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About Quanta Quanta Student Magazine is an entirely student-run science initiative, designed for students to share their scientific passions with their peers. Since its founding in 2010, Quanta has periodically released to The Bishopâ€™s School and the broader community a print issue as well as online articles in its Quanta Now website. Throughout the school year, the Quanta staff also runs our online publication. Through this venue, Quanta publishes monthly articles about new and exciting scientific topics. Any students are invited to write for Quantaâ€™s online publication, as we are always looking for new writers!
Quanta Staff Editor-in-Chief:
Operations Manager: Mia Shiue Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Pamela Reynolds
Senior Staff Writers:
Benjamin Chen Jasmine Chen Tommy Sottosanti
Junior Staff Writer: Jeffrey Wang Freshman Staff Writers: Kasie Leung Emma Myer Kathryn Silva Emily Zhu Photo credits: Nanotechnology photo from Jain University. All other images from pixabay.com
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Goodnight Moon - 5 Jasmine Chen
Dissociative Disorders - 7 Emily Zhu
The Invasion of Corn - 10 Benjamin Chen
Cerebral Palsy - 12 Emma Myer
Ferrofluids - 14 Jeffrey Wang
Nanotechnology - 16 Kathryn Silva
Intergalactic Itineraries - 18 Eliana Petreikis
Ethicality of CRISPR-Cas9 - 20 Kasie Leung
Deepfakes - 22 Tommy Sottosanti
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FROM THE EDITOR ELIANA PETREIKIS The sky is blue. Well, that is an obvious statement. But why is the sky blue? How is the sky blue? In our day-to-day lives, many things we see and experience–a rainbow after a thunderstorm, falling off of a skateboard, feelings of nervousness and excitement–have complex, often convoluted explanations. But to get to these explanations, we need the curiosity to ask those initial questions. At the same time, science is not just about asking questions and finding possible explanations. As Albert Einstein said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” True science does not just involve carrying out tests or crunching numbers; rather, it involves the creativity to come up with something new. It requires you to be patient, to know that you will be wrong. It requires you to be flexible, to be willing to try something in a new way. Because sometimes, we are wrong, sometimes the traditional way of doing something can be replaced with a more effective method. We must constantly create, evolve, adapt; that is the fundamental basis of science. We are proud to present the 2019 Fall Issue of Quanta. Not only do students ask the fundamental questions, but they look at them from an open, creative standpoint. What? What are some different types of personality disorders? How? How can CRISPR be applied for everyday usage? Why? Why is corn in almost everything at the supermarket? We hope that by reading these articles, you are also inspired to ask questions. Perhaps these articles will inspire you to view your world in a different way. Perhaps these articles will open your eyes to new ideas and applications of something you learned in class. Perhaps these articles will just be something that interests you in the moment. Regardless of what these articles do for you, we hope that you enjoy them. Eliana
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Goodnight, Moon By Jasmine Chen Watch out, there might be some moons on the loose. On June 29, Mario Sucerquia, an astrophysicist at the University of Antioquia in Colombia, reported his team’s research on a new celestial body, the “ploonet”. A “ploonet” is essentially a runaway moon that has achieved planethood. While there are no “ploonets” within our own solar System, the term could refer to exomoons and exoplanets, moons and planets that are outside of our own solar system. So—how do these former moons become “ploonets”?
Let’s meet the characters: a central host star, a very large gas giant planet (Jupiter-sized), and the gas giant’s moon. In a solar system far, far away, the planet revolves around the star, and the moon revolves around the planet. Over a lengthy migration period, the planet migrates closer to its star, so close that the length of its orbit is just a few days and it is incredibly hot. Planets like these are quite accurately named “hot Jupiters.” When the “hot Jupiter” gets close, the gravitational pull between the star and the planet adds energy to the moon’s orbit, and the moon is pushed farther and farther away from the planet. The collision of the gravitational forces of the planet and the star result in an ejected moon, booted from its orbit. The moon is ejected into a new orbit around the star, and if it were to accumulate mass from gas and dust, could become a “fully-fledged small planet”. Sucerquia says that “this process should happen in every planetary system composed of a giant planet in a very close-in orbit”, resulting in many tidally detached exomoons. OCTOBER 2019 - QUANTA
Sucuerquia and his team used computer modeling to run simulations of tidal interactions between moons, hot Jupiters, and a host star. When simulating the gravitational forces surrounding the planet, they found that nearly 50% of the ejected moons can survive in new, stable orbits around the host star. However, it seems that ploonets are mostly temporary, because about half of the ploonets crashed into either the planet or the star within about half a million years, and the majority did not make it past a million years, which is a relatively short time in cosmic time. Nevertheless, the research showed that a small percentage would enjoy a healthy lifespan of hundreds of millions of years. How are ploonets identified? They can fit right in and look identical to planets, or they could look like a comet with a red tail, or even have rings. In theory, they should stay near its parent planet after ejection. There are no confirmed ploonets right now, but there is evidence that ploonets have been formed in the past, and many have been absorbed by some host stars. An analysis of the spectroscopic features of the stars Kronos and Krios shows that host stars like Kronos could have absorbed metal-rich ploonets. Right now, scientists are using photometrics to locate ploonets by their light signature. They are also searching for disruptions in a planet’s orbit, because it could be caused by a ploonet tugging on the planet’s transit of a star. Ploonets should be, as Sucerquia says, “very frequent”. Ploonets, although strictly hypothetical as of now, could be the new “celestial objects” on the block in the very near future. One day, but probably not for another few billion years, we might just have to say goodbye to our very own Moon.
