Science

Micaela Parente / Unsplash

Homo erectus evolved around 2 million years ago, and was the first known human species to walk fully upright.

After Homo erectus dispersed from Africa, the species colonized the ancient world.  Then, about 400,000 years ago, Homo erectus essentially vanished, with the lone exception of an Indonesian island.

GegenWind Photo / Unsplash

Let’s hop in the time machine, going back, way back, to a time before humans – traveling about three billion years to when Earth was a “water world."

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by Ben Johnson to discuss his field work on exposed ancient, ocean crust in a remote part of Western Australia. 

IPR/Pat Blank

The University of Northern Iowa’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department has been awarded a $25,000 grant by the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, supported by NASA.

Associate professor, Joshua Sebree said the money will be used to purchase special tools for a research trip to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

Courtesy of Ben Maas

Tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics are turning up on northwest Iowa beaches, but researchers don’t know how far this pollution could go.

summonedbyfells / Flickr

Feb. 12 marks the 211 anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Over the last several decades, a movement to establish an international Darwin Day holiday has been growing. A group in Iowa City celebrates Darwin Day every year by highlighting the work of modern evolutionary scientists. 

Mark Garcia / NASA

The first class of astronauts to graduate under NASA's Artemis program was honored at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston Friday. One of the graduates is Cedar Falls native Raja Chari.

Chari spent two years in training after attending the Air Force Academy and MIT. He says the Artemis program aims to send astronauts back to the moon and to Mars.

US Air Force

This program originally aired on April 25, 2019 

Ten years ago, the publication of a national report on forensic science systems in the U.S. found some alarming problems that needed to be addressed. The report, "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward," led to the creation of the Iowa State University based "Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence" (CSAFE). 

This program orginally aired on 04-04-19.

Many of us don't give a second thought to the software that runs aspects of our everyday lives, from morning alarms or fitness apps on our phones, to the code directing a red eye flight out of Chicago O'hare. Behind the software are computer programmers who work line-by-line to make these things possible.

On this segment of River to River host Ben Kieffer examines the world of programmers with journalist Clive Thompson, author of "Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World."

Sci-fi writers have long warned about the dangers of modifying organisms. They come in forms ranging from accidentally creating a plague of killer locusts (1957) to recreating dinosaurs with added frog genes (2015).

Now, with researchers looking to even more advanced gene-editing technology to protect crops, they’ll have to think about how to present that tech to a long-skeptical public. 

Ben Kieffer

The University of Iowa has received a $115 million research award -- its largest ever -- from NASA to study the interactions between the magnetic fields of the sun and the Earth. 

NASA

 

This program originally aired on October 11, 2018.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was initially created for competition during the Cold War, but since its birth six decades ago, NASA has proven to be one of the nation’s greatest contributors to technological advancement. It has paved the way for inventions including the modern cell phone, improved international diplomacy, and delivered sounds and images that continue to play a major role in scientific development and pop culture to this day.

UIHC

  This conversation originally aired on 6-4-18. 

The Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa has been approved to use a new therapy that harnesses the immune system to treat specific forms of leukemia and lymphoma. Dr. George Weiner is director of the center and says the therapy shows great promise.

Rachel Samerdyke / USFWS Midwest via flickr

A group in Iowa City celebrates Darwin Day every year by highlighting the work of modern evolutionary scientists and providing professional development for science teachers around the state. This year's event is happening Friday and Saturday February 22 and 23, and during this Talk of Iowa conversation, host Charity Nebbe talks with three reserachers who will be presenting at this year's conference. 

Courtesy of Lori Biederman / ISU

An Iowa State University scientist is turning to the public to help her catalog thousands of species in a recently discovered collection at northwest Iowa’s Lakeside Lab.

Courtesy of solarsystem.nasa.gov

If skies are clear Sunday night, the moon will look pretty ominous.

Amy Mayer / IPR

In a lab at George Washington University, painted lady butterflies flutter in mesh houses. This is where assistant professor Arnault Martin and his research group use the new gene-editing technique CRISPR to unlock secrets about the colors and spots on the butterflies’ wings.

CRISPR has allowed them to isolate a precise gene that controls wing appearance, and they can shut it off at will.

Brad Cramer / https://geopaths-iowa.weebly.com/

The field of earth science, or geoscience, is expanding, but there aren't enough people qualified for careers in the field.

"The geosciences are facing what’s been termed in industry as 'the great crew change,'" says Brad Cramer, associate professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Iowa. "Starting in the 1980s, we reduced the total number of people getting degrees in this field, and we’re going to be facing a shortage of about 80 to 90 thousand trained geoscientists nationwide."

Reinhard Link

The new movie First Man gives a very personal depiction of the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with NASA’s chief historian, Bill Barry. Barry is visiting Iowa to deliver The Harkin Institute’s fall Sussman Lecture on November 1st.

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.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa legislature honored accomplished native daughter and record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson with a joint House and Senate Resolution today.   

Whitson is from Mount Ayr and grew up on a farm near Beaconsfield.  

When she returned from her most recent mission last September, Whitson had spent over 289 days in orbit, and had cumulatively spent over 665 days during her three missions aboard the International Space Station, more time living and working in space than any other American or any woman worldwide.

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.

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.” 

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.

Iowa's Moon Shadow

Aug 21, 2017
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.

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