Craig Venter synthesises new organism

Geneticist Craig Venter has synthesised a new organism by inserting synthetic DNA into a single cell bacterium, which passed on the synthetic DNA when it replicated into more cells.

Below are several videos following the creation of the synthetic organism, and several from before.











Water and Life

According to Lindsay Doermannin an article on cosmosmagazine.com:

The strategy of 'following the water' in the search for extraterrestrial life may need some tweaking, suggests a new study in the journal Astrobiology.

Put simply: there's an awful lot of places where water could exist - either on the surface of the Earth, or deep within it - yet life is largely concentrated in a small sliver of this.

Eriita Jones and Charley Lineweaver of the Australian National University in Canberra have estimated the volume of the Earth where liquid water can exist, and calculated that life inhabits as little as 12% of it.

The movie Gattaca features a main character who wants more than anything to be an astronaut and go on a mission to Jupiter's moon Titan, which may have liquid water below its icy surface. While the likelihood of Titan having life in its liquid water is not central to a movie like Gattaca, having some background knowledge in these sorts of areas can allow their inclusion as an important or not so important feature of a story for cinema and fiction. This both presents opportunities for new story ideas and for authentic details in stories.

Michael Crichton on a scientific, not religious, attitude to the environment

Here is a video of novelist Michael Crichton advocating a scientific rather than an anthropologically religious attitude towards the environment:



Organic compounds in Antarctic space dust

John Matson, in an article on scientificamerican.com, has written about extraterrestrial dust containing prebiotic compounds (compounds which, in the right conditions, could potentially form simple single cell organisms). The following is an excerpt from the article:

A new analysis in the May 7 issue of Science comes from a France-based team working at Antarctica's Concordia base that uncovered well-preserved meteorite samples from beneath the surface. The researchers dug up snow from decades past, which fell before the site had a potentially contaminating human presence. Therein they found so-called micrometeorites—tiny specks just a fraction of a millimeter across that nonetheless carry important clues to the birth and evolution of the solar system.

The appearance of new life forms whether terrestrial, extra-terrestrial or synthesized in a lab, provide possibilities for a range of stories for cinema and fiction. The life forms could be useful, harmful, controlled by a select few, widely dispersed and beyond the control of governments, etc.

Knowledge of the physical universe

Knowing more about the physical universe opens up more options and greater capabilities for people, and for characters in cinema and fiction.

Below are some videos from Carleton University featuring learning facilities and people talking about gaining knowledge of the physical universe.

Batman (in some versions - for example the 1989 Batman movie directed by Tim Burton) is an example of a character who uses scientific knowledge to develop much more advanced capabilities than most people. Of course many characters do not have to have the financial backing to do this on such a grand scale as Batman.









Satellite planets

In an article by Ray Villard on discovery.com, he has dicussed the issue of large moons orbiting planets and whether they should themselves be considered satellite planets. Th following is an excerpt:

The blockbuster science fiction film "Avatar" introduced the public to the idea that a moon could be more than just rocks and craters. The imaginary moon Pandora, orbiting a gas giant planet in the Alpha Centauri system, is a veritable paradise with lush forests and a rich diversity of life. If the film's writer/producer James Cameron had consulted with Pluto researcher Alan Stern he might have even introduced a new term to sci-fi audiences: Satellite Planet.

Although James Cameron did not necessarily introduce "the idea that a moon could be more than just rocks and craters" to many (for example, Return of the Jedi had the forest moon of Endor), Avatar probably did introduce the idea to a lot of younger people. For more on science in the fictional content and the production of Avatar, see the previous Cinema and Fiction post Science and making Avatar.

Setting stories for cinema and fiction away from Earth can bring aspects of human nature to the foreground as people adapt to circumstances that are different to those commonly faced sharing the Earth with billions of people and the myriad impacts of historical developments which go along with that.

Problem solving

The following is a video of a monkey solving a problem shows the set up of the circumstances leading to the problem, efforts to solve the problem and the outcome of those efforts.

Many stories for cinema and fiction are a case of describing such a problem solving scenario.



Spider webs and synthetic polymers

According to an article on biologynews.net, scientists from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen and the University of Bayreuth have made a step forward in producing robust synthetic polymers with properties similar to spiderwebs.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

Five times the tensile strength of steel and triple that of the currently best synthetic fibers: Spider silk is a fascinating material. But no one has thus far succeeded in producing the super fibers synthetically. How do spiders form long, highly stable and elastic fibers from the spider silk proteins stored in the silk gland within split seconds? Scientists from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and the University of Bayreuth have now succeeded in unraveling the secret. They present their results in the current issue of the prestigious scientific journal Nature.

Large scale chemical or geological events

Here is video on the Gulf Coast oil spill off the coast of New Orleans on discovery.com.

The video provides material suitable for sparking story ideas of many kinds, relating to large scale chemical or geological events and the ways people could respond to these.

