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MYSTERIES OF TIME AND SPACE
September/
October
2017
CARIBOU ARE SUPER
PUNCTUAL —AND
I T ’S A P R O B L E M
THE BEST TIME
T O E A T, S L E E P,
B E C R E AT I V E . . .
W H AT C A M E
BEFORE THE
BIG BANG?
13
Crazy Clocks,
from Ancient
to Atomic
WHAT TIME
IS IT?
YOU HAVE
NO IDEA
THAT TV
WON’T PAY
FOR ITSELF.
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CONTENTS
CHARTED
A map of your brain’s internal clocks p.6
Robots learn artificial comic timing p.8
0 mins
120 mins
60 mins
OPENING
CREDITS ROLL
The climate-change clock killing caribou p.10
In some cultures, tomorrow is to the left p.11
“I GOT YOU BABE”
DAY ONE
Your life, in a day p.12
A brief history of timekeeping p.14
Racing a photon p.16
how long it will
take you to read
this issue
cover to cover
Sleep your way to Mars p.18
The stars gaze into the past p.20
IN PROFILE
The man killing your holidays p.22
GOODS
PHIL SEES HIS
SHADOW...AGAIN
Clocks that are perfectly in sync p.24
(and where you’d be in Groundhog Day
if you watched it simultaneously)
Hunt for buried treasure p.26
These watched pots boil, quickly p.28
Cameras to speed or slow reality p.30
Fleet-footed muscle car p.32
Tools for better z’s p.34
A sleep tracker that keeps its distance p.35
F E AT U R E S
PHIL MASTERS
THE PUDDLE
PHIL MASTERS
THE FRENCH
LANGUAGE
Life’s first moment just got pushed back p.38
The people who define time p.45
Why a year feels shorter as you age p.50
Big brains hate the big bang p.52
Shift work is killing you p.58
THE PHILS
DRIVE OFF
A CLIFF
OLD MAN DIES
IN THE ALLEY.
YOU CRY
The art of watchmaking p.66
TA L E S F R O M T H E F I E L D
What it’s like to live only in the now p.75
Packing for a summer without night p.76
What we mean when we say “dead” p.76
Counting down oxygen in space p.78
Smelly time travel p.80
The hammer that wouldn’t get lost p.81
TODAY
BECOMES
TOMORROW
HEAD TRIP
SHUTTERSTOCK
A stopped clock and illusions of motion p.84
INVENTIONS
TOTAL TIME
1 H 41 M
Warp speed, anti-aging, sleepy learning p.98
cover photograph by The Voorhes / infographic by Sara Chodosh
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
3
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
Editor-in-Chief Joe Brown
Creative Director Pete Sucheski
Executive Editor Kevin Gray
Managing Editor Corinne Iozzio
TIME
DIFFERENCES
Y O U P R O B A B LY W O N ’ T
remember this page tomorrow.
Don’t worry; I’m not offended.
See, these 313 words will take you
less than two minutes to read.
If you live as long as an average
American—78.8 years—my carefully crafted editor’s letter (which
took me forever to write) will comprise just 1/29796163 of your life.
Or, rounding to the nearest sensible number, zero percent of your
dance through this mortal coil.
But what if you were a mayfly?
Stay with me—I am sober and I
have a point, I promise. Forget
that mayflies don’t so much think
as obey instincts hot-stamped into
their DNA, and ignore their lack
of literacy. If you were a bookish
mayfly—specifically a female of
the species Dolania americana—
these 83 seconds would represent
almost a third of your adult life.
That’d be like spending decades
pondering this page.
My point is that though time
feels like an inescapable fact of
the universe, it means something different to all of us—even
to members of the same species.
Time isn’t even fixed within
the confines of your own mind:
When you were a little kid, didn’t
summer vacation last a blissful
eternity? And now, do you find
yourself wondering, How is it
already September?!
The full span of your life
and all that you’ve experienced
within it shapes your perception
of time. And so do your memories, emotions, and preferences.
An hour melted away in the pages of a great book is no shorter
than one slogged through while
poring over your taxes. But it still
feels different. That’s just the
way your brain works.
If we’ve done our jobs right,
reading this magazine will send
you speeding forward in time.
One minute you’ve just cracked
the cover, and then suddenly it’s
two hours later and your mind is
full of new and wonderful stories.
I’ll leave you to it.
EDITORIAL
Online Director Amy Schellenbaum
Features Editor Susan Murcko
Science Editor Rachel Feltman
Technology Editor Stan Horaczek
Senior Editor Sophie Bushwick
Associate Editor Sarah Fecht
Assistant Editors Mary Beth Griggs, Claire Maldarelli, Rob Verger
Staff Writers Kelsey D. Atherton, Kendra Pierre-Louis
Engagement Editor Mallory Johns
Senior Producer Tom McNamara
Associate Producer Jason Lederman
Commerce Editor Billy Cadden
Copy Chief Cindy Martin
Editorial Assistant Sara Chodosh
Researchers Ambrose Martos, Erika Villani
Interns Cassidy Mayeda, Aparna Nathan, Marissa Shieh,
Sara Kiley Watson
ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo Director Thomas Payne
Associate Art Director Russ Smith
Digital Associate Art Director Michael Moreno
Consulting Production Manager Glenn Orzepowski
Digital Design Fellow John Kuehn
Multimedia Fellow Francis Agyapong Jr.
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
Kate Baggaley, Brooke Borel, Tom Clynes, Clay Dillow,
Tom Foster, Bryan Gardiner, William Gurstelle, Joseph Hooper,
Gregory Mone, P.W. Singer, Kalee Thompson, James Vlahos,
The Voorhes (photo)
Group Editorial Director Anthony Licata
Group Creative Director Sean Johnston
BONNIER LIFESTYLE GROUP
Senior Vice President, Managing Director Gregory D. Gatto
Associate Publisher Jeff Timm
Financial Director Tara Bisciello
Northeast Advertising Office Matt Levy (Manager),
Frank McCaffrey, Chip Parham, Scott Stewart,
Lee Verdeccia (Digital Sales Manager)
Midwest Manager Doug Leipprandt
Detroit Advertising Director Jeff Roberge
Advertising Coordinator Nicky Nedd
Executive Director, Integrated Marketing Brenda Oliveri
Group Sales Development Director Alex Garcia
Sales Development Directors Amanda Gastelum,
Charlotte Grima
Executive Director, Brand Integration Beth Hetrick
Associate Directors, Brand Integration
Eshonda Caraway-Evans, Lynsey White
Creative Services Director Ingrid M. Reslmaier
Creative Director Gabe Ramirez
Digital Creative Manager Steve Gianaca
Consumer Marketing Director Bob Cohn
Senior Public Relations Manager Molly Battles
Human Resources Director Kim Putman
Group Production Director Michelle Doster
Chairman Tomas Franzén
Head of Business Area, Magazines Lars Dahmén
Chief Executive Officer Eric Zinczenko
Chief Financial Officer Joachim Jaginder
Chief Operating Officer David Ritchie
Chief Marketing Officer Elizabeth Burnham Murphy
Chief Digital Revenue Officer Sean Holzman
Vice President, Integrated Sales John Graney
Vice President, Consumer Marketing John Reese
Vice President, Digital Operations David Butler
Vice President, Public Relations Perri Dorset
General Counsel Jeremy Thompson
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and controlled
sources.
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illustration by Tim Tomkinson
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
5
CHARTED
1
1
Stopwatch
When your brain picks up
a signal from its
surroundings, such as a
whiff of french fries, the
SUPPLEMENTARY
MOTOR AREA (SMA)
acts as a timer: Its
activity increases the
longer a stimulus lasts.
As long as the external
signal remains, neurons
within the SMA fire,
retaining information for
other areas of the brain.
HEAD MASTER
your brain:
time
machine
YOUR MIND IS CONSTANTLY
counting: the rhythm of your
speech, the minutes until your
next snack, the awful pause between text messages. Without
all that tallying, you’d misinterpret a friend’s motives, or
(horrors!) miss doughnut time.
So how does your clever noggin
seamlessly compute your life?
Neuroscientists do not fully
understand the precise neural
dance—yet. But researchers
do know that you can’t point
to just one region in your skull.
Different parts of our gray matter
respond to different timing tasks,
and brain imaging has helped us
parse which areas do what. From
drumming along with a musical
phrase to figuring out how long
a lecture has lasted, these specialized areas work together to
shape our temporal perception.
2
Memory Center
You can’t estimate time
without a short-term
memory, which lives in
the RIGHT INFERIOR
FRONTAL CORTEX, just
behind your forehead.
For example, to count the
length of a baby’s cry,
this area tracks when the
sound starts and ends.
Without memory, the
wail’s beginning would
disappear from the brain
after only a few seconds.
3
Sequence Sorter
To be productive,
humans must be able to
recognize the order of a
series. The syllables in
a word, the steps of a line
dance, and the process
of getting dressed in the
morning all occur in set
sequences. In MRI
studies, the brain’s
HIPPOCAMPUS lights
up, which is a signal of
activity, when we’re
sorting this stuff out.
by Claire Maldarelli / illustration by Sinelab
2
4
Beat Keeper
The CEREBELLUM
coordinates your
muscles’ movements, so
it’s involved in all sorts of
timing tasks—especially
holding a beat. On
research subjects, this
area lights up like a disco
ball during predictive
timing tasks, such as
tapping a rhythm: It
helps you decide how
long you should wait
between taps.
5
5
Reward Counter
3
4
If you love chocolate, you
will probably wait a while
if you know it’s coming.
For that, you can thank a
strangely shaped
conglomerate of neuron
clusters, or nuclei, known
as the BASAL GANGLIA.
It heads up a process
dubbed delayed
discounting, which tells
you how long you should
wait—or not—depending
on the payoff.
Billions of Ticking Clocks
NEUROSCIENTISTS ARE STILL DEBATING EXACTLY
how a clump of cells manages to track time. The latest idea,
called the population clock theory, suggests neurons all over
the brain, rather than a central chunk of gray matter, tick away
constantly. A stimulus—say the start of a walk to work—triggers
neurons to start firing, creating a pattern of lit-up cells that
indicates how much time has passed. Each circuit acts as a
unique clock; the path might get one cluster while a passing car
gets another, creating countless timers in our heads. Scientists
think various brain areas read these circuits, which is why you
can cross the street, listen to music, and text at the same time.
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
7
BOT TO THE FUTURE
A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR. THE ROBOT BARTENDER ASKS,
“What’ll it be?” But when does the bot greet him? As soon as the man
walks in? After he’s browsed the taps? A machine with no sense of social
graces would not know the answer. That is, unless you taught it the delicate art of timing. According to Oregon State robotics professor Heather
Knight, robots must understand how humans perceive time in order to
build relationships with us. To teach them, Knight helps robots read our
cues. For instance, a drinker in a hurry will take a direct, not a meandering, route to the barstool. But unpacking human body language is
only part of what a would-be bionic barkeep might have to process.
teach AI
when to
say hi
DRINK SERVER
How might a
drink-slinging
AI serve and
entertain us?
We imagined this robot’s
process by combining two
areas of Heather Knight’s
AI research: observing
human motion to see
how we process time,
and developing
comic cadence.
A customer enters
Analyze customer
motion path
WANDERING
Part of
a group?
Are they
dancing?
YES
YES
NO
Do
the
robot
Where are
they looking?
SOMEWHERE
ELSE
NO
Looking at
phone?
YES
DIRECT
NO
Analyze facial
expression
On a bluetooth
phone call?
ANIMATED
BLANK
Have they had
a drink yet?
NO
YES
NO
“Hard day
at work?”
Make the
jerk wait!
YES
“Anything good
on Instagram?”
AT YOU
NO
YES
NO
“Bitcoin for your
thoughts?”
CHUCKLE
Let them show
you animal photos
Taking
selfies?
TEARS
YES
8
Cut them off,
ping a selfdriving taxi
Serve a drink
Photobomb!
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
by Cassidy Mayeda / illustration by John Kuehn
A DIY project that’s
perfectly delicious.
Maker’s Mark® & Ginger
1-1/2 parts Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
Ginger ale
Orange slice or lime wedge for garnish
Fill rocks glass with ice, add Maker’s Mark® Bourbon and top off
with ginger ale. For a twist, garnish with an orange slice or lime wedge.
WE MAKE OUR BOURBON CAREFULLY. PLEASE ENJOY IT THAT WAY.
Maker’s Mark® Bourbon Whisky, 45% Alc./Vol. ©2017 Maker’s Mark Distillery, Inc. Loretto, KY
makersmark.com
NOT IN SYNC
consider the caribou
IN THE WILD, TIMING IS EVERYTHING: MILLIONS OF YEARS OF EVOLUTION
have made species dependent on seasonal cues. In parts of North America, fall’s cooler
weather signals some birds to fly south and avoid Jack Frost’s chill; meanwhile, shifts
in both temperature and sunlight tell maple trees to shed their leaves. As Earth warms,
some creatures are rapidly recalibrating their clocks. But others, such as caribou in
Greenland, have stuck to the same old timetable. For them, the results are catastrophic.
The Greenland Calendar, Then and Now
The black bars show
how the Arctic
schedule once worked:
Caribou gave birth as
their food source
(grass) sprouted, and
when their buggy predators were harmless
larvae. The red marks
show how the grass
and mosquitoes have
begun emerging
earlier—which could kill
off the deer.
10
MARCH
APRIL
MAY
CALVING GROUNDS...
GRASSES NOW
EMERGE TOO
EARLY
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
JUNE
GIVE BIRTH
TO BABIES...
JULY
AUGUST
SEPTEMBER
AND THEN DISPERSE,
FLEEING MOSQUITOES
GRASSES TYPICALLY
BEGAN TO SPROUT
MOSQUITOES
NOW ARRIVE
WITH CALVES
MOSQUITOES HISTORICALLY
STARTED HATCHING
by Kendra Pierre-Louis / photo illustration by Eric Heintz
GEOFF BRIGHTLING/GETTY IMAGES; SHUTTERSTOCK
Big Biter
Arctic mosquitoes
can grow to lengths of
nearly half an inch.
Arctic caribou herds
arrive at their far-north
calving grounds in early
June, when grasses and
sedges would begin to
sprout, providing tender,
nutritious meals.
Caribou, whose internal
clocks rely on seasonal
changes in light rather
than temperature, still
arrive at the same time,
but global warming has
pushed the sprouting
schedule up by as much
as 26 days. Lately, herds
can find only tough-tochew mature plants. The
early arrival of Arctic
mosquitoes makes
things worse. Instead of
larva, adult biters now
overwhelm and even
take down newborns.
These climate-induced
food and pest problems
are killing caribou: In years
when one Western
Greenland herd meets
plants and bugs that
emerge early, seven
times as many calves die.
DIFFERENT STROKES
which
way to
tomorrow?
FORGET THE GEARS OF A WATCH. THOSE COLLECTIONS OF COGS AND
springs might help us track the passing hours, but the way we visualize
tempo is far more nuanced. “Time is abstract. It can’t be tall or short or
big or small,” says Emanuel Bylund, a linguist at Stellenbosch University
in South Africa. Time itself might be universal, but cultures worldwide
use all kinds of metaphors and mannerisms to imagine the fourth
dimension —and not everyone crams it into the same spatial constraints.
