Terraforming Series Complete!

Terraforming Series Complete!

I’ve been busy over at Universe Today of late. In fact, as part of a promotional thing for my upcoming book – The Cronian Incident – I’ve been doing a series of articles about terraforming. And it’s actually kind of an interesting story, which I already touched on in a previous post. In any case, the series is now complete, with articles that cover everything from terraforming Mercury to terraforming the moons of the gas giants in the outer Solar System:

The Definitive Guide to Terraforming
How Do We Terraform Mercury?
How Do We Terraform Venus?
How Do We Terraform Mars?
How Do We Terraform the Moon?
How Do We Terraform Jupiter’s Moons?
How Do We Terraform Saturn’s Moons?

To give people the Cliff Notes version of this series, it is clear that at this point, humanity could colonize and terraform certain worlds in our Solar System. The only real questions are where could we? How could we? And why should we? To answer the first two, we could terraform Mars and Venus, since both planets are terrestrial (like Earth), both exist in our Sun’s habitable zone (like Earth), and have either abundant atmospheres or abundant sources of water we can work with. In any other case, the matter becomes impractical, except within certain contained environments (paraterraforming).

mars_greening
The “greening of Mars”. Credit: nationalgeographic.com

As for the third question – why should we? – that was one of the main reasons I tackled this subject. When it comes to terraforming, the questions concerning ethics and responsibility are unavoidable. And while I did my best to cover this in the course of writing the series, the real debate happened in the comments section. Again and again, people asked the following questions:

How can we live elsewhere when we can’t even take care of Earth?
Shouldn’t we take care of our problems here before we settle other worlds?
Wouldn’t those resources be better spent here?

All good (and predictable) questions. And rather than simply avoiding them or dismissing them as pedestrian, I wanted to seriously have an answer. And so I chose to reply whenever these questions, or some variation, popped up. Here’s the basics of why we should terraform other worlds in this century and the next:

1. Increased Odds of Survival:
As Elon Musk is rather fond of sharing, colonizing Mars was one of the main reasons he started SpaceX (which recently made their second successful landing of the reusable Falcon 9 rocket!) His reason for establishing this colony, he claims, is to create a “backup location” for humanity. And in this, he has the support of many policy analysts and space enthusiasts. Faced with the threat of possible extinction from multiple fronts – an asteroid, ecological collapse, nuclear war, etc. – humanity would have better odds of survival if it were a multi-planet species.

Artist's concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson
Artist’s concept for a possible colony on Mars. Credit: Ville Ericsson

What’s more, having other locations around the Solar System decreases the odds of us ruining Earth. So much of why Earth’s environment is threatened has to do with the impact human populations have on it. Currently, there are over 7 billion human beings living on planet Earth, with an additional 2 to 3 billion expected by mid-century, and between 10 and12 by the 2100. But it’s not just the number of people that matters. In addition to every human being constituting a mouth to feed, they are also a pair of hands that need to given something productive to do (lest they turn to something destructive).

Every human also requires an education, a place to live, and basic health and sanitation services to make sure they do not die prematurely. And providing for all of this requires space and a great deal of resources. As it stands, it is becoming more and more difficult to provide for those we have, and our ability to do so is dwindling (i.e. thanks to Climate Change). If we intend to survive as a species, we not only need new venues to expand to, we need other resource bases to ensure that our people can be fed, clothed, housed, and employed.

So simply put, creating permanent settlements on the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere in the Solar System could ensure that humanity survives, especially if (or when) our efforts to save Earth from ourselves fail.

Project Nomad, a concept for the 2013 Skyscraper Competition that involved mobile factory-skyscrapers terraforming Mars. Credit: evolo.com/A.A. Sainz/J.R. Nuñez/K.T. Rial
Project Nomad, a concept for the 2013 Skyscraper Competition that involved mobile factory-skyscrapers terraforming Mars. Credit: evolo.com/A.A. Sainz/J.R. Nuñez/K.T. Rial

2. Testing out Ecological and Geological Engineering Techniques:
Basically, there is no way humanity is going to be able to address Climate Change in this century if we do not get creative and start relying on techniques like carbon capture, carbon sequestration, solar shades, and artificially triggered global dimming and fungal blooms. The problem is, any or all of these techniques need to be tested in order to ensure that the results are just right. Altering our environment would not only threaten to disrupt systems human being depend upon for their livelihood, it could also threaten the lives of many people.

