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NOVA Now Podcast

From the PBS science series NOVA, a biweekly podcast digging into the science behind the headlines. Alok Patel takes you behind the scenes with the people—scientists, engineers, technologists, mathematicians and more—working to understand our world. Now it's more critical than ever to distinguish fact from fiction and find science-based answers to the most pressing questions of our time.

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Latest Episode

Bonus! From our friends at AirSpace: Mask, Gloves, Soap, Scrubs logo

Bonus! From our friends at AirSpace: Mask, Gloves, Soap, Scrubs

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AirSpace from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is a podcast that helps you discover news, entertainment, and inspiration in the sky. In other words, we tell aspirational stories about defying gravity. Whether you’re an avid aviation geek, space cadet, or just somebody who loves great stories about smart topics, join hosts Emily, Matt, and Nick and spend a little time with your head in the clouds.

Episodes

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The science of positive motivation for the New Year

2020 is finally over. After the coronavirus pandemic and everything else the year's thrown our way, it's time to dust ourselves off and get ready for 2021. To do that, we need positive motivation (neurologically, that’s how our brains prepare to get things done). First, we hear from a neuroscientist on the science of becoming and staying motivated. Then, we have a special auditory treat. All season, host Alok Patel has asked NOVA Now guests which songs motivate them to do their work, whether that’s running COVID-19 tests in a hospital or conducting experiments in a lab. We took those songs and wrapped them up as a gift for you: a Nova Now Spotify playlist. Tune in for a taste of guests’ music picks and to revisit some of our most memorable moments from the year.

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How the future of satellites might affect life on Earth

In 2020, the world celebrated two decades of continuous human presence aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As an orbiting laboratory that has provided astronauts with a view of Earth from outer space, the ISS may not seem very similar to other space innovations like CubeSats and NASA/USGS’s Landsat. But all of these devices are satellites: objects orbiting objects larger than themselves. Satellites can be natural (like the moon and planets, including Earth) or human-made (like the ISS). Joined by two experts in this outer-worldly technology, host Alok Patel explores how satellites have shaped our understanding of the modern world, including the Landsat program’s effort to create a space-based record of the surface of the Earth, and what lies ahead at the intersection of justice and space.

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Covid vaccines are coming: What’s inside, and how and when you’ll get one

Pending FDA approval, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines could reach the first wave of Americans in a matter of weeks. Manufacturers of leading vaccine candidates are releasing promising results from clinical trials, revealing that some experimental vaccines, including those from Pfizer and Moderna, are more than 90% effective against the coronavirus. But vaccine development alone will not end the pandemic; getting the distribution right is key. Host Alok Patel speaks with two immunization experts about the challenges of distribution at an unprecedented scale. Tune in to explore questions like: What are the differences between the first vaccine candidates? Who can expect to get vaccinated first and how much will it cost? And why do vaccines have to be kept so cold?

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The future of food

Chew on this: Thanksgiving is around the corner and November is Native American Heritage Month. In honor of celebrating nature’s bounty, Host Alok Patel considers the past, present, and future of food. He digs into the world of food science with the resident science guy at America’s Test Kitchen, speaks with an Indigenous community cook, educator, and community organizer about food sovereignty and equitable food systems, and checks in with a scientist who is genetically engineering plants to photosynthesize more efficiently to increase crop yields.

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The statistical science behind polling

With so much uncertainty on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, one place we look for clarity is in the numbers. Pollsters learned valuable lessons from the 2016 election results that they’ve applied in the current election cycle to try to yield more accurate predictions. Host Alok Patel interviews a pollster and a statistician, delving into a brief history of political polling in the U.S, what went wrong in 2016, and how statistical concepts like data weighting and margin of error make all the difference in the accuracy of the poll.

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The science of fear

In a year that’s felt like a never-ending horror movie, some might actually find relief in watching thrillers on-screen this Halloween. But why is it that some people love all things spooky on screen while others can only watch through parted fingers?  What makes horror films so scary yet so alluring? And does our fascination with horror media actually help us cope with the horrors of real life? Host Alok Patel zeros in on the science of fear, enlisting the expert guidance of a horror researcher, a neuroscientist, and the Emmy-winning Foley artist behind the tantalizing and terrorizing sounds in movies and shows like Invisible Man and Monsterland.

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Science in the courtroom

With confirmation hearings set to begin for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to join the Supreme Court, we ask the question that senators probably won’t: Do judges also need to be scientists? Science may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the U.S. court system, but everything from criminal cases’ forensic evidence to intellectual property disputes involve it. Host Alok Patel goes straight to the source for answers, speaking with a sitting federal judge and a lawyer who has worked on many Supreme Court cases.

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Rising health risks from West Coast wildfires

It's wildfire season—and something about this year is especially sinister. West Coasters experienced days of hazy orange skies in early September as a result of the burning wildfires. As COVID-19 still looms, threatening our respiratory systems, now too does the smoke in the air. What is this smoke made of, and how does breathing it in affect our lungs and bodies? To find out, Host Alok Patel speaks with an atmospheric scientist, a pulmonologist, and a pair of veteran engineers who are experts in effective face masks to learn about the composition of wildfire smoke, what that smoke does to our lungs and bodies, and what we can do to protect ourselves.

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COVID meets CRISPR

Many agree that we need a fast, accurate, and easy COVID-19 test—yet none of the commonly used diagnostic technologies have been able to meet that need. Enter CRISPR, a gene-editing tool that can also be used to identify viruses. Host Alok Patel follows the story of the two scientists who first discovered this potential for battling the coronavirus, and the biotech company that hopes to use it to revolutionize modern diagnostics. 

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The hidden science of mail-in voting

With a presidential election rapidly approaching and no indication that the COVID-19 pandemic is going anywhere, a record number of people will likely vote by mail. But what happens when we send that ballot off in the mail? And how do we make sure it gets counted? With the help of a former FBI agent-turned-forensic document examiner and a ballot tracking software insider, host Alok Patel follows the journey of a mail-in ballot from your kitchen counter to the election office.

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Welcome to NOVA Now

Now is the time to go beyond the headlines and understand the science behind the most pressing questions of our time. From the PBS science series NOVA, a biweekly podcast separating fact from fiction—it’s NOVA Now, hosted by Alok Patel. Visit our website at: http://www.pbs.org/novanowpodcast

About the Host

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Dr. Alok Patel is a physician, journalist, and producer who firmly believes humor and relatability should drive science communication. "Scientists," he'll tell you, "need a much louder megaphone." He is a special correspondent for ABC News and regularly appears as an on-camera expert for several news outlets. Additionally, he is co-host of "Parentalogic,” a digital series from NOVA and PBS Digital Studios on the science of parenting, and hosts a popular web series for Medscape. Previously, he worked as a medical producer for CNN/HLN and as a host/contributor for both ABC and NBC News in New York. He is involved with several advocacy projects including a media-based sex trafficking education campaign, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to improving healthcare's presence on social media, and on initiatives to improve access to mental health care. Dr. Patel is originally from Arizona, completed his pediatric residency at Seattle Children's Hospital and is currently faculty as a pediatric hospitalist, at Columbia University, Stanford University, and the University of California, San Francisco. 

In his rare downtime, you can catch him practicing martial arts, creating cocktails, discovering new music (ask him about this), or spending time with his wife, a renowned wedding/event planner, who is more creative, talented, and far better-looking, than he is.

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National corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Draper. Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the NOVA Science Trust, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers.