SciTech Now Episode 212

In this episode of SciTech Now, a four-story magnet may hold the key to clean, renewable energy; Jennifer Vento, from the digital marketing firm Women Online, discusses how women around the world are joining together to create innovative new technologies that protect women both on- and offline; Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the future of space exploration.

TRANSCRIPT

[ THEME MUSIC PLAYS ]

COMING UP... A FOUR-STORY MAGNET MAY HOLD THE KEY TO CLEAN, RENEWABLE ENERGY...

THERE'S NO CARBON, RIGHT, SO IT'S A VERY CLEAN SOURCE OF ENERGY FROM THAT, AND IT'S ALMOST COMPLETELY RENEWABLE.

...WOMEN HACKING FOR CHANGE...

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE HACKING FOR GENDER EQUALITY -- THE GOOD KIND WHO ARE USING TECHNOLOGY CREATIVELY TO SOLVE PROBLEMS.

...A TOUR GUIDE FOR THE UNIVERSE...

WHAT I WILL DO IS SHARE WITH YOU MY ENTHUSIASM FOR THE UNIVERSE, AND MAYBE SOME OF THAT WILL RUB OFF.

'CAUSE I THINK IT'S FUN TO HAVE SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO TALK ABOUT DURING HAPPY HOUR AT THE BAR.

...AND, FINALLY, A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BRAIN MAY UNRAVEL THE MYSTERIES OF AUTISM.

YOU NEVER WANT TO TALK ABOUT OR EVEN THINK ABOUT SOMETHING HAPPENING TO YOUR CHILD THAT COULD LEAD TO THEM SUFFERING OR HURTING.

IT'S THINKING ABOUT WHAT SOMEONE'S DEATH CAN MEAN TO THE LIVES OF OTHER PEOPLE.

IT'S ALL AHEAD.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING, LEWIS B. AND LOUISE HIRSCHFELD CULLMAN, SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE PARTICIPATING STATIONS.

HELLO.

I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

WELCOME TO OUR WEEKLY PROGRAM BRINGING YOU THE LATEST BREAKTHROUGHS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND INNOVATION.

LET'S GET STARTED.

COULD A GIANT MAGNET HELP POWER THE WORLD?

SOME ENGINEERS IN CALIFORNIA THINK SO, AND THEY'RE BUILDING ONE THAT WOULD MAKE THIS POSSIBLE.

THE MAGNET WILL BE AT THE HEART OF A GIANT NUCLEAR-FUSION REACTOR CURRENTLY BEING DEVELOPED IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE AS PART OF AN INTERNATIONAL MEGA PROJECT TO GENERATE CLEAN, RENEWABLE ENERGY.

HERE'S A LOOK INSIDE THE SAN DIEGO FACILITY WHERE THE MASSIVE MAGNET IS BEING ASSEMBLED.

JUST OUTSIDE OF SAN DIEGO, IN A BUILDING AS LARGE AS AN AIRPLANE HANGER, ENGINEERS RECENTLY BEGAN ASSEMBLING A MAGNET FOUR STORIES TALL.

THE MAGNET'S JOB IS AN EVEN TALLER ORDER.

IT'S DESIGNED TO HELP PROVE THAT CLEAN RENEWABLE ENERGY COULD BE PRODUCED ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

THE MAN IN CHARGE OF THE MAGNET IS JOHN SMITH.

SO, WELCOME TO OUR FACILITY HERE.

THIS IS OUR MANUFACTURING FACILITY FOR THE CENTRAL SOLENOID COILS.

SMITH WORKS AT GENERAL ATOMICS, WHERE ENGINEERS LIKE HIM HAVE BEEN EXPERIMENTING WITH NUCLEAR FUSION FOR HALF A CENTURY.

...HOW WE START SPLICING THE COIL TOGETHER.

HERE, FUSION IS A KIND OF HOLY GRAIL.

FUSION IS THE SAME ENERGY THAT POWERS OUR SUN.

SMITH SAYS THAT'S BECAUSE, IN THEORY, IT COULD GENERATE POWER ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WITHOUT A CONSTANT FLOW OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE.

AND A FUSION REACTOR IS INTRINSICALLY SAFE.

AND THERE'S NO CARBON, RIGHT, SO IT'S A VERY CLEAN SOURCE OF ENERGY FROM THAT, AND IT'S ALMOST COMPLETELY RENEWABLE.

SO PUT THE CONDUCTOR THROUGH.

THAT'S OPEN.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, SMITH AND HIS TEAM BEGAN WORK ON A GIANT MAGNET DESIGNED TO FINALLY MAKE GOOD ON THE CLEAN-ENERGY PROMISE OF NUCLEAR FUSION.

AND TO PROVE THAT IT CAN BE DONE...

