David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Witnessing one of Hubble's greatest hits

Question: What was your involvement with the Hubble Space Telescope?

Heidi Hammel:When Hubble was launched, it became clear very shortly thereafter that there was a problem with the optics. The mirror was not quite the right shape. And the one program that I had really been looking forward to doing with Hubble was studying outer planets in our solar system, the planets Uranus and Neptune. And they’re so far away. Even though they’re big planets, they’re so far away that they’re really, really challenging and hard to see. And it was clear that with the optics not quite up to snuff, we couldn’t really do these planets. So I didn’t propose for the first couple of years that Hubble was up. But then there was a servicing mission where they put in some new optics. Basically they put in like a pair of glasses, if you will, on Hubble. And so I had proposed a program to use Hubble to look at the planet Neptune. But before that could happen, someone discovered a comet, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, and it was in orbit around Jupiter. And I remember thinking, “So what?” Comets are like little balls of ice. Jupiter’s a huge planet. Nothing’s, you know, it’s not a big deal. They discovered the comet was going to hit Jupiter, you know. It’s like, well, so what? Nothing’s going to happen. But there was a guy down the hall from me at MIT, Tim Dowling, and he did this really high falutin’, super computer model type stuff of atmospheres. And he did models of what would happen to Jupiter’s atmosphere when the comet hit it, and his models predicted it would make these big ripples and rings, sort of like if you threw a rock in a pond, you’d see these rings expanding from where the rock hit. And he said, “Well, Heidi, can you write a proposal to use Hubble to look for these rings?” And I said, “Well, yes, sure, Tim. I mean, I know how to write a proposal. I’m good at that.” So I wrote a proposal to use Hubble to look for these expanding rings that he had predicted. And a few weeks went by, and they read the proposals. And I got a phone call, and they said, “Heidi, we picked your proposal as one that we’re going to do. And we picked six others, and we’d like you to be the principal investigator, the team leader, and combine all these proposals into one program.” And I said, “Oh, me? Okay. Well, let me think about it and get back to you.” That’s a standard response that blue grass musicians use when they’re asked for a gig. “Let me get back to you on that. I’ll check my calendar.” So I thought about it for like a day and a half, and you can’t say no. I mean, here they’re asking you to use the Hubble Space Telescope, even though I’d never used it before, because my other program hadn’t happened yet. So my very first program was this huge event that we didn’t even know if anything was going to happen, very risky. There I was about to use Hubble and my personal opinion, before the event happened, was that nothing would be seen. Kind of embarrassing if you’re thinking of doing 30 orbits of Hubble time, and you’re not going to see anything, but you have to take a chance every once in awhile. One of the things I’ve learned that has made me very successful, I think, as a scientist in general, sometimes you just have to take a chance. Got to for it even if you don’t know what’s going to happen. So I did. It turned out to be spectacular. We had the best view on earth or space of these impacts. Hubble performed beautifully, flawlessly, and we got spectacular images of these black impact sites where these comets crashed, those comet fragments crashed into the cloud tops of Jupiter. It was just absolutely amazing. And everyone on earth could see the spots. Even with like a little, tiny toy telescope from Sears, you could see these black spots on Jupiter, but then you could see our Hubble images, which were clearly fantastic images. We really put Hubble kind of back on the map, and it was a fantastic thing to do.



Heidi Hammel's team of scientists put the Hubble Space Telescope "back on the map" when they captured the dramatic collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter. Hubble performed "beautifully, flawlessly, and we got spectacular images."

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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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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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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.