Big Think Interview With Nicholas Negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte is the co-founder (with Jerome B. Wiesner) of the MIT Media Lab (1985), which he directed for its first 20 years. A graduate of MIT, Negroponte was a pioneer in the field of computer-aided design and has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1966. He gave the first TED talk in 1984, as well as 13 since. He is author of the 1995 best seller, Being Digital, which has been translated into more than 40 languages. In 2005 he founded the non-profit One Laptop per Child, which deployed $1 billion of laptops for primary education in the developing world. In the private sector, Negroponte served on the board of directors of Motorola (for 15 years) and was general partner in a venture capital firm specializing in digital technologies for information and entertainment. He has personally provided start-up funds for more than 40 companies, including Zagats and Wired magazine.
Question: How did One Laptop Per Child get started?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, One Laptop Per Child is based on the theories of constructionism and those were founded originally by Jean Piaget in Geneva and more contemporaneously with us, at least, by a man named Seymour Papert who was also at MIT. Seymour made an observation in 1968 that was very simple, but very profound, and that is, if a child writes a computer program, that child is engaged in the closest approximation we can come to thinking about thinking. And what is sort of even more important, is that when you write a computer program, it never works the first time, so you have to go through a stage called debugging. The process of debugging, going an correcting the program and then looking at the behavior, and then correcting it again, and finally iteratively getting it to a working program, is in fact, very close to learning about learning. And what Seymour observed back in the late '60's, and early '70's, was that we didn't really teach thinking, we taught subjects and that we went through school learning particular bodies of knowledge, but we never learned learning itself. And that was the real influence for One Laptop Per Child because, in the '70's, we started to work with computers with children in New York and other places and very poor districts. This wasn't just in fancy private schools.\r\n
Then in the early '80's, we were doing this in Africa and Asia and South America in very remote, rural parts of the world. That was the beginning and it all started with constructionism. It started with learning learning and children being active agents in their own education.\r\n
Question: How did you design a laptop specially tailored to children’s needs?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, the laptop is designed to be child-centric in a number of very important ways. First of all, there are some simple properties because when we say child, we mean six to 12 years old. We really mean primary education. And as soon as you have that age group, you have to make it pretty indestructible, you've got to be able to drop it from six or seven feet; it's going to be stepped on, it's going to be carried in the rain, and so, it gets subjected to treatment that's more like military equipment than it is office equipment. So, that's one aspect of it, which is a bit mundane, but is certainly true.\r\n
Another aspect is, you want it to work in the sunlight. When kids are outdoors, you want them to be able to read books on it, you want them -- it doesn't mean they have to be in the baking sun, but your laptop and my laptop really don't work outdoors because the screen technology just is not reflective screen, it is transmitted and it gets washed out very easily, so we had to do some again very pragmatic things; make the display, what we call a dual mode that it works both reflective and transmissive.\r\n
And then there are other aspects of it that have more to do with the emphasis on collaboration, so these laptops talked to the neighboring laptops. And so there are these cute little ears on them that are the antennas for WiFi, but they are also antennas that if you had a room full, or a neighborhood full of let's say 50 laptops, each one could talk to the other and they can actually relay messages. So, you could sort of daisy-chain to connect all of these laptops together. And the interface shows what other kids are using it, a little bit like a cell phone, or some of the so-called, social media that we have today, where you're buddy lists and things like that, are embedded in our laptops. So, it's not a diminutive office machine, it is really a children's machine, and it was designed as one from the very beginning.\r\n
Question: Do you worry about the laptops growing rapidly obsolete?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, in the world of computers and just devices in general, the lifespan, or the shelf life, is relatively short just because technology moves so fast and the costs drop so quickly and the power, whether it's computing power or memory rises very, very quickly. On the other hand, the shelf life isn't quite as short as advertisers and companies would want you to believe. There's a lot of life in these machines that is beyond what is advertised. So, we designed them for a five-year lifespan. And that five years drives us to do things, which again, normal manufactures don't do, namely you can charge and discharge our battery about five to 10 times more often than you can a normal battery because we expect them to be used a lot longer.\r\n