WHEN THE MAGNET IS COMPLETED IN FOUR YEARS, IT WILL GO RIGHT INTO THE HEART OF A GIANT FUSION REACTOR IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE.

IT'S ALL PART OF A 35-NATION PROJECT CALLED ITER, LATIN FOR 'THE WAY.'

TOGETHER, WE WILL BRING THE POWER OF THE SUN DOWN TO EARTH.

THE BIG-PICTURE GOAL WITH FUSION IS TO REPLICATE WHAT HAPPENS ON THE SUN.

FUSION FUELS OUR SUN BY FORCING ATOMS TO OVERCOME THEIR NATURAL REPULSION.

EXISTING NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS ALL PRODUCE ENERGY BY SPLITTING ATOMS APART.

FUSION WOULD DO THE OPPOSITE.

YOU'RE HEATING THEM UP SO MUCH THAT THEY COME TOGETHER.

THAT FUSION WOULD GIVE OFF TWO BYPRODUCTS -- HELIUM AND HIGHLY ENERGETIC PARTICLES THAT COULD BE HARNESSED TO CREATE ELECTRICITY.

SMITH SAYS THE CHALLENGE IS...

TWO ATOMS DON'T LIKE TO FUSE TOGETHER.

YOU GOT TO FORCE THEM TOGETHER, AND THAT'S WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO WITH THE TEMPERATURE.

THE MAGNET, ALONG WITH OTHER HEATING SYSTEMS, WILL HELP BRING TWO HYDROGEN ISOTOPES UP TO EXTREME TEMPERATURES, 10 TIMES HOTTER THAN THE SUN.

...150 MILLION DEGREES.

IT'LL DO THAT BY DRIVING CURRENT THROUGH A PLASMA MAGNETICALLY CONFINED WITHIN THE REACTOR.

BUILDING A MAGNET THAT POWERFUL REQUIRES NEARLY 24 MILES OF CONDUCTING CABLE, MANUFACTURED BY ENGINEERS HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD.

THIS IS A SPOOL OF CONDUCTOR AS IT CAME FROM JAPAN.

WE'VE TAKEN IT ON THE SHIPPING FIXTURE THAT IT CAME FROM, AND WE LOWERED DOWN ONTO OUR DE-SPOOLING DEVICE.

AFTER IT'S DE-SPOOLED, THE CONDUCTOR IS WOUND INTO PRECISE SPIRALS.

THOSE SPIRALS ARE THEN LAYERED INTO COILS, WHICH FORM THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR THE FINISHED MAGNET.

SO, THIS IS THE FIRST LAYER OF THE FIRST PRODUCTION COIL THAT WILL GO TO ITER.

MANY STEPS IN THE MAGNET'S PRODUCTION ARE DONE BY MACHINE.

HOWEVER, SOME TASKS ARE SO DELICATE THEY STILL NEED TO BE DONE BY HAND -- FOR INSTANCE, INSULATING THE PIPES THAT PUMP LIQUID HELIUM INTO THE MAGNET.

SO, IT'S AMAZING TO THINK YOU HAVE SOMETHING THIS BIG, WEIGHS THIS MUCH, AND HERE HE IS PUTTING LITTLE PIECES TOGETHER WITH TWEEZERS.

IT'LL BE 2019 BEFORE SMITH AND HIS TEAM FINISH THE MAGNET, AND ITER SAYS IT'LL BE 2040 BEFORE THEIR REACTOR PAVES THE WAY FOR A DEMONSTRATION PLANT AIMING TO ACTUALLY PUMP FUSION ENERGY INTO THE GRID.

[ POWERING UP ] SOME EXPERTS SAY EVEN THAT TIMELINE IS HASTY.

I THINK THE 2040 DATE IS... OPTIMISTIC.

YOU MIGHT EVEN SAY UNREALISTIC.

GEORGE TYNAN IS A FUSION EXPERT AT UC SAN DIEGO.

HE SAYS ITER HAS BEEN MARRED BY COST OVERRUNS, DELAYS, AND MANAGEMENT ISSUES.

THE U.S. HAS EVEN THREATENED TO DEFUND THE PROJECT WITHOUT CERTAIN REFORMS.

BUT TYNAN SAYS ITER HAS BROUGHT IN NEW LEADERSHIP AND IT WOULD BE WRONG FOR THE U.S. TO BACK OUT NOW.

ENERGY DEMAND IS GOING TO GROW BY A LARGE AMOUNT OVER THE LIFETIME OF TODAY'S CHILDREN.

IF WE ARE TO MEET THAT ENERGY DEMAND, WE, IN MY OPINION, NEED EVERY SINGLE OPTION AT OUR DISPOSAL.

AND THERE ARE ONLY A FEW, AND FUSION IS ONE OF THOSE FEW.

