Dr. Batalha (Mission Scientist for the Kepler Mission, searching for exoplanets) describes the techniques used by the Kepler team to identify planets orbiting other stars and updates us on the remarkable progress they are making in the search for Earth-sized worlds. She discusses the planets already found and shares what we know so far about the thousands of candidate planets that are in the Kepler data.
Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and the Henry Semat Professor at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and earned his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley.
Dr. Kaku is one of the founders of string field theory, a field of research within string theory. String theory seeks to provide a unified description for all matter and the fundamental forces of the universe.
His book The Physics of the Impossible addresses how science fiction technology may become possible in the future. His other books include Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension , selected as one of the best science books of 1994 by both the New York Times and The Washington Post, and Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos , a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize.
Part 1 --------- Where did we come from? What makes us human? An explosion of recent discoveries sheds light on these questions, and NOVA's comprehensive, three-part special, "Becoming Human," examines what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives.
Part 1, "First Steps," examines the factors that caused us to split from the other great apes. The program explores the fossil of "Selam," also known as "Lucy's Child." Paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged spent five years carefully excavating the sandstone-embedded fossil. NOVA's cameras are there to capture the unveiling of the face, spine, and shoulder blades of this 3.3 million-year-old fossil child. And NOVA takes viewers "inside the skull" to show how our ancestors' brains had begun to change from those of the apes.
Why did leaps in human evolution take place? "First Steps" explores a provocative "big idea" that sharp swings of climate were a key factor.
Part 2 --------- In "Birth of Humanity," the second part of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA investigates the first skeleton that really looks like us--"Turkana Boy"--an astonishingly complete specimen of Homo erectus found by the famous Leakey team in Kenya. These early humans are thought to have developed key innovations that helped them thrive, including hunting large prey, the use of fire, and extensive social bonds.
The program examines an intriguing theory that long-distance running--our ability to jog--was crucial for the survival of these early hominids. Not only did running help them escape from vicious predators roaming the grasslands, but it also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing down prey animals such as deer and antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Birth of Humanity" also probes how, why, and when humans' uniquely long period of childhood and parenting began.
Part 3 --------- In "Last Human Standing," the final program of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA examines the fate of the Neanderthals, our European cousins who died out as modern humans spread from Africa into Europe during the Ice Age. Did modern humans interbreed with Neanderthals or exterminate them? The program explores crucial evidence from the recent decoding of the Neanderthal genome.
How did modern humans take over the world? New evidence suggests that they left Africa and colonized the rest of the globe far earlier, and for different reasons, than previously thought. As for Homo sapiens, we have planet Earth to ourselves today, but that's a very recent and unusual situation. For millions of years, many kinds of hominids co-existed. At one time Homo sapiens shared the planet with Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and the mysterious "Hobbits"--three-foot-high humans who thrived on the Indonesian island of Flores until as recently as 12,000 years ago.
"Last Human Standing" examines why "we" survived while those other ancestral cousins died out. And it explores the provocative question: In what ways are we still evolving today?
Often called a living fossil, the coelacanth was long believed to have fallen extinct 70 million years ago, until a specimen was recognized in a fish market in South Africa in 1938. The coelacanth has fleshy, lobed fins that look somewhat like limbs, as does the lungfish, an air-breathing freshwater fish.
The coelacanth and the lungfish have long been battling for the honor of which is closer to the ancestral fish that first used fins to walk on land and give rise to the tetrapods, meaning all the original vertebrates and their descendants, from reptiles and birds to mammals.
The decoding of the coelacanth genome results in a victory for the lungfish as the closer relative to the first tetrapod. But the coelacanth may have the last laugh because its genome — which, at 2.8 billion bp of DNA, about the same size as a human genome — is decodable, whereas the lungfish genome, a remarkable 100 billion DNA units in length, cannot be cracked with present methods. The coelacanth genome is therefore more likely to shed light on the central evolutionary question of what genetic alterations were needed to change a lobe-finned fish into the first land-dwelling tetrapod.
