Imagine seeing the lights of cities spreading around the Nile Delta and then in less than an hour gazing down on Mount Everest. The astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are among the lucky few who will have this humbling, once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the beauty of Earth from space.
The ISS doesn’t just offer spectacular and countless views of the natural and man-made landscapes of our planet. It also immerses its residents into the Earth’s space environment and reveals how dynamic its atmosphere is, from its lower layers to its protective magnetic shield, constantly swept by the solar wind.
The best views are seen from the Cupola, an observation deck module attached to the ISS in 2010 and comprising seven windows. So, what are the amazing sights that you can see from the space station?
Three weeks and three days before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans 10 years ago, a paper of mine appeared in the scientific journal Nature showing that North Atlantic hurricane power was strongly correlated with the temperature of the tropical Atlantic during hurricane season, and that both had been increasing rapidly over the previous 30 years or so. It attributed these increases to a combination of natural climate oscillations and to global warming.
Had Katrina not occurred, this paper and another by an independent team would merely have contributed to the slowly accumulating literature on the relationship between climate and hurricanes.
Instead, the two papers inspired a media firestorm, polarizing popular opinion and, to some extent, scientists themselves, on whether global warming was in some way responsible for Katrina. While the firestorm was mostly destructive, benefiting only the media, it had a silver lining in inspiring a much more concerted effort by atmospheric and climate scientists to understand how hurricanes influence and are influenced by climate.
We have learned much in the intervening years.
Imagine yourself as a graphic designer for New Age musician Enya, tasked with creating her next album cover. Which two or three colors from the grid below do you think would “go best” with her music?
Would they be the same ones you’d pick for an album cover or music video for the heavy metal band Metallica? Probably not.
For years, my collaborators and I have been studying music-to-color associations. From our results, it’s clear that emotion plays a crucial role in how we interpret and respond to any number of external stimuli, including colors and songs.
“Cannabis is like a medicine cabinet,” says Roger Pertwee, who was instrumental in some of the early cannabis trials for multiple sclerosis. “It has a lot of compounds in it that are novel and unique to cannabis. We have discovered 104 so far, but there are others. There are many potential uses that we have to investigate.”
Pertwee is Professor of Neuropharmacology at the University of Aberdeen and also GW’s Director of Pharmacology (some of his research at the university is funded by the company). His work, alongside that of other researchers including Raphael Mechoulam and Vincenzo Di Marzo, is instrumental in our understanding of the endocannabinoid system, a network of lipids and receptors involved in a wide array of bodily processes, including appetite, memory, pain and mood.
We have two types of cannabinoid receptor: CB1, which is mostly found in the brain and spinal cord, and CB2, which is found mainly on cells in the immune system. These receptors are activated by cannabinoids made by the body (endocannabinoids) as well as synthetic cannabinoids and those present in plants.
Where should medical research focus its efforts exploring medical cannabis? Many prominent researchers, including Pertwee, believe that the individual components of cannabis are more effective than using the whole plant. Focusing on components would also obviate the need for a patient to smoke.
Areas of interest to researchers across the world include the possible therapeutic use of THC (the main psychoactive component of cannabis), CBD and other cannabinoids to treat autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer, inflammation, seizures and even psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.
There’s an idea circulating that humans are the only animal to experience sexual pleasure; that we approach sex in a way that is distinct from others. As with many questions about sex, this exposes some interesting facts about the way we discuss the subject.
On one level, the question of whether humans and nonhumans experience sex in the same way is fairly simply dismissed: how would we know? We cannot know how a nonhuman experiences anything – they can’t be asked. Sex as an experiential phenomenon for nonhumans is, quite simply, inaccessible. Science is obliged to propose questions that are answerable, and “how does a leopard slug experience sex?” is, at time of writing, about as unanswerable as they get.
Having said that, we can make educated guesses about whether sex is pleasurable for other species. Sex would be a very strange thing to seek if it didn’t bring some form of pleasure. It increases risk of disease, it wastes energy, it can seriously increase the likelihood of something bigger coming along and eating you (seriously, check out leopard-slug reproduction, below).
