Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
There is no absolute up or down, no absolute position in space. But the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. There are constant changes in relative position throughout the universe. And the observer always seems to be at the center of things.
The keen observations of Giordano Bruno, over 400 years ago pointing out that which is considered obvious today, that the earth is not the center of the universe; the sun is just a star among many and that absolute anything is ever in the eye of the beholder.
Bruno was a believer in free thinking and always spoke his thoughts freely. Eventually, this man ahead of his time was rudely pulled back into his own time when the religious practice of inquisition, viewed his free thinking as a costly threat. He was locked away until his reason could be recanted in favor of the irrational.
But Bruno would not recant, would not trade a single free thinker’s thought in hell for the irrational authority of his captors. Not only did he deny them the satisfaction of recantation but he spoke truth to power right up to the end. “You fear me more than I fear you”, he told the judges.
With an iron spike through his tongue, stripped neck and hanging upside down while strapped to a pole in the town square, Giordano Bruno was burned alive before a crowd of faithful believers in, well, anything that they were pretty much told to believe after seeing that, I’m sure. Lucky for us time and brave thinkers have changed the world we live in.
So even though the views and opinions of the following hour program do not necessarily represent the views of University of California, Davis KDVS or its sponsors, we can still spend the next hour talking and thinking freely with little fear of reprisal because after all, there is no absolute up or down; no absolute position in space.
But the position of anybody is relative to that of This Week in Science, coming up next.
Justin: Good morning, Kirsten!
Kirsten: Good morning, Justin. We are here for yet another week of This Week in Science.
Justin: And what a week it’s been already. My goodness.
Kirsten: Yeah. Crazy science week as usual. I thought this was a little bit extreme on the science front.
Justin: It’s crazy again. How’s it every week…?
Kirsten: Science, science, science. So much science.
Justin: Every single week there’s just so much more of new discovery and new things going on here.
Kirsten: I have to say though, I think that – I mean of course we are paying attention to it every week. But I have to think that maybe it’s a result of the media actually starting more and more science. And that there’s…
Justin: I think it’s Moore’s Law.
Kirsten: Moore’s Law?
Justin: Yeah. It’s just the one where like the technology and stuff like that…
Kirsten: Yeah, the doubling time?
Kirsten: So that’s…
Justin: I think science is just doubling up, like I haven’t seen it first hand. Because this is just always a flood of new stories. Wow! What happen now?
Kirsten: I had found the headphone level. It was turned away down so I’m out fiddling…
Justin: So you’ve probably been screaming at people because our headphones are turned down…
Kirsten: Our headphones are turned away down.
Justin: …so a lot of the people cranking up the name (on).
Kirsten: Got to turn it up, got to turn it up. And we’re…
Justin: Sparks coming off of the KDVS tower right now.
Kirsten: That’s right. Because This Week in Science, we’re going to be here talking about science for the next hour. And we’ve got a lot good stuff to bring to you. We’ve got this week in world robot domination, Mars Phoenix has landed.
Kirsten: And there’s some other Morris news as well. There’s the one of the two rovers came back with some new news recently.
Kirsten: Yeah, some analysis brought some new news. What else do we have? We’ve got some bacterial news, some other space news, physics news.
Kirsten: Maybe some mathematics and bacteria news.
Justin: Wow! Frogamander.
Kirsten: The frogamander, yes.
Justin: That’s a story.
Kirsten: So we have a lot to get to you this morning. This weekend though, Justin and I head it out to the South Bay of bay area in California. And went to a conference called “Baycon”. We were invited to sit on panels and actually we had our very own TWIS panel. And people came and sat in the audience. And if you’re listening to the show, I just want to say hi! Thanks for coming…
Kirsten: …and thanks for listening to the show. It was really, really neat to actually get out and see people in person as opposed to the…
Justin: Being shut in, living at home and fearing the outside world.
Kirsten: And recording our show every week in a basement.
Justin: From a basement. Dungeon…
Kirsten: Where nobody comes to talk to us.
Justin: Far underground.
Kirsten: Yeah, it was really, really great. We had an awesome time. You, I want to hear more about your zombie panel. Tell me zombie dude.
Justin: It pretty much went like – it was fun. It was definitely fun. But, yeah, I think me and the navy seal trainer hit it off on the wrong foot like immediately.
Justin: Yeah, yeah.
Kirsten: Navy seal zombie trainer like what is…
Justin: Well, it was…
It was just – this is what it came to basically, it was how to prepare for like a zombie attacker like, you know…
Kirsten: And he was coming from the military perspective.
Justin: Well, he was coming from, you know, you got to train; you got to have, you know, know how to use weapons and have a skill set that allows you to survive in the aftermath and the grid goes down. And I’m like, “Well, or you could like invest in like sustainable living through a couple solar panels on the roof. You know, water cistern, collect water” you know.
I’m saying if you really want to survive, just prepare for living off the grid now, you know. And you’ll be…
Kirsten: And you’ll be more capable when the grid goes to zero in the future, right?
Justin: And it basically came down to me explaining that even if you have all the guns, if you have no food or anything, you got to go out and then you turn in to the angry mob.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: And then you’re not defending yourself against the outside, well, your the one that people are afraid of. And, so I kind of go on back and forth about like, “Well, who are you going to use these guns on, Mr. Navy seal trainer?”
So, you’re telling me to go head into higher ground…
Kirsten: You’re always pushing the buttons.
Justin: Maybe I’m already at the higher ground. Are you coming for me? Are you what I got to worry about? Because if I got to worry about you, I’m not so much worried about zombies anymore. Zombies don’t have guns, they kind of move slow, you know.
Justin: Get distracted by shadow puppets panel. I don’t know.
Kirsten: Zombie shadow puppet entertainment. Yeah. I got to talk about bad science. And people are – I thought people were asking “What is bad science?” Well, everyone had their own opinion. But I kind of think that things like – that gives science a bad name actually are bad science.
So the misrepresent – I basically went on the perspective of people misrepresenting science or taking data from science that’s been well done but slanting the statistics, doing things in a way that represent what actually happened so that makes you think something else.
Kirsten: Yeah, there’s a lot of that going on and then…
Justin: A good example of that of course is with the vaccines.
Justin: In the…
Kirsten: Yeah. That’s another – that’s a very big example of bad science. Yes.
Justin: But there’s a great reversed bad science then, is that since they’ve removed mercury from a lot of the vaccines, the autism rates gone up still. So then you can say that actually mercury was helping prevent autism.
Kirsten: Maybe preventing? Yeah.
Justin: No. I mean like there is no end of bad science if you’re just quoting some statistic unrelated to, you know, the actual science behind it.
Kirsten: Right. Yeah. So that’s the whole thing. And the conversation of that coming down to the fact that our kids are being harmed by the fact that science is not being taught in a way that promotes critical thinking and inquiry and creative thinking and teaching kids that it’s okay to want to learn…
Kirsten: …and to question your environment and everything that’s around you. I mean that’s what it came down to.
Justin: I like the monastery school system for young kids.
Kirsten: Yeah. That’s a little different.
Justin: I went – I entered that when I was little. And then my boys are doing it. And it seems pretty cool because if they’re really interested in doing math one day, they get to play with all these math puzzles and just do mathly stuff.
Justin: And if they want to do art stuff, they can just go – and if they get bored with it, they’re allowed to put it down and go on to a different type of project.
It’s pretty awesome.
Kirsten: That’s really interesting. One good question when you’re talking about bad science. A story came out in the last week about cold fusion.
Justin: Woohoo, finally! All the (unintelligible) is absolutely solved!
Kirsten: Yey! It’s all solved. Yeah, the question is…
Justin: Thank you, Mr. 84-year old, Yoshiaki Arata.
Kirsten: That’s right, Mr. Arata. And recently, he had a press conference where he demonstrated his device for creating cold fusion.
Justin: It’s in newspapers and TV. Not to…
Kirsten: Newspapers and TV and some colleagues, there were a lot of people there. However, there are some questions as to whether or not the data that they’re using to say that cold fusion is occurring is actually the correct data to be collecting whether they should be collecting other aspects or whether -I mean people don’t know – it’s still unclear as to whether or not this is actually cold fusion. And so, there’s going to have to be a lot inquiry into this to see whether or not it actually was.
But what he did is he has a chamber in which he takes deuterium which is heavy water, has an extra hydrogen atom in it. And as they take deuterium gas – sorry – deuterium gas into an evacuated cell containing a sample of palladium that is mixed into zirconium oxide.
And what the claim is, is that as they pressurize it, it forces the deuterium into the palladium zirconium oxide mixture and so the deuterium gets absorbed and that creates an even denser deuterium forcing the deuterium atoms closer together. And then in forcing them together, the nuclei actually get close enough that they fuse. And that’s the fusion.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And what he says is the evidence for this is that heat is produced. And that heat lasts for a really long time like 50 hours after the actual pressurization, part of the experiment happens, you know.
And if heat is all that’s being looked for, is that all we need to say that it’s cold fusion? Are there other pieces of evidence that we should be looking for, you know, evidence of radiation of any kind and he’s not showing that evidence? There’s no data to that effect.
Justin: The – yeah…
Kirsten: And also, I mean…
Justin: This is one that is so…
Kirsten: And how much energy is going into it to produce the heat? Is it more…?
Kirsten: And how much – because that’s part of the thing. Like right now, we can do fusion but we have to put so much energy into it that it’s not worth it.
Justin: The one thing that I thought was – you know, the funny side of this could be that this is actually cold fusion. And that the world’s energy problems have been solved.
Kirsten: Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s true. It could be.
Justin: And then no science writer in the world…
Kirsten: Is going to write about it.
Justin: …has touched the paper, has touched the story…
Justin: …even though it’s on TV and everything. You see, because this has happened more than a few times already.
Kirsten: Yeah, more than a few times and…
Justin: And people are very gun shy.
Kirsten: Yeah. And cold fusion has the name of bad science.
Kirsten: Basically right now, people hear cold fusion and it’s like, “Oh, dear.”
Justin: So like (the statue of the man the machine). It’s like – yeah…
Kirsten: Who’s doing that?
Justin: Yeah. So this is – I’d like hope it’s true.
Kirsten: Yeah, the only places that I’ve really seen it so far are in a couple of blog reports. There is a physics – yeah, physicsworld.com’s blog reported on it but not actually Physics World.
Kirsten: You know, so there’s a difference. It’s people are blogging about it…
Justin: And we’re reporting on it but we’re going – while we’re doing it.
Kirsten: I know. We’re going…
Justin: So, that’s sort of like our site blog when we talk like that.
Kirsten: Exactly. When we have the funny voice.
Justin: Disclaimer, disclaimer, it just a story. Yeah, I don’t know…
Kirsten: I don’t know.
Justin: Maybe it’s true.
Kirsten: I mean I guess, you know, with so many people having said they’ve done cold fusion yet it still hasn’t become some thing that is scalable to create energy for, you know, all of the earth population or even large size, even one city, you know. We don’t have the kind of scaling of the experiments that might have been done to date.
So it – and there needs to be repeatability. So far, we haven’t seen repeatability in this. So there is some reason to be skeptical just based on historical precedence. But, you know, I think that we should also have an open scientific mind and that if the evidence is produced to the effect that hey, this works, then we should see it.
And it could be that he’s got cold fusion in his little stainless steel pot in the lab but is it going to be something that can…
Justin: Maybe cold fusion just sucks.
