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The World’s Largest Fusion Experiment Just Turned On
white pill #30 // martian lava tubes, the world's first successful eye transplant, extracting hydrocarbon energy from air, and lots of fun stuff
Readers, can you believe I’m back again with the 30th issue of the White Pill? This week’s newsletter features Martian lava tubes, the world’s largest fusion reactor, news out of OpenAI’s first developer conference, an embarrassing amount of fun stuff related to ancient Rome, and lots more.
Let’s get to it.
Martian lava tube. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped an image of a collapsed Martian lava tube in the region of Hephaestus Fossae in Mars’ northern hemisphere. While there’s been a lot more pictures and talk about these features on the Moon, they exist on Mars too, and — due to the natural protection they offer against meteorites and harmful solar rays, among other advantages — could one day serve as locations for outposts, even cities. (Universe Today)
For more Martian colony White Pill content, check out our interview with Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin on Martian agriculture, surviving on Mars, and how Martian colonies will make money.
Breathable oxygen from lunar regolith. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate has put out a request for input on developing technology that can be used during the Artemis missions to extract breathable oxygen from the soil on the moon’s surface. Lunar regolith is composed of about 40 to 45% oxygen by weight, bound mostly in the form of oxides (such as silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide, and iron oxide), which provide a potential source of oxygen. The benefit of creating breathable oxygen on the moon, of course, would be that you don’t have to carry it up from Earth. (Space.com)
Will my interview with Phil Metzger, co-founder of NASA’s Swap Works, about the uses of lunar regolith ever stop being relevant? No.
NASA launched a free on-demand streaming service that will host “original video series, live launch coverage, kids’ content, Spanish-language programming, and the latest [space] news.” (NASA)
Take a look at the first images from the Euclid space telescope. The telescope is able to scan a large portion of the sky, and produce incredibly detailed shots. Its goal is investigating dark matter & dark energy; to do so it will “observe the shapes, distances and motions of billions of galaxies out to 10 billion light-years,” building the “largest cosmic 3D map ever made.” (Twitter/X)
A sample from asteroid Bennu, which was recently brought back to Earth by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission (some pics of it entering our atmosphere somewhere in the vicinity of San Francisco are on the White Pill Twitter) is now on display to the public at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. (Twitter/X)
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute announced that it recently received a $200 million donation from the estate of Franklin Antonio, who was a co-founder of the communications chip company Qualcomm. (SETI)
The White Pill is on X/Twitter. Follow us for excellent developments in tech, science, space, and medicine, and bonus content that doesn’t make it into the weekly newsletter.
Energy, Science, AI
Now that’s hot. The world’s largest working fusion experiment — about half the size of France’s ITER (not turned on yet) — has just been turned on. Japan’s JT-60SA is a tokamak that confines plasma in a donut shaped ring. The reactor will ultimately heat the plasma up to 200 million degrees C for 100 seconds. It will provide scientific and engineering insight into how to build even better tokamaks in the future, including ITER (if it’s ever finished), and tokamaks being built by private fusion companies. (Science)
Light, as well as heat, causes water to evaporate. In a discovery that shows there’s a lot we have left to discover about supposedly understood phenomenon, researchers have found that light can cause water to evaporate, even in the absence of heat. We all learned that heat causes water to evaporate, which it does, but turns out photons (particles of light) can actually knock water molecules away from the surface of water, and that this effect is quite significant. This could lead to significant technological improvements, for instance in solar desalination plants, where the amount of water produced could be increased 3-4x, potentially leading to cheaper desalination. (MIT News)
Scientists have found a way to use ultrasound waves in the air to deflect lasers. By varying the density of air with the ultrasound, they change its index of refraction, which bends light, allowing them to bend the laser beams. (PhysicsWorld)
Interesting projects came out of OpenAI’s first developer conference. Watch this video of an AI sports narrator that generated its commentary by watching a video of the action, and this video of an impressive “lofi mockup to code.” Check out @LinusEkenstam’s thread for more.
Based LLM Grok now has an X account that posts screenshots of the best Groks. One interesting thing: Grok pulls relevant tweets into its responses (see above); this does feel similar to appending “reddit” to a Google search, but better.
In what is almost certainly a total coincidence, ChatGPT has an X account now, too.
The AI device company Humane posted a demo of their AI pin. It was mocked for a variety of reasons, some imminently reasonable and obvious, but I will say that at the very least the device has some evocative features. It is interesting, for example, that the wearer controls some aspects of the device with hand gestures, on an interface projected onto the wearer’s palm. (Humane)
GPT Plus users can now “create a GPT” by importing their own “knowledge” files and providing custom instructions. (OpenAI) Also, OpenAI made these GPTs sharable, which is cool — here’s a Github list of useful ones.
