Quirks and Quarks podcast

Quirks and Quarks

·

  CBC  

CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks covers the quirks of the expanding universe to the quarks within a single atom... and everything in between.

CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks covers the quirks of the expanding universe to the quarks within a single atom... and everything in between.

 

#27

Listener Question show

Christ Kennedy from Moncton, New Brunswick asks: If someone had the means to, how close could we bring the Moon to the Earth while still keeping it in orbit around us? And fast would a month fly by? Answer from Brett Gladman, a professor of astronomy at the University of British Columbia, Matoli Degroot from Manitoba asks: Do animal species in the wild get bigger over time, since the bigger males would end up mating more than the smaller ones? Answer from Danielle Fraser, head of paleobiology at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. Bill Sullivan from Hamilton, Ontario asks: Why does the hair on my head turn grey while hair on the rest of my body does not change colour? Answer from Frida Lona-Durazo, a postdoctoral fellow in computational genetics at the University of Montreal, who’s studied the genetics of hair colour. Dan from Quebec City asks: We know that the Earth’s crust is built of plates that float on the molten centre of the Earth. What is the force that moves those plates? Answer from Alexander Peace, an assistant professor in the School of Earth, Environment and Society at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. Frances Mawson from Heckmans Island in Nova Scotia asks: Prey animals like deer are intermittently forced to flee from various predators. When danger has passed, they pause for a moment and then resume browsing. How can they recover so quickly? Answer from wildlife ecologist and Western University professor Liana Zanette. Richard Lukes from Winnipeg asks: As a hydro generating station generates energy, what is the effect on the downstream water? Has the temperature of the water been lowered? If so, then could hydropower help to cool the oceans and combat global warming? Answer from Jaime Wong, an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta. Luc in Edmonton asks: With more people planting native grasses and plants around their houses and businesses in cities, will the bird population in these cities change or increase? Answer from Sheila Colla, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change at York University and York Research Chair in Interdisciplinary Conservation Science. John Ugyan from Kelowna, British Columbia asks: If atoms are 99.99% empty, why do our eyes see matter as if it was 100% solid? Answer from condensed matter physicist, Cissy Suen. who’s a joint PhD student from UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Germany Debbie Turner in Fenelon Falls, Ont. asks: How does climate change affect animals that hibernate? Answer from Jeffrey Lane, an associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Saskatchewan. Greg Hollinger from Owen Sound, Ontario asks: Since the planets orbit the sun in a plane, does their combined gravity pull on and distort the shape of the sun? Answer from Roan Haggar, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Astrophysics. ... Read more

21 Jun 2024

54 MINS

54:09

21 Jun 2024


#26

The age of monotremes, Third thumb, bird dream sounds, astronaut health database, aging and exercise...

What would you do with a third thumb? Research suggests our brain can quickly adapt Birds can dream - and even have nightmares - and now scientists are tuning in A comprehensive new collection of medical information shows the health risks of space travel A study in mice sheds new light on how exercise can reverse aging in the brain Rare fossils from the ‘age of monotremes’ found in Australia How the brain can instantly tell the difference between speech and music PODCAST EXTRAS Organic farms next to conventionally farmed fields leads to increased pesticide use Orca whales hunt, play and dive – one breath at a time The secret of the beaver’s orange teeth can help us make our teeth strong ... Read more

14 Jun 2024

1 HR 18 MINS

1:18:07

14 Jun 2024


#25

The pursuit of gravity, and more…

The sun’s ramping up its activity and now we have a better idea of what’s driving it This spring we’ve seen some spectacular displays of northern lights and we’re expecting to see more as we approach the peak of the sun’s natural cycle, the solar maximum. Every 11 years the sun cycles from having few sunspots on its surface to having many. Now according to a new study in the journal Nature, scientists have figured out what may be driving this process. Geoff Vasil, an associate professor of computational and applied mathematics at the University of Edinburgh, said instabilities in swirling magnetic systems near the sun’s surface gives rise to sunspots on its surface that can erupt and send solar storms our way. Female otters use tools more than males – to crack open tasty treats and save their teeth Otters are cute and clever – clever enough to be one of the few animals who use tools such as rocks, glass bottles, or even boat hulls to smash shells and access the tasty flesh inside. But researchers studying otters off the coast of California found that certain otters were using these tools more than others, and wanted to understand why. In a new study, published in the journal Science, research biologist Chris Law found that it was females that were using the tools more than the males, in order to access hard-shelled meals like clams and mussels without damaging their teeth. The longest lasting human species (not us) were expert elephant hunters Our cousins, Homo Erectus, inhabited Earth for nearly two million years, and they were capable hunters. An analysis of stone tool manufacturing sites, published in the journal Archaeologies, gives new insight into the high levels of organization and planning by these early humans. Tel Aviv University archeologist Meir Finkel studied the ancient stone quarries in the Hula Valley, and discovered that they were often located on elephant migration routes near water sources – so the humans didn’t have far to go to get weapons for slaying and butchering their meals. This triad of elephants, water and stone quarries is present across many Old Stone Age sites where the early humans lived, including South America, Africa and Europe. A plastic that carries the seeds of its own destruction Researchers have been able to integrate spores of a plastic-eating bacteria into plastic to create a material that, over time, eats itself. In a controlled study, scientists found that the bacteria can break down 90 per cent of the soft plastic in the material in about 90 days. Mohammed Arif Rahman, a senior polymer scientist and R&D director of BASF, said they’re still working on it with hopes that the bacteria embedded within it will be able to keep on consuming the remaining plastic so as not to generate any microplastics. The proof of concept study was published in the journal Nature Communications. A new book about gravity celebrates failing and falling When theoretical physicist Claudia de Rham didn’t quite make the cut as an astronaut candidate, she doubled down on her fascination with the phenomenon of gravity. This puts her on the path of great thinkers like Newton and Einstein who helped us to start to understand what holds the universe together. In a new book, The Beauty of Falling: A life in pursuit of gravity, she ties her personal adventures with her theoretical explorations of gravitational rainbows and the origins of dark matter, and details all the mysteries that still remain about this fundamental feature of reality. ... Read more

07 Jun 2024

54 MINS

54:09

07 Jun 2024


#24

Killer whales are ramming boats for fun, and more...

Killer whales are likely ramming boats because they’re bored and having fun Several years ago a small population of killer whales living off the coast of Spain began attacking boats, particularly sailboats, damaging some severely and even sinking a handful. While social media speculation has suggested whale rage as a cause, an international team of killer whale experts recently published a report suggesting the behaviour is not aggression, but is instead an example of these giant social creatures just playing and having fun with a toy. We speak with two contributors to the report: John Ford, research scientist emeritus at the Pacific Biological Station with Fisheries & Oceans Canada, and Renaud de Stephanis, the president of Spanish conservation group CIRCE. 4,000-year-old Egyptian skull shows signs of possible surgery for brain cancer Researchers studying the history of cancer in human history recently hit the jackpot. In a collection of human remains at the University of Cambridge they found two skulls from Egypt, both thousands of years old, that show signs of advanced cancer. One of those skulls bore cut marks around the lesions. Lead study author and University of Santiago de Compostela professor Edgard Camarós said that regardless of whether these cuts were made as attempts at treatment or a post-mortem investigation, they show off the sophisticated medical knowledge of ancient Egyptians — and can also help better understand the evolution of cancer.This study was published in Frontiers in Medicine. Gorillas’ tiny penises and low sperm count can help us understand infertility in humans Gorillas are the biggest of the great apes, but their reproductive anatomy is diminutive. The males have small penises and testes, and low sperm quality. A new genetic analysis, published in the scientific journal eLife, identified the mutations that are responsible for male gorillas’ peculiar fertility. Vincent Lynch, an associate professor of biological sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said these findings can help us better understand the genes responsible for lower sperm quality in humans. 1 Illuminating plumes of hot magma in the Earth’s mantle with earthquake seismic data To understand the source of the magma fueling volcanic eruptions, scientists are using another significant geological event: earthquakes. The seismic waves that earthquakes send through our planet can shine a light on the chimneys of magma that connect the core of the Earth through the mantle to the surface. Karin Sigloch, a professor of geophysics at CNRS — France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, is part of an international effort to deploy seismic sensors throughout the oceans to illuminate the mantle plumes. Their research from recent observations in the Indian Ocean around Réunion Island was in Nature Geoscience. It’s intelligence all the way down: How cells, tissues and organs have their own smarts We tend to think of collective intelligence as something we see among animals that work cooperatively to solve problems, like in an ant colony, a school of fish or flock of birds. But biologist Michael Levin, from Harvard and Tufts’ universities, thinks collective intelligence also extends to functions within the cell, all the way up to networks of cells, tissues and even organs. He suggests evolution has granted simpler biological layers in living systems the ability to flexibly solve problems. In a recent paper in Communications Biology, he argues we can harness these lower level problem-solving capabilities to make significant advances in regenerative medicine, and treating aging and disease. ... Read more

