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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Meteorologists get a lot of flak for their inability to accurately forecast the weather, especially when it comes to matters of precipitation.  But one area that they usually excel in is predicting the temperature, the expected highs and lows for the day.  There’s just one problem: that information is too broad.  Too general.  It doesn’t take into account the conditions in your exact surroundings.

For example, let’s say it’s 60 degrees out and you want to run across the street from your office to get a cup of coffee.  Based on the temperature you figure you can get by without bringing a jacket or sweater.  But you failed to take into account the fact that the other side of the street is in the shade and more so in a wind tunnel that the other nearby buildings have created.  Instead of feeling like 60 degrees it now feels like 50 and in turn you’re freezing to death.  Similarly, you may be hiking on a cool day when you enter an exposed canyon with no tree cover.  Instead of feeling like it’s 76 degrees out it now feels closer to 87 as the sun directly beats down on you.

Since the hyper-local temperature you feel may be different than the general overarching temperature in your area, shouldn’t we come up with a way for people to judge the temperature in their immediate surroundings?  What I’m imagining then is an app for smart phones, smart watches, or other wearable devices that would help people figure out once and for all weather or not they need to bring that jacket with them.

It would do this by using satellite images to scan surroundings for pockets of sunlight and potential blind spots where cooler air could sneak in.  It would also take into account the movement of clouds to accurately predict cloud cover and even evaluate the composition of nearby building materials to calculate their magnifying effects.

Future iterations may even take into account your own metabolism and body temperature to help you figure out exactly how hot or cold you feel independent of what the actual weather is.  At any given time you’ll be able to know your internal temperature, how hot or cold you feel, how hot or cold it feels in your exact area, and generally how hot or cold it really is outside.  Anything and everything you could ever want to know about temperature would be at your disposal.  All in one location.  Making it so that we never have to rely on that pesky weatherman ever again.

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Is knowing the temperature in your exact spot the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Trying to predict trends ahead of time can be challenging.  You never quite know how new ideas will be received in the marketplace.  New technologies and scientific breakthroughs seemingly pop up out of nowhere.  Flashes of brilliance coming when we least expect them.  But I have a fair bit of confidence in predicting that Dopamine Hacking is likely going to increase in popularity in the near future.  At least for a short while.

According to Web MD, “Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s a big part of our unique human ability to think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting.  Your body spreads it along four major pathways in the brain. Like most other systems in the body, you don’t notice it (or maybe even know about it) until there’s a problem.  Too much or too little of it can lead to a vast range of health issues. Some are serious, like Parkinson’s disease. Others are much less dire.”

And now people want to hack it. To achieve optimal performance.  In theory, it makes sense.  In practice, it seems a little bit odd.

As Science Alert puts it, “It’s the latest fad in Silicon Valley. By reducing the brain’s feel-good chemical known as dopamine – cutting back on things like food, sex, alcohol, social media and technology – followers believe that they can ‘reset’ the brain to be more effective and appreciate simple things more easily.

Some even go so far as avoiding all social activities, and even eye contact.”

Silicon Valley seems to have a lot of fads.  Micro-dosing LSD.  Injecting yourself with the blood of a younger person to stave off the effects of aging.  Various diet crazes.  But Dopamine Fasting, an attempt to literally hack your brain has got to take the cake.  It’ll be interesting to see just how far this trend goes.  And if it lasts until 2021.

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Is Dopamine Hacking the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The most impactful scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements of the past year.  In short, the Greatest Ideas of the Year!

Picture of a Black Hole – There is still much we don’t know about the Universe and Black Holes are usually found near the top of that list.  Is it really true that information can’t escape them? Are they clumps of Dark Matter and not holes at all? No one knows for sure.  We don’t even know what they look like.  At least we didn’t.  Until now.  Thanks to the biggest scientific breakthrough of 2019.

Prime Editing – Forget about ordinary, run of the mill CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing.  The capabilities of the new Prime Editing technique are light years beyond that, providing scientists with significantly more precision, enabling edits to be made quicker and with fewer mistakes.  This means that scientists can now make virtually any edit – additions, deletions, swapping letters – without severing the famed DNA double helix.  It’s like using copy and paste in a word processor instead of crude scissors.  Already 89 percent of the mutations that cause human diseases can be fixed.  The future of gene editing just got turbo charged.

Blue Origin’s Moon Lander – In May, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos unveiled a mock-up of his private space company’s moon lander, Blue Moon, laying the groundwork towards establishing a permanent human colony on the Moon.  An important first step towards eventually making our way to Mars and beyond.  All part of Bezos’ vision to move all mining and industrial operations on Earth to outer space.  It may not seem like it yet but this news could be foreshadowing the Dawn of a New Era – the key moment in time when human civilization began its inevitable climb to the sky.

