Tag: change (page 18 of 100)

Why science is so hard to believe?

 
In the recent movie “Interstellar,” set in a futuristic, downtrodden America where NASA has been forced into hiding, school textbooks say the Apollo moon landings were faked.


Excerpt from 


There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove” in which Jack D. Ripper, an American general who’s gone rogue and ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, unspools his paranoid worldview — and the explanation for why he drinks “only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol” — to Lionel Mandrake, a dizzy-with-anxiety group captain in the Royal Air Force.
Ripper: “Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation? Fluoridation of water?”
Mandrake: “Ah, yes, I have heard of that, Jack. Yes, yes.”Ripper: “Well, do you know what it is?”
Mandrake: “No. No, I don’t know what it is, no.”
Ripper: “Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?” 

The movie came out in 1964, by which time the health benefits of fluoridation had been thoroughly established and anti-fluoridation conspiracy theories could be the stuff of comedy. Yet half a century later, fluoridation continues to incite fear and paranoia. In 2013, citizens in Portland, Ore., one of only a few major American cities that don’t fluoridate, blocked a plan by local officials to do so. Opponents didn’t like the idea of the government adding “chemicals” to their water. They claimed that fluoride could be harmful to human health.

Actually fluoride is a natural mineral that, in the weak concentrations used in public drinking-water systems, hardens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay — a cheap and safe way to improve dental health for everyone, rich or poor, conscientious brushers or not. That’s the scientific and medical consensus.
To which some people in Portland, echoing anti-fluoridation activists around the world, reply: We don’t believe you.
We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge — from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change — faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these controversies these days, you’d think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make people argumentative.
Science doubt has become a pop-culture meme. In the recent movie “Interstellar,” set in a futuristic, downtrodden America where NASA has been forced into hiding, school textbooks say the Apollo moon landings were faked.


