Living Lab

Mondays from 9 to 10 a.m. on WCAI

Living Lab is a forum for the stories behind science headlines — the people who do the research, the unexpected ways that science gets done, and how the results make their way into our everyday lives.

Do you have a story or photo to share? Send it to livinglabradio at WGBH dot org. 

Meet Heather Goldstone and Living Lab

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Science and Technology
11:22 am
Tue September 10, 2013

How Could 'Sterile' Surgical Equipment Cause A Fatal Brain Disease?

Sterilized surgical instruments are prepared for use for surgery.
Credit Chris Thamann / U.S. Navy

Last week, we learned that 13 patients treated in hospitals in New Hampshire and Cape Cod may have been exposed to the protein that causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disease similar to "mad cow disease"

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Science and Technology
11:56 am
Thu August 1, 2013

Massachusetts' Quest For Renewable Energy

This map shows renewable energy installations in Massachusetts
Credit Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources

Hundreds of people marched outside Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset on Sunday.

The protest was organized by 350MA in an effort to convince Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to shut down New England’s largest fossil-fueled power producer and opt for cleaner energy instead.

The Patrick administration has set a target of getting more than a quarter of the Commonwealth’s electricity needs from renewable or alternative sources by 2020.

The Bottom Line

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Science and Technology
10:18 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

What the Autism-Vaccines Controversy Teaches Us About Scientific Process

Actress and model Jenny McCarthy's anti-vaccination rhetoric pushes scientists' buttons.
Credit Michael Dorausch / Wikimedia Commons

It’s been more than a week since ABC announced that actress and model Jenny McCarthy would join their mid-day talk show, The View, but backlash against the decision continues. At the heart of the controversy is McCarthy’s anti-vaccine activism.

Scientists pride themselves on being rational, able to disagree civilly. Of course, scientists are also human, so it doesn’t always work that way. But few things spark more raw outrage than anti-vaccination rhetoric. Even climate change and evolution might have to settle for consolation prizes in this category. But why?

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Science and Technology
8:29 am
Wed June 12, 2013

Five Ways to Get Involved in Citizen Science

Kindergarteners check out insects during the 2006 Woods Hole BioBlitz. BioBlitzes are intensive biodiversity surveys powered by volunteers.
Credit Jennifer Junker / WCAI

One couldn't dream up a more perfect topic for citizen science than biodiversity. It happens anywhere and everywhere, scientists need more data points than they could ever possibly gather on their own, and you can see (at least some of) it with your own two eyes.

Here are just a few ways you could get involved:

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Life Science
10:01 am
Thu April 4, 2013

How Acoustic Monitoring Could Help Protect Cod Stocks

Sofie Van Parijs, head of NOAA's Passive Acoustic Monitoring group, listens in on underwater sounds.
Credit Credit of NOAA

WGBH's Bob Seay debriefs science editor Heather Goldstone

Here's your science factoid of the day: male Atlantic cod grunt during spawning season. It may sound like useless trivia, but that behavior could help fishery managers better protect cod stocks.

Underwater microphones - hydrophones - installed along the shipping channels leading into Boston already listen for right whales and automatically alert nearby vessels in real time. In fact, you can even get that information on your iPhone.

Now, a new study demonstrates the ability to use a similar method of passive acoustic monitoring to locate aggregations of spawning cod, known as haystacks.

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Life Science
1:43 pm
Tue February 5, 2013

Art-science collaborative to debut at Museum of Science

Originally published on Thu February 7, 2013 11:06 am

Conversation about Synergy exhibit

Back in June, I spoke with Whitney Bernstein and Michael McMahon about their nascent artist-scientist collaborative, Synergy. The project has now reached fruition; eight artist-scientist teams have produced science-inspired works of art that will be shown at Boston's Museum of Science starting February 16th.

The exhibit spans media from music to abstract video, from sculpture to painting. Each work of art is as unique as the artist-scientist team that came together to create it.

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LIFE SCIENCE
10:44 pm
Mon December 17, 2012

The Science of Fisheries

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

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

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LIFE SCIENCE
10:00 pm
Mon December 10, 2012

Empowering Everyone to Explore Life's Diversity

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

Interview with Nathan Wilson

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

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LIFE SCIENCE
3:18 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Toxic Chemicals Found in Household Dust

A new study found potentially hazardous levels of flame retardants in household dust.
Credit Heather Goldstone / WGBH

Interview with Dr. Robin Dodson of Silent Spring Institute

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

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

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

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LIFE SCIENCE
10:01 am
Tue November 27, 2012

Why Deep Sea Volcanoes Matter

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

Interview with oceanographer Julie Huber

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

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LIFE SCIENCE
3:12 pm
Mon November 19, 2012

Understanding Your Carbon Food-print

Beef has one of the highest carbon footprints of any food.
Credit Rick Harrison / Flickr

Interview with David Freudberg, The Diet-Climate Connection.

