By Ed Lu, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ed Lu is a former NASA astronaut and current founder and CEO of the B612 Foundation. His mission is to build the world’s most powerful asteroid tracking system to find asteroids on a collision course with earth. Watch his full story this Saturday at 2:30p ET on CNN’s “The Next List.”
Next week on May 31, 2013, a 1.7 mile wide asteroid, 1998 QE2, will fly past the Earth at a distance of 3.6 million miles.
If this asteroid were to hit the Earth (don't worry, it won't this time), it would be the end of human civilization. Think about that. Not only would it kill billions of people, but it would take with it our very history. Gone would be our cities, our culture, our languages, our art, our music, our scientific knowledge - everything that we as a species have built up during the past 10,000 years. Gone in an instant.
Asteroid impacts are the only global scale natural disaster we know how to prevent. We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but we cannot deflect an asteroid that we haven't found yet. This is why the B612 Foundation is building the Sentinel Space Telescope, the world's most powerful asteroid detection and tracking system, to see the millions of asteroids we can't see today and could pose threats to our planet. The B612 Foundation is a nonprofit organization, dependent on private donations for our mission. We welcome you to join our efforts at the B612 Foundation and help protect not only our planet, but our future.
Editor’s note: Jared Markowitz is a PhD candidate with Hugh Herr's Biomechatronics Group. Hugh Herr heads up MIT’s Biomechatronics Group where they invent cutting edge bionic prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons and more. Herr and his team have mobilized their resources to assist the amputee victims of the Boston bombings in some profound ways. Watch more this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST on CNN’s “The Next List.”
By Jared Markowitz, Special to CNN
The events in Boston last week were tragic in many ways: human suffering was on display for the world to see, a city was locked down while killers were pursued, and a nation was once again forced to recognize its vulnerability to senseless acts of violence. A week later, the wound is still fresh. Our community continues to mourn the dead, treat the injured, and search for ways to eliminate such attacks. Many lives have been altered irreversibly, yet there is also an abundance of resiliency and hope.
The bombings on Monday left many people with significant injuries and, in many cases, missing lower limbs. The horror of waking up with a different body as a result of a random act of terror should not be understated. Yet thanks to recent advances in prosthetic and rehabilitation technology, many of those who have suffered these devastating injuries have the hope of returning to a full and normal life.
There is now a bionic ankle, foot and calf system that allows the user to walk as quickly and efficiently as non-amputees. Computer-controlled prosthetic knees have been developed that adjust knee resistance continuously, allowing above-knee amputees to walk with improved versatility and stability. Lightweight, compliant running prostheses make it possible for amputees to excel in both sprinting and distance events, including marathons. These technologies are all improving rapidly, with researchers constantly striving to produce more comfortable, responsive and life-like prosthetic limbs.
Despite these advances, the road back from severe lower limb trauma can be long, arduous and expensive. To help those injured in the Boston bombings, the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group has partnered with the Mass Technology Leadership Council and No Barriers on two initiatives.
First, we are working with the Mass Technology Leadership Council to ensure that each amputee is provided with the assistive and rehabilitative solutions that best address their injury. To that end, if you have a technology that you believe could help those who suffered traumatic injuries please contact us at www.masstlc.org.
Second, the No Barriers Boston Fund has been established to give the victims devices that will allow them to lead full and active lives. The fund will provide these people with prosthetic limbs designed for athletic activities so that they can run, bike, swim and even dance again. To donate to this important effort, please visit www.nobarriersboston.org.
The symbolism of such events occurring around the Boston Marathon is difficult to ignore. Few endeavors provide such a ready analogy for the highs and lows of life as this race; it is a celebration of the city, running and the human spirit. While the motivations of those who run the Boston Marathon vary, everyone who participates has endured the grueling training required to qualify. During the marathon, runners are tested by the hills of Newton and the unavoidable "rough patches" that come with the marathon distance. However this all melts away during the triumphant finishing stretch on Boylston Street, an experience that validates all of the struggles up to that point.
It is our hope that the trials the surviving victims are currently enduring will give way to an even greater victory.
By Leslie A. Saxon, MD, Special to CNN
Technologic advances don’t happen in isolation. There are many different elements— cultural and technologic — that must come together to turn an innovation into a scalable business product, and then, possibly—but rarely—a cultural phenomenon.
The internet, for example, changed banking, journalism, and commerce in many parts of the world. But the connection, information, and convenience it afforded missed medicine because the innovation and the cultural desire hadn’t yet arrived. Advancing technologies will soon radically change healthcare. The cultural and technologic pieces are coming together like a rising storm. I remember, like it was yesterday, when we hosted our first University of Southern California Body Computing Conference. It was in 2007.
