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Secret origin of the UniverSe revealed? p.36

science for the curious

September 2013

latest research

Flexible electronics that could change the shape of medicine forever p.30

coming one day to a brain near you: Flexible sensor arrays to thwart seizures

tech on the
Doorway to a cure
inside the mind oF a hero p.26

Grassroots eforts are beating cystic fbrosis p.42

Try THIS in your own backyard p.52

citizen scientists


hollywood goes transhuman p.64

BonUS online content code p. 3

Online Content Code: DSD1309

Enter this code at: www.DiscoverMagazine.com/code to gain access to exclusive subscriber content.

September 2013



cover story

Stretchy, Flexy Future

University of Illinois researcher John Rogers is designing a brave new bendy world of devices that could do for medicine what spandex did for bike shorts (in a good way).
By Ed yong and ValEriE ross


Starting Point
The Big Bang kicked things off for our universe, but what came before that? Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin thinks hes found the answer.
By stEVE nadis


Doorway to a Cure

More than a decade after families affected by cystic fbrosis began a grassroots funding project to tackle the disease, some sufferers are breathing easier.
By Bijal P. triVEdi

University of illinois and Beckman institUte


university of Illinois technicians show off the stretch and ex of a rechargeable lithium ion battery. such innovations may one day power bionic eyes and other medical implants.

The Urban Bestiary

Neither exotic nor rare, our nearest furred and feathered neighbors too often escape our notice and appreciation. Heres a guide to what were missing, in a nutshell.
By lyanda lynn HauPt

september 2013 DISCOVER


A slick solution to preserving historic buildings, renewable energy with a twist, seeing something fshy, a taste of a new cosmic recipe, the man who hunts killer mushrooms and more.

9 tHe crux

on the Cover is this the brain implant of tomorrow? illustration: sciepro/getty images and Jay smith/discover.


Big idea

Save Our Satellites

An ambitious robotic servicing mission could lead to cost-effective repairs for satellites in orbit we just hope theyre better at scheduling than the cable guy. By Michael leMonick

6 inbox
Readers weigh in on shark-fnning and pack their bags for Mars.


mind over matter


What Makes a Hero?

Are some of us hardwired for heroism? Are we a generally generous species? New research into whats behind acts of altruism fnds some surprising answers. By elizaBeth SvoBoda

8 editor's note
Welcome to the upgraded DISCOVER.


notes from earth

p.26 p.58

Deep-Sea Secrets

Ocean-foor CSI: Mysterious ecosystems that live off the bodies of dead whales may date back to the time of the dinosaurs. By Brian Switek



out there

Hunting Season for Asteroids

Catch them if you can, NASA: A growing number of privately funded projects arent waiting for the government to fnd the next asteroid with Earth in its crosshairs.
By corey S. Powell

63 HOt Science Elysium writer and director Neill

Blomkamp talks transhumanist haves and have-nots, phase change materials go green, a citizen scientist takes to the cyberseas and much more, including your science-centric calendar for the month and Urban Skygazer.


20 things You didn't know aBout ... Failure

Next time you face the F-word, remember youre in good company: Alfred Nobel, Henry Ford, the Large Hadron Collider and SETI have all suffered stumbles.
By Jonathon keatS



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legalizing trade in rhino horns.

ErraTa Junes Out There column incorrectly noted the Super-TIGER probes location as 82 degrees 14 minutes 69 seconds south, and 81 degrees 54 minutes 88 seconds west. The correct coordinates: 82 degrees 14.69 minutes south, and 81 degrees 54.88 minutes west.




More Tan Mail

Dont be shy about sharing your opinions, whether via letters, email or our social media communities. Heres what youve been telling us lately.
Shark Hunt Hatred
Erik Vance wrote about the declining shark population in our June cover story.

I read your great article, Desperately Seeking Sharks. Im 17 years old. I want to do marine conservation biology. I already know about sharknning, but after reading your article I was upset at how fast the shark population is declining. Tonight (6/5/13) on CNN on Piers Morgan Live, I was horried to see him glorifying the capture and killing of a mako shark for sport. I hope your article will raise awareness of the decreasing population of sharks and help to save the species. Saoirse Keely-Zinkel Madison, WI

that we must focus on our students strengths, and not hold them back when they have a known disability. Ask me to write a news story any day of the week I have garnered over 30 journalism awards. Just dont ask me to count the plates needed for our Thanksgiving dinner. Ellen Smith Pittsford, NY

The Top 6 Things Our Readers Write To Us About

1 Opinions on the
GMO controversy: whos right, whos wrong, whos going to hell.

Ivory Trade Debate

July/Augusts Contrarian suggested that making the rhino horn trade legal would prevent poaching.

2 Theories about

dark matter, the Big Bang and where the heck the universe came from.

Counting Off
July/Augusts Mind Over Matter column explained dyscalculia, a mathcomprehension disorder.


Send email to editorial@DiscoverMagazine.com. Address letters to: DISCOVER 21027 Crossroads Circle P.O. Box 1612 Waukesha, WI 53187-1612

The logic of selling rhino horns brings to mind a parallel case. I am sickened when I see authorities in various African nations set re to tons of poached elephant ivory. Why not ood the market with this commodity, eliminating or greatly reducing the prot margin for poachers? Donald Schmiedel Las Vegas, NV

3 Our font. 4 Our articles are

too short.

5 Our articles are

too long.

6 Extraterrestrial

Thank you for your article, No Head for Numbers. I am 53 and learned three years ago from a radio program that my horric math disability was not from being lazy but from dyscalculia. I struggled in math in elementary school and while I excelled in reading, I could not even add or subtract without using my ngers. I have learned

of DISCOVERS Facebook followers


from our Blogs

Te Cambodian zero proved that zero was an Eastern invention. But it disappeared during the Khmer Rouge regime, and no one knew if it still existed. I felt very strongly that it was important to recover the worlds oldest zero.
Amir Aczel, in the crux blog post How i rediscovered the Oldest zero in History, DiscoverMagazine.com/Zero

We Asked:
if a private space company were recruiting volunteers for a manned mars mission, would you sign up?

exchanging gift ideas

In the June issue, Editor in Chief Steve George asked readers to submit their ideas of Gifts from the Future the technological advances theyd like to see or predict will happen. Here are just a few responses: That my consciousness be transferred to an android like Data from Star Trek so I could walk on Mars without a space suit. THOmAs mAdden Its 2013, where is my ying car that Ive been promised? (Honestly, though, I would rather have a self-driving car.) dArryl suskin I think all useful gadgets watches, cell phone, smartphone, computer, radio, stereo, TV, e-books, registrator of temperature and blood pressure, etc. will be concentrated into eyeglasses (display) and their frame (circuits). igOr kuzmin Id like to see everything we throw away being recycled instead and salvaged down to every single atom. kATeH sHirk In the future, mankind will dine on pills: a yellow one for breakfast, a green one for lunch and half of a red one for supper (half because we are required to watch our weight). T.r. THOmpsOn

Heres What You Said:

No way.


i wont be rst in line, but id consider it after others have gone.


id rather watch the broadcast from the safety of my sofa.

im ready to relocate permanently to the red Planet today!

20% Sure.
id take a vacation there as long as i can come home.

Did You Spot the Supermoon?

DisCover reader ulrika suuronen in rome snapped this shot of the full moon at its closest point to earth this year on June 23. For a heads-up on future polls and contests, follow us on social media.

ConneCt with us

facebook.com/DiscoverMag twitter.com/DiscoverMag plus.google.com/+discovermagazine

september 2013 discOVer

Editor's Note

Science for the curiouS

editor in chief

Stephen C. George
design director

Dan Bishop


A Bit of an Upgrade
Here at DISCOVER, we see change as a big part of our job. Over the past few months, the team here has introduced a variety of tweaks to the magazine and website. But this issue heralds a bit of an upgrade, with a new look and new elements that were eager to share with our readers. Whenever a magazine undergoes a redesign, this is the spot where the editor starts justifying the revamp, perhaps with a reference to Darwin, or by making use of a handy pop-culture reference comparing the change to, say, the regeneration of the Doctor from Britains popular Doctor Who TV series. Same character you know and love, just a new look and some added personality traits! I would never do that, of course. Instead, I will simply say this: I hope you like what you see. Dan Bishop, design director, and Alison Mackey, senior graphic designer (and a DISCOVER reader from way back), worked tirelessly to develop and implement a crisp, clean design thats easy on the eyes, while Ernie Mastroianni, our photo editor, scoured the planet to fll our pages with images that are hard to ignore. Still, I should call out a few changes. On page 9, youll fnd The Crux, replacing the old Data section. As the name suggests, Crux stories will tackle, in brief, the vital points, puzzles and perplexities emerging in the world of science. My favorite new Crux item is Ask Discover (page 12), a regular place for you, dear reader, to pose your most vexing science questions. We also had readers in mind when we modifed our Mail page (now called Inbox, page 6) to include the broad range of your input, including online comments, Facebook polls, even photos. Meanwhile, 20 Things and your other favorite columns are still here. The ever-popular Hot Science section gets bigger and better; we just moved it to a spot where it has more room to spread out. It starts on page 63. Check it out. Are there other improvements youd like to see? Email us at editorial@DiscoverMagazine.com. Just dont be surprised if we make those changes. That is, after all, our job.

managing editor

Kathi Kube

consulting executive editor

Pamela Weintraub
senior editors

Siri Carpenter, Tasha Eichenseher

senior associate editor

Becky Lang

associate editors

Bill Andrews, Gemma Tarlach Lisa Raffensperger (digital)

staff writer

Breanna Draxler Corey S. Powell

editor at large copy editor

Dave Lee

editorial assistant

Elisa R. Neckar

contributing editors

Tim Folger, Linda Marsa, Kathleen McAuliffe, Kat McGowan, Jill Neimark, Adam Piore, Darlene Cavalier (special projects director)

Ernie Mastroianni
senior graphic designer

photo editor

Alison Mackey


Welcome to a crisp, clean design thats easy on the eyes, but hard to ignore.

Meredith Carpenter, Lillian Fritz-Laylin, George Johnson, Razib Khan, Keith Kloor, Rebecca Kreston, Neuroskeptic, Christie Wilcox, Tom Yulsman

Tom Buttrick
917 421 9051

account manager

Leslie Palmer

account manager

248 530 0300 x1401

Joe Wholley

account manager

312 236 4900 x1102

Kim McGraw
213 596 7215

account manager


Ilyssa Somer 917 421 9055 Pam Pagan 917 421 9052

Joe Wholley 312 236 4900 x1102 Kim McGraw 213 596 7215 MARKETpLACE & CLASSIfIEDS Chariya Milindawad 312 348 1201
marketing director


June C. Lough Susan Weiss Daryl Pagel

research director advertising services

Charles R. Croft president Kevin P. Keefe vice president, editorial, publisher Scott Stollberg vice president, advertising Daniel R. Lance vice president, marketing Connie Bradley vice president, human resources James R. McCann vice president, finance James Schweder vice president, technology Diane Bacha associate publisher Jeff Felbab group advertising manager Maureen M. Schimmel corporate art director Michael Barbee corporate circulation director Jerry Burstein single copy sales director Ken Meisinger group circulation manager Brian Schmidt director of operations
SUBSCRIPTIONS In the U.S., $29.95 for one year; in Canada, $39.95 for one year (U.S. funds only), includes GST, BN 12271 3209RT; other foreign countries, $44.95 for one year (U.S. funds only). SUBSCRIBER INQUIRIES 800 829 9132 DCRcustserv@cdsfulllment.com P.O. Box 37807, Boone, IA 50037 Back issues available. EDITORIAL INQUIRIES editorial@discovermagazine.com 21027 Crossroads Circle, Waukesha, WI 53186


Stephen C. George, editor in chief




The Stories Behind the Latest Science News

The Cosmic Recipe for Earthlings


Road Map


to Save Artifacts

Discover: Dreams and Dark Matter

On the Hunt


for Killer Mushrooms



standing the Suns Energy

See a Fish




A leafcutter worker ant carries a load with a passenger, a minor ant of the same species, to their nest in a Costa Rican forest. Each ant has a specic role: The worker clips a leaf section from live foliage, and the minor protects the worker against parasitic phorid ies, which can lay eggs directly onto the worker. ErniE





September 2013 DISCOVER



Te Cosmic Recipe for Earthlings

BY Dolly SeTTon illustration BY kellIe jAeger

About 500 million years after the Big Bang, one of the rst galaxies in the universe formed, containing stars of about the same mass as the sun which can live for 10 billion years as well as lighter stars. The green and whitish regions depict elements such as carbon and oxygen.

This simulated image shows the rst halfsecond of an explosion of a star 15 times more massive than the sun. Called a core collapse supernova explosion, one example of which is a Type II, these are a source of about a dozen major elements in people, including iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and zinc. The sphere in the center is a newly born neutron star, the superdense corpse that remains of the former star. The scale from top to bottom is 1,000 kilometers, or 621 miles.




Stars cook up nearly all of the approximately 60 atomic elements in peoples bodies. But exactly how that works remains a mystery. Astrophysicists have developed cutting-edge computer simulations (shown at right) to grapple with an array of related puzzles: What were stars like when they rst appeared in the universe over 13 billion years ago, starting the process of modern element production? What do we know about the nature of the death of massive stars signaled by Type II supernovae that fashion crucial elements such as calcium and oxygen? How might the burned-out stars called white dwarfs be brought to ruin by other stars in so-called Type Ia supernovae, inciting the ery alchemy that yielded much of the iron in our blood and the potassium in our brains? Scientists are still trying to gure out what triggers an individual Type Ia supernova and to determine the identity of the partner star to the exploding white dwarf. The Hubble Space Telescopes recent discovery of the earliest known Type Ia supernova from more than 10 billion years ago, plus other results, favor a scenario in which two white dwarfs merge. The results indicate that crucial elements in people formed later in the history of the universe than many had expected, says David Jones, the lead astronomer on the Hubble study. It took (very roughly) about 750 million years longer to form the rst 50 percent of the iron in the modern universe.

out of the primordial hydrogen and helium created in the Big Bang, clouds coalesced within 100 million years, eventually forming the rst stars. This simulation shows light from an early star 100 million years after the Big Bang. When this reball millions of times brighter than the sun dies in a titanic explosion called a supernova, it hurls out elements such as oxygen, carbon and magnesium.

Human Body Ingredients

The four ingredients below are essential parts of the bodys protein, carbohydrate and fat architecture.

Other Key elements

Calcium 1.5%
Lends rigidity and strength to bones and teeth; also important for the functioning of nerves and muscles, and for blood clotting.


Phosphorus 1.0%


Critical to the conversion of food into energy.

needed for building and maintaining bones and teeth; also found in the molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which provides energy that drives chemical reactions in cells.

Potassium 0.4%

About one-and-a-half
minutes into a Type Ia supernova explosion, elements created in the blast iron (red), surrounded by silicon and sulfur (green) are spat out with typical velocities of about 6,214 miles per second. Some oxygen (blue) is left after the explosion, but little carbon remains.

Important for electrical signaling in nerves and maintaining the balance of water in the body.

Sulfur 0.3%
Found in cartilage, insulin (the hormone that enables the body to use sugar), breast milk, proteins that play a role in the immune system, and keratin, a substance in skin, hair and nails.



The so-called backbone of the building blocks of the body and a key part of other important compounds, such as testosterone and estrogen.

Chlorine 0.2%
needed by nerves to function properly; also helps produce gastric juices.


Sodium 0.2%
Plays a critical role in nerves electrical signaling; also helps regulate the amount of water in the body.

Magnesium 0.1%
Plays an important role in the structure of the skeleton and muscles; also found in molecules that help enzymes use ATP to supply energy for chemical reactions in cells.

A star the size of
the sun becomes a red giant toward the end of its 10-billionyear life span, a phase in which its outer atmosphere expands a great deal. The white region at the center is the dense, hot core where hydrogen and helium are still burning in two concentric shells. Between those two shells, carbon is combining with helium to form oxygen.

Helps transport nutrients, remove wastes and regulate body temperature. Also plays an important role in energy production.

Iodine (trace amount)

Part of an essential hormone produced by the thyroid gland; regulates metabolism.


Iron (trace amount)

Part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in red blood cells.

Zinc (trace amount)

Forms part of some enzymes involved in digestion.


Found in amino acids, the building blocks of proteins; an essential part of the nucleic acids that constitute dnA. (Percentage of body weight. Source: Biology, Campbell and Reece, eighth edition.)

September 2013 DISCOVER



Ask Discover
Two of DiscoVers bloggers answer our rst round of questions.

The jar above, from the Middle Rincon phase, A.D. 1000 to 1100, is among the nearly 60,000 artifacts excavated from Julian Wash site in Arizona. An interstate exchange was built atop Julian Wash, shown in 2002 (below); in return, 17 acres were preserved for archaeological investigation. 2002

Why dont we know when were dreaming, especially when we interact with dead characters? My dad died a long time ago, yet when he inhabits my dreams, it seems perfectly normal. Do we all become morons when dreaming? Alan Schertzer

Road Map to Save Artifacts

Downtown Tucson and the Santa catalina Mountains loom in the distance in this october 2000 photo showing an excavation at Julian Wash in Arizona. once dismissed as a probable trash heap, the site is now recognized as a large Hohokam village from about A.D. 750 to 1150, and it is a shining example of preservation archaeology, in which sites are excavated and preserved in concert with development. After Arizona made plans to rebuild an interstate exchange at the Julian Wash site, archaeologists and the state established a twostage preservation plan. Researchers rst excavated a strip of land that held hundreds of dwellings as well as other artifacts, according to William Doelle of Desert Archaeology Inc. The interstate was subsequently built over these parcels, and nearly 17 additional acres near the site were preserved for future exploration. Fred Powledge

This is a very good question. The dreaming brains activity is largely similar to that found when awake, but some areas of the brain are less active in dreams. In particular, activity in a region called the precuneus is lower and this area has been linked to conscious experience. In one study, activity in the precuneus was higher during lucid dreams (in which you are aware of being asleep) than normal dreams. So the precuneus, and perhaps other connected areas, might generate the self-awareness and insight thats often lacking in dreams but how this happens is unknown. NeuroSkepTIc
Does dark matter affect the navigation of the spacecraft we launch to explore the solar system? Richard Rosing
TOP TO BOTTOM: adreil heisey; dOUGlas TaylOr/deserT arChaeOlOGy; arChaeOlOGy sOUThWesT

The effect of dark matter on spacecraft is basically zero much smaller than the subtle effects of sunlight and solar wind. The inferred density of dark matter, based on the motions of nearby stars, is equivalent to about ve hydrogen atoms per cubic inch. Thats not much, and its spread out evenly so its not even pulling a spacecraft all in one direction. Astronomers would love to study dark matter by measuring its pull on a space probe, but nobody has gured out how to do that yet. Corey S. Powell
Visit DiscoverMagazine.com/Ask for expanded answers. To submit a question, you can send an email to Ask@DiscoverMagazine.com

Area of Archaeological Investigation

Archaeological Preserve



National Collectors Mint announces a special limited release of 3,085 Morgan Silver Dollars 92-135 years old at $39 each. Several prominent national dealers charge up to $28.75 MORE for a comparable Morgan Silver Dollar. These Morgans are among the last surviving originals still in existence, and each coin is guaranteed to be in mostly Brilliant Uncirculated to Fine condition. Due to volatile fluctuations in the precious metals market, price can be guaranteed @ $39 each for one week only! MARKET CONDITIONS The last time silver hit $50 an ounce, China was a poor, underdeveloped nation. Now, the Chinese are rich and using over three times as much silver! Will this drive the price of silver back to $50 or even higher? One thing is certain dramatic increases in silver investment have seen silver prices rise over 129% in the last five years, and as much as 29% in one month alone! But you can still get these Morgans for just $39 each! INVESTMENT Increasing prices of precious metals make every Morgan Silver Dollar more valuable. But acquiring your own private cache of Morgan Silver Dollars is a long term investment in so much more... in history... in American heritage... in the splendid rendering of Miss Libertys profile by designer George T. Morgan, whose M mark on every Morgan Silver Dollar identifies his masterwork. And, of course, Morgan Silver Dollars have not been minted for 92 years and are no longer in circulation. Phone orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis and a limit of 100 coins per customer will be strictly adhered to. Due to

Original U.S. Govt Morgan Silver Dollars

Hello, Im Angela Marie Buchanan. You might know me as Bay Buchanan. I was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be the 37th Treasurer of the United States maybe youve seen my signature on some of the bills in your wallet. So, you can understand why our nations coins are vitally important to me. Thats why Im so pleased to be able to announce this release of Morgan Silver Dollars by National Collectors Mint. Of all the coins ever struck by the U.S. Govt, none have so captured our imaginations the way Morgans have. Perhaps its because Morgan Silver Dollars are so much a part of our heritage that striking image of Lady Liberty has been with us since 1878, a time when America was only 38 states big, and much of our country was raw frontier. Morgans gleaming silver dollars saw us through two World Wars. They fueled periods of wealth and helped us survive the struggle of the Great Depression. Of course, they gained even more notoriety in the casinos of the Old West and then again, in the casinos of the new Las Vegas. Most of all, they are a constant symbol of America. So I invite you to sample some of these magnificent Morgan Silver Dollars. Enjoy them. Protect them. Celebrate them. What better way to hold your history, our history, Americas history in the palm of your hand! Sincerely,

Direct from Locked Vaults to U.S. Citizens!

