Paul Erdős really got going on speed

On Reddit, binary_bender charted the stimulant consumption of mathematician Paul Erdős against his professional output. The prolific professor wrote more than 1500 papers in his long, incredibly wired life: "Clearly Meth Coffee." [via r/dataisbeautiful]

For Erdős death was merely a cessation of input, it taking years for his momentum to subside. Read the rest

Launching today: NASA's new satellite seeking "alien" Earths

Today, SpaceX expects to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to deliver NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into orbit. Scientists expect TESS to find thousands of exoplanets by detecting when they pass in front of their host stars, briefly blocking the light of those suns.

“A few months after TESS launches, we will be able to point out the first ones of these familiar stars, which host planets that could be like ours,” says Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute.

From Nadia Drake's excellent FAQ on TESS in National Geographic:

The search for life beyond Earth is necessarily constrained by what we know. Life as we don’t know it could be anywhere, and it doesn’t care that we haven’t deigned to imagine it yet. To help focus the hunt, astronomers are starting by looking for something familiar. And we know that at least once, life evolved on a warm, rocky planet orbiting a relatively stable star.

That being said, many of the stars TESS will scrutinize will be smaller and dimmer than our own: the cool, reddish M dwarfs that are the most common types of stars in the Milky Way. Planets orbiting these stars at a distance that’s neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist are going to be snuggled in quite close—orbiting near enough to their stars for scientists to find them on months-long time scales.

In addition, the worlds TESS expects to find will be better situated for observations that could reveal whether alien metabolisms are churning away on their surfaces, beneath their seas, or in their clouds.

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Self-powering camera: an image sensor that's also a photovoltaic cell

A team of University of Michigan electrical engineering/computer science researchers have published a paper (Sci-Hub mirror) detailing their work in creating a camera sensor (a device that converts light to electricity) that's also a solar power cell (also a device that converts light to electricity). Read the rest

Goldman Sachs report: "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?"

In Goldman Sachs's April 10 report, "The Genome Revolution," its analysts ponder the rise of biotech companies who believe they will develop "one-shot" cures for chronic illnesses; in a moment of rare public frankness, the report's authors ask, "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" Read the rest

Careful study reveals that low testosterone is almost nonexistent and that taking T has almost no health benefits

A large-scale, long-term double-blind study found that low testosterone levels were far, far lower than previously suspected, and showed that taking testosterone supplements didn't confer most of its reputed benefits -- no memory improvement and no physical vitality. Read the rest

Creepy new spy camera is so small it could be hiding anywhere

If you're not already wearing a tinfoil hat, it may be a good time to start: a pair of engineers based out of the University of Michigan have figured out a way to create a light-powered camera sensor that's only a millimeter in size: small enough to be practically invisible to a casual observer.

According to a paper published in IEEE Electron Device Letters by Euisik Yoon and Sung-Yun Park, the new camera has the potential to not only be insanely small, but also, self sustaining, thanks to a solar panel placed directly behind the camera's image sensor, which is thin enough that light, in addition to what's needed to create an image, is able to pass right through it. This could provide the camera with all the power it needs to be able to continue to capture images, indefinitely.  At a maximum of 15 frames per second, the images it captures aren't of the best quality, but they're more than adequate for creeping on an unsuspecting subject.

The good news is that, for the time being, the camera is nothing more than a proof-of-concept. In order for it to be deployed in the real world as a near-invisible surveillance device, someone a lot smarter than me will need to figure out how to store image data and transmit it using hardware that's just as discrete as the camera's image sensor and power source are.

Fingers crossed that it'll take them a while to work those issues out. Image via pxhere Read the rest

4K tour of the Moon

NASA posted this high-definition tour of the Moon, a perfectly serene antidote to the noise here on Earth.

