Science Channel - InSCIder

Science

4 Jul

Could Technology Reverse Aging?

The fountain of youth. The idea of retaining or returning to one’s healthy youthful state indefinitely is a concept that has been studied in one form or another since the dawn of humankind. The ‘fountain of youth’ idea is based on the idea there is some product – a cream or a pill that will somehow turn the effects of aging around. Billions of dollars are spent each year on products that claim to in some way mask or slow the effects of aging, but what if we’re looking in the wrong place? What if the fountain of youth has really been inside us the whole time and we just need the technology to find it?

By asking whether technology can reverse aging we have to split the current research into two groups. The first is the group of researchers like Randal Koene who want to preserve life by turning our intellect and emotions into digital copies. This could mean purely a digital experience, and not just reversing aging but creating a limitless one.

Other scientists are tackling aging at the cellular level. The generally accepted idea with this theory is aging is caused by breakdowns or gradual mutation of the mitochondria in our cells. Mitochondrial DNA control cellular respiration and energy – key to keeping our cells young. Gradual breakdown of the mitochondria sequences over time lead to the signs we associate with aging and eventual shutting down of the cells.

Teams of scientists in Japan, Australia, and the U.S. have recently made the discovery that it may not be as simple as the sequencing of our DNA breaking down. The Japanese team studied the cells from a range of fetal to 12-year old young people and 80 to 97 year-olds. It turns out the actual sequences, or capacity of the DNA between the two groups was largely the same.

What they theorized is the breakdown or misfiring at the cellular level is really caused by turning on or off of genes, which can be done by adding the proteins or chemical structures like amino acids that enable them. If you can control delivery of chemicals and proteins you can reprogram genes to reverse the breakdowns.

The Japanese team proved they could successfully turn the genes off that affect cellular respiration. Then they turned them back on by adding the amino acid glycine. The combined team from Australia and the U.S. restored the functionality or ‘communication’ between mitochondria and the nuclei of cells by injecting mice with a natural compound called NMN. It accelerates the levels of molecule NAD that repairs the functionality. In the study, the results of the injection had some of the same effects as those mice that were fed the equivalent of a low calorie diet. The younger the mice were, the more dramatic the effect; so could it be possible that if we start taking or injecting ourselves early enough we could stall aging altogether?

With these new breakthroughs in understanding how we might treat our cells we could be looking at prolonged and healthier future. But where does the technology come in?

It’s a given that to accomplish this research scientists are working with advanced medical equipment to create, deliver, and document gene therapy. We are talking about microsurgery at an advanced level as scientists look to bind healthy, treated cells to other cells and replace them in the body to grow and help regenerate damaged cells.

 

But beyond microsurgery, there are already technologies hitting the market in the near future that could help us prevent and treat malfunctions in the body earlier. As the team from Discovery News documents in their video there are wearable wristbands that already track our fitness and diet; in addition to be preventative health care to slow down aging, these devices could one day also alert us to more serious medical problems.

The Discovery News team also highlights magnetic pills we could ingest to directly target the source of cellular breakdown with the appropriate amino acid. Imagine 3-D printers are creating these pills or vaccines on a mass scale.

The fountain of youth is an ephemeral concept. Will we live forever as intellect inside a computer, or will we use computers and advanced technology to tap and fix what is already inside us? The race is on.

Which avenue of anti-aging would you pursue?

Resources:

ScienceAlert

ABC.net.au

Sydney Morning Herald

 

23 Jun

The Very Real Project To Upload A Human Brain

Understanding how our brain works is the holy grail of neuroscience. Our brains are estimated to be made of 85 to 100 billion neurons with electrochemical signals jumping between them, creating thought, decisions, bodily functions, and the essence of who we are. If we understand how these neurons and synapses operate then we could cure diseases, prolong our health and memory, and maybe – just maybe – we could copy those patterns to a computer or to host bodies.

The creation of a “substrate independent minds” sounds like science fiction or the subject of fringe science. The fact is, the project to upload a human mind to a computer is happening right now with neuroscientist Randal Koene as a chief advocate.

For Koene, the idea is very simple. If you map the brain and identify the patterns by which the neurons fire, you could effectively copy them as basic binary computer code. If you do this correctly you would copy those unique synapses that make up our emotions, skills, and personalities. Koene believes that if all the basic functions of the brain are copied and the complexities of how the neurons communicate are rendered accurately, then the computerized version of your brain would be self-aware.

Are you freaked out? Do you have questions? Of course you do.

