Columbia Science Review Vol. 15, Issue 1 | Fall 2018
8 BRAIN COMPUTER INTERFACING 101
Editorial Board Editor-in-Chief YOUNG JOON KIM Managing Editor ALICE SARDARIAN Editors BENJIE GREENFIELD CHERYL PAN ENOCH JIANG SARAH HO SERENA CHENG VICTORIA YANG JANE PAN
Writers ANNA CHRISTOU CLARE NIMURA GEORGINA GONZALEZ HARI NANTHAKUMAR JOHN WANG KYLE WARNER LINGHAO KONG MARIEL SANDER NAVIYA MAKHIJA PAYAL CHANDAK SIRENA KHANNA SEAN HARRIS SEAN WANG
Chief Design Officer JOYCE ZHOU Layout Designers AMANDA KLESTZICK JOANNE WANG VIVIENNE LI ALICE STYCZEN Illustrators EMILY WANG STEFANI SHOREIBAH MEGAN ZOU
Executive Board The Executive Board represents the Columbia Science Review as an ABC-recognized Category B student organization at Columbia University.
President AUNOY PODDAR
Public Relations Chair AARON LIBERMAN
Spread Science Director MAKENA BINKER COSEN
Vice President MICHELLE VANCURA
Secretary MARCEL DUPONT
Treasurer ABHISHEK SHAH
Senior Advisors KEEFE MITMAN & NOAH GOSS
Spread Science Team CLAIRE HUANG NATALIE SAYEGH NINA KUMAR TALIA MALEKAN YUXUAN MEI
Organizational Committee Members ALANA MASCIANA, ANASTASIA DMITRIENKO, ANU MATHUR, AYESHA CHHUGANI, ELLE STEIN, JACQUELINE ERLER, JASON MOHABIR, JASON WANG, JULIENNE JEONG, KUSH C. SHAH, MAHAM KARATELA, MANASI SHARMA , NICOLE LYONS, SOPHIE BAIR, SYLVIE SANDERS, URVI AWASTHI, ZOÃ‹ WEBB-MACK
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
cience doesn’t have to live in a vacuum. But for many of us on campus, this could not be further from the truth. Of course, some Columbians with lifelong interests in science and engineering may already be aware of how physics, biology, chemistry, and related fields contribute to our own lives and to society at large. But I’ve come across more than a handful of peers who, while fulfilling their general science requirement through Frontiers of Science, complain about the uselessness of learning about life on Earth or the universe. Even as a lifelong fan of science, I have sometimes questioned the real-life utility of listening to a dry lecture about benzene reactions while sitting in the back row of Havemeyer 309 at 9 AM. We, at the Columbia Science Review, hope to dispel the myth of science as an inaccessible and irrelevant discipline through fascinating real-life examples that you, the reader, can relate to. Our writers and editors have chosen to investigate exciting topics that are relevant today, some of which are frequently discussed while others are not often mentioned in the news. Nevertheless, the articles are bound to give you new insight into an area of science that you may not have encountered before. Because of our mission to democratize science, we have also made sure that each piece is easily understood and pleasing to read without excising any of the key facts or theories. In this print issue of the Columbia Science Review, we offer four feature articles and three shorter cocktail articles. Each one is an exciting demonstration of the variegated ways that science can affect the world we live in. “Revising American Healthcare Coverage,” as its title suggests, delineates the policies that affect our healthcare system and the science pertinent to them. “Brain Computer Interfacing,” meanwhile, describes the future potential of electronic neural connections. “Habitat in the Heavens” assess the current progress and challenges of lunar colonization while “Epigenetics & Mental Health” describes how biology can explain the persisting effects of historical trauma. As the editor-in-chief, I hope that each piece will rekindle your curiosity about the sciences that some of your introductory lecture courses may have washed away. Warm Regards, Young Joon Kim Editor-In-Chief
Table of Contents
6 8 11 15 18
Brain Computer Interfacing 101 Revising American Healthcare Coverage: Politics, Fragmentation, and the Future Epigenetics and Trauma Habitat in the Heavens: A Review of the Current State of Lunar Colonization
COCKTAIL SCIENCE 6
QUANTUM TELEPORTATION JANE PAN ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY WANG
The term “quantum teleportation” conjures visions of that famous Star Trek line, “Beam me up, Scotty!” However, this teleportation isn’t in the classical sci-fi sense. Rather than moving objects from point A to point B, quantum teleportation is the process through which information in the form of quantum bits is transmitted instantaneously. It relies on quantum entanglement, in which physical particles interact in such a way that their states are dependent on one another, and thereby correlated with each other’s properties. Because this property holds even across long distances, information can be transmitted from far away. Quantum teleportation was first experimentally verified in 1997 by an Italian team of physicists. Most recently, in the summer of 2017, a team of Chinese scientists led by Jian-Wei Pan successfully demonstrated quantum teleportation between the Earth and a satellite. In fact, China is already moving to implement quantum networks, which use quantum teleportation to enforce ultra-secure Internet. In 2017, the city of Jinan began an installation of a quantum key distribution network, which notifies users on both ends if the data has been altered or accessed. Plans for another quantum network between Beijing and Shanghai have already begun. Perfectly secure networks seem like a dream. But the absolute safety of these quantum networks actually poses a danger – what if the network is simply too secure? If absolute security is guaranteed to all users on the network, the ability to track the circulation of illegal materials or criminal activities is lost. In order to prevent illicit use, access must be restricted; what would be the process of selecting and trusting individuals to use the network? Is it even possible to prevent illegal and inappropriate use of technology without limiting its potential for growth and advancement? These ethical qualms are inherent in any major development or breakthrough. By no means should these considerations be allowed to impede what could very well be a revolution in quantum computing. Within two decades, we could see massive improvements in security, speed, and efficiency of information transfer. The future is bright – and photons are leading the way.
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WHAT DRIVES MORALITY? CODING ETHICS INTO AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES SARAH HO ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY WANG
The most basic version of the trolley problem goes something like this: there’s a trolley hurtling down the track toward five people, all of whom are tied down to the track. You’re standing by a switch that can divert the trolley onto another track, which has one person tied down to it. You have two options: either you pull the switch, saving the five people but killing the one, or you don’t pull the switch, watching five people die while the single person lives. Up until recently, the trolley problem has remained a polarizing thought experiment—while some argue that one should pull the switch because five lives is more important than one, others argue that intervention is murder, and thus morally wrong. Now, though, with the development of autonomous vehicles, the implications of the trolley problem become much more significant. Autonomous vehicles are designed to circumvent human impulsivity and irrationality; by functioning with little to no human input, they will ideally lead to safer road conditions. But what happens when an accident is inevitable? How should the car be coded to react? Which life or lives should it value more? To clarify answers to this question, MIT published the results of the Moral Machine Experiment, which used an online survey to gauge how people reacted to different scenarios involving an autonomous vehicle and an accident. Would people save the pregnant jaywalker, or the homeless man legally crossing the street? Would people save the group of elderly men near the sidewalk or the young doctor in the direct path of the car? After analyzing 40 million responses from 233 countries, the study highlights three main trends: people value humans over animals, saving more lives, and saving young lives. However, while these results indicate how our values might skew, whether they should influence how an autonomous vehicle reacts in an accident is another question entirely.
