Einstein: General and Special Relativity

Einstein was unique in that he was able to expand on Newton’s ideas of gravity and give us a new way of thinking about time. This would be unremarkable if it wasn’t for the fact that his theories have been proven over and over (for example, thank him for GPS technology and bending light).

For some modern physicists, his ideas are lacking because of quantum dynamics. Of course this is a serious field of study, but it kind of makes me mad when I hear about contemporaries dissing him (I won’t name any names).

Scientists that argue for brane theory and dismiss the subtle mixture of space and time confuse me. How can you acknowledge that time is inexorably linked to space and then propose a theory that suggests another hidden dimension of space? This supposedly allows time to have existed forever. How is this more satisfactory? How can we reconcile the macro with the micro in a way that doesn’t destroy 100 years of proven theory? Are we just going to paradoxically claim that time is intimately linked to space but is also potentially independent of 3-dimensional space?

We get into a terribly difficult ontological argument about “What comes before time existed?”. If we accept that time has always existed then we have to accept these ontological arguments. The Arrow of Time is a hard philosophical construct to detour.

What’s great about Einstein’s theories is that he taught us that things are much more chaotic than Newton. He got us to the moon, helped guide Voyager, and obviously helped make GPS satellites possible. Why were all these things significant? Because of time. Time travels differently depending on velocity and nearness to mass. This was his Opus. No serious scientist would argue against this logic.

What is arguable is the essence of “time”. I don’t think it is a knowable variable, but it works in the math as a variable nonetheless. 😉 Careful!

The Strange Things Our Bodies Are Made Of

Biological processes in the human body are astounding by any measure.

We take for granted that human bodies need water and food. But what happens at the micro-scale is bewildering, even for micro-biologists and medical doctors.

Yes folks, I’m talking about chemistry. But before you click away, please know that I am not going to bore you with meaningless chemistry knowledge like you probably endured in high school or college.

Instead, I’d like to look at a few of the body’s essential nutrients that are very surprising. This doesn’t come from anything I’ve ever read or learned (and I doubt you have either), but nonetheless it should surprise and delight.

Let’s begin:

1. Potassium – The chemical symbol for Potassium is, counterintuitively, K (for Kalemia in Latin). In its pure form, it is highly combustible in water. By “highly combustible”, I mean that if you take a chunk of it and throw it in a bowl of water, it will violently catch fire. On top of that, potassium is radioactive. Proponents of nuclear energy sometimes state that you get more radiation from eating a banana than by living near a nuclear reactor. While I can’t vouch for the validity of that statement, I can vouch for the radioactiveness of potassium. Ironically, our bodies NEED potassium.

Potassium is a very important mineral to the human body.

Your body needs potassium to:

  • Build proteins
  • Break down and use carbohydrates
  • Build muscle
  • Maintain normal body growth
  • Control the electrical activity of the heart
  • Control the acid-base balance

2. Sodium – Like potassium, sodium catches fire in water. Less so than potassium, but defintiely pyrophilic. This begs the question: “Isn’t the human body inundated with water? Why do we not have fires going on inside of us all the time?”. Well, that’s kind of what is happening – on a micro-scale. Sodium is a key element in regulating cell permeability. Cells need to absorb and excrete. They also need to guard against foreign particles. The cell wall performs these functions but is regulated by the “sodium channel”. Without boring you to death and going into too much detail, sodium is the bouncer at the “club” that keeps good things moving in and out and stops bad things from doing the same. Without sodium, our cells cannot function. It is so essential to our bodily functions that in ancient times, blocks of salt (Sodium Chloride) were used as currency.

