Tag: tomorrow

Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


Gene therapy gives ‘bubble babies’ immune systems

Initial results from a new gene therapy technique suggest it could open the doors to a cure for "bubble baby" disease. Lacking the ability to ward off even the most common infections, infants born with the genetic disorder -- known as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) -- usually die before their second birthday. And, those untreated must be kept in isolation from the outside world, hence the term "bubble baby." Even with the best available treatment (a stem cell transplant), around 30 percent of children end up dying by the age of 10.

Roughly four months after the genetic modifications, six out of seven babies are out of protective isolation and leading healthy lives, according to doctors at St Jude Children's Research Hospital. The remaining infant's immune system is still in the process of constructing itself.

The patients in the study were all born with the inherited X-linked SCID, which is limited to boys as it's triggered by a genetic defect in the male X chromosome. The treatment they received uses an inactivated form of HIV to apply genetic modifications to bone marrow -- which is prepped using low doses of chemotherapy -- in order to kickstart it to produce all three major immune cell types. "The initial results also suggest our approach is fundamentally safer than previous attempts," said lead study author Dr. Ewelina Mamcarz.

At first glance, the treatment is being viewed as a possible cure. But, more work is needed -- specifically, the babies need to be monitored to ensure they remain stable with no side effects. Their response to vaccination will also need to be tracked.

Source: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital


Researchers use electric currents to detect cancer in human tissue

In a study published recently in Angewandte Chemie, researchers demonstrated that an imaging technique called scanning electrochemical microscopy could become a very useful medical tool. Rather than having to use additional chemicals like dyes or fluorescent markers to get a good look at tissue, this method uses electrochemical probes to detect natural biomolecules around the tissue.

In this study, the researchers used soft microelectrodes that were brushed gently across tissue samples. While it moved across them, it measured the electrical current produced by certain chemicals in the tissues to get an idea of the physical structure of that tissue as well as its composition. The team provided three separate demonstrations of this technique's use. In the first, it scanned mouse livers to show that a certain type of nanoribbon that's being studied as a potential drug delivery mechanism can be distributed throughout the liver. In the second, the probes measured hemoglobin proteins to get a full image of a mouse heart (the right side of the image above). And in another experiment, the researchers used the technique to show that it can accurately differentiate healthy human tissue from cancerous tissue.

In the future, the researchers would like to use this method to not only detect cancerous cells but also destroy them. "We are perfectly capable of using electrochemistry to kill cancer cells on microscope slides and in petri dishes," Hubert Girault, an author of the study, said in a statement, "but doing so in thick tissue is another story."

Via: Phys.org

Source: Angewandte Chemie


MIT is redesigning power converters to make the grid more efficient

Electrical efficiency affects a massive number of devices, from the relatively tiny phones in our pockets all the way up to electric cars and the power grids keeping our houses running. Power converters are a particularly important part of the equation, as they're the devices that bring the high voltages coming through power lines down to more manageable levels for household outlets. MIT, along with semiconductor company IQE, Columbia University, IBM and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology have announced some breakthroughs on making that part of the equation more efficient.

Specifically, the report outlines how power converters made of gallium nitride semiconductors are both more efficient and smaller -- but thus far they've only been able handle power in the range of 600 volts. That's enough for household products, but not for larger or more complex devices. But MIT's research has led to a breakthrough in which gallium nitride converters have been able to handle twice the voltage -- up to 1,200 volts. That's enough to use in an electric car, but this is only a beginning point for the technology.

Ultimately, MIT and its partners believe that improvements will let these converters handle 3,300 and 5,000 volts, enough to build them into the power grid itself. The challenge has been building "vertical" converters out of gallium nitride, a design that's more efficient than the "lateral" alternative, but also harder to produce. But a new design has helped make these voltage increases more plausible: "Instead of doing the complicated zigzag path for the current in conventional vertical transistors, let's change the geometry of the transistor completely," said MIT professor Tomás Palacios. There's no word on when these types of designs might make it into electric cars or power grids, but the potential of reducing energy waste makes this project one worth keeping an eye on.

Source: MIT


Australia will soon have a blockchain-based stock exchange

The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) will soon be the first mainstream financial market to adopt blockchain technology.

Blockchain is the underlying system that allows Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies to be traded in a decentralized manner. It revolves around a ledger, or database, that is continuously updated and accessible to the public. Many users, or nodes, have a copy of the ledger and verify the transactions by completing difficult mathematical problems. In the Bitcoin world, these validators are called "miners." They authenticate and group transactions into cryptographically protected "blocks" which are then added to the public "chain" for all to see. Miners are slowly rewarded with Bitcoin for carrying out this work, which requires a substantial PC rig.

ASX will be using a similar distributed ledger to replace its decades-old settlement and clearing system, called the Clearing House Electronic Subregister System (CHESS). In 2016, ASX announced it would be working with Digital Asset Holdings, a US-based blockchain startup, on the system. Two years and plenty of testing later, the pair believe their platform is ready for the fast-paced world of stocks and shares.

The removal of a "middle man" should make transactions quicker, cheaper and easier. ASX will manage the system on a "secure private network" where all users are known and verified. Traders will, however, still have access to "non-affiliated market operators and clearing and settlement facilities." It's not yet clear how that functionality will work though, or whether these services will need to inter-operate with the blockchain.

