Category Archives: pop culture

A human user manual—for robots

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), funded by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), have developed a program that teaches robots to read stories and more in an effort to educate them about humans. From a June 16, 2016 ONR news release by Warren Duffie Jr. (also on EurekAlert),

With support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created an artificial intelligence software program named Quixote to teach robots to read stories, learn acceptable behavior and understand successful ways to conduct themselves in diverse social situations.

“For years, researchers have debated how to teach robots to act in ways that are appropriate, non-intrusive and trustworthy,” said Marc Steinberg, an ONR program manager who oversees the research. “One important question is how to explain complex concepts such as policies, values or ethics to robots. Humans are really good at using narrative stories to make sense of the world and communicate to other people. This could one day be an effective way to interact with robots.”

The rapid pace of artificial intelligence has stirred fears by some that robots could act unethically or harm humans. Dr. Mark Riedl, an associate professor and director of Georgia Tech’s Entertainment Intelligence Lab, hopes to ease concerns by having Quixote serve as a “human user manual” by teaching robots values through simple stories. After all, stories inform, educate and entertain–reflecting shared cultural knowledge, social mores and protocols.

For example, if a robot is tasked with picking up a pharmacy prescription for a human as quickly as possible, it could: a) take the medicine and leave, b) interact politely with pharmacists, c) or wait in line. Without value alignment and positive reinforcement, the robot might logically deduce robbery is the fastest, cheapest way to accomplish its task. However, with value alignment from Quixote, it would be rewarded for waiting patiently in line and paying for the prescription.

For their research, Riedl and his team crowdsourced stories from the Internet. Each tale needed to highlight daily social interactions–going to a pharmacy or restaurant, for example–as well as socially appropriate behaviors (e.g., paying for meals or medicine) within each setting.

The team plugged the data into Quixote to create a virtual agent–in this case, a video game character placed into various game-like scenarios mirroring the stories. As the virtual agent completed a game, it earned points and positive reinforcement for emulating the actions of protagonists in the stories.

Riedl’s team ran the agent through 500,000 simulations, and it displayed proper social interactions more than 90 percent of the time.

“These games are still fairly simple,” said Riedl, “more like ‘Pac-Man’ instead of ‘Halo.’ However, Quixote enables these artificial intelligence agents to immerse themselves in a story, learn the proper sequence of events and be encoded with acceptable behavior patterns. This type of artificial intelligence can be adapted to robots, offering a variety of applications.”

Within the next six months, Riedl’s team hopes to upgrade Quixote’s games from “old-school” to more modern and complex styles like those found in Minecraft–in which players use blocks to build elaborate structures and societies.

Riedl believes Quixote could one day make it easier for humans to train robots to perform diverse tasks. Steinberg notes that robotic and artificial intelligence systems may one day be a much larger part of military life. This could involve mine detection and deactivation, equipment transport and humanitarian and rescue operations.

“Within a decade, there will be more robots in society, rubbing elbows with us,” said Riedl. “Social conventions grease the wheels of society, and robots will need to understand the nuances of how humans do things. That’s where Quixote can serve as a valuable tool. We’re already seeing it with virtual agents like Siri and Cortana, which are programmed not to say hurtful or insulting things to users.”

This story brought to mind two other projects: RoboEarth (an internet for robots only) mentioned in my Jan. 14, 2014 which was an update on the project featuring its use in hospitals and RoboBrain, a robot learning project (sourcing the internet, YouTube, and more for information to teach robots) was mentioned in my Sept. 2, 2014 posting.

The ‘Lasso of Truth’ and the lie detector have a common origin

There’s a fascinating June 17, 2016 article about Wonder Woman’s seventy-fifth anniversary (points to anyone who her recognized her ‘Lasso of Truth’) by Susan Karlin for Fast Company,

William Moulton Marston—an attorney and psychologist who invented a systolic blood pressure deception test, the precursor to the modern polygraph—created Wonder Woman as a new type of superhero who, beyond her strength, used wisdom and compassion as weapons against evil—not to mention a magic golden lasso to compel people to tell the truth.

