March 11, 2017

Brain is 10 times more active than previously measured

A new UCLA study could change scientists’ understanding of how the brain works — and could lead to new approaches for treating neurological disorders and for developing computers that “think” more like humans.

The research focused on the structure and function of dendrites, which are components of neurons, the nerve cells in the brain. Neurons are large, tree-like structures made up of a body, the soma, with numerous branches called dendrites extending outward. Somas generate brief electrical pulses called “spikes” in order to connect and communicate with each other. Scientists had generally believed that the somatic spikes activate the dendrites, which passively send currents to other neurons’ somas, but this had never been directly tested before. This process is the basis for how memories are formed and stored.

Scientists have believed that this was dendrites’ primary role.

But the UCLA team discovered that dendrites are not just passive conduits. Their research showed that dendrites are electrically active in animals that are moving around freely, generating nearly 10 times more spikes than somas. The finding challenges the long-held belief that spikes in the soma are the primary way in which perception, learning and memory formation occur.

“Dendrites make up more than 90 percent of neural tissue,” said UCLA neurophysicist Mayank Mehta, the study’s senior author. “Knowing they are much more active than the soma fundamentally changes the nature of our understanding of how the brain computes information. It may pave the way for understanding and treating neurological disorders, and for developing brain-like computers.”

Shelley Halpain/UC San Diego
UCLA scientists discovered that dendrites (shown here in green) are not just passive conduits for electrical currents between neurons.

Science - Dynamics of cortical dendritic membrane potential and spikes in freely behaving rats

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Shale 2.0 should see the US reaching a record 10 million bpd around 2018 and then sustaining and going higher to 12 million bpd or more

Some 1.2 billion barrels of oil have been discovered in Alaska, marking the biggest onshore discovery in the U.S. in three decades.

The massive find of conventional oil on state land could bring relief to budget pains in Alaska brought on by slumping production in the state and the crash in oil prices.

The new discovery was made in just the past few days in Alaska's North Slope, which was previously viewed as an aging oil basin.

Spanish oil giant Repsol (REPYY) and its privately-held U.S. partner Armstrong Energy announced the find on Thursday, predicting production could begin as soon as 2021 and lead to as much as 120,000 barrels of output per day.

The oil resources lie in a well, called Horseshoe, that's 75% owned by Denver-based Armstrong. Repsol owns the rest of this well.

There are increasing signs that shale oil producers are preparing to ramp up output after surviving a two-year price war with OPEC.

America is likely to set a record-breaking 2018, taking out the all-time oil production high set in 1970, according to new forecasts published this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

OPEC's price war did spark a wave of bankruptcies, painful job cuts and a dip in U.S. oil production as crude plummeted to as low as $26 a barrel. Domestic output peaked at an impressive 9.6 million barrels per day in April 2015.
But the oil boom didn't collapse completely. U.S. oil output fell only a little, bottoming out at 8.7 million barrels in July 2016 and has since stabilized.

All eyes are on the frenzy of shale activity in the Permian region. Frackers have scrambled to add rigs in the Permian. The rig count has nearly tripled from a low of 132 last April to 308 now.

The EIA also cited changes to its forecasting model that better account for how U.S. rigs have become vastly more efficient.

Those efficiency gains have been critical. Lower prices, better technology and improved balance sheets have allowed U.S. shale companies to do more with less.

"Thanks to these advancements, we can still grow, even in this lower-price environment," said Essner.

She cautioned that while the "amazing" improvements in technology and operations are sustainable, U.S. production could be limited if servicing and labor costs rise too quickly.

Beyond 2017, the EIA believes that by 2040, shale oil production will increase 45 percent compared to 2015, reaching 7.1 million bpd. This would likely boost US oil production to over 12 million bpd.

How large will the announced projects at the May One Belt One Road Conference ?

A possible venue for big announcements is for the “One Belt, One Road” summit of more than 20 leaders in May. It will be hosted in Beijing by President Xi to showcase his most important foreign policy innovation to date.

The “Belt” is supposed to consist of three land-based silk roads. The “One Road,” actually, is on water, which is a Maritime Silk Road.

China’s push to create new trade and infrastructure links through its “One Belt, One Road” initiative will be hampered by Beijing’s reluctance to open up investment for foreign companies, according to experts.

The strategy spearheaded by President Xi Jinping seemed to be incompatible with China’s preference for “one-way” globalisation and assertive policies in Southeast Asia, particularly on maritime routes in the South China Sea, experts said at the Oxford China Forum held in the University of Oxford over the weekend.

Spanning over 60 countries, this massive project will spread an interconnected network of rail lines, highways, pipelines and logistics zones from China to Europe, covering a potential market that includes more than half of the population, 75 per cent of the known energy resources, and 40 per cent of gross domestic product in the world.
It has been estimated that this emerging network could be pumping out upwards of US$2.5 trillion of annual trade value by 2025.

As of 2015, China announced that over one trillion yuan ($160 billion US) of infrastructure projects were in planning or construction. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has an authorized capital of $100 billion, 75% of which will come from Asian and Oceanian countries. The Silk Road fund has 40 billion USD.

Since the middle of last year, close observation showed that new officials are being promoted within China. Xi is repositioning loyalists and those who will become loyal to him so as to govern with a firmer hand in his second five-year term in office.

Starting in 2018 California may allow self driving cars to not have steering wheels

Under newly proposed California self-driving car rules, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will let companies test autonomous vehicles that lack the steering wheel. Three years ago Google's self driving car project (now Waymo) introduced a self driving car with no steering wheel.

Once the cars have been tested either on a closed track or through computer modeling, self-driving cars will be able to tool around California roads without drivers or even the ability to be driven by a driver.

Prior to this, autonomous vehicles had to have a driver sitting ready to take charge at any second should anything go wrong.

Instead, manufacturers will now have to submit an application, certify there's a communication link to the vehicle, provide a copy of their plans for any interactions with local law enforcement, create a training program for remote operators and get a safety assessment letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In a shift, companies will no longer have to get permission from the jurisdiction where they plan to test the cars but instead simply notify them in writing.

The proposed regulations were published Friday and the public now has until April 24 to comment on them. The new rules could take effect in 2018.

The proposed regulations to establish a path for the testing and deployment of fully autonomous vehicles in California were published on March 10, 2017 and began the 45 day public comment period. The DMV will hold a public hearing in Sacramento to gather input on the proposed regulations on April 25, 2017.

The proposed regulations to establish a path for the testing and deployment of fully autonomous vehicles in California were published on March 10, 2017 and began the 45 day public comment period. The DMV will hold a public hearing in Sacramento to gather input on the proposed regulations on April 25, 2017.

Russia's PAK FA fifth generation stealth fighter improved engine testing is delayed a year

Tests of the second-stage engine for Russia’s fifth-generation PAK FA fighter jet have been delayed a year and will start in 2018. Previously trials of the PAK FA main engine were due to begin in 2017, with the entire project to be completed by 2020.

The next-generation Saturn izdeliye 30—sometime referred to as the izdeliye 129—are the engines for the T-50. There are few details available about the izdeliye 30 engines, but the new powerplant is expected to deliver 24,054lbs dry thrust and 39,566lbs of afterburning thrust.

