My picks, 2015-5

These are the latest articles and videos I found most interesting.

  1. Beautiful 3-D Brain Scans Show Every Synapse
  2. Sam Harris Neuroscience vs Afterlife
  3. Rabbit Island – Nature’s Weirdest Events
  4. Rivers of meltwater on Greenland’s ice sheet contribute to rising sea levels
  5. Faster, Higher, Stronger
  6. Alex McDowell on Building New Worlds
  7. Approaching Titan a Billion Times Closer
  8. Underwater dogs
  9. Diamonds are a quantum computer’s best friend

I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers which can’t be questioned.

‒ Richard Feynman

Beautiful 3-D Brain Scans Show Every Synapse

National Geographic
Secrets of the Brain

Ultrathin slices of mouse brains offer a mesmerizing look at how brain cells communicate at the tiniest scale. This research may offer clues about how the dance of our own synapses guides and animates us.

Sam Harris Neuroscience vs Afterlife

Neil deGrasse Tyson Videos

Science is not in principle committed to the idea that there’s no afterlife or that the mind is identical to the brain…

If it’s true that consciousness is being run like software on the brain and can – by virtue of ectoplasm or something else we don’t understand – be dissociated from the brain at death, that would be part of our growing scientific understanding of the world if we discover it…

But there are very good reasons to think it’s not true. We know this from 150 years of neurology where you damage areas of the brain, and faculties are lost… You can cease to recognize faces, you can cease to know the names of animals but you still know the names of tools…

What we’re being asked to consider is that you damage one part of the brain, and something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, you damage another and yet more is lost, [but] you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all our faculties in tact, recognizing grandma and speaking English!

Rabbit Island – Nature’s Weirdest Events


No-one really knows why the bunnies are here, but they are now a big tourist attraction

Rivers of meltwater on Greenland’s ice sheet contribute to rising sea levels

How rivers of meltwater on Greenland’s ice sheet contribute to rising sea levels

Using satellite and field work after an extreme melt event in Greenland, a UCLA-led study finds that melt-prone areas on its ice sheet develop a remarkably efficient drainage system of stunning blue streams and rivers that carry meltwater into moulins (sinkholes) and ultimately the ocean. However, the team’s measurements at the ice’s edge show that climate models alone can overestimate the volume of meltwater flowing to the ocean because they fail to account for water storage beneath the ice.

Faster, Higher, Stronger

Mark McClusky

From the Olympics to the NBA Finals, from the World Series to the Tour de France, from high-tech labs in Canberra and Colorado Springs to converted warehouses in Santa Monica, even in neighborhood gyms and on city sidewalks, there is a revolution taking place.

Not so long ago, you could compete at the top of the athletic world with hard work, a good coach, and a little luck. But after a century when world records were smashed with ease, we’ve started to find improvement harder to come by. Today’s athletes are now turning to advanced technology and savvy science to help them reach new levels of human performance.

In Faster, Higher, Stronger, veteran journalist and editor of Wired Magazine, Mark McClusky takes readers behind the scenes with a new generation of athletes, coaches, and scientists whose accomplishments are changing our understanding of human physical achievement and completely redefining the limits of the human body. Examining the ever-evolving intersection of sports, science, and technology, McClusky explores:

  • Tricks for the brain to help the body fight fatigue
  • Nutritional hacks that fuel athletes
  • The huge impact data can have on training
  • Smart ways to speed up learning a new skill
  • The competitive benefits of being a late bloomer

About Mark:
Mark McClusky is the Editor, in San Francisco, CA. Since he took over as the head of the site in February 2013, has posted record traffic and readership numbers, and garnered industry recognition for editorial excellence, including five Webby Awards and nominations for National Magazine Awards.

Alex McDowell on Building New Worlds

RSA Spotlight
RDI Address 2014: Building New Worlds

Alex McDowell RDI (Royal Designer for Industry) is an award-winning designer and storyteller working at the intersection of emergent technologies and experiential media.

In this excerpt from this year’s annual RDI address, Alex McDowell describes his work on the Rilao Project, a fictional city and narrative laboratory that allows us to imagine an alternative trajectory of social, political and technological development.

Approaching Titan a Billion Times Closer

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
More information and images from the mission

Remember the Titan (Landing): Ten years ago today, Jan. 14, 2005, the Huygens probe touched down on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

This new, narrated movie was created with data collected by Cassini’s imaging cameras and the Huygens Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR). The first minute shows a zoom into images of Titan from Cassini’s cameras, while the remainder of the movie depicts the view from Huygens during the last few hours of its historic descent and landing.

It was October 15, 1997, when NASA’s Cassini orbiter embarked on an epic, seven-year voyage to the Saturnian system. Hitching a ride was ESA’s Huygens probe, destined for Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The final chapter of the interplanetary trek for Huygens began on 25 December 2004 when it deployed from the orbiter for a 21-day solo cruise toward the haze-shrouded moon. Plunging into Titan’s atmosphere, on January 14 2005, the probe survived the hazardous 2 hour 27 minute descent to touch down safely on Titan’s frozen surface. Today, the Cassini spacecraft remains in orbit at Saturn. Its mission will end in 2017, 20 years after its journey began.

