March 29, 2014

World Health Organization increased estimate of air pollution deaths to 7 million deaths per year in 2012 which is more than double prior estimates and shows it is the single largest environmental health risk

In new estimates, WHO (World Health Organization) reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died - one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.

* Since particulate air pollution is the primary health risk it should be a primary focus for improving global public health
* particulates also impact global warming by making ice and surface darker which cause more heat to be absorbed
* 80% of the warming effect of carbon dioxide is attributed to particulates
* particulates can be mitigated for 20 times lower cost than the same warming impact of carbon dioxide
* getting smoke free cookers to people in the developing world will save millions of lives
* new and old cars and trucks need to have devices that reduce particulates

City scale water spraying from skyscrapers and towers is something that can be deployed in 2-4 years to blunt the worst air pollution days and save lives and improve health while waiting for other slower pollution reduction measures to be deployed.

Fixing air pollution is one of the quickest ways to save the most lives at the lowest cost and the fastest way to reduce global warming. If someone were seriously concerned about global warming then particulates and soot should be the first and primary focus because it would have the biggest and fastest impact. Carbon dioxide mitigation costs 20 times more and takes decades longer to bend the temperature curve.

Nextbigfuture has shown that reducing soot is the most cost effective and fastest way to improve the environment and reduce global warming.

A package of 16 measures could, if fully implemented across the globe, save close to 2.5 3.7 million lives a year; avoid crop losses amounting to 32 million tonnes annually and deliver near-term climate protection of about half a degree C by 2040.

Fixing soot would be as good as fixing 80% of the CO2 problem and could be done for 10 to 20 times lower cost, it would save about 5 million lives that are already known to be lost each year and it would impact climate about 30 to 50 years faster than CO2 fixes.

In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas.

Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

Here is a 17 page report with more references.

Indoor (household) air pollution by region

Environmental Health Perspectives - An Integrated Risk Function for Estimating the Global Burden of Disease Attributable to Ambient Fine Particulate Matter Exposure

Future economy: Jobs likely to be lost to computerization

USA Today - workers wanting secure employment in coming decades will need skills that complement software applications, rather than compete with them.

Those who don't possess such skills face a nearly-50 percent chance of having their occupations replaced by automation, according to two University of Oxford professors who studied technology's impact on employment over the last 500 years.

The career fields seen losing the most jobs include not just relatively low-skilled occupations such as telemarketing and retail sales, but also high-paying positions now held by accountants, auditors, budget analysts, technical writers and insurance adjusters, among others.

All of those jobs face at least an 85 percent chance of being automated, say Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne in their 2013 paper, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?"

Bitcoin mining with ASIC mining chips and Raspberry Pi with custom software

Carlson and his company MegaBigPower has to keep expanding and upgrading his Bitcoin processing power to remain at seven to 10 percent of the world's Bitcoin mining. Global hashing power is estimated at about 39.5 petahash, putting Carlson's 2.2 petahash at about 5.6 percent of the world's total. Carlson intends to add another petahash within a month, bringing his percentage up to about 8 percent. The current operations are fueled by thousands of mining rigs containing more than 1.4 million BitFury mining chips, while Raspberry Pis loaded with custom software direct traffic on each rig.

A new board MegaBigPower is designing will have 756 chips on each rig instead of 256.

"We are aggressively building out our mining facilities on both sides of the world, and we're shooting for keeping it level, but the reality is that difficulty rises exponentially, and it's hard to build out exponentially at that same rate," he said.

Right now, MegaBigPower can mine 7,000 to 8,000 bitcoins per month, he said. Bitcoin to dollar exchange rates go up and down all the time, but at a price of $585 per bitcoin, that's $4.1 million to $4.7 million. When Bitcoin prices topped $1,000 in January, the monthly yields were worth up to $8 million.

March 28, 2014

Scientists have synthesized first artificial yeast chromosome

Technology Review reports that scientists have synthesized an entire yeast chromosome, the first artificial chromosome for the kingdom of life that includes humans, plants, and fungi. Yeast with the artificial chromosome appeared to be just as happy as their “natural” counterparts, reports the team. The methods developed to create the designer genomic structure could help synthetic biologists better use the single-celled fungi as biological factories for chemicals like biofuels and drugs.

Six years ago, the J. Craig Venter Institute built the first artificial chromosome, which encompassed the complete genome of a bacterium.

Two years later, that 582,970 base pair manmade genome was transplanted into a cell which successfully began to carry out its instructions.