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By Emily Zhu About half of American adults experience one depersonalization episode in their lives. A depersonalization episode is a moment of disconnect from one’s self, kind of like a daydream. However, only about 2% of people have chronic episodes that qualify as a dissociative disorder. A dissociative disorder is defined as a chronic, involuntary disconnecting from one’s thoughts, identity, consciousness, and/or memory that is often used as an escape from reality. This type of disorder often stems from severe traumatic events, particularly during early childhood. There are three types of dissociative disorders as stated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): dissociative amnesia, depersonalization-derealization disorder, and dissociative identity disorder. Dissociative amnesia is exactly what it sounds like; it is a disorder in which a person will forget important
parts of their life. This can be onset at any time. The disorder in particular has been proven to have a genetic component. In a general population, it affects about 1% of men and 2.6% of women. There are three types of amnesia that may occur: localized, generalized, and fugue. Localized amnesia is memory loss in one specific part of a person’s past, for instance a period of time or a person. It often surrounds around the point of severe trauma that one has endured. For example, one may forget a shooting they witnessed but remember the details of the rest of the day. Generalized amnesia is where a person forgets major parts of their life, like they may not know their own name or recognize a loved one. Fugue is when a person has generalized amnesia and adopts a new identity after they have forgotten who they were entirely. However, most cases of dissociative amnesia don’t last for a very long period of time. Memory often returns sudden-
ly and completely. The return can be triggered by something, like their surroundings, or in therapy with a medical professional. In addition, those in dissociative amnesia are relatively unbothered by their amnesia as they are unaware of it, unlike medical amnesia patients who are often very concerned by their lack of memory. Depersonalization or derealization disorder is where a person chronically feels as though they are watching themselves from outside of their body or that their experiences aren’t real or both. It most often starts in the mid to late teens and early adult age range. The cause of it is relatively unknown. Some say that it’s linked to trauma while others claim that it has to do with environmental factors or genetics. It is said to also be associated with higher stress levels in one’s daily life, such as from work. They are often aware that the detachment is only a feeling and not OCTOBER 2019 - QUANTA
reality, which in turn can lead to a fear that they are going crazy. Some feel as though they are an outside observer to their own thoughts, and emotions. They feel as though they aren’t in control of their speech or movements anymore. Their body appear distorted to themselves as if it was someone else’s body. It may also feel as though they feel an emotional disconnect from their loved ones and distortions in their perception of time as well as their perceptions of their surroundings. These types of episodes can last for a few hours to a few months at a time and are often triggered by stress. However, in some people, they can turn into ongoing feelings of depersonalization that never go away. Dissociative identity disorder is when a person develops one or more alternate personalities that have power over a person’s behavior. Because of this, it was formerly known as multiple personality disorder. It is generally more common among women, like all dissociative disorders, and afflicts a little less than 200,000 people per year in the U.S. The different identities that one may develop are known as “alters” which can each have their own age, gender, name, or race as well as their own mannerisms. They have their own personal history and relation to their surroundings, and they can also have memory variations. These personalities may or may not be aware of the person’s usual personality, which is called the “core” personality, or their potential other alters as not all of the personalities 8
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are engaged at the same time. The different personalities are often a way to deal with trauma, especially trauma that occurs in their early childhood, because it provides a disconnect from the situation and from the real world, which can help a person continue to function healthily as if the trauma never happened. About 90% of the cases involve some type of history of abuse, like severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or war or neglect. Reminders of this kind of abuse can trigger episodes where the personalities switch. Another trigger can be any type of
stress. In these episodes, an alter will take control over a person’s behavior. After such an episode has occurred, the core personality will come back and the usual personality may forget what occurred during the episode. Sometimes, the alters can be beneficial to a person’s functioning. Although most of the time, it can create a chaotic life and problematic relationships as someone may forget important moments or be unable to control how they act. Dissociative disorders in general always have some kind of a connection
to trauma because they are a way to cope with said trauma. Because of this, symptoms of depression are extremely prevalent with dissociative disorders. Substance abuse, eating disorders, self harm, and suicide are classic symptoms of depression as well as dissociative disorders. About 70% of people with dissociative identity disorders have attempted suicide. Although this kind of disorder canâ€™t necessarily be â€œcuredâ€?, there is treatment. Psychotherapy is the primary form of treatment. It involves talking with a professional therapist
about the disorder and other related issues. The therapist can help with finding other coping methods when it comes to stressful situations as well as figuring out the cause of the disorder. Medicine can also be a helpful tool. There are no drugs to directly treat dissociative disorders. However, doctors can prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or antipsychotic drugs to help with the symptoms. Dissociative disorders are a fascinating adaptation of the human mind, not something to be scared
of. Mental disorders, like these dissociative disorders, can seem like an unnatural and scary condition to witness or be a part of. However, these mental disorders often arise from trauma that has occurred, and it will never help those affected by these disorders to be marginalized and feel further isolated. Learning more about these mental disorders can help us understand these disorders and dispel any myths and fears that surround them, so that we can accept those with mental disorders as just people.