The evidence that this could be true can be seen in automobiles. You go to developing countries today and you'll find automobiles that you haven't seen since you're childhood and that's because they really are valuable, they're taken care of, they're repaired, and when something breaks, they just don't buy a new one, they actually fix it. And if the product is no longer on the market, they make it. And we think these laptops will be treated that way as well because the ones that we have out at the moment, the kids really take care of them. They love them dearly and they sleep with them in almost every case. We have about 1.5 million of them in the field today in 31 countries, and I would guess that 50% of the kids that have them, sleep with their laptops and little boys get their sisters to make bags, and there's a whole ownership and a sort of a feeling towards these machines, which, yes, in five years they should get another one, and it will be more advanced then, but one doesn't wait.\r\n
Question: What evidence is there that One Laptop Per Child is working?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence that I have found that this program is working, is that everywhere we go, truancy drops to zero and we go into some places where it's as high as 30% of the kids, and suddenly it's zero. And we have been doing experiments, before the actual laptop existed, for eight or nine years. And by that, I mean, kids with laptops in remote parts of the world, as best we can tell, all of those kids are in school still today, eight years, nine years later. And that's important because there is a belief that children drop out of school because they're needed by their families to work, or the little girls are needed to take care of younger siblings. It turns out that's not really true. Kids drop out of school mostly because school is boring and not particularly relevant, so, just the statistics on truancy and how long kids stay in school, to me, is very, very good evidence.\r\n
Then we have other things happening that are again, somewhat surprising. For example, in Peru, as many at 50% of the kids because they are in remote rural villages in the case of Peru are teaching their parents how to read and write. That is such a game changer in the sense, the role of the child is very different. It's not looking as a child as a recipient for whom you have some curriculum that you've figured out what they should learn and they digest it and then you test them to see if they've digested it, this is really actually children being the agents of change, and the self-esteem that children get from this, the joy that the parents get from it, the whole sort of village changes. Life changes in a very fundamental way. And so, we see that kind of think happening, time and time again. There are now so many machines out there in so many different places, there are 30 anecdotes a day.\r\n
But they all come back to basically showing one thing and that is the passion that children have for learning. And when we go to school, very often, we don't see that passion because the way school is run, the disciplinary nature of it and the rote learning are so, sort of, offensive actually, that children sort of lose that passion more often than not. And so, one of the things that I think this laptop will do is be the death of rote learning because rote learning is a killer for most of us and for some people, it really excludes them.\r\n
Question: How can teachers and students make the most out of a new laptop?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, let me do it from both perspectives. In the case of a teacher, what we have to do; now "we," whether it's One Laptop Per Child as an organization, or the in-country parent of the project, is give the teacher enough preparation to have self-confidence enough to let the child show them how to use it.\r\n
In the case of the child, you don't have to do very much for a child to get started. A lot of people told me at the beginning of this project that, you know, you can't just give a kid a laptop and walk away. Well, you know, you sort of can, actually. You really can, it's quite amazing. You can hand a closed box to a child that's never seen a computer, or doesn't use an automobile, or doesn't have electricity at home or at school, and they'll open that box and they’ll have that laptop working pretty quickly.\r\n
Now, obviously some guided experience is going to benefit everybody and you prefer that, but what we see is the teachers are very often very apprehensive and then very quickly realize that this is the best teaching that they've ever done in their life. And so, I can give you -- let me give you one anecdote. In Uruguay, the President of the country announced that this would be his legacy, "One laptop per child." That he would do every single child within two years and as an aside, they completed that a couple of months ago. So, every child in Uruguay has a little green laptop.\r\n
When he made that announcement, a teacher, who had been teaching for 30 years, went to the Social Security office and asked for early retirement. "I'm not going to be able to teach in this new environment, so I'd like early retirement." They told her to come back in six weeks. And during the intervening period, the laptops arrived in her classroom. Everybody was unpacking them, the kids are using -- within two days; she went back to the Social Security office and asked for late retirement. It just took her two days.\r\n
We get five comments we get from most every teacher that's involved. The first comment is that discipline problems go down in the classroom. The second comment is they've never loved teaching so much. The third comment is that they've never had parents so deeply involved with school, which is really very, very interesting. The next comment is that is almost universal is not just that truancy drops to zero, but that the energy level in the classroom is just undeniably different. And the last comment, which is perhaps the only negative one from their point of view, is that they just get swamped by emails from the kids. And since these laptops can exchange information, whether or not there's a cell phone grid or some other telecommunications, the teacher's suddenly gets lots of questions. Very often kids don't ask questions in class because they don't want to be seen asking a question, in either sense. Either they are embarrassed to ask it, or they don't want their colleagues to think that they're sort of goodie goodies. But at the privacy of your keyboard, you can ask a question and suddenly the role of the teacher changes and becomes much more active on an individual basis than it had been before.\r\n
