WXXI AM News

science

image provided

What happens when you combine comedy and science?

"Laughing uncontrollably, and then you have that 'aha' moment that just shifts the way you perceive something." 

That's how comedian Shane Mauss describes his "Stand Up Science" show, which makes its Rochester debut this weekend.

Mauss was following a traditional path to comedy success, with appearances on "Conan", "Jimmy Kimmel Live", Comedy Central, Showtime, and the BBC when he found a way to combine both of his passions.

WATCH: Meet Rochester's citizen scientists

Apr 23, 2019

Spring is finally here and that means people throughout Rochester are eager to head outside and embrace the slightly warmer temperatures. Once you finally get outside, do you ever stop and take the time to notice the environment around you? The City of Rochester’s Department of Youth and Recreation has created a group called Earth Explorers. As WXXI’s Lisa Famiglietti explains, the goal is to get kids to enjoy the great outdoors while taking part in a little something called “citizen science.”

A group of graduate students at the University of Rochester is leading an initiative that encourages more people of color to pursue STEM-related majors and professions. According to the National Science Foundation, 70 percent of scientists and engineers employed full time are white, and underrepresented minorities in those professions earn less than their white co-workers.

The Rochester Chapter of the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering has plans to address the disparities. We hear from members about their goals and their work. In studio:

  • Antonio Tinoco Valencia, president of the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering at the University of Rochester, and Ph.D. candidate in organic chemistry
  • Shukree Abdul-Rashed, vice-president of the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering at the University of Rochester, and Ph.D. candidate in organic chemistry
  • Marian Ackun-Farmmer, social-relations chair for the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering at the University of Rochester, and Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering
  • Anthony Plonczynski-Figueroa, faculty advisor for the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering at the University of Rochester, and director of operation for the David T. Kearns Center, University of Rochester

Can science provide absolute knowledge and understanding? Three scientists have united to say that it can not, and they go further: they write that science can suffer from a blind spot, ignoring the power and value of human experience. It's not a condemnation of science -- not at all. Rather, the scientists argue that science provides vital insight into the world as we experience it, but it does not supplant our experience, which needs to be taken into account.

This controversial piece has sparked debate in the scientific community. Two of the three authors join us on Connections. Our guests:

  • Adam Frank, professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, and author of several books, the latest being "Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth"
  • Marcelo Gleiser, theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire

Stink bugs are just about everywhere, but good news: we’re releasing samurai wasps to kill them. If that perhaps doesn’t sound like a perfect idea, the experts are here to assuage your concerns.

They explain how releasing one species to kill another can be effective, and they take us into the weird and effective world of these wasps. Our guests:

Oumuamua is the strange, cigar-shaped space rock that hurtled through our interstellar neighborhood at high speed, then left as fast as it came. Scientists were baffled. What was it? What could have caused that rock to move in that fashion? Was it some wild explosion or event?

This fall, scientists have floated a new possibility: it's aliens! Really, there is at least the possibility that this rock was an object created by an alien race. But how would they know? Can they track it? And then, what are the ethics, if we ever do make contact? Our guests:

Cornell University

Brian Wansink, the Cornell professor who authored six articles retracted by the Journal of the American Medical Association Wednesday, has been removed from all teaching and research at the university, and will retire at the end of this academic year.

“I have been tremendously honored and blessed to be a Cornell professor,” Wansink said.

Caitlin Whyte / WXXI News

The Cumming Nature Center is a little oasis about an hour south of Rochester. With miles of quiet trails through swamplands and towering pine trees, it’s a great place to talk about citizen science.

So what exactly does that term mean?

Nathan Hayes, the director of the nature center, says its the “crowdsourcing of scientific information. Multiple people all over the place putting the puzzle pieces together to get the picture.”

There is so much information to collect, Hayes says, that scientists alone can’t do it all. That’s where the rest of us can help. He says people can get involved and collect valuable information wherever they may be.

“We can study -- we should study -- these woods, and not worry about the Amazon. I mean, worry about the Amazon, but you don’t have to go away to contribute to important scientific base of knowledge, you can do it in your backyard.”


The latest film in the “Jurassic Park” series, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” is number one at the box office. It goes to show that even decades after the first film was made, people still love dinosaurs. Dinosaur enthusiasts are also commenting about the latest in science related to the creatures. Researchers say they think they can recreate living dinosaurs within the next five years; genetic research involving modern day chickens could be the key to reversing evolution.

We discuss the science, how probable it is that we’ll see dinosaurs in our lifetime, and why the dinosaur craze won’t be going extinct anytime soon. Our guests:

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that there are mixed messages about public trust in science, and science advocates say the field is under attack.

A group of graduate students at the University of Rochester Medical Center have joined together to try to improve perceptions of science. Students in the “Thinkers and Drinkers” group meet up with strangers at local bars and, in exchange for free appetizers, talk to them about science. The goal is to help the students improve their communication skills when it comes to explaining science, and to improve science literacy in the general population.

We talk with members of the group about their program and why they think it’s needed in this current moment.

  • Heather Natola, Ph.D., post-doctoral associate in the department of Biomedical Genetics at URMC, and co-founder of Thinkers and Drinkers
  • Jessica Hogestyn, Ph.D. candidate in the neuroscience graduate program at URMC, and co-founder of Thinkers and Drinkers
  • Tracey Baas, Ph.D., assistant professor of Microbiology and Immunology and executive director for the University of Rochester Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (URBEST) program at URMC

Pages