John Bohannon on Zhao Bowen, a 21-year-old leading genetic researcher on what makes some humans — like him — geniuses:
Zhao’s goal is to use those machines to examine the genetic underpinnings of genius like his own. He wants nothing less than to crack the code for intelligence by studying the genomes of thousands of prodigies, not just from China but around the world. He and his collaborators, a transnational group of intelligence researchers, fully expect they will succeed in identifying a genetic basis for IQ. They also expect that within a decade their research will be used to screen embryos during in vitro fertilization, boosting the IQ of unborn children by up to 20 points. In theory, that’s the difference between a kid who struggles through high school and one who sails into college.
If parents use IVF to conceive, then a genetic test—an extension of the screening tests for genetic diseases that are already routinely done on embryos—could let them pick the smartest genome from a batch of, say, 20 embryos. “It’s almost like there are 20 parallel universes,” Hsu says. “These are all really your kids.” You’re just choosing the ones with the greatest genetic potential for intelligence. But effectively, you could be giving an unborn child a boost in IQ above their parents. As Hsu sees it, this is no Faustian bargain. “Aren’t we doing them a great service?” Over the long term, he proclaims, this would “improve the average IQ of the species by quite a bit.” He hopes governments will even provide it for free; Singapore, he predicts, would be the first to sign up.
String Theory is probably the best candidate for a Theory of Everything, including the so far elusive Quantum Gravity. I have to say, that as viewer of the the matter from the outside, I’ve gone from a deep skepticism, mostly because of the lack of empirical validation, to believe that is the theory with most likely to thrive. The absence of reasonable alternatives, the internal consistency of the theory itself, and the historical background of other theories that emerged from mere theoretical considerations (eg the Standard Model), is behind of this personal evolution.
We’ll see, but meanwhile, this site does a good job of popularizing the theory itself, as well as an excellent review of almost all Theoretical Physics. From the page:
This site provides a brief and entertaining introduction to string theory for the general public. Topics include quantum gravity, string physics, current research, future prospects, history and news. Kindly supported by The Royal Society and Oxford Physics.
The acoustic signatures of many animals contain features we humans cannot appreciate, given the limited range of frequencies we can hear. In fluid dynamics and many other fields, scientists and engineers have to find ways to analyze and decompose time-series data—like acoustic pressure signals—into useful quantities. Mark Fischer uses one tool for such analysis, a wavelet transform, to turn the calls of whales, birds, and insects into the colorful snapshots seen here. Wavelet transforms are somewhat similar to Fourier transforms but represent a signal with a series of wavelets rather than sinusoids. They’re also widely used for data compression.
(Image credits: M. Fischer/Aguasonic Acoustics; via DailyMail)
Fiona Wood (1958–) is a British-Australian plastic surgeon best known for her work in burns care and skin reconstruction. Born in Yorkshire, she studied medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London and worked in various major hospitals before immigrating to Perth, Australia, with her husband and two children in 1987. Here she completed her studies in plastic and reconstructive surgery (in between having four more children) and focused her interests on burns treatments. While treating severe burns patients in the early 1990s, Wood became a pioneer in skin cell transplant technology. Traditionally, treating large burns involves grafting on sheets of cultured skin, which are grown from the patient’s own skin cells, but they usually take up to 21 days to grow. Wood realised that scarring dramatically decreased if the wound was treated within 10 days, so she developed a technique nicknamed “spray-on skin.” The sample skin cells from the patient are cultured in just five days, then sprayed evenly onto the burn area using an aerosol delivery system, where the cells are cultured more quickly than in the lab—the wound actually acts as an ideal culture medium. This leaves much less scarring, and the cells are unlikely to be rejected since they’re from the patient’s own body. When 28 victims of the Bali bombings were urgently flown to Perth in 2002, Wood and her colleagues were well-prepared with this technique—and despite how severe the burns were and how many patients they had to deal with simultaneously, they managed to save 25 of the 28 victims. The spray-on skin technology was adopted around the world, and Wood founded a company called Avita Medical and charity called the Fiona Wood Foundation to research, develop and promote tissue engineering. She received a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003, and became Australian of the Year in 2005. Wood is currently the Director of the Western Australia Burns Service and a consultant plastic surgeon, and is focusing on a way to develop “scarless healing.”