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Invasio n The of orn By Benjamin Chen
“lecithin”, “ascorbic acid”, “citric acid”, “xanthan gum”, and “glucose syrup”, all of which are manufactured from corn. Why is this detrimental? The main factor contributing to this terrifying trend is the U.S. government’s investment into the corn industry as a means of stabilizing the economy. By subsidizing farmers for growing corn, the price is kept so low that it even costs more to grow corn. Without government payments, farmers actually lose a dollar per bushel of corn grown. The low-price appeals to other food companies because corn is a cheaper alternative to many other ingredients like sugar or wheat.
A scan of the carbon found in human cells showed that Americans are “corn chips with legs”. Blame the supermarkets! After all, you are what you eat. While an average grocery store advertises 45,000 different items, over a quarter of them contain corn. Let’s take a peek. In the fresh produce section, there are ears of corn neatly stacked in a pile. The wax coating on all the fruits and vegetables is also made from corn. In the meat deli, the pigs, chickens, and cows on display were all corn-fed. Same with the animals that produced the milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs in the dairy aisle. And in the refrigerated section, instead of real sugar, soft drinks now use high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a substitute. Even in the frozen section, pre-made dinners like chicken nuggets, which already come from corn-fed chickens, are encased with an additional layer of corn flour and cornstarch. The snack aisle is no exception. Chips are either corn-based or fried in corn oil. Additionally, many other foods include common ingredients like “maltodextrin”, 10
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The first step in the corn refining process is a thirtysix-hour acid bath that loosens the outer kernel skin. Afterwards, the germ–the dark, inner part of the corn–is squeezed for corn oil. Once the germ is removed and the endosperm, the outer part of the kernel, is crushed into mill starch, the resulting white liquid can be dried to become cornstarch, and eventually glucose and fructose through chemical processes. HFCS itself is a blend of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. In terms of energy, the corn model is unsustainable and highly inefficient. Government subsidies have decreased the overall diversity of crops on farms, and growing nothing but corn has depleted the soil’s nutrients. With the advent of new methods of nitrogen production, the speed at which corn grows has increased. But as a result, ten calories of fossil fuel energy are now required to generate one calorie of food energy. This is an astounding 90% loss of energy from farm to table. The nitrogen used also causes detrimental effects to the environment through nitrogen pollution. When excess
nitrogen is used as fertilizer, it evaporates and turns into nitrous oxide, which creates acid rain and increases global warming. This, in turn, poisons the rivers and destroys the whole ecosystem of fish and algae, making them unsafe to consume. Feeding animals corn is not humane either. Through centuries of evolution, cows have adapted to consume grass via a second stomach called a rumen, which contains millions of bacteria that break down the protein and carbohydrates found in grass. Cows were engineered to eat grass, and feeding them anything else, like corn, makes them ill. The most common condition is bloat, where gas produced inside the cow’s stomach is prevented from being released. A corn diet traps this gas, causing the rumen to inflate like a hot air balloon. If drastic measures aren’t taken to save the cow, the increasing pressure will choke the cow’s lungs, leading to a horrific death. What’s worse is that cows are forced to eat their own species. That’s right! Even though cows are natural herbivores, many farms place leftover beef scraps in the feedlots as extra protein. This has led to cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disorder in humans who consumed these cannibalistic cows. Cows acquire mad cow disease disease when they eat infected ground-up cattle brains. Other possible ingredients in cattle feed include manure, cardboard, candy, cement, urea, and feathers. Disgusting!
age the liver. In fact, it is estimated that 15-30 percent of all cows have damaged livers. The only way to keep the cattle healthy enough until they get slaughtered is through the administration of antibiotics. The problem is that overuse of antibiotics among cattle has led to bacterial resistance through mutations. The result of abuse of antibiotics is the creation of superbacteria that is impervious to the old antibiotic treatment. The invasion of corn in supermarkets and restaurants is a real threat to both the environment and human health. Luckily, there are some steps that can be taken to fight their takeover. At supermarkets, try to limit buying foods that contain HFCS or anything with ingredients that you don’t recognize. Chances are very high that the obscure ingredients listed are made from corn. It is also important to stay away from foods that won’t eventually rot. If they don’t spoil, it means that they were treated with antibiotic preservatives to prevent bacterial growth. Always try to buy organic produce or grass-fed beef too, and shop at a farmers’ market for fresh food whenever possible.
