Nature, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02603-8In a scientific culture that eschews admitting failure, some researchers are staring it in the face — and finding success.
Late to the Party
The Wall Street Journal reports that there are already at least 13 exchange-traded funds (ETFs) being managed by an AI, and ironically, almost none of them bet on this year's surge of the benchmark S&P 500 index, which tracks 500 of the largest companies listed on
stock exchange — a surge which was significantly driven by the boom in AI.
To put it bluntly: these AI-managed ETFs didn't even cash in on their underlying tech's own hype.
Eric Ghysels, an economics professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, noted that while an AI can be speedier than human investors moment-to-moment, it's sluggish to adapt to "paradigm-shifting events" like the war in
— or maybe even the rise of AI. Meaning, in his opinion, an AI can't beat human investors over time.
"Maybe one day it will, but for now AI is limited to plagiarizing history," Ghysels told the WSJ.
A look at the oldest AI-run portfolio, the AI Powered Equity ETF (AIEQ), seemingly backs up Ghysel's thinking.
AIEQ is powered by IBM's Watson AI, calculating its bets based on millions of data points gathered from the news, analyst reports, and even social media. Yet according to the WSJ's analysis, AIEQ, while far from a disaster, is still drastically underperforming.
Since its launch in 2017, AIEQ has had a return of 44 percent. In that same period, the ETF based on the S&P performance, SPY, boasted a return of a whopping 93 percent, blowing AIEQ's gains out of the water.
A 44 percent return isn't bad on its own, but for stock traders wanting to be on the cutting edge, lagging behind the market at large isn't going to, well, cut it.
In AIEQ's case, as Ghysel predicted, the long term sees out AI-run fund management's pitfalls: it enjoyed an initial but short-lived lead on the S&P, but it absolutely tanked after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates last year. This year it's up nine percent, still behind the S&P's fifteen.
Staying out of IT
Harnessing all that technology just to perform worse than one of the most popular and no-brainer ETFs in the world doesn't scream game-changer.
Of course, AI has a very plausible potential to improve over time, and some AI-powered portfolios have reportedly outperformed the S&P in the very short term.
Still, to pragmatic investors, waiting for the tech to power up may not be worth the time or money, especially since the likes of ChatGPT have shown how often AI can get it wrong.
"I think mistakes are going to be made early on, and I don't really want to be part of those mistakes," Jack Butler, a business advisor, told the WSJ.
The post AI Is Doing a Terrible Job Trading Stocks in the Real World appeared first on Futurism.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40824-7Aberrant coagulation and
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40833-yPerineural invasion detection in pancreatic ductal
Research is under way to determine whether the mutation-laden lineage BA.2.86 is nothing to worry about — or has the potential to spread globally
Dogs can be a faster, more precise, less expensive—not to mention friendlier—method of detecting
-19 than even our best current technology, a new review shows.
A growing number of studies over the last two or so years has highlighted the power of dogs in detecting the stealthy virus and its variants, even when they are obscured by other viruses, like those from common colds and flu.
“It went from four papers to 29 peer-reviewed studies—that includes more than 400 scientists from over 30 countries and 31,000 samples,” says Tommy Dickey, professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who with collaborator Heather Junqueira of BioScent, Inc., gathered the recent massive number of findings into a review in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine.
From their rigorous survey of exclusively peer-reviewed studies published by traditional academic publishers covering both field and clinical experiments, Dickey and Junqueira assert that the collective research demonstrates that trained scent dogs are “as effective and often more effective” than the antigen tests we’re keeping handy at home, as well as the gold-standard reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests deployed in clinics and hospitals.
Not only can dogs detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus faster, they can do so in a non-intrusive manner, without the environmental impact that comes with single-use plastics.
The magic lies in their highly evolved noses, with physical and neural optimizations for smell. Dogs have hundreds of millions of olfactory receptors, compared to roughly five to six million for humans, and a full third of their brains are devoted to interpreting smells, compared to a scant 5% in human brains. All these enhancements mean that dogs can detect very low concentrations of odors associated with COVID
“They can detect the equivalent of one drop of an odorous substance in 10.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” Dickey says. “For perspective, this is about three orders of magnitude better than with scientific instrumentation.”
In some cases, dogs were able to detect COVID in pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic patients whose viral load was too low for conventional tests to work. And not only that, Dickey adds, dogs can distinguish COVID and its variants in the presence of other potentially confounding respiratory viruses, such as those of the common cold or flu.
“They’re much more effective,” Dickey says. “In fact one of the authors that we quote in the paper commented that the RT-PCR test is not the gold standard anymore. It’s the dog.
“And they’re so quick,” he adds. “They can give you the yes or no within seconds, if they’re directly smelling you.”
In some scenarios the dog gave the person a quick sniff, sitting down to indicate the presence of COVID. In others, the dog was given a sweat sample to smell, a process that could take a few minutes. The speed is especially important in situations like the earlier phase of the pandemic, when a gap of days between test and result could mean an exponential rise in infections if the person was positive, or scenarios that involve a high volume of people.
Scent dogs such as beagles, basset hounds, and coonhounds would be the ideal dog for the task, given their natural tendencies to rely on odors to relate to the world, but the studies showed a variety of other dogs are up to the challenge. Given a few weeks of training, puppies and older dogs, males and females, purebreds and mixed breeds all performed admirably. In one study, a “problem” pit bull terrier that had been abused found a second chance by becoming a perfectly capable COVID detector.
Despite these glowing reviews, there remain challenges to placing man’s best friend in the mainstream of medical diagnoses, although the animals have proven successful in the detection of other conditions, such as diabetes and cancer.
“There’s quite a bit of research, but it’s still considered by many as a kind of a curiosity,” says Dickey, a professor emeritus of geography whose love for Great Pyrenees dogs led him to become a certified therapy dog handler and author of therapy dog books after he retired from formal teaching.
Places that were open to using dogs in field experiments tended to be smaller countries such as Finland and Colombia, where there was a desire to explore fast and cost-effective methods of detecting COVID without having to wait for expensive tests to be developed or for reagents to become available.
Of their study, Dickey and Junqueira add, “After conducting this comprehensive review, we believe that scent dogs deserve their place as a serious diagnostic methodology that could be particularly useful during future pandemics, potentially as part of rapid routine health screenings in public spaces. Perhaps, most importantly, we argue that the impressive international quality and quantity of COVID scent dog research described in our paper for the first time, demonstrates that medical scent dogs are finally ready for a host of mainstream medical applications.”
Source: UC Santa Barbara
Just days after Russia crashed its Luna-25 lunar lander on its way to the Moon's surface, India's space agency is gearing up for its own attempt.
The two countries were in a race to become the first country to softly land a craft near the lunar south pole, a region scientists believe could be rich with water ice, a key resource for potential settlement efforts.
But with Russia out of the race for now, all eyes are on India's Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, a followup to a precursor that crash-landed on its way to the lunar surface back in 2019.
We'll be watching closely because the stakes are high. If successful, the mission could make India only the fourth country to successfully land on the Moon, following the US, the Soviet Union, and China — and, in a sense both symbolic and technical, show that it's pulling ahead of Russia's increasingly disastrous space program.
The lander-rover pair will attempt their treacherous journey to the south pole on Wednesday, if all goes according to plan. Officials from India's space agency ISRO told reporters on Monday that all the spacecraft's systems are working "perfectly," Reuters reports.
The mission's objectives are first to prove the country's capability of safely landing on the Moon, and then study the composition of the lunar south pole if successful.
Chandrayaan-3 features several technological upgrades over its precursor that could give it a better shot of sticking the landing later this week. For one, ISRO is giving itself a larger potential landing zone in the case of adverse conditions. It also has sturdier legs, an important because the south pole's terrain is comparatively rough.
If all goes according to plan — needless to say, that's still an astronomical "if" — the lander will release a 57-pound, six-wheeled rover that will explore the surrounding areas for evidence of water ice using an X-ray spectrometer and a laser spectroscope.
A success could catapult India ahead in the international race to establish a permanent presence on the Moon — especially now that Russia's attempt has failed.
"If Chandrayaan-3 succeeds, it will boost India's space agency's reputation worldwide," former ISRO scientist Manish Purohit told Reuters. "It will show that India is becoming a key player in space exploration."
More on India: India to Launch Third Moon Mission Next Week
The post After Russia's Failure, India Is Preparing to Land on the Moon appeared first on Futurism.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40757-1The authors study a Pt/Nb hybrid structure by scanning microscopy and muon spin rotation. They find an anomalous absence of Meissner screening near the Pt/Nb interface due to spin-triplet pair correlations driven by spin-orbit coupling alone with no ferromagnetic layer necessary.
More than 2,000 athletes from about 200 countries have gathered in Budapest, Hungary, for the 2023 World Athletics Championships, competing in 49 track and field events. The competition began on August 19, and continues through August 27. Gathered below, images from some of the events over this weekend.
You may remember the syllabus. Handed out on the first day of class, it was a revered and simple artifact that would outline the plan of a college course. It was a pragmatic document, covering contact information, required books, meeting times, and a schedule. But it was also a symbolic one, representing the educational part of the college experience in a few dense and hopeful pages.
That version of the syllabus is gone. It has been replaced by courseware, an online tool for administering a class and processing its assignments. A document called “syllabus” persists, and is still distributed to prospective students at the start of each semester—but its function as a course plan has been minimized, if not entirely erased. First and foremost, it must satisfy a drove of bureaucratic needs, describing school policies, accreditation demands, regulatory matters, access to campus resources, health and safety guidelines, and more.
Last week, the office of the provost at Washington University in St. Louis, where I teach, sent out a new syllabus template for faculty use. It’s nine pages long and suggests that any detailed course content—a list of study topics, assigned readings, and weekly homework assignments—be sequestered at the very end. This is not unusual. I’ve seen and heard the same thing from colleagues all across the country, at schools big and small, public and private. At colleges and universities everywhere, the syllabus has become a terms-of-service document.
The change happened slowly. Long before courseware made it obsolete, the syllabus was pulled in two directions. On one side, it recorded a deliberate pedagogical plan plotted out by an expert. The syllabus, in its very brevity, offered evidence of that expertise. All of Greek lyric poetry or organic chemistry or political economy boiled down to this simple, confident itinerary. The syllabus was also meant to capture the letter and spirit of the learning environment: the nature of assignments, what success would mean, how the class would operate, the instructor’s style. It was a hallowed artifact in the mind of educators.
But on the other side, students never seemed to read our syllabi. They didn’t know which reading would be coming next, or what would be on the exam, or when the papers were due. A tradition of professorial barbs and sneers developed around that state of affairs: It’s on the syllabus! Didn’t you read the syllabus? Intention underlied impatience: The traditional university student matriculates to learn but also to become an independent adult. In its own small way, as a document that could and should be consulted, the syllabus gave students an opportunity to exercise self-reliance—and teachers a way of holding them accountable.
Even though most students wouldn’t encounter syllabi until college, their legend leaked out. The syllabus encapsulated the educational side of college life. This wasn’t just a course plan; it was a document that mediated the student’s relationship with the professor. It was a contract, and those who paid that contract insufficient mind—students who might find themselves in breach—were considered lazy, incompetent, or truculent.
Then, 21st-century software upended how courses were run. Whether built in house or licensed, learning-management systems became commonplace. The move made sense: The web had fully matured, and you could bank, pay bills, shop, and socialize online. Why not manage your classes too? But courseware would explode the syllabus into shrapnel. Sure, you could just post a PDF of an old paper syllabus online, but courseware lets you install weekly “modules” that show materials and assignments for each class meeting. It offers places to store readings and other resources. It lists teachers’ contact information and facilitates announcements. Suddenly, professors could also change their course plans on the fly, tweaking topics and assignments as they liked. Adopting the legalese that now seemed best suited to the context, we’d put a broad disclaimer on our syllabi: “subject to change.”
In effect, what had been marked as the “syllabus” section of a course website was no longer needed for that purpose. Now it was just a list of course policies. The syllabus had long been described as a course contract, an agreement between teacher and students about what would take place in the classroom and on what terms. But the “contract” part of that arrangement took over for the “course.”
