Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Storing information inside of DNA has been a neat parlor trick for years.  All of Shakespeare’s sonnets have been encoded in DNA.  Recently famed geneticist George Church encoded his own book Regenesis and made 90 billion copies of it.  A new publication record.  But that’s just the beginning.

Thanks to its ability to store information reliably DNA is the unquestioned future of data storage.  For starters, its “technology” is never going to become obsolete the way modern storage devices might.  Fine-tuned over millions of year of evolution DNA is a tried and true method of information storage and replication.  Plus its ability to store a million times more information in the same space as a standard floppy disk ever could makes it an infinitely more desirable resource for us humans.  And considering how much data we are generating on a daily basis we’re definitely going to need a reliable place to store it all in the coming years.  DNA data storage is the best and really only option for doing that.

But when that time come it’s not just books that we’ll be encoding.  In the future we’ll also have the ability to store videos inside of DNA as well.

That’s right.  Scientists have figured out a way to encode film inside of DNA as they were able to successfully encode one of the very first motion picture ever made, the famous galloping horse captured by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who wanted to observe if a horse ever had all four hoofs off the ground at the same time while running.

As amazing as it would be to store information and videos inside of DNA though that’s only one side of the equation.  What if the opposite held true?  What if you could also use the same technology to record what was happening inside the cell?  As far-fetched as that sounds that may actually happen one day.

According to the New York Times, “With the new research, [Church] and other scientists have begun to wonder if it may be possible one day to do something even stranger: to program bacteria to snuggle up to cells in the human body and to record what they are doing, in essence making a ‘movie’ of each cell’s life.  When something goes wrong, when a person gets ill, doctors might extract the bacteria and play back the record. It would be, said Dr. Church, analogous to the black boxes carried by airplanes whose data is used in the event of a crash.”

Obviously it’s going to be a while before we have bacterial black boxes or before we can even fully trust the data storage and replication capabilities of DNA.  But thanks to the tremendous work being done by Dr. Church and other geneticists we continue to make great progress towards that goal.  And, more importantly, we continue to make great strides at rates that would have astonished scientists just ten years ago.  What else will be possible in just a few years time?

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Is storing video inside DNA the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Here’s a quick look at everything that tickled my fancy over the last week:

Mind Reading AI: Here’s a scary thought: in the future it may be possible to figure out what someone is thinking.

According to Digital Trends:

“…deep learning neural networks can carry out some pretty impressive tasks. Could mind reading be among them?

The folks at Carnegie Mellon University certainly think so — and they’ve got the research to back up their theories. What CMU scientists have been working on is a system that can apparently read complex thoughts based on brain scans, possibly even interpreting complete sentences.

This involved gathering data from a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, and then using AI machine learning algorithms to pinpoint — and sometimes reverse-engineer — the building blocks the brain uses to construct complex thoughts.”

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Heat Resistant Cows: Global warming could affect the ability of cows to graze and survive in warmer climes which in turn would affect humanity’s ability to feed itself.  Scientists aim to change that. 

According to Futurism, “The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has proposed a plan to make cows more resistant to the temperature increase caused by global warming…The scientists’ plan aims to retain the quality meat cows provide while increasing the efficiency of the process in spite of a changing climate. The first step is conducting research on cows that already handle the heat pretty well. By studying the Brangus cow, researchers hope to identify how it regulates its body temperature, which allows it thrive in hotter climates. Once identified, researchers could use a gene editing tool to give that ability to other breeds.”

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Injection-less Flu Shots: Don’t like needles? Hate getting your flu shot? Scientists have got you covered.

As Futurism puts it:

“We all have that ‘friend’ who avoids getting flu shots out of fear of injections, right? Well, researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and the Emory University had you — we mean, “your friend” — in mind while designing this new way to deliver vaccinations. Instead of the usual injection, the researchers came up with a sticker patch that you can apply on yourself.

The patch comes with a hundred tiny hair-like micro-needles located on its adhesive side. ‘If you zoom in under the microscope what you’ll see are microscopically small needles,’ lead researcher Mark Prausnitz told the BBC. ‘They puncture painlessly into the skin.” Unlike regular injections that go all the way through the muscle, the micro-needles puncture and dissolve into the upper layer of the skin, delivering the vaccine in about 20 minutes.’”

