New Scientist Podcasts
#135 The Amazon passes a tipping point; a place to live only 100 light years away
The Amazon rainforest may have passed the tipping point that will flip it into savannah. A new report suggests that large portions of the rainforest have been either degraded or destroyed, which could have disastrous consequences. The team hears from the Science Panel for the Amazon, who say we must step in now to support regeneration efforts.
If you’re looking for a drummer for your new band, you might want to hire a chimp. The team hears recordings of chimps drumming on the buttresses of tree roots in Uganda’s Budongo Forest, and explains why they do it.
Meta wants to read your mind - eventually. The panel discusses a new AI developed by Facebook’s parent company, that can detect certain words by reading brainwaves.
New Scientist’s chief gourmand, Sam Wong, gets the team to taste-test a west-African fruit called the miracle berry, and explains how it could help curb our sugar addiction. He also discusses the fermenting process and its possible health benefits, while sharing a little of his delicious fermented hot chilli sauce.
100 light years away, we’ve spotted new exoplanets that may be good places to search for life. They exist in the habitable zone, near a red dwarf star with the delicious name SPECULOOS-2. But the planets are different to Earth, and the team discuss the chances they will support life (as we know it).
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238. Weekly: ADHD helps foraging?; the rise of AI “deepfakes”; ignored ovary appendage24:09#238ADHD is a condition that affects millions of people and is marked by impulsivity, restlessness and attention difficulties. But how did ADHD evolve in humans and why did it stick around? Through the help of a video game, a study shows that these traits might be beneficial when foraging for food. In 2023, we hit record after record when it comes to high temperatures on Earth, including in the oceans and seas. From the surface to 2000 metres down, it was hard to find a part of the ocean not affected. This week, about 5000 scientists gathered in New Orleans for the American Geophysical Union’s biennial Ocean Sciences Meeting. Heat was the one thing on everyone’s mind, as researchers grapple to understand the drivers and consequences these new records have – but also look for promising solutions.The future of AI deepfake technology is not looking good. You might remember the infamous fake images of Taylor Swift that included non-consensual, intimate images of her on social media. Or the fake robotcall that mimicked President Joe Biden’s voice and discouraged voters from coming to the polls. As voice, picture and video generating technologies become cheaper and easier to use, can anything be done to prevent more harm?A “useless” structure on the ovary may in fact be key to fertility in mammals. The structure, a tiny series of tubes called the rete ovarii, was first discovered in 1870 and doesn’t even appear in modern textbooks. Now, researchers accidentally stumbled back onto it – and suggest that the rete ovarii may help control ovulation and the menopause. Plus: Humpback whales’ huge and specialised larynxes; physicists are excited about a new “unicorn” in the world of black holes; the “dogbot” that becomes three-legged to open doors.Hosts Christie Taylor and Timothy Revell discuss with guests Chen Ly, James Dinneen, Jeremy Hsu and Michael Le Page. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
Escape Pod #5 Sound: Prepare to feel relaxed, tingly and amazed, in the space of 20 minutes17:34This is a re-airing of a podcast originally released in February 2021.Prepare to feel relaxed, tingly and amazed all in the space of 20 minutes. This episode is all about sound.We start with the musical tones of an elephant trumpeting, followed by a recording from Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project, showing how they communicate at an infrasonic frequency, which humans can’t ordinarily detect.The team then attempts to send shivers down your spine by recreating ASMR, explaining why some people enjoy the sound of whispering, rustling crisp packets or apple biting.They also share a range of audio illusions, and close the show with the soothing sounds of white noise, created by Stephane Pigeon from www.mynoise.net.Shepard Tone and Binaural Beats courtesy of Alexander from www.orangefreesounds.com under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Bethan Ackerley and Timothy Revell. Find out more at newscientist.com/podcasts
