December 01, 2012

A radically improved future is possible

Annalee Newitz makes several points in an article at io9 that the "future is not accelerating".

1. The future is not coming at us any faster than it ever has.
2. We will not become immortal cyborgs with superintelligent computer friends in the next twenty years.
3. We can't expect all the efforts we make in our short lifetimes to pay off in our lifetimes, too. You will not live to be 200 years old. I repeat: You will not live to be 200 years old. Life extension like that is not going to happen in our lifetimes because quite simply it takes time to analyze our genomes, then it takes more time to test them, then it takes more time to develop therapies to keep us young, and then there is a lot of government red tape and cultural backlash to deal with too. Maybe our grandchildren will have a chance to take a life-extension pill. But not us

Historial Economics - there have been accelerations

Robin Hanson has a theory related to shifts in economic growth rates.

Mode      Doubling   Date Began   Doubles  Doubles  Transition
  Grows     Time (DT)  To Dominate  of DT    of WP    CES Power
----------  ---------  -----------  ------   -------  ----------
Brain size   34M yrs    550M B.C.     ?       "16"      ?
Hunters     224K yrs   2000K B.C.    7.3      8.9       ?
Farmers      909 yrs    4856 B.C.    7.9      7.6      2.4
Industry     6.3 yrs    2020 A.D.    7.2     >9.2      0.094   

The Medieval England (1500-1730) doubling period was 100 years.
From 1730-1910 doubling period was 58 years.
From 1910-2010 there has been a doubling period of about 15 years.

The 15 year doubling time is 4.7-4.8% GDP growth. An improvement of doubling time by 3-5 times would indicate another level of progress that is line with the long term historic trend.

A pre-singularity phase with two doublings at a more modest improvement level would be to the 9-12% per year growth level that China is experiencing. Technology could enable that level for the entire world. Then 15% for 3-4 doublings and then 20-25% for the singularity level.

I have laid out the case where Sky City Skyscrapers (200-600 stories) and robotic cars (4 times the density of road traffic) will make certain megacities (future New York, Shanghai, Tokyo etc...) one third to one half of the overall world population and they would have 75% more GDP per capita than they do today. There would be rural, regular urban then super-urban. Research shows that doubling population and increased urban density boosts productivity by about 15%.

Life Expectancy had big increases over the last 140 years

Life expectancy is a lagging indicator, which is based upon the age of deaths of those dieing in the year born. Life expectancy was already almost 50 in 1880. Another 28 years of life expectancy was achieved, which was more than the 15 year improvement from 1900 to 2000.

Life Expectancy at Birth in the United States
1880     39.4
1900     47.8   (gain to 50 year life expectancy by those born in 1905)
1910     53.1   
1920     54.1
1930     59.7
1940     62.9
1950     68.2
1960     69.7
1970     70.8
1980     73.7
1990     75.4
1998     76.7

The highest life expectancy now is 89.7 for people born in Monaco. The highest for country with a population over 100 million is Japan with 82.2 years. If you are in the fraction of the population that exercise regularly and does not smoke and does drink to excess and maintains a good blood pressure and cholesterol level then your life expectancy is about 7 years better than the average. Life expectancy is improving at about 0.16 to 0.25 years each year. This is reflecting the actual improvement in health and technology.

What would be possible with Complete Success for Harold White's Warp drive work

George Dvorsky at io9 reviewed the Harold White work on Warp drive at NASA Eagleworks.

The main new statement is that if this research were to fully pan out and get developed then we would be able to travel to the stars in weeks instead of decades.

The Next Step - experimentally detect warping of space

Space Warp equations are being tested using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer. At Johnson Space Center, Eagleworks has initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble.

Across 1cm, the experimental rig should be able to measure space perturbations down to ~1 part in 10,000,000.

Nextbigfuture has covered Harold White's work several times in the last few months.

H. G. White and E. W. Davis- The AlcubierreWarp Drive in Higher Dimensional Spacetime

A case against the Rise of the Rest

Foreign Affairs Magazine - The Broken BRICS by Ruchir Sharma. Ruchir is head of Emerging Markets and Global Macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and the author of Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles.

I think that Ruchir is overly pessimistic about China. I do agree that many other nations have to demonstrate the ability to grow for decades. Indonesia appears back on track to grow at 6% fairly consistently for a number of years. India has slowed down to 5-6% growth and needs a lot of reforms to get on track. India has serious challenges to educate and lift up its poorest people (making up over half of its population.)

The Economist forecasts China will have 9.3 trillion GDP in 2013. (next year). This is more than Japan (3rd biggest economy) and Germany (4th biggest economy) combined. This is without including Hong Kong and Macau which are part of China. It also does not include the hidden economy. Michael Pettis is a China pessimist and talks about subtracting environmental damage from China's GDP. This is not done for any other GDP and basically is a different measurement than GDP.

Including Hong Kong and Macau China should be at 9.8 trillion GDP at the end of next year and with the hidden economy China would be at 13 trillion GDP. There is also general agreement that China's currency is undervalued. So China catching up on an overall GDP basis a done deal. However the catchup on a per capita basis is a more open issue. I think several cities like Shanghai and Beijing will catchup on a per capita basis by 2020. Overall per capita catchup will take into the 2030s and a lot can happen to delay and slow that. What could speed it up is if China allowed its currency to strengthen a lot.

Over the past several years, the most talked-about trend in the global economy has been the so-called rise of the rest, which saw the economies of many developing countries swiftly converging with those of their more developed peers. The primary engines behind this phenomenon were the four major emerging-market countries, known as the BRICs: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The world was witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime shift, the argument went, in which the major players in the developing world were catching up to or even surpassing their counterparts in the developed world.

These forecasts typically took the developing world's high growth rates from the middle of the last decade and extended them straight into the future, juxtaposing them against predicted sluggish growth in the United States and other advanced industrial countries.

With the world economy heading for its worst year since 2009, Chinese growth is slowing sharply, from double digits down to seven percent or even less. And the rest of the BRICs are tumbling, too: since 2008, Brazil's annual growth has dropped from 4.5 percent to two percent; Russia's, from seven percent to 3.5 percent; and India's, from nine percent to six percent.