REVOLUTIONIZING SURGICAL PRACTICES ALICE SARDARIAN
The fine art of surgery is built upon risk. It is at the core of a profession that has existed for millenia, progressing from archaic operations, to technologically advanced, and at times potentially flawed techniques. Surgical practices are constructed upon the apprenticeship model, where a physician observes, performs, and then teaches a procedure to the next generation. The frightening and key component of this sequence is that the surgeons “practice” upon actual patients. The apprenticeship model assumes that surgeons observe a procedure many times before eventually practicing it. However, this model is inadequate when it comes to rare surgical procedures. In these cases, observation and practice are limited. When thinking about making these rare procedures a common practice, Dr. Peter Weinstock and his team at Boston Children’s Hospital, developed a model based on surgical simulations. Rare surgeries to treat hydrocephalus or congenital diaphragmatic hernias are thus conducted by surgeons who have fine-tuned their skills on simulated patients, before treating real patients. Since 2001, the Simulator Program at Boston Children’s has been developing life-like patient models through the applications of technology, engineering, medicine, and even the expertise of Hollywood special effects. They are now able to translate surface scans of real patients into 3D printed anatomical representations with life-like clarity, texture, blood flow, and even added voice effects generated behind the scenes. The hospital is equipped with multiple simulation rooms and a fully functional, simulator operating room. Most importantly, practicing surgeons provide continuous feedback on the quality of the procedures and models. With tools designed by the Simulator Program, surgeons can now be fully prepared to treat their patients without compromising their safety and wellbeing. Surgical simulations are being used in medical education nationwide, including the U.S. Military, reducing the risk associated with surgery and revolutionizing practices beyond the traditional model. Fall 2018
PHOTO BY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
BRAIN COMPUTER INTERFACING 101 PAYAL CHANDAK ILLUSTRATION BY STEFANI SHOREIBAH
he mingling of the mind with the machine has been fantasized about for decades. From Luke Skywalker's interactive artificial hand in Star Wars to paraplegic Jake Sully’s experience of life through a 10-foot alien in Avatar, as a society we have been mesmerized by the idea of being able to alter the world around us with just a thought. Over the last decade, the possibility of the brain being able to control devices radically different from its body has become a reality with the emergence of brain-computer interfacing.  Work within this contemporary, interdisciplinary field is aimed at leveraging recent developments in neuroscience and machine learning to develop methods to respond to brain activity. Medically, brain-computer interfacing has been studied and implemented in research laboratories for decades. However, non-medical brain-computer interfacing has recently become all the rage. In 2015, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invested USD 65 million into neural engineering projects.  Brain-computer interfacing promises to revolutionize the manner in which we communicate and interact with technology. Brain-computer interfacing works by converting ‘patterns of intention’ in your brain waves into a desired action in some device. The conversion occurs over four key steps. First, the activity of neurons is recorded as electrical signals, typically using an electroencephalogram (EEG). Imagine Luke Skywalker (or any disabled, fictional character you prefer), but with
a bunch of metal electrodes placed all over his scalp that are recording activity in the top, shallow areas of his brain. This activity is the electrical signals used as input. Now, ‘features’ or characteristics of intent are extracted from the signals recorded. For example, suppose that Luke Skywalker’s neurons begin to send signals more often. The increase in firing rate would be a feature because it likely represents some intention; for instance, perhaps Luke wants to move his prosthetic arm faster. Sophisticated machine learning algorithms interpret the meaning behind these features by recognizing patterns in the electrical signals. This process, known as feature translation, allows the device to convert brain signals into their intended command. Finally, the mechanical device executes what it thinks is the user’s intention — that is, the prosthetic arm begins to move faster. Let’s back up for a second. Does it mean computers will be able to read our minds? The quick and dirty answer is no. Braincomputer interfacing involves a process of learning wherein the user and the computer are required to work together. It is not possible for the interface, in its traditional conception, to extract thoughts from an unwilling user, which becomes clearer upon examining the earlier example. The algorithm made the right decision to move the arm faster, and so Skywalker is satisfied. The satisfaction information is provided to the algorithm as positive feedback. However, features can also be mistranslated; that is, the algorithm may conclude that increased firing rate means slower arm movement even though Skywalker
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actually wants faster movement. In this case, negative feedback is provided. The cyclical reinforcement learning used demonstrates that machines cannot simply look at our brain waves and know what we’re thinking. Seemingly inspired by Luke Skywalker’s abilities, most of the work on brain-computer interfacing has been focused on improving the quality of life of severely disabled or paralyzed people. For example, cochlear implants, which convert sound into electrical signals to aid the deaf, have become one of the most successful and prevalent bionic technologies.  Cochlear implants are one of the many neuroprosthetics developed from the application of brain-computer interfacing. Another neuroprosthetic –– a bionic arm allowing the user to control motion in individual fingers – was engineered by physicians at John Hopkins in 2016.  Dr. Andrew Schwartz, the professor who developed the bionic arm, hopes paralyzed patients will someday be able to use these interfaces to control objects beyond just a robotic arm.  The goal is for patients to “operate devices in a smart home merely by thinking about them”. More recently, researchers at Stanford University realized this vision when they helped paralyzed patients use a tablet via braincomputer interfacing.  For those with physical disabilities, brain-computer interfacing presents the opportunity for independence and self-sufficiency.
our present reliance on obscure EEG readings.  Many others are researching nanotechnology solutions, with different materials and methods, albeit to the same ends. As neurobiology progresses, we will hopefully become better and better at decoding the brain. With time, brain-computer interfaces are likely to become a reality. In the future, brain-computer interfaces are likely to evolve from assistive to augmentative. As the field progresses, a host of non-medical applications will be devised to supplement and extend human function. Controlling a cursor on a screen will likely translate into being able to navigate the internet and possibly even virtual worlds. Robotic wheelchairs that can be remotely controlled via brain signals will progress to assistive robots and neural transportation. In 2008, Bell et al. demonstrated proof-of-concept that a humanoid robot that could be mentally commanded to fetch objects from desired locations.  More and more, braincomputer interfaces are being designed with the intention of integrating right into our lives. Over the last decade, the technology’s reliability in performing everyday tasks has significantly increased.  
❝ The complexity of the brain, which makes brain-computer interfacing possible, is also its biggest obstacle.
