Vol. 1 / No. 29 — Sinking Cities, Killing Cancer, and a Stunning Simulation

Photo:  NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC-BY 2.0
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC-BY 2.0

New Orleans (and everywhere else) Is Sinking

The biggest news this week is in the world of climate change, where it’s being reported that the West Antarctic Ice Shelf (WAIS) is definitely melting, and, it now appears, unstoppably so. Even though it will take hundreds of years for the process to complete, even the most conservative estimates place the eventual sea level rise at about 10 feet, possibly more in some areas, like the eastern coast of the united states. In a segment on PRI’s Science Friday, Glaciologist Ian Joughin of the University of Washington indicated that the end of century sea-level rise is now predicted at a little over three feet worldwide. That may not sound like big news, but even that much sea rise would present a major problem for coastal cities. For more fun with rising sea levels, check out Surging Seas, and see which parts of your favourite coastal cities will sink beneath the waves. (Hint: if you live in southern Florida, don’t buy a 100-year lease).

Killing Cancer

In another piece of exceptional news, doctors at the Mayo Clinic have forced an otherwise terminal metastatic cancer into remission using measles. The virus had been reprogrammed to attack the cancerous cells, and as in previous cases of using reprogrammed viruses, it caused a high fever (105!) as the patient’s body suddenly realized it was very ill. Over the next weeks, all the tumours in her body shrank and disappeared. While there’s still reason to be hesitant with the congratulations — the patient was one of a two-person trial, and in the other the treatment was less effective — it nevertheless points to a time in the not-too-distant future where we may be able to write off cancer as a disease that kills you.

In other cancer-related news, researchers at Yale university have discovered a compound made by marine bacteria that kills cancer by targeting and shredding its DNA. Phys.org has the full story.

IBM’s New Polymers

This week IBM announced that it has discovered a new class of polymers that are stronger, more resistant to wear, lighter, and easier to recycle than the current technologies. And they did it by accident. The company is calling the material by its codename, “Titan,” and says it was discovered when a materials scientist, Dr. Jeanette Garcia, forgot to add an ingredient while making another more standard standard polymer. Gizmodo has the full story, and (in the same spirit) here’s a post from mental floss about eight times when scientists screwing up has led to great things.


While not exactly settling things on a handshake and going out for drinks to celebrate a new friendship, long-time mutual patent trolls Apple and Google have agreed to a de-escalation in their patent wars. Under the agreement, they’ll be dropping “all the current lawsuits that exist directly between the two companies” and — at least according to the statement — will “work together in some areas of patent reform.” As Fortune points out, this is not a “let bygones be bygones” event so much as a recognition that the only people profiting from the current back and forth were their lawyers. It could be better, but, then, it could certainly be worse.

Meanwhile in other Google news, the company whose sole business model these days seems to be buying other companies has done it again: Google has bought Quest Visual, the company that demonstrated its visual translation application “Word Lens” in 2010. Rumours are that it will likely fold the app’s augmented reality abilities (look at a sign in another language and see it in your own) into the most widely-used heads-up display in the world: Google glass. The future’s looking, well, futuristic.

Stunning Simulation

In this week’s “prettiest CG” category, we have an article from Gizmodo’s Sploid blog, reporting on a simulation out of NASA Goddard showing how two neutron stars will destroy one another in what might qualify as the most beautiful death pact in the history of human experience. There’s a still below, and here’s a link to the blog entry.

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, BY-SA 2.0
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, BY-SA 2.0

Best of the Rest

There was so much more to see this week! Here’s some of the best: scientists are aiming to answer the question “is it a wormhole or a black hole?“; Venus Express is getting ready to dive into that planet’s atmosphere; the guy who invented the Segway has invented a fantastic-looking bionic arm; Gizmodo’s reporting that Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic might not “technically” get you to space; PopSci is reporting (once again) on the impending doom of the banana; and one of my favourites, From Quarks to Quasars, is reporting on how SETI may need to start looking for black bodies — Dyson Spheres.

And I’ll leave you this week with the new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film Interstellar — ladies and gentlemen, we have a plot.

Have a great week.