SciTech Now Episode 401

In this episode of SciTech Now, a look into a culinary quest to make 3D-printed food a reality; the evolution of the legendary New York City rat; a breakthrough telescope that may lead to galactic discoveries; and sculptures that are both mesmerizing and mathematical.





Coming up... The potential future of food he ability to integrate lots of ingredients and cook them in a software determined way really allows us to explore a new a new food space.

The evolution of the legendary New York City rat here seems to be this split in midtown where you have uptown rats that are more related to each other than they are to downtown rats.

A breakthrough telescope that may lead to galactic discoveries nd it's designed to be a telescope that allows us to map the whole sky really fast.

Math meets art he driving motivation of my work is a search for unusual behaviors things that that are not intuitive that maybe seem impossible t's all ahead... Funding for this program is made possible by ue and Edgar Wachenheim the III nd contributions to this station.

Hello, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to SciTech now, our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology and innovation.

Let's get started.

Imagine a world where you find a tasty looking recipe, gather the ingredients and simply press print.

Engineer Hod Lipson is on a culinary quest to make 3d printed food a reality.

Here's the story hen Columbia University Engineering Professor Hod Lipson envisions the kitchen of the future, he sees 3D printed food cooked by a laser beam.

And based on research being conducted in his lab.

That reality may not be far off.

People always wonder what will 3D printing ever make it to people's homes?

Will people want to use a 3-D printer at home to make things?

And actually if you think about those people most people don't make anything at home except food.

Lipson points out that cooking unlike many areas of everyday life hasn't changed much with the advent of computer software.

But he thinks it will.

So you know we started with this work about a decade ago and the beginning was a sort of a frivolous activity we would really focus on printing with engineering materials that we would test the printers with chocolate, with peanut butter with cookie dough and things like that.

But we soon realized that actually printing in food is more than just a frivolous activity is actually very interesting it has a lot of potential both for making novel kinds of foods but also for making more healthy foods because you can start controlling the food content using data.

Data about a person's body and health.

This information could be used to find and print the ideal meal for his or her needs.

What will happen is all these biometric devices that you wear your i-watch, your personal genome that's online that's been sequenced all that information all that data that will feed through various AI systems that will be able to recommend what you need to eat that morning.

In other words the information about a person's DNA, nutritional intake or daily habits would provide a blueprint of what should be in his or her food.

The user could then for example look up a meal that meets those needs.

Cartridges filled with various ingredients would be combined automatically following the recipes instructions.

Lipson says the implications of this could be huge.

Imagine running a race having eaten a scientifically selected breakfast to maximize energy or being able to precisely implement a doctor's dietary recommendations.

Beyond that people with limited access to food could use what's available to them in different ways.

Food waste might decrease by people only making what is needed and the ability to create a favorite chefs recipe could be right at a user's fingertips.

Cooks could even get creative with presentation.

For example this walnut in sesame paste is printed in the shape of a pyramid but in his research Lipson quickly discovered a barrier to entry he didn't anticipate.

People like to eat food they can identify.

In the first couple of years we've started exploring this idea of printing with more food science material.

This sort of unpronounceable ingredients you see in some in some foods that you buy.

But we quickly abandoned that because we saw that with a machine like this we can create incredibly interesting foods that are food safe or even healthy.

But nobody will want to try that.

There were sort of crazy you know purple cubes that tasted like broccoli with a milk texture.

So we scaled that project back and we went and continued to work with basic ingredients like oil and water and flour and butter and chocolate and things that people recognize.

Another challenge the printer relies on food design software that doesn't fully exist yet.

Most of the design software that's out there is for editing images for editing engineering drawings but not for editing food.

So we have to basically develop this whole ecosystem of software tools that can do that.

Primarily Lipson and his research team are focusing on perfecting the printer itself.

While there are a few 3D food printers on the market now they're limited in what they can do.

Lipson wants the printer he's developing to be able to switch automatically between a number of ingredient cartridges.

So far it can only handle up to eight.

The final product needs to be consumer friendly too.

This is one of several printers that we have and we've build multiple printers over the years.

One of the things that we've noticed is that when we take this sort of a lab contraption into to a chef they will look at this and they say you know this is great but no way will this ever make it to market.

We're never going to have a thing like this on a kitchen counter.

When we think about how a food printer might actually look like when it is on your counter a few years from now it will look more like an espresso machine.

