The Best Of Science Friday, 2022

In a year of unpredictable news, science or otherwise, these are the stories that moved, inspired & fascinated Science Friday’s staff.

2022 is almost at an end, and it’s been a year full of news that has changed the world. The rippling impacts of events like the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the war in Ukraine, and the emerging tripledemic have shaped some of the most important stories at Science Friday this year. We also began our Reproductive Health and Mental Health spotlights, to serve the expanding concerns our audiences face as healthcare needs change.

Of course, the year would be incomplete without remembering its most delightful stories. We sent our producers to a cat cafe to investigate why cats purr, the bushes of Riverside Park to interview goats, and an Oregon farm to speak to some Christmas tree specialists. Our experiences manager, Diana Plasker, spearheaded the most robust version of the SciFri Book Club so far, with a new science book and author Q&A every month. Education manager Sandy Roberts kickstarted SciFri’s Sun Camp this year, teaching kids aged 5-9 about the wonders of our Sun with some cosmic new educational resources. Also, because how could I not acknowledge this, producer Kathleen Davis made one of our most successful movie segments ever—about the science behind the creature in Jordan Peele’s Nope.

Some of the stories we’re most proud of focused on how science and advocacy intersected with underserved communities. We spoke to trans healthcare specialists, indigenous scientists on the importance of indigenous knowledge, and a blind researcher on accessibility tech. We also collaborated with Kaiser Health News to create a piece of data journalism that exposed the reality of contraceptive failure, and Ira even joined Dr. Fauci to reflect on his role in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

As the world continued to change this year, we thought a lot about segments that added joy, fresh perspectives, and new information to the conversation. Our listeners continue to impress and teach us with their questions, curiosity, and perspectives.

So, please enjoy this curated collection of our favorite 2022 Science Friday creations, selected by our very own staffers. And if you want to help keep making these kinds of stories and projects possible, we kindly encourage you to leave a gift with us below! We are currently matching all gifts $1 to $1.

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How Will AI Image Generators Affect Artists?

Produced by D Peterschmidt
Selected by Shoshannah Buxbaum, Producer

an illustration that has the look of an oil painting. a lone figure, with its back to the viewer, wears a red cloak and a wide cleric-style hat, also in red. surrounding it is a swirling vortex of a cloudy, porous substance. emerging from the swirling cloud are disembodied outstretched arms, reaching towards the figure. to the left and right of the figure are two skeletons, both wearing different kinds of regal formal wear.
“Creation of Adam” by Genel Jumalon. The initial concepts for this painting were produced by the AI image generator app Midjourney. Afterwards, Genel illustrated the above based on those concepts.

The past few months have kicked off heated discussions about the ethics of AI generated art. This piece got past the black and white of is it good is bad? but rather, it’s happening, now what? Producer D Peterschmidt knocked it out of the park sourcing insightful guests and crafting a nuanced narrative. Also, this segment was just really fun to listen to. 10/10 would recommend to everyone.

What Could Happen To IVF In A Post-Roe World

Produced by Shoshannah Buxbaum
Selected by Kathleen Davis, Producer

a microscopic image of a needle being inserted into a human egg a female egg on an IVF dish
Fertilizing a human through the in vitro fertilization process. Credit: Shutterstock

To the surprise of many, Roe vs. Wade was overturned this year. This was a frightening time for a lot of people, and there was a thirst for accurate information about what this meant for reproductive rights. Science Friday producer Shoshannah Buxbaum took on this topic and produced a collection of thoroughly reported and informative stories that filled a knowledge need. This particular story is about how the dissolution of Roe vs. Wade could impact the fertility industry, particularly IVF. I learned a lot, and I think other people did too.

Read ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ With The SciFri Book Club

Produced by Diana Plasker
Selected by Sandy Roberts, Education Program Manager

The entire Braiding Sweetgrass experience—the book club and interview—connected science, nature, culture, and community in a meaningful and powerful way. Sometimes science can be percieved to be distant, cold or siloed into topics that aren’t always connected in a holistic way. The interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer was anything but. It was a wonderful reminder that there are many ways of knowing and experiencing the world of science.

“Research By Us And For Us”: How Medical Research Can Better Serve Trans Communities

Produced by Rasha Aridi
Selected by Jason Rosenberg, Grants Manager

An illustration of a person who holds a caduceus symbol between their fingers. Their hair radiates a rainbow of color.
Illustration by Abelle Hayford

It’s a lesson that is slowly (too slowly) being embraced by a wide swath of industries and particularly in the world of communications and media: when talking about issues faced by a marginalized community, the best people to speak to those issues are from the impacted communities. It not only makes for a more nuanced, complete picture of an issue, but in the STEM world, it makes for better, more accurate, and more impactful science! This year saw an unprecedented attack on trans people’s right to access safe and reliable healthcare. It was so important to hear from trans scientists and researchers on where the gaps in the field are, and how insight and lived experiences from trans people is sorely missing from the conversation. Another of countless examples of Science Friday platforming the right speakers speaking their truth to the benefit of the whole science community!