The idea of decoding the coelacanth genome began six years ago when Chris Amemiya, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, acquired some samples of coelacanth tissue. He asked the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., a biological research institute in Cambridge, Mass., to decode the DNA and invited experts in evolutionary and developmental biology to help interpret the results.
Dr. Amemiya’s team has sifted through the coelacanth’s genome for genes that might have helped its cousin species, the ancestor to the first tetrapod, invade dry land some 400 million years ago. They have found one gene that is related to those that, in animal species, build the placenta. Coelacanths have no placenta, but they produce extremely large eggs, with a good blood supply, that hatch inside the mother’s body. This gene could have been developed by land animals into a way of constructing the placenta.
Another helpful preadaptation is a snippet of DNA that enhances the activity of the genes that drive the formation of limbs in the embryo. The Amemiya team focused on the enhancer DNA sequence because it occurred in the coelacanth and animals but not in ordinary fish. They then inserted the coelacanth enhancer DNA into mice.
“It lit up right away and made an almost normal limb,” said Neil Shubin, meaning that the coelacanth gene enhancer successfully encouraged the mouse genes to make a limb. Dr. Shubin, a member of the team, is a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.
Present-day coelacanths are ferocious predators that live in a twilight zone about 500 feet deep where light barely penetrates. They lurk in caves during the day and emerge at night to attack surface fish as they descend and deep-sea fish as they rise to the surface. They have no evident need of fins that might help them walk on land.
“This is probably an unusual habitat for this lineage,” said Axel Meyer, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany and a member of the team. “Other coelacanths lived in more shallow, estuarylike environments 400 million years ago, and you can envisage them using the fins more like walking legs.”
The Amemiya team reports evidence that the coelacanth’s genes have been evolving more slowly than those of mammals, possibly because of “a static habitat and lack of predators.” But its environment must have changed quite considerably over the last 400 million years, Dr. Meyer said. Its principal habitat at present is the caves beneath the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean, but since these are extinct volcanoes a mere 5 million to 10 million years old, they must be a quite recent home for the coelacanth.
The Amemiya team does not possess a full coelacanth — these are endangered species — and decoded the genome from tissues obtained from Rosemary Dorrington of Rhodes University in South Africa. Dr. Dorrington supplied DNA kits to the Comoro Islands fishermen who occasionally snag coelacanths by accident. When a coelacanth was captured in 2003, they preserved blood and tissues, which were given to Dr. Dorrington and kept frozen, Dr. Amemiya said.
The specimen was preserved in Moroni, the capital of the Comoro Islands, but Dr. Amemiya has been unable to find out where it is now because of the constant state of civil war in the islands, he said.
Can he be certain, then, that the tissue came from a coelacanth? “Oh, no question,” Dr. Amemiya said. “We have DNA from several other coelacanths, from Africa and Indonesia, which is very similar to this one.” The one caught in 2003 was identified as a coelacanth by Said Ahamada, a South African expert, Dr. Amemiya said.
Because the original specimen is not available and the DNA sequencing is incomplete, the Amemiya team does not know its sex.
UC Berkeley scientists have developed a system to capture visual activity in human brains and reconstruct it as digital video clips. Eventually, this process will allow you to record and reconstruct your own dreams on a computer screen.
I just can't believe this is happening for real, but according to Professor Jack Gallant—UC Berkeley neuroscientist and coauthor of the research published today in the journal Current Biology—"this is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds."
Indeed, it's mindblowing. I'm simultaneously excited and terrified. This is how it works: They used three different subjects for the experiments—incidentally, they were part of the research team because it requires being inside a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging system for hours at a time. The subjects were exposed to two different groups of Hollywood movie trailers as the fMRI system recorded the brain's blood flow through their brains' visual cortex.
The readings were fed into a computer program in which they were divided into three-dimensional pixels units called voxels (volumetric pixels). This process effectively decodes the brain signals generated by moving pictures, connecting the shape and motion information from the movies to specific brain actions. As the sessions progressed, the computer learned more and more about how the visual activity presented on the screen corresponded to the brain activity.
