies of Prof Hawking is an article submitted just days before his passing. He has worked on this for almost 40 years and it’s a theory which tries to explain how is it possible for the Big Bang to have created an infinite number of Universes, more or less similar to ours.

Originally, his work with James Hartle worked out how, based on principles of quantum mechanics the Big Bang could have potentially created an infinite number of universes; some very similar to our and others so different that even the laws of physics wouldn’t be the same.

Later on, further developing the math to solve this problem, Hawking with the help of Professor Hertog from Belgium, used principles from String Theory to work out the math. By doing so, the two physicists came up to a solution according to which the Big Bang created a bunch of parallel universes, but they all have distinct similarities. Meaning that there might be a universe out there where I’m skinny and can sing, another one where dinosaurs still exist and yet another one where Professor Hawking never went to grad school but became a world famous tap-dancer!

One of the implications of the theory that parallel universes emerging as a result of the Big Bang exist based on the String Theory principles rather than the quantum physics ones, is that we might be able to actually detect parallel universes, since their basic physical laws will be very similar. It’s still doubtful though that we’d be able to travel through them.

The Climate Lounge with Tom Di Liberto

Thwaites Thwaites Don’t Tell Me!

Welcome to the Lounge! Of course, the first thing anyone gets to hear when they enter the lounge is an update on Puerto Rico. Less than 50,000 people are still without power a month before the hurricane season starts. And every week stories come out that are shocking but get completely overlooked due to the ongoing madness. For instance, did you know that the Puerto Rico Department of Public Health found that the overall suicide rate in Puerto Rico increased 29% in the first months after hurricane Maria? Or how about this quote about rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power grid from a former energy executive whose has dealt with natural disasters from hurricane Sandy, to severe storms in Jamaica to earthquakes in California, “I’ve never seen anything like that–not in a developed nation” said Ed Muller. So yeah, still a disgrace.

Lately I’ve been talking about interesting research, new papers that have come out, and that has been fun. But I wanted to take you this week on a little journey to a story about getting the data needed to make cool new studies. On April 30, the largest American/British joint science expedition to Antarctica in 7 decades was launched to look at the Thwaites glacier, a terrifying “what if” glacier which if it completely melts would raise global sea levels by 10 feet. As David Holland, one of the principal researchers on this project said in an article in the Washington Post “For global sea-level change in the next century, this Thwaites glacier is almost the entire story,”. Right now, basically, scientists fear only a bump in the sea floor is helping to hold the glacier in place. But it’s hard to know how precariously things are because well…

The one issue with the Thwaites glacier is that, like, Antarctica, is like, super hard to get to. This expedition will fix that. So who’s going? There will be 6, count’em 6 field expeditions going along with two computer modeling studies. And they are pulling out all the celebrity stops. One of the submersible research vessels will even be BOATY MCBOATFACE!

They are going to study this glacier from all directions. Holland will be drilling holes near the grounding line (where the ocean, bedrock and ice meet), and put a remotely operated vehicle in see whats going on.

Sridhar Anandakrishnan, a Penn State geoscientist will be doing seismic surveys detonating small explosive devices within the Thwaites glacier to measure the echoes of the sound waves. This will help determine what the glacier is flowing over and help figure out the glaciers rate of retreat.

There will also be ships and planes with radars, and remote sensing, ocean gliders, subs and more drilling. This research expeditions will come back with an absolute treasure trove of data which can then be fed into computer models to determine better projections for what lies ahead.

It’s a daunting task, in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. But over 100 scientists are heading out because they know just how dire things will be for humanity if the Thwaites glaciers retreats all the way back to the south pole. So you know, not a heavy research trip at all. Just another walk in the glacial park….

What The Hell Was That?

We rummaged through the hallway closet and found an old game. Listen next week to see who can guess what the hell that sound was.

In Closing

In 2004 when asked about his IQ, Professor Stephen Hawking replied, “I have no idea. People who boast about their IQ are losers”.

This episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast comes to you from San Francisco, California; Brussels, Belgium; Cambridge, England; and Washington, D.C..

066: The Heart of Mars

Coming up on this week’s show

Mysterious ice holes, INSIGHT into the interior of Mars, Early Grants are the Ticket, The Climate Lounge, and This Week in Science History


Listener feedback

Regarding our story last week on plastic-eating bacteria, SC on Twitter writes:

There was a scifi play on BBC tv in the 70’s which featured a bacteria that eats plastic. In the story it got loose from a lab and accelerated destroying all sorts of stuff including bringing down aircraft.

Careful what you wish for..!

Thank you, SC

He brings up a good point because when it comes to grand ideas of introducing species to counter a human-caused problems our history is not so good.

