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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

#1,449 – The FCC

When plans for the Large Hadron Collider were first announced there were some people who feared that it might rip up a hole in the space-time continuum when it was turned on, effectively destroying all life on Earth.  Obviously, that never happened with the particle accelerator instead ushering in a new age in particle physics as several game-changing discoveries unfolded, including the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle that gives other particles mass.

However, part of me wonders if some of those same fears might return upon news of CERN’s latest plan for a new particle accelerator (the FCC – Future Circular Collider) that would dwarf the current size of the LHC as it tries to figure out what Dark Matter is and solve the mysteries of the Universe.  After all, the sheer size of the thing (62 miles long and x10 more powerful) surely must invite some kind of risk, even if the LHC worked out swimmingly.

If that’s not the case and there really is no risk at all regardless of size then why not go all in on the concept of smashing atoms at high speeds?!

As Futurism reports:

“’We have to draw a line somewhere otherwise we end up with a collider that is so large that it goes around the equator,’ former U.K. chief scientific advisor David King told the BBC of the plans for the FCC.  ‘And if it doesn’t end there perhaps there will be a request for one that goes to the Moon and back.’”

Come to think of it both of those sound like good ideas to me!  Secrets of the Universe here we come!

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Is the FCC the Greatest Idea Ever?

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With the average brain containing approximately 86 billion neurons, all capable of forming an infinite number of connections with each other, we knew that there was some serious computational power sitting inside our skulls.  In fact, the human brain is the most complex system ever discovered in the known Universe.  The only thing that comes close to its complexity is perhaps the Universe itself.  Which is fitting because new neuroscience research suggests that the two have a lot in common.

There is obviously a lot about the Universe that we don’t know.  Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the nature of gravity for starters.  But that hasn’t stopped some enterprising individuals to try and come up with the elusive Theory of Everything that could combine Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics.  One of the leading contenders for a TOE is M-Theory.

As Quanta Magazine explains:

“String theory (or, more technically, M-theory) is often described as the leading candidate for the theory of everything in our universe. But there’s no empirical evidence for it, or for any alternative ideas about how gravity might unify with the rest of the fundamental forces. Why, then, is string/M-theory given the edge over the others?

The theory famously posits that gravitons, as well as electrons, photons and everything else, are not point-particles but rather imperceptibly tiny ribbons of energy, or ‘strings,’ that vibrate in different ways. Interest in string theory soared in the mid-1980s, when physicists realized that it gave mathematically consistent descriptions of quantized gravity. But the five known versions of string theory were all ‘perturbative,’ meaning they broke down in some regimes. Theorists could calculate what happens when two graviton strings collide at high energies, but not when there’s a confluence of gravitons extreme enough to form a black hole.

Then, in 1995, the physicist Edward Witten discovered the mother of all string theories. He found various indications that the perturbative string theories fit together into a coherent nonperturbative theory, which he dubbed M-theory. M-theory looks like each of the string theories in different physical contexts but does not itself have limits on its regime of validity — a major requirement for the theory of everything. Or so Witten’s calculations suggested.”

Puny humans like you and me can only perceive “reality” in three dimensions, but one of the main components of M-Theory is the suggestion that these strings actually fit within 11 dimensions.  If that’s true then that means that there are quantum phenomenon that we can’t perceive in the same way that we’re incapable of seeing infrared light.  Now here’s why that’s important.  Not only is space-time ultimately made up of 11 dimensions but the inner workings of the human brain also allegedly operate according to that same structure.  At least that’s the case according to the latest neuroscience research that suggests that the human brain is also capable of processing information in up to 11 dimensions.

According to Futurism, “This latest brain model was produced by a team of researchers from the Blue Brain Project, a Swiss research initiative devoted to building a supercomputer-powered reconstruction of the human brain.

The team used algebraic topology, a branch of mathematics used to describe the properties of objects and spaces regardless of how they change shape. They found that groups of neurons connect into ‘cliques’, and that the number of neurons in a clique would lead to its size as a high-dimensional geometric object.

‘We found a world that we had never imagined,’ says lead researcher, neuroscientist Henry Markramfrom the EPFL institute in Switzerland. “There are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to 11 dimensions.”

