Joe Landolina: This gel can make you stop bleeding instantly

Speaker

Joe Landolina is a young, full time student at NYU, and inventor of a gel that can instantly stop traumatic bleeding — without the need to apply pressure. He is CEO of Suneris, which aims to bring the product to market.

Summary

A soldier shot in the femoral artery can die in 3 minutes. If a medic gets to him, their tools take 5 minutes to stop bleeding, and require the medic to apply pressure throughout. Joe has been working on bio-products that work with the body to stop bleeding quickly.

Cells are the most basic unit of life, but these are surrounded by the extra-cellular-matrix (ECM) which is what is damaged during a cut. A scar is a symptom of poorly formed ECM. ECM is different for different parts of the body, so it is difficult to design a product that is compatible with all the different ECMs. Most technology is only a crude approximation of ECM, but Joe’s gel is derived from plant products and can re-form to replicate any type of ECM once applied. Wherever the gel is applied, it forms the shape it needs. He shows an example of a serious ‘cut’ in a piece of meat, with a pump pushing blood through it. By the time he finished applying the gel (~10secs), the bleeding is completely stopped.

The product is already being used by vets, and Joe hopes it will be used on humans within a year.

My Thoughts

Wonderful product. Reading around, some animal-based products are used in surgeries for a similar effect, but some people refuse for ethical reasons. There are also others that cannot be stored at room temperature, but Joe’s gel seems superior to most alternatives.

If the summary interests you, or you want to hear a 5-minute description of how the body responds to cuts, it is a worthwhile watch. Not too much detail on how it works though.

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Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists

Speaker

Naomi Oreskes is an American historian of science.

Summary

We as a people have to answer questions that rely on the scientific method – about global warming, evolution, and the effectiveness of vaccines. But increasingly, public opinion polls show that Americans don’t believe the science on these issues. For most people, science is not fully understood, so it is reduced to a matter of ‘belief’, and this is true even for scientists operating outside of their own field (eg a chemist talking about evolutionary biology). So how do we trust scientists?

The inductive model is the textbook scientific method. This forces scientists to

  1. Develop a hypothesis
  2. Deduce it’s consequences
  3. Observe these consequences

In the ideal case, the idea is a law of nature. A law is true in the general case – in all times and places, and cannot be broken.

For example, the theory of general relativity said that space-time wasn’t an empty void and actually had a fabric that was bent in the presence of large objects. An observable conclusion was that light would bend around the sun. This took a few years to test, but was observable and therefore verified the theory of general relativity.

Naomi says this deductive model of science is wrong for 3 reasons

  1. False theories can make true predictions – just because a test shows something, doesn’t prove this hypothesis.
  2. Auxiliary Hypothesis – assumptions that scientists are making without realising they are making them. For example to test that the Earth rotated around the sun, scientists suggested that when they focussed on a particular star in June, the backdrop of other stars would be different in December (since it was being observed from a different ‘angle’). They did not see this, so disproved the (correct) model because the effect of ‘stellar parallax’ was small (Earth’s orbit relative to star distances was tiny), and their telescopes were not sensitive enough. The scientists made incorrect implicit assumptions about the size of the orbit and the sensitivity of their equipment, which undermined their conclusions.
  3. Inductive science – a lot of science is based on finding evidence and data first, then developing a model later. Darwin’s evolutionary work itself evolved after Darwin collected samples and data over a number of years.

Scientists often build models, to explain the root causes of something. A geologist who hypothesised continental drift to form mountains did so first by compressing clay with a clamp – this did show results similar to the folds in mountains and this added to the evidence of continental drift. Climate change is an area where modelling is used to explain the 1 degree celsius temperature increase over the past 50 years. Temperature measurements over 150yr period show that the increase is clear, but the models explain this by taking into account all effects (for example sulfates, volcanic eruptions, greenhouse gases, ozone, solar radiation). By modelling each of these effects, we can see which combination of them affects temperature. The modelling shows that each of these effects yield a temperature change, but the largest rise was driven by the impact of greenhouse gases. This lets us show that not only is climate change happening (from observations of temperature), but also that greenhouse gases are a major driver (from the models).

If scientists do not use a common methodology, how do we know if they are right or wrong? By organised skepticism – they convince each other from a position of mistrust, with the burden of proof on someone who wants to make a novel claim. It is difficult to shift scientific thought to a new radical idea – the model is conservative by design. Scientific knowledge is therefore a model of consensus by the experts.

Is this consensus any different from the ‘appeal to authority’ argument? It is similar to an appeal to authority, but it is not an appeal to an individual, but the authority of the entire collective scientific community. For example – modern automobiles are the product of not 1 person, but on the collective work of every person who has worked on the car for the past 100 years. The same is true for science – but it has been collected over thousands of years. We should trust science, but not blindly – it should be based on evidence. This means scientists need to be better at sharing their reasons for knowing something, but also that we as a community need to be better at listening.

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

Speakers: Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist known for her popular explanation of scientific research.

Summary

Kelly has been treating stress as a disease that makes people sick, but has now changed her tune. A study assessed people’s feelings of stress, their attitude towards stress, and correlated against public death records. The people most likely to die were more stressed, but they also believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who were highly stressed but didn’t believe it was harmful were the least likely group to die. The study shows it isn’t stress that kills people, it’s the belief that stress is harmful. By reshaping how you think about stress, you can retool your body’s response.

When stressed, your heart beats faster, you breathe faster, and you’ll break out into a sweat. Normally we’d view these as signs that you’re not coping well, but people could also be taught that your body is preparing for action. By pumping more blood and breathing more you are preparing for something difficult, and ready to take on any challenge.