None of this should be surprising, because it is hard to sustain rapid growth for more than a decade. The unusual circumstances of the last decade made it look easy: coming off the crisis-ridden 1990s and fueled by a global flood of easy money, the emerging markets took off in a mass upward swing that made virtually every economy a winner. By 2007, when only three countries in the world suffered negative growth, recessions had all but disappeared from the international scene. But now, there is a lot less foreign money flowing into emerging markets. The global economy is returning to its normal state of churn, with many laggards and just a few winners rising in unexpected places. The implications of this shift are striking, because economic momentum is power, and thus the flow of money to rising stars will reshape the global balance of power.

New Study measures sea level rise at 3.2 millimeters a year for 2 decades for a total rise of 6.4 centimeters

New Scientist - One of the two new studies shows that last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2007, underestimated actual sea level rise. That's because the IPCC's fourth assessment report (AR4) did not include contributions from the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

So, for the years 1993-2011, the IPCC estimated that sea level would rise by about 2 millimetres a year. But the satellite data from that period now tell a different story.

Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and colleagues compared IPCC AR4 projections with actual measurements and found the projections lagging behind what was happening in the real world. Global sea level has been rising at about 3.2 millimetres a year over the past two decades

Environmental Research Letters - Comparing climate projections to observations up to 2011

We analyse global temperature and sea-level data for the past few decades and compare them to projections published in the third and fourth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The results show that global temperature continues to increase in good agreement with the best estimates of the IPCC, especially if we account for the effects of short-term variability due to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, volcanic activity and solar variability. The rate of sea-level rise of the past few decades, on the other hand, is greater than projected by the IPCC models. This suggests that IPCC sea-level projections for the future may also be biased low.

November 30, 2012

Waterloo researchers create world's largest functioning model of the brain

A team of researchers from the University of Waterloo has built the world's largest simulation

Spaun Anatomical architecture (credit: Chris Eliasmith et al./Science)

Eric Lerner of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Gives an Overview of Current Nuclear Fusion Work

LPP's chief scientist Eric Lerner explains who's who in the world of fusion energy research and what's the latest in plasma physics and nuclear fusion. This presentation was hosted by the Center for Economic and Environmental Partnership at the Ernst & Young location in New York City's Times Square, on October 12 2012.

This is an overview of current technologies and the potential for cheap, safe and clean energy in the near future.

Economist World in 2013 GDP Forecasts

The Economist World in 2013 is forecasting that China will have 8.6% GDP growth and 5.0% inflation in 2013. They project nominal GDP to be US$9.23 trillion.

Hong Kong is forecast to have a GDP of 404 billion.

Macau is projected elsewhere to have a GDP at the end of 2013 of $50 billion.

China (including Hong Kong and Macau) would have a GDP of US$9.68 trillion.

China finished 2011 with a GDP of US$7.31 trillion (47.2 trillion yuan)

In 2012, GDP growth is about 7.7% and inflation has been about 2%.
The currency has appreciated about 3.8%.
China should end 2012 with about US$8.34 trillion GDP.

India is forecast to have 6.5% GDP growth in 2013 and a GDP of US$2.195 trillion

Japan is forecast to have 1.2% GDP growth and a GDP of 5.74 trillion

The US is projected to have 2.1% GDP growth and a GDP of 16.33 trillion.

China would have 56% of the GDP of the US at the end of 2013. (up from 48% in 2011_.
China (including Hong Kong and Macau) would be 59% of the US economy at the end of 2013 (up from 50% in 2011).

US could reach 7 million barrels per day in crude oil production Dec, 2012 or Jan, 2013

The EIA publishes total monthly crude oil production statistics are published by state and has statistics going back to 1920 for the USA and 1981 by state. This information has been reported up to Sept, 2012

The weekly crude oil production information for the USA and Alaska has been published up to Nov 23, 2012.

Comparing the information in September against the more current information for October and November. Provides a view into what happened in North Dakota, Texas, California, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Overall the US will likely have about 206 million barrels of production (6.65 million bpd) in October and 203 million barrels of production in November (6.75 million bpd).

There needs to be 10 million barrels per month more than the July peak and that contribution must of have been at least 5-6 million barrels per month from Texas and North Dakota.

Federal Offshore (PADD 3, Gulf of Mexico) might get about to the level of its July peak. Alaska is at 558,000 bpd (about 16.7 million barrels for the month of October).

Texas and North Dakota have both been increasing production by about 30,000 to 40,000 barrels per day each month. Texas has been able to add 80,000 barrels per day per month in really good months.

North Dakota should end Dec 2012 with over 800,000 bpd of production.
Texas could end with 2.2 million bpd of production.

Elon Musk on Technology, Business, Education and Society

TechCrunch - Elon Musk has had a significant role Musk in creating at least four so far that are worth over $50 billion.

Not about Risk Taking but getting things done to Solve Big Problems for a Bright Future

One audience member asked, how could we get more Elon Musks? Is the entrepreneurial mindset and skills transferable?

It isn’t about risk taking, he said: “I don’t really want to take risks.”

“I read a lot of Science Fiction as a kid and tried to think about the future and the problems that needed to be solved to make it a bright future, and I tried to get involved in that. I don’t create companies for the sake of creating companies, but to get things done. I have to get other people involved – otherwise it would be just me.”

Elon Musk and his team are checking the Math on Hyperloop Paper before Publishing Dec 2012

Elon Musk and some of his Spacex and Tesla engineers are working on something he calls the “Hyperloop” which will be a “cross between a rail-gun and a Concorde.”
He said this was be a new kind of mass transport system. “I want something that is faster than a plane, costs less, can’t crash, and is immune to weather.” It also can’t have a right of way issue, where people have to give up their homes.

But he would reveal more details later, after he’d completed more calculations.

In mid-November, Elon Musk said he would publish a paper on his Hyperloop transportation system "in the next month".

Elon says he wants no controlling role in any company which might emerge from the Hyperloop system: "I just want to put it out there in a way that doesn't require me to do day-to-day execution… I would like to do less, actually. I tried my hardest to avoid being CEO of Tesla. Running two companies is not the most fun thing in the world."

So Elon also did not want to be CEO of Tesla but ended up with that job anyway.

China should have GDP of about 100 trillion yuan by 2020

Nextbigfuture has made predictions that China would have a GDP of $107 trillion yuan by 2020.

China's gross domestic product will hit 100 trillion yuan ($16 trillion) by 2020, close to the size of the United States economy in 2012, said Yang Weimin, vice head of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Finance and Economic Affair.