PDK Plastic – The creation of plastic in 1907 was a revolutionary breakthrough that altered society several times over.  Nearly every industry has been touched by it from food to transportation.  But sadly one of our greatest creations is also one of most troubling as we are now literally drowning in a sea of plastic and microplastic waste with a whopping 91% of plastic not even getting recycled and those that are taking over four hundred years to degrade.  Thankfully there may be a solution on the way.  A new kind of plastic, known as PDK, that would be 100% recyclable and reusable in a variety of ways.  This massive reduction in plastic’s environmental impact can not be understated.  At this point it would be nearly impossible to untether ourselves from our reliance on plastic.  Now we won’t have to.

Wildfire Vaccine – As the Australian Brush Fires rage out of control, killing over 500 million animals, displacing thousands of people, and ruining air quality for everyone else, it becomes increasingly clear that we need new technological solutions to combating the devastating effects of Climate Change.  Thankfully we may have one with a new gel capable of acting like a delivery system for fire retardant, in essence acting like a Wildfire Vaccine, thereby preventing fires from spreading in the first place.  All we’d have to do is coat the world’s forests with the stuff.

Google’s Quantum Supremacy – Google’s quantum computer was reportedly able to perform a calculation in three minutes and twenty seconds, a calculation so complex that it would take the world’s fastest supercomputer, Summit, 10,000 years to complete!  If that’s true then Google has achieved Quantum supremacy and the future of search, and everything else, will never be the same again.

Room Temperature Superconductors – One of the Holy Grails of Science is to create a room temperature superconductor, a breakthrough that could have far-reaching implications.  A breakthrough that may now be possible thanks to a new design from Navy Scientist Salvatore Cezar Pais.

Drug Sponge – The ravaging effects of chemotherapy may be dampened in the near future thanks to a newly designed drug sponge that would sit inside a patient’s vein during treatment and absorb excess drugs, thereby minimizing side effects.  A potential game-changer for cancer patients everywhere.

Borophene – As much as it pains me to say it may be time for Graphene to leave the spotlight and make way for another 2D material with exciting properties, Borophene.  This single layer of Boron atoms that form various crystalline structures could eventually lead to a new generation of more powerful lithium-ion batteries among other uses that has got everyone from chemists to physicists excited beyond belief.

Self-Sovereign Identity – Instead of relying on Facebook and Google to authenticate our identities for us (allowing us to access various webpages) we may soon be able to control our own online identities enabling us to move across the web more securely.  And even more importantly we may soon be able to give people without any kind of identifying credentials at all, the means to access financial services like opening bank accounts and securing loans.  This idea of Self-Sovereign Identity, one of the holy grails of Internet Technology, may be the most important technological development of the last decide.  Even more so than BitCoin, the Blockchain, or any other digital or cryptocurrency development.

Heliogen Solar – Bill Gates secretive clean energy startup is capable of capturing enough sunlight so as to create a “Solar Oven”, one capable of reaching temperatures at a rate that is an astonishing 1/4 of what the Sun can produce.  This means that for the first time, concentrated solar can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass, and other industrial processes, essentially enabling sunlight to replace fossil fuels.  A revolutionary breakthrough in the fight against Climate Change.

Curing Cancer in Space – A team of doctors from Australia’s University of Technology believes that it may be possible to cure cancer in space since microgravity disrupts cells ability to detect their surroundings and communicate with one another.

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2019 had no shortage of great ideas.

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Back in September, The Verge recapped the Netflix documentary about the life of Bill Gates in the following manner:

“Each episode of Inside Bill’s Brain focuses on one of the foundation’s major initiatives: improving sewage conditions in developing countries, eradicating polio, and developing a cleaner, safer form of nuclear power. Each of the three parts shifts rapidly between interviews, biographical material, and fly-on-the-wall footage of the Gates team’s philanthropic missions. Guggenheim eschews traditional transitions, and instead jumps from subject to subject, even when there’s no clear connection between them. The point, apparently, is to replicate Bill Gates’ thought processes. Having spent most of his adult life (and even some of his teenage years) juggling multiple complicated projects, Gates doesn’t have the kind of mind that functions in neat, straight lines.”

Now, just two months later, it seems that Netflix may want to order a second season.  For Gates was apparently juggling another complicated project this whole time: a company that could revolutionize solar energy and make a significant impact in the fight against Climate Change.

According to CNN:

Heliogen, a clean energy company that emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday, said it has discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius.

Essentially, Heliogen created a solar oven — one capable of reaching temperatures that are roughly a quarter of what you’d find on the surface of the sun.

The breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes. In other words, carbon-free sunlight can replace fossil fuels in a heavy carbon-emitting corner of the economy that has been untouched by the clean energy revolution.”

This is a tremendous breakthrough.  One that further cements Gates legacy as the greatest technophilanthropist of our time and begs the question: what subject is he going to jump to next?

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Is Heliogen the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,576 – Unsinkable Metal

It may be too late to save the Titanic but that hasn’t stopped scientists from inventing an unsinkable metal that could be used in the construction of floating cities or to help ships stay afloat.