The corn takeover is also detrimental to us from a health perspective. Corn-fed beef is less nutritious for humans because it contains more saturated fat than grass-fed beef. While corn-fed beef is rich in Omega 6, a harmful fat that humans consume too much of, grass-fed beef has more of the beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid. The increased use of HFCS has become especially evident in recent decades as well. From 1971 to 2006, the number of calories from HFCS consumed by the average American increased from 3 Calories to 200 Calories per day. During this same time frame, the percentage of obese children has also tripled from 5.8% to 17.6%. Since most cattle are supposed to eat grass, they can only live for approximately 150 days on a corn-based diet before acid eats away at their rumen, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream and eventually damOCTOBER 2019 - QUANTA
Cerebral Palsy Cerebral Palsy is usually caused by prenatal injuries (70%), injuries during birth (20%), injuries after birth (10%). There are a variety of different ways that a developing brain could get injured. For example, during pregnancy, mothers can pass infections to the fetus. The infection causes the immune system to release proteins which attack the infection and leads to inflammation in the baby’s brain that interferes with the development of the brain. Another cause of CP is head injuries and blunt trauma during birth or shortly after. Cerebral Palsy is often classified by muscle tone. The type of issues with movement depends on the severity that a brain injury has impacted muscle tone (tension and strength of muscles). The terms hypotonic and hypertonic describe how Cerebral Palsy affects muscle tone. Hypotonic is a form of CP which causes the muscles to become too relaxed which can lead to instability, low muscle tone, and difficulty standing. Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy is the opposite of hypotonic CP. Hypertonic CP is more common than hypotonic Cerebral Palsy and creates stiff limbs, high muscle tone, and muscle spasms. There are four major types of Cerebral Palsy, spastic, athetoid, ataxic, and mixed. Spastic CP is the most frequent and makes up approxi12
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mately 70-80% of cases. People with spastic Cerebral Palsy experience rigidity, spasmodic movement and jerks. Spastic CP is the result of damage to the brains motor complex which controls all voluntary movement or damage to the pyramidal tract which assists with sending signals to muscles. Some symptoms of spastic CP are stiff and awkward movements. Another type of Cerebral Palsy is Athetoid CP. It makes up approximately 1020% of cases. The primary trait of Athetoid CP is involuntary movement in the body. Athetoid CP is the result of damage to the brain’s basal ganglia and/or cerebellum. The brain’s basal ganglia regulates voluntary motor function and eye movement. This controls posture, balance, and coordination. Athetoid Cerebral Palsy is considered extrapyramidal. Extrapyramidal tracts in the brain regulate and control some movements (signaled by the basal ganglia and/or cerebellum) and involuntary reflexes. Since this type of CP is a combination of hypertonic and hypotonic, some of its symptoms are problems with balance and posture, floppiness of limbs, and having a stiff body. The third most common type of Cerebral Palsy makes up about 5-10% of all cases. It’s called Ataxic CP, which causes problems with typically voluntary movements, balance, depth perception, and coordination. Ataxic CP differs from the other types since it
By Emma Myer
primarily is linked to damage in the cerebellum. The final type of Cerebral Palsy is mixed which makes up less than 10% of cases. Mixed CP has multiple different symptoms and the damage is not confined to a specific location. The most prevalent combination for mixed CP is spastic and athetoid CP. The amount of disability in CP differs greatly for many cases, from slight clumsiness to being incapable of moving. There also are other issues and difficulties that can come with Cerebral Palsy such as seizures, hearing problems, vision problems, and/or difficulty learning. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, approximately two-thirds of patients with CP have some mental impairment. Those with spastic quadriplegia CP are more likely to have mental retardation than those with other types of CP. Research on finding a cure for Cerebral Palsy is currently being conducted by various organizations such as Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation. There are also new ways to help those with CP live more independently such as apps and robotic technology such as a machine that assists babies with Cerebral Palsy learn to crawl. All in all, Cerebral Palsy has a variety of causes and impacts each person differently.
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Recent Discoveries Surrounding This
“Wonder-liquid” By Jeffrey Wang Allow me to introduce ferrofluids, the “magnetic monster” of liquids. These fluids form amazing spike patterns when exposed to a magnetic field:
… But behave completely normally under any other conditions:
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Ferrofluids exhibit this behavior because they are “colloids.” Essentially, they are formed with tons of tiny iron magnetic particles (~0.0000001 meters in diameter) that float around, almost at the point of being dissolved. Each particle is coated with a special anti-clumping agent that protects against agglomeration and allows ferrofluids to achieve their beautiful shapes. Because all of the particles are mixed into the solution but not quite dissolved, they are in the “sweet spot” to arrange uniformly (in the spike pattern) with the introduction of a magnetic field yet still return to a normal state in other conditions.