Write Way,
Write Time
Clock
Half-Full
It’s All Uphill
from Here
Your Future Is
Behind You
To understand this page, you need
to read from left to right. That’s
how the Greeks set up their alphabet, one of the precursors to our
own. But in written Arabic, words
flow in the opposite direction, and
in Chinese, characters run top to
bottom. Researchers have found
that the direction of your writing
determines how you orient the
arrow of time. When asked to
organize events in a line from
earliest to latest, English readers
arranged them left to right, Arabic
right to left, and Chinese top to
bottom. People without writing
systems, like Papua New Guinea’s
Yupno, had a free-form approach.
Swedish days are “long,” but
Spanish ones can be “full.” These
metaphors help us see time, but
they can also mess with our heads a
little. In one experiment, people
watched a short line grow on a
screen for three seconds, followed
by a longer line over the same
duration. The lengthier line tricked
Swedish subjects into thinking
extra time had elapsed. The same
thing happened when Spanishspeakers watched a cylinder fill up:
To them, a fuller cylinder meant
more time had passed. They had no
trouble with the line experiment,
and vice versa for the Swedes.
Words really do matter.
Location isn’t just a buzzword for
real estate agents; terrain can
contour speech. Papua New
Guinea’s hilly landscape has helped
shape the indigenous Yupno
people’s perception of time. To
them, the future is uphill and the
past down. Cognitive scientist
Rafael Núñez from the University of
California, San Diego says that,
while rare today, other geographybased time systems may have
existed once, based on features like
plains or waterways. But migration
to different lands—and landscapes
—likely erased their usefulness.
“Perhaps this is not a system that
travels well,” Núñez says.
Time seems to come at us head-on:
the future in front, the past behind.
Not so for the Aymara people of the
Andes. Because the past is what
they have experienced, it lies ahead,
where they can see it. The future
remains hidden, so it is behind
them. That’s because visual
evidence is particularly important
to the Aymara. Their grammar, for
instance, indicates whether you
personally saw Joe go to the store
(-vna), or learned he was going
there (-tayna). You’d also use
-tayna if you saw Joe leaving while
you were drunk, so your eyesight
can’t be trusted. This emphasis on
vision frames their view of time.
by Mary Beth Griggs / illustration by Marco Goran Romano
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
11
44m00s
15-19
GROOMING
Gotta look good for
all those hot dates
you’re going on.
20-24
1h 00m
1
25-34
EATING
Savor it all before
your metabolism
slows down.
13m 48s
35-44
CHAUFFERING
Because the kids can’t
drive themselves to
the mall.
45-54
3h 13m
1
55-64
WATCHING TV
Binge-watch all the
shows you missed
while raising kids.
65-74
75+
TIME
SPENT
GARDENING
Retirement finally lets
you focus on the lawn
and veggie plot.
Working
Learning
At Leisure
Doing Chores
Eating/Drinking
Traveling
Helping
Shopping
Exercising
Spiritually
Volunteering
On the Phone
MIND YOUR TIME
where does
the day go?
12
23m 24s
1
Grooming
BREATHTAKING MOMENTS MIGHT LINGER IN YOUR MEMORY, BUT THEY’RE NOT
what make up a life. It’s the minutes spent cleaning the toilet and choosing a
not-too-hard avocado that add up. We spend most of our time zoning out or
fussing about the lines at the grocery store, then wonder where the day went.
Here’s how you’re most likely spending your waking hours at different stages of
your life—and where you can pause to savor them for the lifetime they really are.
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
story and illustration by Sara Chodosh
TOCK TICKER
OVER MILLENNIA, HUMANKIND’S TIME-TRACKING HAS GROWN INCREASINGLY
a brief
history of
time(keeping)
precise. Sundials divided days into hours. Clocks broke hours into quarters and minutes,
and finally minutes into seconds. As timepieces evolved, so did scientists’ need for
ever-more-exact tickers. They developed devices that relied not on Earth’s wobbly rotation,
but on microscopic atomic movements. At the heart of it all is an ever-advancing appreciation for our smallest temporal unit, the second. Modern systems like GPS and cellphones rely
on keeping this interval consistent, which makes defining and refining it, well, of the essence.
THE
S TA R T
OF TIME
18000–8000 BCE
3500 BCE
Earthen Calendars
Shadow Clocks
A hash-marked bone found in
the Semliki Valley in the
Democratic Republic of the
Congo might be the earliest
human attempt to count the
days. Ten thousand years
later, in what’s now Scotland,
humans dug moon-shaped
pits to track the lunar cycle.
Humans cut days into smaller
units by tracking the sun with
shadow-casting obelisks and
rods. Nearly 2,000 years later,
Egyptians refined that
method into the earliest
known sundial. Babylonian,
Greek, Chinese, and Mesoamerican versions followed.
1267 CE
725 CE
clock was invented by Chinese
spun a wheel, an interlocking
system of rods and levers
2017
14
1430 CE
1656 CE
Spring Drive
Pendulum Power
A 15th-century French duke
may have owned the first
clock to drive its gears with a
spring instead of water or
weights. The design allowed
for compact timepieces like
pocket watches, and boosted
accuracy. Later versions only
dropped four minutes a day.
As springs unwound, they
became inaccurate, causing
problems for precision-craving
astronomers like Galileo. So
17th-century Dutch scientist
Christiaan Huygens built a
pendulum clock. Its 3-footlong swinging weight lost only
one minute per day.
2001 CE
1967 CE
Optical Future
Seconds, Redefined
Visible light, which lets us
detect faster vibrations than
microwaves do, led to optical
clocks that err just a second
every 140 million years. Too
fragile to run longer than a
few days, these tickers could
eventually cause a redefinition
of the second. Again.
Atomic clocks made a
more-precise second possible,
though it took nearly two
decades for researchers to
agree on a standard. Finally,
they matched a second to the
precise frequency of energy a
cesium atom releases when
its electrons jump.
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
by Kelsey Atherton / illustrations by Polly Becker
SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/GETTY IMAGES
drumbeat every quarter and
a bell every full hour.
“
A CONTINUOUS SEARCH FOR
MORE AND MORE ACCURATE
TIMEKEEPING MACHINERY.”
1500 BCE
Hours After Dark
By slowly flowing water from
one vessel into another and
measuring the liquid level
against marked intervals,
Egyptians could see how
much time had passed—
without using sunlight. Similar
methods relied on sand, burnt
incense, or scored candles.
150 CE
Seconds, Defined
To help astronomers track
stars, Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy mapped the sky
onto a globe. He divided each
degree of longitude (360 in
total) into 60 segments called
minutes, and each of those
into a further 60 smaller
slivers: seconds.
1927 CE
Quartzer Hour
Gravity can slow pendulums,
but researchers at Bell
Laboratories found that
electrified quartz crystal
vibrates more consistently.
Early models erred by one-third
of a second each year, allowing
for precision measurements
like tracking gravity at sea.
1949 CE
Atomic Age
Atoms resonate even more
reliably than quartz. Using
microwaves to track these
oscillations, the National
Bureau of Standards made a
timer accurate to one second
in eight months. Today’s most
advanced cesium clock loses a
second per 300 million years.
TECHNICALLY...
the tortoise didn’t
make the cut. But we
couldn’t just leave
him off!
J
I
H
G
F
E
D
C
B
17.6 MILES
Apollo 11 exiting
Earth’s atmosphere
at 9:35 a.m. on
July 16, 1969
A
IT’S ALL RELATIVE
the 10-second
marathon
47.6 MILES
the International
Space Station right
now, experiencing a
sunrise every hour
and a half
410 MILES
a 4-inch-thick
metal disc shooting
skyward from a
1956 nuclear test
at Los Alamos
THE CONCEPT OF A MINUTE IS KIND OF MEANINGLESS.
We can’t even be sure any two organisms experience a minute as
the same length of time. Animals with slow metabolisms, like tortoises, perceive it as oozing along, while hares see it whizzing past.
In the chaos of relativity, sometimes it’s nice just to have fun. So
here’s how far some animals and objects would get in 10 seconds.
16
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
A
FASTEST TORTOISE: 0.0017 MILES
F
NERVE IMPULSE: 0.745 MILES
B
USAIN BOLT: 0.0649 MILES
G
SOUND: 2.11 MILES
C
BROWN HARE: 0.132 MILES
H
THE CONCORDE: 3.75 MILES
D
CHEETAH: 0.169 MILES
I
THE MOON: 6.35 MILES
E
TOYOTA COROLLA: 0.319 MILES
J
LIGHT: 1,862,824 MILES
by Marissa Shieh / illustration by Peter Sucheski
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RE
FUTU
IEW
V
E
R
P
[ STEP 1 ]
[ STEP 2 ]
Pod People
Straight Chillin’
You enter the torpor pod. Using an IV placed
in a central vein in your chest, a crew mate
injects a sedative similar to propofol to
prevent shivering, then tapes sensors to your
skin. These will monitor heart rhythm, blood
pressure, oxygen levels, and other stats.
Once the sedative knocks you out, the pod
begins cooling the air around your body. This
lowers your core temperature a few degrees
per hour, from a healthy 98.6°F to below the
point of hypothermia. Crew members may
also cool you with gel pads or icy nasal spray.
CHARTED
[ STEP 3 ]
[ STEP 4 ]
SNOOZE CRUISE
nap y
your
way to Mars
IMAGINE A ROAD TRIP THAT
lasts six months—no pit stops,
black night the whole way.
That’s how long it would take
you, and how monotonous it
would be, to fly to Mars. To
avoid the boredom (and its
cousins depression and anxiety), you could spend part of
your trip in artificial hibernation, or torpor, as it’s medically known. NASA is funding
research into this method for
future planet hoppers, and
not just to reduce the games
of I Spy. Because metabolism
slows during slumber, you
would require less food and water, reducing a mission’s cargo
weight, fuel needs, and price
tag. Also, you wouldn’t want
to kill your crew mates. Here’s
how you might go nightynight and save your sanity on
your 34-million-mile flight .
18
Low Maintenance
Food Tube
The crew pushes anticoagulants through the
central line to prevent blood clots from
forming—if they break free, they can block
blood vessels. IV antibiotics help stave off
infection. And robotic systems periodically
stimulate your muscles to prevent atrophy.
In torpor, the average body needs only about
1,000 calories of daily nutrient slurry. You
“eat” via a feeding tube down your throat
or a PEG tube implanted on the inside of
your stomach. Urine- and fecal-collection
systems keep you, and the pod, clean.
[ STEP 5 ]
[ STEP 6 ]
Up and At ‘Em
Get a Move On
After two to three weeks, it’s time to rise and
shine. A crew member ramps down your
pod’s cooling system, letting your body
gradually warm. Once you’re back to normal
internal temperatures, the crew will turn off
your sedative and allow you to wake.
You stay up for two to three days, moving
your body and caring for dozing crew mates
(although robots might one day take over
this task). Then you go back under for
another few weeks. Repeat until you arrive
safe and sane on the Red Planet.
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
by Jason Lederman / illustration by Brown Bird Design
HIGH SCHOOL WILL NEVER BE THE SAME
SEPT 8
8 7C
Join the biggest stars in entertainment for an unforgettable, live
special, as we come together to rethink American high schools. Visit
XQSuperSchool.org/live to get a sneak peek at the future of education.
1
Trappist-1
a potentially habitable
seven-planet system
A TWINKLE IN TIME
WHEN WE LOOK AT STARS IN THE NIGHT SKY, WE’RE
staring
into
Earth’s
past
actually looking back in time. Since it takes a while
for light to cross the vast emptiness of the universe—
even at a blistering 186,000 miles per second—we’re
seeing each celestial object as it looked eons ago.
But what if those stars looked back at our pale-blue
dot? Here’s what the astral peeping Toms would see.
2
Betelgeuse
a star in the
Orion constellation
3
Andromeda
Earth’s nearest
neighboring galaxy
4
SN2009
a supernova in
galaxy NGC 4487
5
MACS J0416
a galaxy cluster
far, far away
6
GN-z11
the most distant
galaxy we know of
DISTANCE:
DISTANCE:
DISTANCE:
DISTANCE:
DISTANCE:
DISTANCE:
39 light-years
642 light-years
2.5 million light-years
70 million light-years
4.5 billion light-years
13.4 billion light-years
WHATS GOING ON:
Sweden becomes
the first nation to
ban aerosol sprays
(over concerns
that they damage
the ozone layer).
Meanwhile,
Americans boogie
to disco, in vitro
fertilization produces
its first human baby,
and Space Invaders
invades arcades.
WHATS GOING ON:
Medieval Europe is
still bringing out its
dead from the worst
years of the plague;
smaller outbreaks
continue to ravage the
population. Britain
and France play a
bloody game of
thrones in the Hundred
Years’ War…because
the Black Death
wasn’t deadly enough.
WHATS GOING ON:
Our ancient ancestors
learn to wield tools.
Homo habilis most
likely butchers his
meals with sharp
stone flakes. He also
sports humanlike feet,
indicating that he
walks on two legs,
and has a bigger brain
than his predecessors.
He will employ both to
create disco.
WHATS GOING ON:
Tyrannosaurus rex
stalks North America,
crunching prey in
its 4-foot-long jaws,
and possibly sporting
feathers (sunglasses
not included). Small,
shrewlike mammals
start thriving in the
relatively warm
climate, just waiting
for their turn to rule
the planet.
CLOSEST STAR
1
20
WHATS GOING ON:
A Mars-size rock
slams into Earth
(probably), creating
the moon and nearly
destroying our planet.
Fortunately, since the
first cellular sacs
won’t crawl out of the
proverbial mud for
a billion more years,
no life-forms are
harmed in the making
of this satellite.
WHATS GOING ON:
Just a few million
years after the Big
Bang, Earth’s
neighborhood
consists mostly of
emptiness. What little
gas and dust there is
won’t clump together
into our sun and
planet for another
9 billion years. Enjoy
the peace and quiet
while it lasts.
FARTHEST STAR
2
3
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
4
6
by Sarah Fecht / illustration by Wesley Merritt
IN PROFILE / S T E V E
H A N K E
THE MAN WHO
WOULD KILL
YOUR HOLIDAYS
STEVE HANKE IS AGITATED. AN INFLUENTIAL ECONOMIST
given to sonorous talks on troubled currencies, he sits
in a book-jammed office, jabbing his finger at an offending email printout. It’s from a factotum at Johns
Hopkins University, where Hanke is a professor of
Applied Economics. The email informs the faculty
that, due to the ever-shifting date of Labor Day, fall
classes will begin on a Thursday (but on a Monday
schedule) and skip a Friday. “Every year,” says Hanke,
“I have to completely revise my schedule.” Such jiggering is a waste of his time. Multiply his frustration by an
entire school, add the time suck at thousands of other
places making similar changes—sports leagues, government agencies, your company—and you get chaos! Trillions of wasted work hours! “Imagine the meetings!” says
Hanke, hoisting his eyebrows like a blazer-wearing radical.