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World’s Brightest Laser: Scientists have invented a new laser one billion times brighter than the surface of the sun and it’s literally changing the way we see things.  Basically, this laser, instead of just making objects appear brighter, is instead changing what we see when we look at them, in terms of the colors that we see and the way that we observe the light bouncing off the objects.  This means that we could use this new laser to complete tests and make observations that would never be possible otherwise.

According to I Fucking Love Science, “High-energy X-ray lasers are already used worldwide to look at complex chemical reactions, which means this process could produce photons that let us see changes inside an atom’s nuclei directly.”

This could lead to all kinds of exciting new discoveries about the nature of matter!

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Battery Free Phones:  In the future you may not have to worry about carrying around a charger with you when you travel thanks to a new prototype phone that will work without a battery.

As Wired reports:

“Hello, hello.  I am calling from a battery-free phone.” Vamsi Talla’s words in a cluttered lab at the University of Washington in Seattle are barely audible through pops and static. But the fact they can be heard at all, on a nearby Android smartphone, is revolutionary, because Talla’s own cell phone has no battery at all. It draws what little power it needs from thin air.

The prototype cell phone is the culmination of a years-long quest by Talla, a research associate at the lab of Joshua Smith, who researches computer science and electrical engineering at UW. ‘If you had to pick one device to make battery-free, what would you pick,’ asks Smith. ‘A cell phone is one of the most useful objects there is. Now imagine if your battery ran out and you could still send texts and make calls.’

Realizing that vision required rethinking almost everything about how cell phones function today. In order to operate without a battery, the phone would have to rely only on energy that it could harvest from its surroundings.”

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Blood Repellent Super Material: Colorado State University researchers have invented a new life saving material capable of repelling any liquid, including blood and water.

As Futurism reports, “Implanted medical devices like stents, catheters, and titanium rods are essential, life-saving tools for patients around the world. Still, having a foreign object in the human body does pose its own risks – chiefly, having the body reject the object or increasing the risk of dangerous blood clots. A new collaboration between two distinct scientific disciplines is working toward making those risks a concern of the past.  Biomedical engineers and materials scientists from Colorado State University (CSU) have developed a ‘superhemophobic’ surface treatment for titanium that repels liquids including blood, plasma, and water. The titanium is essentially studded with nanoscale tubes treated with a non-stick chemical. The result is a surface that completely repels any liquid with which it would come in contact.”

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Are any of the ideas listed above the Greatest Idea Ever?

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To some people the future will always be out of our reach; impossible to predict despite the best efforts of today’s leading futurists and science fiction authors.  To others, we’re already living in it.  There are plenty of examples that could be used to help support either argument but one idea happens to work as an example for both: synthetic biology.  On the one hand, we’re starting to scratch the surface of what is possible so you could argue that the technology has already arrived.  On the other hand, the science is so new to use that we probably can’t even imagine how it will play out.

One person who may have a good idea of what is possible though is maverick pioneer Craig Venter.  Already one of the world’s leading synthetic biologists, Venter has now, for the first time, invented a machine capable of turning his own wild science fiction fantasies into a reality.

The machine is known as a DBC, a Digital to Biological Converter, and it sounds like something straight out of Star Trek.  The machine, once further refined, and shrunken down to a more manageable size so as to be commercially viable, would be capable of completing some pretty mind blowing tasks.  A homeowner could have one to print out the medications that they need to take or to create a sudden vaccine during a disease outbreak.  An astronaut could use one to print out life on another planet, thereby eliminating the need to transport already existing people across the vastness of space.  The machine could even be used to terraform a planet or to send unique alien lifeforms back to Earth from another world.  The possibilities are truly endless.

The Singularity Hub explains how it works:

“While automated DNA printers have already hit the market, the DBC takes it one step further. The machine is capable of building proteins from the genetic code (printing biological hardware, so to speak), bringing it one step closer to building living cells from scratch.

At the heart of the system is Archetype, proprietary software that optimally breaks down the input DNA sequence into more manageable short sequences to synthesize in parallel. This massively increases efficiency and reduces sequencing errors that increase with longer DNA strands.

Once assembled, the machine scans the strands for any errors before ‘pasting’ the bits back into complete DNA assembles. From there, a series of robotic arms transfer the DNA from module to module, automatically adding reagents that turn the synthetic genes into functional proteins.”

Obviously there is still a lot more work that needs to be done before we start seeing DBC’s on every street corner.  And if the struggles of the 3-D printing industry have taught us anything it’s that printing on demand isn’t as widely a sought after convenience as one might have imagined.  But then again, having the ability to print out your own medicine and vaccines could change that.  As could its ability to help us colonize space.