With the new engine installed, the PAK-FA should be able to offer kinematic performance comparable to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor—cruising without afterburner at speeds exceeding Mach 1.5 with a maximum speed greater than Mach 2.0 at altitudes of around 60,000ft. “Performance-wise it certainly looks to compete with the Raptor,” one senior military official with extensive experience on U.S. fifth-generation fighters told me some time ago.

The Russians have developed active electronically scanned array(AESA) radars, infrared sensors and excellent electronic warfare systems, one of the big questions that remain is how well the Russians have integrated the jets’ avionics.

The Russians will probably be able to resolve technical glitches with the PAK-FA and field a capable operational aircraft.

The main geopolitical balance of power question is how many the Russians will be able to build and when the technology would be sold to India, China or other countries.

March 10, 2017

Apparently walking on solar panels damages them as the First solar roadway is broken in first week

Roughly 25 out of 30 panels installed on it broke within a week after developers pumped $3.9 million into it over 6.5 years of development.

Despite massive internet hype, the prototype of solar “road” can’t be driven on, hasn’t generated any electricity and 75 percent of the panels were broken before they were even installed.

Of the panels installed to make a “solar footpath,” 18 of the 30 were dead on arrival due to a manufacturing failure. Rain caused another four panels to fail, and only five panels were functioning shortly thereafter. The prototype appears to be plagued by drainage issues, poor manufacturing controls and fundamental design flaws.

If it had worked, the panels would have powered a single water fountain and the lights in a restroom, after more than $500,000 in installation costs provided by a grant from the state government. The U.S. Department of Transportation initially handed $750,000 in grants to fund the research into the scheme, then invested another pair of grants worth $850,000 into it. The plan, dubbed, “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” raised another $2.2 million dollars in crowd-funding, even though several scientists publicly debunked the idea.

Continued rapid growth of the global middle class could add 2.2 billion people by 2030

Today, the global middle class, numbering about 3.2 billion in 2016, may be considerably larger — by about 500 million people than in 2010. Within a few years over half of the world’s population could have middle-class or rich lifestyles for the first time ever. The most dynamic segment of the global middle-class market is at the lower end of the scale, among new entrants with comparatively low per capita spending. Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institute has provided a detailed analysis.

Over the past seven years, four relevant developments have shaped middle-class calculations, and the first two of these have quantitatively important implications for overall estimates of trends and levels.

1. a survey of purchasing power parity (PPP) prices, conducted in 2011, has replaced the previous 2005 PPP survey (World Bank, 2015) as the basis for comparing real income levels across countries. The 2011 survey differs not just in updating price levels, but also uses a new methodology for generating country-level data.

The results have markedly changed and improved our understanding of countries’ and households’ relative economic strength. In brief, Asian and African countries were estimated to be far richer, compared to other countries, than previously imagined.

2. The continued weakness in global economic growth. Global recovery has disappointed, remaining weaker than the recovery from previous recessions (although perhaps in line with the rate of recovery from previous financial crises).

3. GDP data have improved. In some countries, (Nigeria is a good example) a rebasing of national accounts led to significant revisions of estimated output and national income.

4. several new household surveys now make it possible to undertake a more up-to-date assessment of income distribution at a time of significant changes in within-country inequality, and, in some cases, allow for direct measurement of the middle class for the first time.

The rate of increase of the middle class, in absolute numbers, is approaching its all-time peak. Already, about 140 million are joining the middle class annually and this number could rise to 170 million in five years’ time.

An overwhelming majority of new entrants into the middle class— 88 percent of the next billion—will live in Asia.

The absolute market size of middle-class spending is larger than previously estimated. In 2015, middle-class spending was about $35 trillion (in 2011 PPP terms), roughly 12 percent higher than my previous estimate. It now accounts for one-third of the global economy.

Big geographic distributional shifts in markets are happening, with China and India accounting for an ever-greater market share, while the European and North American middle class basically stagnates.

At a growth of about 4 percent in real terms, the middle-class market is growing faster than global GDP growth, but not as fast as it did in the 1960s and 1970s, the boom years for the middle class.

A larger middle-class population and market has significant environment and social implications. Naturally, assuming technology does not change, the carbon footprint per person will rise as the middle class expands.

Two mitigating factors could limit the extent of this. First, middle-class growth is associated with migration from rural to urban areas and, for a given level of income, households in urban areas tend to have a smaller carbon footprint than households in rural areas, especially for transport. Second, middle-class households tend to invest more in their children’s education and this, in turn, can reduce fertility rates and decrease the longterm population trajectory for the world.

The middle class has been defined by myself and many others, before and since, as comprising those households with per capita incomes between $10 and $100 per person per day (pppd) in 2005 PPP terms (Kharas, 2010; World Bank, 2007; Ernst and Young, 2013; Bank of America Merrill Lynch, 2016).

This implies an annual income for a four-person middle-class household of $14,600 to $146,000.

Taking into account inflation, the income range for middle-class families can now be expressed as $11 to $110 pppd in 2011 PPP terms.

Recently, a number of developing countries have rebased their GDP growth to account for the fact that the old GDP data may not adequately reflect the changing structural composition of GDP. Nigeria was one country that received considerable publicity. Nigeria’s rebasing in 2014 lifted its GDP from $270 billion to $510 billion, becoming, in the process, the largest economy in Africa. Other countries also have rebased their GDP, with double-digit increases in several instances.

CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in viable human embroyos

Researchers at the Guangzhou Medical University have used CRISPR gene editing on viable human embryos. Two other research groups in the UK and Sweden are working on CRISPR-editing viable human embryos. The New Scientist also notes rumors that three or four studies on the use of CRISPR in human embryos have been completed but not yet published.

In total, the mutation in one embryo was corrected in every cell, and two were corrected in some of the cells. It did not work at all in the other two embryos. In one, CRISPR induced another mutation rather than fixing the beta41-42.

The results so far, however, show the technology is far from the point where it could be safely used for editing embryos.

To make it safer to use gene editing to prevent children inheriting disease-causing mutations, researchers will need to find a way to prevent mosaicism (some but not all cells corrected). Edited embryos would always be tested before being implanted in a woman, but if they are mosaics such tests cannot guarantee the resulting child will be disease-free.

“This would need to be solved before the methods could be used clinically to correct a disease,” says Lovell-Badge. Progress is already being made: at least two teams have already found ways of reducing the risk of mosaicism in animals.

Mosaicism could also be avoided by editing the genomes of sperm and eggs prior to IVF, rather than embryos. This is expected to become possible in people in the next few years.

There are also a few diseases where mosaicism might not matter, Lovell-Badge points out, such as metabolic liver diseases where only 20 per cent function is enough to keep people healthy.

