Also this week, Sarah talks with Science Senior Correspondent Jon Cohen about his story on Chinese scientist Shi Zhengli, the bat researcher at the center of the COVID-19 origins controversy—and why she thinks President Donald Trump owes her an apology.
Finally, Geert Van der Snickt, a professor in the conservation-restoration department at the University of Antwerp, talks with Sarah about his Science Advances paper on a new process for peering into the past of paintings. His team used a combination of techniques to look beneath an overpainting on the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck—a pivotal piece that showed the potential of oil paints and even included an early example of painting from an aerial view.
In this episode:
01:06 Stretching skin
For decades it’s been known that stretching skin causes more skin to grow, but the reasons why have been a mystery. Now, researchers have uncovered a mechanism to explain the phenomenon. Research Article: Aragona et al.; News and Views: Stretch exercises for stem cells expand the skin
We discuss how the coronavirus pandemic has affected scientific meetings and how the learned societies that organise them are adapting. How scientific conferences will survive the coronavirus shock; How scientific societies are weathering the pandemic’s financial storm;
18:18 Research Highlights
A genetic trait for pain-resistance, and the accessibility-aware ancient Greeks. Research Highlight: A gene helps women in labour to skip the painkillers; Research Highlight: This temple was equipped with accessibility ramps more than 2,000 years ago
20:42 ENCODE updates
The ENCODE project aims to identify all the regions in the human genome involved in gene regulation. This week, data from its third iteration has been published and we examine the highlights. Research Article: Snyder; News and Views: Expanded ENCODE delivers invaluable genomic encyclopaedia
28:50 Briefing Chat
We take a look at some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time we look at how smallpox may be much older than previously thought, and how the Earth’s atmosphere rings like a bell. Nature News: Smallpox and other viruses plagued humans much earlier than suspected; Physics World:
Scientists are working at breakneck speed to develop an effective vaccine for the coronavirus. Their ultimate goal: to immunize enough of the world’s population to reach herd immunity. WSJ explains.
Illustration: Jacob Reynolds
Contributing Correspondent Dennis Normile talks about a long-term study involving the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Seventy-five years after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on the two cities in Japan, survivors are still helping scientists learn about the effects of radiation exposure.
Also this week, Sarah talks with Winnie Lau, senior manager for preventing ocean plastics at Pew Charitable Trusts about her group’s paper about what it would take to seriously fight the flow of plastics into the environment. This week’s episode was produced with help from Podigy.
When did people arrive in the Americas? New evidence stokes debate. New evidence may push back the date on human arrival to the Americas, and an examination of science’s flaws.
In this episode:
00:59 Ancient Americans
Two papers suggest that humans were present in the Americas thousands of years before many people have thought. We examine the evidence. Research Article: Ardelean et al.; Research Article: Becerra-Valdivia and Higham; News and Views: Evidence grows that peopling of the Americas began more than 20,000 years ago
We discuss the latest results from vaccine trials around the world, and controversy in the US as COVID-19 data collection moves out of the CDC. News: Coronavirus vaccines leap through safety trials — but which will work is anybody’s guess
24:38 Research Highlights
How being green makes things easy for some frogs, and how waves will be affected by climate change. Research Highlight: How frogs became green — again, and again, and again; Research Highlight: Extreme Arctic waves set to hit new heights
27:11 How can science improve?
A new book highlights some of the flaws of how science is done. We caught up with the author to find out his thoughts on how science can be cleaned up. Books and Arts: Fraud, bias, negligence and hype in the lab — a rogues’ gallery
35:54 Briefing Chat
We take a look at some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time we discuss a puzzling new insight into the expansion of the Universe, and an update to Plan S that will allow open-access research to be published in any journal. Nature News: Mystery over Universe’s expansion deepens with fresh data; Nature News: Open-access Plan S to allow publishing in any journal
Contributing Correspondent Gretchen Vogel talks about what can be learned from schools around the world that have reopened during the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, few systematic studies have been done, but observations of outbreaks in schools in places such as France or Israel do offer a few lessons for countries looking to send children back to school soon.
The United Kingdom and Germany have started studies of how the virus spreads in children and at school, but results are months away. In the meantime, Gretchen’s reporting suggests small class sizes, masks, and social distancing among adults at schools are particularly important measures.
Also this week, Sarah talks with Kiristie Thompson, a Ph.D. student in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, about increasing the efficiency of petroleum processing. If all—or even some—petroleum processing goes heat free, it would mean big energy savings. Around the world, about 1% of all energy use goes to heating up petroleum in order to get useful things such as gas for cars or polymers for plastics. These days, this separation is done through distillation, heating, and separating by boiling point. Kirstie describes a heat-free way of getting this separation—by using a special membrane instead. Read a related Insight.