Surely this can’t be a coincidence can it?  Two complex structures, the brain and the Universe, both susceptible to quantum fluctuations, those in the brain that lead to consciousness and those in space-time that lead to the nature of reality itself, both capable of operating in up to 11 dimensions. Wouldn’t this suggest that M-Theory is no longer just a theory but rather an accurate description of reality? And taken further, wouldn’t this also seem to suggest that perhaps the entire Universe is capable of achieving consciousness as well?!?

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Is it merely coincidence that the brain and the Universe operate within 11 dimensions?!

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#1,436 – Edible Cotton

If we’re going to feed the world’s ever expanding population then we’re going to need to think outside the box.  To come up with some innovative new farming techniques in order to create highly efficient sources of protein.

Using CRISPR and synthetic biology to genetically modify crops with greater yields is a good start.  As is creating lab grown meat that can reduce our dependency on cattle.  But there may be something that we can do that’s even better than either of those two things.  An idea that’s really outside the box: edible cotton.

Now, I’m not talking about cotton candy.  I’m talking about actual cotton.  The stuff that fabric is made of.

As Futurism puts it:

“Cotton is one of the most widely grown crops in the world. In addition to producing fiber we use for fabrics, it also generates a ton of peanut-sized seeds — for every pound of cotton fiber, we get 1.6 pounds of seeds.

These seeds contain a ton of protein. Unfortunately, they also contain a ton of gossypol, a chemical compound that protects the plant from pests and diseases.

Gossypol is toxic to humans, but [Keerti] Rathore figured out how to genetically modify the cotton plant to silence the gene that produces gossypol in its seeds. The chemical still turns up elsewhere in the plant, though, so it retains its natural protection from harm.”

This is ingenious.  Making the seeds edible but leaving the plant’s natural protection in place.  An innovation that could enable us to one day use these seeds in a variety of ways.

According to Futurism, “He envisions a future in which we roast the edible cottonseeds to snack on, or grind them into a flour we could use to make breads and other baked goods.”

I wonder if this same technique could be used for other crops, enabling us to bypass nature’s defenses in order to create other edible crops?  Edible lavender anyone?

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Is edible cotton the Greatest Idea Ever?

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One of the biggest buzzwords and trends in 2018 was Artificial Intelligence.  AI was everywhere you looked from the Echo speaker in your living room to the algorithms powering your Facebook feed and Google searches.  2019 promises more of the same and then some thanks to new research that shows it may be possible to create the next generation of AI from good old DNA.

According to I Fucking Love Science, “Researchers at Caltech have built an artificial neural network made exclusively from man-made organic matter. One day, a more advanced version of the network could potentially diagnose diseases, make decisions, and even forge its own memories. For now, it is able to categorize handwritten numbers, as shown in a study published in the journal Nature.”

What else could this amazing innovation be used for?!

As The Next Web puts it, “The smart soup is more like a broth at this point, but it has the potential to become a full-fledged stew with further development. Eventually, such a neural network could be developed to add AI at the molecular level to, well, everything. Artificially intelligent molecules could be the key to developing invisibility paint or disease-eradicating nanobots  – the possibilities are almost endless.”

Clearly Artificial Intelligence is here to stay.  What form it winds up taking, however, has yet to be determined.

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Is AI made from DNA the Greatest Idea Ever?

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My whole life I’ve struggled to swallow pills causing me to suffer in pain and endure longer bouts of illness than I otherwise wouldn’t have needed to.  However, we may soon have a pill that I’d be lining up to take as it soon may be possible to treat medical issues with specially designed DNA based pills that are programmed to respond to the needs of our specific cells.

As Futurism explains:

“Researchers from the University of Chicago figured out a way to trick strands of DNA into behaving like switches — a development in a field known as molecular computation.

The hope is that we can combine these switches into logic gates — the same basic computational building blocks that power the electronics in your computer or smartphone.

Eventually, the Chicago researchers imagine, we could incorporate those DNA-powered computers into pills, programming them to keep watch on our bodies and release medications in response to signs of distress from individual cells.”

Now here’s where things get really interesting.

“Not only could it lead to incredible medical treatments, it also conjures up visions of a future in which tiny computers reside alongside the natural cells and microflora in the human body — a development that could call into question what exactly it means to be human.”