Unfortunately, these breakthroughs are not as developed as one would hope. Most technologies require surgical implantation of electrodes into the deep brain, EEG recordings are too noisy due to being limited to the brain’s surface. However, the materials used in the implants either degrade quickly or are rejected by the body, causing an internal immune reaction and inflammation. Schwartz also points out that, so far, “demos have been in a laboratory – where rooms are quiet, test subjects aren't distracted, and experiments last only long enough to show proof of concept.”  Clearly, brain-computer interfaces and their neuroprosthetics are neither robust nor effective enough to be deployed in the real world. The complexity of the brain, which makes brain-computer interfacing possible, is also its biggest obstacle. Brain function is decentralized, meaning that processes are carried out in steps across various brain areas rather than in a single, specific location. As a result, each neuron is intricately connected to a web of other neurons. Moreover, the brain is plastic, meaning that connections between neurons are constantly changing. The functioning of our brain-computer interface relies on rendering the communication between neurons, also known as the neural code. However, with limited understanding of neural connections and technological limitations on complexity, brain-computer interfaces become incredibly difficult to execute beyond simple finger or cursor movements. The ability to interpret the neural code is critical to the advancement of brain-computer interfacing. One solution is being developed by Neuralink, Elon Musk’s newest biotechnology venture. Neuralink aims to develop a “neural lace” that could be injected into the brain. Over time, as the neural lace would safely grow alongside neurons, it would clearly record changes over time in the deeper regions of the brain. The ability to reach the deep brain and monitor neurodevelopment would resolve
Moreover, brain-computer interfacing can be applied to the public sphere –– especially with respect to transit. Brain-computer interfaces could be used to monitor alertness, particularly while users are performing important but monotonous tasks. Each year, devastating traffic accidents are caused by fatigue and drowsiness. Diminished alertness and degree of engagement can be inferred from the frequency of brain waves. The application of brain-computer interfacing to self-driving cars could make them much safer by allowing the car to assess the driver’s state of mind. For student readers, homework is a more relatable, and perhaps more tedious, task than driving. Brain-computer interfacing can gauge a student’s level of attention and cognitive load during learning. One company, Neurosky, successfully measured the user’s ‘mental engagement’ during a math exercise.  Effort and focus could become quantitative metrics, rather than qualitative ones, potentially reducing the unhealthy importance of numerical test scores in evaluating competence. Moreover, insights into an individual’s learning pattern would allow the technology to redirect focus during lapses in attention.  Any student could augment her concentration and performance using this technology. However, this or any other widespread, augmentative application of brain-computer interfacing brings up critical questions of inequality, consent, privacy and identity. If braincomputer interfacing were advanced enough to be integrated into our lives, the world would be divided along a new line of “haves” and “have nots”. Socioeconomic stratification would cause children of the rich and powerful to get implants much earlier than others, giving them a physical and mental advantage over the rest.  At a broader level, populations residing in research-focused nations while gain an edge over those in less developed countries. Given that a new set of social classes will emerge, will society itself separate along this divide? Is a new education system going to be created for children with brain-computer interfacing abilities?  How will the legal system differentiate between those with and without augmented brains? 
One must consider that the advent of brain-computer interfaces will, like any new technology, bring with it great potential for abuse and manipulation. Neurally-controlled weapons will redefine the capacity for violence during wartime, possibly initiating a new arms race.The subconscious mind could easily be manipulated by corporate advertising or governmental propaganda. Moreover, wireless communication to and from the brain, if insecurely encrypted, could easily be exploited. Users could be coerced or brainwashed into taking actions they would not otherwise take. In fact, the very utilization of brain-computer interfacing has become a moral dilemma, as illustrated by cochlear implants. Many people with hearing impairments do not consider their condition to be a disability or disease that needs treatment.  Rather, it defines their identity, community and culture. The moral question then becomes, should parents of a deaf child insert a cochlear implant, thereby depriving the child of the chance to be part of the deaf community, or should they not implant the device, thereby depriving the child of the opportunity to hear and speak? A similar analogy can be applied to all of brain-computer interfacing. Being an un-augmented human is not a disability, at least not at the moment –– so why should humans need artificial dependencies on computers?
brain-computer interfacing were advanced enough to be integrated into our lives, the world would be divided along a new line of “haves” and “have nots”.
Works Cited Brain-Computer Interfacing AN INTRODUCTION Rajesh P. N. Rao https://www.darpa.mil/program/our-research/darpa-and-thebrain-initiative https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/cochlear-implants https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/mind_ controlled_prosthetic_arm_moves_individual_fingers_ https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609329/for-brain-computerinterfaces-to-be-useful-theyll-need-to-be-wireless/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oka8hqsOzg https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609329/for-brain-computerinterfaces-to-be-useful-theyll-need-to-be-wireless/ https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2015.115 https://homes.cs.washington.edu/~rao/jne_humanoid_08.pdf https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8327169 https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7989714 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4806709/ Brain-Computer Interfacing AN INTRODUCTION Rajesh P. N. Rao Brain-Computer Interfacing AN INTRODUCTION Rajesh P. N. Rao Brain-Computer Interfacing AN INTRODUCTION Rajesh P. N. Rao https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007% 2F978-94-007-4707-4_40 https://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcseriesblog/2017/12/18/ ethical-questions-raised-by-brain-computer-interfaces/ https://theconversation.com/melding-mind-and-machine-howclose-are-we-75589
On the other hand, one could claim that using technology to augment capabilities, while seemingly artificial, has been occuring over the course of human history.  For centuries, we have been using technology to overcome the limitations of our bodies. The wheel allowed transport to develop as an extension of our legs. Clay tablets and paper permitted us to concretely store thoughts, and thereby augment our memory.  Similarly, the incorporation of brain-computer interfacing into our lives would naturally amplify our abilities.  Its addition to humanity would fundamentally reshape what it means to be human. By allowing our brain to circumvent its body and interact directly with the environment, we redefine the driving forces of evolution . At this point, the question isn’t whether we will become capable of using brain-computer interfacing to overcome genetic limitations. Rather, the question is: do we even want to make this radical jump to begin with? And are we equipped to ensure that the jump is equitable? [16, 18] With great advances in technology come great moral responsibility. Brain-computer interfaces are no exception. As the technology transitions out of laboratories, it presents great potential for both welfare and abuse. Nevertheless, from the wheel and automobile to gunpowder and nuclear fission, we have successfully negotiated and embraced revolutionary technologies in the past. One can therefore be optimistic that we will befittingly incorporate brain-computer interfacing in a manner that enriches lives. I nurture the hope that a new era of human creativity and achievement will be ushered in by this intimate fusion of neuroscience and computing. PHOTO BY GDJ ON PIXABAY
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REVISING AMERICAN AMERICAN REVISING HEALTHCARE COVERAGE COVERAGE HEALTHCARE Politics, Fragmentation, and the Future SEAN WANG ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY WANG
spending far more money on healthcare than any other nation per capita, all Americans do not have accessible universal health insurance, and thus affordable healthcare. In comparison to other members of the (OECD) Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a trade group of 36 industrialized countries , the United States ranked in 2016 the third lowest percent population covered by public or private insurance, at 91.2% coverage . The disparities in healthcare coverage in the United States stem from a variety of issues including governmental health insurance program fragmentation (e.g. separations of Medicare and Medicaid) and and fierce political divisions. Discussing the lack of healthcare insurance is crucial to understanding and solving problems like health care costs; providing healthcare is crucial to building a healthier and stronger population whereas resolving costs may not necessarily benefit all. By first finding solutions to enable more individuals to receive insurance, our focus can then shift towards improving the delivery of healthcare and health outcomes. Thus, the provision of healthcare coverage must be the first consideration
to finding solutions to resolving even greater problems found in the American healthcare system. Two issues – political ideology and program fragmentation – are major contributors to the United States’ inability to insure its entire population. These two factors affect the distribution of healthcare in the United States and are frequently discussed in the provision of care.
