SciTech Now Episode 223

We go inside the rapidly expanding aerospace industry; explore virtual reality as possible treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder; meet David Abraham, author of the book “The Elements of Power,” who joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss rare metals and why we’ve come to rely on them; and look at Pando, one of the oldest and largest single organisms on the planet.

TRANSCRIPT

COMING UP, THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND THE SUPERSTAR SPACE RACE.

AND, SO, IT'S NOT JUST NASA ANYMORE.

THERE'S TETHERS.

WE'VE GOT SpaceX.

THERE'S ORBITAL.

THERE'S JUST SO MANY CHOICES AT THIS POINT.

IT'S JUST BEEN A BOOM FOR THE SPACE INDUSTRY.

HEALING VETERANS THROUGH VIRTUAL REALITY.

I WAS VERY AFRAID THAT NO ONE COULD HELP ME AND NOBODY CAN UNDERSTAND.

SO WHEN I WAS IN THE VIRTUAL REALITY, IT SHOWED ME THAT I CAN DO IT MYSELF.

THE REVOLUTIONARY POWER OF RARE METALS.

WE'RE USING MORE ELEMENTS OF THE PERIODIC TABLE, BECAUSE THE SMARTPHONE OF TODAY USES ROUGHLY HALF THE ELEMENTS KNOWN TO MAN.

AND, FINALLY, MEET ONE OF THE OLDEST AND LARGEST ORGANISMS ON EARTH.

ALL OF THE STEMS THAT YOU SEE AROUND YOU, ALL THE LARGE STEMS AND SMALL STEMS, ARE THE SAME EXACT GENETIC TYPE BECAUSE THEY'RE CONNECTED BY A ROOT SYSTEM UNDERGROUND.

AND THIS IS A GIANT CLONE, THOUGHT TO BE THE LARGEST LIVING THING IN THE WORLD.

IT'S ALL AHEAD.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY... 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.

SCIENCE FICTION IS BECOMING REALITY, AS C.E.O.s IN THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE ATTEMPT TO CONQUER THE COMMERCIAL AEROSPACE INDUSTRY.

BUT TAKE A LOOK BEYOND THE SPACE SUPERSTARS, AND YOU'LL FIND A WHOLE INDUSTRY OF TECHNOLOGY THAT'S BEEN FIRMLY IN PLACE FOR DECADES AND STILL GROWING AT A RAPID RATE.

JEFF BEZOS, PAUL ALLEN, ELON MUSK.

THESE BILLIONAIRE MOGULS ALL HAVE BIG DREAMS OF REVAMPING THE SPACE INDUSTRY.

AMAZON'S JEFF BEZOS OWNS BLUE ORIGIN SPACE COMPANY AND PLANS TO LAUNCH ROCKETS INTO ORBIT BY THE END OF THE DECADE.

STRATOLAUNCH SYSTEMS, A SPACE AIR-LAUNCH COMPANY, IS BACKED BY PAUL ALLEN.

AND ELON MUSK, WITH SpaceX, HAS SET HIS SIGHTS ON COLONIZING MARS BY 2026.

BUT BEYOND THE GLITTER OF THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE, THERE'S A WHOLE INDUSTRY OF SMALLER SPACE COMPANIES THAT HAVE BEEN QUIETLY WORKING UNDER THE RADAR FOR DECADES.

WE HERE AT TETHERS UNLIMITED -- YOU KNOW, A LOT OF US ARE REAL SCIENCE-FICTION FANS, AND WHAT WE LIKE TO DO IS KIND OF TAKE THE IDEAS THAT ARE IN THE SCIENCE-FICTION DOMAIN AND FIGURE OUT HOW TO DRAG THEM INTO THE DOMAIN OF SCIENCE-REALITY.

TETHERS UNLIMITED, IN BOTHELL, WASHINGTON, HAS BEEN CREATING AND MANUFACTURING SPACE-RELATED EQUIPMENT FOR OVER TWO DECADES.

RIGHT NOW, WE'RE WORKING WITH NASA TO DEVELOP THIS RECYCLING SYSTEM FOR THE SPACE STATION.

ASTRONAUTS WILL BE ABLE TO TAKE THE PLASTIC WASTE THAT'S ON THE SPACE STATION.

