Silicon Valley’s Immortalists Will Help Us All Stay Healthy

In early 1954, Pope Pius XII summoned a venerable Swiss quack named Paul Niehans to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo. The pontiff was nauseated with gastritis, fatigued by his 77 years, and loath to meet his maker. So he had Niehans administer an anti­aging treatment called cell therapy, which would become sought after by midcentury celebrities, artists, and politicians.

Fetal cells were taken from a pregnant sheep and injected into the scrawny pope. Over time, Pius received a series of shots. The Holy Patient felt rejuvenated; Niehans was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in thanks. But if the treatments worked at all, it wasn’t for long: Pius died four years later.

Niehans’ Clinique La Prairie is still in business, charging tens of thousands of dollars for its weeklong “revitalization program.” But today the death-­phobic elite demand more scientifically sound approaches. Investor Peter Thiel is reportedly “really interested” in the blood of the young. Based on an old idea called parabiosis, the therapy excited new enthusiasm after a 2013 paper showed that a protein richly abundant in young blood made old mice stronger. For $8,000, a company named Ambrosia will now infuse older patients with the blood serum of donors aged 16 to 25.

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Math Says You’re Driving Wrong and It’s Slowing Us All Down

Ah, the phantom traffic jam. You know, that thing where the flow suddenly slows to a halt and you inch forward for a half hour and then things pick up again and you look around for an accident or construction or anything at all for Pete’s sake that might justify the time you just wasted. But no, nothing. It’s as if the fates chose this particular time and place to screw with you.

The question is, why? People tailgating and bunching up, maybe. But a new study in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems mathematically models the implications of the larger problem: You’re not keeping the right distance from the car behind you.

That may seem counterintuitive, since you don’t have much control over how far you are from the car behind you—especially when that person is a tailgater. But the math says that if everyone kept an equal distance between the cars ahead and behind, all spaced out in a more orderly fashion, traffic would move almost twice as quickly. Now read more

Patients Want Poop Transplants. Here’s How to Make Them Safe

Neill Stollman has been called the Tupac of poop transplants. The Oakland-based, board-certified gastroenterologist didn’t invent the treatment. But he did bring it to the west coast. His first patient was a woman in her 80s with a horrible case of Clostridium difficile, a gut infection that can strike patients after a course of antibiotics clears out their existing bacterial community. It’s also one of the deadliest antibiotic-resistant threats in the US, costing the healthcare system an estimated $5 billion each year. Drugs had stopped working for the woman, and without some kind of treatment, she was going to die.

So Stollman took a stool sample provided by the patient’s nurse’s husband, made a poop shake, and performed California’s first fecal microbiota transplant—a so-called FMT. The new bacteria repopulated her gut and she made a full recovery. Since then, Stollman has successfully performed the procedure read more

NASA’s Latest Kepler Exoplanet Discovery Fueled by AI

Saturn’s rings sure are pretty, and Matt Damon’s been to Mars, but our eight-planet solar system may not be that special after all. Today, scientists using data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft announced they’d discovered an eighth planet orbiting a star 2,500 light years away. They’ve named the planet Kepler-90i after the star it orbits, Kepler-90, which is slightly hotter and more massive than our sun. “This discovery of an eighth planet ties Kepler-90 with our own solar system for having the most known planets,” said NASA astrophysicist Paul Hertz during a press conference about the discovery.

Researchers found the exoplanet by re-sifting through four years of data from a Kepler instrument called a photometer, a machine that measures the brightness of stars. Between 2009 and 2013, Kepler took pictures of 200,000 stars every half hour, about 10 pixels per picture. If a star dims and brightens in a repeating cycle, that read more

The Alabama Senate Election Was Decided 100 Million Years Ago

They say victory has a hundred fathers, and Doug Jones’ upset win in the Alabama Senate race Tuesday night is no exception. Maybe it was the mounting accusations of child molestation facing Republican opponent Roy Moore that sealed Jones’ victory. Maybe this was just the latest swell in the blue wave that washed over Virginia last month. Maybe it was the work of a small, but mighty, group of Jones volunteers who ran an expansive ground game.

Or maybe, it was the ground itself—the literal soil underneath voters’ feet, which was once submerged underwater, leaving behind a uniquely fertile strip of land on which human beings committed unthinkable atrocities, the effects of which are still being felt today.

What? The Democratic National Committee didn’t mention that in its emails? Then, allow us to explain.

