Category Archives: Nature

Anthropic arrogance

By David P Barash – Welcome to the ‘anthropic principle’, a kind of Goldilocks phenomenon or ‘intelligent design’ for the whole Universe. According to its proponents, the Universe is fine-tuned for human life.

The message is clearly an artificial one and not the result of random noise. Or maybe the Universe itself is alive, and the various physical and mathematical constants are part of its metabolism. Such speculation is great fun, but it’s science fiction, not science.

It should be clear at this point that the anthropic argument readily devolves – or dissolves – into speculative philosophy and even theology. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the ‘God of the gaps’ perspective, in which God is posited whenever science hasn’t (yet) provided an answer.

Calling upon God whenever there is a gap in our scientific understanding may be tempting, but it is not even popular among theologians, because as science grows, the gaps – and thus, God – shrinks. It remains to be seen whether the anthropic principle, in whatever form, succeeds in expanding our sense of ourselves beyond that illuminated by science. I wouldn’t bet on it. more>

Could China’s Raw Materials Strategy Leave US Automakers Behind?

By Charles Murray – China’s business relationships are so aggressive, said Jose Lazuen, an electric vehicle and supply chain analyst for Roskill, that it’s almost “too late” for automakers in other regions of the world to catch up now.

“The North American and European companies are not at the same level as the Chinese OEMs,” Lazuen stated. “They’ll face problems if raw material costs increase at some point.”

Chinese suppliers at the show said they view relationships with miners as a necessity, given the volatile and unpredictable nature of the market. “The only way you’re going to (get control) is to have a mindset to get ahead of the game by buying rights to those minerals to keep the prices down,” noted Robert Galyen, chief technology officer of CATL, a China-based company that is now the biggest battery manufacturer in the world.

The question of future metal costs is a growing concern, experts said this week, because lithium, cobalt, and nickel will continue to play key roles in future electric car batteries. One speaker at the show noted that the price of cobalt rose 130% last year, while lithium climbed by 50% and nickel was up 28%.

If those increases continue, raw material costs could negate any economies of scale that might otherwise be gained through increases in production volume. more>

Updates from Adobe

Minimalism and Milad Safabakhsh
By Alyssa Coppelman – Milad Safabakhsh began photographing six years ago, coming to it “accidentally,” he says. While studying graphic design in university, he started playing around with a phone camera and sharing the results on Facebook. He submitted images to a Facebook page on minimalism, and one of them was featured. Another Facebook photography page selected one of his images as a pick of the week, and he decided to pursue photography more seriously.

After shooting photos for two years, he was drawn to incorporate photomontage into his art because it allowed him to share the “world inside your mind that has always been with you,” as he puts it. To build a composite image, Safabakhsh mostly pulls from his photo archive, occasionally shooting new images when his vision demands it.

Safabakhsh declares himself an “artist who loves the sciences and beyond.” He’s especially interested in quantum physics, and his first series, “The Space In-between” is about the holographic world, a theory that says our universe was formed in a radically different way than with a big bang. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Neuroscientists Team with Engineers to Explore how the Brain Controls Movement
By Carol Clark – Scientists have made remarkable advances into recording the electrical activity that the nervous system uses to control complex skills, leading to insights into how the nervous system directs an animal’s behavior.

“We can record the electrical activity of a single neuron, and large groups of neurons, as animals learn and perform skilled behaviors,” says Samuel Sober, an associate professor of biology at Emory University who studies the brain and nervous system. “What’s missing,” he adds, “is the technology to precisely record the electrical signals of the muscles that ultimately control that movement.”

The Sober lab is now developing that technology through a collaboration with the lab of Muhannad Bakir, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The technology will be used to help understand the neural control of many different skilled behaviors to potentially gain insights into neurological disorders that affect motor control.

“By combining expertise in the life sciences at Emory with the engineering expertise of Georgia Tech, we are able to enter new scientific territory,” Bakir says. “The ultimate goal is to make discoveries that improve the quality of life of people.” more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

By John Wasik – Finland sits at the top of the United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report, which ranked more than 150 countries by their happiness level. The country that gave the world the mobile game Angry Birds scored high on all six variables that the report deems pillars of happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. News reports touted Finland’s stability, its free health care and higher education, and even the saunas and metal bands for which it’s famous.

Yet abundance does not equate to happiness, according to research—even on a longer time frame. In most developed countries, the average person is rich by the standards of a century ago. Millions more people have access to safe food, clean drinking water, and in most cases state-funded health care.

And in countries with a growing middle class, millions more are now finding themselves able to purchase big-screen televisions, smart phones, and cars.

But this growth in wealth hasn’t made people happier.

People gain more happiness when they satisfy their inherent rather than learned preferences—needs rather than wants. more>

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To get a grip on altruism, see humans as molecules

By Ski Krieger – ‘What is life?’

In 1943, Erwin Schrödinger posed this question in a series of lectures at Trinity College, Dublin.

Seventy-five years later, the biophysics revolution is ongoing. Schrödinger’s call to action inspired his colleagues to look at the building blocks of life at all scales, from the diminutive DNA molecule to schooling fish and the construction of anthills.

