Madeline K. Sofia

Madeline Sofia is the host of Short Wave — NPR's daily science podcast. Short Wave will bring a little science into your life, all in about 10 minutes. Sometimes it'll be a good story, a smart conversation, or a fun explainer, but it'll always be interesting and easy to understand. It's a break from the relentless news cycle, but you'll still come away with a better understanding of the world around you.

Before hosting Short Wave, Sofia hosted the NPR video show "Maddie About Science." The show takes viewers behind the scenes with scientists, revealing their motivations and sharing their research — from insect mimics to space probes headed for the sun. Sofia also co-developed the worldwide NPR Scicommers program, which supports scientists interested in building their communication skills.

Before working at NPR, Sofia received her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the University of Rochester Medical Center. She studied Vibrio cholerae, a fascinating bacterium that has haunted the human race.

Haunted houses. Skydiving. Scary movies.

Why do these horrifying things make some people delighted, and others, well, horrified?

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We know a lot about the world's rainforests. Scientists have studied them for a long time. We know less about a part of those forests called the canopy. That is the world above the forest floor, all the way to the tops of the trees.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on September 22.

When Nalini Nadkarni was a young scientist in the 1980s, she wanted to study the canopy – the part of the trees just above the forest floor to the very top branches.

Volcanoes have been crucial to life on earth. Oozing lava helped form our planet's land masses. Gases from volcanoes helped create our atmosphere. But despite the growing field of volcanology, there's still a lot we don't understand about volcanic eruptions.

That's partly because volcanoes aren't easy to study. Getting the right equipment into remote locations under unpredictable circumstances can be difficult. More important, studying active volcanos can be dangerous.

This summer, NASA's Parker Solar Probe will embark on a mission to "touch the sun."

Watch the video here.


The maned wolf is a weird-looking beast.

Inside the largest entomology collection in America, there are insects that are out to fool you.

We went backstage at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to comb through the collection of 35 million specimens and find these masters of disguise. The trickster insects and arachnids are known as mimics, because they impersonate the world around them in order to survive.

It's shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in years.

If you are one of the thousands of Americans who are sick with the flu, this one's for you.

When Hahna Alexander set out to create a shoe that could charge a battery, she had no idea what challenges lay ahead of her.

The inventing part went smoothly enough. Like many first-time inventors, she had a good idea and a passion for her work. She successfully invented a shoe that harnesses energy from each step the wearer takes. That energy can be used to charge a battery.

What do elephant seals and Shakira have in common? They can both keep the beat.

A new study suggests that northern elephant seals memorize the rhythm and pitch of individual vocal calls in order to recognize each other. Knowing who's who is important because elephant seals live in social colonies run by dominant males. Submissive males need to be able to recognize when the alpha male is around in order to avoid getting the blubber kicked out of them.

If you're standing in the blazing sun struggling to read this on your cellphone, there may be some relief in sight.

And you'll have a moth to thank.

The reason you have to find shade to read your phone is the way the light reflects off the screen. The reflection reduces contrast, washing out images.

In Suitland, Maryland a giant warehouse holds the largest collection of whale bones in the world.

Stacked from floor to ceiling are bones of sperm whales, gray whales, and the largest whales on Earth—blue whales, which can reach 380,000 pounds. Ancient whale fossils, tens of millions of years old, are also packed into the collection.

Whales are the largest animals on the planet, but they haven't always been giants. Fossil records show that ancient whales were much smaller than the currently living behemoths.

So when did whales get so big, and how?

A new study suggests it might be due to changes in climate that affected the food that some whales eat: krill and small fish. Instead of being spread throughout the ocean, lots of krill started being packed into a small area. Bigger whales were simply more efficient at eating the dense pockets of krill, and they beat out their smaller cousins.

Meet Beibeilong sinensis, the most recently identified dinosaur species.

The name means "baby dragon from China." The dinosaur had massive feathered wings and a birdlike skull. It probably looked most like a cassowary, flightless birds slightly smaller than an ostrich.

Don't be tricked by their appearance — fangblenny fish aren't just a cute face. They use special opioid-based venom to avoid being eaten.

The fish are 2 inches long and live in places such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef. When one is caught and swallowed up by a predator, the blenny literally bites its way out. The venom disorients the bigger fish, and the blenny escapes to freedom.

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