SciTech Now Episode 318

In this episode of SciTech Now, a pacifier that delivers medicine; meet Sharon Abreu, creator of the Climate Monologues; estimating the likelihood of an earthquake; and learn how fireflies synchronize their flashing light patterns.


Coming up, hacking the pacifier...

'You know, this product has literally saved my daughter's life because she wouldn't take the medicine.'

It was really, like, 'Wow, I'm actually helping people,' which was, you know, a really good feeling.

...the voices of climate change...

I decided to create 'The Climate Monologues' because I was already meeting people that were telling me the most compelling stories.

And I thought, 'I can help get their stories to more people.'

I actually become these people onstage.

...predicting man-made earthquakes with 3-D software...

This software, it's an integration of structural geology and hydrogeology, with a little bit of seismology on the side.

...rare fireflies in sync.

The male will be primarily the one that you will see flashing.

It does six to eight flashes and then a period of darkness.

And it keeps repeating that pattern.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by...

Hello. I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to 'SciTech Now,' our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology, and innovation.

Let's get started.

Have you ever tried to administer medicine to a baby?

To help parents with this daunting job, a doctor in St. Louis, Missouri, has adapted the pacifier to invent a simple medical device for babies.

She also launched her innovative product and company through St. Louis' growing start-up community.

Here's the story.

These are the cases of them.

So each of these has eight units.

This is the packaging for Pacidose, a baby medical device that pairs a pacifier with a standard oral syringe to ease one of parenthood's most unpleasant tasks.

Giving medicine to a sick child can be difficult.

And many children are given incorrect amounts.

It was developed by Dr. Agnes Scoville, a St. Louis emergency room doc.

When babies come in and they have respiratory problems, frequently, we'll give them Prelone, which just doesn't taste good.

It's a steroid.

And they notoriously spit it out.

That discomfort hit home when she had her own daughter.

It was just one of those things where I was, like, 'This has got to be easier.'

So I took a pacifier off the shelf.

I drilled a hole in the back.

I inserted an angiocath, which is what you use, you know, to put an IV in somebody's arm, superglued it together, and tried it on her.

And it worked great.

Dr. Scoville and her family were living in Los Angeles at the time.

But soon after, her husband accepted a job in St. Louis.

I thought, 'Okay, this is a great opportunity to try to get this business up and rolling.'

So I cut back to part time in the ER and started working on this company, Scoville & Company, and, you know, with the idea of, 'Okay, I have these baby products, these ideas that would just allow moms and dads to give better care at home.'

The Scovilles knew that St. Louis' lower cost of living would be a plus.

But they had no idea that the other key to their success would be the resources of the city's growing start-up community.

In 2015, about a year after their move, they won an Arch Grant, $50,000 in non-equity funding.

We're looking for companies that really see an opportunity to fundamentally shift how something is done so that it's better, it's more efficient, that -- that they dominate.

Pacidose was certainly on its way to doing that.

Soon after they moved to St. Louis, the Scovilles finalized their design and manufactured a small batch of 500 devices to test the market.

Within months, they sold out on Amazon.

But when Arch Grants tapped them, it pushed things to the next level.

We got a lot of press.

And then people started finding out about the product.

And then, you know, Schnucks and Dierbergs started carrying the product.

And, you know, it just sort of generates this online buzz, too.

So when another company like Babies'R'Us investigates us, it's like, 'Oh, there are so many articles about her.

Oh, look at all this,' this, you know, online buzz that really lends credibility to the whole company and to the product.

It also opened the door to more funding through the Accelerate St. Louis Challenge and the Metro East Start-Up Challenge at SIUE.

In March, the company placed third in the nation in the SBA's highly competitive innovateHER competition, which included a prize of $10,000.

And remember that Babies'R'Us connection?

Hi. Welcome, everyone.

That happened in St. Louis, as well, during an Accelerate St. Louis C.E.O.-to-C.E.O. event that paired Dr. Scoville with former Energizer C.E.O. Ward Klein.

He was absolutely fantastic and was able to introduce me to some other people who said, 'Hey, you know, we knew this person at Babies'R'Us.

How would you like to chat with them about your product?'

Since Arch Grants was founded to bring new businesses to St. Louis' urban core, recipients are required to set up shop somewhere downtown for at least a year.

Pacidose chose the T-REx building on Washington, a business incubator and co-working space that's also home to Arch Grants.

Everybody in here, for the most part, is working in business.

