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Clean Energy in The United States

One of the goals announced by the Biden administration has been to fight climate change and produce 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. Recently, a large-scale project called ‘Vineyard Wind’, to be built off the coast of Massachusetts, has been given its final approval to become The United States’ first commercial scale offshore wind farm.

A Cleaner Energy Alternative

This idea of a large-scale offshore wind farm is not a new one; it was conceived about 20 years ago, but kept on being opposed and delayed and was ultimately cancelled by the Trump administration. After Biden took the presidential seat, he revived the project in March this year as a part of his plans to control climate change and save the environment.

The project, which is a joint venture of the energy firms Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, is meant to build 84 wind turbines about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Martha Vineyard. According to the New York Times, this $2.8 billion project, Vineyard Wind, would be able to produce 800 megawatts of electricity, which will be enough to power 400,000 homes!

The benefit of this wind farm would be that since it is a renewable source, it will produce clean energy and eliminate a good amount of carbon emissions which are a consequence of burning fossil fuels for energy.

A New Era of Wind Projects-More Jobs?

The approval of Vineyard Wind has opened doors to multiple other wind farm projects, to be taken into consideration. In fact, two small scale wind farms are already operational in the USA, off the coasts of Virginia and Rhode Island. Yet, they produce only 42 megawatts of electricity combined; compared to this, Vineyard Wind is set to produce 800 megawatts of power. The Interior Department is positive that following the expected success of this project, there could be about 2000 more turbines generating wind energy from the coasts of Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also stated that this new era of wind farm projects will create economic opportunities, “union jobs”, for Americans. But not everyone is as excited about this idea. For one thing, economists are concerned about the promised jobs related to this project, since most of the manufacturing business for these turbines takes place in Europe. But the administration is positive that companies will soon start manufacturing turbines locally as well, and together, the project will create an estimated 3,600 jobs.

Concerned Fishermen

The fishing industry has also put forward some concerns, especially the fact that fishermen would have difficulty navigating and catching fish near the areas where the turbines are to be built, with the largest turbine reported to be as large as two football fields. Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance also expressed her distress by stating that the authorities seem to be more interested in “multinational businesses and energy politics than our environment, domestic food sources, or U.S. citizens.”

Nevertheless, the project is expected to begin this summer and become The United States’ first commercial level offshore wind farm, with the prospects of more to follow.

Interstellar ‘Hum’

In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 space probe to study space beyond the heliopause, which is the boundary that signifies the separation of the Solar System from interstellar space. Now, Voyager 1 is the most distant human made object ever in space! Ever since it crossed the Solar System to the interstellar medium, it has been providing researchers at the Deep Space Network with interesting data about space that has never been seen before. Interestingly, it recently detected a continuous ‘hum’ in the interstellar medium.

A Constant Hum of Interstellar Gas

According to research led by Cornell University, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has a Plasma Wave System that detects solar flares produced by the sun caused by a sudden release of energy from the sun’s magnetic field. However, it is interesting that apart from these outbursts, which according to the George Feldstein Professor of Astronomy, James Cordes, are like bursts of lightning in gentle rain, the detector also picked up a very faint but constant ‘hum’ like frequency of plasma waves. While the solar outbursts occur ‘loudly’ for a specific period of time, usually about 10 minutes, these interstellar hums are monotonous and continuous.

Because of the narrow frequency bandwidth, the sound was like a low background hum; but it signifies a shift in gases when the heliopause is crossed, according to Stella Koch Ocker, a Cornell doctoral student in astronomy.

The Heliosphere and The Interstellar Medium

Scientists had previously thought that this activity of interstellar gases, although still very low level, was lesser than what the Voyager 1 made evident. This opened up vast opportunities for researchers to study the plasma distribution in interstellar space, and hence its density. What intrigued astronomers the most is that the density of space is actually higher outside the Solar System than inside it!

This information could help scientists look into how the interstellar medium interacts with the heliosphere, which is a ‘bubble’ formed by the solar winds produced by the sun. Furthermore, scientists are also excited to find out how the shape of the heliosphere is affected not just by the solar winds, but also by the interstellar environment; this will now be possible to learn because of the hum of interstellar gases successfully detected by Voyager 1.