Question: How do you respond to critics who say, “Students should read books, not play with computers?”\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, that's a silly remark because the difference between a book and the computer is basically zero in the sense that physical books are going to disappear, they're going to become screens within a very short period of time because of all sorts of reasons, the economics of it, the environmental impact of it, and just the sheer access. When we ship our laptop, we ship 1.6 million books with it. You can access free, 1.6 million books and embedded in the laptop are 100 books per laptop of the choosing of the country, but what's important about that is, when you ship 100 laptops into a village, there are 100 different books on each of the laptops, so the village now has 10,000 books in the village and 1.6 million accessible. That's -- that is really, really different.\r\n
So, to compare books to computers, I mean, computers are the way to get books. That is the medium for distributing text because it doesn't require paper, it doesn't -- you know, it's editable. Nothing goes out of date, nothing goes out of print, it can be refreshed and updated.\r\n
Usually when somebody makes a remark like that, what they're doing is they are observing that kids in a classroom are playing with their laptops because what is actually going on is pretty boring and if you have an environment where somebody is not engaging the kids, not using the laptops as part of the ethos, if you will, of the particular lessons and material going on, this is certainly going to happen. It's a little bit like people using cell phones in the middle of class because they're bored and they're sending messages to each other. That's not because the cell phone is innately bad, it's because the class is boring. And we don't find this situation when we go out into villages, but what we will find because the kids take the laptops home, is of course they're going to use them for games and for music and for movies, and they should. And that's very important. In fact, we require the country to allow the kids to take it home because otherwise, it's not a seamless part of their life, it's part of just this thing called school and something that is just not part of their normal life.\r\n
And you have to also keep in mind that most children in the world go to schools that is two shifts, there's a morning shift and an afternoon shift. If you look at two-shift schools, and you count the number of hours that a child spends in class, it's a number like 12 to 14 per week. Now, if you make the classroom experience absolutely perfect, it's still only 14 hours per week; there are a lot of other hours. So, we really look at the whole day of the child and want to influence that whole period. So, that's a very, very big difference again.\r\n
Question: What will be the equivalent of the “Negroponte switch” in the next 20 years?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, what you're referring to is a phenomenon that 20 years ago was evident, but not quite as obvious as it is today, and that is that most of the information that you got through the ground, through wires and physically, would in fact come through the air, and most of the things we got through the air, like television, would come through the ground. That there would be this switch between the sort of wired and wireless worlds in terms of what was traveling where. It's even hard for people to imagine today that telephones were wired, and they certainly were and you went to the end of a wire to make a phone call.\r\n
That switch was very fundamental, as was the sort of natural convergence that happens when things are digital. When things are digital, they're all 1's and zero's, and so they commingle in ways we didn't anticipate and you could do things that were not like publishing or television, or computers, but were some intersection of those and that got known to be convergence, so between the switching, or trading of places and the convergence, you have today's media.\r\n
Now, what is the analogue today, that 20 years from now we're going to look back and say, "Well, yes, that was evident today and is a very profound change." And while I can't say it in ten words or less, but I can assure you that it has to do with this space between biology and silicone. The things that are part of the natural sciences and the physical sciences, where the two meet, and whether that's manifest in embedded computers that are embedded in us as human beings, whether it's using biology to create energy that is attached to a chip that does things, but it's that intersection of the natural and synthetic world that will certainly be the major change going forward and we will be doing things and wearing things and eating things and you know, synthetic beef will be part of it, and in it will be some of the computing devices that, when they're in your stomach make sure that everything is okay in your stomach and report back when they're out of your stomach.\r\n
Question: What are the most radical technologies forthcoming from the MIT Media Lab?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, probably the most radical work done that still has not seen the light of day is the work of a man named Joe Jacobsen, where he was communicating wirelessly, directly with cells in the human body and that's pretty interesting if you can sort of communicate directly with cells in the body. That probably will have some pretty big effects 10 or 15 years from now.\r\n
By chance, the same person, 15, almost 20 years ago, invented electronic ink, which is the display medium used for every e-book distributed so far and that had a pretty profound effect, that you could display medium that used no power once the image was on it and reflected and was more paper-like than your laptop.\r\n