Kirsten: Maybe it does.
Justin: Maybe it’s not that good an idea.
Kirsten: (I know). You know, is it – I mean if you can power your lab, that’s fine. But can you make cold fusion production for everybody?
Justin: It can’t even boil water.
Kirsten: Yeah. That’s what the whole thing – cold fusion, you want to produce heat so you can boil water so you can have steam that can move a turbine that can then produce power that can do work. And that’s the whole process. And so, we just have until like – was that Wednesday?
Justin: Yeah. New statistical method, real surprised about our ancestry. This is a new story where a scientist were…
Kirsten: I’m not confused about my ancestry.
Justin: You might be.
Kirsten: I’m not.
Justin: You might not think you are. Scientist from University of Oxford and University of Cole Cork have developed the technique that analyzes shared parts of chromosomes across the entire human genome. It can give much finer detail than the other methods previously. And it just makes it possible to delve further back in time and identify smaller genetic contributions.
So what they’ve already found is a strong Mongolian contribution to genes of the Native American Pima people. And the gene flow of the North Europe to Eastern Siberia. Wow!
Gene flow from North of Europe to Eastern Siberia. That’s a little…
Kirsten: That’s the other direction.
Justin: Yeah. It’s the other way around.
Kirsten: Why would ever go that way?
Justin: Apparently, your ancestors.
Kirsten: That’s right.
Justin: Details are now on the Open Access Journal, PLoS Genetics, public library of science of genetics which is should be available, yeah, online.
Previous methods of genome have an analysis of either concentrated on just one part like the Y chromosome and the others are on the beanbag genetics which I didn’t even hear before, oversimplified model for (anything).
So this is going to – this is like we already had that last round where we did genetic testing; we got these markers and we saw the migration flow and how the genes move from here to there or there…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …and we got this whole good picture of it now. But it’s Y chromosomes all through the mothers and back and back and back. But you can only see in man or something like goofy like that.
Anyway, basically, but this is going to give us a clear picture. This is going to – so they have to go back and do another round of getting DNA from everybody all over the world and testing it. And seeing…
Kirsten: Well, I’m sure that they have. They have samples…
Kirsten: …that they don’t have to get a new DNA. They probably like new DNA but…
Justin: (No, no).
Kirsten: This also comes in…
Justin: They probably get to travel. Otherwise, they got visit one lab and they’re done with their research.
Kirsten: Right, I’m done.
Justin: This way, they get to go overseas because that’s going to help them out.
Kirsten: Let’s go travel the world and collect DNA. There’s another study out of the University of Leeds that has taken a look at the Island Southeast Asian populations. And they’ve actually taken a look using genetic evidence as opposed to archeological evidence to actually throw out possibly — possibly, not actually – maybe possibly throw out the prevailing theory of human migration into the islands of Southeast Asia.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: The prevailing theory…
Justin: They came from South America.
Kirsten: No, no. That’s not how it worked. The prevailing theory suggests that present day populations of Island, Southeast Asia originate from a Neolithic expansion from Taiwan that was driven by rice agriculture about 4,000 years ago. It’s called the “Out of Taiwan” model.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: However, with this genetic evidence using mitochondrial DNA lineages, so it’s the same – it’s the old method, not the new method that you just talked about – but using the older method, using the mitochondrial DNA from the females that have been inherited by the males all the way down the line that it’s possible that they’ve been involved – that humans have been evolving within the islands for about 50,000 years.
Kirsten: Yeah. It turns out that climate change instead of rice agriculture was the driving factor and that the evolutionary evidence from DNA, it suggests that – and I’m quoting here, that probably from about 12,000 years ago, these people began to recover from natural catastrophes and expanded greatly in number spreading out in all directions including north to Taiwan west to the southeast Asian mainland and east toward New Guinea.
So there could have been more of a origination in the islands and then spreading. So not originating, you know, that way that they moved in because of the ice age sea level changes that they would have moved into the islands a long time ago and then spread into the areas that have heretofore been suggested that they would have spread out of.
Justin: Yeah. Well, I guess it would have been because it like – I think now, I might be really wrong about this. But I’ll go ahead and say it. I think that’s around – like the 50,000 years ago, sounds like around the time Australia was getting settled the first time.
Kirsten: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know about the dense for that.
Justin: And if you go back far enough, the islands aren’t as far apart because the sea level, because it’s a glacial time…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …cold times, the sea levels are much lower, like hundreds of feet lower.
Kirsten: Yeah. And it was also during about – there is a continent known as Sundaland, an extension of the Asian land mass that was as far as Borneo and Java.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And then it became flooded and the – what we now see as those independent islands.
Justin: They not have been so independent then.
Kirsten: They probably weren’t so independent as long ago as like 15,000 years ago. I don’t – it’s fascinating that archeological evidence can show one kind of story but the genetic evidence is suggesting a completely different story. And it’ll be neat to see how the research on this plays out to put all the evidence together and really determine what the real story is. That’ll be neat.
Justin: Oh, my goodness. What else? What – oh, this is like – I think we’ve covered these materials’ theoretical creation some years ago. But here it is now being used. New technique that mimics the healing process found in nature could enable damaged aircraft to mend themselves automatically even in flight.
Kirsten: Wow! That would be neat.
Justin: So, it’s just – this is really strange. So it was like if a tiny hole or crack appears somewhere in an aircraft do it like a fatigue line or runs into a bird beak up.
Kirsten: Or somebody shooting a gun inside the plane. I mean that happens in action movies all the time.
Justin: Yeah, constantly.
Justin: People get all sucked out at one window.
Kirsten: Yup. Although I think the MythBusters show that if you shoot the gun and it goes through, it’s not going to blow the window out? Right, isn’t it?
Justin: Yeah, they won’t suck all the passengers out the window and be like a huge windstorm in there.