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

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LIFE SCIENCE
10:18 am
Tue November 13, 2012

The Pteropod Project: Sea Butterflies, Climate Change, and Art

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

You've no doubt heard of the butterfly effect. Well, Gareth Lawson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has his own version: the sea butterfly effect. As carbon dioxide emissions build up in the atmosphere, some of it is absorbed by the ocean, where it turns to acid - a phenomenon known as ocean acidification.

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SCIENCE
4:08 pm
Mon November 5, 2012

The Art of Telling Science Stories

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

Among those who make a living communicating science to the public, there are two main groups. There are those who began as writers, journalists, film makers, what have you, and somewhere along the way discovered a particular affinity for the subject of science. Increasingly, though, there’s a second group who received formal training in science, may even have made a career as a scientist, but somewhere along the way discovered that research wasn’t quite the right fit and instead turned to telling the stories of science.

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LIVING LAB
10:15 am
Wed October 31, 2012

On the Cape, Sandy Beaches ... or Not

Storm surge and high surf washed right under this house on stilts on Falmouth's Surf Drive. Sand had to be cleared from the road by bulldozer.
Credit Heather Goldstone / WGBH

Hurricane Sandy couldn't have been more appropriately named. With storm surges of 3-6 feet around the Cape and Islands, and up to 12 feet along the Jersey Shore, coastal erosion is one after-effect that communities in Sandy's path will be wrestling with even after the power is back on.

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LIVING LAB
4:16 pm
Mon October 22, 2012

Realizing the Potential of Ocean Energy

Thar she blows! An energy source like a snow hill! A wave towers astern of the ship Delaware II off Massachusetts.
Personnel of Delaware II NOAA

Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth's surface. Those vast waters provide food, enable global shipping and drive the global climate. They could also provide much of the world's electricity needs. Waves, tides, even differences in salinity and temperature, are all potential sources of energy. The trick is harnessing that power.

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LIVING LAB
2:26 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

The Politics of Science Funding

The money available for science research — and how it can be used — is often determined by politics.
UCNISS Flickr

While it may not be the issue that decides elections, funding for scientific research is a fundamentally political beast. Take, for example, President George W. Bush's 2004 manned space exploration initiative - an overhaul of NASA's priorities aimed at putting American men and women back on the moon and, eventually, on Mars. Or there's Sarah Palin's somewhat notorious comments during the 2008 presidential campaign mocking biomedical research using fruit flies and calling it a waste of taxpayer dollars.

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LIVING LAB
9:08 am
Mon October 8, 2012

Photosynthesis for Children of All Ages

Courtesy of Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

Plants and photosynthetic bacteria sustain much of life on Earth. They form the base of food chains both on land and in the ocean, and they produce the oxygen we breathe. Indeed, when the first photosynthetic algae arose some 3 billion years ago, they fundamentally changed our planet — breathing oxygen into the atmosphere and paving the way for life as we know it today.

While photosynthesis is typically covered in elementary and high school science classes, studies have shown that even the most fundamental facts are often forgotten quickly. In contrast, the books we read as children sometimes stay with us for a lifetime.

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LIVING LAB
7:41 pm
Mon October 1, 2012

Going to Extremes for Science

Ben Linhoff hauled 800 pounds of gear in ten 2-mile trips from his field camp to a river crossing at the end of the nearest road.
Courtesy of Ben Linhoff

I've read my fair share of science books and field blogs and talked to more than a few scientists. In most cases, I hear their stories and think "Cool! I want to do that!" In a few other cases, I think "That's hardcore, but I could probably handle it." As I read Ben Linhoff's Following the Ice blog this summer (and re-read it last night), all I could think is "That guy is crazy. I never want to camp next to a glacier in Greenland for three months." I'll moderate that a bit now that I've met Ben. He isn't crazy. But I still never want to camp next to a glacier in Greenland for 3 straight months. I'm certainly glad Ben is willing to, though, because his research is important.

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LIVING LAB
11:24 am
Wed September 26, 2012

30 Issues: Why You Should Care About ... Climate Change

courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory
  • Bob Seay talks with Charles Orloff of the Blue Hill Observatory and WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone about climate change in Election 2012.

It’s been said so many times, it’s hard to even find an original source. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not her own facts.

When it comes to climate change, though, there seem to be two versions of the facts – the Democratic and the Republican.

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LIVING LAB
11:17 am
Mon September 24, 2012

Living Off a Love of the Natural World

When I first met Ari Daniel Shapiro, he was a college student spending a summer doing research here in Woods Hole. He subsequently returned and earned a Ph.D. from the M.I.T.-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program. As he was finishing his dissertation on killer whale behavior, though, he realized his heart wasn't fully in the research. Instead, he decided to try radio. And am I ever glad he did. He's now an independent radio producer and science reporter for PRI's The World. I'm a big fan of Ari's work, so I was looking forward to talking with him about making the transition from research to reporting (something I, myself, also did) and about the radio producers who influence and inspire him.