“Marston recognized not only the thereto untapped commercial market for a strong female superhero, but also the powerful potential for comic books to educate and inspire. He understood that education and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive,” says Vasilis Pozios, a forensic psychiatrist who cofounded [Broadcast Thought; mental health-and-media think tank with three forensic psychiatrists – H. Eric Bender, M.D., Praveen Kambam, M.D., and Pozios], which uses media and comic convention panels to educate about mental illness, and author of Aura, an award-winning comic about bipolar disorder.

The article has various versions of Wonder Woman images embedded throughout and it includes a few nuggets like this about her and her originator,

Wonder Woman is the only female comic book character to have her own stories continuously published for the past three-quarters of a century, spawning numerous other incarnations, including the hit 1975-1979 TV series starring Lynda Carter, and finally a big-screen introduction in this year’s [2016] Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Marston, who was strongly influenced by the women’s suffrage movement, devised that WW’s would lose her strength if men bound her in chains. Initially controversial due to a look inspired by pinup art and bondage intimations, she emerged as a symbol of equality and female empowerment—gracing Ms. magazine’s inaugural cover in 1972—that resonates today.

I gather this Wonder Woman 75th anniversary is going to be celebrated over a two year period with DC Comics hosting a 2016 Wonder Woman 75 San Diego Comic-Con panel and costume display and then, releasing the first (and fortuitously timed) Wonder Woman feature film starring Gal Gadot on June 2, 2017.

Do read Karlin’s if only to catch sight of the images. I have written about Wonder Woman before notably in a July 1, 2010 (Canada Day) posting featuring a then new makeover,

wonder_woman_makeover

I wasn’t thrilled by the makeover and was not alone in my opinion although reasons for the ‘lack of thrill’ varied from mine.

Frankenstein and Switzerland in 2016

The Frankenstein Bicentennial celebration is in process as various events and projects are now being launched. In a Nov. 12, 2015 posting I made mention of the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project 1818-2018 at Arizona State University (ASU; scroll down about 15% of the way),

… the Transmedia Museum (Frankenstein Bicentennial Project 1818-2018).  This project is being hosted by Arizona State University. From the project homepage,

No work of literature has done more to shape the way people imagine science and its moral consequences than Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley’s enduring tale of creation and responsibility. The novel’s themes and tropes—such as the complex dynamic between creator and creation—continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. Frankenstein continues to influence the way we confront emerging technologies, conceptualize the process of scientific research, imagine the motivations and ethical struggles of scientists, and weigh the benefits of innovation with its unforeseen pitfalls.

The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project will infuse science and engineering endeavors with considerations of ethics. It will use the power of storytelling and art to shape processes of innovation and empower public appraisal of techno-scientific research and creation. It will offer humanists and artists a new set of concerns around research, public policy, and the ramifications of exploration and invention. And it will inspire new scientific and technological advances inspired by Shelley’s exploration of our inspiring and terrifying ability to bring new life into the world. Frankenstein represents a landmark fusion of science, ethics, and literary expression.

The bicentennial provides an opportunity for vivid reflection on how science is culturally framed and understood by the public, as well as our ethical limitations and responsibility for nurturing the products of our creativity. It is also a moment to unveil new scientific and technological marvels, especially in the areas of synthetic biology and artificial intelligence. Engaging with Frankenstein allows scholars and educators, artists and writers, and the public at large to consider the history of scientific invention, reflect on contemporary research, and question the future of our technological society. Acting as a network hub for the bicentennial celebration, ASU will encourage and coordinate collaboration across institutions and among diverse groups worldwide.