The first synthetic yeast chromosome, reported in Science on Thursday, represents just part of that organism’s complete genome and is 272,871 base pairs long. The Johns Hopkins University-led team first designed the chromosome on a computer, streamlining the natural chromosome sequence so that it had less repetitive sequences and other tweaks. Undergraduate students in a class called “Build-A-Genome” at Johns Hopkins used molecular biology tricks to string together snippets of DNA around 70 nucleotides (A’s, T’s, G’s and C’s) long into 750-base pair blocks. Then, other researchers continued to assemble those blocks into longer stretches of the chromosome, and eventually the largest chunks were delivered into yeast cells, which took over the last assembly steps to create the whole, artificial chromosome

Lead researcher Jef Boeke tells The Verge that the team plans to create these mutation-ready additions in all 16 chromosomes. That fountain of variability could be key to finding ways to push our fermenting friends to more efficiently create biofuels and other chemicals.

Careful planning is what allowed the researchers, along with 60 undergraduate students, to painstakingly string chunks of DNA together and insert them into living yeast cells. It's also what allowed them to introduce over 500 changes to the chromosome's native sequence — a process that yielded yeast cells endowed with what Boeke referred to as "unusual properties.

The researchers hope to use the scrambling method to come up with yeast that can tolerate a wider range of environmental conditions, and that can carry out fermentation more efficiently. If they can do that, the applications will be countless, because these microorganisms do a lot more than help us make beer and bread. "I think we will see all kinds of biosynthetic products made in bacteria and yeast over the next 10 years," Boeke says. This advancement will make the production of things like antimalarial drugs and diesel fuel-like compounds a lot more cost-effective, he says. "Pretty much anything made in yeast could benefit from this scrambling approach."

here is a lot more work to do before researchers can truly explore the treasure trove of applications that this technique will engender, because yeast has more than one chromosome. In fact, it has 16. "It's unlikely that we will revolutionize an industry by rearranging a single chromosome," says Boeke. But the scientists might be able to revolutionize a number of industries if they can synthesize the whole set. "Ultimately we want to do this with all 16," Boeke says, which should take the researchers another two to three years. "That's when it will become really interesting and powerful, because we will be able to do a lot more when we can control all of its genes."

Journal Science - Total Synthesis of a Functional Designer Eukaryotic Chromosome

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 201

The Carnival of Nuclear Energy 201 is up at Hiroshima Syndrome (Mar 23rd entry)

ANS Nuclear CafĂ© – Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear—Can Anything Be Done? Part 3

Jim Hopf explores the prospects for challenging the biased and unfair treatment of nuclear energy under current policies and regulations—in court.

March 27, 2014

Smaller and simpler lens-free cameras could have cameras smaller than a pencil point that cost pennies each

Lens-free camera are being made that are 200 micrometers across which is smaller than a pencil point. When you take a picture of a painting on a wall with a regular digital camera, a lens focuses each point of light it captures on a sensor, generating a digital file that a computer can show you as an image. Rambus’s approach instead uses a grating etched with a spiral pattern through which light can enter from every orientation. The sensor below the grating captures a jumble of spirals that a human wouldn’t see as a recognizable image, but software can translate into one.

Gill uses the Mona Lisa image to demonstrate. He shows me a regular black-and-white image of the painting, a blurred black-and-white form indicating the jumble of spirals the sensor would capture for the computer to interpret, and a blurry but still recognizable black-and-white image of the painting as reconstructed from this data by software.

Gill says Rambus’s algorithms let users ask the computer to produce images at various resolutions; the highest he’s done thus far with prototypes is 128 by 128 pixels, which he says represents the capabilities of the highest-resolution sensors Rambus would make if it commercializes the technology.

Eventually, tiny cameras can being built into all kinds of things, from wearable gadgets to security systems to toys, without having to add to the cost or bulk of a camera with a lens. “Our aim is to add eyes to any digital device, no matter how small,” he says.

The point is not to build high-resolution cameras like you’d want on a smartphone but rather to build the smallest, cheapest, easiest-to-make optical sensor that can still capture enough information to show what’s going on.

While there are other lensless camera projects out there, such as one created by Bell Labs, Gill believes the one Rambus is working on is less complex and can be made much smaller. The technology used to make it is similar to the CMOS technology used to construct computer chips, so it could be manufactured within an array of chips while adding just a few cents to the overall cost of each chip.

Rambus’s lensless camera uses a spiral-etched grating to capture light. Shown here, next to a coin for size comparison, is a prototype of a grating that sits atop a sensor.

