Avery Thompson




About Avery

Avery Thompson is a science writer and journalist, focusing mainly on stories in science, energy, and technology. In 2012, he started his personal blog, Gravity's Wings, and within the first two years amassed nearly a thousand followers.

After graduating with a B.S. in Physics from RIT in 2015, he started writing professionally. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including From Quarks to Quasars (now part of Futurism) and Lateral Magazine. He currently works as a staff writer for Popular Mechanics.

Recent Work

Scientists Propose Experiment to Test Quantum Gravity
On Popular Mechanics |

Exactly how space gets curved is still an open question. One possibility is that the force of gravity is carried by a particle, like how electricity is carried by the electron or how light is carried by the photon. This hypothetical particle has been dubbed the graviton, but there’s no guarantee that the graviton exists at all.

Two groups of scientists may have finally solved that problem, by proposing an experiment to determine if the graviton exists without ever observing it directly. The experiment involves trying to get two particles to quantum entangle using their gravitational interactions, and if they’re successful it could confirm that quantum gravity exists after all.

Astronomers Detect First Stars in the Universe, Pointing to Influence of Dark Matter
On Popular Mechanics |

Every generation of telescopes lets us see a little more, giving us a better picture of the very beginning of the universe. Our telescopes have seen some of the first galaxies forming and some of the earliest stars, but no matter how good astronomy instruments get, there will always be a barrier preventing us from seeing clearly into the oldest parts of the cosmos. For the first 150 million years after the Big Bang, the universe was largely opaque, too dense to let most light through.

However, there is a wavelength of radio waves that astronomers have found coming out of the darkness. A group of astronomers from Arizona State University and MIT used the Haystack Observatory outside of Boston to study these radio waves from the early universe. The team picked up a fluctuation in the signal, which serves as an indirect measurement of the first star formation, and it contains hints about the role of dark matter.

Researchers Find Hundreds of Cases of Black Lung in Appalachia
On Popular Mechanics |

Black lung has plagued coal miners for more than a century, crippling their lungs and killing thousands. Caused by years coal dust that the body can’t get rid of, black lung eventually starts killing lung tissue when it reaches critical mass. Cases of black lung have declined since 1969, when regulations were passed to minimize the risks that miners faced, but according to recent data, the disease is making a comeback.

Renewables Are Supplying a Record Amount of America's Energy
On Popular Mechanics |

Renewable energy has taken a few hits over the past year, with the Trump Administration’s recent implementation of a tariff on solar panels, decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, and funding cuts for several clean energy programs. But this barrage of bad news doesn’t seem to have slowed down the industry. A recent report finds that renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro are still growing, and now account for 18 percent of U.S. energy generation.

Humanity's Biggest Machines Will Be Built in Space
On Popular Mechanics |

A rocket blasts off from the launchpad, carrying a couple dozen tons of cargo into space. In the span of a few minutes, the rocket accelerates to around 17,500 miles per hour, orbiting the Earth at nearly 300 miles above the surface.

What is this rocket carrying? Perhaps a communications satellite, a NASA spacecraft, or some payload for the military? Actually, the rocket isn’t even carrying a spacecraft at all. Instead, its payload contains several tons of high-grade plastic and pre-fabricated components, material that will be fed to a 3D printer waiting in orbit. This futuristic printer will then use the plastic and components to construct a functional satellite spanning several miles.

A mile-wide satellite might sound impossible, but that’s exactly where the space industry is headed. In the future, giant telescopes, communication satellites, solar arrays, and space stations will fill the space around the Earth, and many of them will be several times larger than anything ever built on the surface.

How Long Until Your Doctor Visit Includes DNA Sequencing?
On Popular Mechanics |

Imagine you’re visiting your doctor for a checkup. Your doctor takes all the usual measurements like your height, weight, heart rate, and blood pressure, and then tells you she's going to sequence your DNA.

The doc swabs your cheek to get your DNA and uses a small handheld device to get the results in a flash. With this data, your doctor can identify any genetic problems, determine your risk of cancer or heart disease, and prescribe you medications tailored specifically for you and your genes.

While you’d be hard-pressed to find this scenario playing out in any of today’s health clinics, that may soon be changing. Genetic testing is becoming cheaper and more widespread, so the opportunities to use it to personalize medicine are only going to increase.

LHC Scientists Discover First Evidence of Particle Proposed Nearly 50 Years Ago
On Popular Mechanics |

Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland have found the first experimental evidence for the odderon, an exotic particle predicted by quantum theory. The odderon has been hypothesized for decades, but until now there was no proof that it actually exists. While this new discovery doesn’t completely prove the particle’s existence, it is strong evidence supporting it.

Why the Solar Energy Tariff May Be Bad for Solar
On Popular Mechanics |

Earlier this week, the Trump administration implemented a tariff on imported solar panels, which has understandably rattled the solar industry. Solar panel manufacturers, electric utilities, and clean energy advocates are still trying to figure out what the ramifications of the tariff are, and how this new rule will affect both their businesses and the industry as a whole.

Most People May Already Be Immune to CRISPR
On Popular Mechanics |

The gene-editing technology CRISPR has the potential to change everything about medicine. With CRISPR, scientists and doctors can potentially edit a person’s genome on the fly, fixing all manner of genetic diseases with a simple, non-invasive procedure.

