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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

#1,357 – Magnesite

Seattle has just set a new record for the numbers of days in a year with a recorded temperature of 85 degrees or higher at 27.  Topping the previous record set just last year.  That mind numbing statistic is just the latest proof that Climate Change is very real and teetering on the edge of reaching a point of no return.

If humanity is going to have any hope of saving planet Earth we’re going to need to come up with a scientific and technological solution that saves the environment.  Thankfully, there may now be a way to do just that, thanks to a new lab generated mineral known as magnesite, that may be capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a cheap, efficient, and highly scalable method.

As The Independent explains, “Magnesite is a naturally occurring rock used in jewelry and for various industrial processes, and its carbon-storing capacity was already known to scientists…however, while previous studies have explored the potential of storing polluting gases in underground rock formations, the potential of these activities is hampered by the time it takes for new minerals to form.”

Just how much time are we talking?  Try thousands of years.  And time is a luxury that we simply don’t have anymore.  Thankfully, magnesite works much quicker than that.  Just 72 days to be precise.  That’s a significant reduction to say the least.  And best of all, the whole takes place at room temperature significantly reducing the barrier to implementation.

Considering that every ton of magnesite is capable of removing about half a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere we’re going to need a whole hell of a lot of it if we’re going to stand a chance of reversing Climate Change.  Hopefully, the research into magnesite continues to progress and we get our hands on the stuff as quickly as possible.  The future of the planet may depend on it.

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Is Magnesite the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,350 – Panpsychism

What is consciousness?  It’s one of the biggest questions left for mankind to answer and despite thinking about it for thousands of years we’re no closer to coming up with an answer.  Or, at least we weren’t until recently when a new theory known as Panpsychism started to gain popularity.

In essence, the theory puts forth the idea that everything, even rocks, have the potential to be conscious thanks to the fact that every single particle contains an inherent ability to be conscious.  How those particles ultimately come together and mix with other types of matter determines whether or not the host entity gains consciousness.  But that ability for consciousness was always there.  Lying dormant for millennia until given the right opportunity.

Quartz does a great job of explaining all of this in even more detail:

“Dualism holds that consciousness is separate and distinct from physical matter—but that then raises the question of how consciousness interacts and has an effect on the physical world.

Panpsychism offers an attractive alternative solution: Consciousness is a fundamental feature of physical matter; every single particle in existence has an ‘unimaginably simple’ form of consciousness, says Goff. These particles then come together to form more complex forms of consciousness, such as humans’ subjective experiences. This isn’t meant to imply that particles have a coherent worldview or actively think, merely that there’s some inherent subjective experience of consciousness in even the tiniest particle.

Panpsychism doesn’t necessarily imply that every inanimate object is conscious. ‘Panpsychists usually don’t take tables and other artifacts to be conscious as a whole,’ writes Hedda Hassel Mørch, a philosophy researcher at New York University’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, in an email. ‘Rather, the table could be understood as a collection of particles that each have their own very simple form of consciousness.’

But, then again, Panpsychism could very well imply that conscious tables exist: One interpretation of the theory holds that ‘any system is conscious,’ says Chalmers. ‘Rocks will be conscious, spoons will be conscious, the Earth will be conscious. Any kind of aggregation gives you consciousness.’”

This makes sense to me and while I don’t believe that a rock is conscious I do believe that it’s entirely possible that what gives rise to consciousness in living things is a source code of sorts that comes along with every particle as a factory setting.  And here’s why.

We’re all made up of stardust and when we die all of our particles are recommissioned.  This means that a particle that was in Cleopatra could very well be inside me or you and that a part of us may one day wind up inside one of Grumpy Cat’s grandchildren.  It’s the circle of life.  What’s new is old and will be new again.

Meanwhile Information Theory holds that everything that happens is driven by a fundamental Law of the Universe, the idea that everything is encoded with information whose sole purpose is to be disseminated as efficiently as possible to its lowest possible energy state as quickly as possible.  It’s why the instructions for creating new life is so elegantly compacted down into DNA and it’s why the Universe is expanding so rapidly.

Quantum Physics on the other hand is strange.  It’s spooky action at a distance as Einstein put it.  Could time be flowing backwards?  Maybe?  Could we be living in a simulation?  Perhaps.  We don’t know for sure.  But there are a few things that we do know and every year we figure out yet another piece of the puzzle.  Some of the those recent pieces include the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle and the recent theory of Emergent Gravity which suggests that gravity may not be a fundamental force at all, but rather something that emerges locally the way that temperature arises from the movement of particles.  What would be emerging locally you ask?  None other than the postulated particle central to making Gravity work, the Graviton.  When push comes to shove, if there’s a natural phenomenon that we can’t explain that’s probably because we haven’t discovered the particle that describes it yet.  Dark Matter?  Probably explainable by dark matter particles that we don’t know about.