Question: Should people “unplug” more to avoid media oversaturation?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, it's interesting because unplugging is an expression we use and in fact, I find that unplugging is in fact for many people, including me, an uncomfortable state. And that what you do is you get to spend more time doing the things you love because you've used the interstices of time. I remember when I would come back from a trip and have to log in and do all my email and get a download and upload, and so on and so forth. Now, it's all done, not only on the airplane, but in the car back home, or to the airport. And suddenly you've used that otherwise wasted time and you can really use prime time for prime time. We are not quite a forced as we were before to, in the case of overload, to just cram everything out of one's life and I think we're seeing in young people a much more mixed existence where I'd like to describe a sort of life 20 years ago as being a fried egg. There was a yolk and a white and the white was maybe work, and the yolk was life. Today, it's more of an omelet. It's more mixed and it's more interspersed and I think that that's a more interesting state of being and for some people, they'll say well I want the crisp, fried egg approach to life. Well, I think life's turning into an omelet and people will just have to live with that.\r\n
Question: Following the battle between newspapers and Google, will walls between media increase?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: We're in a period of transition, and transition is always hard, and there is this dilemma between the sort of paid directly versus indirectly. I grew up with free television. Now, it wasn't free, there was these commercials, and so the economic model was driven through commercials and through advertising. That same model, in fact is what drives Google. And Google has a very powerful and new advertising model that, for them, prints money.\r\n
Some of the other media companies, and I call Google a media company because they really are one, charge more directly. Now, whether it's through a combination of advertising and subscription, there is a much more direct, in the sense that it is a subscription piece, and people would like their customers to pay. I'm not against paying at all. What I'm against is the complexity of paying. And you very often go to a website and you try to click on something and sometimes it will even say it's free, but you have to fill out this form. I'd much prefer to pay and not fill out the form. I mean, the time is to me far more inconvenient than paying for it. And I think that we'll see a world that will get easier to use and a lot more information will be free. A lot of people will contribute. The notion of collective contribution, like the Wikipedia, is a very powerful one. It's not the only one, but it's a powerful one. And so we'll see that grow.\r\n
Question: Which of the projects in your career has been the most difficult?\r\n
Nicholas Negroponte: It's hard to compare them. One Laptop per Child had the most difficulty and frustration in the sense that it included aspects that I was no good at doing that had to be done. But more important than that, it included things that I didn't anticipate, like the commercial interests fighting against us. I entered the project thinking we had this Mother Theresa shield around us because we're a humanitarian project, we're a non-profit, I don't draw a salary. I mean, I thought that that would isolate us from the normal battlefield of the commercial world and we found that that wasn't the case. I mean, people might wear gloves in public, but they certainly took them off in private and did things behind our backs that were quite frustrating, and I found that difficult.\r\n
Media Lab was different. The Media Lab was really amplifying the work of other people. And my job was to make it possible for them to do their research. It was not a management issue, I wasn't running their research, I wasn't even trying to determine it. What I was doing was trying to enable it and that could be making the environment, whether it was physical environment, economical environment, or social environment for those things to happen. So, there were very different challenges and very different periods in one's life.\r\n
In the case of the laptop, I had come to a stage in life where I didn't need to earn an income, I didn't need to earn a reputation, I didn't need fame, I didn't need any of the things you might want in your early career. And I knew a lot of people and had certain credibility because of MIT and the Media Lab, so it seemed like we were the right people to do something like the "One Laptop per Child," and sort of break the spell that had been created by companies adding more hardware features that then had more software, that then had more hardware, that then had more software, and the thing sort of gets to this obese state where, I'm going to use laptops in this case, were all like SUV's, they required more fuel to move the vehicle than the passenger. And how could you break that spell? How could you make something child-centric?\r\n
Well, one of the ways you could do that is if you had nothing to lose. If you had no other interests and that was our case. And it allowed us to do what then led to the so-called Netbook, and Netbooks today represent 30% of the work market of laptops. And that's a rather interesting change because it's as if I had come to you five years ago and said, "I think we should build an electric car," and I built an electric car and then today, one-third of all cars are electric, I'd feel pretty good about that. They don't happen to be my electric cars in those cases, but they are still, nonetheless electric in that example. And the same thing has happened with One Laptop per Child, that it gave birth to something that then had these other effects that now people can enjoy pretty good computing power, smaller machines, lighter machines, very inexpensive machines. And some of those will migrate to kids in Africa, and it's not just ours.