And they have access to conference rooms, film booths, TVs, like, all kinds of things that they would need to do presentations.

You're around all sort of other entrepreneurs that are doing the same kinds of things you're trying to do.

So the money's great.

Don't get me wrong.

But it's sort of the collateral benefit of being in a working space like this that's great.

Over the last year, those forces have combined to put Pacidose on the map.

It's now available in more than 200 stores nationwide and online through Amazon.

And more deals are in the works.

Hi, Bonnie.

This is Katie with Pacidose.

How are you?

We want Pacidose to be on every single baby registry for every new mom.

Ultimately, we'd also like to have this in hospitals.

But we'd need to change the manufacturing slightly so it's cheaper to make.

The opportunity that she has to do business here and research and raise funds in a hospital town, in a highly regarded medical community, that's a win.

What you have here is a really, really clunky prototype.

In the meantime, Dr. Scoville is working on new products that she hopes will have the same impact as Pacidose.

I got some really, you know, heart-wrenching stories of, you know, a pediatrician whose child has congenital heart disease who needs to take really big, you know, kind of important medications every day.

And she contacted me and said, you know, 'This product has literally saved my daughter's life because she wouldn't take the medicine.'

It was really, like, 'Wow, I'm actually helping people,' which was, you know, a really good feeling.

My name is Kip Thorne.

I'm now a freelance scientist.

I was a professor at Caltech for many years.

I'm now officially the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

♪♪ A wormhole is a hypothetical route to go through a higher dimension from one place in our universe to another.

Wormholes probably don't exist.

But I've tried very hard to prove they don't exist, and I've failed, as have many other people.

It would be wonderful if they do exist.

And so we keep trying to understand.

So my biggest passion, today, is understanding how warp space and warp time behave when they're wildly excited, like the ocean in a storm.

So I have a T-shirt that is based on computer simulations by a team of scientists at Caltech, at Cornell University, at CITA, University of Toronto, which shows two black holes that have just collided.

Up at the top, you see them merge.

This is the way they would look in our universe.

Down below, if you -- In the movie 'Interstellar', there is something called the fifth dimension.

Matthew McConaughey goes into the fifth dimension.

This is what it would look like if you looked into the fifth dimension to see how space and time are warped in a wild manner like the ocean in a storm.

Or it's as though you had thrown a boulder into a pond and it's splashing up.

The splashing up, you can see in red, is the shape of space.

And the color is the slowing of time in a storm that we have just begun to learn about through computer simulations and we have just begun to observe using gravitational radiation.

The observations were done by a team of 1,000 scientists called the LIGO team.

The idea for this experiment was conceived by Ray Weiss at MIT 40, nearly 50 years ago.

And I have helped him bring it to reality.

And it is just a wonderful team that we work with that has pulled this whole thing off.

The effects of climate change impact lawmaking, industry, and community life, affecting people around the world.

Art imitates life as one educator is bringing those voices to the stage in the one-woman show, 'The Climate Monologues.'

Joining me now is that one woman, Sharon Abreu, Executive Director of Irthlingz Arts-Based Environmental Education.

This segment is part of our ongoing series of reports, 'Peril & Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change.'

Sharon, thanks for being here.

Thank you very much, Andrea, for having me.

So do you have, in your own personal experience, being impacted by the effects of climate change that motivated you to write this show?

Well, I do.

I grew up in New York.

I have been seeing it getting warmer and warmer, getting colder later in the year in New York over the years, you know, pretty dramatically.

The weather has changed quite a lot, and the climate, you know?


The bigger picture.

Also, where I live in Washington State, I've been living out there for 15 years, and I've also seen that spring is coming earlier and earlier every year.


So, you know, just in a short span of years that I've been seeing it, I've seen changes.


Even though, with climate change, you want to look at the longer-term changes.

But it's really interesting, you know, to see these short-term impacts.

We're starting to feel it day to day.

And how did you educate yourself about the science of climate change in order to talk about it and educate your audiences?

Well, it really started for me -- I had become an environmental educator back in 1993.

I had joined a group called the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater here in New York.

And so I joined that group, started learning about my drinking water.

And then you start learning about how everything is connected.

Every environmental issue is connected to people's lives, people's health, the economy, what's going on politically.

And you just can't separate anything anymore.

So that was where I got started.

And then in -- guess it was in 1999, I said, 'Gee, you know, I'm an environmental educator.

And I'm hearing all this stuff about global warning.