Describing character behaviour

Anatole Fuksas, in this article on ecologyofthenovel.wordpress.com, has written that the work of Cesare Segre, and of James Gibson and Anthony Chemero on embodied ecological perception, is a much better fit for describing character behaviour in novels than alternative methods such as in the work of Erich Auerbach or Mikhail Bachtin (also spelled Bakhtin).

Goal-directed attention

Vidhya Navalpakkam of Caltech, in her latest research on the influence of task on directing attention, has studied how quickly human participants were able to cast their visual attention on target stimuli amidst distracting stimuli by tracking their eye movements. Points were awarded to participants for correctly attending to target stimuli. The experiments were done with various amounts of points awarded for the tasks.

Navalpakkam concluded that participants' performance varied both with the nature of the distractions and with the number of points at stake.

Further details can be found in this article on Nature's The Great Beyond blog.

These sort of experiments can be useful for developing realistic point of view camera movements in cinema and writing some styles of description of characters' behaviour and experiences in written fiction.

Capturing energy from the ocean

In this article on discovery.com, Emily Laut has provided details of the "Deep Green" energy generator which works by capturing energy from deep water tides and currents.

“Deep Green” looks like someone’s flying kites from the sea floor. With its 12-meter (39-foot) wingspan and 100-meter (328-foot) cable tethering it to the ocean floor, all it’s missing is a colorful tail.

Though its wingspan seems big, the kites are small compared to other tidal energy designs. That’s one of the big advantages to Deep Green. The kite’s small size lets its turbine operate at greater depths, where currents are slower, boldly going where no tidal turbine has gone before.

When anchored, Deep Green can be steered into a figure-eight like a sport kite, its turbine capturing tidal energy at ten times the speed of the actual stream velocity, according to Minesto, the Swedish developers of Deep Green. When operational, one Deep Green sea kite is expected to generate 500 kilowatts of power.

These sorts of concepts and projects can provide options for cinema and fiction, from creating a story about people living with these types of power generation in extensive use to working on a "power island" ocean platform or trying to protect or shut down such power generators to protect or undermine security or other implications of capturing that energy.

Here is a video of "Deep Green":



Below are videos of other ocean power generation concepts and projects:

















Knowing and utilising properties of things

According to Lucina Melesio Friedman in an article on scidev.net, the nopal (or prickly pear) cactus is a cheap and effective means of purifying water and is being advocated for use in rural areas of Mexico.

Knowing about properties of things and how they can be put to use can provide interesting story possibilities for cinema and fiction, whether for a character taking advantage of a property that is not so well known or writing about a hypothetical future in which a property is more commonly known and utilised.

Here is the abstract of a study on the water purification property of the nopal cactus.

Bald eagle diet and suitable habitats

Below is a video from the Carnegie Institution for Science. It is about a study into the diet of bald eagles and how this could be relevant to decisions about suitable locations to release them into the wild.



Learning, experience and independent thought

In this article on scidev.net, Ouyang Jing has written about a group of retired scientists who have been talking to school children about science and trying to make it interesting for them rather than have them memorise information delivered by their teachers.

An important part of scientific learning is for people to observe things and think about them for themself; not having them memorise statements and formulas.

Differences bewteen independent learning and imposed statements and formulas can provide many storytelling options for cinema and fiction.

Omni focus video camera

Researchers at the University of Toronto have announced a new prototype omni-focus video camera. This digital video camera can detect and focus on numerous depth points in the same shot.

Normally, a narrow angle lens, a split-lens, or post-production effects would be used to increase focal depth or achieve the impression of multiple depth points in focus.

More details can be found on the University of Toronto website or on physorg.com.

Robonaut

Dauna Coulter, in this article on cosmosmagazine.com, has provided details of the NASA R2 humanoid robot that will be joining astronauts on the International Space Station. According to the article:

"Our goal is for R2 to perform routine maintenance tasks, freeing up the station crew for more important work," explains Ron Diftler, Robonaut Project Manager at Johnson Space Center. "Here's a robot that can see the objects it's going after, feel the environment, and adjust to it as needed. That's pretty human. It opens up endless possibilities!"

The following video features the robot:



Scientific "irreverance"

R.A. Mashelkar, a Fellow at India's National Chemical Laboratory, has called for more "irreverance" among Indian scientists in order to generate original ideas. His article on sciencemag.org begins with the following paragraph:

Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman believed that creative pursuit in science requires irreverence. Sadly, this spirit is missing from Indian science today. As other nations pursue more innovative approaches to solving problems, India must free itself from a traditional attitude that condemns irreverence, so that it too can address local and global challenges and nurture future leaders in science. But how can the spirit of adventurism come to Indian science?

Mashalkar has cited adherance to traditions, text-book centred rather than student centred teaching, and bureacratic barriers as limiting the pursuit of original ideas.

Problem solving and storytelling

The video below features capuchin monkeys co-operating to solve the problem of opening a container with food inside and one monkey choosing to share the rewards of their co-operation with the other one.

Many stories are basically a case of a character wanting something, having to overcome a problem (or several) to get what they want, perhaps with the help of another character (or several), getting or not getting what they want and how their circumstances are changed following their attempt to solve the problem.