This is a big idea that raises a lot of unknowns. While something may be possible, it doesn’t mean that we know exactly how it will work. That’s much like the story in the movie Self/Less – just because we could upload our brains to another, younger body doesn’t mean we know what would happen.

  

Koene has theorized that we could potentially live in host bodies – human, or even human ones that our computerized brains have adapted to different living environments. Koene also thinks we could simply live in a digital environment much like the “Cloud.” While we know how our brains react to each other as humans, we don’t know how our brains would act towards each other in bodies we don’t recognize now or even just as a digital brain occupying space in the Cloud. Our synapses for memories and behavior would probably have to evolve.

This evolution or expansion of our consciousness is exactly why Randal Koene believes uploading the human brain is a good thing. As a species we need to find a way to evolve to meet the rapidly changing future and infrastructure around us, and this could be the answer. After all, many prominent minds like Stephen Hawking haven’t been shy about stating they believe the very artificial intelligence and robots we’ve created will one day evolve themselves beyond our intelligence and eventually take over. Suddenly it doesn’t sound like science fiction any more, but perhaps a necessity to keep our species – or at least the intelligence and essence of it alive.

In fact, it isn’t science fiction it’s science fact that Koene’s research and those of others’ are real. There is an open source movement called “The Open Worm Project” that has already created a virtual brain of a roundworm and uploaded it into a Lego robot. YOU can even participate in refining that project to begin to get comfortable with creating virtual intelligence.

There is also the research being done at USC and Wake Forest where in 2011 scientists created the world’s first artificial neural implant which works in a rat. They targeted the rat’s hippocampus where neurons and electrical signals create the memory to perform tasks. The scientists copied the patterns of the signals and placed them on a chip. Next, they removed the rat’s hippocampus and the rat couldn’t do the tasks. Adding in the chip? The memory to complete tasks was restored.

It’s cutting edge science, but no longer science considered on the fringes. In 2013 the EU and US announced initiatives to boost the field of brain research and hopefully move the goals into the mainstream.

We’ve come a long way, but we all know worm and rat brains are far from the beautiful, complex machine that is the human brain. Koene’s continued work on mapping the brain with the goal of creating a “whole brain emulation” could take years and years to complete. So each neural pathway Koene and other neuroscientists explore is critical in achieving a full understanding of the brain and how to replicate it.

That time may be just what we need to wrap our minds around the enormous consequences of creating our own virtual intelligence means. How long would we be able to live? Would we redefine what it means to be human by programming out undesirable traits? Would we be able to have relationships?

In short, would the rush of being “immortal” be replaced by a reality that brings on more questions than answers? One can theorize, but we can’t yet answer that question. As we find out in the movie Self/Less, it will likely be a very personal question.

Would YOU upload your brain? Let us know!

Resources:

Vice

Pop-Sci

Randal Koene

Carboncopies.org

22 Jun

Hydrogen Fuel Provides Clean Energy Promise

The use of hydrogen as a clean energy source for the future is the subject of much R&D these days. We’ve long since figured out that hydrogen is an element that produces a lot of energy – the key is finding out how to harness it and store it in an efficient fashion so we can use if for everyday purposes like powering our cars or items in the home.

One of the cleanest ways to harness hydrogen is to separate it from a hydrogen heavy resource like water. In a process called electrolysis, an electrical current separates the hydrogen from the oxygen molecules in water. Our colleagues over at TestTube have created this awesome video explaining the process in detail.

 

So it’s relatively easy to harvest the hydrogen, the problem is how do you store it? The reason hydrogen holds so much hope as a fuel source is that it has a high mass energy density – that means it is powerful stuff compared to other fuels. The problem is hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density, which means it generally takes up a LOT of space to store.

In the past we’ve been able to deal with that given it’s large-scale industrial applications. In fact, NASA used it in the Space Shuttle programs. They used liquid hydrogen (produced when the hydrogen is super cooled) to power those massive rockets to get the Shuttle into space. In that case size wasn’t a barrier.

The key to using hydrogen for slightly less dramatic uses than launching rockets is finding that way to store it in fuel cells. NASA used early versions of hydrogen fuel cells on the Shuttle to power their electrical systems. The only by-product is water, which conveniently the astronauts used to drink.

The system has been improved upon so much over time that NASA is researching how to use it to power spacecraft to explore our solar system. On the smaller, more personal scale we now have cars like the Toyota Mirai that efficiently and cleanly use hydrogen fuel cells. The cars  fill up with water, and utilize it's own air in-take to power the process of electrolysis. The hydrogen is stored in carbon fiber fuel cells and the only footprint it leaves behind is more water.