Kirsten: I saw Jamie yesterday in the grocery store.
Kirsten: Jamie from MythBusters.
Justin: What grocery store?
Kirsten: In San Francisco.
Justin: Oh, you live out in (unintelligible) now. That’s right.
Kirsten: Mm hmm. I think he’s my neighbor.
Justin: Should go get on the show.
Kirsten: I know. Hi! Yeah, I’ll be the annoying neighbor. Yeah, that sounds really good.
Justin: No, they’ll bring you in for all the dangerous experiments. Like we have fire. Let’s call that red he’d who’s and afraid of fire.
Kirsten: Call Dr. Kiki.
Justin: So this is – what it is, is in a Epoxy resin that’s embedded in just below the surface of the outer skin of the plane. And the material – and the resin bleeds out from any cracks or tears or anything like that. And that it then scabs out basically and heals the crack. And so…
Kirsten: I like the wording.
Justin: Yeah. Basically, that’s what…
Kirsten: Airplane scabs.
Justin: That’s what it is. I mean and it could be used for, you know, any type of – it doesn’t have to be just airplanes. Well, this is the one that they’re first going to. And then they’ve got it also with a mixed with a dye so then when they go to airplane inspections when they’re on the ground, they – if they see the little orange or yellow or whatever it is lines…
Kirsten: I know. That there’s been some compromised to that integrity.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. But then they say, “Oh, it looks like it’s been fixed already” and they send you back up.
Kirsten: Yeah, go back up. You’re fine.
Justin: Well, it covers up to 80% to 90% of it’s original strength because the resin hardens so wow! That’s – it’s pretty dense.
Kirsten: Pretty amazing.
Kirsten: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
Justin: Very cool.
Kirsten: And in terms of the Phoenix lander, it landed safely on Mars. Very excited…
Justin: Had a little trouble getting its sweater off.
Kirsten: Yeah, it did. It’s parachute, I think it launched – the parachute came out seven seconds late. And so, it didn’t hit its bull’s eye landing mark. But it landed the reverse. Jet slowed it just the way they wanted to.
And even, you know, because of the time difference, the speed of light and the distance between Mars to earth, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for any communications to reach us. So they’re sitting there…
Justin: Not that long. I think it’s eight minutes.
Kirsten: It’s 15.
Justin: No, I think – well, are you sure?
Kirsten: I think it’s 15 minutes.
Justin: I think it’s eight minutes. I don’t know. Maybe you’re right.
Kirsten: But anyway, they’re in the control booth here on earth, all the people who’ve been working, putting their heart and soul into this contraption that we shot in the space to land softly on a distant planet.
And they’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And 15 minutes later, they’re – they get their first pictures back. And it’s a picture of the lander’s foot on rocky soil.
Kirsten: Yey! So it’s really great. The Phoenix mission is going to not move or rove or go anywhere, it’s just going to dig. It’s going to dig and dig and dig and dig and dig and it’s going to look for – go into the ice layer and look for chemical compositions in the various levels and layers of the – I guess you would call it a tundra. It’s in the frozen…
Kirsten: Yeah, the frozen polar region. They’re going to take a look at it and also do lots of, you know, atmospheric monitoring and solar monitoring and that kind of stuff and it’s going to do that for about three months. Dig and dig and dig and dig and dig and dig and dig and dig for about three months.
Justin: This is actually going to be the entire future of – the entire future of space exploration is going to be in the hands of robots. And…
Justin: …right now, we’ve got this eight minute delay or 15 minute delay, whatever it might be where we, you know, have to see something, react to it with a joysticker on earth and then…
Justin: …you know, it’s a slow process.
Kirsten: It has to be automatic.
Justin: We’re going to get it to where they’re autonomous, right?
Justin: This was something actually Seth (Shotik), what’s he’s name? The Senior Astronomer of SETI.
Kirsten: Oh, Shostak?
Kirsten: Shostak? Yeah.
Justin: He was a – yeah, he was a bright spot there at the Baycon conference for sure.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: He was talking about the reverse being if we do find the signal from space, right or when we do, it’s very likely going to have been sent by robots. Because there’s…
Kirsten: That’s an interesting idea.
Justin: Yeah, because there’s going to be a certain point where technology overcomes the feasibility of being in space for human being. It just makes more sense to send robots.
In any society, because it’s so logical for us to do it, seems like any other society would do it, the longevity is greater there.
Justin: So, the, you know, so the chances are that we’re actually going to be communicating or hearing communications from a robot while we’re sending robots the other way.
Kirsten: Yeah. And additionally, like, you know, we are going to cable and all sorts of…
Kirsten: …digital communications which are going to leave the analog ones that, you know, spread off into space through, you know, radio waves and…
Kirsten: …everything. That’s the stuff that would be a signal from our planet now. By going digital and having a lot of things cable based and, you know, not going through the atmosphere. We’re going to find that our ability – our planet is basically going to suddenly go dark…
Justin: Invisible. Right.
Kirsten: …and become invisible. But if we have these robots that we’re communicating with out on other planets or in ships or whatever.
Justin: And if they’re pinging stuff with radar, it might be.
Kirsten: And if they’re pinging, then not – it’ll also kind of spread our distance, I guess, of what’s being sent from where.
Kirsten: But it won’t be as interesting, I mean they won’t have the good music.
Justin: The problem is we’re still invisible completely right now because it takes – at the speed of light, if we – 60 years ago, when we start doing the radar and the stuff like that…
Justin: …Seth means – and Seth was very, very good explaining all of this but…
Kirsten: We’ll (have to have it along), yeah.
Justin: …that signal is 60 light years out.
Kirsten: Yeah. That’s not very far.
