Science + Technology

Nevada's home solar business is in turmoil as the state's Public Utilities Commission starts to phase out incentives for homeowners who install rooftop solar panels. Some of the largest solar companies have stopped seeking new business in the state and laid off hundreds of workers.

Five years after an earthquake and tsunami caused a series of meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan, there are signs of progress. Many workers cleaning up the ruined plant no longer need to suit up in full respirators. Some nearby villages that were evacuated are open to residents.

But there are still plenty of problems.

Plastic makes great food packaging. It's waterproof and flexible. And best of all, it's impervious to all known bacteria — until now. Researchers have found a bacterium in the debris fields around a recycling plant in Japan that can feed off a common type of plastic used in clothing, plastic bottles and food packaging.

A curious crowd lingered around Amal Graafstra as he carefully unpacked a pair of gloves, a small sterile blanket and a huge needle. A long line of people were waiting to get tiny computer chips implanted into their hands.

Graafstra had set up shop in a booth in the middle of an exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center in Texas' capital, where he gathered last month with several hundred others who call themselves "body hackers" — people who push the boundaries of implantable technology to improve the human body.

Medicare is going to test new ways to reimburse doctors for medications, in hopes they'll choose less expensive drugs.

The plan would alter Medicare Part B, which pays for medicines administered in doctors offices or outpatient hospital clinics — to eliminate incentives for doctors to use the most expensive drugs.

SeaWorld says the health of one of its best-known killer whales is deteriorating. Tilikum is the orca that killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 — her death and SeaWorld's treatment of its killer whales were at the center of the documentary Blackfish.

Pittsburgh was named as one of the most livable cities in the United States by the Intelligence Unit of The Economist magazine. That title makes many residents proud, but who exactly is the city "livable" for?

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the ocean near Hawaii, more than 2 1/2 miles underwater, scientists have discovered a small, delicate-looking and ghostlike little octopod — possibly a new species.

The animal was discovered by Deep Discoverer, a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV — picture a small, unmanned submarine equipped with cameras and a robotic arm — that was working to collect geological samples.

Think of it as a galactic baby photo: a red blotch representing what a galaxy looked like just 400 million years after the Big Bang. NASA says the "surprisingly bright infant galaxy" known as GN-z11 is the farthest galaxy ever seen from Earth, at 13.4 billion years in the past.

Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, originally published as a series of essays in an Italian newspaper, was just released in book form in the U.S. on March 1. I read the book by the noted physicist in a single sitting with pleasure and mounting excitement.

It is a very clear book and it is likely to provoke in readers, as it provoked in me, a desire to learn more about space, time, quantum reality, the nature of the gravity, our universe and, finally, about ourselves.

A few miles outside Glacier National Park in northwest Montana is land known as the Badger-Two Medicine, the ancestral home of the Blackfeet tribe.

But it's also the site of 18 oil and gas development leases, and an energy company is heading to federal court March 10 to fight for the right to drill there after decades of delay.

Blackfeet tribal historian John Murray doesn't want the drilling to begin.

The legal dispute over whether Apple should be forced to help the FBI hack into the iPhone used by one of the terrorists in San Bernardino is making headlines in the U.S.

But it's just one skirmish in a broader global conflict: American tech companies are feeling similar pressure from law enforcement agencies around the world, and they say the lack of international legal standards is creating a crisis.

When a whooping crane stands up, you notice. At 5 feet in height, it's America's tallest bird. Its wingspan is more than 7 feet, its body snowy white, its wingtips jet black.

By the 1940s, the birds had nearly gone extinct. Biologists have worked hard to bring them back, by breeding whoopers in captivity and releasing them in the wild. There are now several small wild populations in the U.S.

Here's an exercise in deductive logic, with implications for our food supply.

Fact: Insects such as bees and butterflies are helpful, and sometimes essential, for producing much of our food, including a majority of our fruits, vegetables and nuts.

"I have taken a lot of pictures because I've been up here for a long time," NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said during a recent press conference from the International Space Station. "I've definitely taken some good ones and some memorable ones."

When he returns to Earth on Tuesday evening, Kelly will have spent 340 days aboard the ISS. While that's not quite a year, it's still a record for an American astronaut, and one of the longest-lasting spaceflights ever.

Social media and dating apps are putting unprecedented pressures on America's teen girls, author Nancy Jo Sales says. Her new book, American Girls, opens with a story about one 13-year-old who received an Instagram request for "noodz" [nude photos] from a boy she didn't know very well.

A major global assessment of pollinators is raising concerns about the future of the planet's food supply.

A U.N.-sponsored report drawing on about 3,000 scientific papers concludes that about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (such as bees and butterflies) are facing extinction. Vertebrate pollinators (such as bats and birds) are somewhat better off by comparison — 16 percent are threatened with extinction, "with a trend towards more extinctions," the researchers say.

Given recent advances in teleportation, it's reassuring to know that the human brain's navigation system appears to work just fine when we're beamed from place to place.

While Apple and the FBI fight in court over the government's demand that the tech company to help it break into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, Congress is trying to find its own solution to the digital security/national security debate.

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