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Short Wave

Short Wave

New discoveries, everyday mysteries, and the science behind the headlines ? all in about 10 minutes, every weekday. It's science for everyone, using a lot of creativity and a little humor. Join host Maddie Sofia for science on a different wavelength.


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Is The Sperm Race A Fairy Tale?

A lot of us were taught that conception happens with a survivor-style sperm race ? the fastest and strongest sperm fight to make it to the egg first. In this Back To School episode, we revisit this misleading narrative and learn just how active the egg and reproductive tract are in this process.

You can find Ariela @arielazebede, Lisa @CampoEngelstein, and Kristin @kristin_hook on Twitter. Email us at [email protected].
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The Fight Over The Future Of Natural Gas

A growing number of cities are looking at restricting the use of gas in new buildings to reduce climate emissions. But some states are considering laws to block those efforts, with backing from the natural gas industry.

Email the show at [email protected].
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Pandemic Dispatches From The ER, One Year Later

The coronavirus has disrupted all of our lives, and that's especially true for healthcare workers. We hear reflections from Dr. Jamila Goldsmith and Mariah Clark, two emergency room workers. They tell us what the first year of the pandemic has been like for them, how their lives have changed, and what's around the corner as more people become vaccinated.

Are you a healthcare worker who would be willing to share your experience with the Short Wave team? Email us at s[email protected].
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Vaccine Distribution: An Equity Challenge

The Biden Administration has prioritized speed in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Also, a priority...distributing those doses to the populations most impacted by the coronavirus. Host Maddie Sofia talks with NPR science reporter Pien Huang about the challenges underserved communities face in getting the vaccine and the Biden Administration's plans to address vaccine equity in the pandemic.

For more reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine, follow Pien on Twitter at @Pien_Huang. You can email the show at [email protected].
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Code Switch: A Shot In The Dark

Today, we present a special episode from our colleagues at Code Switch, NPR's podcast about race and identity.

As the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines unfolds, one big challenge for public health officials has been the skepticism many Black people have toward the vaccine. One notorious medical study ? the Tuskegee experiment ? has been cited as a reason. But should it be?

Email the show at [email protected]
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Micro Wave: Let's Talk About Urine

There are lots of misconceptions around urine. Can urine cure athlete's foot? Or really treat a jellyfish sting?

Today on the show ? we'll talk about what it actually is, debunk some common myths, and share some urine facts.

Plus, we dive into some listener mail ? which you can send to us by emailing [email protected].
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The Legacy of Trauma: Can Experiences Leave A Biological Imprint?

Descendants of trauma victims seem to have worse health outcomes. Could epigenetics help explain why? Bianca Jones Marlin and Brian Dias walk us through the field of epigenetics and its potential implications in trauma inheritance.

You can follow Ariela Zebede on twitter @arielazebede. Email us at [email protected].
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Magnets: The Hidden Objects Powering Your Life

It's likely there's a magnet wherever you're looking right now. In fact, the device you're using to listen to this episode? Also uses a magnet. Which is why today, NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel is taking us "back to school," explaining how magnetism works and why magnets deserve more respect.

If you're secretly hoping we cover a basic science concept near and dear to your heart, spill the tea! We'd love to know and can be reached via email at [email protected].
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James West On Invention And Inclusion In Science

James West has been a curious tinkerer since he was a child, always wondering how things worked. Throughout his long career in STEM, he's also been an advocate for diversity and inclusion ? from co-founding the Association for Black Laboratory Employees in 1970 to his work today with The Ingenuity Project, a non-profit that cultivates math and science skills in middle and high school students in Baltimore public schools.

Host Maddie Sofia talks to him about his life, career, and about how a device he helped invent in the 60's made their interview possible.

Email us at [email protected].
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Coronavirus Vaccine Q&A: Variants, Side Effects, And More

Can people who are vaccinated still carry and transmit the coronavirus to other people? How effective are the vaccines against coronavirus variants? And what's the deal with side effects? In this episode, an excerpt of Maddie's appearance on another NPR podcast, It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders, where she answered those questions and more.