The debate about mandated vaccinations has the political world talking. A spike in measles cases nationwide has President Obama, lawmakers and even potential 2016 candidates weighing in on the vaccine controversy. (Pamela Kirkland/The Washington Post)
In a sense this is not surprising. Our lives are permeated by science and technology as never before. For many of us this new world is wondrous, comfortable and rich in rewards — but also more complicated and sometimes unnerving. We now face risks we can’t easily analyze.
We’re asked to accept, for example, that it’s safe to eat food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because, the experts point out, there’s no evidence that it isn’t and no reason to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding. But to some people, the very idea of transferring genes between species conjures up mad scientists running amok — and so, two centuries after Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein,” they talk about Frankenfood.
The world crackles with real and imaginary hazards, and distinguishing the former from the latter isn’t easy. Should we be afraid that the Ebola virus, which is spread only by direct contact with bodily fluids, will mutate into an airborne super-plague? The scientific consensus says that’s extremely unlikely: No virus has ever been observed to completely change its mode of transmission in humans, and there’s zero evidence that the latest strain of Ebola is any different. But Google “airborne Ebola” and you’ll enter a dystopia where this virus has almost supernatural powers, including the power to kill us all.
In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle, that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”
The scientific method leads us to truths that are less than self-evident, often mind-blowing and sometimes hard to swallow. In the early 17th century, when Galileo claimed that the Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, he wasn’t just rejecting church doctrine. He was asking people to believe something that defied common sense — because it sure looks like the sun’s going around the Earth, and you can’t feel the Earth spinning. Galileo was put on trial and forced to recant. Two centuries later, Charles Darwin escaped that fate. But his idea that all life on Earth evolved from a primordial ancestor and that we humans are distant cousins of apes, whales and even deep-sea mollusks is still a big ask for a lot of people.
Even when we intellectually accept these precepts of science, we subconsciously cling to our intuitions — what researchers call our naive beliefs. A study by Andrew Shtulman of Occidental College showed that even students with an advanced science education had a hitch in their mental gait when asked to affirm or deny that humans are descended from sea animals and that the Earth goes around the sun. Both truths are counterintuitive. The students, even those who correctly marked “true,” were slower to answer those questions than questions about whether humans are descended from tree-dwelling creatures (also true but easier to grasp) and whether the moon goes around the Earth (also true but intuitive).
Shtulman’s research indicates that as we become scientifically literate, we repress our naive beliefs but never eliminate them entirely. They nest in our brains, chirping at us as we try to make sense of the world.
Most of us do that by relying on personal experience and anecdotes, on stories rather than statistics. We might get a prostate-specific antigen test, even though it’s no longer generally recommended, because it caught a close friend’s cancer — and we pay less attention to statistical evidence, painstakingly compiled through multiple studies, showing that the test rarely saves lives but triggers many unnecessary surgeries. Or we hear about a cluster of cancer cases in a town with a hazardous-waste dump, and we assume that pollution caused the cancers. Of course, just because two things happened together doesn’t mean one caused the other, and just because events are clustered doesn’t mean they’re not random. Yet we have trouble digesting randomness; our brains crave pattern and meaning.
Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. They, too, are vulnerable to confirmation bias — the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe. But unlike the rest of us, they submit their ideas to formal peer review before publishing them. Once the results are published, if they’re important enough, other scientists will try to reproduce them — and, being congenitally skeptical and competitive, will be very happy to announce that they don’t hold up. Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth or an absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.
That provisional quality of science is another thing a lot of people have trouble with. To some climate-change skeptics, for example, the fact that a few scientists in the 1970s were worried (quite reasonably, it seemed at the time) about the possibility of a coming ice age is enough to discredit what is now the consensus of the world’s scientists: The planet’s surface temperature has risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 130 years, and human actions, including the burning of fossil fuels, are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause since the mid-20th century.
It’s clear that organizations funded in part by the fossil-fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine the public’s understanding of the scientific consensus by promoting a few skeptics. The news media gives abundant attention to such mavericks, naysayers, professional controversialists and table thumpers. The media would also have you believe that science is full of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. The (boring) truth is that science usually advances incrementally, through the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many people over many years. So it has with the consensus on climate change. That’s not about to go poof with the next thermometer reading.
But industry PR, however misleading, isn’t enough to explain why so many people reject the scientific consensus on global warming.
The “science communication problem,” as it’s blandly called by the scientists who study it, has yielded abundant new research into how people decide what to believe — and why they so often don’t accept the expert consensus. It’s not that they can’t grasp it, according to Dan Kahan of Yale University. In one study he asked 1,540 Americans, a representative sample, to rate the threat of climate change on a scale of zero to 10. Then he correlated that with the subjects’ science literacy. He found that higher literacy was associated with stronger views — at both ends of the spectrum. Science literacy promoted polarization on climate, not consensus. According to Kahan, that’s because people tend to use scientific knowledge to reinforce their worldviews.
Americans fall into two basic camps, Kahan says. Those with a more “egalitarian” and “communitarian” mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a “hierarchical” and “individualistic” mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to — some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.
In the United States, climate change has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking: People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this.
Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers. “We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”
Meanwhile the Internet makes it easier than ever for science doubters to find their own information and experts. Gone are the days when a small number of powerful institutions — elite universities, encyclopedias and major news organizations — served as gatekeepers of scientific information. The Internet has democratized it, which is a good thing. But along with cable TV, the Web has also made it possible to live in a “filter bubble” that lets in only the information with which you already agree.
How to penetrate the bubble? How to convert science skeptics? Throwing more facts at them doesn’t help. Liz Neeley, who helps train scientists to be better communicators at an organization called Compass, says people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their fundamental values. She has personal experience with this. Her father is a climate-change skeptic and gets most of his information on the issue from conservative media. In exasperation she finally confronted him: “Do you believe them or me?” She told him she believes the scientists who research climate change and knows many of them personally. “If you think I’m wrong,” she said, “then you’re telling me that you don’t trust me.” Her father’s stance on the issue softened. But it wasn’t the facts that did it.
If you’re a rationalist, there’s something a little dispiriting about all this. In Kahan’s descriptions of how we decide what to believe, what we decide sometimes sounds almost incidental. Those of us in the science-communication business are as tribal as anyone else, he told me. We believe in scientific ideas not because we have truly evaluated all the evidence but because we feel an affinity for the scientific community. When I mentioned to Kahan that I fully accept evolution, he said: “Believing in evolution is just a description about you. It’s not an account of how you reason.”
Maybe — except that evolution is real. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Vaccines save lives. Being right does matter — and the science tribe has a long track record of getting things right in the end. Modern society is built on things it got right.
Doubting science also has consequences, as seen in recent weeks with the measles outbreak that began in California. The people who believe that vaccines cause autism — often well educated and affluent, by the way — are undermining “herd immunity” to such diseases as whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine movement has been going strong since a prestigious British medical journal, the Lancet, published a study in 1998 linking a common vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted the study, which was thoroughly discredited. But the notion of a vaccine-autism connection has been endorsed by celebrities and reinforced through the usual Internet filters. (Anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy famously said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”)
In the climate debate, the consequences of doubt are likely to be global and enduring. Climate-change skeptics in the United States have achieved their fundamental goal of halting legislative action to combat global warming. They haven’t had to win the debate on the merits; they’ve merely had to fog the room enough to keep laws governing greenhouse gas emissions from being enacted.
Some environmental activists want scientists to emerge from their ivory towers and get more involved in the policy battles. Any scientist going that route needs to do so carefully, says Liz Neeley. “That line between science communication and advocacy is very hard to step back from,” she says. In the debate over climate change, the central allegation of the skeptics is that the science saying it’s real and a serious threat is politically tinged, driven by environmental activism and not hard data. That’s not true, and it slanders honest scientists. But the claim becomes more likely to be seen as plausible if scientists go beyond their professional expertise and begin advocating specific policies.
It’s their very detachment, what you might call the cold-bloodedness of science, that makes science the killer app. It’s the way science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else — but their dogma is always wilting in the hot glare of new research. In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.