A message from the

the extremely limited nature of this offer, mail orders cannot be accepted. THIS OFFER MAY BE WITHDRAWN AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE AT THE SOLE DISCRETION OF NCM. You may order 1 Morgan Silver Dollar for $39, plus $4 shipping, handling and insurance, 3 for $124 ppd., 5 for $204.50 ppd., 10 for $403 ppd., 20 for $799 ppd., 50 for $1980 ppd., 100 for $3935 ppd. If youre not 100% delighted with your purchase simply send us your postage paid return within 60 days for a refund of your purchase price. Dont wait. ACT NOW!

National Collectors Mint, Inc. is an independent, private corporation not affiliated with, endorsed, or licensed by the U.S. Government or the U.S. Mint.
Offer not valid in CT.

37th Treasurer of the United States of America Co-Director, NCM Board of Advisors

Angela Marie (Bay) Buchanan


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2013 NCM, Inc. R7-R52




On the Hunt for Killer Mushrooms

and there was no way we could have walked all the way back. Fortunately, we found someone with a motorbike who was moved by our efforts to solve one of the villages problems and was willing to take us to our car. With three of us on the one bike, it took almost two hours to get back, and my graduate student was taken to the hospital because of severe fatigue. In the end, we found that the mushroom didnt have high concentrations of barium. Other mushrooms from Yunnan had normal levels of barium, too. We concluded that barium in this mushroom is not the cause of SUDs, as had been suggested. There are likely multiple factors contributing to these deaths: other toxins in this species of mushroom, the genetics of the victims, contaminated food and other environmental factors. I hope now that people will not be concerned about barium in wild edible mushrooms in Yunnan.

Jianping Xu, a fungus specialist, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

in His Ow n wOR ds
Summer in southwestern China is the monsoon season, with heavy rain at unpredictable times throughout the day. The area has many deep gorges, rivers and steep mountains. Most villages with SUD cases are in very remote and hard-to-reach areas, requiring long walks or hill climbs. For one of the trips, in 2010, we walked for ve hours over 18 miles in the rain on muddy clay paths to reach the village. Because the mushroom is not common, we had to ask many locals before we found someone who knew a spot where it grew. By the time we nished collecting the mushrooms and in the process we were bitten by many leeches we were hungry and thirsty,

A specimen of Trogia venenata, a fungus originally thought to be the cause of illness in southwestern China.




Since the late 1970s, more than 400 people of all ages in remote areas of Chinas southwestern Yunnan province have dropped dead sometimes in midsentence from a mysterious cause, mostly during the summer. The so-called sudden unexplained deaths (SUDs) seemed to be the result of heart attacks, but no one was sure what was prompting them as only half of the autopsies revealed underlying heart disease. In 2010, Chinese health offcials warned that, based on preliminary tests of the victims, the culprit was a dangerously high level of barium in a local edible mushroom, Trogia venenata. The little white mushroom isnt valuable, but exports of other fungi, including matsutake and porcinis, are a major source of income for Yunnans native people; fears of barium poisoning could hurt the regions economy. Not everyone was convinced that barium was the killer, so from 2009 to 2011, biologist Jianping Xu of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, collected samples of the mushrooms to investigate. as told to jennifer abbasi


See a Fish Think
In a rst, researchers in Japan have captured the brain activity of a living animal as it pursues its prey. Seeing is believing, says Koichi Kawakami, a molecular and developmental biologist at Japans National Institute of Genetics. In the past, he says, researchers have had to infer brain processes indirectly, by watching behavior and surmising what the brain must be doing. That makes his feat a big improvement. Nothing is better than direct observation, he says. For years, researchers have regarded the ability to watch an organisms neurons re at high resolution, as the animal behaves naturally as the pinnacle of brain observation. In humans, neuroimaging techniques show brain activity, but the methods arent fast or ne-grained enough to give a clear picture, Kawakami says. Attempts on mice and rats have been challenging: Their brains must be opened, which is invasive and makes it difcult to capture brain activity in natural conditions. In most animals, including humans and A zebrashs neurons activate rodents, the biggest (shown in red) as problem is that skulls it watches prey and brains are opaque. nearby. Kawakami and his team cleared that hurdle by choosing the zebrash as their model. Zebrash embryos and larvae are transparent, and their genetics are well-known. The researchers tinkered with the shs DNA so that a protein present only in neurons would uoresce when the neurons were ring. They then watched the neuronal activity of the developing sh at high resolution as it moved about its natural environment, eyeing and attacking its prey. The fundamental brain functions are conserved between sh and human, says Kawakami. We hope that we can understand the processes at cellular and molecular levels by studying the sh brain, he adds.
susanne rust

Understanding the Suns Energy

The solar corona, our suns energetic atmosphere, has long bafed scientists who dont understand how it gets all that energy. We call it the coronal heating problem, says Jonathan Cirtain, an astrophysicist at NASAs Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Why is the surface of the sun 6,000 Kelvin while the corona is 7 million Kelvin? Cirtain and a team of researchers have helped solve the mystery using the highest-resolution images ever taken of the corona. In July 2012, the researchers launched a telescope less than 10 inches in diameter dubbed the High-Resolution Coronal Imager, or Hi-C 174 miles above Earth. The Hi-C spent only ve minutes observing the sun before parachuting back to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, but it yielded remarkable results. The team captured images of solar braiding, the transfer of energy from the suns magnetic elds to the corona, theorized in 1983 but never observed. Astronomers have long seen loops of magnetic eld lines extend from within the sun out into the corona. These get twisted and tangled and release energy into the corona while unraveling. Braiding is a similar, but far more complex,

process. It apparently involves a lot more magnetic eld lines, Cirtain says. Plus, those eld lines break, reconnect and interweave, he says. Solar braiding is also known as Parker Braiding after Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist credited with weaving the theory together, Cirtain says. Parker, 86 and retired, says its gratifying that his 30-year-old theory has nally been observed. I always hoped the resolution would creep up on this thing, Parker says. He adds that the new study may help researchers understand not just our sun, but other stars. jay r. thompson




The High-Resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C) captured a range of solar activity (top), including the rst observations of solar braiding. The Hi-C team, posing with the orbital telescope after its mission (above), suggests the braiding helps explain why the suns corona is so unexpectedly hot.

Life in Our Universe

Taught by Professor Laird Close
the university of arizona

lecture titles





Are We Alone in the Universe?

Does the cosmos pulse with signs of life? This is one of the most profound issues facing mankindand one of the unresolved questions that science may nally be able to answer in this century. No matter what the answer, one thing is for certain: The implications are vast. Life in Our Universe reveals the cutting-edge research that leads scientists to believe that life is not exclusive to Earth. Taught by Dr. Laird Close, an award-winning Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The University of Arizona, these 24 visually stunning lectures take you on a remarkable journey through space and time, from the big bang to NASAs Kepler mission, which has identied more than 2,000 likely new planets. Its an unprecedented opportunity to join astrobiologists on the hunt for microbial life elsewhere in our solar system and Earth-like planets in alien solar systemsone of the elds holy grailsas you explore the subject of life and the mysteries that remain.
Life in Our Universe
Course no. 1898 | 24 lectures (30 minutes/lecture)


1. Is There Life Elsewhere in Our Universe? 2. Bang! A Universe Built for Life 3. A Star Is BornForming the Solar System 4. The Early Earth and Its Moon 5. ImpactsBringers of Death or Life? 6. Evidence of the First Life on Earth 7. Common Themes for All Life on Earth 8. Origin of Terrestrial Life 9. AstrobiologyLife beyond Earth 10. Has Mars Always Been Dead? 11. Evidence for Fossilized Life from Mars 12. Could Life Ever Have Existed on Venus? 13. Liquid AssetsThe Moons of Jupiter 14. Liquid on Titan and Enceladus 15. Discovery of Extrasolar Planets 16. The Kepler Spacecrafts Planets 17. A Tour of Exotic Alien Solar Systems 18. Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life 19. SETIThe Search for Intelligent Life 20. The Fermi ParadoxWhere Is Everyone? 21. Space TravelA Reality Check 22. Terraforming a Planet 23. The Future of Terrestrial Life 24. The Search for Another Earth



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Designed to meet the demand for lifelong learning, The Great Courses is a highly popular series of audio and video lectures led by top professors and experts. Each of our more than 400 courses is an intellectually engaging experience that will change how you think about the world. Since 1990, over 10 million courses have been sold.



Tornado Tech
Tornadoes may be destructive, but even funnel clouds have a silver lining. Inspired by the process that creates natural twisters, electrical engineer Louis Michaud of Canadas AVEtec Energy Corp. designed a nonpolluting source of swirling power he calls the Atmospheric Vortex Engine. The device can spin waste heat from power plants into usable energy. Instead of directing excess heat into conventional cooling towers that simply disperse it into the air, power plants could usher the heat into the hollow, open-topped tower of a vortex engine. A heat exchanger outside the tower transfers the extra heat (piped in as warm water) to ambient air. When this warmed air is directed into the tower at an angle, it encounters cooler air and produces a circular current. This current funnels air upward into a controlled twister whose low-pressure center draws more air into the tower, turning turbines at its base. These turbines drive a generator much like a wind turbine does, except, as Michaud says, Youve got more oomph to push it with. Michaud has already demonstrated working models of the engine up to 15 feet across, but the real deal would measure 300 feet wide and half as tall, capable of producing tamed twisters that stretch nine miles high. When hooked up to the average

Excess heat from power plants or seawater could be twisted into a renewable energy source.
500-megawatt natural-gas or coal power plant, the vortex engine could produce an extra 200 megawatts of energy just by putting the excess heat to use. At a cost of less than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, tornado energy is cheaper than burning coal (which rings up at 4 or 5 cents per kwh) and produces no additional greenhouse gases. The vortex engine could also run on heat sources other than power plants. Youve got to have warm air, and youve got to have spin, Michaud says. Solar heat or warm ocean waters t the bill. If theres enough energy in warm seawater to produce a hurricane, Michaud says, theres enough energy to run a vortex engine.
Breanna Draxler

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is also extremely vulnerable to pollution, especially acid rain. Previous attempts at creating protective coatings failed because they were too thick: They blocked pollutants, but also prevented limestone from expanding and contracting with changes in temperature, leading to structural damage. The new oleic acid coating is inherently hydrophobic, repelling water and any pollutants, and it allows the material to react to temperature uctuations naturally. In the words of the researchers, it allows the stone to breathe. The oleic coating is also remarkably thin, just about a nanometer thick, allowing it to conform to even the smallest cracks and imperfections in the structure. Many conservation groups are now interested in putting this historic food supply to use protecting historic buildings.
Mary Beth GriGGs

Condiment Conservation
What does salad dressing have in common with building conservation? Olive oil. Researchers led by Karen Wilson in Cardiff, Wales, discovered that oleic acid, a component of the food staple, has just the right properties to make an excellent coating to help preserve historic structures. Some great historic buildings, such as the York Minster cathedral in England (pictured), are made from limestone, a popular material because it was cheap, plentiful and easy to build with. Unfortunately, limestone


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Save Our Satellites

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Sending maintenance robots on orbital servicing missions may no longer be the stuff of science ction.

Earlier this year, as astronauts busied themselves inside the International Space Station, engineers on the ground conducted their own experiment just outside the craft. Operating from a control room in Houston, they directed a nearly 60-foot-long, Canadian-built robotic arm to grab a smaller, two-armed robot called Dextre, before moving it into position in front of a washing machine-size module attached to the station. Then, Dextre reached into the module, grabbed one of four toaster-size, custom-made, high-tech tools there, and proceeded to snip two safety wires, unscrew two fller caps on the outside of the module and pump a few liters of ethanol into a small holding tank. The Jan. 25 exercise wasnt especially dramatic it made no headlines. But the maneuvers, formally known as the Robotic Refueling Mission, represent what could be a revolutionary step in space science and commerce. Its part of the larger Notional Robotic Servicing Mission (thats Notional, not National, because so far its only an idea) that would send fully automated repair robots to survey, fx and refuel aging orbiters. If it works, the project, run out of NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., could save federal and commercial satellite owners billions of dollars. A single communications satellite can generate tens of millions in revenue every year, so keeping even a few of them operating a few years longer could make a huge difference. InItIal Costs The decision to explore the idea is a no-brainer, says Benjamin Reed,

deputy project manager of NASAs Satellite Servicing Capabilities Offce (SSCO). Right now, there are about a thousand satellites operating in space. Of those, just two were designed to be serviced in orbit: the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station, he says. So we began thinking about the other 998. What could be done for them? The we in this case was the team

If it works, the project could save federal and commercial satellite owners billions of dollars.

that masterminded the multiple servicing missions that refurbished and upgraded Hubble designing the tools shuttle astronauts would use, training the spacewalkers how to use them and offering real-time guidance during the missions themselves. Reeds team also consulted on other satellite repair operations, including a Challenger fight in 1984 that fxed the ailing Solar Max satellite. When the shuttle Columbia disintegrated in 2003, killing all seven astronauts, Reed recalls an all-hands meeting a couple of days later where team leader Frank Cepollina said, Were going robotic, right? The agency hadnt decided this yet, says Reed, but Frank knew we would still be servicing Hubble, so by God, lets do it with robots instead of risking the lives of astronauts. For the next 15 months, the team worked on the design for a robotic servicing vehicle, only to have NASA decide in the end to let astronauts carry out the ffth and fnal Hubble repair after all, in 2009. Having put in the work already,

The Canadian-built Dextre, a two-armed robot aboard the International Space Station, could be a predecessor to a eet of robots capable of repairing defunct orbiting satellites.




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Big Idea
Reed says the team fgured, Heck, we know how to do things robotically. So they began thinking about those other 998 satellites. Do they have servicing needs? we asked. Well, obviously they do. Just to begin with, he says, most of the satellites carry fuel for the small rockets that nudge them back into the proper orbit when they begin to drift. When they run out of fuel, says Reed, theyre replaced. And whether its the private communications satellite that carries your phone calls or a government satellite that tracks the weather, we all end up footing the bill for that replacement one way or another. With costs running into hundreds of millions of dollars for replacement satellites, and with replacements needed every 12 to 15 years, extending a satellites life beyond the average could result in billions in savings. Simply topping off the rocket fuel would keep many otherwise dead satellites operating for years. Thats what the January test was all about. GoinG Farther It wouldnt be practical to refuel satellites in low-Earth orbit. There are lots of them, admits Reed, but theyre all going in different directions. Its tough to create a servicing mission thats dedicated to more than one satellite. So the engineers at Goddard began focusing on servicing satellites in geosynchronous orbits, in the band about 22,500 miles above the planets surface where one orbit around Earth lasts exactly one day. About 400 satellites are in geosynchronous orbit today, says Reed, and the vast majority of satellites are on the same highway. Theyre on the same belt. Theyre all going in the same direction. That makes it relatively simple for a servicing robot to fit from one satellite to the next, pumping in fuel here, replacing a battery there, pulling a stuck solar panel out to full extension, even dragging the satellite to a different spot on the orbiting belt or into a safe graveyard orbit if its beyond repair.

The decision to explore the idea of sending repair robots to fx satellites is a no-brainer.
Unlike Hubble, however, none of the geosynchronous satellites was designed for mid-orbit maintenance, so they have no special tabs or knobs for a repair robot to grab onto. And since nobody ever expected to refuel the satellites, the fueling ports arent standardized. Thats why the practice module used in the January Robotic Refueling Mission test has an array of different fller caps studded along its surface. Its also why the SSCO has outftted a warehouse-like structure at the edge of the Goddard campus with robot arms and mock-up satellite parts. Here, the engineers can develop the tools, techniques and software that robotic repair/ refueling missions could someday use in space. The tools wielded by the Dextre robot in January came from here. the new reality Someday, Reed, Cepollina and the other team members hope manufacturers will agree to build their satellites with orbital servicing in mind, but that clearly wont happen until robotic repair satellites are much further developed. Its a chicken-and-egg problem, but that

One of Dextres tools approaches a sealed cap it must try to open, a likely obstacle in a mission to repair satellites that were never intended to be serviced.

doesnt mean the manufacturers arent interested. The aerospace industry has already looked into what small changes it might make to future satellites. They dont want something that costs a million dollars, says Reed. But they might be willing to use a Velcro-like closure, instead of tape, for attaching insulation around their fll-and-drain valve. That way, when a robot goes to push it back, its a simple peel job, its not a cut and you can reattach it afterward. Or they might slap a small patterned decal on the satellite, so that when the robot sidles up, it can tell instantly if everythings lining up properly. Its a teensy bit of extra work for the manufacturer teensy compared with the building of a $100 million satellite. For now, the main task is to keep practicing with the International Space Stations module, using the various fller caps they have to work with. Then, a couple of years from now, the plate holding those caps will be taken off and replaced with two more busy boards, as Reed calls them, that will help develop other kinds of repair functions. Naturally, the change-out will be done robotically. D
Michael Lemonick is a senior science writer for Climate Central and DISCOVER contributor.



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Mind Over Matter

What Makes a Hero?

By ElizabEth svoboda

Although generosity may often be self-interested, research suggests true selessness and compassion can also be taught.

It was a sunny summer day in 2010 just outside Houston, and 54-year-old Shirley Dygert was getting ready to skydive for the rst time. Though nervous, she felt at ease after meeting her instructor, Dave Hartsock the man shed be strapped to as they executed a tandem dive from a plane. When she asked him how often hed done this, he reassured her, Hundreds of jumps. But problems started as soon as Hartsock opened the parachute to stop their free fall. The chute didnt open all the way, and the backup parachute got tangled up. As the two neared the ground, Hartsock made a fateful decision, using control toggles to rotate himself so his body would cushion Dygerts fall. Hartsocks action dramatically altered the course of both their lives. While Dygert incurred some injuries, Hartsocks spinal cord suffered a severe blow, paralyzing him from the neck down. A man whod just met Dygert sacriced his own well-being so she might keep hers. I was absolutely amazed, Dygert says, blinking back tears. How can somebody have that much love for another person? The question that still preoccupies Dygert is the same one that echoed in so many peoples minds after the story of Hartsocks feat went public: Why? Why did Dave Hartsock going against every

This fabric rendering, titled Warm Glow, is accurately modeled after fMRI scans from research by University of Oregon economist Bill Harbaugh and colleagues. Colored areas are brain regions that show heightened activity associated with making charitable decisions. The artwork was created by University of Oregon psychologist Marjorie Taylor, who is married to Harbaugh.

self-preserving impulse that must have screamed through him propel his body in a direction he knew would put him in harms way? Can anybody learn to build on natural biological endowments to become such a model of selessness? That question has recently spurred a wave of research exploring how biology and experience intersect to produce seless behavior, which runs along a broad continuum from everyday generosity to acts of extraordinary self-sacrice. An IntrInsIc rewArd A few years ago, economist Bill Harbaugh of the University of Oregon wanted to know what rational calculations play into peoples charitable giving choices. He and psychologist colleague Ulrich Mayr presented subjects with opportunities to donate to a food bank from a fund of $100. An fMRI

scanner recorded what areas of their brains were activated as they chose. When subjects decided to donate their money, Harbaugh and Mayr found, brain areas involved in processing rewards lit up more than they did when the decision to donate was not their own, but was instead dictated by the experimenters. One such area was the nucleus accumbens, which contains neurons that release the pleasure chemical dopamine. This area keeps track of rewards, whatever kind they are, Harbaugh says. Some subjects, whom he calls egoists, showed less such activity at the prospect of seeing their money go to charity. Those he calls altruists showed more. The results, he says, suggest that at least for some people, giving money to others provides an intrinsic reward that is neurologically similar to ingesting an addictive drug.