The Mirai is even more efficient because it combines existing electric car technology where electricity created by the braking mechanism is used to power the electrolysis process that creates the hydrogen.

As this car hits the market, the research on creating the next generation of hydrogen fuel use is underway. Creating new efficiencies in the fuel cells is one area of focus, looking both at what substances can most efficiently aid in the electrolysis process and help store them without corrosion.

One new study from McGill University in Montreal has demonstrated how existing technology of storing hydrogen atoms as hydrocarbons can be driven by ambient solar energy. Going a step further than electrolysis, some current storage applications create hydrocarbons by adding a catalyst chemical that bond with multiple hydrogen molecules. The trick is generating enough energy to “dehydrogenize” the hydrocarbon back into hydrogen to store in the fuel cells that make things go. It’s a process that can take a lot of energy and may be impractical on smaller scales, than say needing to power a rocket.

The researchers have found that plain old sunlight can drive dehydrogenization by using platinum based nanoparticles as the catalyst to pull the hydrocarbons apart without using high energy temperatures.

Some day soon things could be powered on a large scale by the very water and air around us, leaving nothing behind to corrupt the planet. We now have cars that can efficiently create and store hydrogen for clean transportation, and someday soon, huge solar farms could transform and store these high-energy molecules on a large scale to power entire city grids.

That’s a clean energy future we look forward to!

For more information please see our resources:

Alternative Fuels Data Center

Renewable Energy World

Phys.org

Toyota Mirai

 

 

19 Jun

SCIENCE CHANNEL SALUTES THE NATIONAL FINALISTS IN THE 2015 YOUNG SCIENTIST CHALLENGE

See Videos of Their Incredible Projects

Harnessing ocean currents, curbing CO2 emissions, circular ion accelerators. How cool do these ideas sound? What’s even cooler is these are just a few of the real amazing projects the national finalists in the annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge are creating.

We here at Science Channel are in awe of the possibilities this next generation is embracing. Science, curiosity, and questioning everything will be how we embrace the challenges of the future. Clearly the ten students chosen have their eyes on that future, and are thinking about how we can make it a better place.

So how did these ten students get to this point? The annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is the nation’s premier science competition for students in grades 5-8. Students all over the country submitted short videos communicating the science behind a possible solution to an everyday problem. The finalists rose to the top of the competition due to their science acumen, innovative thinking and exceptional communication skills demonstrated in their entry videos.

151126_YSC_JUNE_FACEBOOK_1_FINEach bright young student will now have the exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M Scientist during a unique summer mentorship program, where they will be challenged to develop an innovation that positively impacts them, their family, their community or the global population. As part of the world-renowned program, students will meet virtually with their mentors, who will provide guidance as the finalist develops his or her idea from a concept into an actual prototype.

Throughout the program, each student will have access to resources and support provided by 3M and Discovery Education. Students will then present their inventions during the competition’s final event at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn. October 12th and 13th.

Congratulations to the top 10 finalists in this year's Challenge:

  • Peter Finch, Harrisville, R.I., Homeschool
  • Arthur Frigo, III, Jupiter, Fla., Turtle River Montessori
  • Raghav Ganesh, San Jose, Calif., Joaquin Miller Middle School, Cupertino Union School District
  • Amulya Garimella, Pittsburgh, Pa., Dorseyville Middle School, Fox Chapel Area School District
  • Iris Gupta, North Potomac, Md., Robert Frost Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools
  • Hannah Herbst, Boca Raton, Fla., Alexander D. Henderson University School, Florida Atlantic University Schools
  • Alec Lessing, New York, N.Y., Collegiate School
  • Conner Pettit, Lone Tree, Colo., Cresthill Middle School, Douglas County School District
  • Krishna Reddy, Wichita Falls, Texas, Kirby World Academy, Wichita Falls Independent School District
  • Sanjana Shah, Cupertino, Calif., John F. Kennedy Middle School, Cupertino Union School District

You can check out the finalists’ impressive entry videos by visiting the following YouTube playlist: Young Scientist Challenge 2015

For more information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, including photos and bios of the ten finalists and a list of the state merit winners, please visit www.youngscientistchallenge.com.

 

 

 

8 May

When Earth Makes Its Moves

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific just between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on Thursday. This follows on the heels of the 7.8 quake in Nepal. A look at daily activity shows smaller quakes happening all over the world, especially in the infamous “Ring of Fire” region around the edges of the Pacific Ocean where tectonic activity is especially high.

