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Short Wave

Author: NPR

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New discoveries, everyday mysteries, and the science behind the headlines — all in about 10 minutes, every weekday. It's science for everyone, using a lot of creativity and a little humor. Join host Maddie Sofia for science on a different wavelength.
350 Episodes
A lot of us were taught that conception happens with a survivor-style sperm race — the fastest and strongest sperm fight to make it to the egg first. In this Back To School episode, we revisit this misleading narrative and learn just how active the egg and reproductive tract are in this process. You can find Ariela @arielazebede, Lisa @CampoEngelstein, and Kristin @kristin_hook on Twitter. Email us at
A growing number of cities are looking at restricting the use of gas in new buildings to reduce climate emissions. But some states are considering laws to block those efforts, with backing from the natural gas industry.Email the show at
The coronavirus has disrupted all of our lives, and that's especially true for healthcare workers. We hear reflections from Dr. Jamila Goldsmith and Mariah Clark, two emergency room workers. They tell us what the first year of the pandemic has been like for them, how their lives have changed, and what's around the corner as more people become vaccinated. Are you a healthcare worker who would be willing to share your experience with the Short Wave team? Email us at
The Biden Administration has prioritized speed in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Also, a priority...distributing those doses to the populations most impacted by the coronavirus. Host Maddie Sofia talks with NPR science reporter Pien Huang about the challenges underserved communities face in getting the vaccine and the Biden Administration's plans to address vaccine equity in the pandemic.For more reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine, follow Pien on Twitter at @Pien_Huang. You can email the show at
Today, we present a special episode from our colleagues at Code Switch, NPR's podcast about race and identity. As the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines unfolds, one big challenge for public health officials has been the skepticism many Black people have toward the vaccine. One notorious medical study — the Tuskegee experiment — has been cited as a reason. But should it be?Email the show at
There are lots of misconceptions around urine. Can urine cure athlete's foot? Or really treat a jellyfish sting? Today on the show — we'll talk about what it actually is, debunk some common myths, and share some urine facts.Plus, we dive into some listener mail — which you can send to us by emailing
Descendants of trauma victims seem to have worse health outcomes. Could epigenetics help explain why? Bianca Jones Marlin and Brian Dias walk us through the field of epigenetics and its potential implications in trauma inheritance. You can follow Ariela Zebede on twitter @arielazebede. Email us at
It's likely there's a magnet wherever you're looking right now. In fact, the device you're using to listen to this episode? Also uses a magnet. Which is why today, NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel is taking us "back to school," explaining how magnetism works and why magnets deserve more respect.If you're secretly hoping we cover a basic science concept near and dear to your heart, spill the tea! We'd love to know and can be reached via email at
James West has been a curious tinkerer since he was a child, always wondering how things worked. Throughout his long career in STEM, he's also been an advocate for diversity and inclusion — from co-founding the Association for Black Laboratory Employees in 1970 to his work today with The Ingenuity Project, a non-profit that cultivates math and science skills in middle and high school students in Baltimore public schools. Host Maddie Sofia talks to him about his life, career, and about how a device he helped invent in the 60's made their interview possible.Email us at
Can people who are vaccinated still carry and transmit the coronavirus to other people? How effective are the vaccines against coronavirus variants? And what's the deal with side effects? In this episode, an excerpt of Maddie's appearance on another NPR podcast, It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders, where she answered those questions and more. Listen to 'It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders' on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Email us at
To round out our celebration of Black History Month, we're bringing you a special episode featuring acclaimed science fiction writer Octavia Butler from our friends at NPR's history podcast Throughline.Octavia Butler's alternate realities and 'speculative fiction' reveal striking, and often devastating parallels to the world we live in today. She was a deep observer of the human condition, perplexed and inspired by our propensity towards self-destruction. Butler was also fascinated by the cyclical nature of history, and often looked to the past when writing about the future. Along with her warnings is her message of hope — a hope conjured by centuries of survival and persistence. For every society that perished in her books, came a story of rebuilding, of repair. Read Throughline's article about Octavia Butler.
Today, what happens in your brain when you notice a semantic or grammatical mistake, according to neuroscience. Sarah Phillips, a neurolinguist, tells us all about the N400 and the P600 responses. Plus, we dive into some listener mail — which you can send to us by emailing (Encore episode)
In June 2020, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM announced that they were limiting some uses of their facial recognition technology. In this encore episode, Maddie and Emily talk to AI policy analyst Mutale Nkonde about algorithmic bias — how facial recognition software can discriminate and reflect the biases of society and the current debate about policing has brought up the issue about how law enforcement should use this technology.
Some of the most prestigious scientists in history advanced racist and eugenicist views, but that is rarely mentioned in textbooks. Maddie and Emily speak with science educators about how to broaden science education--including how they tap into kids' sense of justice by incorporating ethics into experiments and how they share contributions of scientists who may be less famous than the big names. (Encore episode)
Author and neuroscientist Theanne Griffith talks with Maddie about her children's book series, The Magnificent Makers, which follows two intrepid third graders as they race to complete science-based adventures. (Encore episode)Follow host Maddie Sofia on Twitter @maddie_sofia. Email the show at
In honor of Black History Month, Short Wave is focusing on Black scientists and educators — people doing incredible work and pushing for a world where science serves everyone. Enjoy!Follow Maddie and Emily on Twitter, @maddie_sofia and @emilykwong1234. Email the show at
Happy Valentine's Day from Short Wave! We've got something special for the holiday, Maddie and Emily exchange the gift of science facts - from the process of farming and fermenting cacao to the courtship rituals of scorpions and loggerhead shrikes.Email the show at
Archival records may help researchers figure out how fast the sea level is rising in certain places. Millions of people in coastal cities are vulnerable to rising sea levels and knowing exactly how fast the water is rising is really important. But it's a tough scientific question. NPR climate correspondent Lauren Sommer explains how scientists are looking to historical records to help get at the answer. For more of Lauren's reporting, follow her on Twitter @lesommer. Email us at
Global Witness documented that 212 environmental and land activists were murdered in 2019. Over half of those documented murders took place in Colombia and the Philippines, countries where intensive mining and agribusiness has transformed the environment. NPR Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong speaks with three activists about the intersection between natural resource extraction and violence, and what keeps them going in their work.
Why is it so hard to feel the difference between 400,000 and 500,000 COVID-19 deaths—and how might that impact our decision making during the pandemic? Psychologist Paul Slovic explains the concept of psychic numbing and how humans can often use emotion, rather than statistics to make decisions about risk. Email the show at
Comments (103)

