The Pulse – May 16, 2014

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    The Philadelphia region is a hub for the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, some of the drugs that have transformed medicine have been developed right here—think vaccines, medicines for heart disease and diabetes. But Big Pharma is changing. We’ve seen a lot of industry consolidations and downsizing of these big companies, leaving thousands of smart people facing steep challenges, and, in some instances, unexpected opportunities.

    Water coming straight from your tap might contain some unwanted elements in the form of drugs prescribed to your neighbors, your fellow citizens, and even their pets. Scientists have known this for a long time, and they assure us there’s no need to panic—no one is getting accidental full doses of Prozac just from drinking a glass of tap water. Still, scientists do wonder whether drugs in the water may be harming aquatic life or complicating the growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria.

    Physicists recently used a particle accelerator to smash together the nuclei of calcium and berkelium atoms to create an entirely new element: Ununseptium. With 117 protons in its nucleus, this soon-to-be new addition to the periodic table is the second heaviest known to man. But scientists worldwide are excited by the discovery because it gave them a glimpse at a little known theory called the “Island of Stability.” Scientific American editor Clara Moskowitz joins us to explain why the Island of Stability matters…if it exists, that is.

    Amtrak’s locomotive fleet is aging, and those engines have between 3 and 4 million miles on them. To replace their high-mileage engines, Amtrak is investing in a fleet of brand new high-tech train engines that save energy. The AC-64 City Sprinter was unveiled back in February, and will continue to roll out over the coming months. So we climbed aboard one of these new-fangled trains for a look.

    Paul Stamets is a rock star in the world of fungi. In fact, he came to our studio carrying a backpack stuffed with a massive 40-pound mushroom called Agarikon. Stamets first fell in love with mushrooms in his mother’s yard, where giant puffball mushrooms would sprout up after heavy rainfalls. He was attracted by their transient nature. Stamets has devoted his entire career to better understanding fungi, and he joined us to explain the sometimes misunderstood world of fungus.

    Also on this week’s show, the science behind the flavors of fermented foods, an investigation into who is sending inflated medical bills to the government, and, in our regular segment “Patient Files,” writer Michael Downing describes a frustrating set of medical encounters related to a scary genetic condition called sudden death syndrome.

    Music from this week’s show: 

    “Sun Demon” – 3:18StereolabAlbum Not MusicLabel Duophonic/Drag City

    “Trains” – 4:08Ryan Adams & The CardinalsAlbum Jacksonville City NightsLabel Lost Highway Records

    “I’ve Got a Thing About Trains” – 2:50Johnny CashAlbum Hello, I’m Johnny CashLabel Columbia

    “Breaking Bad, Main Title Theme” – 1:16Dave Porter

    “The Elements” – 2:16Tom LehrerAlbum More of Tom LehrerLabel Lehrer Records

    “Congratulations” – 3:55MGMTAlbum CongratulationsLabel Columbia

    “Old Tree” – 5:02CreepoidAlbum Shaking Through Volume 2Label Weathervane Music

    “Everybody’s Weird Except Me” – 3:34StereolabAlbum Not MusicLabel Duophonic/Drag City

    “Bees” – 5:23CaribouAlbum The Milk of Human KindnessLabel Leaf/Domino

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