I just have one request though.  If we’re going to go through with molecular computation and design these programmable smart pills can we at least make sure they are easy to swallow?  Asking for a friend.

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Is Molecular Computation the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The best of the best.  These ideas literally have the potential to change the world.

Implosion Fabrication: A new breakthrough could make it possible to shrink down anything to the nanoscale using equipment that already exists in most labs bringing nanotech to the masses.  Given these factors Implosion Fabrication could one day be bigger than 3-D printing.

Desktop Supercomputers: It used to be that computers took up entire rooms.  Now they fit in our pockets as smartphones.  And soon room sized desktop supercomputers will fit inside our pockets as well as a recent breakthrough has managed to shrink one down to the size of a desktop computer.

Graphair: Graphene, the wonder material, has lots of potential uses, but Graphair might be the best one as this graphene based water filter works so well, in fact, that it can even make ocean water drinkable as an experiment in Sydney Harbor attested to.

Graphene Energy: I take that back.  The best use of Graphene may be as a potential source of unlimited clean energy as physicstis at the University of Arkansas have invented a nano-scale power generator capable of generating energy from the movement of graphene.  At the very least this study proves that it may be possible to use two dimensional materials as a source of energy.  Speaking of which…

Graphene x100: We were lucky to stumble upon the amazing properties of Graphene, but there are likely still hundreds of other compounds that we have yet to discover that would also be capable of doing some pretty amazing things.  Instead of waiting for these discoveries to happen naturally over time a team of researchers decide to use an advanced computer model to brute force hack the results, leading to the discovery of more than two hundred other compounds with unique properties.  If some of them are even better than Graphene the world will never be the same again.

Xofluza: Suffering from the flu may soon be a thing of the past thanks to this new treatment that stops symptoms dead in their tracks within 24 hours.

Color X-Rays: A new breakthrough gives doctors unprecedented ability to see everything in a patient (blood vessels, muscles, etc.) in addition to bone in vivid color.

Solid: As Facebook counters to be embroidered in controversy after controversy it’s becoming more and more clear that the web needs to be re-imagined.  Enter Solid from Tim Berners-Lee, one of the original inventors of the web.  This exciting project aims to re-invent the world wide web by giving people control over their data as they move through the web. Will take a couple of years but this project has the potential to completely revolutionize the Internet and society along with it.

Blood Type Converter: In need of a blood transfusion?  You better hope that someone nearby shares your blood type or has Type O, making them a Universal donor.  But in the future blood type won’t matter.  Thanks to a new technique that enables any blood type to be converted into Type O.

Apple Watch Series 4: Smart watches haven’t really caught on yet but that may change thanks to the latest Apple watch and its ability to detect heart attacks before they happen.

AT-121: This new drug is said to kill pain just as effectively as morphine but in a dose 100x smaller.  And best of all it isn’t addictive.

Agriculture Breakthrough: It is now possible to grow vegetables without sunlight or soil, a breakthrough that could pave the way for space travel.

BioLEC: A new field of science that aims to use the energy from photons to power chemical reactions, similar to how plants utilize photosynthesis.  If successful it may one be possible to modify the arrangement of molecules so that we can make say, jet fuel, from something as innocuous as sugar.

BrainNET: Researchers from the University of Washington created a brain to brain interface that enabled a group of three people to play a Tetris like game.  The system is still rudimentary but it gives rise to the idea that we may one day all hour our brains hooked up to the Internet, enabling us to send our thoughts and emotions across the web in addition to memes.

CRISPR: The famous gene-editing technique really came to the forefront in 2018 with news that it can be used to created genetically modified food.  However, that was just setting the stage for one of the biggest news stories of the year: a Chinese scientist who allegedly conceived the first baby genetically modify using CRISPR.

ApeelThis natural coating can be applied to fruits and vegetables to double or even quadruple their shelf life!

Self-Fertilizing Corn: A type of corn, native to Mexico, produces its own fertilizer, a discovery which could have a huge economic and environmental impact as we struggle to feed the world’s population.

Magnesite: This lab generated mineral is capable of removing carbon dioxide from the air at faster rates than natural occurring processes and could become an important weapon in the fight against climate change.

Chronic Pain Test: Australian researchers have identified a molecule that may indicate exactly how much pain a person is in, enabling doctors to accurately adjust pain medication dosage.