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Mind Over Matter

Compassion is a musCle Harbaugh and Mayrs results raise the question of whether it might be possible to stoke the brains reward system. Can reinforcing generosity make people especially those who lean toward the egoist side of the spectrum start to crave the pleasure of giving? Harbaugh is optimistic. You can change your taste for all kinds of things, he says. For example, if charities ask donors for relatively small amounts of money at rst, the neural reward from giving may outweigh the pain of giving up money. Having had a pleasurable experience on balance, donors might be more apt to give again. People may also be able to train their minds to be more seless through meditation focused on compassionate thinking. In one study, University of Wisconsin-Madison psychologist Richard Davidson put long-term meditators and people with no meditation experience into fMRI scanners and piped in either emotionally charged sounds, such as the cry of a woman in distress, or neutral sounds, such as background chatter in a restaurant. When listening to emotionally charged sounds, the longterm meditators showed greater activity in brain areas involved in experiencing emotion and empathy. Davidson believes his results support the theory that consistent compassion meditation makes it easier to understand what other people are going through, and may motivate us to intervene when someone else is in distress. Another recent experiment in his lab suggests compassion is like a muscle that can be conditioned. In the study, Davidson, graduate student Helen Weng and colleagues recruited 41 participants, none of whom were experienced meditators. The researchers trained a group of participants in compassion meditation, a form of Buddhist meditation, for 30
Adapted from What Makes a hero? by Elizabeth Svoboda. Copyright 2013 by Elizabeth Svoboda. Reprinted by arrangement with Current, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

minutes daily for two weeks. The practice involved focusing ones thoughts on a particular person and repeating phrases such as, May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease. Participants in a control group practiced a different technique known as cognitive reappraisal, in which they learned to generate fewer negative thoughts. After the training, participants in both groups played an online game in which another person was treated unfairly. Wengs team found that people who practiced compassion meditation were more willing to shell out money to help

researchers at Emory University found that such training enhanced peoples ability to correctly interpret other peoples facial expressions. The helpers high Some researchers speculate that the brain is so readily trained for compassion and generosity because those traits carry adaptive value. Some research hints that selessness yields both mental and physical rewards. When Allan Luks, director of Fordham Universitys Center for Nonprot Leaders, surveyed thousands of volunteers across the country, 95 percent of respondents reported a pleasurable physical sensation associated with helping what Luks refers to as the helpers high. In a study of 423 older couples, University of Michigan researchers found that those who reported providing no help to others were more than twice as likely to die during the ve-year study period than those who reported helping others. But it might be counterproductive to help others exclusively with such benets in mind. In one study, researchers found that the people who experienced the most signicant longevity gain from helping were those whose goal was to help for its own sake. People who volunteered in hopes of escaping their own troubles or feeling better about themselves were no better off than those who didnt volunteer at all. Perhaps, then, its most constructive not to think of the helpers high as an end in itself, but as a fringe benet. The personal effects of more extreme heroism are likely more complicated. For example, taking extraordinary risks can mean bucking social norms, which can cause distress as, of course, can consequences such as injury. On the other hand, the knowledge that youve demonstrated moral courage when it counted carries enormous power. Just ask Dave Hartsock, who suffered terrible injuries to save Shirley Dygert. He insists he wouldnt have done things any other way. D
Elizabeth Svoboda is a freelance science journalist who writes for DIsCoVer and Psychology today. She lives in San Jose, Calif.

People may also be able to train their minds to be more selfess through meditation.

Dave Hartsock and Shirley Dygert meet for the rst time after the skydiving accident that left Hartsock paralyzed.

the unfortunate victim, compared with those in the control group. Whats more, in a neuroimaging study in which the participants were shown images depicting human suffering, those who gave most generously during the online game also showed greatest activation in brain areas involved in empathy, emotion regulation and positive emotion. Other research bolsters these ndings. Stanford psychologist Jeanne Tsai and colleagues found, for example, that after taking a brief compassion meditation course, people were less fearful of showing compassion to themselves and others and of accepting compassion. And



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Electronic monitors now in development could mold to the brains surface to sense aberrant electrical activity.

Materials scientist John Rogers can coax electronics into surprising new forms, allowing them to bend, warp and buckle or even disappear.
By Ed Yong and ValEriE ross 30

ull apart any electrical device and you will nd a riot of right angles, straight lines and at, uncompromising silicon wafers. John Rogers is changing that. The 45-year-old materials scientist has spent more than 15 years developing electronics that can bend and stretch without breaking. His devices, from surgical sutures that monitor skin temperature to biodegradable sensors that dissolve when their useful life is done, share a unifying quality: They can slip seamlessly into the soft, moist, moving conditions of the living world. Other scientists construct exible electronics from innately bendy materials such as graphene, a lattice of pure carbon only one atom thick. From his lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rogers has bucked the trend, building most of his devices from silicon, a normally rigid material but one that, due to widespread use and desirable attributes such as outstanding thermal conductivity, has a track record of efciency and low cost. Rogers team has tapped silicons rep for reliability by tricking it into a more malleable form. Rather than making transistors from conventional silicon wafers, they slice the material into sheets several times thinner than a human hair. At this scale, Rogers says, something that would otherwise be brittle is completely oppy. Riding this approach, Rogers has led dozens of patents and launched ve companies to get his products off the ground. His Cambridge, Mass., company MC10 is developing sensors that can t the contours of the brain or heart to monitor for early signs of epileptic seizures or heart arrhythmias. North Carolinabased Semprius is making ultra-efcient solar cells as thin as a pencil tip and exible enough to roll into a tube or print on plastic or cloth. With all his devices, including the ve spotlighted here, Rogers goal is to make a lasting impact. If we were successful beyond our wildest dreams, he says, its important that people would care.

Rogers and colleagues compound camera lens is modeled after the eye of an ant (shown to scale in this composite illustration), giving it a wide eld of view and acute motion-sensing capability.

Bugs-Eye View

Anyone who has tried and failed to swat a fy can

appreciate the benefts of its wide feld of view and keen ability to detect movement. The advantage derives from insects compound eyes, which scoop up visual information through hundreds or thousands of visual receptors, called ommatidia, covering the eyes curved surface. The more receptors, the more information the brain can assemble, and therefore, the more acute the insects vision. Building on earlier work modeling a camera on the shape of a human eye, Rogers and his team recently unveiled a camera inspired by an insects compound eye. Instead of making a single curved lens to focus light onto a fat surface, they built a camera packed with tiny lenses, each connected to an individual photodetector. The uniqueness of this design, Rogers says, is that it sees in all directions at once. The camera also renders both close-up and faraway objects in perfect focus. And because each lens needs to process only a narrow feld of view and therefore a small packet of data the camera responds quickly to moving objects, just like insects do. If youre interested in a surveillance system, those properties are important, Rogers says. Compound cameras could also be useful in medical procedures, such as endoscopy, that require a close-up view inside body cavities. Rogers current camera has only modest resolution, akin to that of a fre ant or bark beetle, insects with relatively few ommatidia. He plans to scale up to higher resolutions, mimicking the ocular prowess of a praying mantis or a dragonfy. And eventually, he hopes to achieve resolutions that exceed anything that has ever existed in biology.
September 2013 DISCOVER



Fits Like a Glove

Imagine that one day years from now, a peculiar pattern of electrical activity courses through your heart, causing it to beat erratically. But before you develop full-blown arrhythmia, which can be life-threatening, a network of hundreds of sensors steps in. Conforming to the shape of your heart, the network delivers its own set of electrical pulses, resetting the normal rhythm. And you barely feel a thing. Rogers has moved toward this futuristic vision by creating sensor arrays that can precisely mold to the shape of body organs. Heart sensors made of stretchy, lightweight material and embedded with electronics envelop the heart like a thin sock, providing real-time measurements of cardiac activity. The goal, Rogers says, is to detect early signs of arrhythmia and deliver coordinated voltages across the entire organ, rather than delivering massive, painful shocks at a few points, as current defbrillators do. His collaborators at Washington University in St. Louis have tested the device, which he calls an artifcial pericardium, on rabbits and on human hearts removed from transplant recipients, and trials in live patients could be close. Another of Rogers devices is designed to detect early signs of epileptic seizures. But unlike other brain implants, which either sit on the scalp or have to be jabbed into brain tissue, this one sits on the surface of the brain. And while modern electrodes can scan the brain either over a large area or in great detail, Rogers device can do both. Developed with colleagues at the Penn Epilepsy Center, the device measures brain activity using an array of 360 electrodes encapsulated in silk. When the silk dissolves, the array molds

An inatable sheath embedded with integrated electronics can wrap around and move with a beating heart to monitor electrical activity. The device is designed to deliver electrical pulses if arrhythmia is detected.

to the organs surface like shrink-wrap, even folding into the brains otherwise-inaccessible nooks and crannies. In a recent test using a cat as a test subject, Rogers team showed that the sensors, connected to computers via a thin cable, could identify specifc neural signals that portend a seizure. He plans to develop a wireless system and scale up the sensors to human size; after that, he says, surgeons could use them to monitor seizures in the brains of epileptic patients, helping guide surgical decisions. Rogers also envisions implants that could detect signs of seizure and then stimulate local neurons to prevent electrical buildup, perhaps averting seizures entirely.

Striving for Impact

John RogeRs,
University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign

Your early work at Bell Labs in the 90s focused on consumer products, like exible screens with the look and feel of real paper. Why did you pivot to other areas, such as medical devices? Many consumer electronic gadgets have limited societal benet, and most are

quickly supplanted by some next-generation thing. Were hoping some of the things were pursuing can have some qualitatively different level of signicance. The shift accelerated in 2002 after I gave a talk at the University of Pennsylvania, and a neuroscience student in the audience expressed an interest

Just Add Water

Normally, electronic devices destined for damp environs are built to withstand moisture. Rogers and his crew have designed electronics that do the opposite, dissolving without a trace over a period of minutes, hours, days or weeks and potentially even years. Such transient electronics, as Rogers calls them, could monitor and prevent infection at surgical sites, then resorb into the body on a predetermined schedule. They could also be used as environmental sensors, monitoring an oil spill or chemical contamination site, for instance, and then dissolving once the disaster is cleaned up, saving recovery teams the ordeal of collection. Transient electronics would also be valuable to the military, enabling devices carrying them to collect sensitive information, then disappear into thin air (or water, as the case may be). Not only do Rogers transient devices dissolve into the environment, they are also harmless when they do. In fact, Rogers says, most ingredients in his devices are listed on a bottle of daily vitamins. During a talk at a recent electrical engineering conference, a colleague bet Rogers that he wouldnt dare pop one of the transient devices into his mouth and swallow it on stage; Rogers won the bet. To create the technology, Rogers team started with a flm of purifed silk, which is bendable and extremely soluble in water. Rather than using traditional aluminum or copper to make electrodes that serve as sensors, the team used magnesium, a nontoxic metal thats highly conductive and dissolves in water. And instead of using conventional silicon wafers for transistors and diodes, they used silicon layers only 50 nanometers thick, enabling the components to dissolve in a couple of weeks. Finally, the team coated the entire device in magnesium oxide, another nontoxic compound often given as an antacid that works as an insulator in electronics. The thicker the layer of magnesium oxide, the longer it takes for water to get through, and so the more slowly the device dissolves.


Transient electronics can dissolve entirely in water or other liquids over a period of time ranging from minutes to weeks, a capability that offers a wide range of medical, environmental and other uses.

Testing their devices in a solution with a pH and temperature similar to that of the human body, Rogers team found that depending on the thickness of the coating, the devices worked for as little as 40 minutes or as long as fve days and disappeared entirely within two weeks. That range could make the devices suitable for applications as diverse as postoperative antibacterials and extended medical monitoring. Rogers and his team have even made non-insulated devices that dissolve in just 10 to 20 seconds. We want to engineer them for as wide a time frame as possible, from a few seconds to many years, he says. In one application, Rogers team devised a transient, fexible flm to kill bacteria using electricity instead of drugs. The devices electricity kills pathogens with heat, or thermal sterilization, a method that prevents animals from building up resistance to antibiotics. In a recent test, the device successfully killed microbes both in a petri dish and when implanted under the skin of a rat; it lasted about two weeks, the amount of time surgery patients are most at risk for post-op infections.

in putting our electronics on brains. That conversation led to a fruitful, long-lasting collaboration with his adviser and opened up clinical medicine as a focus of our research.

feels like a step backward. Why did you do it?

You went from using semiconductor materials that are inherently exible to using silicon, a more conventional material not known for its exibility. That

I started looking for new ways to make exible electronics out of necessity. When I was at Bell Labs, I was surrounded by amazing organic chemists who could cook up all kinds of interesting polymers and organic molecules that we could use to build transistors. When I left for Illinois, I

knew I wouldnt have my chemistry collaborators next door anymore, so I needed to nd a different way to make an impact. We started to get interested in ultrathin silicon because thin geometries render any material exible. A 2-by-4 is rigid, but a sheet of paper is not similar materials, just different thicknesses. The same goes for silicon. A wafer is rigid and brittle, but sheets of silicon

with nanoscale thicknesses are oppy and exible.


Your devices are not only exible, but stretchable. Why does that matter? It makes it possible to wrap them around hemispherical shapes or soft biological tissues, like the brain or heart. For seamless, minimally invasive integration (continued on page 34)

September 2013 DISCOVER


Second Skin

Normally, devices that monitor muscle contractions and other biological activity are too bulky to be practical anywhere but a hospital or lab. Rogers and colleagues hope to bring these applications to the street and home with a wireless circuit board that can be printed directly on skin to monitor a wide range of biological functions, including heart rate, skin temperature, muscle activity and hydration. In an earlier version of their electronic skin, researchers in Rogers group packed temperature sensors, light detectors and other components onto a rubbery sheet that could be applied like a temporary tattoo, bending and stretching without breaking. But it washed off within a couple of days. Their current model, less than a micron thick, dispenses with the polymer backing, instead stamping the electronics directly onto the skin and sealing the array with a spray-on bandage. The device conforms so well to the creases and troughs of human skin that it can stay on for up to two weeks before it is sloughed off. And it is so unobtrusive that people can wear it on sensitive and shifting parts of their body, like the skin of their throats. The device could enable doctors to continuously monitor a wide range of vital functions. For example, by measuring electrical conductivity or the spread of heat in the skin, it can monitor hydration, allowing it to spot early signs of heart problems marked by water retention. It can also send small electric currents to stimulate muscles as part of a physical therapy regimen. Its noninvasiveness also makes it especially useful in neonatal care. Recently, Rogers showed that people could control a simple computer game with a throat-mounted e-skin that sensed their voice commands by detecting muscular contractions and translating them into virtual commands such as up, down, left and right. Other volunteers could use e-skin capable of sensing muscle tensing in forearms to fy a remote-controlled helicopter.

(continued from page 33)

of an abiotic system, like electronics, with a biological one, the mechanics and shapes must match up precisely. Since we cant change biological systems to make them look like silicon chips, weve focused on the reverse.

How did you realize that stretchability is as important as exibility?

Strain gauge

Temp. sensor Wireless power coil RF coil

Antenna LED RF diode ECG/EMG sensor Rogers and colleagues rst electronic skin (top) placed electronic components on a thin, elastic polymer sheet that could be applied like a temporary tattoo. More recently, they have developed an array of sensors and other components that can be printed directly onto the skin (bottom).

Sometime in early 2005, a postdoc noticed that during the initial step of the printing process, the rubber stamps we use to print the ultrathin silicon could sometimes be slightly stretched in handling just before contact with the thin silicon. That can cause the silicon to adopt a wavy shape, almost like an accordion bellows. These shapes were formed initially by accident.


So relaxing the rubber then compressed the silicon. What effect did that have? We were, in a sense, making the silicon do gymnastics to buckle, stretch and deform. It took us a while to precisely understand the underlying physics of what was going on and to optimize the process, but as weve done so,

weve come up with dozens of applications, including devices that conform precisely to the surfaces of body organs; or that can be attached to surgical instruments for insertion into the body with minimal harm to surrounding tissues; or that mimic nature in ways previously impossible, such as cameras that replicate mammalian-eye or insect-eye capabilities. Jim Sullivan

Light Bulbs for the Brain

Neuroscientists have learned to modify animal behavior in quite literally a fash using optogenetics, a technique that genetically reprograms specifc neurons so they respond to light. Optogenetics experiments have helped illuminate the biological bases of complex behaviors such as addiction and sleep. But the customary setup in such experiments fber-optic cables implanted in the brain and a heavy helmet linked to a laser is invasive and cumbersome for mice, the usual subjects, severely hampering researchers ability to observe normal activity and social behavior. To overcome these obstacles, Rogers and his lab, with colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis, developed a far less invasive light source: micro-LED devices that are easier to tote around and pose less risk to delicate brain tissue than conventional optogenetic equipment. A central diffculty in creating the devices, Rogers says, was the inconvenient fact that making light tends to generate heat, and that neurons tolerate only a small range of temperatures. In conventional optogenetic procedures, thats not a problem because light is beamed in via cable, keeping the actual lasers away from the brain. But Rogers wanted to nestle his tiny LEDs amid the neurons. Operating a light bulb in the brain under the constraint that the temperature cant go up more than half a degree [Celsius] turns out to be pretty challenging, he says. The dimensions of the LED devices themselves provided a


solution: Each square LED is 5 microns thick and 50 microns to a side. The combination of small size and relatively large surface area allows heat to dissipate quickly enough to protect the animals neural tissue. Rogers and his team put four of the micro-LEDs onto a thin, fexible polymer sheet, then layered it together with sheets containing sensors to monitor temperature, light and electrical activity in a mouse brain. The resulting tongue-depressor-shaped device is only 10 microns thick, thinner than the thinnest spiderweb. In a recent test, the team used a silk-based, water-soluble glue to attach an LED device to an ultraslender needle, then injected the needle into a targeted area in the brains of a dozen mice. Fifteen minutes later, after the glue dissolved, the team removed the needle, leaving behind only the fexible LED device and very little tissue damage. To deliver power to the LEDs, Rogers outftted the mice with lightweight hats equipped with a radio frequency antenna. The slimmed-down system got results. Turning on the four micro-LEDs activated neurons in a key component of the brains reward circuitry, triggering the mice to prefer

When injected into a mouse brain, ultra-miniaturized LED probes trigger specic neurons that have been genetically altered to respond to light.

whichever part of the cage they were in when the light was on. This shows we have a way to get semiconductor devices down into the brain, Rogers says. Just as important, he says, We no longer have the tether. The wireless setup permits animals to roam freely, allowing researchers to more fully study a mouses natural behavior and may open the doorway, eventually, to a pragmatic form of human treatment as well. D
Ed Yong is a freelance science writer. His blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science, is hosted by National Geographic. Valerie Ross is a freelance writer who covers science, technology and travel. She lives in New York.

Devices containing tiny LEDs and other electronics and narrower than the eye of a needle can be injected deep inside the brain.

