Elephant Evolution

Leon C. Megginson once stated, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Animal poaching is a horrendous act which, in most cases, results in death, because it is done in order to take valuable assets of the animal, such as its horns or fur, to sell them off. Animals such as rhinos and elephants are at the brink of extinction due to this. However, poaching has not only decreased the population of different animal species, but has also changed the way they breed. Elephants are evolving and it is interesting and disconcerting all at the same time.

What Is The Phenomenon That Is Occurring?

New research shows that poaching has led to an intriguing phenomenon occurring within the elephant population. The stress of the activity is almost forcing elephants to evolve in order to survive. Female elephants are birthing elephants who are naturally tusk less. Historically speaking, only 2-4% of the female elephants in Africa were biologically tusk less. And now one-third of the entire African female elephant population is.

How Widely Is the Phenomenon Occurring?

However, it is important to take the disheartening statistics of how many elephants are now left into account. Just a few decades earlier there used to be over 4000 elephants residing in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Ever since the civil war, there are only 200 adult females left now as Joyce Poole’s research suggests. Joyce Poole is an expert in elephant behaviour who is bringing light to this astounding occurrence. Out of the 200 adult females in Mozambique, 51% of the elephants older than 25 are without tusks. 32% of the elephants that were born after the war are biologically tusk less. This phenomenon is not just occurring in Mozambique, as 98% of the 200 female African elephants found in Addo Elephant National Park are also without tusks. In Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, there was a heavy amount of poaching done during the 70s and 80s. Josephine Smit, an elephant behaviour researcher who has been tracking these female elephants has noticed that approximately 21% of females that are older than the age of five are born without tusks.

Adapting To Their Environment without Tusks

Of course, the decrease in tusks also means that how elephants fend for themselves has to change. Joyce Poole’s intensive research has proven that elephants are still surviving and healthy even without their tusks. Scientists have observed that with the handicap of tusklessness, elephants are adapting accordingly to their environment. Tusks are useful, besides just being overgrown teeth. They were used in the daily life of elephants in order to dig up water and minerals from the ground, debark trees to get some fibre-laden food and help males in their competition for females. Elephants have been observed to now use their trunks and teeth to strip off bark from trees for food.

Even with the dark history behind them, the evolutionary female African elephants are a reminder of the adaptability and perseverance of nature during the most stressful of times.



Microbes on Mars

Constant efforts are being made to find out whether there are signs of life on Mars, and a lot more is being uncovered about this intriguing planet. The reason astrobiologists and researchers are so interested in finding out more about whether there ever was or are life forms on Mars is due to the similarity between Mars and the Earth. Earth and Mars both have seasons, except Mars has seasons that last twice as long as seasons on Earth. Also, the conditions on Mars indicate that it is the most hospitable astronomical body after planet Earth. Thus, space missions have been and still are being sent in order to understand whether Mars may have extra-terrestrial inhabitants and whether human settlements can actually be established there.

Sign of Life on Mars

According to the most recent news, evidence has been found that shows signs of microbes and even fossils on Mars. However, only photographic evidence has been sent as yet; more cannot be found out until samples from Mars are brought back to earth for examination. However, this has made it certain that there is some presence of life, or at least the precursor of life in the form of microbes, on Mars.

Also, scientists have discovered that microbes even found a way to inhabit Atacama Desert in Chile, which is similar to Mars in terms of condition. Atacama Desert does not receive any rain or moisture, and is highly arid, which is quite similar to the Mars landscape. It is already proven that there is frozen water on Mars, and recent research also concluded that there are moisture events that take place near Mars’s surface, like nightly snowfall, which signals the potential for life.

Why There Should Be More In Depth Exploration

Before landing human missions or having samples brought to earth, scientists need to determine if there is extra-terrestrial life present on Mars or not. There is no telling what astronauts or robots may encounter there and bring back to Earth. Rather than worrying about contaminating Mars, as the strict planetary protection protocols state, it should be known whether samples could endanger our biosphere and humanity. These protocols are not considering the fact the human missions are set to go in merely a decade or two.

Why Contaminating Mars Should Not Be A Worry

Tersicoccus phoenicis is a bacteria that has only been found where space crafts are assembled and can be used as a key technique by explorers to differentiate between Mars and Earth organisms. The microbes present in the space crafts can be used in order to monitor contamination levels. If there is a sample from Mars that contains the same or similar microorganisms to the spacecraft assembly rooms, then it can indicate contamination rather than sign of life on Mars. Technology can also help distinguish between Alien matter and Earth matter, and even if both come out as similar, genomes sequencing can be done in order to confirm that it belongs to Mars.