Listen to 'It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders' on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Email us at [email protected].
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BONUS: Throughline ? Octavia Butler: Visionary Fiction?

To round out our celebration of Black History Month, we're bringing you a special episode featuring acclaimed science fiction writer Octavia Butler from our friends at NPR's history podcast Throughline.

Octavia Butler's alternate realities and 'speculative fiction' reveal striking, and often devastating parallels to the world we live in today. She was a deep observer of the human condition, perplexed and inspired by our propensity towards self-destruction. Butler was also fascinated by the cyclical nature of history, and often looked to the past when writing about the future. Along with her warnings is her message of hope ? a hope conjured by centuries of survival and persistence. For every society that perished in her books, came a story of rebuilding, of repair.

Read Throughline's article about Octavia Butler.
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Micro Wave: I'll Peanut Jam Your Brain

Today, what happens in your brain when you notice a semantic or grammatical mistake, according to neuroscience. Sarah Phillips, a neurolinguist, tells us all about the N400 and the P600 responses.

Plus, we dive into some listener mail ? which you can send to us by emailing [email protected]. (Encore episode)
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Why Tech Companies Are Limiting Police Use of Facial Recognition

In June 2020, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM announced that they were limiting some uses of their facial recognition technology. In this encore episode, Maddie and Emily talk to AI policy analyst Mutale Nkonde about algorithmic bias ? how facial recognition software can discriminate and reflect the biases of society and the current debate about policing has brought up the issue about how law enforcement should use this technology.
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Anti-Racist Science Education

Some of the most prestigious scientists in history advanced racist and eugenicist views, but that is rarely mentioned in textbooks. Maddie and Emily speak with science educators about how to broaden science education--including how they tap into kids' sense of justice by incorporating ethics into experiments and how they share contributions of scientists who may be less famous than the big names. (Encore episode)
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The Creation Of The Magnificent Makers

Author and neuroscientist Theanne Griffith talks with Maddie about her children's book series, The Magnificent Makers, which follows two intrepid third graders as they race to complete science-based adventures. (Encore episode)

Follow host Maddie Sofia on Twitter @maddie_sofia. Email the show at [email protected].
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A Week Of Black Excellence

In honor of Black History Month, Short Wave is focusing on Black scientists and educators ? people doing incredible work and pushing for a world where science serves everyone. Enjoy!

Follow Maddie and Emily on Twitter, @maddie_sofia and @emilykwong1234. Email the show at [email protected].
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Bring Me Chocolate Or Bring Me Dead Stuff

Happy Valentine's Day from Short Wave! We've got something special for the holiday, Maddie and Emily exchange the gift of science facts - from the process of farming and fermenting cacao to the courtship rituals of scorpions and loggerhead shrikes.

Email the show at [email protected].
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Saving Sea Level Records: What Historical Records Tell Us About The Rising Ocean

Archival records may help researchers figure out how fast the sea level is rising in certain places. Millions of people in coastal cities are vulnerable to rising sea levels and knowing exactly how fast the water is rising is really important. But it's a tough scientific question. NPR climate correspondent Lauren Sommer explains how scientists are looking to historical records to help get at the answer.

For more of Lauren's reporting, follow her on Twitter @lesommer. Email us at [email protected].
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When Defending The Land Puts Your Own Life At Risk

Global Witness documented that 212 environmental and land activists were murdered in 2019. Over half of those documented murders took place in Colombia and the Philippines, countries where intensive mining and agribusiness has transformed the environment. NPR Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong speaks with three activists about the intersection between natural resource extraction and violence, and what keeps them going in their work.
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Why 500,000 COVID-19 Deaths May Not Feel Any Different

Why is it so hard to feel the difference between 400,000 and 500,000 COVID-19 deaths?and how might that impact our decision making during the pandemic? Psychologist Paul Slovic explains the concept of psychic numbing and how humans can often use emotion, rather than statistics to make decisions about risk.

