Is at The Other McCain, where Stacy McCain writes about the Pill, sex, science, nature, and other things. there is a lot to digest, and I am not sure I completely agree with all of his summations, but if you are in the mood to think, go read this piece
Yale scientists have successfully used an arthritis medication to fully regrow the head and body hair of a almost totally hairless 25-year-old man.
Researchers administered the drug tofacitinib citrate to the unnamed patient, who suffered from the autoimmune baldness disease alopecia universalis.
Within eight months, the man had regrown scalp and facial hair he’d not had in seven years.
‘The results are exactly what we hoped for,’ said Brett A. King, M.D., senior author of the paper, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. ‘This is a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition.’
Unbelievable: Yale University researchers correctly guessed that a rheumatoid arthritis drug called Xeljanz could successfully regrow hair in a patient with the autoimmune disease alopecia universalis, which causes hairlessness over the whole body. This 25-year-old took the drug and by the end of eight months had all the hair back on his head, body and face that he hadn’t had in years
Huge success: The drug had successfully been used before on plaque psoriasis, which the 25-year-old Yale patient also exhibited, but had never been used to treat alopecia in humans
The man was referred to Yale Dermatology in New Haven, Connecticut to deal with an autoimmune disease that coincided with his alopecia, plaque psoriasis, according to a department news release.
Believing both his ailments could be alleviated with the same drug, researchers administered tofacitinib, made by Pfizer under the brand name Xeljanz, which is already FDA approved for the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis.
According to Science World Report, the drug had successfully been used to treat psoriasis in people and alopecia in mice.
But the results were nonetheless shocking.
Photos of the man show him go from totally bald on top of his head to sporting a lustrous mane of blond locks.
‘There are no good options for long-term treatment of alopecia universalis,’ said King. ‘The best available science suggested this might work, and it has.’
The patient took 10mg per day for two months followed by 15mg per day for another three months.
By the end, he’d completely regrown scalp hair, developed eyebrows, eyelashes and facial hair, armpit hair and other hair.
‘By eight months there was full regrowth of hair,’ said co-author Brittany G. Craiglow, M.D. ‘The patient has reported feeling no side effects, and we’ve seen no lab test abnormalities, either.’
According to King, scientists believe the drug works by turning off the immune attack on hair follicles.
The authors said the drug helps in some but not all instances of psoriasis.
Scientists in the Netherlands have moved a step closer to overriding one of Albert Einstein’s most famous objections to the implications of quantum mechanics, which he described as “spooky action at a distance.”
In a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science, physicists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Delft University of Technology reported that they were able to reliably teleport information between two quantum bits separated by three meters, or about 10 feet.
Quantum teleportation is not the “Star Trek”-style movement of people or things; rather, it involves transferring so-called quantum information – in this case what is known as the spin state of an electron – from one place to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached.
Classical bits, the basic units of information in computing, can have only one of two values – either 0 or 1. But quantum bits, or qubits, can simultaneously describe many values. They hold out both the possibility of a new generation of faster computing systems and the ability to create completely secure communication networks.
A forest of optical elements that was part of the quantum teleportation device used by the team of physicists in the Netherlands. Credit Hanson lab@TUDelft
Moreover, the scientists are now closer to definitively proving Einstein wrong in his early disbelief in the notion of entanglement, in which particles separated by light-years can still appear to remain connected, with the state of one particle instantaneously affecting the state of another.
They report that they have achieved perfectly accurate teleportation of quantum information over short distances. They are now seeking to repeat their experiment over the distance of more than a kilometer. If they are able to repeatedly show that entanglement works at this distance, it will be a definitive demonstration of the entanglement phenomenon and quantum mechanical theory.
Succeeding at greater distances will offer an affirmative solution to a thought experiment known as Bell’s theorem, proposed in 1964 by the Irish physicist John Stewart Bell as a method for determining whether particles connected via quantum entanglement communicate information faster than the speed of light.
“There is a big race going on between five or six groups to prove Einstein wrong,” said Ronald Hanson, a physicist who leads the group at Delft. “There is one very big fish.”
In the past, scientists have made halting gains in teleporting quantum information, a feat that is achieved by forcing physically separated quantum bits into an entangled state.
Researchers teleported quantum information between two distant atoms for the first time in 2009.
Click on image below to open interactive graphic
But reliability of quantum teleportation has been elusive. For example, in 2009, University of Maryland physicists demonstrated the transfer of quantum information, but only one of every 100 million attempts succeeded, meaning that transferring a single bit of quantum information required roughly 10 minutes.
In contrast, the scientists at Delft have achieved the ability “deterministically,” meaning they can now teleport the quantum state of two entangled electrons accurately 100 percent of the time.
They did so by producing qubits using electrons trapped in diamonds at extremely low temperatures. According to Dr. Hanson, the diamonds effectively create “miniprisons” in which the electrons were held. The researchers were able to establish a spin, or value, for electrons, and then read the value reliably.
In addition to the possibility of an impregnable quantum Internet, the research holds out the possibility of networks of quantum computers.
To date, practical quantum computers, which could solve certain classes of problems far more quickly than even the most powerful computers now in use, remain a distant goal. A functional quantum computer would need to entangle a large number of qubits and maintain that entangled state for relatively long periods, something that has so far not been achieved.
A distributed quantum network might also offer new forms of privacy, Dr. Hanson suggested. Such a network would make it possible for a remote user to perform a quantum calculation on a server, while at the same time making it impossible for the operator of the server to determine the nature of the calculation.
Another mind-numbing example has surfaced of the left’s fight to ban all guns, things that resemble guns, things that might make you think of guns and people who utter the world gun. This time though, a good teacher has been removed from the classroom and consequently, students are suffering.