For a time, courseware was optional. Some faculty kept using paper syllabi; others adopted the online tools. Some used a combination. But as universities invested big bucks in courseware, and as courseware companies made big bucks selling it, the pressure to adopt it increased. Student demand followed: They became irritated and confused by the notion that each course might be managed in a different way, and courseware gave students more information and greater feedback—or a sense of it, anyway. In particular, courseware’s ability to store and display grades allowed students to check in frequently—perhaps obsessively—on their performance, making courseware-run courses feel more student-centered than other kinds.
During the same period in which courseware was completing its takeover, the faculty-student relationship changed. Tuition prices rose, and the student’s role became more like that of a conventional customer. I’ve seen conflicts over grades or late assignments inspire faculty to add greater detail and more contract riders to their syllabi. Concerns about mental health, accommodation, disability resources, gender identity/personal pronouns, classroom climate, harassment and sexual assault, and other matters gave rise to pages’ worth of boilerplate. The pandemic demanded the addition of health and safety protocols. New ways of cheating, such as Chegg and ChatGPT, demanded fresh language about academic integrity. And each new policy clarification can beget subordinating policy clarifications; for example, using a software package called Turnitin to detect plagiarism requires that professors disclose that work submitted to courseware will be funneled through Turnitin, which vacuums data from those papers to benefit its business.
If the syllabus had simply gone away, educators could mourn its loss and move on. Instead, the document persists as the bloated corpse of what it used to be, and also as a ghost haunting the distributed, corporate information systems that have slowly replaced it.
Professors still cling to their old-fashioned syllabi in private. They share them with their colleagues looking for course ideas. When proposing new courses to department heads, they still draw up plans in which topics and materials, and assignments and schedules, take the place of quasi-legal notices. The syllabus as it used to be is for faculty’s eyes only.
Students, for their part, may be better off with the syllabus dead. (Used effectively, courseware serves their needs quite well.) But the bureaucratization of the traditional course plan has changed what it feels like to teach, and to be taught. The syllabus used to make a promise: that the classroom was a distinct place, separated from the world even if still coupled to it, where a common project would be undertaken, and during which trust would be presumed. Now it’s just the opposite, more a legal waiver than an invitation—just another contract rendered in fine print. If students don’t bother reading syllabi today, who can really blame them?
There are an awful lot of people in this industry who are interested in the idea of targeted protein degradation (TPD), and I've blogged about the topic many times in the past few years. Picking out proteins and sending them into the vicious shredder that is the proteasome is a completely new mode of action for drugs, and there are many examples of it leading to effects that you just don't see (can't see!) with traditional small-molecule inhibitors. But as these things get further and further into development, and as more and more effort has been poured into them in both industry and academia, details inevitably emerge that make the whole picture more complicated.
This preprint is a prime example of that. It's from a team at Genentech, and it's been widely read and discussed across the whole field this year. They start off with the widely-used example of degrading proteins in the BET family, such as BRD4. It seems to be the law that every new bifunctional idea or protein-degradation variation has to use BRD4 as a touchstone, but that's because it works so well and has demonstrated just those beyond-simple-inhibition effects mentioned above. You Would Think that by now we understood BRD4 degradation pretty well, but You Would Be Wrong. That's the message of this paper distilled down to one sentence!
What the authors show is that such degradation produces new peptides from the proteasome as the BRD4 gets chopped up there, and that some of those are actually binding to another set of proteins called IAPs. That stands for "Inhibitor of Apoptosis", the programmed cell-death pathway, and when these proteasome-produced-pieces bind to IAPs, that process takes the brakes off the apoptotic pathways and the cells die. We did not realize this! Degrading something like BRD4 was known to be cytotoxic and show apoptosis via caspase enzyme activation, but that effect was thought to be because the protein had been suddenly yanked from its place in multiple cellular pathways (which is a completely reasonable hypothesis). And while that may not be wrong, this new work shows the above completely different mechanism at work. For one thing, using siRNA to knock down BRD4 levels to similar degree as seen with targeted protein degradation does not lead to caspase activation.
Further experiments showed that it's specifically the "long isoform" of BRD4 (BRD4-L) that is having this effect. In fact, if you deplete that isoform and treat the resulting cells with BET degrader molecules, you don't see caspase activation and apoptosis. It looks like proteasomal procession of that BRD4-L isoform produces new amino-terminated peptides that are just the sort of thing that IAP proteins are constantly looking for, as a sign that it's time for this cell to fall on its sword. The paper also has a lot of good details on the differences between cells that have become resistant to the BRD4 inhibitor molecule JQ1 and the ones that have become resistant to a bifunctional degrader (MZ1) that uses JQ1 as its targeting end. You'd think that these two sorts of cells would overlap, but they don't! It turns out that the resistance that develops to the degrader molecule is tied to mutations that lower the efficiency of that apoptosis pathway and thus allow the cells to escape.
The group goes on to show that this apoptosis mechanism shows up with a lot of other bifunctional degrader molecules (ones that hit targets beyond BRD4!) This means that we're all going to have to think about this whenever we develop such molecules. It's true that many times (especially in oncology) we just want to mess up our targeted cell thoroughly, and having them die via one route is as good a having them die via another. But that's not always the case! In many other situations we just want to alter the behavior of the cells without killing them off, so we need to keep our eyes on that IAP/caspase stuff for sure.
A very interesting aspect of all this is that it explains an apparently paradoxical effect in chemotherapy of multiple myeloma. Thalidomide famously made a comeback as a therapeutic drug in this area because of its anticancer properties, and this was later shown to be because of its “molecular glue” behavior leading to protein degradation via recruitment of the ubiquitinating enzyme partner cereblon. Indeed, this helped kick off the whole idea of TPD, making bifunctional degrader molecules with a thalidomide-like end to attract cereblon and a protein-targeting ligand end to aim it. But one combination treatment for multiple myeloma involves giving thalidomide along with bortezomib, which is a proteasome inhibitor. How can giving a drug that induces protein degradation synergize with a compound that gums up the protein degradation machine itself?
One answer is that borzetomib does not shut down the proteasome entirely; just some parts of it (particularly a chymotrypsin-like activity). Multiple myeloma is a malignancy of B cells, which are constantly degrading misfolded immunoglobin protein chains, and it appears that borzetomib treatment causes some of these to form IAP-binding proteins during that degradation. So both protein degradation and borzetomib treatment might be turning on apoptosis, and those two mechanisms could indeed add up even though at first it seems as if they wouldn’t.
It will be interesting to see how this work is received in the TPD world – there are enough companies interested in this area that a lot of attention will be paid to this idea, and probably has been paid already. We’ll first see how well these effects reproduce, then what assays we’d all need to put in place to reveal them during a drug development project, and then figure out how to cancel out or mitigate the IAP/caspase consequences in some programs and how to crank them up even higher in others. . .
Epidemiologist David Dowdy says vaccines and a preventive drug for RSV offer hope for a healthier fall and winter this year.
Last year’s “tripledemic” of flu, COVID-19, and RSV left many of us wary of what the coming respiratory virus season might bring.
This year’s landscape is already different, however, with new vaccines and treatments, like the game-changing antibody that protects kids from RSV, offering new ways to tamp down infections and transmission.
In this Q&A, adapted from the July 28 episode of Public Health On Call, Dowdy, a professor in the epidemiology department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, discusses what we can learn from last year’s virus season, how and why this year might be different, and why vaccinations continue to play a key role in determining how severe the viruses’ toll will be:
- This year, the Australian government rejected Clive Palmer's coal mine proposal—but approved three others.
owner Elon Musk has admitted what we all suspect: that under his leadership, the site may not be thriving after all.
"The sad truth is that there are no great 'social networks' right now," the multi-hyphenate billionaire posted. "We may fail, as so many have predicted, but we will try our best to make there be at least one."
This admission comes after a glitch over the weekend caused some images and links posted before December 2014 to be deleted. As The Verge reports, the issue seems to be related to the social network's built-in URL shortener.
Among the deleted images was Ellen DeGeneres' famous star-studded Oscars selfie, which was apparently the most-retweeted photo of all time, though unlike most of the now-broken it was eventually restored.
It was a rare moment of self-reflection for Musk, whose chaotic run at the former bird site has been characterized by swaggering bravado. Twitter's new CEO Linda Yaccarino, for her part, did retweet — or "repost," per the new branding — Musk's message and add her own touch.
"There is an important place in the world for X," the CEO wrote.
Fail Me Once
Though his brand is built on braggadicio, this isn't the first time Musk seems to have pondered the possibility of defeat in the social media space.
Shortly after Yaccarino took over as CEO over the summer, the site's owner admitted in a Twitter Spaces discussion that "half of our advertising disappeared overnight" after he bought the site — though he qualified that statement by saying that it was due to his insistence on "free speech," which is Muskian code for letting bigots back onto the platform and refusing to punish hate speech.
He also appeared to concede earlier this year that buying the social network may not have been the best decision for his bottom line.
"It remains to be seen as to whether this was financially smart," Musk told former Fox News host Tucker Carlson during an interview in April. “Currently, it is not."
Those admissions aside, however, this latest acknowledgment doesn't have the same slathering of caveats, and instead does actually give the sense that Musk may be beginning to realize that he's driving the site into the ground — though as many have conjectured, that may have been the plan all along.
More on Elon's Twitter: Brands Horrified When Their Twitter Ads Appear on Nazi Posts
The post Elon Musk Admits Twitter May Be Failing Under His Leadership appeared first on Futurism.
People trust humans more than artificial intelligence, but when they think about God they are more likely to embrace AI recommendations over those from their peers.
That’s according to new research from Keisha Cutright, a marketing professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Across eight experiments, Cutright and Mustafa Karataş of Nazarbayev University, found that “actively thinking about God” promotes acceptance of AI recommendations in a variety of contexts, including in the choice of movies, financial products, dental treatments, and romantic partners.
“Thinking about God affects how we see things in our environment and our decision-making,” Cutright says. “One day it hit me that AI and technology are similar in a lot of ways to religion, in that both of them are often seen as diminishing the role of humans. We wanted to see if the salience of God affects how people rely on AI.”
In their experiments, the researchers randomly exposed half of the participants to tasks or experiences meant to make them think about God. In one study, they asked them to write what God meant to them. In other experiments, they used more subtle religious cues, like exposing people in the waiting room of a dental clinic to music evocative of God versus secular music; or comparing how proximity to a place of worship influenced choices.
“And of course, we also measured the extent to which participants were religious or not in the first place,” Cutright says. “Because if you are religious, it’s more likely that God is salient to you.”
The results showed when people are actively thinking about God, they are less averse to AI and more willing to consider AI-based recommendations.
“Regardless of whether or not we’re religious, we know that God is associated with a sense of power, vastness, and wonder,” Cutright says. “This awe for the divine elicits a sense of smallness and fallibility in people.”
Cutright says the findings don’t completely reverse people’s overall preference for human recommendations, but they certainly show that when God is salient, humans don’t have a big advantage over AI.
“The preference for the human is pretty strong, but it starts to dampen a bit when you evoke thoughts of God,” she says. “It’s still not going to flip to the point where people have a preference for AI over humans, but now it is probably closer to 50/50 in many situations.”
She also says the studies found that in general, religious people prefer AI recommendations more than non-religious people do. Cutright says companies should consider these findings when they target certain markets.
“Counter to most people’s intuition, areas with more religious populations may be good places to start with AI-based recommendations,” she says.
She also says businesses using AI should carefully craft their communications.
“They could use subtle reminders of the smallness of mankind, whether through cues associated with God directly, or other awe-inducing stimuli,” Cutright says. “This may enhance consumers’ openness to AI-based recommendations.”
Source: Duke University
The post Thinking about God makes people more likely to trust AI appeared first on Futurity.
To address a lack of head coaches of color in the National Football League, management must first fix the problem at lower levels of coaching, new research shows.
Twenty years ago, the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule which attempted to address racial disparity in top positions by requiring teams to interview at least one person of color for every head coach opening.
The new study suggests the gap will persist unless it’s closed at the bottom. The NFL has a hierarchal labor pool, says Andreas Schwab, associate professor of entrepreneurship at Iowa State University and coauthor of the study in the
Under the head coach are two coordinators who oversee defense and offense. These coordinators supervise position-specific coaches who may have their own assistant coaches.
“To become a head coach, individuals need to move through the ranks. This paper shows that where you start in the hierarchy of coaching matters because the likelihood that coaches in that position get promoted to the next level differs,” Schwab says.
The researchers found 79% of the promotions to head coach were from the coordinator position. While the data shows no racial disparity in promotions from coordinator to head coach, white coaches were twice as likely to be promoted from a lower-level position to a coordinator position.