What is happening when these earthquakes hit? Though it might not feel like it to us, the crust and mantle –essentially the “skin’ around the earth’s inner cores are always slowly moving. The pieces that make up these layers are bumping up against each other as they travel; the areas where they make contact are called fault lines.

 

When two plates of crust get stuck against each other, the energy of the movement builds up. Eventually that stored up energy is released with force when the two pieces finally come unstuck. The location where the energy is released is called the hypocenter under the surface of the crust, and the epicenter on the surface. The energy released heads outwards from the center, shaking the earth in waves.

One plate may slip up while the other slips down under the other in what’s called a subduction zone. In fact, in the case of the recent Nepal quake, the way the two plates came to rest caused Mt. Everest to lose height! Subduction zones often become areas of heightened activity.

One of the most challenging things about earthquakes is the drama isn’t over after the “main” shock. After the initial devastation at the epicenter, the earth is still settling and reshuffling itself into place causing further shakes called aftershocks. Some can be quite severe, frequent, and go on for extended periods of time – even years. It’s what makes recovery in remote areas quite hard to manage. Buildings and infrastructure have become unstable and more susceptible to the rattling – even if it is of lesser magnitude.

So can we predict earthquakes? The most reliable answer is to say not definitively. There have been cases in China where monitoring set up in high-risk regions have recorded questionable activity and given officials time to evacuate. However, just as often a quake will come with no warning at all.

The earth is unpredictable. While we have become extremely knowledgeable over the years about where trouble zones are for earthquakes and volcanoes around the world, we still don’t have a full understanding of when devastating events may occur. Fortunately, there are scientists and researchers all over the globe studying the earth’s hotspots with a keen eye, and those who head into the devastation afterwards to gain clues that might help us create informed, reliable warnings in the future.

We hope you’ll find deeper answers in our playlist above, all about when the earth makes its moves.

 

Resources:

US Geological Service

NPR

The Telegraph

 

29 Apr

Through The Wormhole: Studying "Us vs. Them"

Guest Post By: Mina Chikara, Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. (Full bio below)

The human brain is specialized for group living. People who accurately identify, value, and cooperate with in-group members enjoy numerous material and psychological benefits (e.g., protection, belonging, emotional support). However, group life is also a source of social strife and destruction. Conflict between groups, in particular, has been described as one of the greatest problems facing the world today. For example, it has been estimated that over 200 million people were killed in the last century in acts of genocide, war, and other forms of group conflict.

What my lab finds fascinating is how easily people form groups. Sometimes when we’re interested in studying group dynamics and we want to control for factors such as stereotypes or a history of rivalry, we’ll assign people to new groups. For example, we have run studies online with thousands of people and randomly assigned them to either the Eagles team or the Rattlers team. We tell people that they are going to play against each other in a problem solving challenge in order to get them in a competitive mindset. In the end they never actually compete, they just tell us how they feel about teammates’ and competitors’ experiences (which are, by design, irrelevant to the competition they think will happen later on).

  

Even though they’ve only just been assigned to these teams and they never lay eyes on teammates or competitors, the majority of people say they feel worse about negative events when they befall teammates rather than competitors. Moreover, people also say they feel better about negative events when they befall competitors rather than teammates. Some people even leave messages such as, “This was an awesome study! F*#! EAGLES, GO RATTLERS!”

On another occasion, I asked a participant to come back to the lab after she was assigned to a team a few weeks prior. When I asked her if she remembered which team she was on she replied, “Of course!” This was puzzling to me because she had been randomly assigned to the Eagles. When I asked her why she said “of course,” she replied, “My family is a military family so the Eagle is a very important totem to us.”

Groups are important. Even when we haven’t been members for long we make meaning out of them so that they become important. Groups change the way we see the world and ourselves. This why I will never grow tired of studying how people change when they move from thinking about “me and you” to “us and them.”

Mina Cikara is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Policy from Princeton University and completed a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Professor Cikara studies how the mind, brain, and behavior change when the social context shifts from “me and you” to “us and them.” She focuses primarily on how group membership, competition, and prejudice disrupt the processes that allow people to see others as human and to empathize with others. She uses a wide range of tools—standard laboratory experiments, implicit and explicit behavioral measures, fMRI and psychophysiology—to examine failures of empathy, dehumanization, and misunderstanding between groups. She is equally interested in the behavioral consequences of these processes: discrimination, conflict, and harm. Most recently, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology selected her as a Dissertation Award Finalist. She has published articles in Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, and NeuroImage. She tweets about psychology and neuroscience @profcikara.