Historians and political scientists have long observed that the map of slavery in the antebellum South looks almost exactly like the map of Democratic counties read more

How Social Research Is Evolving in the Digital World

Figuring out how human beings do human things is one of the most exciting things that science—psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology—can do. It’s also one of the hardest. Reliable, meaningful methods that distill real-world behavior into experimental variables have been, let’s say, elusive. That might be part of the reason the “reproducibility crisis,” concerns about the validity of some scientific findings because of statistical and methodological strains, hit the so-called soft sciences first and hardest.

Princeton University Press

Matt Salganik, a sociologist at Princeton, is trying to solve that hard problem. He wants to know how human beings behave and why, especially in a socially mediated world. To do it, Salganik has become a hardcore data nerd. The digital traces everyone now leaves on servers provide inexhaustible fuel for the science of human behavior, he says, and learning to use them wisely could also fix the various crises that science now sees in its own practices. Salganik’s read more

Robots Are Fueling the Quiet Ascendance of the Electric Motor

If you were going to kick off a technological revolution, you’d be hard-pressed to do it with more pizazz than Tesla with its electric cars. Flashy, kinda-self-driving, neck-snappingly fast electric cars. But oddly enough, what’s driving it all—the electric motor—is an ancient technology at this point. It’s lost out to the gas engine for over a century, sure, but it’s finally begun to take over transportation, thanks to supporting roles from better batteries and fancy sensors.

But the electric motor is in the midst of launching a far bigger, far more subtle revolution—not in cars, but robots. Open up a robotic arm and you’ll find that its joints are actually electric motors, known as actuators. Actuators make robots leap and run and do backflips and lift 500-pound pipes (different robots, mind you, thank God). The electric car? That’s impressive as hell, but just the beginning. It’s robots that are fueling the quiet ascendance of the electric motor.

So what is an electric read more

The Science of When: Hack Your Timing to Optimize Your Life

Schedule surgeries, earnings calls, and therapy appointments before noon. Score the biggest bucks by switching jobs every three to five years. The ideal age to get hitched (and avoid divorce): 32. In his new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink scours psychological, biological, and economic studies to explore what he calls the overlooked dimension. “Timing exerts an incredible effect on what we do and how we do it,” he says. Now that the science of “when” is finally getting its due, Pink shares some temporal hacks to optimize your life.

Snag the first shift. Mood and energy levels follow ­predictable circadian rhythms based on our genetically predisposed chronotype. The average person’s mood bottoms out approximately seven hours after waking, between 2 and 4 pm. That’s when the incidence of on-the-job errors spikes—most notably at hospitals. “My daughter had her wisdom teeth taken out a few months ago,” Pink says. “I said, read more

D-Orbit’s Self-Destruct Modules for Satellites Could Help Fix the Space Junk Problem

Humans have gotten pretty good at launching stuff into space—but way less good at getting stuff back down. Up in lower Earth orbit, along with a thousand-plus productive satellites, there are many more slackers: space junk, cosmic trash, garbage of the highest-orbiting order. According to the European Space Agency’s latest statistics, there are about 29,000 pieces of such junk larger than 10 centimeters, 750,000 between 1 and 10 centimeters, and a 166 million between 1 mm and 1 centimeter.

But there’s a lot more smaller stuff where that came from. Previously, NASA studied this diminutive debris by looking at the little craters that it left on the space shuttle like acne scars. But the space shuttle retired in 2011 (RIP). So last month, to take the task back up, NASA installed a new 600-pound gorilla instrument on the space station: the Space Debris Sensor. This one-meter-square object has one job: to take hits. These, in turn, tell scientists about the trash’s origin read more

The Physics of Projectile Motion With a Clicky Pen

Sometimes, when I’m proctoring an exam, I end up with a little too much time on my hands. So I play with stuff—whatever I’ve got on hand. In this case, it was one of those clicky pens. It had stopped writing, so I assumed it was out of ink. Of course it might not be out of ink, so I took it apart to look at the ink cartridge and check. That’s when I discovered the fun stuff: If I push the empty ink cartridge down into the top of the pen, it compresses a spring. Now I can shoot the cartridge straight up. This is what it looks like (in slow motion 240 fps).

Now here’s the part I love—what kinds of questions can I answer about this shooting ink cartridge? Let’s get started.

How High Will It Go?

Just from that video, can I figure out how high the pen cartridge gets shot into the air? Probably. Let me start with the most basic estimation. I am going to assume the launched pen travels at a constant velocity right at the beginning of the motion. In that case I can get a distance read more