Tag Archives: Futurism

futurism.com | Researchers Think Portals May Link Our Visible World With The “Dark Sector”

Long ago, physicists identified and categorized the components of the visible universe. Up until recently, 16 particles formed everything in the known universe. But now, thanks to the efforts of physicists at CERN working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), we have added another particle, the Higgs boson, to the Standard Model of physics.

Institute for Basic Science
Credit: Institute for Basic Science

However, there is an entire hidden — or dark — aspect of physics and our natural world for which the Standard Model just can’t account, even  with the Higgs boson. To put it plainly, all of the matter that is visible is not enough for the universe to behave as it does.

There has to be some kind of invisible matter and energy making all of what we can see possible. To account for this mystery, scientists theorized that there must be Dark Matter and Dark Energy. These would be made up of a completely different set of particles that we have yet to discover, probably because we simply do not know how to study them.

A new study by researchers from the Institute of Basic Science (IBS) in South Korea suggests that we have found the way to bridge the gap between the visible world and the dark sector of physics — portals.

Portal to the Dark Sector

Now, when you hear of portals, you likely think of some science fiction adventure or debates on whether the cake is a lie, but we’re not talking about those kinds of portals. These portals would exist in the quantum realm, the scale of which is nearly incomprehensibly small.

These portals have been dubbed “dark axion portals,” based on the two hypothetical dark sector particles scientists have already postulated — the axion and the dark photon. An axion is a theoretical particle thought to be very light, much lighter than an electron, that theoretical physicists believe could solve some mathematical problems with the standard model. Dark photons are theoretically like photons that make up visible light, except that we cannot easily interact with or detect them.

What Is Dark Matter?
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The communication between the visible and the “dark” particles would be facilitated by heavy quarks (one of the quantum particles in the Standard Model) also having a dark charge. Having such a charge would allow the quark to couple to dark photons, thus bridging the gap between the two “worlds.”

“The dark axion portal suggests the first meaningful connection between the two physics, which have been studied separately: it connects the dots,” lead researcher LEE Hye-Sung said in an IBS press release. “This will allow reinterpretation of the previous data, and potentially make a breakthrough in the axion and dark photon searches.”

The team is now working on proposing experiments that would use these portals to actually decipher, once and for all, if axions and dark photons really do exist.

We may never know all there is to know about the universe, but we are definitely working to close that gap.

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futurism.com | Our Brains May be 100 Times More Powerful Than We Thought

The human brain is so powerful that some intelligent computers called neural networks are patterned after how the human brain works. As such, figuring out how the many processes of the brain work continues to be the subject of much research.

A recent study published in the journal Science by a team of researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has uncovered new information about the brain’s inner workings, and it could change our understanding of how learning happens.

Our Brains May be 100 Times More Powerful Than We Thought
Credit: sydney g / Flickr

The study focused on a particular part of neurons, called dendrites. Dendrites are long and branch-like structures that connected to the roundish cell body, called the soma. Dendrites were thought to serve only as conduits that transfer spikes of electrical activity from the cell body to other neurons. The UCLA study, however, found that dendrites may actually be generating their own electrical spikes — and at rates 10 times more frequently than previously thought.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion by studying mice. Instead of implanting electrodes into dendrites themselves, they put them next to dendrites. They found that dendrites were five times more active than somas when the rats were asleep, and 10 times more when awake and exploring.

Understanding the Brain

“A fundamental belief in neuroscience has been that neurons are digital devices. They either generate a spike or not,” said Mayank Mehta, the study’s senior author, in a UCLA press release. “These results show that the dendrites do not behave purely like a digital device. Dendrites do generate digital, all-or-none spikes, but they also show large analog fluctuations that are not all or none. This is a major departure from what neuroscientists have believed for about 60 years.”

Since dendrites are estimated to make up more than 90 percent of neural tissue — about 100 times larger in volume compared to somas — this could mean that the human brain has 100 times more capacity then previously believed.

Reprogramming the Human Mind: Here’s How We’ll Make Humanity 2.0 [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Ultimately, this research could help medical professionals develop new ways to treat neurological disorders. The study may also shed a new light how learning really occurs.