Recorded on December 4, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
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It could lead to a massive uptake in those previously hesitant.
A financial shot in the arm could be just what is needed for Americans unsure about vaccination.
On May 12, 2021, the Republican governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, announced five US$1 million lottery prizes for those who are vaccinated. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, younger citizens are being enticed to get the shot with $100 savings bonds, and a state university in North Carolina is offering students who get vaccinated a chance to win the cost of housing. Many companies are paying vaccinated employees more money through bonuses or extra paid time off.
The push to get as many people vaccinated as possible is laudable and may well work. But leading behavioral scientists are worried that paying people to vaccinate could backfire if it makes people more skeptical of the shots. And ethicists have argued that it would be wrong, citing concerns over fairness and equity.
As a behavioral scientist and ethicist, I draw on an extensive body of research to help answer these questions. It suggests that incentives might work to save lives and, if properly structured, need not trample individual rights or be a huge expense for the government.
In the United States, incentives and disincentives are already used in health care. The U.S. system of privatized health insurance exposes patients to substantial deductibles and copays, not only to cover costs but to cut down on what could be deemed as wasteful health care – the thinking being that putting a cost to an emergency room visit, for example, might deter those who aren't really in need of that level of care.
In practice, this means patients are encouraged to decline both emergency and more routine care, since both are exposed to costs.
Paying for health behaviors
In the case of COVID-19, the vaccines are already free to consumers, which has undoubtedly encouraged people to be immunized. Studies have shown that reducing out-of-pocket costs can improve adherence to life-sustaining drugs, whether to prevent heart attacks or to manage diabetes.
A payment to take a drug goes one step further than simply reducing costs. And if properly designed, such incentives can change health behaviors.
And for vaccination in particular, payments have been successful for human papillomavirus (HPV) in England; hepatitis B in the United States and the United Kingdom; and tetanus toxoid in Nigeria. The effects can be substantial: For example, for one group in the HPV study, the vaccination rate more than doubled with an incentive.
For COVID-19, there are no field studies to date, but several survey experiments, including one my group conducted with 1,000 Americans, find that incentives are likely to work. In our case, the incentive of a tax break was enough to encourage those hesitant about vaccinations to say they would take the shot.
Even if incentives will save lives by increasing vaccinations, there are still other ethical considerations. A key concern is protecting the autonomous choices of people to decide what they put into their own bodies. This may be especially important for the COVID-19 vaccines, which – although authorized as likely safe and effective – are not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
But already people are often paid to participate in clinical trials for drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA. Ethicists have worried that such payments may be “coercive" if the money is so attractive as to override a person's free choices or make them worse off overall.
One can quibble about whether the term “coercion" applies to offers of payment. But even if offers were coercive, payments may still be reasonable to save lives in a pandemic if they succeed in greater levels of immunization.
During the smallpox epidemic nearly 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the power of states to mandate vaccines. Compared with mandating vaccination, the incentives to encourage vaccines seem innocuous.
Exploitation and paternalism
Yet some still worry. Bioethicists Emily Largent and Franklin Miller wrote in a recent paper that a payment might “unfairly" exploit “those U.S. residents who have lost jobs … or slipped into poverty during the pandemic," which could leave them feeling as if they have “no choice but to be vaccinated for cash." Others have noted that vaccine hesitancy is higher in nonwhite communities, where incomes tend to be lower, as is trust in the medical establishment.
