The Best of Science Friday, 2014 (Picked by Our Staff)

SciFri staff members recommend their favorite stories from the past year.

This past year hasn’t just been fantastic for science—2014 has also been a banner year for Science Friday. Rather than pull our most popular stories and activities based on a soulless metric, I asked the Science Friday staff what they were most proud of this year.

Here’s the best of SciFri 2014 for your listening, viewing, and reading pleasure.

Out of the Bottle: Wine Science series
Ira Flatow, host and executive producer
I like debunking the mythology and snobbery of wine, and learning you can serve someone a glass of vinegar and tell them they should like it, and they will. This series is represenative of what we’re learning more and more—that your friends have a real influence on your opinion, whether on wine or who to vote for.

SciFri Live in L.A.: Science of the Silver Screen
Christopher Intagliata, senior producer

My pick for best SciFri moment this year is our live show at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium this past August. The venue looks like a giant spaceship, and that night it was packed with 1000+ cheering, screaming science geeks. It was tremendous fun to produce the event with KPCC, and to see the show unfold alongside our fans.

On the Oregon Truffle Scent
Ariel Zych, education manager

Besides being about two of my favorite things (Oregon and truffles), I found this piece totally immersive. It combined the experience of being outside in the Pacific Northwest with the rich natural history of these interesting and coveted fungi. The reporting was detailed, drew on the knowledge of enthusiastic experts, and was a full soup-to-nuts treatment of the topic without being at all boring.

A handful of Oregon winter white truffles. Photo courtesy of Kris Jacobson/Umami Truffle Dogs
A handful of Oregon winter white truffles. Photo courtesy of Kris Jacobson/Umami Truffle Dogs

Food Failures: Avoiding Grilling and Barbecue Pitfalls
Annie Minoff, SciArts producer

I love SciFri’s Food Failures series. And with lip-smacking stories this year about foraging, fermentation, and achieving the perfect crunchy-chewy cookie balance, it was hard to pick a favorite. But my top Food Failure of 2014 would have to be our BBQ story with grill master Meathead Goldwyn. Do NOT dip your BBQ in booze and then light it on fire. That’s news you can use.

Cephalopod Week Tweets
Christian Skotte, director of program strategy

My favorite part of 2014 was having singer Kristin Hersh tweet about #CephalopodWeek. I was pretty sure that #CephalopodWeek was going to successfully highlight some cool critters. But I didn’t at all expect that one of my favorite singers would help spread the word.

Talk Like a Firefly
Julie Leibach, managing editor, online

Over the past year, Science Friday has really bulked up its education content. One activity that I found particularly appealing teaches kids about animal communication—and specifically, the “language” of fireflies. A SciFri video and beautiful visuals illustrate how different species communicate, and instructive text encourages kids to go outside and try “speaking” firefly. This is a fun activity for a warm summer night.

Photinus firefly signals
Illustration by Ariel Zych

Tar Noir: Paleoforensics at the La Brea Tar Pits
Chau Tu, web producer

I remember visiting the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles when I was a kid, so I loved this fun, L.A. Noir-themed video that explores all the paleoforensic work going on behind the scenes at the Page Museum. So many mysteries still remain as to how these prehistoric animals lived and died, and these researchers are just like old-school detectives getting to the truth at the scene of a crime.

Artificial Muscles Flex Using Fishing Line and Thread
Sarah Goldfarb, development assistant

I liked this segment because it blows my mind how something so small and thin (like thread) can be manipulated into something stronger than human muscles! It is my MacGyver fantasy come to life: the creation of something powerful out of ordinary, everyday objects. I like the idea of applying these muscles to robots to increase both strength and energy efficiency, and to cut down on costs.

Science ClubJennifer Fenwick, director of institutional giving I loved our Science Club series this year. The goal of Science Club is to get our audience to try something they’ve never tried before and share it with the Science Friday community. Both challenges, #MachineArt and #ObserveEverything, gave us incredible examples of audience engagement, which you can experience on our project RebelMouse pages. I found it fascinating to see the ways both children and adults built, created, observed, discovered, and ultimately became scientists and engineers themselves.

Crafting the Fastest Ice on Earth
Luke Groskin, video producer

This atmospheric audio segment explained the science of a much overlooked aspect of a well-tread subject—Olympics Ice skating!—while making you feel as though you’re actually out on the ice. Then true to what Science Friday does really well, right after listening to the segment, you can apply some of your newfound knowledge and fascination with the physics and chemistry of ice to solve a basic mystery.

Is MSG Bad For Your Health?
Becky Fogel, production assistant

This was my favorite story of 2014 because it created an incredibly lively discussion online and on-air. It was science that really hit home for people. On the one hand, you’ve got some folks with really strong opinions and longtime personal experiences with MSG, and on the other hand, you’ve got scientific research that’s found no evidence that MSG causes any of the symptoms people often ascribe to it. But one of the best parts of the story to me is that it unveiled the original source of MSG-maligning—a personal letter published in a scientific journal back in the ’60s. That’s a pretty vital tidbit of science history that I had never heard anywhere else.


Algorithm Turns Everyday Objects Into Microphones
Charles Bergquist, director and contributing producer

No, it’s not a cure for cancer or an answer to any of the Big Questions. However, I think this project tells us something about the state of technology in 2014—that we have cameras and image processing techniques good enough to detect the tiny movements of a surface as it gets hit by sound waves. Plus, it has a degree of “Wait, they did WHAT?” that I love.

Danielle Dana, executive director

I can’t pick just one story for 2014 because the breadth of what Science Friday covers is one of my favorite things about SciFri. With that in mind, here are a few favorites for the year: Is MSG Bad for Your Health?; It’s a Material World; The Science of Badminton; and Have a Cricket Tell You the Temperature.

Meet the Writer

About Brandon Echter

Brandon Echter was Science Friday’s digital managing editor. He loves space, sloths, and cephalopods, and his aesthetic is “cultivated schlub.”