Justin: And that covers about a couple thousand stars maybe but…
Justin: …in the billions, billions that are out there, that’s not a really high percent of us being seen. The only thing is we do have oxygen. We’ve had that for billions of years. So if there’s somebody who’s interested in zeroing in the places that have lots of oxygen…
Kirsten: The same way that we’re right now…
Justin: Like we’re doing.
Kirsten: …looking at the irradiative spectra and…
Justin: But if it’s robots…
Kirsten: of different planets. Yeah.
Justin: …they might not care. They’re probably looking for, you know, platinum asteroids or something.
Kirsten: That’s right. Or in the case of the rovers on Mars, maybe they’re looking for silica.
Kirsten: Yeah. We reported on this a while back but which one of them trying to find the name of which of the rovers. I don’t know. Anyway, one of the two rovers has — I believe it’s Spirit. Spirit has a lame foot and has been, since the end of the Martian winter, it came out of hibernation and it’s been kind of moving along but it was dragging a foot. They had to like turn the rover around so that the foot was being dragged behind it.
Justin: Yeah, which at first was like, “Oh, no. It’s starting to break.” And then they – it turned out to be a tool.
Kirsten: And then they’re like, “Wait a minute. There’s a really cool…” this looks different. It’s like white.
Justin: Yeah, the coloration under the soil was a little bit different.
Kirsten: The coloration. Yeah, and they’re in a kind of volcanic area with Spirit. And so, they were going in the process of moving the rover. They were going to go over and check out these cool land rock formations for silica but they couldn’t actually like dig into it or get into it because it was all covered by dirt and Spirit doesn’t have all the tools necessary to do that kind of work.
But then when they looked backwards, they went, “I wonder what that is.” And so, then they went back and they checked out the trench and it turns out it is a form of silica that ONLY is formed under like water percolating here on earth at least is formed…
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: …from water percolating through soil from hot springs. And in volcanic areas and hot springs here on earth are usually teaming with archaebacteria, the older forms of bacteria, extremophiles, the ones that can survive in sulfuric environments and in super hot environments.
And so, while they can’t actually say that life is or was there, they can say, “Look, this was at one point an environment that might have been conducive to it.”
Justin: Right. So here’s the question.
Kirsten: So it’s cool news out of Mars.
Justin: So here’s the question. If we discover that there’s archea that’s, you know, existing now…
Kirsten: Mm hmm. But nothing on Mars right now, none of our rovers or landers or anything has any mechanism with which they can say, “Look, it’s life” like there isn’t…
Justin: Phoenix kind of does. It’s got something that can detect organic…
Kirsten: Molecules. But not…
Justin: …molecules but not – yeah, organic life. Right.
Kirsten: Yeah. I mean there’s nothing – I mean….
Justin: But here’s…
Kirsten: …unless somebody comes up and waves at one of the cameras, like we’re not going to be able to say definitively, yes there’s life on Mars if there’s evidence of life-like stuff.
Justin: But here’s just a – this is a goofball question. If we find a life up there, say we find it tomorrow.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: And then we discover that if we destroy all those bacteria on the planet, we would solve for global warming, would we do it? It sounds, I know, it’s a really random sort of a…
Kirsten: That’s a random question.
Justin: …killing this life form on the foreign planet to…
Anyway, because here’s a (part of the) story.
Kirsten: We have to go…
Justin: Oh, no, wait!
Kirsten: No, we have to go to our break.
Justin: I can go really fast.
Kirsten: It’s – we’re already five minutes over.
Justin: I can go so fast.
Kirsten: You can go so fast?
Justin: Microbes found living in a depth of 1.6km, which if you’re not familiar with kilometers, that’s 1600m below the Atlantic seabed. They’re archaic type bacteria and yeah, they were going to pump C02 down there that would – now that they found life down there, they’re thinking they can’t do that because it’s going to kill all off this…
Kirsten: It might kill the bacteria.
Justin: Yeah. And it’s twice the depth that they’ve ever found life under the sea floor. I mean this is underground.
Kirsten: That’s neat. Yeah.
Justin: Yeah. It doesn’t need the sun. (Gosh) knows what it even lives on, methane probably.
Justin: But we might have to dig a little deeper. If this is like a mile under our ocean, we might have to dig a little bit deeper than the Phoenix was capable. I think they’re not going to make it quite a mile deep.
Kirsten: That’s pretty neat though.
Justin: Yeah. We’re teaming with life, teaming with it. It’s going to be anywhere.
Kirsten: Hence, I understand the conundrum you’ve presented just a moment ago.
Justin: Yeah. Well, it was kind of (unintelligible).
Kirsten: What to do.
Justin: What do you do?
Kirsten: Human, we kill everything. With that, we’ll be back in just a moments.
Justin: Oh, no.
Kirsten: Stay tuned for more of This Week in Science, coming up next.
And we are back with This Week in Science until the end of the 9:30ness.
Justin: Impromptu poem reading.
Kirsten: All right.
Justin: You mentioned something about the human race killing off everything.
Justin: Right? This is my favorite – one of my favorite Sara Teasdale poems. It’s called There Will Come Soft Rains.
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling in their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white.
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care when at last it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Kirsten: That’s really uplifting, Justin.
Justin: No, I love it. I love it. It’s like nature’s reaction to the perishing of mankind. It’s like – yeah.
Kirsten: Yeah, I know. “Thank you! Bye.”
Justin: “Thanks for the pavement.” It’s “Thanks for the carbon.”
Kirsten: I think there maybe a few species that have come to rely on humans. But for the most part…
Justin: Cows would do badly in the people-less world.
Kirsten: I think so. I think so. Thanks, that was cool.
Kirsten: Who was that again?
Justin: Sara Teasdale. She’s a (unintelligible). She was a lot. I mean her poetry still is on. She rocks. That’s my favorite.
Kirsten: She does rock. She does. Okay. So when one day robots do inherit the earth, it could see as well as humans based on algorithms that have been created by researchers at MIT.
