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From the College of Natural Sciences

This is the Verge of Discovery Podcast brought to you by the College of Natural Sciences Communications Office.

The Science of Relationships (Audio)

In honor of Valentine's Day, we're speaking with Lisa Neff, a researcher studying what makes happy, healthy romantic relationships tick. Neff is an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. She answers several burning questions, including: What are the health benefits of romantic relationships? How can newlyweds avoid communication breakdowns that result from external stress? and, Do optimists make better partners?

Resetting the Alcoholic Brain (Audio)

Adron Harris, director of the Waggoner Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research, and his team mapped the differences in gene expression between an alcoholic's brain and a non-alcoholic's brain. They found that, as a person becomes dependent on alcohol, thousands of genes in their brains are turned up or down, like a dimmer switch on a lightbulb, compared to the same genes in a healthy person's brain.

The Mighty Copepod (Audio)

These teeny shrimp-like critters at the bottom of the ocean food web seem totally unimportant. But throw in an oil spill and some well-intentioned human intervention and they can have a huge impact, right up to the top of the food web, including sea turtles, dolphins and humans. Meet the mighty copepod.

Evolution Inspires Anthrax Cure (Audio)

This fall marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. anthrax letter attacks that sickened dozens of people and killed five. At the time, there was no effective treatment for a late stage infection. The attacks accelerated work already underway at the University of Texas at Austin. Brent Iverson, George Georgiou and Jennifer Maynard borrowed a page from Mother Nature's playbook to develop the world's first treatment for late stage inhalation anthrax.

The Last First Planetary Mission (Audio)

​The New Horizons spacecraft brought humanity face to face with the last unexplored planet in our solar system: Pluto. What we're learning is amazing. But, time and again, the mission almost didn't happen. University of Texas at Austin alumnus Alan Stern describes the challenges, and the joys, of the last first mission to a planet.

Some Bacteria Have Lived in the Human Gut Since Before We Were Human

Some of the bacteria in our guts were passed down over millions of years, since before we were human, suggesting that evolution plays a larger role than previously known in people's intestinal-microbe makeup, according to a new study in the journal Science.

Looking Forward ... and Back: Podcast Updates

This summer, we're celebrating a milestone: one year of telling you science stories from the frontlines here at the University of Texas at Austin on the Point of Discovery Podcast. Tell us how we're doing in our listener survey: CLICK HERE

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Why is CGI in the Movies Still So Hard? (Audio)

As the summer movie season kicks into high gear, we talk with a scientist about some of the challenges in simulating the way everyday objects behave on the big screen through computer generated imagery (CGI). Etienne Vouga's computer simulations have helped bring to life a wizard's hair in The Hobbit and clothing in Tangled.

Here's What Research Did for Me, Student Stories (Audio)

As the College of Natural Sciences' Freshman Research Initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary, we speak to students and scientists about how doing research as freshmen and sophomores impacted them.

Podcast: Jekyll and Hyde Bacteria

To study diseases, biologists often make models, for example, a rat with a disorder similar to Alzheimer's. With a good model, they can tinker with different variables and see if anything halts the disease, without the ethical limits of experimenting on actual humans. But scientists studying an especially nasty bacterium that tends to invade and breed out of control in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) kept hitting dead ends in their search for a good model.

Audio: Saving the Bees, Two Perspectives

As bees sharply decline around the world, two researchers are taking very different approaches to understand -- and potentially reverse -- this troubling trend. One is studying the microbes that live inside bees and help protect them against infections. The other is studying the links between changing landscapes and bee health.

Audio: Pyramid Probe

What would you do if you had Superman's x-ray vision? In today's episode of the Point of Discovery Podcast, we talk to a physicist about how he's using his superhuman powers to explore the insides of ancient Mayan pyramids without digging.

Audio: The Race for Dark Energy

This is the second of a three-part series on general relativity.

Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, which describes how gravity works, turns 100 this month. The theory has successfully explained a lot of what we observe out in the universe; but there are signs that it's incomplete. In the 1990s, astronomers observed that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, as if some mysterious force is pushing everything apart faster and faster. Nearly 20 years later, one of the biggest unanswered questions in science is: what is this dark energy? Not only was dark energy not predicted by general relativity, but its mere existence might mean that the theory needs to be tweaked or even replaced.

Audio: The Case of the Missing Folate

When Richard Finnell first met her, Rachel was a nine-year-old girl with severe developmental delays. Her condition seemed to be caused by a deficiency in a critical B vitamin called folate. Yet she had plenty of folate circulating in her blood. Somehow it was vanishing before it got to her brain and spine. Eventually Finnell made a surprising discovery. He's now using new genetic tools like CRISPR to better understand her condition and test possible therapies.

Audio: Cocktail Party Effect

How do we manage to follow a conversation with a friend in the middle of a noisy room? Neuroscientists, like Nace Golding, are still working out the details—but what they've learned so far is pretty amazing.

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