Science and Technology

Science news

Rob Dillard / Iowa Public Radio

The drive to draw more young women into science, technology, engineering and math has been gaining momentum in recent years. There's a program in Des Moines that makes sure low-income girls are given a chance at the so-called STEM fields.

Many of the girls Nancy Mwirotsi works with are beginning at ground zero when it comes to computers.

“Most of them are pretty new in the country," she says. "We had to start with basic what is an e-mail address.”

Emily Woodbury/IPR

Two years ago, the launch of the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift was the first time consumers had access to relatively affordable virtual reality. While still not a household staple, market forecasts predict that virtual and augmented reality will be a $40 billion industry by 2020. 

Darwin Day to Focus on Youth Action toward Climate Change

Feb 20, 2018
Iowa City Darwin Day

February 12 was the 209th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution. To celebrate his contributions to science and humanity, Darwin Day will be recognized in Iowa City February 23-24 with a series of conversations about topics in science, education, and climate change.

Facebook

Des Moines is among the first five U.S. cities to be included in an initiative launched by Facebook called Community Boost. It’s designed to help small businesses and job seekers sharpen their social media skills.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

Plants growing in space have no gravity to assist them, there is minimum light, and there is more radiation exposurethan the plants would receive on Earth. However, plant production is expected to be an important part of future deep space missions.

In this River to River conversation, host Ben Kieffer is joined by Iowa State University graduate student Therin Young, who is just starting a year-long fellowship with the Iowa Space Grant Consortium focusing on using "computer vision" to have computers measure, or phenotype, plants remotely. 

Cassini / NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Last summer the space probe Cassini finished 14 years of exploring the planet Saturn and its moons.  The craft included the Radio Plasma Waves and Science instrument made by the University of Iowa to measure Saturn’s radio, plasma, and magnetic properties.

This mission may be over, but scientist Bill Kurth is still busy studying the RPWS data from the readings taken by Cassini during its final 22 orbits called “The Grand Finale.” 

Chatterkick

The Technology Association of Iowa is launching a first-of-its-kind podcast in the state highlighting women leaders in high-tech. The project is known as “Technically Iowa.”

The series of interviews for the podcast is hosted by a woman who is already at the forefront of using technology to start a business. Beth Trejo is CEO and founder of the Sioux City-based social media agency Chatterkick. She says the goal of the show is to develop a network of women techies.

Photo Courtesy of NASA

On September 3, Iowan Peggy Whitson returned from her most recent mission to the International Space Station. She has spent a total of 665 days in space during three separate missions. That's more than any other woman worldwide and more than any other American. 

Whitson grew up in Beaconsfield where her parents farm, and she says she's still proud to be an Iowan. During this River to River conversation, she talks with host Ben Kieffer. 

Autonomous Future

Nov 27, 2017
Silver Blue / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Imagine a world in the not too distant future where human car and truck drivers are the exception rather than the rule. In this segment of River to River: life after driving. Host Ben Kieffer talks with University of Iowa computer scientist Dan Reed to look at ways our society would change when we leave the driving to machines and become mere passengers.

Reed is generally optimistic about the future use of this technology, but says it will change economic models and allow companies to collect more data.

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.

University of Iowa

The University of Iowa is participating in what researchers are calling the largest-ever genetic study of autism. They’re looking for 50,000 participants nationwide.

The study is being conducted by the New York-based Simons Foundation, which funds scientific research. The UI Carver College of Medicine is one of 25 sites across the country recruiting families to participate. An assistant professor of psychiatry, Jacob Michaelson, is the lead investigator in Iowa and says the project aims to gather genetic samples to help determine the causes of autism.

Precision Agriculture 101

Oct 2, 2017
Flickr Creative Commons

In 1960, the average yield per acre of seed corn in Iowa was 63.5 bushels per acre. Last year, that same measure was 203 bushels per acre, because of advancements in farming technology like precision agriculture.

Precision agriculture includes auto-steering, yield monitoring, precision planting, and  "allows a farmer to really have a window into his machine and see what's going on," said Pete Youngblut, owner of Youngblut Ag, an independent precision agriculture product dealer in Dysart.

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.

This show originally aired on April 4, 2017.

Distracted driving concerns everyone on the road – and it’s something lawmakers at the statehouse have maintained a focus on this legislative session.

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.

Harper Collins

Author Adam Piore says he's always been interested in stories of resilience. As he was looking for the topic of his latest book, he says he realized some of the most interesting stories of resilience today are taking place through technology. The result is The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human.

Piore says technology has allowed for remarkable recoveries among people with once devastating injuries. "Now we have some of the best engineers turning their sights inward to see how the body and mind work."

Romeo Durscher / NASA

It is indeed dark during the day as a total solar eclipse makes its way from Oregon to South Carolina. Eleven states are in the path of total darkness. Follow the astronomical phenomenon's journey across America along with NPR journalists and others experiencing the eclipse.

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Flickr / Phil Roeder

The ability of a police officer to spot someone carrying a concealed weapon or bomb is only slightly better than chance, according to a new study from Iowa State University.

Lead author Dawn Sweet directs ISU’s Body Language and Facial Expressions Lab. She says the study's findings don't show that police officers are bad at their jobs, rather it's that they lack the right training or tools to spot people who are concealing potential threats.

NewLink Genetics

The Ames-based pharmaceutical company NewLink Genetics is reducing its workforce by around 50 percent as it focuses on a single cancer-fighting drug. The action comes as it prepares for some pivotal trials.

NewLink is pouring its resources into development of indoximod. The company’s chairman, CEO and chief scientific officer Charles Link says the drug is showing promise in strengthening immune systems to combat cancer cells.

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.

Reid Chandlet, Trilix Group

Ten months after the announcement of its creation, the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has a permanent executive director. The incubator for start-up companies involved in agriculture also is bringing in its first class of five.

Coon Valley Cooperative Telephone Association

A rural telephone cooperative in western Iowa is receiving a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help upgrade its broadband capabilities. The money will enable it to replace copper wires with fiber.

The Coon Valley Cooperative Telephone Association in the Guthrie County town of Menlo is getting a $6.5 million loan from the USDA. It will use the money to lay more than 200 miles of fiber. Association general manager Jim Nelson says access to high-speed internet is increasingly important for the cooperative’s 700 members.

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.

Emily Woodbury

This broadcast originally aired in June 2015.

Humans have now had access to the sky for more than a century thanks to engineering and ingenuity, but the evolution of the human brain has not kept up with its creations.

Amy Mayer/IPR

A multidisciplinary Iowa State University team will present its work this week at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C.

Students from apparel design and engineering worked together to create a cotton jacket fitted with nine flexible solar panels.

NASA

Astronaut and Iowa native Peggy Whitson has set a U.S. record for space travel.  Today is her 535th cumulative day in space, one day longer than the record previously held by astronaut Jeff Williams. Whitson is currently commanding the International Space Station, and this morning took a congratulatory phone call from President Donald Trump. 

“That’s an incredible record to break,” Trump said via a video link from the Oval Office.  “On behalf of our nation and, frankly, on behalf of the world, I’d like to congratulate you.  That is really something.”

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.

Charity Nebbe

On today’s Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe and producer Emily Woodbury visit the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative in Des Moines, formerly known as the Great Ape Trust. The facility is home to a family of five bonobos including the world famous Kanzi. The bonobos can communicate with humans through the use of a vocabulary made up of lexigrams, symbols that stand for words. 

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