Email the show at [email protected].
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What's In A Tattoo? Scientists Are Looking For Answers

Three in 10 people in America have a tattoo, and those in the 18 - 34 age bracket, it's almost 40 percent. But what's in those inks, exactly? NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce talks about what researchers currently know about tattoo inks. It's not a lot, and researchers are trying to find out more.

Email the show at [email protected].
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When Life Gives You Lemons...Make A Battery

We're going "Back To School" today, revisiting a classic at-home experiment that turns lemons into batteries ? powerful enough to turn on a clock or a small lightbulb. But how does the science driving that process show up in household batteries we use daily? Emily Kwong and Maddie Sofia talk battery 101 with environmental engineer Jenelle Fortunato.
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Biden Promises To Grapple With Environmental Racism

People of color experience more air and water pollution than white people and suffer the health impacts. The federal government helped create the problem, and has largely failed to fix it. NPR climate reporter Rebecca Hersher talks about the history of environmental racism in the United States, and what Biden's administration can do to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Read Rebecca's reporting on how Biden hopes to address the environmental impacts of systemic racism.

Email the show at [email protected].
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Opioids, COVID-19 And Racism: A Deadly Trifecta

Drug overdose deaths are on the rise all around the country, including in Chicago, Illinois. ProPublica Illinois reporter Duaa Eldeib explains how the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the opioid epidemic, and the challenges that public health officials are facing as they work to reduce opioid-related deaths.
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The Lost Joys Of Talking To Strangers

With a lot of us stuck at home, trying to physically distance from each other, one part of daily life has largely disappeared: bumping into strangers. On today's show, Maddie talks with Yowei Shaw, co-host of NPR's Invisibilia, about the surprising benefits of stranger interactions. And Short Wave tries out QuarantineChat, a workaround to our current strangerless existence. (Encore episode)

Follow Maddie Sofia @maddie_sofia and Yowei Shaw @yowei_shaw on Twitter. Email the show at [email protected].
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The Complex Decisions Around Rebuilding After A Wildfire

The year 2020 saw a record-breaking wildfire season. With those wildfires came many destroyed homes. Rebuilding with fire-resistant materials reduces the risk of future fires burning down a house, but as NPR science correspondent Lauren Sommer explains, only three Western states require building with fire-resistant materials. Without such improvements, communities face increased risks with the next fire.

Read Lauren's reporting on rebuilding after a wildfire.

Email the show at [email protected].
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FACT SMACK: Spider Edition

With the help of spider scientist Sebastian Echeverri, Maddie presents the case for why spiders are the best and coolest animal. Spoiler alert: some travel thousands of kilometers by "ballooning," while others live part time underwater.

Are you a scientist who thinks Sebastian is wrong and that the animal you study is superior? Let us know! You can email us at [email protected]. We'd love to hear the case for your critter.

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How Bonobos Help Explain The Evolution Of Nice

How did humans evolve some key cooperative behaviors like sharing? NPR Science Correspondent Jon Hamilton reports back from a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where scientists are trying to answer that very question.

Follow host Maddie Sofia and correspondent Jon Hamilton on Twitter, and email the show at [email protected].
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What The Spread Of Coronavirus Variants Means For The U.S.

Different versions of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are emerging. Some are spreading quickly around the world, others more slowly ? but several have the public health community and researchers worried because they are behaving differently than the older version of the coronavirus. Maddie talks with NPR science correspondent Michaeleen Doucleff about the coronavirus variant first identified in the UK in late 2020 ? they discuss how big of a deal it is, how vaccines may be affected, and what needs to happen to slow its spread.

Email the show at [email protected].
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The Surprising History of Handwashing

Washing your hands. It's one of the easiest and most effective things you can do to protect yourself from the coronavirus, the flu, and other respiratory illnesses. But there was a time when that wasn't so obvious. Dana Tulodziecki, a professor at Purdue University, tells the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the scientist who's credited with discovering the importance of handwashing. We'll hear how he figured it out and why there's more to the story. (Encore episode)
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A Pesky Rumble: Pink Bollworms Vs. Cotton Farmers

The pink bollworm ? an invasive species that plagues cotton farmers around the world ? has been successfully eradicated from much of the U.S. and Mexico. Eradication campaigns rarely work, but this one did. NPR food and farming reporter Dan Charles gives us the play-by-play to how it took two concurrent approaches to eradicate this devastating pest.