2016 Frankenstein events

Now, there’s an exhibition in Switzerland where Frankenstein was ‘born’ according to a May 12, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Frankenstein, the story of a scientist who brings to life a cadaver and causes his own downfall, has for two centuries given voice to anxiety surrounding the unrelenting advance of science.

To mark the 200 years since England’s Mary Shelley first imagined the ultimate horror story during a visit to a frigid, rain-drenched Switzerland, an exhibit opens in Geneva Friday called “Frankenstein, Creation of Darkness”.

In the dimly-lit, expansive basement at the Martin Bodmer Foundation, a long row of glass cases holds 15 hand-written, yellowed pages from a notebook where Shelley in 1816 wrote the first version of what is considered a masterpiece of romantic literature.

The idea for her “miserable monster” came when at just 18 she and her future husband, English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, went to a summer home—the Villa Diodati—rented by literary great Lord Byron on the outskirts of Geneva.

The current private owners of the picturesque manor overlooking Lake Geneva will also open their lush gardens to guided tours during the nearby exhibit which runs to October 9 [May 13 – Oct. 9, 2016].

While the spot today is lovely, with pink and purple lilacs spilling from the terraces and gravel walkways winding through rose-covered arches, in the summer of 1816 the atmosphere was more somber.

A massive eruption from the Tambora volcano in Indonesia wreaked havoc with the global climate that year, and a weather report for Geneva in June on display at the exhibit mentions “not a single leaf” had yet appeared on the oak trees.

To pass the time, poet Lord Byron challenged the band of literary bohemians gathered at the villa to each invent a ghost story, resulting in several famous pieces of writing.

English doctor and author John Polidori came up with the idea for “The Vampyre”, which was published three years later and is considered to have pioneered the romantic vampyre genre, including works like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

That book figures among a multitude of first editions at the Geneva exhibit, including three of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”—the most famous story to emerge from the competition.

Here’s a description of the exhibit, from the Martin Bodmer Foundation’s Frankenstein webpage,

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the writing of this historically influential work of literature, the Martin Bodmer Foundation presents a major exhibition on the origins of Frankenstein, the perspectives it opens and the questions it raises.

A best seller since its first publication in 1818, Mary Shelley’s novel continues to demand attention. The questions it raises remain at the heart of literary and philosophical concerns: the ethics of science, climate change, the technologisation of the human body, the unconscious, human otherness, the plight of the homeless and the dispossessed.

The exposition Frankenstein: Creation of Darkness recreates the beginnings of the novel in its first manuscript and printed forms, along with paintings and engravings that evoke the world of 1816. A variety of literary and scientific works are presented as sources of the novel’s ideas. While exploring the novel’s origins, the exhibition also evokes the social and scientific themes of the novel that remain important in our own day.

For what it’s worth, I have come across analyses which suggest science and technology may not have been the primary concern at the time. There are interpretations which suggest issues around childbirth (very dangerous until modern times) and fear of disfigurement and disfigured individuals. What makes Frankenstein and the book so fascinating is how flexible interpretations can be. (For more about Frankenstein and flexibility, read Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s 2009 book, Frankenstein: a cultural history.)

There’s one more upcoming Frankenstein event, from The Frankenstein Bicentennial announcement webpage,

On June 14 and 15, 2016, the Brocher Foundation, Arizona State University, Duke University, and the University of Lausanne will host “Frankenstein’s Shadow,” a symposium in Geneva, Switzerland to commemorate the origin of Frankenstein and assess its influence in different times and cultures, particularly its resonance in debates about public policy governing biotechnology and medicine. These dates place the symposium almost exactly 200 years after Mary Shelley initially conceived the idea for Frankenstein on June 16, 1816, and in almost exactly the same geographical location on the shores of Lake Geneva.

If you’re interested in details such as the programme schedule, there’s this PDF,

Frankenstein¹s_ShadowConference

Enjoy!

