Earth Just Passed 410 PPM CO2 Levels for the First Time in Human History


IN BRIEF

Earth just crossed another dangerous threshold in relation to climate change: an atmospheric carbon dioxide reading of 410 ppm. This is just more evidence that a concerted, global effort is needed for the health and survival of our planet.

Breaking Dangerous Records

On April 18, Earth breached its latest climate change milestone. For the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were measured at 410 parts per million (ppm). The Keeling Curve, a University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography program, recorded the milestone at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This was a sobering moment for scientists, albeit hardly surprising.

Since last year, when our planet’s dangerous new normal atmospheric CO2 levels were 400 ppm, scientists have warned the public that the next milestone of 410 ppm was coming.

Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off.“We’re in a new era,” Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution’s CO2 Program told Yale Environment 360 at the time we passed this milestone. “And it’s going fast,” Keeling added. “We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”

There is nothing uniquely significant about the numbers 400 or 410, but they offer points of comparison to scientists. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record,” University of Southampton paleoclimate researcher Gavin Foster explained to Climate Central in March.

Via Keeling Curve

Beating Back The Tide

Now, more than ever, it is critical for all countries to work together to achieve a greener world. While natural factors like El Niño have driven more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past two years, these new records are mostly driven by humans burning fossil fuels in tremendous amounts and, in turn, creating record amounts of carbon dioxide.

“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) atmospheric scientist Pieter Tans told Climate Central. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”

Our Warming World: The Future of Climate Change [INFOGRAPHIC]

Recognizing the importance of taking action to stop climate change, scientists and laypeople across the United States marched for science on Earth Day, April 22. Addressing the crowd in San Diego, Keeling declared: “The climate change debate has been over for decades.”

Recent research shows that the global energy supply must be only 25 percent (or less) dependent on fossil fuels by 2100 to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Various countries are taking action to meet their own goals that are in accord with these global guidelines. China, for example, has introduced a cap on coal and will peak coal emission by 2030. Germany will ban combustion engines by 2030. Here in the U.S., high-profile advocates for the environment have funded a 20-year clean energy fund to the tune of $1 billion.

Britain recently set a record the world was happy to see: it had its first coal-free power day in 135 years. Now is the time for a concerted, worldwide effort, and hopefully we’ll start seeing more positive records.

Source:futurism.com

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Scientists: “We Have Detected the Existence of a Fundamentally New State of Matter”


IN BRIEF

Scientists have discovered a fundamentally new state of matter: 3D quantum liquid crystals. These have the potential to advance microchip technology and quantum computing.

3D QUANTUM LIQUID CRYSTALS

Caltech physicists at the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter have discovered the first 3D quantum liquid crystal. This is a new state of matter they expect will have applications in ultrafast quantum computing, and the researchers believe this discovery is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

The molecules of standard liquid crystals flow freely as if they were a liquid, but stay directionally oriented like a solid. Liquid crystals can be made artificially, like those in display screens of electronic devices, or found in nature, like those found in biological cell membranes. Quantum liquid crystals were first discovered in 1999; their molecules behave much like those in regular liquid crystals, but their electronsprefer to orient themselves along certain axes.

Watch the video. URL:

The electrons of the 3D quantum liquid crystals exhibit different magnetic properties depending on the direction they flow along a given axis. Practically speaking, this means that electrifying these materials changes them into magnets, or changes the strength or orientation of their magnetism.

QUANTUM APPLICATIONS

The research team expects that 3D quantum liquid crystals might advance the field of designing and creating more efficient computer chips by helping computer scientists exploit the direction that electrons spin. The 3D quantum liquid crystal discovery could also advance us along the road toward building quantum computers, which will decrypt codes and make other calculations at much higher speeds thanks to the quantum nature of particles.

Achieving a quantum computer is a challenge, because quantum effects are delicate and transient. They can be changed or destroyed simply through their interactions with the surrounding environments. This problem may be solved by a technique requiring a special material called a topological superconductor — which is where the 3D quantum liquid crystals come in.

“In the same way that 2D quantum liquid crystals have been proposed to be a precursor to high-temperature superconductors, 3D quantum liquid crystals could be the precursors to the topological superconductors we’ve been looking for,” Caltech assistant professor of physics David Hsieh, principal investigator on the new study, said in an interview for a Caltech press release.

“Rather than rely on serendipity to find topological superconductors, we may now have a route to rationally creating them using 3D quantum liquid crystals,” Hsieh lab postdoctoral scholar John Harter, the lead author of the new study published in Science, said in the press release. “That is next on our agenda.”