BACK AT GENERAL ATOMICS, THERE ISN'T MUCH JOHN SMITH CAN DO TO INFLUENCE THE POLITICS SURROUNDING ITER.

BUT HE SAYS, FOR PEOPLE WHO'VE WORKED ON FUSION FOR DECADES, IT'S REWARDING JUST TO SEE THESE PARTS FINALLY GETTING MADE.

I WAS TALKING TO A PHYSICIST THE OTHER WEEK.

HE CAME OVER TO TAKE A TOUR, AND HE SAYS, 'I'VE BEEN WORKING ON ITER FOR 15 YEARS.'

AND, YOU KNOW, THE PHYSICIST, THIS IS THEIR LIFE, LOOKING AT THE MAGNETIC FUSION AND ITER AND THE PROMISE OF THAT.

AND HE SAID, 'YOU KNOW, IN ALL THAT 15 YEARS, THIS IS THE FIRST COMPONENT I'VE EVER SEEN THAT ACTUALLY IS GONNA GO TO ITER.

[ THEME MUSIC PLAYS ]

WOMEN FROM NEW YORK TO INDIA ARE JOINING TOGETHER AT 'HACKATHONS' IN AN EFFORT TO FIGHT AGAINST GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE.

THESE HACKATHONS HAVE LED TO THE CREATION OF INNOVATIVE NEW TECHNOLOGIES THAT ARE HELPING TO KEEP WOMEN SAFE BOTH ON- AND OFFLINE.

JOINING US NOW IS JENNIFER VENTO, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE DIGITAL MARKETING FIRM WOMEN ONLINE, WHO WILL HIGHLIGHT SOME OF THE WAYS THAT THESE CIVIC GATHERINGS ARE BENEFITING WOMEN WORLDWIDE.

SO, FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS A HACKATHON WHEN THESE WOMEN GET TOGETHER?

WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

SURE.

A HACKATHON -- AND, FIRST, I WANT TO SAY THAT HACKERS -- WHEN WE THINK ABOUT HACKERS, THERE ARE TWO CONNOTATIONS.

THERE ARE THE HACKERS WHO ARE GOING ONLINE AND, YOU KNOW, PENETRATING SERVERS AND ST--

THE BAD KIND.

YEAH, THE BAD KIND.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE GOOD KIND WHO ARE USING TECHNOLOGY CREATIVELY TO SOLVE PROBLEMS.

SO, AT A TYPICAL HACKATHON, PEOPLE COME TOGETHER, AND WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE HACKING FOR GENDER TECHNOLOGY, BUT THEY'RE COMING TOGETHER.

THEY'RE TECHNOLOGISTS.

THERE ARE ALSO STAKEHOLDERS IN THE COMMUNITY THAT ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THESE ISSUES.

AND THEY DEFINE WHAT THE PROBLEMS ARE, AND THEN THEY COME TOGETHER, AND THEY CREATE A SOLUTION USING TECHNOLOGY THAT CAN AID THEM IN THESE ISSUES.

SO SOMEONE'S LAID OUT A PROBLEM, AND THIS GROUP OF PEOPLE IS WORKING TOWARD A SOLUTION, YOU SAID, SO WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS THAT THEY'VE TACKLED?

SURE.

PROBLEMS INCLUDE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

THEY INCLUDE ONLINE HARASSMENT, WHICH IS A HUGE PROBLEM.

THEY TRAIN WOMEN HOW TO BE SAFE ONLINE AND TO BE SECURE.

THOSE ARE SOME OF THE ISSUES.

HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY AFFECT SOMETHING LIKE GENDER VIOLENCE?

WELL, ONE IS INFORMING WOMEN ABOUT THEIR RIGHTS THROUGH APPS.

ANOTHER IS BEING ABLE TO NOTIFY PEOPLE WHEN YOU'RE IN A DANGEROUS SITUATION.

ANOTHER ONE IS CROWDSOURCING DATA SO THAT THE COMMUNITY CAN PINPOINT AREAS WHERE BAD THINGS ARE HAPPENING.

FOR EXAMPLE, HarassMap GREW OUT OF ISSUES HAPPENING IN CAIRO, WHERE THERE WAS TONS OF STREET HARASSMENT.

SO A GROUP OF FRIENDS CAME TOGETHER, AND THEY USED USHAHIDI TECHNOLOGY TO ALLOW PEOPLE TO USE SMS TO SAY WHEN THEY WERE HARASSED.

AND THEN YOU CAN LOOK AT THAT DATE, AND YOU CAN PINPOINT WHERE ARE THE HOTBEDS OF HARASSMENT, AND THEN THE COMMUNITY CAN TAKE ACTION.

THAT'S AN INTERESTING IDEA 'CAUSE THE USHAHIDI MAPS ARE USUALLY AFTER DISASTERS AND CRISES AND SO FORTH, RIGHT?

