The “TomTato” is a veggie lover’s dream: above ground, it’s a tomato plant; below ground, it’s a potato plant.
The idea was the brainchild of the horticultural firm Thompson and Morgan, based in Ipswich, England.
Although the concept sounds crazy, the plants are not genetically modified; rather, they are created using grafting. This process involves making matching incisions into two different plants which allows you to connect them.
Roger Shawyer is one of the most persistent and driven individuals in the world.
For years, he has been working on a new type of propulsion engine that could theoretically run forever without needing any fuel. He calls his device the EmDrive.
The engine works by bouncing around microwave radiation in a small space to produce thrust, rather than burning a propellant fuel. The microwaves are produced by solar power which is generated from panels on the outside of the engine.
When he first began proposing the idea for a quantum vacuum plasma thruster, Shawyer was laughed at. Most scientists he talked to told him the idea was ludicrous, saying that (among other issues) it defied the theory of conservation of momentum.
Only a group of Chinese scientists was willing to actually try out the idea. In 2009, they built a model of Shawyer’s engine that actually worked, producing enough thrust to power a small satellite.
Even then, many people weren’t convinced. But recently, American scientist Guido Fetta and a team at NASA Eagleworks (NASA’s experimental technologies division) recreated the engine for themselves, and found that the design actually does in fact work.
In a statement about their findings, the NASA research team said:
“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”
The whole mystery behind the engine stems from the difference between how physics operates on a large scale in our every day world, and how it operates on the microscopic, quantum level (ie. quantum physics).
When we observe molecules in their most basic form, they often don’t follow the same rules of physics that govern our visible world.
For example, if you throw a tennis ball off of a wall, you wouldn’t expect it to speed up after hitting the wall- its acceleration is totally dependent on how much force you release the ball with.
But on the quantum level, things change. Shawyer describes the principles of how the engine works here, but the wording is a bit overly scientific if you’re not an engineer, so I’ll try to break it down as best I can.
Basically, the microwave particles that the EmDrive uses can travel extremely fast (up to almost the speed of light). Because of this high velocity, the particles exert a force (albeit a very, very small one) on the reflective inner walls of the engine.
So, each reflector has a different velocity at its surface, depending on how many radiation molecules are hitting it and how fast they’re moving. Imagine someone throwing marbles at the surface of a number of drums- the drum being hit by the largest amount of fast-moving marbles is going to be vibrating the most.
The radiation molecules have virtually no mass. Because of this, their momentum can actually be increased by bouncing them from a reflector with a lower surface velocity to one with a higher surface velocity. This added momentum comes from the difference in force between the two surfaces.
By taking advantage of this principle and carefully designing the inner geometry of the thruster, Shawyer was able to create a compartment that perfectly bounced the microwave radiation between reflectors, steadily increasing its momentum until it gets released out of the end as thrust.
And since the microwaves are generated using solar panels, the engine could theoretically work forever, or at least until its hardware fails.
There still needs to be much more extensive testing to prove that the engine can be replicated and utilized on a larger scale, but the basic concept has been demonstrated twice now.
The lesson: never stop pursuing your dreams. The people who make the biggest impacts on our society are usually people who have been called crazy more than a handful of times throughout their lives.
So, to you Roger Shawyer: thanks for being a stubborn dreamer. I hope your engine plays a big role in revolutionizing this era of space exloration and discovery!
On Tuesday (4/27), Google X, the company’s experimental technologies branch, released designs for their new driverless car. Google has been testing self-driving technology in Toyota vehicles for a while now, but the new prototype is fully automated, and doesn’t even have a steering wheel or pedals.
The design was announced by Google co-founder Sergey Brin at the annual Re/code Conference. 100 of the new driverless cars are being manufactured for testing in California this summer, with Google hoping that they can eventually see commercial use as “robo-taxis” that commuters can use to get rides on demand via a cell-phone app.
The vehicle seats two and is equipped with a plethora of onboard computers and sensors to ensure the safe transit of its passengers, including two steering and braking systems, in the case that one fails.
Google believes that its driverless cars, which react much faster than humans and aren’t susceptible to fatigue and distractions like we are, could reduce auto accidents by up to 90%.
“The reason I’m super excited about these prototypes is the ability to change the world and the community around you,”
said Brin during the announcement. The vehicles are fully electric and currently have a range of about 100 miles.
You’ve probably seen it in sci-fi books or films before: some doctor or mad scientist will deep-freeze a patient only to bring them back to life later on. Well, suspended animation, as the process is called, is no longer a figment of the science fiction imagination.
This month at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 10 people will be put into suspended animation. But rather than using the process for intergalactic travel or some other futuristic application, the doctors will use it to try to save the lives of patients with wounds that would otherwise be lethal.