“Many prior models assume that learning occurs when the cell bodies of two neurons are active at the same time,” explained author Jason Moore in the press release. “Our findings indicate that learning may take place when the input neuron is active at the same time that a dendrite is active — and it could be that different parts of dendrites will be active at different times, which would suggest a lot more flexibility in how learning can occur within a single neuron.”

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futurism.com | Forget Vacuuming—Robots Can Sweep Now

Who wouldn’t want a robot housekeeper?

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futurism.com | Expert Believes Canada Could Fill the U.S.’s Role in the Global Science Community

A leading Canadian researcher sees an opportunity for science and Canada as the United States adjusts to some recent disruptions to the status quo. Among these disruptions was a travel ban imposed by President Donald Trump in January. While that has been temporarily halted by a federal court judge due to potential issues in its constitutionality, another issue involves the current administration’s new budget policies, which cut support and funding for science-related government agencies.

The Evolution of Human Understanding of the Universe [INFOGRAPHIC]
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While some U.S. scientists see these developments as troubling, Alan Bernstein, the president of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), sees them as an opportunity for Canada. “This is Canada’s moment,” Bernstein told CBC News. “I think it’s a time we should be bold.”

While Bernstein thinks that there are several other reasons why Canada is becoming a more attractive destination for scientists from all over the world, he notes that the current political climate in the U.S. is a significant factor. “It’s as if we’ve been in a choir of an opera in the back of the stage and all of a sudden the stars all left the stage. And the audience is expecting us to sing an aria. So we should sing,” Bernstein said.

He went on to add that he thinks the U.S. should no longer be considered the default country of choice for young scientists. “It used to be if you were a bright young person anywhere in the world, you would want to go to Harvard or Berkeley or Stanford, or what have you,” said Bernstein. “Now I think you should give pause to that. We have pretty good universities here. We speak English. We’re a welcoming society for immigrants.”​

U.S.’s Loss, Canada’s Gain

Bernstein is not alone in his assessment of the scientific community’s current opinion of the U.S. The country’s own scientists have expressed concerns over these recent developments. “We do know scientists around the world are considering boycotting meetings here,” said Rush Holt, head of the largest science membership organization in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “And they’re demanding the international science society hold their meetings in other countries other than the United States. I don’t like to see that.”

Image credit: Photopin
Image credit: Photopin

The effects of the new administration’s policies are already felt by science students, too. Iranian biologist Alireza Edraki, who’s based in Massachusetts, told Wired about how his brother’s student visa was cancelled due to the travel ban. Less than two months later, Edraki shared an update on his brother’s status: “He got so many positive responses from so many countries — he got a couple of offers from schools in Canada, Germany, and New Zealand.” Though he accepted one from a New Zealand university, Edraki expects his brother will eventually transfer to a school in Canada.

Mustafa al’Absi, a behavioral scientist at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, thinks that the political climate in the U.S. is creating a climate of fear for scientists. “This is where the burden is: what’s going on in the air more than the facts,” he told Nature. Meanwhile, Canada remains “committed to research, science, evidence-based policy,” Federal Science Minister Kristy Duncan told CBC. “I’m proud of the investments our government made in the last budget. We had $2 billion for research and innovation infrastructure across the country. We made the largest investments in the three federal granting councils in a decade.”

Berstein is hopeful that Canada will take advantage of the opportunity before it: “We didn’t seek this particular position in the world, but the stars are aligned. And I think we’d be making a huge mistake to let it go by without jumping on it and taking advantage of it. So this is our time to be bold and to take advantage of what’s happening in the world.”

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futurism.com | Elon Musk Says Solar Roofs Will Be Available for Purchase in April

It’s been a busy day for Elon Musk on Twitter. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO has been actively replying to tweets, answering questions about the latest developments for his multiple companies. So far, Musk has given updates on the Tesla Model 3, his Boring Company, and now, Tesla’s solar roofs.

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When asked about an arrival date for Tesla’s new solar roof shingles, Musk replied that the company would begin accepting orders in April. With production of these solar tiles expected to kick off this summer at the Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, opening up for orders in April makes sense.

The Tesla Revolution [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Tesla’s solar roof tiles, courtesy of Musk’s newly acquired renewable energy company SolarCity, are expected to be tougher than regular shingles, but cost less. Tesla has previously revealed plans for four different styles for their solar tiles, but production will begin with just one type. New styles will be added gradually every few months, if all goes according to plan.