View Full Article   Read More

Opening of the Box Update


The »unknown benefactor« has assisted in funding a few projects and good things have been done. Navajo elders have received heating generators to survive harsh winter and a certain non-profit organization has received funds which would help constructing a greenhouse dome which will grow free food for the hungry.



Many project proposals have been received, but only about 10% of them can really improve the timeline for this planet. However, many good projects exist and some of them are presented on this website:
It is time now to widen our horizons.There are good projects out there that can really change the future of this planet. We need to go beyond the old cliche where all the good guys are poor and all the bad guys have the money. There are tens of thousands people reading this blog daily, and according to statistics, about a hundredof them are millionaires and one of them has tens of millions:

 


If any of those people would like to assist in funding the best projects, they can contact me at cobraresistance@gmail.com

We have a bright future ahead:


We can be passive bystanders or active creators of this future.

The choice is ours.

The Breakthrough is near!

View Full Article   Read More

Scientists find oddly behaving ‘inner-inner core’ at Earth’s center

Excerpt from cnet.com Though the seismic waves from earthquakes are best known for their destructive abilities, in the hands of geologists, they can be powerful tools of discovery. A research team at the University of Illinois (UI) has just used th...

View Full Article   Read More

Planck telescope puts new datestamp on first stars


Polarisation of the sky
Planck has mapped the delicate polarisation of the CMB across the entire sky



Excerpt from bbc.com

Scientists working on Europe's Planck satellite say the first stars lit up the Universe later than previously thought.

The team has made the most precise map of the "oldest light" in the cosmos.

Earlier observations of this radiation had suggested the first generation of stars were bursting into life by about 420 million years after the Big Bang.

Planck's data indicates this great ignition was well established by some 560 million years after it all began.

"This difference of 140 million years might not seem that significant in the context of the 13.8-billion-year history of the cosmos, but proportionately it's actually a very big change in our understanding of how certain key events progressed at the earliest epochs," said Prof George Efstathiou, one of the leaders of the Planck Science Collaboration.

Subtle signal

The assessment is based on studies of the "afterglow" of the Big Bang, the ancient light called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which still washes over the Earth today.
Prof George Efstathiou: "We don't need more complicated explanations"

The European Space Agency's (Esa) Planck satellite mapped this "fossil" between 2009 and 2013.

It contains a wealth of information about early conditions in the Universe, and can even be used to work out its age, shape and do an inventory of its contents.

Scientists can also probe it for very subtle "distortions" that tell them about any interactions the CMB has had on its way to us.

Forging elements

One of these would have been imprinted when the infant cosmos underwent a major environmental change known as re-ionisation.

Prof Richard McMahon: "The two sides of the bridge now join"
It is when the cooling neutral hydrogen gas that dominated the Universe in the aftermath of the Big Bang was then re-energised by the ignition of the first stars.

These hot giants would have burnt brilliant but brief lives, producing the very first heavy elements. But they would also have "fried" the neutral gas around them - ripping electrons off the hydrogen protons.

And it is the passage of the CMB through this maze of electrons and protons that would have resulted in it picking up a subtle polarisation.

ImpressionImpression: The first stars would have been unwieldy behemoths that burnt brief but brilliant lives


The Planck team has now analysed this polarisation in fine detail and determined it to have been generated at 560 million years after the Big Bang.