Since it has been proven that there are microbes present on Earth, the organic microorganisms that have been found could turn into building blocks for potential Martian life in the future. The possibilities this research and future plans pose are limitless.

Turning Waste Into Fuel

Hearing about greenhouse gases, ocean dumping, and full landfills has become the norm over the last few decades. With the current growth in human population, which of course leads to more industry and more waste, it’s no wonder that we are now facing one of the biggest challenges of our day – what to do with all that garbage? Luckily, there are many people and companies taking on this challenge and coming up with new ways to use waste, by turning it into usable biofuels, instead of filling up the oceans or landfills with it.

The process of converting solid waste, things like plastics and food waste, into usable fuel is complex and attempts in the past have proven to be costly and inefficient. The transformation process requires gasifying the solid waste and in the midst of that process, other unusable, even toxic, compounds are created.

The benefits of being able to efficiently convert our solid waste into usable biofuels are tremendous, from powering vehicles and creating heat sources to the obvious – cleaning up our world oceans and landfills. Not to mention that our current fossil fuel system contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every step of its production and use, from extracting it, to processing and shipping and burning it as fuel. Already we can see that this gasification process for solid wastes is contributing more positively than the harm caused by utilizing fossil fuels, and the hope is that plants built and run in certain locations across the globe (those most affected by trash build-up) will lead to more plants being built, thus a clean energy cycle can begin to perpetuate itself, instead of the wasteful fossil fuel/combustion system we are currently stuck in.

And that’s not even the end of it. Not only do these waste conversion plants create renewable, clean energy sources, but they turn a profit as well. Companies like Synova, Fiberight, Harvest Power, Sierra Energy, UrbanX Renewables Group and Plastic2Oil are all providing a service that is truly necessary while at the same time, helping local communities to boost their economies.

The biofuel created through the gasification process is called syngas and can be used for a variety of things. The most common use is as a fuel additive. By combining it with regular gasoline it acts as an ethanol mix. Many cars are now able to use gasoline with added ethanol and some vehicles even run on up to 85% ethanol mixes.

With these new advances in waste conversion, and so many people and companies around the world taking a hard look at the concerns of growing landfills and ocean dumping it will be no time at all until we are seeing the vast improvements in air quality and cleaner oceans, not to mention smaller landfills. It likely won’t be that far off that your vehicle is making a positive difference in the fight against CO2 buildup and greenhouse emissions as well. Recycling and reusing was a great first stab at cleaning up our planet, but it’s become evident that this push towards using waste as fuel will only further the efforts and help us all to leave a cleaner world behind for future generations to come.

Quantum Computing

Up until now, quantum computers have been merely science fiction, relegated to TV shows and sci-fi novels, and the dreams of scientists and computer geeks the world over. But that could soon change. As our computing technology becomes faster and smaller we are coming ever closer to the elusive quantum computer.

The basic difference between classical computing and quantum computing will be the speed at which the computer is able to solve problems. With classic computers, the general thought is that problems that we can’t solve in any reasonable amount of time with just good old plain human brain power, can be solved relatively quickly. But with quantum computers the size of the problems we will be able to solve will seem astronomical compared to what today’s computers are capable of.

For the average person, a quantum computer may not do much to change their everyday lives, or at least not in the way that most people use computers today. Record keeping, sending emails and social media will likely not be changed much by these amazing new computers, but the way we interact with encrypted data will certainly see some changes. What will change for sure is the way scientists solve major problems, things like how to cure diseases, discovering new medicines, changing the molecular structure of materials like plastic (think of all those water bottles in landfills and what would change if they were biodegradable) and maybe even finding new ways to travel to other planets, or solve major world issues like poverty.

Beyond the question of what we will actually be able to do with a quantum computer is how exactly to build one. The biggest obstacle will likely be how to transport information within the computer. There are two options and to understand either you have to know that qubits (quantum bits) in classic computers can be 1 or 0, whereas in quantum computing the qubits can be both at the same time.

But perhaps the most important thing that quantum computing will bring to our current technological state is the new tech that we will have to create in order to build a quantum computer. The National Science Foundation has announced plans to officially pursue the knowledge necessary to get us there with their new STAQ (Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design) project. The project will be bringing together scientists, programmers, engineers, and physicists from around the country to get the job done, with a cool $15 million dollar budget and a 5 year set proposal to see the world’s first quantum computer.

The NSF is not the only agency to be on the path to quantum computing though – IBM and Google are both on the bandwagon as well. But the NSF is an academic study, whereas the privatized companies that are making their own way towards quantum computing may have some limitations to what they can delve into and how their quantum computing could be used. Regardless of who builds the first quantum computer, it seems that the future is very close indeed.