According to Cornell research scientist Shami Chatterjee, this space probe detects the density of space continuously, which becomes an advantage for scientists studying the density of interstellar space because without this data, they would have to wait for the occurrence of a sun related event to measure interstellar plasma. Now, they can obtain this data regardless of when the sun produces solar outbursts, because of Voyager 1, which is still regularly sending data back to Earth at the rate of 160 bits per second, even at a 14 billion mile distance.

Mind Control

Remember all the sci-fi movies we watched where our protagonist clad in a smart space-suit would try to control the devices around him with his mind and we were left amazed? Well, in Elon Musk’s world of rapidly-growing technology, it is turning into a real possibility.

The co-founder of Neuralink and the latest mastermind behind every technology, Elon Musk said that his brain interface company will begin its launch with the product that will let users operate the “smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs”. This is especially revolutionary for people with paralysis who will now find it extremely easy to access technology.

Providing a sneak-peak into this plan after the tweets, Neuralink also released a video of a nine-year-old macaque named Pager engaged in a competitive game of Pong using two Neuralink units that were put in its brain six weeks ago.

This revelation could help people with paralysis use the implanted devices to feel more in control of their day-to-day activities and comes as a huge breakthrough.

The device has also opened up discussions around the technology for the visually impaired and Elon Musk says he is not ignorant to those issues either. A fan inquired about their plan for such a device and Musk promptly responded on Twitter saying, “Absolutely doable. Possibly as soon as Neuralink device version 2, highly likely by version 3.”

While it may be some time before Neuralink comes up with the mechanics of sending signals to different parts of a human body, these steps are ensuring steady and rapid growth to make the world a bit smarter every day.

But, how will the device work and what are the ramifications of having it in your brain? However, Musk pointed out that the device will be barely noticeable. “The device is implanted flush with the skull and charges wirelessly, so you look and feel totally normal.”

Right now, we do not have a date for when the tech would be available for public use because, considering the technicalities involved, the health and tech experts would have to work together to see if there are any challenges during the trial period that could potentially put the users at risk.

Even the critics of Elon Musk have praised this initiative and regarded it as an essential step in assisting people with disabilities so that they are also included in all the programs for growth and development in the sector. These plans serve as a long-term investment as they hint towards more meaningful goals for the future of human kind rather than prioritizing the fastest car in the world or finding life beyond Earth, the kind of projects that hold little or no practical value in the life of an average human being.

Mixed Species Embryos

Finding human organ donors for transplant is a matter of grave concern worldwide. Thousands of patients succumb to death waiting in line for organ donors. For years scientists have struggled to find alternatives and have chiefly resorted to stem-cell research hoping to grow human organs in animals such as sheep and pigs. However, the approach has not reaped any fruitful results so far.

Recently, however, scientists from various international institutes have attempted to create mixed-species embryos by injecting stem cells from humans into macaque (monkey) embryos. Monkey embryos are mainly used for this purpose because monkeys are genetically the closest to the human species.

Scientists injected 25 induced pluripotent stem cells from humans into 132 macaque embryos. The embryos were each 6-days old. All cells survived and grew inside the 132 embryos in the first 24 hours. After a lapse of 10 days, 29 embryos expired leaving only 103 chimeric embryos behind. By the 19th day, all except 3 chimeric embryos died, which too were terminated.

Researchers have marked this a great victory and believe that the rate the human cells grew inside the monkey embryos for the first 24 hours is remarkable and could be a great breakthrough in genetic engineering.

“This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a genetics professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, and co-author of the study told NPR.

“We are very, very excited,” he added.

“Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster,” Belmonte told the broadcaster. “We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.

All these experiments have led to promising results, as pointed out by the researchers.

Integration of the cells was not a challenge, but the survival was proving to be difficult so eventually the researchers investigated some new ways to conduct screening for drugs. This assisted in generating transplantable cells, tissues, and even organs.

Even though the idea is serving as a major breakthrough in the world of genetics, the experiment has already been tried before but with little success. In 2017, some scientists designed human-pig chimeras by introducing human cells into pig embryos. The cells were then incubated for a period of four weeks and just when they thought it would work, the number of cells grown proved to be insufficient.

This is why the researchers focused on producing a higher rate of growth.