31 May 2024

54 MINS

54:09

31 May 2024


#23

The risks and benefits of pandemic virus research and more…

This little piggy escaped and wreaked havoc on crops and the environment Wild pigs that have escaped or been released from farms have established self-sustaining populations in the prairies and central Canada and are wreaking havoc on farms and wilderness landscapes alike. A new study, led by Ryan Brook at the University of Saskatchewan, has tracked pigs to try to understand where, and how far, this porcine invasion can go. The research was published in the journal Biological Invasions. Satellites and space junk burning up in the atmosphere is a new kind of pollution Scientists doing high-altitude sampling of material deposited when meteorites burn up in the atmosphere are seeing a shift in the material they’ve been collecting. In a recent study in the journal PNAS, scientists found that increasingly the particles contain material that could have only come from vaporized space junk, such as the upper stages of rocket boosters and re-entering satellites themselves. Daniel Cziczo, an atmospheric scientist at Purdue University, said they’re now trying to find out what kind of impact this in material in the stratosphere may have on things like the ozone layer and global warming. A 200 million year old marine reptile the size of a blue whale Hundreds of millions of years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the surface of our planet, ichthyosaurs ruled the Earth’s oceans. Analysis of bones found in a river basin in the UK suggests a new species might have been one the biggest marine animals that ever lived. Paleontologist Jimmy Waldron was part of the team, who published their research in the journal PLOS One. Fox skulls are optimized for diving into snow Foxes hunt in winter by listening for rodents under deep snow and then leaping and diving into the snow, plunging down to snatch their prey. A team including Sunghwan Jung, a professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University, did a unique experiment to confirm that the pointed shape of the fox skull is better than any other shape they tested at penetrating deep into snow. The research was published in the journal PNAS. Scientists propose a plan to study self-spreading vaccines Researchers concerned with emerging diseases like H5N1 bird flu, which has devastated wild bird populations, are proposing a controversial way to stop the disease. Megan Griffiths, a postdoctoral researcher in viral ecology at the University of Glasgow, says transmissible vaccines would use harmless viruses to carry vaccines against pathogenic viruses. She’s the co-author of a recent study in the journal Science that presents a framework for how they could safely develop self-spreading vaccines. The logic behind creating more dangerous viruses to understand them better Anticipating how dangerous viruses — like avian influenza or coronaviruses — could transform from more innocuous forms into much more dangerous ones could help us prepare for future pandemics. Ron Fouchier, a molecular virologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, says without doing “gain of function” research, like the kind he published in the journal Science in 2012, we never would have known which changes to lookout for with the current global H5N1 outbreak. Gain of function research, which involves experimenting with viruses to make them more dangerous, has become increasingly controversial, but Fouchier says with Europe’s strict regulations to ensure safety, the risk is worth the reward. ... Read more

24 May 2024

54 MINS

54:09

24 May 2024


#22

Sounds and smells of nature, and more...

The recent solar storm scrambled undersea sensors The solar storm that lit up the evening sky with aurora recently was also detected by Canada’s Ocean Network system of undersea oceanographic observatories off both coasts of the country and up in the Arctic. The compass instruments that normally provide the direction of ocean currents fluctuated by as much as 30 degrees at the height of the solar storm and were picked up as deep as 2.7 kilometers. Kate Moran, the CEO and President of Ocean Networks Canada, said these measurements could prove to be useful for solar scientists to understand the depth of the impact geomagnetic storms can have on our electromagnetic field. Robots are stronger, and faster, and better – but still lose to animals Despite being built to run, robots still can’t beat real animals in a race, says a new study published in Science Robotics. Researchers compared the physical abilities of animals to the latest generation of agile autonomous robots and showed that while they can exceed biology in strength and speed, robots still can’t match the performance of animals. Simon Fraser University professor Max Donelan explained that biology has better integrated systems, which makes animals able to respond faster to the situation at hand. How European brown rats took over North America The brown rat is the clear undisputed winner of the rat race, having established ecological dominance in most cities across the continent. A new study led by Eric Guiry from Trent University involved analyzing piles of rat bones from dig sites and centuries-old shipwrecks to put together a timeline of when and how brown rats took over North America. He found that brown rats came across the pond much earlier than expected, and surprisingly dominated over black rats very quickly, even though the two animals weren’t actually in competition for the same food. The research was published in the journal Science Advances. Decoding whale talk and primate calls Scientists are turning to technology to help decode animal communication. In the Caribbean researchers sorted rhythmic sperm whale clicks into an entire alphabet, while on land, machine learning algorithms revealed a new level of complexity in the calls of orangutans in Borneo. Eavesdropping on nature sounds to save ecosystems in US National parks In a basement at Penn State University, researchers with the Protected Areas Research Collaborative (PARC) Lab are listening to thousands of hours of recordings from the US National Park service in order to track every single noise - whether it be natural or human-made. This data is being used to understand how to preserve natural sounds in the parks, which have been shown to be beneficial to both humans, and wildlife. Now, the team is adopting machine learning and artificial intelligence to listen to more data than ever before. We spoke with co-principal investigator Peter Newman, and co-lab manager Morgan Crump. In a separate paper, recently published in Science Advances, researchers are calling attention to nature’s smellscapes—the various chemicals put out by trees and animals—and how they can affect humans. The multidisciplinary, international team, led by Gregory Bratman from the University of Washington, provides a conceptual framework for investigating nature’s smells, to fill in the gaps about what those scents are doing to humans, but also, to know what we’re doing to those scents. ... Read more