September 2013 DISCOVER


Starting pont
by Steve NadiS


Our universe began from an explosive burst about 13.82 billion years ago, according to the latest data. But what caused the Big Bang itself?




e c a

photos by mark oStow / IllustratIons by roeN kelly

It is cosmologys most fundamental question: How did the universe begin?

The question presupposes that the universe had an actual starting point, but one might just as well assume the universe always was and always will be. In that case, there would be no beginning whatsoever just an ever-evolving story of which were catching a mere glimpse. We have very good evidence that there was a Big Bang, so the universe as we know it almost certainly started some 14 billion years ago. But was that the absolute beginning, or was there something before it? asks Alexander Vilenkin, a cosmologist at Tufts University near Boston. It seems like the kind of question that can never be truly answered because every time someone proposes a solution, someone else can keep asking the annoying question: What happened before that? But now Vilenkin says he has convincing evidence in hand: The universe had a distinct beginning though he cant pinpoint the time. After 35 years of looking backward, he says, hes found that before our universe there was nothing, nothing at all, not even time itself.


Throughout his career, including the 20-plus years he has directed the Tufts Institute of Cosmology, Vilenkin has issued a series of wild, dazzling ideas, though from the outside he looks neither wild nor dazzling. The 64-year-old professor is soft-spoken, trim and of modest build. He dresses neatly, in neutral, understated tones that dont draw attention to him. Despite a low-key manner bordering on subdued, Vilenkin is a creative force who has continually found ways of piercing the fog surrounding some of the densest quandaries imaginable triumphs that have earned him the respect of scholars worldwide. Alex is a very original and deep thinker who has made important and profound contributions to our notions about the creation of the universe, says Stanford cosmologist Andrei Linde. Yet this brilliant career might never have happened. Born in the Soviet Union in 1949 and raised in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Vilenkin got hooked on cosmology in high school, after reading about the Big Bang in a book by Sir Arthur Eddington. That obsession over the universes origins, Vilenkin says, has never left me. I felt that if you could work on this question, which may be the most intriguing one of all, why would you choose to work on anything else? As an undergraduate at Kharkiv National University, Vilenkin says he was advised to do some real physics rather than pursue his frst love, cosmology.

Alexander Vilenkin believes the Big Bang was not a one-off event, but merely one of a series of big bangs creating an endless number of bubble universes.

Although he was an excellent student, he could not get into any graduate programs in physics because, he suspects, the KGB blacklisted him for refusing to become a government informant. Instead, Vilenkin was forced to take a series of mundane jobs. For a while he taught night school for adults but left that position because his responsibilities included going to the homes of absentees, many of whom were alcoholics, to try and drag them to school an unenviable task. He was a night watchman for about a year and a half, including a stint at the Kharkiv Zoo. To protect the animals (which were sometimes hunted for food), he was given a rife that he didnt know how to use and fortunately never had to fre. When he had time during those long nights, Vilenkin studied physics, an avocation that included reading the four-volume collected works of Albert Einstein. He got fred from this plum assignment when someone decided perhaps based on his choice of reading material that he was overqualifed for the task at hand. With his employment prospects looking bleak, he decided to emigrate to the United States; he fgured hed start out washing dishes while trying to break into academia. But getting out of the Soviet Union required an elaborate plan: Jews like him were allowed to go to Israel in small numbers, determined by a quota, but one had to secure an invitation from Israeli relatives frst. Vilenkin had no actual relatives there, so he contacted a friend who knew people in Israel and eventually found someone a stranger to him kind enough to write a letter on his behalf. After the letter arrived, he waited a year for a visa, but it came at great cost. Before Vilenkin and his wife could leave, their parents had to consent to the move. For giving their permission, his wifes parents lost their laboratory jobs. His father, a university professor, later lost his job, too. The traditional stop en route to Israel was Vienna, but from there Vilenkin, his wife and 1-year-old daughter went to Rome instead, arriving in 1976. They met with the U.S. Consulate in Rome and, after a three-month wait, were fnally granted a visa to the U.S.
BACK TO THE BIG BANG In fall 1977, Vilenkin took a postdoctoral position at Case Western Reserve, where he was supposed to study the electrical properties of heated metals. Still, he found time on the side to theorize about spinning black holes and their mysterious magnetic elds. A year later, he got his lucky break when Tufts offered him a one-year visiting position. He took a gamble by poring himself into cosmology, an area considered fringe at the time. That would soon change. In late 1979, a Stanford physics postdoc named Alan Guth offered an explanation for the explosive force behind the Big Bang. Guths intellectual leap stemmed from theories in particle physics, which held that at extremely high energies far higher than could ever be reached in a laboratory a special state of matter would turn gravity upside down, rendering it a repulsive rather than an attractive force. A patch of space containing a tiny bit of this unusual matter could repel itself so violently as to literally blow up. Guth suggested that a tremendous burst of this sort




The Past
Bubble universe expands

The Future

Bubble universe expands

Bubble universes

Space between universes expands New bubble universes continually form

triggered the Big Bang, swiftly enlarging the universe so much it doubled in size at least 100 times. This exponential growth spurt called cosmic infation was short-lived, however, lasting just a tiny fraction of a second because the repulsive material quickly decayed, leaving behind the more familiar forms of matter and energy that fll the universe today. The idea simultaneously solved a number of puzzles in cosmology. It explained where the bang behind the Big Bang came from and how the cosmos got so big. Rapid infation in every direction also explained why the universe we now observe is so homogeneous, and why the temperature of the background radiation left over from that primordial

killing antibodies try to curtail that growth. If the bacteria reproduce much faster than theyre destroyed, they will swiftly multiply and spread even though their reproduction may be thwarted in some quarters. Either way you look at it, the net result is that infation (or bacterial growth) never ends everywhere at once and is always going on in some portion of the multiverse even as you read this magazine. To gain a better sense of the phenomenon, Vilenkin teamed

Bubble universe expands

blast is uniform, in every patch of the sky, to one part in 100,000. Infation also revitalized cosmology, giving theorists like Vilenkin plenty to think about and a bit more respectability to boot. THE NEVER-ENDING STORY By 1982, a couple of years after Guths breakthrough, Vilenkin had a realization of his own: The process of ination had to be eternal, meaning that once it started, it never fully stopped. Ination might end abruptly in one region of space, such as the one we inhabit, but it would continue elsewhere, setting off a neverending series of big bangs. Each bang would correspond to the birth of a separate pocket universe, which might be pictured as an expanding bubble one of countless bubbles oating around within the multiverse, as its sometimes called. As Vilenkin saw it, infations eternal nature stemmed from two competing properties of the cosmic fuel, the gravity-repulsive material that caused the universe to rapidly expand. On the one hand, the material was unstable, much like radioactive substances, and was thus doomed to decay. On the other hand, the material expanded far faster than it decayed, so even though decay might stop infation in certain regions, runaway growth would continue in others. As an analogy, Vilenkin suggests a blob of bacteria that wants to keep reproducing and growing, while bacteriaup in 1986 with a Tufts graduate student, Mukunda Aryal, on a computer simulation that showed what an eternally infating universe might look like. In their simulation, infating regions, or bubbles, started small and steadily grew, while the space between bubbles stretched out as well. Each bubble representing a mini-universe like ours was surrounded by smaller bubbles, which were themselves surrounded by even smaller bubble universes, in turn. ROAD TO ETERNITY In Vilenkins bubbling universe, ination was, by denition, eternal into the future. Once initiated, it would not stop. But was it also eternal into the past? Was there was ever a time when the universe was not inating? And if the universe were always inating, and always expanding, would that imply that the universe itself was eternal and had no beginning? To address this question, Vilenkin joined forces with Guth and Long Island University mathematician Arvind Borde. Using a mathematical proof, they argued that any expanding universe like ours had to have a beginning. The thought experiment they posed went like this: Imagine a universe flled with particles. As it steadily expands, the distance between particles grows. It follows that observers sprinkled throughout this expanding universe would be moving away from each other until, eventually, they occupied
September 2013 DISCOVER


widely scattered regions of space. If you happened to be one of those observers, the farther an object was from you, the faster it would be moving away. Now throw into the mix a space traveler moving through space at a fxed speed: He zooms past Earth at 100,000 kilometers per second. But when he reaches the next galaxy, which is moving away from us at, say, 20,000 kilometers per second, he will appear to be moving only 80,000 kilometers per second to observers there. As he continues on his outward journey, the space travelers speed will appear smaller and

his history must come to an end. The fact that the travelers journey backward in time hits an impasse means that theres a problem, from a logical standpoint, with the assumption of an ever-expanding universe upon which this whole scenario is based. The universe, in other words, could not always have been expanding. Its expansion must have had a beginning, and infation a particularly explosive form of cosmic expansion must have had a beginning, too. By this logic, our universe also had a beginning since it was spawned by an infationary process that is eternal into the future but not the past.

jUst how did the Universe begin? maybe oUr fantastiC, glorioUs Universe spontaneoUsly arose from nothing at all.
smaller to the observers he passes. Now well run the movie backward. This time, the space travelers velocity will appear faster and faster at each successive galaxy. If we assume infation is eternal into the past that it had no beginning the space traveler will eventually reach and overtake the speed of light. A calculation by Borde, Guth and Vilenkin showed that this would happen in a fnite amount of time. But according to the laws of relativity, it is impossiblefor any massive object to reach the speed of light, let alone exceed it. This cannot happen, says Vilenkin. So when you follow this space travelers history back in time, you fnd that SOMETHING FROM NOTHING A universe with a beginning begs the vexing question: Just how did it begin? Vilenkins answer is by no means conrmed, and perhaps never can be, but its still the best solution hes heard so far: Maybe our fantastic, glorious universe spontaneously arose from nothing at all. This heretical statement clashes with common sense, which admittedly fails us when talking about the birth of the universe, an event thought to occur at unfathomably high energies. It also ies in the face of the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who argued more than 2,000 years ago that nothing can be created from nothing.

eliminating the
To bolster his hypothesis, Vilenkin has studied other model universes, eliminating loopholes that contradict the idea of a clearcut cosmic debut. In a 2012 paper with Tufts graduate student Audrey Mithani, Vilenkin examined the cyclic universe investigated by physicists Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University and Neil Turok, now at the Perimeter Institute. In this model, there is neither a single Big Bang nor a single beginning. Instead, the universe continually goes through oscillating cycles of expansion, contraction, collapse and expansion anew. The catch is that the cyclic universe runs into the second law of thermodynamics, which says the entropy, or disorder, of a closed system will inevitably increase over time. For example, an ornate brick mansion is highly ordered, whereas a pile of bricks strewn across the ground the result of the ravages of nature and decades or centuries of neglect is more disordered. And brick dust, scattered by wind and water after the bricks themselves have deteriorated, is even more disordered. Left on its own, a system even a bubble universe will naturally go this way. We dont often see a brick mansion spontaneously reassembling itself from dispersed dust.

LoophoLe #1 CyCliC Universe theory
Classic Cyclic Universe
The cycle of expansion and contraction continues endlessly. Volume (of the universe)
rse ve ds ni pan
Cru Big nc

U ex

The past

Big Bang Big Bang Big Bang Big Bang

The future

Modifed Cyclic Universe

During each successive cycle, the universe expands to a bigger volume.

Volume (of the universe)

rse s ive and n U xp

CruBig nc h

Big Bang Big Bang T= 0 (The universe and time begin with a bang.) Big Bang Big Bang

The future



Of course, Lucretius had never heard of quantum mechanics and infationary cosmology, 20th-century felds that contest his bold claim. We usually say that nothing can be created out of nothing because we think it would violate the law of conservation of energy, a hallowed principle in physics holding that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, Vilenkin explains. So how could you create a universe with matter in it, where there had been nothing before? The way the universe gets around that problem is that gravitational energy is negative, Vilenkin says. Thats a consequence of the fact, mathematically proven, that the energy of a closed universe is zero: The energy of matter is positive, the energy of gravitation is negative, and they always add up to zero. Therefore, creating a closed universe out of nothing does not violate any conservation laws. Vilenkins calculations show that a universe created from nothing is likely to be tiny, indeed far, far smaller than, say, a proton. Should this minute realm contain just a smattering of repulsive-gravity material, thats enough to ensure it will ignite the unstoppable process of eternal infation, leading to the universe we inhabit today. If the theory holds, we owe our existence to the humblest of origins: nothing itself. One virtue of this picture, if correct, is that the spontaneous creation of our universe gives a defnite starting point to things. Time begins at the moment of creation, putting to rest the potentially endless ques-

tions about what happened before that. Yet the explanation still leaves a huge mystery unaddressed. Although a universe, in Vilenkins scheme, can come from nothing in the sense of there being no space, time or matter, something is in place beforehand namely the laws of physics. Those laws govern the something-from-nothing moment of creation that gives rise to our universe, and they also govern eternal infation, which takes over in the frst nanosecond of time. That raises some uncomfortable questions: Where did the laws of physics reside before there was a universe to which they could be applied? Do they exist independently of space or time? Its a great mystery as to where the laws of physics came from. We dont even know how to approach it, Vilenkin admits. But before infation came along, we didnt even know how to approach the questions that infation later solved. So who knows, maybe well pass this barrier as well. In the Clint Eastwood movie Magnum Force, Harry Callahan says, A mans got to know his limitations, but Vilenkins work is a testament to pushing past traditional limits. If we persevere in the face of skepticism and doubt, as Vilenkin is often inclined to do, interesting and unexpected ideas may well emerge just like a universe popping out of nowhere. D
Steve Nadis is co-author of The Shape of Inner Space. He writes frequently for DIScover and is a contributing editor for Astronomy magazine.

If our universe has been here forever and maintained a stable size, it, too, would have succumbed to the second law. Disorder would have inexorably increased to the point that the universe would now be a smoothed-out, featureless blur. But thats not what we see at all. Instead, we see a universe lled with grand cosmic structures galaxies, clusters of galaxies, clusters of clusters called superclusters, and clusters of superclusters called galaxy laments some of the latter stretching a billion or more light-years across. For that reason, Vilenkin rules out the cyclic universe picture unless one makes the added assumption that after each cycle of expansion and contraction, the universe ends up somewhat bigger than when it started. The stipulation would leave us with another expanding universe, meaning that the original Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem would still apply: An ever-expanding universe must have a single beginning. Another possible loophole is the cosmic egg scenario, a model universe advanced by South African cosmologist George Ellis, among others. According to this view, the universe can sit forever in a stable conguration, with a xed size and radius, until it suddenly starts to expand like an egg hatching after an exceptionally long incubation phase. The trouble with this proposition, according to Vilenkin and

LoophoLe #2

CosmiC Egg thEory

The universe stays the same size for an infnite period of time.

The future

The past

T= 0 Suddenly the universe starts to expand.

Mithani, is that the small stable universe is not so stable after all. Sometime during the long waiting phase it would collapse to nothingness, before it ever reached the expansionist period that is, if the laws of quantum mechanics are to be believed. Quantum mechanics, the prevailing branch of physics for describing how things work on atomic scales, is exquisitely welltested, and exquisitely weird. Quantum mechanics holds that if there is even the tiniest chance of something happening, however absurd it may sound, that thing is sure to happen if you wait long enough. As it turns out, quantum mechanical formulas predict a slim (but nonzero) chance of the cosmic egg universe collapsing to zero size, at which point the erstwhile universe would completely disappear. Given an

innite time span, which is what the cosmic egg scenario calls for, such a collapse would be unavoidable even though the odds of it occurring at any one time are small implying that the universe could not have existed forever. Indeed, says Vilenkin, among all the ideas weve thought of so far for a universe without a beginning, none of them seem to work. So the answer to the question of whether the universe had a beginning is yes, it probably did. steve nadis

September 2013 DISCOVER


A nonprot is taking a nancial gamble on

Doorway to a
eradicating cystic brosis.
So far, the odds look good.
by Bijal P. Trivedi




or the first time in over a

decade, a striking silence fills the Cheevers barn-style home in North Andover, Mass. The deep, rumbling cough that plagued sisters Laura, 14, and Cate, 12, every night of their lives, leaving them exhausted and weak, has finally stopped. Their bodies are almost free of the lifethreatening lung infections requiring hospitalization and harsh organ-pummeling intravenous antibiotics which end the lives of so many children with cystic fibrosis. Now calories once spent fighting disease add weight on their dainty frames and give them energy to play soccer and dance. And, says Rob Cheevers, Laura and Cates father, they dont taste salty anymore. Yeah, I taste like an average person, quips Cate, referring to the salty sweat that is a hallmark of the disease. Laura and Cate are among thousands of Americans who have cystic fbrosis (CF), an inherited disease that clogs the lungs with thick mucus, encouraging chronic infections that eventually kill. Affecting one in every 3,900 births in the U.S., CF is one of the most common genetic disorders known. Yet it afficts too few people just 30,000 in America and an estimated 70,000 worldwide for industry to recoup the enormous cost of developing drugs for the disease. For Laura and Cate, the outlook has changed. They are benefciaries of a gamble taken in 2000, when parents and volunteers running the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) gave a start-up biotech company more than $40 million to fnd a cure. Until that point, the advocacy group, established in 1955, had functioned much like other such groups. Battling a disease that, untreated, stole many of their children before age 5, CFF members compiled patient registries and established treatment centers nationwide. They ran regular fundraisers to develop new drugs, like those that broke up the mucus or delivered aerosolized antibiotics that penetrated deep in the lungs to fght infection. With slow and steady progress,

The Cheevers family stand near their home in Massachusetts. They are (from left) Rob, Cate, Laura and Kim. Thanks to CF drug development, clinical trial pioneers Cate and Laura have achieved robust good health.

they extended their childrens life spans a decade or more. Then 13 years ago, in a strategic roll of the dice, the group decided to fund the search for a cure that would target not the symptoms of CF, but the defective protein causing the disease. Urged by desperate parents, the board expanded the traditional nonproft by launching Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics Inc., an independent arm, to spearhead drug discovery. It used money the Foundation raised to hire companies to develop the drugs and then helped them test those drugs in clinical trials. In return, the Therapeutics arm earned royalties for drugs they codeveloped, which were immediately folded into more drug discovery. Along the way, the Foundation imposed an urgency and focus that a biotech or pharmaceutical company functioning alone could not muster. We were like a racehorse with blinders on. The goal was getting a medicine to patients. Everything we did, we put it through that lens, says microbiologist Eric Olson, who leads CF research at Massachusetts-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which discovered Cate and Lauras drug. Collaboration with the Foundation, where everyone had a personal stake in the outcome, kept Vertex on target. Nothing
September 2013 DISCOVER

Sam Ogden


A Look Inside Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic brosis is a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to lifethreatening lung infections. The mucus also obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.
Right lung


Normal Airway:
In healthy lungs, the airway is lined with thin layer of mucus

Left lung


Bacterial infection

Blood in mucus

Pylorus Duodenum Common bile duct Mucous plug Pancreas Small intestine Pancreatic duct Stomach

Airway With CF:

With cystic brosis, thick, sticky mucus blocks the airway.

is more powerful than when it is your own kid, your brother, your sister, and it keeps focus on getting to something real, even if it takes 20 years. Vertexs frst CF drug, called Kalydeco, is a stunning testament to patient power. Participating in a clinical trial in 2010, Laura and Cate were given a drug that entered their cells and fxed the defective protein making them sick. With the protein functioning almost as it would in a healthy person, the girls took back their lives. Laura and Cate have an especially rare mutation it causes only 4 percent of CF cases in the U.S. But the success of the transformative drug heralds similar treatments for the rest of the CF community. Vertex has already developed a drug cocktail for patients with the most common CF mutation responsible for the overwhelming majority of cases with phase III clinical trials underway. ON THE TRAIL OF THE CF GENE Little was known about the cause of cystic fbrosis in the 1970s, when Francis Collins, now head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), took an interest in the disease. Collins was a resident in internal medicine in 1978 at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill when he was assigned to care for a 19-year-old nurse just diagnosed with