At least, that’s the plan. In reality, CRISPR is pretty complicated, and any attempt to use it in human patients inevitably leads to some complex engineering. A recent paper from a group of Stanford researchers even found that most humans may even be immune to CRISPR altogether.

MIT Researchers Want to Make Glow-In-the-Dark Plants
On Popular Mechanics |

Imagine a plant that glows like a flashlight, letting you read in the dark without spending a penny on electricity. We could grow these plants everywhere, lighting up the night without burning fuel to do it. It’s a beautiful fantasy, and one group of MIT researchers wants to make it happen. The only problem: it’s probably not actually possible.

How Climate Change Is Making Wind Power Less Effective
On Popular Mechanics |

Our planet is warming, and we’re to blame. Burning of fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which insulates the atmosphere and traps heat. To try and combat this, countries and energy companies are investing in cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. But according to a pair of new studies, first reported by the Washington Post, the very problem these initiatives are trying to solve might be making wind power less effective.

The New Plants That Could Save Us From Climate Change
On Popular Mechanics |

Plants are incredible organisms. They tend to be very simple, only requiring a little CO2, water, and oxygen in order to live, but they’re capable of tremendous diversity and adaptability. Plants can grow big or small, fat or skinny, entirely based on some simple factors like how much light there is.

Dr. Joanne Chory, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and HHMI, has made a career out of uncovering these factors, developing them into simple rules, and manipulating them to create big changes in plants. Her lab has spent decades studying just how plants can learn and adapt to different kinds of information, and along the way has uncovered a great deal of information about which genes affect plant growth.

Now, she’s using that information to create new plant varieties that could pull incredible amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and dramatically reduce the effects of climate change. For her work, she’s being honored with the 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

Building a New Wind Farm Costs Less Than Running an Old Coal Plant
On Popular Mechanics |

A year ago, solar power became the world’s cheapest form of energy, and wind and solar are the best investments in large swaths of the U.S. Now, a new report from financial firm Lazard Ltd. concludes that solar and wind are so cheap that building new wind and solar farms costs less money than continuing to run current coal or nuclear plants.

Fruit Flies May Hold the Secret to Better Search Algorithms
On Popular Mechanics |

So much of our online lives revolve around searching for and finding the things we're looking for. We type words into text boxes and algorithms pull up the exact content we've requested. Somehow, these algorithms sort through and categorize the entire internet just so that we can search for the exact cat GIF we need to get through the day. It's pretty remarkable.

How do you write software to prioritize one cat GIF over another, almost identical cat GIF? One group of researchers is turning to fruit flies for inspiration, hoping that the structure of their brains can help us design a better search engine.

Scientists Find the First Comet Around Another Star
On Popular Mechanics |

The Kepler Space Telescope has been one of NASA's most successful missions in history. Data from that telescope has been used to find over two thousand planets orbiting stars other than our own. These 'exoplanets' have taught scientists a great deal about other star systems and how our own might have been formed.

Even though Kepler's mostly done collecting data, there's still a backlog of old measurements that nobody's taken a look at yet. Often, examining some of those measurements can yield new, surprising discoveries. For instance, one amateur astronomer examining old Kepler data spotted some strange signals that turned out to be the first known exocomet.

Researchers Take First Atomic Photos of Failing Battery
On Popular Mechanics |

As rechargeable batteries are built ever larger and more dense, they become increasingly more explosive. Perhaps the most famous explosive batteries were found in Samsung's disastrous Note 7 phones, but explosive batteries have also cropped up in e-cigs, hoverboards, and even a NASA robot. It seems like nothing can escape the danger of exploding batteries.

So how are scientists and engineers combating the rise of explosive batteries? Mostly, they're not. Batteries are complicated and right now the best we're able to do is regulate how quickly they charge and discharge, in an attempt to reduce the odds of exploding. But one group of researchers has managed to take the first pictures of a battery failing at the atomic level, giving hope that we might soon be able to design a battery that doesn't explode at all.

An AI Found Dozens of Gravitational Lens Galaxies
On Popular Mechanics |

There are roughly 100 billion galaxies in our universe, and it would take many lifetimes for humans to look at them all. Even if our scientists only focused on a tiny sliver of the night sky, there's still enough space to keep any person busy for decades, if not centuries.

Among the many things astronomers could spend decades searching for are gravitational lenses. When one galaxy sits in front of another one, the light from the more distant galaxy in the background can curve around the nearer one due to its gravity, causing a magnification effect. But in a universe of 100 billion galaxies, finding these arrangements can be tough, so astronomers are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence to find gravitational lenses for them.

What Is an IQ Test, Anyway?
On Popular Mechanics |

If you like dumb fights about being smart, it's been a good week for you. First came reportsthat Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly called Donald Trump a "f**king moron." In response, Trump did not fire Tillerson but instead, in a recent Forbes interview, challenged the secretary to "compare IQ tests."

Challenging people to compare IQ scores is one of Trump's go-to moves when he feels his brainpower is being insulted. And it shouldn't be surprising the president always falls back on IQ. In the century since it was invented, intelligence quotient has become an all-consuming stand-in for brainpower. It's (a little too) easy to understand the idea of one number that tells you how smart you are—and whether you're smarter than somebody else. In fact, the reality of IQ is much more complex.

Scientists Are Using NASA Satellites to Predict Malaria Outbreaks
On Popular Mechanics |

Malaria is one of the world's most deadly diseases, made even more deadly by the fact that it tends to affect mostly remote communities. This makes it difficult to track and control malaria outbreaks when they happen, resulting in more severe outbreaks and more victims. To solve this problem, a group of researchers have turned to an unlikely source: NASA satellites.

