One of the most fascinating branches of science is the study of Man himself. What are we made of, why do we do what we do, what is our potential, and how can we improve ourselves? The field of genomics (the study of human genes) and the related field of proteomics (the study of human proteins, the basic building materials of cells) are attempting to answer these questions at the molecular level, and rapid strides are being made as new and more powerful tools for genome research are coming into use. The current episode of Future Talk examines recent progress in these fields with two top researchers. Michael Snyder is Chairman of the Genetics Department and Director of the Center of Genomics and Personalized Medicine at Stanford University, and has a PhD from Caltech. He’s a leader in the field of functional genomics and proteomics, he’s created several new genome mapping technologies, and is cofounder of several biotechnology companies, including Protometrix, Affomix, and Personalis. Russ Altman is Professor of Bioengineering, Genetics, and Medicine and former Chairman of the Stanford Bioengineering Department, with MD and PhD degrees from Stanford. His primary research is in the use of sophisticated computer modeling to determine how our genetic traits influence the way our bodies respond to medicinal drugs, which could open the way to much more personalized medical treatment. Russ was a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Questions addressed on the program include whether the genome contains information for intangible traits such as intelligence and personality, the type of methodologies used to unlock the secrets of the genome, how a person's genome can be used to predict susceptibility to certain diseases, whether it's possible to modify the genome to reduce susceptibility to disease or make general improvements to a person's physical attributes, and how to address possible ethical issues involved in altering the genome. It's quite an interesting program. To view it, click here.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
|The Future Talk crew|
|Heat shield simulation|
|Simulated air traffic control tower|
After a while, the technician pushed a button, and instead of seeing LA airport, we were seeing a panoramic view of the surface of Mars, the Curiosity Rover in the distance and its tracks clearly visible. Our overall impression was that of very serious people doing very serious work that could ultimately help us better understand our place in the Universe.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
zSpace is a Silicon Valley company that's creating fascinating tools for 3D computing. They've created their own 3D hardware platform, and are now inviting outside developers to create applications for it. In order to promote and expand these partnerships, they recently held zCon 2013, the zSpace Developers Conference, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. The technology was indeed impressive. At one display, putting on a pair of special glasses, I could see a 3D image of the Mars Curiosity Rover. By pointing with a penlike device, I could grab one of the legs and make it move up and down. Or I could grab the entire craft and by rotating the pen, flip it over to see the underside. There clearly seems to be a high demand for this type of technology in many areas of design.
There was also a very interesting talk by Hollywood producer Jon Landau, whose film credits include Titanic and the 3D hit Avatar, and who gave a fascinating behind the scenes look at the creation of Avatar. For the technically minded, there was an interesting presentation by Mark Flynn, zSpace's Director of Displays, who explained how zSpace's specially made display screens work with zSpace glasses, using circular polarization of light to get the 3D effects. I think we can expect to see this technology popping up in many places in the near future.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
The Google Lunar X Prize, an attempt to promote private exploration of space, will pay $20 million to the first privately funded organization to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, have that craft travel at least 500 meters across the lunar surface, and send back television pictures. To make it even more challenging, the mission has to take place before the end of 2015.
An Israeli group called SpaceIL has accepted the challenge and is hoping that its unique approach will enable it to beat out the other 25 registered competitors. Speaking in Silicon Valley the other night, Yariv Bash, the founder and CEO of SpaceIL, explained their approach. First, they won't design their own rockets from scratch. Instead, they'll rent space on a commercial rocket that's already scheduled to lift a satellite into orbit about 22,000 miles above the earth. The very small size of the SpaceIL robot, named "Sparrow", makes this arrangement feasible. It will weigh about 100 kilograms (220 pounds), about 2/3 of which is fuel. Once it's in Earth orbit, it will use its own power to get to the Moon. Rather than traversing the lunar landscape in a wheeled vehicle which is complicated and expensive to build, it will achieve its motion by "hopping" in the light lunar gravity. According to Bash, advanced nanotechnology and high quality electronics will be the keys to its success.
SpaceIL was launched by a tiny group of friends with no real resources or expertise, but because of their inspiration and determination they've gained the support of many of Israel's leading high tech companies and agencies as well as Israel's president Shimon Peres. Still, Bash says the effort will probably cost more than the prize is worth, but even if they don't win the prize, they'll still continue their work until they achieve a lunar landing. He says the real goal is to inspire young Israelis to seek careers in science, as well as to make Israel the third nation, after the U.S. and the (former) Soviet Union to plant its flag on the lunar surface.
Friday, February 1, 2013
|Pakistani and Indian students|
Monday, December 3, 2012
|An early conception of the brain|
The discussion includes the differences between "brain" and "mind", common mental impairments and untapped mental potentials. We also talked about the nature of thought, consciousness and intelligence. Although these latter topics are far from understood, just discussing them seems to be a worthwhile exercise in itself that can conceivably lead to new insights.
To watch the show in its entirety, click here, or to watch it as a series of three shorter segments, click here.
Sunday, November 18, 2012