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Science + Technology

Summer vacations: We wait for them all year. We pour time, energy and money into planning them. Expectations can run unreasonably high.

On this week's show, a summer edition of Stopwatch Science with Daniel Pink that explores what social science research has to say about vacations: How to make them better and what pitfalls to avoid.

Stopwatch Science

In northern New York state, logger Greg Hemmerich and his crew are clearing out an old pasture at the edge of a forest.

"There's a lot of balsam, lot of spruce, thorn apple trees," Hemmerich says. "Ninety percent of this lot is low-grade wood."

In other words, it's no good for furniture or paper or sawmills. But he'll make $80,000 to run the wood through a chipper and truck the chips to a nearby biomass plant.

"Everybody said that green power was supposed to be the wave of the future," Hemmerich says. "So I went full in."

There are some big companies out there that you've probably never heard of, that know more about you than you can imagine.

They're called data brokers, and they collect all sorts of information — names, addresses, income, where you go on the Internet and who you connect with online. That information is then sold to other companies. There are few regulations governing these brokers.

Every semester, college instructors face a choice: whether to restrict the use of laptops and other devices in their classrooms or to, instead, let students decide for themselves.

And for classrooms that do allow devices, students face an ongoing set of choices: to take notes electronically or by hand, to check the textbook or the text message, to check Instagram or Twitter.

Webcast: Your Workplace And Your Health

Jul 11, 2016

Your workplace may be affecting your health — for better or worse.

It can raise your stress level and affect your eating and sleeping habits. Negative impacts from work may arise from concern about such things as workplace violence, toxic exposures and a bullying boss.

Some companies have expansive programs to eliminate these problems and help workers improve health. But are workers taking advantage of them?

The way clouds cover the Earth may be changing because of global warming, according to a study published Monday that used satellite data to track cloud patterns across about two decades, starting in the 1980s.

Clouds in the mid-latitudes shifted toward the poles during that period, as the subtropical dry zones expanded and the highest cloud-tops got higher.

There's no denying the Philistines have taken some guff over the past, well, thousands of years. After all, they're one of the Hebrew Bible's most infamous villains, seed of both Delilah's treachery and Goliath's menace — not to mention some ineptness when it comes to slingshots. They're so reviled their very name has wriggled into our dictionaries, paired with some less than flattering definitions.

Theranos was poised to revolutionize the blood testing industry by using only a few drops of blood in inexpensive tests. But now, federal regulators say they will bar the company's dynamic founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes from owning or operating a lab for at least two years.

"Last year the government began to scrutinize the company after experts found that the results of the blood tests were inaccurate," as NPR's Laura Sydell told our Newscast unit.

The story is a familiar one: the saga of a loving parent's quest to save a child. This time it's about the mother of a boy with autism. The mother scours the medical literature in search of any kind of treatment, however far-fetched and experimental. She finds one that seems promising, something involving magnetic fields, and moves mountains to get it for her son as part of a research protocol.

Scientists have created a synthetic stingray that's propelled by living muscle cells and controlled by light, a team reports Thursday in the journal Science.

And it should be possible to build an artificial heart using some of the same techniques, the researchers say.

The year is half over. So I took a moment over the long holiday weekend to triumphantly write, "Mission accomplished!" in ink next to each of my New Year's resolutions.

To the average pedestrian, it was just a curb. To an observant one, perhaps, it was an oddly misaligned curb.

To geologists, it was a snapshot of the earth's shifting tectonic plates — an accidental experiment, a field trip destination for decades.

But to the town of Hayward, Calif., it was just a bit of subpar infrastructure.

The Los Angeles Times sums up what happened next:

More than 500,000 balancing scooters — better known as hoverboards, though they do no hovering — are being recalled because of the risk of fire or explosions.

The devices were extremely popular gifts this past holiday season. Online, they were hits in viral dance videos ... and in less-impressive videos of people falling off their new toys.

The days of peak BlackBerry in the U.S. capital are hard to forget. The swift clackety-click of the keyboard and the soft trrrrrrr of the trackpad scroll invaded every corner of Washington: You'd hear it on the Metro and in building hallways, at dinner tables and in bars, in elevators and, yes, even bathroom stalls.

By all accounts, technology has made us safer.