17 May 2024

54 MINS

54:09

17 May 2024


#21

Why the famous Higgs particle plays the field and more…

Sabre tooth cats had baby-tooth backup The fearsome canines of saber-toothed cats were terrific weapons for stabbing unfortunate prey, but their impressive length also made them vulnerable to breakage. A new study by University of California, Berkeley associate professor Jack Tseng suggests adolescent California saber-toothed cat kept their baby teeth to buttress the adult sabers, and reinforce them while cats learned to hunt. This research was published in The Anatomical Record. Global warming could swallow Antarctic meteorites Over 60 per cent of all meteorites found on Earth are discovered in Antarctica, embedded in the ice. But a new study published in Nature Climate Change cautions that the warming temperatures are causing the dark space rocks to sink below the surface before researchers can get to them. Glaciologist Veronica Tollenaar, who is the lead author of this study, says it’s important to collect as many of these meteorites as possible to avoid losing the insights they provide about the space around us. This worm’s eyes are bigger than its — everything A pair of high-functioning eyes is perhaps not something you would associate with the various worm species on our planet. But down in the depths of the Mediterranean sea lives a small, translucent worm with alien-looking eyes that weigh more than twenty times as much as the rest of its head. Now, a group of vision researchers have found that their size is not just for show. Their vision works about as well as that of some mammals. Michael Bok, a researcher in the Lund Vision Group at Lund University in Sweden, said they may be using it to detect prey at night. They report their findings in the journal Current Biology. We’re breathing out an environment in which respiratory viruses may thrive One of the questions that’s been raised by the COVID-19 pandemic is just what conditions allow viruses carried in aerosol droplets to survive and spread. A new study in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface found that a CO2 rich environment — like a crowded room with poor ventilation — makes the aerosol particles more acidic, which allows the virus to remain stable and survive longer. Allen Haddrell, a Canadian aerovirologist at the University of Bristol, said this means that CO2 levels don’t just tell you how well ventilated a room is, but it also tell how healthy the virus is in that air. Why an essential subatomic particle plays the field The detection of the Higgs boson particle by the Large Hadron Collider in 2012 was one of the great moments for modern physics. But while many celebrated the discovery of the “God Particle,” physicist Matt Strassler was a bit frustrated by the way the particle discovery overshadowed what he said was truly important for our understanding of the universe: not the Higgs particle, but the Higgs field. In his new book called, Waves in an Impossible Sea: How Everyday Life Emerges from the Cosmic Ocean, he explains how the Higgs field literally makes the universe — and our place in it — what it is today. Listener Question — Do mated animals reject others crashing their relationships? We hear the answer from Sarah Jamieson, a behavioural ecologist and assistant professor at Trent University. ... Read more

10 May 2024

54 MINS

54:09

10 May 2024


#20

Quirks & Quarks goes to the dogs -- a dog science special

We baby talk with both dogs and kids, but our faces say something different Dogs can use their powerful noses to sniff out PTSD A quarter of all Labradors are hard-wired to be hungrier and burn less energy Your pet dog may know more words than you give them credit for Size, face shape and other factors matter when it comes to a dog’s lifespan, study shows It’s possible – and worthwhile – to teach an old dog new tricks What a genome reveals about an extinct species of dogs - and the Indigenous people who cared for them ... Read more

04 May 2024

59 MINS

59:19

04 May 2024


#19

Tiny black holes that could smash through our planet, and more…

Chimpanzees are being forced to eat bat feces, and the viruses in it Researchers in Uganda have noticed a new behaviour in the wild chimps they study. The apes are browsing on bat guano, apparently to access the nutrients it contains, as their normal source for these nutrients has been destroyed by humans. Since bats are carriers of a range of diseases, from ebola to coronaviruses, this may be a new way these diseases could spread.The study was published in Communications Biology. Dr Tony Goldberg, a professor of epidemiology at the school of veterinary medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was part of the team. Controversial methods are working to buy Canada’s caribou some time Woodland caribou have been in steady decline for decades, as logging, oil and gas exploration and other disturbances compromise their western mountain habitat. Steady progress has been made to restore habitat in order to save these caribou, but since these forests will take half a century to regrow, conservationists are trying a variety of interim actions to buy the caribou some time. A new study led by Clayton Lamb from the University of British Columbia Okanagan found that these methods, including direct feeding, maternal penning, and, controversially, culling predatory wolves, have helped caribou recover to some extent, but restoration of their habitat will be necessary for full recovery. The research was published in the journal Ecological Applications. Giant ancient Pacific salmon had tusks sticking out of its face Millions of years ago, enormous three metre-long salmon inhabited the seas of the Pacific coast. Named Oncorhynchus rastrosus, this ancient giant was first described in the 1970s as having long front fangs, which led to it being known colloquially as a “saber-toothed salmon.” But a new study published in PLOS ONE sets the record straight: the teeth actually protruded out to the sides from the fish’s upper jaw, as tusks do. Lead study author and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine professor Kerin Claeson says despite their menacing look, the salmon did not hunt with these tusks, since these strange fish were filter feeders. The Gulf oil spill may have had ecological impacts we haven’t seen yet Fourteen years ago an explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and kicked off the largest oil spill in history. While commercial fisheries have largely recovered from the disaster, there are signs that rarer and more vulnerable species might have been devastated. Prosanta Chakrabarty from Louisiana State University surveyed deep sea fish catalogued in museum collections around the world and found that out of 78 endemic species found only in the Gulf, 29 of them haven’t been spotted in the years since the spill. The research was published in the Biodiversity Data Journal. Primordial black holes may be the solution the problem of missing dark matter The hunt for exotic black holes that Stephen Hawking first predicted back in the 1970s is now well underway. Primordial black holes behave just like any other black hole, but they would have formed in the early universe and could be any size. Many scientists are particularly interested in the primordial black holes that are the size of an atom and have the mass of an asteroid because they suspect they could be the answer for the missing dark matter in our universe. ... Read more

26 Apr 2024

54 MINS

54:09

26 Apr 2024


#18

Bonus: What On Earth's Earth Day special

The climate is changing. So are we. On What On Earth, you’ll explore a world of solutions with host Laura Lynch and our team of journalists. In 1970, 20 million people showed up to fight for the environment on the first Earth Day. More than five decades later, is it time for this much tamer global event to return to its radical roots? OG organizer Denis Hayes recounts how – amidst other counterculture movements at the time – his team persuaded roughly one in ten Americans to take to the streets. As he approaches 80, Denis offers his singular piece of advice to the next generation of climate leaders. Then, environmental warriors Maria Blancas and Axcelle Campana share ideas on what a reinspired Earth Day could look like – including making it a public holiday. More episodes of What On Earth are available at: [https://link.chtbl.com/5zF03qcm] (https://link.chtbl.com/5zF03qcm) We love to hear from our listeners and regularly feature them on the show. Have a question or idea? Email Earth@cbc.ca ... Read more

22 Apr 2024

29 MINS

29:02

22 Apr 2024


#17

Why this Indigenous researcher thinks we can do science differently, and more…

This researcher wants a new particle accelerator to use before she’s dead Physicists exploring the nature of reality need ever more capable particle colliders, so they’re exploring a successor to the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. But that new machine is at least decades away. Tova Holmes, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is one of the physicists calling for a different kind of collider that can come online before the end of her career – or her life. This device would use a particle not typically used in particle accelerators: the muon. Is venting the best way to deal with anger? The scientist says chill out. It turns out that acting out your anger might not be the best way to get rid of it. Sophie Kjaervik, a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., analyzed 154 studies of the different ways to deal with anger. Her results, published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, suggest that techniques that reduce your heart rate and calm your mind are more effective than blowing off steam. High intensity wildfires may release toxic forms of metals Wildfire smoke might be more dangerous than you think. A recent study in the journal Nature Communications found that when wildfires pass over soils or rocks rich in a normally harmless metal called chromium, it is transformed into a toxic form. The hotter and more intense the wildfire is, the more of this metal becomes toxic. Scott Fendorf, an Earth system science professor at Stanford University, said this study shows we should factor in the type of geology wildfires pass over to provide more targeted air quality warnings about smoke risks. AI might help solve the problem of runaway conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories seem to have multiplied in the internet era and so far, we haven’t had much luck in debunking these beliefs. The preliminary findings of a new study on PsyArXiv, a site for psychology studies that have yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests that artificial intelligence may have more success. Thomas Costello, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at MIT was the lead author on this study, and said their findings can provide a window into how to better debunk conspiracy beliefs. An Indigenous ecologist on why we need to stop and listen to save the planet Earth day is April 22. And Earth is not in great shape to celebrate the day. Overheated, overpopulated, overexploited – we’re not being particularly careful with our planet. We talk to Indigenous ecologist Jennifer Grenz, of the University of British Columbia, about her new book, which is part memoir, part prescription for the medicine our planet needs – a compound of science and traditional wisdom.Her book is Medicine Wheel for the Planet: A journey toward personal and ecological healing. ... Read more