Hanke is indeed a radical, but one on a rational mission.
The son of a watchmaker, he craves precise measurements.
He wants to shred our current Gregorian calendar, adopted in the 16th century, and replace its messy floating dates
and leap years with clocklike regularity. Under the HankeHenry Permanent Calendar, developed with Johns
Hopkins physics and astronomy professor Richard ConnHenry, every January 1 falls on a Monday. Each day of each
month maintains its position year after year. Your birthday would always fall on the same day of the week. Never
again would you need to buy a new Curious Kittens wall
calendar. Imagine the eternal surety: “You would know, every Wednesday, forever, that the Baltimore Orioles will be
playing the Toronto Blue Jays, and that’s it,” Hanke says.
The Hanke-Henry system would ground floating holidays like Memorial and Labor days. In addition, the grid
pins Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve on Sundays, nixing time (and money) wasted wrestling with year-end
schedules. “A positive pop in GDP growth,” Hanke muses.
Hanke’s not alone in detesting the current
taxonomy of our divided years. It took nearly
200 years for England to adopt Pope Gregory XIII’s calendar, which debuted in 1582;
Orthodox churches still haven’t. Gregory
sought to fix the Julian system, which was
plagued by a pesky almost-11-minute
annual drift, shifting the equinox earlier each
year. The calendar’s enemies are legion. In
1793, French revolutionaries assaulted it,
instituting 10-day weeks. In 1928, Kodak founder George Eastman tried running workers on
a 13-month calendar. But such reforms fail,
mostly because they include the odd long week
to catch up with Earth’s solar orbit. This lets the
Sabbath shift, which incenses churchgoers.
Hanke’s plan keeps faith by funneling our
orbit into seven-day chunks. This works out
to a four-quarter 30-30-31 pattern, for a rhythmic 364-day year. Rather than dealing with
the messy 1.2422-day remainder each time we
spin around the sun (a problem that quadrennial leap days don’t fully resolve), this system
lets the time pile up for five or six years until it
makes a work-free Leap Week.
Economists like Lawrence Mishel, president of the labor-leaning Economic Policy
Group, think that’s a bad deal. “That’s a loss of
leisure for many people who do not have access
to vacation days,” Mishel says. “This would
never pass a popular vote. Nor should it.”
Despite opposition, Hanke believes his
bottom-line approach will prevail. What he
needs is an early adopter—an Eastman, maybe a sports-team owner looking to cut costs. In
any case, a full-out campaign to convince the
world will have to come from someone else.
The reason, he says: “I don’t have the time.”
YO U W O U L D
K N O W, E V E R Y
W E D N E S D AY,
F O R E V E R , T H AT
THE ORIOLES
A R E P L AY I N G
T H E B L U E J AY S .”
-STEVE HANKE,
OF HIS UNIFORM
C A L E N DA R
by Matt Hongoltz-Hetling / photograph by Marius Bugge
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
23
GOODS
24
SWISS BEATS
WA I T A S E C O N D
(A N D A H A L F )
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
THERE’S AN IRONY AT THE HEART OF
the Swiss Federal Railways’ famously
precise train-station clocks: Each second
hand takes just 58.5 ticks to move around the
dial. When the paddle-shaped tip gets to the
top, it pauses for 1.5 seconds. This trademark
quirk began in the 1940s, when engineer
Hans Hilfiker pondered how to synchronize
by Rob Verger / photograph by Jonathon Kambouris
the clocks across stations to keep the system
free of delays. His solution: Make each clock
simply display the time rather than counting
for itself. Minute hands received their cues
from a “mother clock” in Zurich via telephone lines, but second hands still moved
on their own. Trouble was, their motors ran
too fast. So Hilfiker inserted a peg in each
clock that stopped the second hand when it
got to the top, then retracted when the minute hand received its signal to jump forward.
These Mondaine wall clocks are stylized
re-creations of the famous Swiss tickers, but
they use a standard battery-powered quartz
movement to stay on time—without the need
for a master clock to boss them around. $235
3,000
The approximate number of
timepieces in Swiss stations still
obeying a mother clock
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
25
HEAVY METAL
THE LURE OF TREASURE HUNTING IS NOT THAT OF
DIGGING
U P T H E PA S T
striking proverbial gold (although some still do search for it),
but that you never know what historical holdovers the ground
will produce. At the right local spot—an old battlefield or
remote beach—these tools will allow you to burrow back in time.
D
O
O
G
First, you need a
metal detector. The
Teknetics Patriot
can spot booty up to
a foot underground,
and its display will
estimate the object’s
depth and material.
Audible beeps let
you know when
metal distorts the
electromagnetic field
generated by the
11-inch head. $449
S
1
Search the area
2
Dig a tidy hole
A hand trowel is
great for small digs,
but if you need to
bust through roots
or tough dirt, the
serrated edges of the
3-foot-long Ground
Hawg Shovel will
help you cut. Four
jabs with the 7.5-inch
blade will create a
cube-shaped plug
of earth that’s easy
to replace. $60
2
4
3
Be more
aggressive
4
Get accuracy
THIS AND PREVIOUS PAGE: PROP STYLING BY WENDY SCHELAH FOR HALLEY RESOURCES
Rocky terrain requires
more hardcore tools
like the Garrett Retriever II Pick. At 19
inches long, the steel
pickaxe features a
flat blade for moving
earth and a point for
cutting. A rare-earth
magnet in the center
of the head will
grab metal objects
underwater. $59
3
Once you start digging, use the 9.3-inch
Minelab Pro-Find 35
detector to search
the hole. The probe
creates a 360-degree
electromagnetic
field with adjustable
power that can sense
when it’s within inches of loot. Haptic and
audio alerts intensify
as you get closer to
your treasure. $149
26
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
by Rob Verger / photograph by Jonathon Kambouris
Cut precise
metal shapes
in a flash!
With the PlasmaCAM®
machine, you can easily make
impressive metal art products.
Get started with our readyto-cut art disc collection,
or create your own
designs from pictures,
drawings, and lettering.
Call today with this code
CYV9G for your free
demo video to see what you
can do with this amazing machine!
PO Box 19818 • Colorado City, CO 81019-0818
(719) 676-2700 • www.plasmacam.com
A WATCHED POT
B OIL BARONS
At Home
At Work
G
O
O
D
S
APPLY ENOUGH HEAT TO WATER AND IT WILL EVENTUALLY BOIL, BUT TRY TO
convince your brain of that while you impatiently loiter in your kitchen, listening for your old
kettle to whistle. Your noggin is a timekeeper, and the more you pay attention to each passing second, the longer your suffering seems to last. It would take just 10.16 minutes to boil
a gallon of water on an impossible stove with ideal heat transfer, and the wait would still
feel like torture. The good news: These vessels were built for maximum efficiency and temperature control, to minimize the pain of waiting for those little bubbles to start rising.
At Play
You can boil any liquid you want in the Fellow
Raven Stovetop Kettle + Tea Steeper, but its
specialty is a perfect cup of tea. This pot has an
integrated metal filter inside for steeping. The
silicone top has a built-in thermometer with
markings to indicate the ideal temperature
range for your brew. Try 170°F for green tea, or
the full 212°F for an herbal mix. Plus, the copper
finish will only get better-looking as it ages.
A proper cuppa requires thermal precision.
Measure your water level in the Cuisinart
PerfecTemp through its lit window, then let the
1,500 watts flowing into the base’s metal
heating element do their thang. Six presets guide
you to the right temperature for your drink.
White tea? 185°F. French-press coffee? 200 flat.
It’ll even keep the water at that set point for up
to 30 minutes, all from the comfort of your desk.
Look, sometimes you just need to boil 16 ounces
of water in two minutes and fifteen seconds in
below-freezing temperatures. The Jetboil
MiniMo understands. A valve dishes out a
carefully tuned fuel mixture of propane and
isobutane to speed heating. The whole package
fits inside a 5-by-6-inch cup for transport. Use it
to cook some cowboy beans, and you’ll appreciate
the shallow spoon angle from the wide cup.
CAPACITY: 34 ounces
CAPACITY: 57 ounces
CAPACITY: 32 ounces
HEAT SOURCE: Stovetop
HEAT SOURCE: Electric
HEAT SOURCE: Fuel tank
PRICE: $100
PRICE: $100
PRICE: $135
28
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
by Sara Chodosh / photographs by Jonathon Kambouris
Be the breakthrough.
™
Breakthroughs are the patients
participating in clinical trials, the
scientists and doctors working
together to advance the fight
against cancer, and the brave
survivors like Tonya who never
give up. Let’s be the breakthrough.
To learn about appropriate
screenings and clinical trials
or to help someone with cancer,
go to su2c.org/breakthrough.
#cancerbreakthrough
EXPANSION
VIDEO RUNNING AT THE SPEED OF MOLASSES REVEALS
SLOW D OWN
T H E WO R L D
hidden movements our feeble peepers can’t typically see. While most
footage is filmed at 30 or so frames per second (fps), the ultrafast cameras below can capture hundreds or thousands. When played back at
a normal rate, the movies stretch out time, creating cinematic magic.
SLOW
GoPro Hero5 Black
Like many smartphones, this
action camera can record footage
at 240 fps, or eight times slower
than real life. Unlike your
smartphone, however, it can
plunge up to 33 feet underwater
and survive sky-high drops, so it
can go where the action is. Try
filming the mesmerizing-but-gross
undulations of a dog’s tongue as it
drinks from a bowl of water. $399
SLOWER
Sony RX100 Mark V
SLOWEST
G
O
O
D
S
Phantom VEO 710
30
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
This pro camera can take a second
and stretch it into five minutes of
high-def footage that can be
crucial in research scenarios, like
analyzing the results of a
crash-safety test. With the
resolution cut to the lowest setting,
the sensor can grab an extraordinary million frames per second,
making one second last more than
nine hours. FROM $40,000
by Stan Horaczek / photographs by Jonathon Kambouris
PROP STYLING BY WENDY SCHELAH FOR HALLEY RESOURCES
Moments shot at this camera’s
1,000 fps top speed produce
hypnotizing films. That requires
plentiful light, so the Sony’s lens
has an extra-wide aperture to let
in oodles of photons. One second
of film time becomes 33 seconds
of playback. $1,000
2
COMPRESSION
THEN
SPEED
IT UP
1
A SINGLE IMAGE CAN CAPTURE
a discreet moment, but stringing
dozens or hundreds together into
a time-lapse can tell an hourslong
story in one spectacular sequence.
Start with something simple, like
tracing a flower’s bloom over the
course of a morning, and, with a little practice, you’ll be able to catch
more complex and captivating
motion, such as the stars wheeling
across the night sky. Here’s what you
need to fast-forward time like a pro.
1
Camera
PROP STYLING BY WENDY SCHELAH FOR HALLEY RESOURCES; SEBASTIEN GABORIT/GETTY IMAGES
The 24.2-megapixel sensor on Nikon’s
D5600 DSLR is large enough to
capture spectacular night skies that
won’t be overwhelmed by ugly pixel
noise, and the included zoom lens is
ideal for covering landscapes. $800
2
Control
3
The Pulse Camera Remote sits atop
your camera and communicates via
Bluetooth with a phone app. Use it
to dial in detailed commands, like the
interval between each shot and the
time frame you want to shoot. $99
3
Rotating Mount
Add an extra layer of motion to your
time-lapse videos with the Syrp Genie Mini, a motorized turntable that
rotates the camera as it’s shooting.
It’ll make even a static scene, like a
cityscape, look more dramatic. $249
4
4
Tripod
Few things ruin a well-shot sequence
quicker than a wobbly camera. The
aluminum MeFoto RoadTrip Classic
weighs just 3.6 pounds and supports
more than 17 pounds of gear, making
it burly enough for your whole rig. $200
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
31
IT TAKES JUST A LIT TLE MORE THAN TWO SECONDS FOR THE
DRAG KING
$85,000 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon to reach 60 miles per hour. That
makes it the fastest production car on the planet when it comes to pure, straightline drag-race-style acceleration. The Demon needs excessive amounts of
raw power to pull off speedy feats, like clock a quarter-mile in just 9.65 seconds, or hit a top speed of 168. Here’s how this chunky mass of American
muscle manages to rival the kind of vehicle that travels with a pit crew.
GONE IN
2.3 SECONDS
840 770 100+ 12.6
HORSEPOWER
FOOT-POUNDS
OCTANE
INCHES
In drag mode, a
transmission-locking
system allows the
driver to rev the
Demon’s supercharged V-8 up to
2,350 rpm without the
car creeping forward,
making for greater
torque at go time.
The car generates
enough torque to pop
a wheelie when it
launches, lifting its
front tires up to a
record 2.9 feet off the
ground and subjecting
the driver to as much
as 1.8 G’s of force.
Buckle up, please.
Racing fuel packs
more power, allowing
the Demon to unleash
more horses and drive
faster. Going highoctane requires a
powertrain-control
module, part of a
package called the
Demon Crate.
To maximize grip, the
Demon’s Nitto racing
tires are made from a
soft, road-grabbing
rubber designed
specifically for the car.
Each one is more than
a foot wide, which is
inches fatter than a
standard tire.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HIT 60 MPH?
2018
Dodge Demon
2.3
2017 Porsche
911 GT3
1974 Dodge
Challenger
9.5
2017 Ford
Transit Connect
SEC OND S
32
10.1
0
1
2
3
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
by Stan Horaczek
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34
W H E N W E T H I N K O F T I M E T R AV E L W E P I C T U R E
something out of an H.G. Wells novel, but in a way, your bed is a time
machine. Lay down, close your eyes, and wake up in the future. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at
least 50 million adults in the U.S. have trouble getting shut-eye. This gathering of gadgets can’t cure a full-fledged sleep disorder, but it will appeal
to your five senses and make it easier to drift peacefully into dreamland.
SMELL
SOUND
SIGHT
TASTE
TOUCH
1. Essential oils aren’t
2. Looping white noise
3. Switching between
4. For centuries,
5. Under Armour’s
a bedtime panacea,
but it’s easier to rest in
a room that smells
more like peppermint,
lemon, or cedarwood
than your dirty gym
clothes. The Homedics
Ellia Aspire Ultrasonic
Diffuser uses a rapidly
vibrating transducer
to transform and
disperse a waterand-oil mix into a cool,
fragrant mist. $129
from an app or digital
sound machine can be
inconsistent and
annoying. The Marpac
Dohm, however,
uses a two-speed
asymmetrical fan to
generate constant,
soothing sound. The
pitch and volume are
adjustable up to
75 decibels to drown
out street noise or a
snoring partner. $50
machine-fed light of
our devices and total
darkness can confuse
our brains about the
time of day. The
Philips Wake-Up
Light changes color
and brightness to
simulate natural
sunrise and sunset. Its
LED shifts among
yellow, red, and orange
to aid transitions into
and out of sleep. $199
purveyors of Ayurvedic
medicine have praised
various spices for
general relaxation.
