SGU Episode 866

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SGU Episode 866
February 12th 2022
866 riding a laser to mars.jpg
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 865                      SGU 867

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

I strive to be a lifelong learner and I have never learned anything by being right.

Dr. R. Shulze, SGU listener

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, February 9th, 2022 and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good Evening everyone.

B: How many episodes have we done?

S: This is episode 866.

B: So this was the first episode in 860 somehow that I've done where I was yawning right when you said "Bob".


E: It was bound to happen, wasn't it bound to happen?

B: I did well, I think you couldn't even tell.

C: No you recovered.

E: Wow, for 17 years.

J: Bob, what skill?

E: You've come a long way since "Hellooouu".

B: I didn't know I could do it.

S: But you broke your record so you got to start your count, one day without you yawning.

E: Zero days without an accident.

COVID-19 Update (0:57)[edit]

S: So we are on the down slope of the Omicron surge, numbers are plummeting.

E: Get outta here Omicron.

S: Yeah they peaked like 800 000 a day now they're down.

B: New cases, right?

S: New cases 200 000, hospitalizations are falling which is like you know, probably the most important thing.

B: Yeah.

S: Deaths always are a late sign, so they're they're just cresting.

C: But we did surpass 900 000 deaths just in America.

S: 910 000

B: 900? Oh my god.

C: 're million in America I think.

S: Yeah.

B: Of course. Oh my god.

C: Just, we're not per capita we're doing not well in this country, compared to other like industrialized countries.

S: No, no not at all.

B: We have crusted as well I would say.

J: I read a couple of days ago, Steve that we're we still have about 2 000 deaths a day, have you read any stats like that?

S: Yeah new daily reported deaths are still over 2 000.

J: Wow. That's still, you know think about what we've gotten used to, I mean it's horrifying, like it just happens every day and and most of us aren't even thinking about it.

C: Ooh yeah and in California they've announced a few days ago that they're about to lift mask mandates, same thing happened in New York just today or yesterday.

B: Connecticut as well for schools.

E: Illinois announced it as well, New Jersey I believe just announced it.

C: I'm not ready, I mean I am.

E: Continue wearing mask then.

S: You can still wear your mask if you want to.

C: I'm not ready to be around other people not wearing masks. I know it's weird.

B: I know it's weird, I mean I walk into my deli every you know five days a week I pop in grab my sandwich and pop out I'm done, I'm double masked double masked because I gotta get my sausage and egg sandwich, nothing's gonna stop that from happening, so I'm double masked and people just, most people that come in no mask at all this is like Connecticut I mean where it's kind of you know it's not like.

C: Is that legal? In California you can't do that, you can't walk into a restaurant without a mask.

E: There's not a government, yeah there is not a government mandate for masks right now.

C: I see. So that's kind of personal. In California you can't enter a public establishment without a mask and in order to enter or at least in Los Angeles, I don't know if this is statewide but at least in Los Angeles you can't dine in a restaurant without also showing your vaccine card because you're going to take your mask off.

S: Yeah you have to take your mask off to eat.

C: So it's I mean it's one of those things where I'm of two minds about it, like I'm not ready because I'm paranoid and because I you know I haven't gotten Covid, I'm like a unicorn and I don't want it.

B: Me yeah, I haven't either, but I wouldn't describe myself as a unicorn but I haven't either.

C: But also at the same time Bob like I don't want to wear a mask forever it's it's I'm over it, I feel like we're living in this super dystopian future where nothing's changing, like it feels like this is never going to end.

S: Well I mean it will end and the way out of this is going to be through science and technology.

E: Of course.

Nasal Spray Vaccine (3:53)[edit]

S: There's a couple a couple of things that I wanted to talk about, a researchers are developing a nasal spray Covid vaccine, so it's not a company yet this is just sort of research, this is done in mice, not even in people yet. But the idea was they developed very simple, it was a nasal spray that has the spike protein, that's it just the spike protein from the virus no adjuvant, nothing else in there so let's just spray spike protein in mouse's noses and see what happens. So they compared two groups, one group got one dose of an mRNA vaccine and then two weeks later got the nasal spray, and the other group just got the one dose of the of the vaccine. Then they exposed them to the Sars-CoV-2 virus. The group that had just the vaccine and not the nasal spray, 80 percent of the mice died.

C: Oh my god.

S: The group of like that got both, well they wanted to make you know, they wanted to have a high death rate because they needed to see what was happening.

C: So they like they exposed them to like some like a lot of viruses.

S: They have a high dose yeah yeah.

B: Mice catch Covid, I kind of didn't know that.

S: So did deer by the way.

C: So did dear, yeah (laughs).

E: Yeah I heard about the deer.

S: Now the group that got the nasal spray in addition to the one dose, guess guess how many died.

B: None.

S: Zero, none.

C: Well what happens─

E: That means nothing.

C: Did they not do a third where they just get the nasal spray?

S: No because it's really designed to be a booster, it's not a vaccine really it's a nasal spray booster and so that's that's what they were testing.

C: Because it would be interesting to see if they just get the spike protein.

S: Of course. And they may do that with later studies if it goes forward, but the idea is that you the the technique is called prime and spike. So first you prime the immune system with the dose of the vaccine and then you you give the spike protein into the into the respiratory tract and that because you know the respiratory mucosa has its own antibodies in, the IgA type antibodies, that's like a first line of defense of things getting into your body through your mucosa you know your respiratory mucosa. And so the idea is you have systemic immunity with the vaccine and then you'll have another layer of defense in your you know the nose and your lungs through the through the nasal spray and that approach seemed to work, at least in this you know this mouse study.

C: But that's also how most people catch the virus, like this is a respiratory virus.

S: Yes, that's that's the point.

C: I mean I'm sure you can still like lick the virus, I'm sure you can still like you know you can get it otherwise but it does seem like it would almost, I don't know it would be interesting to compare it to the main immunity from just the vaccine.

S: They only gave one dose not two and they they probably gave them a high inoculum, you know to really give them a high exposure. So if this develops into a full strategy but I don't think they would replace the second dose or even the booster shot but just as an additional layer of defense. You know the the higher we can push the the effectiveness of whatever vaccine strategy we come up with the better.

B: The less chance of a variant.

S: If we can go from 85 to 90% to 98-99%─

E: Now you're talking.

S: ─something like that, then yeah that that could really go a long way to tamping down this this pandemic even more. Of course we need to get the number of people getting anything you know up getting any vaccines up.

C: Yeah and that's the thing like nasal vaccines or in this case nasal boosters or nasal adjuvant kind of therapies, they are um so much easier to administer, like you don't need skilled technicians, I'd be interested to see─

S: You do it at home.

C: ─if yeah do you do it at home I wonder if this can be kept at room temperature, like this could be a game changer globally.

S: Yeah yeah so it's definitely a worth worthwhile research line. The other thing I wanted to mention, we talked about the combination Flu and Covid booster, I think we mentioned that Pfizer is developing one, Moderna also announced they're developing one and it's also they said it's going to be it's it's about to start trials with an Omicron version of their vaccine and they're developing the the combination Flu-Covid vaccine. Which they not they said by 2024 so that's not going to be for a while but but that may be fine, I mean once we get to the point where in where we are in maintenance mode like the pandemic is basically down to background levels, where it's endemic it's not going to go away of course but it's like a bad version of the flu, that's just going to be there and we're going to get our every six month or every one year vaccine this one I'm just hoping it's annual. But combining it with the flu you know that could be one jab instead of two might be easier to get compliance up.

E: Hell yeah.

S: And then you could you know have the other layer of some kind of nasal spray booster you know to really have super you know super immunity you know that could be you know really effective. And then then you then you go that Cara, that's when you go about your normal life. Because if you get it it's like you got a cold. Like we right we didn't have masks and distancing and everyone got sick two or three times a year with their with their colds and Flus and stuff you know you got your vaccine. And you just accept you're going to get sick a couple times a year and this will just be one more type of virus that's going to make you sick if you are protected. Because other things if you do get sick it's going to be minor. At least chances are─

C: Yeah if you're vaccinated.

S: If you're vaccinated yeah you probably won't get to go into a hospital or die from it. But, Covid's still a nastier virus than the Flu. That's the only thing is that the more we study it and the the long cove is like yeah this there's a lot of long-term symptoms the more you look for them the more you find them. And it's really shouldn't be thought of as a benign virus.

C: No, no no. But we also are developing more and better treatments not just preventive measures but more and better treatments as well, right? Because I know we mentioned once ages ago I said something about Tamiflu and a bunch of people reach out and they're like "Tamiflu sucks" and I was like oh I didn't really realize that we really there's kind of nothing you can do for the Flu except hydrate you know, supportive care like there's not a lot of treatment available if you have.

S: Yeah just sucks for a week or so.

C: Yeah yeah it just sucks and you have to hope that you don't have something underlying and that you don't get so sick that it turns into something else and you die.

S: That's why I got my flu vaccine it's a lot better than suffering with the flu I've had the flu before it's really tough.

Okay Evan, I believe this is the second time you're doing this, the name that quote segment?

Quotation Rotation (10:04)[edit]

E: That's right Name That Quote, also known as Quotation Rotation.

S: Okay, that's official name?

E: Well I'm also playing with Quotation Sensation, Quotation Nation, anything with a...

S: Quotidian?

E: (laughs) but I like quotation rotation so I'm going to work with that for that.

S: All right that's your working title.

E: And if you recall this is a game that we're going to play in which I'm going to give you a quote and each of you each of the four of you are going to say where you where you heard it from or who you think said it. We have a theme for this one─

B: Ugh.

E: ─and the theme is movies.

B: Ah!

E: So all of these quotes came from movies, that I think you've all seen. We're about to find out. And it's multiple choice which is nice so you just don't─

B: Yes, thank you.

E: Yes absolutely a b and c. All right. We've got five of these let's get through them.

First one here's the first quote: "Luckily in the history of humanity nothing bad has ever happened from lighting hydrogen on fire". Your choices are:

a) Contact

b) The Martian

c) Ad Astra

Bob we'll start with you.

B: Not the Hindenburg movie? Shit. (laughter) Oh Boy let's say Ad Astra.