Greg Schiller is a well-respected science teacher at Grand Arts High School in Los Angeles. As his class was preparing for the annual science fair, two students’ projects were brought to the attention of administrators which caused a ridiculous amount of concern over nothing.
The two students were working on projects which the school staff apparently deemed to be gun-related and now Mr. Schiller has been accused of placing his students in an unsafe environment. He was immediately placed in ‘teacher jail’, which is basically his removal from the classroom with pay.
One of the gun-like science projects was an air cannon similar to the one which was featured in a White House science fair back in 2012. Obama was captured on tape firing marshmallows out of it along with the student who built it. You would think that if the Secret Service deems it safe enough to be fired in the presence of the President, there’s really not much to worry about – unless flying marshmallows haunt your dreams.
The other project was an electromagnetic battery powered coil gun.
Mr. Schiller never had the opportunity to see either one of the projects and both students have been disqualified from the science fair.
That, however, is perhaps not even the worst of it. While Mr. Schiller is banned from his classroom, his students have been forced to prepare for their Advanced Placement exams without the help of his expertise. Of course, their substitute has not been of much help, being that they have no background in science, and serves primarily as a glorified babysitter.
If the students cannot pass their exams without the help of Mr. Schiller, they risk rejection from better colleges in the near future. It all seems like undue consequences over a couple crafty science fair projects.
Students have organized a protest in support of their well-liked teacher. They plan to wear duct tape covering their mouths in a vow not to speak until Mr. Schiller is released from ‘teacher jail’. Their effort is commendable, but it probably will not do much to sway the views of disillusioned gun-grabbers.
Let us know how this most recent report of anti-gun shenanigans makes you feel in the comments section!
Four men paralyzed after bad spinal cord injuries can all move their legs again, thanks to an electrical stimulator.
Astonished researchers say they’d hoped for some result, but nothing like what they got. They think the stimulator is retraining the mens’ nerves to work with the brain again, despite the terrible damage.
“This is wonderful news. Spinal cord injury need no longer be a lifelong sentence of paralysis,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, one of the National Institutes of Health. “It is just downright marvelous.”
Rob Summers, now 28, was the first patient implanted and his case made international headlines in 2011 when he was first able to stand using the stimulator. Summers now exercises for three hours a day and says his life has been transformed.
“It has changed my life on a day-to-day basis,” said Summers, who was paralyzed from the chest down after a hit-and-run driver plowed into him as he stood in his own driveway. “It’s given me the ability to travel alone and come and go as I please.”
Summers says he does an hour of abdominal exercises daily, reversing the gradual wasting of muscles that normally comes with paralysis.
“I can now feel soft touch, hard touch. I can feel pinpricks,” Summers, who lives in Portland, Ore., told NBC News. “I can feel the wind on my legs.”
None of the four men can walk again, but researchers believe the stimulator is retraining the damaged nerves in their spinal columns to communicate once again with the brain. They’re not sure why – it may be some connection remained after their injuries or it is slightly possible the nerves are re-growing.
“We have uncovered a fundamentally new intervention strategy that can dramatically affect recovery of voluntary movement in individuals with complete paralysis even years after injury,” the researchers, led by Dr. Susan Harkema of the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute and the University of Louisville, write in their report, published in the journal Brain on Tuesday.
Because all four men tested have regained movement, including two who were completely paralyzed, it’s likely that many people who believed they were permanently paralyzed may be able to move again, says Reggie Edgerton, distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who developed the approach.
“It tells us that the information from the brain is getting to the right place in the spinal cord, so that the person can control, with fairly impressive accuracy, the nature of the movement,” said Edgerton. “We don’t have to necessarily rely on regrowth of nerves in order to regain function. The fact that we’ve observed this in all four patients suggests that this is actually a common phenomenon in those with complete paralysis.”
The stimulator was originally developed by Medtronic to treat chronic pain. It’s a pacemaker-sized device implanted under the skin of the abdomen, connecting to electrodes placed near the spinal cord. When turned on, it delivers a low pulse of electricity.
For patients with chronic pain, the electricity interrupts the pain signal before it can reach the brain. The researchers adapted it to try on patients with paralysis.
“The next generation will be more precisely controlled and noninvasive,” says NIBIB’s Pettigrew, whose institute helped pay for the research, along with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
Pettigrew says the results are no flash breakthough. They are based on decades of work. He says researchers are already working with a fresh batch of volunteers and will report new findings soon.
“It is why we come to work every day,” Pettigrew said.
The next step is to try and make the approach work without having to implant electrodes, Pettigrew said. The hope would be for an external device, with electrodes simply stuck onto the skin to stimulate the nerves.
“The implications of this study for the entire field are quite profound and we can now envision a day where epidural stimulation might be part of a cocktail of therapies used to treat paralysis,” said Susan Howley, executive vice president for research at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
The accident cost Summers a promising possible career in baseball. He’d been a top pitcher for Oregon State University and he was struck a month after his team won the college world series.
But he’s happy now that going out to dinner is no longer an ordeal that required hours of preparation. He’s strong enough now to hop into his wheelchair and just go.
“Not only has this benefited me with the confidence to go out and do what I want to do… I can continue to live my life as I choose and not be restricted or limited,” Summers said. His doctors say he has regained continence, sexual function and even the lost ability to sweat.
“I truly believe this is the greatest thing out there,” Summers said.
Summers says he can feel the device working. “The best way to describe it is like a strong tingling sensation,” he says, almost like a limb feels after it’s “fallen asleep.” “It almost feels like pins and needles.”