20 Apr 2024

54 MINS

54:09

20 Apr 2024


#16

COVID-19’s “long tail” includes a range of impacts on the brain and more…

Old canned salmon provides a record of parasite infection To study marine ecosystems from the past, scientists picked through canned salmon dating back more than four decades to measure levels of parasites in the fish. Natalie Mastick, a postdoctoral researcher in marine ecology at Yale University, said she found the parasite load in two species of salmon increased in their samples between 1979 - 2021. She says this suggests their ecosystems provided more of the hosts the parasites needed, including marine mammals, which could reflect an increasingly healthy ecosystem. Their study is in the journal Ecology and Evolution. Mars has more influence on Earth than non-astrologers might have thought Mars is, on average, about 225 million km from Earth, which would suggest that it has little impact on our planet. Which is true, but as they say a little goes a long way. In a recent study in Nature Communications, researchers studying the history of deep ocean currents found a surprising 2.4-million-year cycle where giant whirlpools form on the ocean floor, linked to cycles in the interactions of Mars and Earth orbiting the Sun. The team, including geophysicist Dietmar Müller from the University of Sydney, say this may act as a backup system to mix the oceans as the Earth warms. Medieval English silver pennies travelled a long way Starting in the middle of the 7th century, economic development in medieval England was spurred by the increasing use of handy silver coins that greased the wheels of trade. To date, 7000 of these silver coins have been found that date to the period between the years 660 and 750 AD, but the source of the silver has been mysterious. Using modern technology, researchers from the University of Cambridge, including historian Rory Naismith, have traced the silver right across the continent to its Byzantine source. In their study in the journal Antiquity, the researchers suggest the silver was brought to Europe a hundred years earlier in the form of silver objects, which were melted down and struck as coins in order to put more money into circulation. Bonobos are not as nice as their reputation suggests Bonobos are the lesser-known cousin of chimpanzees, and have a reputation for being the more peaceful ape. But a new study published in Current Biology reveals a dark side of bonobos. Anthropologist Maud Mouginot observed the behaviour of bonobos and chimpanzees in their dense tropical forest habitats in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. She was shocked to find out that male bonobos were twice as likely to be aggressive toward other males than chimpanzees. She said this suggests that we need to have a more nuanced view of aggression within and across primate species, including humans. COVID infections are causing brain inflammation, drops in IQ, and years of brain aging For many people COVID was more than a respiratory disease. We’re learning now just what kind of impact an infection can have on the brain. It can affect cognition – leading to the famous brain fog – and even shrink and prematurely age the brain. One of the researchers studying these effects is Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, he has found COVID patients suffering from brain fog, confusion, tingling, mini strokes, and even seizure disorders. Listener Question – The eclipse and the moon’s temperature. A listener posting as Jeff on X writes: “How hot did the side of the moon that faced the sun get during the eclipse?” We get the answer from Nikhil Arora, an astrophysicist from Queen’s University in Kingston. ... Read more

12 Apr 2024

54 MINS

54:09

12 Apr 2024


#15

The dark side of LED lighting and more...

Seeing a black hole’s magnetic personality Scientists using the Event Horizon Telescope have produced a new image of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. And this image is a little different: it captures the powerful magnetic fields that are acting as the cosmic cutlery feeding mass into the singularity. Avery Broderick is part of the Event Horizon Telescope team, he’s also a professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and associate faculty at the Perimeter Institute for theoretical physics. Decoding how chickadees maintain a mental map of their food caches Chickadees have an uncanny ability to recall thousands of secret stashes of food with a centimetre-scale precision. Salmaan Chettih, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at Columbia University, investigated how chickadees encode their internal treasure maps. In his study in the journal Cell, he found the chickadee brains produce a unique pattern of activity — akin to a neural “barcode” — that marks the X on its mental treasure map. Italians don’t just speak more with their hands, they speak differently Researchers comparing Swedish speakers with Italian speakers have found that the gestures they commonly use to accompany spoken language are quite different in kind. Lund University scientists Maria Graziano and Marianne Gullberg recorded the hand gestures study participants used when describing a children’s cartoon to their friends. According to the results published in a Frontiers in Communication journal, Swedish speakers used gestures that concretely represented the subjects of their speech, while Italian speakers used abstract gestures more related to emphasis. What came first, the drumstick or the omelette? New archaeological work along the famous Silk Road trade route between Asia and Europe has added to the picture of how the chicken was brought from its southeast Asian homeland to the rest of Eurasia. An international team of researchers, including archaeobotanist Robert Spengler, analyzed tiny eggshell fragments from the soil of multiple sites in Central Asia. Their findings, published in Nature Communications, suggest that the motivation for domesticating the fowl was not the chicken, but their eggs. LED lighting is bright, efficient, and perhaps a problem The global transition to LED lighting seems to be having some concerning impacts on the natural world and human health. These energy efficient artificial lights produce different spectra than older incandescent technology, or the natural light of the Sun that life on Earth evolved with over billions of years. LED lighting is brighter, bluer, and more widely used than incandescent lighting. Glen Jeffery, a professor of neuroscience from University College London, said that as a result, we may be paying the price with our health due to being oversaturated with blue light and starved of red and infrared light. In a new study in the Journal of Biophotonics, he found that exposing people to red and infrared light lowered their blood glucose levels by “charging up” our cells’ energy production. Artificial light at night is also having “a profound impact” on our environment in how it affects plants and wildlife and the ecosystems they’re in, according to Kevin Gaston, a professor of biodiversity and conservation at the University of Exeter. He said for nocturnal animals, the challenge they face from light pollution is the equivalent to humans losing daylight during the daytime. His review was published in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources. ... Read more

05 Apr 2024

54 MINS

54:09

05 Apr 2024


#14

An Australian Atlantis and other lost landscapes, and more...

Archaeologists identify a medieval war-horse graveyard near Buckingham Palace We know knights in shining armor rode powerful horses, but remains of those horses are rare. Now, researchers studying equine remains from a site near Buckingham Palace have built a case, based on evidence from their bones, that these animals were likely used in jousting tournaments and battle. Archeologist Katherine Kanne says the bone analysis also revealed a complex, continent-crossing medieval horse trading network that supplied the British elites with sturdy stallions. This paper was published in Science Advances. In an ice-free Arctic, Polar bears are dining on duck eggs — and gulls are taking advantage Researchers using drones to study ground-nesting birds in the Arctic have observed entire colonies being devastated by marauding polar bears who would normally be out on the ice hunting seals – except the ice isn’t there. What’s more, now they’re enabling a second predator – hungry gulls who raid the nests in the bears’ wake. Andrew Barnas made the observations of this “gull tornado” following around polar bears in East Bay Island in Nunavut. The research was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution. A NASA mission might have the tools to detect life on Europa from space NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, due to launch this fall, is set to explore the jewel of our solar system: Jupiter’s moon, Europa. The mission’s focus is to determine if the icy moon, thought to harbour an ocean with more water than all of the water on Earth, is amenable to life. However, postdoctoral researcher Fabian Klenner, now at the University of Washington, led a study published in the journal Science Advances that demonstrated how the spacecraft may be able to detect fragments of bacterial life in a single grain of ice ejected from the surface of the moon. Pollution is preventing pollinators from finding plants by scent Our polluted air is transforming floral scents so pollinators that spread their pollen can no longer recognize them. In a new study in the journal Science, researchers found that a certain compound in air pollution reacts with the flower’s scent molecules so pollinators — like the hummingbird hawk-moths that pollinate at night — fail to recognize them. Jeremy Chan, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Naples, said the change in scent made the flowers smell “less fruity and less fresh.” An Australian Atlantis and underwater archeological remains in the Baltic During the last ice age sea levels were more than 100 metres lower than they are today, which means vast tracts of what are currently coastal seafloor were dry land. Geologists and archaeologists are searching for these lost landscapes to identify places prehistoric humans might have occupied. These included a country sized area of Australia that could have been home to half a million people. Archaeologist Kasih Norman and her colleagues published their study of this now-drowned landscape in Quaternary Science Reviews. Another example is an undersea wall off the coast of Northern Germany that preserves an underwater reindeer hunting ground, described in research led by Jacob Geersen, published in the journal PNAS. ... Read more

28 Mar 2024

54 MINS

54:09

28 Mar 2024


#13

The future of freshwater — will we have a drop to drink, and more.

