Eco-Death Care, Brain Memory Prosthetic, Space Food. Oct 14, 2022, Part 2

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Burying Green: Eco-Friendly Death Care On The Rise

Dying, it turns out, isn’t carbon neutral. Like many of the choices we make in our lifetimes, the choice to cremate or preserve our bodies after death comes with tradeoffs as well. With preservation and burial, there’s the carbon cost of cemetery space, the materials to make a coffin, and the chemicals required to prevent decay. With cremation, the body’s carbon is released into the atmosphere through the burning of natural gas.

This is one of the reasons why companies are starting to offer more eco-friendly options, such as water-assisted cremation. Composting human bodies is another option, allowing our carbon to be sequestered in the soil, and providing nutrients for ecosystems or gardens. But in the United States, these lower-carbon funereal options are often against the law.

Now, that’s slowly changing, with pressure from people who wish to use those options for themselves when the time comes. Producer Kathleen Davis discusses these issues and more with mortician Caitlin Doughty and Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose, a company that has pioneered the practice of human composting. Plus, the relationship between grief, ritual, and the choices we have for our mortal remains.

This Brain Prosthesis Could Improve Memory Loss

When people hear the word “prosthetic,” they’ll probably think of an arm or a leg. But what about a prosthetic for the brain? A team of neuroscientists is designing a device that could “zap” the brain into remembering information better, and it’s targeted for people with memory loss. They’re doing so by studying the electrical patterns involved in memory, then mimicking them with electrodes implanted in the brain.

Ira speaks with Dr. Robert Hampson, neuroscientist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who is working on the implant.

Making a Meal Fit For An Astronaut

Life on the International Space Station throws some wrenches into how food and eating work. There’s very little gravity, after all. And there are big differences between nutritional needs on Earth and in space.

Astronauts must exercise two hours each day on the International Space Station to prevent bone and muscle loss, meaning daily caloric intake needs to be somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 calories. Sodium must also be reduced, as an astronaut’s body sheds less of it in space. Astronauts also have an increased need for Vitamin D, as their skin isn’t able to create it from sunlight as people on Earth do.

So, how do all these limitations affect the food astronauts eat? Joining guest host Kathleen Davis to answer these gustatory questions is Xulei Wu, food systems manager for the International Space Station in Houston, Texas.

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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