Such is the threat Climate Change poses, so we want to make sure the ways in which we address it helps the environment instead of screwing it up further. The best way to do that is to have testing grounds where we can try out these techniques, and where a misstep won’t result in the loss of innocent lives or billions in damages. Ergo, testing our methods on Mars and Venus will give us a chance to measure their effectiveness, while avoiding any of the political barriers and potential hazards using them on Earth would present.

3. Mars and Venus are Perfect Testing Grounds:
Astronomers have been aware for some time that Mars and Venus are similar to Earth in many ways. As previously mentioned, they are both terrestrial planets that are located in our Sun’s habitable zone. But of course, they are also different in several key respects. Whereas Mars’ atmosphere is very thin, it has no magnetosphere, and its surface is extremely cold and dry, Venus has an atmosphere that it extremely dense, hot enough to melt lead, and where sulfuric acid rains are common.

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Artist’s impression of a atmospheric generator on Mars. Credit: futurism.com

The reasons for this? Mars sits at the outer edge of the Sun’s habitable zone and receives less warmth. Combined with its eccentric orbit – and a lack of a protective magnetosphere that caused it to lose its atmosphere billions of years ago – this is what has led to it becoming the very cold and dry planet we are familiar with. Venus, sitting on the inner edge of the Sun’s habitable zone, suffered a runaway Greenhouse Effect early in its history, which caused it to become the extremely hot and hellish world it is today.

Terraforming Mars would therefore require that we thicken the atmosphere and warm it up. This means triggering a Greenhouse Effect by pumping lots of CO2 and nitrogen (probably in the form of ammonia) into its atmosphere and then converting them using cyanobacteria and other species of bacteria. So basically, to make Mars more Earth-like, we could build heavy industry there to pollute the hell out of the place – something we’ve been doing here on Earth for hundreds of years! – and then test out techniques designed to convert the atmosphere into something breathable. What we learn could then be applied here at home.

The same holds true for Venus. In order to terraform that world into something livable for humanity, the first challenge will be to arrest the runaway Greenhouse Effect there and convert the carbon dioxide/sulfur dioxide-rich atmosphere into one composed of nitrogen and oxygen gas. There are many ways to do this, and testing one or more of them out will yield crucial data for using similar techniques on Earth. In a nutshell, transforming Mars and Venus will help us save Earth.

Artist’s concept of a Venus cloud city – part of NASA’s High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) plan. Credit: Advanced Concepts Lab/NASA Langley Research Center
Artist’s concept of a Venus cloud city – part of NASA’s High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) plan. Credit: Advanced Concepts Lab/NASA Langley Research Center

4. Our Solar System has Abundant Resources:
Between the Moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, the Asteroid Belt, and the systems of Jupiter, Saturn and beyond, there are literally enough resources to last humanity indefinitely. And while we can’t hope to possess them all at once, every step in colonizing the Solar System offers us the chance to expand our resource base, conduct scientific research and exploration, add more land which we can develop and use for human settlement, and ultimately grow as a species.

To break this process down piecemeal, we must start with the Moon. By establishing a colony in its southern polar region, we could leverage the local resources to create a permanent settlement and use it as a refueling base for mission deeper into the Solar System (a move which would save billions on all future missions). Solar operations could also be built on the surface to beam energy to Earth, the Moon’s rich minerals could be mined for Earth industries, and the mining of Helium-3 could power fusion reactors all over the world.

Already, NASA is eying the Shakelton Crater as a possible location, where there is an abundance of water ice and a dome could be built over it to create a contained atmosphere. The moon’s stable lava tunnels also present a good site, since they are large enough to fit entire cities within them and would hold an atmosphere nicely. And from there, humanity could mount missions to Venus and Mars, which would in turn add their abundant supplies of minerals to our economy.