“Beyond providing entertainment, the NFL can help us as a society to better understand and manage employee hiring and promotion processes.”
“The lower level feeds the top. If bias is embedded in the entire process, then it’s difficult to get the most capable candidates into the pool for the top position,” he says.
The researchers collected and analyzed the career history data of more than 1,300 NFL coaches from all 32 teams between 1985 and 2015. They compared coaches who played the same position, started their careers coaching the same position, and performed equivalently based on a wide-range of objective performance measures, including:
- Percentage of games won by the team when the coach had a chance of being promoted
- Offensive or defensive performance related to each coach’s primary responsibilities
- Coaching position-specific performance based on 52 metrics
The researchers also ruled out alternative explanations based on remaining differences between teams and coaches. This included whether coaches had worked for a team that went to the Super Bowl and had relatives who also coached in the NFL.
Taking all these factors into account, the researchers found persistent racial bias in both the hiring and promoting of lower-level coaches.
“These data analyses show where biases are hiding, and once we know that, we can think about interventions and measure their effectiveness,” says Schwab.
The researchers say parity will be achieved only by rewarding coaches equally with promotions at the earliest stages of their careers. But Schwab emphasizes that there are no easy, quick fixes and any intervention requires adequate time to have an effect.
Schwab says the NFL offers a unique opportunity to study bias in organizations. Along with a large amount of objective performance data, it provides transparency in the hiring, firing, and promoting of coaching staff for an entire industry.
In other industries, a lack of data and more subjective performance metrics often prevent solid statistical analyses of employee careers, even though biases are likely “just as relevant in other organizations,” says Schwab.
“Beyond providing entertainment, the NFL can help us as a society to better understand and manage employee hiring and promotion processes,” Schwab says.
Additional coauthors are from the University of Michigan, George Washington University, Emory University.
Source: Iowa State University
The post There’s racial bias in lower-level NFL coach hiring and promoting appeared first on Futurity.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40846-1The precise rule of replication origin selection and activation in metazoans remains unclear. Here, the authors identify
New habitats that are emerging as mountain glaciers melt away represent huge ecological shifts and present new challenges for conservation
- Now, researchers have developed a novel adaptive sliding mode controller that uses fuzzy logic to estimate PAM-based system's parameters, promising enhanced tracking accuracy and adaptability compared to traditional control methods.
After many months of delays caused by the country's costly and reprehensible invasion of Ukraine, Russia's Luna-25 mission finally set off this month to return the country to the surface of the Moon for the first time in 47 years.
A lot was riding on the mission. The country's space program, Rocosmos, has already largely been cut off from the international space community due to Russia's belligerence, forcing it to blaze its own path.
But it wasn't meant to be. Luna-25 slammed into the lunar surface over the weekend, according to a brief Roscosmos update posted to Telegram — and that's a catastrophe for the credibility of the country's struggling space program, as modern-day Russia fails to follow up on the successes of the USSR.
According to a "preliminary analysis" by Rocosmos, the craft "switched to an off-design orbit" right before it crashed.
"During the operation, an emergency situation occurred on board the automatic station, which did not allow the maneuver to be performed with the specified parameters," the state corporation wrote, as translated by Google. "The management team is currently analyzing the situation."
The demise of Luna-25 couldn't have come at a worse time for the space agency. With the International Space Station's days already numbered, the country's presence in space could soon be undermined.
Recent high-profile failures have even brought into question the dependability of Russia's number one space export, the Soyuz space capsule — especially with SpaceX swooping in with its reusable Dragon capsule, giving the US and much of the Western world a vendor to greatly cut their dependability on Russia for access to orbit.
And the situation has only gotten worse over the last couple of years. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has put considerable pressure on the country's space program, with former Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin fanning the flames by making unhinged threats squarely aimed at the US (adding to the general aura of madness, Rogozin was subsequently sent to Ukraine, where he was reportedly injured by shelling).
It's the unfortunate culmination of decades of largely peaceful US-Russia cooperation on board the aging orbital outpost, a relationship that's bound to change once the station is decommissioned via de-orbiting through controlled thruster fires at the end of this decade.
Even before its latest invasion, Russia's actions in space have raised many eyebrows among its collaborators.
A 2020 anti-satellite missile launch, for instance, caused a defunct Russian communications satellite to break into thousands of pieces, which could "endanger commercial satellites and irrevocably pollute the space domain," according to a statement by US Space Command commander James Dickinson.
"Russia has made space a warfighting domain by testing space-based and ground-based weapons intended to target and destroy satellites," Dickinson said. "This fact is inconsistent with Moscow's public claims that Russia seeks to prevent conflict in space."
In 2023, the fate of Roscosmos doesn't look much better. With a strained budget, a greatly reduced demand for its Soyuz capsule, glaring technical issues — the ISS was literally spun out of control due to Russian thrusters unexpectedly firing on more than one occasion — and canceled international space exploration collaborations, the ailing agency is desperately looking for new sources of revenue.
In the meantime, Russia's adversaries have made considerable steps towards returning astronauts to the Moon, with NASA successfully completing a flyby with its Orion spacecraft, setting the stage for the first crewed landing attempt since Apollo 17 in 1972.
China has also successfully sent three landers, including two rovers, to the lunar surface, becoming only the third country to softly land on the Moon ten years ago, following the United States and the Soviet Union.
While Russia and China have announced joint plans to establish a research station near the Moon's lunar south pole in the 2030s, it's anybody's guess whether those plans will end up panning out. Given the dramatic rise of its space program, China certainly has political and financial reasons to embark on the mission without Russia.
There are plenty of signs the relationship between the two nations is already strained, from awkwardly overlapping plans to explore the south pole to China actively looking for new international collaborators.
In short, the demise of the Luna-25 mission — which was meant to follow up on the Soviet Union's Luna-24 mission in 1976, the USSR's third successful sample return mission — is the last thing Russia's space program needs right now.
Over three decades following the dissolution of the USSR, Russia joins a growing number of countries that have launched lunar landing missions that unceremoniously crash-landed, including Israel, India, and Japan.
Of course, Russia isn't simply giving up, and Luna-26 and Luna-27 missions are already in the works. But as Ars Technica points out, nobody really knows when they'll actually launch, given Luna-25's considerable delays.
In the longer term, whether the country still has a shot to revive its ailing space program and return it to its former Soviet Union-era glory is anybody's guess.
But the space race is already well underway — and Russia's already falling way behind.
More on Luna-25: Russia Sends Back Photos From Trip to Moon
The post Russia's Moon Lander Crashing Is a Catastrophe for Its Space Program appeared first on Futurism.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40827-4Light-driven actuators have great potential in different types of applications but is still challenging to apply them in flying devices owing to their slow response, small deflection and force output. Here, the authors report a rotary flying photoactuator with fast rotation and rapid response.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40695-yThe
- Researchers have developed a new tool, REBURN, that can simulate large forest landscapes and wildfire dynamics over decades or centuries under different wildfire management strategies.
The answers to today’s slithery enigmas
Earlier today I set you the following two puzzles. The first is a retrograde analysis puzzle about snakes and ladders, and in the second you have to work out a symbol. Here they are again with solutions.
1. Brand new it’s retro
The game starts with each player putting their marker on 1.
Each player roles a single die. If you roll a 6, you get an extra throw.
The players take turns in a fixed order.
You go up ladders, and down snakes. It is possible to go up two ladders, or down two snakes, or up a ladder and down a snake on the same turn.
The winner is the player who lands exactly on 100. (If you are on 98 and roll a 3, you ‘bounce back’ and land on 99.)
If a player lands on a square occupied by another player, the player is not sent back to square 1.Continue reading…
Nature, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02659-6The Luna 25 mission has ended in failure, raising major questions about the future of Russia’s space program.
One of the most in-depth catalogs of an animal’s brain-body connections ever compiled ties neural activity to roundworm behavior
Climate change is making wildfires more likely and more intense, exposing more people to dangerous wildfire smoke. Scientists are continuing to learn how much damage that smoke can do to the environment and human health
- Amazon’s latest Fire OS is a modified version of Android 11, which came out in 2020.
One of the most in-depth catalogs of an animal’s brain-body connections ever compiled ties neural activity to roundworm behavior
One of the most in-depth catalogs of an animal’s brain-body connections ever compiled ties neural activity to roundworm behavior
New research shows how the visual system contributes to memory.
When we use our working memory, we temporarily retain information in our brain. For instance, you are able to comprehend this sentence because you are briefly storing in working memory each of the words you are reading until you put them together to form the meaning of the sentence.
The importance of working memory to many of our cognitive abilities is well known, but less clear are the neurological machinations driving this process.
Researchers have now demonstrated that the key to understanding working memory relies not only on what one is storing in memory, but also why. This is the “working” part of working memory, which emphasizes the purpose of storing something in the first place.
“We now know that our visual memories are not simply what one has just seen, but, instead, are the result of the neural codes dynamically evolving to incorporate how you intend to use that information in the future,” explains Clayton Curtis, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University and the senior author of the paper in the journal Current Biology.
Specifically, the study focuses on both how we store the visual properties of our memories in the occipital lobe, where our visual system resides, and on how the neural codes that store those memories change over time as people begin to prepare a response that depends on the memory. In the Current Biology study, the response simply required people to look where they remembered an object that disappeared several seconds ago.
“The research makes it clear that memory codes can simultaneously contain information about what we remember seeing and about the future behavior that depends on those visual memories,” notes Hsin-Hung Li, a postdoctoral researcher and the paper’s lead author. “This means the neural dynamics driving our working memory result from reformatting memories into forms that are closer to later behaviors that rely on visual memories.”
Textbook theories state that the storage codes for our working memory are stable over time. This means that the pattern of neural activity that stores a given visual memory is the same as when it was first seen and encoded—whether it is a second later or 10 seconds later. These patterns of neural activity store visual memories, providing a bridge across time between a past stimulus and a future memory guided response.
However, recent studies of animals indicate that these neural patterns are much more dynamic—in fact, the memory codes are not stable and, instead, appear to change over time in puzzling ways.
To explore this, Li and Curtis, who previously uncovered how our working memory is formatted in the brain, devised innovative methods to both measure changing neural dynamics and critically make the dynamics interpretable. To do so, they projected the complex neural measurements into a simple 2D plane, like the screen of your laptop or smartphone.
The video below depicts how the pattern of neural activity evolves during a working memory trial. Initially, you can see a bump of activity encoding the briefly presented visual target (pink circle) in both primary visual cortex (V1) and a high-level visual area (V3AB). In V3AB, this bump remains at the target location throughout the memory delay. However in V1, a line of activity evolves during the delay between where the person is looking (pink cross) and where they will move their eyes after the delay.
The researchers believe that this line reflects the trajectory of the shift of gaze that is being rehearsed in people’s minds, but has yet to be executed.
Although previous work had documented neural dynamics during working memory, the reason for why these dynamics occur had remained unknown. These new results help address this mystery. They indicate that the dynamics reflect transformations of past sensory events— what we have just seen—into future memory guided behaviors—what we might do with the memory.
“We’ve now shown that mnemonic codes can simultaneously contain information about a past remembered stimulus and the subsequent behavior that depends on that stimulus,” observes Curtis. “The neural dynamics of our working memory result from reformatting memories in order to align them with how we use them in the future.”
Support for the research came from National Institutes of Health grants from the National Eye Institute [NEI]. Hsin-Hung Li was supported by the Swartz Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40759-zSince their initial operation, free-electron lasers are regularly upgraded in their performance and parameter control. Here the authors present the first lasing results of the soft X-ray free-electron laser beamline of the Paul Scherrer Institute, demonstrating different modes of operation and polarisation control of the tailored soft X-ray pulses.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40514-4Here, authors have identified two pairs of large hydrophobic residues in the channel S6 segments that form the inactivation gate of eukaryotic Na+ channels.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40566-6Cardiovascular ageing is characterised by a progressive decline in function, which contributes to multi-morbidity. Here, the authors use machine learning to predict biological age and identify key genetic risk factors.
Nature, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41586-023-06534-2Quinone-mediated hydrogen anode for non-aqueous reductive electrosynthesis
Nature, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02656-9Research is under way to determine whether the mutation-laden lineage BA.2.86 is nothing to worry about — or has the potential to spread globally
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40476-zAuthor Correction: Dynamical diagnostic of extreme events in Venice lagoon and their mitigation with the MoSE
Link to climate activism is seven times stronger for anger than it is for hope, say
Anger is by far the most powerful emotional predictor of whether somebody plans to take part in a climate protest, research suggests.
