Tag: science

What Is Time?

Time is something we experience every day, and it seems like something we’d be familiar with. But when you dig into it, it gets weird. So what exactly is it? And how does it work?

Saint Augustine, the Christian monk was once asked what is time, and his answer was, “If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”

The ancient Egyptians measured time with obelisks that served as sundials, water clocks that flowed at a steady rate, and of course hourglasses.

It was the Babylonians that first divided the day into hours made up of 60 minutes each with 60 seconds per minute, this was all the way back in 1800 BCE.

It was the great Dutch astronomer and physicist Christiaan Huygens who invented the first pendulum clock in 1656, which used a weight that swung at specific intervals to keep time. This would be the most precise way to keep time for nearly 300 years.

1927 saw the invention of the quartz crystal clock, which uses the piezoelectric properties of quartz which vibrates at a rate of 32,768 Hz, giving it an accuracy of 6 parts per million.

But the most accurate measure of time we’ve been able to conceive so far is the atomic clock, which uses the natural resonance of a cesium atom.

Ss the scientific revolution began to take hold, the main argument around time was had by the Absolutists and Relationalists.

Absolutists believed in absolute time. The idea that time was an independent, absolute constant of the universe, that it wasn’t affected by our perception of it or by the interaction of matter.

Sir Isaac Newton was one of these Absolutists.

The Relationalists saw time as a measure of change. Basically arguing that the only reason time exists is because of the changing state of matter.

Newton’s second law of thermodynamics states that in a closed system, entropy will always increase over time. Entropy being a movement toward a state of equilibrium.

By the way, another really interesting way to look at entropy is through a statistical mechanics model, which was championed by Ludwig Boltzmann.

There’s a more philosophical debate on the nature of time that has to do with how it actually progresses, between what they call tensed and tenseless theories of time.

The tensed theory of time states that the future doesn’t exist yet, that it’s a tree with branches that spread as the now passes through the tree.

The tenseless theory of time suggest that the past, present, and future are all equally real and what we experience as time is just the now passing down the timeline.

Einstein stated in his 1905 paper on special relativity that the laws of physics and the speed of light must be the same for all uniformly moving observers. And for this to be true, space and time can no longer be independent. This was the only way for the speed of light to be constant for all observers.

But it was Minkowski three years later who came up with the idea that space and time could be seen as a single four-dimensional spacetime fabric. He closed out his paper on the subject by saying, “Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality”.

What (Or Who) Is Sending Fast Radio Bursts?

Fast Radio Bursts are exactly what they sound like. They’re highly energetic bursts of radio waves that last mere milliseconds. And they’re totally random.

Because of how elusive they are, scientists are still trying to explain this weird phenomena. But thanks to new telescopes like CHIME in Canada, we’re getting closer to the solution to this science mystery.

Are We On The Verge Of A Post-Antibiotic World?

Ever since antibiotics were invented, we’ve known that they come with an expiration date. That’s because bacteria, like everything on Earth, evolve. And they are quickly evolving a resistance to the thing protecting us from them.

Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin by accident in 1928, and ever since then we’ve been dealing with various types of antibiotic resistance. But it’s the recent trend of pan-resistant bacteria – bacteria that’s resistant to all forms of antibiotics.

Multi-drug resistant forms of pneumonia, salmonella, tuberculosis, and even gonorrhea have surfaced over the last 5 years. And researchers are scrambling to figure out how we’re going to protect ourselves in the age of superbugs.

Boosting The Immune System With Vaccines To Fight Cancer

cancer cells

Immunotherapies have been taking the biotech world by storm. Among these are cancer vaccines, which are directed at solid tumors and aim to boost patients’ immune systems to fight cancer.

The cancer vaccine world is broad, with many players.Here’s an overview of some of the current efforts underway by European biotechs.

One big player in the cancer vaccine world is BioNTech, a German biotech working on personalized mRNA-based immunotherapies.

We try to provide individualized immunotherapies. If you try to compare two patients’ tumors, they are never the same. We recognize this fact and try to develop individualized treatments for each patient,” Sean Marett, the company’s COO, said last June 20 at Labiotech Refresh in Berlin.




One of BioNTech’s cancer vaccine platforms is IVAC (Individualized Vaccines Against Cancer) MUTANOME, where patient’s tumors are sequenced to identify neoantigens, which are then incorporated into an mRNA-based vaccine.

We’re doing, effectively, de novo target discovery in real time,” Marett says.

The company also has two approaches, FixVAC and RNA WAREHOUSE, which are based on the knowledge that across patient populations, there are shared antigens that are expressed differently in each individual.

“Regarding our FixVac approach, each eligible patient is treated with exactly the same product,” Marett tells Labiotech.