The three other men whose cases are described in the report are all in their 20s and 30s now and, like Summers, had been paralyzed for years before trying the device.
Kent Stephenson of Mount Pleasant, Texas, was 21 when he was paralyzed in a motocross accident in 2009. He cannot move his leg without the stimulator, but with it on can pull his leg up to his chest, straighten it, and slowly lower it again.
Andrew Meas of Louisville was injured when his motorcycle and a car collided in 2007, while Dustin Shillcox of Green River, Wyo. was 26 when a company van he was driving blew out a tire and wrecked. Stephenson and Meas both have resumed outdoor activities such as snow machining and fishing.
Each has a little different level of function with the device. “I have mentored all the other guys using it,” Summers says. “We have been like a brotherhood bonding on this.”
The US Navy has developed a radical new fuel made from seawater.
They say it could change the way we produce fuel – and allow warships to stay at sea for years at a time.
Navy scientists have spent several years developing the process to take seawater and use it as fuel, and have now used the ‘game changing’ fuel to power a radio controlled plane in the first test.
The development of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel is being hailed as ‘a game-changer’ because it would allow warships to remain at sea for far longer.
The US has a fleet of 15 military oil tankers, and only aircraft carriers and some submarines are equipped with nuclear propulsion.
All other vessels must frequently abandon their mission for a few hours to navigate in parallel with the tanker, a delicate operation, especially in bad weather.
The ultimate goal is to eventually get away from the dependence on oil altogether, which would also mean the navy is no longer hostage to potential shortages of oil or fluctuations in its cost.
The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon, and with sufficient funding and partnerships, this approach could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years.
Pursuing remote land-based options would be the first step towards a future sea-based solution, the Navy says.
Vice Admiral Philip Cullom declared: ‘It’s a huge milestone for us.
‘We are in very challenging times where we really do have to think in pretty innovative ways to look at how we create energy, how we value energy and how we consume it.
‘We need to challenge the results of the assumptions that are the result of the last six decades of constant access to cheap, unlimited amounts of fuel,’ added Cullom.
‘Basically, we’ve treated energy like air, something that’s always there and that we don’t worry about too much.
‘But the reality is that we do have to worry about it.’
They hope the fuel will not only be able to power ships, but also planes.
The predicted cost of jet fuel using the technology is in the range of three to six dollars per gallon, say experts at the US Naval Research Laboratory, who have already flown a model airplane with fuel produced from seawater.
Dr Heather Willauer, an research chemist who has spent nearly a decade on the project, said:
‘For the first time we’ve been able to develop a technology to get CO2 and hydrogen from seawater simultaneously, that’s a big breakthrough,’ she said, adding that the fuel ‘doesn’t look or smell very different.’
Now that they have demonstrated it can work, the next step is to produce it in industrial quantities.
But before that, in partnership with several universities, the experts want to improve the amount of CO2 and hydrogen they can capture.
‘We’ve demonstrated the feasibility, we want to improve the process efficiency,’ explained Willauer.
Collum is just as excited.
‘For us in the military, in the Navy, we have some pretty unusual and different kinds of challenges,’ he said.
‘We don’t necessarily go to a gas station to get our fuel, our gas station comes to us in terms of an oiler, a replenishment ship.
‘Developing a game-changing technology like this, seawater to fuel, really is something that reinvents a lot of the way we can do business when you think about logistics, readiness.’
A crucial benefit, says Collum, is that the fuel can be used in the same engines already fitted in ships and aircraft.
‘If you don’t want to reeengineer every ship, every type of engine, every aircraft, that’s why we need what we call drop-in replacement fuels that look, smell and essentially are the same as any kind of petroleum-based fuels.’
Drawbacks? Only one, it seems: researchers warn it will be at least a decade before US ships are able to produce their own fuel on board.
The Ebola virus that has killed at least 59 people of the 80 who initially contracted it in Guinea now threatens all of West Africa, as health officials in Liberia try to determine if recent deaths there are connected.
Six cases have been reported of which five have already died, including a child, Liberian Health Minister Walter Gwenigale said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.
There was a suspicion that Ebola had migrated to Canada, with one victim hospitalized this week with a fever and bleeding, but health officials said tests for Ebola were negative.
The World Health Organization said the case may be severe malaria.
The World Health Organization reports the Ebola virus that causes severe viral hemorrhagic fever, or VHF, can produce outbreaks with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.
The WHO has documented the Ebola virus is transmitted from wild animals to humans, with the capability of spreading through the human population.
Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus, and, most alarming, there is no effective medical treatment or preventative vaccine for either animals or human beings.
Many Americans first heard about Ebola – including its terrifying symptoms, virulence and communicability – in author Richard Preston’s 1995 No. 1 New York Times bestseller, “The Hot Zone.”
The BBC reported Tuesday that Guinea has now banned the sale and consumption of bats to prevent the spread of the disease, according to Rene Lamah, Guinea’s health minister.
Lamah explained to the BBC that people who eat the bats often boil them into a spicy pepper soup sold in village stores where people gather to drink alcohol. Other ways of preparing bats to eat include drying them over a fire.
The WHO reports Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, in Nzara, Sudan, and in a village in Yambuku, Congo, situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
“Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals,” the WHO website notes.
“In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found dead or ill in the rainforest.”
The WHO warns of burial ceremonies in which the deceased person can play a role in the transmission of Ebola. The transmission of the disease via infected semen can occur up to seven weeks after clinical recovery.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn the symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and lack of appetite. Some patients also experience a rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing and swallowing, as well as bleeding inside and outside of the body.
