(Note – I donated $100 to Uwingu back in 2012, and am therefore listed as a supporter at the Founder level. I received a small token of appreciation at the time, but do not now gain anything from the association.)
Uwingu is a private organization organized to support space research, education, and exploration. It hopes to take the nearly $80,000 raised in 2012 and generate $10 million in 2014. Aside from donations and sponsors, Uwingu has been raising funds through naming opportunities. Until recently it had only been suggestions for exoplanet names. But two announcements indicate a new emphasis on the red planet.
First, there is now a way to help name Martian craters. The price depends on the size of the crater, and Uwingu has a nice map tool to help you figure out which crater to name, and where on Mars it is. This map will be used on Mars by the Mars One project, which plans to start sending humans to Mars a decade from now. It’s first unmanned missions will take the Uwingu map along and use the named features in its explorations.
All of this is used to help support efforts like Mars One and other space exploration and education projects. Uwingu funds help support Astronomers Without Borders, teacher training programs, student aerospace bootcamps, and at least one telescope array. If you’d like to help, visit the Uwingu website and see how you’d like to contribute.
And it’s 3 days until COSMOS.
Yesterday genome sequencing innovator J. Craig Venter announced his latest venture, Human Longevity, Inc. (HLI). The company has $70 million in startup funding to promote healthy aging through genomics and cell-therapy based therapeutics and diagnostics.
The first phase of this effort is to construct a large genome-sequencing center. When at full capacity, the center would be able to sequence 40,000 sequences per year, with a possible increase to 100,000 sequences per year. With the machines HLI has purchased, the company anticipates the cost per genome to be around $1,000.
The company will focus its efforts on several diseases: cancer, diabetes, obesity, dementia, heart and liver diseases. It’s established partnerships with several universities and research institutes to sequence the genomes of consenting clinical patients (though ScienceInsider’s report suggests patients will have to speak up if they don’t want to participate).
While the company is interested in making genomic sequencing cheaper, they are operating in a big industrial fashion that seems unlikely to pass along any improvements to the individual. That is, HLI is not likely to become a genomic equivalent to 23andMe. While that probably means the company will handle its interactions with the Food and Drug Administration much better than 23andMe, the proprietary aspect of HLI’s business models don’t leave much room for those who contribute their genomic data to benefit from their contributions. So the $1,000 genome sequence really won’t be the price for the person on the street.
George Gollin, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is in the final two weeks of the primary campaign for the 13th Congressional District (though early voting started yesterday). There are two other candidates in the Democratic primary, and the current Representative, Rodney Davis, is expected to win the three-candidate Republican primary.
Gollin announced last summer. He has some policy experience, having worked hard to break up some diploma mills (which probably explains some of the stringent objections to Gollin you might stumble across online). It led to him trying to get diploma mill legislation passed in Congress, so he has already been disillusioned. While he does not have the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), he did receive the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune (H/T ScienceInsider). I have not been able to find any polling information on the Democratic primary, but funding reports indicate that Gollin has about half as much cash on hand as the DCCC-supported candidate.
Good luck to George.
March 3 – Edited to Add - With all the material this week, I shouldn’t be surprised I missed something. Tonight (Monday) on The Late Show, Dave talks to a double arm transplant recipient (U.S. Army Sergeant Brendan Marrocco) and his doctor.
The new edition of Cosmos starts next Sunday night on the FOX network in the U.S. The same company also owns the National Geographic Channel, so you will have many opportunities to catch each episode. Broadcast schedules and channels will likely be different in other countries (for instance, it starts on March 16 in the U.K.) Viewers in the U.S. who miss the FOX broadcast Sunday nights can catch the same episode on the National Geographic Channel on Monday nights. Do check those local listings.
Before we get to this week’s listings, there’s a long list of items from last week (and earlier) to note. The Comedy Central shows brought extra content. On February 18th, having theoretical physicist Brian Greene on wasn’t enough for The Colbert Report. Transgender activist Janet Mock was on earlier in the program to discuss the notion of gender with Stephen. On February 25th, Stephen mocked the campaign to maintain paper documents, though there is a need to make sure those without access to computers or the Internet can still obtain their government benefits and services.
The 25th was big on two other late night shows. T.J. Miller was a guest on The Pete Holmes Show, and he discussed the neurological troubles he had recently and the brain surgery they required. On @midnight, Neil deGrasse Tyson continued his COSMOS promotional push by reading a Craig’s List post with interstellar implications. @midnight also brought the science early in its February 27 show by asking what app was using an interview with nuclear scientist Robert Oppenheimer in its advertisements.
As I noted, there is a COSMOS promotional push. Executive Producer Seth MacFarlane visits Jon Stewart tonight (Monday). Neil deGrasse Tyson goes really late with Carson Daly on Thursday night. In other guest appearances, virtual reality innovator Jaron Lanier will sit with Stephen on Tuesday to discuss his latest book, which covers the impact of networked technologies on society. And last, but not least, Pauley Perrette, who plays a forensic scientist on NCIS, stops by The Talk on Tuesday.
The Innocence Project is focused on exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals, mainly through the use of DNA evidence. In many instances, at the time the people were convicted, DNA evidence was not sufficiently mature in order to demonstrate a person’s innocence. For better or for worse, there is not a simple way in which criminal convictions based on inaccurate (or updated) scientific methodology can be overturned.
Texas (yep, that Texas) has passed a law that could make the process easier. Signed last June (and effective since September 1), the law addresses the right to habeas corpus (literally, you may have the body) in the context of new and/or changed scientific evidence. Convicted individuals can apply for relief from the court if there is relevant scientific evidence now available that was either not reasonably ascertainable at the time of trial, or conflicts with evidence asserted by the state at trial.
Since the law went into effect, three cases have used the law to obtain release for the convicted individuals (pending procedures to prove innocence per Texas law), or a hearing for a new trial. And that’s in six months.
There is certainly the opportunity for abuse. The law does not define what is meant by relevant scientific evidence, leaving that to the courts to determine. That the law is referred to in some reports as the ‘junk science’ bill is problematic, because not all instances where the law could be used cover instances of inaccurate, misleading or just plain wrong scientific claims. It also covers instances where new scientific theories or refinements in analysis and measurement could warrant reopening a case to demonstrate someone’s innocence. What the law does is reinforce the validity of scientific knowledge (or at least changes in same) to provide cause to reopen criminal cases.
As part of the finale for the current batch of new MythBusters episodes, Discovery released a video put together by melodysheep, the force behind the Symphony of Science. It’s not (at least at the moment) available outside of the MythBusters website, so no embedding. Maybe later.
Coma Niddy continues to produce science videos, a combination of demonstrations and rap explanations. His latest include a two-part series on black holes. The second part mentions the recent remarks by Stephen Hawking where he revises his earlier thinking on the subject.
Earlier today, in partnership with the American Film Institute, the White House hosted a film festival. Announced last November, the festival theme was technology in schools. Over 2500 entries were submitted from students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. 16 Official Selections were screened at the White House, and over 100 other films received Honorable Mention. The President took the opportunity to promote his ConnectED initiative, which is intended to expand the number of schools with access to next-generation, high-speed Internet access.
As this photo suggests, there were some special guests in attendance. Actor (and occasional White House aide) Kal Penn joined Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Conan O’Brien had a video message for the filmmakers. You can watch all of the Official Selection and Honorable Mention films online.
It’s worth noting that one of the Official Selections was made by Kayla Briet, who was the Runner-Up in the recent Stand Up for Science contest organized by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. She also composed the music involved in her video submissions, so she’s probably more talented than you imagined.