Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

More to Life Than Cars

Question: Why are you optimistic about the future of design and sustainable mobility?

Geoff Wardle: There’s so much to be done.  If you assume, as I do, that the entire spectrum of transportation, road transportation, rail, and air, shipping is unsustainable, then we’ve got a huge amount of work to do to make it sustainable.  And design has to play an extremely important role in that.  So that’s why I’m very optimistic that if designers want it, there’s more work than they will know what to do with to help solve this problem.

Question: What are the main challenges that designers must face right now?

Geoff Wardle: Probably the most important one is for designers to be listened to as contributors to solving bigger problems than just designing products or services.  And the challenges involved with that means that designers need to understand a lot more about the larger context of the world that they’re designing in.   

Question: Where is the bottleneck in transportation advances coming from?

Geoff Wardle: I think there are a variety of bottlenecks.  And of course, one has to consider that pretty well all of our transportation systems now, whether it’s the automobile, whether it’s trains, shipping, the truck industry, aviation; they’re all very mature industries; some of them with well over 100 years of continuity.  So there are huge vested interests in the way we do things now.  So it’s very, very difficult to get people to change a habit that they’re used to and they’ve got business models and manufacturing systems all set up.  That’s one bottleneck. 

And of course, in the political spectrum there are a lot of interests, lots of special interests that are lobbying for special interests not to change the landscape too quickly.  So I don’t think the bottlenecks are actually in technology; we know there is quite a lot of interesting technology rapidly being developed.  It’s more a question of getting the captains of industry, our political leaders, and even ourselves as consumers, to embrace change. 

Question: How should designers go about stewarding this change?

Geoff Wardle: Well, designers do have a huge opportunity to steward these change through the processes and to do that, as I said earlier, the designers need to see their role as being much larger than just concentrating on products and services to design.  They really need to look at the complete system of transportation and they need to understand the context in which these transportation systems are going to be operating.  They have to use systems thinking as part of their process.  And they also have to learn; well not learn perhaps, but they have to be prepared, I should say, to step outside their comfort zones of the familiar design community and actually roll their sleeves up and start being heard by people beyond their normal audience.  

Designers tend to work within their own community.  So, they’re proposing ideas to familiar customers, or within their design studios.  Now they need to get out there and actually start talking to some of the leaders of industry.  They need to get to understand a lot more about what the public really wants.  And they need to understand how the political system works so that they can make useful contributions to the conversations that go on.  

I happen to think that the automobile with large qualifications can play a large part in our future transportation, but designers need to understand that the car is no longer serving the needs of a large section of the population.  It’s serving needs in terms of status and desirability as an object.  But the truth is, in many parts of the world, particularly here in Southern California, it’s not actually a very effective means of mobility any longer because we have so much gridlock.  Designers need to address that.  They need to think about, in their own industry if they work in the car industry, what can we do?  How do we change our thinking to make the automobile a much more valuable contribution, or contributor, to our whole system?  But also, there are such huge opportunities for designers in the transportation arena in the automobile industry and beyond, to work on other forms of transportation as well. 

I’ve said many times that the car gets all the passion in the design world.  So much of the design work that goes into automobile design is done by people who are really passionate about cars.  Then when you look at people who design – or I shouldn’t say the people who design, but when you look at how buses, or transit, or trains how they’re designed; where’s the passion there?  And I think there is a clear correlation between encouraging people to embrace different kinds of transportation when they can feel that there’s some excitement in using that transportation.  So, designers have a lot of opportunity to export their passion from what they do in, typically in the car industry to other forms of transportation, right across the spectrum. 

Recorded on February 4, 2010

Automobiles get all the passion in the design world. Designers need to export that passion to other modes of transportation.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Keep reading Show less

Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
Keep reading Show less

NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.

NASA
Surprising Science
  • The audio captured by the lander is of Martian winds blowing at an estimated 10 to 15 mph.
  • It was taken by the InSight Mars lander, which is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, and possibly discover liquid water on Mars.
  • Microphones are essentially an "extra sense" that scientists can use during experiments on other planets.
Keep reading Show less

A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

Quantcast