How animals dealt with the ‘Anthropause’ during COVID lockdowns (1:04) During the COVID lockdowns human behaviour changed dramatically, and wildlife scientists were interested in how that in turn changed the behaviour of animals in urban, rural and wilderness ecosystems. In a massive study of camera trap images, a team from the University of British Columbia has built a somewhat surprising picture of how animals responded to a human lockdown. Cole Burton, Canada Research Chair in Terrestrial Mammal Conservation at the University of British Columbia, was part of the team and their research was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution Scientists helping maintain an essential ice road to a northern community (9:40) The only ground connection between the community of Délı̨nę in the NWT and the rest of the country is a winter ice road that crosses Great Bear Lake. But climate warming in the north is making the season for the road shorter, and the ice on the lake less stable. A team of scientists from Wilfrid Laurier University, led by Homa Kheyrollah Pour, are supplementing traditional knowledge about the ice with drones, sensors, satellites and radar to help the community maintain a safe connection with the world. Stars nudging the solar system’s planets leads to literal chaos (17:40) The orbits of the planets in our solar system are in a complex dance, orchestrated by the gravitational pull from the sun but influenced by their interactions with each other. Now, due the findings of a new study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, that dance is a lot harder to predict. Nathan Kaib, from the Planetary Science Institute, said the chaos that stars passing by our solar system introduces to simulations deep into the past or far into the future make our planetary promenade predictions a lot less certain. A freaky fish, the gar, really is a living fossil because evolution has barely changed it (26:33)` The seven species of gar fish alive today are nearly indistinguishable from their prehistoric fossilised relatives that lived millions of years ago. Now in a new study in the journal Evolution, scientists describe why these “living fossils” have barely changed and why two lineages separated by 105-million years can hybridise. Chase Brownstein, a graduate student at Yale University, discovered the gar’s genome has changed less over time than any other species we know, a finding which could hold the key to fighting human diseases like cancer. Water, water, everywhere. But will we have enough to drink? (33:47) To mark world water day, Quirks & Quarks producer Amanda Buckiewicz is looking at the challenges we’re facing with our global freshwater resources. It’s one of Nature’s bounties, and vital to agriculture and healthy ecosystems. But climate change and overexploitation are creating a global water crisis as glaciers melt, snowpack becomes less predictable, rainfall patterns change, and we overdraw the global groundwater bank. We spoke with: Miina Porkka, associate professor from the University of Eastern Finland. Related paper published in the journal Nature. Christina Aragon, PhD student at Oregon State University. Related paper published in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. Katrina Moser, associate professor and chair of the department of Geography and Environment at Western University. Scott Jasechko, associate professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Related paper published in the journal Nature. ... Read more

22 Mar 2024

54 MINS

54:06

22 Mar 2024


#12

How animals eating, excreting and expiring is like the world's bloodstream, and more

Why a detective is studying blood spatters in zero-gravity There hasn’t been a murder on the International Space Station — yet. But Crime Scene Investigator Zack Kowalske has been studying how blood spatters in microgravity so that when someone does commit the first astro-cide, he’ll be able to use science to figure out whodunit. Kowalske sent a blood substitute for a ride on a parabolic microgravity flight to study how the absence of gravity changes how it moves, and discovered that surface tension takes over to shape how the blood splatters. The research was published in the journal Forensic Science International Reports. Lifting the fog to let starlight shine through at the cosmic dawn Not too long after the Big Bang, the universe went dark for many millions of years. Stars, black holes and galaxies began to form, but the universe was full of a cosmic fog in the form of light-absorbing hydrogen gas that blocked light from shining through. Hakim Atek, from the Paris Institute of Astrophysics led a group that used the James Webb Space Telescope to identify what cleared that fog: dwarf galaxies. In his new study in the journal Nature, Atek describes how young and tiny galaxies full of super-bright stars emitted enough radiation to burn through the fog and fill the universe with light. Do whales get hot flashes? They have menopause We don’t know if whales experience the same symptoms as human women, but in five known species of toothed whales, females do experience menopause. This is unusual as extended post-reproductive life is very rare in mammals — most of the time animals reproduce until the end of their lifespan. A new study led by Sam Ellis from the University of Exeter suggests that they have it for the same reason humans are thought to: because grandmothers are useful to have around. The research was published in the journal Nature. Bees can learn tasks that are more complicated than they can invent Researchers have laboriously taught bumblebees a complex, multi-step task that they never would have learned in nature, and found that once they learned it, other bumblebees could learn to do it from then. This suggests that they share with humans the ability to hold cultural knowledge that exceeds their own innovative capabilities. Behavioural scientist Alice Bridges was part of the team and the research was published in the journal Nature. Our planet’s circulatory system depends on animals eating, excreting and expiring Did you know our planet has a circulatory system? It moves vast amounts of nutrients over huge distances, processing them to extract energy and efficiently recycle them as well. It’s called animal life, and in a new book called Eat, Poop, Die: How Animals Make Our World, biologist Joe Roman explains how it works — and how restoring wild animal populations might be the best nature-based tool we have to beat the climate crisis. ... Read more

15 Mar 2024

54 MINS

54:09

15 Mar 2024


#11

How disabled primates thrive in the wild and more…

Nature’s nurturing side — disabled primates thrive in the wild with community support Survival of the fittest for primates in the wild often includes them going out of their way to accommodate those with physical disabilities. In a study in the American Journal of Primatology, scientists reviewed 114 studies of a wide range of non-human primates that spanned more than nine decades. Brogan Stewart, a PhD candidate from Concordia was part of the team that found that more often than not, the physical disabilities arose as a result of human activities, and in the face of those pressures, primates show a remarkable resilience in how they care for those with malformations or impairments. Beetle larvae feeding on dino feathers left signs of that relationship trapped in amber Bits left behind from a beetle larvae feasting on dinosaur feathers shed by a theropod became trapped in tree resin that preserved evidence of this relationship for 105 million years. The beetle larvae is related to a beetle that’s known to live in birds’ nests and feed on their feathers. Ricardo Perez de la Fuente, the senior author of the study in PNAS from Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said finding dinosaur feathers is a find in itself but to find evidence of two organisms in deep time interacting is incredibly rare. Jellyfish demonstrate how it’s possible to learn and remember even without a brain A jellyfish the size of a pinky nail can learn to spot and dodge obstacles using their visual system with 24 eyes but no centralized brain. By simulating their natural murky mangrove environment in a lab, scientists discovered how quickly the box jellyfish learned to maneuver around roots in their path. Jan Bielecki, a biologist at Kiel University, said their findings in the journal Current Biology suggest that learning is an integral function of neurons. Bottlenose dolphins sense their prey’s electrical fields through their whisker dimples Dolphins were once thought to be acoustic specialists due to their hearing ability and how they detect prey through their reflected pings using echo-location. But when their next meal is hiding in the sand, bottlenose dolphins also seem to be able to hone in on their prey by sensing their electrical fields. Tim Hüttner, a biologist at Nuremberg Zoo, said dolphins likely use echo-location to detect from afar and electroreception to close in on their prey. His research was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. How documenting the disappearance of the great auk led to the discovery of extinction Before a fateful trip in 1858 when two biologists traveled to Iceland in search of the rare penguin-like great auk, the word “extinction” had never been used to describe a species that humans wiped out of existence. After being unable to locate any living great auks, John Wolley and Alfred Newton turned their attention to documenting the demise of this flightless bird. The new book, The Last of Its Kind: The Search for the Great Auk and the Discovery of Extinction, Icelandic anthropologist Gísli Pálsson explores the case that ushered in our modern understanding of extinction. Listener question Chris Corbett from North Sydney asks: If we see the star Betelgeuse, that’s 642 light years from Earth, going supernova, does that mean it might have already gone supernova? For the answer, we went to Jess McIvor, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia. ... Read more

08 Mar 2024

54 MINS

54:09

08 Mar 2024


#10

The boreal forest is on the move, and we need to understand how, and more...