After recording this information, another group of clips was used to reconstruct the videos shown to the subjects. The computer analyzed 18 million seconds of random YouTube video, building a database of potential brain activity for each clip. From all these videos, the software picked the one hundred clips that caused a brain activity more similar to the ones the subject watched, combining them into one final movie. Although the resulting video is low resolution and blurry, it clearly matched the actual clips watched by the subjects.
Think about those 18 million seconds of random videos as a painter's color palette. A painter sees a red rose in real life and tries to reproduce the color using the different kinds of reds available in his palette, combining them to match what he's seeing. The software is the painter and the 18 million seconds of random video is its color palette. It analyzes how the brain reacts to certain stimuli, compares it to the brain reactions to the 18-million-second palette, and picks what more closely matches those brain reactions. Then it combines the clips into a new one that duplicates what the subject was seeing. Notice that the 18 million seconds of motion video arenot what the subject is seeing. They are random bits used just to compose the brain image.
Given a big enough database of video material and enough computing power, the system would be able to re-create any images in your brain. Right now, the resulting quality is not good, but the potential is enormous. Lead research author—and one of the lab test bunnies—Shinji Nishimoto thinks this is the first step to tap directly into what our brain sees and imagines: "Our natural visual experience is like watching a movie. In order for this technology to have wide applicability, we must understand how the brain processes these dynamic visual experiences".
The brain recorders of the future - Imagine that. Capturing your visual memories, your dreams, the wild ramblings of your imagination into a video that you and others can watch with your own eyes.
This is the first time in history that we have been able to decode brain activity and reconstruct motion pictures in a computer screen. The path that this research opens boggles the mind. It reminds me of Brainstorm, the cult movie in which a group of scientists lead by Christopher Walken develops a machine capable of recording the five senses of a human being and then play them back into the brain itself.
This new development brings us closer to that goal which, I have no doubt, will happen at one point. Given the exponential increase in computing power and our understanding of human biology, I think this will arrive sooner than most mortals expect. Perhaps one day you would be able to go to sleep wearing a flexible band labeled Sony Dreamcam around your skull.
Scientists are on the verge of answering one of the greatest questions in history: Are we alone? Combining the latest telescope images with dazzling CGI, "Finding Life Beyond Earth" immerses audiences in the sights and sounds of alien worlds, while top astrobiologists explain how these places are changing how we think about the potential for life in our solar system. We used to think our neighboring planets and moons were fairly boring — mostly cold, dead rocks where life could never take hold. Today, however, the solar system looks wilder than we ever imagined. Powerful telescopes and unmanned space missions have revealed a wide range of dynamic environments — atmospheres thick with organic molecules, active volcanoes and vast saltwater oceans. This ongoing revolution is forcing scientists to expand their ideas about what kinds of worlds could support life. If we do find primitive life forms elsewhere in the solar system, it may well be that life is common in the universe — the rule, and not the exception.
This video assembly presents the activities of the carboncopies.org non-profit advancing substrate-independent minds, whole brain emulation, mind uploading, neuroprostheses and neural interfaces. The future has just begun!
Max Tegmark, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi), presents a cosmic perspective on the future of life, covering our increasing scientific knowledge, the cosmic background radiation, the ultimate fate of the universe, and what we need to do to ensure the human race's survival and flourishing in the short and long term.
"The USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center has taken delivery of a D-Wave One adiabatic quantum computer. In this talk, we will report on our experience assessing the quantum mechanical behavior of the device and benchmarking its performance. We will present experimental results that strongly indicate that quantum annealing is indeed being performed by D-Wave One, and show how the device performs when compared to classical computers on a particular optimization problem. We will also discuss a proposal to experimentally show the presence of entanglement that is being developed in collaboration with D-Wave. We will also report briefly on early work to find applications for the D-Wave One, and other challenges to broad use of this new technology."
"a new conversation on the future of healthcare with 200 expert leaders from the worlds of medicine, science, technology, and business.
....a clear, compelling argument that today there is a new opportunity to bring data into real-time decision-making for doctors, researchers, hospitals, and individuals. This combination has the potential to transform people's lives.
.....spanning the gap between healthcare and technology, connecting pioneering researchers with ambitious entrepreneurs. First and foremost, .... a forum for ideas. Expect new connections, new opportunities, and new insights in how better data is driving us all toward better health."
