Tag: scientists

5 Most Dangerous Scientific Experiments in History

Science is a force for good in our world, improving lives of people all across Earth in immeasurable ways. But it is also a very powerful tool that can become dangerous in some situations.

Especially when it gets entangled in politics. At other times, science’s inherent ambition to push boundaries of what is known can also lead to some heart-stopping moments.

The following list is in no way exhaustive but gives us a place to start when thinking about the serious responsibility that comes with the march of science.




1. Project MKUltra

The infamous project MKUltra was CIA’s attempt at mastering mind control. The program started in the 1950s and lasted seemingly until 1966.

Under MKUltra, often-unwilling subjects were given drugs, especially hallucinogenics like LSD.

The people tested were also put through sleep and sensory deprivation, hypnosis, sexual abuse, and other kinds of psychological torture, while some tests proved lethal.

The supposed goal of the project was some combination of chemical weapons research and effort to create mind-controlling drugs to combat the Soviets.

2. Weaponizing the Plague

The last time plague roamed around, it killed around half of Europe’s population, reducing the amount of people in the world by nearly a 100 million during the 13th and 14th century.

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union’s biological warfare research program figured out how to use the plague as a weapon, to be launched at enemies in missile warheads.

What could go wrong? Besides the plague, defectors revealed that the Soviet bio-weapons program also had hundreds of tons of anthrax and tons of smallpox.

3. The Large Hadron Supercollider

A giant magnet used in the Large Hadron Collider, weighing 1920 tonnes. 28 February, 2007 at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, built to study particle physics, is the world’s largest machine and single most sophisticated scientific instrument.

Because of this and the cutting-edge research its involved in, the LHC has prompted more than its share of fears from the general public. It has been blamed for causing earthquakes and pulling asteroids towards Earth.

4. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

Doctor drawing blood from a patient as part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. 1932.

A government-funded “study” from 1932-1972 denied treatment for syphilis to 399 African American patients in rural Alabama, even as penicillin was found to be effective against the disease in 1947.

The patients were actually not told they had syphilis, with doctors blaming their “bad blood” instead and given placebos.

The goal of the experiment, carried out by the U.S. Public Health Service, was to study the natural progress of syphilis if left untreated. 28 of the people in the study died directly from syphilis while 100 died from related complications.

5. Kola Superdeep Borehole

A Soviet experiment, started in 1970, sought to drill as deeply as possible into the crust of the planet. By 1994, they bore a 12-km-deep hole into the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far northwest.

The record dig provided much scientific data, like the finding of ancient microscopic plankton fossils from 24 species.

While nothing negative happened, there were concerns at the time that drilling so deep towards the center of Earth might produce unexpected seismic effects. Like cracking the planet open.

The hole’s site is currently closed.

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Reading Past Climates From Ice Cores

Professor Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland is one of the principal investigators of EPICA (European Programme for Ice Coring in Antarctica.)

Stocker explains that EPICA, a joint ESF- European Commission (EC) effort funded by the Commission and 10 national agencies, has put Europe in a leading position in ice core research, in which specially designed drilling technology is used to obtain continuous ice sequences 3.8 thousands of metres in length.

A series of EPICA papers in journals such as Nature and Science are evidence of its world importance. The principle behind ice coring is straightforward.

Snow falls in Greenland and the Antarctic, but conditions there are too cold for it to melt. In most places it will eventually be carried away by glacial movement, but it is possible to find areas where the snow has piled up for hundreds of thousands of years, turning to ice as the weight of later snowfall builds up on top.

Drilling out a core of such ice reveals the past in a neat sequence of millennia. Better still, the ice contains information about the past.

It includes trapped air bubbles that can be analysed to reveal the composition of the ancient atmosphere. Layers of ash reveal ancient volcanic eruptions.




And the ratio of different isotopes of oxygen in the ice is a virtual thermometer that tells us past temperatures. The more of the lighter isotope, oxygen 16, there is, the colder it was.

Stocker says: “Ice-drilling is an area in which Europe has taken a decisive technological and scientific lead in the past decade. We now have a continuous record of 800,000 years of climate history, thanks to EPICA and other European initiatives.

These ice cores directly illuminate current climate debates. As Stocker points out, air bubbles allow us to measure how much methane and carbon dioxide there was in the air when the snow fell.

These — especially carbon dioxide — are the principal greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is clear that they are now at their most abundant for hundreds of thousands of years.

By contrast, the most-used direct measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide, made on Hawaii, only date back to 1958. So as Stocker says: “EPICA results form a cornerstone of the current climate debate.

While these cores still have plenty to tell us, Stocker and his colleagues are in little doubt about the overall message.