E: Bob says Ad Astra okay Jay.

J: I'm gonna say The Martian.

E: Cara.

C: I said The Martian in my head before you gave us the options so I'm gonna have to stick with that.

E: And Steve.

S: Yeah I didn't see Ad Astra but that does sound, I do remember the quote so it has to be from one of the ones I seen and it sounds like the kind of snark I remember from The Martian so I'll go with The Martian as well.

B: Yeah me too, yeah me too.

E: Bob's gonna change his answer if he could to The Martian and the answer is b) The Martian, yes, Mark Watney, it's from the scene where he had to you know make water.

C: Make water.

S: Yeah, right.

E: And he goes through the whole process, it's nice it gives you a little chemical analysis on how it all works and wraps it up by saying: "And then if I just direct the hydrogen to a small area and burn it. Luckily in the history of humanity nothing bad has ever happened from lighting hydrogen". And boom. Goes up in flames.

B: I really recommend that book on unabridged on audio it's wonderful.

E: Next quote here we go: "Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line.". Was that from:

a) The Right Stuff

b) Tucker: The Man and His Dreams

c) Hidden Figures

Now we're going to start with Jay.

J: I'm definitely going to go with the first one.

E: The Right Stuff? Jay says The Right Stuff. Okay Cara.

C: I've only seen Hidden Figures out of those three but I think it is Hidden Figures it sounds like they're talking about yeah moving the goal posts.

E: Steve.

S: Yeah I was thinking either Hidden Figures or the Tucker one because that is I do that is a lot of I'll do just to be different from Cara I'll say Tucker.

E: Okay Tucker and Bob.

B: I'm gonna say Hidden Figures great movie and this totally fits that movie I don't specifically remember that quote but it makes sense.

E: And the correct answer is c) Hidden Figures: "Every time we have a chance to get ahead they move the finish line.", let me see if I can tell you in what context it was happening, it was a conversation between Vivian Mitchell who was one of the employees at NASA and Mary Jackson who actually said the character Mary Jackson who said the quote, the person Mary Jackson I should say. And which they're exchanging you know a conversation about female engineers in the in the engineering training program and they require and Vivian says we require advanced extension courses through the University of Virginia in which you know of course black women could not attend to take those classes and then Mary Jackson yep "Every time we have a chance to get ahead they move the finish line", indeed.

All right third quote here we go: "We've always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible". Is that from:

a) Interstellar

b) 2001 a Space Odyssey

c) Gravity

All right Cara we'll start with you.

C: Uh I never saw Interstellar. I think it's probably Gravity it could have been Interstellar but I don't know, some some shit goes down in gravity so I'm gonna say it's Gravity.

E: Is there a reason you didn't see Interstellar?

C: I just never got around to it I heard such good things about the science you know that like Kip Thorne and you know all these great people were consulting but then I heard it wasn't that good a movie.

S: It was okay.

C: Yeah, so, you know I don't love sci-fi but if it like if it grabs me it grabs me but yeah just never got around to seeing it so, I'll go with Gravity.

E: Directed by Christopher Nolan too. Okay so you're saying Gravity. Steve.

S: Yeah I'll say Gravity as well, it's definitely not 2001 I mean I saw that movie so many times I don't remember that quote and there's so little dialogue in that movie like you would kind of remember every line. No I say Gravity.

E: Bob.

B: Yeah I think Gravity as well.

E: And Jay.

J: Gravity.

E: We have everybody in agreeance that it is Gravity. The answer is a) Interstellar.

C: Ah crap.


B: Wow, nice.

E: Don't you love it?

C: I do love it because that means I'm still ahead, whoo!

E: That's right yep so far, let's see Cara you've gotten two correct, Steve's gotten what, one correct, Jay's got one, Bob's got one. All right two more we'll see if we can break up this log jam, here we go.

The fourth one: "Advice about keeping secrets, it's a lot easier if you don't know them in the first place". Is that from:

a) A Beautiful Mind

b) The Manhattan Project

c) The Imitation Game

All right Steve, we'll start with you.

S: I don't recognize that quote but I'll say The Imitation Game.

E: And we move on to Bob.

B: Yeah Imitation Game. I think. Makes sense. I think, it just popped in my head. Imitation Game.

E: Jay.

J: This is a really hard one, I mean I'm just gonna go with these guys.

E: Okay and Cara.

C: That was my original instinct too and I'm probably screwing myself here and leveling the playing field out but I think I'm gonna go with The Manhattan Project. I can imagine a time when somebody would ask somebody something and they were like listen I'm not gonna tell you because if you don't know you won't have to keep it as a secret.

E: That's interesting Cara because you have two correct everyone else has one correct so if you're wrong and if the guys are right yeah that means it's a two-two tie from everyone going into the last question the answer is c) The Imitation Game.

C: Dang.


E: All right folks last one. This will be it. Here we go: "Perverted scientists who advance an insidious theory called evolution". Is that from the movie:

a) Creation

b) Inherit the Wind

c) Planet of the Apes

E: And we will start with Bob.

B: Inherit, Creation, I have no idea what the hell that is.

C: I don't know what Inherit the Wind is.

B: Scopes trial baby.

E: They have the monkey's scope trial.

C: Oh no way oh okay.

E: And Creation was a movie starring Paul Bettany as Darwin.

C: Damn now I wanna watch that.

E: Yeah.

B: All right create, I'll say Creation.

E: Okay Bob says Creation. Jay.

J: That would be Planet of the Apes.

E: Interesting. Cara.

C: No I want to go last.

B: Suck it up I went first twice.

C: I'll go Inherit the Wind, I never saw it.

E: Oh wow, we have a split, all right Steve break the tie.

S: I really think this is Planet of the Apes.

B: No way.

C: Seriously?

E: And the answer is c) Planet of the Apes.

B: No way.

E: Jay and Steve, well done.

J: I knew it for certain, I absolutely knew it.

B: Really?

C: You sounded like you knew.

E: From the courtroom scene.

S: A the courtroom scene, I was like 90% , I was like 90%.

B: Wow it's been too long that means it's been too long since I've watched it.

E: Absolutely.

C: Oh yeah, it's been forever because you're talking about the original Planet of the Apes.

E: 1968, Charlton Heston.

B: Great movie, great movie.

E: THE Planet of the Apes. The only one I can recommend, I can't recommend a single other. So good job guys it was very close and Jay and Steve you guys pulled around the end well done well done. Thanks for playing Quotation rotation this was fun.

S: Thanks Evan.

C: Thanks Ev.

E: Thank you.

News Items[edit]

Treating Spinal Cord Injury (18:22)[edit]

S: All right let's dig into the news items. Have you guys seen the headlines about a new treatment for spinal cord injury that allows people to walk and have children?

J: Yes.

C: Who hasn't, it's everywhere.

S: I know I had to talk about this because it is everywhere but you know, the reporting is so bad.

C: Miraculously!

E: (laughs) Course, right.

J: So it's not true?

S: Even the BBC which is I know it's not beyond reproach but it's usually like a decent you know news outlets not trash, really got this wrong. I mean not, the details are fine but the hyping this as a breakthrough first of its kind blah blah blah is nonsense it just has nothing to do. This is a classic example of taking an incremental advance and turning it into a breakthrough. Classic. So you know the reporting they say like the headline is: "Paralyzed man with severed spine walks thanks to implant".

E: Steve you corrected it with the title of your blog post: Incremental Advance Treating Spinal Cord Injury so thank you for that.

S: It was deliberately it was deliberate.

B: But Steve but Steve I was reading, I read your blog it was really good but "Incremental Advanced Treating Spinal Cord Injury" you know I mean it's so hard on science popularizes, right? Because it's like you got to go with lines like that you can't throw out there you know like the BBC News "Paralyzed man walks!", but you, Steve couldn't you have spiced it up a bit? Like couldn't you have said something like "Wonderfully Incremental Advanced Treating Spinal Cord Injury"?

S: I hear you Bob.

B: No I got more option.

S: I wanted to have a stark contrast to the to the mainstream reporting.

B: Okay well you didn't, you didn't have to go with boring how about this "Vastly More Interesting Incremental Advance than the Previous Incremental Advance" (laughter) that would have been good. I don't know it's tough, it's though.

S: But I don't think it's true. All right so let me tell you what the actual advance was. What they're doing is treating people who have like a crush injury of their spinal cord, who are completely paralyzed, so they have no motor or sensory function below the the damage, below the lesion right, complete like no sensation or or movement in their legs. And then they implant stimulators and it's interesting, they plant the stimulators on the dorsal roots, which are the sensory roots. Why would they be doing that you might ask, why aren't they why aren't they stimulating the motor roots, right, the whole point here is to get the legs to move. Because when you stimulate the dorsal roots that that stimulation gets into the spinal cord and then activates the motor neurons in the spinal cord, and it's just a it's a way of of stimulating an ensemble of motor units that can, or you could then control to create a specific effect like walking. Whereas if you stimulated the motor root, you, the whole leg would just twitch right, it wouldn't replicate a walking maneuver. So it's like you're going in through the back door because it gives you better control, essentially, over which muscles are contracting and what pattern. And of course they use computers to help you know control which muscles contract. They also use some stimulation which keeps the signal from spreading to the other side, you know I mean, like it runs interference. So they're kind of corralling the electricity so it's only stimulating the muscles they want it to. And then with this external stimulation, right, they you know it it with an external controller which could be built into a walker for example, you then will go through the sequence of artificially stimulating the legs so that they could you could walk, right? That's the technology. This technology has been around for decades. That basic technology what I just described for you.

C: So what's new?

S: What's new, I'll tell you what's new, they with the electrodes that we normally use for this kind of technology are repurposed electrodes designed to stimulate the dorsal ganglia to treat pain, right? So we took these dorsal ganglia pad electrodes and just repurpose them to to create this electronic stimulation to create walking and people who have spinal cord injury. The advance was they made slightly better electrodes. That's it. They made custom electrodes that are you know that are able to be positioned better because they're not repurposed electrodes from another function. They're made specifically for this so they're a little bit longer you know, they can reach a wider range of segments and get better into position. That's the entire advance, slightly better electrodes.