Speedy ocean predators change their skin colour to signal they’re going in for the kill(1:02) Marlin are predatory fish that can reach tremendous speeds in pursuit of food, making collisions between them potentially deadly. A new study has shown that the fish display bright and vivid skin colours to signal to other marlin when they’re attacking prey, so as to avoid butting heads. Alicia Burns and her team from the Science of Intelligence Cluster, Humboldt University used drones to capture video footage of the marlins’ hunting behaviour. The tiny genetic fluke that led humans — and other great apes — to lose our tails (9:15) Back when in our evolutionary history, a fragment of genetic material accidentally found itself in in a gene long been known to be important for the development of our entire back end. The result of this mutation, according to a study in the journal Nature, was that we and our great ape ancestors lost our tails. Itai Yanai, a cancer biologist from New York University Grossman Medical School, identified the mutation and found when they duplicated it in mice, they also lost their tails. A cannibal star shows signs of its last meal (18:06) Astronomers have identified a nearby white dwarf star with what they are calling a ‘scar’ of material visible on its surface. This was probably an asteroid flung towards the star, ripped apart by its gravity, and its rubble drawn onto the star’s surface by its powerful magnetic field. This is the first time such a phenomenon has been seen. This study was conducted by a team including astronomer John Landstreet, a professor emeritus from the Physics and Astronomy Department at Western University. Stone age craftsmen acted like engineers when selecting materials for their tools (26:32) A new study of what it takes to make efficient and effective stone tools, like the ones ancient humans were producing back in the Middle Stone Age, shows how discriminating they were in the materials they selected. Patrick Schmidt, an archaeologist from University of Tübingen, published a study in the journal PNAS about a model he developed to assess how well suited the raw materials were for the type of tools they were creating. Schmidt said their findings suggest that stone age craftsmen had an engineer’s understanding of the mechanical properties of the materials they used. Boreal forest on the move — the past, present, and potential future of the ‘lungs of the planet’ (35:39) The boreal forest has an important role in maintaining a healthy planet, by storing carbon, purifying the air and water, and helping to regulate the climate. Researchers are using novel ways to understand how the boreal forest has changed over time, to help predict how it can change in the future. Paleoecologist Sandra Brügger traced a detailed history of the forests in Eastern Canada over the past 850 years by studying trapped pollen found thousands of kilometers away in the Greenland ice sheet. The ice cores allowed the team to look at the shrinking and expansion of the forest since the Little Ice Age, and spot the effects of humans as they took over the landscape. The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Then, by doing detailed analysis of trees along the Brooks mountain range in Alaska, a team of researchers including Colin Maher discovered a link between retreating sea ice and an expanding Boreal forest. When the sea ice disappears, the open water generates more snow, which not only blankets the landscape and protects the young seedlings, but it also helps the soil unlock more nutrients for the growing trees. The research was published in the journal Science. ... Read more

01 Mar 2024

54 MINS

54:09

01 Mar 2024


#9

Icelanders reap the costs and benefits of living on a volcanic island and more…

We now know what happened to a supernova discovered by a Canadian 37 years ago (0:58) A mystery about the ultimate fate of an exploding star has been solved. Canadian astronomer Ian Shelton discovered the new bright light in the sky back in February 1987, and recognized it as the first supernova to be visible to the naked eye in 400 years. In a new study in the journal Science, astrophysicist Claes Fransson from Stockholm University, confirmed that the remaining cinder collapsed into a super-dense neutron star. A vibrating pill makes pigs feel full (10:30) There’s a lot of interest in weight loss drugs right now, but a new technology could one day be able to help control appetite without pharmaceuticals. Researchers at MIT have developed a mechanical pill that, when ingested, vibrates in the gut, stimulating the nerves that signal fullness much like drinking a full glass of water before a meal. The research was led by Shriya Srinivasan, a former MIT graduate student who is now an assistant professor of bioengineering at Harvard University. She says that while it hasn’t been tested in humans, pigs ate 40% less food after ingesting the pill. The research was published in the journal Science Advances. Wildebeest push Zebras out in front in the annual Serengeti migration (18:22) Nearly two million animals — zebras, wildebeest and gazelles — migrate through Africa’s Serengeti plain every year. It was thought the Zebras led the migration. But a new large-scale study has shown that the reason the Zebras go first is that they’re being pushed ahead by the more numerous Wildebeest who eat everything in sight. Michael Anderson from Wake Forest University in North Carolina shares the new findings in this migration pattern. Temperature and pollution are conspiring to mess up sea turtle sex ratios (26:55) Biologists have known that higher temperatures cause endangered green sea turtle hatchlings to develop as females more often. Now a team has discovered that pollution can exacerbate this, causing sex ratios to skew even more. Arthur Barraza of the Australian Rivers Institute in the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University in Australia said this could add to the turtles’ difficulties if too few males are available for reproduction. The research was published in Frontiers in Marine Science. How Icelanders suffer and benefit from their volcanically active home (36:14) Scientists studying the recent volcanic activity near the town of Grindavik now have a much better understanding of what’s behind the recurring eruptions. Freysteinn Sigmundsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, said they’ve seen pressure building up and moving underground repeatedly before erupting at the surface. Their study was published in the journal Science. Over in the northeast region of the country, in Kafla, scientists and engineers are busy preparing to tunnel into a relatively shallow magma chamber. Hjalti Páll Ingólfsson, the director of GEORG, described their plan to dig into the magma chamber that was discovered by accident for scientific research. However they are also interested in whether it can be exploited as a potential energy source ten times more powerful than current geothermal energy sources. ... Read more

23 Feb 2024

54 MINS

54:09

23 Feb 2024


#8

A post valentine’s look at humpback mating songs and a marsupial that’s sleepless for sex