They can form (frankly amazing) time sequences of images:
A series of images of a ferrofluid being poured onto a machine screw: fig. 1 - The Initial Few Seconds, fig. 2 - 5 Seconds Later (Notice the fluid trickling down the sides), fig. 3 - 10 Seconds Later, fig. 4 - Final Result W hile this effect would dissipate if the magnetic field (in that case, the screw) was removed, recent discoveries show that may not always be the case. A few months ago, researchers at the University of Massachusets Amherst and the Beijing University of Chemical Technology created a permanently magnetic ferrofluid that retains its shape (due to Van Der Waals Forces—Honors Chemistry, anyone?) even when the magnetic field is no longer present. They did this with nanoparticles that formed a solid-like shell at the interface between the two liquids through a phenomenon called “interfacial jamming.” Interfacial jamming causes the nanoparticles to crowd at the droplet’s surface, “like the walls coming together in a small room jam packed with people.” The billions of nanoparticles were separated by just 8 nm each, and together they created a solid surface around each liquid droplet. Somehow, when the jammed nanoparticles on the surface are magnetized, they transfer this magnetic orientation to the particles swimming around in the core, and the entire droplet becomes permanently magnetic, just like a solid. (The researchers are not sure exactly why this occurs).
The researchers also found that the droplet’s magnetic properties were preserved, even if they divided a droplet into smaller, thinner droplets about the size of a human hair. Furthermore, they also change shape to adapt to their surroundings, morphing from a sphere to a cylinder to a pancake, or a tube as thin as a strand of hair, or even to the shape of an octopus—all without losing their magnetism. As if these properties aren’t incredible enough—this material was PRINTED as well. The head investigators had previously worked on an advanced surface chemistry 3D printing technique, and applied it here to create 1 millimeter droplets from a ferrofluid solution containing iron-oxide-nanoparticles just 20 nanometers in diameter (the size of an average human antibody protein). In a sense, this ferrofluid stands right at the boundary between a solid and a liquid. It is printed, yet it retains viscoelastic traits of both states of matter. This discovery is an important breakthrough in the fields of active matter and programmable liquid constructs. The full scientific rundown was published July 2019 in the journal Science under “Reconfigurable ferromagnetic liquid droplets.” OCTOBER 2019 - QUANTA
Nanotechnology Nanotechnology is a branch of technology that allows one to be able to harness individual atoms and molecules to the extent of accessing different dimensions that are too small to see with the human eye. Nanotechnology is used to explore nanomaterial, which are natural chemical substances that are used at a very small scale. The idea of nanotechnology was first brought up by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959 during a lecture entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” at CalTech. He vaguely brought up the idea of scientists being able to control atoms and molecules individually. His ideas were coined by Professor Norio Taniguichi about a decade later. However, experimenting with nanotechnology didn’t start until 1981; that’s when the scanning tunneling microscope was invented. That’s when scientists could begin to see individual atoms and molecules, and that’s when new worlds turned up to be discovered. In order for one to tackle nano-exploration, understanding what worlds were being explored is key. This is where the nanoscale comes into play. At the nanoscale of things, the regular known laws of physics and chemistry no longer apply. This “realm” doesn’t have an actual name as the engineering literally takes place at the nanoscale. There is no exact definition for the nanoscale, as it applies differently to different aspects of nanotechnol16
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ogy, but there is one thing true that applies to everything: it too small to be seen with the human eye. The prefix “nano” means “one billionth,” so for example, a nanosecond is “one billionth of a second,” and a nanometer is “one billionth of a meter.” According to many scientists, things are at the nano if they are so small that they show that they are clearly part of something at a much larger scale. For example, water boils at 100º Celsius, but an individual drop of water that is only about five nanometers boils at about 95.9º Celsius. Such a small drop of water comes together with others of its kind to make something so much larger in retrospect. Nanoparticles can be very different from each other, like they can be different colors or a different melting point. Nanotechnology is basically just striving to understand different parts of the nanoscale. The use of nanotechnology would not be even close to possible without quantum nanoscience. Quantum nanoscience is the basic field of research that falls right in between quantum science and nanoscience. Quantum mechanics are used to explore different quantum effects at the nanoscale. These quantum effects help to “explain” how different properties work at the nanoscale as they basically take over the behavior of the nanoparticles. The quantum effects alter the optical, electrical, and mechanical portions of the nanoparticles. These effects
derive from quantum physics. The basic behavior of a property is its own because of all the quantum forces working together, but as you travel into a smaller and smaller realm, you are left with the unique behaviors of individual atoms and molecules that you’re not used to, and that’s where the nanotechnology comes in; it’s used to control the individual atoms and molecules. Nanotechnology to this day is used in a variety of different ways. One of the ways that nanotechnology is being applied to life today is through food; companies are creating nanoparticles that are changing the way that food tastes, the way it’s produced, and even in regular food safety overall. Another way has to do with space; nanotechnolo-
