Money for Nothing

Question: What do you find frustrating in your field?

Leonard Guarente: I think that at least for the aging field, one disappointment I would say that I've had is that aging is fundamental to so many diseases, yet I really think it's underfunded in terms of an approach to treating these diseases. And to give you an example, I think the past 10 to 20 years has been an amazing time in the field of aging. But the fraction of the NIH budget that goes to research on aging hasn't changed over that period. And to me that's disappointing, because I think that this is one leverage point to really improve human health.


Question: What type of research is over-funded?

Leonard Guarente: I'm not sure anything is overfunded, to be perfectly honest. You know, I think at least most major areas of research that I know of are meritorious. And you know, if you review grants, usually the number of grants you see that are worthy of funding far exceeds the number that actually get funded. So you know, I'm not saying -- I realize it's ultimately a zero-sum game, but I do think that aging in particular probably is a little bit underfunded now.


Question: Which countries are best at encouraging medical innovation?

Leonard Guarente: The U.S. has always been the best country in terms of encouraging innovation. And I think, you know, the rise of the NIH and the granting system after World War II to now is a really good example of that. And I know when I was a young scientist, you know, people would apply for grants, and they weren't so hard to get. The fraction funded maybe was 25 percent, something like that, and so that you could propose things that were a little bit out of the box and have a chance of getting funded to do it, which encourages innovation. I think now, once things become so tight, and instead of 25 percent you have 10 percent of grants funded, then I think, you know, any grant that seems the least bit risk is not going to be funded. And I think you tend to encourage sort of precise, calculated science at the expense of creative science. So historically this country has been the best. I think -- I'm a little concerned now that that might be trailing off, although I can't offhand tell you that it's better any other place.


Recorded on November 9, 2009

There isn't enough funding for research on aging.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel and deadly experiment

Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?

Flickr user Tommy Truong79
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
  • The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
  • Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
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China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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