Segway Transport

Segway Inc., founded in the US by Dean Kamen in 1999, is synonymous with personal transportation on a level unlike anything we had seen before. When the Segway PT was unveiled in December of 2001, many people claimed it was the wave of the future. This two-wheeled self-balancing personal transport machine allowed for faster-than-walking travel and was marketed to tourists, businessmen, police officers, military and security personnel and warehouse workers.

Despite not reaching sales goals, the companies investors remained positive. In 2006, all Segway PT’s sold since launching were recalled due to a software malfunction that caused the machines to reverse and had the potential for injuring riders. In late 2009, millionaire businessman Jimi Heselden bought the company but then died in a freak accident just a few months later when the Segway he was riding went off a cliff.

In 2015, after some disputes over patent infringement, a Chinese robotics manufacturer, Ninebot, acquired ownership of Segway Inc. and announced that production would be moved from New Hampshire to China. With ownership of these new patents and technology, Ninebot has made it clear that they intend to move Segway into the future.

The newest product to be released as part of Segway’s personal transportation line seems to be geared more towards young adults though, and is reminiscent of the freeline skates that tried to take hold of the skating scene in the early years of the 2000’s.

The company crowdfunded more than 30 times what they needed for research and development (with two weeks to spare in their funding campaign) and is now taking pre-orders on Indiegogo for the skates with hopes to begin shipping in October of this year. Named the Drift W1, these electronic skates feature only one wheel. The platform for your foot to rest on is hinged on this wheel allowing the rider to balance and turn simply by moving the ankle, while keeping the legs free of each other true to more traditional skate forms.
The skates are touted as self-balancing and are aimed at taking over the hoverboard market. Coming in at just under 8 lbs. per skate, the company claims they are lightweight and easy to carry in your backpack or bag. They come with a dual-charger, so you can conveniently charge both skates simultaneously, and claim a 45-minute session is possible per charge. They also come with a $400 price tag.

While it seems the company has been revived by its new owners and is likely to see some better sales with these newer products and better marketing (after all, the original Segway PT only sold some 30,000 units), it seems a bit unclear whether these new e-skates will really be the personal transport of the new generations.

Undoubtedly, they will be on lots of Christmas lists this year, and we are likely to see some younger people zipping around town on them. But until the customer reviews start rolling in, it is unclear if the Segway Drift W1 will really hit the mark for electronic personal transportation this time.

Space Exploration

Man has been looking to the stars since before recorded history. Most of our exploration has been through the use of telescopes and simple observation, but in the last hundred years, we have collectively begun to explore through manned spaceflights and with the use of unmanned satellites.

There are space programs in many countries around the world today, with perhaps the most well-known being NASA in the US, the ESA in Europe (run and funded by a conglomerate of European countries), the CNSA in China, JAXA in Japan, the ISRO from India and Roscosmos in Russia.

Historically, the Russians have a lot of ‘firsts’ under their belt in the space exploration arena. The first living Human Being to orbit Earth in 1957, the first manned spaceflight in 1961, the first spacewalk in 1965, the first unmanned landing on a celestial body other than Earth in 1966, and the first space station in 1971 can all be attributed to Russia.

But with Russia’s advancements came a push on the part of the US to excel in space exploration and knowledge. Since those early days of our reach to the stars, the world as a whole has seen a change in the race for knowledge of the galaxy into a cooperation of many nations that wish to have a hand in furthering humankind’s influence in our corner of the universe.

Currently, in the US, Donald Trump has proposed new goals for NASA and space exploration programs that would further propel the US into a state of power in the reaches of space. Proposing to have a new manned mission to the moon, including plans for a permanent moon base, NASA has been careful to provide dates that are flexible to account for finding resolutions to unknown obstacles that may present themselves.

Even private organizations and corporations are now taking part in the exploration of space and space-related technologies. Blue Origin and SpaceX are both private companies that seek to become forerunners in the privatization of space flights and space tourism.

Most people support the funding of space programs, while the exploration and colonization of nearby celestial bodies are seen as necessary by many scientists and astronomers. Stephan Hawking himself was known to have believed that without the expansion of humans into space we would certainly face our demise due to a lack of resources on Earth that can continue supporting our fast-growing population.

Space tourism has become a recent addition to our knowledge and use of the outer atmosphere as well. Many people dream of going to space and a handful of companies have recently unveiled plans for luxury hotels, spaceflights, and private space stations.

Space exploration has introduced so much into our knowledge of the physics of the universe and even our own planetary functions. We have sent many unmanned missions to various planets and comets which have sent information back to scientists here that are able to extrapolate data that will further our future missions to colonize the planets around us. It will be a wonder to see what the next big discovery is, not only for us but for the future of mankind as well.