In 2020, China's GDP per capita will likely exceed $10,000, nearly double the amount in 2011.

Over the next few years, faster development in the country's central and western regions also meant incomes would rise faster for residents of those regions than in the more developed eastern parts of China, Yang said.

China's gross domestic product in 2011 was 47.2 trillion yuan

Prior Nextbigfuture GDP forecast for China

Year GDP(yuan) GDP growth USD/CNY China GDP China+HK US GDP   

2011     47.2   9.2        6.3     7.5        7.8       15.2
2012     53     8.0        6.1     8.7        9.0       15.9
2013     59     8.5        5.8    10.2       10.5       16.5
2014     66     8.5        5.5    11.9       12.2       17.2
2015     73     8.5        5.2    14         14.3       18
2016     80     8          4.9    16.3       16.7       18.8
2017     88     8          4.6    19.1       19.5       19.6
2018     97     8          4.3    22.6       23         20.5
2019    107     8          4.1    26         26.5       21.5
2020    115     7.5        3.9    29.6       30         22.4
2021    125     7.5        3.7    33.7       34.2       23.4
2022    135     7.5        3.5    38.5       39         24.5
2023    145     7          3.3    44         44.5       25.6
2024    157     7          3.1    50.6       51         26.7
2025    170     7          3      56.5       57         27.9
2026    183     7          3      61         61.5       29.2
2027    198     7          3      66         66.4       30.5
2028    214     7          3      71.2       72         31.9
2029    235     7          3      78.4       79         33.3
2030    259     7          3      86.4       87         34.8

Pollen shells could be used for oral delivery of vaccines

What attributes does pollen have that make DoD consider it anything more than a seasonal menace to humans’ sinuses? To start with, the exterior of a pollen grain is a shell made of a naturally durable, non-allergenic polymer. The contents of the shell that actually contain the allergy-inducing plant proteins and fats can be cleaned out, rendering the shell itself neutral. The leftover space inside the shell could be filled with vaccines and delivered into the body through oral ingestion. The pollen shell’s natural toughness would help the vaccine survive conditions inside the body. The pollen could then pass through the intestinal lining to deliver vaccine.

The value of an orally consumed vaccine is that it is efficient, painless, can be self-administered and can induce both systemic and mucosal immune responses, thus enhancing protection. But why is pollen any better for this than a traditional pill? The body’s own processes often limit the effectiveness of pills. When patients ingest vaccines and other medications, stomach acids and digestive processes can degrade the medication. Because pollen shells are durable, however, they can potentially survive inside the body and safeguard a vaccine until it can be delivered. All this means that along with the traditional image of pollen as airborne particles that cause headaches and sneezing, pollen could also eventually be known as an edible vaccine delivery vehicle.

Immortal Jellyfish can reverse aging and rejuvenate itself at any point

NY Times - The scientists described how the species (the immortal jellyfish - Turritopsis) — at any stage of its development — could transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, “thus escaping death and achieving potential immortality.” This finding appeared to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die.

One of the paper’s authors, Ferdinando Boero, likened the Turritopsis to a butterfly that, instead of dying, turns back into a caterpillar. Another metaphor is a chicken that transforms into an egg, which gives birth to another chicken. The anthropomorphic analogy is that of an old man who grows younger and younger until he is again a fetus. For this reason Turritopsis dohrnii is often referred to as the Benjamin Button jellyfish.

Yet the publication of “Reversing the Life Cycle” barely registered outside the academic world. You might expect that, having learned of the existence of immortal life, man would dedicate colossal resources to learning how the immortal jellyfish performs its trick. You might expect that biotech multinationals would vie to copyright its genome; that a vast coalition of research scientists would seek to determine the mechanisms by which its cells aged in reverse; that pharmaceutical firms would try to appropriate its lessons for the purposes of human medicine; that governments would broker international accords to govern the future use of rejuvenating technology. But none of this happened.

Some progress has been made, however, in the quarter-century since Christian Sommer’s discovery. We now know, for instance, that the rejuvenation of Turritopsis dohrnii and some other members of the genus is caused by environmental stress or physical assault. We know that, during rejuvenation, it undergoes cellular transdifferentiation, an unusual process by which one type of cell is converted into another — a skin cell into a nerve cell, for instance. (The same process occurs in human stem cells.) We also know that, in recent decades, the immortal jellyfish has rapidly spread throughout the world’s oceans in what Maria Pia Miglietta, a biology professor at Notre Dame, calls “a silent invasion.”

November 29, 2012

Russia partners with Czech companies for SVBR-100 fast neutron modular reactor

Russia’s Rosatom nuclear agency signed a deal to build a fast-neutron nuclear reactor on Russian territory in co-operation with 13 Czech companies. It is called the SVBR-100 project. Research and design work on the SVBR-100 reactor will continue until the end of 2014, while operations proper are set to begin in 2017. Potentially, it could take 10 to 15pc of the global nuclear energy market for small and medium-sized power stations.

“Fast reactors are the basis of our [global] competitiveness,” says Kiriyenko. “These include the fast-neutron reactors that already exist at Beloyarsk, lead-bismuthic reactors, lead reactors and other liquid metal coolants. All of these technologies will allow us to utilise the U-238 [highly enriched] isotope in the fuel cycle, which is abundantly available in nature but is currently almost unused.”

Russia previously announced a plan to invest RUR16 billion ($585 million) in the SVBR-100.

The SVBR-100 could be the first reactor cooled by heavy metal to generate electricity. It is described as a multi-function reactor for power, heat or desalination and a power station with 16 such modules would be expected to supply electricity at lower cost than any other new Russian technology, said AKME, while achieving inherent safety and high proliferation resistance.

Supermassive Blackhole with 17 billion solar mass has 14% of the mass of its galaxy

Astronomers have used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory to measure the mass of what may be the most massive black hole yet — 17 billion Suns — in galaxy NGC 1277. The unusual black hole makes up 14 percent of its galaxy's mass, rather than the usual 0.1 percent. This galaxy and several more in the same study could change theories of how black holes and galaxies form and evolve.

NGC 1277 lies 220 million light-years away in the constellation Perseus. The galaxy is only ten percent the size and mass of our own Milky Way. Despite NGC 1277's diminutive size, the black hole at its heart is more than 11 times as wide as Neptune's orbit around the Sun.