Yogi’s Bedtime Tea
contains two of ’em:
cardamom and
cinnamon. Chamomile
in the mix adds
apigenin, a flavonoid,
which binds to
benzodiazepine brain
receptors to help chill
you out. $8
Performance
Pajamas feel like a
mixture of silk
jammies and athletic
gear. A bioceramic
coating reflects far
infrared rays from
body heat back to the
skin, which preliminary studies show
might help muscle
recovery. The science
isn’t settled, but the
PJs sure are cozy. $99
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
by Mallory Johns / photograph by Jonathon Kambouris
PROP STYLING BY WENDY SCHAH FOR HALLEY RESOURCES
SLUMBER BUDDIES
THE NIGHT WATCH
T H E B E S T WAY T O M E A S U R E S L E E P Q U A L I T Y I S I N A L A B ,
C OU N T I N G
S LE E P
with a dozen or so sensors stuck to your noggin and torso. The 6-inch-tall
SleepScore Max tracker ($150) can’t replace a trip to the clinic, but it can
give you data about your slumber without even touching you. Plus, it monitors
conditions like light, sound, and temperature to perfect your bedroom setup.
HOW IT WORKS
1
Throughout the night
a small radio emitter
sends low-power,
high-frequency waves
toward your bed 16 times
per second.
2
Those waves bounce
off your upper body,
and then return to
a built-in sensor, allowing the device to judge
your movement and
respiration rate.
3
At 30-second intervals, an algorithm
determines what
sleep stage you’re in
(light, deep, or REM), and
then transmits the data
to a dedicated app.
PROP STYLING BY WENDY SCHELAH FOR HALLEY RESOURCES
4
The system assigns a
grade from 1 to 100,
and offers advice
—like making the room
dark, cool, or quiet — to
help you sleep better.
by Rob Verger / photograph by Jonathon Kambouris
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
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S E P T E M B E R
—
O C T O B E R
—
2 0 1 7
T I M E
38
45
50
52
58
66
WHERE DID
IT ALL
BEGIN?
WATCHING
THE
CLOCKS
HOW LONG
IS A YEAR?
WHAT CAME
BEFORE THE
BIG BANG
YOUR SCHEDULE
COULD BE
KILLING YOU
AMERICAN
RENAISSANCE
photograph by The Voorhes
37
BEGIN?
A new geological finding stirs
questions—and controversy—about
where and when earliest life emerged.
CREDIT GOES HERE
B Y K AT M C G O WA N
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
39
T
The rock is deep rusty red, shot
through with gray stripes. It rises
above shrubby tundra, part of a
hummocky terrain that slopes down
to the Hudson Bay in northern
Quebec, as it has for a very long
time—maybe almost as long as the
planet itself. This is a rare spot on
Earth, one of a few where rocks this
old survive. Plate tectonics and the
relentless recycling of crust have
repeatedly chewed up our planet’s
surface. Only a few zones in deep
continental interiors have escaped
this fate, in places like Greenland and
Western Australia. Scientists who
specialize in finding signs of the
origins of life make pilgrimages to
these primeval sites. Life wrote its
first chapters in these rocks. And
scientists hope to read them.
Canadian geologist Dominic Papineau schemed for years to visit
this lonely place, known as the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt. In
2008, he finally rounded up a couple thousand dollars in funding and
set out from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.,
journeying through three layovers and a final leg on a bush plane.
If you like rocks—and don’t mind mosquitoes—it’s a great place to
ramble for a couple of weeks in the summer. A lichen-flecked stony
expanse, polished by glaciers, juts through the thin soil.
Papineau pitched his tent near a creek. At that time of year, at
these latitudes, the sun rises at 4 a.m., giving him many hours to explore. Three days before he was due to leave, Papineau found a 20- or
30-yard-long strike, part of a banded iron formation: reddish hematite layered with dark magnetite, like a red-and-gray napoleon. It had
OPENING SPREAD: SCIENCE SOURCE/GETTY IMAGES
WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
100 mi
NU
H
ud
MB
so
nB
ay
NL
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CANADA
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COURTESY DOMINIC PAPINEAU AND MATTHEW DODD
formed not too far from the location of an ancient deep-sea hydrothermal vent. Blobs the size of quarters dotted the surface, creating thin
swirls. In younger rocks, Papineau knew, such marks can indicate the
presence of former life. “When I saw this material, I knew I needed
to sample it,” he says. With a sledgehammer, he smashed off chunks.
When it came time to go, he lugged his hundred-plus pounds of rocky
souvenirs back to his lab at Carnegie, where he was a postdoctoral fellow
in geophysics. There, his new specimens joined his collection and waited
patiently as only rocks can until he could find time to analyze them.
Papineau finally dug in to investigate after he moved to University College London in 2014. Because the Nuvvuagittuq formation is
believed to be between 3.77 billion and 4.28 billion years old, that
would make his samples just slightly younger than our 4.54 -billionmap by John Kuhen
Rare Earth
year-old planet. Papineau and graduate stuThe Nuvvuagittuq
dent Matthew Dodd pursued a dozen lines
Supracrustal
of analyses and eventually concluded that
Belt, where ancient rocks jut
these humble rocks held evidence of some of
from the ground.
the oldest life ever found on Earth.
In March, they published their findings in
the journal Nature. If correct, their work bolsters a newish theory in
origins-of-life research: Rather than assembling its building blocks
over a billion-plus years, the earliest forms burst forth in a geological
heartbeat of tens of millions—maybe even hundreds of thousands.
Moreover, life may not have required freak coincidences. Rather, it
might have formed as a routine consequence of Earth’s early chemistry, maybe a default set of conditions that can be found on rocky, wet
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
41
planets everywhere—all 40 billion of them in the Milky Way alone.
But the origins-of-life field, like early Earth itself, is a cauldron of
roiling theories, each new one challenged and sometimes buried under
volcanic flows of criticism. If Papineau and Dodd are wrong—and some
suspect they are—the marks and minerals they found are merely a
mirage, another case of misleading geology that creates the illusion of
long-ago microbes. And there will be consequences. Papineau jokes
about Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake in 1600 for suggesting beings
existed on other planets. Fortunately that form of peer review is no longer
popular. Instead, they might endure the modern equivalent.
ORIGIN STORIES
In 1992, Bill Schopf, of the University of California at Los Angeles,
said he had found 3.5-billion-year-old microfossils in rocks from
Western Australia. The claim survived for
10 years, until Martin Brasier, an Oxford astrobiologist and paleobiologist, charged that Schopf
had misunderstood the rocks. And their geology.
Brasier claimed Schopf had cherry-picked his
evidence, and may even have committed fraud.
At that year’s Astrobiology Science Conference,
the scientists hashed it out in public. In front of hundreds of origins-of-life and extraterrestrial-life researchers, Brasier and Schopf traded verbal blows,
slamming each other’s science. The victory went
to Brasier. Today, most researchers in the field do
think that Schopf ’s rocks showed evidence of early
creatures—just not the type he thought he saw.
Almost since the 1870s, when Darwin first
speculated that early life might have sheltered in a
“warm little pond,” the field has given rise to nearly
as many theories as there are scientists who specialize in this work. In general, though, the theories
follow one of two themes: land or sea.
Biologists tend to prefer the sea theory, which
posits that life began at deep-sea hydrothermal
vents, where super-heated, mineral-charged water
seeps up from inside the earth to nourish and sustain organisms. It seems reasonable. The sea could
shelter early life from the relentless meteor strikes
and deadly solar UV radiation that once scorched
the young planet’s surface. And the vents would
provide food, or energy, in the form of hydrogen
gas and minerals such as sulfur and iron.
Michael Russell, who heads the planetary chemistry and astrobiology
group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a group
charged with preparing to search for life in space, favors the sea theory. He says that as alkaline water seeped from certain types of vents, it
would have mixed with ancient Earth’s acidic seawater, creating a tiny
electrochemical charge that could have given rise to the first organisms.
“Hydrothermal vents are great places to live,” Russell says.
That kind of scenario could also produce mineral pillars, where
simple chemicals collected and concentrated in tiny holes. There,
trapped together, they could link into the long chains necessary for
biology. Then they would begin to form membranes, build systems
that capture energy, and create a genetic code. Eventually these
components assemble into a microbe that could leave a mark similar
to the ones Papineau sees in his rocks.
A ridiculous idea, say the land theorists: The ocean is too watery for
life to have gained its first foothold there. “It’s chemically implausible,”
says Armen Mulkidjanian, a biophysicist at Osnabrück University in
Germany. Martin Van Kranendonk, a geologist and astrobiologist at the
University of New South Wales in Sydney, concurs with that assessment.
“We regard the oceans as an extreme environment,” he says.
Van Kranendonk and others instead look to the surface of the new
Earth, where briny hot springs, bubbling geysers, and rich gases would
have served as the chemical cradle for life. Call it Volcano World.
There, compounds of hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide could
collect in freshwater pools. Cycles of wetting and drying, combined
with searing UV radiation, could cause these
chemicals to join up in a way that allowed them
to self-replicate, eventually creating a genetic
code. Researchers have shown in labs that the
building blocks of DNA can arise this way. And
Van Kranendonk’s own team recently discovered
evidence of 3.5-billion-year-old life from a former
hot spring in Australia.
The scientists who favor the sea theory counter
that existnece begins not with a code but with
a meal. You need a metabolism and a source of
energy before you can build anything like genes.
Besides, the chemicals involved are implausible (cyanide?). “That idea of life coming from
organic molecules in the sunshine is ludicrous,”
charges Russell. His jet-fueled analogy: You
wouldn’t put a guidance system on a rocket with
no engine and expect it to work. Fuel comes first.
In research, everyone is an expert. And no one
is. Tackling the problem requires a whole university’s worth of scientists: physicists, biochemists,
geologists, microbiologists, atmospheric scientists, and astrobiologists. Each entails different
training and specialized knowledge. “Physics,
van der Waals forces, the ideas Tolstoy can give
me about self-organization—for the emergence
of life, what don’t I need to know?” asks Russell.
Compounding the problem, there is no data
from the moment of creation. The only source of
information is the rocks, nearly as old as the planet itself, mostly twisted and deformed by heat, pressure, and time.
No matter how sophisticated your tools, when you interpret ancient
rocks, you’re in danger of getting Schopf-ed. “It’s a bit of a Wild West
of geology,” says Nick Lane, an evolutionary biochemist at University
College London who favors the deep-sea-vent theory. “It’s difficult to
interpret. You risk getting egg on your face.”
“YOU SEE
THIS IN THE
MICROSCOPE,
AND YOU
SAY, THIS IS
TELLING ME
SOMETHING,”
PAPINEAU SAYS.
42
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
ANALYZING ANCIENT CLUES
It takes just two steps to walk across Papineau’s small lab in the
UCL nanotechnology building. From where I stand, it’s one step
to the cabinet, filled with carefully labeled cloth bags of rocks he
illustration by Joel Kimmel
FACING PAGE: COURTESY DOMINIC PAPINEAU AND MATTHEW DODD; (4); MOE ABDELRAHMAN/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES
WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
ROCKS THAT TALK
Researchers can find multiple messages encrypted in seemingly ordinary material.
A
After analyzing thin slices of a rock similar to this one (center), Dominic Papineau
and Matthew Dodd concluded that they contained evidence of early life. If the
researchers are right, the dark blob in the left close-up once sheltered bacteria.
The tubes in the middle image, they believe, formed as the bacteria extruded
waste. At right, rings of white carbonate and dove-gray quartz form a hematiteflecked rosette—a shape that arises as biological materials rot, Papineau says.
WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
vent systems and are like much-younger fossils—an even more
important clue. “You see this in the microscope, and you say”—he snaps
his fingers—“this is telling me something, but I don’t know quite what.”
He concluded that tiny, dark knobs in the formations are fossils, remnants of actual cells. The twisted ribbons are microbial waste products
that had been coated in rusty-red hematite by geological processes.
To be certain of their case, Papineau and Dodd performed
physical and chemical comparisons with far younger fossils and partnered with other researchers to test samples. Papineau had already
analyzed the ratio of light to heavy carbon: Life prefers the lighter
version, which he found in excess in this rock. He and Dodd used
micro-Raman spectroscopy, firing a laser at the sample to study its
composition from the spectra of scattered light. They aimed a focused ion-beam microscope on it to mill away nanoscale bits, looking
at its mineral components. In each case, they found graphitic carbon,
or minerals associated with it, and patterns that indicated life.
After they published their paper, the bubbling cauldrons of geology
boiled over with supporters and detractors. Many praised the work
without endorsing the conclusion: “Those authors did a really nice job of
applying some advanced techniques,” says Ken Williford, director of the
Astrobiogeochemistry Lab at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “More will be required before we can be sure of the interpretation.” (CONTINUED ON P.90)
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ORIGIN THEORIES
by Mary Beth Griggs
Ancient Greece
1908
1953
1986
2009
Leading thinkers
conjecture that life
arose spontaneously
—just as maggots
seem to appear
on carcasses.
Svante Arrhenius
popularizes the theory
of panspermia—the
notion that life was
seeded by comets
from outer space.
Stanley Miller and
Harold Urey show
building blocks of life
can form in water
when electricity zaps
key ingredients.
Walter Gilbert
proposes that life
starts with RNA
molecules combining,
separating, and
evolving.
The Deep Carbon
Observatory seeks
the origins of
carbon-based life
miles inside Earth.
44
1871
1920s
1977
2006
2012
Charles Darwin writes
that life may have
emerged in a “warm
little pond” with the
right mixture of light,
heat, and chemicals.
Alexander Oparin
and John Haldane
independently
theorize life began in a
primordial “soup” of
organic compounds.
Discovery of living
creatures near
deep-sea hydrothermal vents opens a
new origin-of-life
frontier.
Fossils called
stromatolites found
in 3.4-billion-year-old
rocks in Australia—
the oldest accepted
evidence of early life.
Researchers propose
that life originated in
geothermal ponds on
land instead of in the
deep sea.
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
COURTESY DOMINIC PAPINEAU AND MATTHEW DODD
Rocky Ground
has collected from across the
Papineau’s key
world. And it’s one step to the
sample came from
microscope he’s now hunched
this formation
of hematite and
over. He is looking for somemagnetite.
thing good to show me. He turns
to a nearby computer and pulls
up a micrograph, an image of the magnified insides of
the rock that starred in the Nature report. To me, it looks
like a kitchen countertop: black and white blobs, with
spatters of dark red against a gray palette. To a trained
eye (not mine), each color and shape reveals what the
material is and how it got that way.
Geological sleuthing is a lot like conducting a criminal investigation.
There never is a smoking gun because everything happened too long ago.
The idea is to launch multiple lines of inquiry that let you explore your
mystery from different angles. And just like when you’re corroborating
witness accounts, if they all say the same thing, you can be reasonably
sure your theory about what happened, when, and how is correct.
The first step in the forensic process required slicing off parts of
the rock and milling them so thin that light could shine through. Then
Papineau and Dodd began looking for graphitic carbon, which could
be a sign that biological material had been present. They soon found
it, in rosette formations the size of grains of salt.