C: So did slightly better electrodes equal extremely better outcomes or just slightly better outcomes?

S: No, slightly better outcomes.

B: Incremental.

S: Incremental slightly better outcomes because you, there's they still like can't like walk every day you know, it still takes a lot of effort and training to be able to walk, they were able to train them more quickly, it was more natural, it's still a huge effort, it's still just a proof of concept really and it's mainly to help, help them move, help them get physical therapy help keep them more physically fit because they're moving more. But it really isn't to like enable them to walk normally you know.

C: So this is like to prevent muscle atrophy.

S: Yeah disused trophy and also it helps with their blood pressure and things like that. If you're sitting with paralyzed legs all day it's not good for you. So that's it, it's it's again it's the same basic technology with slightly better electrodes and they parlayed that into like this massive breakthrough. Again I'm not downplaying this research or these these advances are important. They did find something else that was very interesting. They found that so again these are people who have completed, three patients that that was the study, three subjects they had complete paralysis but their spinal cord was not completely severed and what they found was that after using the the stimulation for a while that they were able to like slightly modulate the way their legs moved. Which which seemed to imply that there was like some voluntary control of their muscle movements. And then they found, when they studied it, that that there was some activity getting through like getting across the injury. So what they think was happening was that you had some intact neurons some intact nerves, like that were that were survived, that were getting through the injury point but that they were basically not functioning, they were asleep because they were never being recruited they weren't being used. But the stimulation sort of woke them up─

C: That's pretty cool.

S: ─and got them to function. Yeah. So you had they so and after even without the stimulation like they were able to do a little bit of movement so they went from zero movement to a tiny bit of movement and this could this could be functionally significant you know if they're able to control the way their legs are moving even a tiny bit that─

B: Yeah exercise, rehab, yeah.

S: Might help them walk with the stimulator better than if they had zero movement.

C: But sadly this is not some sort of new hope for people who have a total spinal cord injury like if it's completely ablated there's nothing they're going to regain.

S: No so the BBC reporting got a lot of things wrong and even contradicted themselves, so first of all they said that the spinal cord was completely severed. No by definition it wasn't.

B: It's a crushing injury it's not a light saber injury.

S: Yeah because by definition there was some neurons that were surviving across the gap, if it was severed that wouldn't be the case. They also said that it was boosting the signal across the spinal cord. It's like well you know that only applied to this epiphenomenon of waking up a few of those neurons, it does not how the technology works. It works by you pushing a button to stimulate the spinal cord distal to the injury to just artificially stimulate and move the muscle. So they kind of got that wrong as well. So it just gave a really a completely different impression of what was going on. They also made it sound like one of the patients was able to have a child, has nothing to do with the re-establishment of any kind of neurological function. Like it was oh like a paralyzed guy who couldn't have kids because he was paralyzed like you know his reproductive organ isn't working and now it is working enough that he can't have a kid, right, that's kind of the impression you get when you read yeah it enables him, yeah that's not what happened at all. It was just that because he was able to to work out with this stimulator, it helped his blood pressure, it made him more active he had more energy and that enabled him to have the energy to raise a kid, that's it.

C: Oooh, that's insane.

S: It's like yeah I mean they say that they kind of─

C: It's terrible science reporting.

S: ─ I know it's terrible science, terrible.

J: And how deliberate is that misdirection?

S: I mean I think it's half and half. I think they're trying to juice this up as much as possible and they think the other half is they just misunderstood certain aspects of the science.

C: This what happens.

S: Of course I read the actual, I read the original study you know read the whole thing.

C: So should the science report like that's the problem with getting rid of all of your science reporters and and only having general assignment reporters doing this kind of work like─

S: Totally.

C: ─ they may not understand the science.

S: Yeah like not understanding that you can't have a signal getting across if it was completely severed, like that's a direct contradiction to that. So that means you're you don't understand something here so you better go back to the drawing board and find out what's going on.

E: Did the BBC not did the BBC not contact specialists to give them the real information?

S: Yeah they did, they did, but that doesn't mean anything. If you have a report or interviewing a scientist. What questions do they ask, how do you know, you can ask leading questions, you can take their answers out of context. Scientists complain about that all the time like "That's not what I said.", you know. So you yeah they interviewed the scientists and they have lots of quotes here but if you read the quotes, like what the actual quote is saying like they have done something that is that has not been done before. It's like okay that's true it's also pretty vague and but you could make it sound like it's something that it isn't, you know?

E: Right.

C: So when it was stimulated did they have an experience of feeling or not?

S: No.

C: Okay.

S: Because remember you're stimulating below the injury so that's a good way to stimulate the motor function because remember, in terms of the anatomy of the spinal cord you have the the motor cells right you have the cell is bull is in the spinal cord itself so and so and so the the cell is alive and its axon goes down the spinal cord out into the muscle, so if there's an injury above that nerve it doesn't affect that nerve that cell body or the nerve itself, it's still intact right.

C: Unless it just gets it disused.

S: Well then you get disused atrophy you know you don't get denervation atrophy, like if you destroy that neuron then yeah so you get much worse actually. What does happen is you don't normally the neurons above it that have been severed or that have been that are not working, they inhibit the tone in those motor neurons and so when you get spasticity, right? So that's a problem and that this doesn't fix the spasticity that has to be treated otherwise. But but the sensory nerves are going in the other direction so stimulating below the lesion doesn't get you anything across the lesion going up. But you're bypassing the lesion when you're stimulating going down to the motor pathway.

C: Right right I wasn't sure yeah I just wasn't sure if then there was some sort of feedback from the motor, so so you're stimulating the sensory portion it sends that signal down, you get this like motor contraction and then does the motor contraction then send any sort of feedback back up?

S: It does but and then there are feedback that will sort of like reflexes in the spinal cord itself. They won't perceive it in the brain because those signals are not getting up to the brain.

C: Gotcha. That must be so hard then because then you're you're like you're walking again like you said, like kind of clumsily and like you know with a lot of purpose or you're moving in such a way that's like with OT/PT people helping you but but you're not feeling what's happening.

S: Yeah.

C: That's so like, ugh, that would be really difficult.

S: Yeah so they did say like oh this isn't a cure for spinal cord injury and that's true, it's not a cure it's you can just bypassing it for the motor function and it's you know it's kind of clunky but it can't allow people to walk in like again with like a walker where they hit the buttons to stimulate their motor their muscles to to walk. It's really should be looked at as a rehab tool and sort of a health tool but not a fixing the problem with the spinal cord injury tool. I don't know if this kind of thing is even on that pathway you know? Even when this technology is mature what what it would really look like because again it doesn't really fix the sensory problem and and there's going to be inherent limits to how well you're going to be able to control those muscles. I guess you know the super mature version of this would be like you're you're you're wearing robotic limbs. Like that that are in your legs and then a computer is is entirely controlling them and making them walk in a natural way. And you know that that could give a measure of independence but again it would be weird because you'd be walking on these legs you can't feel.

C: You can't feel and you also are you lacking proprioception in a spinal cord injury too?

S: Yeah.

C: Yeah, that's what I figured so you'd have to look at your feet.

S: And if you look at the video you look at the video they are looking at their feet.

C: Yeah it's the only way.

S: Yeah so the the the better approach is to repair the cord itself you know get those nerves to regrow although you could use use a combination right, a hybrid Jay, you could get if you get any neurons like maybe there are some neurons in there that are that that could be coaxed back to life where you might get a few of them to be able to grow across across the gap. If you could restore 10 or 20% of the function just biologically with regeneration then it becomes easier to augment that function with this kind of external stimulation or robotics or whatever. So that may be where things are headed in this medium term until we could like fully repair spinal cords or like have fully robotic limbs or something. So again this is one little baby step on a very complicated long road that we're taking here─

B: Incremental.

S: ─but it's it's still nice it's still good. But really the actual innovation was they designed slightly better electrodes.

C: Which is has been a limiting factor we do talk about that a lot we need better electrodes.

S: Totally, but it's not a new approach to the electrode it's not like a new way in or a new new electrode technology it's just instead of repurposed they were custom. That was it. So they were slightly longer you know whatever that that was it's like.

B: So it's kind of low even low hanging fruit then.

S: Yeah totally like why didn't they do this years ago.

C: The obvious next step.

S: It was just a money thing it's like we have these electrodes, we'll repurpose them and they said let's just make special electrodes to see if that works better, oh it does work a little better, okay great. That's the whole thing.

B: Call the presses!

S: So it's exciting and frustrating at the same time, I don't want to downplay this research or what this means to patients getting any function back being able to to like stand up and walk even with a walker get your legs to move again. It's all huge but we got to put it into the context of what's actually happening here. And this creates a false impression that we're right around the corner to solving spinal cord injuries. Imagine if you had a spinal cord injury and you read this and you got a totally wrong oppression then someone's going to have to let you down.

E: Yeah emotional impact can be severe.

S: Anyway all right Jay you're going to tell us about a real breakthrough a new artificial enamel.

Artificial Enamel (34:06)[edit]

J: Well I think my news item's a little bit cooler than yours Steve.

S: All right, all right.

E: Okay I know you like you like teeth Jay right?

J: Yeah I mean I like, I like the benefit of dentistry. If you let dentistry wash over you, it does so many good things. Could you imagine not having modern dentistry? Just just think about that for a minute.

E: Oh I just had my cleaning the other day it felt so good.

J: But you know this missing teeth, imagine having massive like you know holes in your teeth, I mean come on it like you got to just lay down and say modern dentistry is one of the examples of of science you know with amazing effect.

C: And like every movie is anachronistic about that like every single movie in from pre-history or even from early human history people have good teeth and that wouldn't have been the case, would it?

E: I like seeing movies and shows where they narrow up the people's teeth from the from 1780 because that's the way it was.

C: But they still show them making out. Eew.

J: Yeah Cara you're right.

E: You know.

B: Yeah bad teeth porn is not fun.

E: Still gotta procreate.

J: All right let's go over, let's go over some basics here guys.

B: I think they did.


J: Let's go over some basics enamel is the hardest substance made by the human body.