The harmful part of stress is a restriction of blood vessels, which is associated with cardiovascular disease. When people learn to see stress as a positive, the blood vessels do not constrict. The body response looks more like it is full of joy.

The next time you are stressed, think about it as your body preparing you for the challenge.

Stress makes you social. Octytocin is a neural hormone that primes you to strengthen relationships, and help your friends. It is also known as ‘the cuddle hormone’. But Oxytocin is also released as a stress response – to make you want to tell someone you are struggling. Oxytocin is also received in the heart, to strengthen, heal and protect it from the effects of stress. As you release more of this hormone by being stressed or helping others, you increase your stress resilience.

Another study looked at how stressed people were, how much time they had spent helping family / friends / their community, and correlated with public death records. For the general respondants, each major stressful crisis increased the risk of dying by 30%. However, people who spent time caring for others had no increase in risk of death due to stress.

The results of stress are changed by your mindset. When you think of stress as a benefit it acts that way. When you help others, you build resilience to stress.

When given a choice between a stressful job and one that is less stressful, Kelly recommends that you follow the one that gives you the most meaning, and trust yourself to handle the stress that results.

Jeremy Kasdin: The flower-shaped starshade that might help us detect Earth-like planets

Speaker

Jeremy Kasdin: Aerospace engineer at Princeton University.

Summary

In the next decade, Jeremy wants us to build a space telescope that can take pictures of Earth-like planets in distant galaxies. Astronomers now believe that every star in the galaxy has a planet, and up to a fifth might have an earth-like planet that can sustain life. The ‘pale blue dot’ picture of Earth is difficult to take from a long way away, because the nearby beaming star overwhelms the telescope making it impossible to see the planets. Jeremy’s colleagues are working on technology to block out the extreme light of the sun and instead focus on the planet.

One idea is similar to the concept of an eclipse – where a closer object blocks the star, reducing its interference to a ring or corona effect. This is similar to putting a hand over a spotlight so you can see more clearly. Translating it into space: we’d build a large portable screen, open it between a telescope and a star, then take a picture. However, the corona of a circular sunshade still obscures the planet. Instead the sun shade is designed with a flower like pattern, to control the diffraction of light and prevent it washing out the picture. This should allow clearer pictures to be taken of distant planets.

The star shade is as big as half a football field, and has to be flown 50,000 km away from the telescope and then held right in the shadow. His engineers have been designing the system for unfurling and moving the shade.

His hope is that once completed we can take pictures of the planets around nearby stars, then use the information to analyse them and investigate further. By building a giant flower-shaped star-shade and seeing other stars’ pale blue dot, our understanding of the world will change.

Allan Adams: The discovery that could rewrite physics

Speaker

Allan Adams: MIT Associate Professor with focus on Theoretical Physics.

(Illustrated by Randall Monroe, of http://www.xkcd.com fame, a former NASA employee who now writes a science-themed webcomic)

Summary

If you look at the sky you see stars, but if you look further and further you see nothing. Beyond that nothingness is the afterglow of the Big Bang. This afterglow is nearly completely uniform at 2.7 degrees, but has cooled slightly in small patches (20 ppm). These tiny discontinuities are caused by Quantum Mechanical ‘wiggles’ during the Big Bang, that have been stretched across the universe.

Before the Big Bang, our universe was extremely dense like a metal bell. On March 17 something new was discovered. Like a metal bell, this original universe could be ‘rung’ by quantum mechanics, then it could produce gravitational waves (like the sound from a bell). Nowadays these gravitational waves have faded, but early on the waves caused small twists in the structure of light that we see. By searching the sky from the South Pole, researchers recently discovered these wiggles in the light coming from distant stars.

What this implies is that our universe is in a ‘bubble’. It is then possible that our ‘bubble’ is just one of many, even though we may never see the others.

further reading here: http://www.space.com/25100-multiverse-cosmic-inflation-gravitational-waves.html . The big key here was that in the first fractions of a second, the universe was expanding faster than the speed of light, with our ‘uniform’ universe an expansion of a very tiny point in the original tiny dense mass. Gravitational waves were an important feature of this model, but could never be identified until recently. If our universe condensed around one region and expanded outwards, it is likely others did likewise, hence the ‘bubble’ analogy.

Kary Mullis: Celebrating the scientific experiment

Speaker: Kary Mullis

Length: 31:33

Rating 3 / 5

Summary

A talk of 2 parts. The first was a history of the establishment of the Royal Academy in England under King Charles II, and the importance of experiment. It is full of interesting anecdotes, and theories on how we know what we know.

Suddenly the talk changes to be about ‘bad science’ – the idea that a lot of scientists are in it only for money. Much of this section of the talk is devoted to climate change – Kary lists 2 papers with findings that he thinks disprove climate change

Critique

This is a tough one to review because of its speaker. Kary is a Nobel prize winner in Chemistry, and his meandering talk of backyard rocketry involving frog astronauts is fascinating. His talk about the history of science is interesting. However, a quick search shows he has a habit of ‘talking out his ass’ on subjects he has minimal experience in. These include denying the link between HIV & AIDs, denying ozone depletion and climate change.

It is too easy to dismiss as a rant, but I learnt a lot. I fully respect him for questioning climate science, but disagree with his statements. In searching for the 2 papers he quoted, I found quite a few people disputing his conclusions of the papers, including someone who claimed to be Bruce Wielicki, one of the writers of the second paper. An good rebuttal to Mullis’ points can be found here http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/blinded-but-not-by-science/.

So the first half of his talk was interesting enough, and the second half provoked me to do some more research and learn a little more. From that point of view I’m glad I watched it. Just be careful if you’re easily irritated by crackpots.