CF. The case was unusual because the disease is typically diagnosed in childhood, yet she clearly met the criteria: Her lungs were being destroyed by thick, sticky mucus that served as a breeding ground for sickening bacterial infections, and she had salty sweat, a function of CF pathophysiology Collins didnt yet understand. It was clear we didnt know very much, he says today. CF was variable. At one end of the spectrum, thick mucus derailed the function of the body: It blocked the pancreas from delivering enzymes needed for food digestion and absorption, resulting in malnutrition, and also caused severe lung infections, often killing children by age 5. At the other end was a milder disease with rare infections, few nutritional issues and a normal life span. CF was known to be a genetic disorder, inherited as a recessive trait. That means you needed two bad copies of the gene one from each parent to get the disease. The mutated genes would then produce defective proteins that cannot perform their job inside the cell, causing it to malfunction and ultimately triggering the disease. Parents with just one mutant copy were healthy and often unaware they carried a defective gene. Although scientists like Collins knew the pattern of inheritance, no

one knew what the gene was or exactly which protein it produced. And as far as Collins was concerned, there was no obvious way to fnd out. That changed in the early 1980s after scientists found the unique DNA pattern, or genetic marker, for Huntingtons disease, a crippling neurodegenerative disorder. The discovery electrifed everybodys imagination, Collins says. Encouraged by this feat, Collins soon-to-be collaborator, Lap-Chee Tsui, a molecular biologist from Hong Kong, took up the search for the defective gene from a CF lab at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Tsui had read about a technique for locating a desired gene through DNA markers present in sick people but absent in healthy ones. Working closely with the doctors and nurses at his hospital, he was soon acquiring blood samples from some 20 CF families in Toronto and later from 30 more such families around Canada. By 1985, running his own lab at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Collins was doing the same thing. While no one had yet sequenced the full complement of human genes, researchers knew a thing or two about how genes could go awry. They knew the human genome was carved into 23 pairs of structures, called chromo-



Jay Smith/DiScover

somes, made from deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. DNAs alphabet consisted of just four letters, A, C, G and T, that stand for four chemical units, or bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. The bases pair up, with adenine bonding to thymine and cytosine to guanine. The human genome has 3 billion of these base pairs on its 23 chromosomes pairs, but deleting or altering even a single A, C, G or T can cause disease or death. The genome is an enormously large place to root around when you are trying to fnd something subtle, Collins notes. Still, the race was on to fnd the DNA pattern unique to CF families, and especially their sick children. In 1985 Tsui used DNA markers to track the CF gene to chromosome 7. A team, including members from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Saint Marys Hospital Medical School in London, narrowed the region further by fnding a couple of DNA signposts fanking the gene, whether defective or not. These markers are akin to road signs on a highway; the gene is like a hotel in between. But the genetic distance between these markers was enormous a stretch of about 1.5 million DNA letters. In 1985, the standard way to fnd a gene between two markers was to sift through the DNA letter by letter, a technique called chromosome walking. Then Collins developed a faster approach that he was itching to test: chromosome jumping, which allowed him to leapfrog over genetic terrain tens of thousands of letters at a time. The idea was that if you know its between these two markers, you could start jumping off both ends toward the middle, and you would get there faster than if you had to just walk, step by step, he explains. To speed things even more, Collins


was missing a vital amino acid called phenylalanine. That minute change was enough to cause this cruel, deadly disease. That was the moment for me, admits Collins. I wanted to jump up and down and scream. BROKEN CELLS Finding the mutation was the frst step toward a cure, but Collins and Tsui still needed to fgure out what the gene did and how the mutation on chromosome 7 derailed it. Whatever protein the gene coded for, they fgured, it ended up skewing the bodys balance of water and salt. Excess salt in the cells would cause them to suck in water from surrounding mucus, leaving it sticky and thick, allowing infection to set in. The excess salt also accounted for the salty sweat all defning features of CF. To explain the salt imbalance, one possibility stood out: blocking the fow of chloride ions one half of the table salt molecule, sodium chloride in and out of cells. A mutated gene that produced a broken protein involved in chloride fow could cause a salt imbalance and all the devastation observed. To follow through, Collins and Tsui recruited biochemist Jack Riordan, who worked with Tsui. Riordan was an expert on proteins called ABC transporters, molecular elevators that shuttle things like fats, drugs and other molecules back and forth across cell membranes. Riordan analyzed cells from the salty sweat glands of CF patients, proving that the mutant gene was active and producing a defective protein. Then he used a computer to compare the string of amino acids making up the protein to the sequence of amino acids in all other known proteins. He was stunned when he noticed similarities to his ABC transporters: The CF protein had sections that gravitated to water and parts that repelled it. And





Cystic brosis is passed genetically from parent to child. A child must inherit one defective gene from each parent to develop the disease.

and Tsui joined forces in 1987, unleashing a small army of some 20 scientists to fnd the suspect gene wreaking havoc in patients sweat glands, pancreas and lungs all organs affected by the disease. The moment of discovery happened on a rainy night in June 1989 at Yale University, as Collins and Tsui attended a strategic meeting on mapping the human genome. The two were lodging in the student dormitories during the meeting, uneasy about being so far from their labs while critical analysis of DNA from a large cohort of CF patients was in play. One evening at about 10 p.m. they holed up in Tsuis room, wearily combing through pages of genetic data spewing from a small fax machine (the high-tech data transmission of the 80s) connected to Tsuis lab. As they sifted through the data, a troubling pattern on chromosome 7 became clear: Most of the CF patients were missing a sliver of DNA, a sequence of bases designated by just three letters, CTT. It was basic biology. In healthy subjects, the code was intact. The healthy gene produced a protein with 1,480 amino acid units. The damaged version produced a shorter, faulty protein with only 1,479 amino acids; it

for the

Alison mAckey/discover


The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) is established.

Francis Collins, a resident in internal medicine, becomes interested in CF when he is assigned to care for a newly diagnosed 19-year-old CF patient.

September 2013 DISCOVER


like those transporters, the protein was shaped like a tube and wedged in the outer surface of the cells, resembling the kind of biological valve that would move chloride in and out. That gelled perfectly with the Tsui-Collins hypothesis: A malfunctioning chloride channel apparently caused CF. On Aug. 22, 1989, news that Tsui and Collins had discovered the gene causing CF leaked to the press. Two days later, the researchers, just 38 and 39 years old, were whisked to Washington, D.C., for a series of news conferences almost two weeks before the scheduled publication of three back-to-back papers in Science. The papers described the location of the newly named cystic fbrosis transmembrane regulator (CFTR) gene, its specifc genetic code and the proposed structure and function of the protein it produced. GENE THERAPY DEBACLE With the CF gene in hand, a cure based on gene therapy seemed within reach. Although the disease affects many organs, it is lung infections that kill. So if healthy genes could be sent into the lungs, Collins and Tsui reasoned, they could cure the worst ravages of the disease. Collins had been corresponding regularly with a leading human gene therapy proponent, James Wilson, who soon moved his lab to the University of Michigan, right next door to Collins own. By 1990 Collins and Wilson were retroftting a lab-built virus with healthy CFTR genes, then sending the package in, like a Trojan horse, to infect cells taken from a CF patient and kept alive in culture in the lab. The sick cells welcomed the healthy CFTR gene and used it to make functioning channels that allowed chloride to pass in and out of the cell. It was stunning proof that a healthy gene could trump a damaged

Celebrating a breakthrough in cystic brosis research in 1989 are (clockwise from left) collaborators Lap-Chee Tsui, Francis Collins and Jack Riordan. With them is CF patient Ashley Donnelle. Donnelle grew up and even had a daughter, but she had a lung transplant in 2009 and died from complications of that in 2011.

FORGING ANOTHER PATH In the years after fnding the CFTR gene at the root of the disease, Col-

Early 1980s
Scientists nd the DNA marker for Huntingtons disease. This leads researchers to believe they can use a similar approach to nd the gene causing CF.

Lap-Chee Tsui of the University of Toronto tracks the CF gene to chromosome 7.

Tsui and Collins join forces.




one and fx the cell, at least in a petri dish. By 1993, in trials with baboons, Wilson proved the virus could import the healthy CFTR gene into lung cells. But translating the technique to humans was enormously challenging. That same year, efforts to install the healthy CFTR gene in CF patients hit a roadblock when the virus triggered alarming infammation and fever, causing the researchers to reengineer the virus and rethink their strategy. Researchers kept trying until December 1999, when Wilson published phase I trial results in 11 volunteers with CF showing it was almost impossible to get the gene into lung cells permanently and effciently, without immune rejection. It took quite a few years of banging heads against the wall to realize just how hard this was, says Collins. Nobody anticipated how fercely the immune system would respond to the viruses and essentially doom our approach.

lins, Tsui and others discovered the situation was far more complex than they had ever dreamed: Instead of just a single mutation in the gene, researchers found some 1,900 distinct mutations. Most of them caused disease, and the differences among them accounted for the sliding scale of severity that doctors saw. The most common mutation had been identifed by Collins and Tsui in 1989. They named it Delta F508, for the absent amino acid, phenylalanine, in position 508 of the CFTR protein. A CFTR protein with this mutation cannot fold properly and cannot navigate its way to the surface of the cell where it would normally reside, providing a channel for chloride to fow in and out. Instead, the defective protein remains stuck inside the cell, like a Cheerio trapped in a balloon. Collins grasped that fxing this one mutation, carried by about 4 percent of Caucasians, could help almost 90 percent of patients with CF. But his lab halted efforts in 1994 after moving to the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Md., to lead the massive government human genome sequencing effort that would eventually chart the entire human genetic code. That same year, Robert Beall, a former biochemist who left NIH in 1980 to work at the nonproft Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, became its CEO. Back in the 80s it was a grassroots operation. Parents brought the food, ran the projectors and catered to the few scientists who showed up. They didnt have a lot of science, says Beall, but I fell in love with the people and the parents, who were looking for some hope. Beall rode the emotional roller coaster of the CF gene discovery, and, like others, he expected new therapies to emerge. When everybody got swept up in the gene therapy craze of the

early 90s, he explains, we were the same. But with CF gene therapy efforts failing, one after the next, Beall knew he had to fnd another way. We had discovered the CF gene and knew the root cause of the disease, he says, but the pharmaceutical companies were still not getting involved. Beall told parents it was time to forge another path. He was scouring the scientifc literature when he hit upon an article describing high-throughput screening, a new technique that used robots to test the therapeutic properties of thousands of chemical compounds a day in cells in laboratory dishes. Refecting on the impasse, Beall thought this could provide an answer for CF: Instead of giving patients healthy CFTR genes, he would launch a massive search for chemicals to fx the mutant proteins in the patients cells. Without a large government grant, Beall knew that no academic team could take on this challenge. And no company would embark on such an expensive drug search because it would never recoup its investment with such a rare disease. Instead, the CFF would need to front the effort, protecting companies from risk. At the time it was unheard of for a nonproft to take such a gamble. After all, Beall admits, he didnt know much about drug discovery. This is a risky thing that we are about to do, Beall told his board at the time. We are going to invest big. But the biggest risk for us would be not to do it. With initial funding of $3.2 million in hand, Beall called the fve technology leaders specializing in the highthroughput screening mentioned in the article; two returned his calls. One was Aurora Biosciences, a San Diego-based start-up specializing in screening drug candidates. They agreed that it was possible to fnd a molecule to interact with

Robert Beall stands in front of portraits of CF children at the Chicago ofce of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Beall is the nonprot groups CEO.

the defective protein and correct it. Aurora came with a perk no money could buy: Paul Negulescu, a cell physiologist who studied CF while a graduate student at Berkeley. As Negulescu well knew, the task was complex: Each of almost 1,900 mutations causing the CFTR protein to malfunction required its own unique fx. But it made sense to start with the most common mutation, Collins and Tsuis Delta F508, the one afficting most of the CF population. (Of those with CF, some 50 percent carry two copies of the gene with the Delta F508 mutation, and another 40 percent carry one copy; those with just one copy of Delta F508 carry a second bad copy of the CF gene, with an alternate mutation that must be fxed as well.) Some 10 percent have rare mutations that dont involve Delta F508 at all. Negulescu knew that patients with the Delta F508 mutation produced a CFTR protein that couldnt fold properly, like a crumpled origami sculpture, foiling its ability to even reach the sur-

face of the cell, where it was supposed to be. To relocate the protein required one drug dubbed a corrector to tweak its shape so that it could be traffcked to the cells outer surface. But once this defective protein was lodged in place, there was a second glitch: The protein still wouldnt allow chloride to pass in and out of the cell. It was as if a door had been jammed shut. To wedge it open would require a second, doorman drug. Patients with the Delta F508 mutation would need two drugs. But those like Laura and Cate who have an even rarer mutation, called G551D might be easier to treat. Unlike the common Delta F508 mutation, the G551D mutation yielded a protein that could reach the cell surface and wedge itself into the membrane, but it suffered from the door-jamming problem: Chloride still could not fow in and out. The Cheevers needed only the doorman to remove the jam that stopped chloride from fowing back and forth.


Tsui and Collins identify the cystic brosis transmembrane regulator gene (CFTR) that has been mutated in CF patients.

Collins and James Wilson make a virus capable of carrying the CFTR gene. They hope it will transmit the gene to human patients.

Gene therapy for CF is successful in baboons, but it fails utterly in humans.

September 2013 DISCOVER


HUNT FOR DRUGS To accelerate drug discovery, Negulescu and the Aurora team searched for both corrector and doorman simultaneously. To execute their high-volume search starting in 1997, they grew cells carrying the malfunctioning CFTR protein in plastic trays, each containing 384 tiny wells in a 16-by-24 grid. To identify correctors, a unique candidate drug was added to each well and allowed to steep overnight at body temperature, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, a fuorescent dye was added to the mix. Then they added a chemical called genistein, a known door-opening drug that, unfortunately, was so weak it worked only in the test tube. Finally, a robotic eye scanned each mixture. If cells were unaffected, the dye caused them to glow orange. But if the mutant CF protein had been elevated to the cell surface by a corrector candidate drug, then genistein, as the doorman, would open the channel and allow chloride in and out, making the cells glow blue. To search for a doorman drug, Negulescus team followed almost the identical strategy, but they incubated cells with candidate drugs overnight at a much cooler 80.6 degrees. Conveniently, this cooler temperature acts as a corrector helping more proteins with the Delta F508 mutation to reach the surface, where they encounter the candidate doorman drug. If the chemical had no impact, the cells glowed orange. If the molecule could open the channel, the cells glowed blue. The assay that Negulescus team developed worked. Some of the candidate drugs were defnitely boosting the mutant CFTR to the cell surface while others seemed like they could open the door. It was proof that this new automated screening system could fnd something transformative. Yet after

Fundraising activities, such as this Great Strides walk in Texas in 2012, are a key element to drug development for the CFF.

testing 122,000 chemicals in all, the researchers found that even those that showed early potential failed in later trials. Some were toxic, some too weak, and some, for whatever reason, couldnt activate the CF protein on a second try. Aurora scientists were confdent that it was just a matter of auditioning more molecules to fnd ones that worked. And in 2001, when Vertex Pharmaceuticals acquired Aurora, it decided to continue the quest as long as Beall could muster the money to keep projects moving and the dream alive. PARENT POWER Thats when Beall recruited Joe ODonnell, a CF parent and fundraiser extraordinaire. Joe and Kathy ODonnell, Massachusetts natives, teamed up with the CFF the moment their son Joey was diagnosed with the disease in 1974. It was a brutal beginning. Tests were botched, the pediatrician hadnt seen CF babies before, and Joey couldnt eat, choking every time he tried sucking milk from a bottle. After three harrowing months, another pediatrician familiar with CF fnally made the diagnosis. The news was devastating; at the time, CF children rarely lived

beyond 5. But after the correct diagnosis, Joey had a feeding tube inserted into his stomach to deliver predigested food and bypass the coughing and gagging, and he began to improve. Compared to the frst eight months, the next fve years were a party, almost, says his father. He got better, and he was a magnifcent kid. By age 12, Joey was president of his seventh-grade class, a prankster, a grade-A student and a pinball wizard. He loved girls, his mother adds with a smile, and he loved baseball. Yet the hospitalizations had become more frequent, and more serious. Many times they were told, He wouldnt make the night, says his father, but he always came through. Except when he didnt. He died in 1986. He was 12 and a half and barely 50 pounds. Six months later, the ODonnells, together with close friends, launched the Joey Fund to raise money for CF research. By 2001, it raised almost $50 million. To continue the drug search, Beall needed a lot more $175 million, to be exact and he asked Joe, a former board member, to bring it in. ODonnell admits it was an odd campaign. Thats how I billed it. Were not naming anything, endowing anything. Were taking every dollar you give us and putting it into research, he explains. And guess what, we could end up with nothing. But for sure, were going to end up with nothing unless we do this. So that was the whole speech. ODonnell insisted upon pure venture philanthropy, not venture capital. If there were royalties and other profts, he wanted that money rolled into more research, not someones pocket. No other foundation had successfully bankrolled a cure in this fashion. But as everyone who knows him says, he has a gift, and he raised the money. That was crucial because Vertex was making progress.

between 1994 and 2001 122,000 compounds tested 1994-1996

Collins focus shifts to sequencing the entire human genetic code at NIH. He leaves CF research behind. Robert Beall becomes CEO of the CFF and, grasping the limitations of gene therapy, invests $3.2 million in Aurora Biosciences Corp., where cell physiologist Paul Negulescu begins to look for a chemical cure using high-throughput methods to test large numbers of potential drugs.

Wilson publishes phase I trial results showing it is almost impossible to get the CFTR gene into CF patients lung cells without immune rejection.




Cilia move back and forth, sweeping mucus out of lungs Cilia Cell wall

Cl -

Chloride ions can pass through freely CFTR protein

Gene Mutations in Cystic Fibrosis

Thick, sticky mucous buildup attens cilia

Cl -

Cl -

Cl Cl Cl -

Cl -

Cl Cl -

Cl -

Chloride ions

Cl Cl -

Cl -

Healthy Lung Cell

CF Lung Cell With 1 Problem

Chloride ions can reach the channel at the cell surface but cannot pass through; this has been called the doorman problem

Cl Cl Cl -

Cl Cl Cl -

Cl -

CF Lung Cell With 2 Problems



The mutant CF protein needs a corrector drug to boost it to the surface. It also needs a doorman drug to open the channel so that chloride ions can pass through.

Normal DNA:
CFTR protein develops normally, reaches the cell surface and becomes an open channel (door) for chloride ions.

Door-jamming mutation, including G551D:

The mutation affecting Laura and Cate Cheevers disables function at the cell surface.

Common Delta F508 mutation:

The CFTR protein is made, but it just oats around inside the cell without ever reaching the surface.

In 2002 and 2003 Vertexs San Diego facility, which does the drug screening, tested another 200,000 compounds, and a couple of them looked promising. The top candidates dubbed VX-770 and VX-809 doorman and corrector drugs, respectively, made the mutant CF cells in Negulescus assay glow fuorescent blue, a sign that chloride was on the move. Thats when we got excited, says Negulescu, who was absorbed into Vertex to run the San Diego screens. To test VX-770, the doorman drug, researchers used lung cells from a CF patient with the G551D mutation the same one sickening the Cheevers girls, who required only a doorman drug to function in healthy mode. VX-770 made the cells glow blue, proving that the chloride channels were open. Scrutinizing the cells, Negulescu could see why: Lung cells are covered in fne hairlike structures called cilia. In healthy folks, these move back and forth and sweep mucus out of the lungs. On CF cells, however, the cilia are matted down with

mucus, like a shag carpet covered in glue. When Negulescu peered through a microscope at the sick G551D lung cells growing in dishes in the lab, they resembled a mat of small, still, gray spheres. But when his colleagues dosed these sick cells with VX-770, the tiny hairs sprang to life. Under the microscope, he could see cilia swaying back and forth, like a crowd at a stadium doing the wave. As the cilia swayed, the cells started to vibrate as if caffeinated. With an active chloride channel, the mucus would be watery, he thought, like in healthy people, and the revived cilia could sweep it away. That gave us so much optimism, some people were crying it was so beautiful, says Negulescu. Perhaps VX-770 could do the same thing in live patients. By 2007, the drug had been tested on cells and in a phase I clinical safety trial in healthy volunteers. VX-770 was on its way to becoming the drug Kalydeco. The phase II trials for those with the G551D mutation were small, just 39

patients, but they were cleverly done to squeeze out as much data as possible. In spring 2008, Vertexs chief physician showed Olson some data; a few numbers he saw were worth a thousand words. It was remarkable, says Olson. After just two weeks, concentration of salt in the sweat had plummeted from around 100 millimolar a typical value when the CFTR protein is dysfunctional to about 50 to 60 millimolar, a bit higher than average but below the diagnostic bar for CF. Then, in 2010, as part of phase III trials, VX-770 was given to patients with the G551D mutation, including the Cheevers sisters, Laura and Cate. This is a once in a lifetime for a pharmaceutical scientist, says Olson, the project lead. We are not just treating symptoms. We are fxing the protein that actually causes this disease. Laura began the trial unaware whether she was taking the drug or a placebo. She continued to cough, couldnt gain weight and ultimately de-


between 2002 and 2003 200,000 more compounds tested 2000

CFF gives Aurora Biosciences $44 million to nd a cure and forms an arm called Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics to spearhead research.

