The 'show why science is awesome' thread:


Holy crow, that’s awesome.
In more incredible science news, researchers at Rice University have made a nano-submarine:

Researchers at Rice University have created what is certainly one of the most amazing nanomachines ever built: a tiny submersible vehicle with a tiny propeller that spins at a million RPM — all built from a single molecule


Some scientists have essentially created synthetic hemoglobin, a crystalline material that can absorb and store oxygen, and then release it, depending on various environmental factors.

Some of the interesting applications involve things like replacing oxygen tanks for medical patients or scuba divers, and having the stuff just extract oxygen from the environment and then provide it to the person.


Scientists Produce Graphene 100 Times Cheaper Than Ever Before (via Slashdot)

Since first being synthesized by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester in 2004, there has been an extensive effort to exploit the extraordinary properties of graphene. However the cost of graphene in comparison to more traditional electronic materials has meant that its uptake in electronic manufacturing has been slow. Now researchers at the University of Glasgow have discovered a way to create large sheets of graphene using the same type of cheap copper used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries.

The wonder-material promise of graphene inches ever closer!


So, does anyone else think of the beginning of a Japanese monster movie when they read this?

Scientist said this week they had drilled into the lower section of Earth’s crust for the first time and were poised to break through to the mantle in coming years.

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) seeks the elusive “Moho,” a boundary formally known as the Mohorovicic discontinuity. It marks the division between Earth’s brittle outer crust and the hotter, softer mantle.


They’re going to need a fusion reaction to power that moho mine. Not to mention lots of tier 2 metal storage.


[B]The Deep Children are part of Juffo-Wup – home builders.
The dwellers in the Mohorovicic.[/B][/CENTER]


‘Scientist says huge clumps of dark matter may lie just beyond the Moon’:

There are few fields like theoretical astrophysics, where public perception so radically departs from reality. Society generally considers its practitioners—scientists like Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne—to be among the most brilliant people in the world. They are the great sages to whom we turn with the universe’s deepest questions. Yet in reality, astrophysicists are mired in ignorance.

When a theoretical astrophysicist looks up at the nighttime sky, he or she will see the stars shining overhead. But what concerns the physicist is not what he or she sees but rather what is unseen. Based upon different kinds of observations, such as how galaxies rotate and how they are flying apart from one another, scientists know that 95 percent of the of the universe is made of up stuff we cannot see. Of the universe’s mass, physicists say 27 percent is dark matter, and 68 percent is dark energy. And researchers have no idea what this stuff is or where to find it.

Yet a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has now provided a clue about where dark matter—and lots of it—might be found. In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal, Gary Prézeau has proposed that Earth and other planets and stars in the Milky Way galaxy are surrounded by theoretical filaments of dark matter called "hairs.” By finding the roots of these hairs, he reports, physicists could uncover a trove of dark matter.

If this all sounds exotic, it is, and a bit of explanation is in order. Gravity binds galaxies, but only to a point. The faster a galaxy rotates, the more gravity is required to hold everything together. And on average, stars rotate very quickly around the galactic core. In the Milky Way, for example, the rotational velocity is around 250 km/second for most stars. That’s equivalent to traveling to and from the moon in less than half an hour.

However, when astrophysicists count up all the normal matter in galaxies, primarily stars, there’s not nearly enough to hold them together. Instead, the galaxies should be flying apart. But they’re not, so scientists predict there must be large clumps of dark matter, which add enough gravity such that galaxies remain tightly bound.

Physicists have sought these clumps for decades, but because dark matter interacts only weakly with normal matter, it has proven difficult to detect. Not for lack of trying—scientists have looked for dark matter in space, they’ve tried to create it in large particle accelerators, and they’ve buried detectors deep beneath the ground to catch dark matter passing through the Earth. In 2011 they even launched the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station to study cosmic rays for signs of dark matter collisions.


Appears we’re getting much closer to safe gene editing. Latest work on the CRISPR system out of my home institution has made the system dramatically less error prone. Details here.

There was also a summit on Human gene editing in washington (I’m gonna see if I can start watching the talks as I work today, they are all on line), and they have a summary statement here.

Summary: OK, we can edit human genes. That sounds great and all, but let’s limit this activity so that changes made to any one person (to stop diseases like sickle-cell anemia or to help patients fight cancer) are not heritable. Once you go down that path, all changes made to an individual are passed on to all offspring, and can lead to a large number of biological and social problems.

I fully expect some assholes in china to announce they’ve done germline editing in the next few years. It strikes me that some scientists there care quite little about restrictions on things like “ethics”, and are somehow able to get plenty of funding to do things we might think of as “not a good idea” or “incredibly morally reprehensible”.