Source:futurism.com

New Research Challenges What We Thought We Knew About the Big Bang


IN BRIEF

Physicists have discovered that gravity and quantum effects disrupt the symmetry of the electromagnetic field, making symmetry impossible in our universe. If true, the work will add insight to the study of the origins of the universe.

GRAVITY AND ELECTROMAGNETISM

New research from physicists at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Universidad de Valencia, Spain, may offer the answer to questions left open by classical theories of electromagnetism. If this new research solves part of this mystery, it may also provide a window into the origins of the universe.

Waves of all kinds, including light, are made of magnetic and electric fields. For around 150 years, scientists have accepted the idea that magnetism and electricity are really just two sides of the same coin. When Michael Faraday spun magnets, generating electricity — and used electrical currents to make magnets spin — the connection seemed obvious. James Clerk Maxwell took the experiments of Faraday and turned them into the classical theory of electromagnetism, which provided a unified framework for studying optics, magnetism, and electricity.

Via Pixabay

The mystery of electromagnetism lies in the absence of magnetic charges. Maxwell’s theory, referred to as the electric-magnetic duality, rests on a concept of symmetry and assumes that magnets having charges. However, no isolated magnetic charges have ever been observed in nature, and while something that behaves in a similar way has been simulated in laboratories, this is scarcely the same as actual empirical evidence. If magnetic charges don’t exist, then Maxwell’s theory of symmetry is impossible.

Now, LSU’s Ivan Agullo and his team of researchers think they know why these isolated magnetic charges, also called magnetic monopoles, have never been found: gravity and quantum effects disrupt the symmetry of the electromagnetic field.

 “Gravity spoils the symmetry regardless of whether magnetic monopoles exist or not,” Agullo said in a press release from LSU. “This is shocking. The bottom line is that the symmetry cannot exist in our universe at the fundamental level because gravity is everywhere.”

STUDYING THE UNIVERSE’S BIRTH

This new research challenges many basic scientific premises that may affect other research, including the study of the origins of the universe. Satellites collect data from the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the radiation emitted from the Big Bang and which holds valuable clues about the history of the universe.

The Evolution of Human Understanding of the Universe [INFOGRAPHIC]

“By measuring the CMB, we get precise information on how the Big Bang happened,” Agullo said in the press release.

Until now, scientists analyzing CMB data have assumed that the gravitational field in the universe does not affect the polarization of photons in the CMB. However, this is only true if electromagnetic symmetry exists. If it doesn’t, cosmic evolution may be changing the polarization of the CMB constantly.

Should this research be accurate, scientists will need to analyze CMB data in new ways. The team’s focus for future work will be the identification of just how much the polarization may be changing, and how scientists can adjust their analyses to cope with this new asymmetrical reality.

Source:futurism.com

Scientists Create the Highest Quality Hologram Device Ever Made


IN BRIEF
  • A researchers from Australian National University were able to develop a hologram device that gives the highest quality images to date.
  • According to the study, the compact device is made up of millions of tiny silicon pillars, which are up to 500 times thinner than human hair.

HIGH QUALITY

Holograms are a staple of almost every science fiction movie or TV show out there – from Star Wars to Star Trek. Now, thanks to researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), we may be a step closer to achieving just that — and sending messages to Obi Wan Kenobi.

The ANU team was able to develop a hologram device that gives the highest quality images to date. “As a child, I learned about the concept of holographic imaging from the Star Wars movies. It’s really cool to be working on an invention that uses the principles of holography depicted in those movies,” said lead researcher Lei Want, from ANU’s Research School of Physics and Engineering. The team published their research in the journal Optica.

Wang’s device is able to create high-quality hologram images in infrared, using “transparent metaholograms based on silicon metasurfaces that allow high-resolution grayscale images to be encoded,” according to the study. The device is also quite small. It’s made up of millions of tiny silicon pillars, which are up to 500 times thinner than human hair.

 “This new material is transparent, which means it loses minimal energy from the light, and it also does complex manipulations with light,” said co-researcher Sergey Kruk. “Our ability to structure materials at the nanoscale allows the device to achieve new optical properties that go beyond the properties of natural materials. The holograms that we made demonstrate the strong potential of this technology to be used in a range of applications.”

 

 

DEFINING HOLOGRAPHIC IMAGES

The real-life applications of such a hologram device aren’t too far from the sci-fi counterparts. “While research in holography plays an important role in the development of futuristic displays and augmented reality devices, today we are working on many other applications such as ultra-thin and light-weight optical devices for cameras and satellites,” Wang said.

