Engineers make disaster-response robots precisely because robots are able to work in situations that are too dangerous for humans. Now the humans have got a new idea: Perhaps robots could carry off waste from Ebola patients, or bury the bodies of people who have died from Ebola in West Africa. Roboticizing such tasks would keep people from having to touch bodies when they're most infectious.
Working with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, robot engineers will meet early next month to talk about whether they could repurpose existing machines for these tasks and more, Computerworld reports. The engineers will talk about how robots can work in both West African clinics and U.S. ones. The proposition faces many challenges, which Computerworld outlines. It may turn out that today's robots aren't sophisticated enough to help out in this Ebola outbreak at all—we'll see.
Of course, some hospitals do have a few simple robots already. There are telepresence robots, which let doctors check on patients from afar. That may be especially helpful for Ebola cases in the U.S., where few physicians have encountered the virus before. In both the U.S. and abroad, telepresence may make isolation and quarantine less lonely, and isolated folks more likely to stick to the rules. Earlier this month, there was a bit of coverage about a hospital "robot" that sends out powerful UV light to decontaminate rooms, although we would call it more of a wheeled machine. It doesn't move on its own and it doesn't seem to be able to take very sophisticated commands.
Defense One reports on more complex robots that may work for Ebola aid, including a robot, built for the Tokyo Fire Department in 2008, that's designed to carry bodies. It's unclear whether that robot will be useful, however. It depends on whether the friends and family of those who died would feel okay with it handling their loved ones. Engineers attending the workshops in November will focus on listening to what people on the ground say they need, Texas A&M computer scientist Robin Murphy told Computerworld. It sounds like they'll have a lot to talk about.
The first privately funded lunar mission launched today. The mission involves sending a 31-pound spacecraft called 4M, fitted with an antenna, small computer, and radiation sensor, on a Chinese rocket to Earth's satellite. Funded by private company LuxSpace, the craft will fly by the moon transmitting a signal back to Earth that can be picked up by amateur radio enthusiasts. The project is hitchhiking on a Chinese rocket transporting China's latest lunar spacecraft, which is also scheduled to fly by the moon -- another step in their moon exploration program.
4M began broadcasting exactly 77.8 minutes after it's launch at 1:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time. LuxSpace is hosting a contest to see who can recieve the most messages from the private payload before the mission ends (You can compete either as an individual or as a team.). The messages sent from the payload will be sequences of tones broadcast at different frequencies. Even if you don't want to participate in the contest, you can track the mission's progress online.
The mission is scheduled to last for eight days, but it could go on for longer. "The secondary power supply of 4M comprises solar cells and would extend the mission life to keep 4M operational in an orbital region where few spacecraft have been before," LuxSpace system engineer Hubert Moser told Space.com. "Nevertheless, this secondary power supply (therefore, life of 4M) depends strongly on the attitude of the last stage of the launcher, i.e. the availability of sunlight."
4M stands for the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission, named in honor of Manfred Fuchs, who founded the company OHB, the parent company of LuxSpace. The payload was relatively inexpensive too; the entire cost of the mission is less than six figures.
There's a new microscope in town and the images it produces are stunning. An international team of engineers and biologists is announcing it's made a microscope that's able to see phenomena such as single proteins diffusing through thickly-packed cells, and the movement of the fibers that pull cells apart when they divide. Everything remains alive and active under the microscope.
"The results provide a visceral reminder of the beauty and the complexity of living systems," the team wrote in a paper, published online today, that describes the microscope. In other words, biology is beautiful.
The cool thing about the new 'scope is that it's able to record both small features and swift movements. Normally those two qualities are trade-offs. If you want to make an instrument that sees in high resolution, it'll be slower, because it needs to take more measurements. In addition, powerful microscopes often pump tons of light radiation into the samples it images, killing living cells."The results provide a visceral reminder of the beauty and the complexity of living systems."
