Discover more from The White Pill
Teach Kids GPT
white pill #21 // progress on a unique spacecraft, ai enhanced thursday night football, official updated model 3 news, $25m to develop mRNA-based cancer vaccine, and more
Good morning reader, welcome to the 21st White Pill, a Pirate Wires joint in which we round up the most excellent space, technology, engineering, science, and medicine news every week — and send it all to you in an email. This week, among a ton of other items, we advocate for teaching kids GPT (as more school districts are doing, of late), bring you cool stories and stunning images from the world of space, and highlight new federal “moonshot” agency ARPA-H’s recent moves in our medicine section (along with some more promising developments). We hope you enjoy.
Oh, please don’t forget — the White Pill has a X/Twitter account now, follow it for snackable science, energy, engineering, and space in your feed, and RT if you are so inclined.
Have a great weekend.
Fascinating spacecraft concept. The German space company Polaris has been developing a unique orbital payload and hypersonic transport system. Briefly (though it's worth looking through their website for details if you have time; all of it is pretty fun), they're working on a spacecraft called AURORA that takes off like a plane (from any runway), can abort like a plane, is ready on a 24-hour turnaround time, and can facilitate hypersonic travel as well as deliver payload to orbit. Last week, they ran a flawless test of their MIRA-light vehicle — a small drone demonstrator — marking an encouraging step on the way to launching AURORA, which they expect to do as early as 2026. (Polaris)
New Whirlpool galaxy image. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) recently captured a stunning composite image of the spiral galaxy M51, commonly known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. By combining data from the telescope's near- and mid-infrared instruments, the image reveals details of the galaxy's nucleus, which houses a supermassive black hole, as well as its expansive spiral arms, spanning approximately 60,000 light-years. Though the Whirlpool Galaxy is located 27 million light-years away, it faces us head-on, making it easier to study in detail. (ESA)
Oldest volcanic material ever discovered. New research has precisely dated pieces of a meteorite found in the Sahara called Erg Chech 002 as having originated 4.56556 billion years ago. Our solar system formed 4.567 billion years ago, and this thing got to us after being spewed from the mouth of a volcano “in the fires of some now-vanished ancient protoplanet” (??). The space pebble contains mostly uranium, aluminum, and lead. (The Conversation)
NASA's Perseverance rover recently returned the sun-baked Mars images above. Last image is a shot of its seven-foot arm gripping a tool — Persy’s doing the work (@NASAPersevere)
X user Simeon Schmauß blended the frames of the original choppy Chandrayaan-3 lunar landing video into a much smoother video that shows the descent and touchdown at 120x speed, which IRL took 66 minutes — best content from the landing so far, by far.
An amateur astronomer captured video of an enormous Jupiter impact on August 28th; some commenters correctly (I think) point out that a collision of this size on Earth would almost certainly lead to our extinction 😨
NASA-backed Intuitive Machines, which recently completed its moon lander, shared a great little video of a test of its main engine, where it continuously fires through initial descent (max power), articulates pitch, and reduces power until it touches the lunar surface.
NASA’s SpaceX crew-7, an international team representing four countries, successfully launched last Saturday and docked with the ISS around 8:40am ET Sunday. Among other experiments, NASA says the squad will collect microbial samples from the ISS exterior and study physiological aspects of sleep in orbit. (NASA)
The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. For last week’s deals, check out last week’s White Pill. Deals are sourced from Pitchbook.
Asteroid melter — TransAstra, a company developing a system that will help retrieve asteroids, wrap them in an inflatable enclosure and then use mirrors to concentrate solar energy onto the asteroid and melt it to capture water and carbon for use by space travelers, secures a $850k NASA contract (they’ll use the funds to develop this technology for space clean-up initially)
Satellite-to-satellite inspection — HEO Robotics, a company developing software that allows existing satellites to swivel their cameras and conduct photographic health inspections of other satellites as they fly by (extra revenue for satellite operators that adopt this!), raises a $12M Series A led by Airtree Ventures
Portable charging for EVs — SparkCharge, a company developing portable, “grid-free” battery assemblies that can charge electric vehicles, raises $4.56M from undisclosed investors
AI for… strawberries — FruitCast, a British company developing computer vision that can count, weigh, and detect ripeness of millions of berries per day (this allows farmers to make better yield predictons up to six weeks in advance, so they know how many laborers to hire, for instance), raises $3M in venture funding from Innovate UK and Ceres Agri-Tech
Nuclear fusion energy — Novatron, a Stockholm-based company developing a nuclear fusion reactor, raises $5.39M in venture funding in a deal led by Climentum Capital
Digital companions for the elderly — Intuition Robotics, an Israel-based company developing social robots to help their users with decision-making and health choices while reducing isolation, raises $2M in venture funding and $5M in venture debt from Toyota and others
Mapless self-driving — Imagry, a company developing self-driving tech that can operate without needing HD maps or GPS, is raising a $50M Series B
VR for surgeons — HoloEyes, a Tokyo-based company developing software that allows physicians to convert CT scans into 3D models that they can view with a VR headset (to pre-game a surgery or for training), raises an undisclosed amount of Series B funding
Hey — the White Pill just got a X/Twitter account, where we’re sharing all the excellent developments in tech, science, space, and medicine that we come across. Please follow, like, and retweet!