Atlantic ocean circulation edging closer to potentially catastrophic climate tipping point The stability of much of the world’s climate depends on ocean currents in the Atlantic that bring warm water from the tropics north and send cool water south. New research in the journal Science Advances confirms what scientists have long feared: that we are on course to this tipping point that could cut off this important circulation pattern, with severe consequences. René van Westen from Utrecht University, said if we reach this critical threshold, it could plunge Europe into a deep freeze, disrupt rains in India, South America and Africa, and lead to even more sea level rise along the eastern North American coast — all within 100 years. Humpback whales look for quiet corners to broadcast their breeding songs Scientists wanted to know why the thousands of humpback whales in Hawaii for breeding season move closer to shore to sing their choruses at night. Anke Kuegler, a marine biologist at Syracuse University, tracked whales to get a better understanding of their daily movement patterns. She found that during the day, they take their songs offshore, likely to ensure potential mates or other male competitors can hear their songs in the crowded underwater environment. Their research was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. A tiny marsupial sacrifices everything — including sleep and life itself — for love The Antechinus, a small mouse-like marsupial that is native to Australia, has a short, frenzied, three week-long annual breeding season, after which the males drop dead. A new study, led by Erika Zaid at La Trobe University, shows the males will sacrifice a significant amount of sleep to ensure they don’t miss out on their one shot at reproductive success. The researchers don't believe the sleep loss leads to their demise—in fact, they show very little signs of exhaustion despite losing out on so many zzz’s. How to encourage climate action without bumming people out In a global study involving almost 60,000 participants in 63 countries, behavioural psychologists compared 11 different ways of talking about climate change to see which one encouraged the most action. Madalina Vlasceanu and her team at New York University found that, unsurprisingly, the results varied widely depending on demographics. Some of the more successful interventions tested include writing a letter to future generations, showing examples of past effective collective action, and emphasizing scientific consensus on the causes of climate change. Saturn’s ‘death star’ moon could have the water of life Liquid water has been found in what astronomers say is the solar system’s most unlikely place Saturn’s moon Mimas is a small body with an irregular orbit, best known for its resemblance to the Death Star in the Star Wars movies. A new study in the journal Nature, led by astronomer Valery Lainey, suggests it has a liquid layer of water beneath its frozen surface, which may mean life-sustaining water is far more common in the solar system than we thought. Moths aren’t drawn to the flame - they’re just really confused by them A new study suggests that insects flit around artificial light at night because they are confused, not because of a fatal attraction. Sam Fabian and Yash Sondhi used motion capture and high speed imagery to understand insects’ flight patterns, and found that they always turned their backs to the light, which leaves them trapped in a spiral around the source. This suggests the insects are mistaking the lights for the sky, which normally helps tell them which way is up. ... Read more

16 Feb 2024

54 MINS

54:09

16 Feb 2024


#7

Scientists explore which came first, the chicken or the egg, and more…

Blue whales are genetically healthy but are breeding with fin whales, study suggests (1:03) Researchers have sequenced the genome of a blue whale that washed up in Newfoundland in 2014, and used it to do a comparative study of North Atlantic blue whales. A team led by Mark Engstrom, curator emeritus at the Royal Ontario Museum found that despite their small population, the whales are genetically diverse and connected across the north Atlantic, but that on average blue whales from this group are, genetically, about 3.5 per cent fin whale. The work was published in the journal Conservation Genetics. Sea otters’ ravenous appetite for crabs is reshaping a California coastal marshland (10:10) The return of sea otters to salt-marshes on the California coast has halted the erosion of the marshes that occurred in their absence. Without otters, crabs quickly overpopulated and made the area look like “Swiss cheese” by burrowing into the marsh sediments and eating the vegetation’s root system. Brent Hughes from Sonoma State University said their study demonstrates the importance of predators in maintaining the integrity of these vulnerable salt-marshes to boost climate change resiliency along the coast. What will become of our solar system as our sun evolves into a white dwarf star? (19:03) Over many billions of years our sun, and stars of similar size, will first swell into a red giant star, and then contract into a small, dense white dwarf star. A new study using the James Webb Space Telescope has surveyed nearby white dwarf star systems to understand the fate of their planets, and astronomer Susan Mullally says this can help predict our planet’s fate as well. Permafrost has shaped Arctic rivers — and as it melts much will change (27:23) A satellite survey of the frozen north has demonstrated how much permafrost has shaped the landscape, by limiting the number of rivers that can carve into the frozen land. Geoscientist Joanmarie Del Vecchio warns that as permafrost melts, the waters will find many more paths, and this could unleash carbon equal to the annual emissions of 35 million cars for every degree of warming. The research was published in the journal PNAS. Understanding the evolution of what came first, the chicken or the egg (35:44) While the marine ancestors of all terrestrial vertebrates laid eggs in the water, scientists long thought that the first terrestrial animals must have been laying eggs to conquer life on land. In an attempt to untangle this mystery, scientists compared extinct and living animals to trace how far back in their evolution the first egg-layers appeared. Michael Benton, from the University of Bristol, said their study didn’t discern if the first land animals were laying soft-shelled eggs or giving birth to live young, but hard-shelled eggs like modern bird eggs came much later. In the Australian Alps, egg-laying lizards from the valleys breed with live-birth bearing lizards from higher up in the mountain to create hybrids with traits across the whole spectrum in between. Katherine Elmer, from the University of Glasgow, described her study of this population that allowed them to identify the genetic differences between laying eggs and giving birth to live young. ... Read more

09 Feb 2024

54 MINS

54:09

09 Feb 2024


#6

An ancient tree’s crowning glory and more…

Shark declines: finning regulations might have bitten off more than they can chew In recent years governments around the world have attempted to slow the catastrophic decline in shark numbers with regulations, including on the practice of shark finning. But a new study led by marine biologist Boris Worm and published in the journal Science suggests that these regulations have backfired and shark mortality is still rising. The reason is that shark fishers responded by keeping all of the shark, and developing ever more markets for shark meat and oils, such as in supplements, cosmetics, and even hidden as “whitefish” or “flake” in fish and chip markets. Dogs like TV about dogs but don’t give a rat’s about squirrels Like a lot of us, dogs spend a certain amount of time in front of the TV. But what are they watching and what do they like? Freya Mowat, a veterinary ophthalmologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was interested in finding what dogs like to watch on TV so that she could develop new ways to test dog vision. Her study, recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, revealed that, unsurprisingly, dogs preferred to watch other dogs, and ten per cent also enjoyed watching cartoons as much as live action animals. The more unexpected finding was that the dogs were not as interested in watching humans, squirrels, or trucks. An ancient tree’s crowning glory Paleontologists working in Norton, New Brunswick have made an extraordinary discovery: a fully intact 350 million year old fossilized tree unlike any previously known to science. Matt Stinson, the assistant curator of geology and paleontology at the New Brunswick Museum, says it’s extremely rare in the fossil record to find a fully intact tree like this one that has its trunk, branches and leaves still attached. Olivia King, a research associate at the museum, described it as “odd and whimsical,” like the trees from Dr. Seuss’s famous book The Lorax. Their study is in the journal Current Biology. There was an old elephant who swallowed an ant… The complex interdependence of plants and animals in an ecosystem are often hard to fathom until they go wrong. This is illustrated by a new study in Kenya showing how an invasive ant led to elephants knocking down trees, affecting how lions hunt zebras, which turned out to be bad news for buffalo. Adam Ford from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan is part of the team on this study published in Science. Understanding when (earlier), and how (cleverly), stone-age people lived in Europe New technology to study fragments of bone found in a cave in Germany is leading to a rewriting of the history of how Homo sapiens established themselves in Europe, when the continent was dominated by Neanderthals. A team, led by Jean-Jacques Hublin, at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, uncovered human bones dating back 46,000 years in a cave in Northern Germany, which means the Homo sapiens were living side by side much earlier with Neanderthals in a frigid ice-age climate instead of sticking to the tropics like previously believed. The research, including detailed climatic reconstructions, led to three papers published in the journal Nature. A separate find is giving new insight into their material culture as archaeologists have uncovered a subtly clever tool they think ancient humans would have used to spin rope. The team built replicas of the tool and found it worked remarkably effectively to twist plant fibres into strong rope. Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist from the University of Tübingen in Germany, was part of the team, and the work was published in Science Advances. ... Read more

02 Feb 2024

54 MINS

54:11

02 Feb 2024


#5

The aftermath of a record-smashing volcano: Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai two years later, and more...