Political Ideology For the past decade, healthcare has remained a top point of contention and one of the top five voting issues among Americans, only consistently outranked as less important to the economy, according to the Pew Research Foundation. Attempts to resolve health policy remain contentious. Some Republicans believe that healthcare is a privilege that must be earned4. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) contended that “What we have as rights is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” does not include healthcare . By contrast, Independent senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is popular among many liberals and democrats, contends that “Healthcare must be recognized as a
right, not a privilege” in a statement supporting his Medicarefor-All proposal. Sanders, similar to other liberals, contend that a universal healthcare system would help American people focus on their careers instead of finding healthcare; healthcare is a prerequisite to working rather than a reward for working. In 2010, the fiercely debated Affordable Care Act established by the Obama administration as a means to combat the inequities in obtaining care. As a result, the percent of uninsured Americans between 2010 (when the ACA was enacted) to 2016 decreased by 7.2% or 20 million people . However, the ACA remained contentious with some believing the enactment of the ACA to be a hostile government takeover while others did, in fact, begin receiving less health benefits or raised premiums. Instead of revising the ACA, the Trump administration and a Republican-majority Congress have been intent on breaking down the Affordable Care Act and establishing new healthcare policy. In 2017, the Republican party attempted to push for different bills including the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BRCA) . Both planed to drastically diminish or eliminate the role of the ACA and its benefits; the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) rated increases in uninsured Americans by 22-24 million by 2026 . A final effort, a “skinny repeal” of the ACA, which would “repeal the individual and employer mandates and give states broad authority to states to waive key sections of the ACA” would leave 16 million Americans uninsured by 2026 . In each of these bills, the difference between “No” to “Yes” was 14 votes for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, 10 votes for a “partial repeal amendment”, and 2 votes for the “skinny repeal” amendment . These narrow margins indicate how delicately American healthcare is held in the balance. These tough battles indicate great inefficiency and division in attempts to modify the current healthcare system; furthermore, these bills indicate a lack of consideration for many Americans who need health insurance. Had the BRCA passed, the government would have saved hundreds of billions in spending between 2017-2026 primarily through reductions to Medicaid and changes to ACA subsidies. However, 15 million more Americans would be uninsured if the BRCA passed. Premiums would also increase for those in the nongroup market prior to 2020 (outside of employers, public insurance programs), but lower average premiums afterwards. While federal spending cuts and lower (in the long-term) premiums appeal to those who believe the government should cut their deficit spending and those with unaffordable premiums, the staggering increase in uninsured Americans was a dangerous proposition and ultimately led to the bill’s demise.
Governmental Insurance Program Fragmentation and Limitations The overall distribution of insurance coverage to American adults: about 44 million Americans are covered by Medicare, about 62 million by Medicaid, about 22 million non-group insured, 157 million insured by their employees, and about 6 million through other public options . In public healthcare exchanges, there are difficulties in increasing the enrollment for health insurance. For individuals not provided by social programs or their employer, they may purchase healthcare independently using systems like the public health insurance marketplace which provides health insurance to 11 million people for 2018 . However, enrollment in these marketplace plans have been declining. Between 2017 and 2018, plan selections dropped by 3.73% (about 500,000 people) and 7.27% (about 900,000
people) between 2016 and 2018 . Drops in enrollment can be attributed to several factors. First, the open enrollment period for the following year (e.g. healthcare for next year, 2019) for most Americans is only six weeks which is a small timeframe . Second, competition in some regional markets is limited. Between 2014 and 2018, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the United States average number of health insurance providers dropped from 5 per state to 3.5 per state . However, some states have regions where there are only one or two providers at most. An American now has fewer choices in which the healthcare provider they want to purchase insurance from; these providers might not be affordable nor have preferred benefits. Additionally, states that chose not to expand Medicaid prevent some of their citizens from obtaining affordable healthcare plans by creating a “coverage gap”. There are more than two million who are currently in this coverage gap because their income exceeds their states’ “Medicaid eligibility but [falls] below the lower limit for Marketplace premium tax credits. These individuals would be eligible for Medicaid had their state chosen to expand coverage” . The Kaiser Family Foundation writes that the people in the coverage gap, the majority from poor working families, “will continue to lack access to coverage through their job even with ACA provisions for employer responsibility for coverage”; as a result, their employers will not be punished for not providing them with proper health insurance. They will likely be unable to afford necessary healthcare and their overall group health may decline. It’s key to remember that health insurance, in this day and age, is an essential prerequisite to receiving healthcare. One study analyzing the relationship between insurance status and health outcomes writes that “Uninsured individuals were significantly less likely to see a clinician following an unintentional injury or a new chronic condition” . For example, chronic condition, 91.5% of those insured received care whereas only 81.7% of those uninsured received any care . Additionally, “uninsured individuals also were significantly more likely to have received none of the recommended follow-up care (9.4% uninsured, 4.4% insured) and were significantly less likely to still be receiving treatment for their chronic condition (75.1% insured, 67.3% uninsured)” .
