Daily Orbit – Shutting Down Science

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 9,494
    10-8-13: On this episode of the Daily Orbit, the government shutdown is affecting science, DARPA’s got a new robot, and the Human Brain Project is announced.

    What affect is the government shutdown having on science?


    What comes after the cheetah-bot?


    Does your iPhone make you happy?


    And playing with clouds on the Daily Orbit.


    Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit.  I’m Emerald Robinson.


    Even science isn’t safe from the government shutdown—in fact, it’s probably most vulnerable.  Many of our science workers have been asked to take off their lab coats and go home.  Museums and park closures have had a trickle down effect.  The most complete dinosaur fossil ever found was supposed to make it’s way to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in D.C. but will have to wait, like it’s not used to waiting for millions of years.  The National Radio Astronomy Observatory has suspended all US operations and is down to a skeleton crew of maintenance workers.  And one researcher really thinks the shutdown stinks.  He’s had to abandon his “stink bug counting study” of the smelly invading pests for the time being as they continue to overrun American homes.   At the least the National Weather Service has a sense of humor about working without pay til a budget is approved.  Workers included a cryptic message in one weather forecast. The message?  “Please pay us.” All things STEM have really taken a hit in the wake of this government shutdown.  I guess it’s up to citizen scientists keep science ticking in the meantime.


    But all science projects are not at a standstill.  Engineering firm Boston Dynamics unveiled a new robot for DARPA intended for search and rescue missions.  It’s been in the works for a year and now the Wildcat robot makes its debut.  This four-legged machine is designed to travel quickly over all types of terrain and can reach speeds of 16 mph on flat land.  It’s considered the next generation of the cheetah-bot.  Unlike its predecessor, Wildcat his its own power source, which may be why it hasn’t come close to cheetah-bot’s 28 mph record.  Engineers also said the difference in speed might be due to gait or the simple fact that it’s a new robot that requires refinement. Whatever the case, it still looks pretty wild!


    I would love to have a wildcat or cheetah-bot.  I feel like my electronics and gadgets make me so happy.  But do they?  A new Swedish study finds that it’s not our iPhones or Macbook Pros, although I love them both, that make us happy but people and human relationships.  After scouring newspapers, researchers found that personal pronouns like “us,” “you,” “me”, and “we,” were found in close proximity to the word “happiness.”  But words like “iPhone” or “Google” were almost never associated with the word “happiness.” Researchers said that it doesn’t mean our material things make us unhappy; they just don’t seem to come up in the same context as the word for happiness.  They say their findings hold true to the old saying “money can’t buy happiness.”  Well, my saying—“it doesn’t hurt either.”


    And here’s a STEM-ulating story.  A collaboration of scientists from more than 100 universities and institutions are looking to undertake perhaps the most ambitious neuroscience project ever--to develop the technology that could create a computerized simulation of a person’s mind.  Called the Human Brain Project, scientists hope to combine all the information about the human brain collected over the years.  The heart of the project, if  you will, will be a supercomputer that’s 1,000 times faster than anything that exists now.  This fast computer could simulate brain function allowing researchers to test drugs and treatments for conditions that cost hundreds of billions of dollars to treat.  The project is intended to help us understand what makes the human brain unique, as well as how to objectively diagnose and treat brain diseases.  It is being likened to the Human Genome Project and will cost an estimated $1.6 billion.  Well, money might not buy happiness but it sure can buy innovative research.


    And another group of researchers has been quite innovative lately.  Scientists from MIT have re-created Martian clouds here on Earth.  The Mars Rover Opportunity has taken pictures of clouds in the Martian atmosphere, but scientists wanted to know what conditions must be present to form these clouds.  Using a three-story cloud chamber in Germany, the researchers found that in low temperatures, a higher relative humidity than that on Earth must exist in order for clouds to form.    The team created 10 clouds over a week’s time, with each cloud taking about 15 minutes to form. They hope their findings will help in creating more accurate models of Mars atmosphere.



    And that’s all for the Daily Orbit.  See you here tomorrow 🙂