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The White Pill: The Frontier Is Everywhere
white pill #10 // no paywall on this one: mercedes to integrate chatGPT, axios' private space station, remarkably successful new blood cancer therapy, enormous space diamonds, and more
Good morning! You’re reading the 10th issue of the White Pill, our weekly roundup of news in medicine, space, tech, science, and engineering that will make you feel proud to be the best species in the Milky Way (easily, no question), also the best species in the Virgo Supercluster (probably), and — dare I say? — one of the top 10 species in the observable universe.
Is this the best White Pill yet? The answer is yes: today we’ve got some excellent news to share, such as a potential breakthrough in skin cancer. Also a ton of space news: plasma streaks 10 light years long, a satellite-launching railgun, and phosphates on one of Saturn’s moons — you know, the usual fare. Then, good news in medicine (you’ll want to read about the “AI doctor” NYU built), and in science and engineering news from this week, the “turbulence blob” researchers created to better understand bumpy flights, among other stories.
After that, this week’s White Pill Investment Index, where we track funding going to companies doing cool sci-fi stuff, news in AI, and, as always, fun stuff at the end.
First, some most excellent news…
New blood cancer immunotherapy highly effective in humans. 50 percent of multiple myeloma patients achieved total remission, and 90 percent showed signs of improvement, after receiving a blood cancer treatment called CAR-T therapy, through which the patient’s T-cells are modified with “chimeric antigen receptors” that make them deadlier to cancer cells. Multiple myeloma kills over 12,000 Americans annually, and at present, the average five-year survival rate is under 60 percent. An American biotech company already has a patent license for the treatment, so once the FDA greenlights it, more Americans should have a fighting chance against this deadly blood cancer. Excellent news. (Freethink)
Skin cancer vaccine on the horizon? Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, begins in the outermost layer of the skin, where it’s relatively easy to treat, before penetrating into deeper layers and then metastasizing into the blood and lymph nodes, at which point the prognosis becomes grim. Until recently, the biochemical mechanisms underlying this metastasis were unknown, but now, researchers from Tel Aviv University have shown that primary melanoma cells secrete vesicles called melanosomes, which effectively reshape the chemical environment of the skin’s second layer to encourage the formation of additional cancer cells. By blocking melanosomes from initiating this process — perhaps using a vaccine! — the researchers believe it’s possible to prevent severe metastasis in melanoma patients, of whom more than 50,000 die worldwide each year. Excellent news. (Journal of Investigative Dermatology)
Saturn’s moon Enceladus harbors phosphates. A key building block of life, phosphorous has never been discovered off Earth — until now. By analyzing data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists discovered phosphates in ice particles ejected from geysers on the moon’s surface. (Nature)
In the seventh White Pill, we wrote about EELS (Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor), a robotic snake being developed by JPL for the purpose of probing the depths of Enceladus icy crevices — check it out.
Axiom Space aiming to establish private space station by 2030. Houston-based Axiom Space will launch the first module of what will eventually be a fully functional commercial space station in 2026. It will attach to the ISS’s Harmony module, where it will be joined by two additional Axiom modules, then a thermal power module that will enable all the Axiom modules to undock from the ISS and enter independent orbit. (space.com)
Axiom recently sent sent four astronauts to the ISS with help from SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 booster.