On his computer screen, Papineau shows me the faint bull’seye mark. The center is pearly gray quartz with flecks of dark-red
hematite. Rings of white and dove-gray surround it. “Look how beautiful this is,” he says. “It’s almost perfectly spherical.” This shape arises, he proposes, as biological materials rot, producing carbon dioxide
that then forms carbonate minerals.
Next, Papineau pulls up a micrograph in which blood-red ribbons
squiggle across a white-quartz background. He and Dodd hadn’t expected this, but in addition to chemical signs of life, they had also found what
they believe to be actual fossils. These squiggles, or filamentous tubes, are
similar to shapes made by modern iron-oxidizing bacteria in deep-ocean
W AT C H I N G
T H E
Five experts obsess over lines, faces, places, and noses to understand
how every second shapes our world and how our minds shape every second.
by B RYA N G A R D I N E R i l l u s t r a t i o n s by A DA M C RU F T
45
WAT C H I N G T H E C L O C K S
ELISA FELICITAS ARIAS
D i r e c t o r, T i m e D e p a r t m e n t , I n t e r n a t i o n a l B u r e a u o f W e i g h t s a n d M e a s u r e s
46
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
“I HAVE A VERY BAD
relationship to time” is not a
confession you expect from the
person in charge of the world’s
official time standard. Yet Elisa Felicitas
Arias admits to a certain laissez-faire
approach to personal punctuality. “I’ve
never missed a flight or anything like that,”
she clarifies, “but no two clocks in my house
give the same time.”
This laid-back way with hours and
minutes doesn’t carry over into her day
job. As director of the Time Department at
the International Bureau of Weights and
Measures just outside Paris, Arias formulates Coordinated Universal Time (UTC),
the 24-hour standard to which governments,
militaries, and scientific bodies synchronize
every clock-bearing device—from hyperaccurate global-positioning satellites to
weather warning systems.
Using data from about 75 master atomic
clocks around the world, Arias and her team
analyze, compare, and weight the slight,
billionth-of-a-second discrepancies in those
reported times to formulate a kind of retrospective average. This glimpse at the past
gives each of the Bureau’s 58 member nations
a way to steer toward a more uniform future.
Using Arias’ monthly reports, a country can
adjust its clocks in the hopes of achieving
a better UTC and therefore improving the
accuracy of the standard.
Without this guideline, the Internet, the
airline industry, and militaries around the
world would cease to function. Yet there is
no “perfect time,” Arias says. “People say the
UTC is the international reference for time,
but in fact, UTC is just a piece of paper.”
An extremely important piece of paper.
While it might be a social construction (like
every objective measure of time), its monthly
publication is critical to the smooth functioning of the global economy. As for us civilians,
Arias maintains that, like her, we needn’t
worry about such meticulous timekeeping in
our day-to-day lives. “Many things in life are
not as urgent as people think,” she says.
Alexandra
Horowitz
∙ P r o f e s s o r, D o g C o g n i t i o n
R e s e a r c h e r, B a r n a r d C o l l e g e
MATÍAS DUARTE
V P, M a t e r i a l D e s i g n , G o o g l e
WHETHER IT’S A BUFFERING YOUTUBE VIDEO
or a stalled app download, waiting online is as inevitable
(and aggravating) as waiting in real life. Matías Duarte, VP
of Material Design at Google, has been perfecting ways of
masking and distracting us from these delays for close to seven years.
A native of Chile, Duarte got his start as a video-game animator in
1994, learning how to use exaggeration and editing to play with people’s
perception of time. After designing the popular SideKick smartphone
and building the user interface for Palm’s highly praised mobile operating system, WebOS, Duarte arrived at Google in 2010 to lead the design
for Android. A few years later, he took on an even more massive task:
unifying the user experience for all platforms and products.
“We had an opportunity to take advantage of a whole bunch of new
technology and understanding of perception and cognitive science,”
he says. Duarte and his team have since tweaked how progress and
loading bars look in apps and even developed touchscreen ripple
animations that give users a better sense of responsiveness to their
taps. These days, one of their most common tricks is to deploy what’s
called a dynamic placeholder before content can be fully loaded. For
short wait times (around a second or two), these pulsating cards show
up momentarily—for example, when you launch your Google app or
Facebook newsfeed. Their shapes and sizes hint at the arrangement
and type of content to come, while also distracting impatient viewers.
Although all of this is a work in progress, one thing has become
clear to Duarte: We can’t rely only on speedier networks and processors to remedy our online-waiting woes. Making something
objectively faster isn’t the same as making it seem faster. “The
real constraint is human perception,” he says.
We humans rely on our eyes to
help mark the passage of time.
Dogs have a different sensory
bias, says Alexandra Horowitz,
founder of Barnard College’s Dog
Cognition Lab and author of the book Being a
Dog. Highly sophisticated pooch schnozes
contain more than 300 million olfactory
receptor cells (we have 5 million), which allows
them to not only detect smells and hormones
invisible to us, but also their relative concentrations. That gives man’s best friend a unique skill:
the ability to smell time.
“One of the main elements of smell is that it
changes over time,” Horowitz explains. “When
we walk down the street, we’re constantly
giving off odor molecules in our wake, like a little
cloud of smell behind you.” Those molecules
dissipate, she says, so you can think of time as a
dimension of smell. For dogs, that means the
past can reveal itself through a faint odor in a
footprint, and the future could appear on a stiff
breeze. To canines, scents don’t just reveal who
and what, but also when.
Horowitz has spent the past 15 years studying
dog behavior—particularly play—to better
understand the mind of Canis lupus familiaris.
That inevitably led to an effort to try to perceive
our world from an olfactory point of view. “As a
contrivance of humans, time is a really peculiar
one,” she says. “To expect that nonhumans
would have the same way of sensing and
experiencing it seems silly.” Next smell-related
mystery for Horowitz? Determining whether
dogs can recognize and identify themselves
through their own unique odors.
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
47
WAT C H I N G T H E C L O C K S
Richard
Larson
Professor of Data, Systems,
a n d S o c i e t y, M I T
SYLVIE
DROIT-VOLET
P r o f e s s o r o f P s y c h o l o g y, C l e r m o n t A u v e r g n e
U n i v e r s i t y, C l e r m o n t - F e r r a n d , F r a n c e
SYLVIE DROIT-VOLET STARTED HER CAREER
studying ergonomics and human error for French car
manufacturer Renault. Today, the neuropsychologist
specializes in a different form of human fallibility:
our tendency to misjudge time spans. For the past three decades,
Droit-Volet has been investigating, among other topics, how our
brains construct time and why our perception of it is so malleable.
“Our internal clocks can be very capricious,” she says.
Using visual lab experiments that measure perceived time and
physiological responses like skin conductivity and heart rate,
Droit-Volet thinks she’s identified one culprit: emotions—
particularly highly intense ones. Anger, disgust, and fear prime
our bodies to react, Droit-Volet explains, which causes our internal
clocks to accelerate. A faster internal clock registers more “pulses” over a given period, which in turn affects our perception of the
length of the elapsed period. “We judge the duration of that past
event as if external time has slowed down,” she says.
We don’t just warp our own time, either. Others can influence our
temporal flow by capitalizing on the human tendency to mirror emotions and actions. In one study, she showed subjects pictures of young
and old faces; the test group consistently underestimated the duration
they’d seen the latter but not the former. Her theory? We internalize
the slower movements of elderly people, and our internal clocks decelerate, making it feel like time’s passing more quickly. Some might see
this as proof that our bodies are fickle and unreliable timekeepers, but
Droit-Volet has a different perspective. “Time is plural,” she says. “We
have several clocks attuned to the rhythms of our daily life.”
48
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
Richard Larson still remembers
the line that broke him. It was
1985, and the MIT professor had
stopped by Sears to pick out a bike
for his 6-year-old son. After
choosing the model and paying for it, he made his
way to the merchandise-pickup area, handed his
receipt to a clerk, and waited. “Ten, 20, 25 people
came along after me, gave in their receipts, and
then walked off with their lamps, waffle irons,
and quilts as I just sat there,” Larson recalls. “I was
furious.” By the time the clerk called his name
more than half an hour later, the operations
researcher and systems engineer had made two
resolutions: to return the bike and to never shop
at that Sears again. (He stuck to both.)
Weeks later, Larson had a sudden insight: It
wasn’t the wait that had upset him. It was how
people who arrived after him had beat him to the
exit—and that he had not expected a delay. That
was the genesis of his seminal 1987 paper, “The
Psychology of Queuing and Social Justice,” which
highlighted the importance of fairness and
feedback to a person’s waiting experiences.
Today, Larson remains one of the world’s
foremost experts on lines. An engineer by training,
he began his career solving queuing problems
with statistical probabilities and flow-balancing
equations. Over 45 years, his work has ranged
from helping the New York City Police Department reduce its 911 emergency-call wait times
to inventing the Queue Inference Engine, a
mathematical method for determining the
length of a line and how long people have to wait
in it when data isn’t readily available.
More recently, Larson has focused on using
customer engagement and information to shape
people’s perceptions in line. He points to
Disneyland and Disney World as places that
are doing it right (though he doesn’t work
with them). Because the theme parks
purposely overestimate wait times, a family can stand in line for 40 minutes, Larson
says, thinking they were going to wait
for an hour, then get on a four-minute
ride and be completely happy. “That’s
what happens if you manage people’s
expectations such that you can
exceed them,” he says. “I wish airline
pilots understood this better when
you’re on a ground hold.”
49
O N E Y E A R A S A P E R C E N TA G E O F A L I F E S PA N
0.2%
0.3%
0.4%
0.5%
0.53%
0.50%
0.26%
0.20%
Ming the Clam
The growth
bands in a
quahog’s shell
can reveal how
old it is.
Great Green Gobs
This flowering
plant, found in
South America at
high altitudes,
grows only 0.4
inches a year.
Deep-Sea Needle
The makeup of a
glass sponge’s
long, rod-shaped
silica skeleton
encodes its age.
kiddo’s grandparents, it passes in a flash. The same is true for the oldest flora and
fauna on the planet. As things age, each trip around the sun becomes an
ever-shrinking percentage of a vast lifetime. Take 38-year-old Creme Puff (RIP),
the oldest known house cat: 365 days was only 2.6 percent of her yarn-chasing
journey through existence. That might not seem like a lot to, say, the Grand
Canyon (if it could think, that is), but, as this graph shows, it’s all relative.
TO A CHILD, ONE YEAR CAN FEEL LIKE AN ETERNITY. BUT TO THAT
How Long Is a Year?
1 YEAR TO
IS LIKE
5 MINUTES TO
A HOUSEFLY
1,000 YEARS TO
A SEA GRASS
IS LIKE
1 YEAR TO A
GIANT TORTOISE
3 MONTHS TO
Fractions of a
Life, Compared
SHARK; FRANCO BANFI/GETTY IMAGES: GOMEZ; CINDY ORD/GETTY IMAGES FOR SIRIUSXM; SHUTTERSTOCK (17)
51
BOWHEAD
WHALE
200 YEARS
GREENLAND
SHARK
392 YEARS
MOST ADULT MAYFLIES LIVE
A DAY OR TWO. NOT DOLANIA
AMERICANA: ONCE FEMALE
MEMBERS OF THIS SPECIES
REACH MATURITY, THEY GET
FIVE MINUTES TO MATE AND
LAY EGGS BEFORE THEY DIE.
S E C O N D S
300
JEANNE CALMENT (1875-1997)
She rubbed olive oil into her skin,
ate 2 pounds of chocolate per week,
avoided stress—and smoked.
122.5
GIANT
TORTOISE
188 YEARS
AGE OF THE OLDEST HUMAN
0.0%
0.1%
LLARETA
PLANT
3,000 YEARS
BRISTLECONE
PINE
5,067 YEARS
0.02%
0.001%
0.0005%
AGE, IN YEARS, OF AN UNDERWATER MEADOW OF POSIDONIA
OCEANICA SEA GRASS IN THE WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN
LENGTH,
IN DAYS,
OF A
DRAGONFLY’S
ADULT LIFE
GLASS
QUAKING
SEA GRASS
SPONGE
ASPEN COLONY MEADOW
11,000 YEARS 80,000 YEARS 200,000 YEARS
0.01%
AGE, IN YEARS, OF OLDEST BRISTLECONE PINE
M A X I M U M K N O W N L I F E S PA N
QUAHOG
CLAM
507 YEARS
0.03%
BY SOPHIE BUSHWICK
1,00O YEARS
IS LIKE
1 YEAR TO AN
ASPEN COLONY
1 HOUR TO A
MAYFLY
A 3-MONTH
VACATION TO A
RETIREE
IS LIKE
1 YEAR TO A
FIRST GRADER
52
Photograph by The Voorhes
BUT WAIT...
Not everyone thinks the
universe had a beginning.
BY R AC H E L F E LT M A N A N D
M AT T H EW R . F R A N C I S
I L LU S T R AT I O N S BY M AT E I
APOSTOLESCU
Cosmologists used to
think the universe was
totally timeless: no
beginning, no end. That
might sound mind-melting, but
it’s easier on the scientific brain
than figuring out what a set
starting point would mean, let
alone when it would be. So some
physicists have cooked up
alternative cosmological theories
that make time’s role seem a
little less important. The
concepts are as trippy as those
black-light posters you had in
college. Wait a minute…
P O P S C I . C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 201 7
BEFORE THE BIG BANG
THE MAIN REASON SOME PHYSICISTS OBSESS OVER the beginning of the universe is because so
much evidence points to there being one. But what if our universe grooved within an ageless multiverse—like a patch of ground from which countless flowers bloom. In this model, each universe has a
big bang and keeps its own time. In the most popular version, each universe might even have its own
version of physics too. Infinite possibilities yield infinite results: Some say this theory explains life itself.
We’d have to be extremely lucky for a single big bang to create a universe with the perfect conditions for
life as we know it, but if new universes are springing up all the time, it’s no wonder one of those cosmic
neighborhoods turned out just like ours. The universes in this garden grow or wither according to their
own rules, while the multiverse around them goes on without a beginning or an end. It’s an elegant blend
of change and timelessness, a floral brew many cosmologists are still sipping.
Some
variations on
the big bang
go down a little
smoother than the
original. In the simplest
version, the beginning
of time is a sharp point,
where everything we
currently observe was
mashed into a ball of
energy smaller than an
atom—then burst
outward, duh. But
what came before?
Physicists such as
Stephen Hawking tried
to restore a kind of
timelessness by getting
rid of that starting
point, imagining a
universe with no clear
“bang.” You can wind
back the clock to the
edges of those first
moments of existence,
but asking what came
before would be like
asking why you can
keep walking north
when you get to the
North Pole. Time, as
we define it, loses its
meaning as the
universe shrinks down.
It never quite narrows
to a single point. But no
one has proved physics
works like that—yet.