E: Is that right?

J: Yeah and what does it do? It protects your teeth it protects them from acid and decay and general wear and tear and the cool thing about it is that it's incredibly durable and also it's elastic enough to not crack.

S: [inaudible]

J: (laughs) Which is very important and you should remember that during the course of this news item. So unfortunately once our bodies make a tooth's enamel and the and that tooth comes out the cells die that make enamel once I guess pretty much when they hit the open air that's when they die so they they can't survive and continue to do what they do. Of course scientists have been trying to make something as strong as enamel for tooth repair but historically this has proven to be very hard. Until recently, there's been a breakthrough Cara. But before I get to that let's just talk further about enamel let me explain to you some of the complexity here. The reason it's been hard to recreate enamel is that it's very it's a very very complicated structure. First oxygen, phosphorus and calcium atoms are joined in a weave-like pattern which is complicated. This forms crystalline wires made of hydroxyapatite. Then a magnesium coating, remember the magnesium, this magnesium coating goes around the wires and those wires again weave together to form a very durable material that again is organized into yet another set of groups that twist. Right? It's very very complicated.

E: Wow.

J: It's been compared to saying like you take cotton you spin it into cotton thread then you weave that into into like a more complicated cotton thread that then gets combined with many other cotton threads to become something complicated. Do you get what I'm saying? Like how complex it is yeah but it's the compounding of the complexity.


C: It's the worst metaphor I've ever heard.

J: It's not a good metaphor?

B: No that was good that was good.

E: I liked it.

J: So this is the reason why researchers have failed to create true enamel. They've used peptides in the past which are short chains of amino acids and those peptides were used to organize the wires that they can create. It's at this stage where they couldn't really achieve the complexity the complexity needed to be hard, elastic, stiff. There's something called viscoelasticity, strength, toughness, you know these are all ways that we measure how strong something is. And it also has to have significant damage resistance like and keep in mind that's only this is only something that's several millimeters thick and you know think about how powerful this substance is, it stays on your teeth if you take care of them it could stay on your teeth for your entire life and protect them for your entire life. That's a very very durable substance.

B: Yeah until you don't brush your teeth and little bacteria say I'm going to mess with this.

J: I'm going to eat it yeah they eat it. So in this recent achievement that scientists have had they are able to create a synthetic material that mimics biochem this biochemical process, right? Because look at that whole thing that I told you as one complicated biochemical process. The scientists create the crystalline wires like I mentioned before but now they use a metal base coating made of zirconium. This is zirconium oxide. And this and this is in use instead of the magnesium that your body uses. So they actually pick something that's more durable than what our body uses which is magnesium and they shift it over to zirconium oxide, a better material. It's actually stronger and the enamel that is created with this process is stronger than normal natural enamel and of course it is still non-toxic. It's stronger guys. Better material.

B: Wow but would it give you, would it give you a silver teeth like like Jaws on James Bond movie?

J: I guess if they suspend silver particle you know nanoparticles in there I don't see why not it couldn't be silver but they didn't do that yet.

B: Cool.

J: So they use a diamond blade saw to cut the material into the shape that they need right because I guess you know.

E: Diamonds are hard.

C: So so they can't like paint it's not like a liquid they can't paint it on or spray it on to to the surface of your teeth.

B: That would be cool.

J: From my understanding Cara they you know I don't say they grow it but kind of you know through a chemical process they're they're manufacturing it they're growing it. I don't think they have crazy control over its shape, which is which could be problematic. Now the artificial tooth enamel this is gets very complicated here but they use an AIP coated hydroxyapatite nanowires right. This is what I said before but with much more science in there. Which they say they're aligned using dual directional freezing, it's definitely a temperature treating situation in the presence of polyvinyl alcohol and─

B: So the doctor gets drunk before he puts it on your teeth?

J: ─but they're talking about things on the atomic and nanoscale that they're they're growing and creating here. So they did not need to though guys weave the new enamel into the the incredibly intricate 3D structure as I described natural enamel has. They didn't have to go that far they assembled the nanowires as parallel wires and they still were stronger. They still were a stronger matrix. So when they measure the elasticity and hardness of of new enamel that they're creating they put a tiny cut into it right so they get down there with that diamond tool and they put this little cut in there and then they press down really hard on that cut until it cracks. And the amount of force that they use and the size of the crack is how that they measure how strong and resistant the enamel this new enamel is. They also test how much force it is needed to put a dent in it using the diamond tip tool and that's another way that they measure how strong it is. The new enamel was able to function better than natural enamel in the previous six ways that I listed. Remember I said it's hardness, how elastic it is, how stiff it is. Viscoelasticity, strength, toughness and damage resistance. So they're measuring it in all those different ways and it beats them all, it beats natural enamel by all those ways. The research team is now figuring out how to bond this material to natural enamel that's really the next big step that they need to do. And this might help them figure out how to shape it Cara. I would love to see you know video imagery of what's going on and and you know the growing process and how they're doing it. I couldn't find anything unfortunately. Now guys outside of this they're also talking about using the material─

B: Yeah for what like?

J: ─you know like─

B: Bulletproof vests?

J: ─making electronics super durable safe for outer space or just to normal wear and tear like you'd be able to drop electronics and they'll they'll the they're saying that the enamel could support the material and help the the electronics not break like they normally do.

B: Yeah but would you would you have to floss it occasionally?

J: Of course it's you know and then they were─

C: Use that fluoride mouthwash.

J: ─yeah you're gonna have to hose down your building that's made out of this stuff (laughter) with it yeah but they were saying that they could even use it for building materials. Now imagine that. Like enamel as a building material they could make enough of it where you know it's not like this thin coat─

E: It's hard.

J: ─yeah yeah so I'm very jazzed about this I think it's really, I just can't wait imagine you going to the dentist they're like would you like us to coat your teeth with new enamel, we're like yes of course I would.

E: Yeah.

J: Yes.

C: I would love that.

J: Yeah me too.

E: Oh me too oh my gosh yeah I've got, I've got these tiny little pockets near where my gum line is and I know some of the enamel is gone, has you know worked away, has rubbed away over the years.

J: Well Evan once you're when you have any type of receding gum situation there isn't enamel down there. That's when it goes low enough, so you know they could have put you know the new enamel on there, Bob could have silver coated enamel.


C: I just don't want like I have so many freaking cavities in my, I mean fillings, they're all filled but like my teeth are so sensitive to cold and they're so sensitive to sugar and they're so sensitive to everything I just don't want sensitive teeth anymore.

J: Yeah I'm sure this would be able to fix that.

B: I wonder, I wonder if they would like if they were doing a cavity filling a cavity would they just like you know lay that inside you know the cavity instead of instead of anything else?

E: Can it be used as a filling?

C: Probably and probably what because even now when they put the composite, let's say you have a cavity in the chewing surface of your teeth not like on the side in between your teeth, they'll usually drill out you know get all of the decay fill it with the composite and then lay a little bit of additional on top of the chewing surface of your teeth.

E: Right yeah.

C: Just to kind of provide some additional yeah structure, so why not? I mean it should be like sealants, you guys remember getting sealants when we were kids?

E: Yeah absolutely.

C: Just like seal all your teeth.

S: Yep that'll be cool.

[commercial break]

Laser Thermal Propulsion (45:07)[edit]

S: Bob so when I read this news item that you're going to talk about I was like dang is our book already obsolete before it came out?

B: Oh boy yeah we'll have to talk about this after the show but in 2018 NASA sent out a challenge for engineers, to propose a method to get to Mars in 45 days or less with a payload of a thousand kilograms over a ton. And nobody came up with nobody came up with anything.

E: Because it's impossible.

B: I'm done oh wait wait this just in wait so McGill University came up with a proposal using lasers and I totally loved it just kept as I the more research I did and the more I took notes on it I was like oh my god this is so cool. So NASA's challenge makes sense of course to me. I think primarily I think because getting people to Mars while minimizing exposure to galactic cosmic rays and solar storms is really a grand challenge for crude space travel, it really is it's like one of those proverbial Holy Grails at this point and because think about it, shielding is the obvious solution right? Yeah just throw some shields all over you know the ship and you're good but no that's that that is disappointingly not a realistic short-term goal. Or an easy goal at all that's really difficult and we're just not ready to do that. The cost right now to lift all that material needed for proper shielding is just too high just too expensive and creative creative cheap solutions are just not going to happen near term.

E: That's too high.

B: I mean just ask a space scientist, and we have, the viable options now are essentially these: get there as fast as you can and learn ways to deal with any radiation damage after it happens. That's it.

S: Tardigrade proteins.

B: Right, Steve right isn't that what was it?

S: That's it, get there fast.

B: Get there fast.

S: There is no shield, there's no shielding solution any time in the foreseeable future.

E: Like having to cross the hot coals just run over them as fast as you can, minimize the burn?

B: Well not hot coals maybe maybe hot steel but not hot coal. You can safely do that.

E: For a certain all right we'll get it off.