From Picasso’s “The Young Ladies of Avignon” to Munch’s “The Scream,” what was it about some paintings that arrested people’s attention upon viewing them, that cemented them in the canon of art history as iconic works?
In many cases, it’s because the artist incorporated a technique, form or style that had never been used before. They exhibited a creative and innovative flair that would go on to be mimicked by artists for years to come.
Throughout human history, experts have often highlighted these artistic innovations, using them to judge a painting’s relative worth. But can a painting’s level of creativity be quantified by Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
At Rutgers’ Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, my colleagues and I proposed a novel algorithm that assessed the creativity of any given painting, while taking into account the painting’s context within the scope of art history.
In the end, we found that, when introduced with a large collection of works, the algorithm can successfully highlight paintings that art historians consider masterpieces of the medium.
The results show that humans are no longer the only judges of creativity. Computers can perform the same task – and may even be more objective.
To understand the universe, you must know about atoms — about the forces that bind them, the contours of space and time, the birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies, the secrets of black holes.
But that is not enough. These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars, but not the lights that shine from planet Earth. To understand these lights, you must know about life, about minds.
Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean. Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos – unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the universe discovered its existence.
Either way, there is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer – to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough initiatives are making that commitment. We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.
From trilobites to tyrannosaurs, most fossils are of creatures with hard shells or bones. These materials don’t easily biodegrade and sediment has time to build up around them and turn them into a record of the creature that is still with us millions of years after it has died. Soft-bodied organisms like worms, on the other hand, decay rapidly and their fossil record is decidedly patchy.
In exceptional circumstances, however, their remains are preserved and sometimes in the most unusual places. With the right detective skills, paleontologists can use such discoveries to open up whole new windows on the history of life on Earth. A recent discovery found in 50-million-year-old rocks from Antarctica has yielded a particularly incredible example: fossilized worm sperm.
It’s a great reminder that there are far stranger fossils out there than dinosaur bones. Here are some of the most bizarre specimens ever found.
Nine years ago, Joshua Robinson was approached by his then-advisor with news of a discovery that would end up transforming his career, and much of materials science. “I saw this crazy talk about 2-D graphite,” he recalls his adviser saying.
The adviser was referring of course to graphene, the first material to exist as truly two-dimensional: only a single atom thick. Back in 2006, the physics community was just beginning to wrap its mind around how a 2-D material could even exist.
Fast forward to 2015. The realization that materials can be thinned down to the absolute limit of a single atom is spreading, both throughout the world and across the periodic table. Researchers are learning that 2-D isn’t just for the carbon atoms of graphene. Different elemental combinations can lead to fascinating new science and applications.
Robinson is now associate director for Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Two-Dimensional and Layered Materials, a center with 20 faculty and over 50 students dedicated to uncovering the fundamental properties of this new zoo of 2-D materials. It is one of many such centers around the world. And as scientists continue to create new 2-D materials there’s a palpable frenzy to characterize their surprising electronic, optical, and mechanical properties.
The excitement stems from the fact that materials shaved down to only a few atoms act very differently from their so-called “bulk” or 3-D version. Quantum effects begin to take hold as the electrons in the material are squeezed into that impossibly thin layer.
And, being flexible, 2-D materials could bring those unique electrical properties to all sorts of new applications – from bendable touch screens to wearable sensors.
We make a huge number of decisions every day. When it comes to eating, for example, we make 200 more decisions than we’re consciously aware of every day. How is this possible? Because, as Daniel Kahneman has explained, while we’d like to think our decisions are rational, in fact many are driven by gut feel and intuition. The ability to reach a decision based on what we know and what we expect is an inherently human characteristic.
The problem we face now is that we have too many decisions to make every day, leading to decision fatigue – we find the act of making our own decisions exhausting. Even more so than simply deliberate different options or being told by others what to do.
Why not allow technology to ease the burden of decision-making? The latest smart technologies are designed to monitor and learn from our behavior, physical performance, work productivity levels and energy use. This is what has been called Era Three of Automation – when machine intelligence becomes faster and more reliable than humans at making decisions.