Please forgive my ignorance here. I didn’t realize it was possible/reasonable to distinguish between edits that are heritable and those which are not. Can you elaborate a bit on that? That’s really fascinating.


Some researchers have created another interesting form of carbon, as well as faster diamond-manufacturing.

Now, after decades of testing, a team from North Carolina State University has discovered a speedy way to make diamonds that can be done without squeezing carbon under extreme pressure or heating it with conventional baking.

Amazingly, in the process of crafting their diamonds, Narayan and his team also discovered a new phase of carbon, dubbed Q-carbon. This bizarre material is even tougher than diamond, is magnetic and emits a soft glow. Aside from its role in making faster, cheaper diamonds, Q-carbon could find uses in electronic displays and may aid our understanding of magnetism on other planets.


You can edit someone’s sperm or eggs to make changes. If you do this, then all of the descendants of that child will share those changes. If you change someone’s blood cells to be resistant to cancer (for example), then those changes aren’t passed on [somatic editing]. When you change someone’s germlime (eegs or sperm), that person not only makes decisions for themselves, but for all their potential children, forever. Then if you have multiple people who have these changes, and some of their children meet each other and have kids, you’d start to have interesting combinations of these changes interact.

It gets into pretty scary territory here, where if you’re introducing changes never seen in nature, we have no idea of how those interactions could turn out. Do you start to tell people they can’t have children together because of their parents/grandparent’s decision? Or do you try to reverse those changes in their germlines (and hopefully not introduce other changes/errors) in an attempt to fix this?

There’s an intermediate risk change one can also do, where you copy known changes that are rarely seen (but at least natural in human populations) into many people in germline editing. Some small fraction of people have a deletion of CCR5-delta32, which is thought (when you have a copy from each parent) to make it more difficult for the HIV virus to penetrate your cells. Since this mutation is in a small but appreciable fraction of people already (1-10% of caucasians), we could look at those populations of people that have the mutation and see if there are negative effects that those people share compared to control populations. If the mutation was determined to only have positive effects, then what you’re doing is in effect raising the frequency of the mutation in the population, instead of introducing something completely new.

This option is probably how germline changes will eventually happen, but most of us want to keep learning more about all of these mutations and their effects before we start changing the human species into something new.


“and we will become the new Gods of the Sky…”


Intriguing. So the very broad strokes is when the changes are made? Change things early (sperm/eggs) and it gets passed along just like the “natural” genetics. Change things later and it doesn’t. That basically right as to how the effects play out?

And yeah, this is seriously scary stuff. Eugenics and all that.


‘Winter solstice: the importance of daylight’:

…As it happens, it can be quite a big deal. Daylight has been a constant throughout our evolutionary processes, give or take a volcanic summer or two. As a result, changes in the amount of light we get can have big knock-on effects, for both us and most other life forms (especially if they’re photosynthetic). We humans, with our mastery of the environment (or tendency to construct buildings which we can use to keep it out) aren’t believed to be “seasonal”, as such. However, as with most things, there are numerous exceptions.

The most obvious example is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the mood-altering condition with the unsubtle acronym. SAD is believed to result from the fact that reduced exposure to sunlight causes a lowering of mood in many people, to the extent where it becomes genuinely debilitating. Some might scoff at this concept, but it’s a real thing. There’s evidence to show that the brain’s levels of serotonin are directly affected by exposure to daylight. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter strongly implicated in maintenance of mood, and the one affected by SSRIs, the most common type of antidepressant at present…

lots of links to studies in the article.


My son who lives in Fairbanks, AK, is definitely affected by SAD this time of year. Like a lot of people up there he uses a light therapy box, which helps a lot.


My manager has one of those on his desk in Washington State. It’s hard for me to imagine staring into a bright box every morning can help your mood, but he does it religiously.


I grew up in Wales, i don’t think i saw the unfiltered sun until my 16th birthday. I could probably handle Finland ok? My mum does suffer from SAD a bit, so her house is very bright and she loves yellow paint!

But in general it is amazing how our hard-wiring can effect our mood so much, we should all probably not work in offices and hang out in the trees more :)


I look forward to the open market heritable modifications that prevent your child (or their children) from having down’s syndrome, autism, midgetism, ginger hair, blindness, deafness and gayness. Okay, the last one will probably be black market. And also, the deaf and blind lobbies will likely protest treatments for their conditions, much in the same way as there is an occasional story about parents with those disabilities wanting to make their children have those disabilities if they are not born with them.

This awesome science will make a much more interesting world.


Twenty-first century genetic engineering will not only eliminate the siamese twins and the alligator-skin people, but you’re gonna be hard-pressed to find a slight overbite, or a not-so-high cheekbone.


‘CDC issues travel advisory for 14 countries with alarming viral outbreaks’:

kinda freaky, but pretty awesome bodies like CDC exist to do what they do.