237. Weekly: Reversing blindness; power beamed from space; animal love languages23:55#237Glaucoma, which can cause blindness by damaging the optic nerve, may be reversible. Researchers have managed to coax new optic nerve cells to grow in mice, partly restoring sight in some. How the treatment works through an eyeball injection and why, for humans, prevention and early detection are still the best options.Black holes, just like planets and stars, spin. But they may be spinning a lot slower than we thought. When black holes gobble up matter around them, they start spinning faster and we’ve largely used this understanding to guess their speed. But new research also weighs the slowing effect of massive gas jets that black holes emit – revealing that many may have slowed dramatically since their births. How these new estimates of spin also offer insights into a black hole’s history. What if we could generate solar power in space, far more efficiently than on Earth – and then beam it down to our houses? An MIT experiment has managed to do one of the most crucial steps of that science fiction-seeming process, converting electricity from a satellite into microwaves that were then successfully received by a collector in California. How these microwaves could supply the power grid on Earth and help ween us off of fossil fuels – if they can overcome some major hurdles. Apes like to playfully tease each other, just like humans do. While their methods may be a bit different from ours – poking, hitting, pulling on hair and stealing – it looks like they’re often doing it for fun, rather than to harass or assert dominance. This new finding could explain why humans evolved to enjoy jokes.Plus: A weird cooling quirk of Antarctica’s atmosphere; the microbes that make your tea taste delicious; and the flamboyant love languages of cuttlefish, scorpions and even dog-loving humans.Hosts Christie Taylor and Chelsea Whyte discuss with guests Michael Le Page, Alex Wilkins and Chen Ly. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
CultureLab: Where billionaires rule the apocalypse: Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Future’20:25Real tech billionaires are reportedly building secret bunkers in case of post-apocalyptic societal collapse. It’s a frightening prospect, a world where only the super rich survive catastrophe. But it’s a world one author is exploring in her latest novel.Naomi Alderman is the prize-winning and best-selling author of The Power. Her latest book The Future imagines a world where billionaires survive a world-shaking cataclysm, only to find out they’re not as in charge of events as they think they are. The Future has been the centrepiece of the New Scientist book club. In this episode culture and comment editor Alison Flood asks Naomi all about it. They explore her motivations for writing the book, the real mysteries of human evolutionary history and why Alderman thinks artificial intelligence can’t actually predict what’s to come for humanity.This conversation contains some spoilers.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
236. Weekly: Record-breaking fusion experiments inch the world closer to new source of clean energy23:22#236This week marks two major milestones in the world of fusion. In 2022 a fusion experiment at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory created more power than was required to sustain it – now, the same team has improved this record by 25 per cent, releasing almost twice the energy that was put in. Meanwhile, the UK’s JET reactor set a new world record for total energy output from any fusion reaction, just before it shut down for good late last year. Why these two milestones inch us closer to practical, sustainable fusion energy – but still leave a significant distance to go.A historic drought has caused a shipping traffic jam in the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most important shipping routes. Record low levels of water mean fewer ships can pass through the intricate system of locks that carry them across the narrow strip of land. As climate change increases the likelihood of extreme drought, how could this impact both the cost of shipping goods and Panama’s economy?Microdosing LSD may not have psychedelic effects, but it still causes noticeable changes in the brain. Researchers gave people tiny amounts of the drug while measuring their brain activity and noticed their brain signals became far more complex, even though they didn’t feel any hallucinatory effects. What this study tells us about the relationship between consciousness and neural complexity.Magma flowing into a giant crack formed by this year’s volcanic eruption in Iceland was caught moving at a rate of 7400 cubic metres per second – the fastest ever recorded for this kind of event. The kilometres-long crack first began producing eruptions in December last year, and another began just this week. So what’s next for the people living nearby? Plus: The asteroid Bennu may be a chunk of an ocean world; a new, lightning-dense thunderstorm spotted by satellites; rediscovering the bizarre-looking sharp-snouted Somali worm lizard after more than 90 years.Hosts Christie Taylor and Sophie Bushwick discuss with guests Matt Sparkes, James Dinneen, Grace Wade and Michael Le Page. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
4. Escape Pod: #4 Mass: from lightest creates on earth, to the heaviest things in the cosmos17:27This is a re-airing of a podcast originally released in February 2021.From some of the lightest creatures on earth, to the heaviest things in the cosmos, this episode is all about mass.It’s a magical opening to the show as the team discusses a group of insects called fairy wasps which are so light it’s near impossible to weigh them.They then turn to matters of massive proportions, discussing a little thing called dark matter.Finally the team wraps up by looking at the surprising, and slightly hilarious ways that a kilogram is measured.On the podcast are Rowan Hooper, Anna Demming and Timothy Revell.Find out more at newscientist.com/podcasts