Unfortunately, our conversation was interrupted by technical difficulties.

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LIVING LAB
11:10 am
Fri September 21, 2012

The Scary Math of EEE Prevention

The mosquito-born diseases West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis hit record levels this summer, prompting some communities to resort to aerial pesticide spraying.
mfophotos Flickr

What is a human life worth? That’s really the question at the heart of a controversy brewing over aerial pesticide spraying to kill mosquitos that may carry the viruses responsible for West Nile or Eastern Equine Encephalitis, known as EEE or triple-E.

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LIVING LAB
11:59 pm
Sun September 16, 2012

Photographing Science on Ice

A self-portrait of Chris Linder taken while on one of four polar expeditions chronicled in Science on Ice.
Chris Linder Chris Linder Photograghy

Chris Linder is a scientist–turned–award-winning science photographer. Over the past 10 years, he has photographed more than 30 science expeditions, including 16 to the polar regions. Four of those expeditions are featured in a new hardcover photography book, "Science on Ice: Four Polar Expeditions."

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LIVING LAB
2:04 pm
Thu September 6, 2012

Meet Heather Goldstone and Living Lab

WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone at a Cape Cod beach on Labor Day 2012.
Samuel Goldstone

WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone, best known as the brains behind the Climatide blog, has launched a new show and blog. Climatide focused on how climate change is affecting Cape Cod. Living Lab expands on that theme and takes a broader look at the role that science and scientists play in our daily lives. We asked her to explain.

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LIVING LAB
5:19 pm
Mon September 3, 2012

Ocean Health Index: What's in a Number?

Imagine this: your spouse (best friend, sibling) has just been in a bad car accident. You rush to the hospital and pounce on the doctor.

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LIVING LAB
10:25 pm
Thu August 30, 2012

Living Lab Week in Review: Bowhead Sighting, Stoney Controversy

Scientists have produced the first detailed map of forests in the continental U.S.
Woods Hole Research Center

The local science institutions have been brimming with news lately. We'll do this rundown in geographical order, starting on the outermost tip of the Cape and working our way back.

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LIVING LAB
9:00 am
Mon August 27, 2012

Lamps with Sex Lives Blend Science and Design

Ryan Schenk

What do you get when you cross a short, fat lamp with a tall, skinny lamp? Nothing, silly, lamps can't breed ... until now. 

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LIVING LAB
12:02 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

Shark v. Seal: Who Wins?

A sign warns swimmers at Cahoon Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, Mass., on Aug. 15, 2012.
rickpilot_2000 Flickr

There's been a rise in shark sightings on the Cape this summer — drawn not by humans in the water (pace "Jaws") but by an abundant population of seals. So ... can we drive away the sharks by culling the seals? As WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone told Bob Seay, it's not the first time marine experts have proposed this strategy.

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LIVING LAB
10:38 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Week in Review: Ocean Health Index, and a Few Surprises

School of spadefishes at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, Savannah, Georgia
Greg McFall NOAA National Ocean Service

If last week was all about Mars, this week is all about the ocean.

The top story is a new Ocean Health Index. An international team of scientists (including Scott Doney of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution .. working on getting him on Living Lab in the next few weeks) evaluated 171 coastal areas around the globe on the grounds of ten human goals - things like fishing opportunities, clean water, food provision, and sense of place. When the task of boiling the immense complexity of ocean ecology down to a single number was complete, the result was .. drumroll, please .. 60 out of a possible 100. We've all been to school and can do the translation. That's barely a passing grade. So plenty of room for improvement.

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LIVING LAB
11:38 pm
Wed August 15, 2012

Rust Tide in Buzzards Bay: More Questions Than Answers

Cochlodinium polykrikoides, the organism responsible for the problems in Buzzards Bay.
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

News of a “rust tide” in Buzzards Bay made headlines earlier this week. Reading a handful of the stories left me with an incomplete and jumbled picture of what’s going on. Is "rust tide" just another way of saying red tide? Is it or isn't it "dangerous," as some headlines proclaimed? To get some answers, I got in touch with Dr. Don Anderson, a harmful algae expert at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Here’s the skinny:

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LIVING LAB
2:50 pm
Mon August 6, 2012

Technology: Problem or Solution?

Dr. Jesse Ausubel, in spite of what most environmentalists say, believes that humanity is on the right track.
treegrow Flickr

Dr. Jesse Ausubel is Director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, a Vice President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and an adjunct scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He received the Blue Frontier/Peter Benchley prize for ocean science in 2010 and shared the 2011 International Cosmos Prize. He joined me for a conversation about climate change, population growth, and the human capacity for innovating our way out of our most pressing problems.

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