The new microscope, called a lattice light-sheet microscope, solves two problems at once by using one light beam that's divided into seven parts. Each seventh of a light beam covers its own portion of the sample, so users don't have to wait for a single light beam to sweep over the whole sample. The divided beam also ensures samples get a lesser dose of radiation than they normally would, although engineers didn't think of that when they first tested the divided-light idea.
"What was shocking to us was that by spreading the energy out across seven beams instead of one, the phototoxicity went way down," the microscope's lead engineer, Eric Betzig, said in a statement. (Betzig won a Nobel Prize this year for other advances in microscopy.) "What I learned from that experience is that while the total dose of light you put on the cell is important, what's far more important is the instantaneous power that you put on the cell," he said.
The light a lattice light-sheet microscope uses is also unusual. It uses a Bessel beam, which is a special kind of laser light that doesn't diffract, or splinter. (Learn more about that here.) The Bessel beam is arranged so that it makes a lattice of light—yep, like the top of a cherry pie—that's exceptionally thin. The thinness gives it its high spatial resolution.
Betzig and his colleagues made a Bessel-beam microscope in 2011, but recently improved the instrument by adding algorithms that fix blurry spots that used to appear in the microscope's images.
Okay, enough explanation. On to the images!
Here's a series of images that show an immune-system cell, called a T cell, approaching a target cell for destruction. (T cell in orange, target in blue. The scale bar represents 4 micrometers.) Go, T cell, go!T Cell Approaches Target Over 200 Seconds Betzig Lab, HHMI. Click here to see this image larger.
Here's a closer look at that T cell from different angles. Look at that gaping maw. The scale bar here represents 5 micrometers.T Cell Betzig Lab, HHMI. Click here to see this image larger.
Lastly, a cell in the middle of dividing. The orange stuff is the cell's DNA, which it is now dividing into two portions. The short strands all around the DNA are fibers called microtubules, which help pull everything apart. The microtubules are color-coded by how fast they're moving. The red microtubules are the fastest, moving at a speedy 1.5 micrometers per second.Cell in Anaphase Betzig Lab, HHMI
Scientists who want to use the new microscope can apply here. The microscope is housed at Janelia Farm, a private research campus in Virginia, and it's free to use. There are also new lattice light-sheet microscopes at Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco.
The scientists who published sham research on a useless weight loss supplement once called a "miracle pill" on the Dr. Oz Show have retracted their study.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the daytime medical show, is an Ivy League-trained heart surgeon who rocketed to fame through the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey. Oz is considered one of the most influential celebrities in America, according to Forbes, and he uses his television show as a platform to promote supposedly healthy products to his fans. But he has come under fire recently for his habit of endorsing weight loss pseudo-drugs with no actual benefits. Plus, many of these drugs may encourage users to give up exercise.
The retracted study purported to validate the sale of Green Coffee Extract, which was once the subject of an entire episode of Oz's show. A federal agency called the research "hopelessly flawed." The retraction followed a $3.5 million Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settlement with Applied Food Sciences (AFS), a Texas company that hawked the phony pills. An FTC press release summed up the damning charges against the company and researchers:
AFS paid researchers in India to conduct a clinical trial on overweight adults to test whether Green Coffee Antioxidant (GCA), a dietary supplement containing green coffee extract, reduced body weight and body fat.
The FTC charges that the study’s lead investigator repeatedly altered the weights and other key measurements of the subjects, changed the length of the trial, and misstated which subjects were taking the placebo or GCA during the trial. When the lead investigator was unable to get the study published, the FTC says that AFS hired researchers Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham at the University of Scranton to rewrite it. Despite receiving conflicting data, Vinson, Burnham, and AFS never verified the authenticity of the information used in the study, according to the complaint.
Despite the study’s flaws, AFS used it to falsely claim that GCA caused consumers to lose 17.7 pounds, 10.5 percent of body weight, and 16 percent of body fat with or without diet and exercise, in 22 weeks, the complaint alleges.
