Bioengineers Are Closer Than Ever To Lab-Grown Lungs

The lungs in Joan Nichols’ lab have been keeping her up at night. Like children, they’re delicate, developing, and in constant need of attention, which is why she and her team at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s Lung Lab have spent the last several years taking turns driving to the lab at 1:00 am to check that the bioreactors housing their experimental organs are not leaking, that the nutrient-rich soup supporting the lungs is still flowing, or that the budding sacs of tissues and veins have not succumbed to contamination. That last risk was a persistent source of anxiety: Building a lung requires suspending the thing for weeks on end in warm, wet, fungus friendly conditions—to say nothing of the subtropical climate of Galveston itself. “In this city, mold will grow on people if they sit still long enough,” Nichols says.

But their vigilance has paid off. In 2014, Nichols’ read more

This Robot Hand Taught Itself How to Grab Stuff Like a Human

Elon Musk is kinda worried about AI. (“AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization and I don’t think people fully appreciate that,” as he put it in 2017.) So he helped found a research nonprofit, OpenAI, to help cut a path to “safe” artificial general intelligence, as opposed to machines that pop our civilization like a pimple. Yes, Musk’s very public fears may distract from other more real problems in AI. But OpenAI just took a big step toward robots that better integrate into our world by not, well, breaking everything they pick up.

OpenAI researchers have built a system in which a simulated robotic hand learns to manipulate a block through trial and error, then seamlessly transfers that knowledge to a robotic hand in the real world. Incredibly, the system ends up “inventing” characteristic grasps that humans already commonly use to handle objects. Not in a quest to pop us like pimples—to be clear.

Video by OpenAI

The researchers’ trick is a technique read more

Just Some Other Totally Legit Microbes That Will Definitely (Not) Make Your Tech Startup a Unicorn

The idea spread through Silicon Valley like—well, ironically, like a virus, even though the idea centered around a protozoan. According to an article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, people infected with the microbe Toxoplasma gondii might be more likely to be entrepreneurs, to start up startups or venture their capital on venture capitalism. That’s not what evolution had in mind (evolution doesn’t have a mind; don’t say that) for good ol’ Toxo, which spreads in cat feces or as a foodborne infection. It also makes mice—cat prey—unafraid of the scent of cat urine, so they don’t avoid it, so cats can eat ‘em. In other words: It’s a bug that edits fear out of your brain’s vocabulary. Oh, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 million Americans carry the parasite—almost all without symptoms (except maybe an attraction to cats), but if you’re pregnant or immune-compromised, it can actually kill you.

So a team of biologists and business read more

The Peculiar Math That Could Underlie the Laws of Nature

In 2014, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, Canada, named Cohl Furey rented a car and drove six hours south to Pennsylvania State University, eager to talk to a physics professor there named Murat Günaydin. Furey had figured out how to build on a finding of Günaydin’s from 40 years earlier—a largely forgotten result that supported a powerful suspicion about fundamental physics and its relationship to pure math.

Quanta Magazine

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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.

The suspicion, harbored by many physicists and mathematicians over the decades but rarely actively pursued, is that the peculiar panoply of forces and particles that comprise reality spring logically from the properties of eight-dimensional numbers called “octonions.”

As numbers go, the familiar real numbers—those found on the number line, like 1, π and -83.777—just get things started. Real numbers can be paired up in a particular way to form “complex numbers,” first studied in 16th-century Italy, that behave like coordinates on a 2-D plane. Adding, read more

Congress Has a $95 Million Proposal to Study Tech’s Effect on Kids

Like a lot of people, you probably spend a fair bit of time worrying about how much time you spend on your phone. Who doesn’t these days? But what really concerns you is the youth. What is all that swiping and snapping and gramming doing to their still-developing brains? Surely somebody’s studied this—the effect of all this screen time. So what have they found?

Well, to be honest: nothing conclusive. At least not yet.

On Thursday, Colorado senator Michael Bennet introduced legislation that would give the National Institutes of Health $95 million1 to investigate technology’s impact on infants, children, and adolescents. Called the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, or CAMRA for short, the bill would see that money distributed over the next five years, to researchers studying how things like mobile devices, social media, and virtual reality affect the way kids think, grow, and socialize.