New Graphene Filter Could Remove Salt From Saltwater
On Popular Mechanics |

Water covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface, and yet it can still be a scarce resource. That's because nearly all the Earth's water is held in the oceans, and it's incredibly difficult to purify that salt water to make it drinkable. Typical desalination works through flash heating or reverse osmosis, both of which require huge amounts of energy. This makes desalination impractical in remote areas or on a large scale.

Fortunately, a group of researchers from Shinshu University and Pennsylvania State University may have developed a better way to purify water. The group developed a type of molecular sieve using hybrid graphene oxide membranes to filter out the salt from saltwater more cheaply.

New AI Analyzes Astronomical Images 10 Million Times Faster Than Humans
On Popular Mechanics |

Researchers at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University developed a neural network that can analyze images of gravitational lensing 10 million times faster than conventional techniques, which could dramatically extend the range and resolution of telescopes like Hubble and provide crucial information on galaxy clusters and dark matter.

The Ocean Is So Noisy, Whales Are Starting to Talk on a New Frequency
On Popular Mechanics |

The ocean is a noisy place. Beyond the typical noises like crashing waves there is the increasing presence of ships to makes things even louder. Above the water, this might not seem like a big deal, but below the waves, noise from ocean liners and large container ships can travel for miles and upset organisms like whales and dolphins that depend on their own noises to communicate and survive.

New research from Oregon State University suggests that blue whales are learning to adapt by changing the frequency of their songs. Essentially, they're starting to communicate on a different audio band. The researchers believe that the whales are doing this deliberately to avoid interference from human sounds.

Almost All of the Bacteria In Your Body Is Still Unknown to Science
On Popular Mechanics |

Our bodies are not our own, at least not entirely. They're filled with tiny bacteria and other microorganisms, collectively called our microbiome. This small ecosystem features bacteria on our skin, in our mouths, in our guts, and nearly every corner of our bodies, and they perform crucial tasks that help keep us alive. For instance, bacteria in your intestines are the reason you can digest complex carbohydrates like starch.

Understanding this microbiome is key for doctors and scientists looking to improve human health. Scientists thought they understood most of the microbiome's mysteries, but new research from Stanford suggests they're almost completely in the dark. A new study of DNA fragments found in the human bloodstream found that around 99 percent of that DNA was previously undiscovered.

3D-Printed Tools Will Soon Brave the Vacuum of Space
On Popular Mechanics |

Space is very far away from Earth, which poses some problems for the people living there. Suppose something breaks. You'll need both the replacement part and the tool to install it, and it's impossible to send those things directly from the ground on short notice.

For the past few years, American company Made In Space has been working on solving that problem by developing a new way to get tools and parts into orbit: 3D printing, which is already commonly used on Earth to make all sorts of strange things.

Robots Finally Have a Good Way to Communicate Underwater
On Popular Mechanics |

Under the sea, there are submarines, research vessels, robots, buoys, and tracking tags on animals, and they've all got to communicate. But radio signals don't work underwater, so the established radio communication standards are useless. Instead, underwater signals are sent via acoustic waves, but until recently there was no standard for which frequencies to use.

That's all been changed now, thanks to a new standard being pioneered by NATO. Called JANUS—after the Roman god of gateways—the new system partitions the range of possible underwater communication frequencies and lets everything communicate with everything else.

Scientists Found the Building Blocks For Life Around a Young Star
On Popular Mechanics |

Is there life around other planets in our galaxy? We may never know the answer to that question, but we're one step closer to at least finding out more. Life may or may not be out there, but the building blocks of life definitely are according to new research from the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan.

Astronomers Spot Orbiting Black Holes for the First Time
On Popular Mechanics |

Early last year, scientists at the LIGO observatory detected gravitational waves for the first time ever. These waves—ripples in the fabric of spacetime—were formed by a pair of black holes that had been orbiting each other until colliding. At least, the LIGO scientists are pretty sure that's what happened.

The only problem is nobody has ever observed a pair of orbiting black holes before. Not only did LIGO make the first ever detection of gravitational waves, those waves came from something no one had ever actually seen.

Until now, that is.

Pollution Could Block 25 Percent of the Light That Would Become Solar Power
On Popular Mechanics |

Despite all its potential to power the future, solar produces only around 2 percent of the energy in the U.S. Some of that is because of the high cost of the panels, but most of it is due to their low efficiency. Solar panels can only absorb a fraction of the sunlight that hits them, and that's in the best of conditions.

But what about in the worst of conditions? New research from Duke University and the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar points a finger at airborne dust and pollution as a major reason why solar power isn't as good as it could be: Their research shows pollution can reduce the efficiency of solar panels by up to 25 percent.

Reducing Fossil Fuel Emissions Isn't Stopping CO2 Rise
On Popular Mechanics |

Over the past few years, many nations have made a strong effort to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere. By replacing fossil fuel plants with renewable energy sources, we may have succeeded in starting to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2017. This is a huge accomplishment.

But new research says that might not be enough. The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing anyway.

The ESA Is Preparing to Search For Gravity Waves in Space
On Popular Mechanics |

In order to find gravitational waves from weaker sources like stars and planets, we're going to need a much bigger detector. Fortunately, the European Space Agency has plans to build just that: their LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) observatory, floating in space.