Proposed Solutions The United States government needs a unifying movement in order to ensure that Americans are able to receive healthcare. Although the Medicaid expansion component of the ACA was only accepted by 34 states , ideological shifts seem to be occurring as some of these states held referendums in the 2018 midterm elections. These successful grassroots movements for Medicaid expansion in Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska, will help bring affordable healthcare to thousands of more individuals thereby decreasing the coverage gap present in these three states. These changes in political movement, however, rely on the will of state-level constituents (i.e. state-citizens) advocating for their interests. A solution to improving the low enrollments with the health insurance federal marketplace is to take inspiration from state marketplace structures. According to an article from the Washington Post, “many states with their own marketplaces [not using the federal exchange] continued their sign-up period for two or three months. And though federal money was sharply curtailed for advertising and other outreach activities, some state exchanges had robust programs and well-staffed call centers to encourage sign-ups” . As a result, making healthcare exchanges more accessible by lengthening enrollment periods
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and better staffing can significantly improve the exchanges’ utility. However, improving to the access of the exchange does not change the fact that insurance remains expensive. Advertising and robust communications/customer service is only beneficial to those who have sufficient income to afford healthcare. On a larger scale, healthcare system reform is a topic gaining national traction. While the goals would be theoretically greatly beneficial to the American people, there are a number of stipulations with regards to how reform should be executed. Major market changes may be a necessary component to making healthcare more accessible. As politically divisive as the ACA was, the New York Times writes that “the Affordable Care Act did its best not to disrupt [the employer-based health insurance] market. While the system is far from ideal, Americans seem to prefer the devil they know to pretty much anything else” . Perhaps, shifting the United States away from a familiar, fragmented system would be more beneficial. Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed a healthcare plan named “Medicare for All Act (M4A)” as a possible solution to the United States healthcare system which has gained popularity . Sander’s plan “would create a federally administered singlepayer health care program” that would offer all Americans with healthcare ; in turn, there would be other net benefits such as saving major costs federally and for individuals and their families . The Mercatus Center at George Mason University rated the bill as adding “approximately $32.6 trillion to federal budget commitments during the first 10 years of its implementation (2022-2031)” , but it appears that M4A would potentially reduce costs in overall healthcare spending by decreasing significantly reducing administrative fees . However, this plan would be incredibly disruptive to the current health insurance market. The Mercatus Center, funded by the Koch brothers, was unable to predict how providers would respond to payments cuts greater than 40% and how care will be affected to compensate for such drastic measures. This plan would upheave the current healthcare market; private insurers would likely shrink and all Americans would be provided with some basic healthcare. However, nothing can be said for certain how introducing a universal healthcare plan would affect the United States population. While Americans would be able to receive basic healthcare, many questions on the quality care and transitioning to this system remain: how would insurance companies handle this change, how will the government force hospitals/doctors to accept their government insurance, how will American citizens pay into this system? System reform also can draw solutions from those of other nations. For example, the Swiss healthcare system virtually has no uninsured residents as “mandatory [statutory health insurance (SHI) coverage] is universal” according to a Commonwealth Fund report . In addition, it holds major appeal to some Americans for major decentralization and competitive markets between private sector companies. Health insurance companies are legally required to provide healthcare for Swiss citizens (and residents); as a result, these companies are forced to competition without further government intervention through government subsidies or government-provided insurance. By comparison, the French healthcare system sees “The provision of health care in France [to be] a national responsibility” . The French national government holds major roles in making healthcare accessible to all citizens. Healthcare coverage “is universal and compulsory, provided to all residents by noncompetitive SHI” . However, the likelihood of upheaving the health insurance industry makes following the French model rather challenging, in addition to low market competition.
Conclusion No healthcare system is perfect. This discussion of specific establishments within healthcare is limited to factors such as ideology and program fragmentation; as a result, this paper was unable to evaluate the American healthcare system with respect to other issues including financing healthcare and the delivery of care itself. It becomes clear, nonetheless, that the United States needs to establish a new paradigm for how healthcare is perceived as not a “privilege” but as a “right” to all citizens. Small modifications to the healthcare system certainly hold promise in decreasing the number uninsured Americans; however, radically reforming the United States healthcare system remains an effort that must be spearheaded by leaders across the political spectrum and those in health insurance. Works Cited  “Medicare for All: Leaving No One Behind.” Bernie Sanders, berniesanders.com/medicareforall/.  OECD (2018), "Social protection", OECD Health Statistics (database), https://doi.org/10.1787/data-00544-en  The complexities of employer-based health insurance will be omitted given it heavily relies on including discussion of costs and taxation rather than organizational policy which is beyond the scope of this paper’s discussion.  “2016 Election.” Pew Research Center, 18 July 2018, www. pewresearch.org/topics/2016-election/., Issues of the 2012 Campaign. Pew Research Center, 17 Apr. 2012, 2. http://www. people-press.org/2012/04/17/section-2-issues-of-the-2012campaign/., Issues and the 2008 Election. Pew Research Center, 21 Aug. 2008, 1. http://www.people-press.org/2008/08/21/ section-3-issues-and-the-2008-election/.  LaVito, Angelica. “Costly Health Care Drives the US to Spend Double the Rate of Other High-Income Nations.” CNBC, CNBC, 13 Mar. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/03/13/us-healthcare-spending-is-twice-the-rate-of-other-high-income-nations. html.  Blahous, Charles. The Costs of a National Single-Payer Healthcare System. Mercatus Center, 2018, pp. 1–2, The Costs of a National Single-Payer Healthcare System.  Rovner, Julie. “Why Do People Hate Obamacare, Anyway?” Kaiser Health News, Kaiser Health News, 13 Dec. 2017, khn. org/news/why-do-people-hate-obamacare-anyway/.  Parlapiano, Alicia, et al. “How Each Senator Voted on Obamacare Repeal Proposals.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 July 2017, www.nytimes.com/ i n t e r a c t iv e / 2 0 1 7 / 0 7 / 2 5 / u s / p o l i t i c s / s e n a t e - vo t e s - r e p e a l obamacare.html.  Pear, Robert. “Medicaid Expansion Finds Grass-Roots Support in Conservative Utah.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Sept. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/09/09/ us/politics/utah-medicaid-expansion.html?rref=collection/ timestopic/Health Care Reform.  “H.R. 1628, Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.” Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Budget Office, www.cbo.gov/publication/52849.  “Health Insurance Coverage of the Total Population.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 11 Oct. 2018, www.kff.org/ other/state-indicator/total-population/?dataView=1¤tTimefram e=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22%3A%22Location%22%2 C%22sort%22%3A%22asc%22%7D#notes.  Goldstein, Amy. “ACA’s State-Run Insurance Exchanges Fare Better than the Law’s Federal Marketplace.” The Washington Post, The Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2018,  Goldstein, Amy. “ACA’s State-Run Insurance Exchanges
Fare Better than the Law’s Federal Marketplace.” The Washington Post, The Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2018, www. washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/acas-state-runin surance - ex cha ng es -fare-be tte r-th an -th e-laws -nationalmarketplace/2018/02/07/7a0d73b6-0b77-11e8-8890372e2047c935_story.html?utm_term=.4d2efec6d578., Benen, Steve. “GOP Senator: Health Care Coverage Is 'a Privilege,' Not a Right.” MSNBC, NBCUniversal News Group, 2 Oct. 2017, www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/gop-senator-healthcare-coverage-privilege-not-right.  “State Health Insurance Marketplace Enrollment (Plan Selections) 2017 and 2018.” NASHP, NASHP, 8 Feb. 2018, nashp.org/state-health-insurance-marketplace-enrollment2017-and-2018/.  Semanskee, Ashley, et al. “Insurer Participation on ACA Marketplaces, 2014-2018.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 16 Nov. 2017, www.kff.org/health-reform/issuebrief/insurer-participation-on-aca-marketplaces/.  Hadley J. Insurance Coverage, Medical Care Use, and Short-term Health Changes Following an Unintentional Injury or the Onset of a Chronic Condition. JAMA.2007;297(10):1073– 1084. doi:10.1001/jama.297.10.1073  Pear, Robert. “Medicaid Expansion Finds Grass-Roots Support in Conservative Utah.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Sept. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/09/09/us/ politics/utah-medicaid-expansion.html?rref=collection%2Ft imestopic%2FHealth%20Care%20Reform., Kodjak, Alison. “A Winning Idea: Medicaid Expansion Prevails In Idaho, Nebraska And Utah.” NPR, NPR, 7 Nov. 2018, www.npr.org/ sections/health-shots/2018/11/07/664661676/a-winning-ideamedicaid-expansion-prevails-in-idaho-nebraska-and-utah.  Benen, Steve. “GOP Senator: Health Care Coverage Is 'a Privilege,' Not a Right.” MSNBC, NBCUniversal News Group, 2 Oct. 2017, www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/gopsenator-health-care-coverage-privilege-not-right.  “Health Insurance Coverage of the Total Population.” The
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 11 Oct. 2018, www.kff.org/ other/state-indicator/total-population/?dataView=1¤tTimefram e=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22%3A%22Location%22%2 C%22sort%22%3A%22asc%22%7D#notes. h t t p s : / / w w w. c o m m o n w e a l t h f u n d . o r g / s i t e s / d e f a u l t / f i l e s / documents/___media_files_publications_fund_report_2016_ jan_1857_mossialos_intl_profiles_2015_v7.pdf  Blahous, Charles. The Costs of a National Single-Payer Healthcare System. Mercatus Center, 2018, pp. 1–2, The Costs of a National Single-Payer Healthcare System.  Semanskee, Ashley, et al. “Insurer Participation on ACA Marketplaces, 2014-2018.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 16 Nov. 2017, www.kff.org/health-reform/issuebrief/insurer-participation-on-aca-marketplaces/.  Frakt, Austin. “Is Medicare for All the Answer to SkyHigh Administrative Costs? by AUSTIN FRAKT.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2018, www.nytimes. com/2018/10/15/upshot/is-medicare-for-all-the-answer-to-skyhigh-administrative-costs.html.  “Official Marketplace Dates and Deadlines.” HealthCare. gov, www.healthcare.gov/quick-guide/dates-and-deadlines/.  Kodjak, Alison. “A Winning Idea: Medicaid Expansion Prevails In Idaho, Nebraska And Utah.” NPR, NPR, 7 Nov. 2018, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/11/07/664661676/awinning-idea-medicaid-expansion-prevails-in-idaho-nebraskaand-utah.  “H.R. 1628, Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.” Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Budget Office, www.cbo.gov/publication/52849.