Take a virtual tour of the Moon in all-new 4K resolution, thanks to data provided by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. As the visualization moves around the near side, far side, north and south poles, we highlight interesting features, sites, and information gathered on the lunar terrain. Music Provided By Killer Tracks: "Never Looking Back" - Frederick Wiedmann. "Flying over Turmoil" - Benjamin Krause & Scott Goodman. This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4619 Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/David Ladd
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Bathroom hand-dryers suck in poo-particles and aerosolize them all over you and everything else

A new study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology (Sci-Hub mirror) conducted microbial surveys of the bathrooms at the University of Connecticut (where the study's lead authors are based) to investigate whether hand-dryers were sucking in potentially infectious microbes and then spraying them all over everything, as had been observed in earlier studies. Read the rest

Woman plays flute while undergoing brain surgery

Musician Anna Henry suffered from essential tremor, a movement disorder that causes shaky hands. As the conditioned worsened, it interfered with her flute playing. So she underwent a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation to cure it. The Texas Medical Center surgeons implanted a battery pack in her chest that delivers tiny voltages to the brain's thalamus, a key region responsible for controlling movement. She was kept awake during the operation, a common practice to test the device and avoid brain damage. The procedure worked. From the Texas Medical Center:

The result was like flipping a switch. Prior to the surgery, Henry’s neurologist, Mya Schiess, M.D., of the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and UTHealth, ran a few motor control tests. Henry could barely sign her name, let alone hold a pen. When handed a cup of water, her hand shook so intensely that the water splashed inside the cup.

But after the electrodes were placed in her brain and the thalamus was stimulated, Henry’s hand was still and stable, without a single detectable tremor. When she signed her name a second time, each pen stroke was smooth and clean. Her handwriting was legible for the first time in decades.

The surgical team handed Henry her flute to test if her hands were stable enough to play. As she remained on the operating bed, she lifted her flute to her mouth and treated everyone in the operating room not only to a sweet melody, but the joy of seeing her tremor disappear.

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Thursday 4/5 at San Francisco's Cal Academy of Sciences: Space Age NightLife with the Voyager Golden Record

Please join me this Thursday evening April 5 at San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences NightLife event celebrating the Space Age! At 8:30pm, I'll be speaking about the Voyager Golden Record, the iconic message for extraterrestrials launched into space that my friends Tim Daly, Lawrence Azerrad, and I released on vinyl for the first time here on Earth. I'm honored to be joined in conversation by my friend and mentor Timothy Ferris, the bestselling science author who produced the original Voyager Record back in 1977.

There's a stellar lineup of other presenters and happenings at the museum that night too: NASA astronaut Ed Lu, a workshop with the Vintage Synthesizer Museum, a panel on NASA computing technology, space-themed pinball machines, Vetiver's Andy Cabic and DJ Daniel T on the turntables, plenty of far-out art, and much more. I hope to see you there: California Academy of Sciences NightLife: Space Age

The Voyager Golden Record 3xLP Vinyl Box Set and 2xCD-Book edition will be for sale at the event and also available from OzmaRecords.com.

Here's an audio sampler:

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China's falling space station burned up last night just north of the Spacecraft Cemetery

Last night, China's Tinagong-1 space station, about the size of a school bus, burned up as it fell over the Pacific Ocean. The Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques captured this hot image as the satellite was just 270 kilometers (170 miles) above Earth's surface. Kenneth Chang writes in the New York Times:

The demise of the station, Tiangong-1, became apparent when radar stations no longer detected it passing overhead. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries; the likelihood that pieces would land on someone was small, but not zero.

The station may have landed northwest of Tahiti, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said on Twitter. That location is north of the Spacecraft Cemetery, an isolated region in the Pacific Ocean where space debris has frequently landed.

For the past few weeks the fate of Tiangong-1 has provided some drama. The Chinese lost control of the spacecraft a couple of years ago and thus could not guide it to the middle of an ocean. Because of the drag of air molecules bouncing off Tiangong-1, the station’s altitude dropped, and the descent accelerated quickly in the last few days.