Burying Green: Eco-Friendly Death Care On The Rise

A woman holds a white pot of soil out towards the camera.
Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, stands in front of an array of composting vessels holding a box of soil that was once a human at Recompose. Credit: Mat Hayward, Getty Images for Recompose.

Produced by Kathleen Davis, Jason Dinh, and Christie Taylor
Selected by Diana Plasker, Experiences Manager

I think about death a lot! My retirement plan includes starting a planet-friendly cemetery, so I was so pleased when we produced this segment on the practice of human composting. This segment was scientifically robust, ethically responsive, and topically sensitive—and it made me all the more motivated to do more work around science topics that are near and dear to my heart to make a difference in the world. Christie Taylor, Kathleen Davis, and Jason Dinh knocked this one outta the park!

‘I Will Not Be Vole Girl’—A Biologist Warms To Rodents

Produced by Shoshannah Buxbaum
Selected by Emma Gometz, Digital Producer

Never in my life have I felt so seen by a segment. From when Danielle said her first research project took way longer than her advisor said it would, to when she said she thought “vole” was a mispronunciation of the word “mole” when she first heard it. As a former science student, these stories make me feel like it’s OK to be a beginner. When I first came to science, I was asking what I was told were stupid questions, mainly because if there wasn’t an answer, I had no capability to answer it myself. Someone smarter than me, somewhere else, was working on it. But this segment reminded me that all scientists start out asking questions, and that curiosity is all it really takes to get started. Danielle is the premier vole expert, and tells us why we should care about voles with such passion and clarity it blew my mind, but even more impressively she is able to succinctly and powerfully state some criminally undersaid truths about science in this short segment.

Dr. Danielle Lee sits in a white shirt looking at a large pouched rat perched on her shoulder
Dr. Danielle Lee with pouched rat. Credit: DN Lee

“The cumulative knowledge we have in the world right now, it’s all based on individual people’s personal curiosities. There is no agenda. And what we’re saying unintentionally… is that those are the people whose questions that matter. But it’s also sending a message to Black and Brown and Indigenous kids that those are the only people who’ve ever asked good questions. And we know that is a fundamental outright lie. Everybody, since the beginning of time, has been asking questions. Black, brown, and Indigenous people around the globe have not only been asking good questions but have sussed out the answers to a lot of important foundational things. But they’re not credited in those books in the same way. We could just do better at our citation practices.”

Feeling Hopeless About Climate Change? Try Playing These Video Games

Produced by D Peterschmidt
Selected by Christie Taylor, Producer

a pixel art video game of someone rowing in a boat on blue water with buildings passing by near the top of the screenClimate change is heavy to consider, once you start to grasp the specific ways it is changing the world and altering human capacity to inhabit the planet. And yet, we need to be able to think about it in order to take the steps that might make it less devastating in impact, and to take care of our communities when the impacts hit. D Peterschmidt addressed this exact challenge in this poignant piece about climate change video games – and they take Ira on a journey through one game that is less about scientific solutions and more a thought exercise in how we help or compete with our neighbors in a flooded world. I appreciated everything about this: it’s not just that we’re TOLD an interactive story like a video game can help our minds consider the worst, but that D and Ira show us that’s exactly what happens for them.

A Nobel Prize For Chemistry Work ‘Totally Separate From Biology’

Produced by Jason Dinh and Charles Bergquist
Selected by Ira Flatow, Host

an illustration of a woman with short hair
Carolyn R. Bertozzi. © Nobel Prize Outreach. Illustration by Niklas Elmehed

A conversation with Carolyn R. Bertozzi, 2022 Nobel Prize winner. The genius of her work will become clear as you listen to Dr. Betrozzi explain the breakthrough in science that enables new drug treatments to be developed that actually work, as others failed before them. She is a welcome voice in science communication who can show to non-scientists the value of chemistry—and why the old cry of “chemistry is boring” is no longer valid.

Meet The Drag Artists Who Are Making Science More Accessible

Produced by Kathleen Davis and Kyle Marian Viterbo
Selected by Jordan Smoczyk, Grants Manager

four images of drag performers. from left to right, an
From left to right, Shrouk El-Attar (aka Dancing Queer), Scary (aka Dean Adze), Kyne, and Pattie Gonia.