Shapeways provides a low risk and low barrier model for 3d printing of products but it has not made millionaires yet

Shapeways, a 3-D printing service and online marketplace, has been described as the Amazon of 3-D printing for its on-demand model, if not its outsize volume: The machines spit out about 120,000 objects a month, a tidal flow of design that runs from the mundane to the astonishing.

Bradley Rothenberg, a Manhattan-based architect and designer, modeled snowflake angel wings and other pieces based on sketches by the Victoria’s Secret design team, which were then worn by the models in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show late last year, garnering attention for Shapeways, which printed the nylon plastic piece and Rothenberg.

Shapeways has a “lower risk, lower barrier” model. Because Shapeways prints on demand, there were no discouraging upfront manufacturing costs; Shapeways also handled time-consuming back-end processes like billing, shipping and customer service. Designers simply upload a printable design, set a price above the cost Shapeways charges to print and paid the 3.5 percent processing fee out of her profit. The designer is then assured that supply will meet demand.

China completing several nuclear reactors in 2014

A number of new nuclear power reactors in China are approaching start-up. The first unit at Yangjiang has completed full-power trial operation while hot tests have concluded at Fuqing 1. Two other units recently completed pressure tests on their containments.

Unit 1 of the Yangjiang plant in China's Guangdong province has entered commercial operation, becoming China's 20th operating nuclear power reactor.

The first four Yangjiang units are 1080 MWe CPR-1000 pressurized water reactors, with units 5 and 6 being the more advanced ACPR-1000. All the reactors should be in operation by 2018, producing a grand total of around 6100 MWe.

Human trials of rapid cooling suspended animation to provide doctors and patients with extra hours to treat traumatic injury

New Scientist reports that doctors will try to save the lives of 10 patients with knife or gunshot wounds by placing them in suspended animation, buying time to fix their injuries.

Knife-wound or gunshot victims will be cooled down and placed in suspended animation later this month, as a groundbreaking emergency technique is tested out for the first time.

Surgeons are now on call at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to perform the operation, which will buy doctors time to fix injuries that would otherwise be lethal.

"We are suspending life, but we don't like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction," says Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the hospital, who is leading the trial. "So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation."

The technique involves replacing all of a patient's blood with a cold saline solution, which rapidly cools the body and stops almost all cellular activity. "If a patient comes to us two hours after dying you can't bring them back to life. But if they're dying and you suspend them, you have a chance to bring them back after their structural problems have been fixed," says surgeon Peter Rhee at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who helped develop the technique.

Oculus rift went from a 2012 Kickstarter to a $2 billion Facebook buyout

Facebook acquired Oculus VR—creator of the forthcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset—for approximately $2 billion.

Following the demonstration of the Oculus Rift prototype at E3 in June 2012, on 1 August 2012 the company announced a Kickstarter campaign to further develop the product. Within four hours of the announcement, Oculus secured its intended amount of US$250,000 and in less than 36 hours, the campaign had surpassed $1 million in funding, eventually ending with $2,437,429.

On December 12, 2013, Marc Andreessen joined the company's board when his firm Andreessen Horowitz led the $75 million Series B venture funding.

The headset, designed by 21-year-old Palmer Luckey, has been available as a developer kit since March 2013. So far it’s primarily been used for video games.

NBF - They need to fix the problem of the virtual reality headset generating nausea in many users.

March 26, 2014

Open thread for March

This is an nextbigfuture thread for March, 2014. Submit any articles of interest or introduce topics for discussion.

Please avoid any abuse and insults to other commenters. Please keep things polite and courteous.

The debate should be about content and ideas with facts and analysis on the subjects. It is not about the other people.


Dwarf Planet 2012 VP113 which is in the range of Pluto size has been discovered at 80AU and it could be orbiting an as yet unseen planet ten times the size of the earth

Scientists using ground based observatories have discovered an object that is believed to have the most distant orbit found beyond the known edge of our solar system. Named 2012 VP113, the observations of the object -- possibly a dwarf planet -- were obtained and analyzed with a grant from NASA. A dwarf planet is an object in orbit around the sun that is large enough to have its own gravity pull itself into a spherical, or nearly round, shape.
The detailed findings are published in the March 27 edition of Nature.