Oil sands produce more air pollution than industry’s required to report, study says (0:54) The volume of airborne organic carbon pollutants — some of the same pollutants that lead to smog in cities — produced by Alberta’s oil sands have been measured at levels up to 6,300 per cent higher than we thought. John Luggio, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said their cutting edge techniques in their new study picked up many pollutants industry hasn’t been required to track. Mark Cameron from Pathways Alliance, the industry group representing several oil sands companies, agreed that these findings warrant further review. Megalodon was enormous — but perhaps less husky than we’d thought (9:20) The extinct shark megalodon was likely the largest predatory shark to ever swim the oceans, but a new reconstruction suggests it was not quite the behemoth we thought it was. Scientists had assumed it was beefy and thick like a modern great white shark, but a new study says the evidence suggests it was a slim, sleek killer.Philip Sternes, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside in the department of evolution, ecology and organismal biology, worked with a team of 26 international scientists on the study featured in Palaeontologia Electronica. Astronomers find a planet with a massive, gassy tail (17:46) Observations of a large, Jupiter-sized exoplanet closely orbiting a nearby star have revealed that the planet has a huge, comet-like tail. The 560,000 kilometer-long tail seems to be a result of the powerful stellar wind from the star stripping the atmosphere away from the gaseous planet, and blowing it out into space. The find was made by a team at University of California Los Angeles, including astrophysicist Dakotah Tyler, and was published in The Astrophysical Journal. Put down your laptop, pick up your pen — writing stimulates brain connectivity (26:22) A new study looking at the activation of networks in the brain associated with learning and memory suggests that writing by hand produces much more brain connectivity than typing on a keyboard. This adds to the evidence that writing by hand is an aid to memory. Audrey van der Meer, a professor of neuropsychology and director of the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, led the work, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology. The aftermath of a record-smashing volcano: Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai two years later (34:09) The aftermath of the record-smashing Tonga volcano that’ll rewrite textbooks Record-smashing Tonga volcano sheds new light on how underwater volcanoes blow In January 2022, the largest underwater volcanic eruption ever recorded devastated the seafloor of the southwestern Pacific. A tsunami washed ashore in nearby Tonga — causing significant property damage, but thankfully taking few lives. Kevin Mackay, a marine geologist from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, said this blast broke many records, including the loudest sound, highest eruption and fastest underwater avalanches ever recorded. And we’re still feeling the heating effects from it today from the water vapour it shot into the stratosphere. ... Read more

26 Jan 2024

54 MINS

54:09

26 Jan 2024


#4

Can diet and exercise be replaced by pills and more…

A controversial fishing method may release CO2 from the sea floor Bottom trawling is a widely-used fishing method that involves dragging weighted nets that scrape along the seafloor. It’s sometimes been criticized for damaging marine ecosystems. Now a new study in Frontiers in Marine Science suggests that it also can release significant amounts of carbon trapped in seafloor sediments into the atmosphere. Trisha Atwood, an associate professor at Utah State University and a marine researcher with National Geographic’s Pristine Sea Program worked with scientists at NASA and The Global Fishing Watch for this study. Travel tales a mammoth tusk can tell Researchers have been analyzing the tusk of a woolly mammoth that died in Alaska 14,000 years ago. Using modern chemical analysis, they’ve been able to track the pachyderm’s travels through its life, and the trail it took to its final demise, likely at the hands of human hunters. Dr. Matthew Wooller at the University of Alaska Fairbanks worked with the Healy Lake Village Council, the University of Ottawa and Hendrik Poinar’s laboratory at McMaster University on this study published in Science Advances. Common sense is not that common, but is quite widely distributed Sociologists at the University of Pennsylvania have helped answer the age-old question, do most of us have common sense? Researchers including Mark Whiting explored this by asking 2000 people if they agreed with thousands of terms that had been deemed as “common sense.” In a paper published in PNAs, the team found that the larger the group, the less likely there was commonly shared knowledge, and no one age, educational or political group stood out as having more common sense than others. Male birds who practice their songs do better with females A new study suggests that male songbirds who attract mates with their songs need to practice their tunes or their attractiveness suffers. The researchers found a way to harmlessly discourage the birds from singing, and found that without practice females snubbed their efforts. Iris Adam, a biologist at Southern Denmark University, was part of the team, whose research was published in Nature Communications. Better living through pharmacology — Can drugs duplicate a healthy lifestyle? The key to good health used to be simple: eat less and exercise. But popular new weight loss drugs could soon be joined on the shelf with a new class of pharmaceuticals that duplicate the effects of a trip to the gym. We explore just how these new pharmaceuticals work and just how much they can replace a healthy lifestyle. First developed to treat type 2 diabetes, now widely popular as weight loss drugs, GLP-1 agonist drugs like Ozempic may in fact have benefits beyond helping with obesity and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Daniel Drucker, a senior research scientist at Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute and the University of Toronto, early evidence suggests they may also work to treat kidney disease, addiction related disorders, metabolic liver disease, peripheral vascular disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. To counter our modern sedentary lifestyles, scientists are also looking for the equivalent of an exercise pill. Ronald Evans, a professor at the Salk Institute, has been working on drugs that control genetic “master switches” that can turn on the same network of genes — and confer many of the same benefits — as a brisk walk or a jog would do. ... Read more

19 Jan 2024

54 MINS

54:09

19 Jan 2024


#3

Could buried hydrogen help save the world, and more…

*** How history’s largest ape met its end *** For nearly two million years, a gigantic ape, three meters tall and weighing a quarter of a tonne, lived in what is now southern China, before mysteriously disappearing. Exactly why the Gigantopithecus Blacki went extinct has been a huge mystery for paleontologists, especially because other apes were able to thrive at the time. Now a massive study, co-led by geochronologist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University, reveals their size was a disadvantage, and left them unable to adapt to a changing climate. The research was published in the journal Nature. *** People with PTSD process their trauma as if it’s happening in the present *** Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by intrusive thoughts that cause people to relive their trauma. In a new study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists have figured out that this is reflected in brain activity. Daniela Schiller, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said their brains respond differently with traumatic memories than with ordinary memories, causing the traumatic memories to feel as if they are happening in the present, rather than the past. *** Paleontologists identify animal skin 4½ times older than the last dinosaurs *** A fossilised skin sample discovered in an Oklahoma cave is the oldest skin sample ever identified. It belonged to a reptile species that lived nearly 300 million years ago. Ethan Mooney, a paleontology masters student at the University of Toronto, said this skin fossil gives insight into how the first vertebrate animals adapted to a more protective with the critical transition from ocean to land. Their research was published in the journal Current Biology. *** How an octopus told us the West Antarctic ice sheet collapsed *** Scientists are trying to learn when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet last collapsed, in order to learn when it might happen again. In a new study, published in the journal Science, Sally Lau at James Cook University analyzed the DNA of Turquet’s octopuses, which have been scuttling around the Antarctic sea floor for millions of years. These octopuses are today separated by massive ice sheets, but by looking at when different populations were able to breed throughout history, they could see when the ice wasn’t there. *** Geologic Hydrogen could be clean, green and plentiful *** More than a century ago we discovered that there were rich deposits of energy buried deep in Earth, and so oil and gas became the foundation of our industrial civilization. Now history might be repeating itself as scientists think there could be massive amounts of clean, green hydrogen hiding underground as well. Quirks producer Jim Lebans spoke with Geochemist Barbara Sherwood Lollar from the University of Toronto, and geologist Geoffrey Ellis from the United States Geological Survey to understand where this hydrogen has come from, how much there is, and what its potential could be as an energy resource. ... Read more

12 Jan 2024

54 MINS

54:09

12 Jan 2024


#2

A Cave of bones could rewrite the history of human evolution, and more…

Hurricanes carry microplastic pollution in the oceans back to land Humans communicate in several ways with birds who lead them to honey Bird brains have evolved to tolerate a high-speed impact into water How to make people more easy to hypnotize Unearthing a small-brained hominid species that challenges human exceptionalism ... Read more

05 Jan 2024

54 MINS

54:09

05 Jan 2024


#1

Our annual holiday question show

Questions ranging from moths to mustard, moonlight to migraines ... Read more

29 Dec 2023

54 MINS

54:11

29 Dec 2023