It will be stylize all these all these devices will be hidden.

Lipson has a prototype of what that could look like but there's still a long way to go.

Meanwhile he and his team are working to expand the machines functionality so it can cook food as well as print it.

This would allow them to for example not just print in cookie dough but also bake the cookies.

We are not only working with new kinds of degrees but new kinds of cooking processes so not just conventional heat but also infrared light bulbs, lasers and so on and these sort of combination of the ability to integrate lots of ingredients and cook them in a software determined way really allows us to explore a new a new food space.

Frankly I'm really looking forward to this sort of kind of culinary innovation that we'll see when this thing becomes ubiquitous.

Rats are the vile creature that occasionally scurried through tunnels alleys and garbage cans.

But in researcher Dr. Jason Munshi-South a lab at Fordham University in New York.

These creatures are a source of evolutionary wonder.

For the past four years researchers have been trapping rats and extracting their DNA to learn more about their evolutionary origins and their interactions with urban environments.

Dr. Munshi- South joins me now.

So we talk about the evolution of rats does a city or a location change a rat?

It can.

The rats originated in Asia but they've spread to cities all over the world.

And cities have some common elements.

But every city is slightly different in terms of the infrastructure that's in place the way the human population density the types of foods that are available.

So Rats do have the opportunity to adapt to local conditions in different cities.

Does that mean that they're essentially evolving over time.

So can we see a difference in rats?

Let's say you studied New York so from the Bronx to Queens to Manhattan?

Within the city you see very subtle differences across the urban landscape between cities you may see more substantial differences as they evolve to face different pressures.

Cities try to tackle this problem all the time especially in places like subways and so forth.

Nice moist dark environments where these guys can run around.

Why haven't we been more successful at eradicating rat populations?

Well there's a couple of different reasons.

One reason is that the rat is exquisitely adapted to reproduce very quickly.

So even if we can reduce the rat population by say 90 percent they can rebound very quickly.

You can have migrants coming from nearby areas and the rest that are still there can breed even faster because they have more access to resources.

The other issue is that we don't really understand the Rat's biology very well in cities.

We've put a lot of effort into trying to kill them but we haven't actually put that much effort into understanding them as a species and understanding their basic biology.

And then there's also a lot of issues that are not particularly scientific but more sociological.

How does a city manage its garbage?

How do individual residents on a property manage their garbage?

How are buildings maintained?

How are subways maintained all of those issues can contribute to rat populations by providing them food and hard bridge places for them to nest and burrow.

Do they cluster?

I mean do they end up or are they communal beings where if we were able to isolate where the communities are we'd have a better chance at eradicating them?

I think that's true they are a colonial species.

So build up a colony you might just have a male female pair first.

They build up their relatives nearby over time as the young disperse and build a nest you know in a burrow right next to their parents and so you will build up this local colony over time.

And one of the things we're doing in New York City is trying to understand how rats are related in different parts of the city with the idea being you can identify that colonial structure how big it is.

And we found that in general it spans a few city blocks maybe up to four or five city blocks.

So if you could address rat control on that scale you'd have a much better chance of reducing the population long term.

So they're uptown rats versus downtown rats?

That was one of the things we found surprising we found that rats in general.

You see it north to south kind of a gradient of relatedness where the closer they are the more related they are.

There seems to be this split in midtown where you have uptown rats that are more related to each other than they are to downtown rats.

And we think it's because Midtown is kind of a barrier for them not a physical barrier like a mountain range but more of a habitat barrier.

The buildings here are better maintained.

There's less garbage.

There are fewer apartment buildings and restaurants and more office buildings.

So it's kind of a no go zone for rats and so even that minor barrier is causing the uptown and downtown rats in Manhattan to diverge from one another.

How did they get here in the first place?

We did a study where we asked researchers from all around the world to send us rat samples so we received tale's livers ears from cats all over kind of the worst mail you could receive.

But we were able extract DNA from all those samples and trace the patterns of the relationships between all of these rat populations in New York City is firmly related to rats from Great Britain and possibly a few other Western European nations like France.

And that's really not that surprising given that the historic record suggests they arrived here around the Revolutionary War maybe a little bit before and since this was a city controlled by the British it was basically part of the British colony.

It's not surprising that they brought the rats over.

Why should we care about the genetic backgrounds of rat?