Scientists Are One Step Closer to Using Algae as Biofuel
On Popular Mechanics |

Today, most biofuels are made from corn and soybean oil, which is expensive to grow and harvest. This means biofuels struggle to be competitive with traditional fuels. Scientists have been trying to find a good alternative to these crops for years, and one team may have found it in algae.

Scientists Find New Antibiotic Hiding in the Dirt
On Popular Mechanics |

Our current antibiotics are rapidly approaching their expiration date, so it's up to scientists to try and find new ones. A recent report from the Waksman Institute at Rutgers University claims that a group of scientists have done just that, identifying a new antibiotic from a toxin produced by soil bacteria.

If Stars Are Born in Pairs, Why Is Ours Single?
On Popular Mechanics |

Our planet was born as a ball of rock orbiting a single star. Or was it? New research from UC Berkeley and Harvard University suggests that almost all stars are born in pairs, including our own.

The DJI Spark Is a Great Beginner Drone
On Popular Mechanics |

Starting today, drone giant DJI releases its cheapest, smallest offering: the entry-level $500 Spark. And starting just a few days before, it helped me become a drone pilot for the very first time and introduced me to what I fear and assume will become a lifetime addiction to drones.

Researchers Create The Largest Ever Simulation of the Universe
On Popular Mechanics |

A group of researchers have build the world's largest simulation of the universe, containing around 25 billion virtual galaxies. The simulation could help in the search for mysterious dark matter.

Europe Pledges to Quintuple Their Offshore Wind by 2030
On Popular Mechanics |

A few decades from now, most of our energy will likely come from the sea. At least, from the wind above the sea. One of the fastest growing and most efficient energy markets is offshore wind, and today's announcement by three European countries and 25 private companies could cement that lead for decades.

CRISPR Gene-Editing Might Cause Thousands of Unintended Mutations
On Popular Mechanics |

Perhaps the largest medical breakthrough this side of the Human Genome Project has been the invention of CRISPR, a technique for rewriting entire sections of DNA. CRISPR lets scientists target specific sections of DNA and edit them however they want, essentially giving scientists a potentially unlimited ability to fix genetic illnesses.

But there's a catch: CRISPR might cause random side effects.

Could Power Plant Turbines Slash Emissions by Running on CO2 Instead of Steam?
On Popular Mechanics |

Steam turbines are simple but far from the most efficient way to generate electricity. It just takes a lot of energy to turn room-temperature water into steam. That's energy that isn't being used to spin a turbine which means it's basically wasted. There's no way to fix this problem short of swapping out steam for something else.

So that's exactly what some groups are trying to do. Their best replacement candidate? Carbon dioxide, according to a new study in Science.

Something Weird Is Happening to the 'Alien Megastructure' Star
On Popular Mechanics |

As far as weird stars go, few are as strange as KIC 8462852, nicknamed Tabby's star. Tabby's star randomly dims and brightens for apparently no reason, which led some astronomers in 2015 to hypothesize that some sort of 'alien megastructure' was orbiting the star, occasionally blocking the light. Other scientists proposed a large asteroid field or a swarm of comets instead, but we still don't really know what's going on.

All of that might be about to change. Early this morning, astronomers detected one of those characteristic dips that are unique to Tabby's star. All of the other dips that we know of are from historical observations, but this one is happening right now, which gives astronomers a chance to really figure out what's happening.

How Building Satellites in Orbit Will Change Our Future in Space
On Popular Mechanics |

"Every single satellite that we've ever built and launched to space has to ride up on a rocket," says Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space. "That rocket subjects the payload to a high-g, high-shock, high-vibration environment which really limits the design of the satellite."

Rush wants to change that. Instead of building satellites here on Earth and launching them into space, he envisions a future in which we simply launch small components and raw materials, remotely controlled spacecraft actually assemble the orbiter in orbit. It's more than just a vision—Rush's company has a NASA contract to make it happen.

MIT's New Robot Can Teach Its Metallic Kin
On Popular Mechanics |

Building a robot is hard. Teaching a robot is even harder. But teaching a robot to do your teaching for you might just be within the realm of possibility.

Astronomers May Have Just Taken the First Photo of a Black Hole
On Popular Mechanics |

Over the past week, astronomers have trained half a dozen telescopes around the world at a single point at the center of our galaxy. The goal? To finally catch a glimpse of a black hole.

The network of telescopes covers half the globe, from the South Pole to Europe and both Americas. For five days, these six telescopes all pointed at one small spot in the constellation Sagittarius termed Sagittarius A* (pronounced "A-star"). Years of observations have revealed that Sagittarius A* is likely the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and now these six telescopes are working together to get the very first picture of it.

This is How NASA's Saturn Orbiter Will Die
On Popular Mechanics |

NASA's Cassini orbiter has done a hero's work since arriving at Saturn in 2004, but the aging spacecraft is reaching the end of its life. Cassini rapidly running out of fuel, so NASA scientists have to decide what kind of funeral to give it. Today, NASA has revealed many details of Cassini's final mission, what NASA is calling Cassini's "Grand Finale." According to NASA, the spacecraft will follow a series of orbits that bring it between Saturn and its rings until finally it will plunge into the planet's atmosphere and die.