The European Space Agency's concept for a Moon base. Credit: ESA
The European Space Agency’s concept for a Moon base. Credit: ESA

Mercury would also present a major opportunity for mining and solar operations.  And like the Moon, colonies could be built in the permanently shaded regions around the northern and southern polar regions (where there are abundant supplies of water ice) and in underground stable lava tubes. The Asteroid Belt literally has enough minerals and ices to keep humanity supplied indefinitely (hence the interest in asteroid prospecting of late), and the outer Solar System has enough ice, volatiles, and organic compounds to do the same.

In short, step by step, the colonization and/or terraforming of our Solar System offers humanity the opportunity to become a post-scarcity race. While many decry the idea of our species expanding because of the greed and abuse we have demonstrated in the past (and continue to demonstrate today), much of this greed and abuse comes from the fact that our current economic models are based on scarcity. By removing that from the equation, it would be that much more difficult for human beings to hoard resources for themselves while denying their neighbor.

Faced with all of this, the question no is longer one of “why should we”, but rather “why shouldn’t we?” Why shouldn’t we establish a human presence elsewhere in the Solar System, knowing that it could not only help us to save Earth, but ensure our survival as a species for the indefinite future? This of course does not address all the challenges that remain in doing so, but it does tackle one of the biggest arguments there is against space exploration and colonization.

Still pic from Wanderers, by Erik Wernquist
Still pic from Wanderers, by Erik Wernquist

As for the rest? Well, I’m sure we’ll tackle those questions, and then some, when the time comes. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to keep looking up at the stars and saying the question, “why not?”

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Hello, everyone. As usual, I feel obliged to share some good news of the milestone-hitting variety. As the title makes abundantly clear, I’ve completed the third part in my upcoming novel, The Cronian Incident. Yes, thanks to my somewhat less than tireless efforts over the course of the past few months, this story is now three-fourths complete, and officially stands at thirty chapters and 60,000 words in length. And it’s been quite the ride so far.

Since I stopped daydreaming about (and bothering people with) this idea and began putting words to paper, I have managed to bang out the better part of a story that involves our Solar System in the late 23rd century, colonization, terraforming, and the future of humanity. And in the course of this, I’ve had to create and detail settings for Mercury, Mars, and the Jovian moon Callisto, and fill in bits of pieces on culture, history and other assorted aspects of background to boot.

Much of this has to do with setting the tone of the late 23rd century. The way I see it, humanity has passed through two major cataclysms at this point, both of which took place in the 21st century. The first was the Climate Crisis, where all over the world, economies began to collapse as drought, crop failure, and warfare led to the displacement of millions of people.

Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL
Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL

The second occurred shortly thereafter, when all around the world, the technological progress that has been building up since the Paleolithic exploded in a quantum leap of learning and accelerated change. Within decades, the Climate Crises began to abate, and a new world characterized by runaway change began to take over. And at about the same time, a renewed Space Age set in as humans began to migrate to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond.

And after about a century and a half of all that, the human race has now colonized the majority of the Solar System. Between Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s moons, and of course, Earth and its millions of orbital habitats, the human race now stands at a hefty 15 billion. And across this vast interplanetary dominion, a massive economy has taken root that is beyond scarcity and want.

But there are no shortages of intrigue thanks to the forces that have shaped this new age. While the inner Solar System is populated by people who have embraced the Singularity, transhumanism, posthumanism, and runaway progress, the outer Solar System has become a new home for people looking to escape this pace of life and maintain a simpler existence. And in time, the disappearance of one person will force everyone – be they in the inner or outer worlds – to sit up and take notice.

jupiter_moons
Jupiter’s larger (Galilean) moons, Callisot, Europa, Io and Ganymede. Credit: NASA

I tell you, it’s been tiring process, getting this far. And at one point, I did declare that I had OD’d on writing about setting and world building. I mean, how can you dedicate 20,000 words to detailing a place, making it as vivid as possible for the reader, and then just switch to another? Screw plot necessity, it’s like abandoning an idea half-way! And I still have the all important one – the Cronian moon Titan – to cover.