PHOTO BY RAWPIXEL ON UNSPLASH
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GEORGINA GONZALEZ ILLUSTRATION BY MEGAN ZOU
harles Darwin’s 1859 book The Origin of Species revolutionised the field of biology. Darwin provided novel and controversial answers to some of humankind’s oldest questions: Where did we come from? Who are we? What are we? His book introduced the now widely accepted theory of natural selection, the driving force behind evolution. A few years later in 1865, Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, was finalizing the results of his pea-breeding experiments. He spent years cross-breeding pea plants and observing the characteristics of the resulting offspring, coming to the realization that parents can pass down certain traits to their offspring, regardless of whether they physically exhibit the same traits. He understood there must be some sort of ‘code’ in which information about these characteristics was stored. Fast-forward to the 20th century when Watson and Crick (as well as the unsung chemist Rosalind Franklin) cracked the code of DNA and unveiled its structure. This discovery further advanced our knowledge of who we are and how we came to be. The combination of Darwin’s theory, Mendel’s experiments, and Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA switched a light bulb on in the collective minds of scientists. It soon became clear that DNA was responsible
for the patterns of inheritance that we observed in all living things, and that it held the instructions for making life. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a prominent French biologist who was a contemporary of Darwin, had a competing theory, Lamarckism, for the reasons behind evolution. His theory stated that species could gain characteristics or attributes over the course of their lifetimes which they then passed down to their offspring. This stood in contrast to Darwinism, which suggested collective species (not individuals) evolved over multiple generations rather than within a lifetime, indicative of genetic inheritance. A classic example of Lamarck’s theory was one that attempted to explain giraffes’ long necks. A giraffe with a short neck was thought to be able to acquire a slightly longer neck over the course of its lifetime through the repeated action of stretching it up towards the high trees when feeding. Lamarck thought that this giraffe would go on to have offspring that had slightly longer necks, meaning the characteristic acquired during the giraffes lifetime was inherited. Eventually, the total species would become long-necked over time. The theory was soon dismissed by the scientific community, becoming a topic of ridicule and laughter. Ruled out for lack of evidence and a
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concrete mechanism, Lamarckism became “nothing more than an interesting part of the history of biology”. However, an unexpected finding changed the perception of his theory - the discovery of epigenetic inheritance. ridicule and laughter. Ruled out for lack of evidence and a concrete mechanism, Lamarckism became “nothing more than an interesting part of the history of biology”. However, an unexpected finding changed the perception of his theory - the discovery of epigenetic inheritance. The discovery of epigenetic inheritance showed that experiences within a person’s life could in fact be passed down to offspring, as Lamarck had proposed. This is done by altering the way the genetic code is expressed, which can then pass down to children. The genome represents a person’s DNA, the unique set of instructions for their creation. It can go through mutations and alterations, slightly changing the genetic code, yet these changes occur at a relatively slow rate, approximately 5×10−10 mutations per base pair per year. The epigenome, on the other hand, represents all chemicals that attach themselves to the genetic code and alter how it is expressed, subsequently telling the cell how to act in order for it to fulfill its function. It dictates the expression of all of your DNA and regulates which genes should be on or off. For example, the epigenetics of your cheek cell are different to those of an eye cell because they fulfil different purposes. The genes for eye functionality in the cheek cell (and the “cheek” genes in eye cells) are switched off by epigenetic chemicals without directly changing the genetic code itself. The epigenome is of extreme importance, as it governs which genes are switched ‘off’ and which are switched ‘on’. It has flexible mechanisms, allowing it to respond to changes in the environment like stress, smoking, and diet. These changes are often ‘reset’ and erased in germ cells (sperm or eggs), meaning that the vast majority of your epigenetic alterations are constrained to within your own lifetime. This should allow future offspring to start on a clean slate, genetically unaltered by the habits of their parents. More recently, though, this idea of a clean slate has been flipped on its head, radically changing what we know about inheritance. Shocking studies have found that some epigenetic changes can in fact, remain in germ cells. These changes then have the possibility to be passed on to future offspring, handing them DNA riddled with the history of ancestors past. No longer limited to just the raw DNA of their parents, offspring are definitively affected by the choices their parents made in the form of their epigenetic markers. The proposed evolutionary purpose behind epigenetics is to act as a response mechanism to give an indication to future offspring about what sort of environment they will enter into. This intends to enable the young to be more receptive and better adapted to their new environment, increasing their chances of survival. However, recent epigenetic studies suggest that the impact of events that are negative or traumatic are far more deeply ingrained in our genetics than we previously believed. In this way, epigenetic inheritance is a double-edged sword, often scarring future generations from past experiences in an attempt gone awry to prepare
them for the future they might find themselves in. The societal, philosophical and moral implications of this discovery are seemingly endless. How much of who we are and how we think is in some way a biological product of what our ancestors experienced? How do we move forward and navigate through a world where our decisions have the possibility to affect our children for generations to come? Whilst the field of epigenetic inheritance is relatively new, there are several landmark studies which have demonstrated the phenomenon in action in humans as well as non-human mammals. The first large-scale study of this kind that showed how the situation and experiences of parents could affect future generations was in the Netherlands during the Dutch Famine of of 1944-1945. During World War 2, the Nazis blocked food supply into the Netherlands, throwing the population into famine with many citizens suffering malnutrition and starvation. Women who were pregnant at the time of the famine had children which were to suffer from multiple health issues in years to come such as increased mortality, obesity rates, and glucose intolerance. Somehow, the biology of children who experienced famine in the womb carried scars of these early conditions and adapted in response. This tragic event and its subsequent study gave us a first glimpse into the power that traumatic experiences can have on later generations. Other studies have been completed on mammals with the hope of delving deeper into the mechanisms behind epigenetic inheritance. A provocative study published in 2013 trained young male mice to fear a specific smell so that they would shiver and recoil whenever they were exposed to it. These mice then mated with separate mice who weren’t scared of the smell. Their offspring were then found to be extremely sensitive to the smell despite never having been exposed to it within a fearful context themselves. Even more remarkably, the third generation of mice still exhibited the same sensitization. When observing the sperm of the original mice and their offspring, the scientists found epigenetic markers, lending some truth to the proposed mechanism of epigenetic inheritance. One of the more alarming elements of these two studies is perhaps the ease of transgenerational inheritance of negative or traumatic experiences both physical and mental. Then, to what extent is our physical and mental health today affected by the experiences of our parents? A study that probed into this very question left us reeling with the new knowledge of how great the impact of our ancestors’ situations really is to our lives today. A group of scientists at Mount Sinai investigated the biological aspect of trauma across generations by conducting a study on 32 Holocaust survivors and other Jewish controls, as well as their children. It has previously been shown that parents who have been exposed to traumatic experiences have children with a higher likelihood of developing PTSD or other stress/anxiety related disorders. Given that proving a direct biological causational effect in humans is near impossible, it has been argued that this increased likelihood of PTSD developing could be instead attributed to upbringing. The children of trau-
