When you’re facing a life or death situation, what do the odds mean – to you personally? As Brian Zikmund-Fisher from the University of Michigan School of Public Health pointed out to Robert Siegel on NPR yesterday, “We’re never 95 percent alive. We either live or die. We experience outcomes”.
Over the past few weeks, revelations of potentially dangerous errors in US federal labs handling pathogens have placed health and safety high on the national agenda. In June, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced as many as 75 of its staff may have been exposed to anthrax due to safety issues at one of its labs. At the beginning of July, vials of smallpox virus were found in an unsecured room at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Then earlier this week came the revelation that in the same room were over 300 vials containing pathogens such as dengue virus, influenza, and the bacterium that causes Q fever.
Over the past few days, the interweb’s been awash with virtual “oohs” and “ahs” over Surrey Nanosystems’ carbon nanotube-based Vantablack coating. The material – which absorbs over 99.9% of light falling onto it and is claimed to be the world’s darkest material – is made up of a densely packed “forest” of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (see the image below). In fact the name “vanta” stands for Vertically Aligned NanoTube Array.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies on February 25, 2014 released its annual list of breakthrough technologies. The list highlights 10 trends in technological advancement that could offer innovative solutions to a range of pressing global challenges. As a member of the council that compiles the list each year, I’m excited to see technologies here that could be truly transformative. At the same time, realizing the benefits they offer will require a good dose of responsible innovation mixed in with the technologies each trend represents.
Jim Thomas of the ETC Group has just posted a well reasoned article on the Guardian website on the challenges of defining the the emerging technology of “synthetic biology”. The article is the latest in a series of exchanges addressing the potential risks of the technology and its effective regulation.
Over the past few days, my news and social media streams have been inundated by articles on “nanojuice”. The “juice” – developed by researchers at the University of Buffalo and published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology – is a suspension of light-absorbing nanoparticles which, when drunk (and only mice have had this privilege so far), allow an unprecedented level of real-time imaging of the small intestine. It also presents an unusual series of safety challenges as the particles are designed to be intentionally ingested.
Danger and death are part and parcel of being alive. But with a few notable exceptions, it’s hard to find straightforward information online on how to make sense of stuff that potentially threaten our health and wellbeing. Which is a pity, because as well as being important for making smart decisions, there’s some really cool science behind how what we touch, breathe, eat, or otherwise come into contact with affects our health.
Risk Bites was originally conceived as a way of pulling some rather cool insights into the science behind human health risks out of dusty halls of academia and into the real world. Watching the meteoric rise of YouTube science channels like MinutePhysics and SciShow, I couldn’t help wondering why universities weren’t having the same success with the medium, and whether there was a way of bridging the gap between the educational establishment, and the online education counterculture.
On Monday, the National Institute for Occupational Safety released new data on the potential role multi-walled carbon nanotubes play as a cancer-promoter – a substance that promotes the development of cancer in the presence of a carcinogen.
YouTube intrigues me. Having been dragged into the YouTube culture by my teenagers over the past two years, I’ve been fascinated by the shift from seemingly banal content to a sophisticated social medium.
Sometimes you read a science article and it sends a shiver down your spine. That was my reaction this afternoon reading Ed Yong’s piece on a paper just published in Nature Biotechnology by Janna Nawroth, Kevin Kit Parker and colleagues.
Hot on the heels of last week’s announcement on the Higgs Boson, some of YouTube’s most viewed science communicators burned the midnight oil to explain why this is so exciting. Wrapping up this series of posts on YouTube, I thought I would call out three prominent YouTubers who were at VidCon last week, yet still found the time to pull together a video.
Having been initiated into the alternative world of teen YouTube culture last year, I am once again being dragged along to VidCon – the Comic-Con of the online video community. This year – the third year for VidCon – promises to be bigger than better than ever with around 6,000 signed up for the extravaganza June 28-30 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Nanotechnology leads to novel materials, new exposures and potentially unique health and environmental risks – or so the argument goes. But an increasing body of research is showing that relatively uniformly sized nanometer scale particles are part and parcel of the environment we live in.
The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report is one of the most authoritative annual assessments of emerging issues surrounding risk currently produced. Now in its seventh edition, the 2012 report launched today draws on over 460 experts* from industry, government, academia and civil society to provide insight into 50 global risks across five categories, within a ten-year forward looking window.
There’s something rather liberating about being asked to give a no-holds talk on your perspective on life, the universe, and everything. So when the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center asked if I would speak as part of their “Where do we go from here?” series, I jumped at it.
The immediate lessons from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are pretty obvious - we (or at least somebody) messed up! But what about the less obvious lessons, especially those concerning technology innovation and how it’s handled?
New technologies depend on uncommon materials, and society depends on new technologies. Which means that economies that develop the former and control the latter have something of an upper hand in today’s interconnected and technology-dependent world.
Now that I’ve had some time to get to grips with my new position as Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, I thought it was high time I started letting people know something about where the Center will be heading over the next few years.
While traveling to the World Economic Forum meeting in China, I came across a new paper that piques my interest. The paper is by David Keith at the University of Calgary (published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science), and is a theoretical investigation of how injecting large quantities of precisely engineered particles into the upper atmosphere might provide a cost-effective tool for climate intervention - geoengineering.