Friday, May 3, 2013

Antigravity Experiments, Quantum Entanglement, and Making Kidneys

I'm catching up on April's 'science news.' There are some exciting developments in particle physics, and we're a step closer to growing or printing replacement organs. "Printing:" That's not a typo.
  1. Antigravity Experiments at CERN
  2. Quantum Entanglement
  3. Yellowstone Volcano's Magma Pool
  4. Kidneys Printed While You Wait??

Adult Stem Cell Research and the Vatican

Something being new doesn't make it right, but being new doesn't make it wrong either. Reality is a bit more subtle than 'new is good, old is bad;' or the reverse.

NeoStem, the Pontifical Council for Culture, Stem For Life Foundation, and STOQ International (www.stoqinternational.com), hosted the Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference: Regenerative Medicine last month.

Repeating something I posted on Google+ Wednesday, adult stem cell research is "like the sort of 'stem cell research' we usually read about, in about the same way that the Tuskegee Experiment is like the Mayo Clinic." (May 1, 2013)

Medical procedures and research using adult stem cells involve stem cells: taken from adults, who remain in good health after some of their stem cells get extracted and 'reset.' (March 8, 2013) (more from Carl Bunderson, CNA)

Doing Good Isn't Bad

Religious beliefs and medicine show up in the news occasionally: generally because someone who believed it is morally wrong to use medicine died. Sometimes the medical Luddite is endangering another person's health by 'protecting' him or her from doctors.

I don't doubt that folks who believe that vaccines are evil, or doctors practice black magic, or whatever, are sincere. I'm quite certain that they're wrong, but I'm also one of those folks who don't believe that someone is controlling my brain with cell phones. (March 22, 2013)

In some circles, not being afraid of whatever 'everybody' is afraid of is taken as proof that the outsider is a fool, a dupe, or a traitor: and that's not quite another topic.

I'm Catholic, so I'm expected to take care of my health: within reason. Among other things, I have to believe that:
  • Health
    • Is a precious gift
    • Must be maintained
      • Within reason
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2288)
  • Curing illness
  • Drugs can be
    • Bad for you
      • Hurting yourself with drugs is wrong
    • Good for you
      • When used to heal or promote health
      (Catechism, 2291)
Organ transplants are okay, too: if the benefit/risk ratio is right. Someone who makes arrangements to donate his or her organs after death is doing a good thing: but killing someone and breaking the body down for parts is wrong. (Catechism, 2296)

As I've said before, we're "called to holiness, not stupidity."

Surrounded by Wonders

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)
I think we're beginning to get some vague idea of just how vast and ancient this universe is. This doesn't bother me.

More than 20 centuries after Psalms 19 was written, the heavens still declare the glory of God: even if, make that particularly since, we know more about them now.

I realize that some folks see the wonders of creation and say that God couldn't have made it because God isn't there. I assume that they're as sincere, but I'm quite sure they're wrong.

Seeking truth, honestly trying to learn more about this astounding universe, is okay. God made it, gave us brains, and expects us to use them. (Catechism, 35, 159, and 2104)

One more bit from the Bible, and I'll get to quantum entanglement, growing kidneys, and all that.
"The mind of the intelligent man seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on folly."
(Proverbs 15:14)

1. Antigravity Experiments at CERN

"Antigravity gets first test at Cern's Alpha experiment"
Jason Palmer, BBC News (April 30, 2013)

"Researchers at Cern in Switzerland have tested a novel way to find out if antimatter is the source of a force termed 'antigravity'.

"Antimatter particles are the 'mirror image' of normal matter, but with opposite electric charge.

"How antimatter responds to gravity remains a mystery, however; it may 'fall up' rather than down.

"Now researchers reporting in Nature Communications have made strides toward finally resolving that notion.

"Antimatter presents one of the biggest mysteries in physics, in that equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created at the Universe's beginning...."
That last paragraph isn't quite accurate. Or, rather, it gives an incomplete picture. A good first-approximation explanation for how matter and energy got sorted out showed that there 'should have been' equal parts of matter and antimatter.

That's not the way it is in our part of the cosmos, so that 'ballpark estimate' has been discussed and tweaked quite a bit. The last I heard, physicists and cosmologists still haven't worked out all the details. Partly, I suspect, because they keep getting new information that the most recent consensus doesn't account for.

Antimatter: Tricky Stuff

One of the practical issues that's kept scientists from running more tests on antimatter is that the stuff is tricky to manufacture.

It's even trickier to keep around since it flashes into energy on contact with matter, taking the matter with it. Keeping an open bucket of jet fuel safe in a foundry would be easy by comparison.

2. Quantum Entanglement

"Loophole in spooky quantum entanglement theory closed"
Tia Ghose, LiveScience, via FoxNews.com (April 22, 2013)

"The weird way entangled particles stay connected even when separated by large distances a phenomenon Albert Einstein called 'spooky' has been confirmed once again, this time with a key loophole in the experiment eliminated.

"The results from the new experiment confirm one of the wildest predictions of quantum mechanics: that a pair of 'entangled' particles, once measured, can somehow instantly communicate with each other so that their states always match.

