Sunday, July 22, 2007

Science reporter seeks solar bomb experts

Sometimes you just have to read a story because of its headline: "Does anyone know how to restart the sun with a bomb?"

On July 20, reporter Philip Yam of Scientific American said: Last month, I caught a preview screening of Sunshine, Danny Boyle's sci-fi psycho thriller flick that opens today. After watching the film, I couldn't help but wonder about the premise. The sun's about to die--but not the way conventional astronomy dictates, in which the sun consumes its supply of hydrogen in its core, swells out as a red giant (and boils away the earth's atmosphere), blows off its outer layer and turns into a white dwarf. Sunshine makes no attempt to say how the bomb would restart the sun's thermonuclear engine.

So I pose this question to all you who know more astrophysics than I: can you envision just how the sun's output might start declining suddenly and precipitously? And how a "solar bomb" might actually work to restart it? The moviemakers do say that the bomb has the mass of Manhattan, but I don't know if that helps or hurts.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Reading minds - scientists get closer

You may have seen the movie Minority Report - think about the special people that the police used to read their minds about past experiences and memories. With today's science closing in on witnessing memories and reading the minds of mice, maybe we are not so far away from this becoming a reality - and you won't need special powers.

Scientific American says: Researchers are closing in on the rules that the brain uses to lay down memories. Discovery of this memory code could lead to the design of smarter computers and robots and even to new ways to peer into the human mind. For decades, neuroscientists have attempted to unravel how the brain makes memories. Now, by combining a set of novel experiments with powerful mathematical analyses and an ability to record simultaneously the activity of more than 200 neurons in awake mice researchers have the basic mechanism the brain uses to draw vital information from experiences and turn that information into memories.

Okay so far this sounds fine. Now think about this: Such understanding could allow investigators to develop more seamless brain-machine interfaces, design a whole new generation of smart computers and robots, and perhaps even assemble a codebook of the mind that would make it possible to decipher--by monitoring neural activity--what someone remembers and thinks.
Read more at Scientific American.