Protein Power: Evolution naturally solves some problems, like making people immune to a certain disease, through the use of proteins.  But we don’t have the luxury of waiting for evolution to solve all of our pressing problems.  Thankfully, a new breakthrough means that we won’t have to as researchers have found a way to control the process by which proteins are made, allowing us to make new ones that aren’t found naturally.  New ones that may have the potential to solve all of our problems from fixing Climate Change to curing diseases.  When it’s all said and done this breakthrough could have a greater impact than CRISPR gene editing or synthetic biology.

Heart Patch: In the future it may be possible to repair the damage from heart attacks and prevent them from happening again thanks t a microneedle patch that injects stem cells directly into the heart.

Dissolvable Microneedles: Speaking of microneedles they may soon solve another major medical problem, allowing for people to receive injections without the need for a painful needle, as medications can instead be delivered by applying a harmless microneedle based patch that dissolves into the skin.

Alzheimer’s Eye Exam: Early detection of Alzheimer’s may now be possible thanks to a quick and easy eye exam that can determine mental health issues by examining the health of the blood vessels located behind the eye.

Cure for the Common Cold: The holy grail of medical research may finally be on the verge of happening thanks to the development of a new molecule that is capable of blocking the virus that causes the cold from reaching the protein that it normally infects.  Similar approaches have been tried in the past but this is the first time that there weren’t any side effects.

Cure for Baldness: A real hair-raising idea thanks to new research from scientists at the University of Manchester who created a drug that targets the protein that inhibits hair growth.

Earth BioGenome Project: Similar to the Human Genome Project this vast undertaking ($4.7 Billion, 10 years) aims to further our understanding of genetics and biology by sequencing the genome of eurakyotes i.e. everything that contains a nucleus.  Which is pretty much everything on Earth (plants, animals, etc.) with the exception of bacteria.

Plastic Eating Enzyme: Considering that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a trash pile currently floating in the Pacific Ocean), is twice the size of Texas, we need to find a way to clean up our oceans, and fast. Thankfully a serendipitous accidental discovery is here to help, in the form of a new enzyme that is capable of breaking down plastic, and at a faster rate than occurs naturally.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Greta Thunberg is my hero.  Completely fearless, she tells it like it is on the world stage to anyone who will listen and even to those who won’t.  But more than that she also puts her money where her mouth is, taking action on the front lines of our impending war for survival, the one pitting logic and reason against ignorance and misinformation, the ultimate battle that is the epic global showdown over Climate Change.  Doing so, week after week, rain or shine, until people take notice, her boundless spirit knowing no end.  Which is all the more impressive when you consider that she’s autistic and just fifteen years old.

But that hasn’t stopped this modern day Joan of Arc from leading her side to victory.  If anything, it just adds to her appeal.  An image that she cultivated by calling out world leaders for their lack of action on Climate Change at the COP24 climate summit in Poland a few weeks ago.  But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s a look at the full transcript from her viral speech:

“My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden. I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now. Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself. We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people. Thank you”.

Greta didn’t mince her words and rightfully so.  But there was one line in particular that really stood out to me:

“We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

I agree with this sentiment 100%.  It perfectly encapsulates how I’ve always felt about Climate Change.  Even if there weren’t Climate Change deniers, even if everyone was on the same page and in perfect agreement that something needed to be done, we still wouldn’t be doing enough to bring about the global change that we need.  That fact that there has been opposition along the way just makes the uphill battle we’re facing all the more daunting.

So what can we do about it?  How can we actually treat this crisis like a crisis?

Well, Greta has an idea because of course she does.  She wants to lead the world on a global climate strike.  Students wouldn’t go to school.  Workers wouldn’t go to their jobs. Everything would shut down, everything coming to a screeching halt, until the governments of the world finally take action.  And so far people from around the world have followed her lead, joining her on school strikes and walkouts, every Friday, from across Europe and all the way to Australia.

But there is still more work to be done.  More striking that needs to occur.  More walkouts that need to happen.  More attention that needs to be drawn to the issue.  But thankfully we have the right person for the job.  A hero for the modern age.  The one and only Greta Thunberg.  Climate Change activist.  People’s champion.  Driving force behind the Greatest Idea of the Year.

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Is a Global Climate Strike the Greatest Idea Ever?

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