Can 'Apollo Fusion' Bring Us Clean Nuclear Energy?
On Popular Mechanics |

As the world works to wean itself off of coal and oil, we need something to replace it. Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner, but still a fossil fuel so that's not ideal. Wind and solar are making great strides, but their variable nature means we can't depend on them at all times. Hydro and geothermal are great sources of steady renewable energy, but highly location-dependent and can't be built everywhere.

In many ways, the best possible source of energy is nuclear.

New Data Could Help Give Warning of Catastrophic Solar Storms
On Popular Mechanics |

Given the serious threat posed by a solar storm, it might surprise you to know that we have essentially no way of knowing when one will occur. There are no available tools for predicting solar weather, and if the solar storm of the century starts heading toward us, at best we'll only have a few hours of warning.

One group of scientists want to change that. Led by Scott McIntosh of the National Center for Atmospheric Research's High Altitude Observatory, the group has analyzed data from several satellites observing the sun and found patterns that could be used to predict solar weather, including solar storms days or weeks in advance.

Mars May Have Had Rings, and They May Come Back
On Popular Mechanics |

While our planet's moon is pretty incredible to look at, the moons of Mars leave a lot to be desired. The planet's two moons, Phobos and Deimos, are small, irregularly shaped chunks of rock measuring only a few miles across. Most scientists believe that they are asteroids that got captured early in the solar system's history, but a new study suggests they may be the remnants of a much larger and more interesting Martian system.

Astronomers Want to Use the Sun as a Massive Telescope
On Popular Mechanics |

It's a constant struggle to build a better telescope, and one group of scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory want to use the sun to help. Specifically, they want to use the sun's gravity as a giant magnifying glass to search for exoplanets, an idea they outlined at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop.

We Can Now Store Data on Individual Atoms
On Popular Mechanics |

Scientists at IBM have figured out at a way to encode data onto a single atom, which is the most compact information storage ever achieved. Their results are published in a paper in the journal Nature.

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away, Scientists Find Oldest Known Stardust
On Popular Mechanics |

A group of scientists have spotted stardust in one of the most distant galaxies ever found. The galaxy, A2744_YD4, is one of the farthest galaxies ever spotted, and studying this young galaxy could help astronomers discover how the first stars lived and died.

'Smart' Teddy Bear Leaked Millions of Voice Recordings
On Popular Mechanics |

It seems like just about everything is being to connected to the internet, and one of the creepier outgrowths of this already troubling trend is internet-connected children's toys that can leak recordings of your child's voice out onto the internet.

The Vicious Cold War Poison That Killed Kim Jong Un's Half Brother
On Popular Mechanics |

Last week, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's half brother, Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated in Malaysia by a chemical weapon. After a week of investigating, Malaysian officials have just identified the specific chemical used. The Washington Post reports that Kim Jong Nam was killed by VX, a deadly nerve agent used during the Cold War.

Vaccines Are Safe and There Is Plenty of Proof
On Popular Mechanics |

On Wednesday, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., along with actor Robert de Niro, staged a press conference to announce a $100,000 prize to anyone who could prove vaccines are safe. The prize is sponsored by Kennedy's organization, the World Mercury Project, an anti-vaccine group "determined to create a world free of the devastating effects of mercury."

According to the organization's website, the WMP "will pay $100,000 to the first journalist, or other individual, who can find a peer-reviewed scientific study" proving that vaccines are safe. Specifically, they are concerned with thimerosal, a compound used in some vaccines as a preservative. Of course, the CDC has links to a dozen studies specifically focusing on the effects of thimerosal in children, which Kennedy's group has already dismissed on spurious grounds. Still, it can't hurt to go through the evidence.

Our Nearest Exoplanet Neighbor Might Not Be Habitable After All
On Popular Mechanics |

Last year, astronomers discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting the star nearest to our own, Proxima Centauri. The planet, called Proxima b, is about the same size as the Earth and orbits inside its star's "habitable zone," the region where liquid water can exist. Many were excited about the prospect of a potentially habitable planet next door to our own, and there are even plans to send a probe to visit it in the near future. But a closer look reveals that the planet might not be habitable after all.

Scientists May Have Made Metallic Hydrogen, a Potentially Game-Changing Fuel Source
On Popular Mechanics |

Hydrogen is most commonly found as a gas floating in our atmosphere, but it can take many forms. Many rocket engines, for instance, used ultra-cold liquid hydrogen as a propellant, and cooling the hydrogen even further than that will get it to freeze into a solid form. But some physicists believe that it's possible to get hydrogen to take another form, a metallic solid, by subjecting it to extremely high pressures. One team of physicists claims to have done this, but many experts are doubtful.

Google Is Making AI That Can Make More AI
On Popular Mechanics |

Designing a good artificial intelligence is hard. For a company like Google, which relies heavily on AI, designing the best possible AI software is crucial. And who better to design an AI than another AI?

If you said "literally anyone else" you might be right, but folks at Google's AI research lab, Google Brain, would disagree. The lab is reportedly building AI software that can build more AI software, with the goal of making future AI cheaper and easier.

A Coal Plant in India Is Turning CO2 Into Baking Soda
On Popular Mechanics |

In India, one company, CarbonClean, has developed a new way to remove carbon dioxide from the environment, by turning it into baking soda.

A Mere Algorithm Could Make NYC Taxis Four Times More Efficient
On Popular Mechanics |

Currently, there are over 13,000 yellow taxis operating in New York City. But how many of those taxis are actually necessary? Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory decided to find out, and developed an algorithm to service nearly all taxi passengers with only a small fraction of the fleet.

