Science

Patricia Izbicki

The Technology Association of Iowa is handing out its annual Women of Innovation Awards this week. One of the recipients is exploring the connection between music and the brain.

A doctoral student at Iowa State is being recognized for her research into how music impacts the nervous system. Patricia Izbicki has an undergraduate degree in music performance and is now applying it to her scientific studies in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at ISU. She says she hopes the results of her work lead to more support for music programs.

The Science of Fear

Oct 31, 2017

Halloween is here, and with it comes a number of frights and scares. This leaves many people wondering, what exactly happens in the brain and body when somebody experiences the sensation of fear?

On this River to River segmenthost Ben Kieffer speaks with Professor of Neurology & Brain Sciences at the University of Iowa Dr. Daniel Tranel, fifth year doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Iowa Kelsey Spalding, and owner/operator of Slaughterhouse in Des Moines Ian Miller.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that’ll be increasingly important to farmers as wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel.

In a field outside of Ames, Iowa, she swipes the paper towel across the head of a bright yellow-and-red sunflower—bred to feed Iowa State University fans’ frenzy for all things in the school’s colors—and transfers the pollen on the paper towel to a different flower. Researchers recently unlocked the genetic code of the entire plant, which means Barb will more quickly be able to identify the specific genes that play a role in self-pollination.

Sunflowers are a global commodity crop with a growing demand, though they’re currently a minor player on the United States’ agricultural scene. The genome-mapping is likely to create better hybrid seeds, but there’s no reason to expect the picturesque crop, despite its profit potential, will quickly overtake the Corn Belt.

The Science Behind a Good Night Sleep

Sep 12, 2017
Image courtesy of Claudio Scott

Tens of millions of Americans are impacted by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety.

On this edition of River to River, Dr. Eric Dyken, director of the University of Iowa Sleep Disorder Center, explains some of the research that is being done on the science of sleep.

"They've sort of localized a little bit more that biologic clock that is responsible for having you wake up, and having you go to sleep," Dyken says.

Heather Mill, Penguin Random House

The author of a new book says the race to private space exploration began with Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Julian Guthrie wrote How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race and the Birth of Private Spaceflight to tell the story of the Xprize and the teams competing for the $10 million prize.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Drones are gaining in popularity as industries from farming to retail to insurance find ways the unmanned flying vehicles can help make businesses more profitable. At Iowa State University, a team of engineers is trying to get ahead of likely complaints about drone noise.

Anupam Sharma, an aerospace engineering professor at Iowa State, takes inspiration from owls to design noise-reduction strategies for airplanes and wind turbines because owls are naturally nearly-silent fliers. Drones challenge Sharma’s team to think on a scale closer to the size of an owl.

courtesy of Amy Mayer/IPR

Some astronomers and enthusiasts have been waiting years for today’s solar eclipse.  Almost all of Iowa experienced a partial eclipse, and the path of the total eclipse was further south and west. There is a small portion, a few hundred acres, of extreme southeast Iowa in that path.  

Iowa State University Professor of Astrophysics Steve Kawaler joins the conversation to talk about the eclipse. He describes the experience of a total eclipse.

courtesy Iowans for Sam Clovis

As President Donald Trump continues to fill political appointments, his nomination for the top science job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is raising unique concerns.

Trump has chosen Iowan Sam Clovis to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics. Clovis served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, has a doctorate in public administration, and taught economics at Morningside College in Sioux City.

Sioux City is also where he gained a following as a conservative talk show host.

flickr / RelaxingMusic

We all know that you're not you when you're tired. According to new sleep research, that's not just a saying, but it's scientifically true. New studies shows that sleep disturbances in young adults can worsen suicidal ideation, and it can even be harmful to your health to fight with your spouse when you haven't been sleeping well. 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Dr. Eric Dyken of the University of Iowa about these new studies. He also answers listener questions about sleep. 

NASA Public Domain

Iowa has a connection to the Apollo moon landing, which happened 48 years ago.  The communications equipment in the command module was designed by Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids.  In this portion of River to River, Mike Wilson joins the conversation. He is former VP of operations at Collins Radio and also worked for Rockwell-Collins once that company was formed.  Wilson says they had two sets of equipment in the case.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration / Wikimedia Commons

A NASA space probe carrying an instrument developed at the University of Iowa will pass close to Jupiter Monday. The Juno spacecraft will come within 56-hundred miles of the iconic Great Red Spot on the planet. Scientists believe the spot is a 10-thousand-mile-wide storm that has been brewing for 350 years. A research scientist at the University of Iowa, Bill Kurth, says there are basic facts about the red spot, however, scientists don’t understand.

desks
alamosbasement/flickr

University of Iowa researchers have found cancer-causing chemicals in some older Iowa schools.

Children may be exposed to airborne polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in schools built between 1950 and the mid-1970s. PCBs were banned in 1979.