3. Star Dust – When stars reach maturity, they tend to explode. Well, that’s most stars anyway. When they explode, they eject a massive amount of rock and dust. As this cools down and gravity takes hold, then another star is sometimes formed and planets as well. Welcome to Earth, one such lucky planet. On Earth, creatures have evolved through the millenia to eventually create humans. Humans, and other mammals, need Oxygen to breathe and have metabolism. Where did O2 come from? Current scientific theory suggests that O2 was started by simple cell organisms that “breathed” CO2 and “exhaled” O2. Today we would call these organisms “algae”. But if we look further, we notice that CO2 is simply a carbon atom attached to two oxygen atoms. So where did C and O2 come from in the first place? Stars. Yep, stars. So when Crosby, Stills, and Nash says that “We are stardust”. They are absolutely right. It is the stuff that was formed in stars millions of years ago that makes our tiny brains that can grasp at this.

4. Bacteria – 90%+ of the cells in your body are bacteria, not your actual biological cells. This is a bit misleading, because it takes account of whole body genetic material. But with that in mind, it is still surprising that there are that many bacterial dna traces in our systems. Why is that? Well, that’s a long explanation, but it has to do with evolution. I suspect that medical science will eventually figure this out and start treating people with something other than antibiotics. (anti-life)

Hopefully this didn’t freak you out. If you have comments or questions, please reply in the form below.

Robobees – Robotic Pollinators of the Future

Robobees

robobeesScientific American recently published an article on the emerging technology of Robobees. Researchers at Harvard have been working on creating flying robots to perform the tasks of a colony of bees.

Beyond pollination, there are many other possible applications for these robobees including:

  • search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
  • hazardous environment exploration;
  • military surveillance;
  • high resolution weather and climate mapping;
  • traffic monitoring;
  • space exploration

At nearly the size of an actual honey bee, these robobees are made of carbon fibers and carry their own power supply and electronics. The wings are flapped by using voltage to control a piezoelectric element that connects to the wings. Currently, the team is working on refining the battery to allow for extended flights. Right now, they are using wires to connect to a traditional battery for testing.

But perhaps the most amazing aspect of the robobees is the goal to have a colony of robobees that can communicate with each other. The goal is to have robobees disperse, find where flowers are blooming, and communicate with the rest of the hive. They are not quite there yet as there are many hurdles to overcome.

One of the biggest hurdles is to develop a low power method to allow communication. Current wifi technology is power-hungry and has limited range. GPS and other technologies are also power intensive. If battery weight and power were not an issue, then any type of wireless communication might work but battery weight is a limiting factor.

The researchers describe the battery problem as a catch-22: The heavier the battery, the more juice is needed for flight, the more battery power is needed, and so on. Nonetheless, advances in technology should yield a solution within the next several years. Perhaps it will be a hybrid battery solution that allows for solar charging.

Here is what the Harvard website says about the robobees:

From flies to fish to lobsters, small insects and animals have long been ideal models for roboticists and computer scientists. Bees, for example, possess unmatched elegance in flight, zipping from flower to flower with ease and hovering stably with heavy payloads.

Body

By leveraging existing breakthroughs from Professor Wood’s Microrobotics Lab, which conducted the first successful flight of a life-sized robotic fly in 2007, the team will explore ways to emulate such aerobatic feats in their proposed devices. In addition, achieving autonomous flight will require compact high-energy power sources and associated electronics, integrated seamlessly into the ‘body’ of the machine.

Brain

One of the most complicated areas of exploration the scientists will undertake will be the creation of a suite of artificial “smart” sensors, akin to a bee’s eyes and antennae. Professor Wei explains that the ultimate aim is to design dynamic hardware and software that serves as the device’s ‘brain,’ controlling and monitoring flight, sensing objects such as fellow devices and other objects, and coordinating simple decision-making.

Colony

Finally, to mimic the sophisticated behavior of a real colony of insects will involve the development of sophisticated coordination algorithms, communications methods (i.e., the ability for individual machines to ‘talk’ to one another and the hive), and global-to-local programming tools to simulate the ways groups of real bees rely upon one another to scout, forage, and plan.

Click here to visit the Harvard website

Additional Resources:

The article on robobees from Scientific American

Watch video of a robobee taking off

More images of robobees

 

 

Maybe we ARE living in the Matrix?!