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matised parents could be raised differently, and could be subsequently affected by this indirect trauma through social interactions with their parents. Although thishypothesis of socially inherited trauma is plausible, the group at Mount Sinai instead wanted to investigate the extent and relevance of biological inheritance of trauma. What they found was stunning. Their results showed that a particular gene, FKBP5, is involved with major depression and PTSD when its expression is altered by epigenetic factors. This gene was found to have its expression altered as such in Holocaust survivors, but not in the control group. The most salient finding, though, was that there also seemed to be a strong positive correlation between instances of epigenetic alteration in Holocaust survivors and alterations in their children. Many of the children of Holocaust survivors possessed the same alteration on the FKBP5 gene, increasing the likelihood that they too would suffer from mental health issues despite never themselves being directly affected by the trauma. Epigenetic inheritance is still a relatively new field, so whilst these findings are substantial, our understanding of the phenomena will most likely evolve with the continuation of studies. It is also famously hard to pin causation to anything as complex as human biology in respect to health, especially in situations as complicated as inheritance in which there are an innumerable amount of contributing factors. Yet, these concerns do not detract from the validity of the correlation of these findings; despite rightful scientific cynicism, we can’t deny the substantiality of these studies on epigenetics. All of these landmark studies have shown how much of an impact experiences within a person’s lifetime can have not just on oneself, but on future generations. A fascinating aspect of this revelation, though, is the implication it holds when we look back in history. The biological realities of inheriting trauma across generations are a chilling concept for people who belong to groups that have historically faced oppression and discrimination, both forms of social trauma, as well as for people whose ancestors have faced more physical trauma like veterans. Reading epigenetics in a sociological context, we can shift our thinking to question the causes behind the current health disparities that exist today. Health disparities in the US are well documented and extremely prevalent even today and most negatively affect members of ethnic minority groups as compared to white communities. It is known, for instance, that Native American women have a 60% higher infant mortality rate than their white peers and that African Americans are 30% more likely to die from prematurely from heart disease than whites. These disparities could be said to be contributed to by a multitude of factors, including socioeconomic differences and access to healthcare, which most definitely play a tangible role. Yet looking through a molecular lens, we can see how epigenetics could indeed play a role in proliferating and maintaining these differences, given the mounting evidence for its long-lasting consequences. We can imagine how the stress perceived by those who have been historically marginalised and oppressed is not only written into the psyche of a people, but into their genetics,
in a manner similar to that shown by the landmark studies. Battling against discrimination, injustice and social inequity is bound to take a toll on groups and cause intergenerational stress, especially when these stressors are particularly traumatic. Many of the historical events that minorities in the US have been through would constitute traumatic experiences; lynching, Jim Crow laws, internment camps, cultural genocide. Given our new understanding of inheritance, we should question our current understanding of historically oppressed groups as well as see the past as much more a part of our present. Now that we see how the past has the biological capacity to become so ingrained within our present, we should consider evaluating our current decisions with more weight as well as understand the significance of our social situations and its future implications. The intertwining of our past with our present transforms the way we view history and ourselves. ‘Forgetting’ about the past isn’t necessarily possible anymore, even if we wanted to. Confronting it though making active efforts to reconcile wrongdoings, inviting more empathy and active compensation, may be a first step in remedying the situation. We still have the time and the ability to lessen the impact of avoidable negative experiences, especially given all we know now about how these societal situations influence us. Most importantly, though, we must not forget that the future is also wound up in our present, and the responsibility to create positive change falls on us. We have the ability to break the cycle. We may carry the pain of our ancestors past, but our descendants don’t have to.
Habitat in the Heavens
A Review of the Current State of Lunar Colonization Linghao Kong Illustration by Emily Wang
hatâ€™s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.â€? Neil Armstrongâ€™s words have echoed for almost half a century after he became the first person to land on the moon on July 20th, 1969. Fast-forward to today, where we are on the brink of taking a second leap: establishing the first lunar colony. The consequences of forming a self-sufficient lunar colony are vast, including both scientific and economic advancements for the benefit of humanity. Before such a colony becomes a reality, however, there are still signifi-
cant political and technical challenges that need to be addressed first. Much of the public is in favor of space exploration. 80% of U.S. adults are supportive of the International Space Station (ISS) as a sound investment and the majority believes that U.S. involvement in space exploration is essential. These opinions are shared across various populations that differ in political views, generations, and educational levels (1). Space exploration has also facilitated multiple scientific and marketplace advancements, such as cell phone cam-
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eras, water purification systems, and economic investments into space-based technologies (2). Such investments will continue to have substantial returns for us here on Earth as further exploration continues. Currently, there is a lot of interest in lunar colonization. The moon has many natural resources, such as helium-3 for energy development, rare earth metals for the production of electronics, and water for rocket fuels and agriculture (3). The moon also provides a much cheaper launching site than Earth does, as it has roughly a sixth of Earth’s gravitational pull at thwe surface. When these launching sites are established, the moon can serve as the primary location for the retrieval and mining of asteroids’ valuable contents, such as water, gold, and platinum (4). Moreover, compared to Earth, the moon has virtually zero radio and light pollution. Thus, it provides an ideal environment for telescopes (5), allowing scientists to view the rest of the universe and collect data with as little background interference as possible. Furthermore, the moon’s proximity to Earth - only 380,000 kilometers away (6) compared to the next closest celestial body, Venus, which has an average distance of 40,000,000 kilometers (7) - makes it a prime location to test colonization technology for other planets (5), allowing future deep space exploration to be more economically feasible. While these ideas are currently theoretical and may even seem far fetched, many companies and organizations, including NASA, Astrobiotic, and Blue Origin, are already developing ways to achieve these visions (8). Still more will likely join their ranks as colonization comes more and more within our reach.