55
BEFORE THE BIG BANG
The big bang
posits that the
universe exploded
into existence and is still
booming outward. So to
throw out the bang, you
must explain why we can
see galaxies shooting off
into the distance. In 1948,
astronomers Hermann
Bondi, Thomas Gold, and
Fred Hoyle got around the
problem by imagining the
universe as a constant
display of dazzling
fireworks, with new
matter bursting into
existence everywhere, at
every moment. In the
steady-state model, it
looks like the cosmos is
growing, but change is
just an illusion, man. The
universe is literally spacing
out, yeah, but it’s not
because of some single
original event. It’s because
the universe is constantly
creating new matter, and
that new matter pushes
the older stuff out into
the beyond. But the
discovery of microwave
radiation left over from
the big bang during the
1960s cooked this idea—
the theory couldn’t explain
away that afterglow.
56
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
WHY DOES A BIG BANG HAVE TO BE A BEGINNING? Paul Steinhardt and collaborators propose that
there are bangs bangin’ all the time, as our universe rattles around in a fifth dimension (whoa) our puny
minds cannot even perceive. All of space and time as we know it sits on a four-dimensional surface called
a brane. Sometimes it collides with another universe’s brane, and the smash creates bursts of energy
we know as the big bang—energy still detectable as cosmic background radiation. As the universes move
farther and farther apart in the fifth dimension, our cosmos expands. The cycles of collision and separation go on forever in a psychedelic dance. Many cosmologists don’t think we’ll ever find proof of this
fifth dimension, but the idea that the big bang isn’t the real beginning has no end in sight.
YOUR
SCHEDULE
COULD BE
Depression
It seems obvious
that skipping
sleep and working
odd hours will
eventually take a
physical toll on the
body. But mental
illnesses like
depression are
also more common
in workers who
regularly pull
night shifts.
YOUR SCHEDULE COULD BE KILLING YOU
“Trauma level 2,”
a female voice
warns over the
loudspeaker.
“Arriving in
10 minutes.”
It is 7 p.m. on a spring Friday, and the Highland Hospital
emergency room in Oakland, one of the busiest trauma
centers in northern California, is expecting. When the
patient—a young bicyclist hit by a car—arrives, blood is
streaming down his temples.
From a warren of care rooms, a team of nearly a dozen
doctors and nurses materializes and buzzes around the
patient. Amelia Breyre, a first-year resident who looks not
much older than a college sophomore, immediately takes
charge. As soon as the team finishes immobilizing the victim, Breyre must begin making split-second decisions:
X-ray? Intubate? Transfusion? She quickly determines
there is no internal bleeding or need for surgery and orders
up neck X-rays after bandaging the patient’s head.
Breyre will make a half-dozen similar critical choices
tonight. Highland, a teaching hospital, is perhaps the most
selective emergency-medical residency in the nation. To be
here, she must be outstanding.
To succeed, though, she must stay sharp.
That quality of focus—amid the chaos and battered
humanity that comes through Highland’s doors—is itself in
need of urgent care. Andrew Herring, an emergency-room
doctor who supervises Breyre and 40 other residents, is worried about the team. ER doctors are shift workers, and their
hours are spread over a dizzying, ever-changing schedule
of mornings, afternoons, and nights that total 20 different
shifts a month. That’s meant to equally distribute the burden of nocturnal work across an entire team of physicians.
But despite those good intentions, Herring says, the result
is that every single one of them is exhausted and sleep
Obesity
Research suggests
that the later it
gets, the more
likely we are to tuck
into something
fatty or alcoholic—
so poor sleep could
be contributing
to the growing
obesity epidemic,
which afflicts 35.7
percent of adults
across the U.S.
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
61
YOUR SCHEDULE COULD BE KILLING YOU
When is the best time to...
You might think you’re in control of your schedule, but your body evolved to follow a natural rhythm.
Sticking closer to that routine can help keep you in tiptop shape. BY CLAIRE MALDARELLI
Drink coffee
Eat
Sleep
Exercise
Be creative
Do math
Sipping caffeine is
best done early in the
day. Imbibed later, it
can reset your body’s
clock and prevent
sleep. If you’re sure
you can take a shot of
espresso at 8 p.m.
and be snoring by 10,
try skipping the
caffeine for a few
weeks to see what a
night of truly good
rest feels like.
It’s best to eat your
biggest meal early,
contrary to a typical
American day.
Insulin—the hormone
that regulates
metabolism—peaks
in the first half of the
day, then steadily
drops. So your blood
sugar is less likely to
skyrocket after a big
breakfast than after
a comparable dinner.
Around 8 or 9 p.m.,
our bodies start to
cool down, and we
sleep better when we
have a low core body
temperature. But
how much shut-eye is
ideal? Studies show
that those who get
six and a half to eight
hours are less likely
to die prematurely.
Eight hours seems
to be perfect.
Some people swear
by early-morning
jogs. But muscle tone
is highest around
5 p.m. Even pros get
a boost: West Coast
NFL teams won more
often and by a higher
margin in matches
after 8 p.m. on the
East Coast. Still
on Pacific time,
their bodies were
primed to play.
The evolution of
language, religion,
and philosophy all
started with
late-night talks—and
research suggests
there is still a
different cast to our
nocturnal musings.
So save that short
story you’ve been
meaning to write
for a dark and
restless night.
Scientists think we
reach maximum
alertness between
10 a.m. and 2 p.m.,
with a peak around
noon. For the first
few hours after we
wake, organs with
more basic functions
take priority. Once
they’re booted up,
our brains have a
chance to hog some
more energy.
illustration by Todd Detwiler
deprived. That’s dangerous for doctor and patient alike.
“A single night shift has cognitive effects going out for a
week,” says Herring, a Harvard-trained physician. “When
you are done, you are burger meat, crispy fried. People will
tell you the next day that they are rested up, but they aren’t
— and mistakes occur.”
This phenomenon isn’t unique to the ER. Nocturnal
labor presents risks to roughly 15 million shift workers in the
United States alone. Major industrial accidents, such as the
meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in 1979,
occur disproportionately in the dead hours before dawn.
The graveyard shift, it turns out, is aptly named. Those who
regularly endure it are also at higher risk for depression, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. In fact, the correlation is so strong
that in 2010, the World Health Organization went so far as to
classify late-night work as a probable carcinogen.
Biologists have come to believe that the negative effects
happen because toiling through the wee hours screws with
our circadian rhythms, mysterious internal timing mechanisms that can be modulated by external cues like light and
temperature. In fact, every animal and plant on the planet—
even certain bacteria—has evolved with these cellular oscillations. They dictate hundreds of other crucial processes,
turning energy on and off in 24-hour cycles. They orchestrate our daily peak rhythms for things like cognition, fat
synthesis, and even hair growth.
These internal clocks, which biologists are just starting
to research and understand in detail, are constantly syncing based on the food we eat, our exercise routines, social
interactions, and light patterns. And whether we know it or
not, we’re constantly working against them.
In 2006, University of Virginia researchers turned on the
lights in the cages of lab mice six hours earlier than normal
once a week for eight weeks, preventing them from resetting their clocks. In terms of light-cue changes, it was as if
they’d flown from New York to Paris once a week. The result:
Younger rodents got sick and displayed mentally unstable
behavior; 53 percent of the older mice just dropped dead.
“I really worry we are killing ourselves,” says Herring,
scanning the ER as Breyre and the others multitask,
physically and mentally pushing themselves.
This past spring, Herring read about another mouse
study, by researchers at the University of California at San
Diego. The investigators are part of the UCSD Center for
Circadian Biology, which is dedicated to the nascent and
often-overlooked field of chronobiology, the science of our
inner biological clocks. Its scientists study the implications
of untethering humans from our natural light cycles and
other external cues that regulate our bodies. The UCSD
mouse study, unlike the earlier research from UVA, offered
good news in its findings: a way to use twilight to adjust the
mice to irregular day/night cycles.
Herring volunteered to make his team available to the researchers as study subjects. “I felt we really needed to look
at this in a different way,” he says.
USAN GOLDEN, DIRECTOR OF THE
UCSD center, doesn’t just talk chronobiology. She lives it. At home, she and her
husband, James, a microbiology professor
who also works at UCSD, cuddle up in front
of the TV wearing orange sunglasses to block
blue rays, which our bodies read as midday
light. They’ve installed dimmers on their
bathroom and bedroom lights so they can keep them low
throughout the course of the night.
“None of us are Luddites trying to live outside technology,” Golden tells me one day in her office in the Applied
Physics and Math building on campus. “But that technological lifestyle needs to be smarter,” she adds, “because we are
animals that evolved on Earth.”
Like most of her 35 colleagues, Golden didn’t set out from
school intent on pursuing a career in chronobiology. The
field only barely existed when she did her graduate work in
the 1980s. Her specialty was, and still is, studying bacteria
that use light as a source of energy. But with advances in
computing and analytical methods, it’s now possible to process thousands of tissue samples at once and chart changes
in metabolic processes over time. Adding that fourth dimension made Golden realize how much she had been missing
by looking at a single point in time for information. It made
her decide that science plus time—i.e., chronobiology—was
where she needed to take her career.
“What we’ve really learned in the past five years is that
circadian studies cannot be treated as a boutique discipline,” she says. “It is biology. You cannot adequately study
neurobiology, metabolism, microbiome without taking
time into consideration. All of the processes in all of these
cells and organs change over time. And if you look at a static
snapshot without considering that, you don’t get the right
answer. Or at least not the whole answer.”
That picture finally started to come into focus in 1972,
when neuroscientists first discovered how a tiny region in
the brain’s hypothalamus acted as the body’s master circadian clock. This small cluster of 20,000 neurons, named the
suprachiasmatic nucleus, sends signals through the body
to keep the various processes switched on or off during the
right moments of our 24-hour cycles. The system uses daylight as its main cue to stay on track.
Other discoveries followed. It turns out that nearly every
organ has an internal ticker. Your pancreas has a mechanism that tells it when to release insulin and when to stop.
Your liver knows when to stop processing glycogen and start
metabolizing fat. Even your eyes have built-in timekeepers
that tell them when to repair retinal cells damaged by ultraviolet rays. In other words, to understand the body and its
functions, you also have to understand its timers.
All across the UCSD campus, members of the Center for
Circadian Biology—which does not have its own building—
are researching these timekeeping functions. Among their
findings: Genes that run our circadian rhythms are linked
THE
GRAVEYARD
SHIFT,
IT TURNS
OUT, IS
APTLY
NAMED.”
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
63
‘INSIDE
LIGHT
IS JUST
TERRIBLE
FOR YOU.
IT IS
MAKING
US ALL
SICK.’”
to metabolism and its control networks. Mess with one
and you mess with the other. For example, eat too late in
the evening, when your metabolic defenses have powered
down, and your chances of growing obese balloon. In turn,
that fat can also invade your liver and thus increase your
likelihood of inflammation and cancer.
Our mental health is also at risk. Researchers have found
that 70 percent of people with disorders that keep them
from sleeping at the usual time—possibly due to a genetic
abnormality—suffer from conditions like severe depression
or anxiety. In fact, nearly two-thirds of bipolar sufferers
report abnormal sleep cycles.
Already, doctors treating cancer have used chronobiology’s findings to better plan their treatments. For example,
undergoing chemotherapy later in the day increases patients’ chances of avoiding nausea because stomach linings
better repair themselves at that time.
Much of the center’s research can seem, cumulatively,
like a condemnation of our modern lifestyle. Since the dawn
of electricity, we have been engaging in a massive uncontrolled experiment in disrupting ancient rhythms. And it’s
not just due to shift work. There are a thousand small ways
that we use artificial light to ignore the subtle cues that
changes in nature give us all day. “Inside light is just terrible
for you,” Golden says. “It is making us all sick.”
As man-made light keeps us awake longer or in a state
of agitation throughout the night, it’s also contributing to
one of the biggest epidemics in America—obesity, which
afflicts more than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults across
the country. That role is slowly gaining attention, thanks to
one of Golden’s star researchers.
ATCHIDANANDA PANDA WORKS AT
one of the country’s pre-eminent research
facilities: the Salk Institute for Biology.
Although chronobiology is growing in
importance, many scientists, including fellow biologists, still think it’s mostly about
jet lag and sleep. No one has resisted that
second-tier status more than Panda.
For more than a decade, he’s been studying the links
between human metabolism and our inner clocks. He and
other researchers have found that by limiting the number of
hours during which obese mice can eat fatty foods, they’re
able to achieve all kinds of health benefits for the plump subjects. Even when eating the same amount and type of food
as control mice who could eat all day and night, the ones
who Panda restricted to an eight-hour feeding schedule lost
weight, shed stored body fat (particularly around the liver),
and suffered less internal inflammation. In another study, a
team of UCSD researchers found that when they subjected
obese mice with cancer to time-restricted diets instead of
allowing unrestricted gluttony, the rodents’ tumors shrank.
Despite these findings, and their potential effect on the
obesity epidemic, Panda has struggled for funding and
recognition. The NIH has denied all 14 of his proposals
for grants to study time-restricted feeding. The grants are
decided by anonymous peer review, and many of Panda’s
mainstream fellows are suspect about the science of time.
“My reviewers said, ‘Humans don’t eat like mice; they
eat three meals a day within 12 hours, so it has no human
significance,’” Panda recalls, visibly incensed. “That really
pisses me off. I’ve reviewed 150 years of human research,
and most studies never asked or recorded when people eat.
They asked what you had, but rarely when you ate.”
Panda’s focus on chronobiology, his belief in its role in
our lives, goes back to rural India. He and his sister could
tell the time of evening, for example, based on when the
frogs would enter their backyard and begin croaking. To an
observant child, it was apparent that the natural world has
immutable rhythms. His interest has led him to explore entirely new avenues of research: In 2002, he helped discover
how light sensors at the back of the eyes communicate with
the brain’s master clock. In 2005, he found that the part of the
retina that uses ambient-light levels to determine when
the body should sleep or wake is most sensitive to blue light.
Panda decided that his only way forward was to prove his
peer reviewers wrong about eating patterns. Taking a cue
from Silicon Valley, he open-sourced a human experiment,
using an app. He called it Mycircadianclock and recruited 156 people. He asked them to record what they ate and
drank, including water and medicines, by simply snapping
a photograph and uploading it via the app.
The data proved his point. We think we eat about three
times a day. But we often ignore snacks. In fact, a third of
Panda’s participants ate eight times a day. And they were
more likely to eat around the clock. People who started their
days with coffee and a bagel at 6 a.m. would post pictures of
brownies, Sun Chips, pizza, and wine at 11 p.m. The later it
got, the more likely they were to tuck into something fatty
or alcoholic. Panda speculates that the brain “thinks it will
be up all night, and so it wants us to overeat in preparation.”
Panda has since opened his app to the public, and volunteers now number in the thousands. Moreover, wherever he
goes, he conducts his own informal survey of eating hours
and habits. He asks every cab driver, waitress, and drugstore
clerk he encounters what time they woke and when they ate
their first meal. And he asks when their day will end. “You
will find many of these people work two jobs,” Panda says.
After hearing of his work, ( C O N T I N U E D O N P. 9 2 )
Heart
Disease
Firefighters and
ER doctors face
similar sleep
challenges.