But I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t also been fun and that it wouldn’t be so tiring if I weren’t’ completely emotionally invested in it. And (spoiler alert!) that is where things should be the most interesting. As is usually the case, Part I through III of this four-part story have been all about establishing character, background, a sense of space and place, and introducing the various elements that drive the plot.

But in Part IV, I will not only get to write about a particularly intriguing place – Titan; capital city Huygens; dense nitrogen-methane atmosphere; principle industries, methane and ammonia harvesting; principle activities, sailing on methane lakes and gliding in low-g, cruising for action in its Yellow Light District and political dissent – but I’ll also be getting into the real heart of the plot, the mystery of the disappearing Dr. Lee!

Callisto_base
A possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA

In the coming months, I hope to have part IV, fully edited, and in a position to be published. While it remains unclear just what form that will take – the old submission to a publishing house route, or via an independent publisher – I know that some really amazing friends and colleagues will be there to cheer it on. Hell, some of them actually read this blog, for some reason. So if you’re reading this now, then I thank you for sticking with me thus far! 🙂

The Cronian Incident – Setting The Scene

The Cronian Incident – Setting The Scene

In my last post, I explained how I was struggling with my latest story. Particularly, it has been the task of setting the scene over and over again that’s been tiring me out. Luckily, I’m beginning to get to work again, thanks to getting a second (or third) wind. But the challenge is still a big one, so I thought I might share some of what I’ve working on and see if it helps break the logjam.

As I also mentioned last time, there are four major settings in The Cronian Incident. These consist of the planet’s Mercury, a space elevator above Mars, Jupiter’s moon of Callisto, and Saturn’s moon of Titan. Establishing these places as backdrops for the story presented many opportunities. You have to think about how people would go about colonizing and living on these worlds.

But there’s also the fun that comes from figuring out what a culture that evolved to live on these planets and moons would look like. What languages do they speak? What religions do they practice? What does their clothing look like, what kind of music do they listen to? And what kinds of technology do they rely on?

mercury_mapMercury:
The story opens on the planet Mercury, where mining crews diligently travel out onto the dark side of the planet, extract ore, and then return to the northern polar region. This area, which is permanently shaded, is the only part of the planet which is inhabited – after a fashion. In truth, no one really calls the planet home. But there are facilities located in the large craters, where convicts and temporary laborers harvest minerals, energy, and ice.

For the miners, their facility is located in the Prokofiev crater, which one of the larger craters in the northern polar region. It is here where miners return with their hauls of ore, which is then processed and fired into space by the Sling – a magnetic accelerator that shoots it into orbit. Some food is grown on site, most of it is shipped in, and water is sourced locally from the ice deposits. And all waste products are recycled to provide the bare necessities of life.

It is a dark place, where convicts and laborers are housed four to a room and are administered regular doses of antidepressants (to address their natural feelings of isolation and lack of natural sunlight). Convicts also have the added bonus of being equipped with “Spikes”, a neural implant that monitors their aggression levels and incapacitates them if they ever attempt to do anything violent.

And just in case they attempt anything illegal, the convict population can be confined to solitary cells, where the room’s are entirely nondescript, tiny, especially dark, and they have no company at all except for their demons.

mars_life

Mars:
Along with Earth, the Moon, and Venus, Mars is part of the Triumvirate – a loose alliance that embraces the most advanced worlds in the Solar System. Over 50 million people live on its surface, whereas a few million more live in orbital habitats and the Ares Installation, which sits atop The Drift (the planet’s space elevator). This installation is essentially an O’Neil Cylinder (though its more like an O’Neil can) that consists of two “hemispheres” that rotate in opposite directions- simulating gravity up to the standard Martian 0.376 g.

This self-contained world is divided into Sadak, the Hindi word for road (which is one of the official languages on Mars). Each Sadak has its share of domiciles, parks, recreation facilities, and aerodromes, where people go to test out their personal fliers. At the “southern” end of the facility is Sadak Lovelock, which is the home of the Chandrasekhar clan. Within the Formist faction, the people dedicated to terraforming Venus and Mars, they are kind of a big deal. In tall towers that face towards the planet below (which is visible through massive panels) they plot the transformation of the Red Planet into a green planet.