Previous gene editing was performed using unviable human embyros (human tripronuclear zygotes) suggested that the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas9 system could be a tool in correcting disease-causing mutations. However, whether this system was applicable in normal human (dual pronuclear, 2PN) zygotes was unclear. Researchers demonstrate that CRISPR/Cas9 is also effective as a gene-editing tool in human 2PN zygotes. By injection of Cas9 protein complexed with the appropriate sgRNAs and homology donors into one-cell human embryos, they demonstrated efficient homologous recombination-mediated correction of point mutations in HBB and G6PD. However, their results also reveal limitations of this correction procedure and highlight the need for further research.

China will deploy larger Type 055 destroyers in 2018

China has a new larger Type 055 destroyer. I has an estimated displacement of 12,000 tons and and overall length of 180 meters. The latest USA Arleigh Burke Flight IIA weighs in at 9,200 tons, with an overall length of 155 meters. The proposed Flight III upgrade adds an estimated 600 tons displacement without any changes to LOA or beam dimensions.

Initial cost estimates for the first of the four planned Type 055 DDGs is in excess of $5 billion Yuan ($750 million USD). The GOA reported in 2016, that the per-unit cost of an Arleigh Burke Flight IIA is approximately $1.19 billion USD.

Satellite imagery taken of the Jiangnan Shipyard show the Type 055's under construction.

The Eastpendulum site has satellite imagery from November 2016. It seems to show a third Type 055 Destroyer is being built at Dalian shipyard in Northern China. The first two hulls are currently under construction at Jiangnan Changxing naval shipyard new Shanghai. Type 055 is the next generation class of Guided-Missile Destroyer (DDG) for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or Chinese Navy).

The first vessel is likely to be launched in early 2017 while delivery to the PLAN (navy) should not happen until 2018 at the earliest.

The chinese navy is still building the current Type 052D destroyer which is half the size. Both Dalian and Jiangnan naval shipyards are showing several under construction. This is a sign that the Type 055 will not replace the role of Type 052D: The Chinese navy will acquire and operate destroyers of both types displacing 6,000 and 12,000 tons. Sources indicate that Type 052D and Type 055 seem to share a great deal of systems, such as phased array radars, vertical launch systems, main gun, CIWS, as well as possibly the hull mounted and towed sonars.

China activating J-20 stealth fighters now in advance of South Korea getting 40 F-35s in 2018

China's state media reports that that the fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter has been put into active military service and this is two years earlier than previously expected. China's military has not confirmed this.

Military insiders said the appearance of J-20s in the air force was meant as a warning to Japan and South Korea, which are expected to buy US F-35 stealth fighters now that China has equally advanced warplanes.

The J-20 stealth fighter has weaker engines and is not as stealthy as the US F-22. However, the J-20 would be able to put US Aircraft carriers at risk and would be able to attack refueling planes and AWAC radar planes.

Thursday's report did not provide details on where the fighter will likely be deployed.

Video footage aired by CCTV afternoon produced J-20 fighters alongside PLA Y-20 transport planes and H-6K bombers. The broadcast did not say how many J-20s were operational.

The report said the new aircraft had joined joint drills with troops, rocket forces and the navy.

A source close to the PLA said the J-20s were all equipped with home-made WS-15 engines, but because the engine had not entered mass production, only a few J-20s were available for service.

"There are still a series of technical problems that need to be tackled [on the J-20], including the reliability of its WS-15 engines, [and the plane's] control system, stealth coat and hull materials and infrared sensor, Said the source, who requested anonymity

In the US as a result of the US deploying a batch of F-35s in Japan in January, and South Korea planning to have 40 F-35s in 2018, "it's urgent for China to show off its achievements as soon as possible", the source said, adding That more J-20s would join the PLA this year.

Laser-Driven Magnetic Fields Could Boost NIF fusion Implosions by generating 50 tesla fields

LLNL researchers and their colleagues are developing a new technique for creating powerful magnetic fields inside NIF hohlraums. Simulations and experiments have shown that magnetized hohlraums could significantly enhance NIF’s implosion performance.

The first experiments aimed at testing the technique, which uses lasers to generate the magnetic field, were conducted last month during a week devoted to Discovery Science experiments on NIF.

Calculations show that magnetic fields can help enhance the fusion burn rate in inertial confinement fusion (ICF) ignition targets in two ways: by reducing heat conduction away from the compressed high-temperature plasma fuel in the central “hot spot” of the target capsule; and by adding confinement to the charged particles, known as alpha particles, produced by the fusion reactions. Keeping the particles closer to the hot spot would help increase the energy deposited in the cold outer layers of fuel surrounding the hot spot—a process known as alpha heating—and thus increase the odds of generating a self-sustaining fusion reaction.

“We’ve been working for several years at the OMEGA EP laser (at the University of Rochester) to develop a laser-driven magnetic field platform,” said the campaign’s principal investigator, LLNL physicist Brad Pollock. While previous experiments generated the magnetic field in thin wires, he said, “we’d like to magnetize something as large as a hohlraum. That’s where we’re eventually driving.”

Laser magnetic-field target showing the two laser-driven coils separated by a tantalum shield, the proton backlighter “exploding pusher” sphere, and the two grids, or screens, that imprint a spatial pattern so that researchers can quantify the deflection, or spreading, of the protons. This experiment marks the first time NIF has completed two target experiments in a single shot.

General Atomics doubles the energy density in power supply for railguns

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) announced today that it has developed a High Energy Pulsed Power Container (HEPPC) that provides twice the energy density than existing railgun pulsed power solutions. The HEPPC can reduce the number of pulsed power containers required to launch projectiles or hybrid missiles from a railgun weapon system, providing greater flexibility for future Navy and Army railgun applications.

"For the past decade, GA-EMS has provided pulsed power in support of the Navy's railgun program," stated Nick Bucci, vice president Missile Defense and Space Systems at GA-EMS. "Our next generation HEPPC breaks our own energy density record and exceeds the capabilities of other available railgun pulsed power container solutions. What we have packed into a 10 foot standard shipping container is equivalent to what is currently available in a 20 foot shipping container, doubling the energy density to provide greater flexibility for ship and land-based installations and maneuverability for mobile applications."

GA-EMS internally funded the development of the HEPPC in support of a Multi-mission Medium Range Railgun Weapons System, which integrates pulsed power, launcher, hybrid missile, and fire control technologies. Each HEPPC includes high energy pulsed power modules with an energy content of more than 415 kilojoules (kJ) per module. Each module utilizes GA-EMS' world-record-breaking high energy density capacitors.

Early proof of concept General Atomic Pulsed power

Rendering of the pulsed power shipping container concept

Blitzer railgun pulsed power

Elon Musk says 100 MWH million battery storage to solve South Australia electricity crisis can be installed within 100 days of signing or its free

South Australia's population of 1.7 million people suffer regular power cuts and energy shortages. In September, much of the state was left without power after a storm damaged crucial transmission lines. Another major blackout happened last month, after an unexpected spike in demand due to a heat wave.

Elon Musk has offered to provide 100 megawatt hours of battery storage at a total cost of $25 million.

March 09, 2017

Best near term gains for future US Navy would be improved targeting, better robotic vehicles, high velocity projectiles and railguns

During a House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, ranking member Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) asked the panelists – representing the studies conducted by a Navy team, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the MITRE Corporation – what the first investments ought to be to achieve the teams’ visions of a future Navy fleet.