The real process is arguably crazier than the methods typically seen in science fiction. Rather than cooling the body externally (as is usually the case in science fiction), the doctors will actually drain all of the blood out of the patient, replacing it with a cold saline (saltwater) solution.
The solution cools the patient, slowing bodily functions to a halt and significantly reducing the body’s need for oxygen. Keeping the body in a state of suspended animation buys doctors and surgeons more time to repair the damage.
The technique was designed by Dr. Peter Rhee, who successfully tested it on pigs in 2000. Rhee and his colleagues induced fatal wounds to the pigs by cutting arteries, then replaced their blood with the saline solution, which cooled their body to 10º C (48º F).
All of the pigs in the control group (the ones that weren’t put into suspended animation) died, but the pigs who were put into suspended animation and then resuscitated at a moderate rate had a whopping 90% survival rate. Even more impressively, these pigs showed no signs of physical or mental impairment as a result of the process.
The procedure will be tested on patients who have gone into cardiac arrest and lost at least half of their blood as a result of a traumatic injury, a group with only a 7% survival rate. Though the body can only handle the suspended animation for a few hours, any increase in the survival rate of these patients will be a huge step forward for the medical field.
You’re on your Facebook or Twitter account and click a link that catches your eye. The link is to an article about something you’re interested in, but when you see that the article is more than a few sentences long, you decide that rather than reading through it, you’re just going to skim through it looking for any intriguing words or phrases that might make you pause and even read a section. If you don’t find anything in the first 30 seconds or so, you usually move on to the next interesting-looking link.
This experience of restlessness while reading and the constant need for new stimulation is shared by the vast majority of people who use the internet regularly. Maryanne Wolf, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Tufts University and author of the recently published book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, thinks that this phenomenon is actually damaging our capacity for reading things in depth, saying,
“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,”
Data collected regularly by the market research company eMarketer estimates that the average American adult spent 5 hours or more on the internet every day, up from just 3 hours in 2010.
In the same way that the rise of round-the-clock cable TV networks spurred the emergence of sound-bites, Wolf argues that the Internet is creating a culture of “eye-bytes”: short, often abbreviated pieces of info (tweets or Facebook statuses, for example) that we can quickly consume and move on to the next eye-byte.
The fundamental difference between the way we read things internet and the “deeper” reading that we use when reading a novel for example, is that deep reading is linear while internet reading is non-linear.
Let me explain. When reading a novel, our minds works linearly- the novel progresses from the top to the bottom of each page, and from one page to the next in a consistent, relatively uninterrupted sequence). But online text often includes multiple hyperlinks to other sites or articles, as well as being full of videos and ads, both of which can easily distract us from the article we are trying to read.
So, our brains have adapted to scan through these online pages (in a manner similar to the way computers scan documents), seeking out key words or phrases that capture our interests and might convince us to read a specific section of the text, follow a hyperlink or watch a video on the page.
Our brains are extremely malleable, which is why they are able to quickly adapt to relatively modern phenomenon like the explosive emergence of the internet. But some worry that the brain’s plasticity will stunt the development of deep-reading skills in young children, who are increasingly learning to master their parents electronic devices at a very young age (often before mastering even the most basic of reading skills).
Wolf points out that there is no reversing this trend now, and rather than trying to fight it,
“We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age. It’s both. We have to ask the question: What do we want to preserve?”
On January 17, President Obama will make his proposals for changes to the NSA’s surveillance programs based on the findings of a commission put together by the president to review these programs in the wake of the revelations that the agency had been amassing data on Americans’ phone records.
Most expect that among other changes, the president will propose to hand over collection of the data to a third party (probably the phone companies), instead of having the NSA collect and store it.
In response, the NSA has been making a public push to garner support for the program. This campaign included a full-length interview on National Public Radio (NPR) with the NSA’s deputy director John C. Inglis.
During the interview, Inglis, who is the NSA’s highest ranking civilian officer, admitted that throughout its course, only one plot may have been foiled by the NSA’s phone surveillance.
In fact, the NSA commission put together by Obama didn’t even endorse that example as legitimate, saying it was hard to find any cases of the domestic phone surveillance program foiling a plot.
Inglis also conceded that the figure of 54 foiled plots given by the NSA’s Director, General Keith Alexander, was referring to plots foiled by Prism, another program which mines mainly internet data and is totally separate from the NSA’s phone metadata collection.
This confidential document showing the details of the Prism program was obtained by the Washington Post during the Edward Snowden leaks (click to enlarge).
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a policy research group based in Washington. Its board includes representatives of large tech companies such as IBM and Intel. According to the ITIF, the US could lose up to $35 billion dollars in sales as a result of lack of confidence in the security and privacy of any American-made technology.
Cisco Systems, the world’s largest maker of computer-networking equipment, lost 18% of its orders in China in the three months following Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the extent NSA’s spying program. Cisco said that the disclosures have been causing hesitation from a lot of potential customers, especially in emerging markets.