Lovelock is named in honor of James Lovelock, the British scientist who co-authored The Greening of Mars (one of the seminal works about terraforming). It is here that the elder Chandrasekhar (Piter Chandrasekhar) lives in what is known as a Heilig Room. Also known as a Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics environment, this room allows Piter – who is basically an upload at this point in time – to assume physical form and interact with simulated environments.

Terrafomed Mars by ittiz
Terrafomed Mars. Credit: ittiz/deviantart.com

When Ward (the MC) meets him in this environment, he gets treated to familiar places from Piter’s life. This includes Mombasa, where Piter lived and worked during the mid-21st century, helping to create the coastal Lillypad city of Kimbilio. He then gives him a vision of Mars, of how it will look once the Formists are finished transforming it into a world with oceans, vegetation, and a breathable atmosphere.

Callisto:
In part III, Ward reaches the Jovian system – aka. the system of Moons that orbit Jupiter. His first stop is the moon of Callisto, which is the outermost of the Jovians. It is a cold, frozen world with virtually no atmosphere. All major settlements consist of sealed domes that were built into the moon’s massive craters. The largest of these is the moon’s capitol of Valhalla, which was built Callisto’s massive multi-ring impact crater of the same name.

The city consists of several rings, each of which is named after a different world of the Norse mythology. Working from the outermost ring, there is Vanaheim (where the spaceport is located), Alfheim, Midgard, Jotunheim, Svartalfheim, Nidavellir, Niflheim and Muspelheim. When travelling through the city to find an old friend, Ward stops in Niflheim. It just so happens to be one of the city’s poorer districts, where the moon’s radical elements (known as the Aquiline Front) live.

Credit: Kees Veenenbox/space4case.com
View above a methane lake on Titan. Credit: Kees Veenenbox/space4case.com

Titan:
Last, there is the Cronian moon (Saturn’s moon) of Titan, where Ward inevitably goes to determine what happened to the man he’s trying to find. Much like the other moons of the outer Solar System, Titan is a world who’s surface consists mainly of ice. But unlike the other moon’s, Titan has a dense atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and other hydrocarbons. It’s surface is also covered in lakes of liquid methane, which is one of the planet’s chief exports.

The capitol of this world Huygens, a domed city named in honor of the moon’s discoverer (Christiaan Huygens). Located near the moon’s equator, this city is home to the moon\s main spaceport and is also the economic and administrative center of the entire Cronian system. As such, both the offices of the Cronian Union and the system’s more radical element – the Centimanes – are located here.

The city is also home to the infamous “Yellow Light District”, a pleasure dome that caters to every appetite imaginable. Naturally, I make sure that Ward visits here at some point, hoping to learn what he can from the moon’s many “pleasure technicians”. And of course, what he learns will both shock and intrigue him.


That’s what I got so far. And as I said, it’s been quite exhausting creating it all. I can only hope that the interest people derive from reading it will be proportional to the amount of energy it takes to write it all down!


 

The Cronian Incident – Halfway Done!

According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a work needs to be over 40,000 words long to be classified as a “novel”. This is just one standard, but right now, it’s an important one as far as I am concerned. Why? Two reasons: one, its what the SFSWA uses to classify books when considering them for a Nebula Award. Since science fiction is my chosen genre, I got to think these people know what they are talking about.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is because my WIP, The Cronian Incident, just passed this milestone. At present, the novel is 22 chapters and just over 43,000 words in length. And I’m only about halfway done! Problem is, this is where I begin to feel the crunch with most novels. Halfway is a bad point to be in when you’re me, because you’re feeling the weight of all that you’ve created so far, and are really aching to get to the finish line!

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In the meantime, I am busy exploring the various aspects of Part III of the book, otherwise known as “Jovians”. In this part, the story’s MC, Jeremiah Ward, has traveled to the Jovian moon of Callisto (the fourth large moon of Jupiter) to meet his associate in the investigation. It is also here that he meets an old contact of his from his police-work days, and tries to learn more about the people he is working for.

One of the things that makes this challenging is that I spent the past few months developing characters and the settings of two different worlds. The story began on Mercury, moved to Mars, and now, its in orbit around Jupiter. From the surface of a cratered, hostile world, to a space elevator in orbit of Mars, and now to a frozen moon around a gas giant. Gah! I think I’ve officially OD’d on setting!

A possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA
Artist’s impression of a possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA

But I shall persevere. I’ve put too much into this idea to abandon it halfway, and this is one novel that I am determined to see through to completion! So – and I apologize in advance for this – expect to hear me blab a lot about it in the weeks and months to come. And you can bet I will be blabbing non-stop about it once its finished. Thanks to all those who are still paying attention 🙂

 

The Cronian Incident – Part II Complete!

The Cronian Incident – Part II Complete!

Hey folks! In recent months, I’ve hit two milestones in the writing of my novel. The first occurred weeks ago, when I chose to change the title. The second, and more important, is that book is now half done. Yes, with part II of the story complete, and approximately 40,000 words down on paper, the novel is now halfway towards completion. That means this book is not only out of the crib and walking, its off and running. Now it just needs to avoid any nasty spills and it will be in business!

But first, let me explain why I renamed it. Basically, this book is about an “incident” that takes place on one of Saturn’s moons (Titan). Here, a high-profile figure connected to terraforming interests on Mars goes missing. The investigation into this mysterious disappearance takes the investigator (Jeremiah Ward) from Mercury, to Mars, and then to Jupiter’s moon of Callisto before moving on to Titan. Since the focus of the investigation is on the these two moons, I decided to use the name “Jovian”, since this term applies to any moon that orbits a gas giant.

Jupiter's larger (Galilean) moons, Callisot, Europa, Io and Ganymede. Credit: NASA
Jupiter’s larger (Galilean) moons, from left to right – Callisto, Europa, Io and Ganymede. Credit: NASA

But eventually, I found this name to be problematic. For one, the larger moons that orbit Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – are often referred to as “The Jovian Moons” (derived from Jove, the archaic name for Jupiter). While they are more properly known as “The Galilean Moons” (after their discoverer, Galileo), the name is applicable here more than with any other moon in the Solar System. Specifically, Saturn’s moons are properly called Saturnian or Cronian.

Another reason I wanted to call it the Jovian Incident was because I wanted it to be a compact volume consisting of three parts. Part I (Hermians) takes place on Mercury and shows the life of convict laborers; Part II (Martians) shows what life is like on a planet in the inner Solar System; and Part III (Jovians) covers all the action taking place in the outer Solar System and shows how people in this part of the universe live.

However, I finally realized this structure wouldn’t fly. For one, it would cause confusion to say the incident was “Jovian” when the moon where it happened on is called Cronian in the book. Second, I knew the three part structure wouldn’t fly, since it would mean Part III would likely be longer than Parts I and II combined. So I decided to add a Part IV (“Cronians”), and rename the book “The Cronian Incident”.

Saturn's moon Titan, which figures prominently in the story. Credit: NASA
Saturn’s moon Titan, which figures prominently in the story. Credit: NASA

And with Part II complete and Part III underway, I have covered all the necessary exposition and background, and am now moving onto the action part of the story. I would say this is where the fun part begins. But as I am sure many would agree, once you are half done a project, completing it somehow feels more difficult. For me, starting something is the easy part. Building on that foundation is also fun. But getting it from a work-in-progress to a finished work, that’s the hard part!

So feel free to wish me luck. Also, thanks for staying abreast of my progress. For those who had a helping hand, I intend to make this book available, free of charge, once its ready. And unlike some of the thing I wrote, it should work out to a (relatively) compact 80,000 words. No tomes here!

More to follow, stay in touch!

Top Image Credit: Lightfarm Studios

A Cleaner Future: Contaminant-Detecting Water Sensor

https://i0.wp.com/f.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/1280/poster/2014/05/3030503-poster-p-jack-and-beaker.jpgJack Andraka is at it again! For those who follow this blog (or subscribe to Forbes or watch TED Talks), this young man probably needs no introduction. But if not, then you might not known that Andraka is than the young man who – at 15 years of age – invented an inexpensive litmus test for detecting pancreatic cancer. This invention won him first prize at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), and was followed up less than a year later with a handheld device that could detect cancer and even explosives.

