New Scientist Podcasts
Weekly: New type of brain cell; Alaska’s first bridge over a moving glacier; quantum batteries that never age
A multi-talented brain cell has been discovered – and it’s a hybrid of the two we already know about, neurons and glia. These glutamatergic astrocytes could provide insights into our brain health and function, and even enable treatments for conditions like Parkinsons.
Building a bridge over a moving glacier is no mean feat. But rising global temperatures have thawed the permafrost in Denali National Park in Alaska, causing its only access road to sink. A bridge may be the only way to continue access to the park’s beautiful wilderness.
Rather than waiting around for hours for your electric car to charge, imagine doing it near instantaneously. That’s the promise of quantum batteries. Although we’re not quite at that stage yet, researchers may have found a way to make quantum batteries that charge wirelessly and last forever.
Could the armies of ancient China owe their success to their… shoes? Researchers have been studying the feet of The Terracotta Army, a massive collection of statues that depict the armies of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.
Humans and other great apes have incredibly flexible shoulder and elbow joints. Unusually, this is not a trait shared by our monkey cousins. Why the difference? And what are the pros and cons of this extra mobility?
Plus: How to grow human kidneys in pigs without making pig-human hybrids and the mystery of a super-bright space explosion.
Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss all of this with guests Alec Luhn, Karmela Padavic-Callaghan, Chen Ly and Sam Wong. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
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226. Weekly: Biggest climate summit since Paris; thanking dirt for all life on Earth; what if another star flew past our solar system?22:08#226This year’s COP28 could be the most important climate summit since the Paris Agreement in 2015. After opening in Dubai on Thursday, this will be the first time countries will formally take stock of climate change since agreeing to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While we can expect world leaders to make some major commitments regarding renewable energy, sceptics are concerned the location of the summit will mean that fossil fuel interests end up disproportionately shaping the meeting.You may want to thank dirt for the evolution of life on Earth and the incredible biodiversity on the planet. We now know from computer simulations that a spike in nutrient-rich soil led to a boom in marine biodiversity millions of years ago. And thanks to plate tectonics and continental drift, that soil built up on land too and was an essential ingredient to life as we know it.What would happen to our solar system if the Sun suddenly had some competition…like if a roaming star flew too close? Would it snatch one of our planets, disrupt their orbits or send Mercury hurling towards the Sun? As researchers have found out, these and many other frightening scenarios are all possible - but thankfully not that likely. Bottlenose dolphins can sense electric fields with tiny pits in their skin and could be using them to hunt or even navigate. This new finding puts them on par with sharks, who also have this superpower. Plus: How chinstrap penguins sleep 11 hours a day, but in thousands of 4-second micro-naps. AI predicts there could be more than 2 million different ways to make a crystal. And how to pour a cup of tea as quietly as possible.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests James Dinneen, Jacob Aron, Leah Crane and Chen Ly. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
1. Science of cannabis: #1 A long history and a seismic shift21:34Cannabis is having a moment. Half of the US population lives in a state where marijuana is legal, and 9 in 10 people nationwide support legalisation in some form. This is a stark difference from mere decades ago, when prohibition was the norm in the entire US. Meanwhile, if you live in Malta, Uruguay, Canada – and maybe soon, Germany – your entire country is one with legal recreational pot. And access to medical marijuana extends to even more countries, including the UK and Australia.But as medical and recreational use become more popular and increasingly accessible, how exactly did we get to this moment of change? What has research been able to tell us – so far – about how the plant produces its euphoric effects, what medical purposes it may be able to serve or how it might be harmful? And how could our relationship with this unassuming leaf change in the coming decades?In the first of this three-part special series on the science of cannabis, Christie Taylor explores our deep history with cannabis, from the first domestication 12,000 years ago in Northwest China, to the current skyrocketing popularity in the United States and around the world.Learn more: The team at New Scientist investigates cannabis and the brain, the environmental cost of growing cannabis, and other questions in this special reporting series. Visit newscientist.com/cannabis
