08/25/2017

Don’t Throw Away Those Eclipse Glasses!

7:43 minutes

Used eclipse glasses. Photo by David Mulder/flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Great American Eclipse is over, but what about those eclipse glasses you worked so hard to track down just in time to see it? For safety reasons, you probably can’t use them the next time a total solar eclipse passes over North America in 2024. But don’t throw them away! Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight, shares what you can do instead, from phone camera hacks, to donating them for upcoming eclipses.

Plus, drug abuse and addiction are often considered a young person’s problem. But new research in the U.K. and Australia finds that people over 50 are experiencing rising rates of substance abuse — and in at least one state in the U.S., the opioid epidemic is hitting them hard. Koerth-Baker discusses these and other stories.


To donate your leftover eclipse glasses, send them to Astronomers Without Borders:

AWB Eclipse Glasses Donation Program
Explore Scientific
1010 S. 48th Street
Springdale, AR 72762


donate

Segment Guests

Maggie Koerth-Baker

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a senior science reporter with FiveThirtyEight.com. She’s based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. Did you catch the great American eclipse? After months and years of preparation and excitement, it’s unfortunately over. What you’re left with is not only a memory of a life-changing event, but also those funny eclipse glasses. How many did you have, right?

If you’re like me, you’re wondering what to do with them now. Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer at FiveThirtyEight is here to tell you why you shouldn’t just throw them away. All part of her selected short subjects in Science. Welcome back, Maggie.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Hi, thanks for having me.

IRA FLATOW: Did you get to see the eclipse?

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Oh my gosh, I did. I went down to Lincoln, and it was an intense experience. You know, people were hugging and people were crying. People down the street were applauding the sun. It was just– I’m so glad I drove all the way to Nebraska.

IRA FLATOW: It was great. I got to see it from Casper, and it was better than anything I could have thought. And we’re going to actually have a little bit of an eclipse from four time zones later on in the program, so stay tuned.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Oh, wow.

IRA FLATOW: But let’s talk about– so what do we do? Should we hang on to the glasses for the next seven years?

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Well, the advice is that you don’t, because once you leave them in a drawer for seven years, they’re probably going to get scratched up, and then they won’t be protective anymore. But there is a good solution for what to do with them. You know–

[LAUGH]

–my friend’s mom had dozens of these things, and you can actually donate them. So there’s a group called Astronomers Without Borders that has a website where you can go to send your glasses in, and they’re collecting them for these schools in South America and Asia where there’s going to be an eclipse in 2019.

IRA FLATOW: Ooh. Ooh, I’m writing that down right now. Both to send them and to go to the next one if I could. OK. Let’s talk about new statistics about drug abuse in a group you might not expect.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Yeah. The British Medical Journal came out this week with an editorial that’s building on this longer, older story about the elderly and drug and alcohol abuse. So the editorial cited these really shocking statistics from Australia and the UK, like the fact that drinking is declining in those places except among people 50 and over, and that the largest percentage increase in drug abuse in the last three years has been in the 60-plus age group. But you see similar patterns in Asian countries, you see similar patterns in the US. And here, the number of retirees in substance treatment is expected to triple by 2020.

IRA FLATOW: So that’s basically the baby boomers we’re talking about here.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, there’s a lot of interesting stuff about statistics that have been gathered, I guess, over the last 10 years about this. So like back in 2015, the new site, The Fix, found that the rate of illicit drug use for baby boomers had been going up over the previous decade while the rates for teenagers had been declining. So there’s some evidence even that baby boomers are gravitating more towards drug and alcohol abuse than young people are.

IRA FLATOW: And do we have any idea why this is?

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: We don’t have a whole lot of ideas why, but it’s part of this longer trend with the generation. So baby boomers have had very high usage rates for alcohol and drugs, higher than a lot of other generations at the same age rate– rather, at the same age. And it’s just kind of this ongoing trend for that generation. And then in addition to that, you have things like you’re getting older, you get prescribed pain relief for various kinds of ailments, so that gets kind of wrapped into the problem as well.

IRA FLATOW: Well, wrapped into the problem, I might ask, is the opioid epidemic?

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Yeah. Yeah. They’re finding things like people between the ages of 45 and 64 had the highest rate of inpatient hospital stays for opioid abuse. And if you look back 20 years ago, it was younger people. So between the ages of 25 and 44.

IRA FLATOW: Let’s move on to another controversial story. You have an interesting story about a lawsuit connecting baby powder and ovarian cancer.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Right. So this was connected in a lawsuit, and more tenuously connected in science, which I think is the really interesting part about this. A woman won a $400 million lawsuit, alleging that baby powder use regularly in her underwear gave her ovarian cancer.

And there is hypothetical reason why you might make a connection between those two things. In this case, the idea is that if you are using this in your underwear on a daily basis, you might have these particles of talc sort of traveling up and causing inflammation in your reproductive tract, which can lead to cancer cells.

And you also have some population studies suggesting a correlation between cancer and baby powder exposure, but those studies are also really inconsistent, and other studies have found no correlation. And so some people are going to come away from that data set saying, oh, this is a big problem. And others are going to say, eh, it’s probably fine.

And both have the evidence to prove their point. And that’s true of exposures of lots of different things that we come into contact with on a daily basis from deodorant to plastics to makeup.

So I think what’s really interesting about this is that the legal case doesn’t actually prove one way or the other whether baby powder is dangerous. What it proves is that Americans really think differently about risk assessment in a courtroom than they do in the grocery store.

IRA FLATOW: Hmm. Because we take risks every day.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Right. Yeah. Every single day.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. That’s interesting. I guess we’ll have to just wait for more studies to come out about the science behind it.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Yeah. Yeah.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Well, let’s go to your last story. We have new evidence for– this is interesting. I’m sure I’m reading this correctly. Diamonds raining on Neptune and Uranus? Can we get a–

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: It’s great time to be alive.

[LAUGHTER]

So back in 1999, these scientists came up with this crazy idea that maybe diamonds were raining from the sky on Neptune and Uranus, and that was just based purely on kind of chemistry, you know? You’ve got hydrocarbons, you’ve got the right temperatures, you’ve got the right pressures. Maybe it could be happening.

And then they just published some data from an experiment demonstrating that this actually is possible. So these scientists got polystyrene, which they chose because its chemistry kind of mimics the methane interior of these planets, and they shot it with lasers, which is great. And in doing so, they created a couple of shock waves that sort of simulated the temperatures and pressures you’d find on these planets. And when the shock waves crashed into each other, you got tiny, tiny little nanometer-wide diamonds.

IRA FLATOW: Where do I get that kit from that gets– so basically, Styrofoam and a laser, and we make diamonds.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Yeah. It’s great. It’ll be fine. So–

[LAUGH]

–what I think is pretty cool about this is that the researchers said that, you know, down deep on these planets, there might actually be huge diamonds. And that’s just speculation. There’s no real way to know for sure. But I think it’s really kind of cool that we are able to take this data that we know about planets, things like atmospheric content, heat, and pressure, and actually use an experiment to help us understand what the experience of that place that we can never really know could be like.

IRA FLATOW: And now we know why venture capitalists will be investing in going in to these places. We don’t have to worry about NASA or anybody going.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Yes. Elon Musk is taking notes right now.

[LAUGH]

IRA FLATOW: All right, Maggie. Thanks again. Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer at FiveThirtyEight in Minneapolis. So good to have you again.

MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: Thanks a lot.

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