THIS IS AN INTERESTING APPLICATION OF A MAP TO SOURCE ALL THAT INFORMATION.

EVEN IN THE UNITED STATES, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HACKS THAT HAVE WORKED HERE TO TRY TO ADDRESS SOME OF THESE ISSUES?

ONE IS CIRCLE OF 6, WHICH IS AN APP THAT ACTUALLY CAME OUT OF A WHITE HOUSE-SPONSORED HACKATHON.

IT'S DEVELOPED BY A GROUP OF COLLEGE STUDENTS, AND IT'S AN APP TO PREVENT DATE-BASED VIOLENCE.

SO, YOU KNOW, YOU NOTIFY SIX FRIENDS BEFORE YOU GO ON YOUR DATE, AND IF SOMETHING HAPPENS, IT'S A REALLY QUICK WAY FOR YOU TO GET IN TOUCH WITH THEM.

AND SO IT'S AN OLD IDEA, TELL YOUR FRIENDS YOU'RE GOING OUT ON A DATE WITH A STRANGER, RIGHT?

BUT IT'S AN INTERESTING KIND OF USE OF TECHNOLOGY THAT, WITH ONE BUTTON, YOU COULD ACTUALLY SEND OUT AN ALERT TO FIVE PEOPLE AT THE SAME TIME, REGARDLESS OF WHERE THEY ARE, AND AT LEAST ONE OF THOSE FIVE MIGHT BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING FOR YOU.

WHAT ARE THE KIND OF PLANS FOR HOW THESE HACKATHONS EVOLVE?

I MEAN, ARE THERE MORE PLANNED?

ARE THEY AROUND THE COUNTRY, AROUND THE WORLD?

SURE.

THERE ARE SOME HAPPENING HERE, AND THERE ARE MANY THAT ARE HAPPENING AROUND THE WORLD.

IT'S A MOVEMENT THAT'S GROWING BECAUSE, I THINK, THE MORE THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE CHAMPIONS FOR GENDER EQUALITY REALIZE THAT THAT'S AN ISSUE THAT IS MANIFEST ONLINE AND IT'S GROWING, BECOMING A MUCH LARGER ISSUE, THEY REALIZE THAT THEY NEED TO USE TECHNOLOGY TO ADDRESS THAT.

SO, THERE ARE INTERNATIONAL HACKATHONS, WHICH ARE GREAT, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY BRIDGE GAPS GEOGRAPHICALLY AND PEOPLE CAN COLLABORATE VIRTUALLY TO HELP EACH OTHER, YOU KNOW, ADAPT APPS IN THEIR DIFFERENT CONTEXTS.

IN THE LAST MAYBE FEW MONTHS OR A YEAR, WE'VE STARTED TO HEAR MORE ABOUT WHAT AN AVERAGE WOMAN EXPERIENCES ON THE INTERNET, RIGHT?

SO, WHAT ARE TECHNOLOGIES THAT CAN PREVENT SOME OF THE BULLYING AND HARASSMENT THAT JUST IS ACTUALLY COMMONPLACE AND I MIGHT ACTUALLY SEE IT OR VIEW IT AS A MAN?

YOU KNOW, KEEPING PEOPLE SAFE ONLINE AND EDUCATING PEOPLE ON HOW THEY SHOULD BE USING TECHNOLOGY AND HOW THEY SHOULD BE PROTECTING THEIR PERSONAL DATA IS A HUGE ISSUE BECAUSE OF DOXING, RIGHT?

THE RELEASE OF SOMEBODY'S PRIVATE INFORMATION CAN OPEN THE FLOODGATES OF HARASSMENT.

SO THAT'S A VERY BIG ONE.

ORIGINALLY, THE INTERNET WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS MORE ANONYMOUS, AND NOW WE'RE ALL TIED TO OUR PERSONAL INFORMATION ONLINE, SO IT'S MUCH EASIER FOR SOMEBODY TO GET IN AND RELEASE THAT INFORMATION.

SO, I MEAN, I THINK IT'S ALSO WE HAVE TO LOOK AT THE TECHNOLOGY PROVIDERS AND THOSE WHO ARE RUNNING THE PLATFORMS FOR HELP HERE BECAUSE I THINK THAT THERE ARE SOME POLICY ISSUES THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED TO HELP THAT, IN ADDITION TO WHAT HACKTIVISTS CAN DO.

ALL RIGHT, JENNIFER VENTO, THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU.

[ THEME MUSIC PLAYS ]

AS LONG AS HUMANS HAVE BEEN ON THIS PLANET, THEY'VE WONDERED WHAT'S BEYOND IT, AS DIRECTOR OF THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY'S HAYDEN PLANETARIUM, AUTHOR, AND HOST OF HIS OWN SCIENCE TALK SHOW AND PODCAST, NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON, HAS MADE A CAREER OF LEARNING ABOUT THE UNIVERSE AND HELPING THE REST OF US UNDERSTAND IT.

