Science + Technology

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Songs For A Plutonian Road Trip

Jul 14, 2015

Alice Bowman oversees daily operations for NASA's mission to Pluto. Her language is peppered with technical terms — like "astronomical units" and "aim points."

But there's one piece of scientific nomenclature you won't hear coming from Bowman's lips: dwarf planet.

"Pluto is a planet," she says. "And that's the way I will always think of it."

IBM says it has overcome a technological hurdle by producing a prototype chip with transistors that are just 7 nanometers wide, or about 1/10,000th the width of a human hair. The smallest transistors currently in use are twice as big.

The breakthrough occurred at SUNY Polytechnic Institute's Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It could result in the ability to place 20 billion transistors on a chip the size of a fingernail.

A controversial cyber espionage company called Hacking Team is reeling this morning after hackers gave it a taste of its own medicine by breaking into its systems, downloading hundreds of gigabytes of data and throwing it all on the open Internet.

Hacking Team has not said whether the leaked documents are legitimate, but NPR verified that at least some of the hacked personal passwords do check out.

The new Pixar animation Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter (Monster's Inc., Up), is the playful and ambitious story of the emotional life of a young girl, Riley, who is uprooted when her parents move to a new city so that her father can take up a job. Like a lot of science fiction, however, the fiction drags because the science never really makes any sense.

This summer, Morning Edition is taking you on adventures off the beaten path — trails that transport us to a special, hidden place. We start just minutes from downtown Mobile, Ala., at the point where five rivers converge in the Mobile Bay Delta. With our trail guide, we discover centuries of history, and biodiversity like no other place in the country.

The point where five rivers empty into Mobile Bay is a fisherman and hunter's paradise, but it's also a draw for naturalists and history buffs.

It has taken nearly a decade and 3 billion miles to get there, but scientists are about to get their first look at Pluto.

The New Horizons spacecraft is closing fast on the tiny world once thought to be at the edge of our solar system. On Tuesday the probe will begin an intensive nine-day scientific study of Pluto and its moons.

In catacombs south of Cairo, researchers have discovered burial sites filled with huge numbers of mummified animals — nearly 8 million of them, mostly dogs.

The International Space Station has just received a much-needed delivery, including some groceries, aboard a Russian capsule that successfully docked after three previous attempts to resupply the orbiting laboratory had failed.

Those who spend much time on the Carolina beaches know that many shark species, and even whales, are frequent visitors during the summer. And, though it's extremely rare, those sharks have been known to attack humans.

But this year, there have already been seven shark attacks off the North Carolina coast since June. It's a number that has surprised even the most seasoned of shark-watchers.

A Rock Band And A Moon, United In Name

Jul 4, 2015
Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

A classic rock band and a bunch of NASA scientists met in a lab in Maryland this week, all because of a name - Styx.

(SOUNDBITE OF STYX SONG, "COME SAIL AWAY")

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

Ladies and gentlemen, light your fuses.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

The smartphone has become a staple of life. But what about the personal assistant inside that phone? Not so much.

Maybe you turn to Apple's Siri or Google Now for a quick search or a snarky answer to a question. But imagine a world where your phone actually gets you. You, personally. Turns out two tech giants — Google and Apple — disagree on whether that's a worthy goal.

Introducing 'Now On Tap'

Scientists say they've found a bit of DNA in woolly mammoths that could help explain how these huge beasts were so well-adapted to live in the cold of the last ice age.

Woolly mammoths had long shaggy fur, small tails and ears to minimize frostbite, and a lot of fat to help stay warm as they roamed the tundra more than 12,000 years ago.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The age of genetic design is here.

It is now possible to edit genes of diverse organisms — almost like we edit a string of text — by cutting and pasting (splicing) genes at desired locations. A recent technology known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) allows for the targeted control over cellular organization, regulation and behavior. CRISPR has its origins in the immune systems of bacteria, using short RNA sequences to disrupt the genetic structure of foreign attackers.

A small company in California is hoping to make a big splash by providing detailed flood maps to homeowners and insurance companies. And to do that, the company is using one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

The company is called Katrisk, based in Berkeley, Calif. Hydrologist and computer modeler Dag Lohmann is one of the company's founders. He says the flood maps the Federal Emergency Management Agency already produces will tell you how prone a particular area is to flooding.

In a technological feat that moved the world, last November the European Space Agency landed the small probe Philae on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which is cruising at some 100,000 miles per hour toward the sun. Excitement turned to high drama when the landing put the probe away from the sun's rays and, thus, from its energy source.

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