Science & Environment

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What are the biggest social and economic problems the world faces today? And how close are we to ending them?

Those are the questions that the U.N. Economic and Social Council aims to answer in its first report on the Sustainable Development Goals, released this past week.

The SDGs, as they're known, are 17 global goals to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030. The U.N.'s member states approved them last September.

When you're pregnant, going to the doctors can be exciting. You get to find out if you're having a boy or a girl. Maybe hear the baby's heart beat.

But in southern Africa, many women find out something else.

Sociologist Alison Groves recently ran a study in a town outside Durban, South Africa. They followed about 1,500 pregnant women. The results left her speechless.

"My name is Becki," says a young woman standing in a convention center turned comic book bazaar. Then she flips a mane of orange hair and launches into Scottish accent. "And today, I am Merida from Brave."

At Green House Data in Cheyenne, Wyo., energy efficiency is an obsession.

When someone enters one of the company's secured data vaults, they're asked to pause in the entryway and stomp their shoes on a clear rubber mat with a sticky, glue-like finish.

"Dust is a huge concern of ours," says Art Salazar, the director of operations.

That's because dust makes electronics run hotter, which then means using more electricity to cool them down. For data centers, the goal is to use as little electricity as possible, because it's typically companies' biggest expense.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the latest episode of the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations.

Walking among the California redwoods, drifting blank-brained on a break from college, I got to thinking about shoes. I can't say why, exactly. Perhaps it was because they were touching my feet.

It's really hot in most of the mainland United States right now. The National Weather Service predicts temperatures in the triple digits through the weekend in much of the South, Midwest and along the East Coast.

The culprit: a "heat dome."

It's a real meteorological event — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration even took the time to define it in the agency's warning this week:

Facebook just announced the first full-scale test flight of its unmanned, high-altitude airplane, Aquila. The plane isn't finished yet — the 90-minute test flight assessed only its takeoff and low-altitude flying capabilities — but its ultimate goal is to provide wireless Internet to the ground as it flies.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shared a video of the test flight.

Etharin Cousin heads the United Nation's World Food Programme — but lately she sounds more like the captain of a ship facing some very ugly weather.

"We are seeing all the indicators of a perfect storm coming toward us in Southern Africa," Cousin said in a recent press call this week. "And we are saying that we have the opportunity to move this boat in a different direction and to avoid the storm."

You probably know Neil deGrasse Tyson as an astrophysicist with a seemingly endless stream of science fun facts at his command. You might not be aware that he is also a great oenophile and lover of food.

Some 16 years ago, before I was a journalist and illustrator, I worked with Neil at the American Museum of Natural History. He would sometimes carry around a small canvas tote bag. As I recall, the bag would contain one of two things: either a weighty, mango-sized meteorite to show to guests of the museum, or a bottle of wine to gift to a colleague.

Editor's note: This story is part of the latest episode of NPR's show and podcast Invisibilia, exploring the power of clothes.

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