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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.
170 Episodes
The last few weeks have been filled with devastating news — stories about the police killing black people. So today, we're turning the mic over to our colleagues at NPR's Code Switch. Now, as always, they're doing really important work covering race and identity in the United States. In this episode, they spoke with Jamil Smith, who wrote the essay "What Does Seeing Black Men Die Do For You?" for The New Republic. Thank you for listening.
Across the country, demonstrators are protesting the death of George Floyd and the ongoing systemic racism that is woven into the fabric of the United States. The protests come in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic that is disproportionately killing people of color — particularly black Americans. We talk to public health expert David Williams about how these two historic moments are intertwined.
Happy #BlackBirdersWeek! This week, black birders around the world are rallying around Christian Cooper, a black man and avid birder, who was harassed by a white woman while birding in Central Park. We talk with#BlackBirdersWeek co-founder Chelsea Connor about how black birders are changing the narrative around who gets to enjoy nature and the challenges black birders face.
In 2006, while hiking around the Root Glacier in Alaska, glaciologist Tim Bartholomaus encountered something strange and unexpected on the ice — dozens of fuzzy, green balls of moss. It turns out, other glaciologists had come across before and lovingly named them "glacier mice."
In San Francisco, the coronavirus has disproportionately affected Hispanic and Latinx communities. This is especially true in the Mission District — a neighborhood known for its art and food culture. To understand more about how the virus has penetrated the neighborhood, a group of collaborators known as Unidos En Salud carried out a massive testing initiative focused on community and collaboration. Follow Maddie on Twitter for more coronavirus coverage. Her Twitter handle is @maddie_sofia. Email the show at
Encore episode. Helium is the second-most common element in the cosmos, but it's far rarer on planet Earth. As part of our celebration of the periodic table's 150th birthday, correspondent Geoff Brumfiel shares a brief history of helium's ascent, to become a crucial part of rocket ships, MRI machines, and birthday parties. Read more of Geoff's reporting on helium here.Email the show at
There's no doubt we're living through a Big Historic Event, but that doesn't necessarily mean we'll remember it all that well. Shayla Love, a senior staff writer for VICE, explains what memory research and events from the past say we will and won't remember about living through the coronavirus pandemic. Plus, why essential workers may remember this time differently from people who are staying home.
An NPR analysis of a key air pollutant showed levels have not changed dramatically since the pandemic curbed car traffic in the U.S. NPR science reporter Rebecca Hersher and NPR climate correspondent Lauren Sommer explain why — and what really makes our air dirty. Here's their story.Email the show at
Black holes are one of the most beguiling objects in our universe. What are they exactly? How do they affect the universe? And what would it be like to fall into one? We venture beyond the point of no return with Yale astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, into a fascinating world of black holes — where the laws of physics break down. Talk the mysteries of our universe with Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong on Twitter @emilykwong1234. Email the show your biggest cosmological questions at
Tomorrow, two NASA astronauts are set to head up into space on a brand new spacecraft, built by the company SpaceX. The last time NASA sent a crew up in an entirely new vehicle was in 1981 with the launch of the Space Shuttle. Maddie talks to NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce about tomorrow's launch and how it compares to that earlier milestone. We'll also look at how this public-private partnership is changing the future of space exploration.
A Short Wave Mad Lib

A Short Wave Mad Lib


We're off for Memorial Day, so Maddie and Emily have a special Short Wave mad lib for you. Back with a new episode tomorrow. Email the show at
The World Health Organization has called the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus an "infodemic." So what do you do when it's somebody you love spreading the misinformation? In this episode, Maddie talks with Invisibilia reporter Yowei Shaw about one man's very unusual approach to correcting his family. And we hear from experts about what actually works when trying to combat misinformation.
Yes, there actually are astronomers looking for intelligent life in space. The 1997 film adaptation of Carl Sagan's 'Contact' got a lot of things right ... and a few things wrong. Radio astronomer Summer Ash, an education specialist with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, breaks down the science in the film.
More than 100 cities are monitoring sewage for the presence of the coronavirus, and public health officials think wastewater could provide an early warning system to help detect future spikes. NPR science correspondent Lauren Sommer explains how it works, and why scientists who specialize in wastewater-based epidemiology think it could be used to monitor community health in other ways. Email the show at
Encore episode. The science is nascent and a little squishy, but researchers like Giulia Poerio are trying to better understand ASMR — a feeling triggered in the brains of some people by whispering, soft tapping, and delicate gestures. She explains how it works, and tells reporter Emily Kwong why slime might be an Internet fad that is, for some, a sensory pleasure-trigger.Read more about Emily's reporting on ASMR on the NPR Shots Blog.Email the show at
The Pandemic Time Warp

