Breakthough study finds remnants of Big Bang

Inflation Big Bang Expansion Image Diagram NASA Science Universe Weekly Show

The universe is a big place. Most physicists say it is infinite, and estimates of our observable universe fall around 93 billion lightyears across. Fortunately, math and science give us the tools to unravel what we cannot see, such as last week’s breakthrough discovery of the “echo” from the Big Bang.

The Big Bang theory posits the universe burst from a single point some 13.7 billion years ago. In a fraction of a second it underwent staggering expansion, growing exponentially at speeds faster than light. Early phases of the universe contained plasma so “dense” (high-energy) that photons could not escape. About 380,000 years later, the plasma cooled enough to let light push through, giving the universe its first moment of transparency. This theory is widely accepted by the scientific community and explains many properties of our universe, such as cosmic background radiation, large-scale structures, and the large presence of light elements (more on these in future posts).

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Stephen Hawking: there are no black holes

Black Hole Artist's Impression Astronaut Falling Into Tidal Forces Firewall Hawking Weekly Show Stephen

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking announced last week there are no black holes—at least not the way we think of them. His new, not-yet-peer-reviewed paper says the idea of an event horizon—the point of no escape—violates quantum mechanics and therefore does not exist. In doing away with the event horizon, Hawking claims to have solved the firewall paradox, one of the most pressing problems in modern physics.

First, some background. Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist and the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University. His work in quantum mechanics and general relativity is a cornerstone of modern physics and has made him one of the most famous scientists of the past century.

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Study finds brain games postpone cognitive decline

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A massive study released last week found that brain games and training can help slow the cognitive decline that comes with aging. The study, funded by the National Institute of Health and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, is the first to find long-term benefits associated with brain games.

Researchers placed subjects in groups receiving speed-based tasks, memory exercises, reasoning games, or nothing at all. Sessions lasted about an hour and took place over six weeks. Testers evaluated subjects immediately following the trials and at intervals throughout ten years. At the end of the study, 71 percent of participants who received speed training performed at or above their level from the start of the study compared with 48 percent in the control group. Those who participated in reasoning games showed improvement as well, with 74 percent performing at or above their initial marks compared with only 62 percent of the control group. The memory games had no effect on performance. Continue reading

Would you eat a lab-grown burger?

Picture a sizzling, mouth-watering hamburger. That gorgeous, delicious patty sitting on the plate, fresh off the char-grilled… petri dish? This was the case in last Monday in London, where the world’s first lab-grown hamburger was cooked and served in front of an invitation audience.

The burger, developed by physiologist Mark Post of the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, is one-hundred-percent real meat. Post and his team grew the meat from cow stem cells, first differentiating the sample into muscle cells then placing them in a nutrient-rich solution. As the cells formed strands of flesh, the team exercised them with light tension, making them bigger and stronger (note to A-Rod—this was done without the use of performance-enhancing drugs). The final hamburger consisted of approximately 20,000 strands and took about three months to grow. As a last step, the team colored the meat with a mixture of beet juice and saffron—without blood vessels, the muscle is an unappetizing gray.

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The meat of the future?

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Researchers have implanted false memories in mice. Are you next?

Riken MIT Brain False Memories Memory Mice Implant Scientists Researchers Weekly Show

Imagine a future where scientists implant memories in your brain, convincing you of memories you never experienced. Sound farfetched? In Cambridge, Massachusetts, this dream is approaching reality.

According to a recent study out of MIT, researchers have successfully embedded false memories into the brains of mice. The team, a collaboration between Japan’s Riken Brain Science Institute and MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, managed to implant fabricated realities into the animals’ minds, essentially sequencing memories the mice never had.

Riken MIT Brain False Memories Memory Mice Implant Scientists Researchers Weekly Show

The mice’s brains were wired to associate shocks with the safe environment, effectively giving them false memories. Image from the Riken Institute.

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