Aurora Biosciences is acquired by Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Negulescu stays on, and Beall recruits Joe ODonnell to help raise $175 million to keep the project moving.

Vertex nds promising drug candidates among 200,000 compounds tested, including VX-770 (doorman drug) and VX-809 (corrector drug).

September 2013 DISCOVER


veloped a severe lung infection requiring heavy-duty antibiotics. For Cate, things were different. I could just feel like I was getting better, like growing more, and I could see the difference between me and Laura, says Cate, who coughed less, slept better, gained weight, ate like a horse and was bursting with energy. Later, Laura, who had been taking a placebo, was switched to the drug, and she, too, got well. The FDA approved the drug in 2012. Experts agree the treatment is transformative for patients with the Cheevers form of CF. We have just started using it in practice, says Henry Dorkin, a pediatric pulmonary specialist and director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Childrens Hospital in Boston. While its still early, the results are very encouraging. Dorkin began treating patients more than 35 years ago, and the window ledge of his offce is crammed with pictures of kids patients hes treated, many of whom died from the disease. Patients typically lose about 1 percent or 2 percent of lung function each year. If the decline slows, or stops, and they continue to gain weight, then, Dorkin says, I would have to say that its a game changer. Laura and Cates daily regimen of two pills of Kalydeco costs $841 per day; thats $307,000 each year, making it one of the worlds most expensive drugs. In most cases, private insurance picks up the bill. Medicare or Medicaid may pay as well. For patients themselves, the cost is about $15 for one months supply of the drug. For those who lack insurance, Vertex offers fnancial assistance so they can access the drug. The company can afford the largesse: Kalydeco saw windfall profts of $172 million in 2012, boosting the companys stock price and visibility. Although many have questioned the ethics of that proft and the burden of the drug price

on the health-care system, Beall says that without Vertex, there would be no drug. And, for the CFF to negotiate a drug price before there was even a drug would have been a deal breaker. CFF has also profted from the discovery and sales of Kalydeco. It just sold a portion of the royalty rights for the drug, bringing in $150 million. As per the business plan that ODonnell vehemently supported, that entire amount will be reinvested to fund more CF research and drug development. Thats important because Beall is not complacent that Kalydeco is a cure. We need to be careful about using the word cure when talking about Kalydeco, although the drug is clearly a game changer and has fueled incredible optimism in the CF community and for me personally, says Beall, but we have to be cautious. We only have two years of data on how patients are doing on the drug, and its premature to say whether it will be a cure for them. Indeed, even with Kalydeco, Cate

and Laura still must take 20 to 30 pills a day to digest their food. They also require 30 minutes of physical therapy clapping and beating their sides and back to help dislodge the mucus. But they are staying free of lung infections and gaining weight. COMPLETING THE CURE Those with two copies of the Delta F508 mutation half the CF population are watching the Cheevers to see if the treatment keeps working its magic. They are waiting as Vertex conducts phase III trials of the second drug, the corrector, VX-809, in combination with Kalydeco, the doorman, to see whether the defective proteins can reach the cell surface and open the door to get chloride fowing again. If it works, this drug combo could halt the disease in its tracks for the majority of patients as Kalydeco seems to have done for Laura and Cate. Theres reason for hope. Phase II of Vertexs combo trial showed that the

VX-770 passes Phase I safety trials.

Laura and Cate start clinical trials of VX-770.

VX-770 is approved by the FDA and renamed Kalydeco.

Vertex is conducting Phase III trials of the corrector drug, VX-809 in combination with the doorman, Kalydeco.



Thanks to drug development, the Cheevers girls are enjoying active lives. Laura (left) takes dancing lessons. Cate plays for a local soccer team.

VX-809 plus Kalydeco improved lung function in patients with two copies of the Delta F508 mutation. The larger and longer phase III study of 1,000 patients will continue for 24 weeks and should yield an answer in 2014. Beall isnt placing all his bets on Vertex. ODonnell has embarked on another campaign for $75 million to give to other pharmaceutical companies. The Foundation has already invested $58 million with Pfzer to develop a second generation of similar but more potent drugs to treat those with two copies of the Delta F508 mutation. While Kalydeco and the corrector should work, Vertex or another company may ultimately be able to engineer more effective molecules. And Beall is still concerned about the 40 percent of patients who have only one copy of the Delta F508 mutation and one copy of another mutation: How effective will Kalydeco and corrector combo be in this group? So the search goes on. Were not going to settle for less than 100 percent of patients, he says. To this end, Vertex is expanding clinical trials to encompass other rare mutations. The R117H mutation, carried by about 3 percent the CF population, creates a protein that reaches its destination on the cell surface, but then malfunctions. While the impediment

is unclear, Olson guesses it may be the door-jamming problem. If so, as with the Cheevers G551D mutation, Kalydeco might fx the defect. Olson adds that there are also two more corrector drugs in the pipeline, VX-661 and VX-983. You want to fll your nest with lots of molecules, each of which has slightly different properties, he says. People carrying different mutations may require specifc correctors, or more than one corrector, or a complex combination of these drugs, which is why Vertex continues it search. Robert Beall deserves a lot of credit for placing a huge and expensive bet on an enterprise that could well have failed, says Collins, the current NIH director. The CFFs strategy is a prom-

ising model for attacking other genetic diseases, Collins adds, and other groups are trying to embrace the innovative drug development model as well. CFF may soon succeed in creating a long-sought cure, but for Olson and Negulescu, the journey has been bittersweet. Over the past 15 years, the scientists have embraced the CF community. Theyve participated in fundraising walks and bake sales. Theyve become acquainted with CF families who have visited Vertex to share their stories and participate in research. Along the way, theyve experienced many losses. Olson describes one family who lost three children within the past three years. We just werent fast enough for that family. Every year the CFF holds its annual meeting in a different city, and over the past decade, Joe ODonnell has gotten to know many members quite well volunteers, mothers who have lost a child, others who are on the cusp. In October 2012 in Orlando, Fla., there were nearly 4,000 who refused to quit working toward a cure, all the time wondering whether it was really going to happen for them. D
Bijal P. Trivedi is an award-winning freelance writer who covers medicine, genomics, health and nutrition. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Laura Cheevers holds a handful of pills that she and her sister take each day to ght the symptoms of CF. The blue pills are Kalydeco, taken twice a day. The capsules are Creon 12, taken four at a time with every snack or meal.

Sam Ogden

September 2013 DISCOVER


The Urban Bestiary

We share our cities and suburbs with the furred and the feathered. But how well do we know our wild neighbors?
By Lyanda Lynn Haupt illustrations By abby diamond



he practice of assembling bestiaries compendiums of animal lore and knowledge began in medieval times. They were lavishly illustrated volumes, lettered by monastics on vellum, edged with hand-mixed colors and gilt. They blended medieval science what was believed to be factually true about each animal with unreservedly fanciful descriptions. Penned in the 12th century, the Aberdeen Bestiarys entry for beavers exhibits the classic medieval bestiary components of observation, imagination and allegory. The beaver is accurately described as possessing a tail that is at like a shs and fur that is soft like an otters. The animal was prized for its testicles, which were said to contain a potent liquid that could cure headache, fever and hysteria. (This liquid would have been castoreum, located in a small glandular sac at the base of the tail on both male and female beavers.) It is noted, impossibly, that to keep from being killed by a hunter, a beaver would castrate itself and toss its testicles in the hunters path. We may chuckle over the misguidedness of beaver testicle tales, but our own cultural/ zoological mythology is fraught with misinformation every bit as false as the beaver castration story. Nature books, television shows and conservation organizations educate us about remote wild and endangered species. Very often we know a great deal more about the Chinese giant panda or the lowland mountain gorilla than we do about the most common of local creatures, say the eastern gray squirrels in our backyards. As urban dwellers, we nd ourselves unmoored bereft of the knowledge of local creatures, plants and soil that were a necessity of life just a couple of generations ago. It is time for a new bestiary, one that engages our desire to understand the creatures surrounding our urban homes, helps us locate ourselves in nature and suggests a response to this knowledge that will benet ourselves and the more-than-human world.

The official common name of the pigeon was recently changed from rock dove to rock pigeon. I preferred the term rock dove, which served as a reminder and a surprise to some that pigeons really are doves. People tend to separate them in their attitudes. Doves are seen as clean in feather and heart, gentle, peaceful, calming, even holy somehow, and they have the prettiest blue eyelids. Pigeons are viewed as grimy, poopy, pestilential. They suffer the indignity of being utterly commonplace in human habitats. Although Darwins fnches have all the fame, Darwin wrote far more about pigeons than he ever wrote about the Galapagos fnches or all of the island birds put together. It is common knowledge that pigeons were important to Darwin but less commonly known that pigeons were also beloved by Darwin. His studies led him down the road of personal obsession, where he kept a private dovecote and hobnobbed below his class with the pigeon fanciers of London. I doubt that Darwin would have been surprised by the recent study published in the journal Science demonstrating math competence in pigeons. Researchers in the Department of Psychology at New Zealands University of Otago began by teaching pigeons to order the numbers 1, 2 and 3. Images would appear on a touch screen, and the pigeons learned to peck the images in ascending numerical order. Next, they were tested with a more abstract rule. Presented with pairs of images containing anywhere between one and nine objects, the pigeons again had to determine ascending order if they were shown a group of four things and a group of seven, for example, they were supposed to peck the group of four frst. Remarkably, said lead author Damian Scarf, the pigeons were able to respond to these novel pairs correctly. And even more remarkable to primate-biased humans? Their performance was indistinguishable from that of two rhesus monkeys that had been previously trained on this task. Pigeons can navigate by the stars. Why should we be fummoxed when we learn they can count to nine?
From the book THE URBAN BESTIARY by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Copyright 2013 by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.

September 2013 DISCOVER


The opossum has a white face that looks ghostly

in the night, and lots of teeth 50 teeth, more than any other North American mammal and about the same number as a Tyrannosaurus rex. But as far as being vicious or somehow dangerous, opossums are neither. Opossums sleep up to 20 hours a day, out of which fve hours are REM-cycle sleep, implying that opossums dream, even more than humans do. Opossums favorite foods are things we would like to have eradicated from our homes and yards: mice, rats, cockroaches, other large insects and spiders, slugs and carrion. Opossums seem dumb, and they seem dangerous. We have to use seem with opossums because we know so little about them. But opossums are moderately to highly intelligent, ranking above domestic dogs on task tests. They are believed to be about as intelligent as pigs. One of the problems with our modern opossum perception lies in our opposing circadian rhythms. They are from

another kind of world, the night world, the place where in both mythology and psychology our own human anxieties are magnifed, where we feel a sense of mystery. The opossum doubtlessly feels the same when it stumbles unwittingly into our world. A quiet, nocturnal animal beneath a bright, electric light and a shrieking human or an aggressive dog or a wandering urban coyote? Such moments inspire one of the opossums most singular behaviors. When it fnds itself in the most dire of circumstances, an opossum will fall into a state that mimics sudden death. This zoological strategy is not uncommon in insects, but it is rare in mammals. The opossum lies perfectly still and seemingly stiff, with its eyes closed; eventually, a musky, death-scented liquid will ooze from its mouth and the glands near the anus. This state will last for some minutes at least, and up to several hours. Although you cannot even see the movement of breath in the breast, the opossums metabolism does not actually slow. Eventually, the opossum will twist its soft black ears all around, listening, and sniff the air. It will lift its funny head ever so slightly and have a peek around. When it deems all is well, it will amble off to perceived safety, no faster than usual.



Moles are reputed

to taste terrible, possibly because of the increased hemoglobin that allows them to maintain oxygen balance in their subterranean haunts. So when a mole is killed by another animal, it is usually left lying. If you are fortunate enough to fnd a freshly dead mole, I would encourage you to embolden yourself in the noble role of urban naturalist and take a close look. (Moles are very clean and dont carry diseases that affect humans; just wash your hands afterward.) Running your hand over the dead moles coat, you will discover that mole fur is not just chinchilla-soft but also reversible it has no nap, so the hair follicles are not directional, and the individual hairs can move in every direction. When a mole presses forward or back in its tight earthen tunnel, the fur accommodates; it is literally impossible for a mole to be rubbed the wrong way. The thin, translucent layer of skin over the moles eyes is a permanent covering. Moles are not blind, but they are almost blind. The snout is soft, long and highly innervated, made for fnding insects and grubs by feel. The front paws are large and

Share your urban wildlife encounters for a chance to win the book: DiscoverMagazine.com/urbanbestiary

spade-shaped, turned out for swimmer-like paddling through the soil, and tipped with substantial claws. As with most perceived pests, moles are with us because we create a perfect place for them. The soil around our homes and parks is soft, free of big rocks and, in the case of gardens, nutrient-rich, with layers of mulch and compost that encourage the insects and grubs that moles love. Overall, a mole in a garden is far more benefcial than harmful. Moles eat insects and their larvae; devour slugs, cutworms and white grubs; and sometimes even prevent harmful insect outbreaks. Beneath our beloved grass and fowers, they work in the depths, turning, tilling, aerating and fertilizing the soil. Our crazed response to the presence of molehills could be perceived as disproportionate. Simple initial efforts to eradicate moles become obsessions, and efforts escalate from traps and poison to propane and sometimes even dynamite. Gardeners lie awake, fguring, plotting. Its only a 7-inch mammal, really, the mole. And the damage? The proverbial molehill. A typical suburban lot is populated, tunneled and mounded by just one male mole, or perhaps by two females. When a mole dies, or simply leaves your yard, it is likely another mole will come. Unless you want to live a vigilant, mole-killing life forever, you might as well just keep the mole you have. We might delight in our newfound tolerance moles are singular creatures from a subterranean world, a reminder that when we move and till and beautify the soil, we must do it by working alongside wild nature, not by overriding it. Any other approach is misguided and might also make us insane.
September 2013 DISCOVER


No creature demonstrates the human schizophrenia regarding urban wildlife better than the squirrel. In studies of backyard wildlife, squirrels rank as both the most desirable animal and the most hated nuisance animal. Squirrel strife is nothing new. Ratatoskr, a squirrel in Norse mythology, spends his days running up and down Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Some sources picture a wounded Yggdrasil chewed up and down one side by the sharp-toothed Ratatoskr. And the tree itself ? She spends much of her day grumbling, annoyed to distraction. I have been this world tree, grumbling in bed just before dawn while a pair of Ratatoskrs nesting in the attic cornice right behind my sleepy head chew my house to pieces. Squirrels are not, as some like to say, just rats with bushy tails. The workings of the squirrels bushy tail actually create a squirrel social system that separates it 56

from any other rodent. Their fuffy, swishy tails are the very heart of squirrel life, and their function is even more complex than that of the New World monkeys prehensile tails. Here are some of the ways that a squirrel uses its tail: for balance while running; as a rudder while jumping; as a parachute; to cushion a fall; for warmth; for shade (held overhead like a parasol the family name, Sciuridae, means shade-tail); as an umbrella; to swaddle young; to confound and scare off intruders; and as a surprisingly complex form of squirrel-to-squirrel communication. There is a whole repertoire of communiqus conveyed in the different twitches and swishes. In addition to tail language, squirrels exhibit complex aural vocalizations. They possess a profound spatial memory, used to recover the nuts they bury as scatter-hoarders. They discover through tireless trial and error the one slender route into an attic. In spite of our best efforts to keep them from our bird feeders, not to mention an entire commercial industry devoted to this end, they outwit us constantly, using multistep problem-solving that is beyond the capability of most mammals and probably some humans.

It is common for people who fnd a fat brown rat in the basement to claim it is evil and as big as a cat. But rats rarely grow to weigh a full pound, and from tip to tail, an average one measures about 10 inches. And unless cornered, they are typically gentle and will avoid humans. Although they dwell in the muckiest areas of urbania, rats are clean; they spend far more time cleaning and preening than humans do. The diseases that may be passed from rat to human are contracted by contact with concentrations of rat feces or urine or by being bitten (though, of course, the vast majority of infectious diseases contracted by humans come from contact with other humans). In some countries, bubonic plague is still an issue, and it is passed between rats and humans by fea vectors (though not in North America). There has never been a case of a human in North America contracting rabies from a rat. Still, they cause a lot of trouble. They chew through electrical wires and tunnel into homes and buildings. They reproduce wildly, sometimes within our walls. Rats will eat any animal smaller than they are: baby birds, small reptiles, fsh, baby squirrels and rabbits. Rats are fascinating and intelligent and make wonderful pets. They learn their names, come when called, bond readily with individual humans, play games like a dog and snuggle to sleep on laps or in pockets. While laughter was long believed by ethologists to be a behavior limited to humans and, perhaps, the higher primates, recent studies show that young rats appear to laugh when they are tickled. They dont emit the high laughter sounds when their backs are tickled, just when their tummies are like human children. And compelling new

research by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago shows that rats may actually exhibit true altruism. When one rat was locked in a small Plexiglas cage within a larger cage, the rat in the big cage often worked tirelessly to release its imprisoned rat colleague, without any reward and whether or not it was acquainted with the confned rat. When a pile of the rats favorite treat (milk chocolate chips!) was also placed in the larger cage, the free rat would not eat all the chips herself but would liberate the caged rat and share the chocolate. After the imprisoned rat was released, they would run around the cage together, jumping and chirping, as if rejoicing. Then, yes to the chocolate.

Find out who your wild neighbors are, and learn to read their tracks, with this easy do-it-yourself project. A tracking box can help you learn to identify tracks in your backyard. Make a wood frame out of 4-by-6s (tracking schools recommend a minimum of 4 feet by 8 feet) and ll it with sand. Play sand is great it is light and lump-free, and especially good for small birds. Construction sand or beach sand works, too. Dampen the sand so that it holds a shape without becoming runny. Try visiting tracks as they age, as they ll with debris, as they are affected by weather. If no wild animals come, then practice with domestic ones. Try walking your dog through the box when he is hungry, when he is full, when he has to pee, when he doesnt. A box is best because it offers a controlled, contained substrate, but you can still benet from the idea by leaving damp sand or soil edges around your garden. I have experimented with these loose-form tracking boxes at the borders of our koi pond (sprinkled wildly with raccoon tracks) and our vegetable garden (mouse, squirrel, rat, opossum) and beneath our cherry tree (more of all of the above) all of them small wild entries into the loveliest guest book I have ever kept. llH D Seattle-based naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt is the author of Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness and blogs at TheTangledNest.com.