Being in the outdoors is beneficial for humans in so many ways, but there can be real barriers to feeling a sense of belonging outdoors. Pattie Gonia’s work in bringing drag and climate concern to the outdoors is opening people’s minds to embracing nature and outdoor activity in ways they may not have felt comfortable with before. Leading through example and spreading outdoor love because “we fight for the things we love” is a terrific way to unite climate allies in a positive manner. Kyne is doing similar work in math, another subject that can feel exclusive and inaccessible to some of us. Like Ira highlights in the segment, Kyne and Pattie show people that you can be feminine, queer, BIPOC, and belong in STEM—you don’t have to look like Bill Nye or David Attenborough to do science.

Bright Idea: Join Science Friday’s Sun Camp!

Produced by Sandy Roberts
Selected by D Peterschmidt, Digital Producer

Science Friday Sun Camp
Science Friday Sun Camp

This year, Science Friday launched a new education program: Sun Camp! It was a month-long series of activities for kids 5-9 to learn about our sun and why it’s so fascinating. Sandy Roberts, our Education Program Manager and the author of these resources, has a gift for writing simple, clear, and exciting activities that I wish I’d had in school growing up. And seeing all the positive responses to Sun Camp, from both kids and parents, have been so heartwarming to see.

What Was It Like To Witness The End Of The Dinosaurs?

Produced by Kathleen Davis
Selected by Rasha Aridi, Producer

a 3d illustration of a silhouette of a trex walking in a deserted post-apocalyptic landscape
Credit: Shutterstock

Have you ever listened to something that was so vivid you could play out the whole scene in your mind? That’s how I felt when I was listening to this segment with Riley Black, author of The Last Days of the Dinosaurs. She took us on a gripping adventure of what life looked like after that infamous asteroid struck Earth. I could picture it all: forests ablaze, erupting volcanoes, rocks falling through the sky, dinosaurs desperate to survive. And as sad as it is to picture the dinosaurs’ end, (I mean, who doesn’t love them?) the story is one about how life will bounce back time and time again.

Scientists Discover What Makes Jazz Music Swing

an abstract multi-colored illustration of a man playing a trumpet. they are comprised of dozens of different colored, swirly lines
Credit: Shutterstock

Produced by Charles Bergquist and Jason Dinh
Selected by Annie Nero, Individual Giving Manager

As a lifelong musician and music lover I can’t say that I’ve ever actually thought about the science behind swing! I found this segment to be so charming and love the fact that scientists out there are dedicating their research to figuring out just what is this thing called swing.

Protecting Piping Plovers Isn’t A Walk On The Beach

Produced by Shoshannah Buxbaum and Diana Plasker
Selected by John Dankosky, Director of News and Audio

a white and light brown small bird on the sand. it looks quite small
A baby piping plover. Credit: Benjamin Forbes

This story combined so many of the things I love about radio: fun recordings from the field that take you to a place; an engaging interview with someone passionate about their work; comparison between how an important story is affecting ecosystems differently in different parts of the country; a call-out to a fantastic member station reporter; and finally, super cute shorebirds! A lovely ode to the plover by Shoshannah Buxbaum.

A Taste Of New York In A Hyper-Local Beer

Produced by Kathleen Davis and Diana Plasker
Selected by Ariel Zych, Director of Audience

a closeup of a beer can. on the label is a old-school microphone with cartoon eyes looking to the left, it is also whistling. Behind it is a field of plants and a city skyline. the can says 'sixpoint brewery' and a speech bubble coming from the microphone says 'a collab with science friday!'
A sneak peek at the label for the Sixpoint Brewery beer created in collaboration with Science Friday.

It’s not every year that we get to work along the scientists-in-practice who make beer to study the process, experiment a bit (like using foraged weeds in place of hops), and taste the ultimate product of that experimentation. This was a journey for our staff and out listening audience as we explored what makes beer, while learning what rules still apply in the era of radical experimentation in microbrewing. The special beer, called a gruit, made in partnership with SixPoint was particularly tasty to boot, and the interview was a delight. Fingers crossed for cheese, chocolate, or pastry partnerships in 2023!

Scientists Release The First Fully Complete Human Genome

Produced by Shoshannah Buxbaum
Selected by Danielle Dana, Executive Director

multicolored long vertical roles of lines with different colored segments inside, representing genome strands
Credit: Shutterstock

What I love about this segment, and many of the stories that Science Friday speaks to is that it provides a reminder that science is a process and always learning and evolving. Twenty years after the research on the human genome was begun, a major question has been answered, making room for new questions, and new research, and eventually, new Science Friday stories.

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Meet the Writer

About Emma Lee Gometz

Emma Lee Gometz is Science Friday’s Digital Producer of Engagement. She’s a writer and illustrator who loves drawing primates and tending to her coping mechanisms like G-d to the garden of Eden.

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