My research group at Harvard University focuses on altruism, or why creatures sacrifice themselves for the common good.

But rather than relying on psychology or moral philosophy, we approach this problem using thermodynamics – how the laws governing heat and the interaction of microscopic particles might translate into macroscopic behavior. Can we explain altruism by casting humans as atoms and molecules, and societies or populations as solids, liquids or gases?

By studying each of these phases as physicists, we come away approaching a recipe for altruism – rules for certain structures that might foster cooperation.

What we’ve observed so far is that strong local connections enhance altruism everywhere. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

New Cell Manufacturing Research Facility will Change Approaches to Disease Therapies
By John Toon – The vision of making affordable, high-quality cell-based therapies available to hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide moved closer to reality June 6 with the dedication of a new cell manufacturing research facility at Georgia Tech aimed at changing the way we think about medical therapies.

The new Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) like ISO 8 and ISO 7 compliant facility is part of the existing Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing (MC3M). The center was established in 2016 and made possible by a $15.75 million gift from philanthropist Bernie Marcus, with a $7.25 million investment from Georgia Tech and another $1 million from the Georgia Research Alliance.

MC3M is already helping researchers from Georgia Tech and partner organizations develop ways to provide therapeutic living cells of consistent quality in quantities large enough to meet the growing demands for the cutting-edge treatments. more>

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The Next Trend In Travel Is… Don’t.

By Allison Jane Smith – Bali is in the midst of an ecological crisis. Half of the Indonesian island’s rivers have dried up. Its beaches are eroding. In 2017, officials declared a “garbage emergency” across a six-kilometer stretch of Bali’s coast. At the peak of the clean-up, hundreds of cleaners removed 100 tons of debris from the beaches each day.

The cause? Too many tourists — who just keep coming. This year, the Indonesian tourism ministry hopes Bali attracts 7 million foreign tourists, to an island of only 4 million residents.

Bali is one among many places to feel the ill effects of mass tourism. Thailand closed an entire island because litter and food waste from tourists were destroying the island’s ecosystem.

In Venice, Italy, colossal cruise ships tear straight through the city and affordable Airbnb options push residents out of the housing market.

Across Spain, anti-tourism graffiti can be found in Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Mallorca, declaring “tourism kills,” “tourists go home” and “why call it tourism season if we can’t shoot them?”

When tourism dominates an economy, some governments prioritize tourists over their own citizens. Around the world, people are evicted from their homes to make way for tourism developments.

Globally, displacement for tourism development — including hotels, resorts, airports, and cruise ports — is a growing problem. In India, tens of thousands of indigenous people were illegally evicted from villages inside tiger reserves.

No wonder even those in the business of selling travel are urging tourists to reconsider visiting certain destinations. more>

It Takes a Village to Create Solid Electrolytes

By Kevin Clemens – Presently, commercial lithium ion batteries use a carbon graphite anode electrode and a metal oxide cathode electrode. They are separated by a liquid organic solvent that can pass lithium ions between the electrodes while preventing electrons from making the journey. The organic solvent of the electrolyte is flammable—resulting in a potential for a fire in the event that a lithium ion battery is punctured.

The anode side of a lithium ion battery is made from layers of graphite. Lithium ions are inserted between the material’s layers during charging and are released during discharge. Battery researchers realize that replacing the graphite anode with metallic lithium would allow many more lithium ions to flow during discharge, producing a battery with at least twice the capacity. But during the charging stage of a lithium metal battery, spiky crystalline structures, called dendrites, form on the metal surface. These dendrites can grow through the liquid electrolyte, reaching the cathode and shorting out the battery.

A worldwide search is on for a solid or semi-solid electrolyte that can prevent dendrite growth while allowing the easy passage of lithium ions without conducting electrons. more>

Updates from Siemens

Consolidating 3D Printing Tool Chains to Mitigate Risk in Medical Device Applications
By J Thompson – Use of 3D Printing technology to create medical devices has been widely publicized over the past several years. Most of these stories illustrate the unique ability for 3D Printing (aka Additive Manufacturing / AM) technology to produce highly complex organic shapes.

Despite past success with AM, and very promising growth opportunities, there are significant risks with the current AM practices for workflows in device design and manufacturing. These risks must be recognized and addressed by device makers to fully realize the potential of AM, and avoid failure modes inherent in current practices.

Today, the biggest risks are caused by software “tool chains” in which different, specialized software applications are used sequentially to yield finished devices. A fundamental problem with serial tool chains is rework. What happens when you get off the “happy path”, and issues are discovered in the fourth, fifth, or tenth tool in the chain, and resolution requires a change in the first or second tool in the chain? That typically means serially reworking the entire workflow from the point of change.

This kind of rework should be viewed as expected, normal, necessary, commonplace, and even desirable since it theoretically leads to an improved final result. However, as AM attempts to enter an “industrial” stage of maturity, there are several risks associated a serial tool chain, especially if rework is manual and requires experts to re-do knowledge-intensive rework. more>