Charles Werchado, the deputy director of the Navy’s Assessment Division (OPNAV N81B), told the subcommittee that countering the adversary’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) would be the most important step to take now.

“Naval weapons have gotten so long-range, so precise and so lethal that, in hundreds of studies that (N81 runs) here at the Navy, what really comes out strongly is that it’s the battle of the first salvo. Naval forces, by their nature, are mobile, and therefore they have to be targeted to be hit. And so whichever side completes that targeting kill chain first and fires first almost always wins,” he said.

“So I would make my investments in counter-C4ISR – where is our decoy ship, where is our electronic warfare to create false targets? Let’s make us hard to find, while we make ourselves more capable of finding them. I think if we make investments in counter-C4ISR, they’re going to be higher-payoff first.”

Additionally, he said, he wouldn’t advocate the first dollars for offensive firepower going towards more ships or weapons but rather towards boosting the Navy’s own targeting chain.

“We have lots of cruise missiles we can use and we have lots of [Vertical Launching System] cells on the combatants, but we need to be able to complete the targeting chain effectively,” Werchado said.

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at CSBA, piggybacked Werchado’s comments and said his priority would be “to invest in the unmanned vehicles that are going to be the things that carry around these payloads of counter-C4ISR systems.”

“Buying new Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs); buying new large unmanned surface vehicles, the Common USV; and also the Extra Large USV, which is a variant of the DARPA Sea Hunter program. Those would be the platforms that carry around some of these sensor packages and some of the jammers and decoys that we need to deploy in order to keep platforms inside these highly contested environments,” Clark said.

Looking out a bit farther, though, he said the Navy is not equipped today to properly net these unmanned vehicles together with manned ships, and that investments in networks and a battle management system would be key to operating the way CSBA outlined in its Future Fleet Architecture story.

Sunoy Banerjee, the Naval Research Development Test and Evaluation portfolio manager for MITRE, told the subcommittee that his first investments would go to the electromagnetic railgun and its associated Hyper Velocity Projectile, as well as a missile defense system that loops in the railgun to defeat incoming cruise missiles. He said this trio would allow the U.S. Navy to survive an opening salvo with limited damage and strike back against the adversary – particularly if the development of HVP included the addition of a seeker head.

Whereas the Navy and CSBA noted the benefits of beginning to ramp up acquisition of current ship classes with hot production lines, Banerjee said a near-term priority ought to be building a new type of ship that can integrate the railgun and provide sufficient power for continuous railgun firing instead of having to stop and recharge the weapon with a capacitor. He suggested that leveraging other navies’ ship designs could help the U.S. Navy begin building a railgun-friendly combatant faster.

To Conaway’s question about “the long pole in the tent,” Werchado warned that the HVP would be fielded much sooner than the railgun, which is posing technological challenges to the Navy and its contractors, both in supplying enough power and in building a gun barrel that can withstand the physics of magnets sliding down metal rails at high speed to launch the projectile.

“Right now there’s over 100 barrels in the fleet that can fire HVP, and (Naval Surface Warfare Center) Dahlgren’s working together with the Army and coming along well in the testing,” Werchado said.

“That one could be fielded very quickly. Railgun is going to be a lot longer. We have to solve a lot of problems – barrel wear, repetitive rate, you mentioned the recharge. I think the low-hanging fruit is to get HVP out as fast as we can, it does really well against cruise missiles.”

China developing reusable rocket that will be able to send manned missions to the moon

China is developing an advanced new rocket. This spaceship is expected to be able to be operable both in the lower orbit of Earth, as well as capable of landing humans on the moon.

It will also have rooms for several astronauts per Zhang Bainan, chief designer of manned spacecraft at China Aerospace Science and Technology Cooperation. The next-gen rocket from China will not only be reusable, but also offer a higher carrying capacity when compared to its foreign counterparts. This craft will apparently be able to carry up to six members in the lower orbit of Earth and nearly three or four astronauts during a moon landing operation per Zhang.

Currently, only the Orion spacecraft from the U.S. - which is being developed by the ESA and NASA - is equipped for a moon landing operation and is anticipated to ferry astronauts to the space in the next six years.

China most advanced current rocket is the Long March 5. CZ-5 is a Chinese heavy lift launch system developed by China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). CZ-5 is the first Chinese vehicle with new design focusing on liquid rocket propellants from the ground up. Currently, two CZ-5 vehicle configurations are planned for different missions, with a maximum payload capacity of ~25,000 kilograms (55,000 lb) to LEO and ~14,000 kilograms (31,000 lb) to GTO. The Long March 5 is planned to roughly match the capabilities of American EELV heavy-class vehicles such as the Delta IV Heavy.

Dwave 2X quantum annealing machine 90% accurate in recognizing tree cover in aerial photos which was better than conventional computers

Physicist Edward Boyda of St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga and colleagues fed hundreds of NASA satellite images of California into the D-Wave 2X processor, which contains 1152 qubits. The researchers asked the computer to consider dozens of features—hue, saturation, even light reflectance—to determine whether clumps of pixels were trees as opposed to roads, buildings, or rivers. They then told the computer whether its classifications were right or wrong so that the computer could learn from its mistakes, tweaking the formula it uses to determine whether something is a tree.

After it was trained, the D-Wave was 90% accurate in recognizing trees in aerial photographs of Mill Valley, California, the team reports in PLOS ONE. It was only slightly more accurate than a conventional computer would have been at the same problem. But the results demonstrate how scientists can program quantum computers to “look” at and analyze images, and opens up the possibility of using them to solve other complex problems that require heavy data crunching.

PLOS One - Deploying a quantum annealing processor to detect tree cover in aerial imagery of California

US still not killing Space Launch System and not yet engaging Spacex for Mars

There is a $19.5 billion funding bill that has been approved by the US congress. This is a slight increase from last years $19.3 billion funding.

It is more of the same NASA funding that has been mostly repeating since George Bush 2 and even George Bush 1 and Clinton and Obama.

The new plan says make a roadmap to send people to Mars by 2033 and the US will still fund the overpriced by 10 times or more space launch system.

Journey to Mars — asks NASA for a roadmap to send people to Mars by 2033 and moves NASA away from the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

Assuring Core Capabilities For Exploration :
an uncrewed launch of SLS and Orion in 2018
a crewed mission to the moon in 2021
more trips to the moon and Mars after that date.

NOTE -Spacex and Elon Musk have discussed unmanned Mars missions in 2020 and a manned Mars mission around 2024. Spacex and Elon Musk would have costs that are ten times less than NASA and 8 to 10 years earlier.

The Space Exploration Initiative was a 1989–1993 space public policy initiative of the George H. W. Bush administration. On July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, George H. W. Bush — then President of the United States — announced plans for what came to be known as the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). In a speech on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum he described plans calling for constructing Space Station Freedom, sending humans back to the Moon "to stay" and ultimately sending astronauts to explore Mars. He proposed not a 10-year Apollo-style plan, but a long-range continuing commitment based on the three above elements, ending with “a journey into tomorrow – a journey to another planet – a manned mission to Mars.”

