Science + Technology

When I was pregnant with my first child, friends and family inevitably asked about my diet.

"Are you sticking to vegan food?" they wondered, with variable admiration or anxiety.

For some, the curiosity was about cravings. One mother told me she was irresistibly (and unexpectedly) drawn to hot dogs her third trimester; another confessed her sudden fascination with red meat. Surely, I'd crave things beyond the vegan sections of Whole Foods? (I didn't. Mostly.)

This time last year, what became known as #Gamergate rocked the Internet and the world of video games.

The stated purpose of the hashtag movement, according to those who supported it, was that it was about corruption and ethical malfeasance in video game journalism, but the debate — played out largely on Twitter, Reddit and other discussion websites — highlighted rampant sexism and harassment in video game culture.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Many illnesses are contagious. You'd do well to avoid your neighbor's sneeze, for example, and to wash your hands after tending to your sick child.

But what about mental illness?

The idea that anxiety, autism or major depression could be transmitted through contact may sound crazy — and it probably is. There's a lot we don't know about the origins of mental illness, but the mechanisms identified so far point in other directions.

The giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are one of America's treasures, but for the first time in Sequoia National Park's history, the trees are showing visible signs of exhaustion due to the drought.

On a hike last summer, a scientist noticed that the needles of the giant sequoias were browning and more sparse than usual. This finding got ecologists thinking: Did the drought cause this?

Learning to make sounds by listening to others is a skill that helps make us human.

But research now suggests a species of monkey may have evolved similar abilities.

Marmosets have the capacity to learn calls from their parents, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science. The results mean that studying marmosets might provide insights into developmental disorders found in humans. It also suggests that vocal learning may be more widespread than many researchers thought.

Scientists have just sequenced the first genome of an octopus, and it was no trivial task.

"The octopus has a very large genome. It's nearly the size of the human genome," says Carrie Albertin, a biologist at the University of Chicago.

As technology to sequence DNA has gotten faster and cheaper, scientists have unraveled the genes of all kinds of creatures. But until now, no one had done an octopus — despite its obvious appeal as one of the weirdest animals on Earth.

In the history of life on Earth, evolutionary forces have pushed some species to become incredibly large. After most dinosaurs died off 66 million years ago, some mammals and marsupials grew bigger and bigger, taking the dinos' place.

LA Rolls Out Water-Saving 'Shade Balls'

Aug 11, 2015

Today, "shade balls" got their moment in the sun.

On Monday afternoon, the 20,000 black plastic balls tumbled down the slopes of Los Angeles Reservoir, joining 95,980,000 of their brethren already covering the surface of the water.

The final deployment of these shade balls was the last step in a $34.5 million water quality protection project aimed at preventing evaporation and algae growth in the reservoir.

As I write this, California remains deep in its fourth year of drought.

One hundred percent of the state of Nevada is in drought — with 40 percent in the extreme drought category. Over to the southeast, 93 percent of Arizona's territory is in some form of drought. Even Washington state, far to the north, finds all of its territory in drought and 32 percent of its land in extreme doubt.

Take a close look at a house cat's eyes and you'll see pupils that look like vertical slits. But a tiger has round pupils — like humans do. And the eyes of other animals, like goats and horses, have slits that are horizontal.

Scientists have now done the first comprehensive study of these three kinds of pupils. The shape of the animal's pupil, it turns out, is closely related to the animal's size and whether it's a predator or prey.

The name Hiroshima is so tied to the atomic bomb that it's hard to imagine there were other possible targets.

But in early 1945, the U.S. was still months away from building its first bomb and certainly didn't know what to hit.

"Should it be a city? Should it be a military installation? Should you be just displaying the bomb, without killing anybody?" These are questions that were yet to be decided, says Alex Wellerstein, a historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

The ability to store energy could revolutionize the way we make and use electricity. But for many utility companies and regular folks, energy storage is still way out of reach. It's expensive — sometimes more expensive than building out old-fashioned infrastructure like power lines and power plants.

For people like Jim and Lyn Schneider, their decision to invest in battery storage came four years ago when they moved to central Wyoming.

Almost as soon as President Obama's new plan to limit carbon emissions was unveiled, opponents were lining up to oppose it. The new rules would require states to lower their carbon emissions by nearly a third over the next decade and a half.

The rules will deal a big blow to some energy sectors — especially coal. But there are also industries that will benefit from the plan.

Science does a lot of things for us. It creates astonishing technologies transforming our lives for the better. It reveals unseen dimensions of wonder, from the grandeur of spinning galaxies to the marvels of microscopic cells.

But for all that wonder and all those game-changing technologies, sometimes science just turns out to be the best way to call "BS."

Calling it the "biggest, most important step we've ever taken to combat climate change," President Obama said his administration would unveil the final version of a proposal aimed at curbing the amount of carbon pollution put out by power plants.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports that the new regulations are actually tougher than the ones unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency in a draft proposal in June of 2014.

Aboard a ferry off the coast of Rhode Island, state and federal officials take a close look at a steel structure poking out of the ocean. It's the first foundation affixed to the seafloor for a five-turbine wind farm off the state's coast.

It's a contrast to what's happening off the coast of Massachusetts. Developer Cape Wind has spent more than 10 years and millions of dollars there on a massive wind farm that it may never build.

Updated at 11 a.m. ET

Get ready for a very rare event tonight — a blue moon.

But don't expect to see a new hue. A blue moon, at least according to the modern definition of the term, has nothing to do with color. It simply means a second full moon in the same calendar month.

When engineers at Ford want to see how a new car handles, they take it to a large track with loops and straightaways. But that traditional testing ground isn't much help to Randy Visintainer, director of Ford's autonomous vehicles program.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Oil companies are coming to terms with the prospect that oil prices could stay low for years. Today, Royal Dutch Shell announced it's laying off 1,600 workers. NPR's John Ydstie reports.

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