They think that climate “forcing” by greenhouse gases is a very real phenomenon: in other words, that rising greenhouse gas concentrations drive the Earth’s temperature upwards in a very direct way.

So the ice cores now deposited in cold “stores” around the world have a clear message for us all.

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Over The Past Nineteen Years, This Man Has Dedicated His Work To The Study Of Our Solar System

Dr. Franck Marchis is a senior planetary astronomer and chair of the exoplanet group at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute and Chief Scientific Officer and Founder at Unistellar.

He began full-time work at the Institute in June 2011 after leaving a joint position with Institute and the department of astronomy at University of California, Berkeley.

Marchis moved to the United States in October 2000 shortly after getting a Ph.D. from the University of Toulouse in France that he acquired while traveling around the world for his research and for the sake of exploration.

Over the past nineteen years, he has dedicated his work to the study of our solar system, specifically the search for asteroids with moons, using mainly ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics (AO).

More recently he has been also involved in the definition of new generation of AOs for 8 -10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes.

He has also developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of astronomical and biological images.




He is currently the collaboration manager of the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey, which consists in imaging and characterizing Jupiter-like exoplanets using an extreme AO system designed for the Gemini South telescope.

Today, Marchis dedicates most of his energy to instruments capable of imaging and characterizing Earth-like exoplanets by being involved in education, public outreach, technology, and scientific investigations related to those ambitious projects both in the United States and in Europe.

Marchis is also involved in startups related to astronomy so he joined Unistellar as a Chief Scientific Officer and VR2Planets as a scientific advisor in 2017.

Marchis is a member of numerous science committees including the SETI Science council, the GPI steering Committee, the TMT Science Definition Team, PLOS One editor board, the Project Blue and the PLANETS Foundation Advisory board.

He has co-authored more than 380 scientific publications, trained numerous students, and served as a science consultant and interviewee for numerous documentaries and movies in English, French, and Spanish.

The asteroid (6639) was named Marchis in honor of his discovery of the first triple-asteroid system in 2007. He has been an affiliated Astronomer at Observatoire de Paris since 2003.

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What Is The Science of Superstition?

A visitor once asked the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Niels Bohr whether he really believed that the horseshoe he’d hung at his country home was lucky.

Of course not,” Bohr said. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.”

If Bohr couldn’t resist magical thinking, can anyone? One recent study found that even physicists, chemists, and geologists at MIT and other elite schools were instinctively inclined to attach a purpose to natural events.

When the researchers subjected the scientists to time pressure, they were twice as likely to approve of statements such as “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” than they were when they had time to respond more deliberately.




Such bias may well be deep-seated: another recent study found that, regardless of their parents’ religiosity, 5-to-7-year-old children preferred explanations of events that involved lessons—like “Maggie’s house burned down to teach her not to play with fire anymore”.

Even atheists seem to fear a higher power. A study published last year found that self-identified nonbelievers began to sweat when reading aloud sentences asking God to do terrible things.

Not only that, they stressed out just as much as believers did. Belief in the soul also appears widespread.

One psychologist found that among people who said that consciousness ends at death, a third nonetheless attributed ongoing thoughts and feelings to characters in a fictional story after those characters had died.

Expressions of subconscious religious belief seem to increase when we are reminded of our own mortality—as they say, there are no atheists in foxholes.

Black cats are less likely to be adopted. Does superstition play a part?

In one study, writing about death increased subjects’ implicit associations between words for supernatural entities (God, soul, hell) and synonyms for real (true, factual).

The effect was equally strong in Christians and in people who described themselves as nonreligious.

Fear is another driver of irrationality. In a British study, students imagined an encounter with a self-professed witch who offered to cast an evil spell on them.

About half said a scientist should accept the hex without concern. Yet each of them said that, personally, they’d decline the offer.

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Gecko-Inspired Robot Has Grippers That Help Could Clean Up Space Debris

robot

In space, grabbing onto things is hard. A new robot that uses grippers inspired by gecko feet could solve that problem, helping clear up the mess of debris that orbits Earth.

The toaster-sized device can grip, hold onto and move around even large, smooth surfaces in microgravity, on both flat and curved objects.




To do this, it uses a “dry adhesive” material created by Hao Jiang at Stanford University in California and his colleagues.

In an environment where an accidental nudge can send something flying and space debris can be travelling faster than the speed of sound, agility is key.

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Have You Ever Wonder How Does A Mosquito Fly?

Mosquitoes are strange fliers. Compared with other insects, birds, and bats, their shorter wing strokes and oddly long—and skinny—wings have made scientists wonder how they can get off the ground at all.