Brain damage from space visits may be limited and reversible. We’ve long known that astronauts spending significant amounts of time in space end up with enlarged ventricles, thought to pose a serious problem for deep space exploration. But a new study finds that after about six months in space, ventricular swelling plateaus, and after a few years back on Earth, ventricles can make a full recovery. (Scientific Reports)
Enormous space diamonds. Stars with cores composed mostly of oxygen and carbon are theorized to crystallize, after a long cooling process, into enormous space diamonds. But the process is thought to take so long — literally a quadrillion years (the Big Bang occurred ~13.8 billion years ago) — that scientists don’t believe our universe contains any such giant diamonds. A research team did, however, recently discover a collapsed white dwarf that has entered the early stages of this cooling process. Give it 999 trillion years or so. (arXiv preprint)
Webb Space Telescope spots oldest known complex organic molecules in universe. Texas A&M astronomers used JWST data to identify polycyclic aromatic carbons — complex organics often found in fossil fuels — in a galaxy 12 billion lightyears away from Earth (insane we are able to ‘see’ through such unfathomable distances). The discovery was made possible by a gravitational lens, or the magnification of a distant light source caused by a massive object bending the fabric of spacetime. (Nature)
Super long plasma streaks. Northwestern University researchers recently found hundreds of strange filament structures extending up to 10 light years from the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way. Decades ago, the same astronomer who led this study discovered even longer structures running perpendicular to our galactic plane, but until now, those running parallel to it went unnoticed. Thanks to data from MeerKAT, the world’s most sensitive radio telescope, we’re now aware of a new class of super long plasma streaks, thought to be from a 6-million-year-old collision between material ejected from the black hole and nearby stars. (AJL)
Explore the Grand Canyon of Mars on your iPhone. The USGS, with the help of over 150,000 images and nearly 5,000 digital terrain models, has generated a high-resolution map of the entire Red Planet, publicly accessible on any device that can browse the web. (USGS)
Wet hot deep space plasma. A team of researchers has offered an explanation for fast solar wind: the sudden untangling of twisted magnetic field lines in coronal holes releases a vast amount of energy, ejecting hot plasma deep into space. Understanding what causes these ejections could mean being better able to predict them, and thus better protection for vulnerable Earth systems like telecommunication networks. (Nature)
“Mag-Launcher is a stealth startup entirely self-funded by an eccentric billionaire in Alameda, CA… They're developing an electromagnetic rail gun to launch small satellite constellations into orbit.” Aight. Railgun video here (impressive).
Japan-based Astroscale just dropped a demo video for its ELSA-M spacecraft, which is designed to take spent satellites out of orbit.
NASA is sending a spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and you can sign your name to a poem it’s carrying along via microchip. (NASA)
Kicking off what will hopefully be a thoughtful process of how humans living in space colonies will govern themselves, Astronaut Chris Hadfield plans to release a first draft of an “Astra Carta” on June 28. (Toronto Star)
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“AI doctor” accurately predicts mortality risk. NYU researchers built an LLM named NYUTron, trained it on millions of medical notes jotted down by doctors, and engineered it to predict risk of death before hospital discharge. It did better than traditional prediction formulas: an 85 percent accuracy rate in predicting risk of death compared to a previous ceiling of 78 percent, suggesting the tool could be useful in alerting doctors to the necessity of life-saving interventions. (Nature)
Precision Neuroscience performs first-ever in-human test of flexible brain implant. The brain implant startup co-founded by Neuralink founding member Benjamin Rapoport announced it had tested its brain implant in three humans, for 15 minutes each, during open-skull brain tumor removal surgery. After more testing, the company will seek FDA approval to implant the razor-thin, one-square-centimeter chip into human patients for up to 30 days to aid doctors with diagnosis of neurological conditions. (Freethink)
Could endometriosis be treatable with antibiotics? A new (small) study found that women with endometriosis are much more likely to carry Fusobacterium than women without the condition. Could further research show that antibiotics are a valuable treatment option for women suffering from pelvic pain? (Science Translational Medicine)
Turbulence blob. Turbulence is a chaotic flow state of fluid or gas characterized by unpredictable motion. We know how to generate it in experimental settings, but it’s hard to study because it’s hard to contain; typically, it arises and rapidly dissipates. But now, physicists can use “vortex rings” to create and sustain a “turbulence blob” that allows it to be studied, essentially, as a distinct state of matter. (Nature)
Scientists trigger photosynthesis with single photon. While we’ve long assumed photosynthesis begins with the absorption of a single photon, we never actually proved a single photon was enough to kick off the reaction. That’s changeda after Cal Berkeley researchers recently blasted photosynthetic bacteria with one light particle, and sure enough and successfully initiated the reaction. Then they did it 1,500,000 more times just to be sure of what they saw, in the process confirming we’re still able to learn more about even some of the best-studied phenomena in the universe. The frontier is everywhere. (Live Science) (Nature)
Possible breakthrough in electric aviation. To date, the relatively small size of electrical motors — in the hundred kilowatt range — have enabled only small aircrafts to be fully powered by electricity. But now engineers at MIT are developing a 1-megawatt electrical motor, and recently showed that all its major components are functional, bringing us closer to a world of full-sized electrical airplanes. (MIT News)
The White Pill Investment Index: June 17
The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. For last week’s deals, check out the previous edition of the White Pill.