These images show the discovery of 2012 VP113 taken about 2 hours apart on Nov. 5, 2012. The motion of 2012 VP113 stands out compared to the steady state background of stars and galaxies.
Image Credit: Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

March 25, 2014

Cadnano simplifies and enhances the process of designing three-dimensional DNA origami nanostructures

Shawn Douglas is an advocate for Cadnano Cadnano simplifies and enhances the process of designing three-dimensional DNA origami nanostructures. Through its user-friendly 2D and 3D interfaces it accelerates the creation of arbitrary designs. The embedded rules within cadnano paired with the finite element analysis performed by cando, provide relative certainty of the stability of the structures.

cadnano features:
Platform independent (tested in Windows, OSX and Linux)
Visual cues aid design process for stable structures
3D interface powered by Autodesk Maya*
Open architecture for plug-in creation
Free and open source (MIT license)

BIOMOD is an annual biomolecular design competition for students

Shawn is an advocate and founder of for the BIOmed project. Undergraduate teams compete to build the coolest stuff using the molecules of life. Previous winners have used DNA, RNA, and proteins as building blocks to create autonomous robots, molecular computers, and prototypes for nanoscale therapeutics. Students lead projects each summer and then travel to Harvard in early November to present their work and win awards.

BIOMOD registration is OPEN for 2014!

Organize your team
Registration is $250. Before you register, please read the criteria listed on the Requirements page. All teams are responsible for their own fund raising and travel expenses, so start early.

Shawn Douglas Google Solve for X targeted cancer therapeutics with DNA origami nanobots

Recently we had covered the Google Solve for X talk on DNA nanobot microsurgery by Ido Bachelet.

Here is the 2013 Google Solve for X talk by Shawn Douglas who led the work on the 2012 paper that was co-written by Ido Bachelet and George Church.

Shawn Douglas has his personal website here

Problem: Cancer

Solution: Nanorobots that deliver cancer drugs specifically to tumors, allowing patients to be treated by several drugs at once.

Technology: Building on the field of DNA origami, Shawn Douglas has developed a method to design and fabricate nanometer scale robots. The robots are fabricated out of DNA and have the ability to delivery cancer drugs to a specific cancer cells.

March 24, 2014

High temperature gas nuclear reactor cooperations within China and a US and Europe deal

Although various HTGR projects have been under development around the world over the years, China's HTGR project is currently the closest to commercial realisation. Construction work began on two demonstration HTGR units at Shidaowan, Shandong province, in late 2012, with Tsinghua University-CNECC joint venture Chinergy the main contractor for the nuclear island. The plant's twin HTR-PM units will drive a single 210 MWe turbine. Eighteen further units are proposed for the site.

US-European MoU on table

Meanwhile, the US-based Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) Alliance and the European Nuclear Cogeneration Industrial Initiative (NC2I) are working on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that would pave the way for collaboration on development, demonstration and deployment of HTGR systems.

Both groups aim to enable commercialisation of HTGR technology, and say they are setting targets to build and demonstrate installations in energy-intensive industries over the next ten years. Following a three-day meeting between the two bodies, they have said that they are to work on an MoU covering areas including the development of a joint vision, business plan and roadmap, establishing an international licensing framework, and supporting joint research beneficial to worldwide commercialisation of their units.

Graphene alters copper wires dissipate 25% more heat

The semiconductor industry has another thermal problem to sort out. As chip components shrink, the copper wiring that connects them must shrink, too. And as these wires get thinner, they heat up tremendously.

A sandwich made of graphene on both sides of a sheet of copper improves the copper’s ability to dissipate heat by 25 percent—a significant figure for chip designers.

Balandin says that the graphene itself doesn’t seem to conduct the heat away. Rather, it alters the structure of the copper, improving the metal’s conductive properties. Heat moving through copper is usually slowed by the crystalline structure of the metal. Graphene changes this structure, causing those walls to move farther apart, and allowing heat to flow more readily, says Balandin.

NanoLetters - Thermal Properties of Graphene–Copper–Graphene Heterogeneous Films

March 23, 2014

General Fusion making progress towards net gain in about two to three years

Vancouver-based Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and the provincially-owned B.C. Innovation Council have organized two tours for TED attendees. Chrysalix, which bills itself as “the most active cleantech venture investor network in the world,” put together a daylong tour of Inventys, D-Wave Systems — creator of the world’s first quantum computers — and General Fusion, which is developing a small, commercially viable fusion reactor using proprietary technology.

General Fusion, which shares investors with D-Wave, is about two to three years out from creating its own power plant. Today, the pistons work well, and the plasma is hot enough and dense enough. Within the last month, the gas donut has started lasting long enough for the system to work, so now the company is turning its focus to compression and timing, according to Michael Delage, VP of strategy and corporate development.

General Fusion thinks it can provide power at a cost of seven cents per kilowatt hour, comparable to the cost of coal.

General fusion also wants to heat the spheromak to 500 eV before injection. They have reached 200 eV, while they would want to reach 500 eV and expect actually to exceed 600 eV.

31 page presentation on General Fusion