October 13, 2012 - Nobel for a Cell * Greenland's Clearwater Revival * It Came From Mars * The 100 Year Starship * Warp Factor .001

Listen

Many of us grew up on a staple diet of science fiction books and movies that promised us a future when we'd travel to the stars. Today on the program, we'll meet some people who think it could and should happen. First, a former astronaut who's leading an ambitious and visionary project to send humans to a star by the end of the century. Then we'll speak with a NASA physicist who thinks warp drive might actually be possible; Before that, we'll speak to a Canadian scientist who has discovered that life is returning to the most northern lake in the world after 2-and-a-half thousand years under ice; and we'll speak with another Canadian scientist who is uncovering some secrets about Mars from a meteorite on Earth.. But first - that fateful phone call from Stockholm.

 

play-icon.jpg Listen to the whole show (pop up player) or use this link to download an mp3.



Nobel for a Cell
gurdon_portrait.jpgSir John Gurdon, courtesy Wellcome Library

The Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded this week to Professor Sir John Gurdon and Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, for the discovery that it's possible to turn back the clock on mature cells, making them young again.  For Professor Gurdon, this was a long time coming, as the critical experiment he did to contribute to this work was done fifty years ago.  His work has led to a huge amount of research into areas such as stem cells, cloning, techniques for growing new tissues and organs, and, of course, to a much greater understanding of the basic processes involved in the development of the cell.
          
Related Links

play-icon.jpgListen to this item (pop up player) or use this link to download an mp3.




Greenland's Clearwater Revival

frozen_lake.jpgClimate change is reviving the world's most northerly lake, Kaffeklubben So, in Greenland.  Photo:  D. Mazzucchi
Ecological changes are taking place throughout the Arctic.  But to try to determine the exact cause, scientists recently traveled to the world's most northerly lake, Kaffeklubben So, in Greenland.  The lake is 14 metres deep, 50 hectares in area and is currently covered by 2 metres of ice.  Dr. Bianca Perren, a Canadian geologist and paleo-ecologist, studied the lake as part of her research at the Université de Franche-Compté in France.  By looking at core samples from the lake bottom, she was able to determine that various types of algae appear in the lake until 2400 years ago, when a period of neoglacial cooling began.  Evidence of algae reappear in the sediments of the 20th century, and turn up in greater concentrations than ever before starting in 1980, coinciding with Greenland's current warming trend.  Previous studies have shown that human nitrate pollution has fueled the bloom of algae in other Arctic areas, but no such evidence was found in Kaffklubben So.  This indicates that the return of life to the lake is the result of climate change alone.

Related Links

play-icon.jpgListen to this item (pop up player) or use this link to download an mp3.




It Came From Mars

ChrisHerd-meteorite.jpgDr. Chris Herd shows off a piece of the Martian meteorite (Credit: John Ulan) 
In July, 2011, a fireball was seen streaking across the sky in Morocco.  This was a meteorite on its way to crashing in the southern part of the country.  Scientists, including Dr. Christopher Herd from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, were able to study pieces of the rock to determine that it came from Mars and was 600-million years old.  It is a rare find; one of only 62 known meteorites from Mars, and only the fifth to be witnessed.  The rock was ejected from the Martian surface by the impact of another sphere, and for a period of between 700,000 and one million years, the rock floated through outer space, until it landed on Earth.  Of special interest are 'black glass pockets' that contain information about the planet at that time, including atmosphere, soil and water, which means water was present on the surface of Mars within the past few hundred million years.    

Related Links

play-icon.jpgListen to this item (pop up player) or use this link to download an mp3.





The 100 Year Starship

spaceship.gif
While humans haven't travelled farther than low-Earth orbit in nearly 40 years, there are still those who imagine that our future is in the stars.  Enabling that future is the mission of the 100 Year Starship Initiative, which held its first symposium last month.  Funded initially by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the 100YSS program is being led by former astronaut and physician Dr. Mae Jemison. Its goal is to lead and facilitate research into what we'll need to understand in order to send a human-crewed ship to another star in the next 100 years.  According to Dr. Jemison, there's a huge range of fields to investigate, from obvious things like propulsion and energy, to important questions like how to make the ecology of a starship that might be traveling in space for decades sustainable and renewable, to what people will wear on the trip.  But more critical, she says, is to keep the dream and ambition of such a mission alive.
 

Related Links


Listen to this itemplay-icon.jpg (pop up player) or use this link to download an mp3.





Warp Factor .001

warp-drive-starship.jpgDiagram of warp verhicle, courtesy H White.
If we are going to travel to another star, we'll need to figure out a new way to do it.  Our current chemical rocket technology simply can't do the job.  At the fastest speed humans have ever traveled in space, it would take 100,000 years to reach the nearest star.  Most alternative technologies for space travel sound like science fiction.  But one idea, the Warp Drive, may be a little closer to real science than we'd thought.  At the recent 100 Year Starship symposium, Dr. Harold "Sonny" White, a physicist in the Eagleworks  Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory at the  NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston , spoke about his work investigating the idea that it might be possible to warp space around a vehicle, and thus cause it to move at apparent speeds that are faster than the speed of light.  He's currently looking at ways to turn this paper-and-pencil thought experiment into a small scale physics experiment that could demonstrate its possibility.   
 

Related Links


play-icon.jpgListen to this item (pop up player) or use this link to download an mp3.





Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0