Ethicists and policymakers should indeed focus on the poorest members of our community and seek to minimize racial disparities in both health outcomes and wealth. But there is no evidence that offering money is actually detrimental to such populations. Receiving money is a good thing. To suggest that we have to protect adults by denying them offers of money may come across as paternalism.
Some ethicists also argue that the money is better spent elsewhere to increase participation. States could spend the money making sure vaccines are convenient to everyone, for example, by bringing them to community events and churches. Money could also support various efforts to fight misinformation and communicate the importance of getting the shot.
The cost of incentives
Financial incentives could be expensive as a policy solution. As in Ohio, lottery drawings are one way to cap the overall cost of incentives while giving millions of people an additional reason to get their shot.
The tax code could also allow for a no-cost incentive for vaccination. Tax deductions and credits are often designed to encourage behaviors, such as savings or home ownership. Some states now have big budget surpluses and are considering tax relief measures. If a state announced now that such payments would be conditional on being vaccinated, then each person declining the shot would save the government money.
Ultimately, a well-designed vaccination incentive can help save lives and need not keep the ethicists up at night.
Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.
- It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
- Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
- Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Our hearts beat at a resting rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Lots of other things pulse, too. The colors we see and the pitches we hear, for example, are due to the different wave frequencies ("pulses") of light and sound waves.
Now, a study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers finds that Earth itself has a pulse, with one "beat" every 27.5 million years. That's the rate at which major geological events have been occurring as far back as geologists can tell.
A planetary calendar has 10 dates in red
Credit: Jagoush / Adobe Stock
According to lead author and geologist Michael Rampino of New York University's Department of Biology, "Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random."
The new study is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of a planetary geologic cycle, but it's only with recent refinements in radioisotopic dating techniques that there's evidence supporting the theory. The authors of the study collected the latest, best dating for 89 known geologic events over the last 260 million years:
- 29 sea level fluctuations
- 12 marine extinctions
- 9 land-based extinctions
- 10 periods of low ocean oxygenation
- 13 gigantic flood basalt volcanic eruptions
- 8 changes in the rate of seafloor spread
- 8 times there were global pulsations in interplate magmatism
The dates provided the scientists a new timetable of Earth's geologic history.
Tick, tick, boom
Credit: New York University
Putting all the events together, the scientists performed a series of statistical analyses that revealed that events tend to cluster around 10 different dates, with peak activity occurring every 27.5 million years. Between the ten busy periods, the number of events dropped sharply, approaching zero.
Perhaps the most fascinating question that remains unanswered for now is exactly why this is happening. The authors of the study suggest two possibilities:
"The correlations and cyclicity seen in the geologic episodes may be entirely a function of global internal Earth dynamics affecting global tectonics and climate, but similar cycles in the Earth's orbit in the Solar System and in the Galaxy might be pacing these events. Whatever the origins of these cyclical episodes, their occurrences support the case for a largely periodic, coordinated, and intermittently catastrophic geologic record, which is quite different from the views held by most geologists."
Assuming the researchers' calculations are at least roughly correct — the authors note that different statistical formulas may result in further refinement of their conclusions — there's no need to worry that we're about to be thumped by another planetary heartbeat. The last occurred some seven million years ago, meaning the next won't happen for about another 20 million years.
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Humanity knows surprisingly little about the ocean depths. An often-repeated bit of evidence for this is the fact that humanity has done a better job mapping the surface of Mars than the bottom of the sea. The creatures we find lurking in the watery abyss often surprise even the most dedicated researchers with their unique features and bizarre behavior.
A recent expedition off the coast of Java discovered a new isopod species remarkable for its size and resemblance to Darth Vader.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.
According to LiveScience, the Bathynomus genus is sometimes referred to as "Darth Vader of the Seas" because the crustaceans are shaped like the character's menacing helmet. Deemed Bathynomus raksasa ("raksasa" meaning "giant" in Indonesian), this cockroach-like creature can grow to over 30 cm (12 inches). It is one of several known species of giant ocean-going isopod. Like the other members of its order, it has compound eyes, seven body segments, two pairs of antennae, and four sets of jaws.