At the Biz Barcelona 2013 conference, Singularity University's Salim Ismail outlined how exponential technology is increasingly impacting our lives. From computer technology to the demise of nation states, including the United States, Ismail shows just how powerful this phenomenon is.
This Perspective discusses how gels and aerogels manufactured from a variety of metal and semiconductor nanoparticles available in colloidal solutions have recently proven to provide an opportunity to marry the nanoscale world with that of materials of macro dimensions that can be easily manipulated and processed while maintaining the nanoscale properties. The aerogel materials may be further processed in order to achieve improvements in their properties relevant to applications in optical sensing, photovoltaics, LEDs, nonlinear optics, thermoelectrics, and catalysis. This Perspective reviews the young field, lines out some of the synthetical challenges, and touches on application-related aspects.
They have inhabited our planet for millions of years, and yet no living creature seems more alien to us. Award-winning cameraman Wolfgang Thaler and Bert Hoelldobler, a leading ant authority, bring us face-to-face with the mysterious world of these social insects. Special macro film technology introduces us into the fascinating world of ants as no film did before.
Artificial intelligence is an ever evolving goal for researchers, and the object of endless fascination for writers, filmmakers, and the general public. But despite our best science fiction visions, creating digital intelligence is incredibly difficult. The universe is a very complicated place, and humans have had millions of years to evolve the ability to navigate and make sense of it. Contemporary attempts to create AI have us looking more at how our own brains work to see how a computer could simulate the core activities that create our intelligence. No matter how we get there, it is certain that artificial intelligence will have tremendous impact on our society and economy, and lead us down a path towards evolving our own definitions of humanity.
Will the next generation think about diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes the way we think about polio and the whooping cough? Susan Solomon, the co-founder of the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), certainly hopes so.
Models of spontaneous wave function collapse make predictions, which are different from those of standard quantum mechanics. Indeed, these models can be considered as a rival theory, against which the standard theory can be tested, in pretty much the same way in which parametrized post-Newtonian gravitational theories are rival theories of general relativity. The predictions of collapse models almost coincide with those of standard quantum mechanics at the microscopic level, as these models have to account for the microscopic world, as we know it. Departures become significant when the size of the system increases. However, for larger systems environmental influences become more and more difficult to eliminate. This is the reason why it is tricky to test collapse models experimentally, and so far no decisive test has been performed. We will review the main phenomenological properties of collapse models, in particular the so-called amplification mechanics, as well as the main models, which are debated in the literature (GRW, CSL, QMUPL, DP). We will review the lower bounds on the collapse parameter, and more importantly the upper bounds set by available experimental data. This data come both from experimental tests on earth, and from cosmological observations.
Time is real, the laws of physics can change and our universe could be involved in a cosmic natural selection process in which new universes are born from black holes, renowned physicist and author Lee Smolin said.
His views are contrary to the widely-accepted model of the universe in which time is an illusion and the laws of physics are fixed, as held by Einstein and many contemporary physicists as well as some ancient philosophers, Prof. Smolin said. Acknowledging that his statements were provocative, he explained how he had come to change his mind about the nature of reality and had moved away from the idea that the assumptions that apply to observations in a laboratory can be extrapolated to the whole universe.
The debate had sometimes taken a metaphysical turn, he said, in which the idea that time is not real had led some to conclude that everything that humans value – such as free will, imagination and agency – is also an illusion. "Is it any wonder that so many people don't buy science? This is what is at stake," he said.
From deadly nightshade to eye surgery and truth drugs; from poison gas to pesticides and cancer therapy; from explosives to treatments for heart disease; from natural toxins to new starting points for drug discovery. The unexpected relationship between chemical weapons and medicines will be explored, interspersed with curious parallels drawn from the speaker's 20 years of being a chemist.
Sir David Baulcombe is one of the world's top scientists whose work identified small RNAs, and he's a nice person as well. He will be a Keynote Speaker at the upcoming UK Plant Sciences Federation meeting in Dundee, Scotland, April 2013, which is sure to be a stimulating meeting http://www.plantsci2013.org.uk/programme/