"This is a really oddball galaxy," said team member Karl Gebhardt of The University of Texas at Austin. "It's almost all black hole. This could be the first object in a new class of galaxy-black hole systems." Furthermore, the most massive black holes have been seen in giant blobby galaxies called "ellipticals," but this one is seen in a relatively small lens-shaped galaxy (in astronomical jargon, a "lenticular galaxy").

This diagram shows how the diamater of the 17-billion-solar-mass black hole in the heart of galaxy NGC 1277 compares with the orbit of Neptune around the Sun. The black hole is eleven times wider than Neptune's orbit. Shown here in two dimensions, the "edge" of the black hole is actually a sphere. This boundary is called the "event horizon," the point from beyond which, once crossed, neither matter nor light can return. Credit: D. Benningfield/K. Gebhardt/StarDate

Nature - An over-massive black hole in the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277

Researchers Create Versatile 3D Nanostructures Using DNA "Bricks"

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have created more than 100 three-dimensional (3D) nanostructures using DNA building blocks that function like Lego® bricks -- a major advance from the two-dimensional (2D) structures the same team built a few months ago.

In effect, the advance means researchers just went from being able to build a flat wall of Legos®, to building a house. The new method, featured as a cover research article in the 30 November issue of Science, is the next step toward using DNA nanotechnologies for more sophisticated applications than ever possible before, such as "smart" medical devices that target drugs selectively to disease sites, programmable imaging probes, templates for precisely arranging inorganic materials in the manufacturing of next generation computer circuits, and more.

The nanofabrication technique, called "DNA-brick self-assembly," uses short, synthetic strands of DNA that work like interlocking Lego® bricks. It capitalizes on the ability to program DNA to form into predesigned shapes thanks to the underlying "recipe" of DNA base pairs: A (adenosine) only binds to T (thymine) and C (cytosine) only binds to G (guanine).

Computer-generated 3D models (left) and corresponding 2D projection microscopy images (right) of nanostructures self-assembled from synthetic DNA strands called DNA bricks. A master DNA brick collection defines a 25-nanometer cubic "molecular canvas" with 1000 voxels. By selecting subsets of bricks from this canvas, Ke et al. constructed a panel of 102 distinct shapes exhibiting sophisticated surface features as well as intricate interior cavities and tunnels. These nanostructures may enable diverse applications ranging from medicine to nanobiotechnology and electronics. [Image Credit: Yonggang Ke, Wyss Institute, Harvard University.]

Scientists discover 20 billion to 1 trillion tons of water ice on Mercury

Mercury, the smallest and innermost planet in our solar system, revolves around the sun in a mere 88 days, making a tight orbit that keeps the planet incredibly toasty. Surface temperatures on Mercury can reach a blistering 800 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to liquefy lead.

Now researchers from NASA, MIT, the University of California at Los Angeles and elsewhere have discovered evidence that the scorching planet may harbor pockets of water ice, along with organic material, in several permanently shadowed craters near Mercury’s north pole.

Mapping the planet’s surface is a challenging task, as the craft must weather the sun’s intense radiation, which can “play havoc with electronics,” Zuber says. What’s more, the probe moves from pole to pole in an elliptical orbit, making for an extremely tricky mapping mission, both dynamically and thermally. Despite these challenges, MESSENGER’s onboard laser altimeter has amassed more than 10 million laser pulses that have been used to map topography and measure the near-infrared reflectance of the surface.

Last year, researchers analyzed the probe’s topographic observations and created a high-resolution map of Mercury; they then overlaid previous radar observations. They found that the bright regions detected in radar lined up with permanently shadowed craters at the planet’s north pole — regions that never see the sun, and which are potentially ideal places for ice to survive. This finding was one more piece of evidence that Mercury might harbor water ice.

In this latest analysis of MESSENGER’s observations, scientists believe they have found conclusive evidence for water ice on Mercury, although the data was at first puzzling.

Perspective view of Mercury’s north polar region with the radar-bright regions shown in yellow. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

NASA - Mercury harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials in its permanently shadowed polar craters. 

Three independent lines of evidence support this conclusion: the first measurements of excess hydrogen at Mercury's north pole with MESSENGER's Neutron Spectrometer, the first measurements of the reflectance of Mercury's polar deposits at near-infrared wavelengths with the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA), and the first detailed models of the surface and near-surface temperatures of Mercury's north polar regions that utilize the actual topography of Mercury's surface measured by the MLA. These findings are presented in three papers published online today in Science Express. 

Science Express - Evidence for Water Ice Near Mercury's North Pole from MESSENGER Neutron Spectrometer Measurements

Measurements by the Neutron Spectrometer on the MESSENGER spacecraft show decreases in the flux of epithermal and fast neutrons from Mercury's north polar region that are consistent with the presence of water ice in permanently shadowed regions. The neutron data indicate that Mercury's radar-bright polar deposits contain, on average, a hydrogen-rich layer more than tens of centimeters thick beneath a surficial layer 10 to 20 cm thick that is less rich in hydrogen. The buried layer must be nearly pure water ice. The upper layer contains less than 25 wt.% water-equivalent hydrogen. The total mass of water at Mercury's poles is inferred to be 2 × 10^16 to 10^18 g (20 billion to 1 trillion tons) and is consistent with delivery by comets or volatile-rich asteroids.

Science Express - Thermal Stability of Volatiles in the North Polar Region of Mercury

Science Express - Bright and Dark Polar Deposits on Mercury: Evidence for Surface Volatiles

Lockheed Martin Demonstrates 10 kilowatt Ground-Based Fiber Laser System in Tests Against Rockets and Unmanned Aerial System

Lockheed Martin announced that it has successfully demonstrated a portable, ground-based military laser system in a series of tests against representative airborne targets. Lockheed Martin developed the Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) system to provide a defense against short-range threats, such as rockets and unmanned aerial systems.

Since August, the ADAM system has successfully engaged an unmanned aerial system target in flight at a range of approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) and has destroyed four small-caliber rocket targets in simulated flight at a range of approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).

Sensor image shows engagement by the ADAM system of an unmanned aerial system target.

November 28, 2012

New path to large-scale quantum computing with millions of qubits

In a key step toward building a machine that promises to revolutionize computing, Princeton researchers have developed a method that could quickly and reliably transmit information through a computer using the power of subatomic particles.