Exploring the science of Iron Man (prior to the opening of Captain America: Civil War, aka, Captain America vs. Iron Man)

Not unexpectedly, there’s a news item about science and Iron Man (it’s getting quite common for the science in movies to be promoted and discussed) just a few weeks before the movie Captain America: Civil War or, as it’s also known, Captain America vs. Iron Man opens in the US. From an April 26, 2016 news item on phys.org,

… how much of our favourite superheros’ power lies in science and how much is complete fiction?

As Iron Man’s name suggests, he wears a suit of “iron” which gives him his abilities—superhuman strength, flight and an arsenal of weapons—and protects him from harm.

In scientific parlance, the Iron man suit is an exoskeleton which is worn outside the body to enhance it.

An April 26, 2016 posting by Chris Marr on the ScienceNetwork Western Australia blog, which originated the news item, provides an interesting overview of exoskeletons and some of the scientific obstacles still to be overcome before they become commonplace,

In the 1960s, the first real powered exoskeleton appeared—a machine integrated with the human frame and movements which provided the wearer with 25 times his natural lifting capacity.

The major drawback then was that the unit itself weighed in at 680kg.

UWA [University of Western Australia] Professor Adrian Keating suggests that some of the technology seen in the latest Marvel blockbuster, such as controlling the exoskeleton with simple thoughts, will be available in the near future by leveraging ongoing advances of multi-disciplinary research teams.

“Dust grain-sized micromachines could be programmed to cooperate to form reconfigurable materials such as the retractable face mask, for example,” Prof Keating says.

However, all of these devices are in need of a power unit small enough to be carried yet providing enough capacity for more than a few minutes of superhuman use, he says.

Does anyone have a spare Arc Reactor?

Currently, most exoskeleton development has been for medical applications, with devices designed to give mobility to amputees and paraplegics, and there are a number in commercial production and use.

Dr Lei Cui, who lectures in Mechatronics at Curtin University, has recently developed both a hand and leg exoskeleton, designed for use by patients who have undergone surgery or have nerve dysfunction, spinal injuries or muscular dysfunction.

“Currently we use an internal battery that lasts about two hours in the glove, which can be programmed for only four different movement patterns,” Dr Cui says.

Dr Cui’s exoskeletons are made from plastic, making them light but offering little protection compared to the titanium exterior of Stark’s favourite suit.

It’s clear that we are a long way from being able to produce a working Iron Man suit at all, let alone one that flies, protects the wearer and has the capacity to fight back.

This is not the first time I’ve featured a science and pop culture story here. You can check out my April 28, 2014 posting for a story about how Captain America’s shield could be a supercapacitor (it also has a link to a North Carolina State University blog featuring science and other comic book heroes) and there is my May 6, 2013 post about Iron Man 3 and a real life injectable nano-network.

As for ScienceNetwork Western Australia, here’s more from their About SWNA page,

ScienceNetwork Western Australia (SNWA) is an online science news service devoted to sharing WA’s achievements in science and technology.

SNWA is produced by Scitech, the state’s science and technology centre and supported by the WA Government’s Office of Science via the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

Our team of freelance writers work with in-house editors based at Scitech to bring you news from all fields of science, and from the research, government and private industry sectors working throughout the state. Our writers also produce profile stories on scientists. We collaborate with leading WA institutions to bring you Perspectives from prominent WA scientists and opinion leaders.

We also share news of science-related events and information about the greater WA science community including WA’s Chief Scientist, the Premier’s Science Awards, Innovator of the Year Awards and information on regional community science engagement.

Since our commencement in 2003 we have grown to share WA’s stories with local, national and global audiences. Our articles are regularly republished in print and online media in the metropolitan and regional areas.

Bravo to the Western Australia government! I wish there  initiatives of this type in Canada, the closest we have is the French language Agence Science-Presse supported by the Province of Québec.