THEY CAN PUT THE PLASTIC WASTE INTO THIS HOPPER HERE, AND THEN THE MACHINE WILL MELT IT DOWN AND EXTRUDE IT TO MAKE VERY HIGH-QUALITY FILAMENT FOR THE 3-D PRINTERS THAT ARE ON THE SPACE STATION.

THOSE 3-D PRINTERS CAN THEN GO ON TO BUILD NEW PIECES OF EQUIPMENT IN SPACE.

TETHERS' IN-SPACE-MANUFACTURING TECHNOLOGY HELPS SAVE WASTE AND SAVES MONEY.

WELL, ON A TYPICAL CARGO RESUPPLY MISSION TO THE SPACE STATION, THERE IS SOMETHING LIKE 25 POUNDS OF PLASTIC WASTE THAT'S SENT UP.

NORMALLY, THEY WOULD HAVE TO STUFF THAT IN A RETURN VEHICLE AND BURN IT UP IN THE ATMOSPHERE TO GET RID OF IT.

BUT THAT MASS ON ORBIT IS WORTH ABOUT $10,000 PER POUND, SO THAT'S ALMOST A QUARTER-MILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF JUST RAW MATERIAL THAT WE CAN RECYCLE INTO FEEDSTOCK FOR BUILDING NEW SPACE SYSTEMS.

IF WE LOOK AT 3-D OR ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING, 10 YEARS AGO, 20 YEARS AGO, THAT WAS ALL SCI-FI STUFF.

BOB UPTAGRAFFT, FROM THE NORTHWEST AEROSPACE ALLIANCE, SAYS LIGHT-SPEED ADVANCEMENTS IN 3-D TECHNOLOGY AND IN-SPACE MANUFACTURING HAVE MADE SOME CITIES, LIKE SEATTLE, A PERFECT SPACE HUB.

THE SEEDS WERE PLANTED YEARS AGO BY THE SUCCESS OF AEROSPACE.

IF WE LOOK AT LOCAL COMPANIES, LIKE ROCKETDYNE AS AN EXAMPLE, THEY HAVE, FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS, BEEN PRODUCING BOOSTER-JET ROCKETS THAT DRIVE SATELLITES THROUGH SPACE.

AEROJET ROCKETDYNE WAS THE FIRST SPACE COMPANY TO SET UP SHOP IN WASHINGTON STATE.

THEY RECENTLY PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN THE HISTORIC FLY-BY OF PLUTO WITH NASA's NEW HORIZONS SPACECRAFT.

WE HAD 16 ROCKETS, 16 DIFFERENT THRUSTER ENGINES.

IT LOOKS LIKE A BABY GRAND PIANO THAT'S MOUNTED IN AS PART OF THE SPACECRAFT APERTURE.

THE SATELLITE ITSELF IS POWERED BY 100% PURE AEROJET ROCKETDYNE REDMOND POWER.

ALONGSIDE THE VETERANS, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF NEW PLAYERS IN THE SPACE INDUSTRY.

MADE IN SPACE IS A CALIFORNIA COMPANY THAT LAUNCHED THE FIRST ZERO-GRAVITY 3-D PRINTER INTO SPACE LAST YEAR.

PLANETARY RESOURCES IS AN ASTEROID-MINING COMPANY FORMED IN 2010.

AND SPACEFLIGHT INDUSTRIES FOCUSES ON SMALL SATELLITE LAUNCHES.

THE REVOLUTION IN THE COMMERCIAL SPACE INDUSTRY IS ALSO ATTRACTING SPACE-RELATED TALENT.

DR. RACHEL MUHLBAUER MOVED FROM GEORGIA TO WORK AT TETHERS UNLIMITED.

SO, IT'S NOT JUST NASA ANYMORE.

THERE'S TETHERS.

WE'VE GOT SpaceX.

THERE'S ORBITAL.

THERE'S JUST SO MANY CHOICES AT THIS POINT.

IT'S JUST BEEN A BOOM FOR THE SPACE INDUSTRY.

WITH NO END TO THIS GROWTH IN SIGHT, IT SEEMS LIKE THE POSSIBILITIES FOR COMMERCIAL SPACE TECHNOLOGY ARE INFINITE.

