News for Nerds - November 30, 2012
- 11/30/2012 |
- 10:00 am
Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll examine whether the universe has anything left to give, we'll break down the cost of moving an entire city to Mars, and we'll unveil the future of winter driving. But first: this isn't your grandmother's dot matrix printer.
* * * * *
Maybe you've heard about 3-D printing? One of the industry's leading manufacturers, Makerbot, was recently featured on the cover of Wired magazine, along with the bold headline: This Machine Will Change the World.
If you're not yet familiar with 3-D printing, here's a snapshot. You take a product design -- which could be nearly anything, such as shoes, jewelry, or dental implants -- and using that design, a special machine manufactures it for you on the spot. Here's a pretty cool TED Talk from earlier this year which will give you a better idea.
By all accounts, 3-D printing -- or additive manufacturing, as it's more accurately called -- could be a revolutionary technological advancement. And it might just be a revolutionary medical advancement as well.
Courtesy of CNBC is this story which outlines the possible uses for additive manufacturing in the world of medicine. We're not there quite yet, but it's entirely possible that so-called bioprinters might someday be used to create organs made of human tissue. Need a kidney transplant? No problem... we'll just print one up and wheel you into surgery.
These bioprinters would use 'bio-ink' made of living cell mixtures to form the necessary human tissue. And while that particular development might be years away from reality, medical researchers are already using the existing technology to print skin cells that they deposit directly onto a wound to help it heal more quickly, among other things.
Science is cool.
* * * * *
Regular visitors to this blog know that I'm a particular fan of Elon Musk, the billionaire-entrepreneur-turned-space-explorer.
Well, Musk was in the news again this week, explaining that while he's very happy with the progress that his commercial space flight company, SpaceX, has made, he won't be content to stop there. That's because Elon doesn't just want to send a handful of astronauts into space. He wants to send 80,000.
The idea for a colony on Mars isn't exactly new. But the idea for such a large, ambitious colony is the kind of thing that only Musk could propose with a straight face. His idea is to start relatively small -- with a 10-person crew at first, and eventually building a regular space tourism business, with a shuttle to Mars running a cool $500,000 each.
His vision for the eventual 80,000-person colony would be a private-public enterprise with a total price tag of about $36 billion.
It sounds a little crazy, but then again, nobody thought much of his internet payment portal idea, or of his electric car business, or of his commercial space flight endeavor. So perhaps it's best not to bet against him.
* * * * *
Speaking of space... now that the universe is a cool 13.75 billion years old, is it possible that we're all tapped out? An international team of astronomers has published a new study that says, in essence, yes.
Using the most robust survey of star formation, the team has proposed that the rate of star formation in the universe has decreased to such an extent that only 5% more stars than those that exist today will ever be produced.
The trouble isn't a lack of raw materials. There are plenty of dying stars which could help make new ones. No, the problem is that there is a very narrow set of circumstances that leads to star formation.
Says lead scientist David Sobral, "You need the gas to become dense and cool enough to form stars. It’s true that when a supernova explodes, it helps, through shockwaves, to make the gas dense to trigger star formation. But if the explosion is too energetic, it can blow the gas out of the galaxy.”
So the environment doesn't seem to be right for new star formation. But why?
As of right now, that's anyone's guess.
* * * * *
And finally, for those that worry about nasty winter driving conditions, I have good news for you. It may soon be much easier to see through that pesky February snowstorm.
A computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon has developed a prototype headlight system that can, in the words of this article from the MIT Technology Review, 'detect raindrops or snow streaks and dis-illuminate them, thereby increasing visibility on the road ahead.'
This miraculous little system uses a digital projector to light up raindrops for a few milliseconds while a camera mounted on the side of the projector captures each raindrop’s precise location. Then, software predicts where those raindrops will fall within the driver’s field of view. Light rays from the headlight that would normally hit the raindrop are automatically switched off, reducing glare and leaving only the beams of light which travel uninterrupted in between the falling drops.
In a severe thunderstorm, the accuracy rate is 70% while traveling roughly 20 miles per hour. At 60 miles per hour, it still removes 15-20% of the raindrops from a driver's field of vision. That's pretty significant. Particularly for those of you who can't stop fiddling with your phone, your radio, and the kids in the back seat.
* * * * *
That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!