Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Science Friday

I got to attend a live broadcast of NPR's Talk of the Nation: Science Friday the other day. It was broadcast from an auditorium at the National Geographic Museum.

Typically the NPR folk record in a nice sound proofed booth where the host can see the sound engineers through a huge window. And, typically, the sound people at National Geographic are in a booth well removed from the stage. For this event they had to do things different. Two tables for four were situated in a wide V shape that faced the middle of the stage. Ira, the host, was at one table, the guests would be at another table, and far enough behind the guests to be unobtrusive, but still on the stage where Ira could see them, was a table of sound engineers. They did all the usual stuff you'd come to expect from radio sitcoms: counting down on fingers, waving arms in circles, and generally gesturing at Ira to feed him queues and let him know how much time remained. That, plus a box in the middle of the stage that faced Ira. I'm assuming that was some sort of countdown clock.

The first program [listen here] took most of the first hour and was spent discussing whether or not America has a shortage of scientists and what's being done to keep kids interested in science. You don't generally hear from the crowd that says "meh, America has plenty of scientists". And the middle school teacher they included is really good, but really abnormal.

Here's the video of said teacher in a vomit comet that's referenced in the show.

The rest of the hour was spent with their "Video of the Week". You may have seen it already. It's the video of a Lego Space Shuttle attached to a weather balloon. [video here]

Hour two started with co-Nobel Prize winner Adam Reiss talking about his research into Dark Energy and Dark Matter. Dark Energy being what makes the galaxies accelerate away from each other and which didn't take effect until relatively recently, in cosmic terms. [listen here]

Then, being at some National Geographic offices, they brought in someone who, two days later, would be leaving to lead a National Geographic sponsored climb of Mt. Everest. He was live on stage while two of his traveling companions addressed us as the seeming voices of God. One was from the Mayo Clinic and will be monitoring physiological changes of the team and seeing what lasting effect, if any stay with climbers. We know red blood cell counts rise, but what else?
The other was from Montana State University who will be taking some super high quality GPS equipment up to measure the exact height of the mountain and getting rock samples to see what Everest is made of other than limestone. India continues to push up into the rest of Asia at the breakneck speed of... well, about the speed that your fingernails grow, so the height of Everest needs to be refigured on occasion. And newer, more accurate instruments, mean we can get greater accuracy than we could before. Also, getting up is such an ordeal and you spend so little time at the top of Everest that there's not a lot of rock samples taken from up there. [listen here]

Check out the program. You may notice that, for the first hour at least, the audience is hesitant to make any noise or applaud or anything. I mean, it's live radio. We don't want to screw up a program. We don't know when it's live or not.

NPR! Hey! There's another live program in New York this coming Friday. Could you get the man an "On Air" light?

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