Working overnight
shifts—and eating
at odd intervals—
seems to put them
at a higher risk for
heart attacks and
other cardiovascular problems.
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
65
RENAISSANCE
BY JOE BROWN
P HOTO G R A P H S BY C H R I S TOP H E R PAY N E
66
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
Roland G. Murphy is the R, G, and M in RGM Watches,
the last American outfit manufacturing fine watches
and their 100-plus-piece movements from raw,
precious metals. After a part-time gig in high school
that involved building clock cabinets, he caught the
horological bug. Murphy went on to study
watchmaking in Switzerland and then took a job
developing timepieces for the Hamilton Watch
Company. Twenty-five years ago he founded RGM.
Here, he works a 1913 Swiss lathe called a Rose Engine.
YOU’VE GOT
A WATCH IN
PENNSYLVANIA
Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, seems an unlikely location for the epicenter
of high-end American horology. But Lancaster County has provenance:
Hamilton once based here, and the famous Bowman Technical School
watchmaking academy operated locally until 1992. Murphy attended
the school and is now honing his craft in an old bank building nearby. “We
bought it for the vault,” he says. Makes sense: RGM’s watches start around
$3,000 and climb above $100,000.
RUBY SLIPPERS
You might hear the term “jewel”—often preceded by a number—when talking
watches. It refers to these little red guys surrounded by all that gold. Though
many high-end pieces do benefit from a bit o’ bling, jewel usually refers to tiny,
super-hard gems inside a watch’s movement that reduce wear between metal parts. Watchmakers used to grind jewels out of actual rubies, but these
days they employ synthetic gems that fit into holes reamed by this machine,
which is about the size of a tissue box.
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
69
THE INNER
SANCTUM
Ten people work at RGM; eight of them, including Murphy, build, repair, and
fabricate watches. They work the same tools you’d find in an early-20thcentury Swiss atelier. Four cast-metal engine-turning machines dominate
the main workroom. These lathes carve patterns into metal surfaces. The
process, known as guilloche, requires expertise that sets RGM apart.
“Guilloche is a whole separate craft from watchmaking,” says Murphy. “Very
few people around the world do both.”
IN WITH THE
OLD WAYS
Watchmaker Jake Weaver-Spidel adjusts one of the company’s housemade movements, the Caliber 801. It takes about a week to assemble and
adjust one of these machines, and that’s in addition to the time it takes to
fabricate the components (months). Murphy purposely designs his
movements with servicing in mind, so that, if cared for, they could last
indefinitely. More than watches, these are heirlooms. “I don’t like the idea
of building something with a life span in mind,” he says.
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
71
BEAUTY
WHEREVER
YOU LOOK
If there’s a flat surface inside a high-end watch, chances are it’s decorated,
or, as watchmakers say, finished. The word choice speaks volumes about the
craft. Even though the recessed areas of this watch’s main plate will soon sit
under a multilayered complement of gears, springs, and other parts, they’re
subjected to a purely decorative process called perlage. RGM’s artisans grind
tiny overlapping circles over every exposed facet of the plate. It can take a
half-hour or more to embellish this part.
HEART
SURGERY
Fancy watches are expensive for two main reasons: The first is material
cost. Watchmakers groove on precious metals like gold and platinum for
decorative elements outside the movement, which is typically made from
steel, nickel, silver, or brass. The other, much more significant factor is
labor. RGM produces only around 60 watches with what are known as
in-house movements in a given year. Murphy’s team fastidiously crafts
these beating watch hearts by hand.
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
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TALES
FIELD
F R O M
T H E
BRAIN PAIN
a stroke erased
my sense of
past or future
J I L L B O LT E TAY L O R ,
AUTHOR OF MY STROKE OF INSIGHT
As a neuroanatomist at Harvard, I studied
how our brain creates our perception of
reality. And then one morning, I woke up with
a sharp pain directly behind my left eye. In the
course of four hours, I lost the ability to walk, talk, read,
write, or recall any of my life. I was experiencing a major
hemorrhage, bleeding in the left half of my brain, which
rendered me an infant in a woman’s body.
The perception of time is, of course, controlled by cells
inside our brains. Cells in the left hemisphere allow us to
think linearly, to recognize that things happen in a certain
order. My stroke completely shut down those cells, leaving me dependent on my right hemisphere, which doesn’t
register anything beyond the present. I had no perception of the past or future. What I was seeing and smelling
and experiencing at that instant was my entire existence.
It’s hard to put that feeling into words, but consider this
situation: Your clothes are in a pile. You use your linear
brain—the left half—to figure out what goes on first and
what goes on last. You’re going to put on your underwear
before you put on your pants. Without that sense of
linearity, all you have are the individual pieces. It’s hard to
relate to people when you think that way; it’s not good
when a storyteller tells you the punchline before the joke.
A couple of weeks after the hemorrhage, surgeons
pulled a golf-ball-size blood clot out of my left cerebral
cortex. I immediately felt brighter and more present—
even with a hole in my head. Brain cells, and a lot of my
memories, started to come back online. I began to relearn skills. And I learned to work with time: I had a
watch, and I understood the concept. But my experience
remained very much in the present moment for a good
six years. You could teach me how to put my socks and
shoes on, yes. But if you put them down in front of me, I
wouldn’t know which to put on first.
Eventually, time came back. Some abilities I had to
learn all over again, and some just returned on their own. I
remember some things I forgot, but I have no clue what
parts of myself I’ve lost forever. I still can’t remember, say,
what my 10th birthday cake looked like. Can you?
as told to Sophie Bushwick / illustration by Jungyeon Roh
P O P S C I .C O M • S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7
75
TA L E S F R O M T H E F I E L D
PACKING LIST
summer
in sunny
Antarctica
ROSS VIRGINIA, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE OF
A R C T I C S T U D I E S AT D A R T M O U T H C O L L E G E
During Antarctica’s
warm(er) season, the sun
shines constantly. Without
darkness to divide night
from day, researchers find
ways to cope. After 21 field
seasons, here are ecologist
Ross Virginia’s must-haves.
I’m not trying to
statement. It’s
constantly bright and
it’s wicked dry, so I
protect my eyes with
dark glasses that
have side coverage
and 100 percent
UV protection.
day in the field, it can
be hard to sleep.
Music helps me make
that transition. I’ve
rigged an Altoids box
to hold a small
speaker that connects
to an iPod.
3
4
Night Shade
Single Malt
Scotch
To block out the
midnight sun, I use a
neck warmer as an
eye mask. During the
day, I can use it as a
scarf, or wear it as an
open-top hat. But
when I’m in my tent,
I just pull it over my
eyes so I can sleep.
When music doesn’t
work, there’s scotch. I
don’t really drink it at
home, but carrying a
summer’s worth of
beer isn’t an option—
in the field, you have
to consider the space
and weight factors.
as told to Kendra Pierre-Louis
TIME’S UP
a trip to the other side
I study the intersections between death,
dying, and the deceased. What does it
mean to be dying, to be dead?
The answer has changed a lot
throughout history.
It’s not hard to figure out how
I got here: My dad was a funeral
director. I grew up around death.
In the early 2000s, he called and
asked if I’d help him exhume a
grave that was about 30 years
old. Unfortunately, the concrete
around the casket had cracked,
and the whole thing was full
of water. It was a big, brown
soupy mess. I got into a hazmat suit and climbed down with
a bucket and a rope.
I filled up the bucket, scoop by
scoop, and my dad hauled it up
when it was full. That experience
really seared itself into my mind.
It made me think about what it
means to move a body when
time has broken it down and
76
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
about what it means to be dead
in the first place.
Around the time that man
passed away in the 1970s,
the discourse around our final
moments was shifting. Lifesupport machines changed our
definition of what it means
to be alive, raising all these
questions about when death
happened and what it really
meant. We moved away from
defining dying as when the
heart stops and toward an
understanding of personhood
as being in the mind. That was
important in deciding that when
a brain is dead, a person is gone.
Because the definition of
death has changed before, we
know it will shift again. As our
DNA comes to identify us, will we
say that if it still sends instructions to our cells, we’re still alive?
I have no idea what death will
mean in the future, but I can tell
you that it will change.
as told to Rachel Feltman / illustration by Jungyeon Roh
CREDIT GOES HERE
J O H N T R OY E R , D I R E C T O R O F T H E C E N T R E F O R D E A T H
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TA L E S F R O M T H E F I E L D
SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM
on a space walk,
flying blind
CHRIS HADFIELD,
RETIRED CANADIAN ASTRONAUT
Time is your enemy on a spacewalk. When you’re outside
the ship, everything that keeps you alive is on a clock.
Carbon-dioxide-absorbing chemicals work for only a certain
number of hours. Your batteries wind down. You carry a fixed
amount of oxygen. There’s very little room in the schedule if
something breaks or if there’s an emergency.
During my first spacewalk, our mission was to install an
antenna and a robotic arm on the outside of the Internation-
aged. But what bugged me most was the passage of time. I had
a lot of stuff to get done, and I could almost hear the clock ticking. Eventually I realized that I could get rid of the irritant (which
I later learned was soap and oil from my helmet defogger) by
venting oxygen from my space suit to create airflow. After a
while, my tears evaporated and I could see again.
We’d lost half an hour and hustled to catch up, but there were
still moments when I had to stop and marvel at the beauty
Australia—suddenly we go through the aurora, and all
the colors of the rainbow are rippling around us like
this great curtain. When you’re in one of those mo-
78
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
as told to Sarah Fecht / illustration by Jungyeon Roh
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TA L E S F R O M T H E F I E L D
THE NOSE KNOWS
smell ya later
J O R G E O T E R O - PA I L O S , D I R E C T O R A N D P R O F E S S O R O F
H I S T O R I C P R E S E R VAT I O N , C O L U M B I A U N I V E R S I T Y
Scents give you a sense of continuity with the past. That’s
why I study how to preserve the odors of historic places.
The molecules floating off pages at the J.P. Morgan
Library in New York, for example, reveal how it smelled
before the books were all behind glass. We create chemical cocktails of those molecules to bottle up historic perfumes, and we hope to share them with visitors someday.
We can re-create the smell of specific moments too.
When Morgan died in 1913, the family laid out his weeksold corpse in the library for viewing. Corpse smell is easy to
get; it’s used to train police dogs. Records say 5,000 pungent roses masked the stench, so they’re in our mix as well.
It’s all about capturing the essence of a space. Visitors
might not care to smell Morgan himself, but these scent
snapshots can help preserve the library’s magic forever.
as told to Mary Beth Griggs / illustration by Jungyeon Roh
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HAMMER TIME
blast from the past
PAT R I C I A R Y B E R G , A S S I S T A N T P R O F E S S O R
O F B I O L O G Y, P A R K U N I V E R S I T Y
1990
In 2010, I was on my first research trip to visit Antarctica’s
Skaar Ridge, a 2-mile-long stretch of rock and fossils near the
side of a mountain. It can be accessed only via helicopter, so it
doesn’t see much foot traffic. The last research team to visit
did so back in 1990, and they had left behind one unfortunate casualty:
my colleague Professor N. Rubén Cúneo’s hammer.
We joked about rescuing our fellow scientist’s old tool, but the odds
of finding it were incredibly slim. A hunk of metal and wood could
certainly survive a couple of decades in that barren, frozen landscape,
but Skaar Ridge is a big place, and wind constantly blows the snow
around in Antarctica. There’s a reason it got lost in the first place.
You can imagine our surprise when just two days in, we spotted a
handle poking out of the snow. How were we certain that it was
Cúneo’s, you ask? Its head was painted baby blue. The 2010 expedition
carried only hammers painted fluorescent pink, to make them easier to
spot if and when we dropped them into the snow. We’d learned our
lesson about baby-blue hammers back in 1990.
2010
as told to Jason Lederman / illustration by Jungyeon Roh
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ADVERTORIAL
What Would Happen if We
Stop Vaccinating?
Head of world-renowned clinic supports vaccinations,
but wonders if there is another, better way. . . .
HE HEAD OF A WORLDRENOWNED U.S. clinic
T
in Ohio said recently he
supports vaccinations but
suggests that there has to
be a better way to defeat
disease. Suffice it to say,
he is in some hot water now! Today we
are injected with foreign disease substances
that we normally would want to avoid
simply to elicit a lifesaving IMMUNE
RESPONSE.*
Here’s a possible answer (I am a graduate engineer not a doctor). In my 88th
year—a family effort—I am not new to
controversy!) In 1957 I had the best discus
throw in the World (T&F News, Vol. 10,
No. 12) but gave it up because I knew
Anabolic Steroids would cause users heart
damage! At the time, all the top athletes
were being pushed to use them. They had
been told they were safe by doctors.
Anabolic steroid inventor John Ziegler,
M.D. said before he died at 63: “I wish I
had listened to [John Ellis]. I damaged
my own heart!”
RIGHT THEN, RIGHT NOW
A great friend, Al Oerter (won the
Olympic discus four times), needed a
heart transplant and died shortly after he
and his wife visited my daughter in Atlanta.
I have a long list of Olympic friends who
are dead because they were “FDA approved” (now banned).
I was right then about anabolic steroids
and I am right now about viruses and disease!! As viruses mutate, vaccines have
to become stronger until reaching a toxic
overload tipping point. (During a physical,
I received an inadvertent Lyme Disease
Shot, later recalled!)
THE ANSWER: Since blood is 94%
water, change the properties of water (our
E-5 water machine does that) and flush
disease markers and toxic elements out
of the blood stream (typical Zurich results
shown under “Violating Faraday’s Law,”
below). This has been confirmed by a
UCLA M.D. doing independent Blood
Flow Research to prevent strokes and
heart attacks. (See more at JohnEllis.com.)
One fan of our water said: “You can’t
argue with something you can measure.
Nothing is even close to your water [John
Ellis Crystal Clear Water made with our
own patented water machines] because
you changed water properties!”
After treating a well (soak in the water!), a Jan. 27, 1992, Washington Post
Investigation article described how it
works (13 International Patents): “10,000
people/day said this water will cure anything even cancer and diabetes!” Washington Times (after the top scientist at
Los Alamos Nuclear Lab with 4 PHD’s
bought our E5 Machine): “I am embarrassed to tell you he DID change the
properties of water and we wish we owned
his patents!”
*IF YOU GO TO THE CDC.GOV/VACCINES WEBSITE YOU WILL SEE THE RESULTS
OF STOPPING ALL VACCINATIONS WORLDWIDE COULD BE CATASTROPHIC!
HOWEVER, IN SPITE OF THE FACT THERE MAY BE A BETTER WAY THAN VACCINES (see above), STATISTICS SHOW VACCINES WORK THE VAST MAJORITY
OF THE TIME, THOUGH THERE ARE SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS & SIDE EFFECTS.
Two nursing sisters with wounded soldiers are shown in a ward room at the
Queen’s Canadian Military Hospital in Shorncliffe, Kent, England, circa 1916.Top right:
Clara Barton tends a soldier. Bottom right, Susan B. Anthony.
