Here are the top stories from the past month (in mostly chronological order):
NASA announced Monday that it’s chosen private space station manufacturer Axiom Space to build the first “commercial launch destination” — read: space hotel for the super wealthy — and attach it to the International Space Station. The goal is to help grow an economy in low-Earth orbit, according to NASA. According to an Axiom Space statement, the startup is planning to “launch a node module, research & manufacturing facility, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory to form the ‘Axiom Segment’ of the ISS,” starting in the latter half of 2024.
2) The next decade in science - Harvard Wyss Institute researchers predict the biggest scientific advances of the 2020s
The ball has dropped on a new year and a new decade, as we move from the 2010s into the 2020s. The last 10 years have seen incredible advances in science and technology, including a dramatic reduction in the cost of genetic sequencing, the first successful uses of gene therapy in humans, and the existence of gravitational waves. But what about the next decade? What previously impossible things will humans achieve? The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University asked its faculty members across a wide range of scientific disciplines what they predict will be the most impactful developments in their fields between now and the year 2030.
Over the last few years, Customs and Border Protection has been rolling out facial recognition programs at ports of entry across the country, including the nation’s international airports. Now, the agency is increasing the use of the technology for its optional Global Entry program. The Global Entry program allows frequent travelers who are considered “low risk” to bypass CBP officers and go directly to baggage claim after visiting a kiosk. To date, Global Entry at most airports consists of scanning the traveler’s passport and fingerprint at the machine before being cleared to enter the country.
A mysterious cosmic event might have ever-so-slightly stretched and squeezed our planet last week. On Jan. 14, astronomers detected a split-second burst of gravitational waves, distortions in space-time … but researchers don't know where this burst came from. The gravitational wave signal, picked up by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo interferometer, lasted only 14 milliseconds, and astronomers haven't yet been able to pinpoint the burst's cause or determine whether it was just a blip in the detectors.
Researchers at Cardiff University have discovered a new type of killer T-cell that offers hope of a “one-size-fits-all” cancer therapy. T-cell therapies for cancer - where immune cells are removed, modified and returned to the patient’s blood to seek and destroy cancer cells - are the latest paradigm in cancer treatments. The most widely-used therapy, known as CAR-T, is personalised to each patient but targets only a few types of cancers and has not been successful for solid tumours, which make up the vast majority of cancers.
When world leaders gather in Davos next week, they’ll confront an essential question: Can they seize the opportunity generated by years of innovative blockchain development to reshape the global economic order in a way that creates wealth and value for people around the world? From the fall of Lehman Brothers to the ensuing Great Recession, the international monetary system has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at trying to build an economic system that works for everyone, but those efforts have fallen short.
It’s time to try something new.
European researchers are working on a system that can churn out breathable oxygen from simulated samples of moon dust. “Being able to acquire oxygen from resources found on the Moon would obviously be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel,” explained Beth Lomax, a chemist from the University of Glasgow, in an European Space Agency (ESA) press release.
When I looked into the user interface of Mojo Vision’s augmented reality contact lenses, I didn’t see anything at first except the real world in front of me. Only when I peeked over toward the periphery did a small yellow weather icon appear. When I examined it more closely, I could see the local temperature, the current weather, and some forecast information. I looked over to the 9 o’clock position and saw a traffic icon that gave way to a frontal graphic showing potential driving routes on a simple map. At 12 o’clock, I found my calendar and to-do information. At the bottom of my view was a simple music controller.
In Michael Levin’s laboratory at Tufts University, cells can expect to find themselves in unusual company. Here, the precursors of frog skin sidle up to cells that, in another life, might have helped an amphibian’s heart beat. They’re perfect strangers: biological entities that, up until this point, had no business being together. And yet, Levin and his colleagues have found that skin cells and heart cells can be coaxed into coalescing. Placed side by side, they will self-organize into intricate, three-dimensional mosaics of frog cells that aren’t actually frogs.
You’re racing to the airport, unaware there’s a wreck on the highway ahead. Fortunately, an artificial intelligence-driven system in your vehicle is looking after you. The system automatically checks on your flight – still on schedule – and determines your chances of making it to the gate on time are slim. With your permission, it can proactively book an alternate flight. “That’s the true virtual assistant in the future,” says Gartner vice president and fellow David Cearley. “Rather than having conversational interfaces respond to discrete things, it understands the context and can respond to (your) intent.”
Stanford researchers build a particle accelerator that fits on a chip, miniaturizing a technology that can now find new applications in research and medicine. Just as engineers once compressed some of the power of room-sized mainframes into desktop PCs, so too have Stanford researchers shown how to pack some of the punch delivered by today’s ginormous particle accelerators onto a tiny silicon chip.