WE'RE A VERY PROUD SPACE COMMUNITY THAT'S AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FOREFRONT, RIGHT?

SPACE IS BIG AND VAST, AND THERE'S PLENTY OF ROOM FOR US ALL TO MANEUVER.

AND IT'S REALLY A FUNCTION OF HOW WE WORK TOGETHER WITH THE SAME COMMON CAUSE, WHICH IS EXPLORATION.

NEARLY 1 IN 10 OF THE MILLIONS OF AMERICAN TROOPS THAT HAVE SERVED IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN HAVE SOME FORM OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

AT THE RESTORES CLINIC AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA, RESEARCHERS ARE WORKING WITH VIRTUAL-REALITY TECHNOLOGY TO DEVELOP INNOVATIVE TREATMENTS TO HELP VETERANS RECLAIM THEIR LIVES.

WHEN STEPHEN COTTA WAS DEPLOYED TO IRAQ IN 2009, HE WAS A YOUNG MAN EXCITED ABOUT THE FUTURE.

WHEN HE RETURNED HOME A YEAR LATER, HE WAS RECLUSIVE, AGGRESSIVE, AND ANGRY.

COTTA SHOWED THE CLASSIC-SYMPTOMS DIAGNOSIS OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

I WAS IN A VERY, VERY DARK PLACE, AND IT WAS VERY NERVE-RACKING TO ME TO FEEL THAT LACK OF CONTROL, TO WHERE I FELT LIKE I WAS POWERLESS OVER SOMETHING, BECAUSE I WAS NO LONGER MANAGING MY LIFE.

MY LIFE WAS MANAGING ME.

COTTA'S LIFE PATH CHANGED, HOWEVER, WHEN HE SOUGHT HELP AT UCF RESTORES, A CLINICAL RESEARCH CENTER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA'S PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT.

IT HELPS VETERANS WITH PTSD TO COPE WITH LIFE'S CHALLENGES.

ONE FORM OF TREATMENT OFFERED IS EXPOSURE THERAPY, USING VIRTUAL-REALITY TECHNOLOGY.

EXPOSURE THERAPY HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE THE '70s.

AND WHAT WE'VE DONE IS SUPPLEMENT IT WITH VIRTUAL-REALITY EQUIPMENT, SUCH AS SOUNDS... [ EXPLOSION ] ...SMELLS, AS WELL AS VIRTUAL-REALITY IMAGES THAT WILL HELP THE VETERAN GET MORE IN TOUCH WITH THE TRAUMATIC MEMORY.

THESE MEMORIES ARE OFTEN VERY TRAUMATIC FOR THESE VETERANS.

[ EXPLOSION, INDISTINCT SHOUTING ] AND, SO, WHAT THE VIRTUAL REALITY DOES IS -- THEY'RE ALL THE SOUNDS OF WAR, THE SMELLS OF WAR, THE VISUALS OF WAR, AND THAT HELPS THEM GET IN BETTER TOUCH WITH THAT MEMORY SO THEY CAN LEARN, IN A SAFE ENVIRONMENT, HOW TO ADJUST THEM.

UNFORTUNATELY, A LOT OF THE INCIDENTS THAT THE VETERANS EXPERIENCED WERE IN VEHICLES FOR I.E.D. EXPLOSIONS.

THE TREATMENT IS MOST EFFECTIVE WHEN WE CAN TAILOR THE INDIVIDUAL SCENE TO THE VETERAN.

AND, AGAIN, THIS TREATMENT'S ABOUT BEING ABLE TO DO THE SCENARIO OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN UNTIL THE VETERAN CAN LEARN A BETTER ASSOCIATION WITH THAT TRAUMATIC MEMORY.

COTTA IS ONE IF OVER 150 VETERANS WHO HAVE UNDERGONE EXPOSURE THERAPY AT UCF RESTORES.

I WAS VERY NERVOUS, VERY EXCITED.

IT WAS A MIX OF EMOTIONS FOR ME, YOU KNOW?

IT CAN BE VERY FRIGHTENING COMING IN TO SOMETHING THAT YOU KNOW IS GONNA FORCE YOU TO GO BACK TO SOMEWHERE YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO BE AT, YOU KNOW?