I wanted to bring together various experts, from Academy Award winners to engineers, to imagine the future of healthcare in a digital world. In several instances, people left in a huff, or laughed off the notion of digital technology changing healthcare. Many of the physician-attendees said the change wouldn’t happen “for two decades.”
The reactions interested me because, in my experience, where there is anger, there is also fear and irrationality.
Just this week Congressional hearings debated digital medicine because lawmakers and regulators recognize that there are hundreds of millions of dollars—including the $10 million Tricorder X Prize—being invested in new, consumer-oriented technology. And these products will soon start hitting the market. At this point, some of the products are more marketing fluff than reality, while others are too difficult to use.
Brazilian-born Miguel Nicolelis is a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and a pioneer in the field of brain-machine-interfaces, in which brain waves from a human or animal control a robot-limb prosthethis. For more on Nicolelis and his work, watch "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 pm ET on CNN.
By Miguel Nicolelis
For the past 30 years, I have dedicated my career as a neurobiologist to unveil the physiological principles that underlie how our brain circuits, formed by billions of interconnected cells, known as neurons, create the entirety of our human nature and history out of sheer electrical brainstorms.
To pursue this quest, my colleagues and I at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering have developed a variety of new methods and technologies to probe the brain in search of any hint, any glimpse that could place us on the right trail to answer the greatest mysteries of all times: how the entire wealth of the human mind emerges from a mesh of organic tissue.
In 1999, John Chapin, my former postdoctoral advisor, and I published a scientific paper that introduced to the neuroscience community what by then seemed to be just another promising new experimental tool in brain research. Without much ceremony, we named this new experimental paradigm brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) and, in a flurry of papers that followed the original report, we described the technical details of our unorthodox combination of neurophysiological methods, real-time computing and robotics to create a direct and bidirectional interface between living animal brains and a variety of mechanical and electronic machines.
In the late 1990s, our initial effort in building such devices was entirely motivated by the desire to establish a powerful experimental tool to carry on work related to the investigation of the neurophysiological principles that allow behavior, the true business of the brain, to emerge flawlessly and effortlessly, time and time again, from the widespread dynamic interactions of large populations of neurons that comprise any brain circuit.
By the time our original papers were published in scientific journals, very few people, outside a small number of experts working in the emergent field of BMIs, could envision the enormous clinical potential that this newly acquired ability to interface brains and machines could unleash and how it could influence the future of rehabilitation medicine.
What a difference 15 years make! After a mere decade and a half of intense research and stunning experimental demonstrations, brain-machine interfaces have become the core of a large variety of potential future new therapies for neurological disorders, such as untreatable epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and devastating levels of body paralysis. Moreover, in the not so remote future, BMIs of a different variety may allow us to perform a lot of our daily routine tasks, such as interacting with our smartphones, just by thinking!
Welcome to the era of brain-actuating technology; the age in which the brain’s voluntary desire to move will be liberated from the physical limits of the human body that host it.
In the CNN show you are about to watch, you will be introduced to the Walk Again Project (WAP), the first worldwide, non-profit international brain research consortium aimed at building a new generation of robotic limb prostheses, which can be directly controlled by the subject’s own brain activity through a brain-machine interface. In the future, we hope that neuroprostheses such as the ones the WAP intends to build could be used to restore full-body mobility in tens of millions of severely paralyzed patients worldwide.
To showcase to the entire world that this moment could be fast approaching, the WAP has proposed to have the first public demonstration of such a potentially revolutionary medical rehabilitation technology during the opening football match of the FIFA 2014 Soccer World Cup on June 12, 2014, in São Paulo, Brazil.
According to this proposal, at 5:00 pm that afternoon, a Brazilian young adult, who is paralyzed below the waist down will emerge in the pitch wearing a robotic vest, known as an exoskeleton, whose movements are controlled by some sort of brain-derived signals. Then, using all his voluntary will, this true herald of a new era shall walk autonomously all the way to center field, and once there, kick a ball to deliver the official start of the World Cup.
In essence, what we propose is that, in the land that invented the “beautiful game," the opening kickoff of the greatest sports event in the world becomes a scientific “Gol” to all of humanity.
Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about the perils of global warming and the toll that fossil fuels take on the environment. Most of us, though, are too consumed with managing the daily blitz of life to do much about it.
Apart from the rising cost of gasoline, it’s easy to forget.
But Saul Griffith is making it his mission to focus on the nuts and bolts of changing the energy equation. His goal is to transform the way America generates and uses power and make alternative energy the fuel of the future once and for all.
Griffith is an inventor, engineer, scientist and recipient of a coveted MacArthur “genius” award. He also is co-founder of Otherlab, a hothouse of ideas and inventions where he and his team are developing technologies that could dramatically cut the cost of solar power, make it possible for cars to run on natural gas and change everything you think you know about robots.
Wouldn’t it be cool if…? That’s the philosophy that guides all the work that Griffith and his colleagues do at Otherlab.