So it should come as no surprise that this new theory of consciousness revolves around an inherent ability, encoded as information in a particle, waiting for an opportunity to get commissioned into something capable of entering into consciousness.  Whether or not that ever happens is a matter of chance.

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Is Pnpsychism the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Researchers from MIT have figured out a way to let NAVY SEALs and other deep sea divers survive in cold waters for twice as long as is currently possible.  They did this by creating an Artificial Blubber of sorts to surround the divers, replacing the air in their wetsuits with a heavy gas.

According to Futurism, “The material used to construct most standard wetsuits is neoprene, a synthetic rubber that resembles a dense foam with lots of little air pockets. These air pockets help slow the transfer of heat from your body into the colder water surrounding you.

The MIT researchers realized that replacing the air in the neoprene holes with a heavy inert gas, specifically xenon or krypton, slowed the transfer even more. Instead of surviving less than one hour in 10 degree Celsius (50 degree Fahrenheit) water, a person could survive two to three hours.”

This breakthrough could also lead to designing wetsuits that are thinner and even easier to move around in.  The implication being that this technology could have military applications or could lead to saving more lives on civilian rescue missions.  It’s also possible that the technology could get refined even further as alternate gases are tested.

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Is an Artificial Blubber the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A quick look at some of the latest mind blowing scientific research currently making the rounds.

Nanobot Spray

It has been said that the development of nanotechnology could have the same kind of impact that the discovery of microscopic bacteria once did as it would allow us to operate at a whole new scale that was previously unknown to us.  What we have to do now is figure out the best way to take advantage of this technology.  A new aerosol spray could be how we do it.

As Futurism puts it, “You may have sworn off aerosol sprays in the ’90s when everyone was talking about the hole in the ozone layer, but a team of researchers from MIT has found a use for aerosols that could be good for both the environment and our health. This spray contains nanobots, tiny sensors with the potential to do everything, from detecting dangerous leaks in pipelines, to diagnosing health issues.”

This spray would make it super easy to deploy these nanobots where needed.

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Dissolvable Microneedles 

In the future going to the doctor may become a far more pleasant experience than it is today thanks to a new drug delivery breakthrough.

As Futurism puts it, “A fear of needles may soon be a thing of the past, as a team at the University of Texas at Dallas has come up with a painless alternative to conventional syringes.

With the new method, drugs would still be injected into the body, but using a microneedle that patients can’t even feel. The needle is so thin that it would break off under the skin dissolving as it releases the intended substance over time. Although the system wouldn’t work for every kind of medication, ultra-thin needles are able to deliver a variety of drugs, provided they are made of small molecules.”

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AI Made From DNA 

It’s easy to assume that the future will either be dominated by Artificial Intelligence, the ability to use gene-editing techniques like CRISPR-CAS-9 to control our biological destiny, or both.  But I bet no one saw AI made from DNA coming.  Yet, that’s exactly what we may have.

According to Vice, “Last Wednesday, researchers at Caltech announced that they created an artificial neural network from synthetic DNA that is able to recognize numbers coded in molecules. It’s a novel implementation of a classic machine learning test that demonstrates how the very building blocks of life can be harnessed as a computer.”

It will be interesting to monitor this project going forward and see just how complex these neural networks can become.

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Grandmother Neurons

Need to recover quickly from jet lag? New research may help us figure out how to do just that.

According to New Atlas, “Humans have evolved to do stuff during the day and sleep at night, but international travel or shift work can throw off that natural rhythm. Finding ways to reset this circadian clock could be key, and now researchers at Washington University in St Louis have isolated a small cluster of ‘grandmother’ neurons that tell the rest of the brain when to go to bed, and found that stimulating those could help combat jet lag.”

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,339 – Koji

I’m not a foodie but I am a food snob when it comes to five things: pizza, bagels, delis, chicken fingers and steak.  Virtually the only five things I eat.  So suffice it to say I was really impressed when I heard about Koji, the Japanese fungus capable of dry-aging a steak 45 days in just 48 hours!  This is an unprecedented breakthrough that could revolutionize the way we prepare food.