“With respect to our RNA WAREHOUSE concept, we’re calibrating the treatment for each patient to their individualized expression of the cancer-selective shared antigens.”

cancer cells

BioNTech has partnered with big industry players, such as Genentech, to develop its cancer vaccines.

They currently have a number of products in Phase I and Phase I/II clinical trials for various indications, including melanoma, head and neck cancer, and breast cancer.

Another German biotech, CureVac, is also working hard to bring mRNA-based approach to the clinic. Though they recently suffered a Phase II failure of its candidate CV9104 for prostate cancer. The company has additional drugs in the pipeline, including a vaccine targeting non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

syringe

The company has additional drugs in the pipeline, including a vaccine targeting non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

“What we’ve learned here is that mRNA is not enough on its own— you have to break tolerance and you have to make it more immunogenic.” CureVac CEO Ingmar Hoerr told Labiotech in January.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Conspiracy Theory That Rudolf Hess Was Switched for Doppelganger, Debunked By DNA

The British launched four inquires to get to the truth about the doppelganger theory. Credit: AP

Second World War conspiracy theory which suggested Nazi deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess had escaped justice after being replaced with a doppelganger, has finally been debunked after new DNA evidence came to light.

Hess was arrested in 1941 after parachuting in to Scotland to broker peace with Britain, later tried at Nuremberg and incarcerated in Spandau prison Berlin until his death in 1987.

But British doctor Hugh Thomas who worked at Spandau insisted the prisoner purporting to be Hess did not have the correct scars, prompting four inconclusive investigations by the British government.

Now the mystery has finally been solved after a retired military doctor from the US Army and a forensic scientist from Austria tracked down a blood sample from Hess and compared it to relatives still living in Germany.

The results show there is just a one per cent chance that the blood did not belong to the eminent Nazi.




Dr Sherman McCall was working in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington when he first learned that colleague Rick Wahl had once worked at Spandau and had brought back a smear of Hess’s blood to use as a teaching aid.

Yet it was not until years later that McCall discovered there was doubt over Hess’s identity and asked to use the sample to learn the truth.

Jan Cemper-Kiesslich, a molecular biologist in the DNA Unit at the department of legal medicine, University of Salzburg, Austria, extracted DNA from the dried blood and the pair then hunted down a relative to see if it was a match.

Slides containing Hess’s blood Credit: Heidelberg MEDDAC

Statistical analysis of the results suggests a 99.99 per cent likelihood that the blood sample on the slide comes from a close family member of the living relative of Hess.

The research, published in the journal Forensic Science International Genetics concludes that it is virtually certain “that prisoner ‘Spandau #7’ was indeed was Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Führer of the Third Reich”.

The conspiracy theory claiming that prisoner ‘Spandau #7’ was an impostor is extremely unlikely and therefore disproved,” the authors added.

Soldiers and policemen in Eaglesham inspect the wreckage of the Messerschmitt ME-110 in which Nazi leader Rudolf Hess made his solo flight to Scotland Credit: Hulton Archive

“Due to the lucky event of the presence of a biological trace sample originating from prisoner ‘Spandau #7’ the authors got the unique chance to shed new light on one of the most persistent historical memes of World War II history.”

Dr Turi King, the geneticist at the University of Leicester, UK, who led the forensic examination of the body of Richard III said: “They’ve got a perfect match with the Y chromosome and a living male Hess relative.

“If this person was a doppelgänger, you wouldn’t get that match, so from that point of view it’s a good sign.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Strange Jellyfish-Like ‘Blobs’ Found In 600 Million Year Old Rocks In China Are Earliest Animals Ever Found

Strange “blobs” found in China could be evidence of the first animals that ever existed, experts say. Fossil evidence of the ancient creatures, which resemble jelly fish, was discovered in 600 million-year-old rocks.

The previously unknown animal doesn’t have a name yet but microscopic analysis showed similar features to comb jellies – including tentacles and mucous layers.

The carnivorous comb jelly species still exist today, feeding on small marine organisms.

The oldest animal to have ever lived was previously thought to be the Dickinsonia, an organism called an ediacaran, which lived 541 million years ago.

The origin and earliest evolution of animals is a fascinating question that has puzzled scientists for many decades,” said Dr Zhenbing She at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who led the team behind the discovery.

Dr She’s team found fossils measuring around 0.7 millimetres across in a drill core taken from the Doushantuo Formation in China.

The discovery of the jellyfish – revealed in a report by Graham Lawton in New Scientist – existed more than 40 million years earlier than the Dickinsonia, researchers claim.

If the fossil is an ancient relative of a comb jelly, this would suggest that it was part of of a larger food web and a complex ecosystem.