Email the show at [email protected].
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Our More-Than-Five Senses

You're familiar with touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. But your body moves through the world with more than five senses. NPR Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong speaks to neurobiologist André White, assistant professor at Mount Holyoke College, about the beautiful, intricate system that carries information from the outside world in.
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Baltimore Is Suing Big Oil Over Climate Change

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case brought by the city of Baltimore against more than a dozen major oil and gas companies including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell. In the lawsuit, BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, the city government argues that the fossil fuel giants must help pay for the costs of climate change because they knew that their products cause potentially catastrophic global warming. NPR climate reporter Rebecca Hersher has been following the case.

Read Rebecca's digital piece about the Supreme Court case here.

Email the show at [email protected].
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The Social Side of Stuttering

President-elect Joe Biden has spoken publicly about his childhood stutter. An estimated 1% of the world's adults stutter, yet the condition ? which likely has a genetic component ? remains misunderstood. NPR Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong speaks with speech pathologist Naomi Rodgers about her research on adolescent stuttering and why the medical model of stuttering is problematic.
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Let's Go Back To Venus!

In 1962, the first spacecraft humans ever sent to another planet ? Mariner 2 ? went to Venus. The first planet on which humans ever landed a probe ? also Venus! But since then, Mars has been the focus of planetary missions. NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel makes the case for why humans should reconsider visiting to Venus.

For more science reporting and stories, follow Geoff on twitter @gbrumfiel. And, as always, email us at [email protected].
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Micro Wave: How 'Bout Dem Apple...Seeds

Many folks eat an apple and then throw out the core. It turns out, the core is perfectly ok to eat - despite apple seeds' association with the poison cyanide. In today's episode, host Maddie Sofia talks to producer Thomas Lu about how apple seeds could potentially be toxic to humans but why, ultimately, most people don't have to worry about eating the whole apple. And they go through some listener mail.
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How COVID-19 Affects The Brain

Many patients who are hospitalized for COVID-19 continue to have symptoms of brain injury after they are discharged. For many, brain function improves as they recover, but some are likely to face long-term disability. As NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton explains, research into all the ways the coronavirus affects the brain is ongoing but research shows it can affect everything from loss of smell to memory problems. Read Jon's piece here.

Email the show at [email protected].
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Should Black People Get Race Adjustments In Kidney Medicine?

As the U.S. continues to grapple with systemic racism, some in the medical community are questioning whether the diagnostic tools they use may be contributing to racial health disparities.

As NPR science correspondent Maria Godoy reports, that debate is playing out prominently in the world of kidney medicine ? specifically, in the use of estimated glomerular filtration rate, or eGFR. The diagnostic formula most commonly used to assess the health of patients with chronic kidney disease may be unintentionally contributing to poor outcomes ? and reinforcing racist thinking.

Read Maria's piece here.

Email the show at [email protected].
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CubeSat: Little Satellite, Big Deal

Meet the CubeSat: a miniaturized satellite that's been growing in sophistication. In the last 20 years, over 1,000 CubeSats have been launched into space for research and exploration. We talk about three CubesSat missions, and how this satellite technology ventured from college campuses to deep space. (Encore) Tweet to Emily Kwong at @emilykwong1234 and talk #scicomm with Joe on @joesbigidea. And you can reach the show by emailing [email protected].
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This Teen Scientist Is TIME's First-Ever 'Kid Of The Year'

Fifteen-year-old Gitanjali Rao is a scientist, inventor, and TIME Magazine's first-ever 'Kid Of The Year.' She shares why she didn't initially think science was for her, what motivates her now, and a bit of advice for other budding innovators.

Email the show at [email protected]
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Micro Wave: What Makes Curly Hair Curl?