Cars are more maneuverable because of tire design changes. Jet engines are less likely to fail midflight thanks to better propulsion mechanics. Clinical diagnoses are more accurate thanks to improvements in medical imaging.

Over the past half-century, such advances have forced a drop in deaths caused by technical lapses. And now, technology is used to reduce fatalities caused by human error. But we need more.

Right when Steve Spielberg's rendition of Roald Dahl's classic The BFG hit the screens here on Earth without the expected impact, NASA's probe Juno, in a spectacular performance, entered orbit around monstrous, stormy Jupiter — our solar system's "unfriendly" gi

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Outside Susan Holmes' house in southeastern Oklahoma, visitors are welcomed by an entryway lined with oxygen bottles and a machine that collects and concentrates oxygen from the air.

"I take two inhalers twice a day," Holmes says. "And I have a nebulizer that I use four times a day, and I use oxygen at night."

She says her asthma returned when she moved to Bokoshe, a decaying town of about 500 people that is flanked by old coal mines. The huge pits have now been filled with hundreds of thousands of tons of coal ash.

The exploration of our outer solar system is about to hit a real slump.

NASA is celebrating Juno's arrival at Jupiter, but in less than two years, Juno will be gone — it's slated to plunge into the gas giant and burn up. The Cassini spacecraft, now orbiting Saturn, will meet the same fate next year.

In January, our news assistant Max Nesterak made a resolution to quit smoking. We decided to pitch in and help. Shankar gave Max three things to do based on social science research: write a public service announcement, get a support network, and put money budgeted for cigarettes into a savings account. It's been more than six months since you've heard from Max, so this week, we're checking in with him to see how he's doing.

Updated 1:40 a.m. ET with Juno orbit maneuver

After a nearly five-year journey, NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft achieved orbit around Jupiter on Monday night. Juno navigated a tricky maneuver — including slowing by around 1,212 mph — to insert itself into orbit in what NASA calls "the king of our solar system."

At 11:18 p.m. ET, Juno transmitted a radio signal to Earth that meant its main engine had switched on. It stayed on for 35 minutes, placing Juno into exactly the orbit that mission managers had planned for.

After a five-year journey through the solar system, NASA's $1.1 billion Juno mission is set to begin its orbit around Jupiter on Monday. But for the probe to be captured by the giant planet's gravity and go into the desired orbit, Juno's main engine has to fire for 35 minutes.

The machine looks like a terminal at your local convenience store, but police agencies in a number of states are using them to read money cards seized from crime suspects. Officers can instantly freeze or seize the funds loaded on prepaid cards using the handheld device, and some civil liberties advocates say the machines may be abused.

The Dark Side To The Firefly's Flare

Jul 2, 2016

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

Frigatebirds, seagoing fliers with a 6-foot wingspan, can stay aloft for weeks at a time, a new study has found. The results paint an astonishing picture of the bird's life, much of which is spent soaring inside the clouds.

Why do people act the way they do? Many of us intuitively gravitate toward explaining human behavior in terms of personality traits: characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that tend to be stable over time and consistent across situations.

This intuition has been a topic of fierce scientific debate since the 1960s, with some psychologists arguing that situations — not traits — are the most important causes of behavior. Some have even argued that personality traits are figments of our imagination that don't exist at all.

An influential federal panel has taken the unusual step of telling the Obama administration to withdraw a controversial proposal to revise regulations that protect people who volunteer for medical research.

The proposal is "marred by omissions, the absence of essential elements, and a lack of clarity," according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The conclusions are part of a 283-page report released Wednesday.

The U.K.'s fraught decision to exit the European Union was motivated by everyday issues such as trade and immigration. But its impact could soon be felt in some of Europe's most esoteric locales — like particle accelerators.

Sometimes the most important step one can take in science is back.

When the path towards progress in a field becomes muddied, the best response may be to step away from all the technical specifics that make up day-to-day practice and begin pulling up the floorboards. In other words, rather than continuing to push on the science, it may be best to ask about the unspoken philosophies supporting that research effort.

A team of archaeologists diving near the Greek island of Antikythera have reported a startling new discovery from a previously explored 2,000-year-old shipwreck. The find — a very heavy, metal cylinder — offers new insights into the maritime warfare of ancient times, the scientists say.

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