Teach kids GPT. School districts in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington State are variously rethinking or outright reversing GPT bans for students after seeing the light and embracing the idea that GPT is a tool that can augment learning as opposed to facilitate cheating. First-hand experience as a daily user of GPT tells me this is absolutely the right way forward — once you use it enough that it becomes a mechanical, necessary part of your workflow, it’s an insanely easy + efficient way to learn everything you need to know about a the thing you previously knew nothing about (like mining lunar regolith 😏), compared to searching Google and finding the information in a book. (New York Times)
Mach 4 to London. In its Advanced Air Vehicles Program (AAVP), NASA is partnering with Boeing and Northrop Grumman to do continued research into passenger aircraft that travels between Mach 2 and Mach 4, which would potentially be able to take passengers from New York to London in under two hours. With its X-59 quiet supersonic aircraft, NASA’s already demonstrated that it can ‘reduce’ the boom from going supersonic to a “gentle thump”; this had been an issue for the Concorde, which could only do overseas routes, where the sonic boom wouldn’t shake people’s houses. Now, Boeing and Northrupp “will develop roadmap elements to include airframe, power, propulsion, thermal management, and composite materials that can hold up under high-supersonic speeds. They will also create non-proprietary designs for concept vehicles.” (NASA)
Watch video of the super pointy X-59 here
We also briefly detailed private company Hermeus’ mach 5 passenger aircraft that will be able to carry 20 passengers and will fly at 90,000 feet on our Twitter, check out the post here
And we posted about JetZero recently, too, who got a $235m investment from the Air Force to build a blended wing body jet that has a unique cabin layout (with skylights!), is 4x quieter from the ground, and is compatible with current commercial airport infrastructure
AI enhanced Moneyball. You don’t need to be a sports fan to appreciate how cool the plans Amazon has for integrating AI into Thursday Night Football sound. This season, Amazon will introduce a suite of visualizations in its “Prime Vision” game stream that will allow viewers to, in effect, real-time see what the players on the ground see. Does the linebacker’s body language indicate a defensive blitz? As QB scrambles to avoid a sack, which are the most open receivers? How likely is it that the kicker will hit the field goal from the ball’s current position, and at what yardage does he hit 99% of field goals? Amazon’s game stream will key viewers into this data with on-field graphics. (The Verge)
New analysis of Google’s competing LLM Gemini (i.e. ChatGPT competitor) concluded that Gemini packs 5x more compute than ChatGPT. While this does not necessarily mean Google’s LLM will be ‘better’ than ChatGPT, it’s something to look forward to as its rumored December 2023 launch approaches. (SemiAnalysis)
New glass just dropped (and didn’t break) — scientists used super high temperature and pressure to create an “unprecedentedly” tough aluminosilicate glass — a transparent aluminum, if you will. From the lead author of the paper: “Our discovery highlights an effective strategy for developing highly damage-tolerant glass materials, which we plan to pursue with our research in the coming years.” (SciTechDaily)
Tesla officially unveiled their updated Model 3. Most exciting new features, imo: multicolor ambient LED interior lighting, rear passenger touchscreen, and features such as increased insulation and improved aerodynamics to decrease driving noise for those inside the car. Of course, there are many more updates to the car — check out @SawyerMerritt’s coverage to read about all of them. Also check out this video of it being test driven.
This rolling battery pack by Anker that will launch on Kickstarter will be able to store and quietly deliver 3.84kWh of backup power in case of an emergency. That alone isn’t a ton of power, but because it’s stackable and expandable, a few of them together could be a decent backup for your most necessary appliances in the case of a power outage. I would like to see this technology accelerated. ht (ZDNET)
mRNA to fight cancer. A new “moonshot” federal agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) just awarded its first grant, which will be split among teams at Emory University, Yale School of Medicine, and the University of Georgia over three years, to develop mRNA-based anti-cancer and anti-microbial vaccines. To put this into context, in a very small study in which BioNTech administered personalized mRNA-based pancreatic cancer vaccines to 16 people after they had their pancreatic tumors removed from surgery, eight participants’ tumors had not returned after a year and a half. We’re still early days, but mRNA-based approaches to cancer are promising, and we’ll be watching to see if this $25 million grant moves the bar for the vaccine technology. (Yale School of Medicine)
A study out of the Duke University Medical Center has demonstrated promising initial signs that a blood test the Center’s researchers created may one day be able to detect Parkinson’s, the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimers. Read more about it here.
In a phase 1 study published in the Lancet Oncology by the University of Michigan Department of Neurosurgery and Rogel Cancer Center, over half of participants with gliomas, a highly aggressive type of brain cancer, had at least double the life expectancy than the average gliomas patient (14 months), with one having already survived five years — and still living today — after being administered a novel gene therapy “combining cell-killing and immune-stimulating drugs.” (MedicalXpress)
Finally, the fun stuff
Not fun for the owner, but these glass-like fragments are the ancient, volcanized brains of a Roman male caught in the pyroclastic flows that engulfed the town of Herculaneum in 79 AD after Mount Vesuvius erupted. This was discovered in 2020, but came across my timeline this week via @OptimoPrincipi, and it was too intriguing not to share. From his post: “Temperatures of over 1000°F instantly vapourised his soft tissues and ignited his body fat, while his brain underwent the rare process of vitrification — suddenly liquifying before being rapidly cooled – essentially turning it into glass.” (New England Journal of Medicine)
Elsewhere in ancient Rome (Pompeii), these reflective white stones were embedded in roads so that night travelers could better see where they were going by moonlight or torchlight. (My Modern MET)
Reader, don’t forget to touch grass this weekend. But not before watching the most recent Pirate Wires podcast (below), where we discuss why Moon should be a state with PW BFF John Coogan.