The life cycle of a neutron star


About once every century, a massive star somewhere in our galaxy runs out of fuel. No longer able to produce sufficient energy to maintain its structure, it collapses under its own gravitational pressure and explodes in a supernova. The death of that star is the birth of a neutron star: one of the densest known objects in the universe. David Lunney explores what, exactly, a neutron star is.


Could CRISPR democratise diagnostics?

An early detection of diseases is often key to patients’ survival. And if this could be done in a fast, cheap and very accurate way, perhaps using our phone, then the future of medicine could be really revolutionised.

In her young career, Janice Chen, a recent PhD graduate in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley, has co-created DETECTR, a programmable DNA detection technology based on the CRISPR gene editing tool. The new diagnostic tools developed by Chen and her colleagues could help us identify bacterial and viral infections, detect cancerous mutations as they happen, and recognise new outbreaks before they spread out. But they also trigger some ethical questions regarding data ownership and diagnostic counseling. Should we be able to diagnose diseases without physician oversight? We need to make decisions now as the technology is already available.


Don’t blame bots, fake news is spread by humans

Fake news does not only disrupt society but also economy and the deep roots of democracy. Sometimes, their impact can even be measured in terms of people killed by the misinformation that it’s spread around.

Sinan Aral, a scientist, entrepreneur and investor with a PhD in IT economics, applied econometrics and statistics, has run some of the largest randomised experiments in digital social networks like Facebook and Twitter to measure the impact of persuasive messages and peer influence on our economy, our society and our public health.


The age of genetic wonder

Gene editing tools make it possible for us to manipulate the code of life. If we slightly modify the DNA of an orange we can obtain a tangerine. The old biology was used to observe stuff, the new biology can make it, it can redesign species. But what happens when we do it with human DNA? What happens when we decide to program cells?


Looking for life on Exoplanets

There are more stars in our little galaxy than grains of sand in all the beaches of our planet. Each star could potentially have planets that orbit around it. But are those planets suitable for life? The task of finding other life in the universe is immense and, according to Dawn Gelino, can only be carried out by teams of scientists coming from various disciplines. And once we’ll find signs of life, what kind of life will it be? What kind of reaction will we have and what kind of relationship will we be able to establish with that “life”?


This is why emotional artificial intelligence matters

We display more than 7000 different facial expressions every day and we perceive all of them very intuitively. We associate to them attitudes, emotions, intentions, and moods. They are the window into our inner selves.

Maja Pantic uses artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to analyse human non-verbal behaviour, including facial expressions, body gestures, laughter, social signals, and affective states. In this video, she shows how these techniques can be used for the good of people – helping autistic children interpret other people’s facial expressions – or for the bad.


The recipe for a good Anthropocene

When people are asked how do they picture our planet in 50 years, grey images of destruction and desolation seem to be the best representation of what comes to their mind. Elena Bennett has a different idea in mind. She thinks that, in the future, we can have a more just, more prosperous, and more biologically diverse planet than the one we are living in today.

Together with other scientists, Elena has identified “seeds of good Anthropocene”, that is, the actions that are visible today and that are starting to change the course of history in a positive way. They exist. And if we want to build a better planet, we need to start looking for positive stories about the future, even if they are hard to find. It’s like driving a car: if you have a certain image in your mind, you will steer your car towards that image. If it’s a bad image, you are likely to get a bad result. At the end, it’s our choice.


Is AI Changing Us?

Questions about Artificial Intelligence – such as “is AI changing us?” – lead us to much deeper questions, such as “what does intelligence mean” or even “who are we and in what are we different from chimps?”.

Joanna J Bryson is a specialist of both natural and artificial intelligences. Her work focuses on AI policy and AI ethics. But before talking about AI-related ethical issues, one must clarify what we expect from AI. And what if we were to discover that we are the apes with AI?


Genetics is shaping agriculture and food

When CRISPR, the gene manipulation tool, is used on crops’ DNA, it can become a powerful way to program plants’ response to pathogen attacks. And that, without pests and other poisons that are a threat for the environment.

By making crops and plants stronger, we can protect our planet and provide a durable solution to the scarcity of food for all its inhabitants. Sanushka Naidoo thinks that this is a key element for a sustainable future and, as an expert in the field, she knows that the technology is already available. Given the current situation, the real question is: should we go on and manipulate the nature around us or shouldn’t we rather use only natural tools and smart solutions?


Web3, Blockchain, cryptocurrency: a threat or an opportunity?

Web3 is a back-end revolution and nothing that makes your webspace more likeable or interactive. Since the novelties happen at the level of the code, it is not easy for the user to grasp what a huge revolution it is. Web3 changes our data structure as it democratises information by giving all users the same level of accessibility.

There is full transparency and privacy is preserved thanks to cryptography. There is no centralised entity governing the cryptoworld, no bank issues any currency but bitcoins are regularly exchanged. The whole system works because there is an open-source protocol that everybody must agree with before performing network actions. How are users incentivised to perform the right actions? They are paid with network currency. The democratised code is actually the accepted governance of the blockchain. But who writes the code? Who manages the inner working of the future Web?



When you mix performance art with digital effects, the result might be more than an immersive experience. Kevin Ramseier, Thomas Köppel and François Moncarey of CENC (Centre for numeric and corporal expression) engage in serious play with digital tools and the laws of physics.

With DISORDER, they have created a video dance performance where the dancer controls the video and sound matter. The team of designers combine sound, movement and light into a single medium, which they then shape into frequencies, oscillations and vibrations.


The price of a clean Internet

With over 2 billion people using Facebook world-wide and several millions uploading content on Instagram, YouTube and other social media, we could potentially expect a lot of horrible content to be spread around.

However, in reality, we actually see dangerous or ugly content only very rarely in our feeds. How come? Who cleans our information channels? In Manila, Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck – two young documentary makers – encountered a hidden workforce who decides what to delete and what to keep up. By reviewing thousands of photos, videos and posts every day young workers in the Philippines are facing extremely disturbing content. Alongside the ideological, political, cultural and religious implications of their work, what are the psychological effects that people who “clean up” the digital sphere go through?

The “safe” Internet comes at a high price: the hidden exploitation of thousands of young workers in the developing world and the silencing of critical thinking in the digital space.