Furthermore, because of its size, this device is very portable. This significantly reduces the size and weight of the usually bulky components used in other imaging devices. This can cut the cost for space missions, for example, where heavier loads translate to higher rocket fuel consumption. Apart from these, holograms can also be used to aid medical research and develop treatments for various diseases.

Holography isn’t very different from what augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) technology is enabling us to do. Essentially, this technology allows us to see and interact with our environment in a much deeper way, so to speak. This tech can even let us see something as if we were really there, in the moment, with added empathy. This could change the way we enjoy news, documentaries, or even live events from afar. Soon, we may be able to send messages that capture emotion or urgency much better than a phone call ever could.

Source:futurism.com

Unlimited Energy: Physicists Assert We Already Have a Viable Model of a Fusion Device


IN BRIEF

One of the biggest challenges in the fusion energy development is finding the best shape for the device to contain the plasma, but physicists in the United States believe they may have found a new kind of nuclear fusion device that could be the most commercially viable design yet.

HOLY GRAIL

Physicists around the world are on a mad dash to build a nuclear fusion machine that can replicate the Sun’s atom-fusing process and provide everyone with a low-cost, sustainable energy resource—effectively ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

Replicating how the sun and stars create energy through fusion is essentially like putting “a star in a jar,” although there is no “jar” in existence that is not only capable of containing superhot plasma, but also low-cost enough that it can be built around the world—although it’s not for lack of trying.

In fact, physicists are working on a new kind of nuclear fusion device that could be the most commercially viable design yet.

 In a new paper published in Nuclear Fusion, physicists working at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) assert that a model for such fusion device “already exists in experimental form – the compact spherical tokamaks at PPPL and Culham, England.”
Test cell of the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade with tokamak in the center. (Photo by Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications)
Test cell of the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade with tokamak in the center. 

SPHERICAL TOKAMAKS

Current designs for this so-called “jar” essentially call for doughnut shaped objects that come complete with powerful magnetic fields which suspend the plasma inside it, called tokamaks. It’s incredibly expensive to make and also hard to maintain, which is why physicists continue to develop new designs that will, hopefully, keep the cost down.

So far, there are two advanced spherical tokamaks in various stages of development. The first is the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST), which UK expects to be completed soon; the other is the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) at PPPL, which went online last year.

“We are opening up new options for future plants,” said Jonathan Menard, lead author and program director for the NSTX-U.

But the devices, described in the 43-page paper, still have a long way to go. They must first be able to control the turbulence created after the plasma particles are subjected to electromagnetic fields, and also control how the superhot plasma particles interact with the device’s walls to avoid possible disruptions, which can happen if the plasma becomes too impure.

PPPL Director Stewart Prager said these two reactors, “will push the physics frontier, expand our knowledge of high temperature plasmas, and, if successful, lay the scientific foundation for fusion development paths based on more compact designs.”

Source:futurism.com

 

We Accidentally Invented Plastic That Conducts Electricity


IN BRIEF

The SciShow offers an interesting perspective on conductive plastics. Hank Green explains how the advent of conductive plastics has changed technology, with companies producing cheaper electronics.

THE BIRTH OF CONDUCTIVE PLASTICS

Before the 2000s, conductive plastics were virtually unheard of. The recycle bin fodder was only utilized as an insulator to protect electricians from any fatal electric shocks until 1974, when a scientist stumbled upon a plastic that could conduct electricity.

SciShow’s Hank Green explains the birth of conductive plastics and the inner scientific machinations of a new form of plastic. He highlights the particular properties of the plastic that enable its conductivity while also talking about other methods used today to conduct electricity.

These advances have spilled over into consumer technology. A conductive plastic called PEDOT protects electronics from static electricity by dispersing the charge. Through these methods, scientists have created the innovations needed to print electronics on inkjet printers. Companies are transforming heavy, expensive silicon solar panels to more affordable and lightweight options. The problem with using plastics for solar panels is that they’re not as efficient as the silicon ones, at least not yet. Even so, scientists predict that one day we will have solar cells printed on almost everything, and conductive plastic could change how we think about our electronics.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/DlLZVxNK3Jg

source:futurism.com

CRISPR Gene Editing Has Been Used to Cure Mice of Sickle Cell Disease


IN BRIEF
  • The results are promising and could lead to a treatment for this disease that afflicts about 100,000 Americans.
  • While human tests are still a ways off, CRISPR could one day be used to effectively treat a number of ailments, from high cholesterol to HIV.