The Space Launch System (SLS) is an American Space Shuttle-derived heavy expendable launch vehicle being designed by NASA. It follows the cancellation of the Constellation program, and is to replace the retired Space Shuttle.

The Constellation Program was a manned spaceflight program developed by NASA, the space agency of the United States, from 2005 to 2009. The major goals of the program were "completion of the International Space Station" and a "return to the Moon no later than 2020" with a crewed flight to the planet Mars as the ultimate goal. The program's logo reflected the three stages of the program: the Earth (ISS), the Moon, and finally Mars—while the Mars goal also found expression in the name given to the program's booster rocket.

NASA estimated that the original Constellation related policy would cost $230 billion (in 2004 dollars) through 2025, including the Commercial Crew and Cargo program, which is separate from the Constellation program. However, unsolved technical and design challenges made it impossible for NASA to provide a conclusive estimate.

Upon taking office, President Obama declared Constellation to be "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation." A review concluded that it would cost on the order of $150 billion for Constellation to reach its objective if adhering to the original schedule. Another review in 2009, ordered by President Obama, indicated that neither a return to the Moon nor a manned flight to Mars was within NASA's current budget.

$9 billion as spent on Constellation before they pulled the plug.
About $10 billion has been spent on Space Launch System so far. Spending is at about $2 to 3 billion per year.

NASA hoped in 2012 that each eventual space launch would cost $500 million but most estimate that each launch will be about $2 billion (without including the $50-90 billion of development cost).

Combined Constellation and Space Launch System will have spent $23 billion before the first launch of Space launch system late in 2018 (assuming no delays from this point).

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated in 2010 that he would "personally guarantee" that his company could build the conceptual Falcon XX, a vehicle in the 140-150 t payload range, for $2.5 billion, or $300 million per launch, but cautioned that this price tag did not include a potential upper-stage upgrade. SpaceX's privately funded MCT launch vehicle, powered by multiple Raptor engines, has also been proposed for lifting very large payloads from Earth in the 2020

Pathnet is Deepmind's step to a super neural network for creating an artificial general intelligence

For artificial general intelligence (AGI) it would be efficient if multiple users trained the same giant neural network, permitting parameter reuse, without catastrophic forgetting. PathNet is a first step in this direction. It is a neural network algorithm that uses agents embedded in the neural network whose task is to discover which parts of the network to re-use for new tasks. Agents are pathways (views) through the network which determine the subset of parameters that are used and updated by the forwards and backwards passes of the backpropogation algorithm. During learning, a tournament selection genetic algorithm is used to select pathways through the neural network for replication and mutation. Pathway fitness is the performance of that pathway measured according to a cost function.

They demonstrate successful transfer learning; fixing the parameters along a path learned on task A and re-evolving a new population of paths for task B, allows task B to be learned faster than it could be learned from scratch or after fine-tuning. Paths evolved on task B re-use parts of the optimal path evolved on task A. Positive transfer was demonstrated for binary MNIST, CIFAR, and SVHN supervised learning classification tasks, and a set of Atari and Labyrinth reinforcement learning tasks, suggesting PathNets have general applicability for neural network training. Finally, PathNet also significantly improves the robustness to hyperparameter choices of a parallel asynchronous reinforcement learning algorithm (A3C).

A PathNet is a modular deep neural network having L layers with each layer consisting of M modules. Each module is itself a neural network, here either convolutional or supervised and reinforcement settings, pathNet is compared with two alternative setups: an independent learning control where the target task is learned de novo, and a fine-tuning control where the second task is learned with the same path that learned the first task (but with a new value function and policy readout).


PathNet extends Deepmind's original work on the Path Evolution Algorithm to Deep Learning whereby the weights and biases of the network are learned by gradient descent, but evolution determines which subset of parameters is to be trained. They have shown that PathNet is capable of sustaining transfer learning on at least four tasks in both the supervised and reinforcement learning settings.

PathNet may be thought of as implementing a form of ‘evolutionary dropout’ in which instead of randomly dropping out units and their connections, dropout samples or ‘thinned networks’ are evolved. PathNet has the added advantage that dropout frequency is emergent, because the population converges faster at the early layers of the network than in the later layers.

PathNet also resembles ‘evolutionary swapout’, in fact they have experimented with having standard linear modules, skip modules and residual modules in the same layer and found that path evolution was capable of discovering effective structures within this diverse network. PathNet is related also to recent work on convolutional neural fabrics, but there the whole network is always used and so the principle cannot scale to giant networks. Other approaches to combining evolution and learning have involved parameter copying, whereas there is no such copying in the current implementation of PathNet.

They have only demonstrated PathNet in a fairly small network, the principle can scale to much larger neural networks with more efficient implementations of pathway gating. This will allow extension to multiple tasks. They also wish to try PathNet on other RL tasks which may be more suitable for transfer learning than Atari, for example continuous robotic control problems. Further investigation is required to understand the extent to which PathNet may be superior to using fixed paths.

1. a possibility is that mutable paths provide a more useful form of diverse exploration in RL tasks.
2. it is possible that a larger number of workers can be used in A3C because if each worker can determine which parameters to update, there may be selection for pathways that do not interfere with each other.

They are still investigating the potential benefits of module duplication.

Using this measure it is possible to bias the mutation operator such that currently more globally useful modules are more likely to be slotted into other paths. Further work is also to be carried out in multi-task learning which has not yet been addressed in this paper.

Finally, it is always possible and sometimes desirable to replace evolutionary variation operators with variation operators learned by reinforcement learning. A tournament selection algorithm with mutation is only the simplest way to achieve adaptive paths. It is clear that more sophisticated methods such as policy gradient methods may be used to learn the distribution of pathways as a function of the long term returns obtained by paths, and as a function of a task description input. This may be done through a softer form of gating than used by PathNet here. Furthermore, a population (ensemble) of soft gate matrices may be maintained and an RL algorithm may be permitted to ’mutate’ these values.

The operations of PathNet resemble those of the Basal Ganglia, which we propose determines which subsets of the cortex are to be active and trainable as a function of goal/subgoal signals from the prefrontal cortex, a hypothesis related to others in the literature.

Transfer learning has been shown on four tasks in AI. Each game task currently can be performed at a higher than human level. If there was transfer learning across thousands of tasks and many domains then such a system could attain broadly superior capabilities.

Multiple Iranian missile tests and separate incidents with US and Iranian ships

Iran test-fired Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles about 155 miles away, destroying a targeted floating barge in one case. Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile in February, in apparent violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution; the incident led to U.S. economic sanctions against 13 people and 12 businesses in Iran.

The sanctions came with a warning from President Donald Trump.

"Iran is playing with fire -- they don't appreciate how 'kind' President [Barack] Obama was to them. Not me!" he said.

On Thursday an Iranian frigate came within 150 yards of the Invincible.

On Saturday, A U.S. Navy surveillance ship was harassed by an Iranian fast attack craft while entering the Persian Gulf.

USNS Invincible (T-AGM-24) was transiting the Strait of Hormuz in the early morning on March 4 with three other coalition ships when the ships were approached by several Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast attack craft, the official told USNI News.