B: So all right so so considering what the space scientists say so nuclear-based rockets are a no-brainer. Duh right that they're fantastic I've been talking about them for decades. With them you can get there in half the time of chemical rockets say maybe a hundred days to Mars, and that's great I mean that's that's great that's better than you know six months seven months, that's wonderful. But so the McGill engineers though came up with an idea that's even faster. They're saying 45 days and that's because it partially or mostly obviates the tyranny of the rocket equation, which we've talked about, which and that basically means that conventional chemical rockets will absolutely truly and will forever totally suck. That's kind of the the rocket equation my way of saying you know explaining the rocket equation. So that strategy offers just fundamental and huge limitations that can never compare to other strategies, where you don't carry all your fuel and power creation on board. So McGill engineers propose a laser thermal rocket is which is what they're proposing, for the trip from Earth orbit or you know cislunar space between between the Earth and Moon to Mars. So you're not going to be using laser thermal rockets to launch from the Earth, that's not going to happen. I mean not near term anyway. There there may be you know a method or two to get off of the Earth without using chemical rockets quickly but they're not talking about this, they're gonna, you're gonna get your payload into orbit somewhere and then you're going to use this the laser thermal rocket propulsion that they're talking about. So so that's got that's an important caveat to understand. So all right so this uses, quickly, this uses a powerful laser to heat a liquid like hydrogen turning it into propellant that exits from from a nozzle, okay? So you still need the hydrogen as reaction mass, so you're not completely doing away with the the rocket equation because you still have some you still have this propellant mass on board. But remember all the complexity and weight of the power source is now outside the ship. And that is absolutely critical for this, absolutely critical. So the result then is this there's a following, you half the mass of the propellant that a conventional chemical rocket would use is not needed now because the external power source could be far greater than what pure combustion on board would provide. Saving half the chemical rocket fuel that's that's huge, that's huge. And this can bring the trip to Mars down to 45 days as I've said, which is astonishingly quick that is amazingly fast. And it also means that the cargo can move from a few percent of the weight for, that's typical of a chemical rocket, up to many times that for laser laser thermal rockets, so your payload goes way way up and it's not just like it's mostly fuel and just a tiny little speck of cargo, it's many many times that many many specs I guess. There's also less chance of an explosion, which is nice, and there's no need to drop chunks of yourself off as you're rocking away so that's good. But those are just the you know the superficial qualities here. Now the the if you drill down a little bit more it's really fascinating. So they envisioned an array of infrared infrared lasers on earth about 10 meters wide producing 100 megawatts. You may be saying well wait why are you shooting a laser from the Earth that you're going through the atmosphere, that's that's not a great idea. Well it's actually not that much of a problem because you've heard of adaptive optics for telescopes, basically adaptive optics means that you you know you're changing you know you're changing the you know the the material that's in your telescope really fast to to adapt to what the atmosphere is doing. So essentially it it makes the atmosphere like kind of like invisible, where just it just compensates essentially for all of the crazy stuff going on because of you have the different densities of air that that the lights going through. So that's really not a problem anymore although I assume you know that they'll eventually they'll have some of these lasers in space. But 100 megawatts that's a lot that those that's a powerful laser system which we can now do. People will often say oh 100 megawatts that's many thousands of households you know many thousands of households, we use 100 megawatts altogether but I converted that to, just to be goofy I converted that 100 megawatts is equivalent to 134 000 horsepower or 95 000 BTUs per second so just in case you needed those perspectives. But it's a lot, these are powerful lasers of course that you would need now the payload in their plan would go into an elliptical medium earth orbit, I never heard of a medium earth orbit but I I guess we could say that's definitely not low Earth orbit, and so for sure the conventional rockets will get the payload up there. So what happens then is the laser hits of the reflector that's on the payload and directs it to the to the hydrogen heating tank the hydrogen tank which then creates temperatures of like 72 000°F at its core. Now the thrust this surprised me the thrust would last for almost an hour an hour of shot of like you know 58 minutes.

S: That's a lot.

E: Ramping that up for whole hour? Whoow.

B: Yeah that's going I mean I don't think, I'm not sure how much ramping up there is I think it just you know actually I don't know.

E: So maximum speed for an hour and at that propulsion, ad you know adding to itself over the course of an hour?

B: Well then well think it will then how about this it's when when it finally is done lazing you're going the cargo's going at 17 km/s! 17 km/s.

E: What's that equivalent to?

B: So that's a good well that's how long did it take us to get to the Moon in the 60s and early 70s, three days?

J: Three days.

S: Three days yeah.

E: A couple days yeah.

B: This would pass the Moon in eight hours.

J: Wow.

B: So this is booking.

C: Is this bad for people's like I don't know organs?

B: No well the acceleration wouldn't be deadly.

C: Okay (laughs)

B: It wouldn't be deadly.

C: You would not die that's not.

B: No no I'm not sure.

S: Non-deadly acceleration is not [inaudible]

B: Non-deadly, it's not deadly slightly non-deadly. I i know that the deceleration is not deadly I know that for sure I didn't I did couldn't I went through the paper I didn't find any acceleration numbers.

C: Does it make you poop your pants?

J: Probably.

E: Yeah.

C: Okay.

J: I'm sheeting myself right here now.

C: I know.

B: Now of course keeping you know keeping the the laser aligned with the craft is you know important and and apparently there's side thrusters which would keep the craft aligned with the laser beam as the Earth rotates, so that's important. The biggest problem then at this point is slowing down, so the payload can get to Mars because the the payload would be entering the you know the Mars system you know at like 16 km/s so there's a slight amount of slowing down. 16 km/s, you're still booking pretty fast, so the problem is that you can't use a chemical rocket to slow down, right? Typically you would like turn around fire your chemical rocket and then and then decelerate at a safe at a safe level. But you can't do that because that would kind of do away with the whole point of this. Because if you had the fuel to slow it down then that would mean that your thousand kilogram payload would be about 60 kilograms so you would lose most of your payload, a huge chunk of your payload, so that and it just defeats the whole purpose of the challenge. So ideally you would have another layer, another laser on Mars and that laser would decelerate the craft.

C: The anti-laser.

B: (chuckles) Right but that have right but that that's that you know we can't even talk about that because you know we need to like be on Mars and build and build another laser to do that so that's so that's not going to be in the cards for a little while.

S: Bob could you use a mirror like to reflect the laser beam from Earth then back at the back end of the rocket after it turns around?

B: Wait what do you mean from Earth to Mars?

S: So so yeah so you get the laser's still on Earth right and then when you need to slow down the ship turns around and then it deploys a mirror that will reflect the laser beam back you know so that you can decelerate.

B: I think um something like that might be possible but I don't think our lasers are up for to that because you're you'd be like what halfway you'd be mostly on your on your way to Mars you'd be many.

S: So it's also the distance.

B: Yeah he distance of course you've got yeah I mean you know laser beams are are focused and coherent but not forever but but Steve they do have an op they do have a plan apparently because I think what they do is they jettison that that heating unit with the hydrogen in it they jettison that after after the after the hour and then they could use the laser to do what they call a back burn. So that it can come back, come back to the Earth so so they do have that so it's really so it's reusable. But then so what they do is it's all about aerobraking right that they decelerate the payload using air, aerobraking, air you know air braking techniques, which has got to be tough because Mars's atmosphere is very very thin. So that phase is going to be very difficult, they say that it's going to be about 8g's of deceleration, which is nothing for most cargos and it's very doable for experienced humans. That's a lot that's a lot of deceleration and we can't really do you know much more you know acceleration or deceleration than 8g's not for any extended period of times of course. But but it can it is doable. The bigger the bigger problem is the atmospheric friction. Even even with the thin atmosphere of Mars we actually do not have any like tiles that can withstand that but the researchers or the engineers claim that they are under active development. That we will have you know before too long have thermal tiles that can withstand that kind of deceleration at that velocity so that's good. So now your question now might be well how feasible is this or is this just more Bob Novella pie in the sky baloney? My response is first off watch the attitude and secondly I will say that the paper focuses a lot on what it should in many ways the most the most the most problematic components specifically these critical subsystems like the heating chamber and the aero capture maneuver that the paper really takes a hard long look at. And so this and then their conclusion they say this: "The preliminary design of critical subsystems necessary for such a spacecraft has not found fundamental technological roadblocks to realize this propulsion system". That's that's the best news of this entire thing there's no deal breakers that they identified with these really complex components and maneuvers so that's fantastic. But of course you know let's let's wait till we get some peer review too of course because this is I don't think it's been peer reviewed yet not that I'm aware of. And if this does work the stats Steve, Jay you know we you know we worked on rockets and propulsion and all sorts of stuff for the book, the stats are really impressive, really impressive. More than I would have imagined. So the master power ratio values that that may be achieved so this is a quote from the paper:

"The master power ratio values that may be achieved via laser thermal propulsion 0.001 to 0.010 kilograms per kilowatt are unparalleled, far below even those cited for advanced nuclear propulsion technologies, due to the fact that the power source remains on Earth and the delivered flux can be processed by low-mass inflatable reflector"

So yet again we're seeing the benefits the huge benefits of having the power source on the Earth or not on the ship it's been it's huge and you've got this low mass inflatable reflector that can handle the flux the laser flux so those two things are making are giving this propulsion amazing stats. The specific impulse is three thousand seconds Steve─

S: That's huge.

B: ─versus chemical, that's huge, chemical rockets have a specific impulse of 450 seconds. Now specific impulses the total change to momentum or speed per unit of propellant mass. And they they also tend to think of it as though as the time in seconds, that the propellant or engine can accelerate its starting mass at one g blah blah blah. More seconds equals greater delta v, so just remember specific impulse of 3000 is of seconds is fantastic. And there's other very tantalizing possibilities that this that this propulsion can do and the paper addresses a little bit regarding cargo, we know that you can get more cargo using this method right? They showed a potential tenfold increase in payload capacity compared to the common centaur cryogenic upper stage. Tenfold. Order of magnitude increase in payload. That's fan, that's a that's like a sea change that's huge that's a milestone, if they could really do it. They also say that this this architecture is is suitable for some things that conventional chemical rockets or even solar electric propulsion is unsuitable for. Like for example rapid missions to the outer ice giants we you know we can't do that with conventional rockets, this can do that apparently. How about into the interstellar medium? You know it could you could use rockets like this to join the twin Voyagers you know quicker than any other way to get there it seems. Steve you're like this one, we could use this to intercept interstellar objects passing through the solar system.

S: Mmm, yeah.

B: Right?

J: Wow.

B: We could actually inter-intercept them using this this this idea and I got this this is from our research from our book, "The Skeptic's Guide to the Future" that was submitted today to the publisher.

C: Yey! Congrats!

E: Yey! Whoo!

J: Yey!

B: So we're very very happy so so this is from my research so this I this whole idea of directed energy not you know not on you know a hydrogen heating unit but a solar sail, a light sails I think it's going to be the ultimate expression of this type of technology using directed energy. I mean that actually might be the fastest propulsion technology that could ever exist. If you extrapolate what could be possible by using teams of of like megawatt, gigawatt, terawatt, petawatt, exawatt, yattawatt.

E: Yeah!