The American satellite WMAP, which operated in the 2000s, made the previous best estimate for the peak of re-ionisation at 420 million years. 

The problem with that number was that it sat at odds with Hubble Space Telescope observations of the early Universe.

Hubble could not find stars and galaxies in sufficient numbers to deliver the scale of environmental change at the time when WMAP suggested it was occurring.

Planck's new timing "effectively solves the conflict," commented Prof Richard McMahon from Cambridge University, UK.

"We had two groups of astronomers who were basically working on different sides of the problem. The Planck people came at it from the Big Bang side, while those of us who work on galaxies came at it from the 'now side'. 

"It's like a bridge being built over a river. The two sides do now join where previously we had a gap," he told BBC News.

That gap had prompted scientists to invoke complicated scenarios to initiate re-ionisation, including the possibility that there might have been an even earlier population of giant stars or energetic black holes. Such solutions are no longer needed.

No-one knows the exact timing of the very first individual stars. All Planck does is tell us when large numbers of these stars had gathered into galaxies of sufficient strength to alter the cosmic environment. 

By definition, this puts the ignition of the "founding stars" well before 560 million years after the Big Bang. Quite how far back in time, though, is uncertain. Perhaps, it was as early as 200 million years. It will be the job of the next generation of observatories like Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, to try to find the answer.

JWSTBeing built now: The James Webb telescope will conduct a survey of the first galaxies and their stars
line
The history of the Universe

Graphic of the history of time
  • Planck's CMB studies indicate the Big Bang was 13.8bn years ago
  • The CMB itself can be thought of as the 'afterglow' of the Big Bang
  • It spreads across the cosmos some 380,000 years after the Big Bang
  • This is when the conditions cool to make neutral hydrogen atoms
  • The period before the first stars is often called the 'Dark Ages'
  • When the first stars ignite, they 'fry' the neutral gas around them
  • These giants also forge the first heavy elements in big explosions
  • 'First Light', or 'Cosmic Renaissance', is a key epoch in history
line

The new Planck result is contained in a raft of new papers just posted on the Esa website. 

These papers accompany the latest data release from the satellite that can now be used by the wider scientific community, not just collaboration members.
Dr Andrew Jaffe: "The simplest models for inflation are ruled out"
Two years ago, the data dump largely concerned interpretations of the CMB based on its temperature profile. It is the CMB's polarisation features that take centre-stage this time.
It was hoped that Planck might find direct evidence in the CMB's polarisation for inflation - the super-rapid expansion of space thought to have occurred just fractions of a second after the Big Bang. This has not been possible. But all the Planck data - temperature and polarisation information - is consistent with that theory, and the precision measurements mean new, tighter constraints have been put on the likely scale of the inflation signal, which other experiments continue to chase.
What is clear from the Planck investigation is that the simplest models for how the super-rapid expansion might have worked are probably no longer tenable, suggesting some exotic physics will eventually be needed to explain it.
"We're now being pushed into a parameter space we didn't expect to be in," said collaboration scientist Dr Andrew Jaffe from Imperial College, UK. "That's OK. We like interesting physics; that's why we're physicists, so there's no problem with that. It's just we had this naïve expectation that the simplest answer would be right, and sometimes it just isn't."

View Full Article   Read More

How Would the World Change If We Found Alien Life?







Excerpt from space.com
By by Elizabeth Howell

In 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" as a series of simulated radio bulletins of what was happening in real time as Martians arrived on our home planet. The broadcast is widely remembered for creating public panic, although to what extent is hotly debated today.

Still, the incident serves as an illustration of what could happen when the first life beyond Earth is discovered. While scientists might be excited by the prospect, introducing the public, politicians and interest groups to the idea could take some time.

How extraterrestrial life would change our world view is a research interest of Steven Dick, who just completed a term as the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair of Astrobiology. The chair is jointly sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the John W. Kluge Center, at the Library of Congress. 


Dick is a former astronomer and historian at the United States Naval Observatory, a past chief historian for NASA, and has published several books concerning the discovery of life beyond Earth. To Dick, even the discovery of microbes would be a profound shift for science.

"If we found microbes, it would have an effect on science, especially biology, by universalizing biology," he said. "We only have one case of biology on Earth. It's all related. It's all DNA-based. If we found an independent example on Mars or Europa, we have a chance of forming a universal biology."