One doctor at a prominent U.S. clinic is in
hot water for suggesting there’s a better
way than vaccinations to beat disease.
We’ve been saying this for decades.
Although we have offers from Dole,
among others, we need somebody with a
lot of money—like Pfizer has—involved
or a huge demand from celebrities concerned about autismv to spread the word!
DEDICATED TO HEALTH
A wonderful woman from a major
foundation funded our Ebola results in
the video ignoring her male counterparts
like American Red Cross Founder Clara
Barton: “We nursed you back to health
and now we need your help!” But unfortunately some of her counterparts made
sure help never came … even after thousands of women like my grandmother
and Clara Barton went to Rochester, NY
and descended on the home of women
suffragist Susan B. Anthony (Clara Barton’s
6th cousin) to offer their support for a
woman’s right to vote! If you Google:
Nursing Sisters Port Dover, you’ll see a
book by Harry B. Barrett with pictures of
my grandmother and her heroic nursing
sisters during WW1 including one sister
who was mentioned in wartime dispatches
for her heroism resulting in a certificate
presented to her by King George V. In
spite of her “valor in the face of the
enemy”, after throwing caution to the
wind because the love of her life had
been killed in action, a woman was ineligible to receive the Victoria Cross!
Heartbroken, this beautiful lady never
married.
There are hundreds of letters and pictures, including one of the ambulances
my grandmother donated (before we entered WWII) encouraged by her friend,
suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, who
moved around the corner from my grandmother in New Rochelle, N.Y. As a
youngster, I remember all the sewing machines and their many friends at my grandmother’s house sewing thousands of predie cut clothes together to keep children
warm during the brutally cold English
winters. Carrie Chapman Catt also founded
the League of Woman Voters and is most
famous for her Congressional speech resulting in the 19th Amendment that gave
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woman the right to vote in 1920!
All this took place after Susan B.
A portion of every sale of our water machines goes to maintaining this property,
Anthony died.
which is currently used by Boy & Girl Scouts, and other youth groups free of charge.
Now, history repeats itself, except
This is the Gatehouse Entrance to the 418-acre John Ellis Estate on top of Crystal Mountain in
this time their counterparts have problems
Shohola, PA. Ellis pledges to DONATE THE PROPERTY in partnership with a major foundation
with clogged arteries, heart attacks, prostate
or university in perpetuity for humanitarian purposes. Accordingly, our 501c (3) Living Water
problems and cancer by stonewalling a
Environmental Foundation details can be sent if you have an interest in helping our tax deMan’s right and a Woman’s right to
ductible humanitarian effort.
flush DEUTERIUM (a major cause of
Aging and Cancer) and Pathogens out
of their bloodstreams . . . so these
small bottle! This is done by heating and
diseases aren’t handed down to generations VIOLATING FARADAY’S LAW?
of our unborn kids and grandkids!!
Here’s what a man in Zurich said: “I cooling water hundreds of times per gallon
have had your E5 Water Machine for only (not just once!) to change the properties
VIDEO SHOWS MACHINE AT WORK
24 hours. I had gross swelling in my legs of that water. We have 13 International
Go to www.JohnEllis.com/NIH and and hadn’t worn ordinary shoes in years. Patents and 332 FDA Tests. You can judge
you can watch an informative video which Your water immediately destroyed the the blatant dishonesty in the water industry
explains just how our E5 Water Machine markers for elephantiasis in my blood using simple electrolysis. A child in science
works. And, just below the video, there is stream!! I lost all the water weight in my class could do that!
a green link to multiple NIH.Gov studies legs and I bought a pair of shoes size 10
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of deuterium in your water.
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TRIP
HEAD
NEURO-LUMINESCENCE
snakes
on a
plane
trip
meter
84
real world
westworld
UNLIKE ACTUAL SNAKES, YOU DON’T
need to keep a keen eye on the spiraling ones
above. In fact, for your sanity, it’s probably
best to ignore them: These playful circles stay
still when you stare them down one at a time,
but spin frustratingly when spied all together.
Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a psychologist at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, made
this take on peripheral drift illusions—which
make the brain miscast patterns as motion.
Neuroscientists think the shapes mess with
the way our brain adapts to disparities in color
contrast. When we glance at this image, the
blacks and whites cause a bunch of neurons to
fire at once. At the same time, the paler blues
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
and yellows trigger a slower, longer-lasting
response. Motion-detecting neurons in the
visual cortex mistake this difference in firing
timing for movement and report that the image is spinning when it’s perfectly stagnant.
Oddly, the effect is fierce in the periphery
but muted under direct view. That’s because
the eye’s center (the fovea) contains the densest grouping of cones, a type of photoreceptor.
This massive cluster of sensory cells lets us
see fine details easily, preventing our motion
detectors from muddying the works.
You might even be able to fool your cat with
it. Some felines, researchers found, display
hunting behavior when viewing this illusion.
by Marissa Shieh / photographs by Brian Klutch
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HEAD TRIP
NO TOUCHING!
rabbit, run
EVERYONE HATES AWKWARD PAUSES, AND YOUR
trip
meter
real world
westworld
brain is no exception. The mind’s eye will attempt to fill
in dead spaces—though it’s not always very accurate. Try
this: Have a friend give a few taps to your forearm, first
near the wrist and then the elbow. Your noggin will confidently assert that something scurried up your arm. The
prank even works when the middle of the forearm is numb.
Neuroscientists call this trickery the cutaneous rabbit
illusion. At its carrot-y roots, the rascal arises from the inaccurate map your brain has of your arm. On your forearm,
sensory neurons can separate stimuli that are 1 centimeter
apart. (By comparison, your fingertip has sensitivity resolution of 1 millimeter.) The arm’s imprecise measures aren’t
a problem if you’re looking at it, but if you turn away, your
brain must rely on assumptions: The object on your wrist
didn’t transport to your elbow; it must have run there.
We see proof of this confusion in our somatosensory
cortex, the brain area where the body’s mental map resides.
Whether the taps actually touch the forearm center or you
just think they do, the same cortex area lights up in fMRI
scans. But don’t always assume what’s on your arm is illusory; there’s a lot of creepy, crawly (bite-y) things in this world.
by Sara Chodosh
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HEAD TRIP
westworld
clock-stoppers
real world
OVERPREPARED
trip
meter
NOT EVERY SECOND IS MADE THE SAME—AT
least as far as our noggins are concerned.
Quickly glance at an analog clock. You might find that the
second hand seems stuck at first. But if the precise machinery ensures every second is the same, why the pause?
Amelia Hunt, a neuroscientist with the University of
Aberdeen in Scotland, says the standstill (nicknamed the
stopped-clock illusion) occurs because our brains anticipate what we will see before we actually view it. When we
move our eyes, everything shifts position on the retina. If we
couldn’t sense those adjustments coming, we’d be incredibly disoriented. So our brains figured a way to cope: As we
navigate the world, our visual cortex creates and updates
an interactive map of what’s around us. The brain uses it to
predict what we’ll see to prevent discombobulation.
So, when you look up at a clock, your mapmaking brain
has foreseen what it will look like. And when your gaze does
reach it, you are a step ahead of time. In a 2009 study, Hunt’s
team found that, on average, clock gazers set the time as 39
milliseconds earlier than what actually landed on the clock.
For a fleeting second, time might seem to stop. Too bad it
won’t help you catch up if you’re running late.
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WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
OR YOUR MONEY BACK !
( C O N T I N U E D F R O M P. 4 4 )
The skepticism was equally swift .
“ Papineau strung together a whole bunch
of possibilities that pointed to a probability,
but we can’t make a leap to what the samples
definitely are or aren’t,” says Van Kranendonk, who based his own 2017 finding on a
different type of fossil pattern—sheetlike
structures called stromatolites. Others cast
doubt on the filaments and said they didn’t
look right. The rocks had gone through too
much heat and pressure to be trustworthy.
Papineau and Dodd say they have thought
all this through. It’s true that any single phenomenon they saw could have been caused
by nonbiological chemistry. But it’s extremely
unlikely that every last one of the phenomena
would have been present unless life too had
once been present. “We always knew the work
would be met with controversy, given the history of early-life claims,” Dodd says. “It’s not
something trivial to claim.”
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration.
This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
It might not seem as explosive as the big-bang
theory, or as disorienting as Darwin’s origin
of the species, but the question of where and
how life began is an enduring existential mystery. It points to our first beginnings, the stuff
that we’re all made of—codes and chemicals.
Papineau and Dodd might be right. Or not. But
it looks likely that microbial creatures started
swarming Earth almost as soon as it formed.
Even without consensus on how and where life
got going, everyone pretty much now agrees on
a basic when: early. And quickly.
In fact, it could have happened more than
once around the same time, in many places.
“It’s entirely plausible,” says MIT geobiologist Tanja Bosak. That also means that it
could have happened on another planet. In
the case of Mars, our closest candidate, it
could have come and gone.
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will try to find
that out. Engineers will outfit its rover with
a micro-Raman spectrometer that can do
a bit of what Papineau and Dodd did in the
lab—analyze rocks for former biological
content. Williford, who is the deputy project
scientist for the mission, will use some of
the Nuvvuagittuq samples to test the rover’s
spectrometer during its development.
If a mission one day sniffs out former life in
rocks on Mars or elsewhere, Papineau thinks
it will shift our perception of our uniqueness
90
in the cosmos. It might even “unify people,”
he says. Van Kranendonk says it’d be like the
Apollo astronauts looking back at our planet
from space: “It could have a profound impact
on our place in the cosmos.”
In the meantime, scientists will continue
looking where they always have—in remote
ancient rock, in biochem labs, in clean rooms
under microscopes, and in bubbling vats like
the one in Lane’s lab at University College London. It’s just a block away from Papineau’s office, but it’s a completely different world. Lane
builds origins-of-life reactors to try to replicate
the chemical reactions that lead to creation.
The first version, now retired, looks like
something out of Breaking Bad: a big, smudged
glass cylinder with a tube dangling from the
bottom, partly encased in wrinkled tinfoil
secured with masking tape. A thin bundle of
wires snakes out below. When it’s switched on,
hot hydrogen-rich alkaline fluid with common
salts such as potassium phosphate and sodium
sulfide seeps up the pipe into the chamber. It
bubbles through acidic water rich in dissolved
carbon dioxide, iron, and nickel, and starved of
oxygen—like the seas were 4 billion years ago.
After a few hours, spidery black tubes form
amid the alkaline and acid waters, mimicking early vent structures. One of Lane’s
contraptions yielded formaldehyde, a precursor to complex biochemistry. He’s working on
control experiments to verify that result. “A
few people are taking this chemistry seriously,” he says. “I hope it’s only a matter of time
before someone cracks it.”
Papineau and Dodd are still looking too.
Among many other projects, they’ll send one
of their rock-and-fossil samples to a synchrotron in France for 3D X-rays that could suggest
which modern microbes are most closely
related to their ancient microorganisms.
“Everything counts,” Papineau says.
“These are the best-preserved microfossils
we have. We have to seize that opportunity to
characterize them as best we can.” In other
words, these are among the finest ones we
have now. But maybe one day, somebody will
stumble across something better—older,
clearer, more surprising.
If this field of research has proved anything,
it’s that life takes any opportunity it can get,
and it gets there in a hurry. Life happens.
Kat McGowan (@mcgowankat) is a science journalist
who writes from Berkeley, California, and New York City.
S E P T E M B E R /O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 • P O P S C I .C O M
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light levels—for a month, while they also
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For all of us, this takes place roughly
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seek to fully shut ( C O N T I N U E D O N P. 9 4 )
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Herring says. “You become cold, you
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Herring recalls a spooky happening
during this stretch, which is also when an
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pains that could have signaled either
heartburn or a heart attack. The EKG was
normal. Unsure, Herring faced the patient
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which showed that a massive heart attack
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out fine for the patient. But in retrospect,
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daytime, he suspects, that kind of decision
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Since Oakland is a public hospital with
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Herring’s concerns about shift work. So
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can find. They’re adopting a solution used
by Canadian ER doc Pat Croskerry. A professor in emergency medicine at Dalhousie
University in Halifax, Croskerry is an expert in cognition and diagnostic errors. He
is also a trained experimental psychologist.
He advocates using a so-called casino shift:
Instead of having one doctor work through
the entire night, you have two doctors split
the evening, with each of them sleeping for
a bit during the witching hour. Even a little shut-eye at this time seems to improve
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work won’t make the underlying problem
go away. Keeping such hours will still push
doctors to their limits. “You need to bake
in the cost of night work,” Herring says.
“The physiological cost on your body. The
psychological cost. We somehow have to
get the greater society to understand the
terrible toll this is taking.”
Leslie Kaufman, founder of the political newsletter
Red for the Blue, also writes frequently on science.
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ASKS ADAM BOOZER VIA FACEBOOK
Mathematically speaking, warp speed is possible, says Eric
Davis, a theoretical physicist with the Institute for Advanced
Studies at Austin. In theory, he says, a warp drive creates a
bubble that distorts spacetime around a moving vessel. The
problem, though, is the energy required to do so roughly equates
to the sun’s mass. Don’t give up yet. Physicists brought that
energy demand down from its original estimate (the mass of
the galaxy) by creating a more efficiently shaped warp bubble.
Finding better ways to send that bubble through space is next.
A Pill That Stops Aging
ASKS @1CENTTHINKER VIA TWITTER
It’s unlikely that any medicine will unlock the secret to
immortality, but certain drugs might slow our decline. One,
called rapamycin, tricks cells into thinking they’re starving,
which allows them to better resist DNA damage and other
stressors, and thus live longer. One study found it extended
mice’s life spans by 25 percent. Longevity researchers such as
Matt Kaeberlein at the University of Washington, are now
testing rapamycin on dogs. But getting it OK’d for humans will
be hard; the FDA doesn’t consider aging a medical condition.
A Way to Be Productive While You Sleep
ASKS JUSTIN RODGERS VIA FACEBOOK
It would be the ultimate life hack: Instead of wasting one third
of your days staring at the back of your eyelids, find a way to
make use of those lost hours. But Matthew Walker, a sleep
researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, says that’s
a backward way of thinking. Snoozing is extremely productive,
he counters. One pivotal 2003 study found participants who
lost between one and five hours of sleep saw steady declines in
scores on tests that measure reaction speeds to visual stimuli.
The effects worsened with each additional lost hour of sleep.
WANT TO KNOW IF YOUR IDEA COULD BECOME REALITY? TWEET @POPSCI, EMAIL LETTERS@POPSCI.COM, OR TELL US ON FACEBOOK.
POPULAR SCIENCE magazine, Vol. 289, No. 5 (ISSN 161-7370, USPS 577-250), is published bimonthly by Bonnier Corp., 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016. Copyright ©2017 by Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole
or part is forbidden except by permission of Bonnier Corp. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to POPULAR SCIENCE, P.O. Box 6364, Harlan, IA 51593-1864. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and additional mailing
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98
reporting by Aparna Nathan, Claire Maldarelli, and Sara Kiley Watson / illustrations by Rami Niemi
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