CORRECTING A MUTATION

Gene editing shows promise as a new treatment for sickle cell disease, according to a study published in the online journal Science Translational Medicine.

Experts from the University of California, Berkeley, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), and the University of Utah School of Medicine have found success in correcting the blood cell mutation in tests of the blood of both mice and human sickle cell patients using CRISPR-Cas9, a genome “scissor” that can cut out and edit a DNA sequence.

After CRISPR was used to correct the mutated hematopoietic stem cells — precursor cells that mature into the hook-shaped hemoglobin characteristic of sickle cell disease, the corrected blood stem cells produced healthy hemoglobin. Following reintroduction into the mice, the genetically engineered stem cells remained in circulation for at least four months — a significant indication that any potential therapy would be lasting.

 The tests of blood from afflicted humans showed that the proportion of corrected stem cells was high enough to produce substantial benefit for the patients, so the researchers are hoping to one day be able to reinfuse the human patients with the edited strain of cells as it could alleviate symptoms of sickle cell disease, including anemia and pain caused by vessel blockages.

While the results are promising and could lead to a treatment for this disease that afflicts about 100,000 Americans, the researchers emphasize that future testing on mice and safety analyses would need to be conducted before human trials could begin.

A CRISPR’D FUTURE

“Sickle cell disease is just one of many blood disorders caused by a single mutation in the genome,” said Jacob Corn, senior author on the study. “It’s very possible that other researchers and clinicians could use this type of gene editing to explore ways to cure a large number of diseases.”

Indeed, developments in gene-editing  technology within such fields as medicine, agriculture, and biology are taking us further into what some are calling “the age of CRISPR.”

It’s already being researched as a treatment for many other ailments and disorders— β-thalassemia, severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, even HIV — so this one type of technology could end up being something of a panacea for what ails us, as long as what ails us is genetic.

This Robot Works 500% Faster Than Humans, and It Puts Thousands of Jobs at Risk


IN BRIEF
  • A brick-laying robot that works 500 percent faster than humans is coming to the U.K. in a few months.
  • The robot, created by New York firm Construction Robotics, highlights the issues of employee displacement caused by automation in the construction industry.

BRICK BY BRICK

Meet SAM — short for Semi-Automated Mason — created by the New York based Construction Robotics. SAM is capable of laying 3,000 bricks per day, and he is coming to the U.K. in a few months.

This Robot Works 500% Faster Than Humans, And it Puts Thousands of Jobs At Risk

SAM can work about 500 percent faster than humans, and discrepancy in labor cost that causes is significant. According to a report by Zero Hedge, 3,000 bricks boils down to a cost of 4.5 cents per brick. Based on a $15 per hour minimum wage rate and benefits, a human bricklayer with an average efficiency of about 500 bricks will cost construction firms about 32 cents per brick — that’s more than 7x the cost of an automated bricklayer.

SAM isn’t able to work independently, however. A builder still has to feed the bricks onto its conveyor belt, which will then be picked up by SAM’s robotic arm, slathered with mortar, and placed on the wall. From there, another bricklayer has to follow up SAM’s work by cleaning up excess mortar.

CONSTRUCTION ROBOTICS

This kind of efficiency is emerging amid rising demand for construction services, which means it’s likely only a matter of time before the of technology will undergo mass adoption among construction companies.

Will Automation Steal My Job?

Across the U.S., SAM has already been deployed in several construction sites. Now, Construction Robotics has announced its entry into the U.K. market later this year as it finalizes negotiations with various construction companies.

Not surprisingly, Since automation would likely lead to the displacement of numerous employees in the construction workforce, movement in that direction has been been met with a lot of resistance. Many in the field point out the complexity of other aspects of the construction process, which robots are currently not capable of handling. While this could limit the impact of automation on construction workers, it would not eliminate it. SAM is one example of why some experts are calling for nations to begin developing systems that will ensure our society can still function in a world where jobs will become less available to humans.

source:futurism.com

Space travel and long term brain damage.


IN BRIEF
  • Astronauts who will travel to Mars may have a higher chance of developing dementia and long-term brain damage.
  • Despite this, NASA is optimistic in thinking it can resolve all the issues by the 2030s.

A DANGEROUS TRIP

NASA, SpaceX, Boeing, and many other parties from all over the world are dead set on reaching the next frontier of human spaceflight: Mars. In fact, NASA has started recruiting people who want to experience “The Martian” in real life.