I mean you and your team are working so hard about this when you discover what it is that you're looking for.

How does that help us all?

Well for us you know there's definitely just a basic scientific interest.

It's a great system for understanding evolution because you have a species the same species that was introduced to so many different places that allows you to it's almost like a natural experiment where you can see play out multiple times in different cities.

But there's also this applied angle.

Rats are one of the worst invasive species one of the worst pests around the world.

They destroy food supplies they destroy infrastructure.

They spread disease so we can understand their biology better where they came from and how their populations are structured.

We can design better strategies for reducing their populations.

Dr. Jason Munshi-South of Fordham University.

Thanks so much.

Thank you.

My pleasure.

In 2021 astronomers will dive deeper into outer space with the use of a 23 million dollar telescope in one of the world's highest deserts located in Chile.

Joining us via Google Hangout is Cornell University professor of astronomy Martha Hayes, who is helping to lead the project.

So what's going to make this this is called The CCAT telescope what's going to make this telescope different?

Well there are a couple of things about this telescope.

The first thing is that it's located at eighteen thousand four hundred feet elevation and you could drive a truck there which is pretty exciting from the perspective of being able to service it and fix it and build it.

But also it makes use of our wavelength range where which is relatively novel.

The submillimeter wavelength range which is why you have to be at such a very high sight and it's designed to be a telescope that allows us to map the whole sky really fast.

It's a special kind of telescope and we're really excited to be able to use it to do some very specific cosmology and galactic ecology study.

Galactic ecology you have my curiosity what does that mean?

Martha Haynes: ell what that means is we want to try and understand how stars and planets form in the in our Milky Way galaxy.

So when I say galactic I mean the Milky Way galaxy and some of the other nearby galaxies that are very close to us that you can see with the naked eye if you're in the southern hemisphere ones that we're not very familiar with here in the northern hemisphere but the southern hemisphere viewers get to see all the time.

And we want to try and understand how you get gas and dust to coagulate so to speak and then to form stars and planetary systems.

So give me an example of the sort of the physical structural differences if say might have visited the Griffith Observatory in L.A.

or was sitting in Oakland.

Is that is the size of the lens or the aperture bigger or is it just the fact that it's at this amazingly clear sky place down in South America?

Well in terms of the structure of the telescope this a submillimeter telescope is a kind of radio telescope.

And in fact it doesn't have a lense.

It actually has two mirrors what we call the primary and the secondary and primary mirror is about six meters or about 20 feet in diameter.

And then the secondary mirror is almost big it's about five meters in diameter.

And then they sit inside an enclosure which doesn't really look like a doormat it more looks like a refrigerator from the outside but you open it up and then the two mirrors are visible.

And so it really doesn't observe stars and galaxies the way we see pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Instead it's designed to look for radiation that comes from very cold parts of the universe and dust and objects that you can't necessarily see with an optical telescope.

So it just looks different kind of science.

Now you've been working towards this telescopes existence for what 20 years now.

I mean it's been a long process?

Building any breakthrough telescope takes a long time.

The first thing you have to do is you have to conceive the idea.

In fact 20 years ago when my colleagues here at Cornell first started exploring the possibility of building a telescope like this we didn't know how to build a telescope like this.

And we didn't know how to build a camera that had lots of pixels that could operate in this wavelength range and so really it was a dream.

You know I think of telescopes sometimes as time machines that are able to go back and show us a specific moment a long long long long long time ago before we were around.

How far back in time can this one go?

Well we'll be able to look back to the very first few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang.

So we'll be looking back almost 13.7 Billion years.

Now we also see some radiation from closer than that but we'll be able to look back to those first photons which were emitted a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang.

And what's interesting about this telescope is it's also designed to use that picture of the universe that very early infant picture of the universe.

It will already carry the fingerprints if you want of what happened before that.

And that's that very precise measurement of that signal that we will we hope will tell us about the very first tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

What do we learn from the first tiny fraction of a second of a big bang that helps us gain our understanding of how and why we are and perhaps what's happening us as we go forward?

Well what we really want is a whole picture of how are the universe began so to speak.

What really did happen what other the physical process sees that led to the expansion of the universe?