And now, Andraka is back with yet another invention: a biosensor that can quickly and cheaply detect water contaminants. His microfluidic biosensor, developed with fellow student Chloe Diggs, recently took the $50,000 first prize among high school entrants in the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge. The pair developed their credit card-sized biosensor after learning about water pollution in a high school environmental science class.

andraka_diggsAs Andraka explained:

We had to figure out how to produce microfluidic [structures] in a classroom setting. We had to come up with new procedures, and we custom-made our own equipment.

According to Andraka, the device can detect six environmental contaminants: mercury, lead, cadmium, copper, glyphosate, and atrazine. It costs a dollar to make and takes 20 minutes to run, making it 200,000 times cheaper and 25 times more efficient than comparable sensors. At this point, make scaled-down versions of expensive sensors that can save lives has become second nature to Andraka. And in each case, he is able to do it in a way that is extremely cost-effective.

andraka-inlineFor example, Andraka’s litmus test cancer-detector was proven to be 168 times faster than current tests, 90% accurate, and 400 times more sensitive. In addition, his paper test costs 26,000 times less than conventional methods – which include  CT scans, MRIs, Ultrasounds, or Cholangiopancreatography. These tests not only involve highly expensive equipment, they are usually administered only after serious symptoms have manifested themselves.

In much the same vein, Andraka’s handheld cancer/explosive detector was manufactured using simple, off-the-shelf and consumer products. Using a simple cell phone case, a laser pointer and an iPhone camera, he was able to craft a device that does the same job as a raman spectrometer, but at a fraction of the size and cost. Whereas a conventional spectrometer is the size of a room and costs around $100,000, his handheld device is the size of a cell phone and costs $15 worth of components.

andraka_seimensAs part of the project, Diggs and Andraka also developed an inexpensive water filter made out of plastic bottles. Next, they hope to do large-scale testing for their sensor in Maryland, where they live. They also want to develop a cell-phone-based sensor reader that lets users quickly evaluate water quality and post the test results online. Basically, its all part of what is fast becoming the digitization of health and medicine, where the sensors are portable and the information can be uploaded and shared.

This isn’t the only project that Andraka has been working on of late. Along with the two other Intel Science Fair finalists – who came together with him to form Team Gen Z – he’s working on a handheld medical scanner that will be entered in the Tricorder XPrize. This challenge offers $10 million to any laboratory or private inventors that can develop a device that can diagnose 15 diseases in 30 patients over a three-day period. while still being small enough to carry.

For more information on this project and Team Gen Z, check out their website here. And be sure to watch their promotional video for the XPrize competition:


Source:
fastcoexist.com

Birth of an Idea: Seedlings

alien-worldHey all! Hope this holidays season finds you warm, cozy, and surrounded by loved ones. And I thought I might take this opportunity to talk about an idea I’ve been working on. While I’m still searching for a proper title, the one I’ve got right now is Seedlings. This represents an idea which has been germinated in my mind for some time, ever since I saw a comprehensive map of the Solar System and learned just how many potentially habitable worlds there are out there.

Whenever we talk of colonization, planting the seed (you see where the title comes from now, yes?) of humanity on distant worlds, we tend to think of exoplanets. In other words, we generally predict that humanity will live on worlds beyond our Solar System, if and when such things ever become reality. Sure, allowances are made for Mars, and maybe Ganymede, in these scenarios, but we don’t seem to think of all the other moons we have in our Solar System.

solar_systemFor instance, did you know that in addition to our system’s 11 planets and planetoids, there are 166 moons in our Solar System, the majority of which (66) orbit Jupiter? And granted, while many are tiny little balls of rock that few people would ever want to live on, by my count, that still leaves 12 candidates for living. Especially when you consider that most have their own sources of water, even if it is in solid form.