After an incubation period of between two and 21-days, the Ebola virus can cause death a few days after the virus appears in particularly virulent cases in which the body organs shut down and internal bleeding becomes unstoppable.
People who fall sick with the disease tend to vomit, have diarrhea, and suffer both internal and external bleeding, explained Dr. Peter Piot, the founding executive director of UNAIDS and under secretary-general of the United Nations from 1995 until 2008, in a Reuters report.
Piot is the microbiologist and physician who co-discovered Ebola and now directs the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Ebola virus has alarmed international health officials because the frequency of international air travel has increased the possibility the outbreak in one nation might quickly be transmitted to other countries by patients in the incubation phase.
Guinea, one of the world’s poorest nations, ranked 156 of 187 countries in the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index, or HDI, based on cross-country data from the United Nations Population Division, UNESCO, and the World Bank.
The CDC has identified five subspecies of Ebola. Four of the five have caused disease in humans: Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus); Sudan virus (Sudan ebolavirus); Taï Forest virus (Taï Forest ebolavirus, formerly Côte d’Ivoire ebolavirus); and Bundibugyo virus (Bundibugyo ebolavirus. The fifth, Reston virus (Reston ebolavirus), is known to cause disease only in nonhuman primates.
According to a Stanford University report, the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe,” killed more people that World War I. An estimated 20 to 40 million people worldwide died, making it the most lethal epidemic virus documented in the 20th century.
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As you probably know, President Obama announced his decision to end NASA’s space shuttle program Constellation back in 2010. Since then, the US has been paying to transport astronauts to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA designed the four-person Space Launch System, a heavy launch vehicle, to replace the retired shuttles. So I’ve just been waiting patiently for that to come to fruition, somehow unaware of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, a commercial spaceflight transport system that will be able to take a crew of seven astronauts to the ISS, despite being about 1/3rd the size of a conventional shuttle.
The Dream Chaser will ride aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, which will propel the craft into low Earth orbit, potentially ferrying astronauts to the ISS. Service – or some kind of crewed mission – is expected to begin in 2017, with the first orbital crewless flight in late 2016. Dream Chaser’s first unmanned flight occurred in 2013, when it flew successfully but crashed due to a malfunction in its landing gear. Actually, the vehicle flipped over at the very end, coming to rest in an upright position, after which the malfunctioning left landing gear deployed. I like a spacecraft with a sense of humor. Despite the rocky ending, the flight was regarded as an overall success.
Dream Chaser was built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, and it’s one of three potential commercial transport systems that are part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Development process. NASA is expected to choose one or two of the these systems to take astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX’s Dragon is one, and Boeing’s CST-100 is the other, and so far all three have met target milestones. The teams are vying for the privilege of becoming NASA’s main mode of near-Earth orbit transit, kicking off the era of private commercial spaceflight for both crews and cargo.
That shift will also usher in another change, with the privatization of spaceflight beyond near-Earth orbit, to places such as Mars and asteroids. SpaceX, after all, is planning on taking people to colonize the Red Planet, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there are still more milestones to meet, and lots of fun to be had watching it happen.
Later this month, if all goes well, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, will achieve a spaceflight first.
After delivering cargo to the International Space Station, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used for the flight will fire its engines for the second time. The burn will allow the rocket to reenter the atmosphere in controlled flight, without breaking up and disintegrating on the way down as most booster rockets do.
The launch was originally planned for March 16, but the company has delayed the launch until at least March 30 to allow for further preparation.
The machine will settle over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of its Cape Canaveral launchpad, engines roaring, and four landing legs will unfold from the rocket’s sides. Hovering over the ocean, the rocket will kick up a salt spray along with the flames and smoke. Finally, the engines will cut off and the rocket will drop the last few feet into the ocean for recovery by a waiting barge.
Future flights of the so-called F9R rocket will have it touching down on land. For now, a water landing ensures maximum safety in case the rocket goes off course.
The test of SpaceX’s renewable booster rocket technology will be the first of its kind and could pave the way to radically cheaper access to space. “Reusability has been the Holy Grail of the launch industry for decades,” says Jeff Foust, an analyst at Futron, a consultancy based in Bethesda, Maryland. That’s because the so-called expendable rockets that are the industry standard add enormously to launch costs – the equivalent of building a new aircraft for every transatlantic flight.
SpaceX began flying low-altitude tests of a Falcon 9 first stage with a single engine, a rocket known as Grasshopper, at its McGregor, Texas, proving grounds in 2012. The flights got progressively higher, until a final test in October, when the rocket reached an altitude of 744 meters. Then, following a flight to place a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in November, a Falcon 9 first stage successfully restarted three of its nine engines to make a controlled supersonic reentry from space.
The rocket survived reentry, but subsequently spun out of control and broke up on impact with the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a call with reporters after the flight that landing legs, which that rocket lacked, would most likely have stabilized the rocket enough to make a controlled landing on the water. The March 16 flight will be the first orbital test with landing legs.
After recovering the rocket from the water on Sunday, SpaceX engineers and technicians will study it to determine what it would take to refurbish such a rocket for reuse. SpaceX also has plans to recover and reuse the second stage rocket, but for now, it will recover only the first stage and its nine Merlin engines, which make up the bulk of the cost of the rocket.
Even without reusable rockets, SpaceX has already shaken up the $190-billion-a-year satellite launch market with radically lower launch costs than its competitors. The company advertises $55.6 million per Falcon 9 launch. Its competitors are less forthcoming about how much they charge, but French rocket company Arianespace has indicated that it may ask for an increase in government subsidies to remain competitive with SpaceX.
Closer to home, SpaceX is vying for so-called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV, contracts to launch satellites for the U.S. Air Force. Its only competitor for the contracts, United Launch Alliance, charges $380 million per launch.