Underwater dogs

Wild at Heart

Slow motion footage of swimming dogs reveals the surprising efficiency of the doggy paddle and their incredible diving skills.

Diamonds are a quantum computer’s best friend

Chaos Communication Congress

A new kind of quantum computer is being proposed by scientists from the TU Wien (Vienna)
A new concept for a quantum computer has been proposed.

A new kind of quantum computer is being proposed by scientists from the TU Wien (Vienna) and Japan (National Institute of Informatics and NTT Basic Research Labs).

A new concept for a quantum computer has been proposed.
A new concept for a quantum computer has been proposed.

At the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien), experiments with nitrogen atoms in diamonds are already being carried out.
At the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien), experiments with nitrogen atoms in diamonds are already being carried out.

The Quantum Computer is the Holy Grail of quantum technology. Its computing power would eclipse even the fastest classical computers we have today. A team of researchers from TU Wien (Vienna) the National Institute for Informatics (Tokyo) and NTT Basic Research Labs in Japan has now proposed a new architecture for quantum computing, based on microscopic defects in diamond. A reliable quantum computer capable of solving complex problems would have to consist of billions of quantum systems, and such a device is still out of reach. But the researchers are convinced that the basic elements of their newly proposed architecture are better suited to be miniaturized, mass-produced and integrated on a chip than previously suggested quantum computing concepts. Experiments towards the new quantum computing architecture are already being undertaken at TU Wien.

Fragile Quantum Superpositions

For decades, scientists have been trying to use quantum systems for logical calculations. “In a classical computer, one bit can only store a number: zero or one. Quantum physics, however, allows superpositions of states. A quantum bit can be in the state zero and the state one at the same time – and this opens up unbelievable possibilities for computing”, says Jörg Schmiedmayer (TU Wien).

Such superposition states can be implemented in different kinds of quantum systems, such as ions, captured in electromagnetic traps, or in superconducting quantum bits. The architecture which has now been published in the journal “Physical Review X” is different: nitrogen atoms which can occupy two different spin states are injected into a small diamond. Every nitrogen defect is trapped in an optical resonator made of two mirrors. Via glass fibres, photons are coupled to the quantum system consisting of the resonator, the diamond and the nitrogen atom. This way, it is possible to read and manipulate the state of the quantum system without destroying the quantum properties of the spins in the diamond.

Realistic Quantum Computers Need Error Correction

Each system – made up of mirrors, diamond and a nitrogen defect – can store one quantum bit of information: zero, one, or an arbitrary superposition of both. But usually such a quantum bit is very unstable. Error correction procedures are needed to build a quantum computer that works reliably. “If error correction is used, a quantum bit cannot be stored in one single quantum particle any more. Instead, a complex architecture of interconnected quantum systems is required”, says Michael Trupke (TU Wien).

The researchers calculated how the resonators, diamonds and nitrogen atoms can be assembled to create an error resistant two dimensional quantum system, a so-called “topologically protected quantum computer”. According to the calculations, about 4.5 billion such quantum systems would be sufficient to implement the algorithm “Shor-2048”, which is able to calculate prime factors of a 2048-bit-number.

This huge number of quantum elements is required in any quantum computer architecture, no matter whether ion traps, superconducting quantum bits or nitrogen spins in diamonds are used. “Our approach has the big advantage that we know how to make the elements smaller. This architecture has great potential for miniaturization and mass production”, says Michael Trupke. “Whole industries are working with diamonds, materials science is progressing rapidly. There are still many obstacles to overcome, but connecting nitrogen spins in solid materials opens up a path that could finally lead to a functioning quantum computer.”

Only the Beginning – just Like the Transistor

Trupke compares the current state of quantum computing with the early days of electronic computing: “When the first transistors were built, nobody could imagine placing them on a small chip by the billions. Today, we carry around such chips in our pockets. These nitrogen spins in diamond could develop just like transistors did in classical computer science.”

At TU Wien, researchers have begun to create a small-scale realisation of this new architecture. “We have the great advantage of being able to collaborate with a number of internationally renowned research teams in materials research and quantum technology right here at TU Wien”, says Jörg Schmiedmayer. Friedrich Aumayr works on methods to inject the nitrogen atoms into the diamonds, Peter Mohn obtains numerical data in large-scale computer simulations. The microcavity arrays are the result of an ongoing collaboration with Ulrich Schmid at the Institute of Sensor and Actuator Systems within TU Wien. Diamond chips are routinely analysed in the university’s own X-ray centre.

There may still be a long way to go before algorithms like Shor-2048 run on a quantum computer. But scientists believe that it should become possible to entangle quantum building blocks, creating larger cluster cells, within the next few years. “Once this happens, the scale-up will be fast”, says Kae Nemoto of the National Institute of Informatics. “In the end,” Schmiedmayer says, “it all depends on whether we manage to enter an era of mass production and miniaturization in quantum technology. I do not see any physical laws that should keep us from doing that.”

Original publication in PRX
Additional paper about the quantum technology used for the new quantum architecture

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