Elsa Partan

Producer for Living Lab

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.
 

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NIH Image Gallery / Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

"The plaque is like the match, the tangles, like the brushfires that spread. You can live with it. But once there's neuroinflammation, that's the forest fire. And that's self-feeding. As neurons die, you get more neuroinflammation. Neuroinflammation causes more cells to die. So, you get this vicious cycle." - Rudi Tanzi

This week on Living Lab Radio:

North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered.
Courtesy of The Center for Coastal Studies

North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with just over 400 individuals left, and their numbers declining. The leading causes of death are well-known: right whales are susceptible to being struck by ships, and over 83 percent have shown evidence of being entangled in fishing gear at one point or another.

But the population has also seen low reproductive rates and declining health status in recent years that can't necessarily be explained by those impacts. Now, new research points to another possible culprit: climate change.

Rainwater collectors in Rocky Mountain National Park, where efforts to track air pollution turned up microplastics in rain.
Greg Wetherbee / Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

When Greg Wetherbee and his colleagues started collecting rainwater in early 2017, microplastics were the last thing on their minds. What they were looking for was evidence of air pollution washing out in the rain. They found that, but they also found plastic - not just a piece or two, but fibers and shards in nine out of ten samples.

"These results are actually accidental and opportune,” said Wetherbee, who is a research chemist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lakewood, Colorado.

Pen Waggener / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

If you've ever had a urinary tract infection, somebody has probably told you to drink cranberry juice. The idea that cranberries have infection-fighting powers has been around a long time. Now, there's research to support it.

Scientists at McGill University have found that cranberry extracts make E. coli and bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections and pneumonia more susceptible to antibiotics.

May brought record tornado activity, with more than 300 tornadoes in the second half of the month.
TheAustinMan / TheAustinMan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Record rainfall in California. Record flooding in the mid-West. Record tornado activity in the central and southeastern U.S. And, while federal forecasters are calling for a near-normal level of hurricane activity this summer, the first named storm formed almost two weeks before the official start of hurricane season. In fact, extreme and record-setting weather seems to be the norm this year.

Cranberry extracts can make bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics, and prevent them from developing resistance.
Liz West/Flickr http://bit.ly/2JPBmle / CC BY 2.0

"The molecules themselves - the ones from cranberry or the ones from maple - they're not actually killing the bacteria. And that's a really interesting part of the of the research. They're not actually killing the bacteria, so they don't necessarily make the bacteria develop resistance. They're actually just somehow making these bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics." - Nathalie Tufenkji

This week on Living Lab Radio:

The first March for Science on April 22, 2017 drew about a million people to marches worldwide. This year, there wasn't a march at all.
Molly Adams, https://tinyurl.com/yyg6ux5f

The first March for Science drew hundreds of thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts to events around the world. Some estimates put the total number of participants worldwide at one million.

Jakob Owens / unsplash

Coral reefs around the world face a host of threats from human activities – from destructive fishing practices, to pollution, and of course, climate change. Reefs in the Caribbean have been in decline. Close to half of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef died during a two-year heat wave starting in 2016. And scientists have said that the vast majority of reefs could be gone by 2050.

A study finds that perceptions changed over the course of a few months.
Robin Higgins, Pixabay, https://tinyurl.com/y2bhrrab

In the fall of 2017, actor Alyssa Milano responded to accusations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein by tweeting.

“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” she wrote.

Atomic Clock FOCS-1 (Switzerland). The primary frequency standard device, FOCS-1, one of the most accurate devices for measuring time in the world. It stands in a laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office of Metrology METAS in Bern.
METAS, https://tinyurl.com/y627lkc5

So, it happened. And you probably didn’t notice. But the long-awaited, new definition of the kilogram went into effect this past week.

The metal cylinder that has defined the kilo for over a century has now been replaced with a mathematical equation based on a number known as the Planck constant.

It was the last physical artefact defining any unit of measurement in the international system, so its replacement marks an important point in efforts to define those units in ways that are permanent and immutable – based on constants of nature, rather than somebody’s foot or a hunk of metal. But it’s certainly not the end of the effort.

Now they’re taking on the second with renewed vigor. You know, the base unit of time in the International System of Units. That second. 

On Living Lab Radio this week:

  • Scientists are working on a new definition of the second.
  • A study started as the MeToo movement ramped up, suggests that women sharing their stories may have helped alleviate the stigma of reporting sexual harassment on the job. 
  • Hundreds of thousands turned out for the March for Science in 2017. Those numbers have dwindled, but the impact hasn’t been lost.
  • Ocean warming is devastating coral reefs around the world. But some reefs can take the heat, and they may represent the future of corals.

Daniel Cojanu

Imagine losing an arm or leg and thinking “No problem! It will grow back.” Now, imagine finding a bump on your big toe one day, only to have it grow into a complete clone of you that buds off and walks away. Laughable, right?

But that’s exactly what earthworms and their aquatic cousins can do. Duygu Özpolat, a fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, wants to know how, and why not all animals can do the same.

 Özpolat hasn’t always worked with worms. She started with chicken embryos.

Craig Cochrane, https://tinyurl.com/y4kd2lqj

Nine out of 10 elementary schools in Europe offer children the opportunity to learn multiple languages, but only a quarter of American elementary schools offer instruction in a language other than English. And enrollment in language classes at the secondary and college levels have been falling in recent years.

But Americans may not be as language depauperate as we think. We’ve just been holding the bar too high.

We’re moving into peak Lyme disease season. The number of reported cases peaks each year in June and July. And the incidence of Lyme disease seems to be on the rise. Reports of Lyme disease in the U.S. have tripled since the late 1990s.

David Mulder / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” the word of the year, and many have since embraced the idea that we are living in a post-truth era.

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