The incredible size of this species is likely a result of deep-sea gigantism. This is the tendency for creatures that inhabit deeper parts of the ocean to be much larger than closely related species that live in shallower waters. B. raksasa appears to make its home between 950 and 1,260 meters (3,117 and 4,134 ft) below sea level.
Perhaps fittingly for a creature so creepy looking, that is the lower sections of what is commonly called The Twilight Zone, named for the lack of light available at such depths.
It isn't the only giant isopod, far from it. Other species of ocean-going isopod can get up to 50 cm long (20 inches) and also look like they came out of a nightmare. These are the unusual ones, though. Most of the time, isopods stay at much more reasonable sizes.
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During an expedition, there are some animals which you find unexpectedly, while there are others that you hope to find. One of the animal that we hoped to find was a deep sea cockroach affectionately known as Darth Vader Isopod. The staff on our expedition team could not contain their excitement when they finally saw one, holding it triumphantly in the air! #SJADES2018
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What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?
The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.
Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:
"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region."
The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its head. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and Great Old Ones.
Researchers discovered a galactic wind from a supermassive black hole that sheds light on the evolution of galaxies.
- A new study finds the oldest galactic wind yet detected, from 13.1 billion years ago.
- The research confirms the theory that black holes and galaxies evolve together.
- The galactic wind was spotted using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.
An enormously powerful galactic wind generated by a supermassive black hole 13.1 billions years ago has been discovered by researchers. The scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which combines 66 radio telescopes, to make the find. The results are published in the Astrophysical Journal.
This is the earliest example of this type of wind yet spotted that underscores the role of black holes in the formation of galaxies. Research has shown that galactic winds affect redistribution of metals around the galaxy and impact start formation.
Black holes and galaxies evolve together
In previous studies, scientists have noticed an unexpected proportional relationship between the mass of a supermassive black hole at the center of a large galaxy, which can grow up to billions of times more massive than the sun, and the mass of the galaxy's central area (known as a "bulge"). The proportionality of the masses is especially unusual considering that galaxies and black holes are so different in size, with the bulge generally being orders of magnitude larger. This led the researchers to conclude that galaxies and black holes developed together through coevolution, which involved some physical interaction courtesy of the galactic wind.
As ALMA's press release explains, a galactic wind starts coming into existence when a supermassive black hole gobbles up giant quantities of matter. It is then moved at such a high speed by the black hole's gravity that it radiates intense energy, which in turn, pushes surrounding matter away, creating the galactic wind.
Takuma Izumi, the paper's lead author and a researcher at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), says an important question is: "When did galactic winds come into existence in the universe?" Finding this out can lead to understanding how galaxies and supermassive black holes coevolved.
Finding an ancient galactic wind
The researchers used NAOJ's Subaru Telescope to locate over 100 galaxies that existed more than 13 billion years ago that featured supermassive black holes. They then used the high sensitivity of ALMA to analyze the gas motion in these galaxies, finding that the dust and carbon of one of them (dubbed J1243+0100) emitted radio waves. This allowed the scientists to detect the presence of an intense galactic wind that rushes forth from the supermassive black hole at about 1,118,468 miles per hour (500 km/second). The energy of the wind, the oldest found so far, is so strong that it pushes away stellar materials, preventing stars from forming.
Interestingly, the mass of the bulge in J1243+0100 was found to be about 30 billion times larger than that of the sun, while the mass of the galaxy's supermassive black hole was estimated to be about 1 percent of that. This ratio is essentially the same as the mass ratio of black holes to galaxies in today's universe. To the scientists, this demonstrates how essential black holes are in affecting the growth of galaxies, supporting the notion of coevolution from the early period of the universe.
"Our observations support recent high-precision computer simulations which have predicted that coevolutionary relationships were in place even at about 13 billion years ago," explained Izumi.
The scientists are planning to observe a large pool of space objects in the future, with the goal of clarifying "whether or not the primordial coevolution seen in this object is an accurate picture of the general universe at that time," further commented Izumi.