Thursday, May 31, 2012

Science and SF Tidbits: May 31, 2012

Some of the science and SF links originally posted on Google+Biology in Science Fiction on Google+Twitter , and Facebook  the past couple weeks:

A chart that reveals how science fiction futures changed over time @io9

The SF future is getting further away? In this analysis of how far in the future the the SF future SF stories are set it looks like there is a trend towards the future setting becoming more distant from the present day. But what I find interesting is that the "mid future" - 100-500 years in the future - seems to be the most popular. I don't think that's surprising. In 100 years technology will have developed in interesting and somewhat predictable ways, and culture isn't likely to have shifted so radically that it's unrecognizable.

Genetic Fiction: A Scholar's Faves

Duke genetic policy expert Misha Angrist lists his five favorite literary novels with genetics. Despite the Jurassic Park cover illustrating the story, the Crichton novel didn't make the cut. In fact no SF is included - maybe because it isn't "literary" enough?
(One of the recommendations was Allegra Goodman's Intuition, shown above)

Addiction in Science Fiction

Joan Slonczewski looks at drug addition in SF, including her own novel Brain Plague.

Reverse Terraforming? (For supervillains only)

How might a Martian supervillain remove all Earth's water to make our planet more Mars-like?

Life on Mars: Q&A with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Tracy K. Smith

Interview with poet Tracy K. Smith on her Pulitzer prize winning collection "Life on Mars". Smith's father was an engineer who worked on the Hubble space telescope, and the poems are in part inspired by - and a tribute to - him.

Shapeshifters among us

Watch this amazing time lapse metamorphosis of a tadpole into and the migration of a fish eye. It's not quite SF shapeshifting, but it's amazing to watch nonetheless.
Berkeley lab scientists generate electricity from viruses

Scientists genetically engineered M13 virus to enhance its piezoelectric properties. A thin film of the modified virus can generate electricity when pressure is placed on it. Imagined uses include having a layer of the viral material in the bottom of your shoe so you could charge your phone as you walk. Very cool.

Superpower from cataract surgery?

Alek Komarnitsky that after he got Crystalens implants during cataract surgery he now seems to be able to see ultraviolet light. He's provided a fair amount of documentation to support his claim. So is tis another way to help create humans with "advanced" powers?

Scientists turn DNA into Hard Drives

Using synthetic biology techniques Stanford University scientists turn DNA into a rewritable memory module. While an impressive feat, the technology can't compete with a cheap thumb drive for storage:

"Now, while the team is exploring other enzymes to improve the efficiency of their method, their next big target is increase the storage capability of the module to 8 bits, or 1 byte."

Bionic eyes to be tested next year

Helping people with genetic eye conditions to see: Bionic Vision Australia is testing a special eyeglass camera that sends signals to an implanted chip that stimulates a patients retina. It's currently pretty low resolution, but higher res devices are also in development.

Uploaded to the Life Network

"Welcome to Life" is a short film by Tom Scott about what you might see when your mind is uploaded to an online storage cloud in 2052. The subtitle: “the Singularity, ruined by lawyers”.

Yogurt makes you .... shinier

At Science in My Fiction: By the numbers, we humans are mostly made of bacteria, and our gut flora can directly affect our physiology. What might that mean for space colonization? or science fiction?


We're all mutants now

Rare novel mutations in the expanding human population make it more difficult to determine the complex genetic basis of diseases.

"As far as research goes, the conclusion is pretty simple: even though we have more human genetic samples than ever before, most studies still haven't been able to survey a large enough population to see the influence of the rapidly expanding human population. That's beginning to change, so it's important that the researchers who are doing this work use the appropriate math, or they're going to have a hard time interpreting what they see."

(I'm ignoring the snark about biologists hating math. While some do, it's pretty clear that geneticists need to have a good grasp on statistics to be successful.)

Kim Stanley Robinson on gender and longevity in 2312

Kim Stanley Robinson talks to about his new novel and what 2312 might look like. He explains why he introduced characters that aren't purely female or male, but a little bit of both.

"I guess the novel is one way of throwing this all in people's faces, and saying, "Why do you link your character traits to your biology? Masculine and feminine, what does that mean compared to male and female? Can they be reversed, can they be confused?""


The Immortal: life support machines keeping each other alive.

In this art installation artist Revital Cohen linked together a Heart-Lung Machine, a Dialysis Machine, an Infant Incubator, a Mechanical Ventilator and an Intraoperative Cell Salvage Machine and had them 'breathe' in closed circuits. "The machines of The Immortal keep each other alive through circulation of electrical impulses, oxygen and artificial blood." So is it "life"? I'd say no, since we are more than the sum of our organs, but it certainly is "life-like".
Neil Degrasse Tyson: Science is in Our DNA

According to astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil Degrasse Tyson every child is born a scientist. "Universities may describe music, literature, and painting as "the humanities," but no activity is more fundamentally human than science, says Tyson.

Mental control of a robotic arm

Neurologist Steven Novella looks at the latest developments in brain-machine interfaces, including a recent report showing paralyzed patients able to control a robotic arm with just their minds.


Freedom from Fungus: Why don't humans have chestnut-style blights and white-nose style syndromes?

Fungi are responsible for 72% of the local extinctions of animals and 64% among plandts. Why don't humans seem to be affected? The clue is that bats suffering from white-nose syndrome are infected while they are hibernating. It seems that it's our body heat that protects us from a human version of Dutch elm disease.


New Jupiter Mission to Target Alien Oceans

Could the icy oceans of Jupiter's moons - Europa, Callisto, Ganymede - harbor life? A space probe to be launched in 2030 (JUICE) may be able to spot signs of biological activity.

When Gadgets Get Under Our Skin

Will we someday have our phone and other electronic gadgets implanted so we can interface with them directly? The technology is no longer solely in the realm of science fiction.


  1. Great tidbits today, thanks! Afternoon reading sorted:)

  2. Fantastic tidbits and random info! Very fun and entertaining to read.

    "there is a trend towards the future setting becoming more distant from the present day." This one is no surprise to me, given that we've now been around long enough to live in the "future" of a previous science fiction tale. Seeing what 1984 and 2001 were really like might make some authors a wee bit nervous :)

    I have a colleague who had his lenses removed thirty years ago, and he was able to show he could see further into the violet than other people. The lens itself was absorbing those wavelengths, according to him. I'd never heard anyone else make the claim he did.

    Being a planetary scientist, I have to end saying good luck to JUICE. I seriously doubt it will find any signs of life, but it will still do some amazing science if and when it eventually flies.
    One Writer's Mind


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