19 Apr

The Best Investment

Guest post by: Max Erik Tegmark

At a cost of about $30 per American, the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the best investments humanity has ever made. Its spectacular images have shed light on our cosmic origins and destiny and they have inspired us all, showing us that we’d underestimated the beauty and diversity of our cosmos.

--

Max Erik Tegmark is a Swedish-American cosmologist. Tegmark is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute. He is also a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute.

Below: PIA08097

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.49.51 PM

Credit: NASA.gov

19 Apr

The Space Telescope That Transformed How We Do Science

Guest post by David Spergel

I got my PhD just before the Hubble Telescope launched so have followed its trajectory from disappointment to scientific triumph. I have been most impressed by how clever astronomers have used the telescope in ways that were not anticipated by its builders.Astronomers have used HST to discover stars stripping the atmospheres off of their planetary companions and to use supernova to trace the deceleration of the universe.   

While future space telescopes  will look even further back in time (James Webb Space Telescope, will survey much larger volumes of our universe  and begin the detailed study of exoplanets (Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope), Hubble will always be the space telescope that transformed how we do science.

----

David Nathaniel Spergel, is an American theoretical astrophysicist and Princeton University professor known for his work on the WMAP mission. Professor Spergel is a MacArthur Fellow

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.34.42 PM

Credit: NASA.gov

19 Apr

The End of the Hubble Era?

Guest post by David Brin

The Hubble space telescope achieved genuine wonders, that others have certainly noted.  Among my many favorites were the arrival of space images -- such as the famous Eagle Nebula -- that gave us all a truly three-dimensional feel. You could clearly see and envision that this column of brilliantly illuminated gas and dust stands glowing in front of that proto- planetary system being-born... and then somehow you would manage to wrap your mind around the multi-parsec scale of it all.

Helping to determine the age and destiny of the universe, that's a lot to get for our tax dollars. But again, others will talk about that.

What I find almost equally fascinating is the back story of this prodigious scientific instrument, revealed when the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) suddenly handed over to NASA two more Hubbles!  Well, two space-ready telescopes with identical structure and mirrors, but lacking many components and any scientific instruments.  The surprise gift revealed to us taxpayers an interesting truth -- that Hubble was based on U.S. spy satellites. Should we be surprised, then, that a mirror originally designed to look downward at Earth suffered some problems, when it was repurposed to stare into deep space?

What kinds of synergies and conflicts are thus revealed? Was Hubble meant, all the time, to serve as a cover story for intelligence R&D?  Did this design overlap serve to reduce Hubble's original cost, in economies of scale? Or was NASA, instead, subsidizing the NRO?  I don't expect to ever learn the answer. But it does suggest that we keep our eyes open for other coincidences, in the future.

NASA officials view these "added Hubbles" as mixed blessings. They fret that these telescopes might draw vigor away from the next great leap -- the James Webb Space Telescope.  While the new pair are worth hundreds and millions of dollars and will let us expand astronomy, properly equipping them and launching them will cost hundreds more. And of course, there are tussles over what kinds of science they should be applied-to. Such as, for example, keeping one in reserve, in case the Webb fails?

Bottom line, this "problem" is our fault, for allowing science to be "warred-upon," instead of shrugging off the dismal cynics... and electing Congresses that see value in the future.

No, we aren't leaving the Hubble Era. Even after the original is allowed to plummet Earthward -- (I'd rather use electrodynamic tethers to send it outward, in a parking orbit, for late-21st Century hobbyists to refurbish) -- it seems that Hubble's sisters will still be working for us. Obsolete? Never heard of the word. We can move forward on many fronts, at the same time. We can be larger than we are. That was the dream... and it will be, again.

==
David Brin is an astrophysicist whose international best-selling novels include The Postman, Earth, and recently Existence. His nonfiction book about the information age - The Transparent Society - won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.  (http://www.davidbrin.com)

#hubble25

Below: Pillars of Creation, part of the Eagle Nebula

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.22.53 PM
NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

19 Apr

Exoplanets!

Guest post by Sara Seager

Happy 25th! The “first ever” exoplanet atmosphere discovery in 2002 is your legacy for all time #HappyBirthdayHubble #ScienceChannel

----

Sara Seager
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor of Planetary Science

Below: Formalhaut A and Formalhaut B

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 8.15.21 PM

Credit: NASA.gov

about the blog

Welcome to the inSCIder, where you can connect with the people who bring Science Channel to life. Find out what's in the works here at SCIENCE, share your feedback with the team and see what's getting our attention online and in the news.

Advertisement
archives
Advertisement

shows

 

video

stay connected

our sites

shop

corporate