By Kathryn Silva gy might just be the future of space travel, as advancements could result in lighter spacecraft, which would reduce the amount of fuel needed to get to orbit and decrease the overall cost of space travel. A third, and very important, of these ways is for medicinal purposes: scientists are making enhanced nanoparticles that can deliver drugs to diseased cells and other parts of the body. It’s been said that this should help decrease the damage to a patient’s healthy cells when undergoing chemotherapy. Many companies are using nanotechnology to solve modern-day problems. For example, my dad, Gabriel Silva, helped to found a company called Nanovision in 2014. Nanovision’s purpose is to
solely use nanotechnology to create an implant to help blind patients with incurable degenerative retinal disorders. They combine optoelectronic nanowires into microscopic electrodes that can be implanted into the retina. Then, infrared lights are used to trigger the nanowires to act like retinal neurons and restore sight. The top three markets for nanotechnology are electrical, energy, and biomedical; altogether they make up more than 70% of the nanotechnology market, with electrical being the highest, then energy, and finally biomedical. The global defense application’s market for nanotechnology was worth about 3 billion United States dollars in 2017, and the cosmetic
industry is one of the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of use of nanotechnology. Many different companies and industries are using nanotechnology to solve modern day problems, which is a huge step forward in manufacturing and a more advanced way of life. The use of nanotechnology and exploration of the quantum “realm” are opening up new gateways to improving our way of life and could help us humans create a cleaner and greener environment. Nanotechnology is changing our lives today, and might just save our lives in the future.
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INTERGALACTIC ITINERARIES By Eliana Petreikis
Welcome to Intergalactic Itineraries! We specialize in making your extraterrestrial touring and viewing fun for everyone. Although intergalactic space may be portrayed as a cold, desolate vacuum where your body freezes upon leaving the safety of your oxygenated spaceship or space-suit, it is actually full of gas and dust particles that create a variety of celestial bodies other than just the plain old planets, asteroids, or stars. There are plenty of reasons to take a journey through outer space and see what it has to offer! Some highlights include... 18
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Did you think that stars were the brightest objects in the universe? If you did, you may be surprised to learn that quasars are the real winner! Quasars are fueled by supermassive black holes (black holes with a mass of more than one billion solar masses) at the center of massive galaxies. As material spirals around these massive black holes, friction produces intense heat and light, creating a quasar. These quasars emit jets that produce radio waves upon interacting with gas in the surrounding host galaxy. Because quasars feed off of black holes, which have an inescapable gravitational attraction, we do not offer tours that go directly to quasars; instead, our facilities have telescopes that allow visitors to view quasars from a safe distance.
Another stellar sighting you may choose to visit is a pulsar. These highly magnetized neutron stars (small, highly dense objects mainly composed of closely packed neutrons) rotate at high velocities and emit reg-
ular pulses of electromagnetic radiation. The different types of pulsars include: • Radio Pulsars, which make up most of the known pulsars, are rapidly rotating neutron stars that were once massive stars. These neutron stars can rotate anywhere between 1 to 650 times per second. • X-Ray Pulsars, as the name implies, emit x-rays at regular intervals. • Optical Pulsars are a less common type of pulsar but definitely the most common pulsar for tourists! You may consider visiting the Crab pulsar, a remnant of a supernova. • Gamma Ray Pulsars are the rarest type of pulsar, and they generally consist of young neutron stars with strong magnetic fields. Some gamma ray pulsars are visible as radio and optical pulsars.
Intergalactic space offers a variety of nebulae to visit. These wonders are formed when matter–primarily hydrogen and helium gas particles–coalesce due to mutual gravitational attraction. The clumping matter creates areas of greater and greater density, leading to the eventual formation of a nebula. Like pulsars, there are a variety of nebulae to find in outer space: • Diffuse Nebulae have no well-defined boundaries. There are two types of diffuse nebulae: emission and reflection. We recommend viewing an emission nebula, which emits its own radiation from ionized gas. Reflection nebulae can only be viewed indirectly; because they do not emit significant amounts of visible light, they are only really visible due to the light they
reflect from nearby stars. • Dark Nebulae are different from reflection nebulae in that they do not have any visible radiation. Instead, they can only be detected when they block light from other luminous objects. • Supernova Remnant Nebulae form when shortlived stars implode. As their core implodes, the external layers of the star are blown off. What is left behind is the remnant of the original star, such as a neutron star, and an ionized cloud of gas and dust. • Planetary Nebulae form when low-mass stars enter the final stages of their life. As these stars enter the Red Giant phase, they slowly (but surely!) shed their outer layers. If you are nebula-seeing for the first time, we recommend that you visit the Engraved Hourglass Nebula, a young planetary nebula, the well-known Eagle Nebula, an emission nebula, or the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant. We also encourage tourists to visit the Horsehead Nebula if they want to see something “different.” Because it is a dark nebula, it is more of a silhouette rather than a display of color like many other popular tourist nebulae. If any of these outer space wonders sound remotely interesting, we encourage you to consider visiting our facilities. We have a facility in every galaxy, and you can refer to our website to find the one closest to your home planet. If hyperspeed traveling is not your thing, you can use our telescopes to view these celestial wonders from a safe and comfortable distance. We hope that you consider taking a step outside of your home solar system and take a tour with Intergalactic Itineraries!