Japan Is Scrapping Its $9 Billion Experimental Reactor
On Popular Mechanics |

Japan's Monju nuclear reactor was built 21 years ago, in 1995. It used a unique experimental design that allowed it to burn its spent fuel, eliminating most of the nuclear waste produced by typical nuclear plants. But now it seems that the experiment failed, and Japan is decommissioning the reactor for good.

NASA Says We May Have to Nuke Killer Asteroids
On Popular Mechanics |

Imagine a giant asteroid is hurtling toward the Earth. The killer space rock has managed to avoid detection until a few days or weeks before impact, and our options for saving ourselves are running low. What do we do?

According to some researchers, our best option is to nuke it.

How Simple Hydrogen Could Solve Renewable Energy's Biggest Problem
On Popular Mechanics |

One of the biggest problems with renewable energy is the way supply and demand can fluctuate wildly. If the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down, renewable energy generation will grind to a halt even if people still need that electricity. Conversely, if electricity demand is low then all the energy produced by solar or wind is wasted.

The ideal solution would involve some way of storing excess electricity when it's not needed to use when production is low, but most solutions are too expensive or difficult to implement. One promising solution is hydrogen storage, and the University of California, Irvine just launched the first such project in the United States, paving the way for other universities or municipalities to do the same.

Germany's Wildly Complex Fusion Reactor Is Actually Working
On Popular Mechanics |

Last year, Germany completed and turned on the Wendelstein 7-X nuclear fusion reactor. This amazing piece of technology uses a complicated design called a stellerator, and scientists have finally managed to verify that the design works like it's supposed to.

New Software Lets You Design Drones Like You're Building With Legos
On Popular Mechanics |

Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have built software that lets anyone design and test their own drone.

Here Is the World's Most Stable Atomic Clock
On Popular Mechanics |

Scientists working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed a new type of atomic clock. This is the most stable and consistent clock in the world and will help scientists studying the fundamental constants of the universe.

Nope, That Weird Blue Sphere In Space Isn't Aliens
On Popular Mechanics |

If you were on Facebook this weekend, you may have seen an image showing a mysterious blue sphere in space and a whole bunch of conspiracy theories about it. Aliens? NASA cover-up? As usual, the truth is much more mundane.

Scientists Discover New Process To Turn Waste Heat Into Electricity
On Popular Mechanics |

A group of researchers have developed a new material that can be used to turn waste heat into electricity. This technology could allow power plants to recycle their waste heat and save money, while reducing our fossil fuel consumption and helping the environment. Their results are published in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Carbon Emissions Remained Flat for a Third Year in a Row
On Popular Mechanics |

We've heard plenty of bad news about the climate lately, but here's something good. Scientists at the Global Carbon Project have released a report detailing that carbon emissions have remained flat for the last three years in a row.

Researchers Are Developing a Material That Doesn't React to Heat
On Popular Mechanics |

Researchers at the University of Southern California have been trying to make a material that doesn't respond to heat, and it seems they're getting close. If they're able to create this sci-fi-like unobtanium, it could have big applications in construction and engineering.

Scientists Are Bringing Back Vacuum Tubes for Computers of the Future
On Popular Mechanics |

Researchers from UC San Diego are using vacuum tube technology to develop more efficient computer processors. The research could result in faster microelectronic devices and better solar panels. Their results are published in a paper in the journal Nature Communications.

An Iconic Physics Experiment Could Unlock a Theory of Everything
On Popular Mechanics |

An iconic physics experiment may be the key to unlocking a theory of everything, according to a physicist from the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology. The double-slit experiment, which proves that particles can be waves and vice-versa, could also help to unify quantum mechanics with relativity, creating a theory of quantum gravity or a 'theory of everything.'

We May Have Found a Way to Cheat the Second Law of Thermodynamics
On Popular Mechanics |

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that entropy in the universe must always increase. It's an immutable law of physics, and it's the reason you can't get free energy or perpetual motion machines. But a group of physicists may have found a way to break this law, at least in some specific circumstances.

Scientists Accidentally Discover Efficient Process to Turn CO2 Into Ethanol
On Popular Mechanics |

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have discovered a chemical reaction to turn CO2 into ethanol, potentially creating a new technology to help avert climate change. Their findings were published in the journal ChemistrySelect.

Researchers Build Robot That Sweats To Cool Off
On Popular Mechanics |

A group of Japanese researchers have managed to build a robot that can do a whole bunch of pushups—by sweating like a human.

Our Nearest Stellar Neighbor Has Fiery Sun-Like Flares
On Popular Mechanics |

Harvard astronomers have discovered that Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our solar system, may experience solar flares and sunspots, just like our own sun. This discovery raises questions about how sunspots form, and whether life could exist around Proxima Centauri.

This Credit Card Has a Screen So Its Security Code Can Change Every Hour
On Popular Mechanics |

In order to combat the rise of online credit card theft, several French banks are partnering with security company Oberthur Technologies to create a credit card with a security code that is constantly changing so that within an hour, a stolen number will be useless.

Saturn's Moon Dione May Have an Ocean, Too
On Popular Mechanics |

On Monday, the Hubble spacecraft discovered further evidence of a subsurface ocean of liquid water on Jupiter's moon Europa. Now, a group of scientists has announced that Saturn's moon Dione may also have a subsurface ocean. Their results are published in the journal Geophysical Review Letters.

