Here are all the articles covered on the Spaced Out podcast this week!
Ultrasonic Tracking is Real and it’s No Joke
Privacy has a new threat - ultrasonic cross-device tracking. Companies are now using high-frequency, inaudible sounds, to monitor consumers’ behavior. These sounds are embedded into ads, retail stores (yes, physical locations), and web pages. We can’t hear the sounds, but through the device’s built-in microphone, our smartphones and tablets can. When they do, browser cookies then link the devices to one user and track which ads were seen, which ads were clicked, and which products were purchased. Creepy, huh? The real issue here is that because these inaudible sounds are picked up through your device’s microphone, other audible information is inadvertently being captured as well. You’re now probably wondering who is affected by ultrasonic tracking...well, if you’ve ever given an app permission to use your device’s microphone (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.), then you’re affected. Most users are unaware that even when not actively being used, these apps are running in the background, recording what you say and where you say it. This is a big issue...fortunately, a group of people at UC Santa Barbara have developed an Android patch and Chrome extension that will give users more control over the transmission of ultrasonic pitches on their devices.
This Telescope Took Twenty Years to Complete
It took 20 years, but construction on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is finally complete! It was made with a new material “made of 18k gold-plated beryllium segments” designed to retain its shape and handle the harsh conditions of space and was built to replace the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched into orbit in 1990. But before the new and improved version can itself be launched into low orbit, it needs to undergo some deep-space simulation testing. If everything goes according to plan, the telescope is scheduled to launch in October of 2018. It will use red and infrared light to study the universe. Up first is Alpha Centauri, our closest neighboring star and home to Proxima b, its infamous Earth-like exoplanet.
Using New Tech to Heal Human Flesh
About a year and a half ago, NASA finished testing “morphing aircraft that shapeshift in response to their environment.” Called polyvinylidene fluoride, the material not only makes aircraft lighter but more fuel efficient. Now, the material is being considered for another use...healing human flesh. Invented by Mia Siochi and Lisa Scott Carnell, it’s an electroactive substance that creates an electric field when roused. Through experimentation, they discovered that, when warmed to body temperature, adult stem cells reacted to the activated polymer, stimulating healing.
Henry, the Chain-Smoking Robot
Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have invented a chain-smoking robot. Why you ask? Because it’s a most humane (and cost-effective) way to research chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of lung diseases that block airflow, making it difficult to breath. Here’s how it works: “The researchers load as many as 12 cigarettes in a sort of gatling gun arrangement, and the robot fires up each with a lighter right out of a car. Then they program the machine to huff away at customizable intensities and frequencies. The robot is passing the smoke into what’s known as a lung on a chip, which mimics a human airway. This transparent chip contains a channel of living lung cells, which produce mucus and hairlike structures called cilia that ferry the mucus around. Connected to this channel are tubes that move smoke in and out. By loading up one chip with lung cells from a patient with pulmonary disease and another chip with cells from a healthy patient, researchers can observe how the two react differently to smoke.”
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine, Space.com