But before you start begging NASA for a chance to go, you may want to consider this new finding. A team from UC Irvine has found that astronauts who will travel to Mars may have a higher chance of developing dementia and long-term brain damage.

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Scientific Reports/University of California, Irvine

To be fair, this news isn’t really much of a shocker. Astronauts who come from the ISS experience a whole host of bodily changes: reduced bone mass, damage to the central nervous system, sleep disturbance, even excessive flatulence. But scientists found that travel to Mars (which would involve a longer spaceflight than anybody has ever endured) could have a more disastrous effect on the brain and nervous system.

UCI’s Charles Limoli and colleagues saw that rats bombarded with charged particle irradiation had less dendrites and spines in their neurons. Moreover, they found that these effects persisted even six months after bombardment. The team also saw that the bombardment affected the “fear extinction” of the subjects. That means they couldn’t suppress memories of stressful and fearful situations.

 That means astronauts would think less clearly when confronted with an emergency or problem in the voyage.

TECHNOLOGY AND BIOLOGY

UCI’s research just underscores the fact that developing the right technology isn’t the only thing we need to get us to the red planet. We also need to understand more about how our bodies perform in space, and consider ways to keep astronauts healthy and alert.

The good news is that this problem has been anticipated by the government, and NASA has been called to add to studies on human health in space. They’ll be taking a look at the top hazards for the three-year, round-trip Mars missions including cancer, cataracts, infertility, and even how extreme isolation could lead to psychological problems. No one wants cabin fever in space.

Despite all this, Inspector General Paul Martin pointed out that the space agency is optimistic in thinking it can resolve all the issues by the 2030s. They’ve definitely got a long list to tackle.

Source:futurism.com

The Goals of Extraterrestrial AI May “Conflict With Those of Biological Life”


IN BRIEF
  • An expert on the intersection of science and philosophy posits that our current transition to “postbiological” life could have already been undertaken by extraterrestrial species.
  • She warns that these alien lifeforms could by artificially intelligent, in which case they could pose a tremendous threat to life on Earth.

POSTBIOLOGICAL LIFE

Susan Schneider is a fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET). She is also an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, and her expertise includes the philosophy of cognitive science, particularly with regards to the plausibility of computational theories of mind and theoretical issues in artificial intelligence (AI).

In short, Schneider has a keen understanding of the intersection between science and philosophy. As such, she also has a unique perspective on AI, offering a fresh (but quite alarming) view on how artificial intelligence could forever alter humanity’s existence. In an article published by the IEET, she shares that perspective, talking about potential flaws in the way we view AI and suggesting a possible connection between AI and extraterrestrial life.

Credits: HBO

The bridge Schneider uses to make this connection is the idea of a “postbiological” life. In the article she explains that postbiological refers to either the eventual form of existence humanity will take or the AI-emergent lifeforms that would replace our existence altogether. In other words, it could be something like superintelligent humans enhanced through biological nanotechnology or it could be an artificially intelligent supercomputer.

Whatever form postbiological life takes, Schneider posits that the transition we’re currently experiencing is one that may have happened previously on other planets:

 The technological developments we are witnessing today may have all happened before, elsewhere in the universe. The transition from biological to synthetic intelligence may be a general pattern, instantiated over and over, throughout the cosmos. The universe’s greatest intelligences may be postbiological, having grown out of civilizations that were once biological.

In light of that, Schneider asks the following: “Suppose that intelligent life out there is postbiological. What should we make of this?”

Credits: Warner Bros.
Credits: Warner Bros.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL, POSTBIOLOGICAL AI

There isn’t any guarantee that we can “control” AI on Earth when it becomes superintelligent, even with multi-million-dollar efforts devoted to AI safety. “Some of the finest minds in computer science are working on this problem,” Schneider writes. “They will hopefully create safe systems, but many worry that the control problem is insurmountable.”

If artificially intelligent postbiological life exists elsewhere in our universe, it’s a major cause of concern for a number of reasons. “[Postbiological extraterrestrial life] may have goals that conflict with those of biological life, have at its disposal vastly superior intellectual abilities, and be far more durable than biological life,” Schneider argues. These lifeforms also might not place the same value on biological intelligence that we do, and they may not even be conscious in the same manner that we are.

Schneider makes the comparison between how we feel killing a chimp versus eating an apple. Both are technically living organisms, but because we have consciousness, we place a higher value on other species that have it as well. If superintelligent, postbiological extraterrestrials don’t have consciousness, can we expect them to understand us? Even more importantly, would they value us at all? Food for thought for any proponents of active SETI.

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