One of the IRGCN craft maneuvered 600 yards in front of the 2,300-ton Invincible and “went dead in the water,” the official said.

How close is a new Korean war and would North Korea be able to use its nuclear weapons ?

China’s foreign minister urged North Korea to halt its nuclear activities and the U.S. to suspend nearby military drills, as a way to quell growing tensions and get Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table.

“The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other, with neither side willing to give way,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday in Beijing. “The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision? Our priority now is to flash a red light and apply brakes on both trains.”

The United States said on Tuesday that it had begun deploying an advanced and contentious missile defense system in South Korea, prompting China to warn of a new atomic arms race in a region increasingly on edge over North Korea’s drive to build a nuclear arsenal.

The American announcement came a day after the simultaneous launch of four missiles by North Korea into waters off the Japanese coast, which Pyongyang said was a drill for striking American bases in Japan. The feat, footage of which was broadcast on state television, raised concern about the North’s ability to overwhelm the new defense system being deployed.

Hours later, North Korea further unnerved the region by declaring it was blocking all Malaysians from leaving its soil, sharply escalating a dispute over last month’s assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.

The New York Times reported Sunday that President Trump’s national security deputies have discussed both the possibility of pre-emptive strikes that would almost certainly provoke an attack on South Korea and a reintroduction of nuclear weapons to the South. Intelligence officials say North Korea is already able to hit much of South Korea and Japan with a nuclear-tipped missile.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, warned that Thaad “will bring an arms race in the region,” likening the defensive system to a shield that would prompt the development of new spears. “More missile shields of one side inevitably bring more nuclear missiles of the opposing side that can break through the missile shield,” it said.

But in another article, the news agency rebuked North Korea, saying it must “face the reality that it can neither thwart Washington and Seoul nor consolidate its security in a breeze with its immature nuclear technology.”

North Korea's first nuclear test was in 2006.

Brooking Institute discusses the North Korea situation.

Most of the scenarios in the Korean Peninsula range from dangerous to horrific. This process will continue to test the new administration. Given projected timelines in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development, President Trump could face an early decision on whether to shoot down or otherwise disable a North Korean long-range missile, very possibly triggering an even larger military crisis on the peninsula. His administration also has an urgent need to fill out its ranks with senior appointments at the departments of state and defense. The president and cabinet officers can set the policy framework, but policy coordination and implementation requires that the fully functioning machinery of government stand behind the policy.

All policy options on the peninsula are bad. It is nonetheless heartening that the president shows keen awareness of the scale of the challenge and the need to approach North Korea with deliberation and resolve.

A look at the recent North Korea situation and future scenarios - A Testimony by Dr. Victor Cha before the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on February 7, 2017. Cha is Senior Advisor, North Korea chair, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Between 1994 and 2008, North Korea conducted 17 missile tests and 1 nuclear test. However, in the past eight years, these numbers have increased to 62 missile tests and 4 nuclear tests, including 20 missile and 2 nuclear in the past year alone.

The leader has stated unequivocally that he runs a nuclear weapons state and that he has no intention of disarming. Indeed, he has enshrined this nuclear weapons status in the constitution, which could be considered normal only by North Korean standards.

... data at CSIS indicate that North Korea will challenge the new administration almost immediately. This would be for the purposes of establishing a position of strength.

There used to be a debate in the expert policy community and within the U.S. government about the purpose of these activities. Some said that the regime, isolated and alone after the end of the Cold War, was building a program for its security, but would be open to negotiating away that program for security guarantees and energy assistance. Indeed, this premise formed the basis of extensive negotiations and significant agreements in 1994 and in 2005 that ultimately failed, but not without demonstrating the U.S. commitment to seek a peaceful resolution to the problem.

I think most in the expert community today would have a different assessment of the North’s intentions. The pace of the testing – that some have characterized in the past as a “provocation disguised as an olive branch” – is designed to traverse critical technical thresholds to achieve a modern nuclear weapons force.1 In the past years already, the North has demonstrated through testing and propaganda statements that it is pursuing the technology for mobile launch capabilities, a solid fuel propellant, a miniaturized nuclear warhead, submarine launched ballistic missiles, and an exoatmospheric launch capacity.

The objective of this weapons drive is clear: To field a modern nuclear force that has the proven ability to threaten first U.S. territories in the Pacific, including Guam and Hawaii; then the achievement of a capability to reach the U.S. homeland starting with the West Coast, and ultimately, the proven capability to hit Washington DC with a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

The strategic purpose of this capability is not to launch an attack on Washington, as this would certainly translate into an abrupt termination of the regime in Pyongyang. Instead, it is to deny the U.S. access to the region in support of its alliance commitments. By holding U.S. cities hostage, the DPRK could work to impede the ability of the U.S. to flow forces and materiel to critical nodes and bases in defense of South Korea or Japan.

Five scenarios for north korea.

Eight years of “strategic patience” – the outgoing administration’s policy of sanctions designed to cause the North Koreans to cry “uncle” and come back to the table – has done little to curb the threat. In the past year, North Korea has crossed technical thresholds that were previously thought to be beyond their reach for years. They may have scores of nuclear weapons by the end of this decade.

And it is entirely plausible that during Trump’s four years in office, North Korea will demonstrate an ability to reach the U.S. West Coast with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, making it the only country outside of China and Russia to have such a capability.

At the same time, North Korea under Kim Jong-un may try to engage the regime with proposals for peace treaty talks or other diplomatic proposals designed to entice the Trump administration into a deal. It is unlikely that Pyongyang will seek to engage the government in South Korea until after the political impeachment crisis subsides, however.

The paths forward are about as clear as a foggy day in London. I [Victor Cha] discern five:

*Positive: A positive path would entail a North Korean decision – whether of aggregation of sanctions – to return to the negotiating table over their nuclear weapons programs. This could be in a bilateral format with the Americans or through a return to the Six-Party talks, the multilateral forum chaired by China.

*Ambiguous: That is, North Korea shows a willingness to return to diplomacy, but without a commitment to denuclearize, instead focusing on negotiating a peace treaty with the U.S. as setting the stage potentially for tension-reduction.

*Negative: Kim Jong-un could accelerate his efforts to grow his nuclear capabilities accompanied by more nuclear detonations, missile tests, fiery threats, and potentially even proliferation horizontally to Iran, Pakistan or other non-state actors.

*Instability: Even though the leader celebrates a five-year anniversary this week, exceeding many people’s expectations of whether he could handle the job, the rate of high-level defections and purges in North Korea is unprecedented, which indicates a significant degree of churn inside the system. This internal instability can manifest itself in external spasms that generate outright conflict in the region.

*Status quo: North Korea in this scenario would not be characterized by an increased tempo of testing, nor an increased interest in diplomacy. Instead, it would work methodically as it has done over the past few years to build programs, remain cool to negotiation, and provoke occasionally but not at a level that would generate U.S. or South Korean reactions.

