Cells Form Into ‘Xenobots’ on Their Own
Embryonic cells can self-assemble into new living forms that don’t resemble the bodies they usually generate, challenging old ideas of what defines an organism.
What are the most important statistical ideas of the past 50 years?
We argue that the most important statistical ideas of the past half century are: counterfactual causal inference, bootstrapping and simulation-based inference, overparameterized models and regularization, multilevel models, generic computation algorithms, adaptive decision analysis, robust inference, and exploratory data analysis. We discuss common features of these ideas, how they relate to modern computing and big data, and how they might be developed and extended in future decades. The goal of this article is to provoke thought and discussion regarding the larger themes of research in statistics and data science.
Decades-Long Quest Reveals Details of the Proton’s Inner Antimatter
Twenty years ago, physicists set out to investigate a mysterious asymmetry in the proton’s interior. Their results, published today, show how antimatter helps stabilize every atom’s core.
We learn in school that a proton is a bundle of three elementary particles called quarks — two “up” quarks and a “down” quark, whose electric charges (+2/3 and −1/3, respectively) combine to give the proton its charge of +1. But that simplistic picture glosses over a far stranger, as-yet-unresolved story.
In reality, the proton’s interior swirls with a fluctuating number of six kinds of quarks, their oppositely charged antimatter counterparts (antiquarks), and “gluon” particles that bind the others together, morph into them and readily multiply. Somehow, the roiling maelstrom winds up perfectly stable and superficially simple — mimicking, in certain respects, a trio of quarks.
Researchers make their own enzyme pathway to get CO₂ out of the air
Before this century is over, we’re almost certainly going to need to pull massive amounts of carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. While we already know how to do carbon capture and storage, it takes a fair amount of energy and equipment, and someone has to pay for all that. It would be far more economical to pull CO2 out of the air if we could convert it to a useful product, like jet fuel. But processes like that also take a lot of energy, plus raw materials like hydrogen that take energy to create.
Plants and a huge range of microbes successfully pull carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to produce all sorts of complicated (and valuable!) chemicals. But the pathways they use to incorporate CO2 aren’t very efficient, so they can’t fix enough of the greenhouse gas or incorporate it into enough product to be especially useful. That has led a lot of people to look into re-engineering an enzyme that’s central to photosynthesis. But a team of European researchers has taken a radically different approach: engineering an entirely new biochemical pathway that incorporates the carbon of CO2 into molecules critical for the cell’s basic metabolism.
This equation will change how you see the world (the logistic map)
That may be over selling it, but cool anyway.
How Apples Go Bad
Perhaps owing to these gonzo genetics, apples are remarkably susceptible to disease and rot. Their tender skin and light flesh are a haven for small creatures. Their trees embrace myriad molds, viruses, and fungi: apple scab, black pox, southern blight, union necrosis. For farmers and hobby gardeners, the business of apple-growing is not so much aiding the fruits in their growth as scrambling to ward off their demise. Blight spreads quickly, and it’s not always apparent on the fruit’s surface. Even without the influence of invader or infection, an apple abets its own spoilage: its skin, minutely porous, exhales ethylene, a gaseous compound that induces ripening, and the fruit has no interest in stopping at the point where it serves our needs.
Penguin poop creates a buttload of laughing gas
Gobs of guano from king penguins in the sub-Antarctic give rise to comical clouds of nitrous oxide—aka laughing gas—according to a recent study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
The Rise and Fall of Polywater
Chemicals, like humans, have unique fingerprints, and instruments called spectrometers can identify the elements and molecules from a chemical fingerprint, or spectrum. Yet success hinges on the size of the sample, where bigger is better. In published papers anomalous-water believers lamented there just wasn’t enough of it, certainly not enough to identify its molecular makeup. Scientists measured what they could with the tiny amounts of anomalous water available, largely physical properties, such as boiling point, appearance, thermal expansion, and viscosity. These observations bolstered their conviction that anomalous water was real, but for every believer there were many more skeptics who loudly dismissed the results. The matter would only be settled by a definitive chemical analysis from a spectrometer sensitive enough to determine the fluid’s chemical composition and structure.
Something in the Air
The coronavirus pandemic is sparking baseless theories about the dangers of 5G. But the fear that wireless technology is slowly killing us isn’t new—and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Engineering and Technology History Wiki
The ETHW is not a “how-does-technology-work” site. The scope of the ETHW is historical; instead of focusing on the inner workings of technology, it aims to explain how the technology was developed, who were the major players involved, and what long term significance the technologies have. The ETHW is not only an encyclopedia of the history of technology, but it also contains a full range of materials that relate to the legacy of engineering, including personal accounts, documents, and multimedia objects. In that sense, it is a combination reference guide, blog, virtual archive, and on-line community.
It has taken many months, but I was finally able to make a decent aerogel!
I think I’ll stick with watching videos instead of making my own.
The Invention of Recombinant DNA Technology
In the early 1970s, a momentous series of events in the history of science unfolded at points around the San Francisco Bay. Lines of inquiry pursued at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco converged on a set of discoveries that vastly expanded the productive capabilities of molecular genetics, disrupted the customary rhythms and routines of the scientific community, sparked bitter disputes about risks and responsibilities in scientific experimentation, and generated a tsunami of technological change that spread rapidly across multiple domains of productive activity and all around the globe.
The first recombinant molecule containing DNA from different organisms was assembled late in 1971, in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford. Berg hoped to transduce bacterial and mammalian cells with a recombinant virus in order to study gene expression systems, but subsequently chose not to carry out the planned experiments. He was persuaded by scientific colleagues to consider potential biohazard risks before moving ahead.
The technology for propagating and expressing recombinant genes was invented by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer in 1973. It enabled the transformation of bacterial cells into living factories for the directed manufacture of select proteins. The technology was immediately recognized as a tool without parallel in genetics research, and was soon applied to practical ends in a wide variety of fields including medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, chemicals, and energy. It has since transformed the world in which we live.
The history is complicated.
Mapping snowfall in the United States
This map shows every inch of snow that fell on the lower 48 this year
Jim Simons, the Numbers King
Algorithms made him a Wall Street billionaire. His new research center helps scientists mine data for the common good.
Is the Modern Mass Extinction Overrated?
On human facilitated speciation and alternative reactions to climate change. Longish read.
The Scientific Intelligencer
The Secret Lives of Leonardo da Vinci
How to Be a Know-It-All
What you learn from the Very Short Introduction series.
Some of these books are concise introductions to topics you might later wish to pursue in greater depth: Modern India, say, or Shakespeare’s Tragedies. Others, like “Teeth,” contain pretty much everything the average layperson would ever want or need to know. All of them, however, take their Very Short commitment seriously. The length of each book is fixed at thirty-five thousand words, or roughly a hundred and twenty pages. (See Very Short Introduction No. 500, “Measurement.”)
Daryl Bem Proved ESP Is Real
Or perhaps not, but the replication crisis is real.
The replication crisis as it’s understood today may yet prove to be a passing worry or else a mild problem calling for a soft corrective. It might also grow and spread in years to come, flaring from the social sciences into other disciplines, burning trails of cinder through medicine, neuroscience, and chemistry. It’s hard to see into the future. But here’s one thing we can say about the past: The final research project of Bem’s career landed like an ember in the underbrush and set his field ablaze.
“Mindless Eating,” or how to send an entire life of research into question
I think the lesson is if you’re going to be a sloppy statistician, don’t get too sloppy or people will look into your back catalog.