ASX will continue to consult with stakeholders ahead of a planned launch in March 2018. Blythe Masters, CEO of Digital Asset, said it would be "the first meaningful proof that the technology can live up to its potential." By that, he means beyond Bitcoin and Ethereum, presumably. Bitcoin surged past $16,000 yesterday, fueling debate about its stability and the likelihood of a crash. Sir Howard Davies, the chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, compared it to Dante's Inferno on Bloomberg TV. "'Abandon hope all ye who enter here.' I think that's probably what's needed," he said.

The financial community is split on Bitcoin, but mostly supportive of its underlying blockchain technology. It's now being used to track shipments, keep unsafe food off store shelves, and power secure browsers. The attraction is a simple one: the decentralized system makes it almost impossible for anyone to tamper with the ledger. That, in turn, leads to public trust — something banks are sorely lacking at the moment.

Source: ASX


Thai company mu Space can now operate satellites

Today, Thai startup company mu Space announced that it has acquired a satellite license from Thailand's National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. It allows the company to operate satellites, and provide services based on those satellites, through the year 2032. mu Space is the first Thai startup company to acquire such a license.

We previously covered mu Space because it was the third company (and first Asia-Pacific company) to book a slot on Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket. Blue Origin is Jeff Bezos' rocket company, and the New Glenn is still under development. This license means that mu Space has crossed another regulatory hurdle in its quest to get the brand new company up and running.

Only 12 percent of Thailand's population has access to broadband internet, and those people are typically centered in space. mu Space hopes to fill in the gaps by providing an alternative in rural areas, where traditional telecom companies haven't bothered to build infrastructure. The company also hopes to provide space tourism to Asian customers within the next 10 years.


These new Honda concept mobility robots are adorable

At CES 2018, Honda is set to unveil its 3E Robotics Concept robots. These are aimed at making people's lives easier through the use of robots, with a focus on helping those with mobility issues navigate their homes and the outside world. There are four robots in total: 3E-A18 is a companion robot designed to show compassion, while 3E-B18 is a mobility chair designed for indoor and outdoor use. The 3E-C18 appears to be a mobility concept vehicle with cargo space, while 3E-D18 is an autonomous off-road vehicle.

Additionally, Honda will feature its Mobile Power Pack World at CES, which is focused on EVs. It includes a portable and swappable battery pack for electric vehicles, as well as charging solutions for at home, out and about and during a natural disaster.

It's incredible to think how these robots will help people, but it's also nice to see the thought that went into their design. Too often, aesthetics are a second thought, but they are actually crucial to whether people want to interact with a device or not. Each of these robots is adorable, and they are something people who need assistance will likely want in their homes.

Source: Honda


San Francisco restricts the use of delivery robots on its sidewalks

Companies that are testing delivery robots hit a stumbling block in San Francisco this week. The city's Board of Supervisors voted to require permits for any autonomous delivery devices, restricting them to specific (and less-crowded) areas of the city. Additionally, these robots aren't allowed to make actual deliveries -- they are only allowed to be used for testing purposes. This restriction doesn't apply to delivery drones; the San Francisco Board of Supervisors only has jurisdiction over the sidewalks.

Complaints were first brought by a group called Walk San Francisco, which campaigns for the safety of pedestrians. The group was concerned that these autonomous robots, which use lasers and sensors to navigate, would pose a hazard to the elderly and young children on the city's crowded sidewalks.

When it was first proposed, this legislation was an outright ban. It's been soften to regulation, which makes sense. After all, San Francisco is known as a tech-forward city, with its proximity to Silicon Valley. Still, it's one of the first places that delivery robots first began operating, so it's a little surprising that the city would make moves to restrict them so drastically. It's a challenge for companies like Marble, which have been operating as a test in San Francisco's Mission and Potrero Hill districts (with human handles to help).

Source: BBC, San Francisco Board of Supervisors


The world’s smallest Mona Lisa is made from DNA

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting isn't actually that big (30 inches tall), but Caltech researchers have found a way to make that seem downright gargantuan. They've used DNA to construct the smallest known Mona Lisa. At several hundred nanometers across, they're roughly as large as a lone E. coli bacterium -- the iconic smile is just 100nm wide. The trick was an adaptation of a DNA "origami" method that got the gene strands to fold and assemble into the right shape.

The Mona Lisa is divided into squares, each of which is folded by using one long DNA strand manipulated by "staples" (short, custom-designed strands) that bind to and pull on it. After that, it's a matter of attaching the squares to a DNA canvas. You do that by isolating each square into a test tube and combining them in progressively larger squares (2x2, 4x4 and finally 8x8) until Mona Lisa shows her mysterious face. Each square has edges designed only to join in a specific way, so the wrong pieces can't attach to each other by mistake.

As you can use a combination of software and automatic liquid handling to make these mini paintings, you're really just limited by your creativity -- the team also 'drew' portraits of bacteria and a rooster to show what was possible. And that, in turn, could lead to more practical uses. DNA-based nanostructures like this could help build extremely dense circuits, exotic organic materials or just tests for chemical and molecular interactions. This might not be the smallest piece of art you've ever seen, but the technology behind it could be incredibly useful beyond recreating masterpieces.

Source: Caltech