March 08, 2017

Massive commercial space push and a variety of new robotic capabilities could self supporting and rapidly growing space economy

Several companies will collectively be launching about 20,000 satellites over the next few years. SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat, O3b Networks and Theia Holdings — all told the FCC they have plans to field constellations of V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services in the United States and elsewhere. So far the V-band spectrum of interest, which sits directly above Ka-band from about 37 GHz to the low 50 GHz range, has not been heavily employed for commercial communications services.

* SpaceX, for example, proposes a “VLEO,” or V-band low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellation of 7,518 satellites to follow the operator’s initially proposed 4,425 satellites that would function in Ka- and Ku-band.
* Boeing has a proposed global network of about 3000 satellites

Repairing and servicing all the satellites and building big things in space will create a self sustaining commercial economy with vast capabilities in the earth-moon-Lagrange-near earth asteroid space area

In orbit satellite servicing is being developed. DARPA and commercial ventures are looking at in orbit satellite repair and servicing.

Orbital ATK Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV-1) is scheduled for launch in late 2018 and in-orbit testing with an Intelsat-built satellite by early 2019.

The Restore-L satellite is being developed by a company called Space Systems Loral in Palo Alto, California. The satellite will have autonomous navigation, dexterous robotic arms, a toolkit, and propellant to fuel up spacecraft that are out of gas.

By the company's estimates, Restore-L could launch as soon as 2020. Its first mission may be to refuel Landsat-7, which provides satellite imagery for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Rob Hoyt indicates that the challenges of effectively spreading off-world and colonizing the cosmos are overcome by making it easier to manufacture and assemble large systems and structures in space. This visionary physicist, engineer, and CEO is leading a team of scientists to overcome those challenges.

Rob co-founded Tethers Unlimited Inc. in 1994, and built it into a space and defense research and development firm. He is now building a spin-off, Firmamentum, to commercialize in-space manufacturing. Rob has won more grants from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program than any other researcher.

In October 2016, Firmamentum signed a contract with Space Systems Loral (SSL), a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, to prepare a flight demonstration of in-space manufacture of a component on a communications satellite. Firmamentum’s in-space manufacturing hardware is intended to fly as part of SSL’s “Dragonfly” program, which will demonstrate in-space robotic assembly of geostationary (GEO) communications satellites, enabling dramatic improvements in GEO satellite performance and mission flexibility. The Dragonfly program is funded under NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Tipping Point initiative to work with industry to advance the goals for robotic and human exploration of the solar system through the development of critical space technologies

With a launch date goal for 2017, Moon Express plans to send a rover to the moon’s surface to begin surveying its surface for the best locations for further operations to mine iron ore, water, rare Earth minerals, metals, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium-3. Jain believes that because the challenges presented by moon exploration are similar to those presented by Mars – challenges such as high radiation and vast temperature differences – SpaceX and Moon Express have plenty of reasons to work together.

Moon Express wants to robotically mine the moon for water to provide fuel for commercial satellites and other missions.

Planetary Resources wants to robotically mine near earth asteroids for metals and water.

Bigelow Aerospace could put large expandable space stations into orbit or around the moon or on the moon or elsewhere.

The tens of thousands of satellites and the explosion in robotic capability could provide the economic momentum to rapidly transform the Earth moon system and near earth asteroids into a rapidly developing economy.

First life on Earth evidence from 4.28 billion years ago (580 million years earlier than previous) and DNA analysis for more complex eukayote life for 2.33 billion years ago (770 million years earlier)

Structures seem to be microfossils formed around hydrothermal vents as much as 4.28 billion years ago have been found embedded in crystal. Stalks of iron-rich minerals, each a fraction the size of an eyelash, may be evidence of the earliest life-forms to inhabit the newborn planet Earth. The tiny hematite tubes are as much as 4.28 billion years old, according to the scientists announcing the find, and they are stunningly similar to structures produced by microbes living around undersea hydrothermal vents.

Discovered in slices of rock recovered from northern Quebec, the microscopic metallic detritus—plus chemical signatures associated with ancient metabolisms—could push back the date at which life arose on Earth. If verified, these fossils would surpass 3.7-billion-year-old microbial mats found in Greenland as the oldest known traces of life.

Another study, suggests that eukaryotes (more complex life) — the domain of life comprising animals, plants, and protists — were present on Earth as early as 2.33 billion years ago, right around the time when oxygen became a permanent fixture in the atmosphere. This new time-stamp for ancient life significantly predates the earliest sign of eukaryotes found in the fossil record —1.56 billion-year-old macroscopic fossils that scientists widely agree are the remains of multicellular algae-like organisms.

The MIT researchers arrived at their estimate not by examining rocks for fossil evidence but by using a technique called “molecular clock analysis.” This approach involves first sifting through DNA databases to trace the evolution of particular gene sequences across hundreds of modern species. Then, using ages derived from the fossil animal and plant relatives, these sequences can be tied backward in time to the earliest point at which those sequences must have been expressed in ancestral eukaryotes.

Iron tubes could indicate life began 4.28 billion years ago

DNA analysis suggests more complex life began 2.33 billion years ago

Nature - Evidence of Very Early Life in Earth's oldest hydrothermal Vent precipitates


Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we describe putative fossilized microorganisms that are at least 3,770 million and possibly 4,280 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada. These structures occur as micrometre-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to those of filamentous microorganisms from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes and magnetite–haematite granules, and is associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils. Collectively, these observations are consistent with an oxidized biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments more than 3,770 million years ago.

Potato Center going beyond what was depicted in the Matt Damon Martian movie for growing potatoes in Mars like conditions

The International Potato Center (CIP) launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions and thereby prove they are also able to grow in extreme climates on Earth. This Phase Two effort of CIP’s proof of concept experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions began on February 14, 2016 when a tuber was planted in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima based upon designs and advice provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Ames Research Center (NASA ARC), California. Preliminary results are positive.

* in the movie and the book, The Martian, the lead grew potatoes on Mars using extra oxygen in an enclosed greenhouse and he used soil enriched with human feces. In these experiments they mimicked direct Martian atmosphere. The soil would need to be a loose structure with nutrients added
* CIP brought Mars analog soil from the Pampas de La Joya desert in Southern Peru to its experimental station in La Molina, Lima. There CIP was able to show proof that potatoes could grow in this dry, salty soil with some help from fertilized Earth soil for both nutrition and structure.

The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change and weather shocks are already experiencing.

“Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment,” says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute who has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) and now works at UTEC in Lima. “If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to in our CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. “We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive,” he said.

The CubeSat houses a container holding soil and the tuber. Inside this hermetically sealed environment the CubeSat delivers nutrient rich water, controls the temperature for Mars day and night conditions and mimics Mars air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Sensors constantly monitor these conditions and live streaming cameras record the soil in anticipation of the potato sprouting.

Automating gene therapy - moving from factories to appliance scale gene therapy machines and then to picofluidic chips

In October, Adair demonstrated a new technology she thinks could democratize access to gene therapy. Tweaking a cell-processing device sold by German instrument maker Miltenyi, she mostly automated the process of preparing blood cells with a gene therapy for HIV that her center is also testing. Cells dripped in one end came out the other 30 hours later with little oversight needed. She even added wheels. Adair calls the mobile lab “gene therapy in a box.”