Justin: Yeah. That’s – we got to get to MIT robot people on.
Kirsten: Yeah. There are these researchers, Antonio Torralba, Assistant Professor at MIT’s computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory. And he is trying to figure out what the smallest about amount of information is that is needed to – that can be derived or taken from an image to allow…
Kirsten: Yeah. Like some way of knowing what the content is.
Kirsten: Like right now, like we can look at pictures. And based on general shapes, you know, you can take a fuzzy image and go, “Oh, that’s a person. That’s a tree.” You might not know exact like individuals will be able to say the exact place if it’s really blurry. But you can generalize.
And right now, search image – image search technology is pretty much based on text entry descriptions of whatever is in the picture. So when you load something on to the internet and you give it a name that has something to do with what’s in it. That’s what different search algorithms currently used to figure out what’s in it.
But how neat would it be if you could actually have image search without that kind of name or text need.
Kirsten: That if you, you know, Google could search for tree pictures for you because Google knows what a tree looks like.
Kirsten: You know, that would be pretty neat. And if Google could do it, then a robot could do it.
Justin: Well, yeah.
Kirsten: And then you could have different visual, sighted robots running around and…
Justin: Because that’s been the problem, you could have the…
Kirsten: …and going, “Look, a cat.”
Justin: Yeah. You can have the coffee mug, right. And it’s the examples you have like the two or five year old or whatever, right. We’ll locate it and you say, “What’s this?” and he’ll say, “It’s a coffee cup.”
And then you can show the robot and say, “This is a coffee cup” and so the robot looks at it and figures out what a coffee cup looks like. And then you grab another coffee cup that has a slightly different shape and you ask your two-year old, “What’s this?” it’s still a coffee cup. And then you ask the robot, it’s like, “I don’t know.”
Justin: It won’t have any — it can’t generalize one image to the next. So yeah, if you could actually try – so if they’re going to do that for a search engine or something of that nature, it would be…
Kirsten: Yeah, it would make generalizable objects searchable.
Justin: I wonder – gosh, that would be…
Kirsten: Right now, they’ve been able to figure out. What they’re trying to do is like digitize the information so figure out like, you know, based on what the digital representation of a picture is, how much data or information is needed to actually, what’s the smallest number of 0s and 1s that’s required to actually identify an image, for a computer algorithm to identify an image.
And they actually found that they can get it down to a pretty small amount. The smallest amount you need is about 32×32 which I imagine is pixels or I mean bits, 32×32 bits.
And they’ve worked it out so they actually saved something like 12.9 million images from the internet with 600 megabytes of data.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: So I mean 600 megs, that’s not much anymore. And so it’s 12.9 million images were stored and represented and able to be identified.
Yeah, it’s enough to fit like one like memory stick, a 1gig memory stick. Just stick it in and all those images are in there. But what you’re saying is definitely like the catch to it is that categories can be identified really well but when things look at little different and don’t quite fit into a category, that’s where you run into trouble. But in the meantime, it’s a start.
Justin: And it’s one of those things that the human brain does — almost right from the beginning, we just…
Justin: …we have no problem generalizing. The robots are just so specific. So what they’ve been doing though is they’ve been moving away from – this is research that they’ve been trying to do for years to get robots to generalize and to get artificial intelligence to generalize.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: And they’ve been starting to move away from it actually. And come up with different tricks to not have the robot actually generalizing but to come up with, you know the heart away of like trying to throw in every kind of cup of coffee if they’re looking for coffee cups, right.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: Just throw – identify as many coffee cups as you possibly can identify. So then the robot can identify a coffee cup regardless of the shape but it’s because you taught it one by one.
Justin: It’s way more tedious. And then of course, they’re, you know, looking at stuff other than just coffee cups when they’re doing this. But it works better thus far than actually much more productive doing that than it has been getting the artificial intelligence to generalize.
Kirsten: Right. Yeah, actually having learning.
Kirsten: Yeah. Bit by bit learning. That’s actually what’s working.
Justin: And the thing is too, we’re not that far away from we’re getting – what is it, the year 2020, computers are supposed to have the capacity that humans do. Your laptop computer should be able to…
Kirsten: At 2020, it should be able to what?
Justin: To like have all the computing power of the human brain.
Kirsten: Well, having…
Justin: Another 20 years…
Kirsten: Having the computing power of the human brain and having the computing abilities are completely different.
Justin: Right. Because we’ve got this non-linear abilities and there’s other stuff.
Justin: But, you know, how – it’s not going to be much further than that when it’s a group of people. And I think it’s by the year 2050, 2060, something like that when it’s supposed to have – a computer can have the computing power of the entire planet.
Kirsten: Of the planet, yeah.
And at that point, how smart do you really have to be if by just consensus, you can come up with enough thinking on what – you know what I mean like…?
Kirsten: That’s a good point.
There. (Ed Dyers) sent it another story as out of the Netherlands that researcher Daan Hobbelen of Delft University has developed a highly advanced walking robot named Flame.
Kirsten: Flame on! And he’s – this is for Hobbelen’s PHD research. So this is actually his graduate study. So congratulations. This Friday he’ll be getting his PHD walking, commencing. I hope he goes on and does something else great walking with his robot.
Excuse me, I had to sneeze.
And so learning how robots – to teach robots to walk in the way that human do, we can also learn more about the way that humans do. And be able to figure out how to fix some of the problems with maybe the human spine with human locomotion, be able to help who have lost the ability to walk.
So he’s created…
Justin: Well, if it…
Kirsten: Really, he’s created a new method. It’s – he’s working on a method for examining a way that humans walk. And using a method that kind of follows the falling forward fashion that humans have when they walk. When you walk in the hallways, you’re constantly falling forward.