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Is the DBC the Greatest Idea Ever?


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Prepare to have your mind blown yet again for we may have finally figured out what dark matter is.  And we have the burgeoning field of superfluids to thank.

As Science Alert explains:

Superfluids are a form of cold, densely packed matter that has zero friction and viscosity, and can sometimes become a Bose-Einstein condensate, referred to as the ‘fifth state of matter’.  And as strange as they sound, superfluids are starting to appear more accessible than ever before, with researchers announcing just last week that they were able to create light that acts like a liquid – a form of superfluid – at room temperature for the first time.  The more we come to understand superfluids, the more physicists are willing to entertain the idea that they could be far more common in the Universe than we thought.”

Common enough to help us define what dark matter is?  Perhaps.

That’s the latest theory, at least, as put forth by University of Pennsylvania professor Justin Khoury and Princeton’s Lasha Berezhiani.  Essentially what they’re proposing is that Dark Matter isn’t just one phenomenon but rather a conglomeration of two different properties, one that takes hold on a micro scale, the scale of individual galaxies, and one that appears on a macro scale, when much larger structures are in play.

Basically, what they’re saying is that Dark Matter could be both a superfluid and weakly interacting ordinary particles at different times, holding galaxies together while also allowing ordinary matter to operate within the confines of that galaxy.  Which is why our calculations have always befuddled us up to this point.  We were looking for one explanation for all the unaccounted for matter in the Universe, for whatever undetectable force it was that was exerting gravitational influence on the structure of galaxies and the orbits of celestial objects within those galaxies but in vastly different ways.  If Dark Matter can behave differently on the macro and micro levels that could be the explanation that we were looking for.

As Science Alert puts it, “The idea is that the ‘halos’ of dark matter that exist around individual galaxies create the conditions necessary to form a superfluid – the gravitational pull of the galaxy ensures that it’s densely packed, and the coldness of space keeps the temperature suitably low.  Zoom out to a larger scale, and this gravitational pull becomes too weak to form a superfluid.”

Essentially, “The key here is that the existence of superfluid dark matter could explain the strange behaviors of individual galaxies that gravity alone can’t explain – it could be creating a second, as-yet-undefined force that acts just like gravity within the dark matter halos surrounding them.”

What could that as-yet-undefined force be?  Sound waves perhaps?

“When you disturb an electric field, you get radio waves, and when you disturb a gravitational field, you get gravitational waves. When you disturb a superfluid? You get phonons (sound waves), and this extra force could work in addition to gravity.”

If that’s true and the reason why Dark Matter has proven to be so elusive up to this point is because it’s really a superfluid most of the time then it may stand to reason that superfluids are far more prevalent throughout the Universe than we had imagined.  In fact, it may even be possible that the Universe itself is just one giant superfluid.

As Science Alert reported:

“’Recently, more physicists have warmed to the possibility of superfluid phases forming naturally in the extreme conditions of space,’ Jennifer Ouellette explains for Quanta Magazine.

“Superfluids may exist inside neutron stars, and some researchers have speculated that space-time itself may be a superfluid.”

I can get on board with this theory.  After all, I’ve always wondered what space was made up of.  It appears as total nothingness but I never believed that you could truly have nothing.  You’d have to have something.  And the superfluid explanation of space-time itself seems to fit.

Mind blown yet?


Have we finally figured out what Dark Matter is?

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We knew the human brain was special.  A remarkable information processing machine that we don’t fully understand.  Not yet, at least.  There was always the hope, though, that one day we might be able to figure out how it worked.  To figure out which part of the brain was responsible for which actions so that we might one day hope to reverse engineer it and then use that knowledge to create artificial intelligence that could mirror its properties.  However, a new mind-boggling discovery may be a damper on those plans.

As I Fucking Love Science puts it:

“The human brain is a convoluted labyrinth of passages in constant flux – routes are being created, strengthened, and deconstructed on a daily basis. On top of this, there are billions of neurons communicating with each other all day, every day via these ever-changing passages. At their junctions, there are synapses – about 1 quadrillion of them. If this all sounds complicated enough, then add a mind-boggling 11 dimensions to the mix.”

That’s right.  We just discovered that the human brain processes information in 11 dimensions!  11!!!  How do we know this?

According to Pionic, “Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.

The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.”