225. Weekly: Salt glaciers could host life on Mercury; brain cells that tell us when to eat; powerful cosmic ray hits Earth24:20#225Life on Mercury? That would be a shocking discovery. The planet is incredibly inhospitable to life… as we know it. But the discovery of salt glaciers on its surface has opened up the possibility that extremophile bacteria could be buried beneath its surface. Lucky then that the BepiColombo mission is planned to take another look at Mercury soon.Ever wondered why you can go all night without getting hungry but can’t last a few hours in the day? Well, there may be cells in our brains that tell us when it’s time to eat. A mice study found AgRP brain cells fire faster right around the time the rodents usually chow down. If this is true in humans too, it may clue us into our own hunger cues.Earth has been hit by a powerful cosmic ray, the second most powerful ever detected. This tiny subatomic particle contains a massive amount of energy and is thought to have come from a place in space called the cosmic void. How it got here is a mystery and has scientists excitedly searching for an answer.Babies are learning how to speak before they’re even born. While we know babies come to know the sound of their parents’ voices while in the womb, it turns out just hearing people talk enhances their future language skills and ability to recognise specific languages.Plus: Why one bat in Europe uses its penis as a hand, how a robot is being trained to pick up your dirty washing and why plants in Europe are more productive on the weekend.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Leah Crane, Clare Wilson, Alex Wilkins and Chen Ly. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Event:Separating the science from the hype with the latest research on cannabis.
11. Dead Planets Society: #11 Cube Earth Part Two14:41Turning the Earth into a cube, the gift that just keeps giving. Last episode we had fish bowl spaceships, this time we have sea monsters!If you thought cubifying the Earth couldn’t get more wacky, you’re in for a treat. In the Dead Planets Society season finale, Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte are once again joined by geophysicist Mika McKinnon. This time she explains what time would be like on a 6-faced planet, how you’d be able to experience all four seasons in a single day on Cube Earth and why this re-formed planet would spur on the evolution of some pretty strange lifeforms, including sea monsters.Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at email@example.com. It may just feature in a later episode… And if you just want to chat about this episode or wrecking the cosmos more generally, tweet @chelswhyte and @downhereonearth.
10. Dead Planets Society: #10 Cube Earth Part One18:06This is it, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. We’ve killed the sun, smushed the asteroid belt, burrowed into other planets… but now it’s time for the big one… Earth.In this two-part season finale, Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte do irreparable damage to our planet by turning it into a cube. Joining the pair in this mammoth task is geophysicist and disaster consultant Mika McKinnon. In this first episode Mika tackles the many life-changing knock-on effects of cubifying Earth, such as how only portions of the planet would be habitable, why we would need giant fish bowls on wheels to cross from one face to the other and why earthquakes would become the new normal.Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org. It may just feature in a later episode… And if you just want to chat about this episode or wrecking the cosmos more generally, tweet @chelswhyte and @downhereonearth.
224. Weekly: Saving the trees we already have; why US men are dying younger; soap bubble lasers (pew pew pew)28:44#224Tree planting has become an incredibly popular way of attempting to store carbon dioxide and slow global warming. But new research estimates we may be able to store huge amounts of carbon dioxide without planting any new trees at all. All we have to do is protect the ones we already have. The world’s existing forests could store up to 228 billion tonnes of carbon, but is protecting them an achievable goal?Life expectancy for everyone in the US is on the decline, but especially for men, with the “death gap” between men and women increasing dramatically in recent years. Why are men now dying nearly six years before women on average? Covid-19, opioid use, suicide and firearms are all influencing the worrisome trend.Bonobos are the peacekeepers of the primate world. While their close cousins, chimpanzees, prefer to fight with rival groups to resolve conflict, bonobos prefer to have sex – and they generally get along with members of other groups. Why some bonobos are friendlier than others, and what that might tell us about human aggression and cooperation.Physicists have created tiny lasers from soap bubbles. This whimsical sounding technological feat is surprisingly simple to recreate. With a few ingredients, you too could create a bubble laser at home. Useful for detecting electric fields and pressure changes, this could become a much more affordable way of producing sensors in the future.Plus: How 20 per cent of people who take Paxlovid, a covid-19 drug that reduces the risk of severe illness, rebound and get the virus again a few days after they stop taking it; how to seed new life on a planet by “catching” a comet; and how one artificial intelligence model has learned how to beat us at both chess and poker, and what this might say about creating more “generally” intelligent AIs.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss all of this with guests James Dinneen, Corryn Wetzel, Sam Wong and Karmela Padavic-Callaghan. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Need a listening ear? UK Samaritans: 116123; US 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988; hotlines in other countries.Event: Separating the science from the hype with the latest research on cannabis.