235. Weekly: Alzheimer’s from contaminated injections; Musk's Neuralink begins human trials; longest living dogs21:32#235In very rare cases, Alzheimer’s disease could be transmitted from person to person during medical procedures. This finding comes as five people have developed the disease after receiving contaminated human growth hormone injections in the late 1950s to early 1980s – a practice that is now banned. What this finding means for medical settings and why most people don’t need to be concerned. Elon Musk’s mind-reading brain implant company Neuralink is carrying out its first human trial. The volunteer who has received the surgically implanted device and is now, Musk said earlier this week, “recovering well”. Neuralink promises to connect users to their smartphones and computers, reading brain signals and translating a person’s intentions into text or other functions. While this isn’t the first device of its kind, it is the only one being marketed as a consumer technology device, as opposed to a medical device. Contrails, the streams of white vapour that form behind planes in the sky, are to blame for a huge proportion of air travel’s impact on the climate. But there’s good news. Small changes in altitude may be sufficient to reduce their formation – and implementing these changes may be easier than we thought. Plus why flying at night has a bigger climate impact.Tiny tornadoes have been discovered inside the egg cells of fruit flies. These twisters circulate the jelly-like cytoplasm inside the cells and could be essential to the successful reproduction of these fruit flies. Excitingly, these tornadoes may be happening in the cells of other animals too – just not humans.Plus: Revealing which dogs live the longest; how an army of Twitter bots spreaded fake news about 2023’s Chinese spy balloon incident; an ancient gadget that turns fibres into rope.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Chen Ly, Matt Sparkes, James Dinneen and Alex Wilkins. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
CultureLab: Earth’s Last Great Wild Areas – Simon Reeve on BBC series ‘Wilderness’26:27Very few places on our planet appear untouchedby humans, but in those that do, nature is still very much in charge – and the scenery is breathtaking. In the new BBC series Wilderness with Simon Reeve, journalist Simone Reeve takes us into the heart of Earth's last great wild areas, including the Congo Basin rainforest, Patagonia, the Coral Triangle and the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa.In this episode of CultureLab, TV columnist Bethan Ackerley asks Simon about the series and his many exciting expeditions, including meeting bonobos in the depths of the Congo and a “staggering experience” trekking up the South Patagonia icefield. We hear about his meetings with Indigenous peoples and what they can teach us about living more intune with nature. And we discover why now is the time to focus on Earth’s wildernesses.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
234. Weekly: Why AI won’t take your job just yet; how sound helps fungi grow faster; chickpeas grown in moon dust for first time23:56#234Is AI really ready to take our jobs? A team looked at whether AI image recognition could replace tasks like checking price tags on items or looking at the pupils of patients in surgery. The researchers found only a small fraction of these vision-reliant tasks could be cost-effectively taken over by AI – for now, anyway.There’s an old myth that singing to your plants helps them grow – apparently this actually works with fungus. A pair of experiments has found that fungus grows much more quickly when it’s blasted with an 80 decibel tone, compared to fungus that receives the silent treatment. Roe v Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court decision that protected the right to an abortion, was overturned in 2022. Many states passed new restrictions on the procedure in the years that followed, some total or near-total – meaning few exceptions for pregnancies that result from sexual assault. New estimates suggest that more than 65,000 people in those states have since experienced rape-related pregnancy and been unable to legally receive abortion care where they live.Chickpeas have been grown in moon dust for the first time. Moon dust is low on nutrients and full of toxic heavy metals, making it a difficult place for plants to grow.But by turning the dust into more of an ecosystem, complete with fungi and earthworms, a team has gotten a generation of chickpeas to survive and even flower. And given chickpeas are more nutrient dense than other plants we’ve managed to grow so far, this is great news if we ever want to settle on the lunar surface.Plus: Maybe owls can actually turn their heads around, 360 degrees. A robot avatar that lets you see and feel what it sees and feels. And a bacteria that turns from prey to predator when the temperature drops.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Jeremy Hsu, James Woodford, Grace Wade and Leah Crane. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.