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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Singularity Hub’s Keith Kleiner interviews Ray Kurzweil about his new book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.


We seem to be inside a “local bubble” in a network of cavities in the interstellar medium, probably carved by massive star explosions millions of years ago. The interstellar medium (or ISM) is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space.

The ISM plays a crucial role in astrophysics precisely because of its intermediate role between stellar and galactic scales, with stars forming within the densest regions of the ISM and molecular clouds, and replenishes the ISM with matter and energy through planetary nebulae, stellar winds, and supernovae.
This interplay between stars and the ISM helps determine the rate at which a galaxy depletes its gaseous content, and therefore its lifespan of active star formation.

NASA astronomer’s best guess is depicted in the map (below) of the surrounding 1500 light years constructed from multiple observations and deductions. Currently, the Sun is passing through a Local Interstellar Cloud (LIC), shown in violet, which is flowing away from the Scorpius-Centaurus Association of young stars (image above).

The LIC resides in a low-density hole in the interstellar medium (ISM) called the Local Bubble, shown in black. Nearby, high-density molecular clouds including the Aquila Rift surround star forming regions, each shown in orange.

The Gum Nebula, shown above and below in green, is a region of hot ionized hydrogen gas. This complex nebula is thought to be a supernova remnant over a million years old, sprawling across the southern constellations Vela and Puppis. Inside the Gum Nebula is the Vela Supernova Remnant, shown in pink, which is expanding to create fragmented shells of material like the LIC. Future observations will aid astronomers to learn more about the local Galactic Neighborhood and how it might have affected Earth’s past climate.

Over 13 billion years ago at least one of the domains of life may have begun in nebular clouds. If restricted to the Milky Way, which is 13.6 billion years old, the first chemical combinations would have had billions of years to become a self-replicating organism with a DNA genome long before the existence of Earth.

Nebular clouds are thought to be most likely environment for synthesizing and promoting the evolution of molecules needed for the origin of life. The building blocks for DNA could have been generated or combined within interstellar clouds and DNA would become part of the molecular-protein-amino acid complex. Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, calcium, sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorus for example are continually irradiated by ions, which can generate small organic molecules which evolve into larger complex organic molecules that result in the formation of amino acids and other compounds.
Phosphorus, for example, is rare in our solar system and may have been non-existent on the early Earth; phosphorus is essential for the manufacture of DNA.

Polarized radiation in the nebula cloud leads to the formation of proteins, nucleobases and then DNA. The combination of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, cyanide and several other elements, could create adenine, which is a DNA base, whereas oxygen and phosphorus could ladder DNA base pairs. Glycine has also been identified in the interstellar clouds.

Fast forward 4.6 billion years, on Earth the steps leading from the random mixing of chemicals to the first nano-particle would likely require hundreds of millions and even billions of years before the first self-replicating molecular compound was fashioned. Even after billions of years, the first replicon may not have possessed DNA.

A map of the local ISM within 10 light-years based on recent observations (top of the page) shows that our Sun is moving through a Local Interstellar Cloud as this cloud flows outwards from the Scorpius-Centaurus Association star forming region. Our Sun may exit the Local Interstellar Cloud during the next 10,000 years. Much remains unknown about the local ISM, including details of its distribution, its origin, and how it affects the Sun and the Earth.

— NASA Astronomers (Weekend Feature)

Envisioning The Future Of Health Technology

“Technology is the ultimate democratizing force in society. Over time, technology raises lowest common denominators by reducing costs and connecting people across the world. Medical technology is no exception to this trend: previously siloed repositories of information and expensive diagnostic methods are rapidly finding a global reach and enabling both patients and practitioners to make better use of information.

This visualization is an exercise in speculating about which individual technologies are likely to affect the scenario of health in the coming decades. Arranged in six broad areas, the forecast covers a multitude of research and developments that are likely to disrupt the future of healthcare.”

Technologies mentioned: Regeneration, biogerontology, treatments, telemedicine, augmentation, diagnostics


A leader in the field of synthetic biology, J. Craig Venter considers himself an optimist, but he can see the halfway point on the glass that’s not full.

Venter, a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize, talked about investment into scientific research during The Atlantic Meets the Pacific forum in La Jolla, Calif., Monday. The event looks at the intersection of technology and ideas with society and human use.

“You can’t be a successful researcher and not be an optimist,” he said. “If you talk yourself out of doing the experiment, you’ll never get any research done.”

The most exciting idea he’s working on is what he calls biological teleportation — translated: downloading insulin at home from the Internet.

“We found a way we can move proteins, viruses and single human cells at the speed of light,” he said. “We can digitize biology, send it at the speed of light and reconfigure the biology at the other end. ”

Right now, Venter’s lab can get a pandemic virus via electromagnetic wave, download it and have a vaccine ready to fight the virus made much sooner.

The first try was successfully synthesizing a bacterial cell two years ago, on the heels of his successes at sequencing the human genome. Despite that, he says, we don’t know much about biology — we don’t fully understand the fundamentals. For instance, there hasn’t been as much emphasis on writing the genome code as there is on reading it.

Even though we have a huge overlap between the digital world and the biological world, we can’t replicate it, he observed. He’s working on a robot that can synthesize research much faster than humans.

“Imagine being able to download a vaccine or your medicine on your computer at home,” Venter said. “That’s the not-to-distant future, and it wipes out the possibility of an epidemic.”

The progress, he suggested, will come from privately supported research.

“When you’re working in the middle of it and you see how slow things are, you should be outraged by the amount of federal money that goes into research and how few breakthroughs there are,” Venter said. “All the breakthroughs have come from private money that allows you to do what federal money won’t let you do.”

HacKIDemia brings hacking, kids and academia into a global community empowering the future generation of Research & Development. In tough economic times, our exploratory science programs — from space probes to the LHC — are first to suffer budget cuts. Brian Cox explains how curiosity-driven science pays for itself, powering innovation and a profound appreciation of our existence.