REPORTER ANDREA VASQUEZ TALKED WITH DR. TYSON ABOUT THE FUTURE OF SPACE EXPLORATION AND HOW HE MAKES THE COSMOS A LITTLE CLEARER FOR THE MASSES.

AND SCIENTISTS GET A BAD REPUTATION FOR COMMUNICATING AND SORT OF TRANSLATING BETWEEN THEIR COLLEAGUES AND THE PUBLIC.

MM-HMM.

HOW DID YOU LEARN TO DO THAT?

WAS IT DELIBERATE?

IN MY FIELD, OR IN ACADEMIA IN GENERAL, THE MOST YOU'RE REALLY EXPECTED TO EVER COMMUNICATE IS IN A LECTURE HALL.

AND WHAT'S GOING ON IN A LECTURE HALL?

PEOPLE ARE PAYING TO HAVE TO SIT IN YOUR CLASS TO HAVE TO DO WELL.

[ Chuckling ] RIGHT.

YOU'RE UNDER NO OBLIGATIONS TO MEET THEM HALFWAY OR ALL THE WAY.

THEY GOT TO COME TO YOU.

MM-HMM.

AND THEY GOT TO LISTEN TO YOUR LECTURE NOTES WHETHER YOU'RE FACING THE CHALKBOARD THE WHOLE TIME OR NOT.

IF THAT'S OUR ONLY TRAINING, THE URGE IS TO BRING A LECTURE TO THE NEWS INTERVIEW, [LAUGHS] BUT THAT DOESN'T WORK.

AND SO I LEARNED THIS THE FIRST TIME.

A NEW PLANET HAD BEEN DISCOVERED AROUND ANOTHER STAR.

I GAVE MY BEST PROFESSORIAL REPLY AS TO HOW YOU MAKE THESE DISCOVERIES.

'THE DOPPLER SHIFT AND THE MOVEMENT OF THE HOST STAR IN RESPONSE TO THE GRAVITY OF THE UNSEEN PLANET --' AND BEST EXPLANATION EVER.

IT GOT SOUND-BITTEN DOWN TO LIKE 30 SECONDS, AND I SAID, 'OKAY, I UNDERSTAND HOW THIS WORKS.'

THEY'RE NOT REALLY IN MY MEDIUM.

I HAVE TO GO TO MEDIUM.

AND WHAT IS THAT?

THAT'S A 2-MINUTE, 30-SECOND, 15-SECOND SOUND BITE.

SO I'VE WORKED ON SOUND BITES.

HOW DOES THAT TRANSLATE TO SCIENCE EDUCATION AND WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING?

SO, THIS THING SCIENCE EDUCATION, I THINK, IS OVERRATED IN A VERY SPECIFIC WAY.

EVERYONE IS SAYING, 'LET'S TEACH THE WORLD SCIENCE.'

YES. OF COURSE. BY ALL MEANS.

HOWEVER, I WOULD SAY MOST OF WHAT I DO WHEN I'M IN THE PUBLIC IS NOT TEACHING YOU SCIENCE.

'CAUSE, SEE, TO TEACH, THERE'S A SYLLABUS, THERE'S A LESSON PLAN, THERE'S A BOOK, THERE ARE OBJECTIVES, AND IF I SUCCEED AT WHAT I'M DOING, WHAT I'VE DONE IS... STIMULATE YOUR CURIOSITY TO WANT TO LEARN MORE.

HOW MUCH TIME ARE WE TOGETHER EITHER IN A TWEET OR IN AN INTERVIEW IN THE MEDIA, ON THE EVENING NEWS?

IT'S MINUTES.

I'M NOT GONNA TEACH YOU ANYTHING IN MINUTES.

BUT I CAN ALERT YOU OF THINGS THAT CAN PIQUE YOUR INTEREST AND HAVE YOU RUN HOME AND GOOGLE -- YOU KNOW, GO TO SOME WIKIPAGES AND MAYBE BUY SOME BOOKS AND SEE SOME VIDEOS AND DOCUMENTARIES.

AND THEN YOU BECOME A LIFELONG LEARNER, AND, IN THAT STATE OF MIND, YOU'LL LEARN FAR MORE THAN YOU WOULD'VE EVER ACQUIRED BY ATTENDING FORMAL SCHOOLING.

SO IT'S A MATTER OF TRIGGERING A POPULAR APPRECIATION FOR WHAT SCIENCE IS AND HOW IT WORKS.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR KIDS WHO ARE HAVING A HARD TIME IN SCIENCE CLASS, WHO MAYBE THINK THAT IT'S NOT FOR THEM?

