Citizen scientists shape 'destiny of humanity'
With the help of citizen scientists, SETI hopes to make the most of the Allen Telescope Array.
March 27th, 2012
02:51 PM ET

Citizen scientists shape 'destiny of humanity'

In 2009, Jill Tarter wanted to trigger the most meaningful search for extraterrestrial intelligence to date by pulling everyone together to look at the sky. The SETI Institute scientist brought her wish to the 2009 TED Conference. The idea of citizen science gave her hope.

The more eyes and ears she could put on the sky and the signals being received by the Allen Telescope Array - a collection of small satellite dishes together that can simultaneously pick up signals for radio astronomy research - the better chance we have at making new discoveries. Tarter wanted people to analyze the signals the array sends back in real time – something machines can’t do.

“We think humans are able to do something that our machines can’t” Tarter said. “We’re hoping that in these regions of the spectrum, where there are so many signals that we use for our own communication purposes, that humans can perhaps be sensitive to signals buried underneath all of this chatter of our own that might be coming from a distant technology.”

Unlike a machine’s capabilities when sorting through the tangled data, the human eye is good at picking out patterns in “the mess,” Tarter said, and identifying that same mess elsewhere in the sky.

And the more people who actively point to one particular spot in the sky as producing the most interesting frequencies, the telescope will point in that direction. They can help SETI by accessing SETI Live, the citizen science platform, on Science Channel's site. The initiative will continue until the end of the month, with results of SETI's findings to follow after it concludes. FULL POST

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National Pi(e) Day: Recipes for pies
March 14th, 2012
11:44 AM ET

National Pi(e) Day: Recipes for pies

It's an all-out pie palooza because March 14 is National Pie Day!

Clever you, you've already figured out that today's date, 3/14, also corresponds to a famous mathematical constant you learned in school: 3.14, also known as pi. So it would stand to reason that today of all days is a great day to celebrate something of a similar name, pie.

In 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed that yes, America, we should have a Pi Day, although it was celebrated beginning in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium. The staff and visitors would march about a circular space and eat fruit pies.

Many iReporters sent in photos and recipes of pies for the occasion.

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The world's first steampunk bedtime story
St. John Murphy Alexander and Steamduck on the cover of "Her Majesty's Explorer."
March 5th, 2012
12:21 PM ET

The world's first steampunk bedtime story

Author Emilie P. Bush isn’t shy about saying her latest book, “Her Majesty’s Explorer,” meant to get your little one's cogs and wheels turning, is the world’s first steampunk bedtime story. The illustrated children’s book, which released last Tuesday and jumped to No. 1 in Amazon’s “Hot New Releases,” follows the adventures of automaton St. John Murphy Alexander and his not-so-rubber ducky, Steamduck.

Already the author of two adult steampunk novels, Bush is also the mother of two young daughters – whom she calls her “built-in focus group.” When she went to a steampunk panel for young adult literature at Dragon*Con last year, all of the authors agreed on one thing: “What is missing in the steampunk genre is there are no picture books,” Bush remembers them saying. “I was already working on this and thinking, ‘finally, I have found a niche before somebody else!’ ”

Together, Bush and her illustrator, William Kevin Petty, have an original children’s book that caters to a specific subculture. But the charming concept wasn’t always easy. Petty is an Army officer and was stationed in Kuwait and Iraq during the process. He created some of his most whimsical illustrations for the book while witnessing horrors during his tour. FULL POST

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Roboticists don't speak in bleeps and bloops
Heather Knight shows off CMU's robots: Personal Exploration Rover, from left, Companion, Data, Gigapan (camera) and Rover 1.
February 29th, 2012
09:57 AM ET

Roboticists don't speak in bleeps and bloops

Editors note: Today, we're kicking off a new focus on Geek Out! called Brainiac. In this section, we'll take a closer look at the people, communities and passions behind the brainiest professions and hobbies.

For all of C-3PO’s sleek, humanoid design and eloquent chatter, it is R2-D2’s charming, melodic beeping and rolling about in “Star Wars” that captures the imagination of a roboticist even though a humanoid robot is exactly what everyone else expects when they look to the modern landscape of robotics.

It’s what Marek Michalowski, roboticist and co-founder of BeatBots, calls a paradoxical “burden of science fiction,” which both inspires and constrains what people anticipate from robotics. He and other roboticists feel compelled to deliver on the unspoken promise of anthropomorphized, or humanoid, robots, built up within sci-fi over the last 40 years.

Michalowski finds R2-D2 to be the more interesting robot because it is limited by how it can communicate. R2-D2 is also much closer to the robotic designs that are currently possible. Because roboticists have followed their instinct to focus on purpose rather than facial expressions, robots that impact people the most can be the least human-looking. FULL POST

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Where data meet diction: Science and sci-fi's dialogue
Rowena Morrill's painting depicts a plethora of ideas flying out of Isaac Asimov's typewriter.
February 15th, 2012
10:32 AM ET

Where data meet diction: Science and sci-fi's dialogue

When the U.S.S. Enterprise or Millennium Falcon glides by the camera, we take an odd comfort in the signature “whoosh” sound that follows.

Our friend, the stickler for scientific fact, usually points out that sound can never be possible in space. But don’t let the same be said for warp drive and tricorders, or even Starfleet Academy and the “Force.” Science and science fiction follow an intricate dance that toes the line between fantasy and fact. It is, in fact, a love story – a partnership full of symbiosis and reciprocity.

“They’re partners science is the foundation of imagination,” said Bernadette McDaid, executive producer of the “Prophets of Science Fiction” series on Science Channel. “Science gives sci-fi credible underpinnings, and sci-fi imbues science with imagination.” Scientists and sci-fi authors weigh in on “Prophets of Science Fiction with Ridley Scott.” The series, which returns Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET/PT, takes a question posed by a well-known science fiction author, and investigates the angles, innovations and possibilities through current research.

“Sci-fi is fiction. It’s about entertainment and telling stories, but it has always been trying hard, not necessarily to predict the future accurately, but to explore the implications of what the future might bring,” said astrophysicist and theoretical physicist Sean Caroll. “Science and sci-fi, they have very different toolboxes. Scientists use experiments, theories and data. Sci-fi uses the imagination, spurred by the physical world in which we live.” FULL POST

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