Dick points out that even the possibilities of extraterrestrial fossils could change our viewpoints, such as the ongoing discussion of ALH84001, a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica that erupted into public consciousness in 1996 after a Science article said structures inside of it could be linked to biological activity. The conclusion, which is still debated today, led to congressional hearings.

"I've done a book about discovery in astronomy, and it's an extended process," Dick pointed out. "It's not like you point your telescope and say, 'Oh, I made a discovery.' It's always an extended process: You have to detect something, you have to interpret it, and it takes a long time to understand it. As for extraterrestrial life, the Mars rock showed it could take an extended period of years to understand it."


ALH84001 Meteorite
The ALH84001 meteorite, which in a 1996 Science publication was speculated to be host to what could be ancient Martian fossils. That finding is still under dispute today.

Mayan decipherments

In his year at the Library of Congress, Dick spent time searching for historical examples (as well as historical analogies) of how humanity might deal with first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. History shows that contact with new cultures can go in vastly different directions.

Hernan Cortes' treatment of the Aztecs is often cited as an example of how wrong first contact can go. But there were other efforts that were a little more mutually beneficial, although the outcomes were never perfect. Fur traders in Canada in the 1800s worked closely with Native Americans, for example, and the Chinese treasure fleet of the 15th Century successfully brought its home culture far beyond its borders, perhaps even to East Africa.

Even when both sides were trying hard to make communication work, there were barriers, noted Dick.

"The Jesuits had contact with Native Americans," he pointed out. "Certain concepts were difficult, like when they tried to get across the ideas of the soul and immortality."



A second look by the Mars Global Surveyor at the so-called Viking “Face on Mars” in Cydonia revealed a more ordinary-looking hill, showing that science is an extended process of discovery.


Indirect contact by way of radio communications through the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), also illustrates the challenges of transmitting information across cultures. There is historical precedence for this, such as when Greek knowledge passed west through Arab translators in the 12th Century. This shows that it is possible for ideas to be revived, even from dead cultures, he said.

It's also quite possible that the language we receive across these indirect communications would be foreign to us. Even though mathematics is often cited as a universal language, Dick said there are actually two schools of thought. One theory is that there is, indeed, one kind of mathematics that is based on a Platonic idea, and the other theory is that mathematics is a construction of the culture that you are in. 

"There will be a decipherment process. It might be more like the Mayan decipherments," Dick said.


The ethics of contact

As Dick came to a greater understanding about the potential c impact of extraterrestrial intelligence, he invited other scholars to present their findings along with him. Dick chaired a two-day NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Symposium called "Preparing for Discovery," which was intended to address the impact of finding any kind of life beyond Earth, whether microbial or some kind of intelligent, multicellular life form.

The symposium participants discussed how to move beyond human-centered views of defining life, how to understand the philosophical and theological problems a discovery would bring, and how to help the public understand the implications of a discovery.

"There is also the question of what I call astro-ethics," Dick said. "How do you treat alien life? How do you treat it differently, ranging from microbes to intelligence? So we had a philosopher at our symposium talking about the moral status of non-human organisms, talking in relation to animals on Earth and what their status is in relation to us."

Dick plans to collect the lectures in a book for publication next year, but he also spent his time at the library gathering materials for a second book about how discovering life beyond Earth will revolutionize our thinking.

"It's very farsighted for NASA to fund a position like this," Dick added. "They have all their programs in astrobiology, they fund the scientists, but here they fund somebody to think about what the implications might be. It's a good idea to do this, to foresee what might happen before it occurs."

View Full Article   Read More

New internet neutrality: FCC chairman proposes strong new rules

Excerpt from mercurynews.comThe federal government's top communications regulator on Wednesday called for strong new rules to bar Internet and wireless providers from blocking, slowing or discriminating against consumers' access to particular websi...

View Full Article   Read More

Scientists discover organism that hasn’t evolved in more than 2 billion years



Nonevolving bacteria
These sulfur bacteria haven't evolved for billions of years.
Credit: UCLA Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life

Excerpt from natmonitor.com
By Justin Beach

If there was a Guinness World Record for not evolving, it would be held by a sulfur-cycling microorganism found off the course of Australia. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have not evolved in any way in more than two billion years and have survived five mass extinction events.
According to the researchers behind the paper, the lack of evolution actually supports Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
The researchers examined the microorganisms, which are too small to see with the naked eye, in samples of rocks from the coastal waters of Western Australia. Next they examined samples of the same bacteria from the same region in rocks 2.3 billion years old. Both sets of bacteria are indistinguishable from modern sulfur bacteria found off the coast of Chile.