The bill, which is cosponsored by Democratic and Republican read more

How to Watch the Lunar Eclipse on Friday

On Friday, Earth will engulf the moon in its shadow and create the longest total lunar eclipse in this century: a full 103 minutes. The next one that comes close won’t happen until 2029. And this eclipse’s running time won’t be matched until 2123.

In a nice little cosmic reminder that nobody is the center of the universe, this eclipse will be visible from every continent on earth except North America. If you want the best view and can’t catch a flight to Eastern Africa, India, or Southeast Asia—ideal viewing locations, according to NASA—you’ll have to live-stream the eclipse instead.

The Slooh community observatory, a telescope service for the public, will start airing the eclipse around 1:00 pm EDT. The eclipse begins at 1:14 pm EDT and ends at 7:28 pm EDT.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the entire moon passes through the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, or umbra. Much more common are partial lunar eclipses, when part of the moon (but not all of it) passes read more

How to Watch the Lunar Eclipse Today

Today, Earth will engulf the moon in its shadow and create the longest total lunar eclipse in this century: a full 103 minutes. The next one that comes close won’t happen until 2029. And today’s running time won’t be matched until 2123.

In a nice little cosmic reminder that nobody is the center of the universe, this eclipse will be visible from every continent on earth except North America. If you want the best view and can’t catch a flight to Eastern Africa, India, or Southeast Asia—ideal viewing locations, according to NASA—you’ll have to live-stream the eclipse instead.

The Slooh community observatory, a telescope service for the public, will start airing the eclipse around 1:00 pm EDT. The eclipse begins at 1:14 pm EDT and ends at 7:28 pm EDT.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the entire moon passes through the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, or umbra. Much more common are partial lunar eclipses, when part of the moon (but not all of it) passes through the umbra.

Slooh read more

LIVE: How to Watch Today’s Super-Long Lunar Eclipse

Today, Earth will engulf the moon in its shadow and create the longest total lunar eclipse in this century: a full 103 minutes. The next one that comes close won’t happen until 2029. And today’s running time won’t be matched until 2123.

In a nice little cosmic reminder that nobody is the center of the universe, this eclipse will be visible from every continent on earth except North America. If you want the best view and can’t catch a flight to Eastern Africa, India, or Southeast Asia—ideal viewing locations, according to NASA—you’ll have to live-stream the eclipse instead.

The Slooh community observatory, a telescope service for the public, will start airing the eclipse around 1:00 pm EDT. The eclipse will begin at 1:14 pm EDT and will end at 7:28 pm EDT.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the entire moon passes through the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, or umbra. Much more common are partial lunar eclipses, when part of the moon (but not all of it) passes read more

Congress Has a $65 Million Proposal to Study Tech’s Effect on Kids

Like a lot of people, you probably spend a fair bit of time worrying about how much time you spend on your phone. Who doesn’t these days? But what really concerns you is the youth. What is all that swiping and snapping and gramming doing to their still-developing brains? Surely somebody’s studied this—the effect of all this screen time. So what have they found?

Well, to be honest: nothing conclusive. At least not yet.

On Thursday, Colorado senator Michael Bennet introduced legislation that would give the National Institutes of Health $65 million to investigate technology’s impact on infants, children, and adolescents. Called the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, or CAMRA for short, the bill would see that money distributed over the next five years, to researchers studying how things like mobile devices, social media, and virtual reality affect the way kids think, grow, and socialize.

The bill, which is cosponsored by Democratic and Republican read more

Why Do You Feel Lighter at the Top of a Ferris Wheel?

Here is what I like to do (for fun). Take a classic physics problem and go over the solution. After that, I take it just one step further to see what happens. Today, let’s start with this problem (you can find a version of this in just about every physics textbook).

You are riding a ferris wheel at the state fair. The wheel has a radius of 10 meters and takes 30 seconds to complete one revolution. What is your apparent weight at the top and bottom of the circular motion?

Of course the first thing to look at in this question is “apparent weight.” What does that even mean? If you want to understand apparent weight, you need to consider regular weight: the gravitational force between the Earth (usually) and an object. This weight depends on the mass of the Earth (fixed), the mass of the object, and the distance between the center of the Earth and the object (which is probably the radius of the Earth). Since the mass and radius of the Earth don’t really read more