Ghostbusters* (all female version) and science

It was delightful to learn that there is science underlying Paul Feig’s upcoming all female version (remake) of the movie Ghostbusters in a March 4, 2016 article by Darian Alexander for Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),

With Thursday’s [March 4, 2016] release of the first trailer for Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, fans finally got a good look at the highly anticipated reboot. The clip offered a peak into the movie’s setup, its setpieces, and its overall tone. But there’s one topic it left mysterious: the science.

Well, in a new and pretty fascinating marketing tie-in, the studio made a video going deep on the science of proton packs. Tucked inconspicuously into the trailer footage (at around the 1:05 mark) was a short shot of an equation-filled whiteboard. Appearing somewhat mysteriously atop it was a url: ParanormalStudiesLab.com.

The Paranormal Studies Lab site (part of Sony’s publicity campaign for the film) doesn’t have a great deal of information at this time but there is this video featuring scientist James Maxwell (not to be confused with James Clerk Maxwell whose 150-year-old theory mashing up magnetism, electricity and optics is being celebrated as noted in my Nov. 27, 2015 posting),

By the way, there is a real paranormal studies laboratory at the University of Virginia according to a Feb. 10, 2014 article by Jake Flanagin for the The Atlantic,

The market for stories of paranormal academe is a rich one. There’s Heidi Julavits’s widely acclaimed 2012 novel The Vanishers, which takes place at a New England college for aspiring Sylvia Brownes. And, of course, there’s Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters—Marvel’s take on Andover or Choate—where teachers read minds and students pass like ghosts through ivy-covered walls.

The Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine is decidedly less fantastic than either Julavits’s or Marvel’s creations, but it’s nevertheless a fascinating place. Founded in 1967 by Dr. Ian Stevenson—originally as the Division of Personality Studies—its mission is “the scientific empirical investigation of phenomena that suggest that currently accepted scientific assumptions and theories about the nature of mind or consciousness, and its relation to matter, may be incomplete.”

What sorts of “phenomena” qualify? Largely your typical catalog of Forteana: ESP, poltergeists, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, “claimed memories of past lives.” So yes: In 2014, there is a center for paranormal research at a totally legitimate (and respected) American institution of higher learning. But unlike the X-Mansion, or other fictional psy-schools, DOPS doesn’t employ any practicing psychics. The teachers can’t read minds, and the students don’t walk through walls. DOPS is home to a small group of hardworking, impressively credentialed scientists with minds for stats and figures.

Finally, for anyone unfamiliar with the original Ghostbusters movie, it was made in 1984 and featured four comedians in the lead roles, Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis, according to IMDB.com. Feig’s 2016 version features four female comedians: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones.

*’Ghostbuster’ corrected to ‘Ghostbusters’ on March 14, 2016.

Polish researchers develop Superman’s kryptonite?

It’s not precisely kryptonite but rather a krypton-oxygen compound according to a March 2, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Theoretical chemists have found how to synthesize the first binary compound of krypton and oxygen: a krypton oxide. It turns out that this exotic substance can be produced under extremely high pressure, and its production is quite within the capabilities of today’s laboratories.

A March 2, 2016 Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more information about Superman’s kryptonite, real krypton, and the new synthesized compound,

Crystals of kryptonite, a material deadly to Superman and his race, were supposed to have been created within the planet Krypton, and therefore most likely under very high pressure. The progenitor of the name, real krypton, is an element with an atomic number of 36, a noble gas considered to be incapable of forming stable chemical compounds. However, a publication in the journal Scientific Reports by a two-man team of theoretical chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw, Poland, presents the possibility of synthesizing a new crystalline material in which atoms of krypton would be chemically bonded to another element.

“The substance we are predicting is a compound of krypton with not nitrogen, but oxygen. In the convention of the comic book it should, therefore, be called not so much kryptonite as kryptoxide. So if Superman’s reading this, he can stay calm – at the moment there’s no cause for panic!” laughs Dr. Patrick Zaleski-Ejgierd (IPC PAS) and adds: “Our krypton monoxide, KrO, probably does not exist in nature. According to current knowledge, deep in the interiors of planets, that is, the only place where there is sufficient pressure for its synthesis, oxygen does not exist, nor even more so, does krypton.”

