One of my favorite rides at the Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld was the now-defunct Mission to Mars, a perfect representative of the space age optimism on display in Tomorrowland. For those of you too young to experience it firsthand, it was charmingly simple: a circular theater with video screens above (showing Mars getting bigger) and below (where Earth got smaller) as audio cues played and the seats vibrated a little bit. As a simulation of real space travel, it was hardly SpaceCamp – or even Space Mountain – but you took what you could get in the ’80s.
Nowadays, when an actual mission to Mars seems slightly less improbable, Russian scientists are about to begin a slightly more accurate simulation of what such a journey might entail. Only in this case, the experience will take a little longer than the Disneyworld ride – it’s a 520-day isolation experiment called Mars 500 to study the psychological effects on astronauts kept in a confined space for that lengthy time. Yesterday, the “astronauts” entered their capsule, which looks kind of like a human-sized hamster tube system and includes kitchens, a gym, an experimental greenhouse and even a “simulator of the Martian surface.” The questions that the experiment hopes to answer – such as the all-important “how do you not get bored?” and “how do you avoid fights and sexual harassment?”- are addressed by New Scientist and Discover and you can watch video of the “launch” at the New York Times.
Labapalooza Kicks Off
Summertime means music festivals – overdosing on bands, getting sunburned and dehydrated and eating expensive food. It’s great. But before the street fairs and tent cities get into the full swing, you can enjoy a different kind of festival from your own couch this weekend. The World Science Festival, which has been held each year in New York City since 2008, is running a number of live webcasts from the event through Sunday night. It actually started rolling yesterday, with the announcement of the Kavli Prize winners and a panel on black holes and holographic worlds (hosted by famous science geek Alan Alda), both of which are archived and viewable any time. Tonight features some intense math, while tomorrow they will broadcast on panel on animal intelligence and a nighttime discussion of hyperspace, which I only know about from comics. It looks like a cool event, accessible to both casual and serious sci-curious.
The ginormous American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting kicks off today in Chicago, with five solid days of presentations about the latest in cancer research and treatments. I’ll be there for a couple days of the conference, and will have some blog coverage next week. In the meantime, if you dare take a glimpse of the complicated world of science journalism and publicity, Ron Winslow at the Wall Street Journal Health Blog has a very funny post about some embargo shenanigans in the run-up to the meeting.
I’m sad to report that Philip S. Ulinski, a neuroscientist, professor emeritus and former department chair who spent 35 years at the University of Chicago, passed away last week. Here’s the obituary I prepared for the University. Dr. Ulinski leaves behind a remarkable legacy: the Committee on Computational Neuroscience, one of the first programs to offer a PhD in the study of the brain using the latest computational tools.
Since I wrote about the Nature Neuroscience acupuncture study on Tuesday, there has been some more commentary from around the web – most of it unfavorable to the study’s authors and the media coverage of their finding. Here’s the blog Respectful Insolence (who does a great job monitoring and debunking “alternative therapies” built on shaky science) pointing out the true interesting result of the paper, and DC’s Improbable Science dissecting the media coverage and press release.