Microscopic analysis of the rocks revealed what appear to be tentacles, muscle tissue, nerve cells, gonads, mucous layers and clusters of hairlike-structures.




Fossils dating as far back as 631 million years ago have already been found in these beds, but scientists have not been able to determine exactly what they are.

They are only visible through microscopes and may just be cells from algae or developing animal embryos.

Dr She said that the fossils’ features are similar to the comb jelly Ctenophora because the fossil’s hair clusters look like structures called ctenes that comb jellies use to swim.

The fossils most closely resemble the living genus of comb jellies called Pleurobrachia, or sea gooseberries.

If the new fossils are comb jellies, then it opens the door for more discoveries as the majority of comb jellies today feed on small marine species.

If the fossil was also a carnivore, it must have fed on other species which are yet to be revealed.

There are many other creatures in the deposit, but we are not sure what they are,” Dr. She added.

The 558-million-year-old Dickinsonia, which was discovered last year, was described as a combination of a jellyfish, a worm, a fungus and a lichen.

The oval-shaped lifeform existed at least 20 million years before the “Cambrian explosion” of animal life, according to the research.

The Cambrian explosion took place about 540 million years ago and saw the emergence of modern-looking animals such as snails, bivalves and arthropods.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Truth About Empty Space

We often think of outer space as a never-ending vacuum filled with the occasional galaxy. What we don’t realize is that away from our eyes, this vacuum comes alive.

In order to understand what truly happens behind our backs in the vacuum, we must start by examining space itself.

So what is space? Quantum Field Theory tells us that space is composed of fundamental quantum fields, with a separate field for every particle that makes up our universe.

Electrons, quarks, neutrinos, and other fundamental particles are just the oscillations of the field with different energies. In specific, they have quantum energy, which exists as multiples of a baseline energy.

You can think of this as a ladder with energy levels. Each rung of the ladder represents the existence of one additional particle in that quantum state.

So the bottom of the ladder would be where there is no energy, meaning there are no particles. This is known as the vacuum state.




But as we will see, we cannot actually have zero-energy. Instead, the quantum field gently vibrates randomly. Sometimes this produces enough energy to form particles out of seemingly nothing!

The particles arising out of the fluctuation of quantum fields are called virtual particles.

Empty space is teeming with these virtual particles or “wiggles in the field”.

But there is a catch; these particles are created in particle and anti-particle pairs. They live only for a short instance of time until they destroy each other, popping in and out of existence.

The higher the energy of the particle, the lesser time it can exist. Wait a minute. Virtual Particles? That sounds sketchy. Let me show you the proof.

By definition, these elusive particles only exist when we aren’t watching, but their presence can be felt throughout the universe. In 1948, Hendrick Casimir came up with an ingenious idea to observe these virtual particles.

The Implications of Virtual Particles

Well, these seemingly insignificant particles have made quite an impact on the universe we know today. Not only do they explain “particle-particle interaction“, but they can be traced back to the origin of the universe itself!

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Here’s the Best-Ever Image of the Black Hole Devouring Our Galaxy

Researchers have captured the best-ever image of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, by using a new computer model to see through the haze of plasma surrounding the cosmic monster.

The galactic centre is full of matter around the black hole, which acts like frosted glass that we have to look through to see the black hole,” Max Planck Institute researcher Eduardo Ros said of the discovery.

Powerful Jet

Credit: The Astrophysical Journal

The fresh image of the black hole, which is twice the resolution of the previous best one, is described in a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal. 

Researchers used 13 powerful telescopes around the world to capture the image and have been teasing its release since earlier in January.

According to reports, strophysicists had assumed that such a black hole would show a gigantic jet of matter and radiation.

Surprisingly, they didn’t find such a jet coming out of the Milky Way’s monstrous black hole. Either it doesn’t have one — or they can’t see it because it’s pointed directly at us.

No Danger




Even if that were the case, Ros cautioned, it’s not cause for alarm.

If anything is there, it will be a length that is 1,000 times less than the distance to us,” Ros said. “There is no danger at all – we should not fear the supermassive black hole.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

NASA Spacecraft Finds Water In Search For Origins Of Life On Asteroid

A NASA spacecraft that just arrived last December 2018 on an asteroid has already made its first big discovery: ingredients for water.

Scientists hope that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will shed light on the mysteries of Bennu, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper that could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

The craft only arrived at the asteroid in recent days but the discovery of water is a major breakthrough that scientists hope can be matched by more discoveries in the future.

It was found when OSIRIS-REx flew close to the asteroid and picked up traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in its rocky surface. Those make up part of the recipe for water – itself a key ingredient in life itself.




The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth.

There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

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Pass it on: New Scientist