Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star

source site – Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star – Telegraph

While it has seemed an impossible goal for nearly 100 years, scientists now believe that they are on brink of cracking one of the biggest problems in physics by harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, the reaction that burns at the heart of the sun.

In the spring, a team will begin attempts to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and trigger a thermonuclear reaction.

Its goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius and pressures billions of times higher than those found anywhere else on earth, from a speck of fuel little bigger than a pinhead. If successful, the experiment will mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station and a source of almost limitless energy.

this seems like an exciting development. but how much will it cost and what are the safety implications? will it be practical?

Robotic technological progress

We often marvel how computing technology has progressed over the years. I remember about 20 years ago, most home computers did not have much storage space, and disk(ettes) had sufficient capacity for 720 kilobytes of data. Today now one spreadsheet file can easily be 720kb in size. Computers today are on the verge of becoming a personal appliance capable of providing its user with education, information, entertainment and inspiration at a click of the mouse (or touch of the screen / surface).

Some of these computing technology is starting to find its way into another science fiction favourite: robots. Combined with increasing artistic realism (see Ron Mueck’s ultra realistic human sculptures), the possibility of lifelike humanoid robots is starting to look like realities within the next decade.

As I reflect on the 2007 advances, I start thinking that despite all the war, fear, hate, disease, killings, and famine in the world, humankind is still doing some good work in making things better. The future is still positive… although it is getting more difficult to find good these days. Or are we just jaded?

In reflecting, I noticed that we have seen a lot of progress in the area of robotics. Unfortunately, robotics -like most human concepts- can be both good and bad. Science fiction has portrayed both sides of robotics. I won’t go into the pros and cons for now… but would share the following links to stimulate the mind…

Humanoid robots in our lifetimes?

Japanese develop ‘female’ android

TimesOnline: No sex please, robot, just clean the floor – ethical questions on robotics… a new species?

The Guardian: Robot and sex?

Top 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2007

Wired online magazine did an article on the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2007 recently.

Welcome to the first annual Wired News rundown of the year’s 10 most important scientific breakthroughs. 2007 was an amazing year for science. Unlike recent years, there were no high-profile cases of scientific fraud — none that went uncovered, anyway. Journal publishers took extra care, requiring scientists to duplicate results in an effort to avoid scientific, not to mention public relations, fiascoes. And while those are entertaining, we’ll take solid science over Sturm und Drang any day. Here we count down the top 10 scientific discoveries that rocked our Wired world the hardest this year.

Essentially, 2007 saw further progress on computer chip materials and manufacturing technology, and thus continuing Moore’s Law of computing. Connected to this, we see further advancement in materials technology, opening up improvements in lightweight structures and materials. We also saw a number of medical science breakthroughs in the exciting area of stem cell research, progress in curing Rett Syndrome, and enzymes to address blood type compatabilities.

Also from the nature point of view we saw greater understanding of the evolution of life of the dinosaurs and primates, and new habitable planets.

I look forward to more promising scientific discoveries that would improve our understanding of life and make our lives a whole lot better.

Time to move to space?

I didn’t realise that there was such a thing as a space conference. Found this on a Wired article in my RSS feed.

The recently held Space 2006 Conference in San Jose, California was a bit about selling a life (living?) in space. But the problem with living in space is gravity.. if not for anything, it is going to be a big problem keeping your food down.

It is likely that the Moon (one sixth earth’s gravity) and Mars (three eighths) are unlikely space real estate destinations.

For Al Globus, senior research associate for human factors research and technology at NASA Ames Research Center, the most salient issue is one that most people take for granted on Earth: gravity. In low gravity, muscles atrophy and bones loose calcium and become brittle. If people start having children in an off-Earth settlement, those children — being adapted to the moon’s one-sixth gravity or Mars’ three-eighths gravity — may not be able to function on Earth, Globus argues.

“If you are a genius, you can never go to Harvard or Princeton,” Globus says. “If you are a great violinist, you will never be able to play the concert halls of Earth.”

Bad news huh? A bunch of brittle people. Yet in science fiction many portray martians as fearsome creatures. Chopsticks I say!

That’s a deal breaker, in Globus’ opinion. The space researcher instead argues that rotating space stations that can produce near-Earth gravity would be the best bet for long-term human inhabitants. These stations could produce more energy because certain orbits could bring them more sunshine than is possible if they were land-based. And the stations would be hours away, rather than three days for the moon or, at best, six months for Mars. The proximity to Earth makes tourism a possibility and makes resupplying the stations a snap.

So what about a space station? Sounds like a cool idea. But I will not be booking my space trip anytime soon.

But why would people want to stay in space in the first place?

The Human Genome Project completed

I read on the web that the final chapter of the Human Genome Project has been published.

The international Human Genome Project – often described as the “book of life” – was launched with the aim of finding and detailing the genes in our cells that drive all the body’s biochemical reactions.

Scientists envisage using this information to diagnose illnesses and to develop new medical therapies.

The benefits of having what is effectively an encyclopedia of the human blueprint is the possibility of finding cures and prevention for illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases etc.

The completion of HGP marks a new chapter in mankind’s medical progress. The project took about 20 years involving a web of scientists around the world to catalog the human DNA.

Keep an eye out for developments on the medical front.