science podcast #157

The Threat of Zoonotic Diseases, Boosting Kids’ Brainpower

Deer mice infected with Hanta virus pass the pathogen on to humans either through direct contact, or droppings. (Photo courtesy of C G-K/Flickr)

Deer mice infected with Hanta virus pass the pathogen on to humans either through direct contact, or droppings. (Photo courtesy of C G-K/Flickr)

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This Week: Science journalist David Quammen talks about his book, Spillover. A researcher at Oxford University is testing a new way of boosting children’s brainpower. It involves applying electric current to the brain. And we meet Noc, a white whale (beluga) that mimicked human voices.

Boosting Your Kids’ Brainpower: An Oxford University researcher will soon test whether applying an electric current to part of the brain can help children learn math – an effect previously demonstrated in adults. Some parents are eager to gain access to the device. But is the technique safe? And is this an ethical way to improve a child’s performance in school? Ari Daniel Shapiro of our partner program NOVA reports.

The threat of Zoonotic Diseases: We hear from science journalist David Quammen about his new book, Spillover: Animal Infections And The Next Human Pandemic. Quammen argues that zoonotic diseases (diseases that come to humans from other animals) are becoming more widespread. Take for example, the swine flu pandemic of 2009 or the recent Hanta virus outbreak in Yosemite national park. SARS, AIDS, and bird flu are other examples. So can scientists predict what the next big pandemic will be?

David Quammen’s Op Ed in the New York Times: Anticipating the Next Pandemic.

Photographing Penguins Under Ice: Paul Nicklen risks life and limbs to take photographs in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. One of them has just won him the prestigious Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. It is for a picture he took underwater of emperor penguins bursting through a hole in the ice off Antarctica. Nicklen says he wants to do more than just shoot pretty pictures. “With the current state of the planet, if we are just shooting pretty pictures, then we’re just fiddling while Rome burns,” he told the BBC. “We need to be doing conservation-driven stories that educate people.”
Click here to see Nicklen’s award winning picture.

The White Whale That Mimicked Humans: Noc was a beluga whale that spent most of its life at a naval research facility in San Diego. Scientists studying Noc say he imitated human sounds. They have published Noc’s human-like sounds in a new study in the journal Current Biology. Scroll down below to listen to Noc’s human-like sounds and other normal white whale calls.

All the beluga calls below are courtesy of Vancouver Aquarium Cetacean Research Program.

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