B: Whatever, go keep mounting the decimals using this using super powerful lasers that are that are set up at various locations like say from the Sun and then from Mars and then from you know and then from the asteroid whatever. And you you could actually get up to like not just relativistic speeds but ultra relativistic speeds, if you travel long enough and use powerful enough lasers. You you can get crazy you know crazy velocities that you might not be able to get up to with any other technology that we that we can conceive. Even anti-matter engines.

E: And matter won't fly apart at those speeds, right?

B: Because I mean it certainly can if you accelerate too fast or you hit if you hit stuff in space.

E: Well there's that too, yeah.

C: What about if you just hit space?

B: No not just hitting space itself.

E: Ain't like dusting crops boy

B: So so this directed energy propulsion and you'll read about this I hope you'll read about it in the book, you could potentially go ultra relativistic 99% the speed of light is feasible, potentially feasible using this technology, that no other technology could ever do. So that's what we're talking about here, this is this is a form, it's a variant of what may be the ultimate form of propulsion in the universe no matter how advanced or how smart you are. That's I'm just throwing that out there and it's fascinating stuff read more about it in our book at some point in the future near future.

E: And that was your "Quickie" with Bob.


S: Yeah and then you know the in the near term Bob, and this may be like the first use of this kind of technology, would be just sending probes to the outer solar system, right? It doesn't have to come back we just have to accelerate it going out.

B: Oh yeah I mean...

S: You don't need the probe to come back but it would get there instead of yeah we'll be out there you know in 12 years, it'll get there much quicker.

B: Oh yeah and they're even talking about using like these little nano these little nano sized probes I guess that that are super light and that you accelerate you know with lasers and getting to you know Proxima Centauri, Alpha Centauri in like 20 years I mean that's like within someone's lifetime we could have data coming back from Proxima you know Alpha Centauri system that's that that's amazing and that's something that I'll never see.


Chimps Self-Medicate (1:03:22)[edit]

S: All right Cara tell us how chimpanzees self-medicate.

C: Yeah so a cool, cool study was just published literally two days ago as of this recording in Current Biology magazine. Some researchers, I think they're mostly German researchers but working out of West Africa, made some observations over the past couple of years of chimpanzees applying insects to both their wounds and to the wounds of other chimpanzees. Yeah so this is really cool nobody had ever seen, so individuals had observed behavior of of self-medicating in the animal kingdom over several years. We've seen it happen with bears, with elephants, with moths, with certain birds and we've seen it in great apes but usually it would either be like eating plant parts to maybe settle, settle their stomach which is associated with potentially eating some sort of "medicine" to fight against an intestinal parasite. Or sometimes applying something topically but more like leaves or soil or you know liquid or something like that.

E: Rub some dirt on it.

C: Yeah just rub some dirt in it. But we've never actually observed apparently insects as a topical medication in great apes. And so these researchers documented 19 examples of individuals applying insects to their own wounds and then 3 examples of individuals applying insects to the wounds of khan specific so of individuals within their group. It's super interesting because they all followed pretty much the same course. They would catch a flying insect, put it in their mouth to immobilize it so I'm not sure if they're actually killing it or if they're just weighing down the wings or maybe crushing the wings, but they put it in between their lips and then they rub it against the wound or into the wound of either themselves or another chimp, oftentimes putting it back in their mouth multiple times and reapplying it. So over and over and over rub in the wound, put it in their mouth, rub it in the wound, put it in their mouth and then usually discarding the insects. So they're not eating the insect and they're not leaving the insect in the wound, they're applying it to the wound.

S: Is it maybe just a saliva delivery system?

C: But why not just lick their finger?

S: Yeah.

C: You know why go to why go to the...

S: It's like a bandage but they don't leave any part of the insect there?

C: They don't leave well it's they don't know right, so here's the thing that we have to remember, these were observational from a distance. So a there these researchers have not had a chance to inspect the wounds, they have not had a chance to see if this "self medication" actually does accelerate healing and they have not even had a chance to identify the species of insect to know if it has any medicinal properties. Because they're watching from a distance these are you know these are these organisms are existing in nature and so they're watching them, they're recording it there's actual video online you can go to like YouTube and see video of this happening it's very cool. And they're saying yes what we want to do now is we want to compare those who self-medicate with insects to those who allow their wounds to heal on their own. We also want to see if we can't find these insects. They know it's a winged insect, they know that they're catching it usually beneath a branch or a leaf, they know that they're less than five millimeters and usually dark in color and that they're not actually swallowing the insects. They're able to observe all of that from the distance but they don't yet know if that insect has you know any medicinal properties or if this is a trial and error thing or you know really what it represents but based on the fact that it's such a specific incidence, that in every single one of these cases there was an open wound and either they themselves caught the winged insect and put it in their wound over and over or did it to somebody else, they are um asserting that yes this is an example of medication and even beyond self-medication this could be an example of pro-social behavior. Which is kind of─

S: Which we know chimps have.

C: ─which we know chimps have but apparently there's a lot of controversy in that area. Like we've seen them do things like cooperative hunting, we've seen them do cooperative guarding behaviors but yeah, there's apparently a lot of controversy especially in the way that we describe pro-social behavior as requiring empathy. You know Frans de Waal as we know has like really put forth these ideas but there are still a lot of researchers who are like no no that's not what's happening, this is you know this kind of instinctual behavior and it doesn't really, they might be cooperative but they're not actually doing it for the benefit of their neighbor. Like they're still doing it for some sort of like selfish gain. And so it's yeah it's an interesting observational study that obviously lends itself to more in-depth research. Obviously most of this is like "discussion section stuff", like is this what's actually happening. But it's definitely contributing to this field that's where there's a lot of controversy already.

S: Yeah yeah, interesting.

C: It's pretty cool.

S: Yeah very cool but you're right it's like it's we we kind of make both kinds of mistakes, we underestimate what animals can do but we also then read too much into their behaviors─

C: Totally.

S: And so we have to make sure that we're really careful here you know and but there's a biological component to this so that that can be investigated very objectively you know.

C: Absolutely and we've seen examples of chimpanzees already self-medicating this is just a different application potentially.

Who's That Noisy? (1:08:47)[edit]

S: All right Jay it's Who's That Noisy time.

J: All right guys last week I played this Noisy:

[hissing, explosion]

Any guesses guys?

E: I don't have a clue.

S: Some parts would sound like a rocket taking off you know what I mean?

E: Yeah but why the stop and this and the restart and you know that it's like breaks up I don't know.

C: It's got like a rain sticky vibe but.

J: Well let's see what the uh the listeners think. So we have a listener named Brendan and he said: "Hi Jay, everyone, I initially thought the noisy this week was the sound going through Jay's head as he bites into a particularly good meatball. But I've since ruled that that out I'm not sure if it's profound enough so my guess for this week's noisy is a nuclear bomb test". I thought that was a very good guess that is incorrect, you'll see what it actually is very soon but you know I guess the thing that it actually is in a nuclear bomb tester probably have some things in common from a sound perspective.

Kristen McConnell wrote in: "Hey Jay, I believe this week's noisy is a controlled avalanche. I can hear the explosion then the snow loosening up and falling. Love the show. Thanks, Kristen". I have heard this I've, I have been at a ski resort when this was happening.

E: Didn't we talk about avalanche guns at some point?

J: Yeah we did yep. Yeah there's you know there's similarities between, between that and what it is this is not a correct guess but but definitely a good guess.

A listener named Richard Smith wrote in said: "This week's Noisy sounds like the lightning and detonation of a sizable quantity of termite on top of ice.", I don't think I've ever heard that. I don't hear an ice sound in there either but I don't know, I don't claim to be an expert with termite that is not a correct correct guess.

We have another guess here by Patrick McCombe he said: "I'm guessing that is the prepping launching and detonating of a torpedo and I am almost certainly incorrect" (laughs) I thought he was going to say correct. I can't remember if I've heard a recording of a torpedo being shot. I bet you it sounds very different depending on the sub that you're in as well. That is not correct. And this week there were no winners. I thought this one was going to be much easier. So this was sent in by a listener named John McNneil and he said: "Seeing this video is really cool, this is actually a very cool video there is a mechanical spring release that you hear and it separates the spacecraft following a silent pause and then probably a recognizable sound of a rocket motor as the payload moves on to orbit". So now I went to the YouTube video and I read more about this, this was posted by Rocket Lab. So what we're hearing is first and second stage separation of rocket labs electron launch vehicle during the return to sender mission on November 20th 2020. So what's happening is the second stage is preparing to disconnect from the first stage rocket and there's a there you hear like a latch type of sound and that's that's like a mechanism, I guess it's decoupling and then there's a massive pressure change and then it is expelled from the the first stage and then the rocket boosters come on. So let me play it for you one more time, that's depressurization, there's the latch, that's the the second stage being ejected, now listen to the rockets.

B: Oh wow.

J: Yeah so that's it rocketing away very very cool, I recommend you go to Rocket Lab and check out electron launch vehicle separation, very very very cool video. And when you realize that you're in outer space when the whole thing is happening because you don't know that you're in outer space until the the mechanism separates, it's pretty cool, it's very cool video check it out.

New Noisy (1:13:03)[edit]

J: All right guys I have a new noisy for you this week.

S: Wait wait but before you go on basically I was correct.

J: You are Steve (laughter) I wasn't going to tell you before, yeah no I mean of course yeah.

E: Steve's the winner.

J: Steve has won everything this week guys. It is what's today's the ninth and Steve has won. So okay, Mikka Heinen, Heinemann.

E: Micah maybe?

C: It's either Mika or Mikah, well how's it spelled m-i-k-a or m-i-c-a-h?

J: It's, it's m-i-i-k-k-a. Okay Miikka Heynenen. Okay Miikka has sent in a very cool noisy for you guys this week and here it is, I want you to tell me I'm just going to give it to you tell me what animal this is.

[kids and adults talking to an animal lowing and making other low grunts]

E: Sound bovinian.

J: So to the sgu listeners please don't email me and that you you know a human talk, I'm not talking about the humans of course, there is a low sound in that in that audio that I played you that I want you to identify. Just tell me what animal it is. That's what I want. You can send me your answer to and also don't forget to send me any noises that you heard this week.

