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It's Short Wave's third birthday, so All Things Considered hosts test their knowledge


You may know that, last year, NPR and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED turned 50. So did I, while we're at it. But today, we are here with another NPR milestone birthday. Our colleagues at Short Wave turn 3 tomorrow.


And like Mary Louise, I also turned 50 last year.

KELLY: (Laughter) Who knew?

PFEIFFER: Short Wave is NPR's daily science podcast. And to celebrate, its hosts, Emily Kwong and Aaron Scott are here to - actually, we're going to let them explain what they're here to do.


EMILY KWONG, BYLINE: Welcome to Gee Golly Whiz Bowl, Short Wave's science quiz show. I also turned - no, no.


KWONG: I turned 3 yesterday.

KELLY: Happy birthday to us all.


KWONG: So hey, both of you. We're a daily science podcast that considers the science, and we believe that science is for everyone.

AARON SCOTT, BYLINE: We love to talk about space, climate change, physics, critters. We bring it all. And today, we have a few questions for you to make sure you've been paying attention in science class.

KELLY: Oh, boy. All right.

SCOTT: Welcome.

KELLY: (Laughter).

KWONG: Putting you in the hot seat. All right, Sacha, Mary Louise, let's start with a newsy question. Last week, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for what kind of research?


KELLY: I have no idea. Sacha?

PFEIFFER: No. I read the headline, and now I realize I cannot tell you, like, what exactly that physicist did.


KWONG: All right.


KWONG: I'm going to help you out. The answer to the question is quantum physics.


KWONG: So three scientists shared this award for experiments showing that two particles - let's say Mary Louise Kelly and Sacha Pfeiffer - could behave like a single unit even when far apart, a phenomenon which is known as quantum entanglement. And that innovation is what is allowing for quantum computers, which tech companies are investing billions in developing.

KELLY: Cool.

KWONG: I talked about this with Geoff Brumfiel. He saw this computer in real life. And he explained to me why these computers are able to go so much faster with the help of Google engineer Marissa Giustina.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: So first, imagine a regular computer is like a board game with square spaces, and you're trying to get to a diagonal space.

KWONG: Can I move diagonally like in checkers?

BRUMFIEL: No. No, you can't.

MARISSA GIUSTINA: You have to take two steps - one up and one to the left or something.

BRUMFIEL: So then imagine a quantum computer has hexagonal spaces.

KWONG: Oh, like Settlers of Catan.

BRUMFIEL: Yep. Exactly.

GIUSTINA: If you are on a hexagonal board or a board with diagonals, then you can do that in one step.

KWONG: So with a quantum computer, it's a faster way to make the same exact moves. Get it?

KELLY: It's starting to make sense.

KWONG: OK. All right.

KELLY: Yeah.

KWONG: Yeah. This is the kind of science we like on Short Wave. For us, it's all about maintaining curiosity for how things actually work.

SCOTT: Next question - this is a completely different field - what is this animal?


KELLY: Is it a baby monkey?

SCOTT: Getting really close. Here's our answer.


KWONG: Poor baby bonobo.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Here's something Dr. Jonas Mukamba told us. He's the lead veterinarian at the sanctuary.

JONAS MUKAMBA: (Speaking French).

HAMILTON: What he's saying is that, with bonobos, the females dominate and that a female is always the head of the group.

SCOTT: So this is a story that Jon Hamilton reported about research in a bonobo sanctuary and what it's teaching us about how people - how we - evolved.

KELLY: I never would have guessed that was a bonobo. But I do speak French, and he said the females are the boss.


KELLY: Oh, yeah. I'm all in.

KWONG: That's right. You heard it here first translated on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. All right. I think the score is kind of 1 to 0. Are we going to give this point to Mary Louise?


KWONG: Our producers are nodding yes.

SCOTT: Let us keep going. Emily Kwong is the kind of host who loves heading out for Short Wave, sometimes into very challenging situations. Which of the following has she not done for our show - run a marathon, hung out with giant bears, crawled into a toxic cave looking for wriggling worm blobs or recalled her past life in the circus?

PFEIFFER: I'm going to give a practical answer, which is that Emily...


PFEIFFER: ...Did not climb into a toxic cave because NPR would have a serious employee liability problem.