According to Business Insider, “The scientists used lasers to carve tiny grooves into the surface of an aluminum disk. These etchings trapped air, forming a protective barrier that caused water droplets to slide off the metal surface.

But if the metal was held underwater long enough, the grooves would eventually fill up with water instead of air, the researchers found. So they placed two of the etched metal disks on either end of a small pillar, with the etched sides facing inward. They left a gap in the center that’s small enough to prevent water from entering. That creates an air bubble that helps the array to float.”

But that’s not all!  Far from the ocean this research could even help out in developing countries.

“Guo’s research has also shown that just a few droplets of water are sufficient to rid the metal of dirt. So he’s been working with the Gates Foundation to understand how these properties could improve sanitation in developing countries. Latrines made out of similar etched metal, for example, could be easier to clean.”

At this rate this new material may be more than unsinkable.  It may soon be unstoppable.

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Is an unsinkable metal the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,575 – MediSieve

They power MRI machines, make stereos, earphones, and televisions possible, and help us store data in computers.  They even help seal the doors to refrigerators and freezers.  Magnets as it turns out, are extremely useful, and are instrumental in the development and deployment of several key technologies.  And now we can add one more trick to their resume: curing diseases.  For it may soon be possible to remove diseases from our blood using the power of magnetism! A neat trick that shouldn’t be all that hard to pull off.

As Futurism reports:

“Thanks to existing research, biochemical scientist George Frodsham knew it was possible to force magnetic nanoparticles to bind to specific cells in the body. But while other researchers did so primarily to make those cells show up in images, he wondered whether the same technique might allow doctors to remove unwanted cells from the blood.

‘When someone has a tumor you cut it out,’ he told The Telegraph. ‘Blood cancer is a tumor in the blood, so why not just take it out in the same way?’

To that end, he created MediSieve, a treatment technology that works similarly to dialysis, by removing a patient’s blood and infusing it with magnetic nanoparticles designed to bind to a specific disease. It then uses magnets to draw out and trap those cells before pumping the filtered blood back into the patient.

The idea is that doctors could run a person’s blood through the machine several times until their levels of the disease are low enough to be wiped out by drugs or even the patient’s own immune system.”

Personally, I love this idea as it’s an ingenious solution that takes advantage of existing technologies and scientific knowledge.  A leveling up of skills that is the hallmark of scientific endeavor.  Hopefully, it winds up working as well in practice as in theory.

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Is MediSieve the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,573 – Prime Editing

Of all the new ideas, scientific breakthroughs, and transformative technologies that I’ve written about, CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing has the chance to make the biggest impact; saving the world several times over by eradicating diseases and creating more sustainable crops and biofuels.  It also pales in comparison to a new gene editing technique that may very well have the potential to cure almost all diseases.

As Wired explains, “The system, which [David] Liu’s lab has dubbed ‘prime editing,’ can for the first time make virtually any alteration—additions, deletions, swapping any single letter for any other—without severing the DNA double helix. “If Crispr-Cas9 is like scissors and base editors are like pencils, then you can think of prime editors to be like word processors,” Liu told reporters in a press briefing.

Why is that a big deal? Because with such fine-tuned command of the genetic code, prime editing could, according to Liu’s calculations, correct around 89 percent of the mutations that cause heritable human diseases. Working in human cell cultures, his lab has already used prime editors to fix the genetic glitches that cause sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Tay-Sachs disease. Those are just three of more than 175 edits the group unveiled…”

Considering the challenges associated with gene-editing – the precision required, the specific instructions needed, the blind faith in the cell’s machinery to follow the instructions and make the required edits – it’s no surprise that if often doesn’t go according to plan.  For all its promise, it’s far from full-proof.  Prime editing on the other hand, is light years beyond CAS-9’s capabilities.  As David Liu put it, we’re talking about the difference between crudely using scissors to make edits and using Microsoft word to cut and paste.

Here’s exactly how it works:

“prime editor is a little different. Its enzyme is actually two that have been fused together—a molecule that acts like a scalpel combined with something called a reverse transcriptase, which converts RNA into DNA. His RNA guide is a little different too: It not only finds the DNA in need of fixing, but also carries a copy of the edit to be made. When it locates its target DNA, it makes a little nick, and the reverse transcriptase starts adding the corrected sequence of DNA letter by letter, like the strikers on a typewriter. The result is two redundant flaps of DNA—the original and the edited strand. Then the cell’s DNA repair machinery swoops in to cut away the original (marked as it is with that little nick), permanently installing the desired edit.”

Now, prime editing isn’t perfect.  The size of these larger molecules may be difficult to deliver into the body.  Mistakes can still happen.  But at the very least it shows us what’s possible.  Shows us that when it comes to gene editing we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what may be possible.

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Is Prime Editing the Greatest Idea Ever?

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