Keri Hornbuckle, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, says the researchers expected to find higher levels of airborne PCBs outside of schools.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Startups are eyeing the market for space tourism, and NASA is discovering habitable planets. On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with the co-authors of Vacation Guide to the Solar System, a book that imagines an interplanetary vacation.

In the book, co-authors Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich take real data from NASA and other sources to create a whimsical and accurate picture of what it would really be like to travel our solar system.

NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

The space probe Cassini has been exploring Saturn since 2004.  One of the instruments on the two story tall spacecraft is from the University of Iowa called the Radio Plasma and Wave Science (RPWS) instrument.  It picks up Saturn’s radio waves.

 

University of Iowa scientist Bill Kurth takes telemetry from the RPWS and converts it to audio files in the human hearing range.  It’s a mix of ascending tones.  Some have a squealing quality.

VictoryVR

Students at Davenport Assumption High School are discovering a new tool for exploring careers in the STEM fields. They can now take a virtual reality tour of sites where people in STEM-related professions work.

The phone-based virtual reality mobile app allows students to view interviews of people from around the country who are working at science, technology, engineering or math jobs. Assumption science teacher Wendy Martin says it’s not like watching television. She says when the students put on the special goggles, they join the action.

What is time? Why does it always seem to move forward? Why is the earth made of matter and not of anti-matter? Are there really just three dimensions? Are we alone in the Universe? How big is the Universe? 

The short answer is, "we have no idea," and that's the point of a new book by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Cham and Whiteson about their new book We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. 

NASA photo

Astronaut and Iowa native Peggy Whitson sets a U.S. record in orbit today.  She is spending her 535th cumulative day in space, and that breaks the record of 534 days that had been held by Jeff Williams.  Whitson lifted off from Kazakhstan November 17th, 2016, on what is her third trip aboard the station. 

In an interview with Texas schoolchildren in February, Whitson was asked what it’s like to be flying through space at 17-thousand miles an hour.

WIKICOMMONS / US National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center

An Iowa State neuroscience lab has discovered a way to study the early stages of protein-misfolding diseases like Parkinson’s or Chronic Wasting Disease, and this may aid the development of new treatments.

These diseases are tricky to detect in incubation period. For example if someone has Alzheimer’s, it won’t be apparent that person is sick until they start exhibiting symptoms. 

U.S. Army RDECOM / Flickr

Exhaustion, shock, panic, disease, extreme heat, and horrific noise -  these are some of the less talked about challenges of military combat.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with celebrated science writer Mary Roach about her new book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. In it, she explores the aspects of war no one makes movies about - the quirky but essential science behind staying alive in combat.

A description of Grunt from the publisher, W. W. Morton & Company, Inc.:

Lukas Keller/University of Zurich

Each year, scientists and enthusiasts across the globe celebrate Darwin Day as a way teach the principles embodied in Charles Darwin's research on evolution, and to learn about the latest evolutionary research being conducted today.

Charity Nebbe

Pew Research finds that 68 percent of Americans say there is no conflict between their personal religious beliefs and science. For the 30 percent who do see a conflict, "the most common source of disagreement involves beliefs about evolution and the creation of the universe."

Courtesy of Joe Palca

During the 25 years he has been with NPR, Joe Palca has covered everything from biomedical research to astronomy.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Palca about the process of science and how its findings get communicated to the public. They also discuss his latest series Joe’s Big Idea, which explores the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors.

See-ming Lee / Wikimedia Commons

According to research by the Gallup organization, North Dakotans are happier than Iowans. Or rather, they have a higher state of well-being.

Kentucky Country Day

A national survey from 2011 shows that 60 percent of teachers avoid the topic of evolution in their classrooms.

MIKI Yoshihito / flickr

What do snakes, turtles, zebra fish, and a program called CRISPR have in common? They are all involved in genomic research happening right here in Iowa.

The new Jurassic World movie is now in theaters, and there’s also recent controversial news that for the first time, Chinese scientists have edited DNA in human embryos.

Jad Abumrad on Unanswered Questions and Making Concepts Dance

Apr 2, 2015
PopTech / flickr

What does a shrimp sees when it looks at a rainbow? How well can we really know the minds of animals? Why do we blink?

These are some of the questions that Radiolab creator and co-host, Jad Abumrad, tackles with each episode of his show.

Brent Moore / Flickr

This Valentine's Day weekend, along with chocolate and flowers, you can add one more tool to your arsenal: science.

Darwin Day

Jan 29, 2015
CGP Grey / flickr / http://www.cgpgrey.com/

Charles Darwin has a birthday next month, and science lovers all over the world will take time to celebrate the man who unraveled so many of the mysteries surrounding our origins, and those of our fellow animals.

fusky / Flickr

When Troy Van Voorhis became a chemistry professor at MIT, he started getting questions from his students: Did science eliminate the need for religion? Did you have to be an atheist to be a good scientist?

courtesy of Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites

With cellulosic ethanol now being produced in Iowa, researchers at Iowa State University hope to convert some of the by-products into useful renewable materials. 

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