Why the universe today looks the way it does, why it has more electrons than the anti-matter positrons, why we understand all of the details of the universe today and it's it's a very complicated story and it allows us to quote to really try and understand the whole picture of how physics and cosmology and astrophysics fit together to give us the universe that we see today we like to be able to tell a better story than we can right now.

In this day and age does a scientist or a researcher have to be present in Chile next to where the telescopes computers are or can a lot of this be done remotely and you essentially parcel time and access to the telescope in different ways?

The function was it will be designed to be operated remotely now but most of the remote operation will be conducted from a lower altitude site near the town of San Pedro de Atacama which is about an hour and a half drive from where the telescope actually is because you don't really want to be working at eighteen thousand four hundred feet.

But it's really hard to breathe up there.

Furthermore the data will be collected and then it will be transferred back to Germany, Canada and here at Cornell and that's where the real processing and interpretation of that data will take place.

Martha Haynes of Cornell University thanks so much for joining us.

Well thank you.





I'm sometimes asked.

Why am I sort of so intrigued with spirals?

What is it about spirals?

And I think part of the answer is that I just find them beautiful.

But I think spirals also make reference to the fact that you can never return to the same place again and that nothing ever does truly repeat it goes infinitely small and it goes infinitely large.

It's endless.

And you know we sort of don't know where we came from and we don't know where we're going.

And we're just sort of this you know this this piece of that larger picture.

I'm John Mark.

I'm an artist designer and inventor and I teach at Stanford University.

I don't think of myself as a sculptor.

Clearly the works are sculptures of sorts but in a sense that's a coincidence.

They're just a medium that I'm using to ask and answer questions that I'm interested.

The driving motivation of my work is a search for unusual behaviors things that that are not intuitive that maybe seem impossible math has a kind of precision and a way of clarifying relationships that allows me to achieve some of these behaviors and patterns that I'm trying to create.

I was working with an essentially flat puzzles.

I noticed that that perimeter never changed shape it just changed in scale as you added more pieces and that then led to the notion of stacking these one on top of the other and rotating them relative to each other to cause these patterns to appear in the form of sort of plateaus that can move up and down the tower.

And I'm rotating it each time I'm rotated 137.5 degrees the golden angle which is based on the Golden Ratio.

The golden ratio is the ratio where the smaller is to the larger as the larger is to the whole and ends up this is a very powerful generative ratio.

Anytime you create a pattern using the golden angle you're going to end up with spirals appearing.

And it's actually been shown mathematically to be the best way to distribute leaves on a stem to minimize overlap.

Say a leaf or a pedal or a seed gets put out here.

The next one will get put out 137 degrees around over here and the next one then gets put out hundreds and over here and around and around and around places and places these.

And when that's done in that fashion you end up getting these kinds of very evenly distributed seed heads.

But the spirals are actually a symptom of this process of placing each bud 137 degrees around from the previous bud.

When I was wanting to demonstrate this transforming nature of the towers I decided to animate them and when I animated it I was surprised to discover that not only did it show plateaus appearing and disappearing but there were.

There was this very strong sense of continuity of the plateaus moving down the tower or up the tower.

About five years later I suddenly realized oh what if I just keep on rotating the entire tower not just them not just the next level.

In fact blooms are a direct descendant of a multi-year long sequence and explorations on these golden angled spiral geometry studies.

I call them Bloom's because they tend to have a sense of blossoming, opening, expanding to them as they animate.

When a bloom is animating it's endless.

If a plant can grow forever it would kind of be doing that blooming behavior forever.

The first thing I do is I have to create the structure for it.

And that is of course based on using the golden angle.

So I place where the elements are going to be and then I shape those elements.

Depending on what I want the behavior to be.

I will I will then animate them making and expand making them rotate.

Blooms can be filmed in two ways.

You can actually run a strobe that is synchronized to the cameras filming right for you if you set the camera to use in a very short shutter speed.

It will behave effectively like a stroll because the elements of the bloom are essentially frames of an animation.

If the frames aren't exactly aligned you're going to get a non-smooth flow.

The kind of the distortions and work that you see happening are a result of me slightly breaking the rule of rotating by the golden angle and so they're moving back and forth in terms of hovering around that angle and that causes them to have this kind of kind of warped distorted effect.

I think my work is most successful when it evokes a sense of wonder when it sort of seems to be magical.

What I'm trying to achieve in my work is something that will evoke that in somebody else that they'll say Wow what's going on there.

How's that possible?