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atWith A Bang, CONTRIBUTOR GROUPEthanSiegel, CONTRIBUTORNov 1, 201710:093 National Fusion Research Institute, Korea The plasma in the center of this fusion reactor is so hot it [+] The United States spends more on military spending than the next ten nations combined: an estimated $600 billion annually. Meanwhile, the entire budgets of NASA and the National Science Foundation, combined, is only ~$25 billion, or about 4% of our military budget. Many astronomers, astrophysicists, engineers, and scientists of all persuasions dream of the benefits that mild increases to their budgets could bring, but these are tiny, incremental dreams. What if we truly reached for the stars? What if we dreamed of a day where we invested in peaceful research for the betterment of humanity as much as we invested in war, defense, and the military? If our space and science budgets went up to $600 billion, either in lieu of or in addition to whatever we spent on the military, what we could accomplish would be tremendous. Here are five possibilities of what we could do with just a single year’s worth of military-level spending. PPPL management, Princeton University, the Department of Energy, from the FIRE project A fusion device based on magnetically confined plasma. Hot [+] 1.) The ultimate energy breakthrough: a net-energy-producing nuclear fusion reactor. While there are multiple different methods we have for achieving nuclear fusion, the most promising avenue is through magnetic confinement. An international consortium, known as ITER, was begun as far back as the Reagan-Gorbachev era, and construction is finally set to be complete in 2019, after a total investment of around €20 billion. After that, it will take another decade to get the plasma running successfully, and then in the 2030s, it can push past the breakeven point, fusing deuterium and tritium together. Yet in many ways, the only thing preventing fusion power from permeating through our world today is this up-front investment with an incredible long-term payoff. For the cost of the military’s budget for just a single year, we could not only achieve nuclear fusion, we could learn to scale it and revolutionize how we deal with power and energy on Earth. It’s the ultimate holy grail for energy, and the greatest barrier to its success isn’t physics, but a lack of investment. NASA/Viking 1 Mars, along with its thin atmosphere, as photographed from [+] 2.) At least four separate human colonies on Mars. Humans on Mars? The only thing stopping us is funding, and this has been true since the 1990s. With a sustained investment of between $50 and $150 billion total over 10 years, we could land a slew of equipment on the Martian surface, then a crew of human beings, who would stay for anywhere from 6 to 18 months before returning home. Even at the maximum end of that, we could set up four separate, independent colonies on another planet for the cost of just one year of US military spending. The only reason we haven’t done so already is funding. Wikimedia Commons user Lucas Braun Two workers installing a tilt-up photovoltaic array on a [+] 3.) A 2,000 Watt solar power system for every US household. There are lots of revolutionary technologies that are being outfitted with solar power, from transparent windows to shingles to siding. But the cheapest, most efficient solar technology is still the solar panel. Systems that generate approximately 2,000 Watts are now under $5000, and provide an estimated 175-375 kWh per month. With around 125 million households in the United States, a $600 billion budget could provide one of these systems for every household in the country, where the average American uses 920 kWh per month. It wouldn’t solve our energy needs, but it would significantly reduce the burden on our electric grid and cut our fossil fuel consumption dramatically. And it would take effect immediately, or at least as quickly as we could produce that many solar panels. ILC collaboration A hypothetical new accelerator, either a long linear one or [+] 4.) A country-sized particle accelerator 40 times as powerful as the LHC. So, you thought the LHC was fun? It’s achieved proton-proton collisions at 14 TeV of energy in a 27-kilometer-long tunnel, underground, and it’s done so for a total cost of around $10 billion. What could we build for sixty times that amount? Believe it or not, there are only two free parameters that determine how high-in-energy your circular accelerator can make protons go: the strength of the electromagnets used to steer them and the circumference of your ring. For $600 billion, we could build a tunnel approximately 1000 kilometers around, and achieve proton-on-proton collisions of over 500 TeV. If our electromagnet technology continues to improve, we might finally crack the PeV (where 1 PeV = 1,000 TeV) frontier. The next step up from a ring this large would be a “Fermitron,” first envisioned by Enrico Fermi, of a particle accelerator the circumference of the entire Earth. If the LHC turns up anything new beyond the Higgs boson, there will be a strong science case for investigating the next level in the energy frontier. G. Snyder, STScI /M. Postman, STScI A simulated view of the same part of the sky, with the same [+] 5.) A “super-Hubble” over 100 times as powerful as today’s. The Hubble Space Telescope was a revolutionary observatory, and in many ways is still the top dog in the field of astronomy and astrophysics. But at just 2.4 meters in diameter, it’s already reached its maximum resolution. In fact, to see objects ten times as faint, it needs to observe them for 100 times as long! But if we built a space telescope ten times the diameter, at 24 meters, it would not only have ten times the resolution, but would see in just 2 hours what it takes Hubble over a week to see. The James Webb Space Telescope, with its segmented design, sunshield, and automated, robotic technology can serve as a proof-of-concept of a mission like this, but the limiting factor is funding. To get the size, image quality, and launch-and-servicing capabilities necessary to make a behemoth like this possible would require a massive investment. For $600 billion, we might be able to get all the way up to a diameter of between 30-and-40 meters, but “100 times as powerful as Hubble” is a very conservative estimate. That, and the technologies we’d develop would be as revolutionary for humanity as anything that came out of the Apollo program. Mars One (rendering) An illustration of what a human colony on Mars might look [+] Of course, for much, much less than $600 billion, we could make extraordinary contributions towards every single one of these at once. ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is still under construction, with an estimated total cost of $40 billion for all of its total expenses during its lifetime, which should extend into the 2030s. A single crewed mission to the Martian surface, round-trip, could be responsibly done for as little as $50 billion, including massive infrastructure development of the Martian surface. 2 kW rooftop solar installations are commercially available for under $5000 apiece, and could cut an average electricity bill by 25% each and every month it’s in operation. “Smaller” supercolliders are cost-estimated in the range of $20-40 billion, and would achieve energy levels many times greater than the LHC. And LUVOIR, the most ambitious space telescope proposal with 40 times the light-gathering power of Hubble, would likely fall in the ~$15 billion range. NASA / LUVOIR concept team; Serge Brunier (background) The concept design of the LUVOIR space telescope would place [+] The costs of achieving our scientific dreams is, indeed, astronomically high, but the payoffs are even greater. In just a single generation, an investment of this scale in science and technology could transform our world in a way we’ve never seen before. Just a single year’s worth of the military budget — a whopping $600 billion — could more than double our investment in space and basic scientific research for the next 25 years. It would do more than make America great again. It would make the world great in a way that nothing else can; in a way humanity has never seen before. https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/11/01/5-incredible-advances-science-could-buy-with-the-governments-600b-military-budget/
Presence of certain bacteria in pregnant mice lead to abnormal brain wiring and autismlike behaviors in offspring By Michael Torrice [+]Enlarge In mothers, gut microbes such as the ones shown here could influence the neurodevelopment of offspring. Magnification is 26,500x. Credit: David Scharf/Science Source We share our bodies with a microbial zoo. For every human cell in our bodies, there is about one bacterial cell, according to some estimates. And scientists continue to find ways in which the biology of these microorganisms influences our own. Now, in a pair of papers that could provide insight into the mechanisms behind autism, researchers report that the presence of certain bacteria in the guts of pregnant mice promotes abnormal brain development in their offspring. These affected animals display behaviors that resemble those seen in people with autism spectrum disorders. Neuroscientists have long noticed a correlation between viral infections in pregnant women and an increased likelihood their children will develop autism, schizophrenia, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Scientists have replicated this connection in mice. Scientists can simulate a viral infection in pregnant mice by injecting the animals with a synthetic double-stranded RNA called poly(I:C), which resembles the genetic material of some viruses. The offspring of mice receiving poly(I:C) exhibit abnormal social and repetitive behaviors, such as ignoring new cage mates and repeatedly digging. Gloria B. Choi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jun R. Huh of the University of Massachusetts Medical School have been studying this phenomenon in mice. In a previous study, the team found that a certain type of immune cell called a T helper 17 (TH17) cell was involved. The normal role of these cells is to fight off invading bacteria and fungi. In one of the new papers, Huh and Choi report that the mothers produce these cells only when there are segmented filamentous bacteria in their guts (Nature 2017, DOI: 10.1038/nature23910). For example, pregnant mice treated with the antibiotic vancomycin lacked these microbes in their intestines, had few TH17 cells, and did not produce abnormally behaving offspring when injected with poly(I:C). Huh, currently at Harvard Medical School, says that these microbes trigger the animals’ immune systems to produce TH17 cells. The poly(I:C) then stimulates the cells to release an immune-signaling molecule that somehow causes abnormal brain development in the fetuses. The second paper from Choi and Huh pinpoints the part of the offsprings’ brains that develops incorrectly (Nature 2017, DOI: 10.1038/nature23909). This brain region, which is part of the somatosensory cortex, “tells an animal where its body parts are and how their positions change as a result of movement,” Choi says. The team found that affected mice had increased neuronal activity in this region. When the scientists used a technique to decrease the firing of neurons in the area, the animals’ behavior became more normal. Meanwhile, when the team used the same technique in normal mice to increase this region’s activity, the animals started to display abnormal behaviors seen in affected mice. To determine if gut microbes have a similar effect on neurodevelopment in people, Huh thinks scientists need to study pregnant women before and after they give birth. Such an analysis could correlate the composition of the women’s gut flora and activity of their immune systems while pregnant with the likelihood their children develop autism or other disorders. If such a connection is found in people, researchers could investigate ways to reduce the risk of improper neurodevelopment by tweaking the composition of pregnant women’s gut flora, writes Craig M. Powell of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in a perspective accompanying the two papers. But even if no such connection exists in people, Powell continues, “these papers still provide valuable insights by revealing the complexity of the interactions between gut bacteria, the immune system, and brain development.” http://cen.acs.org/articles/95/i37/Mothers-gut-microbes-could-be-linked-to-autismlike-disorders-in-children.html