I FOCUS LESS ON KIDS THAN ON ADULTS 'CAUSE ADULTS ARE REALLY WHERE THE PROBLEMS ARE.

[ CHUCKLES ] IT'S BECAUSE WE HAVE SCIENTIFICALLY ILLITERATE ADULTS IN CHARGE OF THINGS.

ALL RIGHT, THAT'S, AS CARL SAGAN ONCE SAID, 'A COMBUSTIBLE COMBINATION.'

YOUNG KIDS ARE BORN SCIENTISTS.

THEY'RE CURIOUS, THEY TURN OVER ROCKS, AND SO MOST OF THE TASK OF THE ADULT FOR THE YOUNG CHILD IS TO GET OUT OF THEIR WAY.

GET OUT OF THEIR WAY.

[ LAUGHS ]

'CAUSE WHAT DO WE DO WITH KIDS?

WE SPEND THE FIRST YEAR OF THEIR LIVES TEACHING THEM TO WALK AND TALK AND, THE REST OF THEIR LIFE, TELL THEM TO SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN, RIGHT?

SO I THINK, IF THAT HAPPENS EARLY ENOUGH, WHEN THEY GET TO SCHOOL, THEN THEY SEE, 'OH, IS THAT HOW THAT WORKS?

IS THIS WHAT I SAW WITH THE FLOWER PETAL --' OR THE INSECT OR THE FALLING BRICK OR WHATEVER.

AND THEY'LL SEE THAT IN THEIR SCIENCE CLASS, AND I THINK WHATEVER MIGHT'VE BEEN THE CHALLENGE WILL BE A FUN CHALLENGE.

AND SO -- 'I DON'T KNOW HOW THIS WORKS.

I'M GONNA FIND OUT.'

GOING TO FIGURE IT OUT.

YEAH, SO JUST THE ACT OF NOT KNOWING IS NOT ITSELF A STATEMENT OF FAILURE.

IT'S A STATEMENT OF, 'I DON'T KNOW ENOUGH.

LET ME SEARCH IT OUT SO THAT I DO KNOW.'

LOOKING AT SPACE EXPLORATION AND WHAT'S COMING UP, MARS IS WHAT EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE LOOKING TOWARDS NEXT.

YEAH, MARS IS HAPPENIN' PLACE.

WHY SHOULD PEOPLE CARE ABOUT MARS?

WHY DO PEOPLE HERE WHO MAYBE DON'T HAVE AN INTEREST OR A REASON THAT IT REALLY IMPACTS US?

I CHOSE THIS AS A PROFESSION, SO OF COURSE I'M, LIKE, ALL INTO IT, AND I'M NOT GONNA REQUIRE THAT OF YOU OR ANYBODY ELSE.

WHAT I WILL DO IS SHARE WITH YOU MY ENTHUSIASM FOR THE UNIVERSE, AND MAYBE SOME OF THAT WILL RUB OFF.

'CAUSE I THINK IT'S FUN TO HAVE SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO TALK ABOUT DURING HAPPY HOUR AT THE BAR WHEN YOUR DAY IS OVER, IF THAT'S WHERE YOU HAPPEN TO GO, OR OVER DINNER WITH YOUR FAMILY.

'OH, WE DISCOVERED WATER ON MARS.'

'WE CAN DO THAT?'

'YES, WE SENT ROVERS THERE, AND WE HAVE ORBITING CAMERAS.'

AND THAT'S PHENOMENAL.

SPACE EXPLORATION IS ALMOST A FORCE OF NATURE UNTO ITSELF, WITH THE POWER TO INFLUENCE OUR DREAMS OF A TOMORROW, OUR CAPACITY TO INNOVATE, TO PUMP OUR ENGINES OF ECONOMIC GROWTH.

BECAUSE WITHOUT INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, THERE ARE NO INDUSTRIES OF ECONOMIC GROWTH.

SO, ARE YOU ALSO SAYING THAT WE'VE LOST SOME OF THIS PUSH AND LOOK TOWARD THE FUTURE?

YEAH.

[ GIGGLES ]

WHAT HAPPENED?

WE GOT LAZY.

WE GOT COMPLACENT.

PEOPLE HAVE SORT OF -- THEY'RE ANXIOUS FOR WHAT IS THEIR NEXT APP.

AND I'M THINKING, 'THE WORLD HAS WAY DEEPER AND MORE PROFOUND PROBLEMS THAN WHAT CAN BE SOLVED BY AWAITING YOUR --' AND WHO DOESN'T LOVE A NEXT APP?

WE ALL DO.

BUT WE HAVE PROBLEMS IN TRANSPORTATION, IN ENERGY, IN CLIMATE, HOUSING, HEALTH -- YOU KNOW, MAJOR ELEMENTS OF SOCIETY.