With its solar roof tiles and Powerwall 2, Tesla is creating a sustainable energy ecosystem for the home. It’s a revolutionary idea. Making renewable energy available to every home could go a long way toward reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, which would do a world of good in the global fight against climate change.

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futurism.com | Elon Musk: We Start Digging the Tunnel Under L.A. Next Month

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk initially floated the idea of going under traffic instead of over it during the first phase of the Hyperloop Pod Competition in January 2016. Then, in December 2016, he confirmed a tunnel-digging project via Twitter. A series of tweets and a change in his professional headline on Twitter soon followed, and now Musk’s Boring Company is almost ready to begin digging under the streets of Los Angeles.

His most recent update about the tunnel came earlier today, March 24, as a reply to someone’s tweet comparing the boring machine to the Tesla Model 3.

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Things seem to be moving fast for Musk’s anti-traffic tunnel, despite the CEO previously telling Wired that they “have no idea” what they’re doing. L.A. is the most traffic congested city in the U.S., so if everything goes as planned, the tunnel could provide a solution to very a significant problem.

At the very least, Musk sees his efforts in digging one as a chance to improve tunneling speed. “[B]etter tunneling tech improves everything: road, subway, Hyperloop,” Musk said. Indeed, this boring machine could have very exciting consequences.

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futurism.com | To Explore Alien Planets, We Need a Better Braking System

Traveling 4.37 light years at 20 percent the speed of light (i.e. really fast) for two decades seems like a difficult journey. It’s the trip that Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire and space enthusiast Yuri Milner want to send a tiny (think postage stamp size) spacecraft on. This project, named Breakthrough Starshot, aims to get this ‘nanocraft’ to Proxima b, an Earth-like planet in the nearby solar system Alpha Centauri.

One of the main issues with this far-out plan, however, is the ability of this spacecraft to “put the brakes on” in order to stop. Because this little craft would be hurling through space at 13,800 km (8,574.9 miles) per second, figuring out how to slow down is obviously necessary, but fairly tricky. If the braking mechanisms aren’t correct, the spacecraft could overshoot the entire solar system and completely miss the opportunity to collect information.

One of the proposed methods to solve this problem is what is called a solar sail. This would be a sail that deploys close to the craft’s target, and uses the gravitational pull and radiation of nearby stars to swing into orbit and decelerate. To make this happen, initial plans must be deviated from. Originally the size of a postage stamp, the craft would be enlarged to about the size and weight of a bar of soap (less than 100 grams). Additionally, this sail — a massive, lightweight structure — would be attached in order to help the craft to both accelerate and decelerate.

To speed up the craft, the sail would absorb photons from the Sun, and to slow down, it could absorb radiation nearing its target. The radiation would also, hopefully, allow the probe to be steered towards the Earth-like planet. Getting into the exact solar system is tricky enough, but navigating to Proxima b will add much more difficulty to this journey. This sail-craft concept would be slower than the original Breakthrough Starshot design, but this team is hopeful that the sail can be improved upon even more.

Scouring the Universe

The original Breakthrough Starship plan suggested that instead of just landing on the Earth-like planet Proxima b, a fleet of these ‘nanocrafts’ could be deployed to survey larger interstellar areas. While this possibility seems promising in theory, there is only so much information to be gathered while hurling through space at blinding speeds. The essential purpose of this fleet would be a blanket survey — searching for information and possible signs of life — as there is only so much information be gathered via this method.

While it might not be deployed with many others in a fleet, a slightly larger craft able to land on the promising Proxima b could potentially gather much more in-depth and useful information. It would also travel a great distance and could survey from afar, but would have the additional advantage of up-close and — most importantly — long-term data collection. Instead of a fraction of second to collect data, the probe would have as much time as it required — at least until it breaks.

While there is still so much for these scientists and engineers to consider and evaluate before finalizing a model to launch, it is important not to forget the purpose of the mission: to learn. Regardless of the type of craft deployed, it will be a momentous and historic moment. Even if it takes more time, it is vital that the craft is designed in a way that allows it to collect as much information as possible. The opportunity to travel to another solar system doesn’t come along very often, so we better make sure that we are putting out best tiny spacecraft forward.

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