Musk testified before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense meeting on March 5 that his company can cut that cost down to $90 million per launch. He said the higher cost for a government mission versus a commercial one was due to a lack of government-provided launch insurance. “So, in order to improve the probability of success, there is quite a substantial mission assurance overhead applied,” Musk said in the hearing. Still, SpaceX’s proposed charge for the Air Force missions is a mere 23 percent of ULA’s.
SpaceX is counting on lower launch costs to increase demand for launch services. But Foust cautions that this strategy comes with risk. “It’s worth noting,” he says, “that many current customers of launch services, including operators of commercial satellites, aren’t particularly price sensitive, so thus aren’t counting on reusability to lower costs.”
That means those additional launches, and thus revenue, may have to come from markets that don’t exist yet. “A reusable system with much lower launch costs might actually result in lower revenue for that company unless they can significantly increase demand,” says Foust. “That additional demand would likely have to come from new markets, with commercial human spaceflight perhaps the biggest and best-known example.”
Indeed, SpaceX was founded with human spaceflight as its ultimate mission. It is now one of three companies working with NASA funds to build ships capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station. Musk plans to take SpaceX even further—all the way to Mars with settlers. And colonizing Mars will require lots of low-cost flights.
Michael Belfiore (michaelbelfiore.com) is the author of Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space.
Updated on March 14, at 3 p.m. EST, to include mention of the delay.
Scientists have created an external membrane using a 3-D printer than can keep a heart beating virtually forever.
The thin membrane is elastic, designed to stretch over a heart like a glove, and is outfitted with tiny electrodes that monitor cardiac function – it was first demonstrated as a proof of concept on a rabbit heart.
Researchers at both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University published the astonishing breakthrough in Nature, and hope it will someday help prevent heart attacks in humans.
It is about 10-15 years away from being made available to humans, but the revolutionary device might be a long-term solution to these normally catastrophic events.
The team told Gizmodo’s Sploid that they were able to custom fit it to the rabbit’s heart by using computers to scan it’s surface area and put together a mold for the membrane.
They then put it together and wove it with a spider web-like network of electrodes that interact with the rest of the body to regulate heart beat – it’s light years ahead of a pacemaker.
‘This artificial pericardium is instrumented with high quality, man-made devices that can sense and interact with the heart in different ways that are relevant to clinical cardiology,’ researcher John Rorgers said.
Those sensors track tissue movement and use the signals the nervous system, would normally send to the heart to regulate pulse.
This methodology allows the device to keep the heart beating even when a heart attack or arrhythmia occurs.
‘When it senses such a catastrophic event as a heart attack or arrhythmia, it can also apply a high definition therapy,’ biomedical engineer Igor Efimov told St. Louis Public Radio.
‘It can apply stimuli, electrical stimuli, from different locations on the device in an optimal fashion to stop this arrhythmia and prevent sudden cardiac death.’
The electrical stimuli regulate the heart’s movement, which means blood will keep flowing and more people will keep living.
The basic principle behind hydrogen fuel cells is fairly simple: Hydrogen atoms are stripped of their electrons to generate electricity and then combined with oxygen to form water as a by-product. Mainstream deployment of fuel-cell vehicles, though, has proved to be complex. Compared with liquid fuels, hydrogen is tough to transport and store. And without a meaningful number of vehicles on the road, there’s been no incentive to build hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Now new initiatives in California and across the U.S. are pushing for a long-awaited expansion of the refueling network. And with the debut of three promising hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, consumers will have new options beginning in 2014. Are we finally seeing the dawn of the hydrogen age? Not so fast.
The current hydrogen push has less to do with consumer demand than with government incentives that treat fuel-cell vehicles (FCV) as equal to or better than electric vehicles. In California the combination of 300-mile range and fast refueling gives fuel cells the maximum available zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) credits. That makes it easy for a manufacturer to meet the state’s ZEV mandate with fewer cars. On the federal level, both FCVs and EVs get an EPA credit multiplier of 2.0 beginning in 2017, which means that sales of either type of car confer a disproportionate benefit on the ledger for an automaker’s entire fleet. In response, manufacturers have formed several high-profile partnerships, including Ford/Daimler/Renault-Nissan, BMW/Toyota, and GM/Honda to develop the vehicles. On the fueling side, a recent infusion of $20 million of funding per year has expanded the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s plan to 100 statewide refueling stations. The Department of Energy’s H2USA organization wants to use California’s efforts as a blueprint for the rest of the nation.
CAN I BUY A FUEL-CELL CAR?
In the past, fuel-cell vehicles have only been available in the hundreds. The three new FCVs slated for production this year and next will increase the volume to thousands, but they will be available primarily in California, where most of the country’s hydrogen stations exist. According to Alan Baum, an automotive analyst at Baum and Associates, even if the stations proliferate, fuel-cell vehicles, like EVs, won’t dominate the market. “It’s not going to be a widespread technology, and for that matter it doesn’t need to be,” he says. “We’re doing an all-hands-on-deck strategy.”
ARE THE PRACTICAL?
Not according to Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who says fuel cells are more of a marketing ploy than a realistic solution. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn agrees: “Knowing all the problems we have with charging [EVs], where is the hydrogen infrastructure?” Both men have a bias toward electric vehicles, but the infrastructure issue is a big one. With the current cost of a hydrogen filling station at more than $1 million, neither the government nor the corporate world has any plans for a rapid expansion of the filling network. “We’ve got electricity everywhere,” Baum says. “Putting in 240-volt charging units requires some effort and expense, but it’s not game changing. Putting in hydrogen is.”