SO, I WANT YOU TO THINK BACK IN FEBRUARY, IN 2009, WHEN YOU WERE BACK IN IRAQ.

AND, SO, YOU REMEMBER GOING ON PATROL.

AND WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

ONCE WE DEPARTED THE STAGING AREA, WE WERE HEADED WEST ON A SIDE ROAD AND WE HAD PASSED OUR LAST TRUCK AND WE HAD ENTERED INTO THE FIELD.

WE PASSED THE WALL.

WHAT IT IS THAT'S GREAT ABOUT THIS PROGRAM IS THAT IT SHOWS YOU TO HANDLE AND MANAGE YOURSELF, BECAUSE, REALLY, YOU'RE KIND OF JUST LIKE A LOST CHILD WHEN YOU'RE -- BEFORE.

PRIOR TO THIS PROGRAM, I WAS HAVING A LOT OF ISSUES WITH MY POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS, AND I THINK THAT IT WAS MOSTLY A LOT OF FEAR.

I WAS VERY AFRAID THAT NO ONE COULD HELP ME AND NOBODY CAN UNDERSTAND.

SO, WHEN I WAS IN THE VIRTUAL REALITY, IT SHOWED ME THAT I CAN DO IT MYSELF.

ONCE WE WERE ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH THE GRAVEYARD, WE RECEIVED SMALL-ARMS FIRE FROM THE SOUTHWEST CORNER, IMMEDIATELY HIT THE GROUND, AND WAS SCANNING MY SECTOR AND JUST TRYING TO SEE ANY TYPE OF POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION FROM THE BUILDING WHERE WE WERE RECEIVING THE FIRE.

AT THE SAME TIME, A LOT OF COMMUNICATION WAS GOING ON.

WHEN WE TALK TO OUR VETERANS WHEN THEY COME INTO THE PROGRAM, WE TELL THEM THAT, 'YOU KNOW, THIS MEMORY IS NEVER GONNA BE SOMETHING PLEASANT.

IT'S NEVER GONNA BE, YOU KNOW, SOMETHING THAT'S GOOD TO THINK ABOUT.

BUT WHAT WE CAN DO IS HELP REDUCE A LOT OF THE PAIN AND A LOT OF THE ANXIETY THAT COMES UP WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT.'

AND MY BEST FRIEND'S TRUCK WAS HIT WITH A HAND GRENADE.

[ EXPLOSION, INDISTINCT SHOUTING ] AND WHEN THAT HAND GRENADE WENT OFF, I CAN REMEMBER BEING EXTREMELY FRIGHTENED, BECAUSE IT WAS MY CLOSEST FRIEND'S VEHICLE.

YOU HAVE TO COMPLETELY IMMERSE YOURSELF IN IT 100% AND YOU HAVE TO GIVE EVERY PIECE OF YOUR SOUL, BECAUSE IT'S THE ONLY WAY.

[ Voice breaking ] IT'S REALLY NICE TO HAVE PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, LIKE, TO DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF AND THEN HAVE PEOPLE WHO CARE.

I CAN'T EXPLAIN THE FEELING THAT IT GIVES ME.

BENJAMIN TRACHIK BELIEVES IF A VETERAN IS COMFORTABLE WITH VIRTUAL-REALITY TECHNOLOGY, IT'S EASIER FOR THEM TO SEEK HELP AT UCF RESTORES.

VETERANS, ESPECIALLY THE YOUNGER VETERANS, HAVE A LOT OF EXPERIENCE WITH THIS TECHNOLOGY.

AND I THINK THAT IT IS HELPFUL, YOU KNOW, TO HAVE THEM COME IN THE DOOR, AND THAT CAN OFTEN BE THE HARDEST PART FOR A LOT OF VETERANS IS TO, YOU KNOW, ADMIT THAT THERE IS AN ISSUE THAT THEY NEED HELP WITH.

AND ANYTHING THAT WE CAN DO TO BE ABLE TO MAKE THAT TRANSITION A LITTLE BIT EASIER IS WHAT WE WANT TO DO.