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CRISPR-Cas9 By Kasie Leung CRISPR-Cas9, shorthand for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats; Cas9, is a powerful human genome editing tool. Its efficiency and precision promises to revolutionize fields ranging from medicine to agriculture. Yet, its risks raise ethical concerns. CRISPR is an incredibly versatile genomic engineering tool. Its technology is modeled off the behavior of bacteria and archaea, single-celled microorganisms and their defence mechanisms against viruses. A CRISPR is a specialized strand of DNA while Cas9 is a protein that can cut through strands of DNA. The bacteria uses these components to cut through and destroy foreign invaders’ DNA. A CRISPR RNA guides the Cas9 to a specific location in the DNA double helix and the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA. Cells can repair themselves if they sense a break in the DNA in two ways. They can simply put the broken pieces back together or they can incorporate a piece of donor DNA in place of breakage. While bacteria primarily use this procedure to defend against foreign bodies, this procedure can be adapted to modify and edit human 20 OCTOBER 2019 - QUANTA
genes. For example, Cystic Fibrosis is caused by a mutation in DNA. Using CRISPR, it would be possible to make a break in the CFTR gene (the gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis) where the mutation occurs and replace it with healthy donor DNA. What CRISPR is today cannot be attributed to one person or even one team of scientists. In 1987, unaware of the significance of their discovery, Yoshizumi Ishino and colleagues at Osaka University in Japan published the structure of the iap gene found in the E. Coli Microbe. DNA is composed of two sets of base pairs: AT and GC. Near the iap gene, there are five sets of identical DNA sequences composed of 29 pairs in the same order. They are spaced by blocks of DNA composed of 32 unique base pairs. This “genetic sandwich” did not resemble anything researchers had encountered before leading to further investigation. In the 1990’s, it was discovered that this pattern of spacers was found not just in E. Coli, but in many other microbes. It was given the moniker CRISPR by Ruud Jansen of Utrecht University and his colleagues in 2002 who also discovered that CRISPRs
always had the same collection of genes surrounding them called Cas genes, short for CRISPR-associated genes. They discovered that the Cas genes could cut through DNA, but it was still a mystery why they did so and why they were connected with CRISPR. Eugene Koonin picked up that mystery in 2005. He realized that spacers were used by bacteria to defend against viruses. His hypothesis was that the Cas enzymes grabbed pieces of the viral DNA and inserted them into the bacteria’s own CRISPR sequence to use as a “cheat sheet” for future use. Rodolphe Barrangou tested this by infecting Streptococcus thermophilus with a virus. While many of the bacteria died, the ones that survived were now resistant and this newfound resistance was passed on to their descendants. They also noticed that when the spacers were removed, the bacteria lost resistance. In 2012, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier proved that CRISPR-Cas9 could be used for programmable editing of genomes by cutting out a piece of DNA and replacing it with another in a human cell. CRISPR has so much potential. With precision and efficiency never seen before (estimated to be four times more effective than its predecessor, TALON), it will be able to cure genetic diseases and change millions of peoples’ lives for the better. A short, but inconclusive list of the diseases being researched includes sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and HIV. Nearly 300 million people suffer from these diseases alone. CRISPR also has potential in regards to cancer and in 2015, a one-year-old girl’s leukemia was cured with genetically modified immune cells. Hundreds
of millions of lives could be saved with CRISPR. In addition to saving lives, CRISPR could revolutionize agriculture. Genetic editing has been done on plants before CRISPR, but its effectiveness is what makes it so exciting. It could make plants more resistant to disease or increase yield meaning that fewer would have to go hungry. CRISPR has so many life-changing applications, but its use is highly controversial. Chinese Scientist He Jiankui came under fire recently for the experiments he conducted that were intended to make two twin girls resistant to HIV. The theory was that by disabling the CCR5 gene in the T cells, HIV resistance would be achieved as prior studies have shown that individuals with the naturally occurring mutation of a non-functioning CCR5 are immune to HIV. However, neither twin had the procedure carried out successfully. One embryo only had half of its T cells modified while the other had all of its cells modified incorrectly. This begs the question: should this have happened? The babies did not have a pre-existing condition. Had the modification never happened, the chances of
contracting HIV are very low due to its preventability. Even if the procedure had gone right, it could have severe negative side effects. In general, gene editing can trigger cancer cells. In a different experiment, when a replacement gene was inserted next to a cancer gene, it was inadvertently turned on. CCR5 also impacts cognitive function. At UCLA, researchers disabled the CCR5 gene in mice which increased their motor function, but since mice are so different from humans, we do not know what the effects will be on the children. It could enhance their mental function or mentally cripple them. Finally, gene editing also raises the issue of consent. It is one thing if someone has a pre-existing condition or is a consenting adult, but the girls could not have consented to being experimented on. They will bear the impact of this for the rest of their lives and since CCR5 is a germline modification, effects will be passed onto their future children.