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Scientists design fire alarm wallpaper made from the same mineral as bone and teeth

Researchers demonstrated a prototype "fire alarm wallpaper" that's meant to be flame-resistant while also integrating a nanotechnology-based sensor that triggers a siren and warning lights. Ying-Jie Zhu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues published their work in the journal ACS Nano.

The new wallpaper is based on hydroxyapatite, which is the primary inorganic component of bone and teeth. Although hydroxyapatite is typically brittle and inflexible, in previous work the researchers found that forming ultralong nanowires made of hydroxyapatite gives the material a high flexibility suitable for making wallpaper.

In order to make the nonflammable wallpaper a "smart material" capable of automatically sounding an alarm in response to a fire, the researchers incorporated an ink-based thermosensitive sensor onto the wallpaper.

The thermosensitive sensor is fabricated on the surface of the wallpaper by a simple drop-casting process using an ink containing graphene oxide. The tiny sensor is placed on the backside of the fire- resistant wallpaper so that it is out of sight and protected by the fireproof wallpaper.

The sensor is composed primarily of graphene oxide, which is electrically insulating at room temperature. However, when exposed to heat, the oxygen-containing groups are removed, making the material highly conductive. The sensor is connected to an alarm, so when a fire occurs and the sensor begins to conduct electricity, it causes the alarm to go off.

"Fire alarm wallpaper detects, resists, and warns of house fires" (Phys.org)

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Why humans are so enchanted with cats

We think cats are our pets but we are mistaken. The New Yorker interviews Abigail Tucker, author of The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World:

She explains how “cats domesticated themselves”—essentially by choosing proximity to people as their survival strategy—and then proceeded to infect one in three humans on Earth with a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which affects our behavior in ways that are still not entirely understood, although there is speculation that one of the symptoms might be an attraction to cats. Scientists estimate that there could be as many as a billion cats in the world, and their number continues to grow. So, if you feel like you live under your cat’s paw, you might as well get used to it. As Tucker says, “We’re never going to get control over these animals.”

(The New Yorker) Read the rest

On the junk science and excellent PR of Cambridge Analytica

Cambridge Analytica claimed that it could sway elections thanks to the devastating power of psychometric profiling, and they may have even believed it, but those claims should be read with a critical eye, because they're marketing hype aimed at people whom Cambridge Analytica was pitching as client; and because Cambridge Analytica is not a scientific enterprise, but a secretive corporation whose researchers never had to subject their experiments and results to critical, peer-reviewed scrutiny, opening up endless possibilities for self-deception and truth-shading. Read the rest

Hacking particle accelerators for unexpected science

As advanced atom smashers like the Large Hadron Collider come online, older ones are sometimes abandoned or, better, used for unexpected science experiments. Examples range from recording high-speed X-rays of the biological "motor" that flaps a fly's wings to finding an easter egg in a Degas painting. In the video above, Science Hack Day "global instigator" Ariel Waldman reveals how researchers hack particle accelerators for new uses.

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Yuri's Night L.A., April 7: Bill Nye, astronaut Nicole Stott, David Pescovitz and the Voyager Golden Record

On Saturday April 7, celebrate the wonder of space exploration during the Yuri's Night bash taking place under the Space Shuttle Endeavor at the California Science Center! Special guests include astronaut Nicole Stott, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and many more. Among dozens of far out talks and stellar interactive experiences, I'll be there playing the Voyager Golden Record, the iconic message for extraterrestrials launched into space 40 years ago. (My friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad and I co-produced the first ever vinyl release of the Voyager Record and we were honored with a 2018 Grammy award.)

I hope to see you there! Tickets: Yuri's Night L.A.

And of course if you're not in Los Angeles, there are Yuri's Night happenings all over the planet!

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Dung beetles save us from drowning in poop

"A pile of elephant dung can attract 4,000 beetles in 15 minutes." It's a fact that you never knew you'd want to know, but trust me, you totally do. This short video on how dung beetles save us from drowning in an ocean of animal shit is fascinating, short and fun. Read the rest

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