Announcements (1:14:32)[edit]

J: Steve we have four shows on the books and a fifth one to be queued up and announced next week. The four shows that we have are an Extravaganza and a Private SGU Recording in New York City and an Extravaganza and another Private SGU Recording in Boston. These are happening the weekend of March 25th. If you go to you will see the four shows listed there and by the time you go you might even see that fifth show that will be listed there which is going to be in Bethlehem, PA. So please join us guys this is a great way for you to show your support to the SGU, it's an incredible amount of fun. We had people, when we went to Denver we did three shows in Colorado, two in Denver and one in Fort Collins and we had people a lot of people come to all three of those shows and it was unbelievable to talk to people that did that. So anyway show your support come on out, we'd love to see you.

S: All right thanks Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:15:29)[edit]

Email #1: De-extinction[edit]

S: All right we're going to do one email this one comes from William from Atlanta and he writes:

My question is without genetic material from a lot of specimens of a species to create individuals from is any level of de-extinction possible at all? What I mean by that is say we are able to create a mammoth or two, one male, one female and they are able to breed successfully. Isn't this already creating an insurmountable genetic bottleneck? The genetic diversity of breeding the offspring to those initial two together could probably lead to terrible consequences. Do you think it would be possible to use gene editing to increase the genetic diversity of an attempt at de-extinction or if we used modern elephant DNA in the place of Jurassic Park's frog DNA could we create a genetically stable series of hybrid mammoth, it's a hybrid, in a side note there are only 1 864 giant pandas in the world today. Is even that number enough to ensure the genetic diversity needed for a stable population, considering that they are territorial and may not be mixing genes very well in the wild.

S: A lot to unpack there, let me pull out a couple of things. So the basic idea that a genetic bottleneck is a risk of extinction is correct. If you know historically speaking if a species goes through it goes through a genetic bottleneck and 2 000 seems to be like the magic number, where you have less than 2 000 individuals, the risk of extinction over the next say thousand years goes way up. It's not a guarantee it's just a probability. And there's a number of reasons for that. Genetic diversity within a population is a hedge against extinction because it means that some individuals are going to be resistant to certain infections or maybe more adaptable to drought conditions or whatever. A and when a stress hits there's more likely to be some individuals who are going to be able to deal with that stress. Whereas if you have a loss of genetic diversity just the probability of one virus wiping out the whole population goes way up. And so just as statistically speaking it's a huge it's a huge risk of extinction.

C: You also do sometimes see not just like ability to protect against infection but when the bottleneck happens you will sometimes see genetic anomalies spread like wildfire through the population because the population's so small. Like a perfect example is the florida panther. Like they were on the brink and they had all sorts of terrible consequences because their habitat range was really really narrowed. And it's happening in in California to our panther species or to our panther individuals which is why connection obviously is so important because it can happen even if a species isn't going extinct if it just gets you know stuck and isn't able to out breed.

S: Yeah but it's not guaranteed it's not guaranteed.

C: Of course not.

S: There's lots of instances evolutionarily when a very small group of individuals must have started a speciation event. So at some point you know the the possibility of starting a successful population with one male and two females, just three individuals is about 50%. So it's it's totally possible to go through a bottleneck like that and survive at the other side but it's just a really super high risk that you're you know something can wipe you out. But there's a couple of I think misconceptions in here, so having offspring with close kin is not as bad as these making it out to be. It kind of depends on the genetic diversity and health of the population to begin with. But like cousins having children it's actually not a bad thing evolutionarily or genetically. It does increase the risk of you know of recessive genes lining up but not not that much and in fact if you have beneficial traits it's actually a good thing you know in terms of spreading the beneficial traits within within a population. So that's not necessarily a bad thing. Plus if we were able to de-extinct let's say two mammoths they wouldn't necessarily be related, right? They could those two mammoths could have a lot of genetic diversity. They might be three thousand years apart in terms of when that DNA was around and but of course the more different they are the better because then you know the the chances of mixing any recessive traits etc it goes goes down and the diversity within their offspring goes way down.

C: But even if they're related even if like two organisms are directly related mother or son brother sister, it's not it's not a guarantee that their offspring is going to be like you know have flippers, it's all probabilistic.

S: It's just yeah the risk of genetic diseases goes up, that's basically it. And you know that's something in medicine that you know depends especially depending on the population we have to ask about consanguinity you know any parents closely related because then we know that that we may have to look harder for certain certain genetic diseases. But it's not like you can necessarily tell just by looking at them or their overall health. They could be otherwise perfectly healthy. The idea of a mammoth elephant hybrid has been raised by scientists who are involved in this de-extinction you know program with the mammoth. That may be one of the viable ways that we can do it. Like for example if not just for the genetic diversity but also just to make it happen at all. So let's say you get the full DNA of a mammoth what do you do at that point. One thing you could do is use it to clone that mammoth and put and then you know and birth it in a an elephant. But you can also you basically cross that DNA with an elephant and you basically you inseminate the elephant with the DNA you don't clone the DNA and then you get a hybrid and that's just much more likely to be a successful organism, right?

C: Maybe I mean we don't we don't know that though.

S: Well that's the idea that the idea is it's going to your chance of success is going to go way up and trying to do a full clone. And then you if you do that even a couple of times like you take the the hybrid mammoth elephant and then you inseminate that with mammoth DNA then you get a three-quarters mammoth and then a seven-eighth you know mammoth or whatever. And it just keeps going up and until you basically have a mammoth you know a little bit with a little bit of elephant DNA in it.

C: How similar is a woolly mammoth genetically to an African elephant like would would mom is there not a potential that mom would just spontaneously abort because this...

S: No I think they're close enough to be okay.

C: Oh, okay.

S: As long as there's like the chromosomes line up you're probably okay.

C: Do they? Do we know that they do?

S: Well they were talking about doing it so I'm assuming that they do.

C: Yeah I didn't know that they were talking about doing it that way I always thought it was more like the Jurassic Bark like we're just gonna fix any any holes that we have in the sequence.

S: No that's the serious plan is to do a mammoth elephant hybrid that might be the first if they if anyone successfully does it that might be the first thing that we see.

E: Do it.

C: Right but I mean we know how to clone like it's not like we haven't done it successfully multiple times.

S: It's true but we haven't cloned a huge mammal from ancient reconstructed DNA.

C: True.

S: Cloning is still tricky you know and it's not a perfected technology it's a successful technology but it's still very very tricky. So this would be one way just to give a higher probability of success by doing the hybrid rather than the full clone. But we'll see we'll see where this goes we basically have the mammoth DNA you know I don't know what the the best shape it's in but they're still working with it. So yeah there's a lot of potential gotchas in here and again the technology is tricky but it's plausible it is totally plausible that we could you know de-extinct in this way. And if we can get it to work once we can get it to work multiple times. I mean we have DNA not necessarily full fully functional genomes we have DNA from woolly mammoths over a million year period. I mean talk about genetic diversity you know. They're they're probably not the same exact species either but they're like you know probably cousins themselves.

C: Closer than a mammoth and an elephant, that's for sure.

S: Yeah yeah yeah.

B: Maybe.

C: Umm, definitely.

S: So multiple specimens may be the the way we get to a good genetically diverse population. The other thing is you talk about like the risk of extinction in a small population that's true but it but it's that data is based upon populations in the wild. If they're in captivity and we are nursing the hell out of them it's not the same risk. You know we can we can keep that small population going and allow genetic diversity to build up over time you know through spontaneous mutations etc. The idea of using genetic bioengineering in order to deliberately increase genetic diversity is interesting. That's an interesting idea but we'd have to know what we're doing.

B: No we wouldn't.

S: Like what what are we no we random cause random mutations or are we no we know what we're trying to make the genes into I don't know.

C: Right do we already know about mammoth diseases that we're now going to try to prevent like these are extinct animals.

S: Yeah I mean so it's not a terrible idea conceptually but in practice it may prove very very challenging.

Let's go on to science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:24:50)[edit]

Item #1: A new CT scanning technology uses the low end of the gamma ray spectrum, rather than X-rays, to form images with over 10 times the resolution.[5]
Item #2: Engineers have made a robot that can morph from one shape to another through liquid metal yet hold either shape with a rigid structure.[6]
Item #3: Scientists have discovered the first known metal alloy that does not soften as it is heated through a wide temperature range, above 1,000K.[7]

Answer Item
Fiction Gamma ray scanning tech
Science Morphing robot
Tough metal alloy
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Morphing robot
Gamma ray scanning tech
Gamma ray scanning tech
Morphing robot

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts two real and one fake and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Just three regular news items this week. Are you guys ready? All right here we go.

Bob's Response[edit]

S: Who's due to go first, who hasn't gone first in a while, I think Bob hasn't gone first in a while.

B: No!

S: Bob go first.


B: I refuse. Where do you get this? All right so I'm just got to go through this. CT scanning technology - the low end of the gamma ray spectrum? What? Gamma rays? Come on, they'd go through lead how the hell are you gonna focus you're gonna deal with gamma rays and how are you gonna create them? I don't know man I mean I don't know a lot of details of how that would work but man that's just you're just totally trying to make me lose it on that one I think. All right so that too we got a robot that can morph from one shape to another through liquid metal yet hold their shape from one shape to another through liquid metal.

E: Yeah Terminator 2.

B: Yeah of course the first thing I thought too. I was looking at tons of news sites and I didn't see any of this crap. (laughter) All right so now we've got a first known metal outlet that does not soften as it's heated to a wide temperature range above a thousand K yeah I mean okay, see that one doesn't sound too egregious and that probably means that might be the fiction. Bastard. I don't know go to somebody else. (laughter)

S: Put the nickle down, do it.

B: It doesn't work that way let's do the uh do the robot morph one say that's fiction. You better say something good about that that gamma-ray crap.

S: Okay Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I'm I'm not with Bob but I'm with where Bob was gonna go I think. The gamma a gamma-ray CT computerized tomography, I don't understand this. I could see using gamma rays for like medicine like for zapping cancer or something like that but not for imaging. It would just be the risk would outweigh the benefit and we have really good imaging. I mean we're always trying to improve our imaging but most of the time, most of the time when we're trying to improve our imaging it's to see smaller and smaller tumors what we don't want to do is induce carcinogenesis like while we're doing that so to me this one feels like the fiction. I'm just gonna say that out on top the other two I don't really get so I'm gonna stick with those things.