Justin: Oh, it’s totally mechanical. And it’s actually that’s – I mean it’s a huge, huge step forward for robot kind if this can really – if they can be applied. Because if you look at Azimo or, you know…
Justin: …that is the most energy inefficient walking mechanism, you know.
Kirsten: Right, right, right, right.
Justin: Yeah, it uses up tons more energy when we – yeah right, when we do most of our working, we’re using a very little energy in the mechanics of that motion.
Justin: So, if all of robot kind can pick up on this, they’ll increase their killing power and like…
Kirsten: They will.
Justin: …by a magnitude.
Kirsten: Flame has seven motors, a balance organ and stability algorithms to help them out. This is from article out of science daily that ED sent me. The robot can apply the information provided by its balance organ to place its feet slightly further apart to prevent falling.
Wow! It is now, Flame is now the most advanced walking robot in the world. But I bet it can’t break dance like Azimo. We’re going to have to have a break in contest.
There’s also a robotics competition, Robot Wars coming up in June in San Francisco at the…
Justin: Are we invited?
Kirsten: Maybe. I’m sure we can get invited. For anyone in the Bay Area who’s interested in seeing robots play soccer and battlebots and all sorts of stuff. It’s probably pretty awesome. I think…
Justin: Not the kind of thing for small children though.
Kirsten: It’s called RoboGames.
Justin: Yeah. Mm hmm.
Kirsten: If you look up RoboGames, you should be able to find information.
Justin: You want to keep the children away from that sort of thing. It will give them nightmare. No, it sounds like it’ll be blast, actually. Robot soccer.
Kirsten: Robot soccer.
Justin: So, we’ve never – we haven’t talked about the frogamander yet.
Kirsten: Yes, frogamander. Woohoo!
Justin: Two hundred and…
Kirsten: The missing link.
Justin: The missing link between frog and man apparently. Frogamander.
Kirsten: No, no. You’re like confusing.
Justin: Frogaman, isn’t that…
Kirsten: You take things so literally.
Justin: I haven’t read the story, I just by – based it on the headline. It’s finally the missing link between man and frog.
Justin: This is going to be a huge story…
Justin: What is it? What’s really going on, Kirsten?
Kirsten: It’s the link between frogs and salamanders.
Justin: Oh, oh.
Kirsten: Yeah, salamanders.
Justin: …aren’t there any link? Aren’t they all – like they’re both kind of…?
Kirsten: They’re related.
Kirsten: Yeah. They’re related however, there’s been controversy as to which group where these two different groups of amphibians belong to and whether they come from the same group or different groups.
And there’s a fossil that was found Gerobatrachus. That was found by I guess a researcher in Texas but then they found that the fossil was lost which seems to happen all the time.
Justin: Quite a bit, yeah.
Kirsten: You brought the story up. Keep going. Or have you really not read it, I think I…
Justin: I really haven’t read it.
Kirsten: Oh, I was going to – I was thinking that you were being funny.
Justin: I honestly – no I wasn’t joking. I mean yeah, I was sort of but not really.
Kirsten: Okay. So there’s – the fact – the idea is that modern amphibians evolve from one ancient amphibian group called Temnospondyls and it’s been disputed. Maybe they came from different groups. There’s a lack of transitional forms that would actually give evidence to the evolutionary pathway that the organisms took.
And this fossil Gerobatrachus hottoni meaning Hotton’s elder frog…
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: Yes. Actually sets that to a rest. It’s a perfect transitional fossil from the sounds of it that it has almost just completely somewhere in between salamanders and frogs.
According to the this article, the skull and backbone on teeth of gerobatrachus have a mixture of frog and salamander features. The fossil has two fused bones in the ankle which is normally seen only in salamanders and a very large tympanic eardrum.
It also has a lightly built and wide skull similar to that of a frog. It’s backbone is exactly intermediate between the modern frogs and salamanders and more primitive amphibians.
Justin: Pretty good example of if you took one and mixed it with the other. Wow! Cool.
Kirsten: It’s a pretty good. And they were also able to take some molecular – using molecular clock estimates. They were able to determine or able to estimate that frogs and salamanders probably separated from each other sometimes between 240 million and 275 million years ago which is more recently than other molecular evidence has suggested. But because of these transitional species, you can…
Justin: Transitional species, that’s 290 million years ago so it’s right in the…
Kirsten: But the transitional species could have been alive around the same time. I mean even though it’s a transition, that’s a transitional…
Justin: Yeah. But is it a transitional or is it – see that’s kind of a strange. Because it’s transitional but it’s a mix of the two.
Kirsten: Yeah, it is. It’s in – a mix of the two.
Justin: So it’s got a split.
Justin: So it’s not a transitional, it’s a pre-sitional.
Kirsten: No, it’s transitional.
Justin: (Because you still) have transitional even though it’s not…
Kirsten: Yes. I’ll try…
Justin: Prototype. That’s what I was looking – prototype for the two.
Kirsten: A prototype.
Justin: That was like pre – yeah.
Justin: It’s the early model.
Kirsten: Oh, my goodness. Oh – yup.
Justin: Oh, this is an incredible story. Gosh, I forgot this was even happening in the world. Researchers at Rockefeller University use a specialized microscope that can – that only illuminates the surface of a cell, they have now become the first to see in real time, hundreds of thousands of molecules coming together in a living cell to form a particle of a virus. And what they were looking at was HIV in this case.
Kirsten: HIV, right.
Justin: So this was going to be in the online issue of Nature if you want to check it out. Technique created the image to simply may change the way the scientists actually investigate cells. Because normally, you’re using a light technique that shines through the cell, sort of watching almost like an x-rayish of the cell.