Hair scientist Crystal Porter explains the science behind curly hair. (Hint: It involves mushy cells in teeny-tiny tunnels.) Plus, a bit of listener mail from you! Which you can always send by emailing [email protected].
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The Hunt For The World's Oldest Ice

Scientists think the world's oldest ice is hiding somewhere in Antarctica. NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce tells us how researchers plan to find it ? and why.

For more, you can also read Nell's story, "Scientists Have Found Some Truly Ancient Ice, But Now They Want Ice That's Even Older."

Email the show at [email protected].
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One Page At A Time, Jess Wade Is Changing Wikipedia

By day, Jess Wade is an experimental physicist at Imperial College London. But at night, she's a contributor to Wikipedia ? where she writes entries about women and POC scientists. She chats with Emily Kwong about how Wikipedia can influence the direction of scientific research and why it's important to have entries about scientists from under-represented communities.

Here are the Wikipedia entries of the scientists mentioned in today's show: Sarah Gilbert, Kizzmekia Corbett, Gladys West, and of course, Jess Wade.

Email us at [email protected].
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How COVID-19 Has Changed Science

2020 was a year like no other, especially for science. The pandemic has caused massive shifts in scientific research ? how it's being done, what's being focused on, and who's doing it. Ed Yong of The Atlantic explains some of the ways, both good and bad, that COVID-19 has changed science.

Read Ed's full reporting on these changes here.
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Meet The Ko'Ko', The Comeback Bird

For nearly forty years, the Guam Rail bird (locally known as the Ko'Ko') has been extinct in the wild ? decimated by the invasive brown tree snake. But the Ko'Ko' has been successfully re-introduced. It is the second bird in history to recover from extinction in the wild. Wildlife biologist Suzanne Medina tells us the story of how the Guam Department of Agriculture brought the Ko'Ko' back, with a little matchmaking and a lot of patience. (Encore episode)

Follow host Maddie Sofia @maddie_sofia and reporter Emily Kwong @emilykwong1234 on Twitter. Email the show at [email protected].
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Happy New Year from Short Wave!

To kick off the new year right, Maddie fills out a Short Wave mad lib crafted by Emily. It's a little tribute to you, our awesome listeners.

We're back with new episodes next week. Hope you had a safe and happy orbit around the sun!
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How Will Climate And Health Policy Look Under Biden?

Today, something episode of The NPR Politics Podcast we think you might appreciate. Our colleagues take a look at Joe Biden's approach to climate and health policy.

His climate agenda will look very different than President Trump's and even President Obama's. And, on top of responding to the pandemic, the president-elect will also have to wrangle all of the other problems in the American healthcare system.
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It's Okay To Sleep Late (Do It For Your Immune System)

Dr. Syed Moin Hassan was riled up. "I don't know who needs to hear this," he posted on Twitter, "BUT YOU ARE NOT LAZY IF YOU ARE WAKING UP AT NOON." Hassan speaks to Short Wave's Emily Kwong about de-stigmatizing sleeping in late, and why a good night's rest is so important for your immune system. (Encore episode)

Email the show at [email protected].
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2020: At Least It Was Good For Space Exploration?

Between the pandemic, protests, the recession ? the list goes on ? there was big space news in 2020. And there was a lot of it! To round it up, Maddie chats with NPR science correspondents Nell Greenfieldboyce and Geoff Brumfiel.

Check out our list of Nell and Geoff's reporting on all of the events they talk about.

For even more space and other science content, follow Nell and Geoff on Twitter at @nell_sci_npr and @gbrumfiel. Send terrestrial and extraterrestrial inquiries to the show at [email protected].
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Happy Holidays from Short Wave!

Maddie and Emily play a quick game of "Fact or Fiction?" with help from Ariela Zebede, our resident fact-checker. Plus, a little reminder that you can support the show by donating to your local public radio station at (If you're outside of the U.S., choose a lucky member station!)

Follow Maddie and Emily on Twitter, @maddie_sofia and @emilykwong1234. Email the show at [email protected].
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