AND THAT WILL REQUIRE INNOVATION, AND THE GREATEST FORCE OF INNOVATION I KNOW IS THE DREAM OF EXPLORING THE UNIVERSE.

AND THAT FILTERS INTO ALL OF US.

YOU SAY, 'WOW, THEY'RE EXPLORING THE UNIVERSE.

I WANT TO EXPLORE THIS.'

EXPLORATION IS A THING WE CAN DO.

IF YOU HAVE ANOTHER PLAN, FINE.

BUT I'VE SEEN THE CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF THESE THINGS, AND THAT'S WHAT I'M OFFERING PEOPLE.

SO, YOU'VE GOT SOME BIG GUESTS COMING UP IN SEASON TWO OF 'StarTalk.'

YEAH, YEAH.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE -- I'M SURE YOU'RE EXCITED ABOUT ALL OF THEM, BUT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS?

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HOSTING 'StarTalk' IS PEOPLE WHO YOU KNOW FOR OTHER REASONS GET TO LAY BARE THEIR GEEK UNDERBELLY.

AND WE JUST GET TO CHILL OUT ON THE UNIVERSE, ON SCIENCE, ON... YOU KNOW, WHATEVER IS THE TOPIC THAT INTERESTS THE GUEST, WE THEN TURN THAT INTO THE TOPIC OF THE INTERVIEW.

SO, DO YOU CHOOSE MORE BASED ON -- BETWEEN CELEBRITY AND GEEKINESS, WHICH ONE OUTWEIGHS THE OTHER?

OH, CELEBRITY EVERY TIME.

[ BOTH LAUGH ] SO, WHAT HAPPENS IS WE GET A CELEBRITY AND IF -- LET'S SAY THEY DON'T HAVE A GEEK UNDERBELLY.

I THINK WE ALL DO IN SOME LEVEL, BUT LET'S SAY IT'S NOT -- IT'S UNMANIFESTED.

SCIENCE IS UBIQUITOUS IN OUR CIVILIZATION, AND MANY PEOPLE THINK OF SCIENCE AS THIS CLASS THEY TOOK IN HIGH SCHOOL OR IN COLLEGE -- HISTORY AND ENGLISH AND SCIENCE -- AND THEN, ONCE YOU'RE DONE, YOU'RE DONE.

YOU PUT THE BOOK ON THE SHELF, AND YOU MOVE ON.

AND WHAT I'D LIKE TO BELIEVE THAT 'StarTalk' ACCOMPLISHES, OR CERTAINLY ATTEMPTS TO ACCOMPLISH, IS HOW PERSISTENTLY SCIENCE MANIFESTS ITSELF IN EVERYDAY LIFE.

WELL, I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING WHAT WE DISCOVER.

THANK YOU SO MUCH, DR. TYSON.

WELL, SURE.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME. MM-HMM.

[ THEME MUSIC PLAYS ]

WELL, YOU KNOW, GETTING TO OTHER STARS IS STILL A PROBLEM BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE ANY FASTER-THAN-LIGHT TRANSPORTATION.

ACCORDING TO THE PHYSICS THAT WE KNOW, IT'S NOT POSSIBLE TO GO FASTER THAN LIGHT.

SO UNLESS THERE'S SOME PIECE OF PHYSICS THAT HAS YET TO BE DISCOVERED, IT'S GONNA TAKE A LONG TIME TO GO TO OTHER STARS.

SO, LOOKING INSIDE OF OUR SOLAR SYSTEM, THERE'S VENUS.

NOW, VENUS IS SO HOT THAT LEAD WOULD MELT ON THE SURFACE.

SO HOW WOULD YOU LIVE ON VENUS?

WELL, IT TURNS OUT, IF YOU HAD A FLOATING CITY LIKE THE CLOUD CITY IN 'STAR WARS,' THEN YOU CAN LIVE IN THE STRATOSPHERE OF VENUS QUITE WELL.

ANOTHER PLACE YOU COULD SETTLE WOULD BE ON THE POLES OF MERCURY.

YOU REALLY WOULDN'T WANT TO GO ANYWHERE NEAR THE EQUATOR BECAUSE IT GETS SO HOT IN THE DAY AND SO COLD IN THE NIGHT, AND THE DAYS TAKE MANY, MANY EARTH MONTHS.

BUT AT THE POLES OF MERCURY, YOU WOULD ACTUALLY BE RATHER COMFORTABLE, I THINK, IF YOU BUILT A SETTLEMENT APPROPRIATELY.

THERE'S ALSO MOONS IN THE OUTER SOLAR SYSTEM WHERE WE CAN BUILD RESEARCH OUTPOSTS.