The Dr. Oz Show has since removed nearly any hint of support for Green Coffee Extract from its website, including the full episode devoted to its benefits and Oz's own study of its effects. But a Washington Post report details what was said:
"You may think magic is make believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight loss cure for every body type," Oz exclaimed in the Green Coffee Extract episode of his show. "This miracle pill can burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight. This is very exciting and it's breaking news."
Oz touted the "staggering newly released study" that showed participants lost an "astounding" amount of fat and weight … by doing absolutely nothing except taking the supplement.
Now, all that remains of those wild claims in the online land of Oz is a short statement that comes up in search -- but appears nowhere on the home page. (Also not found on his home page: his congressional testimony on weight loss fraud.)
In prior seasons, we covered Green Coffee Extract and its potential as a useful tool for weight loss. Recently the authors of the peer reviewed research paper on which our coverage had been partially based formally retracted their study. While this sometimes happens in scientific research, it indicates that further study is needed regarding any potential benefits of Green Coffee Extract.
The implication, as Abby Phillips notes at the Post, is that this is just another example of science taking a wrong turn and then righting itself. But serious scientists rigorously double-check their own work, and correct themselves when they get it wrong.
Oz has the prestigious background to tell good science from quackery. Hopefuly his program will take advantage of that asset in the future.
One of the test vehicles for Google's Self-Driving Car project.
In the future, we may not be dealing with the hassles and frustrations that come with driving cars everyday. Autonomous automobiles can make our lives better! But are cars that drive by themselves all that it's cracked up to be?
The advertising agency Sparks & Honey has compiled a mess of data and research on autonomous cars into a report entitled "Driving Disrupted: Driverless Cars Change Everything." Besides the obvious things such as being safer for travel and freeing up time for other pursuits, there are some surprising things that will emerge in a world with intelligent cars.
Pointing to an MIT study, the report states that whole cities could adopt a car-sharing program, not unlike bike sharing, which may make car ownership obsolete.
Entertainment on the Go
Beyond having extra time to work or read or do other hobbies, the report imagines autonomous cars as a place where the owner entertains a group of friends or colleagues, almost like a moving bar. And who knows where such drunkenness and debauchery will go...
Vehicles of Vice
And that means that bar-like autonomous cars could become the go-to place for illicit activities. Whether it is casual sexual encounters or drug use, the privacy and luxury of such cars could bring a spike in such activities.
We'll Need A New Source Of Municipal Income
With fewer traffic violations, cities and towns will have to find new ways to ticket its citizens to earn revenue or the penalties for existing violations will become more harsh. So you may want to reconsider your stance on jaywalking.
We'll Need A New Source Of Organs
Whether it is through growing them in the labs or through a form of 3-D printing, according to the report, artificial organs for health care will be in high demand because less traffic accidents means fewer natural organ donations.
You can view a slideshow of the report.
As a magazine with 142 years of history, Popular Science sits on a treasure trove of vintage illustrations, perceptive predictions, obsolete technologies, essays by Nobel prize-winning scientists, and some seriously awkward advertisements. That's why we're using Throwback Thursdays as an excuse to dust off those back issues and share their stories with you. This week we dug way back, 125 years, to October 1889.Something Out Of Nothing An Early Neurological Illustration Popular Science
The history of science is littered with bad ideas. Today we have homeopathy and climate denialism. In the nineteenth century, phrenology was the pseudoscience of choice. Phrenologists taught that lumps on the human skulls reveal the secrets of personality and intelligence. They were deeply, almost hilariously wrong, and Popular Science Monthly knew it. What's fascinating from a modern perspective is the direction that false system led true scientists--into the nooks and crannies of the brain, where the true secrets of neurophysiology lay waiting:
The claims of Gall that each part of the brain presided over some mental faculty stimulated Flourens, the leading French physiologist of forty years ago, to a series of experiments which seemed to show the falsity of Gall's hypothesis. These experiments in turn were disputed and led to others, and thus interest in the brain and its action was stimulated, until in 1870 the subject was taken up in Germany, and facts were discovered which form the basis of brain function.
