Antibiotics Are Failing Us. Crispr Is Our Glimmer of Hope

Humans and antibiotics have had a good run. These “miracle” molecules have saved millions of lives and and alleviated incalculable suffering around the globe. But in the last few decades, as millions of tons of antibiotics were indiscriminately pumped into humans (and farm animals), the pace of bacterial evolution began to outstrip pharmaceutical innovation. Today, nearly every disease-causing bacteria has acquired defenses against these drugs. As the world’s armory of effective medicines draws down, humans are running out of time to either change the behaviors that got us here, or come up with radically new treatments.

But breaking habits is hard, as a new study shows. According to an analysis of more than 19 million privately insured outpatients in the US, published today in The British Medical Journal, one in seven people were prescribed at least one course of pointless antibiotics in 2016. Extrapolated [...]  read more

One Couple’s Tireless Crusade to Stop a Genetic Killer

In retrospect, it might have been a clue. But in early 2010, when Kamni Vallabh first began to complain that her eyesight was failing, there didn’t seem to be much cause for concern. She was 51; maybe middle age was catching up with her. Maybe the harsh western Pennsylvania winter—two record-breaking blizzards in as many weeks—was wearing her down.

The previous summer, Kamni had been in good health. She’d single-handedly organized her daughter Sonia’s wedding, 300 guests drinking and dancing in the family’s backyard in Hermitage, a tight-knit former steel town. But by her birthday, that March, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. Once a poet, Kamni could barely string a sentence together. She was distractible, easily confused; when she misplaced the TV remote, she’d look for it in the pantry. Her body, too, was rapidly declining. By May, she couldn’t eat, stand, or bathe herself. She had trouble sleeping and spent her rare moments of lucidity grieving for the burden she had placed on her family. Sonia, who was 25 at the time and living in Boston, called her mother often and visited whenever she could. “She wasn’t scared so much as sad,” Sonia remembers. “She’d say things like, ‘Look at me now. I’m so useless.’ ”

As Kamni’s symptoms worsened, what had begun with a few visits to the ophthalmologist [...]  read more

A Flying Tesla? Sure! We Calculate the Power Demands

Elon Musk isn’t afraid to play around on Twitter. In a recent tweet, Musk suggested that a future Tesla would look like the flying car from Back to the Future.


p class=”paywall”>Ha ha. Funny. But could it really work? What would it take to make a flying Tesla that converts from driving to flying mode with the thrust coming out of the wheels? Time for some physics.

I can think of a couple options for getting a flying Telsa off the ground. The first method would be rocket propulsion. This seems to be what Elon wants to use (a natural choice because of the connection with SpaceX). In fact, it appears he’s not even joking.

I’m not a rocket expert, but it seems like you would have to keep refueling the rockets. It would be a nice stunt, but not for everyday use.

However, there is another way to make a car fly—some type of air thruster. It doesn’t matter if you use some type of jet engine or a rotor, the physics is mostly the same. In [...]  read more

Bio-Printers Are Churning out Living Fixes to Broken Spines

For doctors and medical researchers repairing the human body, a 3D printer has become almost as valuable as an x-ray machine, microscope, or a sharp scalpel. Bioengineers are using 3D printers to make more durable hip and knee joints, prosthetic limbs and, recently, to produce living tissue attached to a scaffold of printed material.

Researchers say that bio-printed tissue can be used to test the effects of drug treatments, for example, with an eventual goal of printing entire organs that can be grown and then transplanted into a patient. The latest step toward 3D-printed replacements of failed human parts comes from a team at UC San Diego. It has bio-printed a section of spinal cord that can be custom-fit into a patient’s injury.

UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

The scientists first printed out small implants made of softgel and filled them with neural stem cells, again using a printer. The implants were then surgically placed inside a tiny gap in a rat’s spinal [...]  read more

Screens Might Be as Bad for Mental Health as … Potatoes

Psychologists can’t seem to agree on what technology is doing to our sense of well-being. Some say digital devices have become a bane of modern life; others claim they’re a balm for it. Between them lies a shadowy landscape of non-consensus: As the director the National Institutes of Health recently told Congress, research into technology’s effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited—and often contradictory—findings.