The finding, by a team led by Princeton's Associate Professor of Physics Jason Petta, could eventually allow engineers to build a working quantum computer. By using principles radically different from classical physics, quantum computers would allow mathematicians to solve problems impossible to approach with standard computers: factoring immense numbers, cracking codes or simulating molecular behavior.

Quantum computers take advantage of the strange behaviors of subatomic particles like electrons. By harnessing electrons as they spin, scientists could use the particles to form the basis for a new type of computing. The problem, though, is that these incredibly tiny electrons are hard to control. So far, scientists have only been able to harness extremely small numbers of them.

But in a recent series of experiments, Petta's team has demonstrated a new approach that could eventually allow engineers to build quantum computers consisting of millions of quantum bits, or qubits.

Thermoelectrics made from dirt cheap materials

By using common materials found pretty much anywhere there is dirt, a team of Michigan State University researchers have developed a new thermoelectric material.

This is important, they said, because the vast majority of heat that is generated from, for example, a car engine, is lost through the tail pipe. It’s the thermoelectric material’s job to take that heat and turn it into something useful, like electricity.

The researchers, led by Donald Morelli, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science, developed the material based on natural minerals known as tetrahedrites.

Nanoparticles of gold used as substrate to grow semiconductor nanowires about 1000 times faster

A completely new method of manufacturing the smallest structures in electronics could make their manufacture thousands of times quicker, allowing for cheaper semiconductors. Instead of starting from a silicon wafer or other substrate, as is usual today, researchers have made it possible for the structures to grow from freely suspended nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas.

They believe the technology will be ready for commercialisation in two to four years’ time. A prototype for solar cells is expected to be completed in two years.

“When I first suggested the idea of getting rid of the substrate, people around me said ‘you’re out of your mind, Lars; that would never work’. When we tested the principle in one of our converted ovens at 400°C, the results were better than we could have dreamt of”, he says.

“The basic idea was to let nanoparticles of gold serve as a substrate from which the semiconductors grow. This means that the accepted concepts really were turned upside down!”

Since then, the technology has been refined, patents have been obtained and further studies have been conducted. In the article in Nature, the researchers show how the growth can be controlled using temperature, time and the size of the gold nanoparticles.

Nature - Continuous gas-phase synthesis of nanowires with tunable properties.

US Crude Production continues to increase by about 150,000 barrel per day per month since Summer of 2012

US daily crude oil production increased to 6.818 million barrels per day. This was an increase of 108,000 barrels per day from the prior week. This is the most crude oil produced by the US since February, 1994.

This seems to indicate that oil from North Dakota (Bakken) and Texas (Eagle Ford) has likely increased by 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day since the September, 2012 state level oil reports.

US Total daily oil liquids production is 11.17 million barrels per day.

Skylon Spaceplane Pre-cooler Technology Validated

Reaction Engines has declared their revolutionary pre-cooler technology a success.

The Sabre engine could take a plane to five times the speed of sound and an altitude of 25 km, about 20 percent of the speed and altitude needed to reach orbit. For space access, the engines would then switch to rocket mode to do the remaining 80 percent.

Reaction Engines believes Sabre is the only engine of its kind in development and the company now needs to raise about 250 million pounds ($400 million) to fund the next three-year development phase in which it plans to build a small-scale version of the complete engine.

The engine technology could win a healthy chunk of four key markets together worth $112 billion (69 billion pounds) a year, including space access, hypersonic air travel, and modified jet engines that use the heat exchanger to save fuel.

The fourth market is unrelated to aerospace. Reaction Engines believes the technology could also be used to raise the efficiency of so-called multistage flash desalination plants by 15 percent.

The heat exchanger technology could also be incorporated into a new jet engine design that could cut 5 to 10 percent - or $10 (6.25 pounds)-20 billion - off airline fuel bills.

It is likely that the Spaceplane will take over 10 years to develop and commercial hypersonic space travel will also take many years to certify for passengers. The desalination market could be first and then modifying engines for fuel efficiency would also take a few years to get to market but would likely be before the more extreme spaceplane and hypersonic planes.

Spacex is competing to develop fully reusable rockets and will likely get to market first. However, Skylon spaceplanes and hypersonic planes would revolutionize a lot of other markets and applications.

Military applications (missiles) and unmanned vehicles would arrive before passenger applications.

Skylon is also more compatible with beam powered boosting to orbit. A Proposal by Keith Henson described in an interview with Nextbigfuture.

Lasers heating hydrogen could result in exhaust velocities as high as 10 kilometers per second, even higher than the nuclear reactors did.

Running the expensive lasers at close to full time sets the flight rate. They take 16 minutes to accelerate the payload to geosynchronous transfer orbit and 4 minutes to circularize the payload orbit at GEO.

Three flights per hour delivers 60 tons per hour to GEO. That is 25,000 launches per year, which also gets the cost per flight down. At 72 flights a day and a two day turnaround plus spares it would take perhaps 200 Skylons It sounds like a lot, but a Skylon should not cost any more than a Boeing 777 ($250 M) and there are nearly a thousand of those in service.

The European Space Agency appears to have signed off on the tests and will be allocating some portion of their new space budget for follow on projects related to the Skylon spaceplane which is enabled by the pre-cooler.

Critical tests have been successfully completed on the key technology for SABRE, an engine which will enable aircraft to reach the opposite side of the world in under 4 hours, or to fly directly into orbit and return in a single stage, taking off and landing on a runway.

SABRE, an air-breathing rocket engine, utilises both jet turbine and rocket technology. Its innovative pre-cooler technology is designed to cool the incoming airstream from over 1,000 degrees Celsius to minus 150 degrees celsius in less than 1/100th of a second (six times faster than the blink of an eye) without blocking with frost. The recent tests have proven the cooling technology to be frost-free at the crucial low temperature of -150 degrees celsius.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has evaluated the SABRE engine's pre-cooler heat exchanger on behalf of the UK Space Agency, and has given official validation to the test results.

Reaction Engines heat exchangers are 100 times lighter than current technology allowing them to be used in weight-critical aerospace applications. This is achieved through the use of extremely thin walls to separate the hot and cold fluids within the heat exchangers, coupled with advanced manufacturing techniques needed to bond these fine structures whilst maintaining their strength, durability and low weight.

For example, REL has made the tube walls for its Pre-cooler as thin as possible - in our most recent demonstration the tube walls were only 27 microns thick but are bonded together to resist pressures greater than 150 bar - that's 150 times greater than atmospheric pressure at temperatures ranging from over 1,000°C to less than minus 150°C .

