April 30, 2015

New Test Suggests NASA's "Impossible" EM Drive Will Work In Space

Last year, NASA's advanced propulsion research wing made headlines by announcing the successful test of a physics-defying electromagnetic drive, or EM drive. Now, this futuristic engine, which could in theory propel objects to near-relativistic speeds, has been shown to work inside a space-like vacuum.

Read the entire article at io9.

Journal Defends Its Publication Of Controversial Human Embryo Study

The science world was rocked last week by news that geneticists in China had modified the DNA of human embryos. In the face of mounting criticism, science journal Protein & Cell has issued a formal response explaining why it chose to publish the controversial study.

Read the entire article at io9.

This "Liver On A Chip" Lets Researchers Forgo Animal Testing

Testing new drugs on animals can be costly, cruel, and ineffective. In the quest to identify an alternative, a U.K. biopharmaceutical company has developed a "liver on a chip," an important advance in the effort to minimize, and even put an end to, animal experimentation.

Read the entire article at io9.

April 27, 2015

School Projects With Internet Brains

My friend Andy Forest recently sent me an email I'd like to share:

I'm writing to you because I'm working on some interesting community technology education projects. I think they would be of interest to your readers, and we're working to build awareness and support. 

My wife Marianne and I founded MakerKids a few years ago, and it's been amazing - we've taught digital literacy and other tech skills to thousands of kids. Marianne and my next venture is STEAMLabs, a non-profit community makerspace for all ages in the new Centre for Social Innovation's building on Spadina at Queen. One of our main focuses is to transform education by injecting the maker movement into it.

One project is "School Projects with Internet Brains". The idea here is to give public school teachers a way to teach the mandated curriculum in a way that is multi-subject integrated, experiential, self-directed and creative! So we went in to a grade 6 class, and worked with them to build a model of Ontario's power system out of craft materials and Arduino-controlled electronics. The finished product pulls XML files over the Internet and displays the live power generation mix from renewable and other sources on a 3D printed display on colour coded RGB LED strips. Arduino coding on a Spark Core provides the brains. The kids learned HTML, CSS and Javascript to build a web interface to send commands to the Spark and explain the system. Their project has been accepted as an exhibition at the TIFF DigiPlaySpace this Saturday, April 18th and the kids will be there all day to explain it. 

STEAMLabs has also published a free, open source Internet of Things teaching kit to enable other educators to make projects with Internet brains! 

We are also currently crowdfunding the equipment for our makerspace. We're going to get some awesome tools like a laser-cutter, a 4'x8' CNC router, a wood shop, electronics lab and of course lots of 3D printers.

So if there's anything you can do to help us tell these stories to the world, I would greatly appreciate it!

April 23, 2015

Scientists Make History By Genetically Modifying Human Embryos

After weeks of speculation, it can finally be confirmed that geneticists in China have modified the DNA of human embryos. It's a watershed moment in biotech history, but the experiment may ultimately serve as a major setback in the effort to responsibly develop beneficial interventions involving the human germline.

Read the entire article at io9.

April 21, 2015

A New York Judge Has Granted Legal Person Rights To Chimpanzees

For the first time in U.S. history, a supreme court has granted a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two lab chimpanzees, effectively recognizing them as legal persons. While the future of the chimps has not yet been decided, it's a huge step forward in establishing personhood status for highly sapient animals.

Yesterday, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe issued an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who are being used for biomedical experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. A writ of habeas corpus requires a detained person to be brought before a judge or court to secure their release unless it can be shown that they're being held for lawful reasons. Stony Brook University, who are being represented by the Attorney General of New York, will now have to present their case to the court on May 6th.

In New York, only a legal person can have an order to show cause and have a writ of habeas corpus issued on their behalf. The judge, by virtue of doing so, implicitly decided that the chimps are legal persons for the purpose of habeas corpus.

Read the rest of the article at io9.

April 15, 2015

A Scan Of 100,000 Galaxies Shows No Sign Of Kardashev III Civilizations

A pioneering infrared scan of 100,000 galaxies by Penn State astronomers has failed to detect any signs of galaxy-spanning extraterrestrial supercivilizations. This result, though very preliminary, may be a sign that aliens aren't capable of conquering entire galaxies.

Read the entire article at io9.

8 Possible Alternatives To The Turing Test

The Turing Test, which is intended to detect human-like intelligence in a machine, is fundamentally flawed. But that doesn't mean it can't be improved or modified. Here are eight proposed alternatives that could help us distinguish bot from human.

Check out the entire list here.

April 12, 2015

12 Ways Humanity Could Destroy The Entire Solar System

We humans are doing a bang-up job of messing up our home planet. But who's to say we can't go on to screw things up elsewhere? Here, not listed in any particular order, are 12 unintentional ways we could do some serious damage to our Solar System, too.

Read the entire post at io9.

April 2, 2015

Tatooine-Like Planets May Be More Common Than We Thought

For decades, astronomers have assumed that Earth-like planets cannot form around binary stars on account of wacky gravitational effects. Which, for Star Wars fans, was a total downer. But a new study suggests that not only is the formation of Tatooine-like planets very much possible, they may actually be quite common.

Unlike the accretion disk surrounding a young solitary star, the planet-forming environment around a binary system is subject to seriously disruptive gravitational ebbs and flows. In turn, many astronomers believed that the formation of rocky planets around binary stars is either very difficult or outright impossible. A new study by Ben Bromley from the University of Utah and Scott Kenyon of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory now suggests otherwise.