❝ Currently, there is a lot of interest in lunar colonization.
There are also cultural benefits from lunar colonization. This massive undertaking can inspire a new generation of young scientists, mirroring the impact of the 1969 moon landing, which motivated thousands across the country to study physics and engineering (9). Humanity can unite under a global atmosphere of cooperation for this common goal - which is already seen on a smaller scale with the international partnership of the ISS (2) - and forgo disagreement in favor of a reinspired sense of awe for the moon. In the wake of another era of space exploration, political rivalries can potentially take
a backseat and even allow greater productivity in tackling the many issues affecting our own planet. However, before we can begin colonizing the moon, we must resolve one of the largest unsettled matters: the political deliberation over proprietorship of the moon. Presently, there is only one international treaty that deals explicitly with ownership rights of extraterrestrial territories, called the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (10), also known as the Outer Space Treaty. While wordy in name, the treaty essentially boils down to a
❝ While these ideas
are currently theoretical and may even seem far fetched, many companies and organizations, including NASA, Astrobiotic, and Blue Origin, are already developing ways to achieve these visions. few principles: space and celestial bodies are not under the ownership of any particular nation, space can only be explored for the benefit of humanity, and there cannot be any nuclear weapons in space (11). There are no articles within the treaty that specify how private corporations can claim territory in outer space. These public and private territorial issues, among others, must first be resolved for successful and international cooperation of organizations in the efficient and orderly colonization of the moon. We must also understand the environmental challenges associated with the lunar surface. While the moon has virtually no atmosphere and therefore none of the traditional weather conditions we worry about, such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, and blizzards, natural disasters including earthquakes, meteor particles, and high energy solar flares still threaten the safety of our constructions and, more importantly, our lives (12). The lack of atmosphere also removes the regulation of temperature, creating variations in temperature as large as 289°C between day and night at the Equator (13), which engineers must take into account as they design habitats to withstand these drastic changes. Likewise, habitat construction itself is another challenge. Because costs to launch building supplies to the moon are projected to be incredibly high, new techniques must be developed to utilize readily available materials, such as fine particles of lunar rock (14, 15, 16). Demolition and drilling for mining will also pose challenges.
Without an atmosphere to act as a buffer, launched projectiles will not be slowed down. The heat created from friction will also not dissipate as easily, both of which can lead to damaged tools and halted construction (14). Human biological and physiological changes in the moon’s low gravity environment must also be considered. Currently, research suggests that microgravity can cause bone demineralization, muscle atrophy, and cardiovascular problems (17).
❝ These public and
private territorial issues, among others, must first be resolved for successful and international cooperation of organizations in the efficient and orderly colonization of the moon. However, these results are from studies conducted in the microgravity of space, where people feel almost no gravitational force, and not the low gravity environment of the moon, where people feel about a sixth of the gravitational force as they do on earth. In fact, some researchers claim that the moon’s gravity is enough to combat some of these side effects, making the moon a relatively robust staging ground for future space exploration (18). Still, more research must be conducted in this area to understand both the effects that extended periods of time in lunar gravity have on the human body and how the risks of these changes can be addressed. Finally, maintaining a sustainable energy source for the colony is another top priority. One method of powering a lunar base with our current technology is solar energy, although this approach is not the most promising. The moon has a solar
❝ We must also understand
the environmental challenges associated with the lunar surface. day (the time it takes for the Sun to return to its original position in the sky) of approximately 29 Earth days, so the moon will be dark for approximately 14 Earth days (19). Thus, energy acquisition when solar energy is not readily available on the surface of the moon an incredibly important area of development. Some researchers have proposed acquiring energy during the lunar night by using orbiting satellites. These satellites would transmit energy to the moon by a microwave or a laser, providing a source of continuous 20
power. However, the required area of solar panels on the satellites is projected to be about 5000 square meters (13), about the size of a football field. Consequently, the logistics of construction and hauling of this large array into orbit would be very challenging. Another way of generating power is through nuclear fusion energy. With nuclear fusion, though, safety concerns must be considered in the transportation of radioactive isotopes to the moon (13). Many of the ways that energy currently is generated on Earth can be used on the moon, but significant refinements and adjustments have to be made for safety and efficiency in the drastically different environment. Despite these substantial challenges, many proposals currently exist for timelines of lunar colonization. One proposal begins by sending robots to the moon. These robots would construct the lunar base or a substantial part of it before humans are sent in. Such an approach would increase efficiency and minimize risk during the initial stages of construction and colonization. To create the habitats, some proposals have suggested using 3D printing technology to drastically reduce the cost of materials and their transportation to the moon. The abundant lunar dust, known as regolith, would be used as the primary material for such 3D printing. Finally, to main-
❝ Despite these
substantial challenges, many proposals currently exist for timelines of lunar colonization. tain sustainability of the colony, mining of ice on the moon could be used to generate oxygen and water, preventing the need for the two molecules to be continuously shipped from Earth (18). We still have a long way to go before we can establish a permanent colony on the moon, and we’re kind of rusty - 40 years have passed since the last time a human has been on the lunar surface. Between now and the creation of a lunar colony, we still have to figure out answers to big questions, such as what long term life in low gravity entails, how a reliable source of
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energy can be harvested, and what materials should be used to construct the habitat itself. However, new innovations and improvements in technology are propelling us ever closer to our celestial neighbor, and eventually further into space. After all, as Armstrong remarked, “it’s in the nature of the human being to face challenges.” Works Cited http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/06/06/majority-ofamericans-believe-it-is-essential-that-the-u-s-remain-aglobal-leader-in-space/ https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/BenefitsStemming-from-Space-Exploration-2013-TAGGED.pdf https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/infographics/infographic. view.php?id=11272 https://science.howstuffworks.com/asteroid-mining1. htm https://psmag.com/environment/colonize-moonmuch-cost-81543 https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/moon-distance/en/ https://www.space.com/18529-distance-to-venuszhtml
https://www.space.com/39398-moon-rush-privatelunar-landings-future.html https://study.com/academy/lesson/how-space-exploration-affects-culture-society.html http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/gares/ARES_21_2222E. pdf https://www.space.com/33440-space-law.html https://www.space.com/28494-how-to-live-on-themoon.html http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20151218-howto-survive-the-freezing-lunar-night https://www.universetoday.com/12726/building-abase-on-the-moon-challenges-and-hazards/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqsJGzdcPP0 https://interestingengineering.com/researchers-3dprint-lunar-bricks-using-moondust-solar-heat https://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/ jappl.2000.89.1.379?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_ id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3dpubmed https://www.space.com/21611-moon-base-lunarcolony-guide.html https://www.universetoday.com/20524/how-long-isa-day-on-the-moon-1/
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