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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.
 

Ways to Connect

Matthew Might created an algorithim to help doctors come up with an emergency treatment that saved his son Bertrand's life. He is photograhed here at home with his wife, Cristina, and with Bertrand, age 11.
Courtesy UAB

An artificial intelligence developer races against time to create a computer program that can save his son from the mysterious illness that seems to be killing him.

It sounds like the premise for a science fiction novel. But it’s a true story.

It’s been just over two years since Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area – dumping up to five feet of rain in some places, and causing unprecedented flooding. 

David Johnson, https://tinyurl.com/y4zyne8y

An American convicted of a federal crime is seven percent more likely to be sentenced to jail time if they are black than if they are white. That jail time is likely to be eight months longer if the person is black.

That’s a major disparity, but it’s also a major improvement over where we were 20 years ago. 

Texas National Guard soldiers conduct rescue operations in flooded areas around Houston, Texas on August 27, 2017. New research is looking into the health impacts on the disaster.
Photo by 1Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD

Here are the stories on Living Lab Radio for August 25 and 26, 2019. 

NASA/Kathryn Hansen

There’s record low Arctic sea ice. There’s record melting of Greenland’s glaciers. There’s unprecedented permafrost melting. And more than a million acres has been burned by wildfires in Alaska.

Each of these stories has garnered headlines this summer, but they have tended to be presented as separate events. In actuality, they are all part of the broader phenomenon of extreme Arctic warming, and they are intimately linked to each other.

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) near Tucson, Arizona.
Courtesy DESI

It’s time for our monthly tour of science headlines from our friends at the Journal Nature and the Nature podcast. 

Pexels/Pixabay

Looking for good book - maybe something a little different - to see you through those final days of summer?

LabLit is different than science fiction. It's fiction that features realistic science and scientists. LabLit.com founder and editor, Jenny Rohn, is prone to getting excited over "hard-core lab scenes." But she's more focused on finding a good story than making sure the science is perfect.

There’s an entire laboratory dedicated to the practice of discussing challenging topics.
thebarrowboy, https://tinyurl.com/y4vs6f32

Many of us steer around difficult political conversations to avoid conflict with people with whom we disagree. Among people we know, we employ the tried-and-true method of staying away from politics and religion.

But there’s an entire laboratory dedicated to the practice of discussing challenging topics. It’s the Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia University.

Runoff from the Greenland ice sheet near the Greenland capital of Nuuk.
Irina Overeem / National Snow and Ice Data Center

"The changes that are happening in the Arctic can feel very far away, but we can now recognize that all of these changes we've talked about together have been fundamentally caused by human action. But the good news is that the future of these changes will also be fundamentally determined by human action. So, we can be really active players in what the future holds." - Twila Moon

Solving the world’s climate problems will require many kinds of brain power.
UC Irvine School of Humanities / CC BY-ND

Steven D. Allison, University of California, Irvine and Tyrus Miller, University of California, Irvine

Large wildfires in the Arctic and intense heat waves in Europe are just the latest evidence that climate change is becoming the defining event of our time. Unlike other periods that came and went, such as the 1960s or the dot-com boom, an era of unchecked climate change will lead to complex and irreversible changes in Earth’s life support systems.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Perseid meteor shower is at its peak right now. If you’re the super-early-morning type (like 3:00 AM early) it can make for a great light show.

But researchers at NASA keep an eye on events like this for different reasons, not least of which is the risk they can pose to satellites and spacecraft in Earth’s orbit.

Reeta Asmai/UC Davis, https://tinyurl.com/y3da4a89

It’s tough to study rare diseases. Because they affect only a small percentage of the population, it can be hard for researchers to find funding. It’s also challenging to do clinical trials, since there are a small number of people who can take part. 

But rare disease research can yield discoveries that impact all of us.

Beta amyloid plaques (brown) in the brain are strongly linked to Alzheimer's disease. A new blood test is a sensitive, early indicator of such brain changes.
National Institute on Aging, NIH / Public Domain

Alzheimer's disease affects at least five and a half million people in the United States. One of the greatest challenges in trying to treat the disease is catching it early enough. There's currently no reliable way to diagnose Alzheimer's until symptoms like memory loss are already recognizable. And by that time the brain has suffered years if not decades worth of damage. That's likely why many promising drug trials in recent years have failed.

A beautiful Perseid meteor, captured by astronaut Ron Garan aboard the International Space Station in 2011.
NASA / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

"The Perseids are caused by the debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle, which is one of the bigger comets in the solar system. And every year in middle of August we run into the debris trail. And when that debris hits our atmosphere at  132,000 miles per hour, it burns up and leaves these brilliant streaks of light we call Perseid meteors." - Bill Cooke

This week on Living Lab Radio:

Ticks could spread weaponized bacteria – but  <em>B. burgdorferi</em> that causes Lyme isn’t one of them.
Kelvin Ma/Tufts University / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0

Sam Telford, Tufts University

Could Lyme disease in the U.S. be the result of an accidental release from a secret bioweapons experiment? Could the military have specifically engineered the Lyme disease bacterium to be more insidious and destructive – and then let it somehow escape the lab and spread in nature?

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