An early winter science roundup

Trust Me, I’m A Scientist- Evan Martin

About two months ago I got my first smartphone and it took me about half an hour to forget ever living without it. Then, a couple of weeks later, something occurred to me: “Holy shit, kids who are 5 years old or younger right now will have never lived in a world without computer phones that fit in a pocket.” I know our society takes ridiculous technological advances for granted nowadays, but think about that for a minute—these kids will never know what it was like to not have a smart phone. Just in case that doesn’t blow your mind hard enough, here are some new insane technologies that we’ll be saying the same thing about soon…

First, lightsabers. That’s right, in 2013, scientists have officially invented actual lightsabers. Though it’s not exactly the same as the ones in Star Wars, it’s as close as we have ever been to making one before, and it’s thanks to a brand new type of matter created by scientists at Harvard and MIT. The scientists, working for the Harvard/MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms (not making this up) were able to create molecules made out of photons, aka the particles that make up light. According to quantum mechanics, light particles do not have mass or charge, so getting them to form matter (stuff that has mass) and stick together (as if they were charged) is revolutionary. Granted, this was achieved by getting the particles ultra-cold (as the department name suggests) and even still, only a few photons stuck together. Still, this technology has potential applications in quantum computing, and…holy shit, lightsabers!

Next we move to the world of biology. If you had to pick the creepiest possible thing that scientists could grow in a lab, I’m guessing “human brain” would rank in the top 5. Seriously, eventually it’s going to start thinking, and at that point, you’re basically in horror movie territory. I’m pleased and horrified to report that scientists have gone and done just that. A research team from Australia grew an embryonic human brain from stem cells that has developed to that of a 9-10 week old fetus. The brain is still too young to form any coherent thoughts and therefore doesn’t yet have a soul to sacrifice to Ba’al, or whichever of the Five Prime Evils these scientists clearly work for.

Sticking with the creeptastic breakthrough category, a team from Maastricht University recently grew and served the world’s first hamburger grown in a lab. This meat patty was, and I quote, “taken from a cow’s shoulder in a gentle biopsy and grown in calf serum, with micro-exercise so they wouldn’t be flabby.” Sound delicious? Fortunately for people who like eating non-laboratory grown dead animals, this burger cost about $330,000 to grow and won’t be coming to your table any time soon. But according to the judges who did taste this scientific culinary masterpiece, it was apparently “a bit dry.”

Finally, a research team from Old Dominion University has redefined the phrase “kicking it old school” by discovering the oldest evidence of life yet. It came from a formation of rocks in Australia called the Dresser

Formation, where certain rocks showed all the signs of microbial induced sedimentary structures, or MISS. As the name suggests, these formations can only happen through the assistance of bacteria, and they also have a tendency to look pretty much the same no matter how long they’ve been around. So this bacteria-built stone has been dated to 3.48 billion years. Billion. With a “b”. As in 3,480 million years. Seriously, can you even comprehend how long that is? A really, really, really, really long time. But this is the craziest part: those 3.48 billion year old microbes might have been our ancestors.

Evan is the product of 85 million years of primate evolution. He enjoys sports, Star Wars, living in Cleveland and seeing the world as one giant science experiment with too many variables and not enough explosions.

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