The study, which asked 2,000 Norwegian adults how they felt about the climate crisis, found the link to activism was seven times stronger for anger than it was for hope. The effects were smaller for other actions, but fear and guilt were the best predictors of policy support, while sadness, fear and hope were the best predictors of behavioural change.Continue reading…
Dr Chris Clough and David Canter on people with psychopathic traits
The common theme of the murders committed by Lucy Letby, Beverley Allitt and Harold Shipman is the failure of colleagues to consider that someone in the caring profession could act with malice towards patients in their care (Lucy Letby joins grim list of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, 18 August).
Perhaps we should consider the contrary – that people with psychopathic traits would preferentially join these professions so as to be in a position to exert control and harm patients who are inevitably vulnerable.Continue reading…
Deeper snowpack than normal in some parts of the Arctic is driving the thawing of long-frozen permafrost carbon reserves, researchers report.
That thawing is leading to increased emissions of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane.
“It is the first long-term experiment where we directly measure the mobilization of ancient carbon year-round to show that deeper snow has the possibility to rather quickly mobilize carbon deep in the soil,” says Claudia Czimczik, a professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine and the lead author of the study in AGU Advances.
“Unfortunately, it supports the notion that permafrost carbon emissions will be contributing to already-rising atmospheric CO2 levels.”
Fieldwork for the study took place at the International Tundra Experiment at Toolik Lake in Alaska, an experiment started in 1994 by study co-lead author Jeff Welker of the University of Alaska. The original goal of the experiment, Welker explains, was to understand how deeper snow would affect Arctic tundra ecosystems.
Over the last several years, the team carried out fieldwork at the ITEX site and found that a common Arctic ecosystem, tussock tundra, had turned into a year-round source of ancient carbon dioxide. This was a result of thawing permafrost buried under snow where the snow has been three to four times deeper than the average long-term snow depth since 1994.
When the research started, neither Welker’s team nor climate scientists thought that the deeper snow experimental treatment would lead to such a rapid thawing of the permafrost.
“These findings suggest that the stability of permafrost in Arctic Alaska, and possibly globally, can respond rather rapidly to changes in Arctic winter snow conditions, where winter can be up to eight months long,” says Welker. “Winter climate feedbacks like this are a tundra characteristic not previously recognized and fully appreciated.”
The team’s findings, Czimczik explains, suggest that even if humanity stopped emitting planet-warming gasses like carbon dioxide immediately, emissions from Arctic sources would still continue.
“The implications are that if the climate models are right and the observations continue to show an increase in snow, then in addition to the strong warming, the snow will greatly accelerate emissions from permafrost,” says Czimczik. “I was very concerned when I saw the data.”
Until now, climate change models that help groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast different climate change scenarios do not take emissions from permafrost into account in part because those emissions are hard to quantify. But Czimczik and her team built sensors at UCI and were able to directly measure permafrost carbon emissions at their Arctic field site.
“We weren’t sure if we would be able to see permafrost carbon emissions in the field,” says Czimczik. “However, we can even see the ancient carbon emissions during the summer,” when carbon emissions from plants should be dominant.
Former UC Irvine PhD student Shawn Pedron and University of Alaska postdoctoral researcher Gus Jespersen visited the site in 2019 to install the sensors.
“Collecting the data in the remote Arctic was quite difficult but also very memorable,” says Pedron. “The result that ancient carbon is mobilized in soil insulated by snow is what we had expected to find from our earlier work, but we were also surprised to find how much more carbon overall was in the area of enhanced snow.”
“Having an experiment in place for nearly 30 years, especially one that focuses on winter conditions, is such a rarity in the Arctic,” says Jespersen. “That timeframe has given us a unique window into one possibility for the future Arctic, and it’s been sobering to witness and document the cascade of ecosystem changes that have all resulted from simply having more snow on the ground.”
Current climate change is causing snow and ice to retreat across much of the Arctic. But the same warming driving the retreat is also driving increased evaporation and, therefore, precipitation in certain regions. Deeper snow acts like a blanket, insulating the ground that warmed up in the summer from cold air temperatures. This causes the permafrost to thaw, which allows microorganisms to consume the previously frozen organic matter and, in the process, release planet-warming gasses.
“Permafrost emissions are likely going to start earlier than we expected,” says Czimczik.
Czimczik adds that she hopes a growing awareness of the threat of emissions from natural sources will further encourage people to curb emissions from other sources that are under human control. “It’s an opportunity for individuals, but also CEOs and governments, to decrease emissions and invest in carbon capture solutions, and we need to do an even better job than we thought since permafrost emissions will make us miss our greenhouse gas and temperature target.”
Source: UC Irvine
One of the world’s foremost conservation biologists is being accused of plagiarism and bullying by a former PhD student, Retraction Watch has learned.
The biologist, Stuart Pimm of Duke University, strongly denies the charges, but he and his colleagues have acknowledged the existence of “closely related” work following an internal investigation by Duke.
The allegations surfaced late last month on X, formerly known as Twitter, in a thread that quickly went viral, garnering hundreds of thousands of views and drawing comments from a broad swath of scientists.
In the thread, Ruben Dario Palacio claimed his former academic advisor “threatened to kick me out of Duke” to make him work faster. Palacio decided to change labs due to the alleged “bullying and harassment,” he said, and three months later, in April 2020, published his research as a preprint. The article appeared in the journal Diversity and Distributions in October 2021.
But in November 2021, Pimm’s group published a paper in PLOS ONE describing work that was “remarkably similar to mine, and I was not cited. It’s plagiarism,” Palacio wrote on X.
In an interview with Retraction Watch, he said he believes Pimm’s actions were meant as retribution.
“He wanted to retaliate against me for … having the balls to leave his lab because no one else had done it before, to my knowledge,” Palacio said.
In support of his accusations, he has shared several emails with Retraction Watch, as well as a secret recording of a conversation he had with Pimm before they parted ways.
Pimm, a professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said Palacio’s allegations had “no merit” and that internal investigations at Duke had cleared him of the harassment charge and had not found research misconduct on his part.
“For Ruben to claim that ideas that have been developed for well over a decade in my lab and with many of our co-authors were his is patently silly,” Pimm told Retraction Watch.
He also denied threatening to fire Palacio: “That’s not a decision that individual professors make in
The secretly taped conversation, however, reveals Pimm did repeatedly threaten to terminate his then-student and take away the research Palacio had been leading — promises he appears to have made good on.
Palacio first met Pimm in 2015, the year after he graduated from Icesi University in Cali,
, with a bachelor’s in biology. He had helped organize a conference that Pimm attended as “one of the VIPs,” Palacio recalled. On field trips, Palacio volunteered as a bird guide, and the two biologists talked over several days. Eventually, Pimm suggested Palacio join him as a PhD student at Duke.
Palacio was impressed. The following year he traveled to Durham, North Carolina, with a Fulbright scholarship under his belt.
“I was just thrilled to be his student,” Palacio wrote on X.
At Duke, Palacio set to work on a project mapping the distribution of bird species. The research was meant to help the organization American Bird Conservancy do conservation work in Ecuador, Palacio said, and Pimm wanted him to use a method Pimm had published in 2008, known as a geospatial workflow. Essentially, this is a series of steps to follow to find out where a species lives.
Pimm’s method relied on expert-drawn maps and had been criticized by other scientists. Palacio wasn’t happy with it. He suggested improving the protocol by creating a new workflow based instead on data of bird sightings. It took a long time to convince his then-advisor his idea was sound, he said.
“I wanted to tell Stuart like, hey, we can do better, we can do something much nicer than your old protocol,” Palacio said. “That took a lot of finesse, because, you know, his ego is like, over the sky.”
He added: “I have all the emails, very detailed, showing how I came up with the idea, and how [Pimm] wasn’t even aware we could do this.”
But the work on the new method dragged out, and they were running behind schedule, Palacio said. The delays created tension between the student and his professor. As Palacio explained to the assistant director of the school’s PhD programs in an email from October 2019, he felt “very anxious and stressed” by the pressure he alleged Pimm was putting on him.
One day, Palacio said, Pimm had invited him for lunch at the cafeteria where the school’s faculty eat.
“I started walking with him and then he goes, ‘Ruben, you will never graduate with a PhD from Duke,’” Palacio recalled Pimm saying. “He’s like, ‘You don’t work hard enough. You need to put in 16, 18 hours a day of work.’”
When they sat down to eat, Palacio said, “I couldn’t even swallow. And he was like, ‘Just remember that just with one email I send to Fulbright, I can terminate your scholarship.'”
After Palacio confronted Pimm about the high levels of stress he was experiencing, his advisor wrote in an email on January 5, 2020, that Palacio had “played a ‘health card’ … which very strongly limits my options. Duke very clearly prohibits me from stressing you. So, were you to wish to remain in my programme, you would need to assert categorically that the progress I expect from you will not stress you.”
That progress “would likely involve very long days, seven days a week for at least the next three weeks,” Pimm wrote in the email. (This passage is part of a longer email that was pasted into in a harassment complaint Palacio filed with Duke. Palacio said he no longer has the full email after his Duke account was closed.)
Pimm declined to “make specific comments about Ruben” to Retraction Watch, but pointed out that, “I alone am not empowered to make the decision as to whether a student remains within Duke or retains a scholarship.” He added that he had “found the quality of [Palacio’s] work lacking.”
After the lunch with Pimm, Palacio decided he needed to change labs. He received help from university counselors to navigate the situation, which he said had left his mental health in tatters. He also complained about Pimm to Duke, but the school found no fault with the professor’s behavior, according to both Palacio and Pimm.
Pimm attracted controversy in the past for using misogynistic language in a book review, as we reported in 2014.
Duke did not respond to phone calls or repeated emails requesting comments.
On January 7, 2020, Palacio met with his advisor to follow up on the email and discuss how to move forward. In a recording of the conversation that Palacio made without Pimm’s knowledge and later shared with Duke, Pimm can be heard calling his student’s writing “inexcusably incompetent” and complaining that Palacio was two months behind on his work.
Pimm repeatedly threatened to terminate Palacio if he did not promptly deliver a number of updates on the project.
“If you can’t handle that and turn around some results by this time tomorrow, then I will fire you,” he told his student. “If I fire you, I promise you it will look bad on you. Right? So I don’t want any more bloody excuses from you. If you can’t do that stuff on that kind of schedule, you need to resign.”
After Palacio explained that he already found a new advisor, the conversation returned to Palacio’s research. Pimm told his student that if he sent updated results within “a couple of days,” he would “get senior authorship” of the ensuing manuscript.
“Should you choose not to do that, I can promise you that I have the firepower with your former colleagues to recreate that stuff in a matter of a few days. And we will produce that work and we will publish it and you won’t have any say in that whatsoever,” Pimm said, continuing:
“So the other decision you need to make … is what you propose to do with that [research]. If you move that work forward at a pace that I find acceptable, then I will continue to let you lead it. If you don’t, I will simply take all of that stuff away and you’ll have to use the other ideas that you have in the community.”
Asked about his threats to take away the research Palacio had been leading and publishing it without his former student, Pimm said: “It wasn’t his work. He was offered a project. He didn’t complete it. His work on that project was inadequate.”
Palacio was crying and shaking when he finally left Pimm’s office, he recalled.
“It was probably one of the toughest times in my life,” he said. “That’s the thing with the PhDs. Like, your advisor has so much power over you and you feel helpless at the beginning.”
Responding to Palacio’s thread on X, a number of scientists expressed sympathy.
“This type of bullying & unethical behaviour is far too common in academia; we need to hear more stories like this. I too looked up to Pimm but later realised how lucky I was that I ended up at a different lab for my PhD.”
On X, Palacio also posted screenshots of an exchange he had with one of Pimm’s coauthors, who told him: “I’m not proud of this, of the way ‘we’ kicked you out and took your idea, and also because I never really said anything to the others involved.”
The coauthor, whose name Palacio redacted, said they had “alerted people about your [preprint], and Stuart Pimm explained that the methods were sufficiently different to still go ahead. I did not know at that time that you had left his group, that this was your project and that you were not involved in it.” (The identity of the coauthor is known to Retraction Watch, but they asked not to be named as they did not have full knowledge of the case, they said.)