WHERE DOES THE POWER COME FROM?
Here’s the abridged version: Compressed hydrogen from the storage tank (A) is stripped of its electrons in the fuel-cell stack (B), creating electricity. A power-control unit (C) orchestrates the flow of energy from the stack to the battery (D), which powers the electric motor that moves the car. The battery ensures full power during acceleration until the fuel cell reaches peak voltage. Got all that?
ARE THEY SAFE?
Yes. Stringent requirements established by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) ensure that the technology is safe. Automakers are required to build robust hydrogen storage tanks that not only hold the fuel at up to 10,000 psi but also withstand arcane-sounding trials such as “bonfire” and “gunshot” tests by the DOT. Tanks are usually made of several layers of carbon fiber wrapped around aluminum or polyethylene liners, and many are also protected by external layers of steel. Regulations covering PRDs (pressure-relief devices) govern both temperatures and pressures at which gas is released, typically well below what is standard for safe operating conditions.
HOW GREEN ARE FUEL CELLS?
It depends on where you look. The only tailpipe emission from an FCV is water, but the process of creating hydrogen fuel – just like that of formulating gasoline or generating current for an electric vehicle – has an environmental impact. More than 90 percent of hydrogen today is created using a natural-gas-reforming process involving steam and methane, which reduces CO2 emissions from “well to wheel” by approximately 60 percent, compared with the process of creating gasoline. So, carbon dioxide is still released into the atmosphere – it just happens before the liquid hydrogen gets to your tank. Incentives and mandates encourage a cleaner hydrogen-creation process: The state of California requires that 30 percent of H2 supplied for transportation come from renewable sources, which can include wind, solar, and biomass material.
WHAT ABOUT REFUELING?
One advantage of FCVs is that they can travel farther and restore range faster than most current EVs. Refueling is simple: Once a nozzle with a snap collar is securely mated and locked to your car, the transfer of hydrogen begins with a brief hissing sound, followed by a 3- to 5- minute fill-up. However, it takes considerably longer for a filling station to restore the pressure required to service the next vehicle, so current setups can only refuel six or so cars per hour.
SO, IS HYDROGEN HAPPENING?
“When you have several major carmakers saying we’re going to invest in this, that’s significant,” Baum says. But vehicles are just one piece of the puzzle. Every other player in the hydrogen supply chain, such as the service station industry, needs to invest heavily. Until then, refueling options and vehicle choices will remain extremely limited, with no guarantee of expansion. Which is to say that hydrogen-fuel-cell cars will be a minor footnote in terms of overall vehicle sales for the foreseeable future. For all but the earliest of adopters, hydrogen as a prominent fuel alternative remains somewhere on the horizon.
There is no scientific evidence that human activity is causing the planet to warm, according to Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, who testified in front of a Senate committee on Tuesday.
Moore argued that the current argument that the burning of fossil fuels is driving global warming over the past century lacks scientific evidence. He added that the Earth is in an unusually cold period and some warming would be a good thing.
“There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 100 years,” according to Moore’s prepared testimony. “Today, we live in an unusually cold period in the history of life on earth and there is no reason to believe that a warmer climate would be anything but beneficial for humans and the majority of other species.”
“It is important to recognize, in the face of dire predictions about a [two degrees Celsius] rise in global average temperature, that humans are a tropical species,” Moore said. “We evolved at the equator in a climate where freezing weather did not exist. The only reasons we can survive these cold climates are fire, clothing, and housing.”
“It could be said that frost and ice are the enemies of life, except for those relatively few species that have evolved to adapt to freezing temperatures during this Pleistocene Ice Age,” he added. “It is ‘extremely likely’ that a warmer temperature than today’s would be far better than a cooler one.”
Indeed, cold weather is more likely to cause death than warm weather. RealClearScience reported that from “1999 to 2010, a total of 4,563 individuals died from heat, but 7,778 individuals died from the cold.” Only in 2006 did heat-related deaths outnumber cold deaths.
“The fact that we had both higher temperatures and an ice age at a time when CO2 emissions were 10 times higher than they are today fundamentally contradicts the certainty that human-caused CO2 emissions are the main cause of global warming,” Moore said.
“When modern life evolved over 500 million years ago, CO2 was more than 10 times higher than today, yet life flourished at this time,” he added. “Then an Ice Age occurred 450 million years ago when CO2 was 10 times higher than today.”
Moore, a Canadian, helped found the environmental activist group Greenpeace in the 1970s. He left the group after they began to take on more radical positions. He has since been a critic of radical environmentalism and heads up the group Ecosense Environmental in Vancouver, Canada.
Moore’s comments come after President Obama declared global warming a “fact” in the State of the Union. His administration has attempted to argue that the recent U.S. cold snap was influenced by a warmer planet.
Climate scientists, however, have been struggling to explain why global surface temperatures have not risen in the last 17 years and why atmospheric temperatures have been flat for the last decade.
“From 1910 to 1940 there was an increase in global average temperature of [0.5 degrees Celsius] over that 30-year period,” Moore said. “Then there was a 30-year ‘pause’ until 1970. This was followed by an increase of [0.57 degrees Celsius] during the 30-year period from 1970 to 2000. Since then there has been no increase, perhaps a slight decrease, in average global temperature.”
“This in itself tends to negate the validity of the computer models, as CO2 emissions have continued to accelerate during this time,” the former environmental activist added. “The increase in temperature between 1910-1940 was virtually identical to the increase between 1970-2000.”