And that’s where I began with the premise for Seedlings. The way I see it, in the distant future, humanity would expand to fill every corner of the Solar System before moving on to other stars. And in true human fashion, we would become divided along various geographic and ideological lines. In my story, its people’s attitudes towards technology that are central to this divide, with people falling into either the Seedling or Chartrist category.

nanomachineryThe Seedlings inhabit the Inner Solar System and are dedicated to embracing the accelerating nature of technology. As experts in nanotech and biotech, they establish new colonies by planting Seeds, tiny cultures of microscopic, programmed bacteria that convert the landscape into whatever they wish. Having converted Venus, Mars, and the Jovian satellites into livable worlds, they now enjoy an extremely advanced and high standard of living.

The Chartrists, on the other hand, are people committed to limiting the invasive and prescriptive nature technology has over our lives. They were formed at some point in the 21st century, when the Technological Singularity loomed, and signed a Charter whereby they swore not to embrace augmentation and nanotechnology beyond a certain point. While still technically advanced, they are limited compared to their Seedling cousins.

terraforming-mars2With life on Earth, Mars and Venus (colonized at this time) becoming increasingly complicated, the Chartrists began colonizing in the outer Solar System. Though they colonized around Jupiter, the Jovians eventualy became Seedling territory, leaving just the Saturnalian and Uranian moons for the Chartrists to colonize, with a small string of neutral planets lying in between.

While no open conflicts have ever taken place between the two sides, a sort of detente has settled in after many generations. The Solar System is now glutted by humans, and new frontiers are needed for expansion. Whereas the Seedlings have been sending missions to all suns within 20 light-years from Sol, many are looking to the Outer Solar System as a possible venue for expansion.

exoplanets1At the same time, the Chartrists see the Seedling expansion as a terrible threat to their ongoing way of life, and some are planning for an eventual conflict. How will this all play out? Well, I can tell you it will involve a lot of action and some serious social commentary! Anyway, here is the breakdown of the Solar Colonies, who owns them, and what they are dedicated to:

Inner Solar Colonies:
The home of the Seedlings, the most advanced and heavily populated worlds in the Solar System. Life here is characterized by rapid progress and augmentation through nanotechnology and biotechnology. Socially, they are ruled by a system of distributed power, or democratic anarchy, where all citizens are merged into the decision making process through neural networking.

Mercury: source of energy for the entire inner solar system
Venus: major agricultural center, leader in biomaterial construction
Earth: birthplace of humanity, administrative center
Mars: major population center, transit hub between inner colonies and Middle worlds

Middle Worlds:
A loose organization of worlds beyond Mars, including the Jovian and Saturnalian satellites. Those closest to the Sun are affiliated with the Seedlings, the outer ones the Chartrists, and with some undeclared in the middle. Life on these worlds is mixed, with the Jovian satellites boasting advanced technology, augmentation, and major industries supplying the Inner Colonies. The Saturnalian worlds are divided, with the neutral planets boasting a high level of technical advancement and servicing people on all sides. The two Chartrist moons are characterized by more traditional settlements, with thriving industry and a commitment to simpler living.

Ceres: commercial nexus of the Asteroid Belt, source of materials for solar system (S)
Europa: oceanic planet, major resort and luxury living locale (S)
Ganymede: terraforming operation, agricultural world (S)
Io: major source of energy for the Middle World (N)
Calisto: mining operations, ice, water, minerals (N)
Titan: major population center, transit point to inner colonies (N)
Tethys: oceanic world, shallow seas, major tourist destination (N)
Dione: major mining colony to outer colonies (C)
Rhea: agricultural center for outer colonies (C)

Outer Solar Colonies:
The Neptunian moons of the outer Solar System are exclusively populated by Chartrist populations, people committed to a simpler way of life and dedicated to ensuring that augmentation and rapid progress are limited. Settlements on these worlds boast a fair degree of technical advancement, but are significantly outmatched by the Seedlings. They also boast a fair degree of industry and remain tied to the Inner and Middle Worlds through the export of raw materials and the import of technical devices.

Miranda: small ice planet, source of water (C)
Ariel: agricultural world, small biomaterial industry and carbon manufacturing (C)
Umbriel: agricultural world, small biomaterial industry and carbon manufacturing (C)
Titania: agricultural world, small biomaterial industry and carbon manufacturing (C)
Oberon: agricultural world, small biomaterial industry and carbon manufacturing (C)
Triton: source of elemental nitrogen, water, chaotic landscape (C)