To the Stars with Data: October 31 2021 👻
Visualizing wind currents, using AI to evaluate plant genomes, new CoLD scale for extraterrestrial life detection, and more
This weekend, I passed out candy for Halloween for the first time in my life! Seeing all the 200+ kiddos was quite a fun experience. I particularly enjoyed the smaller children who completely forgot about candy once they saw our dog and demanded to pet him.
In this week’s issue, I bring to you some great things. I won’t spoil any of the surprises except for the future-thinking companies that grow shrimp above ground and crops below ground! The world has truly gone topsy-turvy.
Let’s go to the stars with data!
Thought-Provoking Data Viz
Quick hits. A scientist, Nikolay Koldunov, created a captivating simulation of 2.5 months of wind currents over North America. The visualization is a part of the NextGEMS project, which aims to develop and apply a new generation of global coupled Storm-Resolving Earth System Models to study climate change. Nikolay also made similar simulations for Europe and the Atlantic Ocean.
Quick hits. With the help of AI, researchers were able to identify “genes of importance” for how efficiently two plants—corn and Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant—use nitrogen. They completed this by identifying which genes remained similar across varieties of the plants. If a gene existed across varieties, this signaled to the researchers that the genes were important for their functioning. The researchers say that identifying genes of importance can be done in many other plants and animals in order to select better varieties based on climate or other desired results.
Digging deeper. Though not with the help of AI, our ancestors have been selectively growing crops for thousands of years through a process called selective breeding or artificial selection. (For instance, this is why we have so many different breeds of dogs today.) I’m particularly excited about how we can harness AI to hasten our understanding of genes of importance to find varieties of plants that work better for us and the climate. Imagine trees that absorb [and store] more carbon from the atmosphere or crops that require less water!
Quick hits. The governors of 5 midwest states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota) agreed to create a new electric vehicle (EV) charging network called the Regional Electric Vehicle Midwest Coalition. The plan calls for more widely-available EV charger availability, collaboration to ensure EV regulatory processes remain similar across the states, training of staff for the new jobs offered by the factories, and even "[working] together to enable an equitable transition to electric vehicles for all with specific consideration for communities that are historically disadvantaged."
Digging deeper. As a native of the Midwest (Wisconsin), I’m very excited to see this development, especially because of its push for environmental health and equity. But I’m also [pleasantly] surprised, as embracing EVs is not something I would have thought possible. Regardless, this announcement is at such a critical time, as other states like New York and California are outright banning vehicles with combustion engines within the next decade. It would seem these bans are engendering some of their intended effects, namely of pushing other states to adopt EVs or be left in the dust.
Quick hits. To ensure a rigorous scientific approach to claims of finding life off of Earth, NASA scientists are proposing a new Confidence of Life Detection (CoLD) scale. Here’s my effort to simplify the 7 levels:
First, someone must detect a biologically-derived signal (such as oxygen)
Next, human contamination must be ruled out
Then, observers need to identify something that would cause the biologically-derived signal in the environment
… then they must show that it could not have been made by anything other than life
Next, more observations of the signal (from step 1) should be made
(Almost there) Then, there should be future observations that rule out alternative hypotheses
Finally, there should be future observations that confirm the predicted biological behavior in the environment
Digging deeper. Personally, I applaud the creation of such a scale. The announcement of extraterrestrial life will be Earth-shaking to a lot of people and such announcements should be treated commensurately with their impact. This will be particularly important, considering many of the major religions on Earth rely on the tenet that life only exists on Earth.
Bonus. Those who know me know that I am fascinated by extraterrestrial life. Instead of boring you all by geeking out, I’ll just share an article about the Fermi Paradox that I especially enjoy. 10/10 recommend.
Quick hits. In an effort to make the space industry more green, Orbex announced plans to launch the world’s most environmentally-friendly rocket. Because it relies on biofuels, the rocket’s carbon dioxide emissions are 86% lower than comparative rockets that rely on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the rocket is fully reusable and doesn’t shed any of its parts during launch. Finally, Orbex is offsetting all its emissions resulting from operations, thus reaching carbon neutrality.
Digging deeper. As rocket launches become more popular, many are rightly concerned about the environmental impact of the space industry. Compared to airplanes, rocket launches come with an additional worry: the chemicals they release in the upper layers of the atmosphere. Ultimately, the environmental impact of the space industry is a complex topic because there is so much involved with the launching of rockets (manufacturing, transportation, operations, rocket launch, etc). If you want to dive into the world of the environmental impact of rocket launches, I recommend this seemingly-exhaustive article.
🌊 Vertical Oceans. Vertical farming, but in urban areas for shrimp. They design their buildings to be location-agnostic, which means they can operate in tropical cities (like Singapore), in snowy cities (like Chicago), or anywhere in between. Read more about them on TechCrunch.
🌱 Green Forges. Vertical farming, but underground. By growing crops underground, the amount of energy used to control the climate of the crops is drastically reduced (among other benefits). Check out a recent article about them on TechCrunch.