The experiment does raise questions on ethicacy.  “My first question is: Why?” research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute Kirstin Matthews told NPR. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”

Weaponizing Space

The competition between the world superpowers to dominate each other with nuclear weapons is something that makes headlines almost every week. Making its mark in the world of science and tech, China is now posing to be a threat to these powers, especially the US.

Recently, the US Intelligence community has warned the world about China making space weapons to increase its hold and terrorize the US. It has labeled the Asian giant as “the top threat” to the US in space and has accused the Chinese government of manufacturing weapons that could be used outside of Earth to threaten the superpower.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published a new Global Risk Assessment report which highlights a huge increase in China’s military and commercial activities in the planet’s orbit. One of the primary concerns raised in the report is that China has developed the weapons to shoot down other satellites with missiles or disable them with high-speed lasers, according to Defence News Analysis. This points towards an extremely specialized industry and expertise of the Chinese military that might result in a potential danger to the US, which by far is the country that dominates space.

The threat of China as a potential contender for colonizing space has challenged the global order which was previously dominated by the US and the USSR. Right now, the US is the sole global authority in the world but by the use of well-planned economic, military and social reforms, China seems all set for world domination.

According to Defence News, ODNI Director Avril Haines told lawmakers, “I think there’s just no question, as a general matter, that China is focused on achieving leadership in space and has been working hard on a variety of different efforts in this area to try to contest what has been presumed our leadership.”

China has upped its game in science and tech and is making great investments in research and development. Even with a global pandemic that originated in the country, it has managed to pull itself out of the economic crisis and is adding a significant amount to the world GDP.

So with an impressive growth rate, China will be ready to construct its next space station in orbit quite soon and even though it is not a military action that threatens any state in particular, it is a statement on its own that the country is ready to compete with other superpowers. The International Space Station is going to retire soon and the United States is making a strong case to the committees about preventing Chinese supremacy that could potentially change the whole global order in favor of the East.

Human Reproduction

Scientists warn that the world might become infertile by 2045 if we continue at the current rate. The last decade has seen multiple warnings and threats being issued regarding the fertility of the youth by the researchers and experts who have blamed artificial products for the rapid decrease.

Right now, environmentalists have categorized the use of plastic as one of the most dangerous practices observed globally that is assisting the process of declining fertility.

The Guardian published research conducted in 2017 by Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City about the fertility rate. The findings of the study focused on the sperm count among men in Western Countries and it was discovered that it had dropped by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years. 3 years later, Swan published a book titled Count Down that provides a detailed insight into how and why humans are not being able to procreate as efficiently as before.

“People are recognizing we have a reproductive health crisis, but they say it’s because of delayed childbearing, choice or lifestyle – it can’t be chemical,” Swan said to the Guardian. “I want people to recognize it can. I am not saying other factors aren’t involved. But I am saying chemicals play a major causal role.”

Furthermore, the Human Reproduction Update also released a study in 2017 that highlighted how the sperm concentration in men fell from 99 million per ml in 1973 to 47.1 million per ml in 2011. When you look at the statistics, you see a sharp decline of 53.4% in the sperm count in the western countries namely Australia, North America, Europe, New Zealand etc.

Swan, who has studied this issue profoundly says that one of the reasons for this steep fall is the chemicals that “interfere with or mimic the body’s sex hormones”.

“Phthalates, used to make plastic soft and flexible, are of paramount concern,” Swan said. “They are in everybody and we are probably primarily exposed through food as we use soft plastic in food manufacture, processing and packaging.” She further added that “They lower testosterone and so have the strongest influences on the male side, for example diminishing sperm count, though they are bad for women, too, shown to decrease libido and increase risk of early puberty, premature ovarian failure, miscarriage and premature birth.”

The solution to this problem is not quite simple. It has taken years and years of damage for the researchers to notice the significant decline in the fertility rate so it is not an issue you can get prescribed medicines for. Swan, along with other researchers considers it a threat to humanity because if the trend continues then the world would have fewer and fewer human beings by the end of 2045.

“The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” Swan writes in Count Down. She says that we need a complete overhaul of the chemical industry to reassess which products are actively harming the reproductive growth rate and people at least need to be warned about the consequences of the consumption of plastic.