“Yet the IPCC does not attribute the increase from 1910-1940 to ‘human influence.’” Moore continued. “They are clear in their belief that human emissions impact only the increase ‘since the mid-20th century.’ Why does the IPCC believe that a virtually identical increase in temperature after 1950 is caused mainly by ‘human influence,’ when it has no explanation for the nearly identical increase from 1910-1940?”
I repeat: I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier. I’ve long believed that it cannot be good for humanity to be spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I also believe that those scientists who pretend to know exactly what this will cause in 20, 30 or 50 years are white-coated propagandists.
“The debate is settled,” asserted propagandist in chief Barack Obama in his latest State of the Union address. “Climate change is a fact.” Really? There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge. Take a non-climate example. It was long assumed that mammograms help reduce breast cancer deaths. This fact was so settled that Obamacare requires every insurance plan to offer mammograms (for free, no less) or be subject to termination.
Now we learn from a massive randomized study – 90,000 women followed for 25 years – that mammograms may have no effect on breast cancer deaths. Indeed, one out of five of those diagnosed by mammogram receives unnecessary radiation, chemo or surgery.
So much for settledness. And climate is less well understood than breast cancer. If climate science is settled, why do its predictions keep changing? And how is it that the great physicist Freeman Dyson, who did some climate research in the late 1970s, thinks today’s climate-change Cassandras are hopelessly mistaken?
They deal with the fluid dynamics of the atmosphere and oceans, argues Dyson, ignoring the effect of biology, i.e., vegetation and topsoil. Further, their predictions rest on models they fall in love with: “You sit in front of a computer screen for 10 years and you start to think of your model as being real.” Not surprisingly, these models have been “consistently and spectacularly wrong” in their predictions, write atmospheric scientists Richard McNider and John Christy – and always, amazingly, in the same direction.
Settled? Even Britain’s national weather service concedes there’s been no change – delicately called a “pause” – in global temperature in 15 years. If even the raw data is recalcitrant, let alone the assumptions and underlying models, how settled is the science?
But even worse than the pretense of settledness is the cynical attribution of any politically convenient natural disaster to climate change, a clever term that allows you to attribute anything – warming and cooling, drought and flood – to man’s sinful carbon burning.
Accordingly, Obama ostentatiously visited drought-stricken California last Friday. Surprise! He blamed climate change. Here even the New York Times gagged, pointing out that far from being supported by the evidence, “the most recent computer projections suggest that as the world warms, California should get wetter, not drier, in the winter.”
How inconvenient. But we’ve been here before. Hurricane Sandy was made the poster child for the alleged increased frequency and strength of “extreme weather events” like hurricanes.
Nonsense. Sandy wasn’t even a hurricane when it hit the United States. Indeed, in all of 2012, only a single hurricane made U.S. landfall. And 2013 saw the fewest Atlantic hurricanes in 30 years. In fact, in the last half-century, one-third fewer major hurricanes have hit the United States than in the previous half-century.
Similarly tornadoes. Every time one hits, the climate-change commentary begins. Yet last year saw the fewest in a quarter-century. And the last 30 years – of presumed global warming – has seen a 30 percent decrease in extreme tornado activity (F3 and above) versus the previous 30 years.
None of this is dispositive. It doesn’t settle the issue. But that’s the point. It mocks the very notion of settled science, which is nothing but a crude attempt to silence critics and delegitimize debate. As does the term “denier” – an echo of Holocaust denial, contemptibly suggesting the malevolent rejection of an established historical truth.
Climate-change proponents have made their cause a matter of fealty and faith. For folks who pretend to be brave carriers of the scientific ethic, there’s more than a tinge of religion in their jeremiads. If you whore after other gods, the Bible tells us, “the Lord’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit” (Deuteronomy 11).
Sounds like California. Except that today there’s a new god, the Earth Mother. And a new set of sins – burning coal and driving a fully equipped F-150.
But whoring is whoring, and the gods must be appeased. So if California burns, you send your high priest (in carbon-belching Air Force One, but never mind) to the bone-dry land to offer up, on behalf of the repentant congregation, a $1 billion burnt offering called a “climate resilience fund.”
Ah, settled science in action.
A scientific breakthrough that enables researchers to create adult stem cells much faster and easier will radically transform the way medicine is practiced, predicts Dr. Marc Darrow, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California/Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine.
“It will be the standard of care,” said Darrow, who teaches regenerative techniques utilizing platelets and adult stem cells to medical residents at UCLA, and who has been using the same techniques to treat patients with joint, tendon, ligament and muscle injuries in his own LA clinic.
Darrow explained that in the past, creating stem cell lines was a very tedious procedure which required “using a pipette to take nuclear material from one cell to put into another.”
But an article published January 29th in the peer-reviewed journal Nature describes a new technique for creating undifferentiated adult stem cells by immersing blood cells in an acid bath for half an hour.
Biologist Haruko Obokata, a stem cell researcher from Japan’s RIKEN Center of Developmental Biology, then injected the acid-stressed, florescently-tagged blood cells into a mouse embryo, where they created entire organs – including a beating heart.
‘It’s amazing. I would have never thought external stress could have this effect,” said study co-author Yoshiki Sasai. (See STAP cells.pdf)
“The generation of these cells is essentially Mother Nature’s way of responding to injury,” added co-author Charles Vacanti, director of the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham Women’s Hospital.
“Our bodies make stem cells all day long and that’s probably what’s keeping us alive, by regenerating tissue. The whole field of medicine is moving into regenerative medicine,” Darrow told CNSNews.com.
And despite the fact that most insurance does not cover stem cell therapy, he predicted: “This will become the new medicine sometime soon.”