...These men noticed that when they applied an electric shock to the brain of an anesthetized dog, the result was a movement of the limbs. To cause this movement a certain part of the brain had to be irritated by the electricity, other parts being unresponsive; and it was even possible to distinguish the part which moved the fore-leg from that which moved the hind-leg, while, queerly enough, the irritation of one side of the brain always caused movements in the other side of the body. This was an important discovery, for it showed that one part of the brain governed motions while the other parts had nothing to do with motion.
The researchers went much further, as our writer detailed, taking great steps and many missteps toward the development of a "new phrenology" (a name now thankfully lost to history). Their experiments formed the basis of much of what we know about the brain today.The History Of The Fork
Popular Science is fascinated by the role of gadgets in society. This was as true in 1889 as it is today, when our writer delved deep into the history of the fork:
The Duchess of Beaufort, dining once at Madame de Guise's with King Henri IV of France, extended one hand to receive his Majesty's salutation while she dipped the fingers of the other hand into a dish to pick out what was to her taste. This incident happened in the year 1598....When we reflect how nice were the ideas of that refined age on all matters of outer decency and behavior, and how strict was the etiquette of the courts, we may well wonder that the fork was so late in coming into use as a table-furnishing.
It was all the more odd because nobility ate with knives and spoons, and they even used forks in during cooking. But it wasn't until decades later that the fork made it into the dining room. Read the story to find out how.
And, as it turns out, the fork is still a work in progress. So perhaps our writer was ahead of his time.Fighting Old Age
As long as scientists have poked and prodded the human body, they've sought tricks for making it live longer. In the nineteenth century, that concern was even more pressing than today: an infant born in 1850 might reasonably have expected to live into its late thirties. By 1890, that number had risen only a few years to the early forties. But our writer imagined a future of medicine that was not far from the truth:Longevity, indeed, has come to be regarded as one of the grand prizes of human existence, and reason has again and again suggested the inquiry whether care or skill can increase the chances of acquiring it, and can make old age, when granted, as comfortable and happy as any other stage of our existence...The French naturalist, Buffon, believed that, if accidental causes could be excluded, the normal duration of human life would be between ninety and on hundred years.
Humans aren't quite to that point yet on average, but the developed world is filling up with octo-, nona-, and centenarians, largely to the credit of science that was pioneered in the late 1800s.
You can read the complete October 1889 issue here.
"Any images we make are fuzzy, as though you're looking at a small light through frosted glass," says Shep Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. So astronomers are linking 11 telescopes around the world into one Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), named for the spacetime boundary where the black hole's gravity prevents the escape of light and matter. When an upgraded ALMA joins in 2015, it should make EHT 10 times more sensitive and may help bring Sagittarius A*'s shadowy edge into focus.
This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science, under the title "Seeking The Point Of No Return."
Asking a team of journalists to rally around a science fiction movie might sound ludicrous. Yet some combination of boundless vision, relaxing of natural laws, and enthralling story can prompt even the most disciplined Popular Science employee to daydream at his or her desk. To us, science fiction is a lens through which we can explore our place and future in the universe.
So when we found out director Christopher Nolan was making Interstellar, we couldn’t resist. The film promises to pull habitable alien worlds into reach, bring far-out spaceflight technologies within grasp, and test humanity’s mettle in spectacular fashion. We wondered aloud: What if?
You won’t find any spoilers here; we have yet to see the movie, which stars Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey and debuts Nov. 7. But in geeking out with experts over the limited information we extracted from the movie’s trailers (Nolan’s team, including theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, refused all interview requests), we rounded up the latest knowledge about wormhole travel, robotic companions, habitable exoplanets, and, of course, starships.
Without further navel-gazing, we present the science of Interstellar.