Compounds of krypton have been produced before, in the laboratory under cryogenic conditions. They were, however, only single, linear and small molecules of the hydrogen-carbon-krypton-carbon-hydrogen type. The Polish chemists wondered if there were conditions in which krypton would not only bond chemically with another element, but also in which it would be capable of forming an extensive and stable crystal lattice. Their search, funded by an OPUS grant from the Polish National Science Centre, involved the researchers using genetic algorithms and models built on the so-called density functional theory. In the field of solid state physics, this theory has for years been a basic tool for the description and study of the world of chemical molecules.

“Our computer simulations suggest that crystals of krypton monoxide will be formed at a pressure in the range of 3 to 5 million atmospheres. This is a huge pressure, but it can be achieved even in today’s laboratories, by skillfully squeezing samples in diamond anvils,” says PhD student Pawe? Lata (IPC PAS).

Crystal lattices are built from atoms or molecules arranged in space in an orderly manner. The smallest repetitive fragment of such structures – the basic ‘building block’ – is called a unit cell. In crystals of table salt the unit cell has the shape of a cube, the sodium and chlorine atoms, arranged alternately, are mounted on each corner, close enough to each other that they are bound by covalent (chemical) bonds.

The unit cell of krypton monoxide is cuboid with a diamond base, with krypton atoms at the corners. In addition, in the middle of the two opposite side walls, there is one atom of krypton.

“Where is the oxygen? On the side walls of the unit cell, where there are five atoms of krypton, they are arranged like the dots on a dice showing the number five. Single atoms of oxygen are located between the krypton atoms, but only along the diagonal – and only along one! Thus, on each wall with five krypton atoms there are only two atoms of oxygen. Not only that, the oxygen is not exactly on the diagonal: one of the atoms is slightly offset from it in one direction and the other atom in the other direction,” describes Lata.

In such an idiosyncratic unit cell, each atom of oxygen is chemically bound to the two nearest adjacent atoms of krypton. Zigzag chains of Kr/O\Kr\O/Kr will therefore pass through the crystal of krypton monoxide, forming long polymer structures. Calculations indicate that crystals of this type of krypton monoxide should have the characteristics of a semiconductor. One can assume that they will be dark, and their transparency will not be great.

Theorists from the IPC PAS have also found a second, slightly less stable compound of krypton: the tetroxide KrO4. This material, which probably has properties typical of a metal, has a simpler crystalline structure and could be formed at a pressure exceeding 3.4 million atmospheres.

After formation, the two kinds of krypton oxide crystals could probably exist at a somewhat lower pressure than that required for their formation. The pressure on earth, however, is so low that on our planet these crystals would undergo degradation immediately.

“Reactions occurring at extremely high pressure are almost unknown, very, very exotic chemistry. We call it ‘Chemistry on the Edge'”. Often the pressures needed to perform syntheses are so gigantic that at present there is no point in trying to produce them in laboratories. In those cases even methods of theoretic description fail! But what is most interesting here is the non-intuitiveness. From the very first to the last step of synthesis you never know what’s going to happen,” says Dr. Zaleski-Ejgierd – and he returns to his computer where simulations of subsequent syntheses are nearing their end.

I don’t usually include images of the researchers but these guys dressed up for the occasion,

Chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw have found a method of synthesizing a new crystalline material in which atoms of krypton would be chemically bonded to another element. (Source: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski) Metodê syntezy pierwszego trwa³ego zwi¹zku kryptonu znale¿li chemicy-teoretycy z Instytutu Chemii Fizycznej PAN w Warszawie. (ród³o: IChF PAN, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski)

Chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw have found a method of synthesizing a new crystalline material in which atoms of krypton would be chemically bonded to another element. (Source: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski)
Metodê syntezy pierwszego trwa³ego zwi¹zku kryptonu znale¿li chemicy-teoretycy z Instytutu Chemii Fizycznej PAN w Warszawie. (ród³o: IChF PAN, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski)

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Krypton oxides under pressure by  Patryk Zaleski-Ejgierd & Pawel M. Lata. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 18938 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep18938 Published online: 02 February 2016

This paper is open access.