We can barely comprehend three dimension on a daily basis.  How in the world are we going to analyze 11 dimensions?!  I have no idea but I do find it interesting that the precise number of dimensions that the brain was found to process information in is 11.  After all, that’s the same number of dimensions that exist in the Universe according to String Theory.  Is this purely a coincidence?  Or a mathematical inevitability predicated on the design limitations of information processing networks whether they be individual brains or entire universes?

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Have we finally figured out how the brain works?  And for that matter, the Universe?

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Here’s a look at everything that tickled my fancy over the past week:

Liquid Light:  For the first time scientist have achieved “liquid light” at room temperature.

According to Science Alert, “Regular light behaves like a wave, and sometimes like a particle, always travelling in a straight line. That’s why your eyes can’t see around corners or objects. But under extreme conditions, light can also act like a liquid, and actually flow around objects.  Bose-Einstein condensates are interesting to physicists because in this state, the rules switch from classical to quantum physics, and matter starts to take on more wave-like properties.  They are formed at temperatures close to absolute zero and exist for only fractions of a second.  But in this study, researchers report making a Bose-Einstein condensate at room temperature by using a Frankenstein mash-up of light and matter.”

This breakthrough could help physicists better understand the way that the Universe works while also leading to improvements on existing light based technologies such as LEDs, lasers, and solar panels.

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Space Fabric: NASA’s new space material is a three-in-one, jack-of-all-trades.

As Wired puts it, “Researchers at JPL spent the last two years developing a metallic space fabric made of interlocking stainless steel squares. It looks like chain mail, but unlike the ancient armor, NASA’s fabric isn’t welded together. Instead a 3-D printer extrudes stainless steel as a continuous sheet of material with different properties on each side. From the front of the fabric, rows of shiny, flat squares can reflect heat and light. On the back, a series of interlocking loops help the fabric absorb heat. Together, the single piece of material acts like a super-strong shield, protecting astronauts and space crafts from outer orbit’s deadly obstacles.  The fabric isn’t special in its functionality, per se; NASA already employs materials on its space crafts to reflect heat, absorb heat, and protect from flying debris. But until now, NASA didn’t have a single material that could do all three.”

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The first AI Language: The singularity may be closer than we thought.  Facebook’s chat bots just created their own non-human language.

Futurism explains:

“In the report, researchers from the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab (FAIR) describe training their chatbot “dialog agents” to negotiate using machine learning. The chatbots were eager and successful deal-making pupils, but the researchers eventually realized they needed to tweak their model because the bots were creating their own negotiation language, diverting from human languages.  To put it another way, when they used a model that allowed the chatbots to converse freely, using machine learning to incrementally improve their conversational negotiation strategies as they chatted, the bots eventually created and used their own non-human language.”

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Quantum Communication Breakthrough: We may be one step closer to unhackable computers thanks to this latest development.

According to I Fucking Love Science, “Chinese scientists have achieved a milestone in quantum communication. They were able to send a pair of entangled photons over a distance of 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) using the satellite they launched last August. The previous record for quantum communication was about 100 kilometers (62 miles).”

That’s a 12x improvement over the previous record!

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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During the summer months the amount of money that it requires to power your house increases exponentially.  For low income families in a warm weather climate such as Arizona that means faces a tough choice: air condition your home or put food in your bellies.  But what if it didn’t have to be that way?  What if your home could actually generate the energy that you needed?

That’s the promise of a new solar paint from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology capable of generating hydrogen fuel from sunlight and the moisture in the air.

According to Science Alert, this incredible breakthrough works by combining, “the titanium oxide already used in many wall paints with a new compound: synthetic molybdenum-sulphide. The latter acts a lot like the silica gel packaged with many consumer products to keep them free from damage by absorbing moisture.”

The paint can easily be applied to any existing surface, even a brick wall.  In fact, according to Futurism,“The paint could be used to cover areas that wouldn’t get enough sunlight to justify the placement of solar panels, maximizing the capability of any property to generate clean energy. Any surface that could be painted — a fence, a shed, a doghouse — could be transformed into an energy-producing structure.”

Best of all this paint would work in just about any climate whether they be damp or dry.  Even areas far removed from bodies of water would benefit from this technology so long as there is at least some water vapor in the air.

Unfortunately, it’ll be a few years before this paint is commercially viable.  But on the bright side low income families will have one less difficult choice to make when it is.

Is energy producing solar paint the Greatest Idea Ever?

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