Hey Bill Nye! Could Scientists Today Create Frankenstein’s Monster?
Has technology advanced enough that we could stitch together body parts and reanimate the dead? Bill Nye one-ups that old-school Frankenstein vision with newer (and cooler) scientific possibilities.
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
Lauren: Hi Bill Nye. My name is Lauren . I'm . First off I'd like to say that you're my favorite person ever in the world. But my question is do you think we can build our own modern day Frankenstein sewn together body parts and somehow reanimating it, do you think it's possible because you seem like the person to ask this. Anyway, thank you so much. I hope to see you on Big Think.
Bill Nye: Lauren, reanimating people from different body parts. Probably not, but something even more amazing is about to happen in biology and genetics. One point of clarification, Dr. Frankenstein created what came to be called Frankenstein's monster. The monster himself was not really called Frankenstein. Just a little science fiction point of interest there. So what will probably happen in your lifetime, just judging how old you appear on Big Think, is people like you will be able to regenerate parts of your body using your own cells that technologist in medicine and genetics are finding ways to get your own body to create more cells that it didn't used to be able to create. Like if you need a new pancreas you'll be able to grow your own pancreas. And I don't know about complex mechanical systems like hands and fingers, but it doesn't seem beyond the technology that's being developed right now. Because in my lifetime people came to appreciate the significance of stem cells. These are cells that have plenta potential. They can be anything when you're a blastocyst before you take on the form of a human or what have you. So the Ackerman is CRISPR and I know the P there is palindrome, palindromic, which is the same at both ends, the same backwards and forwards. And so people are finding ways, geneticists are finding ways to get cells to do whatever they want, whatever they want them to do. And it's presumed that instead of making a monster akin to Dr. Frankenstein's fictional great creature by assembling pieces from disparate other humans, instead you'd get each person's own cells to regenerate body parts or maybe in the womb create extraordinary people extraordinarily smart with extraordinary skills at dunking basketballs or what have you.
But the idea of taking your consciousness and putting it in another device or another system or another person, another biological system is something that's been around for a long time. Science fiction has got it for a long time. And I'm always charmed by the singularity when computers are going to be as complex and sophisticated as a human brain. And this moment in history is called the singularity and then you'll just download all of your memories and all of your experiences into this is presumed electronic storage system and then you would live as long as you're plugged in, as long as you have electricity, what have you. It just seems way more complicated and not something I would ever count on. And I don't think you can really be a whole person in the way that you seem to be here on camera without your senses, without your eyes, ears, nose and so on feeling the world around you your so called central nervous system, which is part of your brain. I don't think it's that simple to put a brain in another body and carry on or put your consciousness in an electrical receptacle and carry on, but you may be living at a time when extraordinary things will be done with your own cells that will far surpass anything that Dr. Frankenstein in the story was able to do. It's exciting. Carry on.
This week on Tuesday’s With Bill, Lauren from Tennessee wants to know whether it would be possible to assemble different body parts and reanimate them in the style of Frankenstein’s monster. Stitching together parts and inserting consciousness is likely not possible, says Nye – the closest future theory to it is the singularity, when AI gets as intricate and sophisticated as the human brain, and we’re able to upload our consciousness into it and live for as long as we keep the batteries charged. Nye has his doubts about that, however. What he is optimistic – and realistic – about is developing technology that in the next 50 years or so will allow us to regenerate our own body parts from stem cells. In our lifetime perhaps we could grow a new pancreas or a liver segment for our own transplant. Connected moving tissue like hands and fingers are much further into the future. CRISPR is another incredible technology that’s only in its infancy. It’s a genetic engineering cut-and-paste methods that allows genes to be manipulated to basic desires. Once that technology is developed, we may be able to create genetic supermen and women in the womb, and it likely has applications beyond what we can currently imagine. The potential for what humans can create is immense, and will be a lot sleeker looking than a flesh and thread patchwork a la Frankenstein. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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