The Wild Guest Book

September 2013 DISCOVER


Notes From Earth

Deep-Sea Secrets
Just how long have bone-boring snotworms been in the business of converting whale, even dinosaur, carcasses into ocean-oor ecosystems?
By Brian Switek

In winter 2010, Adrian Glover, a marine biologist from the Natural History Museum in London, got a call from a colleague with some good news. While piloting a remotely operated vehicle to study a hydrothermal vent 4,700 feet beneath the surface of the Antarctics Scotia Sea, his friend had stumbled across something unexpected: the skeleton of an Antarctic minke whale. Rather than being a scene of death, the carcass was an oasis of life in the dark and inhospitable remote sea. Snails, worms, mollusks and white mats of bacteria were feasting on what remained of the massive mammal. Glover asked his friend to bring home a piece of this treasure. While inspecting the bones in his lab, he discovered nine new species of worms and bacteria. These rare, relatively unexplored, deep-sea ecosystems lively

communities that spring up around dead cetaceans that sink to the seaoor are called whale falls, or organic falls. In all, only about two dozen have been found since researchers, led by Glovers postdoc adviser Craig Smith, chanced upon the rst discovery off the California coast in 1987. The 2010 Scotia Sea nd was the rst in the Southern Hemisphere. Glover, now at the forefront of this postmortem science, is an expert on some of the worms that move into whale falls. These species and their whale-carcass cohort are helping marine biologists and paleontologists determine exactly how long large, dead marine animals have been hosting these rich communities of decomposers, and whether or not the whale falls of today look eerily like the organic falls of a time when prehistoric reptiles ruled the seas.

Researchers sank this gray-whale carcass off the California coast in 1998 to study whale-fall ecosystems. By 2002, bacteria coated the bones.

watching a whale fall Once a carcass sinks, it becomes home to scavengers. Species such as sharks and hagsh consume the whales easily accessible soft parts. When the bulk of muscle, blubber and viscera are gone, organisms called enrichment opportunists, including snails, worms and bacteria, settle in, on and around the whale. An important part of this stage are Osedax, bone-eating specialists fondly known as snotworms for the mucus they make. Described for the rst time in 2002, these bristly marine worms, or polychaetes, tap into bone and then rely on bacteria to help them break down fats and proteins in their new skeletal homes. But how snotworms populate whale falls in the rst place remains a mystery. Glover believes the unusual worms somehow locate the remains during a swimming larval stage. Once snotworms arrive, the females send roots into the bone. Harems of smaller dwarf males land on the females, taking up residence on their tubeshaped bodies and fertilizing their eggs. At the same time, other bacteria gather in great mats and help to break down the bones. Over the slow tick of decades, the whale disappears. Deep-Sea time machineS The fossil record tells us via distinctive Osedax burrows that pockmark bone that whale fall communities have been around for 30 million years. But some research suggests that these remote ecoCRAIG SMITH/UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII

The same whale carcass as shown above, resting 5,530 feet below the surface of the Pacic Ocean, was documented with mats of yellow bacteria, anemones and bacterial-grazing crabs in 2005.



systems could have extended even further into the past, before the advent of marine whales about 45 million years ago. In 2008, Polish Academy of Sciences paleontologist Andrzej Kaim and his colleagues described what could be one of the most ancient organic falls yet known. As they analyzed a pair of 66- to 100-million-year-old plesiosaur skeletons found near Hokkaido, Japan, the researchers realized the fossilized bones of the toothy, quad-ippered marine mammals were surrounded by fossilized shell fragments from provannids, a type of tiny snail. Provannids are ancient survivors. They are still with us today, and they offer a clue about what happened to Kaims plesiosaurs. Modern-day provannid snails inhabit ephemeral and remote deep-sea environments cold methane seeps; hydrothermal vents that spew superheated, chemical-rich water; and whale carcasses and their prehistoric forebears probably did the same. They were apparently living together with the remains of the plesiosaur, says Kaim. Id been looking for this for years. We could now be sure these communities developed around the bones of large reptiles in the Mesozoic. There would have been plenty of food for deep-sea opportunists like the provannids in prehistoric times. Starting around 250 million years ago, several lineages of terrestrial reptiles rapidly adapted into large marine forms, including plesiosaurs and sh-like ichthyosaurs. Even land-dwelling dinosaurs may have fed organic-fall successions of sharks, crabs, snails and bacteria. While all the dinosaurs we know of were terrestrial animals, they were occasionally washed out to sea by oods. The San Diego Museum of Natural History displays the skeleton of the Carlsbad ankylosaur, ofcially known as Aletopelta coombsi. This poor dinosaur was found among Cretaceousage marine sediments in California. Shark teeth and bivalve shells were scattered around the dinosaurs bones, a hint that the heavily armored beast may have once formed a short-lived, edible reef. If you have a deep ocean with larger

Osedax, or snotworms, bore into old whale bones. With the help of bacteria, they break down fats and proteins into a snotworm buffet.

Te dining habits of modern snotworms hint that the scavengers are not picky. Put a bone down, and theyll eat it.
organisms swimming around the surface, dying, falling to dark, cold, oxygenated depths, youre going to have organic falls, Glover explains. But did they look the same millions of years ago?

OSEDAX EvOlutiOn Glover maintains that unraveling the mystery of Osedax evolution could help nd the answer. At the moment, scientists have conrmed, using DNA analysis, that snotworms are closely related to the tubeworms that thrive around hydrothermal vents and probably have existed for as long as whales, if not longer. Glover hypothesizes that young, prehistoric tubeworms may have been traveling from one deep-sea vent to another when they came across the carcass of a marine animal. They landed, found they could survive due to a fortuitous mutation and gradu-


ally became the Osedax we know today. The dining habits of modern snotworms hint that the scavengers are not picky. Put a bone down, and theyll eat it, Glover says. Experiments with modern bones, as well as fossil bones of prehistoric birds and sh, show that these worms will dine on any skeletal scrap. But no one has seen Osedax burrows on the bones of the marine reptiles that came before whales. Kaims team saw provannid snails near the pair of Cretaceous-era plesiosaur skeletons, but no Osedax. Either they werent present at this particular site, or they simply hadnt developed yet, he explains. But Kaim did nd what he believes is evidence of bacteria eating the plesiosaur bones: tiny burrows visible only by cutting a cross-section of bone and examining it under a microscope. The same thing is found at present-day whale falls during the sulfophilic stage the last and longest part of organic-fall succession, when bacteria produce hydrogen sulde as they break down what's left of the bones. We saw the exact same type of community you would see at a whale fall today, but quite simplied, says Kaim. In addition to investigating snotworm evolution, Glover is working with paleontologists to study the structure of the holes Osedax carves into bone, so he and others can rene their search of the fossil record. It may be that as we re-evaluate fossil evidence such as Kaims plesiosaurs, we nd traces of Osedax, he says. Without bone-eating specialists such as the snotworm, prehistoric organicfall ecosystems could have looked very different. Were only just starting to understand the role Osedax plays in the degradation of bone, says Glover, but they likely speed up the process. Understanding the snotworms course through history, and the tracks it leaves, could reveal that the intricate whale-fall ecosystems of today look nearly identical to organic falls from a time when there were true dragons in the deep. D
Brian Switek is a freelance science writer and author of the books My Beloved Brontosaurus and Written in Stone. He lives in Salt Lake City.

September 2013 DISCOVER


Out There

Hunting Season for Asteroids

By Corey S. Powell

While the government dithers, privately funded projects are stepping up the search for looming disaster.

If I were about to be struck by lightning, Id want to know. If an earthquake were going to shake my house tomorrow, or in 10 years, I sure would appreciate an early warning. Residents of Chelyabinsk, Siberia, likely felt that way last Feb. 15, when a roughly 15-meter-wide meteor exploded above the Ural Mountains, shattering windows across about 200,000 square meters. More than a thousand people were injured, mostly from glass cuts. Dashboard-camera video of the white-hot rock streaking through the sky, replayed repeatedly on TV and online, boldly illustrated the threat asteroids pose. The footage also highlighted how little weve done about it. Just a few hours of advance notice would have made a huge difference in Chelyabinsk, but no observatory on Earth (or beyond) is capable of such a feat even though the necessary technology is readily available. John Tonry, an astronomer at the University of Hawaiis Institute for Astronomy, is working furiously to implement that technology with the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS. When complete in 2015, the system will be sensitive enough to spot Chelyabinsk-scale asteroids about 24 hours before they strike. For larger objects, the kind that can lead to

The Chelyabinsk meteor blazed brighter than the sun as it streaked over Siberia on Feb. 15, 2013.
mass casualties, ATLAS could provide warning of up to a month. The budget is just $5 million. The cost of funding ATLAS is essentially one week of a typical space-mission development, as Tonry puts it. Yet he and his supporters had to work hard to get even that much. The struggle to build ATLAS is part of a broader disconnect between the bold talk and the mild action regarding asteroids. The United States has spent less on asteroid detection over the past 15 years than the production budget of the 1998 asteroid movie Armageddon. In response to the Chelyabinsk incident, Congress recently held a series of hearings and boosted NASAs Near Earth Object Program budget to $20 million a year a smidge over 0.1 percent of the agencys total funding. Tonry is grateful for that support, but Rusty Schweickart, a former Apollo astronaut who co-founded the private nonproft B612 Foundation to hunt asteroids, is far more critical. (The foundations name refers to the home planetoid in The Little Prince.) He notes that Congress gave NASA a 2005 mandate to fnd 90 percent of the nearEarth asteroids more than 140 meters

in diameter big enough to wipe out the Eastern Seaboard or most of California. Ive thought from time to time about a class-action suit to sue NASA for not obeying the law, he says, laughing but not exactly joking. It has been given a job to discover them, which it has done only partly and reluctantly. Time for AsTeroid, inc. Despite meager public resources, asteroid science has seen impressive advances over the past few years. The latest fndings are good news for people who like bad news: more rocks out there worth worrying about. It turns out that 30-meter-wide asteroids, about twice the diameter of the Chelyabinsk rock, pack enough punch to take out a city. Scientists believe thats also the size of the object that struck Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908 and fattened about 2,000 square kilometers of forest. (Why does Siberia keep getting hit? The short answer: partly because it is a very large target, and partly just bad luck.) Theres on the order of a million objects that size, Tonry says about the Tunguska object. What about Chelyabinsk-scale rocks?



A lot more than millions. Billions. Translating those raw numbers into meaningful risk estimates is not straightforward, which is one of the reasons politicians fnd it easy to set aside asteroid funding in favor of more concrete hazards like earthquakes or terrorism. Extrapolating from the latest research, Tunguska-size asteroids seem to strike Earth, on average, about every couple of centuries. For more than a decade, the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona has been tracking and tagging potentially hazardous asteroids. The Pan-STARRS telescope system in Hawaii is now speeding up the process.

objects the city killers, Schweickart says. Current searches fnd about 1,000 of those a year. Sentinel should raise that number to something like 100,000.
The Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii searches for changes in the night sky, constantly nding new Earth-threatening asteroids.

Two asteroids approached Earth on Feb. 15, illustrated here for size comparison. The rock on the right exploded over Siberia. The larger, 2012 DA14, could have wiped out a city.

Two to three times a month, it scans the entire night sky, looking for anything that moves or changes a powerful tool for fnding small asteroids. Like almost all asteroid-related projects, Pan-STARRS has seen its share of funding drama. In this case, the project was born from Air Force money directed its way by late-U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. When such earmarks were banned in 2011, the project was in jeopardy, according to astronomer Nick Kaiser, principal investigator for PanSTARRS, whose offce is just down the hall from Tonrys at the University of Hawaii. Last December, we were coming up against a brick wall. We were about to issue termination notices to a lot of the staff. The very next day,

we got a letter from a donor. The letter we got said, Those folks in D.C. are crazy, here is the money you need. With an injection of $3 million from that anonymous benefactor, PanSTARRS began installing its second telescope this past spring. The expanded system will devote twice as much time to asteroid detection, instantly catapulting it into frst place as the most productive site for fnding any space rock with our name on it. But Pan-STARRS is something of a stopgap effort that still will not produce the desired master map of all the potential city-killer asteroids out there. The real advance will come from Sentinel, a telescope that will conduct a thorough asteroid census from space after it launches in 2017 or 2018. The centerpiece of the B612 Foundation, Sentinel is a big-budget test case of the ability of private organizations to step up and do the science that government is unable to support. Rather than trying to invent everything from scratch, B612 will make heavy use of hardware developed for earlier NASA space telescope missions. Something like 80 percent of what were dealing with in Sentinel is Kepler, 15 percent Spitzer, 5 percent new, higher-performance infrared sensors, Schweickart says. By focusing its R&D money on the one area that truly demands innovation, B612 aims to run Sentinel much more cheaply than NASA could, about $450 million in all. That is an ambitious budget for a private organization, and B612s goals are correspondingly grand. Over Sentinels 6 year mission, it will complete NASAs mandate to fnd 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters wide. Sentinel should also fnd 40 to 50 percent of the Tunguska-size

Duck or Deflect? Sentinel is hardly the fnal word, however. Getting 50 percent of the city killers leaves plenty behind, and even though it should fnd hundreds of thousands of Chelyabinsk-scale asteroids, its launch is still years away. Tonrys $5 million ATLAS remains important because it can provide early warning for the more frequent, smaller impacts the ones that could be handled with local evacuation or with simple duck and cover precautions. So ATLAS could have spotted the Chelyabinsk meteor and avoided all those injuries, right? I put the question to Tonry, and am shaken by his reply: No way, because it came in from the direction of the sun. The project will fnd only about 20 percent of Chelyabinsk-size asteroids because it does not see the Southern Hemisphere, cannot watch during the day and cannot see through cloudy skies. Tonry suggests building a set of six ATLAS systems, which together could catch more like 70 percent. Schweickart goes further, arguing that replica facilities might cost just $1 million each, putting them within reach of academic astronomy departments. The telescopes could then be knit together into a global early warning impact system. They would also be valuable for researching other astronomy topics. But even a great early warning system does not deal with the fundamental threat from asteroids, especially the big ones. Fortunately, we have another option. Asteroid impacts are unique among all natural hazards because we know, in principle, how to prevent them. That will be the subject of next months column. D
Corey S. Powell is editor at large of DISCOVER. Follow him on Twitter @coreyspowell, and read his blog at DiscoverMagazine.com/outthere.

September 2013 DISCOVER



Comet ISON
The Great Comet of 2013 gets you ready for the spectacular appearance of what could be the centurys brightest comet!
Trust the experts at Astronomy magazine to bring you Comet ISONs complete story, including: OPTIMAL VIEWING PERIODS: Discover the ideal time for your location OBSERVING TIPS: Get day-by-day info for October through January EQUIPMENT ADVICE: Find out whats best to view the comet IMAGING HOW-TOs: Learn how to successfully capture Comet ISON And MUCH MORE!


ORDER NOW to SAVE $1 and receive FREE SHIPPING on this new special issue! www.Astronomy.com/CometISON or call 1-800-533-6644

Monday Friday, 8:30 a.m. 4:30 p.m. CDT. Outside the United States and Canada call 262-796-8776, ext. 661. Please have your credit card ready. The Great Comet of 2013 arrives in early October 2013. P19556 Background: Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1) by Martin Moline


Your Guide to Cool Culture, New Tech and Whats Next

Elysium writer/director Neill Blomkamp

Presenting issues through the lens of science fction shifts the audiences view.

movies Summers hottest director is a fan by design


Books Read up on the yeti, parasites and living forever


Author Douglas Rushkoff clocks out

Tech A cool way to keep coffee warm


ciTizen science Get your geek on Swab data, not decks




Matt Damon (left) and Sharlto Copley star in Elysium, the dystopian action movie from the man who brought you the critically acclaimed alien ick District 9.

UrBan skygazer UFO? No, its Venus


calendar Bug out in September & more


September 2013 DISCOVER




hotmov ies

A Fanboys Flight of Fancy

Director and writer Neill Blomkamp rocketed into the public
eye with 2009s gripping and inventive District 9, a sci- ick set in his native Johannesburg. The movie had all the whiz-bang effects and zap-happy gunghts we expect from the genre, but strong acting and a storyline evocative of apartheid-era South Africa won it critical acclaim as well. Blomkamp is back at the helm with the dystopian Elysium, due Elysium writer/director Neill Blomkamp in theaters Aug. 9. Hes got big stars Jodie Foster and a bald Matt Damon and a big budget, estimated to be more than three times the size of District 9s modest $30 million price tag. But one thing Blomkamp says he doesnt have is a big worry about meeting stratospheric expectations for the movie. Blomkamp explained to DISCOVER Associate Editor Gemma Tarlach why hes condent hes made a movie that will satisfy the fanboy in us all.
Discover: Where does science t into your take on science ction? Neill Blomkamp: Im very interested in science personally, especially speculative ction, outside the realm of my lms. Im interested in where the planet is going, where humans are going. But if you have too much science in a lm, you could end up in a place where the lm doesnt work very well as a story. The people who decide to see a movie, to buy a ticket, to go to the theater and sit in front of the screen arent much different than cavemen gathering around a re. They want to get drawn into the story. When you get very specic with the science in a movie oh, time travel through this wormhole wont work unless we do this and this you lose the audience pretty quickly. D: Elysium has a strong transhumanism theme, using technology to augment the human body, such as the

exoskeleton surgically attached to Matt Damons character. Is this a particular area of science that interests you?
NB: The whole concept of transhumanism is

something Im obsessed with. Its interesting, but I didnt want to make a lm just about that. The gap between rich and poor has always existed, and the lm is about that. One way you can show that gap is that the rich can afford to modify their bodies.

D: District 9 got a lot of attention for referencing apartheid. Elysium depicts class struggle, with the poor suffering on a resource-depleted Earth while the rich orbit in an idyllic space station. Do you use the sci- genre as a way to address real-world issues? NB: I dont really want to push any message or commentary. Science ction allows for the delivery of that kind of commentary in an easier-to-digest form, but is that my goal? Not really. I want to make movies that entertain. But I think about these topics all the time. Theyre in my mind, even though Im not trying to be quasi-political. District 9 was not saying apartheid was bad, which is relatively obvious. But I grew up in South Africa and saw apartheid and then emigrated to Canada, and all that is part of who I am. Science ction is really cool because Im showing you my upbringing, but its through that lens. Presenting issues through the lens of

Matt Damon rocks a cool exoskeleton in Elysium, but ... wait a minute, are those mom jeans?

AbominAble Science!
By Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero

The Oryx R-165 Raven Assault VTOL (vertical takeoff or landing) vehicle patrols Earths skies in Elysium.

science ction shifts the audiences view. Theyll watch it and then, at the end, maybe realize oh, it was about that.

My favorite part of
flmmaking is design. Ill hand-sketch almost every vehicle, the weapons, even Matt Damons exoskeleton.

scrutinized so closely affect your decisions at any stage in the process?

D: Given District 9 s commercial and critical success, do you feel a lot of pressure to meet the expectations building around Elysium?

nb: I like to be an artist, to take risks, to work on what feels natural. You dont need to validate that. I work on a lm like a sculptor. It resonates with me. The pressure I do feel is that lmmaking is not sculpting; it requires millions of other peoples dollars. If you spend $100 million and the lm collapses, it makes it more difcult to try to do another riskier lm later on. But if Ive done my job correctly, I shouldnt run into this problem. D: When Elysiums rst trailer was released, people picked it apart frame by frame, claiming various elements were an homage to, or a rip-off of, other lms. Does knowing the movie would be

nb: My favorite part of lmmaking is design. Ill hand-sketch almost every vehicle, the weapons, even Matt Damons exoskeleton. I have points of view about what everything will look like, because its what I would pay to sit in a movie and watch, its why I would be absolutely stoked to see this movie. With the design for Elysium, I didnt have any specic reference. But you know, with these copious amounts of data these petabytes I have in my head from being a science ction fan I cant help but be inuenced by what Ive seen. I love Blade Runner, for example, and those designs had a massive effect on me. Im totally an image-based person, and Blade Runner lodged in my mind when I saw it and never escaped. But does Elysium look like Blade Runner? No. At the same time, I feel like Im one of those hardcore fans. I love those kinds of genre lms. I feel like a lucky fan who gets to make this lm.

It probably wasnt Bigfoot you heard go bump in the night, but wouldnt it be cool if science could prove it was? Skipping cryptozoologys usual sensationalism, Abominable separates history and folklore from hoaxes and fakelore. Discussion of the yeti, Nessie and their ilk includes analysis of believer psychology, exploring whats behind faith in the fantastic. Occasionally wry but never mean-spirited, skeptics Loxton and Prothero press the elds proponents to approach their subjects with the scientic rigor necessary to be taken seriously.