" 'Quantum mechanics is a wonderful theory that scientists use very successfully,' said study co-author Marissa Giustina, a physicist at the University of Vienna. 'But it makes some strange predictions.' [How Quantum Entanglement Works (Infographic)]

"But the new experiment goes further than past studies by eliminating one of the major loopholes in entanglement experiments...."
Back in 1935, Einstein and others suggested that quantum entanglement didn't involve communication between particles. They said maybe the particles carried information about their unobserved state with them: subatomic sealed orders, sort of.

In 1964 an Irish physicist, John Stewart Bell, shows some ways to check:
  • For communication between
    • The source of the photons and the detector
    • Photon detectors weren't communicating
  • Whether particles physicists measured were representative of the ones that weren't measured
Physicists have been running experiments based on these ideas ever since. It looks like they've determined that one of the 'loopholes' isn't there.

Learning That There's More to Learn

That means that quantum physics is still 'weird.' Which doesn't surprise me a bit. The more we learn about this wonder-filled creation, the more we find that we have yet to learn.

I like it that way, but some folks seem to get frazzled by new ideas popping up at frequent intervals.

For me, one of the really intriguing things about quantum entanglement is that it's either in the same class as phlogiston, instantaneous communication, or is a phenomenon that works much faster than speed-of-light.

Interstellar Communication and Speed Limits

If quantum entanglement is real, and is either instant or really fast; and if the phenomenon can be applied to things as large as we are: that's a lot of 'ifs.' But we may be in the process of finding a way to communicate over interstellar distances in more-or-less real time.

About a century back, we learned that speed-of-light was a 'speed limit' in this universe. There were very good theoretical reasons for thinking that nothing could be pushed to a higher velocity. Decades of experiments showed that the theory's math agreed with reality very well.

That was then, this is now, and it looks like the speed limit in this universe may be much higher. Then again, maybe not.
"...The implications were that individual entangled particles don't exist in a particular state until they are measured, and that, once measured, the particles could somehow communicate their state to each other at a rate faster than the speed of light which seemed to violate Einstein's theory of relativity. (Recent research suggests the entangled particles interact at a speed that's 10,000 times faster than the speed of light.)..."
(Tia Ghose, LiveScience, via FoxNews.com)
Then there's the possibility that "this universe," the space-time we're in, isn't the only one around: and that we've seen evidence of inter-universe collisions.

The scale of creation may be really vast. (April 2, 2013)

I'm putting a larger, more readable, version of the infographic below in another blog's post for today. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (May 3, 2013)


(Karl Tate, via LiveScience)

3. Yellowstone Volcano's Magma Pool


"Yellowstone is an active volcano. Surface features such as geysers and hot springs are direct results of the region's underlying volcanism. CREDIT: National Park Service"
"Yellowstone's Volcano Bigger Than Thought"
Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet, via LiveScience (April 17 2013 )

"Yellowstone's underground volcanic plumbing is bigger and better connected than scientists thought, researchers reported here today (April 17) at the Seismological Society of America's annual meeting.

" 'We are getting a much better understanding of the volcanic system of Yellowstone,' said Jamie Farrell, a seismology graduate student at the University of Utah. 'The magma reservoir is at least 50 percent larger than previously imaged.'

"Knowing the volume of molten magma beneath Yellowstone is important for estimating the size of future eruptions, Farrell told OurAmazingPlanet...."
I've got a personal interest in the Yellowstone volcano. I live in central Minnesota, not far from the edge of the last major eruption's heaviest ash fall. Given the massive scale of the caldera's eruptions, being in the same hemisphere might not be desirable.


(from Smith and Siegel, via "The Yellowstone Hotspot by Kim Smurlo (Spring 2004), used w/o permission)

Looking Ahead

On the other hand, it looks like we may have somewhere around 60,000 years to get ready for the next 'big one.' (Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 25, 2009)

Then again, maybe not. But even if that estimate is off by a factor of 10, having 6,000 years of prep time isn't bad.

By then, my guess is that whoever's responsible for this part of Earth will have learned more about how stuff works: or know someone who does.

Options might include cooling off either the magma chamber or the deeper feature that's warming it: or maybe it'll seem easier to evacuate this part of the planet.

We don't have the technology to deal with that much geothermal energy right now, and there's probably some risk in fiddling with the planet's inner workings. On the other hand, I don't think human beings will be any less intelligent or capable of exercising good judgment then: and there's a bonanza of energy there.

Who know? Maybe someone will run the 621st century's equivalent of an RV park with energy getting drained from Yellowstone's magma chamber.

4. Kidneys Printed While You Wait??

"Lab-made rat kidneys raise hopes for dialysis patients"
Sharon Begley, Reuters (April 14, 2013)

"Scientists have discovered yet another way to make a kidney - at least for a rat - that does everything a natural one does, researchers reported on Sunday, a step toward savings thousands of lives and making organ donations obsolete.

"The latest lab-made kidney sets up a horse race in the booming field of regenerative medicine, which aims to produce replacement organs and other body parts.

"Several labs are competing to develop the most efficient method to produce the most functional organs through such futuristic techniques as 3D printing, which has already yielded a lab-made kidney that works in lab rodents, or through a 'bioreactor' that slowly infuses cells onto the rudimentary scaffold of a kidney, as in the latest study...."
Humans are quite a bit larger than rats, but our internal plumbing is about the same. Printing kidneys might turn out to be more practical than growing them.

Either way, it would be nice if folks could get replacement parts for kidneys, the way we can today for teeth and joints.

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