'Marsquakes' Could Release Sufficient Hydrogen to Support Life
On Popular Mechanics |

Researchers studying earthquakes in Scotland have discovered that earthquakes on Mars, or marsquakes, may release enough hydrogen to support life.

The Cloud on Titan That Shouldn't Exist
On Popular Mechanics |

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered a strange cloud on Titan that goes against everything scientists thought they knew about the moon's atmosphere.

China Confirms Its Space Station Is Falling Back to Earth
On Popular Mechanics |

In a press conference on Wednesday, Chinese officials appear to have confirmed what many observers have long suspected: that China is no longer in control of its space station.

China's Tiangong-1 space station has been orbiting the planet for about 5 years now, but recently it was decommissioned and the Chinese astronauts returned to the surface. In a press conference last week, China announced that the space station would be falling back to earth at some point in late 2017.

Nowhere to Hide: Algorithms Are Learning to ID Pixelated Faces
On Popular Mechanics |

Blurring or pixelating information to obscure it may not work anymore thanks to machine learning researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Cornell University. The researchers developed an algorithm that could identify faces and numbers even after they were blurred out.

Scientists Finally Discover Exactly Why Poison Ivy Makes You Itchy
On Popular Mechanics |

Scientists working at Harvard University have only just now identified the process that causes your skin to develop a painful, itchy rash after touching poison ivy. Their results were published last month in the journal Nature Immunology.

Tiny Particle Punches a Hole in Satellite's Solar Panels
On Popular Mechanics |

The European Space Agency reports that one of its satellites, the Sentinel-1A weather satellite, was hit by a small piece of debris that tore a hole through one of the its solar panels. The satellite itself is fine, but the event underscores the need for space agencies to do something about the growing problem of space junk.

One in Five Genetics Papers Have Errors Caused by Microsoft Excel
On Popular Mechanics |

According to a study in the journal Genome Biology, around 20 percent of genetics papers, have errors that have been introduced by Microsoft Excel or similar spreadsheet programs. The researchers analyzed more than 35,000 genetics papers and found that of the 3,600 or so that used Excel spreadsheets to provide lists of genes, a little over one in five contained at least one error.

Astronomers Discover New Galaxy That Is 99.99% Dark Matter
On Popular Mechanics |

A team of astronomers at the Keck Observatory in Maunakea, Hawaii, have discovered a massive galaxy made of 99.99 percent dark matter.

The galaxy, called Dragonfly 44, is part of a collection of galaxies discovered a year ago by the same team. These galaxies are the same size and shape of regular galaxies, but contain far fewer stars. And now we know why: they're made almost entirely of dark matter.

Why Didn't Russia Ever Make It to the Moon?
On Popular Mechanics |

It's a basic fact of history that on July 20, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on another celestial body, making history and defeating the Soviets in the space race.

The Soviets, of course, never made it to the moon at all. But why is that? After all, for most of the space race the Soviets were in the lead. They were the first to put a satellite into orbit, the first to send a man into space, and the first to send a spacecraft around the moon, taking pictures of the far side. Surely, even if they ultimately didn't win the race, they were close to the finish line. So what happened?

A Simple Coding Mistake Left Donald Trump's Website Open to All Kinds of Chaos
On Popular Mechanics |

Coding a website is hard, especially the website of a presidential candidate. Yesterday, Donald Trump's web design team found out exactly how hard it can be when software designer Shu Uesugi discovered a serious security flaw in Trump's website. The flaw has been fixed, but it potentially left the site open to a wide variety of malicious code.

How a Solar Flare Almost Triggered a Nuclear War in 1967
On Popular Mechanics |

The year was 1967, the middle of the Cold War. America and Russia were locked in a staring contest from opposite sides of the world, each daring the other to blink. Nuclear missiles were armed and ready to fire at a moment's notice. In the U.S., the military was constantly on high alert, waiting for the Soviets to launch some sort of surprise invasion or preemptive strike.

Finally, on May 23, that moment came.

New Experiment Hints at Why the Universe Is Made of Something Rather Than Nothing
On Popular Mechanics |

Sometimes the simplest questions are the most vexing. One of the biggest questions in science right now is simply: Why is there something rather than nothing? While it might sound like a debate topic for stoners, it's a serious and profound question about the nature of the universe. And now, new results from the T2K experiment in Japan could be the first step toward answering it.

New Theory of the Higgs Boson Could Explain Why Gravity Is So Weak
On Popular Mechanics |

Something is seriously wrong with gravity, and nobody's quite sure why.

There's no particular reason why gravity should be so much weaker than the other forces. Physicists have attempted to explain this discrepancy in a number of ways, from complex theories like string theory to philosophical ideas like the anthropic principle, which answers the question of why gravity isn't stronger by arguing that no one would be around to ask the question if it were.

But that's not enough for a group of physicists who have developed an alternative theory to explain gravity. Their theory involves decaying particles and the Higgs boson.

The Superbug-Beating Antibiotics May Come From Your Nose
On Popular Mechanics |

Scientists at the University of Tubingen in Germany have published a paper declaring that they've discovered a new class of antibiotics, and the source is the bacteria inside people's noses.

MIT Invents a Glasses-Free 3D Movie Screen
On Popular Mechanics |

Remember when Avatar first premiered back in 2009, and everyone was talking about how in the future all movies would be in 3D? And how a few years later, those same people realized that watching 3D movies would require putting on uncomfortable, dorky glasses all the time? And now 3D movies have become something of an afterthought? Well they might be making a comeback in a few years, because some researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed a 3D movie screen that works without glasses.