Ryan Huang, a researcher in Pimm’s lab and first author of the PLOS ONE paper, also contested the plagiarism accusations.
“Ruben did not make any contribution to our paper,” he told Retraction Watch. “The shared intellectual history of ideas accounts for the similarities Ruben uses as evidence for his claims.”
Huang said that while he had been aware of Palacio’s preprint, he had not read it “for the explicit purpose that I did not want to cross-contaminate ideas, but I also told Ruben that we would not cite a pre-print as it was not peer-reviewed.”
In the acknowledgments of his papers, Palacio thanked Pimm and Huang “for suggestions during the initial development of the geospatial workflow.” But he stood by his claim that the new method was his creation and said his preprint created “scientific precedence” and should have been cited.
Pimm and his coauthors, Palacio argued, “could have said, OK, we developed this workflow based on Palacio and colleagues, or we looked into Palacio and colleagues and we think their protocol is shit, so we came up with another one. That’s what you do in the sciences.”
Palacio said Duke investigated his research-misconduct complaint against Pimm, but that the school would not share its findings.
Duke has drawn criticism in the past for not responding adequately to cases involving potential research misconduct. Following several incidents at the university, in 2019 the U.S. National Institutes of Health suspended a number of grants to the institution due to concerns about “clinical research irregularities” that could affect patient safety. The same year, the university settled a lawsuit with the U.S. federal government for a record $112.5 million after researchers were accused of using fake data in grant applications.
In an email concerning its investigation of Pimm, Duke told Palacio:
We are not able to provide you with a report due to the confidentiality requirements of our policies; we can only provide the outcome, which was the comment added to the PlosOne [sic] publication noted below.
The comment to which the statement refers was posted in April by Huang and Pimm under “Reader Comments” on the PLOS ONE paper website. It has since disappeared, but Palacio posted a screenshot of it on X.
Titled “Similar Work,” it read, in part:
On behalf of the authors, we want to inform the readership and research community about a closely related journal article published shortly before ours.
The comment also provided links to Palacio’s journal paper and the preprint. According to Pimm:
Ruben’s paper appeared three weeks before ours appeared and well after the final version of our paper had been accepted. As a courtesy, we agreed to notice his paper having been published and the university was happy with our doing that.
“I’ve never really seen anything like that before,” Palacio said about the “Similar Work” comment. He added that he has asked PLOS ONE to retract the paper and that the journal told him it would investigate his allegations.
A spokesperson for the publisher declined to comment on the specific case, but said:
In principle, comments may be used to inform readers of related work that has not been cited in a PLOS article. Whether a comment would be a suitable [sic] for this purpose depends on case-specific details such as the relative publication date(s), the relationship of the related work to the PLOS publication, and whether the related work introduces editorial or ethics concerns that need to be addressed by a different means.
As for the missing comment, the spokesperson said:
Based on PLOS records, the comment appears to have been removed in error due to a technical issue with the commenting system.
After leaving Pimm’s group, Palacio said, he completed his doctorate in 2022 at another lab at Duke that he described as a “much better environment.” He is now back in Colombia heading the conservation non-profit Fundación Ecotonos and is about to publish a “great paper” in a top ecology journal with his second advisor.
It was “sort of a happy ending for me,” he said.
Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at email@example.com.
Nature, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02642-1Wellcome report identifies more than 140 initiatives to make health research more environmentally sustainable
Stem cells are special kinds of cells in our bodies that can become any other type of cell. They have huge potential for medicine, and trials are currently under way using stem cells to replace damaged cells in diseases like Parkinson’s.
One way to get stem cells is from human embryos, but this has ethical concerns and practical limitations. Another way is to turn adult cells from the skin or elsewhere into what are called “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPS cells).
However, these cells sometimes carry a “memory” of the kind of cell they used to be, which can make them less predictable or efficient when we try to turn them into other types of cells.
In a study published in Nature, my colleagues and I have found a way to erase this memory, to make iPS cells function more like embryonic stem cells.
Great Promise for Regenerative Medicine
Mature, specialized cells like skin cells can be reprogrammed into iPS cells in the lab. These “blank slate” cells show great promise in regenerative medicine, a field focused on regrowing, repairing, or replacing damaged or diseased cells, organs, or tissues.
Scientists can make iPS cells from a patient’s own tissue, so there’s less risk the new cells will be rejected by the patient’s immune system.
To take one example, iPS cells are being tested for making insulin-producing pancreas cells to help people with diabetes. We’re not there yet, but it’s an example of what might be possible.
Research using iPS cells is a rapidly advancing field, yet many technical challenges remain. Scientists are still figuring out how to better control what cell types iPS cells become and ensure the process is safe.
One of these technical challenges is overcoming “epigenetic memory,” where the iPS cells retain traces of the cell type they once were.
Epigenetic Memory and How It Can Impair the Use of iPS Cells
To understand “epigenetic memory,” let’s first talk about epigenetics. Our DNA carries sequences of instructions known as genes. When various factors influence gene activity (turning them on or off) without changing the DNA sequence itself, this is known as epigenetics—literally meaning “above genetics.”
A cell’s epigenome is a collective term to describe all the epigenetic modifications in a cell. Each of our cells contains the same DNA, but the epigenome controls which genes are turned on or off, and this determines whether it becomes a heart cell, a kidney cell, a liver cell, or any other cell type.
You can think of DNA as a cookbook and the epigenome as a set of bookmarks. The bookmarks don’t alter the recipes, but they direct which ones are used.
Similarly, epigenetic marks guide cells to interpret the genetic code without changing it.
When we reprogram a mature cell into an iPS cell, we want to erase all its “bookmarks.” However, this doesn’t always work completely. When some bookmarks remain, this “epigenetic memory” can influence the behavior of the iPS cells.
An iPS cell made from a skin cell can retain a partial “memory” of being a skin cell, which makes it more likely to turn back into a skin-like cell and less likely to turn into other cell types. This is because some of the DNA’s epigenetic marks can tell the cell to behave like a skin cell.
This can be a hurdle for using iPS cells because it can impact the process of turning iPS cells into the types of cells you want. It might also affect the function of the cells once they’re created. If you want to use iPS cells to help repair a pancreas, but the cells have a “memory” of being skin cells, they might not function as well as true pancreatic cells.
How to Clear iPS Cell Epigenetic Memory and Improve Function
Overcoming the issue of epigenetic memory in iPS cells is a widely recognized challenge for regenerative medicine.
By studying how the epigenome transforms when we reprogram adult skin cells into iPS cells, we discovered a new way to reprogram cells that more completely erases epigenetic memory. We made this discovery by reprogramming cells using a method that imitates how the epigenome of embryo cells is naturally reset.
During the early development of an embryo, before it is implanted into the uterus, the epigenetic marks inherited from the sperm and egg cells are essentially erased. This reset allows the early embryo cells to start fresh and become any cell type as the embryo grows and develops.
By introducing a step during the reprogramming process that briefly mimics this reset process, we made iPS cells that are more like embryonic stem cells than conventional iPS cells.
More effective epigenetic memory erasure in iPS cells will enhance their medical potential. It will allow the iPS cells to behave as “blank slates” like embryonic stem cells, making them more likely to transform into any desired cell type.
If iPS cells can forget their past identities, they can more reliably become any type of cell and help create specific cells needed for therapies, like new insulin-producing cells for someone with diabetes, or neuronal cells for someone with Parkinson’s. It could also reduce the risk of unexpected behaviors or complications when iPS cells are used in medical treatments.
Image Credit: NIH
Our planet is doomed. In a few billion years, the sun will exhaust its hydrogen fuel and swell into a red giant — a star so big it will scorch, blacken and swallow up the inner planets. While red giants are bad news for planets, they’re good news for astrophysicists. Their hearts hold the keys to understanding a range of stellar bodies, from fledgling protostars to zombie white dwarfs…
Lizzie: One night several years ago, Kaitlyn and I and a group of other friends ended up at a party in the South Street Seaport. It was at the apartment of someone none of us knew, and I can’t say for sure how we got there. We were excited to see what kinds of people lived in this gift-shop neighborhood, and what their apartment would look like. Would every room feature its own ship in a bottle? Would there be portholes instead of windows?
Of course, the reality couldn’t compare to our fantasy, as is standard for reality. It was a regular old apartment, with regular old IKEA furniture. There was a nice rooftop and cheap beer in the fridge. Eventually, the host requested that our group please leave the premises, probably because they’d realized that no one knew who we were, and also perhaps because Kaitlyn may have mildly insulted their taste in literature.
Anyway, it was this party that we reflected on last weekend as we headed to a sold-out Friday-night book club at McNally Jackson’s South Street Seaport location—where we’d be discussing, with strangers, the novel about weaseling your way into places you don’t belong that everyone’s been talking about this summer: Emma Cline’s The Guest.
Kaitlyn: The other thing I remember about that Seaport party was that someone there was blowing up a bunch of pool inflatables to use as roof furniture. (Imagine being at a party where most people are standing but some people are sitting down on pink inner tubes …) I want to be clear that we brought our own Bud Light Limes from a nearby Duane Reade and did not steal anything from those people, other than their view of the East River. I don’t remember being embarrassed about being asked to leave, and that’s because nothing is embarrassing when you have co-conspirators. (This is called the “Watergate burglar principle.”) It’s only when you’re alone that you can be humiliated (“Nixon principle”).
Lizzie has already covered the vibe of the South Street Seaport, but I also think you should know that one of its main features is a construction site that has been the subject of a lot of controversy for years and years, most of which is too boring to explain, but one of the issues is that it is on top of the rubble of a 19th-century thermometer factory and some people have worried that digging around could release a lot of mercury vapor. Anyway, I was in a bit of a mood the day of the Guest book club. I left work early and stomped downtown. Online, some had been referring to The Guest as “Uncut Gems for girls,” which I consider a spoiler and not accurate. While I was walking, I passed the AT&T Long Lines building, which is a hideous brown skyscraper known for having zero windows and maybe having some relation to the surveillance state. Looking up, I thought that someone should instead write “Underworld for girls.” (I love baseball and I’m very paranoid.) I also thought that people have been talking about “girls” too much lately.
I then passed what I have to assume is a temporary business, Malibu Barbie Café New York. I waited for Lizzie at the deserted end of Front Street, while staring at a bunch of garbage trucks parked under an overpass and regretting my choice to make a pre-book-club reservation for us at a bodega-and-speakeasy called The Little Shop. The chalkboard sign on the sidewalk said “purveyor of fine and junk foods.”
Lizzie: On my way to The Little Shop, I walked past a new pickleball court hogging the sidewalk in front of a Duane Reade. I wondered if the people playing in matching outfits were actors paid to create unthreatening “bustle” for the neighborhood. I stopped to buy a granola bar, and when I needed to throw out my wrapper, the only available trash can was one that looked like a barrel. In the South Street Seaport, gimmicks are the most important currency, and the neighborhood’s commitment to them continued at The Little Shop.
You walk through a “convenience store” to get to the bar in a back room, but the store felt more like a sanitized sitcom set than a convincing front. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the boxes of cereal and the cans of soup lining the shelves turned out to be empty. Is anyone actually shopping here for pantry goods? How often do they restock the Fruit Loops? I’m guessing never!
Kaitlyn: Lizzie thought that if you were taking a date to The Little Shop, a suave thing to do would be to pick up one of the boxes of pancake mix and say something like, “This is for tomorrow morning.”
It’s a clever set-up in The Little Shop, for sure. The idea is that you pick out your snacks, and then pay a 20 percent markup to have them “plated” for you. We had no problem with this fee. We did wonder why the only cheeses available were Cabot and Organic Valley. Even a Heluva Good would be more luxurious, don’t you think? Not to be snobs. But this is Manhattan. Also, if you buy a whole brick of cheese and then someone slices up the whole brick of cheese for you, that’s really too much cheese for two ladies to get through together at happy hour.
To their credit, The Little Shop does provide sandwich bags for your excess cheese. They also return your Pretzel Chips bag so you can put the rest of your Pretzel Chips back into it. So, after a short white-wine pregame, I tossed our snacks in my tote bag and Lizzie plucked a fake peacock feather out of a juice glass on the table to slip into hers. This behavior was what she called “going Guest-mode.” (In The Guest, the main character steals an expensive watch and a lot of prescription pills.)