As Popular Science explains:

“Koji ferments food. Japanese cooks have used it for centuries to make soy sauce, miso, and natural sweeteners. They also use it to brew sake. It’s considered the national mold. Kind of like a microscopic mascot that imparts umami wherever it goes.

The science behind koji is less well-known. Its spores are fond of hot and humid environments (what spore isn’t?), and grows on cooked rice. As they get bigger, they release biochemical agents-protease enzymes that break down protein and amylases that digest starch. When mixed with, say, soybeans, the ensuing culture helps transform the concoction into soy sauce.

But when applied to steak, koji does something amazing. Its powerful enzymes slowly tenderize the meat. Innovative chefs have found that in just 48 hours, koji can turn a fresh-cut piece of beef into something that resembles, in texture and taste, a 45-day-aged steak. A koji-aged New York strip, properly cooked, will offer up the same nutty and funky flavor as one that’s been professionally cured, and with a touch of miso sweetness.”

Hopefully, this new technique catches on and spreads from Hipster communities to the rest of society in short order.

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Is Koji the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Even if you don’t believe in Climate Change you’ll love this next idea.  For scientists from Harvard University have figured out a way to extract gasoline from thin air!  That’s right.  Soon we’ll be able to create a perpetual source of energy, by turning our waste, carbon dioxide, into the actual fuel source that we’ll be using to create even more carbon dioxide.  A vicious cycle but one that will help to clean up the environment, or at least not make it any worse.

As the Atlantic puts it, “Their research seems almost to smuggle technologies out of the realm of science fiction and into the real. It suggests that people will soon be able to produce gasoline and jet fuel from little more than limestone, hydrogen, and air. It hints at the eventual construction of a vast, industrial-scale network of carbon scrubbers, capable of removing greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere.

Above all, the new technique is noteworthy because it promises to remove carbon dioxide cheaply. As recently as 2011, a panel of experts estimated that it would cost at least $600 to remove a metric ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The new paper says it can remove the same ton for as little as $94, and for no more than $232. At those rates, it would cost between $1 and $2.50 to remove the carbon dioxide released by burning a gallon of gasoline in a modern car.

‘If these costs are real, it is an important result,’ said Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. ‘This opens up the possibility that we could stabilize the climate for affordable amounts of money without changing the entire energy system or changing everyone’s behavior.’”

That last sentiment is a very important one.  For all the talk we do about wanting to reverse Climate Change and save the environment very few us actually change our lifestyles.  A-list celebrities still take private jets to weekend getaways and we still drive everywhere we go, rarely walking or carpooling.  A solution that saves the environment without asking anybody to do anything differently is the best of both worlds.  Hopefully it’s enough to get us to save the one and only world we know.

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Is fuel made from water and carbon dioxide the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I think it’s highly likely, inevitable really, that we’ll be able to hook our brains up to computers in the near future, allowing us to connect directly to the Internet just by thinking about it.  The idea may have come from the fictional Neural Lace but there are several real projects underway to make this dream a reality.  Facebook’s attempt to let people type with their thoughts, Elon Musk’s Neuralink, and Bryan Johnson’s Kernel to name a few.

However, the drawback with this technology is how invasive it would be.  After all, it’s hard to connect your brain to the Internet wirelessly.  It’s the kind of thing that you’d need hardware to pull off.  And the idea of drilling a hole into my skull to implant a computer chip doesn’t sound all that appealing.  Thankfully, we may soon have another option.  A non-invasive way of approaching the problem.

The technology is known as CTRL-Kit and it comes to us from a company called CTRL-Labs.  The idea is that just by wearing a simple wristband you’ll be able to interact with various apps using only your thoughts.  For instance, imagine being able to walk around a virtual reality environment while lying on your couch.  Instead of actually walking around your living room in circles like you’d have to do today you can just sit still and just imagine yourself walking.

As the Verge describes, “CTRL-Labs’ work is built on a technology known as differential electromyography, or EMG. The band’s inside is lined with electrodes, and while they’re touching my skin, they measure electrical pulses along the neurons in my arm. These super-long cells are transmitting orders from my brain to my muscles, so they’re signaling my intentions before I’ve moved or even when I don’t move at all.”

In other words, why cut out the middle man when you can just piggyback on their signal instead.  By using the neurons in our arms, instead of the ones in our brains, we’ll be able to achieve the same results with less risk.  It’s a clever hack and one that could ultimately be responsible for the technology going mainstream.  Which, I for one, hope happens sooner rather than later.  Because quite frankly, there are few things in life cooler than being able to control things with your mind.

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Is CTRL-Kit the Greatest Idea Ever?

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