Cops Ask Professor to 3D-Print Fingerprints So They Can Unlock a Phone
On Popular Mechanics |

Sometimes law enforcement agencies want or need access to the phones of suspects or victims, but with password protection and encryption, they can't get. Just ask the FBI, which spent more than $1 million to decrypt the phone of the San Bernardino shooter. Fusion reports that one police department is trying a different approach: 3D-printed fingerprints.

Bad News, Wannabe Martians: The Water on Mars May Not Be Drinkable
On Popular Mechanics |

It was exciting news when scientists confirmed the presence of liquid water on the surface of Mars last year. Most of the focus of Mars water is on what it means for potential life. But another important reason to find liquid water on Mars is for human consumption. If drinkable liquid water is present on Mars, crewed missions may not have to carry as much water with them, which means much lower fuel costs and cheaper Mars trips.

Unfortunately, it looks like the water on Mars may not be very useful after all.

Save the Date for Rosetta's Violent Death
On Popular Mechanics |

The Rosetta spacecraft, which has been orbiting comet 67P for the last two years, has been given an official expiration date by the European Space Agency. The agency has announced that Rosetta will be programmed to crash onto the comet on September 30, giving it only three more months to live.

NASA Brings Space Internet Tech to the ISS
On Popular Mechanics |

Take a moment and think about all the steps necessary for this article to get to you so you can read it. Your device needed to send the signal to request the page data from the Popular Mechanics server, which sent back the data required for your web browser to display this page. Both of these steps are handled by a series of protocols, called TCP/IP, or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. TCP/IP is the backbone of all internet communications, and what enable you to communicate with all of the other computers and servers that make up the internet.

The internet works much the same in space. TCP/IP is still used to communicate with Earth's satellites, the ISS, rovers on Mars, and probes around the other planets. However, while data on Earth is sent through nearly lossless fiber optic cables, data in space often has to travel across millions of miles and through multiple relay satellites, and this can introduce problems. What if an asteroid takes out a communications satellite, or a solar flare interrupts a transmission? Interruptions and outages are common when communicating in space, and the current TCP/IP system is ill-equipped to handle that. NASA needed a new system that worked even during intermittent outages.

Scientists Can Now Define the Kilogram In Terms of Raw Physics
On Popular Mechanics |

For over a century the kilogram, the unit of mass, has been defined as the weight of a small block of metal sitting in France. The block of metal is called Le Grand K, it's used to make sure all the world's scales are on the same page by pulling it out and using it for recalibration every now and then. This might seem very low tech—and it is—but for a long time it was a pretty reliable way to define the kilogram, especially back in the late 1800s when people still thought the aether was real. It was also not the only unit to be defined this way. The meter, for instance, was the length of a particular stick. It was a system that worked pretty well until 1992, when scientists discovered that Le Grand K was shrinking.

The self-taught machine that beat the world Go champion
On Lateral Mag |

“Damn machines!”

That’s what one of the members of my local Go club said on Wednesday evening, the day after professional Go player Lee Sedol first lost to a computer. The feeling was shared among many of the others. Just a few months ago, we all believed that it would take years, maybe decades, for a computer program to play Go at a professional level. And in just a few weeks, we humans had lost our title as masters of Go as first the European champion Fan Hui, then the world champion Lee Sedol were soundly defeated by Google DeepMind’s Go-playing AI, AlphaGo.

It was a bit of a shock, to put it mildly.

LIGO Researchers detect Gravitational Waves from Black Hole Collision
On Illinois Science Council Blog |

In 1915, Albert Einstein proposed one of his most revolutionary ideas, the Theory of General Relativity. According to this theory, massive objects like stars and planets can bend spacetime, warping the very fabric of reality. A year later, he predicted that very large disturbances, like black holes and supernovas, can produce waves in spacetime that can spread for millions of light years. Scientists have been searching for these “gravitational waves” for decades, but have never seen them directly. Until now.

Observatory Resumes Hunt for Gravitational Waves
On From Quarks to Quasars |

Last week, researchers announced that the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (aLIGO) is ready to resume its search for gravitational waves: theoretical ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by massive astronomical objects (like orbiting black holes).

By detecting these waves, scientists hope to study systems they can’t observe with traditional light-based astronomy, as well as learn more about the formation of star systems, and even uncover clues about the origin of the universe.

A Photon's Million Year Journey From the Center of the Sun
On From Quarks to Quasars |

It’s a well-known fact that the light we see from stars has taken hundreds, even thousands, of years to reach us. The photons made in the centers of these distant stars have traveled across enormous expanses of space and time in order to enter our retinas. But what about the light made in our own Sun? What do those photons experience on their way to the Earth?

Let’s chart the journey of a single photon...

After New Horizons, What Will We Explore Next?
On From Quarks to Quasars |

The summer of 2015 was a pretty good one for space exploration. The Philae lander woke up, however briefly; Rosetta continues beaming back plenty of data from Comet 67P; Dawn is doing the same from dwarf planet Ceres. Then, of course, there’s New Horizons: the probe that sensationally explored Pluto and its moons. It will now make its way deep into the Kuiper belt. Being that no other planet remains unexplored, it’s only natural to wonder what comes next. Here are some upcoming missions...

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