We should say a little more about The Guest. Everyone in New York is reading it (or has read it). The book is about a generically pretty young woman named Alex who is more grifter than guest. She’s on the run from financial obligations and threats of violence in “the city,” and living with a rich man named Simon in his beach house, in what seems to be the Hamptons. He kicks her out (politely, through the staff, of course) after she embarrasses him at a pool party, and that’s when the real events of the novel start. She reasons that if she waits it out until Simon’s Labor Day party, he will no longer be mad at her, so she has five days to kill. Alex pinballs around town, manipulating one rich person after another into hosting her for an extra few hours or a night or two at a time. Of course, her plots get only more ill-considered and dangerous as she goes along. No spoilers!
Lizzie: Our own plans that evening were possibly ill-considered, but not dangerous, and maybe this is where we went wrong. Had we better planned the night to thematically align with elements of The Guest, maybe I wouldn’t have had to take that fake feather for the thrill of it. Maybe Kaitlyn wouldn’t have had to carry around half a block of warm cheese for the rest of the night. But, like Alex, we had gone too far to back out now. It was time to leave the bar and head to the book club, without committing any crimes.
We didn’t know what to expect. The other day someone said to me, “No one’s talking about how Greta Gerwig directed Barbie,” and it occurred to me that there’s a universe where The Guest is a book that no one’s ever heard of. But this was the second McNally Jackson “After Hours” book club dedicated to the book, and New York magazine just published their own book-club newsletter about it, so we know that, anecdotally, NYC-based book clubs at least are ravenous for it.
Kaitlyn: If not dangerous, a book club is still a risk, especially with a book about modern-day “the city.” It’s too easy for people to say things like “This reminded me of my own life” or to talk about the characters as if they’re real people who they’ve met and know things about. But we were excited about this one because it would have professional guidance (a McNally Jackson moderator) and because anyone who RSVPs in advance to talk about a book on a Friday night must be serious. Probably more serious than us!
When we arrived, we chatted with the event organizer, Mikaela, who is very chic and has an Australian accent. She was wearing cream satin. She’d had cocktail napkins made up with a curly “After Hours” logo and conversation starters on them, and she’d also come up with the brilliant innovation of ordering people to shuffle into new mini-groups every 20 minutes or so. This prevented awkward silences and the horrible experience of having someone’s eyes wander up over your shoulder and around the room while you are talking to them.
Lizzie: The shuffle was welcome. Our first round was a little bit messy, so we can call it a warm-up. I couldn’t hear what the far end of the table was saying. One girl admitted that she hadn’t read the book and was just accompanying a friend who had. She seemed incredibly regretful. One guy mentioned that, compared with other books he had recently read, he actually didn’t have that much to say about this one.
A book club might not be the ideal place to find yourself at a loss for words, but maybe he was on to something. Maybe there was nothing left to say about The Guest. Or maybe we just needed to try harder.
Kaitlyn: With those guys, I tried arguably way too hard. I wanted to make them feel better about their lack of interest in the book, so I ended up doing a little rant about how it was fun and well plotted but “unsubstantial.” It wasn’t doing much as a novel, I said. Well, I was being obnoxious, but I was coming from a good place. (And it isn’t Middlemarch; that’s just a fact.)
With our next set of conversation partners, two women roughly our age, we did better. The four of us talked about all the moralizing we’d seen in The Guest’s Goodreads comments. A lot of people on the internet were worried that Emma Cline wasn’t aware that the character she’d written was not a very good person. Maybe, by writing about this fictional girl, she was endorsing all of her made-up choices, they suggested. We’d all gotten sick of this aspect of the culture, we agreed. In fact, we’re so sick of it that we’re sick of being sick of it. Stop putting us in the position of defending fake people … and books we didn’t even love.
Last note of importance: Before book club, our dearest friend Ashley, who was off on an actual beach vacation, had asked us to find out what everyone thought happened at the end of The Guest. The last 10 pages or so are kind of mystical and vague, and a reader has to make some guesses about what’s literally going on because [SPOILER] the main character is a bit out of it and possibly concussed. There’s been a lot of discussion about this. Like some of the Reddit commenters, Ashley was sure that the book ended with [SPOILER] murder, and she also was sure that everyone else aside from me and Lizzie would agree with her. Well, not one real-life book-club person did. As they say in English class, the theory wasn’t supported by the text … Sorry, Ash!
Lizzie: The “she was murdered” theory was floating around online, but in real life it was met with blank stares. Ah, well. Maybe we just didn’t ask the right people. But time wasn’t on our side! Like a 20-something scammer on her way to party in the Hamptons, we also had places to go and people to see.
We were back on the cobblestone streets of the Seaport by 8 p.m., headed out to the second halves of our respective nights, with tote bags full of items we stole (just kidding!).
On Nobody Famous: Guesting, Gossiping, and Gallivanting, a collection of Famous People letters from the past five years, is available now from Zando Projects and The Atlantic.
- This law allows only U.S.-flagged ships that are built, owned, and operated by Americans to carry goods among U.S. ports.
The death toll of the Maui fires, the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century, now stands at 114 people. Another 1,000 people are still missing. About 1,800 in people are in temporary housing. Displaced or not, people in Maui need food, water, toiletries, and medications. And in the coming days, weeks, and months, all that and more—everything needed for a long, difficult recovery—will have to come from somewhere.
“Imagine building the entire town of Lahaina from scratch, and how many hundreds of millions—or billions—of dollars are needed to recover and rebuild,” Joe Kent, the executive vice president of Hawaii’s Grassroot Institute, a nonprofit public-policy think tank, told me.
A week in, locals are still struggling to find housing and meet their daily needs. The federal government has deployed hundreds of employees to help provide shelter and other assistance to those affected by the blaze. But in some parts of Maui, government assistance has been noticeably absent. Instead, Hawaii residents have been providing shelter, generators, and food.
“This happened in Puerto Rico—a constant clash between community kitchens or mutual-aid centers and municipalities or state agencies,” Roberto Vélez-Vélez, a sociologist at the State University of New York at New Paltz who studies disaster response, told me. When the authorities didn’t step in, community-run aid groups did. “We’re seeing this all over again.”
In 2017, Hurricane Maria, the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in the 21st century so far, barreled into Puerto Rico, leaving about 3,000 dead. One week after the storm’s landfall, the island was still crossed with downed power lines and almost entirely dark. In the six years since, recovery has been slow and uneven. Last September, many damaged homes were still covered in blue tarps. Puerto Ricans endure constant power outages after the island’s antiquated electric grid was decimated.
Recovery after any disaster of this scale is bound to take time. But in Puerto Rico—and very possibly in Hawaii—a real, distinct lag slows response even further. Though they are across the continent from each other, devastated by different disasters, these islands’ remoteness and their particular relationship to
determine the aid they receive in these moments of crisis.
On the most basic level, geography constrains disaster recovery on an island. If a firestorm happens in the contiguous U.S., responders will have a much easier time getting supplies in and out. But on an island, that process is painstaking, Ivis García, an urban planner who has researched disaster-recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, told me. It involves a lot of ships.
And for Hawaii, as for Puerto Rico, all aid shipped in must adhere to the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more popularly known as the Jones Act. This law allows only U.S.-flagged ships that are built, owned, and operated by Americans to carry goods among U.S. ports. Under normal circumstances, this results in increased prices for consumers on islands: One 2020 study estimated that the average Hawaii family pays an extra $1,800 a year because of the Jones Act. And as happened in Puerto Rico, these restrictions can make a crisis worse, by slowing the response and making it more costly.
There are 55,000 ships worldwide equipped for carrying cargo from port to port, and fewer than 100 Jones Act–eligible ships in operation today. Just two main operators dominate Jones Act shipping between the contiguous U.S. and Hawaii—Matson and Pasha. Although these operators have been deployed to send in aid, experts worry that the limited amount of ships available could bottleneck aid. Imagine, Kent told me, “all the materials that are needed to build housing and rebuild commercial districts” in Lahaina. All of those materials will have to come in Jones Act–eligible ships. If Japan wanted to send emergency supplies directly to Hawaii, for instance, it would not be allowed to because of the Jones Act, García told me.
The Jones Act can be temporarily waived: Former President Donald Trump issued a 10-day waiver to facilitate disaster relief to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. But a short-term waiver doesn’t ease long-term recovery. “Ultimately, the real cost of the Jones Act is going to be borne over a long period of time,” Kent said.
Hawaii is often packaged as paradise, but that identity, too, can have a specific price following a disaster. Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico are archipelagoes that depend on the tourism industry; they are desirable places, where land is at a premium. The cost of living is high and constantly rising. “Things in general are already more expensive. In a time of disaster, that is really multiplied,” García said. “Everything is disrupted.” Food, shelter, and transportation are all harder to find. Inevitably, after a disaster, people leave their homes, and not everyone comes back.
More than 200,000 people left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. In the years since, García told me, only a small percentage have returned to the island. On Maui, even before the historic fires, residents were dealing with an influx of wealthy outsiders buying properties and displacing residents. Even in these first days after the fire, one of locals’ first concerns was that this land rush would accelerate—that people who wanted to come back simply wouldn’t be able to afford to. That happened in Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria, a wave of foreign investors bought up properties, displacing working-class residents to meet tourism demands and get their own slice of island life. From 2018 to 2021, housing prices for a single family home on the Caribbean island increased by 22 percent.
Kent, for his part, has watched the aftermath of Hurricane Maria closely; he has seen how long recovery can take. “That’s a daunting thought for us, because we’re about to go on a journey that lasts many years,” he told me.
Jared Genser in many ways fits a certain Washington, D.C., type. He wears navy suits and keeps his hair cut short. He graduated from a top law school, joined a large firm, and made partner at 40. Eventually, he became disenchanted with big law and started his own boutique practice with offices off—where else—Dupont Circle. What distinguishes Genser from the city’s other 50-something lawyers is his unusual clientele: He represents high-value political prisoners. If you’re married to a troublesome opposition leader in a place where the rule of law is thin on the ground, one night the secret police might kick in your door, slip a hood over your spouse, and vanish into the dark. That’s when you call Genser.
Earlier this year, Genser helped obtain the release of two men who had run for president against Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s on-again, off-again strongman, and found themselves imprisoned for their trouble. He still remembers the early-morning call letting him know that his clients were airborne and headed for Dulles International Airport. But not every case ends in a euphoric release. Genser has represented the three most recent imprisoned winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, including the Chinese prodemocracy activist Liu Xiaobo, who died in custody at the age of 61, and Ales Bialiatski, who was just sentenced to 10 years in a grim penal colony in Belarus, where inmates receive beatings between long shifts of hard labor.
Genser’s clients face the full technological powers of the Leviathan. By the time they’ve been arrested, in many cases after a mass protest, they may have been spied on for months, if not years, by plainclothes police and networks of cameras. Their personal messages, website clicks, and purchases could already be in the hands of the state. Post-arrest, they may be tortured by agents looking to extract the sort of secrets that a prisoner stores only in the inner sanctum of their mind: future plans, the names of people who send them money, any informants they might have in government. Genser's clients have even been subject to electrocution, and recently, he has begun to worry that dictators will soon have access to another tool of interrogation: mind-reading devices that no human being can resist.
In theory, nothing about the brain’s squishy wetware prevents its internal states from being observed. “If you could measure every single neuron in the brain in real time, you could potentially decode everything that was percolating around in there,” Jack Gallant, a cognitive scientist at UC Berkeley, told me. That includes “all of your perceptions, all of your intentions, all of your motor actions, and also a bunch of stuff you’re not even consciously aware of,” he said.
Scientists have no way of measuring the individual activity of every neuron in the brain, or even a sizable fraction of them, so mind reading of the sort that Gallant described would be impossible. But there are cruder ways to get at neural data: A person could be slid into an MRI machine, for example, and have their brain’s activity imaged by a head-permeating magnetic field. Configured in a certain way, an MRI can detect minute, local shifts in oxygenated blood flow inside the skull. Because neurons that have just fired tend to need more oxygen, these shifts are a decent proxy for the brain’s activity. They give a blurry afterimage of thought.
In 2011, Gallant published a set of experiments that pushed mind-reading technology into a new era. He asked volunteers to watch hours of video clips while their head was stuck in an MRI, and then trained a neural network on a dataset that linked every moment of each video to the brain activity recorded by the machine. Afterward, he asked the volunteers to watch new videos. When Gallant’s team fed the resulting data into the AI, it was able to generate very rudimentary reconstructions of some of the new imagery.