“It seems astounding that life has not evolved for more than 2 billion years — nearly half the history of the Earth. Given that evolution is a fact, this lack of evolution needs to be explained,” said J. William Schopf, a UCLA professor of earth, planetary and space sciences in the UCLA College who was the study’s lead author in a statement.
Critics of Darwin’s theory of evolution might be tempted to jump on this discovery as proof that Darwin was wrong, but that would be a mistake.
Darwin’s work focused more on species that changed, rather than species that didn’t. However, there is nothing in Darwin’s work that states that a successful species that has found it’s niche in an ecosystem has to change. Unless there is change in the ecosystem or competition for resources there would be no reason for change.
“The rule of biology is not to evolve unless the physical or biological environment changes, which is consistent with Darwin. These microorganisms are well-adapted to their simple, very stable physical and biological environment. If they were in an environment that did not change but they nevertheless evolved, that would have shown that our understanding of Darwinian evolution was seriously flawed.” said Schopf, who also is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life.
It is likely that there were genetic mutations in the organisms. Mutations are fairly random and happen in all species, but unless those mutations are improvements that help the species function better in the environment, they usually do not get passed on.
Schopf said that the findings provide further proof that Darwin’s ideas were right.
The oldest fossils analyzed for the study date back to the Great Oxidation Event. This event, which occurred between 2.2 and 2.4 billion years ago, saw a substantial increase in Earth’s oxygen levels. That period also saw an increase in sulfates and nitrates, which is all that the microorganisms would have needed to survive and reproduce.
Shopf and his team used Raman spectroscopy, which allows scientists to examine the composition and chemistry of rocks as well as confocal laser scary microscopy to generate 3-D images of fossils embedded in rock.
The research was funded by NASA Astrobiology Institute, in the hope that it will help the space agency to find life elsewhere.

View Full Article   Read More

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World


Graphene

Excerpt from gizmodo.com

Graphene isn't the only game-changing material to come out of a lab. From aerogels nearly as light as air to metamaterials that manipulate light, here are six supermaterials that have the potential to transform the world of the future.

Self-healing Materials — Bioinspired Plastics

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Self-healing plastic. Image credit: UIUC


The human body is very good at fixing itself. The built environment is not. Scott White at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champlain has been engineering bioinspired plastics that can self-heal. Last year, White's lab created a new polymer that oozes to repair a visible hole. The polymer is embedded with a vascular system of liquids that when broken and combined, clot just like blood. While other materials have been able to heal microscopic cracks, this new one repaired a hole 4 millimeter wide with cracks radiating all around it. Not big deal for a human skin, but a pretty big deal for plastic.

Engineers have also been envisioning concrete, asphalt, and metal that can heal themselves. (Imagine a city with no more potholes!) The rub, of course, lies in making them cheap enough to actually use, which is why the first applications for self-healing materials are most likely to be in space or in remote areas on Earth. 

Thermoelectric Materials — Heat Scavengers

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Power blocks with thermoelectric material sued inside Alphabet Energy 's generator. Image credit: Alphabet Energy


If you've ever had a laptop burn up in your lap or touched the hot hood of car, then you've felt evidence of waste. Waste heat is the inevitable effect of running any that device that uses power. One estimate puts the amount of waste heat as two-thirds of all energy used. But what if there was a way to capture all that wasted energy? The answer to that "what if" is thermoelectric materials, which makes electricity from a temperature gradient.

Last year, California-based Alphabet Energy introduced a thermoelectric generator that plugs right into the exhaust pipe of ordinary generator, turning waste heat back into useful electricity. Alphabet Energy's generator uses a relatively cheap and naturally occurring thermoelectric material called tetrahedrite. Alphabet Energy says tetrahedrite can reach 5 to 10 percent efficiency.
Back in the lab, scientists have also been tinkering with another promising and possibly even more efficient thermoelectric material called skutterudite, which is a type of mineral that contains cobalt. Thermoelectric materials have already had niche applications—like on spacecraft—but skutterudite could get cheap and efficient enough to be wrapped around the exhaust pipes of cars or fridges or any other power-hogging machine you can think of. [Nature, MIT Technology Review, New Scientist]

Perovskites — Cheap Solar Cells

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Solar cells made of perovskites. Image credit: University of Oxford


The biggest hurdle in moving toward renewable energy is, as these things always are, money. Solar power is getting ever cheaper, but making a plant's worth of solar cells from crystalline silicon is still an expensive, energy-intensive process. There's an alternative material that has the solar world buzzing though, and that's perovskites. 

