John Timmer
John Timmer
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Target of first human gene editing cuts life expectancy short

Target of first human gene editing cuts life expectancy short

Late last year, a Chinese researcher shocked the scientific community when he announced that the first gene-edited humans had already been born. He Jiankui barreled past that the technology and, once it was, should be reserved for otherwise untreatable diseases. Instead of respecting those boundaries, He did much of his work without any clear institutional oversight.Rather than target an incurable genetic disorder, He Jiankui focused on something for which we have both preventative measures and treatments: HIV infection. He did so by using CRISPR gene editing to damage a gene that encodes a...

June 5, 2019
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Biden administration launches big push for offshore wind

Biden administration launches big push for offshore wind

On Monday, the Biden administration announced a major effort to kickstart the offshore wind industry in the US. While offshore installations have been booming in Europe, the US is still limited to a single, small offshore farm, with new projects seeing repeated delays during the previous administration. Now, the US is laying the groundwork to see 30 GW of offshore capacity installed over the decade, with extensive growth possible in the decades beyond.The effort involves the coordinated activities of multiple agencies, including everything from accelerated permitting of planned projects to...

Mar 30
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Texas’ power grid crumples under the cold

Texas’ power grid crumples under the cold

Monday morning, as a jet stream brought frigid air south to the central United States, Texas residents found themselves facing rolling blackouts as the statewide grid struggled to meet demand amid a large shortfall in generating capacity. As the day wore on, many saw these blackouts extend for ever longer periods of the day, and grid authorities are expecting problems to extend into at least Tuesday. As of noon local time on Monday, the Southwest Power Pool, which serves areas to the north of Texas, also announced that demand was exceeding generating capacity.The shortfalls appear to be...

Feb 15
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Distraction, not partisanship, drives sharing of misinformation

Distraction, not partisanship, drives sharing of misinformation

We don't need a study to know that misinformation is rampant on social media; we just need to do a search for "vaccines" or "climate change" to confirm that. A more compelling question is why. It's clear that, at a minimum, there are contributions from organized disinformation campaigns, rampant political partisans, and questionable algorithms. But beyond those, there are still a lot of people who choose to share stuff that even a cursory examination would show was garbage. What's driving them?That was the question that motivated a small international team of researchers who decided to take...

Mar 18
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Could we fuel our jets using our sewage?

Could we fuel our jets using our sewage?

For many applications, liquid fuels remain the most practical energy supply—applications like aircraft and large ships being obvious examples. It's possible to avoid using fossil fuels for these applications, since there are many ways to produce biofuels. But we can't produce biofuels at a competitive price, leaving fossil fuels as the dominant option.A group of US-based researchers has therefore looked into the prospect of converting food waste into jet fuel. Chemically, the results are excellent, producing material that can be blended with a bit of standard jet fuel to meet all regulatory...

Mar 17
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Researchers think a planet lost its original atmosphere, built a new one

Researchers think a planet lost its original atmosphere, built a new one

The atmosphere most planets start with is often not the same as the one they end up with. Most of the gas present at the formation of a solar system will be hydrogen and helium. But a look through the rocky planets of our Solar System shows three very different atmospheres (and one very tenuous one), with hydrogen and helium being relatively minor components. And, as we gain the ability to look at the atmospheres of exoplanets, we should get a greater perspective of all the ways that atmospheres can change as their planets age.This week, an international team of astronomers reported finding...

Mar 13
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NASA lays out plans for its first flights on Mars

NASA lays out plans for its first flights on Mars

On Tuesday, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) hosted a press conference where it detailed the plans for the Ingenuity drone that hitched a ride to Mars attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover. The scientists and engineers behind the drone announced that they've now picked a site for what is expected to be the first powered flight on another planet. With the site settled, they're now targeting April 8 for the flight, which will be the first in a monthlong series of test flights to validate the technology.Ingenuity, pictured above, looks familiar to anyone who's seen any of the...

Mar 23
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Texas’ power grid crumples under the cold

Texas’ power grid crumples under the cold

Monday morning, as a jet stream brought frigid air south to the central United States, Texas residents found themselves facing rolling blackouts as the statewide grid struggled to meet demand amid a large shortfall in generating capacity. As the day wore on, many saw these blackouts extend for ever longer periods of the day, and grid authorities are expecting problems to extend into at least Tuesday. As of noon local time on Monday, the Southwest Power Pool, which serves areas to the north of Texas, also announced that demand was exceeding generating capacity.The shortfalls appear to be...

Feb 15
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Using whale songs to image beneath the ocean’s floor

Using whale songs to image beneath the ocean’s floor

People tend to think of seismic waves as little more than signals of tectonic events, like an earthquake or lava shifting under a volcano. But these vibrations are also our best way of getting a clear picture of our planet's internal structure. By watching how the vibrations' paths shift as they encounter different materials, we can get a picture of where different rock layers meet, where rock becomes molten, and more.In some cases, we get this picture by waiting for a natural event to produce the seismic waves. In others, we get impatient and set off explosive charges or use a powerful...

Feb 11
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New wooden satellite is part advertising, part student project

New wooden satellite is part advertising, part student project

Late last year, we were extremely skeptical of reports regarding that seemed confused about what could be gained from using the natural material. But a wooden satellite looks like it might get to orbit later this year, via a project we can fully endorse. It's a bit of silly advertising by a plywood manufacturer that will ensure that a student project gets sent to space.The project, based in Finland, is called the , and it has taken a bit of an indirect route to orbit. The design is based on a CubeSat format , which is intended for student projects. If the goal is simply to expose students...

Apr 12
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