Now, a new study shows how these animals get their lift: with help from a clever rotation of their wings.




Most animals generate lift, the force that keeps them aloft, during the downstroke of each wing beat.

This creates a vortex of swirling air over the wing’s leading edge, which lowers the pressure above the wing and pushes the animal up.


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An Artificial Iris Could Let Cameras React To Light Like Our Eyes do

While the pupil may be the opening in the eye that lets light through to the retina, the iris is the tissue that opens and closes to determine the size of the pupil.

Although mechanical irises are already a standard feature in cameras, scientists from Finland and Poland have recently created an autonomous artificial iris that’s much more similar to those found in the eye. It may even eventually be able to replace damaged or defective ones.

he contact lens-like device was created by researchers from Finland’s Tampere University of Technology, along with Poland’s University of Warsaw and Wrocław Medical University.




It’s made from a polymer (a liquid crystal elastomer) that expands when exposed to light, then shrinks back when the light is lessened. This causes an opening in the middle to get smaller or larger, depending on the light levels.

In this way, it works very much like a natural iris. Unlike automatic irises in cameras, it requires no power source or external light detection system.

iris

 

With an “eye” towards one being able to use it as an optical implant, the scientists are now adapting it to work in an aqueous environment. They’re also working at increasing its sensitivity, so that its opening and closing are triggered by smaller changes in the amount of incoming light.

The research is being led by Tampere’s Prof. Arri Priimägi, and was recently described in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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Charging Your Phone While Moving Around? Be Amazed By This Wireless Gadget Charger!

Scientists at Stanford University in the US have developed a device that can wirelessly charge a moving object at close range.

The technology could one day be used to charge electric cars on the highway, or medical implants and cellphones as you walk nearby.

“In addition to advancing the wireless charging of vehicles and personal devices like cellphones, our new technology may untether robotics in manufacturing, which also are on the move,” said Professor Shanhui Fan.

According to the study, published in the journal Nature, wireless charging would address a major drawback of plug-in electric cars their limited driving range. A charge-as-you-drive system would overcome these limitations.

“We can rethink how to deliver electricity not only to our cars but to smaller devices on or in our bodies. For anything that could benefit from dynamic, wireless charging, this is potentially very important,” Fan said.

The team transmitted electricity wirelessly to a moving LED light bulb but the demonstration only involved a one milliwatt charge, far less than what electric cars require.

The scientists are now working on greatly increasing the amount of electricity that can be transferred, and tweaking the system to extend the transfer distance and improve efficiency.

According to the research, the transfer efficiency can be further enhanced if both coils are tuned to the same magnetic resonance frequency and are positioned at the correct angle, but scientists found that was a complex process.

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Cosmic Crisp – A New Apple To Get Your Teeth Into

How do you like them apples? Lead scientist Dr Kate Evans at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center. Photograph: Ted S. Warren/AP

Nearly 30 years ago, Dr Bruce Barritt was jeered when he branded the apple industry in Washington state a dinosaur for growing obsolete varieties such as red and golden delicious.

Now, farmers in the state, where 70% of US apples are grown, are ripping up millions of trees and replacing them with a new variety, the cosmic crisp, which Barritt, a horticulturalist, has created in the decades since.

With 12m trees to be planted by 2020, and the first harvest of apples due in the shops in 2019, it is the biggest ever launch of a new apple.

Around 10m 40lb boxes are expected to be produced in the next four years, compared with the usual 3-5m for a new variety. It’s a gamble for growers: replanting costs up to $50,000 per acre, so the cosmic crisp needs to fetch top dollar to make their investment worthwhile.

Barritt began his quest for the perfect apple in the 1980s, after being hired by Washington State University (WSU).




I had two projects,” he says. “The orchards being grown were inefficient – big trees that required ladders, poor fruit quality because of shade in the trees… That was a problem I could tackle.

“But I thought the most important problem was that, at the time in Washington, 90% of the crop was red delicious and golden delicious – they’re not crisp, juicy or flavourful.

“I was giving a talk to 2,000 industry people and I told them these were obsolete. It didn’t go down well. If I asked them why they were still growing these varieties, they’d say ‘Because we grow them better than anybody else.’ That wasn’t good enough, because the consumer wasn’t happy.

Barritt was convinced better varieties had to be developed, and made available to every farmer in the state (new varieties such as jazz and ambrosia are often only licensed to small clubs of growers).

He spent six years lobbying the industry in Washington and the university for money to fund a breeding programme, which began in 1994.

Barritt created thousands of seedlings by cross-pollinating the blossoms of parent trees.