New carbomorph plastic composite for 3d printed electronics

The University of Warwick researchers have created a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using the latest generation of low-cost 3D printers designed for use by hobbyists and even in the home.The material, nicknamed ‘carbomorph’, enables users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure – allowing the printer to create touch-sensitive areas for example, which can then be connected to a simple electronic circuit board.So far the team has used the material to print objects with embedded flex sensors or with touch-sensitive buttons such as computer game controllers or a mug which can tell how full it is.The next step is to work on printing much more complex structures and electronic components including the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers.

Memristor based nanostore memory and logic could be 100 times more energy efficient

Eetimes - HP still on track for 2016 to 2018 for nanostore memory and logic chips that could be 100 times more energy efficient

“We have the opportunity for new building block,” said Ranganathan. “It’s really a 3-D stack amenable to traditional workloads and even more so to new workloads, really changing the game with potentially a hundred-fold increase in performance per watt."HP Labs continues to conduct experiments on the nanostore concept with promising results. But Ranganathan declined to provide any specifics, noting the work is still as much as three years from commercial products.Such devices could ride a confluence of multiple waves of change. “The technology changes and workloads inflections ahead are incredibly interesting for system design,” he said.

Memristor memory is expected for 2014. This is memory and logic. Memristor memory displaces Flash. Nanostore replaces the intel X86 and other CPU chips

November 27, 2012

China Builds Cheaper GPS by broadcast the signals from the ground and routing through existing Communication Satellites

Technology Review - There are many Global Positioning systems

The US has the global positioning satellite system, Russia has GLONASS, Europe hopes to have Galileo operational by 2020 and China has a similar timescale for its COMPASS system. Even Japan and India are getting in on the act with QZSS, the Quasi Zenith Satellite System of Japan, and the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System or IRNSS.

The GPS system alone is estimated to have cost $1.5 billion in 2012 alone. A cheaper idea is to transmit the highly accurate time signals from the ground and simply route them through geostationary satellites that are already in orbit. Receivers can then triangulate their position in the same way. That's much easier and cheaper since it uses existing communications infrastructure

China tested this idea in 2005 using communications satellites to provide positioning signals for several Chinese cities.

There is a problem, however. Geostationary satellites sit exactly in the equatorial plane so their signals can only give an east-west position. To get a north-south position requires satellites above and below the equatorial plane.

Arxiv - The Principle of Navigation Constellation Composed of SIGSO Communication Satellites

Update on China's High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor HTR-PM

A key nuclear research project for China is the demonstration Shidaowan HTR-PM. It will have 210 MWe (two reactor modules, each of 250 MWt) which is being built at Shidaowan in Shandong province, driving a single steam turbine at about 40% thermal efficiency. It is now expected to be completed in 2015.

IAEA (Aug 2012 report) - In China, an industrial scale modular demonstration plant called the high temperature reactor –pebble bed module (HTR-PM) is at an advanced stage of development. An owner company has been established, and components such as the primary system pressure vessels, steam generators, reactor internals and helium blowers are being manufactured. The site has been prepared, and first concrete will be poured once approval is received from the authorities.

There was a 54 page presentation on the project in July 2011.

Next step after the 2015 completion of the 210 MWe unit

A 600 MWe Multi-Module HTR-PM Supercritical Steam Turbine Plant, (6×250 MWt
HTR-PM module+ 1×660 MWe steam turbine)
* standardize the reactor module,
* is inherently safe and competitive,
* and usable for co-generation.

The HTR-PM will pave the way for 18 (Six of the 660 MWe triple unit modules) further 210 MWe units at the same site in Weihai city - total 3800 MWe - also with steam cycle.

IAEA - Status report 96 - High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor - Pebble-Bed Module (HTR-PM) from Oct 2011 (18 pages)

Enriched uranium fission reactor prototype for space power systems

A team of researchers, including engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has demonstrated a new concept for a reliable nuclear reactor that could be used on space flights. The research team recently demonstrated the first use of a heat pipe to cool a small nuclear reactor and power a Stirling engine at the Nevada National Security Site’s Device Assembly Facility near Las Vegas. The Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF) experiment produced 24 watts of electricity.

“The heat pipe and Stirling engine used in this test are meant to represent one module that could be used in a space system,” said Marc Gibson of NASA Glenn. “A flight system might use several modules to produce approximately one kilowatt of electricity.”

Current space missions typically use power supplies that generate about the same amount of electricity as one or two household light bulbs (100-200 watts). The availability of more power could potentially boost the speed with which mission data is transmitted back to Earth, or increase the number of instruments that could be operated at the same time aboard a spacecraft.

“A small, simple, lightweight fission power system could lead to a new and enhanced capability for space science and exploration”, said Los Alamos project lead Patrick McClure. “We hope that this proof of concept will soon move us from the old-frontier of Nevada to the new-frontier of outer space”.

“Perhaps one of the more important aspects of this experiment is that it was taken from concept to completion in 6 months for less than a million dollars,” said Los Alamos engineer David Dixon. “We wanted to show that with a tightly-knit and focused team, it is possible to successfully perform practical reactor testing.”

Image: A proposed deep-space probe to Jupiter that uses the radioactive nuclear engine proposed at NASA and Los Alamos. Los Alamos National Laboratory

Wired - It would use a 50-pound nuclear uranium battery to generate heat that is then carried to eight Stirling engines to produce about 500 watts of power.

Video of a recent Elon Musk Interview

Parabolicarc has some notes from the interview.

Grasshopper - Spacex hope to demonstration high altitude supersonic liftoff and return — have stage take off, go supersonic and land with propulsion at landing site

Grasshopper is a test bed for recovering Falcon 9 stages for reuse

It consists of a Falcon 9 first stage and a Merlin I-D engine

Spacex hope to fly a demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy by the end of 2013

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is asked about a rumored new project called the Raptor MCT (4:28):

MUSK: “Now and again, I just throw something out just for fun. I can confirm that the name of the engine is Raptor. I’d like to announce maybe some details about the engine next year. But, perhaps what’s even more interesting is the spaceship that that’s attached to it.”

Q: “Does the M in MCT stand for anything to do with Mars or Martian?

MUSK: (Laughs) “I have to leave a little. You show a little leg but not all of it.”