Genser worries that the same approach—using learning algorithms to correlate neuronal activity with mental states—could be scaled up in power and eventually deployed in wearable, mind-reading caps. He imagines secret police plopping one onto a client’s head. They could then ask questions, he said, while watching a real-time feed of whatever pictures or words popped unbidden into a prisoner’s mind. “This will transform interrogations around the world,” he told me.
Genser first became concerned about this risk in 2017, when he met Rafael Yuste, a Spanish American neurobiology professor at Columbia University. Yuste, now 60, helped create the project that became President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, and has since become a prominent scientific voice arguing that advances in AI and neuroscience may require a new legal regime. He told me that he thinks of it as his second career. Shortly after he met Genser, he invited him to be a co-founder of the NeuroRights Foundation. Among its goals: a globally enshrined right to mental privacy and free will that would forbid anyone from ever using brain-imaging technology to force open a rear window onto your theater of consciousness.
I asked Gallant about the urgency of this campaign. He is well positioned to know how soon this technology could really be upon us: In addition to his pioneering image-reconstruction work, he has mentored several of the field’s younger practitioners. (His former student, Alexander Huth, runs a lab at the University of Texas at Austin that recently managed to reconstruct the rough gist of a text narrative that had been read aloud to a person in an MRI machine.) Gallant told me that the deep-learning revolution of the past 10 years has yielded greater success in decoding brain activity. The reconstructed imagery from his 2011 mind-reading study wasn’t very precise. “If you look at the pictures, it’s not random; there’s something there,” he said. More recent work, like that from a team led by Yu Takagi at Osaka University, in Japan, produced more-accurate reconstructions of mental imagery. Scientists are getting better at reading minds.
That’s not to say that the world’s tyrants will soon be buying mind-reading kits off the shelf. The mental reconstructions that are possible right now are a far cry from the where-is-the-rebel-base scenario that Genser fears. Even if methods like the ones described above could be used in interrogations, there would be practical challenges. Takagi’s and Huth’s experiments required research subjects to spend many motionless hours inside an MRI machine to generate training data for AI models. That alone could pose problems for, say, a dictator who hoped to peer inside the head of his prisoners. If someone wanted to resist, Gallant told me, “all they would have to do is wiggle their head a little to mess up the signals.”
Companies are developing portable helmets that use small, pulsed lasers to monitor changes in the brain’s blood flow. In 2021, a start-up called Kernel debuted a model that cost just $50,000. But the spatial resolution of the brain data they capture is lower than the data you get from an MRI machine. According to Gallant, the helmets are able to gather sufficient data to tell whether a person is sleeping, or whether they’re paying attention, but not to perform image or narrative reconstruction. Overall, he told me, he shares Yuste’s belief that this technology will eventually pose new ethical concerns, but he made clear that, in his view, mind-reading caps are a long way off.
In the meantime, Genser and Yuste are working on other threats to mental privacy that aren’t quite as lurid. In recent years, the consumer market for devices that collect brain data has been growing fast; even Apple has applied for a patent on a new earbud outfitted with electrodes that could, in theory, detect brain activity. Medical devices that use this technology are of course highly regulated, but products that you can buy with a few taps on Instagram may not be.
The NeuroRights Foundation recently reviewed the user agreements of 17 neurotech companies for a report that it plans to release in September. The agreements cover headsets that record electrical activity generated by the brain to monitor sleep patterns, mental concentration, or even meditative calm. “Every one of them takes possession of all the brain data of the user,” Yuste said. To be clear, this sort of brain data could not be used to read someone’s inner thoughts; at best, it provides something more like an impressionistic image of their mental state. Marcello Ienca, a philosopher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told me that even these data deserve special protections.
“In the digital world, we have been trading privacy for services almost nonstop for the last 20 years,” he said. But however mesmerized we might be by the dopamine slot machines that are our social-media feeds, our online activity is still voluntary. We can decide whether to post a given thought on Instagram, or to keep it in our minds, where it’s not accessible to the outside world, Ienca said. When it comes to brain data, we may not even know what we are sharing, and companies may be in no rush to tell us. Nor would we know where our data might end up: Yuste told me that almost all of the user agreements reviewed for the NeuroRights Foundation’s forthcoming report allowed the company to send data to third parties.
In some workplaces, sharing brain data may become a condition of employment. Chinese companies are reportedly using neuromonitoring technology to record the brain activity of high-speed-train conductors and people who execute important functions in nuclear plants, Ienca said. These devices may be recording only concentration levels and emotional states. But nothing prevents those companies—or the Chinese military, which is reportedly also monitoring cognitive focus in troops—from banking as much brain data as they can for later analysis. “If this isn’t a human-rights issue,” Yuste said, “what is a human-rights issue?”
Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, a medical-ethics professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, isn’t quite sure that it’s a human-rights issue, or at least not a novel one. When I spoke with her, she pointed out that we already have a right to privacy under international law. Under Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—a treaty that has been ratified by 173 countries, including
—“no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy.” (Of course, dictators have routinely flouted the very treaties their countries have signed.) Many countries have also passed domestic laws that forbid various invasions of privacy. These existing treaties and laws could cover cases where a person’s mental states are read without their consent, Blumenthal-Barby said.
Genser and Yuste disagree, and argue that without more-explicit guarantees, current human-rights law may not protect mental privacy. But Blumenthal-Barby said that such guarantees, if enacted, could be overly expansive. “We have to be able to draw a line,” she told me. “We read off people’s mental states by their behavior all the time without their consent,” by looking at facial cues or gestures or body language, and “we don’t want to include those cases.” In place of a catch-all mental-privacy right, she said that she’d be a lot more comfortable seeing laws that address specific technologies—consumer headsets, for instance—that could be used to retrieve brain data without consent.
Yuste and Genser are still focused on getting the word out about their efforts—they recently collaborated on a documentary about neurotechnology with Werner Herzog—but they have also achieved genuine legislative victories. Yuste was instrumental in the drafting of a law passed by Chile’s national legislature near the end of 2021, which enshrined several neuro rights. (Memories of Augusto Pinochet’s purges and mass internments are still fresh in Chile’s national psyche, he told me.) The NeuroRights Foundation is now working with Brazil to draft a constitutional amendment modeled on Chile’s law. Yuste said they’re also in talks with Colorado’s governor about the first such legislation at the state level in the United States.
Genser told me that it takes at least a decade to stand up a new international rights treaty, but that changes in how current treaties are interpreted could be achieved on a much shorter timeline. If Gallant is right that we won’t see anything close to a mind-reading helmet for a while, the NeuroRights Foundation may not need to rush. That’s not to say that the group’s work isn’t useful, if only to name the risks, but it’s operating in a competitive space. A great many people are currently scanning the horizon for threats from emerging technologies, especially those powered by AI. Policy makers are doing their level best to address the most pressing threats. The line between foresight and alarmism can sometimes seem blurry, like the readout from an MRI.
Little-studied brain cells known as astrocytes are major players in controlling sleep need, a new study with mice suggests.
Astrocytes may someday help humans go without sleep for longer without negative consequences such as mental fatigue and impaired physical health, the researchers report.
According to the study in the Journal of Neuroscience, activating these cells kept mice awake for hours when they would normally be resting, without making them any sleepier.
“Extended wakefulness normally increases sleep time and intensity, but what we saw in this study was that despite hours of added wakefulness these mice did not differ from well-rested controls in terms of how long and how intensely they slept,” says senior author Marcos Frank, a neuroscientist and professor at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
“This opens up the possibility that we might someday have interventions that could target astrocytes to mitigate the negative consequences of prolonged wakefulness.”
That might include medications that could be used to improve the productivity, safety, and health of shift workers and others who work long or odd hours, such as first responders and military personnel, according to Frank.
Sleep loss and mistimed sleep have been shown to affect a variety of key processes, including attention, cognition, learning, memory, metabolism, and immune function.
Astrocytes are types of non-neuronal cells that interact with neurons, brain cells that transmit easily measured electrical signals from the brain to other parts of the body.
Previously thought of as merely the “glue” that holds the brain together, research has shown that astrocytes play an active role in various behaviors and processes through a much more subtle and difficult-to-measure process known as calcium signaling.
This includes a previous Washington State study that showed that suppressing astrocyte calcium signaling throughout the brain resulted in mice building up less sleep need after sleep deprivation.
In the current study, the researchers looked specifically at astrocytes in the basal forebrain, a brain region known to play a critical role in determining time spent asleep and awake as well as sleep need.
Using chemogenetics—a method to control and study signaling pathways within brain cells—the researchers activated these astrocytes and found that this resulted in mice staying awake for six hours or more during their normal sleep period. What’s more, the researchers did not see subsequent changes in sleep time or sleep intensity in response to the added wakefulness, as would be expected.
“Our findings suggest that our need for sleep isn’t just a function of prior wake time but is also driven by these long-ignored non-neuronal cells,” says first author Ashley Ingiosi, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University who conducted the study while working as a postdoctoral research associate in Frank’s lab.
“We can now start to pinpoint how astrocytes interact with neurons to trigger this response and how they drive the expression and regulation of sleep in different parts of the brain.”
Next, the researchers plan to conduct behavioral tests in mice to determine how activating basal forebrain astrocytes to induce wakefulness might affect other processes besides sleep need, such as attention, cognition, learning, memory, metabolism, and immune function.
To get at least some indication of the potential impact on attention and cognition, they looked at EEG markers of those two processes in this study and found them to be similar to those seen in well-rested controls.
The National Institutes of Health funded the work.
Source: Washington State University
The post Could brain ‘glue’ help people stay awake without getting tired? appeared first on Futurity.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40612-3Solar-powered standalone systems drastically lower the cost of electrifying sub-Saharan Africa. Household electrification can be provided at 7c USD per person per day on average. To reflect inter- and intra-country variance, policymakers should consider electrification cost curves.
Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40592-4The authors characterize immune response in Omicron-infected vaccinated individuals and observe an immune enhancement. While increases in neutralizing antibodies and spike T cells are stronger in previously naïve individuals, mucosal antibodies and non-spike responses increase regardless of
Bioengineers have created a platform that lets engineered biosensor bacteria pass safely through the gastrointestinal tract of an animal model.
Probiotics engineered to sense and report signs of bowel inflammation could deliver firsthand knowledge of your system’s inner workings—provided they are not killed or dispersed in the process. The findings reported in the journal Biomaterials are a step toward making that scenario a clinical reality.
“Good” bacteria designed to produce a fluorescent protein in response to physiological signs of disease fared and performed well inside the rat gut, protected inside alginate particles.
By combining synthetic biology with creative biomaterial design, the research groups of Rice University faculty members Jeffrey Tabor and Omid Veiseh designed a platform that could eventually be deployed in a clinical setting not only to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but also to monitor disease progression, assess treatment response, and help provide care tailored to individual patients’ unique gut microbiome.
“For our proof-of-concept study, we chose inflammatory bowel disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes painful and recurrent inflammation flares,” says Elena Musteata, a graduate student in systems, synthetic, and physical biology in the Tabor lab. “But gut health plays many important roles in the human body, affecting metabolism, immunity, brain function, and other systems. As we discover more biomarkers for different diseases, we can use this platform to diagnose and monitor a lot of different health conditions.”
The platform could help replace what is often a prolonged and complex diagnostic process for IBD—which involves invasive, time-consuming procedures like colonoscopies and biopsies and relies, in part, on subjective self-monitoring—with a much simpler and faster procedure.
“With our system, patients could theoretically receive a prescription for the capsules and simply drop off a stool sample after ingestion, eliminating the need for repeated colonoscopies or biopsies,” says Samira Aghlara-Fotovat, a bioengineering graduate student in the Veiseh lab. “Monitoring disease progression over time or keeping track of how a patient is responding to a given therapy could be much more accessible using a platform like this.”
According to Musteata, a quicker diagnosis could lead to better patient outcomes: “Especially with IBD, it’s very important to minimize the delay between symptom onset and treatment,” she says. “Having a way to assess gut health within a short amount of time and then take action could really generate a significant advance in the clinical management of chronic inflammation and other gut-related disorders.”
Another reason the platform may lead to improved patient outcomes is the ability to tailor treatments to individual patients’ physiology.