Justin: But this, there’s some sort of way they’ve got the light at an angle and doing all this just illuminates the surface so you can see specific activities that are taking place right there. In very – apparently, in very good detail, very good resolution to where they could…
And the description of this makes me question everything I ever thought I knew about what happens in biology on the smallety, small level.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: But let’s see. Where were they? Okay. So while they were watching a particle assembling at the surface, they attacked a viral protein, called the Gag protein with a fluorescent – some sort of fluorescent dye molecules.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: But the – okay so, many different components gathered together to form the virus here but the Gag protein was the only one that was absolutely necessary for the assembly to take place so that’s the one they tagged…
Kirsten: Got it.
Justin: …so they could track and see, okay this is…
Kirsten: When it was coming together.
Justin: …this is where actually…
Kirsten: And then every time – probably every time that it would fluorest, it’d be like – it’s together. You got a whole viral molecule.
Justin: Well, they didn’t have to – they actually watched it forming. They watched the Gag molecules as they were recruited from the inside of the cell and as they emerged from the cell surface…
Justin: …they watched the outer membrane start to bulge outward toward the butting viral bit then pinched off to form an individual infectious particle…
Justin: …they watched this, real time.
Justin: Probably took pictures.
Kirsten: So, basically that yeah, they’re taking pictures; they’re watching this fluorescent protein move. It’s like as if you’re just watching a glow thing move from one chamber to another. They probably watched a little glowing particles as they move because they’re watching it in real time and able to see where they’re going and, yeah.
Justin: But I don’t like the butting off from the cell…
Kirsten: Oh, that happens all the time.
Justin: …and to form infectious – does that mean that…
Kirsten: That’s all the time, that happens.
Justin: Did it mean it made the infectious particle out of the cell itself?
Justin: Oh, that’s not fair. Bring your own biological tissue to the party if you’re going to infect somebody.
Kirsten: No, no. That’s the way virus…
Justin: Don’t steal it.
Kirsten: The viral is just a thief.
Justin: Oh, that’s so viral.
Kirsten: The viral is just a thief. Yes.
Justin: That’s just so awesome that they can actually be staring at proteins and viruses forming.
Kirsten: That’s really neat actually. I mean that’s – I’ve never heard of anything like that really happening up to date. That’s really cool.
Kirsten: It’s an amazing study.
Justin: Also in really cool stuff going on, researchers here in the United States at North Carolina and Missouri Western State University have added genes to E. coli bacteria that allowed them to use E. coli as a little computer.
Justin: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kirsten: Yeah. So there’s…
Justin: That’s crazy awesome story.
Kirsten: Because DNA has multiple – you know, has four based pairs that can be used in various confirmations, we can – it has the potential to have greater computing power than just the 0-1 binary code that we currently use in computers.
And so, one of the ideas that I guess these people were looking at is why don’t we use actually, instead of just having DNA, why don’t we use actual living bacteria and their reproductive processes to create a computer.
So if we put in genes and we give – and we know that certain genes are going to – we want them to be organized in a particular way and then we can use rules by killing off certain bacteria that don’t reproduce in the way that we want them to.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: You can eventually get an answer to a problem just by looking at what – the way that the bacteria turn out in the end…
Kirsten: …and what DNA is contained in them at the end of the computing period. And you can use the length of time because we know how long it takes for bacteria to reproduce from one generation to another. You can use the length of time to the final answer as, you know, another component of the calculation itself.
So this is really – they used this one problem that’s I guess, the pancake stacking problem in mathematics where you have pancakes that have a light side and a dark side and you have a certain number of pancakes.
And so, the aim of the problem is to sort the stack so the largest – oh, yeah. They’re different sizes; that’s what it is. And they have a light side and a dark side. And you want to sort all the pancakes so that the largest pancakes on the bottom and all the pancakes are golden side up.
And they pretty much in each flip of a pancake reverses the order and the orientation, so which side is facing up. And you want to try and stack them properly in the fewest number of flips.
And so, basically what they’re doing is using DNA in an analogous manner.
Kirsten: So it’s not really – they weren’t really flipping pancakes but they’re using different terms for DNA.
Justin: Yeah, my E. coli made me breakfast this morning. It’s – yeah, I’m not feeling so hot all of a sudden now.
Justin: I don’t know. Maybe E. coli didn’t washed its hands before making the…
Well, then the next – I think the next step is just, you know, let’s skip the middleman. Let’s skip to just the bacteria training it then we’re going through – it slaps some genetically altered neurons in the system.
Justin: Let’s just make a computer brain. We can – I think we have the technology. We can make the computer brain at this time with actual neurons.
Kirsten: We’re learning more and more about it. I mean the brain still is highly complex and not very well understood. However, there are researchers looking at different genes that are expressed during the development of neurons in looking at if, you know, if one gene is turned on and another is not, what happens to the neurons and how far do they grow and, you know.
There’s a possibility eventually; maybe we will make the computer brain out of just growing neurons and understanding if we have certain neurotransmitters or certain genes that end up producing certain neurotransmitters down the line that we can control it.
Until the day that it comes back to haunt us. I’d like to thank (Ted Chavalas), (Raul Villanueva), (Kate McCaffrey), (John Karabaic), (Ed Dierk), Kalidasa, (David Morgan) and (Alan Minter), (Peter Warmington) and (tree).
Justin: And Sara Teasdale.
Kirsten: And Sara Teasdale for writing in and sending stories and comments. If you have any comments or stories that you think we would be interested in reading, send them to kirsten@thisweekinscience or justin@thisweekinscience.
You can also go to our website thisweekinscience.com to join in the forums and to also get show notes with links to the stories that we discuss during that hour. That’s thisweekinscience.com.
Is there any information that I need to give out right now? I don’t think so.
Justin: Yeah. If you learned anything from today’s show, remember.
Kirsten: I think it’s all in your head.
Justin: You’re probably right.
Kirsten: I think so. I’m always right.
Kirsten: No I’m kidding.