...BECAUSE I NEEDED TO KEEP MY EYES OUT AND I NEEDED TO MAKE SURE THAT I WAS KEEPING MY SECURITY AND MAKING SURE THAT THERE WERE NO SECONDARIES COMING.

COTTA KNOWS THERE ARE NO EASY SOLUTIONS TO PTSD.

ONE THING ABOUT POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER THAT PEOPLE GET VERY CONFUSED -- IT IS NOT SOMETHING THAT IS 'CURABLE.'

THERE'S NO -- IT'S NOT SOMETHING THAT'S GONNA GO AWAY.

IT'S GONNA BE WITH ME FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

BUT THROUGH THIS NEW TREATMENT, COTTA HAS SOMETHING HE HASN'T HAD IN A LONG TIME.

THIS PROGRAM GIVES YOU TOOLS THAT YOU NEVER KNEW THAT YOU HAD BEFORE.

IT HELPS YOU TO OVERCOME SO MUCH STUFF.

THIS PROGRAM LITERALLY SAVED MY LIFE.

SUCCESS JUST MEANS HAVING A MANAGEABLE LIFE AND BEING ABLE TO BE SOMEWHAT NORMAL, YOU KNOW, AND NOT FEELING LIKE YOU'RE AN OUTCAST.

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, TO ME, IS MY LIFE.

AND I CAN'T STOP, BECAUSE IT'S NOT GONNA STOP FOR ME.

EVERY TIME THAT I LEAVE THIS PLACE, I JUST FEEL SO MUCH MORE HOPE INSIDE OF ME THAT I CAN HANDLE THIS AND THAT I'M GONNA BE OKAY, YOU KNOW?

METALS SO RARE THAT FEW OF US HAVE EVEN HEARD OF THEM HAVE BECOME THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF MODERN SOCIETY.

THEY'RE FOUND IN EVERYTHING FROM ELECTRONICS TO MILITARY AND GREEN TECHNOLOGIES.

BUT WHAT ARE THESE RARE METALS?

AND WHY HAVE WE COME TO RELY ON THEM?

JOINING ME NOW IS DAVID ABRAHAM, A NATURAL-RESOURCE STRATEGIST AND AUTHOR OF THE BOOK 'THE ELEMENTS OF POWER.'

SO, WE WERE JUST HAVING A CONVERSATION OFF-CAMERA ABOUT THE FACT THAT I BOUGHT A STUD FINDER THAT HAD SOME RARE METAL IN IT, AND THEY BRAG ABOUT THE FACT THAT IT'S A RARE METAL IN IT.

AND THEN I'M SAYING TO MYSELF, 'WELL, IF IT'S SO RARE, HOW CAN IT BE IN THIS COMMONPLACE ITEM?'

SURE. WHAT WE THINK ABOUT RARE METALS -- I TALK ABOUT THE AMOUNT THEY'RE PRODUCED IN COMPARED TO BASE METALS, LIKE IRON OR ZINC.

THOSE ARE PRODUCED IN THE MILLIONS OF TONS ANNUALLY.

A LOT OF THESE ARE IN THE THOUSANDS OF TONS OR THE HUNDREDS OF TONS OR LESS.

AND WE'RE FINDING THAT THEY'RE UBIQUITOUS, BUT THEY'RE USED IN SUCH SMALL QUANTITIES THAT THEY'RE ALMOST AFTERTHOUGHTS.

WHEN WE THINK ABOUT PIZZA, WE THINK ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE CHEESE THAT GOES IN THE PIZZA OR THE QUALITY OF THE TOMATO SAUCE.

WHAT WE DON'T THINK ABOUT IS YEAST.

MM-HMM.

BUT WITHOUT YEAST, THERE'S NO PIZZA.

AND WITHOUT NEODYMIUM, THERE AREN'T ENERGY-EFFICIENT AIR CONDITIONERS.

SO, THE ENERGY-EFFICIENT AIR CONDITIONERS -- I MEAN, WHEN YOU START TO SHIFT AWAY FROM NEODYMIUM, IF IT'S SO RARE, THEN THAT COULD ACTUALLY HAVE A PRETTY MASSIVE EFFECT, CONSIDERING HOW MUCH POWER, COLLECTIVELY, AIR CONDITIONERS SOAK UP.