“We try to skip a few generations in the things we’re working on,” says Griffith.
For example: Wouldn’t it be cool if robots were made of cloth? One of Griffith’s most intriguing ideas is making ‘soft’ machines.
“We proposed to DARPA, here is a way that we could really transform the cost of robots. We’ll eliminate all the servo motors. We will eliminate the pins and bearing and joints. And we will sew you a robot out of fabric and use pressurized fluids to make it work," he says. "And it will reduce the cost of robots 100 fold. And it will make them 10 or 100 times more powerful."
Editors Note: Ed Lu is a former NASA astronaut and current CEO of the B612 Foundation. His goal is to build a space telescope that will detect possibly cataclysmic asteroids headed for Earth. Watch more about Ed Lu’s incredible mission this Sunday 2:30 P.M. E.T. (all-new time!) on “The Next List.”
He calls it the biggest environmental project imaginable. Ed Lu believes one of the biggest threats to the planet isn’t even on the Earth, it’s in space. Asteroids.
Ed Lu says asteroids hit earth all the time. “Really small ones are just the shooting stars you see when you look up in the sky,” says Lu. “Larger ones, like the one that hit Tunguska in Siberia, those hit about every couple hundred years.” In 1908 an asteroid about 130 feet wide hit Tunguska Siberia with a force that was 1000 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It totally destroyed an area the size of the San Francisco bay area. They happen more frequently than we realize – and there are no guarantees that the next one won’t hit a city. “There is about a 50 percent chance in your lifetime that another explosion of that size is going to happen somewhere on earth,” says Lu.
And here’s the really scary part: right now we’re only able to detect about one percent of the asteroids that are actually orbiting near Earth. The reality, says Lu, is that there are 100 times more asteroids than that.
“That’s about a million near Earth asteroids that are larger than the one that hit in Tunguska in 1908,” he said.
But Lu has a solution.
He is building one of the most powerful space telescopes in the world, called The Sentinel. It will launch in 2018 and orbit the sun, which means it will be between 30 million and 170 million miles from Earth. To put it in perspective, that’s about 500,000 times further from Earth than the Hubble space telescope.
Editor's Note: The Next List will air a full 30min profile of synthetic biologist Jay Keasling this Sunday, Feb. 10th, at 2:30PM ET (all-new time!) only on CNN.
It's a great time to be working in biotechnology. We are developing powerful new approaches to find cures to diseases, curb climate change and reduce reliance on foreign oil.
Synthetic biology promises to change the world by making biology easier to engineer and enabling solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems.
At the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), I work with a motivated team of people that is at the forefront of the emerging field of advanced biofuels production. Our mission is to develop scientific breakthroughs to help solve the energy crisis.
Inside our Emeryville laboratories, JBEI researchers use the latest techniques in plant science, molecular biology and chemical engineering to produce affordable, sustainable, carbon-neutral fuels identical to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
Traditionally, most of the chemicals we use are produced using chemical synthesis, which is the combination of simple chemicals to form more complex ones. For complicated chemicals like drugs, it might take many chemical steps to produce the final molecule. Some chemicals are too difficult or impractical to produce using chemical synthesis. Due to the difficulty in producing these chemicals, many drugs and other products that could make our lives better are not available.
Since 1992, I’ve been redesigning microbes (like yeast) to be miniature chemical reactors that transform sugars into fuels.
Enzymes can do in one step what might take many steps using synthetic organic chemistry. To engineer a microbe to be a chemical factory, we graft genes from plants and other naturally occurring life forms into the microbe. Once inside the cells, the genes produce enzymes that do the chemistry to transform sugars into chemicals.
One of our first products was a yeast that we engineered to produce the life-saving anti-malarial drug artemisinin. Later this year, anti-malarial drugs bearing the microbially produced artemisinin will begin saving the lives of malaria sufferers throughout the world.
At JBEI, we are focused on making biofuels out of sugars. We have engineered microbes to transform sugars into energy-rich fuels that can directly replace petroleum-derived gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Because we produce biofuels that have identical properties to petroleum-based fuels, there is no need to replace our cars, trucks or planes to use the fuels.
We are also exploring ways to extract sugar from cellulosic biomass, such as paper waste, trees that have fallen down in the forest, the residue of crops such as corn husks and stalks - everything but the kernel of corn - and non-food plants such as switchgrass.
Because plants grow by fixing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, burning a fuel made from cellulosic biomass does not add extra carbon to the atmosphere, unlike the burning of fossil fuels, which produces carbon emissions. In fact, our diesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent over petroleum-derived diesel. And because we produce the fuels from non-edible cellulosic biomass, production of the fuels does not directly compete with food.
There are many advantages to advanced biofuels. That’s why we're focused on converting biomass to biofuels. I’m passionate about advancing basic science for public benefit. That’s my motivation.