Parham Movahed

Good info

Mar 5th

Mr. Robot


Feb 28th

Ariel Reynante

I can't believe I haven't read or even heard of this author 😲 my bf and I are going to have to listen to all of her stuff as soon as we finish the last two books of #Asimov's #Robots #series

Feb 22nd


it's so embarrassing to call it that and makes me wonder how white people can say it without shame- it's like you think black people doing anything impressive is so rare you need to point to it excitedly proclaiming, "Look! A black person finally being excellent!"

Feb 17th


Looking forward to this series this week about #BlackExcellence in #STEM and #Education for #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackHistory

Feb 15th

Rocio Blanco

Shortwave staff, thank you for highlighting some of the problems in my parents' country of origin. This episode hit very close to home for me, and I thank you for that since Colombia is not usually talked about in the media if the story isn't connected to drugs or cartels. Coincidentally, my own work focuses on counter narcotics. So, even though it was a grave matter it was nice to hear about Colombia in a US broadcast. Gracias de todo corazón.

Feb 11th

Seth D. Meyers

Could they have possibly taken a more condescending tone in this episode? I doubt it. Sadly another piece in the vape-scare trend that fails to hone in on the real issue. Bootleg THC carts were just that- bootleg, unregulated. As the United States slowly catches up to a lot of the developed world in shifting focus from retribution to rehabilitation, a component of that shift is legalization/regulation of the products themselves. This opens the door to lab testing and guaranteed content (which, oddly enough, the free and unregulated black market failed to do, hence the outbreak of health issues.)

Feb 10th


such sad truths

Feb 5th
Reply (1)

Brannan Lynn


Feb 2nd

Ariel Reynante

I have always thought #spiders are awesome but this episode has given me all sorts of new reasons to think so 😁🕷️💖

Jan 31st
Reply (2)

Barry W

I've listened to Shortwave for a year now and after listening to this episode, I felt for the first time to reply. Adolescence is hard enough for most everyone. I was painfully shy during that time. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have the added problem of something like stuttering during that time. Thanks for a great piece.

Jan 28th

Woodstock Jon


Jan 28th


Great information on the social side of stuttering, and all mental & emotional challenges it presents. Great info for parents of children that stutter!

Jan 25th

Hermy Own

cool stuff

Jan 15th

Timothy Drummond

if there is no data to show a black kidney is different than a white one, seems pretty obvious the multipleplyer needs to be dropped...

Jan 14th


this work is so important!

Jan 6th

Patrecia Sapulette

I always wonder why red is on the top of the rainbow band and violet at the bottom! Now I know why! 🥰 Thanks Maddie and Thomas!

Jan 3rd


music is so lovely it makes me feel like I'm gonna be drowning in lot's of knowledge and an strange journey pls keep it scientific and useful

Dec 27th
Reply (6)

Jerica Holt

Shortwave is my favorite daily podcast and all episodes are my favorite, BUT! This rainbow, queer episode is THE BEST ONE EVER! Yay for fun, queer, science validation. Thank you so much, Thomas, Maddie, NPR, and the entire Shortwave team and listener supporters for helping make this space happen.

Dec 5th

Patricia O

Thank you for an honest look into frontline healthcare workers and the COVID pandemic.

Dec 3rd
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