Perovskites were first discovered over a century ago, but scientists are only just realizing its potential. In 2009, solar cells made from perovskites had a solar energy conversion efficiency of a measly 3.8 percent. In 2014, the number had leapt to 19.3 percent. That may not seem like much compared to traditional crystalline silicon cells with efficiencies hovering around 20 percent, but there's two other crucial points to consider: 1) perovskites have made such leaps and bounds in efficiency in just a few years that scientist think it can get even better and 2) perovskites are much, much cheaper. 

Perovskites are a class of materials defined by a particular crystalline structure. They can contain any number of elements, usually lead and tin for perovskites used in solar cells. These raw materials are cheap compared to crystalline silicon, and they can be sprayed onto glass rather than meticulously assembled in clean rooms. Oxford Photovoltaics is one of the leading companies trying to commercialize perovskites, which as wonderful as they have been in the lab, still do need to hold up in the real world. [WSJ, IEEE Spectrum, Chemical & Engineering News, Nature Materials]

Aerogels — Superlight and Strong

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
Image credit: NASA

Aerogels look like they should not be real. Although ghostly and ethereal, they can easily withstand the heat of a blowtorch and the weight of a car. The material is almost what exactly the name implies: gels where where the liquid has been replaced entirely by air. But you can see why it's also been called "frozen smoke" or "blue smoke." The actual matrix of an aerogel can be made of any number of substances, including silica, metal oxides, and, yes, also graphene. But the fact that aerogel is actually mostly made of air means that it's an excellent insulator (see: blowtorch). Its structure also makes it incredibly strong (see: car).

Aerogels do have one fatal flaw though: brittleness, especially when made from silica. But NASA scientists have been experimenting with flexible aerogels made of polymers to use insulators for spacecraft burning through the atmosphere. Mixing other compounds into even silica-based aerogels could make them more flexible. Add that to aerogel's lightness, strength, and insulating qualities, and that's one incredible material. [New Scientist, Gizmodo]

Metamaterials — Light Manipulators

If you've heard of metamaterials, you likely heard about it in a sentence that also mentioned "Harry Potter" and "invisibility cloak." And indeed, metamaterials, whose nanostructures are design to scatter light in specific ways, could possibly one day be used to render objects invisible—though it still probably wouldn't be as magical as Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. 

What's more interesting about metamaterials is that they don't just redirect visible light. Depending on how and what a particular metamaterial is made of, it can also scatter microwaves, radiowaves, or the little-known T-rays, which are between microwaves and infrared light on the electromagnetic spectrum. Any piece of electromagnetic spectrum could be manipulated by metamaterials. 

That could be, for example, new T-ray scanners in medicine or security or a compact radio antennae made of metamaterials whose properties change on the fly. Metamaterials are at the promising but frustrating cusp where the theoretical possibilities are endless, but commercialization is still a long, hard road. [Nature, Discover Magazine]

Stanene — 100 percent efficient conductor

6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World 
The molecular structure of stanene. Image credit: SLAC


Like the much better known graphene, stanene is also made of a single layer of atoms. But instead of carbon, stanene is made of tin, and this makes all the difference in allowing stanene to possibly do what even wondermaterial extraordinaire graphene cannot: conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

Stanene was first theorized in 2013 by Stanford professor Shoucheng Zhang, whose lab specializes in, along other things, predicting the electronic properties of materials like stanene. According to their models, stanene is a topological insulator, which means its edges are a conductor and its inside is an insulator. (Think of a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. Chocolate conductor, ice cream insulator.) 

This means stanene could conduct electricity with zero resistance even, crucially, at room temperature. Stanene's properties have yet to been tested experimentally—making a single-atom sheet tin is no easy task—but several of Zhang's predictions about other topological insulators have proven correct.

If the predictions about stanene bear out, it could revolutionize the microchips inside all your devices. Namely, the chips could get a lot more powerful. Silicon chips are limited by the heat created by electrons zipping around—work 'em too fast and they'll simply get too hot. Stanene, which conducts electricity 100 percent efficiency, would have no such problem. [SLAC, Physical Review Letters, Scientific American]

View Full Article   Read More

Older posts Newer posts

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License
.
unless otherwise marked.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy



Up ↑