Adair thinks a key job for the mobile gene-therapy lab is to extend experimental studies to the developing world, including Africa, where most HIV cases are. “We wanted to show that we could make the trial mobile, because we are kidding ourselves that treating someone in Seattle is going to have the same risks and outcomes as in South Africa,” she says.

Gene therapy is moving quickly from experiment to medical reality. But with potential treatments for cancer and rare diseases now showing promise, scientists are worried that the technology is so complex that patients will not benefit as quickly as they should because of a shortage of trained technicians and suitable facilities. For the most successful gene therapies, those that require modifying blood cells outside the body, the procedures are offered only by a dozen or so research centers, all in major cities like New York, Seattle, Milan, and Paris.

Cancer treatment

Helping to drive interest in portable gene-therapy devices is a new form of cancer therapy, known as CAR-T, that reprograms the DNA of immune system sentinels called T cells so they attack tumors. A growing pack of biotech companies has raised billions of dollars to test these treatments, which also require taking a person’s blood and performing the gene addition in a specialized facility.

One of the first CAR-T treatments to reach the marketplace will probably come from Novartis. The Swiss drug giant last year completed a global test of children with leukemia in which 82 percent of the kids saw their tumors evaporate, and many stayed cancer-free.

Novartis will apply for permission to sell the treatment this year, but the company isn’t too happy with how the therapy is made. For its study, Novartis says that it air-shipped patients’ cells back and forth to a single cell-processing factory it owns in Morris Plains, New Jersey, with the help of Cryoport, a company specializing in shipping frozen cells. It’s logistically complex, labor-intensive, expensive, and potentially unpredictable, since no two people’s cells are the same. What’s more, Novartis isn’t certain how many patients it will actually be able to treat.

“We are limited in the number of patients we can treat given the cumbersome supply chain that we have going,” says Philip Gotwals, chief of exploratory immune-oncology at Novartis. “If we don’t do anything to automate the process, you would have to [build more of] these large factories, and I don’t know if the industry would do that.”

Less elite

Miltenyi, the German device maker, says its instrument, called Prodigy, can already largely automate CAR-T production, and is now being tested by a few companies. The instrument, which weighs about 150 pounds, looks a little like a machine from Willy Wonka’s factory, with bright pastel casements, neatly placed dials, and twists and turns of disposable tubing covering its surface. Instead of hot chocolate, a patient’s cells move through the tubes, mixing with chemicals that stimulate them and, eventually, a load of DNA-carrying viruses used to alter their genetic code.

The instrument costs about $150,000, and a kit of supplies to process one patient’s cells costs another $12,000. Katharina Winnemöller, a marketing manager based in Germany, says doctors in London will use the box to treat cancer patients with CAR-T cells in coming months.

Novartis’s Gotwals says Miltenyi’s gadget is just one of several devices under development. Last summer, after predicting CAR-T cancer treatments could generate $10 billion in sales by 2021, General Electric acquired a company called Biosafe that specializes in cell handling. MIT’s Draper Laboratories is working on microfluidics devices to prepare CAR-T treatments, and a California startup, Berkeley Lights, has new ways to sort through blood cells to zero in on just the right ones.

Berkeley Lights delivers a fundamentally new approach to biopharmaceuticals, genomics and clinical applications. Through simultaneous manipulation, analysis and selection of single cells, BLI develops highly sensitive, massively parallel, integrated workflows with single cell resolution. Initial applications of BLI’s technology are in biologic discovery and development as well as single cell annotation and genomics.

Manipulate Cells with Light

BLI’s breakthrough technologies enable interactive biology at the cellular level using automated biosystems, integrated nanofluidic chips and OptoSelect™ visible light technology. OptoSelect™ technology represents a new approach to cellular and molecular biology that uses low-intensity visible light to precisely manipulate cells, beads and reagents. OptoSelect™ has two modes: OptoElectroPositioning (OEP) and OptoElectroWetting (OEW).

OptoElectroPositioning – OEP

BLI lets biologists directly view and manipulate individual cells (or other micro-objects) using OptoSelect™ OEP. Cells can be manually or automatically selected based on cell surface markers, morphology and real-time protein secretion levels.

OptoElectroWetting – OEW

OptoSelect™ OEW technology uses light to manipulate aqueous droplets, allowing biologists to aliquot, measure, titrate, combine, split and dilute at nanoliter volumes. When combined with our OEP technology, these capabilities allow the true miniaturization of laboratory processes onto a single computer-controlled chip.

BLI Nanofluidic Biosystems

Most laboratory equipment work at ~50 microliter fluidic volumes, whereas a single cell has a volume of ~1/2 picoliter — a hundred million fold difference! Capabilities performed today at microliter scale are now integrated by BLI onto single nanofluidic chips at volumes properly scaled to your cells.

Interactive Cellular Biology… Finally

BLI enables biologists to finally perform cellular biology and choose each cell for experimentation with complete control, full annotation and a complete videographic record. By streamlining and integrating existing workflows with single-cell resolution, and enabling new workflows, BLI has multiple research and commercial partnerships now deploying its technology.

Human brain scanning used to correct robot mistakes

Using data from an electroencephalography (EEG) monitor that records brain activity, a MIT system can detect if a person notices an error as a robot performs an object-sorting task. The team’s novel machine-learning algorithms enable the system to classify brain waves in the space of 10 to 30 milliseconds.

While the system currently handles relatively simple binary-choice activities, the paper’s senior author says that the work suggests that we could one day control robots in much more intuitive ways.

“Imagine being able to instantaneously tell a robot to do a certain action, without needing to type a command, push a button or even say a word,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. “A streamlined approach like that would improve our abilities to supervise factory robots, driverless cars, and other technologies we haven’t even invented yet.”

A new system from CSAIL uses EEG brain signals to detect if a person notices robots making a mistake. Photo: Jason Dorfman/MIT CSAIL

Softbank Vision Fund has Saudi Arabia backing and will soon have UAE

Softbank is about to sell 25 percent of ARM — roughly $8 billion — to a new, Saudi-backed $100 billion investment fund, the Financial Times reported today. The Japanese shelled out $32 billion to purchased ARM only six months ago. In the global semiconductor industry. Mubadala (Abu Dhabi / UAE state-backed), which owns 100 percent of Globalfoundries, reportedly wanted the $100 billion Vision Fund to own a portion of ARM.

Japan’s Softbank announced last fall an ambitious plan to create the Softbank Vision Fund — a financial vehicle that would allow CEO Masayoshi Son to invest in the technology sector globally. The Fund, set up to raise $100 billion, aims to become “one of the world’s largest of its kind,” said Softbank last year.

While Softbank expects to pump at least $25 billion into the fund over the next 5 years, its biggest investor is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which last year committed to contribute up to $45 billion. The deal is the fruit of long negotiations between Son and Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince.

In order to hit the Vision Fund’s self-imposed $100 billion target, Son reportedly wanted to secure the backing of Mubadala.

Softbank CEO Son also has made news with the promise of a $50 billion job creating investment in the USA.

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