Editor’s Note: Musk said during a separate talk that Raptor is a methane engine.

“Industrial Internet” Report From GE Finds That Combination of Networks and Machines Could Add $10 to $15 Trillion to Global GDP

GE - the Industrial Revolution radically changed the way we use energy and make things. The Internet Revolution altered how we communicate, consume information, and spend money. A combination of these two transformations, called the Industrial Internet, now links networks, data and machines. It promises to remake global industry, boost productivity, and launch an entirely new age of prosperity and robust growth.

The authors found that in the U.S. alone the Industrial Internet could boost average incomes by 25 to 40 percent over the next 20 years and lift growth back to levels not seen since the late 1990s. If the rest of the world achieved half of the U.S. productivity gains, the Industrial Internet could add from $10 to $15 trillion to global GDP – the size of today’s U.S. economy – over the same period. “With better health outcomes at lower cost, substantial savings in fuel and energy, and better performing and longer-lived physical assets, the Industrial Internet will deliver new efficiency gains, accelerating productivity growth the way that the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution did,” Evans and Annunziata write. “These innovations promise to bring greater speed and efficiency to industries as diverse as aviation, rail transportation, power generation, oil and gas development, and health care delivery. It holds the promise of stronger economic growth, better and more jobs and rising living standards, whether in the US or in China, in a megacity in Africa or in a rural area in Kazakhstan.”

The full 37 page report is here

Mass-Produced Satellites Will Offer Low-Cost Access to Space

Popular Mechanics - Advances in electronics and launch technologies are enabling a new class of smaller, cheaper, and lower-flying satellites that could revolutionize how we use satellite imagery and communications. But it all depends on low-cost access to space and the emergence of customers who will use them.

Chris Lewicki is chief engineer for Planetary Resources, which, in addition to devising a grand plan to mine the asteroids, is building the first commercial space telescopes. "It just so happens," he says, "that everything that the computer-makers are innovating for a smaller cellphone that does more in a smaller spot, and the batteries last longer—those are exactly the same problems that you always have in space . . . It’s wonderful to be on the back side of all that innovation in the consumer world and be able to pick the best pieces and send them off to space."

For example, Lewicki and his team are building their space telescopes around commercially available sensors rather than engineering them themselves. They have realized further cost savings by using 3D printers to quickly build prototypes for testing and design refinement almost as soon as they can conceive them. Like Sierra Nevada, Planetary Resources will build its completed spacecraft design in quantity to take advantage of the economies of scale to be had by ordering many of the same parts and reusing the same tooling in the manufacturing process. They are also sourcing parts from consumer and conventional industrial sources rather than from expensive satellite-component suppliers.

Skybox and the other new manufacturers are counting on being able to lower the cost of building a new satellite from hundreds of millions of dollars to one-tenth of that, and that’s just for starters. Spacecraft costing in the single-digit millions could follow.

High Speed Rail News Roundup for India, China and Japan

1. Indian Express - The Railways of China and India are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which will concentrate on three specific areas — high-speed trains, station development and heavy haulage. This will be the second round of talks after the inaugural session in Beijing this year.

For China, a deal with India’s Railways could not have been better timed. Indian Railways has already approved six high-speed rail corridors for various parts of the country. With the feasibility study for the first one, between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, already in, India has been on the lookout for global technology leaders in high-speed railways for cooperation.

India and China will sign MOUs to cooperate on IT, railways, energy efficiency standards and planning.

India wants to increase bilateral trade with China to $100 billion per year.

Next month, China will unveil a new bullet train that will drastically reduce the travel time between Beijing and Guangzhou.

The Beijing Morning Post reports that the new high-speed railway will decrease travel time between Beijing and Guangzhou to eight hours. Currently, the trip takes 20 hours to travel 1,425 miles (about the equivalent of traveling from Los Angeles to Dallas, which takes over 20 hours to drive).

Carnival of Nuclear 132

Carnival of Space 277

$100 Trillion Climate Change or $20 to 50 Billion Climate Control

There are many dire warnings that Climate Change will melt the ice caps, cause a rise of 4 to 6 feet or more in sea level and cause more severe weather (like the $42 billion in damage from Hurricane Sandy) over the next 60-200 years.

I am reminded of scene from the first Austin Powers movie. People are screaming stop but actually taking control of the climate is not that costly. It also seems relatively easy to take control of the climate. One important thing to remember is that all of the concern about climate change is from natural or side-effect release of emissions from human activity (coal plants, cars, industry). So humans are probably contributing to climate change so why not allow humans to control climate entirely. Why is only OK to allow carbon and soot emitters to keep doing that for hundreds of years but not OK to actually counter act or remove those emissions at low cost ? The only "acceptable" solution is to stop the emitters or shift from the emitters over the course of many decades at costs of over $100 billion per year. A $10 trillion "solution" over 100 years or allow the possible damage to occur at a cost of $100 trillion.
Scene from Austin Powers where a security guard henchmen screams stop several times, instead of getting out of the way

Caveats - there is still a lot of uncertainty about climate change. So a more cotrecy picture could be Lawrence of Arabia looking out into the desert. He could be looking at a mirage or it could be a real threat. It is so far away and the picturr is do hazy that it us tough to get a good read on it. However Austin Powers is funnier than Lawrence of Arabia. Also there are likely better ways to control climate and weather. J Storrs Hall described a system for using tiny heliostats that could easily be done with early moleculsr nanotech. There are also proposals for artificial trees to control ehat us on the atmosphere. The point is that cheap climate control would take any reallt bad case climate scenario off the table.

UPDATE - University of Southampton - Uncertainty about how much the climate is changing is not a reason to delay preparing for the harmful impacts of climate change says Professor Robert Nicholls of the University of Southampton and colleagues at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, writing today in Nature Climate Change. Professor Nicholls and his co-authors describe two ways of assessing how much adaptation to climate change is enough by balancing the risk of climate change against the cost of adaptation. First they describe cost-benefit analysis where the cost of the adaptation has to be less than the benefit of risk reduction. Alternatively, decision makers can seek the most cost-effective way of maintaining a tolerable level of risk.

We have recently reviewed two main low cost geoengineering proposals, which have had significant field tests or almost had a field test and the tests would cost less than $3 million.