I don't know if it's really true or whatever.'

So I went to a symposium at the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity.

And it blew my mind wide -- wide open.

And it was terrifying, you know?

But I'm the kind of person, I discovered -- [Laughs] didn't know I was always this kind of person.

But, you know, I'll be, just, like, 'Oh, my god.

This is, you know, very, very scary.'

And in the next minute, I'll be, like, 'Okay, well, what can we do?'

So I got involved.

I started educating myself more about climate change.

And then I took an intensive training by a group called the Greenhouse Network, which was based at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, at the time, to be a speaker on climate change.

So I started doing presentations in 2000.

And in 2002, my partner Mike Hurwicz and I wrote our first musical about climate change.

We worked with kids in schools, sixth and seventh graders.

And then we made that into a musical revue, worked with high-school kids, brought the show to the United Nations in 2007 with kids from the High School for Environmental Studies here in the city.


And now I'm doing 'The Climate Monologues.'

And there you are.

And what... It's not a new concept to use art to tackle a tough topic, to make it more palatable.

But how did you decide the actual format of this as a musical and as a one-woman show?

Well, back where I live in Washington State, I had the opportunity to perform in a really dynamic and wonderful production of 'The Vagina Monologues.'


And I watched Eve Ensler do her show.

And I thought, 'You know, maybe this is time for me to just focus in on something that I can do that's really -- that I can take around with a very small carbon footprint, doesn't require a lot of technology, a lot of sets, props, doesn't have to involve a lot of people.'

And so I decided to create 'The Climate Monologues' because I was already meeting people that were telling me the most compelling stories.

And I thought, 'I can help get their stories to more people with the show.'

So these interviews, sort of informal interviews and kind of anecdotal research you were doing?


How directly did you bring those to the stage?

Well, I actually become these people onstage.

Most of them I've actually met personally, not all of them.

But I've spoken with all of them personally, asked them specific questions about what they've been dealing with, either with climate change or with fossil-fuel energy that's negatively impacted them where they live, and what they're doing -- you know, people that have gotten involved.

One of the things that was really striking me was, you know, you hear about activists all the time.

You know, I read an article -- I think it was in right after the Global Climate March in 2014 here in the city -- and they said, 'Activists were out in the street.'

And I thought, 'No.

These are concerned citizens.

These are people that have gotten to the point where they have to get off the couch, you know, get out of their houses, get out of their comfort zone, and go into the streets because they realize this is a critical issue.

And they're concerned about their children's future.'

♪ If I can do one good thing for this world ♪ ♪ For all of humanity ♪ I will give all my heart and use it to ♪ ♪ Fill the world with Renewable energy ♪

Can you tell me about your organization, Irthlingz Arts-Based Environmental Education?

What other kinds of works do you do?

Well, we'll do a project in the school with kids that will end up with a community performance, an open-to-the-public performance presented by the kids.


Or we'll go and we do our own concerts, you know?

We provide music for a whole variety of different events and audiences.

Do you have your eye yet on your next play or show?

Well, one other thing that's come up for us -- my partner Mike Hurwicz, when we were hearing a few years ago about, you know, people that were denying the reality of climate change and they were saying, 'Oh, this was something that was invented by Al Gore to manipulate people,' and we started doing research.

And actually, Mike really delved into the research.

And it was just fascinating to find out the history of climate-change science going back to the 1820s.


So he ended it up writing a -- it's sort of a graphic novel.

And it's a parody of 'The Maltese Falcon.'

It's called 'The Meltese Dodo.'

[ Laughs ] Okay.

So this is done in his unique way, which is very entertaining, actually.

And so he ended up publishing a kind of a short form of it in a book form now.

So it actually exists now as a book.

And we've done some readings.

And, you know, we have to bring to life a whole variety of characters.

And people have been saying, 'You know, you should do that as a radio show, a radio play, you know, onstage.'

So I think that may be what we -- We may be doing that next.

The next thing you're cooking up.

Sharon Abreu, thanks very much for being with us.

Thank you very much.

Earthquakes are a powerful force of nature, but nature isn't always responsible for causing earthquakes.

Some earthquakes are man-made.

A new type of 3-D software can now help estimate the likelihood of these man-made earthquakes.

We go inside the lab at San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute to learn more.

It's a common effect when you produce oil and gas that you co-produce water.

And then, so you split that.

You take the economically valuable material, the oil and gas, and you take that away.