‘Sweet but not too sweet’: proof is in the tasting for the cosmic crisp. Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP

When they come into bearing, we walk the long rows and bite, chew and spit, because you can’t eat a lot of apples at once – your taste buds lose their sensitivity.

“The majority you bite into are terrible, but eventually you come up with ones that are good.”

The cosmic crisp, so named because of its yellow star-like flecks on a burgundy skin, is a cross between the honeycrisp and the enterprise.

Honeycrisp’s claim to fame is its crispness; it also has good sugar and acid and texture. Enterprise is large, full-coloured, stores well and is firm. It’s got good acidity and flavour in general.

Enterprise is also known for its resistance to fire blight.

Around this time, Barritt retired. Dr Kate Evans, a British horticulturalist who had been leading breeding programmes for East Malling Research in Kent, took over.

Testing of the apple continued and it was patented in 2014, with Barritt named as the “inventor”. For the next 10 years, it will only be available to US farmers in Washington, because they helped fund the breeding programme.

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Inside The High-Tech Plot To Save The Northern White Rhino From Extinction

Immediately after the world’s last male northern white rhino died on March 19th, a team of vets got to work. Within 30 minutes, they had collected tissue from the ears, gums, spleen, windpipes, and testicles of the 45-year-old rhino, named Sudan.

The precious genetic material was put in a solution and then frozen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, where Sudan spent the last nine years of his life.

Those cells could one day bring the northern white rhino back from the brink of extinction.

Dozens of scientists across the globe — from the US to Europe to Africa — are working together tirelessly to figure out ways to breed rhino embryos in the lab.

The effort resembles in some ways the popular de-extinction projects that are attempting to resurrect the woolly mammoth or the passenger pigeon; all want to reverse extinction and in some cases, fix the damage humans have done.




The odds of success for the rhino are much higher: Unlike species that have been extinct for decades (or thousands of years!), northern white rhino DNA and sperm are preserved safely in different labs around the world.

If it works, the project could bring back herds of northern whites that used to roam the grasslands of east and central Africa, where they were poached for their horns.

They are at the brink of extinction only due to human activity,” says Jan Stejskal, director of communication and international projects at the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Sudan lived until 2009.

If we have the techniques or methods to assist them to survive, I think it is our responsibility to utilize them.”

De-extinction has been a sci-fi trope for decades — but now the science may have finally caught up to our imagination.

Today, projects like the Woolly Mammoth Revival led by Harvard’s George Church are trying to use biotechnology to resurrect the extinct species and repopulate the tundras and forests of Siberia and North America.

It works like this: bits of mammoth DNA are edited into the genetic code of its living cousin, the Asian elephant.

A hybrid embryo would then be grown in an Asian elephant surrogate mother — or an artificial womb, Church says — to give birth to a new mammoth-elephant animal.

Despite claims that the hybrid embryo could be created as soon as next year, the project is far from resurrecting herds of mammoths.

It has, however, kicked off a heated debate about whether de-extinction technology should even be used. Many argue that the money spent to bring back long-gone species should be devoted to preserve the ones that are still around.

Others criticize the ethics of resurrecting species whose habitats might be gone and putting surrogate mothers at risk.

Breeding a herd of northern white rhinos is estimated to cost as much as $9 million, according to the Dvůr Králové Zoo, with much of the money coming from donations and zoo revenue.

The San Diego Zoo, which is also involved in the project, says an estimate is impossible since the technology needed is still being developed.

Over the course of three years the total annual budget has exceeded $1 million,” Stacey Johnson, corporate director of conservation and research at San Diego Zoo Global, said.

But the northern white rhino project is fundamentally different from other projects like the Woolly Mammoth Revival, and that makes the money worth it, says Joseph Bennett, an assistant professor at Carleton University, who’s criticized the costs of de-extinction and is not involved in the northern white rhino project.

For starters, unlike the woolly mammoth, the northern white rhino is not extinct — yet.

Only two females remain: Najin and Fatu, who are both related to Sudan and live at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy under armed surveillance.

While the habitat of the woolly mammoth is widely different from what it was thousands of years ago — fragmented by roads and cities, for instance — the habitat of the northern white rhino still exists.

Northern white rhinos have been extinct in the wild since 2008, but only because they were poached for their horns. And that makes humans responsible for their survival.

Rhinos play an important role in the environment, dispersing seeds and keeping vegetation — and as a result, rodents and snakes — under control.

Plus, rhinos are going extinct right now. It’s more like playing Noah than playing God, McCauley says.

There’s one more key difference between northern white rhinos and mammoths: While we only have bits of mammoth DNA, we have plenty of complete genetic material — as well as sperm — from several northern whites.

It’s kept securely frozen in labs all over the world.

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