Today would have been Carl Sagan’s 82nd birthday, a man who was one of my primary inspirations (along with Albert Einstein, Robert A Heinlein, and Nikola Tesla). He brought an appreciation of astronomy and the cosmos to the masses, he co-founded the Planetary Society, and he wrote some amazing books and articles. Want to put the recent political news on Earth in perspective? Watch his famous presentation Pale Blue Dot:
A headline I never expected to see when I became aware of this amazing songwriter/poet’s work back in the early 60s, but that I would have cheered on even back then; Bob Dylan has always deserved to win a Nobel Prize! Part of the reason is that he never stood still, but kept creating new works with new attitudes, year after year, and decade after decade. The only other artist I know that could match him on that level was David Bowie; had Jim Morrison survived longer, there might have been three of them.
The 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to three researchers who have actually created a range of functioning nanotechnology devices, molecular scale machines that replicate motors, vehicles, and muscles. Each of the three started out with a single function tool, added other functions one after another, and ended up with something a thousand times thinner than a human hair that could do real work. I am sure to a lot of people it doesn’t seem like something that small could do anything that would make a difference to their lives. What useful thing could you do with a programmable device so small that you would need an electron microscope to see it?
The first thing that comes to my mind is to teach it to recognize malignant cells such as cancer, and load it up with a medicinal payload to deliver to such a cell, leaving its uninfected neighbors unharmed. Considering what our current chemotherapy treatment does to the rest of the human body, poisoning the entire thing in the hopes that the cancer cells will die before too many of the healthy cells do, I think this would be a serious improvement. Plus, that is a lot simpler to do than getting it to regrow a missing hand or eye or other body part, so it could be rolled out quickly. I am sure the profit from the cancer cure they could deliver within the next few years would go a long way towards financing the additional research and development needed for the more complex physical repairs to the human body.
Another application would be using them to build things one atom at a time. If you think today’s computers are powerful, wait till you see how small the computer can get when constructed using this method. You could build a fully functional Oculus Rift grade computer plus include all the headset functionality, and embed them into your contact lenses. Or you could just use the nanotech to create the much simpler room temperature superconductors, again depending on the profits of the simpler process to finance the R&D needed to develop the more complex one. Nanotechnology has been one of the Holy Grail’s of Science since Richard Feynman introduced the concept in 1959, and a bit more than half a century later it looks like we are finally getting it to work, at least the early tools. Check out this BBC Story to get the full details.
Once more, the team from the Annals of Improbable Research handed out another year’s Ig Nobel Prizes last week. From the New Zealand team who got the Economic Prize for their research determining how to market things to rocks, to The Medical Prize winners who discovered that if the left side of your body itches and you look in a mirror and scratch the right side of your body the itching is relieved, this years winners share a trait in common with each other and all previous winners. First they make you laugh… and then they make you think. Mostly about how gullible some grant organizations may be, but every so often about the real-world problem that inspired the research in the first place. This is probably my favorite annual award in the world of Science.
The MIT Technology Review just published it’s annual Sci-Fi collection 12 Tomorrows, based on stories in the Review of the latest scientific breakthroughs. The authors this year include Charles Stross, John Kessel, Nick Harkaway, Bruce Sterling, and an assortment of emerging writers, and you can get the publication as eZines or in limited edition hardcopy. Over the years this collection has achieved critical acclaim, both from genre publishing prozines like Locus Magazine and by having stories included in various Best Science Fiction Of The Year anthologies.
SIGGRAPH 2016 is coming up on July 24th through the 28th in Anaheim, California this year, and one of mt favorite tracks is their Computer Animation Festival, so I had to post the trailer for it. The name is from their original newsgroup identifier from the Internet’s early days, Special Interest Group, GRAPHics. This gathering is the 43rd international conference and exhibition on
Computer Graphics & Interactive Techniques, in case you were wondering how long ago those early days were, and they didn’t hold these every year during the first decade. How important this event is to the creators of these excellent animations can be explained by saying it has been their version of the Academy Awards since the late 70s. How important it is to the rest of us is best expressed by this quote from their web site:
The Computer Animation Festival is recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a qualifying festival. Since 1999, several works originally presented in the Computer Animation Festival have been nominated for or have received a Best Animated Short Academy Award.
It is not too late to make this year’s gathering; the deadline for registering and getting the discounted registration fees is July 1st. Entering your creations to the event is already over, though, but there is always next year!