KELLY: (Laughter).

KWONG: Sacha, I most certainly did not. But you know who did?

PFEIFFER: Who did?

SCOTT: Right here. Right here. So kind of cheap, but no point for that one.


SCOTT: It was a trick question.


SCOTT: It wasn't Emily. It was actually me. It was for a series we did about science taking place in our public lands. And to your point, I had to put on a breathing apparatus and crawl into this cave to find these little worms that only live in sulfuric water in the spring in this cave.

DAVID STEINMANN: And if you look, you can see clumps of worms everywhere.

SCOTT: Wow. They really are everywhere. I'm mean, it's stunning.

STEINMANN: I'm just going to collect a couple of worms real quickly.

SCOTT: The worm blobs look like little blood-red sea anemones wriggling in this stream bed. And they live off the bacteria that in turn lives off the sulfur. So it's easy to see why scientists looked at places like this sulfur cave to dream up what life might look like on other planets.

PFEIFFER: I hope, Aaron, you haven't had to file any worker's comp paperwork for injuries or toxins inhaled in that cave.

SCOTT: Nope. My air started to run out, but I still had plenty to get out of the cave. It wasn't that big, so it was nothing but kind of fulfilling a childhood fantasy. I'd stood at the edge of this cave and looked in as a kid and always wanted to explore it. And thanks to Short Wave, I got to go in.

KWONG: By my estimation, the score is 1 to 1. You are tied. Aaron, next question.

SCOTT: Perfect. Our next topic is moving on to genetics. Short Wave did an entire series on the different kinds of tastes that we called Taste Buddies. Mary Louise and Sacha, I would love if you would tell me what taste evolved to keep us from poisoning ourselves.

PFEIFFER: My husband happens to be a seventh-grade science teacher, and he teaches genetics, so I feel like I...

KELLY: Oh, unfair advantage that should have been disclosed at the get-go, but go on.

KWONG: This may be a conflict of interest I'm detecting.

PFEIFFER: I feel like I have to take a shot at this just because I live with a science teacher.

SCOTT: Yes, please. Go for it.

PFEIFFER: I am going to say that it is bitterness that is the tipoff.


SCOTT: You are correct. This is a scientist we talked to - Masha Niv - explaining it.

MASHA NIV: So bitter, as the common paradigm says, it has to protect from poisons because in the world around us, there are plants and there are insects and there are lots of natural chemical compounds around us. And we kind of need these receptors to say, OK, it's something new. Let's first be a little bit careful about it, a little bit averse to it.

SCOTT: OK. So I think our final tally is 1 to 1. It's a tie.

KWONG: Hurray.

SCOTT: Which is...

KELLY: Hurray. We're all the winners.

SCOTT: ...So very NPR. Yes.


PFEIFFER: Participation trophies.

KWONG: Goodness. But seriously, we love the work you do on this show. It's an honor to be here. And this is truly what Short Wave is about - deep dives into the science that makes up our universe and drives the day's headlines.

PFEIFFER: Thank you, and happy 3rd birthday.

KELLY: To hear a fuller version of our quiz, you can check out today's episode of Short Wave.

PFEIFFER: Short Wave is NPR's daily science podcast. And Emily Kwong and Aaron Scott are its hosts. Thanks again.

SCOTT: Thank you.

KWONG: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Megan Lim
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Rebecca Ramirez (she/her) is the founding producer of NPR's daily science podcast, Short Wave. It's a meditation in how to be a Swiss Army Knife, in that it involves a little of everything — background research, finding and booking sources, interviewing guests, writing, cutting the tape, editing, scoring ... you get the idea.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Gisele Grayson
Gisele Grayson is a deputy editor on NPR's science desk. She edits stories about climate, the environment, space, and about basic research in biology and physics.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Aaron Scott
Aaron Scott (he/him) is co-host of NPR's daily science podcast, Short Wave. The show is a curiosity-fueled voyage through new discoveries, everyday mysteries and the personal stories behind the science.
Emily Kwong (she/her) is the reporter for NPR's daily science podcast, Short Wave. The podcast explores new discoveries, everyday mysteries and the science behind the headlines — all in about 10 minutes, Monday through Friday.