Teleportation of a classic object (Star Trek’s teleportation)

A March 4, 2016 Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena press release (also on EurekAlert) describes the work in terms of Star Trek,

“Beam me up, Scotty” – even if Captain Kirk supposedly never said this exact phrase, it remains a popular catch-phrase to this day. Whenever the chief commander of the television series starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) wanted to go back to his control centre, this command was enough to take him back to the control centre instantly – travelling through the infinity of outer space without any loss of time.

But is all of this science fiction that was thought up in the 1960s? Not quite: Physicists are actually capable of beaming–or “teleporting” as it is called in technical language – if not actual solid particles at least their properties.

“Many of the ideas from Star Trek that back then appeared to be revolutionary have become reality,” explains Prof. Dr Alexander Szameit from the University of Jena (Germany). “Doors that open automatically, video telephony or flip phones–all things we have first seen on the starship USS Enterprise,” exemplifies the Juniorprofessor of Diamond-/Carbon-Based Optical Systems. So why not also teleporting? “Elementary particles such as electrons and light particles exist per se in a spatially delocalized state,” says Szameit. For these particles, it is with a certain probability thus possible to be in different places at the same time. “Within such a system spread across multiple locations, it is possible to transmit information from one location to another without any loss of time.” This process is called quantum teleportation and has been known for several years.

The team of scientists lead by science fiction fan Szameit has now for the first demonstrated in an experiment that the concept of teleportation does not only persist in the world of quantum particles, but also in our classical world. …

They used a special form of laser beams in the experiment. “As can be done with the physical states of elementary particles, the properties of light beams can also be entangled,” explains Dr Marco Ornigotti, a member of Prof. Szameit’s team. For physicists, “entanglement” means a sort of codification. “You link the information you would like to transmit to a particular property of the light,” clarifies Ornigotti who led the experiments for the study that was now presented.

In their particular case, the physicists have encoded some information in a particular polarisation direction of the laser light and have transmitted this information to the shape of the laser beam using teleportation. “With this form of teleportation, we can, however, not bridge any given distance,” admits Szameit. “On the contrary, classic teleportation only works locally.” But just like it did at the starship USS Enterprise or in quantum teleportation, the information is transmitted fully and instantly, without any loss of time. And this makes this kind of information transmission a highly interesting option in telecommunication for instance, underlines Szameit.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Demonstration of local teleportation using classical entanglement by Diego Guzman-Silva, Robert Brüning, Felix Zimmermann, Christian Vetter, Markus Gräfe, Matthias Heinrich, Stefan Nolte, Michael Duparré, Andrea Aiello, Marco Ornigotti and Alexander Szameit. Laser & Photonics Reviews DOI: 10.1002/lpor.201500252 Article first published online: 11 JAN 2016

© 2016 by WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

Sciences Goes to the Movies closes out season one with zombies and opens season two with nanotechnolgy

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s March 9, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for the latest about ‘Science Goes to the Movies’,

The 13th episode of Science Goes to the Movies is now available online, and showing some restraint, the show waited until the end of its first season to deal with zombies.

In other show news, the second season will premiere on CUNY [City University of New York] TV March 18th [2016].  It will focus on nanotechnology.

You can find the 13th episode (running time is almost 30 mins.) embedded in David’s post or you can go to the Science Goes to the Movies webpage on the City University of New York (CUNY) website for the latest video and more information about the episode,

In episode #113 of Science Goes to the Movies, series co-hosts Dr. Heather Berlin and Faith Salie talk with Mark Siddall – a curator at the American Museum of Natural History and President of the American Society of Parasitologists – about zombies!

