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Written in Our Genes and Moms on the Screen

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Joan Crawford in 'Mildred Pierce' Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce," 1945. Joan Crawford slaves her way to success for her thankless child, Ann Blyth. (Courtesy Turner Theatrical Library/Turner Classic Movies)

New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade explores what mapping the human genome is revealing about the controversial and often contentious idea that there is a biological difference between races. Time movie critic Richard Corliss talks about how Hollywood has celebrated and vilified motherhood over the years. Stacey D’Erasmo discusses her novel, WonderlandScott Sherman talks about why the NYPL has abandoned the renovation plans for its 42nd Street building. We’ll find out about the most radioactive property in Queens, which has just been designated as a Superfund site. Plus, Clara Moskowitz, Associate Editor at Scientific American, on the discovery of a new super heavy atomic element.

Genes, Race, and Human History

New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade discusses how the mapping of the genome is shaping new ideas about race and its role in the human story.

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No Wire Hangers! Mothers in the Movies

Time movie critic Richard Corliss looks at how mothers have been portrayed on the screen, from "The Grapes of Wrath" to "The Manchurian Candidate" to "Mommie Dearest."

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Wonderland, a Novel by Stacy D'Erasmo

Stacey D’Erasmo discusses her new novel, Wonderland, about an a rock star who’s trying to make a comeback at age 44. This may be her last chance to cement her place in the life she chose and the life she struggled for, but she’s not sure if it’s a life she can sustain.

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Why the NYPL Abandoned its Renovation Plans

The New York Public Library's plans to remodel the 42nd Street building had been controversial and widely criticized.

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The Most Radioactive Place in New York Is Now a Superfund Site

The former location of the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company in Ridgewood, Queens is the most radioactive spot in New York City. Today the EPA added the property to the list of federal Superfund sites. The other two superfund sites in the city are Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal. Nate Lavey video producer for The New Yorker talks about the history of the property and the risks to people who work there now.

Work began at the site nearly 100 years ago, with the production of rare earth metals as additives to steel and lighter flints. One of the byproducts of that industrial process is thorium – a radioactive element. “At that time they took their thorium byproduct and dumped it into the city’s sewer system,” said Lavey. “[The owners] would have known that thorium was radioactive…but they probably didn’t have a good idea of how dangerous the chemicals they were handling were.” The contamination is fairly localized to the site, but Lavey noted that the EPA is looking at nearby blocks as well.

Currently the site (at 1125-1129 Irving Avenue) houses an auto-body shop, a deli and a construction company. “The amount of residual radiation is pretty low, especially when you compare it to nuclear disasters we’re all familiar with” said Lavey. While radiation levels are low, they are still elevated. Working on the site is equivalent to getting about 30 chest x-rays a year, which is well below the amount of radiation exposure deemed safe for nuclear power plant workers. The risk to customers is minimal. The EPA has already installed some shielding at the site.

Although the site is now designated for Superfund remediation, it’s unclear how the cleanup will proceed and who will pay for it. 

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Creating New Super Heavy Atomic Elements

Researchers in Germany recently confirmed the existence of Element 117, a jumbo sized atom which sits on the outer edges of the periodic table. Uranium is one of the heaviest elements found in nature with 92 protons, but scientists have been able to push the number of protons higher in laboratories and create new elements. Clara Moskowitz,Associate Editor at Scientific American, tells us about the new element.

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