Portable light sources have been one of the most evolving inventions in history — from the primative torches and oil lamps of yesteryear, to today’s battery-powered flashlights and headlamps. But through it all, most of these illuminating tools have required an outside energy source that would deplete when needed the most.
But now, thanks to one particularly enlightened 15-year-old girl from Canada, your next flashlight just might be powered by the heat from your hand. Introducing, the thermoelectric ‘Hollow Flashlight’ — submitted for the Google Science Fair.
In 2005, a distant rock was discovered orbiting the sun in the icy, debris-filled Kuiper Belt. It’s currently about 96.6 AU from the sun—three times as far away as Pluto—and it was christened Eris, for the Greek goddess of chaos of strife, while its moon was named for Eris’s daughter, Dysnomia, the demon goddess of lawlessness. In Greek mythology, Eris stirred up jealousy and anger among the goddesses and basically started the Trojan War, so it’s a beautifully fitting name, because Eris’s discovery shook the international astronomical community and outraged the world. Some thought Eris should be classified as the tenth planet since it’s thought to be bigger than Pluto, but others disagreed because it’s smaller than our own moon, and this sparked debates over what constitutes a planet. The International Astronomical Union met in 2006, and their discussions led to Pluto’s planetary demise—they stripped it of its planethood status, reclassifying it as a dwarf planet (otherwise known as ‘plutoids’). Eris was put into that same category, never becoming a planet at all. It’s an interesting little world, though: it takes 557 years to complete a single orbit, and it’s so far away from the sun that its surface temperatures are between −243 and −217 degrees Celsius. The icy surface is dominated by nitrogen methane, similar to the surface of Pluto, and its atmosphere is most likely frozen, so Eris is extremely reflective and gleams brightly. Since it’s in an elliptical orbit, it will get closer to the sun in years to come and warm up, so hopefully we’ll learn new things about it.
Poster showing a comparison of images from planetary surfaces ordered by increasing complexity of the surface processes. Image shows the surfaces of Asteroid Itokawa, the Moon, Venus, Mars, Titan, and Earth.
Breathing has become so mundane that we hardly ever notice it, but if we stop and consider what’s happening every moment of our lives, it almost takes our breath away. Every few moments we inhale a complex mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide, and our lungs expand and our capillaries absorb the oxygen. It races through our bloodstream, pumped to all corners of our bodies by a lump of muscle and tissue that knocks against our rib cages and never gets an answer, but keeps on supporting us for our whole lifetimes anyway, for 2.5 billion beats in the complex song of life. We are intricate systems of muscles, nerves and tissue, wound together on a frame of hardened collagen and calcium, like the coral upon which a reef ecoystem depends. We are the products of four billion years of evolution, owing our every atom to the seething furnaces of a long-gone stellar explosions. We are machines, all of us: organic machines made of flesh and blood and sinew and a billion electrical impulses that pay tribute to our celestial ancestry, lighting up our brains like the stars light up the darkness. We are such fragile, soft machines.
Wim Noorduin has a green thumb—but he doesn’t grow your standard garden-variety roses, tulips and other flowers. The postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, instead, tends to microscopic “buds” that he carefully cultivates in his lab. The blooms—delicate and fragile—are made out of crystal. - See more photos and continue reading at Smithsonian.com.
These time lapse animations use phase contrast microscopy to show neural stem cells in a nutrient medium for 4 hours. They reveal the dynamic growth and recycling of dendrites and synapses as neurons establish relationships with each other. The social behavior of these cells creates the incredible properties of the mind and brain.