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Get Ready for the Asteroid Gold Rush

Asteroid mining will be a major engine for future economic growth, says author and entrepreneur Steven Kotler.

Steven Kotler: We had the idea that we could mind asteroids for over a hundred years. Late 1800s is when we first started thinking about this in the first place. And today we have, I think it’s three or four different asteroid mining companies. It’s no longer an idea. We actually have companies that are actively pursuing this. And we also have really serious economic reasons for pursuing this, right. A lot of the metals, rare earth metals that we need to make all of our electronic gear are very scarce on Earth and totally plentiful in space. Gold, platinum — platinum is a fantastic conductor. We don’t build technology around it very much because all the platinum on Earth would essentially fit into the back of a flatbed truck, right. There’s a very limited supply. It is everywhere in space. So if you look at the history of the world, it’s always been the search for resources that has opened up new frontiers. It’s been the economic driver that has opened up new frontiers. Well that economic driver is there in space. And you have to think about it this way. If you go back 20 years ago, right, when Shell discovered the first North Sea oil deposit. It was beneath 5,000 feet of water, 10,000 feet of rock and they had to operate in this very cold, very hostile, very faraway environment robotically to get at oil. It was resource extraction. North Sea oil platforms are very, very expensive, but we learned. Shell was willing to take a very, very expensive bet to operate robotically in a very hostile distant far and away environment to get at resources, right. The same budget sort of applies to asteroid mining and it’s the same exact situation. It is a very faraway, very remote robotically extracted resource if we’re mining asteroids. So we’ve done this before. We’ve been down this exact road and for the first time in history we have the technology, right.

We’ve already been in three different missions already. Two out of NASA and one out of Japan that have caught up to asteroids. We even had one that — Hayabusa, which is the Japanese probe — scratched the surface and brought back some dust. It’s low-grade first step mining, right. So we already have proof of concept. We know it can be done. We know the resources are out there. And there are companies pursuing it. Will it happen in the next 20-25 years? The next 10 years? The next 20-25 or the next 50 years? I don’t know. If you talk to the people running the companies, they’ll put a 10- to 20-year time horizon on it. I think it’s a little farther out. But again, we’re going to see it sometime in the next 50 years. And you have to understand what this means. You know they did a study where they looked at the amount of gold contained in just a typical middle-of-the-road asteroid, not even like a metallic asteroid. Just a typical middle-of-the-road one and it was double what Fort Knox held at the height of Fort Knox, right. So there’s enough gold in one asteroid to kind of devalue every currency market on Earth. So that’s what’s coming and it’s really, really interesting, right. It sounds like this crazy science fiction technology but it’s going to have real-world economic impact on this planet within the century. And so we have to kind of be prepared for it at the same time that we’re thinking about it’s still science fiction.

Did you know there are several companies already in existence dedicated wholly to mining asteroids? What was once the topic of sci-fi has become the reality of our near future. According to author and entrepreneur Steven Kotler, the great asteroid gold rush will serve as a major economic engine for future growth. That's because many of the rare elements and minerals on which we depend can be found in plentiful amounts floating through space, just waiting to be collected. History has taught us that heightened resource acquisition has led to massive waves of innovation and economic growth. Kotler believes we're only a short span of time away from history repeating itself, this time on chunks of rock beyond the surface of the Earth.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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