The Pandemic Time Warp


The pandemic has upended every aspect of our lives, including the disorienting way many of us have been perceiving time. It might feel like a day drags on, while a week (or month!) just flies by. We talk with Dean Buonomano, a professor of neurobiology and psychology at UCLA, about his research into how the brain tells time. We'll also ask him what's behind this pandemic time warp.
The surface of the Earth is constantly recycled through the motion of plate tectonics. So how do researchers study what it used to look like? Planetary scientist Roger Fu talks to host Maddie Sofia about hunting for rocks that paint a picture of the Earth a few billion years ago, in the early days of the evolution of life.Follow host Maddie Sofia on Twitter @maddie_sofia. Email the show at
Ed Yong of The Atlantic explains how a viral article led to headlines about a possible coronavirus mutation. All viruses mutate — it doesn't necessarily mean the virus has developed into a more dangerous "strain." Read Ed's recent piece on coronavirus mutations here, and more of his reporting on the pandemic here. Email the show at
Maddie talks with author and neuroscientist Theanne Griffith about her new children's book series, The Magnificent Makers, which follows two intrepid third graders as they race to complete science-based adventures. Follow host Maddie Sofia on Twitter @maddie_sofia. Email the show at
When Markus Buehler heard about the coronavirus, he wanted to know what it sounded like. Today on the show, Maddie speaks with Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong about how Markus Buehler, a composer and engineering professor at MIT, developed a method for making music out of proteins, and how music can potentially help us hear what we have trouble seeing at the nanoscale level.
Comments (51)

Jim Hoadley

888nnbふ座、~ 伎ややかは

May 27th


"there were no coronavirus in the lab" so that is why there was report that all initial details of the virus were deleted or removed before anyone from outside wefe even allowed to check?

May 6th


I love asmr

Apr 30th


Fuck no

Apr 30th

George Evans

So as a percentage of body mass, these phrases are debunked. However, if they were meant literally, I still think having the intelligence of even a smart parrot would be insulting, and only eating 1 hummingbird's worth of subsidence each day would be pretty little.

Apr 25th


Hail Southern!

Apr 23rd


Shout out to The Expanse! Nice!

Apr 16th

Kim Harris

Science in movies - nice distraction from all of the awful news. Good idea, maybe it can be integrated into the podcast on a regular basis.

Apr 8th


Twister!! Vera much one of my all time favorites! The tension between the leads- her hair- the way that twister ripped apart the drive in-that sound track! love this podcast and this "movie club" episode was fun.

Apr 8th

Kondala Rao Palaka

I'm a big fan of the show and I some times sharr the podcast with my friends. Can you please not make me look like a total dork with the message you wrap the link with?

Apr 5th

Rose Shipman

It always irks me to see ppl focusing on the honey bee, which is not native, they are from europe. I'm afraid we only focus on them because we can get/extract a product from them. And it turns out native bees are much better pollinators and are just as in danger from pollutants, as well as human ignorance. They live in dead twigs, and holes in the ground. Save the NATIVE bees!

Apr 2nd

Andi-Roo Libecap

Such a sad situation all the way around. Wonder how things will shake out in the coming years now that the Coronavirus has opened the eyes of many who were blind to the potential of climate change chaos.

Mar 17th

Alex Carr

I feel like you threw shade on Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally and I'm offended.

Mar 6th

Brandon H

Excellent episode, passing it along!

Mar 1st


you really don't get it... try listening to actual ASMR it can take weeks to find the rights trigger and if you don't like slime you can try other things. try not making fun of it, but actually giving it a try.

Feb 23rd


Love it! And for more cubesat goodness, can't forget the adventures of NPR's own Planet Money with going to space.

Feb 11th

Scott Whittle

why is this playing when I am not subscribe.

Jan 26th

Mario Antwanevans

heavenly Father and Jesus praying for country I asked remove virus I pray this in Jesus name Amen

Jan 24th
Reply (4)


"Let's just take a moment of silence for all of the terrible writing that has been put in front of women in space movies..." 😂

Dec 29th

Elliot Marshall

Science has refuted Christianity. Why is this on a science podcast?

Dec 24th
Reply (8)
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