ONCE WE GET A TRANSPORTATION NETWORK ESTABLISHED OUTSIDE OF EARTH'S GRAVITY WHERE WE'RE BUILDING EVERYTHING AND WE DON'T NEED TO LAUNCH EVERYTHING FROM THE EARTH, THEN THE WHOLE SOLAR SYSTEM BECOMES OPENED UP, AND I THINK, WITHIN A CENTURY OR SO, WE'RE GONNA HAVE OUTPOSTS ON EVERY MOON WITHIN THE WHOLE SOLAR SYSTEM AND IT'S GONNA BE A REALLY COOL PLACE.

[ KEYBOARD CLACKING ]

MORE AMERICAN CHILDREN ARE BATTLING AUTISM THAT AIDS, DIABETES, AND CANCER COMBINED, AND SCIENTISTS ARE WORKING FURIOUSLY TO GET TO THE BOTTOM OF IT.

BUT TO REALLY UNDERSTAND AUTISM, SCIENTISTS NEED TO EXAMINE HUMAN BRAIN TISSUE, WHICH IS IN SHORT SUPPLY.

NOW A NETWORK OF RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS IS WORKING TO CHANGE THAT.

REPORTER ERIN DELMORE HAS THE STORY.

SARAH, YOU WANT TO COME PLAY?

OKAY.

A YEAR AND A HALF AGO, ALYCIA HALLADAY ROSS SAW THE WARNING SIGNS IN HER DAUGHTER SARAH -- STARING OFF INTO SPACE, LINING TOYS UP IN ROWS, ISOLATING HERSELF AT PLAYTIME, EVEN FROM TWIN SISTER JENNIFER.

[ BABBLES ]

SARAH WAS DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM.

THE DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDER IS ON THE RISE, AFFECTING MORE AMERICAN CHILDREN THAN AIDS, DIABETES, AND CANCER COMBINED.

RESEARCHERS WANT TO KNOW WHY.

TO DO THAT, THEY NEED TO STUDY THE HUMAN BRAIN AFTER DEATH, AND THAT'S IN LIMITED SUPPLY.

THAT'S WHY THE ROSS FAMILY HAS COMMITTED TO DONATING SARAH'S.

OF COURSE, YOU NEVER WANT TO TALK ABOUT OR EVEN THINK ABOUT SOMETHING HAPPENING TO YOUR CHILD THAT COULD LEAD TO THEM SUFFERING OR HURTING OR DYING, AND TO THINK THAT IT'S AN EVENTUALITY IN YOUR LIFETIME IS HEARTBREAKING.

IT'S THINKING ABOUT WHAT SOMEONE'S DEATH CAN MEAN TO THE LIVES OF OTHER PEOPLE.

THE ROSSES ARE REGISTERED AS BRAIN-TISSUE DONORS THROUGH AUTISM BrainNet.

IT'S A NETWORK OF RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS IN THE U.S. AND BRITAIN THAT COLLECT, STORE, AND ALLOCATE DONATED BRAIN-TISSUE SAMPLES.

RESEARCHERS SAY THE NEED IS CRITICAL.

FEWER THAN 200 BRAINS HAVE BEEN STUDIED FOR AUTISM RESEARCH OVER THE PAST THREE DECADES.

THAT NUMBER PALES IN COMPARISON TO THE TENS OF THOUSANDS STUDIED FOR ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE.

DR. PATRICK HOF HEADS ONE OF THE FOUR U.S.-BASED NODES OF AUTISM BrainNet.

HE BEGAN HIS CAREER STUDYING ALZHEIMER'S.

IT'S ONLY TOWARD THE END THAT THEY HAVE THAT HORRIBLE DISEASE.

A PATIENT WITH AUTISM NEVER HAVE THAT CHANCE, AND THEIR FAMILIES NEVER HAVE REALLY ANY CHANCE, EITHER.

AUTISM BrainNet AIMS TO EDUCATE PEOPLE ABOUT BRAIN-TISSUE DONATION.

EVEN IF YOU DRIVER'S LICENSE SAYS THAT YOU'RE AN ORGAN DONOR, YOU'RE NOT INCLUDED.

IT TAKES A SEPARATE REGISTRATION, NONBINDING, AND DOESN'T AFFECT BURIAL PLANS.

AND NON-AUTISTIC PEOPLE CAN DONATE, TOO, AS PART OF A CONTROL GROUP FOR MEDICAL COMPARISON.

PUPPY [INDISTINCT]

THAT'S WHY SARAH'S TWIN SISTER, JENNIFER, IS REGISTERED, AS WELL.

[ BOTH LAUGH ]

AND THAT WRAPS IT UP FOR THIS TIME.

FOR MORE ON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND INNOVATION, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, CHECK US OUT ON FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM, AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON TWITTER.

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UNTIL NEXT TIME, I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

THANKS FOR WATCHING.

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FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING, LEWIS B. AND LOUISE HIRSCHFELD CULLMAN, SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE PARTICIPATING STATIONS.

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