“If, in the future, we encapsulate a diverse range of biosensor strains, we could get an idea about a specific person’s inflammatory profile and then use that information to develop a more personalized diagnosis and treatment,” Aghlara-Fotovat says.
While it’s not new for bacteria to be genetically programmed to detect disease biomarkers in the GI tract, once inside the body, they face challenges surviving harsh conditions like low pH, destructive enzymes, and bile salts. Moreover, free bacteria can disperse widely in the gut, making analysis more difficult and potentially less accurate.
“Our study demonstrated that encapsulating biosensor bacteria in protective alginate particles enables their robust survival and diagnostic function in live animals,” Musteata says. “We characterized the effect of encapsulation on the viability, population dynamics, and performance of a thiosulfate-sensing bacterial strain previously developed in our lab.”
The engineered strain produces a fluorescent green protein in response to thiosulfate—a compound associated with gut inflammation—making it possible to assess colon inflammation by measuring bacterial fluorescence after passage through the animal GI tract.
“We found that encapsulation offers several advantages for intestinal biosensing with engineered bacteria,” Musteata says. “First, because capsules are macroscopic, they can be more easily identified and analyzed than free bacteria. Additionally, because bacteria are spatially concentrated within the capsules, their reporter gene expression is easier to visualize than in the same number of free bacteria. Finally, encapsulation can protect bacteria from environmental hazards. For example, we were able to improve the survival of probiotic E. coli under acidic conditions.”
While developing and optimizing the platform was a challenging process, the researchers stressed the necessity of ensuring its reproducibility as a prerequisite for eventual clinical use.
“As we worked on developing our platform, we encapsulated bacteria countless times, optimizing each step of the process along the way. There were so many aspects that needed to be characterized well in order to make a clinically translatable product,” Aghlara-Fotovat says.
“It was really cool to see two exciting technologies come together and expand their existing capabilities,” she adds.
“Even 10 years ago, this idea of engineered probiotics acting as small diagnostic robots that could travel inside your body and detect your disease state was largely in the realm of science fiction. However, groups at Rice and numerous other institutions are now making real progress toward deploying this kind of technology,” Musteata says.
Tabor is a professor of bioengineering and biosciences. Veiseh is a Rice associate professor of bioengineering.
The research had support from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and a Rice University seed grant.
Source: Rice University
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Nature Communications, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40569-3Many genetic variants have been associated with human traits, but the mechanism is often unknown. Here, the authors integrate local and distal genetic associations with multi-omics datasets to provide a roadmap to understand the underlying mechanisms of GWAS variants on complex traits.
For thousands of years, no one truly knew how birds migrated—that is until a few unlikely pioneers sat, with hundreds of pounds of kludged together recording gear, in an empty field waiting to hear sounds that no one had ever captured
For thousands of years, no one truly knew how birds migrated—that is until a few unlikely pioneers sat, with hundreds of pounds of kludged together recording gear, in an empty field waiting to hear sounds that no one had ever captured
This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.
This startup has engineered a clever way to reuse waste heat from cloud computing
The idea of using the wasted heat of computing to do something else has been mooted plenty of times before. Now, UK startup Heata is actually doing it. When you sign up, it places a server in your home, where it connects via your Wi-Fi network to similar servers in other homes—all of which process data from companies that pay it for cloud computing services.
Each server prevents one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from being emitted and saves homeowners an average of £250 on hot water annually, a considerable discount in a country where many inhabitants struggle to afford heat.
The clever thing is that it provides a way to use electricity twice—providing services to the rapidly growing cloud computing industry and also providing domestic hot water—at a time when energy efficiency matters more than ever. Read the full story.
Tiny faux organs could crack the mystery of menstruation
A group of scientists are using new tools akin to miniature organs to study a poorly understood—and frequently problematic—part of human physiology: menstruation.
Heavy, sometimes debilitating periods strike at least a third of people who menstruate at some point in their lives, causing some to regularly miss work or school. Anemia threatens about two-thirds of people with heavy periods. Many people desperately need treatments to make their period more manageable, but it’s difficult for scientists to design medications without understanding how menstruation really works.
That understanding could be in the works, thanks to endometrial organoids—biomedical tools made from bits of the tissue that lines the uterus. The research is still very much in its infancy. But organoids have already provided insights into why menstruation is routine for some people and fraught for others. Some researchers are hopeful that these early results mark the dawn of a new era. Read the full story.
Both of the stories featured today are from the new ethics-themed print magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, set to go live on Wednesday. Subscribe to read it, if you don’t already!
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
leaders are calling on Meta to reverse its news ban
They say the block has been preventing people from getting access to crucial information about wildfires. (WP $)
+ 850 people are still missing after the Maui wildfires, its mayor has said. (NBC)
Lahaina’s governor says the state ‘tipped too far’ in trying to preserve water. (NYT $)
2 Stars are inking deals to license their AI doubles
It creates new ways to make money—but also a hefty dose of anxiety for the future. (The Information $)
+ People are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Despite early excitement, a lot of companies are struggling to meaningfully deploy AI. (Axios)
want AI development to go more slowly. (Vox)
3 Russia’s bid to return to the moon failed
Its Luna 25 spacecraft slammed into the moon’s surface yesterday. (The Economist $)
4 Cruise has to halve its robotaxi fleet after two crashes in San Francisco
Just over a week after it gained approval to operate at all hours in the city. (Quartz)
+ Lidar on a chip will be crucial to the future of fully autonomous driving. (IEEE Spectrum)
5 Why some ships are getting back their sails
Shipping accounts for 2.1% of global CO2 emissions—using wind instead of fuel could help to cut that. (BBC)
+ How ammonia could help clean up global shipping. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Musk says X will no longer have a block function
Though it will remain for direct messages. (CNBC)
+ A glitch broke links from before 2014 on X. (The Verge)
+ Musk’s antics are starting to wear thin among some of his fans. (WSJ $)
+ Tesla is suing two former employees for allegedly leaking data. (Quartz $)
7 Here’s the trouble with getting your news from influencers
If you’re relying on a single creator, what happens when they’re wrong? (The Verge)
8 Can video games help people with ADHD?
As stimulant shortages drag on, people are starting to seek out help wherever they can. (Wired $)
+ We may never fully know how video games affect our wellbeing. (MIT Technology Review)
9 Haptic suits let you feel music through your skin
Groovy! (NYT $)
Quote of the day
“I used to think, ‘I’m concerned for my children and grandchildren.’ Now it’s to the point where I’m concerned about myself.”
—Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, Canada, tells the LA Times how he feels about scientists’ most dire climate predictions coming true.
The big story
This fuel plant will use agricultural waste to combat climate change
A startup called Mote plans to build a new type of fuel-producing plant in California’s fertile Central Valley that would, if it works as hoped, continually capture and bury carbon dioxide, starting from 2024.
It’s among a growing number of efforts to commercialize a concept first proposed two decades ago as a means of combating climate change, known as bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, or BECCS.
It’s an ambitious plan. However, there are serious challenges to doing BECCS affordably and in ways that reliably suck down significant levels of carbon dioxide. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
+ Amused by a 2001 BBC news report that refers to camera phones as a “gimmick.”
+ It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this drink sounds delicious to me.
+ Fan of Dave Grohl? I thoroughly recommend reading his autobiography.
+ Today I discovered you can deter seagulls from stealing your food by staring them down.
Nature, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02601-wNow lying forgotten in many a drawer, the modern computer’s handheld predecessors heralded an era of effortless calculation — an innovation 42,000 years in the making.
Nature, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02602-9Researchers and policymakers often exist in different worlds and speak different languages. Here are three ways to bridge the divide.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40642-3Author Correction: Magnetic dipole effects on unsteady flow of Casson-Williamson nanofluid propelled by stretching slippery curved melting sheet with buoyancy force
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40525-7Publisher Correction: Classification of magnetic order from electronic structure by using machine learning
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40641-4Author Correction: Fossils of the oldest diplodocoid dinosaur suggest India was a major centre for neosauropod radiation
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40773-7Publisher Correction: Correcting bias in cardiac geometries derived from multimodal images using spatiotemporal mapping
Scientific Reports, Published online: 21 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40772-8Author Correction: Materials fatigue prediction using graph neural networks on microstructure representations
Science fiction writers, who have to think deeply about the possible nature of future technology, often invent new sci-fi materials in order to make their future technology seem plausible. They seem to understand the critical role that material science plays in advancing technology. This is why sci-fi is full of fictional materials such as unobtainium, vibranium, adamantium, and carbonite (to name just some of the most famous ones). New materials change the limits of what’s possible. There is only so much that technology can do within the limits of existing materials.
In fact the early stages of human technology are defined by the materials they used, from the stone age to the iron age. Today we live in the steel age, more than 3,000 years after steel production came into existence. There are many advanced materials with different applications, but in many ways steel still defines the limits of our technology. This is why research looking for ways to improve the characteristics of modern steel is still going on. A recent study might be pointing the way to one method of pushing the limits of steel.
Steel is simply an alloy of iron combined with a small percentage of carbon. Carbon atoms bind with the iron atoms to make crystals of steel that are harder and stronger than iron by itself. The properties of steel can be adjusted by the percentage of carbon in the alloy. The properties of the resulting steel can also be altered by alloying other metals with the steel as well- molybdenum, manganese, nickel, chromium, vanadium, silicon, and boron, for example. These can make the steel stronger, tougher, more ductile, heat resistant, or rust resistant.
But there is another way to manipulate the properties of steel – through heat treatment. This likely took several hundred years to discover and perfect after steel itself was discovered. You can anneal steel, which involves heating it to its Curie temperature, the point at which it loses its magnitism (which means it loses its crystal structure), and then cool it very slowly, allowing large grains to grow. This makes the steel soft, ductile, and strong. You can also quench (quickly cool) some types of steel which will cause the steel to for fine grains that make it hard, but brittle. Tempering steel is the process of heating it to a temperature below it’s Curie temperature for a period of time, which can add back some strength to the steel. Getting the temperatures and timing correct for different alloys of steel took a lot of trial and error. You can also combined different types of steel in laminated layers to get the best of different properties. This basic steel technology is still used today.
But now we have another way to alter the properties of steel, by influencing its nanostructure. This is possible because we can examine its nanostructure using advanced imaging techniques. This is where the current study comes in. The authors write:
Nanostructured metallic materials with abundant high-angle grain boundaries exhibit high strength and good radiation resistance. While the nanoscale grains induce high strength, they also degrade tensile ductility. We show that a gradient nanostructured ferritic steel exhibits simultaneous improvement in yield strength by 36% and uniform elongation by 50% compared to the homogenously structured counterpart.
They took T-91 steel and used compression and shear stresses to break up larger grains into smaller grains (resulting in GT-91). The process resulting in a smooth gradient of grain size, from very small at the surface to progressively larger toward the center, as much as 100 times larger. This creates hard steel at the surface and strong steel at the center (good for sword making, but other applications as well). Yield strength, as referred to above, is the amount of force the steel can withstand and still return to its original shape, without being permanently deformed. High yield strength is therefore important in many applications, such as springs. Uniform elongation is a measure of ductility, which is the amount by which the steel can be deformed before it breaks. Usually these two properties are a trade off, if you increase one you decrease the other. But the GT-91 has increased in both properties compared to the original T-91.
The authors mention another property of this steel that will likely be very important in the future – radiation resistance. This is the ability of the steel itself to withstand radiation without becoming brittle. This is an important property for nuclear reactors, possible fusion reactors, and probes and spaceships for deep space missions.
It’s good to see that we continue to make significant advances in steel technology. It’s possible steel will remain a critical material for our technology for a few more thousand years. But I do wonder what the limits of steel technology are. What will steel look like in a thousand years? How far can we push the properties of steel? I also have to wonder what entirely new materials are out there waiting to be invented. There are no new elements to discover that can replace steel. We have filled in the periodic table, and now are only adding new elements to the end, with high atomic numbers and unstable properties. There is no vibranium waiting to be discovered as a new element.
Fictional metals therefore must be new alloys with nanostructured properties, or perhaps some kind of metamaterial properties. Knowing what the theoretical limits are of such materials is important to thinking about future technologies such as space elevators (likely not feasible) interstellar space ships, and solar sails. There is also the possibility of non-metal futuristic materials, such as some type of carbon nanofiber, or something else not even imagined so far. Material science is fascinating because it has the potential to completely change the game, making new technologies and applications possible. Even just incrementally improving steel can have a huge impact.