AI weather — In a deal led by Activate Capital Partners, AI-powered, satellite-based, hyper-local weather prediction platform Tomorrow.io raises a $87m Series E1 and E2.
Second brains — Rewind, an AI-powered platform some are calling a “second brain,” is a privacy-first app that essentially makes any activity you’ve done in a Mac app, including video and audio, searchable. The company raised $16.4m in a deal led by New Enterprise Associates.
Electric trucks — Telo Trucks — making “the world’s most efficient EV pickup for urban living and weekend adventuring” — raises a $1.4m pre-seed in a deal led by GoAhead Ventures.
Electric RVs — Pebble, a company working on “the future of modern living, powered by a hassle-free RV experience,” raises a $13.6m Series A from LightSpeed and others.
Hypersonic flight — Specter Aerospace, a company building hypersonic vehicles that will fly to Tokyo from New York in fewer than three hours, raises $9.5m from Mandala Space Ventures and others.
MercedesGPT. Mercedes-Benz and Microsoft are teaming up to integrate ChatGPT into over 900,000 vehicles; a beta version was already available as of yesterday. The LLM will enhance the cars’ voice assistant features, enabling more fluid conversation and more complicated task requests. (CNBC)
LLM —> new food harvesting prototype. Though today, using GPT, you can run into “dead-ends” — prompt-and-answer sequences where, seemingly, there is no prompt that will return exactly the information you want GPT’s response to target (unless I’m the only one?) — I’m pretty sure, still, that GPT is, at the very least!, the prototype of an extraordinarily cheap personal assistant that provides useful advice and highly “true” data, instantly (and perhaps, yes, via a Neuralink). In a recent paper, Dutch and Swiss researchers essentially tested this assumption — though with way more patience than we should expect to indulge our future Intelligence Service Providers — and eventually found themselves with an actual real life tomato picking robot prototype. Read more about it here.
Robot reforestation. ABB Robotics has developed an autonomous, solar-powered robot named YuMi that can plant tree seeds, and the company just announced a partnership with a group focused on reforesting remote swaths of the Amazon. With YuMi’s help, the group is able to reseed two soccer fields worth of former forest habitat per day. Scaled up, the habitat restoring/creating potential here is exciting. (ABB)
Meta’s MusicGen is a text-to-song LLM.
Finally, some fun stuff
Ancient liquid gypsum burial. When rich families died in fourth-century Roman Britain, they were sometimes laid to rest in multibody graves and inundated with liquid gypsum, forming a kind of burial cocoon around the bodies. We don’t know why they did it, but we’re lucky they did, because while their coffins and skeletons are long since decayed, the gypsum cocoons live on. Recently, scientists 3D scanned some of them, revealing unparalleled information captured in the hardened mineral, from imprints of weaving patterns on clothes to the burieds’ age and geographic region of origin. (University of York)
Badass scientist spends a record-breaking 100 consecutive days underwater. He surfaced with better cholesterol readings, lower inflammation, an increased stem cell count, and longer telomeres. Cooped up in a tiny pod on the ocean floor near Key Largo, Florida — during which time he virtually taught a biomedical engineering course — the purpose of the mission was to study how living in a high-pressure environment for long periods of time affects the human body. In addition to the health and anti-aging benefits listed above, doctors observed a higher proportion of REM sleep. The results have yet to face strict scientific scrutiny, and who knows what we’ll learn when that happens, but regardless, this man is a badass, bravely putting his body on the line for the sake of scientific advance. (Scripps News) (Live Science)
Old rail cars are being submerged off the coast of Georgia to make artificial reefs. We hear a lot about habitat destruction, but why aren’t we talking about habitat creation? (WSB-TV)
“A spectacular eruption of the Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, captured from above” — insane. Video here.
The tunnel between England and France is surprisingly not straight. (@simongerman600)
Reader, please do not forget to touch grass this weekend.
-Brandon Gorrell and Nick Russo