B: Yeah what's throwing me is this low end of gamma ray spectrum well okay I'm not too familiar with the low end of that spectrum.

C: Is it like one nanometer away from not being a gamma ray I don't know but yeah.

B: Sure why not I mean it's all it's a judge kind of a judgment call not necessary well I'll stop.

C: But I'm gonna assume it's still a gamma-ray dammit.

S: It's in the gamma-ray spectrum yeah yeah. All right Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Well yeah and Bob I thought you were gonna definitely go with this gamma-ray one.

B: It's too obvious and I know that's exactly what he's hoping.

E: Gamma rays destroys things doesn't it? And yeah low end but it's still like the extreme side of the low end right you're still definitely one one end of that spectrum certainly more towards the middle, rather than x-rays for 10 times the resolution. I mean and Cara did you say we don't we already have things that can give you the resolution at better than x-rays? And yeah this just doesn't really add up whereas the other two again I don't know.

S: In other words Evan it's a CT scanner that has 10 times the resolution of a regular CT scanner.

E: Of the CT scanner.

S: A new CT scanning technology, CT scans use x-rays.

E: Yes right I understand that.

B: The resolution makes sense because gamma rays have the highest frequency so okay.

E: But they also damage, don't they? The liquid metal ones does sound fascinating you know but T2 I mean definitely how can you not think of that. I'll go with Cara, I think it's the gamma-ray one fiction.

S: And Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I am definitely going with Bob─

B: Yey!

J: Very strongly don't think that there's any liquid metal robot nothing, I don't agree.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right so you all agree with the third one, so I'll start there scientists have discovered the first known metal alloy that does not soften as it is heated through a wide temperature range above 1000K. You all think this one is science and this one is... science. This one's very cool actually, this is a lot cooler than it may at first sound. So the alloy is Elinvar, Elinvar sounds like a middle-earth fantasy. It's super elastic high entropy Elinvar alloy and this imagine the use of this you have a metal that doesn't get soft when it gets heated through a massive temperature range. This is perfect for aerospace engineering.

E: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

E: Coming through the atmosphere? Definitely.

S: Yeah so normally when you heat up a metal it expands and that expansion right there's thermal expansion and the thermal expansion makes it soft, right? This is why the these the twin towers collapsed, steel heated up it lost its─

B: It didn't melt but it got weak.

S: ─strength. It didn't melt but it got soft and collapsed. So that's what happens. This is the first alloy where that is not the case. Where because of this special lattice structure that it has it, it doesn't experience that, in fact it gets a little bit stiffer when it heats up, a tiny bit so if it's moving in the in the other direction.

C: Is it light?

B: That's wicked.

C: Or is it like super heavy metal?

S: It's metal.

C: I mean but there's like carbon fiber and there's like steel.

S: It's not super-light, that's not that's not its feature it's like I don't know, it didn't it didn't tell me.

E: I'm not gonna make body armor out of it I guess.

C: Well but I mean we're talking about aerospace like super heavy metals.

B: Can it be used for aerospace?

S: That's that's what they're selling it as, this would be a perfect you know alloy for aerospace so I'm assuming it's not horribly heavy.

C: Right.

B: Or expensive or anything else damn man cool.

S: It has stiff so even when heated to a 1000K it has stiffness comparable to that at room temperature. It expands without any notable phase transition, right?

B: Hey Siri.

S: We talked about phase transitions a couple weeks ago I think.

B: What's a 1000 Kelvin in Fahrenheit?

S: It's 726°C.

Siri: 1000 Kelvins is equivalent to about 1 340 degrees Fahrenheit.

B: 1340 Fahrenheit.

C: Why is your Siri British?

B: I like it all right?

C: No I mean I dig it too, I didn't know you could do that.

B: Oh yeah it's cool.

E: Mine's Scottish.

C: Why?

E: So I cannot understand it.

B: 1340 Fahrenheit, that's pretty hot man. Then what happens? Above that then I guess it just it does say oh screw it and get soft?

S: Eventually you know you're gonna everything has a melting point you know.

C: I want to go to the Sun.

E: Magnesium right?

S: All right let's go back to number one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: A new CT scanning technology uses the low end of the gamma-ray spectrum rather than x-rays to form images with over 10 times the resolution. So Evan and Cara you think this one is the fiction, Bob and Jay you think this one is the science, this one is science.

B: It is?

S: So you know that's actually I'm saying I'm saying you think this is science.

E: Nice try Bob.

S: You guys know that x-rays and gamma rays are right next to each other so there is one point in which you tick over from x-rays to gamma.

C: Yeah yeah yeah.

S: X-rays you know if you get enough of them that increases your cancer risk.

C: Absolutely.

E: Definitely.

S: So this is not necessarily a qualitative difference in going from x-rays to gamma rays.

C: But it would need to be far enough from the x-ray to get 10 times the resolution which I think is far enough from the x-ray to also get 10 times the radiation which is bad.

S: Well I have no idea because I just made this up.

C: Yes! (laughter) Wo-hoo!

S: Yeah gamma rays, no, we're not going to be shooting gamma rays to people if we're trying to kill tissue.

C: But maybe as a treatment maybe.

S: Yeah it's used to kill cancer cells.

C: Yeah exactly. Nuclear medicine, yeah yeah yeah.

S: Totally.

B: And eventually when we create gamma-ray lasers.

C: Yeah.

E: Yes?

S: Yeah?

E: You're gonna finish that thought?

B: Do I have to?

C: Put like little radiation pellets into cancer and yeah we target we do proton beams and things like that with cancer, right?

B: Steve.

S: Yeah.

B: I hate you.

S: I know I gotta mix it up right, I gotta throw in ones that are that are obviously false just so that you think.

B: Just to screw me. I know it I know it.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right all this means that engineers have made a robot that can morph from one shape to another through liquid metal yet hold another either shape with a rigid structure is that's very cool science.

C: That's very cool.

E: That's probably tiny.

B: Whatever.

S: The name of the article: "Shape morphing mechanical meta-materials through reversible plasticity".

C: Yeah how have you not read this article Bob?

E: Yeah Bob?

B: I don't know.

J: What's happening Bob?

C: Google alert for that.

E: It was on the front page of Plasticity Today.

B: And a meta-material what did you say about meta-material?

S: It's, this is the title of the article: "Shape morphing mechanical meta materials through reversible plasticity" published in Science Robotics.

B: Oh I did read that.

S: It's it's really cool so they they say that they coupled an elastomeric kirigami, so kirigami is like origami you know I mean some you can fold it to make it change its shape, right? And they made it out of an elastic rubber like material but inside was a metal to give it a rigid frame but this is a metal with a very low melting point. And so they could liquefy it just by heating it up a little bit. Have the kirigami go through the morphic shape change into another configuration and then they they cool the metal back into a rigid structure.

C: I see so there's still a scaffolding that's changing shape, yeah, gotcha.

S: Yeah just yeah it's it's liquid for the change but then it's solid on either side and then because it's it's this you know how you have the meta-material that could change it could fold from one configuration to another so there's two stable configurations. So then it could go back again, right? So like the example they give is you could have, and they this is what they're developing, right they they have a they have a essentially a robot a droid a soft robot robot that morphs from a car to a drone, right, so it's in one configuration it's made for driving on the road and then it changes configuration in order to become a drone.

C: It's a transformer.

S: It's a transformer.

C: So cool.

E: Robots in disguise.

B: Talk to me when it turns from a car into a suitcase.

E: Five to ten years.

C: Have you seen the little kids who have the transformer costumes for Halloween? They fold yes up and become cars.

J: I can't believe how well that works it blows my mind.

B: It's so good.

S: Cara at Dragon Con there was a couple of people in transform like in like adults in huge transformer costumes─

C: That's pretty cool.

S: ─that would fold up you know that would transform. They were amazing.

E: Some of the best costumes I've ever seen.

B: So much talent there.

S: Yeah absolutely. Now they could do it with this meta-material liquid metal elastomer kirigami. Very cool very cool.

All right Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:36:42)[edit]

I strive to be a lifelong learner and I have never learned anything by being right.
– Dr. R. Shulze, SGU listener

E: This quote comes from a listener, someone who emailed us recently and I'll read to you a line from the email and then I'll give you the quote.

"I wanted to share a quote with the skeptics that I've used more internally than out loud over the last 20 years or so. This quote may in fact be attributable to me personally as I have not found anyone else that it has been attributed to. Here's the quote: "I strive to be a lifelong learner and I have never learned anything by being correct."

E: His name is Dr R - I don't know his first name Dr R Schultzy or Schultz. S-h-u-l-z-e. And here's the first line of his well his his email title to us was: "Long-time listener old acquaintance of Perry's from California" he says he's been a listener for quite some time. "Your podcast showed up on our radar during an attempt to find Perry many years ago. Unfortunately he had passed shortly before we discovered it.", and he's part of the west coast cadre of friend that Perry had, gamers that he used to be with. Including some other people that we know.

S: Yeah.

E: And that's great so he went looking for Perry, found the found the podcast, unfortunately Perry had passed but he became a listener, a regular listener of the show and decided to reach out to us and with a very lovely e-mail so thank you Dr Schultze.

S: All right well thanks Evan that's pretty cool always fun to have a connection to Perry as well. Now Perry Perry lived out in California for about a year and he made a lot of friends out there, we still hear from them occasionally.

E: We do. Yeah yeah yeah it's remarkable.

J: You know you know who else he met out there?

S: Who?

J: Phil Hudson.

E: He was one of those people in that gamer group correct. Yeah and Dr Schultze mentioned that in the email as well.

S: Phil Hudson worked with us on some of our video projects like, like Hawk the Skeptical Caveman.

All right well thank you all for joining me this week.

B: Sure man.

J: Thanks Steve.

C: Thanks Steve.

E: Thank you Steve.

Signoff (1:38:36)[edit]

S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[8]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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