And then you have the problem of disposing of the excess water that you've just produced.

It's very common to get that back into the ground by re-injecting it.

And typically, it's re-injected into horizons that are porous and permeable.

In other words, they're able to accommodate that fluid being injected back into it.

'Cause oil and gas companies do a lot of -- put a lot of money into understanding where faults are.

And they don't want to waste their time injecting fluids into faults.

They don't want to waste money injecting fluids into faults when that could damage their reservoir.

Or it could produce problems with other wells nearby.

So they want to, when they're injecting, they want to have a good bang for their buck.

They don't want to waste money and resources.

And the other aspect is that if they are disposing of fluids that need to be injected into the ground, they can evaluate the potential of that site for its ability to generate an earthquake.

So they can do a -- again, it would be a pre-activity simulation to see if that site is likely to produce earthquakes that might be either damaging or felt at the surface of the earth.

This provides a way of parameterizing those problems and saying, 'Well, we may have a problem here.

So we need to think about reducing the pressures, the volumes that we're injecting.

We may want to move the well site to somewhere else because it's not a good location.'

Or we could say, 'Looks good.

We should be fine.'

Now we have this software.

It's an integration of structural geology and hydrogeology, with a little bit of seismology on the side.

So what we've tried to do is get the best we can in terms of analytical solutions to these situations.

And combining these things gives us a way of understanding the likelihood of induced seismicity based on what we know about pressure effects in the earth and size and orientation of pre-existing faults.

North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to rare fireflies that can synchronize their flashing-light patterns.

Six flashes at a time, at first independently, then in unison, make up an elaborate mating dance that can only be seen for two weeks each year.

Here's a look.

There is no place on Earth in a temperate climate that is the size of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that can match the rich biodiversity found in the park.

So, having all of that variety of different habitats allows you to have great places for a wide diversity of animal species to live, plants and animals.

And we are continuing to discover just how great that diversity is in the park.

And to date now, in 2016, we have over 20,000 recognized species in the park.

And even more impressive, 900 of those species are newly discovered to science.

And for two weeks every June, for only about two hours in one small corner of the park, one of those rare species creates a kind of nocturnal magic.

And it's all about love.

The firefly display is -- yeah, it's all about courtship.

And it's their way of finding each other and recognizing that they're -- it's the same species.

This is the synchronous firefly.

This is what the firefly's display looks like in a time-lapse still photo using a wide-angle lens.

You can see the blanket of light across the forest floor.

This is what it looks like on video.

We've brightened the video just a bit to help you see the fireflies.

Just keep watching.

As more and more fireflies rise up from the ground where they live, they will light and gradually synchronize their flash, linking together on and off, on and off, all together.

And so the male will be primarily the one that you will see flashing.

It does six to eight flashes and then a period of darkness.

And then it flashes again and keeps repeating that pattern.

The female will be on the ground and will respond with a double flash.

And then when they find each other, they can reproduce.

And then they don't live much longer after that.

So their primary role as adults is to reproduce.

Becky Nichols is the entomologist for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

She's recorded 19 species of fireflies living in the park, including But it's the only one of the few firefly species in the world that synchronizes its flash pattern.

And the park's synchronous fireflies weren't discovered until 1994.

So, all fireflies have a different pattern of flashing.

And so in order to recognize each other in the dark, they have to have a specific pattern for that species that they can each recognize.

Some fireflies soar at different heights above the ground.

Some fly in a specific flight pattern.

The common evening firefly repeats an upside-down J pattern.

But the synchronous firefly doesn't have a pattern.

Its flash sets it apart.

And like all fireflies, that light is created through a process called bioluminescence.

I don't know if you can see these couple segments here that look a little bit lighter.

That's where the light production occurs.

It's a chemical reaction.

And it's incredibly efficient -- lots of light, no heat.

Fireflies combine the chemical luciferin with an enzyme called luciferase in the presence of oxygen.

When all three are combined in the firefly's abdomen, light is produced.

Every time the firefly flashes, a little more of the chemicals are mixed.

They don't feed as adults.

So what they have in reserve is all they're going to have.

And so once they do their flashing behavior and reproduce, then that's the end of their life span.

[ Insects chirping ]

It's a sad story in a way.

But it's also beautiful.

And it makes the Smoky Mountains even more of a treasure.

And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology, and innovation, visit our website, check us out on Facebook and Instagram, and join the conversation on Twitter.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until next time, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by... ♪♪