CultureLab: Orbital - A love letter to Earth from the International Space Station, with Samantha Harvey21:02As astronauts look down on Earth from space, the experience is often life-altering. The “pale blue dot” looks fragile from way up there. And in the novel Orbital, we get to see our planet from the perspective of astronauts aboard the International Space Station, giving us a glimpse into why the distant view shifts their perspectives so dramatically. The book follows the team of astronauts as they observe Earth, collect meteorological data, conduct scientific experiments and test the limits of the human body. But author Samantha Harvey says she hopes Orbital is as much a painting as it is a novel, writing in expressive prose to capture the epic vistas witnessed from space each day. From glaciers and deserts, to the peaks of mountains and the swells of oceans – and even the destructive force of an intensifying typhoon. In this episode, Rowan Hooper asks Harvey about her inspirations and how she was able to so vividly capture this sense of Earth from afar. Plus a meditation on what it means, emotionally, to look at our planet from space and reckon with how we are changing it. To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
223. Weekly: Spinal cord stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease; half-synthetic yeast; harvesting the ocean’s heat for energy26:33#223Spinal cord stimulation has, for the first time, been used to improve the mobility of someone with Parkinson’s Disease. Marc, who has battled the condition for 30 years, once fell five to six times daily, but now is able to walk kilometres per day thanks to an array of electrodes that stimulate the movement-related neurons in his spine. Though it was successful for Marc, the treatment is also highly customised and more research is needed before it might benefit people more broadly. In the world of synthetic biology, an international team has crafted a yeast cell with half its DNA manufactured in a lab, marking a significant step in our ability to rewrite and alter complex genomes. While yeast is already used to create useful substances such as beer and insulin, synthetic yeasts could be engineered to create an even wider variety of molecules more easily. Why yeast might be just the beginning for synthetic organisms.Can the secret to affordable, clean energy have been in the ocean all this time? Engineers are bringing a 140-year-old idea back to life, with the aim of harnessing the massive temperature difference between warm surface water and cold, deep sea water. A process known as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) was originally proposed in the 19th century and is now being tested in some island nations. How this sustainable method works and the obstacles to its widespread adoption.New evolutionary research shows that crabs evolved to leave the ocean up to 17 different times in the 230 million years since they arose. What these crustaceans’ remarkable evolutionary flexibility might reveal about adaptability across the animal kingdom.Plus: Using tiny microphones to record happy rat squeaks, a breakthrough in underwater radio communication and a smashing fact about left-handed badminton players. Hosts Christie Taylor and Chelsea Whyte discuss all of this with guests Michael Le Page, James Dinneen and Alexandra Thompson. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
9. Dead Planets Society: #9 Unify the Asteroid Belt15:28Asteroids are cool, but they’re all spread out across the solar system. Wouldn’t it be neater if we could smush them all together to make one MEGA asteroid? Maybe even an asteroid… planet.From an asteroid sausage machine to a Jell-O infused asteroid donut, Leah and Chelsea discover just how difficult and disastrous it would be to merge the asteroid belt – with one surprising silver lining. Joining them in their quest are planetary scientists Andy Rivkin of John Hopkins University, and Kathryn Volk of the University of Arizona.Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at email@example.com. It may just feature in a later episode… And if you just want to chat about this episode or wrecking the cosmos more generally, tweet @chelswhyte and @downhereonearth.