… Siddall describes different types of parasites that manipulate behavior in a host in order to complete a life cycle or other essential task – including a type of “Dementor” wasp, named after the monster in Harry Potter books, that changes behavior in a cockroach by stinging it. Whether or not zombifying parasites have a taste for brains is also considered, with reference to a species that takes over the bodies of ants, replaces their brains, and uses the ant to complete its life cycle, and The Guinea Worm, a parasite that targets humans for their own reproduction. Siddall then distinguishes between parasites and viruses and explains their similarities.

The Haitian voodoo practice of ingesting neurotoxins to create the effect of “waking from the dead” provides the basis for the next part of the discussion. Dr. Berlin defines neurotoxins and how they work in the brain to block neurons from firing. Tetrodotoxin, in particular, is explained as having a zombifying effect on humans in that its overall paralysis doesn’t affect the brain or the heart, leaving a person fully conscious throughout.

The Wade Davis [emphasis mine] book, The Serpent and The Rainbow, is brought into the discussion, as well as a story about a man kept in a zombie state for two years by ingesting a combination of neurotoxins and hallucinogens. Dr. Berlin breaks down the plausibility of the story and introduces the idea of the “philosopher zombie,” whose zombie status is more conceptual in nature.

28 Days Later and World War Z are discussed as examples of zombie movies in which the cause of the apocalypse is a zombie infection, and Siddall shares news about a cancer with contagious qualities. A recent Centers for Disease Control ad campaign, warning people to prepare for the zombie apocalypse, is mentioned and the real-life potential for human zombies, given the creativity of evolution, makes for the final topic of the show. Before finishing, though, Dr. Berlin and Siddall each share an idea for an original zombie movie.

Written and Produced by Lisa Beth Kovetz.

Wade Davis is a Canadian anthropologist who now teaches at the University of British Columbia.

Should you care to search, you will find a number of posts concerning zombies on this blog.

The science in Star Wars according to the American Chemical Society

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has produced a video in its Reactions series, which focuses on Stars Wars science from the middle part of the series (episodes 4, 5, & 6) or what some might consider the classic, ‘first’ episodes. From a Dec. 15, 2015 news ACS news release on EurekAlert,

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens hits movie screens this week with its intense plot, edge-of-your-seat action scenes and, of course, lots of lightsabers. But is it actually possible to create a real-life lightsaber or build a functioning Death Star laser? To answer these questions and more, Reactions explores the science behind the Star Wars franchise.

Here’s the video,

You’ll notice the ‘parsec’ situation is not explained. In Star Wars they reference the term parsec as a unit of time (in the first episode produced which is now no. 4, Star Wars: A New Hope). But, a ‘parsec’ is a unit of distance. Here’s Kyle Hill writing about the ‘parsec’ situation in a Feb. 12, 2013 article for Wired (Note: A link has been removed),

You’ll hear any reputable Star Wars fan point it out eventually: Han Solo’s famous boast that the Millennium Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” may have sounded impressive, but from an astronomical perspective, it made no sense. A parsec is a unit of distance, not time, so why would Solo use it to explain how quickly his ship could travel?

There are two stories going on here. The first is that Solo’s famous line of dialog was simply a mistake of terminology. The second — the one I choose believe [sic] — is far more interesting, because it means that when Obi-Wan sat down across from the wryly smiling Han Solo in that cramped cantina, he met a time-traveling smuggler born at least 40 years before the events of The Phantom Menace [episode 1, which was produced after the classic episodes, effectively the ‘first’ episode is a prequel] ever took place.

I understand the new movie, episode 7 is quite good but haven’t had a chance to see it yet. If you get there before I do, please let me know if it’s as good as the reviews suggest and what you think of the science.