Examples: kudzu, the vine that ate the American south, and cane toads in Australia

I’m all for tackling this critical problem in our oceans, but let’s do be cautious when it comes to unleashing microorganisms into our oceans.

If you have any questions or comments you can do like SC and hit us up on Twitter, or you can email us at


Science News

Scientists’ early grant success fuels further funding

We are back with some super cool science stories to share.  But wait! Do you know who are some of the show-runners who make this science possible. Grad Students and post docs definitely make it to the top of the list. As a postdoc myself I can strongly attest that, to do amazing science you need funding. So today I am going to talk about a study, which compared the career trajectory of early career scientists or post docs who are funded early on in their career versus the ones who miss out on these initial grants ONLY by a small margin.

This study was led by a Dutch sociologist, Thijs Bol at the University of Amsterdam. They compiled a data set, which consisted information on funding scores as well as the grants funded from two organizations – The  European Research Council and Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research. Their analysis revealed that researchers who were funded, CONTINUED to gain more than TWICE as much research funding in the next 8 years relative to their peers who weren’t funded at an early stage. And let me repeat this, the scientists who failed to secure grants – just missed it by a small margin. Similar studies have been done in the past which also had similar conclusions, but Bol claims they were not as thorough as this one.

The group reasoned that this drift in the funding acquisition could be partly because researchers who lost out on the initial grant were less likely to apply for future funding. I would like to say here that, many post doctoral positions are funded through their labs/mentors/institution – that is they are not always required to apply for funding. HOWEVER, they should very much be encouraged to do so. Having you independent funding, can definitely set you up for subsequent funding in future. Which has also been shown by the study under discussion.

This study only looked at data from two funding agencies, more information from other funding agencies world wide is needed to see the whole picture. I believe that a much bigger problem is, rejection of funding at an early career stage can dissuade one from pursuing science, which is a bad news for the WHOLE SCIENCE community. So what can be done? Funding agencies should be made aware of this. Also, more academic mentoring wrt to grant applications should be made available to postdocs and early career researchers. So yes — KEEP APPLYING FOR GRANTS!


Mysterious Ice Holes in the Arctic

Living here on the west coast of North America means that whenever I travel to Europe I get to fly over the Arctic. The land and ice up there are incredibly beautiful even from 11 kilometers up.

Glaciers on Greenland. Ice flows in Baffin Bay. Icebergs.

I imagine all the wildlife down there…

News story about some interesting phenomena up there in the ice. According to NASA, weird holes have begun to appear in the ice.

They have no idea what’s causing them.

John Sonntag, a scientist with NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge took some photos and found these strange holes. Some researchers have suggested these holes were created by seals. That makes a lot of sense until we find out many of the holes are quite large.

According to Sonntag the holes are several meters, even tens of meters in size, making it unlikely that seals are the cause.

Some have suggested that bowhead whales may be punching up through the thin ice to breathe.

NASA has a monthly contest on their site called Earth Observatory, and a picture of these holes appears in their April Puzzler.

Head over to the show notes for a link to this site, and perhaps you can help NASA figure out what the hell this is!


NASA InSight Lander To Get First Look At ‘Heart’ Of Mars

All this news about planet EARTH, guess who is feeling left out? Yes! You guess it right it’s planet MARS. But not to worry Mars because you will be getting a new visitor in November. A spacecraft designed to study interior structure, composition as well as Mar’s seismic activity is scheduled to lift off on May 5th and land on the red planet, Mars in November. This spacecraft is called INSIGHT, which is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

INSIGHT will be the first spacecraft to land on Mars since Curiosity in 2012. The lander, rovers and orbiters that have visited mars before investigated MOSTLY the surface history by studying features like canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil. INSIGHT will be digging in deeper to learn about the RED planet’s formation and give us more “Insight” about what lies under it’s surface.

Lets’ what what exactly will be the job of this spacecraft.

The INSIGHT mission will operate for approximately two earth years and during that time it will use primarily 3 instruments. A seismometer will pick up the vibrations from marsquakes, which are Mars equivalent of earthquakes. Insight will also hammer a heat-flow probe upto 16 feet deep into Martian surface, which is deeper than any of the probes used before. This will reveal how much heat is flowing out of the deep interior of the planet. And the third instrument known as RISE will track the location of the spacecraft and monitor minor variations in its position, to determine just how much Mars’ North Pole wobbles as it orbits the sun.

These experiments will tell us about things like; if Mars formed from the same stuff as Earth and the Moon, what is it’s core made up of and also give a sneak peek into how the planet evolved. In the coming months we will hear more about this mission as the lift off takes place later this week from WEST coast of United States. Just a note – this is the 1st time an interplanetary mission is being launched from the WC.

Also, if you are in the area and would like to lean more about MARS INSIGHT mission, you should check out the MARS road show this week as well as next week in California where you chat with NASA scientists and engineers, and learn about INSIGHTS MARS mission in detail.


