The end of the month again and time for another dose of science inspiration. The more I do this, the more I see ideas that only a few years ago were science fiction becoming science fact, or at least being talked about as a serious possibility. So here are a few of the things that have caught my eye in March.
A space craft, part of the European-Russian ExoMars programme, lifted off from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan on the 13th of March on board a Proton rocket for its seven month journey to Mars. This is the first of two missions costing over £900 million. On board is equipment to analyse gases in the Martian atmosphere such as methane. Why? To look for signs of life of course. It seems that as humans we are desperate to uncover any evidence that we might not be alone.
Uploading your mind into a computer
Truly the stuff of science fiction, that promise of immortality. However, a Russian internet millionaire, Dmitry Iskov is promising, “Within the next 30 years I am going to make sure that we can all live forever.” He is putting a chunk of his fortune into unlocking the secrets of the human brain with the idea of uploading the mind into a computer and then potentially downloading into a new body. In the mean time I guess you just hope that Windows thirtyfive is more reliable than Windows 10.
Solar panels in space
Another solution to the earth’s energy needs as well as answering the question of providing that power without contributing to global warming. The big advantage of having them in space is of course there are no cloudy days and the sun is shining all day every day. Also the power could be beamed down over a large area. Now it would need a huge number to provide a significant amount of energy, but the idea is you simplify the design of the panels and then make them using self- replicating robots, perhaps with technology similar to 3D printing.
I love the fact that cutting edge science is helping to reveal more about our ancient past. Geophysical survey techniques have been used since the 1970’s but the increasing use of a wider range of technology, such as magnetometry is revealing so much more. Here in the UK it has been used to transform our understanding of Stonehenge and the ancient ritual landscape it was part of where 17 new major monuments have been found.
Most recently scans of Tutankhamun’s tomb has revealed possible undiscovered chambers. The speculation is that these may be the resting place of Queen Nefertiti.
A possible answer to all that plastic rubbish
What I like about this is that the team at Kyoto University who have come up with the plastic eating microbe did it by rummaging around in piles of waste i.e. nature has come up with an answer. After five years and 250 samples, they isolated a bacteria that could live on poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET), a common plastic used in bottles and clothing.
The big advantage of these bacteria apparently is that compared to tricky-to-cultivate fungi, these microbes are easily grown. The researchers left the PET in a warm jar with the bacterial culture and some nutrients, and a few weeks later the plastic was gone.
Mind how you go
Apparently, pressing buttons with your hands is a drag (really?). With an open-source brain-computer interface, you can use your mind to control smartphones, robots, and more.
In 2014, a successful crowdfunding campaign lead to the development of the Ultracortex, a $399 3D-printed EEG headset, and the Ganglion, a $99 circuit board. Electrodes in the Ultracortex record the body’s electrical signals, and the Ganglion transmits the signals a computer allowing you to control a mechanical device with your brain waves.
And this is fact not fiction -you can pre-order the OpenBCI website. And because both hardware and software are open-source, you can 3D-print your own headset. I don’t know though, my brain has trouble controlling my fingers at times and what happens if you get distracted?