Germline cells are passed on to the next generation while somatic cells are not. Germline editing is much more problematic because the effects are much more long lasting. Therefore, it is much harder to legalise. Germline editing is technically legal in the United States, but there are restrictions on it. The biggest funder of research in the country, the National Institute of Health is not allowed to fund research in regards to human embryo editing. Finally, many institutions such as in-vitro fertilization clinics already deal with human embryo manipulation. They are not allowed to add to or change the embryo unless the process has been approved by the FDA. Regulations such as these mean that only procedures that have been proven to be safe can be performed on humans. We can safely continue with further research into CRISPR if our lawmakers can create a comprehensive set of laws that guarantee ethicality and protect the people while allowing freedom to innovate.
Ultimately, part of the solution lies in legislation. Not all CRISPR editing is the same. Gene editing is differentiated between editing germline cells and somatic cells.
As we head into a new era of discovery and innovation, we must not be afraid, but we must remember to consider what could happen. We can. But should we? OCTOBER 2019 - QUANTA
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FAKES On June 7th, 2019
Instagram user @bill_posters_uk posted a chilling video featuring Mark Zuckerberg explaining the future of big data. “Imagine this for a second,” he says, “one man, with total control of billions of people’s stolen data. All their secrets, their lives, their futures… Whoever controls the data, controls the future.” One week later, the same account posted a similar video, in which Zuckerberg confesses, “I wish I could keep telling you that our mission in life is connecting people, but it isn’t. We just want to predict your future behaviors. [We] manipulate you into sharing intimate data about yourself and all those you love for free. The more you express yourself, the more we own you.” The good news is that these videos, while genuine at first glance, are fake. The bad news is, well, that they’re fake and easy to make. Only ten years ago, creating something so realistic would take an enormous amount of resources, limiting potential creators to movie studios and other high-profile entities that were unlikely to use their capabilities for any malicious purposes. Now, however, ultra-realistic video manipulations, commonly known as “deepfakes,” are everywhere on the Internet. Deepfakes are powered by generative adversarial networks (GANs), a recent advance in artificial intelligence. GANs were a simple but revolutionary idea: train two neural networks at opposite tasks, and pit them against each other. A neural network is, at its core, a computerized model of the human brain (albeit limited in both power and scope). Through a process of trial and error, neural networks learn which actions are associated with a desirable result and modify themselves to achieve that result more often. GANs take this one step further by using two neural networks: one “generative” and the other “discriminative”. Let’s say a GAN was tasked with making a fake image of Tom Holland. The
By Tommy Sottosanti
generative network would look at thousands of photos of Holland and attempt to make new, unique images of him. The discriminative network would then take a random sampling of real and manufactured images and estimate the probability of each being genuine. The generative network is incentivized to fool the discriminative network, while the discriminative network is incentivized to be as accurate as possible in its guesses. The result is two networks that optimize each other over time; a better generative network forces the discriminative network to improve at identifying fakes, while a better discriminative network ensures that only the generative network is only rewarded for its most convincing images. The final product is a compelling rendition of whatever subject the GAN was told to produce. This powerful technology, when applied to video, can enable extremely effective misinformation campaigns. On May 19th, 2018, a Belgian political party posted a deepfake of President Trump urging Belgium to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Despite flaws in the video such as the president’s lips not aligning perfectly with his words, the deepfake fooled many Belgians, many of whom took to social media to express their outrage at the president. “Humpy Trump needs to look at his own country with his deranged child killers who just end up with the heaviest weapons in schools,” one woman wrote. While the party soon made multiple statements confirming the video to be fake, the video should serve as a warning. Some actors will be far more malicious in their attempts to sway the masses, and the technology is only getting better and better. Imagine an incriminating video of a presidential candidate going viral on the evening before election day. In a society where people still haven’t learned to think critically about everything they read, it’s unlikely they will be any more cautious about what they see.
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