“I mean right now, surgery is still the king, but I see terrible results from surgery. I see patients every single day who have surgeries that have failed. In fact, there are [insurance company] diagnoses such as ‘Failed Back Syndrome.’ What does that tell us? It tells us there’s enough of those surgeries that don’t work that I wouldn’t want to have one.”
In contrast, Darrow said, stem cell therapy is “the easiest, simplest and cheapest form of medicine that I know of to regenerate tissue, get rid of pain and return function.” And with the newly discovered procedure, which he warned is still in the research phase, “it’ll be very quick and very easy to repair body parts.”
“This is the crest of a wave that’s going to become a tsunami,” he predicted. “I’ve been pushing for this stuff for 16 years… and there’s guys like me out there that teach at universities and the younger docs are going for it. It’s going to be the tsunami of the new form of medicine. There’s no way to stop it.”
Another benefit is that the new technique utilizes only adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells, Darrow added. “That’s the good news,” he told CNSNews.com. “We don’t have to deal with embryos, which has a terrible political and moral controversy surrounding it.”
In addition to ethical problems, “embryonic cells can cause tumors,” according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Cell-based therapies show great promise for repairing, replacing, restoring, or regenerating damaged cells, tissues and organs,” an overview published by the FDA on Dec. 11, 2013 noted. Since “embryonic cells can cause tumors… these more mature cells may be better suited to replace specific types of damaged cells or lost cells or for repairing damaged tissue.”
Darrow noted that the recent breakthrough in procducing adult stem cells will provide new insight into how the body repairs itself, calling them “the crème de la crème of healing.”
Although adult stem cell therapy will never replace surgery for some problems, he predicts it will greatly reduce the number of back surgeries and joint replacements now being done. “People who would normally be having surgery who come to me don’t have to have surgery,” he said.
“Look, I love surgeons. They’re brilliant. This is not a putdown on surgeons. It’s just that they’re very, very busy. When I was doing orthopedic surgery as a medical student and as an intern, there were days when we’d see 60 patients in the clinic. How much time does the doctor have to examine the patient? It’s mostly slap an X-ray up on the wall or an MRI and then deciding what to do from that. It’s not the best medicine.” Darrow told CNSNews.com.
“And again, that’s not a hit on surgeons, because we definitely need surgeons. There’s a lot of work for surgeons to do. It’s just that many of these, what I’ll call elective surgeries, in my mind – and that’s just my opinion – should not be done. We should be using regenerative medicine with platelets and/or stem cells to regenerate the tissue.
“And I hear from patients every day who say their doctor says it can’t work. You can’t regrow tissue. Well, that’s nonsense. I’ve been watching this for 16 years. It works great.”
That’s why, he says, it won’t be long before using adult stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue becomes standard medical care. “Who wants to do surgery when it’s going to hurt someone? Who wants to get surgery when it can hurt [you]? This is the way. This is the Holy Grail. It’s a no-brainer.”
Iran now has all the technical infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons should it make the political decision to do, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in a report to a Senate intelligence committee published Wednesday. However, he added, it could not break out to the bomb without being detected.
In the “U.S. Intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessment,” delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper reported that Tehran has made significant advances recently in its nuclear program to the point where it could produce and deliver nuclear bombs should it be so inclined.
“Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas – including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles – from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons,” Clapper wrote. “These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.”
In the past year alone, the report states, Iran has enhanced its centrifuge designs, increased the number of centrifuges, and amassed a larger quantity of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride. These advancements have placed Iran in a better position to produce weapons-grade uranium.
“Despite this progress, we assess that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough WGU [weapons grade uranium] for a weapon before such activity would be discovered,” he wrote.
He said the increased supervision and other “transparency” to which Iran has agreed under the new interim deal, reached with the world powers in Geneva in November and finalized last week, could offer earlier warning of a breakout to the bomb. Should Iran cooperate with the interim deal, halt enrichment, and “provide transparency,” then “This transparency would provide earlier warning of a breakout using these facilities.”
Clapper told the Senate committee that the interim deal will have an impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program’s progress and “gets at the key thing we’re interested in and most concerned about,” namely, Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium.
Iran had also worked hard to advance its program at the Arak heavy water facility, wrote Clapper. Its ballistic missiles, he noted, of which it has “the largest inventory in the Middle East,” are “inherently capable of delivering WMD.” And its space program gives it the means to develop longer-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” Clapper wrote. But he noted that Iran’s overarching “strategic goals” were leading it to pursue the capability to do so.
The national intelligence director reiterated that imposing additional sanctions against Iran would be “counterproductive” and would “jeopardize the [interim] agreement.” He advised that additional sanctions against the Islamic Republic should only be kept “in reserve.”
The report was released a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the interim nuclear agreement only set back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program by six weeks.
“This agreement merely set Iran back six weeks – no more – according to our assessments, in relation to its previous position, so that the test, as to denying Iran the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, has been and remains the permanent agreement, if such [a deal] can indeed be achieved,” Netanyahu said at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
Last Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the Obama administration of mischaracterizing the terms of an interim nuclear deal. “We did not agree to dismantle anything,” Zarif told CNN.
Zarif repeated that “we are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching [uranium] over 5%.”
The six-month deal freezes key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, while allowing limited enrichment to continue, in exchange for some economic sanctions relief. It went into effect on January 20.
The next round of international nuclear negotiations with Iran is expected to be held in New York next month, according to officials involved in the planning.
Israel has threatened to attack Iran should it not back off from its alleged pursuit of a military nuclear capability.
On Tuesday, UN nuclear inspectors arrived in Tehran to visit Iran’s Gachin uranium mine for the first time in several years, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. The visit was part of the framework of a separate deal between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency in November.