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

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?

'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X has stayed at the top of the charts for longer than any other song.
Courtesy Photo

“Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X’s country/western rap hit, is now not only genre-breaking, it’s record-breaking. It has held Billboard’s number one spot for 17 weeks, breaking the record previously set by the 2017 hit "Despacito" and, back in 1995, "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz to Men.

Dan Zitterbart of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is developing thermal infrared cameras to help vessels avoid whale strikes.
Dan Zitterbart, WHOI

Eight critically endangered North Atlantic right whales have died this summer, several of them hit by ships.

In the last two years alone, 20 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead in Canadian waters. Of the 11 that could be studied, seven were found to have died as a result of vessel strikes.

That has prompted Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans to announce a new round of funding to develop better ways for ships to find whales and avoid hitting them. 

One of those technologies is thermal infrared imaging.

The Columbine High School shooting has shaped public perception of mass shootings.
Seraphimblade / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

Twenty dead in El Paso, Texas; nine in Dayton, Ohio. Three - including two children - killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. And a dozen shot at the Brownsville Old Timers' Block Party in Brooklyn.

Daniel Foster/flickr / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

"There are some benefits to sounding like things we've heard before. At the same time, if something's exactly the same as what we've heard before, it's not going to get any attention. There's nothing new about it. So there's this nice blend of novelty and familiarity, of similarity and difference, of new and old. You can almost think about it as a Goldilocks effect - not too hot, not too cold, but just right - that really helps things in culture succeed." - Jonah Berger

Billionaire Sean Parker is pouring money into science and treating scientists like celebrities.
@Kmeron, https://tinyurl.com/yy7ffdw6

You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that a California billionaire had thrown an extravagant party for friends that included a custom ice sculpture that funneled high end whiskey into guest's glasses.

But what about if those guests were scientists and the party was to celebrate a Nobel Prize?

Photo Courtesy: Sue Natali

Extreme heat in Europe and the continental U.S. has made headlines this summer. What you may not have heard about is what’s been going on in Alaska: 90 degree temps in the arctic, wildfires and rare lightning storms, and the ground literally collapsing due to the melting of permafrost.

Tatiana Schlossberg looked into the environmental footprint of several sectors of the fashion industry.
Emily Orpin, https://tinyurl.com/yxp7kry9

We've all heard of conspicuous consumption -- big fancy houses, big fancy cars, designer clothes, and luxurious vacations. That kind of lifestyle comes with a big price tag and a big carbon footprint. But here's the thing. We are all consumers. And the food we buy and the clothes we wear have environmental impacts that we often underestimate or ignore altogether.

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