The Climate Lounge

Puerto Rico still suffers from occasional island wide black outs. The hurricane season officially begins in a month. Hurricane Maria hit the island on September 20… This continues to be awful.

Sometimes we all just have one of those days, you know. Just BAD days. Where nothing seems to be going in your favor. Then you turn on the news and you realize that things are going in ALOT of people’s favor. Ugh, just bad days. Maybe you’re like me when those days happen, and you close your eyes tight and try of think of anything else.  Like what would time period would I go to if I could time travel. Or What would the world be like if we still were just one big super continent? Or better yet, what would life be like if I was 6 feet tall? THESE ARE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.

Well, some scientists from the Max Planck Institute just lived my dreams. They presented their findings recently at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union on what earth would look like if it spun the other way. I sincerely hope my excitement is coming across to everyone listening right. THIS IS SUCH A COOL THING.

We often talk about our climate as latitudinally dependent because that’s sort of an easy way to look at things. It’s warmer near the equator and colder near the poles. Or we talk about it with regards to elevation The higher you are, the colder it is. But we don’t talk about just how important the earth’s rotation is in causing the regional climates all across the world. But these scientists did just that.

Florian Ziemen of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany was the lead scientist on the work and he and colleagues tweaked some parameters in a climate model that effectively turned the planet around. They then watched to see what climates developed as the model ran for 7,000 years.

This meant that they stopped the movement of air and water then reversed the direction of the Coriolis force which essentially reflects the impact a spinning earth would have one the movement of liquids and gases on our planet. They even reversed the direction of the sun so that, for instance, NY is 5 hours ahead of London in this bizarro world.  The result, things got crazy!

The world’s deserts completely shifted. The Sahara desert was gone. It was now much wetter along with the Middle East. Instead, deserts reigned over the southeast United States and Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. Australia also became much wetter as a reversal of the winds brought more moist air onshore. In total, a backwards earth had 11 million square km’s LESS desert than our current earth.

For me on the Atlantic coast of the US, our climate became more mild and wet. While severe winters slammed western Europe. But it wasn’t all great. Huge blooms of cyanobacteria took over northern Indian ocean.

It’s a whole new world. But this doesn’t explain why scientists do this. Well, looking at a retrograde planet earth allows scientists to see if our understanding of the earth is actually correct. For instance, scientists use these experiments to look at this like the huge ocean circulations on the planet. There is ongoing research looking into just how deep water forms that is waters that sinks to the bottom of the ocean which currently occurs in the north Atlantic. In prior backwards moving planet experiments, this formation of deep water either broke down or continued, leaving scientists perplexed. If this formation didn’t stop, then the shape of the ocean basin might be playing a role. If it did collapse so does that argument. This most recent research did in fact have deep water formation collapse, similar to work done in 2008.

So would the earth be better if things turned backwards? Well, it would be greener, less desert-y but it all sort of depends on where you live. And truth be told, it’d still be full of humans and for all of the amazing things humanity has accomplished, we still have a knack for screwing things up.


This Week In Science History

This week in science history on 26 April in 1986, in Pripyat, in the northern Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, now thankfully called just Ukraine, one of the four reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded during a safety test, launching a cloud of radioactive dust over Europe. The Soviet Union, always concerned with public health and transparency, announced the explosion two days after it happened.

Did you know I’ve been to Chernobyl? Yep, I can count on the fingers of my left hand how many times I’ve been there. Seven times.

This week in science history on 26 April in 1884, the New York Times reported that “sending mails by electricity” was to be investigated by the Post Office Committee of the United State House of Representatives. The article suggested it could lead to ten cent telegrams, million dollar offers from Nigerian princes, and pills to enhance your manhood.

This week in science history on 27 April In 1887, surgeon George Morton performed the first appendectomy in the United States, saving the life of a 26-year-old man suffering from a toothache.

This week in science history on 30 April in 1878, Louis Pasteur lectured at the French Academy of Science to promote his germ theory of disease. Predictably, he still met with opposition from some scientists, and he replied that their skepticism was “fatal to medical progress”, thus proving that old microbiologists never die, they’re just put out to Pasteur.


Shout out!

I’d like to thank Thomas at SecondLine Themes for helping us with our website.

I was having trouble centering the podcast player on our theme…

A theme is kind of like the structure, the bones, the template, of a website. And we purchased the Gumbo theme from SecondLine themes.

More often than not I need assistance with the techy stuff, and Thomas came through and helped me straighten things out.

So, if you’re building a website, especially one for a podcast, I highly recommend SecondLine Themes.

Secondline Themes



We leave you with these words from American anthropologist Margaret Mead who said, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

Goodbye everyone, and until next time…follow the science!


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