Scientists to Investigate…

This is not your usual news, but it certainly is interesting. Scientists at the University of Washington have developed a way to test whether we are indeed living within a computer simulation.

Before you start laughing or shaking your head, consider the original article by Nick Bostrom that started all this. Basically, the article posits that if humans advance to the point of “post human” (meaning a super-advanced civilization capable of running computer simulations of ancesters), then it can be a logical argument to assume that it has already happened and we are merely one of these computer simulations. The article does some math based on current known constraints of computational powers and physical laws. Assuming a “post human” world encompasses the knowledge to fully access the brink of physical laws and has almost inifinte compueter processing power, then Bostrom argues that we can assume that we are a computer simulation just as safely as we can confirm “normal” reality.

If you’re still following and haven’t dropped your jaw, scratched your head, or donned your cap of skepticism, then check out this U of W article that proposes a test so we can know for sure. While it is still in it’s infancy, the idea is to show a distinct difference from the normal cone of distribution expected from the relationship of energy and momentum. What this means in lame’s terms is that we should start to notice some idiosynchrocies between “normal” and the computer simulation. I guess the idea is that if we do find these discrepencies then we can assume that we are living in a computer simulation.

I have a few problems with this. First of all, there could be other things causing these discrepencies. The answer could be more troublesome than being part of a computer simulation. Another problem is that it doesn’t really tell us anything that we can use. If we are all just part of a computer simulation, then what does that mean for us? Does it change anything? Does it make this life less “real?

But you know, part of me would not even be surprised. It wasn’t too long ago that we did not even know about the existence of DNA or pathogens, much less radioactivity or electricity. What if we next find out that we live inside a computer program? I would not change my outlook on life except to have a constantly unsettling feeling. 🙂

In any case, this is a really neat thing to think about psychologically as well as philosophically. The fact that it is now being tested with math and science just adds to the philosophical drama.

For an interesting take on this from the entertainment industry, take a look at the Star Trek Voyager episode “The Thaw”.

Let me know what you think about this in the comments. Also, if you know of any other pertinent tv or movie references, then leave those in the comments as well and I will append them to the post. Happy computing! 🙂

 

Thanks for all the Nucleotides

Your DNA is now pwned!

A study from the scientific journal, Genome Medicine, evaluated the current patents on genomes and came to a surprising conclusion. Nearly all of the human genome has been patented!

Humans don’t “own” their own genes, the cellular chemicals that define who they are and what diseases they might be at risk for. Through more than 40,000 patents on DNA molecules, companies have essentially claimed the entire human genome for profit, report two researchers who analyzed the patents on human DNA. Their study, published March 25 in the journal Genome Medicine, raises an alarm about the loss of individual “genomic liberty.”

In their new analysis, the research team examined two types of patented DNA sequences: long and short fragments. They discovered that 41 percent of the human genome is covered by longer DNA patents that often cover whole genes. They also found that, because many genes share similar sequences within their genetic structure, if all of the “short sequence” patents were allowed in aggregate, they could account for 100 percent of the genome.

Furthermore, the study’s lead author, Dr. Christopher E. Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College, and the study’s co-author, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey and a member of the High Performance and Research Computing Group, found that short sequences from patents also cover virtually the entire genome — even outside of genes.

“If these patents are enforced, our genomic liberty is lost,” says Dr. Mason, an assistant professor of physiology and biophysics and computational genomics in computational biomedicine at the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell. “Just as we enter the era of personalized medicine, we are ironically living in the most restrictive age of genomics. You have to ask, how is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement?”

Source: Cornell Medical College

The implications of these findings are outstanding. How will this affect patient care in the future? Should we be ahead of the curve on this legislatively? What does this mean, if anything, for personal freedom?

Personally, I think it is atrocious that: a) companies are trying to patent the building bricks of human life and b) that the judicial system and patenet office let’s it continue without much thought.

Lots of things scare me these days. This, folks, is one of those things that really scares me.