As if that uncertainty weren’t vexing enough, many of those findings have sprung from the same source: Giant data sets that compile survey data from thousands or even millions of participants. “The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society,” says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, [...]  read more

Desalination Is Booming. But What About All That Toxic Brine?

If only humans could drink seawater without dying, we wouldn’t find ourselves floundering in a water crisis. To not die, first you have to boil saltwater and collect the pure vapor, or get yourself a fancy membrane that filters out all the salt and, conveniently, sea life.

This is the controversial idea behind large-scale desalination—great, big, expensive facilities that turn saltwater into a liquid that won’t kill you. The classic criticism of desal is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to process seawater, and we really shouldn’t be burning any more fossil fuels than we need to be. But a less chattered-about problem is the effect on the local environment: The primary byproduct of desal is brine, which facilities pump back out to sea. The stuff sinks to the seafloor and wreaks havoc on ecosystems, cratering oxygen levels and spiking salt content.

Unfortunately, scientists haven’t had a good idea of just how much brine the 16,000 operating desal facilities [...]  read more

Dark Matter Hunters Are Looking Inside Rocks for New Clues

In nearly two dozen underground laboratories scattered all over the earth, using vats of liquid or blocks of metal and semiconductors, scientists are looking for evidence of dark matter. Their experiments are getting more complicated, and the search is getting more precise, yet aside from a much-contested signal coming from a lab in Italy, nobody has found direct evidence of the mysterious material that is thought to make up 84 percent of the matter in the universe.

A new study suggests we should look deeper.

Quanta Magazine

author photo
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Dark matter is different from regular, baryonic matter — the stuff that makes stars, galaxies, dogs, humans and everything else — in that it does not interact with anything except through gravity (and perhaps the weak nuclear force). We can’t see it, yet physicists are all but certain it’s there, sculpting galaxies and their paths through the cosmos.

For many decades, the favored [...]  read more

A Strange Kind of Data Tracks the Weather—and Pirate Ships

A group of apes is called a shrewdness; a group of ferrets is called a business; a group of small satellites is called a constellation. And Spire is the name of one shrewd business with a constellation of small satellites. More than 60 of its sats are up in orbit, collecting information about the weather, as well as the movements of ships and air traffic.

Inside Spire’s Boulder, Colorado, office, a conference-room computer beams those satellites’ knowledge from space to a screen.

These sats aren’t like the planet-observers you may be used to. In the world of remote sensing—the use of satellites to glean information about Earth—imagery has long ruled. But Spire’s smallsats don’t take pretty pictures: They use broadcasts from ships, aircraft, and other satellites to infer earthly conditions as disparate as tomorrow’s forecast and the movements of pirate vessels. [...]  read more

The Insane Numbers Behind Cycling’s Most Masochistic Race

I straddle my bike, clip into my pedals, and take a slow, deep breath. What I’m about to do won’t take long, but it’s going to hurt and I know it. Really, it’s all I can think about.

My bike is attached to a stationary trainer that controls how hard I must pedal to turn the cranks. Controlling the trainer is Evelyn Stevens, an Olympic cyclist who, in 2016, set a world record in one of her sport’s most celebrated—and most masochistic—events: the hour record.

The hour is widely considered to be cycling’s purest record, albeit an unusual one: Instead of requiring them to traverse a set distance, this event allots cyclists a set time of 60 minutes to pedal as many laps as they can around a velodrome. And whereas other competitive pursuits typically pit multiple athletes against one another, the hour is a solo affair. The race, if you can call it that, is against the clock.

And against yourself.

“The whole point is to push your body [...]  read more

The Exaggerated Promise of So-Called Unbiased Data Mining

Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman once asked his Caltech students to calculate the probability that, if he walked outside the classroom, the first car in the parking lot would have a specific license plate, say 6ZNA74. Assuming every number and letter are equally likely and determined independently, the students estimated the probability to be less than 1 in 17 million. When the students finished their calculations, Feynman revealed that the correct probability was 1: He had seen this license plate on his way into class. Something extremely unlikely is not unlikely at all if it has already happened.


p class=”paywall”>The Feynman trap—ransacking data for patterns without any preconceived idea of what one if looking for—is the Achilles heel of studies based on data mining. Finding something unusual or surprising after it has already occurred is neither unusual or surprising. Patterns are sure to be found, and are likely to be misleading, absurd, or worse.

In [...]  read more