Telling our WAy To The SeA

By Aaron Hirsh


In his rst book, evolutionary biologist Hirsh dives into the murky issues surrounding the conicted history and uncertain future of Mexicos Sea of Cortez. Students accompanying him to study the ecology of one of its bays see the waters as a pristine wilderness, but to scientists like Hirsh, its an overshed wasteland meanwhile, foreign investors eye the shoreline for development with mixed reactions from local shermen. Although occasionally lapsing into the Latin-laden jargon of a classroom lecture, Hirsh is articulate and impassioned as he struggles to gure out his own role in the future of the bay he loves. Moments such as a blind students tactile impressions of a sea cucumber serve as springboards for ruminations on a natural world far bigger and more complicated than any one persons perception of it.

In Elysium, the poor live in an Earth-bound hellscape (left) while the rich orbit worry-free.

September 2013 DISCOVER



Hot Interview
Au t H o r SpotlIgHt

PeoPle, Parasites and Plowshares
By Dickson Despommier

Dont let the menacing teeth on the cover scare you. Save for one photo, you wont lose your lunch as Despommier explains how parasites can nd a nice, comfy spot in your gut and wreak havoc on your body from the inside out. The microbiologist even suggests how we can use their wicked ways to our advantage: isolating, for example, the gene that allows a parasite to suppress our immune system and using it to reduce the risk of rejection for transplanted organs. Parasites beautifully balances history and pathology, but it could benet from more vignettes. Then again, maybe we should be careful what we wish for. DAVE LEE

are you reading this on a smartphone or tablet?

Even if youre not, youve probably got a mobile device within reach. Congratulations. Youve got at least one foot in a brave new world, says author and documentarian Douglas Rushkoff. His most recent book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Douglas Rushkoff sees a silver lining in cloud Now, explains our cultural transition to presentism, computing and other a post-clock society enabled by the exibility and 21st-century advances. reach of the Internet and those ubiquitous ways to stay connected to it. In a presentist world, well work less but more efciently and be free from the need for constant economic expansion. Rushkoff told DISCOVER Associate Editor Gemma Tarlach the future is bright for those of us willing to live in the present.

Are some people confusing the idea of presentism, of living in the present, with tweeting and texting and constantly updating Facebook?

A things pinging at you all the pulses

from digitality that we try to keep up with because we sense that theres something going on that we need to tap into are artifacts, or symptoms of living in this atemporal reality. And its not any worse than living in the time is money reality that were leaving.

The faux now of Twitter updates and

the Book of immortality

By Adam Leith Gollner

Gollner takes readers on a romp through the history of our quest for immortality and the science that may (or may not) help us achieve that goal. From humans earliest notions of everlasting life to the science that went into a $200 thimble of resveratrol eye cream, Gollner deftly weaves a narrative as amusing as it is smart. His juxtaposition of insights from his favorite professor a witty and grounded Jesuit priest facing his own mortality with magician David Copperelds ruthless quest for the fountain of youth leaves little doubt where Gollner stands on the issue, but it may make some Immortalists rethink their priorities. BECKY LANG

What do you have against clocks?

A on a certain level. The invention of the

clock made us accountable to the employer, gave us a standard measure and stopwatch management, and it also led to the requirement of interest-bearing currency to grow over time, the requirement of the expansion of our economy. Thats not really consonant with a sustainable civilization.

Time has always been used against us

of the industrial age is not to produce things more efciently, but to produce more things over time. Weve had to keep looking to increase. Now, for example, the more people transact directly over things like Etsy, the worse it is for the macroeconomy. The industrial age was not about craftspeople trading peer to peer. It was about stopping that. You werent supposed to be a craftsperson, you were supposed to be an employee. Take retirement: You hoard money now in order not to work when youre older because youre on your own. I dont know of any other form of life that gathers up all the food it needs in the rst two-thirds of its life in order to do nothing in its last third of life. In a utopian presentist society, instead of working extra hard to put money in the bank, youd be working to provide value for the people around you. As you got old, those people would naturally want to take care of you.

That sounds a bit idealistic. Dont you think people freed from the constraints of a clock-based economy and society are more likely to go a little Mad Max, especially if they have to buy their clothes on Etsy?

In an ideal world, how exactly would this new, post-clock era work?

A occasion. I think human beings are not

necessarily ruthless. They can be. Look at those cultures that push old people off cliffs instead of caring for them. That might be the true presentist society. I guess Ill nd out.

I do believe humans can rise to the

A us from this very time-based money

First and foremost it would unshackle

that were using. Working less, making less, producing less. The mandate for efciency



Running Hot and Cold Forever

The transition from solid ice to liquid water is a phase change.

Lukewarm coffee. In the grand scheme of life, its

a mild vexation, but the same sustainable, nontoxic material that keeps babies warm and soldiers cool can now ensure your cappuccino stays at optimal drinking temperature for hours. PureTemp, a technology developed by MinnesotaIt looks based Entropy Solutions, turns vegetable oils like a typical into phase change material (PCM) capable of commuter maintaining a specic temperature between coffee cup, but inside minus 40 and 300 degrees for hours. PCMs have is a coil of been around longer than our species: Waters innovation made from transition from a solid to a liquid at the phase veggies. change point of 32 degrees is the most obvious example. So we asked PureTemp Chief Chemical Ofcer William Rusty Sutterlin to explain whats so cool about this hot new take on phase change.

read oiL abouT iT: PureTemp technology involves purifying a variety of vegetable oils and then isolating different compounds within the blends. Each compound, Sutterlin says, naturally melts or solidies at a different specic temperature and can be used as the base material for an application, depending on the phase change point needed. Think of peanut butter, explains Sutterlin, who added hed just stirred a jar of the sticky stuff that morning not for a PureTemp application, but for a sandwich. Its made from the oil of peanuts, but that oil is made of different compounds, some of which are liquid at room temperature and some of which are solid at room temperature. Other manmade PCMs exist, but most are petroleum- or mineral-based, with varying levels of toxicity, or water-based, with more limited temperature ranges. PureTemps claim to fame is that its materials are biodegradable and nontoxic. PureTemp materials also have a broader range of potential phase change temperatures and containment sizes: Its coffee mug, for example, has a rigid inner core of PCM that could t in the palm of your hand, while blankets and clothing use the material in thin, exible sheets PCM microcapsules or pockets of microcapsules.






iMMorTaL Phase: PCMs have an advantage over other heat or cooling sources: a kind of immortality. The material never changes composition, latent heat capacity or its phase change point, Sutterlin says. Think of it this way: How many times can you freeze and melt and freeze water again before that water goes bad? The answer is unlimited.

GeTTinG sPecific: Unlike waters set solid-liquid phase change point of 32 degrees, manmade PCMs change points vary depending on their molecular composition. But they absorb and release latent heat according to the same principles as ice melting (storing heat) and refreezing (releasing that heat). As soon as we cause something to solidify, boom, theres a lot of energy there to harness, Sutterlin says. The PureTemp mugs inner PCM core has a phase change point set at 140 degrees, considered the optimal drinking temperature. Coffee is typically brewed, however, at about 190 to 200 degrees. You make your coffee and pour it into the PureTemp mug, explains Sutterlin. The PCM [inside the core] melts, pulling energy in the form of heat from the coffee. It takes a minute or two to reach the optimal drinking temperature and the PCMs phase change point. As the coffee cools below 140 degrees, the PCM starts to solidify again, releasing the stored heat back into your coffee and maintaining that perfect drinking temperature.

More Than This: Aside from keeping Americas java drinkers content, PCMs developed by PureTemp are also being used in far more signicant ways, including the Embrace infant warmer; the Cool Vest, which prevents overheating in human and canine troops in Afghanistan; and the Greenbox, which safely transports pharmaceuticals, blood and vaccines. Well drink to that.

Embrace infant warmer

September 2013 DISCOVER



Get Your Geek on
Got an idea to save the world but lack the stash of cash you need to do it? Want to get involved in real research without spending years in grad school? Looking for something sciencetastic for the younglings? Citizen science is all the rage, but it can be tough to know where to start. Here are some ideas:

Is it a w or an n?

Swab Data, Not Decks

Panic sets in quickly. My promotion to lieutenant and, I might add, the future of the planet may depend on it. I am a cadet in the Old Weather Navy, a joint U.S.-U.K. web-based project that recruits citizen scientists to decipher The USS Jamestown the climate data recorded in old ship logs. Climate modeling is endishly difcult not only because of its innate complexity but also because of the paucity of historical data. Climatologists have long coveted the wealth and precision of weather observations contained in antique logbooks. Sailors measured winds, temperatures, barometric pressure and cloud conditions as well as sea ice and animal sightings. Not only is the data detailed and meticulous, it is considered highly reliable. The lives of the sailors themselves depended on its accuracy, and it was an offense to falsify it. But until now, the records were a buried treasure. The sheer number of logs made it impossible for researchers to transcribe the data themselves, and computers are famously bad at reading human handwriting. Thats why Old Weather has been recruiting OldWeather.org Enlist to help scientists decipher landlubbers like you and me since October 2010. climate data from historic ship Winston Churchill reputedly said the British Navy was run logs, like the one below. on rum, sodomy and the lash. Old Weather instead relies on our competitive streak to keep us battening down the hatches. Volunteers enlist in a crew on one of several ships. We all begin as cadets and are promoted to lieutenant when we have transcribed a certain number of pages. The captain of the vessel is the volunteer who has transcribed the most pages of that particular ships log. There are currently more than 900 recruits in the Old Weather navy crewing 17 vessels. The data points we collect will be maintained in a public database. After three hours of transcribing the 1845 log of the USS Jamestown, a beautiful 32-foot beam sloop sailing the Atlantic seaboard, I nally decide the letter in question is denitely (maybe) an n. (Each page will be transcribed by several volunteers so my mistakes will be caught.) I input wind direction, hit enter and ... am granted my promotion. I am now a lieutenant! But since the planet still needs saving, I re-up and sail on. LeeAundrA KeAny

SciStarter.com This one-stop shop for ongoing citizen science projects can get you inspired with rst-person posts about the joy of helping NASA measure features on Mars or being a Splatter Spotter who keeps track of roadkill. Then check out the Project Finder to search by topic and location for your fastest route to, if not the Nobel Prize, then at least a fun way to spend next Saturday. Fundageek.com If youre long on ideas but short on scrilla, consider this hub for science-project-friendly angel investors. Tip: You might want to leave aspiring evil mastermind off your resume when pitching a project to develop sharks that shoot lasers. Citizen Science

Guide for Families

Greg Landgrafs user-friendly book serves as a eld guide for parents interested in nudging their children (or focusing their enthusiasm) toward the wonderful world of science.

HotEx HIbIt

FUTURE ENERGY: Power to (and by) the People

MuseuM of science and industry Chicago

Oh, so you think you can design a more energy-efcient car than the brainiacs at Tesla Motors? Put your noggin to the test at MSIs new permanent exhibit, Future Energy Chicago. The highly interactive exhibit opens with the Energy Garden, where visitors learn how energy can be transferred and converted with activities such as riding a bike to power a visual effects display. Then youll move into The Simulation, taking on ve different challenges to reinvent Chicagos transportation and power grids, build more efcient homes and design a car that would be the envy of Elon Musk. msichicago.org gt


U r ba n s k yg a z e r
WHEN TO LOOK: This chart shows the sky at the following times:




a Veg

rus Arctu

b ne De



Fo m alh au t




es tar An

MagNiTudEs: Higher magnitudes (and smaller dots on the page) denote dimmer stars. A 0-magnitude star is exactly 100 times brighter than a 5th-magnitude one.










For more on this months sky, go to Astronomy.com

UFO? No, Its Venus

Why does the second-brightest object in the night sky get so little respect? At its peak, Venus outshines Sirius, the most brilliant star, by a factor of 15; only the moon surpasses our sister planet. Yet Venus is routinely mistaken for an airplane, a satellite or even an alien spaceship. Roy Craigs riveting book UFOs: An Insiders View of the Ofcial Quest for Evidence, about his investigations for the U.S. Air Forces Colorado Project, includes an account of veteran police ofcers in Georgia chasing a mysterious, fast-moving object about 500 feet above the ground. Yep, it was Venus.

Perhaps people forget about the planet because it disappears for long stretches. Its successive appearances in the evening sky happen 19 months apart. Also, Venus never ventures more than 47 degrees away from the sun, so it tends to hug the horizon closely exactly where people expect to see landing airplanes (or, apparently, ying saucers). You can make the correct ID tonight: Venus is that silvery beacon shining low in the west after sunset. See if you can nd the planet by day (binoculars help). Note the angle between Venus and the sun at twilight the night before. Stand in a shadow so the sun is out of view, aim your gaze the same angle away from the sun, and scan. It will pop into view: Venus, the thirdbrightest object in the daytime sky. Corey S. Powell

















le ub Do uster Cl


10 p.m. Sept. 1 9 p.m. Sept. 15 8 p.m. Sept. 30

l go Al

WHaT TO sEE: One star stands out in autumns drab southern sky: white Fomalhaut, which marks the mouth of Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish). Venus does not appear because it sets earlier, during twilight.



M3 1


tic lip Ec

f Eni

September 2013 DISCOVER




Riddick in Theaters
Vin Diesel returns as everyones favorite slytongued anti-hero with built-in night vision in the third feature-length outing for the sci- franchise that started with 2000s Pitch Black. RiddickMovie.com

National Food Safety Month
Each year, foodborne illness sickens 48 million Americans, but restaurants arent the only culprits. Do you practice food safety at home? foodsafetymonth.com

Ho t C a l E N da r

9/8 9/12
High-Speed Science
Ride with the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Indianapolis as researchers investigate the science behind racecars. Fee and registration required.

Ground Zero Skyscraper Airs on PBS
NOVA examines the engineering feats of the new One World Trade Center. pbs.org/wgbh/nova

Epicurean Entomology
At Caf Insecta, part of Bugfest at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Ants on a Log arent made with celery sticks and raisins. bugfest.org

Science Festival Lineup

Cant get enough science? We hear ya! Visit a festival in your hometown or make a vacation out of it. Here are a few fun ideas to whet your appetite:


British Science Festival Newcastle, United Kingdom



9/24 9/29
Yosemite Face-Lift
Join the National Park Service and Yosemite Climbing Association for volunteer cleanup of the grounds after a busy summer season. tinyurl.com/facelift-yosemite


Celebrate Science Indiana Indianapolis celebratescienceindiana.org


Ultimo Science Festival Ultimo, New South Wales, Australia



National Science Teachers Association

New School Year, New Standards
Teachers and parents can access resources from the National Science Teachers Association on the Next Generation Science Standards released in April 2013.

The Science of Variation
Where do we draw the lines to categorize people? Scan your skin tone at the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit at Seattles Pacic Science Center and nd out.

Next Big Idea Festival Los Alamos, N.M. nextbigideala.com


Highlights of Physics Barmen, Wuppertal, Germany


9/209/29 9/269/29

Flagstaff Festival of Science Flagstaff, Ariz. scifest.org Wisconsin Science Festival Madison, Wis. wisconsinsciencefest.org

Calendar compiled by Elisa Neckar. Submit your events to thismonth@DiscoverMagazine.com

September 2013 DISCOVER


20 Things You Didnt Know About

by Jonathon keats

1. Alfred Nobel considered himself a failure. After a newspapers premature obituary dubbed him the merchant of death, the inventor of dynamite set out to improve his reputation by establishing prizes in peace, literature and the sciences. 2. Only one scientist has won a Nobel for failing. In the 1880s, Albert Michelson tried to measure the luminiferous ether that scientists thought was the carrier of light. He couldnt fnd it, because it didnt exist. Michelson had inadvertently discovered that light carries itself, though it would take a patent offce clerk named Albert Einstein to explain it. The short version: E = mc2. 3. Several scientifc journals now specialize in publishing failed experiments, including the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine and the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis. 4. Getting scientists to fess up to failure aint easy. After just over a year, the Journal of Errology managed to attract only two papers and called it quits. 5. Google budgets for failure and its potential insight. Employees can spend 20 percent of each workday on their own projects even though 80 percent of Google ventures fail. 6. The frst product manufactured by Sony, shortly after World War II, was an electric rice cooker. Handy, except that it undercooked or burned the rice. Failing to sell a single one, the company tried an even dicier new gadget: a tape recorder. 7. On average, 10 percent of U.S. companies go out of business annually. 8. And corporate extinctions follow a pattern: A low-level attrition rate is occasionally punctuated by many companies failing at once. The economist Paul Ormerod has found that the relationship between severity and frequency follows a power law mass failure is exponentially rarer than everyday attrition. 9. The pattern seems to be natural. Over the past half-billion years, the extinction of species has followed that same power law. 10. Henry Fords Edsel was the dodo of automobiles, but Ford had far worse ideas. 11. His biggest failure? Fordlandia, a 2.5 millionacre rubber plantation in the Amazon. With

characteristic effciency, Ford planted rubber trees in tight formation. Fordlandia was effcient as a buffet for caterpillars. 12. The nonproft Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has monitored the skies for alien communication for 53 years, and scientists have yet to hear a single word. 13. Talk about failure to communicate: In 1999, the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in Martian orbit because navigation software used metric units while the thrusters were programmed to follow English measurements. 14. In case youre thinking of signing up for Dennis Titos 2018 voyage to the Red Planet, better remember Biosphere 2, a prototype Martian settlement in the Arizona desert. Most of the animals went extinct, and the eight human inhabitants were nearly asphyxiated. 15. Biosphere 2 is now studied by environmental scientists to reckon why humans cant maintain a sustainable environment on Biosphere 1, aka planet Earth. 16. One failure leads to another. The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania went into partial meltdown after someone spilled a cup of water. 17. The dumped water triggered a safety fuse, which shut down a coolant pump, causing the reactor to overheat. 18. Nobody noticed the overheating because the warning light was covered by a repair tag. Doh! 19. The Large Hadron Collider suffered a catastrophic failure after just nine days when a solder connection melted, igniting a bottle of supercooled liquid helium. Fourteen months later, the LHC failed again after a bird dropped a piece of bread on some exposed electronics. 20. Scientists fretted that the repaired LHC would fail to fnd a Higgs boson, the missing piece in the standard model of physics. But fnding a Higgs was the least of our problems. The measured value of the particle shows that the universe itself is unstable and in perhaps a billion billion years will fail just like everything else. D
Jonathon Keats is the author of Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology.

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Fundamentals of Photography
Taught by Joel Sartore, Professional Photographer national geographic magazine



lecture titles 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. Making Great Pictures Camera EquipmentWhat You Need Lenses and Focal Length Shutter Speeds Aperture and Depth of Field Light IFound or Ambient Light Light IIColor and Intensity Light IIIIntroduced Light Composition ISeeing Well Composition IIBackground and Perspective Composition IIIFraming and Layering Lets Go to WorkLandscapes Lets Go to WorkWildlife Lets Go to WorkPeople and Relationships Lets Go to WorkFrom Mundane to Extraordinary Lets Go to WorkSpecial Occasions Lets Go to WorkFamily Vacations Advanced TopicsResearch and Preparation Advanced TopicsMacro Photography Advanced TopicsLow Light Advanced TopicsProblem Solving After the SnapWorkow and Organization EditingChoosing the Right Image Telling a Story with Pictures The Photo Essay



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Photographs can preserve cherished memories, reveal the beauty of life, and even change the world. Yet most of us point and shoot without really being aware of what were seeing or how we could take our photo from good to great. Just imagine the images you could create if you trained yourself to see as the professionals do. With Fundamentals of Photography, youll learn everything you need to know about the art of taking unforgettable pictures straight from National Geographic contributing photographer Joel Sartorea professional with over 30 years of experience. Whatever your skill level, these 24 engaging lectures allow you to hone your photographers eye, take full advantage of your cameras features, and capture magical moments in any situation or setting imaginable.





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