1. Get a blimp or helium balloon and lift basically a lightweight but very long firehose up 20,000 meters and pump 2 million tons to 5 million tons of sulfur into the stratosphere each year. Cost $480 million to $1.2 billion to start and then $200 million to $500 million each year to operate. The 200,000 ton per year system would just protect the ice cap and northern regions. To operate for 100 years it would cost $20.5 to 51 billion.

HIGH-FLYING BLIMPS, based on existing protoypes, could support a hose no thicker than a fire hose (above) to carry sulfur dioxide as a clear liquid up to the stratosphere, where one or more nozzles (below) would atomize it into a fine mist of nanometer-scale aerosol particles.

2. Fertilize the ocean with iron dust. 200,000 tons to 4 million tons per year. 5 billion tons of CO2 per year at a cost of $27 billion/year. However, if CO2 sequestration was valued at $10 per ton of CO2, then there would be a $23 billion profit each year.

Of the carbon-rich biomass generated by plankton blooms, half (or more) is generally consumed by grazing organisms (zooplankton, krill, small fish, etc.) but 20 to 30% sinks below 200 meters (660 ft) into the colder water strata below the thermocline. Much of this fixed carbon continues falling into the abyss, but a substantial percentage is redissolved and remineralized. At this depth, however, this carbon is now suspended in deep currents and effectively isolated from the atmosphere for centuries. (The surface to benthic cycling time for the ocean is approximately 4,000 years.)

Planktos - just restoring 10% the productivity our oceans have lost since 1950, for example, would sequester more carbon than is released annually in all of Europe and Asia today.

November 26, 2012

Google to launch touch-capable Chromebook by the end of 2012

Digitimes- Google will launch a 12.85-inch Chrome OS touch-controlled notebook for own-brand sale, with Taiwan-based Compal Electronics responsible for OEM production and Wintek supplying touch panels, the Chinese-language Commercial Times (CT) has cited Taiwan-based supply chain makers as indicating.

Asia CNET - Besides the presence of a touchscreen, we know nothing about the rest of the hardware. However, Chromebooks have always been very affordable (recent Acer Chromebook is $200) and even with the addition of a touch panel, we don't think that will change drastically.

Google's Chrome OS already includes a touchscreen keyboard, which means that it shouldn't be too difficult to add a touch-centric interface to the operating system, especially with Google's experience with Android. The company has launched two Chromebooks from Acer and Samsung in recent months, but a third, touch-capable version would send a different signal.

For one, it would also mean that both Microsoft and Google see a future in touchscreen laptops.

Low cost geo-engineering and actual field tests

The cost to construct a Stratospheric Shield with a pumping capacity of 100,000 tons a year of sulfur dioxide would be roughly $24 million, including transportation and assembly. Annual operating costs would run approximately $10 million. The system would use only technologies and materials that already exist—although some improvements may be needed to existing atomizer technology in order to achieve wide sprays of nanometer-scale sulfur dioxide particles and to prevent the particles from coalescing into larger droplets. Even if these cost estimates are off by a factor of 10 (and we think that is unlikely), this work appears to remove cost as an obstacle to cooling an overheated planet by technological means.

1/20th Scale Testing of Aerosols to the Stratosphere was funded but the actual test called off

British researchers supported by the U.K. government were attempt to pump water a kilometer into the air using little more than a helium balloon and a rubber hose. The experiment, which was to take place at a military airfield along England's east coast, was meant as a test of a proposed geoengineering technique for offsetting the warming effects of greenhouse gases. If the balloon and hose could handle the water's weight and pressure, similar pipes rising 20 kilometers could pump tons of reflective aerosols into the stratosphere.

In May 2012 this first field test was cancelled altogether in agreement of all project partners. Dr. Matthew Watson, the project´s lead scientist, named two reasons for the cancellation: First, involved scientists had submitted patents for similar technology, presenting a potentially significant conflict of interest. In addition to that, concerns about the lack of government regulation of such geoengineering projects were raised Although the field testing was cancelled, the project panel decided to continue the lab-based elements of the project.

November 25, 2012

SkyCity Factory mass produced skyscraper

National Post - Having already revolutionized construction by literally stacking factory-made modules like Lego blocks, Broad Sustainable Building Corporation is sending the world a message — not just about itself, but also about its home country: Make no mistake, China is an epicentre of technological progress and a nation worthy of awe.

The 90-day challenge starts in January, when the 220-storey tower will sprout module-by-module from a piece of farmland in the southeastern Chinese city of Changsha. Although Broad and its chairman Zhang Yue have stunned the world before — first in 2010 by building a 15-storey hotel in 48 hours and again a year later by stacking together a 30-storey tower in just 15 days — this latest creation, nicknamed Sky City, is the most audacious and aptly named: After the modules are stacked at a rate of roughly five storeys per day, Sky City will boast a hospital, a school, 17 helipads, and enough apartments to house 30,000.

Possible Universal Flu Vaccine made from Messenger RNA

New Scientist - In a first for any infectious disease, a vaccine against flu has been made out of messenger RNA (mRNA) – the genetic material that controls the production of proteins. Unlike its predecessors, the new vaccine may work for life, and it may be possible to manufacture it quickly enough to stop a pandemic.

We become immune to a flu strain when our immune system learns to recognise key proteins, called HA and NA, on the surface of the flu virus. This can happen either because we have caught and fought off that strain of flu, or because we received one of the standard vaccines, most of which contain killed flu virus.

Flu constantly evolves, however, so those proteins change and your immunity to one year's strain does not extend to following year's. For this reason, a new vaccine has to be produced each year. Most flu vaccines are grown in chicken eggs or cell culture, a process that takes at least six months.

The mRNA that controls the production of HA and NA in a flu virus can be mass-produced in a few weeks, says Lothar Stitz of the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute in Riems Island, Germany. This mRNA can be turned into a freeze-dried powder that does not need refrigeration, unlike most vaccines, which have to be kept cool.

An injection of mRNA is picked up by immune cells, which translate it into protein. These proteins are then recognised by the body as foreign, generating an immune response. The immune system will then recognise the proteins if it encounters the virus subsequently, allowing it to fight off that strain of flu.

Similar vaccines have been made of DNA that codes for flu proteins. But DNA vaccines seem unlikely ever to be approved, because of worries that they might be incorporated into human DNA, disrupting gene regulation.

Nature Biotechnology - Protective efficacy of in vitro synthesized, specific mRNA vaccines against influenza A virus infection

Форма для связи


Email *

Message *