This has been decades in the making, and I have been watching the observatory be delayed again, and again, and again for years now, so it was remarkable when it finally launched.
I think science as a discipline could benefit from a more practical approach. This doesn’t so much refer to some of the really abstract and intangible research happening in fields like quantum physics as it does to something that I see more and more presented in lieu of actual experiments: computer models. In just the past few weeks, I’ve read everything from government reports, to news articles, to peer-reviewed scientific papers that leverage as their evidence not practical experiments or real datasets, but computer models and statistical simulations. There was even one that proudly proclaimed that it was based on interpolated data – in other words, data that is only inferred to exist between known data points.
Whether or not it has anything to do with a certain fourteen year old and his garage-built fusion reactor, I’ve been long fascinated by nuclear energy, but not unlike space, it suffers from a massive communication problem. If you asked someone to name a job harder than the proverbial “rocket science,” you very well might be answered with “nuclear physics.” Like I try to explain concepts from astronautical engineering in ways that are approachable to the typical reader, I intend to use this post to explain nuclear energy in similarly approachable terms.
Humans have a severe case of societal loneliness. We send signals out into the void in the hopes that someone might answer, we launch spacecraft into the interstellar medium with a record of our civilization, we push the edges of our technology to seek evidence of long-extinct microbial and unicellular life on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and other bodies in our solar system. On a less evidential level, we seek clues, stories, and anecdotes that could enable us to believe that our species is not alone in the universe: points of light in the sky, a circle painted on a cave wall ten thousand years ago, unexplained happenings all over the world.
Recently, I've been twitching for a more rigorous intellectual challenge for the science and engineering side of me, which has led to me researching the millennium problems, designing scientific experiments, and adding books like Eight Amazing Engineering Stories to my reading list. In other words, I was rather looking forward to this as an interesting and in-depth look at a selection of technologies and the stories of how they came to be. Unfortunately, it turns out that what I consider in-depth is a little different from what people writing a companion book for a series of YouTube videos considers in-depth; so yes, I have to admit that I found this book a little disappointing, and am glad that it only took me a couple of days to read, but that does not mean you should stop reading this review, or even that you shouldn't read the book. Let me explain.
Rather than lamenting the decline of science fiction, we should probably spend time talking about how wonderful Rocheworld is, and why you should absolutely go find a copy as soon as possible. Granted, that may be a little difficult, because it's no longer in print. However, I was able to find a lightly used copy without much difficulty, so I imagine you can, too. Just be sure you look for the complete Rocheworld, and not one of the earlier versions, sometimes titled Flight of the Dragonfly. The book is from back in the days when many science fiction novels were published in short, serialized form in magazines, so Flight of the Dragonfly is about a hundred thousand words shorter than the complete Rocheworld.
As a bit of a side project at work recently, I did some modeling work on TESS, which is a NASA spacecraft that was launched to help search for exoplanets using the transit method (I know, you could never have guessed that from the name's acronym breakdown). Working with satellites as much as I do, this was a really interesting project, because it was quite distinctive in its orbit and mission architecture from most spacecraft that I get to study on a regular basis. For one thing, it is a remarkably low-cost, robust, straightforward system, quite different from what you often see with NASA programs, which because of their scientific goals are often pushing the very edge of our capabilities and therefore become very complex and very expensive. For another, it utilizes a simply fascinating orbit. Since I've been trying to post occasional in-depth articles on various academic topics, it seemed appropriate to share some of what I learned from that project here.
Curiosity is a peculiar mixed blessing. It can lead to great discoveries and improvements, but it can also be decidedly dangerous and lead to situations for which we are not in any way prepared. Although not unique to humans, humans take it further than any other species on Earth has. Yet from an evolutionary perspective, the urge to explore does not always make sense.
A while back now we posted about 5G technology as part of our efforts to develop educational content here on the site. This post about quantum computing technology and some of the ways in which we can anticipate it being implemented is in the same vein; quantum computing has been increasingly touted as another sort of “miracle” technology about which we hear a great deal of hype, but without a lot of insight into the details. This post will hopefully rectify that a little.
In theory, a sufficient understanding of genetics, and the technology to implement that understanding, could lead to the ability to create custom people. CRISPR-Cas9 has delivered significant successes in genetic engineering, including human experiments in China in which a scientist used the technology to alter human embryos to remove a disease-causing gene sequence.