In a new first for artificial intelligence, a contract has been negotiated between two AI’s without any human involvement. The NDA was negotiated within minutes, leaving the only job for the human lawyer being to sign the finished document. (CNBC)
The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. Deals are sourced using a combination of Pitchbook and reach outs to each company.
Robot companions for seniors — Andromeda, a company developing Abi, a friendly-looking humanoid robot that is “ideal for use in elder care facilities, hospitals, and with children who need a little extra companionship,” raises $1 million in venture funding in a deal led by Galileo Ventures
Robotic fish for waterway inspection — Aquaai, a company building a submersible waterway inspection drone (it’s used to measure waterway health in protected marine areas, for instance), raises $1.5 million in venture funding from Hub71
GPS, but 5x more accurate — Zephr, a company developing a “networked GPS solution” that improves location accuracy by using nearby mobile phones as base stations that provide error correction, raises a $3.5 milion seed led by Space Capital and First Spark Ventures
Low-profile wind energy installations — Airloom, a company developing a wind turbine alternative that uses vertically-mounted wings that travel horizontally along an ellipitical track (they claim their solution costs 1/10th that of a standard turbine), raises a $4 million seed led by Breakthrough Energy
Live space telescope feeds for students — Slooh, a company that gives classrooms access to online, real-time video from a global network of telescopes, raises an estimated $5 million of venture funding from Connecticut Innovations, Michael Paolucci and other undisclosed investors
Daily earth observation satellite data — Kuva Space, a Finnish company developing a constellation of 100 nanosatellites that will provide near-real-time daily hyperspectral imaging of the globe, raises a $17.7 million Series A led by Voima Ventures, Nordic FoodTech VC and Earth Venture Capital
Roomba on steroids — Matic, a company developing a robotic floor cleaner (it responds to voice and gestures, and can mop and vacuum), raises a $23.62 million Series A-1 led by John Collison, Patrick Collison and Nat Friedman
Low-flying, ultra-high-resolution imaging satellites — Albedo, a company developing a constellation of low-orbit satellites that offer aerial image levels of resolution (they claim 10cm accuracy), raises a $29.36 million Series A from undisclosed investors
Hydrocarbon energy, from the air — Valar Atomics, a startup that hopes to use nuclear fission to take the hydrogen and carbon present in air and assemble hydrocarbon molecules (read: gas, oil), raises $1.5 million from Riot Ventures
First successful eye transplant. For the first time, surgeons at NYU Langone have successfully completed an eye transplant for a former American line worker who suffered severe facial injuries when he survived a 7,200-volt electric shock in June 2021. Though he’s not expected to gain vision in the eye, it will look cosmetically normal, which will help the patient look and feel more normal after his horrible accident. “I want to go out in public now and not wear a mask and cover up,” he said. “I want it to get out to as many people as we can who may not know about this option — especially about the eye. Even if it didn't work for me, it was a start.” (MedicalXpress)
A new gene therapy has been developed to tackle Parkinson’s disease, and it’s showing significant promise in primate tests. It also mitigates side effects of current treatment such as dyskinesia (erratic jerking). (SciTechDaily)
And another development in Parkinson’s: a Swiss team announced they were able to restore a Parkinson’s patient’s ability to walk again by implanting electrodes in his spinal cord. More than 90% of people with Parkinson’s have extreme difficulty walking, or can’t walk at all, and though this invasive treatment is currently too expensive to scale access, it still represents a potential breakthrough in treatment of the disease. (MedicalXpress)
Finally, the fun stuff
Netflix released a clip (above) of their upcoming 3 Body Problem adaptation which I, for one, am eagerly anticipating. It’ll be streaming on the platform on March 21 of next year.
Speaking of creating your own GPT, @gfodor made one to answer any and all question about his Intraterrestrial Hypothesis, which posits that a now-advanced, subterranean humanoid civilization has been evolving in parallel with humanity, and that they’re the ones responsible for the flare-up in more seemingly credible UAP incidents over the past decade or so. Ask it questions here.
"Cave Canem" is a Latin phrase that translates to "Beware of the Dog," commonly used in ancient Roman times, often found in mosaics at the entrance of homes as a warning to visitors about the presence of a guard dog. The one above is in Pompeii, and dates back to the 1st century BC. Ruff ruff. (@sovietsoleri)
More Pompeii! Did you know that in 2020, they found a food stand with food (from “kid [goat] to snails and even a sort of ‘paella’ with fish and meat together”) still in the food pots? Insane! Shopkeeper almost definitely got burned alive by the eruption though… Picture above. (@archeohistories)
The Celtic Carnyx was an “ancient wind instrument” used in warfare “by the Celts during the period from 300 B.C. to 200 A.D.” Roman soldiers would have heard this haunting sound on the battlefield with their Celtic enemies. Listen to the noise it makes here.
Touch grass this weekend.