EXACTLY.

WHEN WE LOOK BACK AT 2010, WHEN CHINA STOPPED EXPORTING RARE-EARTH ELEMENTS TO JAPAN, YOU SAW A NUMBER OF COMPANIES, IN GREEN TECH AND ELSEWHERE, TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM USING THESE PARTICULAR SUBSET OF RARE METALS.

AND THAT HAS A LARGE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT, BECAUSE WHEN AN AIR CONDITIONER IS 25% OR 30% LESS EFFICIENT -- WHEN IT'S JUST ONE, IT'S NOT A BIG DEAL, BUT WHEN YOU'RE TALKING ALL OF THESE AIR CONDITIONERS AROUND THE WORLD, WHEN COMPANIES ARE SHYING AWAY FROM USING A LOT OF THESE MATERIALS BECAUSE OF GEOPOLITICAL CONCERNS, YOU HAVE A LARGE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT THAT'S NOT OFTEN SEEN WITHOUT ANALYZING.

SO, THE GEOPOLITICAL CONCERN IS KIND OF AN INTERESTING TAKE ON IT, BECAUSE YOU DON'T NECESSARILY THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT SOME COUNTRY OR SOME COMPANY, USUALLY CONTROLLED BY A STATE, A MINING CONCERN OR WHATEVER, OWNS THE MINE WHERE THIS COMES FROM, WHICH GIVES THEM SOME LEVERAGE IN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ALL SORTS OF OTHER THINGS.

'HEY, YOU WANT US TO DO BETTER ON HUMAN RIGHTS?

WELL, YOU BETTER LOOK THE OTHER WAY ON THIS' OR THE OTHER -- YOU KNOW, INVERSE.

WE SEE THAT THROUGHOUT THE SUPPLY CHAIN.

IT'S NOT JUST THE MINE, ESPECIALLY FOR A LOT OF THESE RARE METALS.

THE GETTING IT OUT OF THE GROUND IS ALMOST THE EASY PART.

PROCESSING THEM CAN TAKE A LONG TIME, AND FOR MANY OF THESE, LIKE, RARE-EARTH ELEMENTS, IT'S A TRICKY SCIENTIFIC BALANCE TO GET THE RIGHT ACIDS AND THE RIGHT HEAT AND UNDERSTANDING HOW TO BRING THE METALS FROM THE MINERALS.

IT TAKES A LONG TIME TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO DO THAT.

THERE'S NOT ALWAYS A COOKBOOK, WHERE YOU CAN OPEN UP THE RECIPE.

SO, WHEN YOU MASTER THE ART OF PROCESSING, IT ALSO GIVES YOU A LARGER GEOPOLITICAL STATUS, AS WELL.

SO, HOW MUCH MORE DO WE CONSUME RARE METALS TODAY THAN WE USED TO?

WE CONSUME -- IF YOU LOOK BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME TO ABOUT THE LATE 1980s AND TAKE THAT TIME PERIOD AND THEN LOOK AT SINCE THE 1980s, WHEN WE STARTED TO USE MORE HIGH-TECH GOODS AND GADGETS, YOU'LL SEE THAT WE USE ROUGHLY -- BETWEEN 1990 AND NOW, ROUGHLY FOUR TIMES MORE MATERIALS DURING THAT TIME PERIOD THAN WE HAVE SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME TO THE 1980s.

THE REASON IS BECAUSE OF OUR GADGETS -- THE LIGHTS IN THE STUDIOS.

WE'RE USING MORE ELEMENTS OF THE PERIODIC TABLE, BECAUSE THE SMARTPHONE OF TODAY USES ROUGHLY HALF THE ELEMENTS KNOWN TO MAN.

BUT THE GADGETS WE USED JUST 20, 25 YEARS AGO WERE USING A THIRD LESS OR SO.

SO, WHAT HAPPENS, THEN, NOT JUST TO THE WASTE THAT'S CREATED WHEN I DECIDE TO RECYCLE OR GIVE BACK OR WHATEVER MY SMARTPHONE, BUT IF THERE IS ONLY, YOU KNOW, AN INCREDIBLY SMALL QUANTITY OF THIS, SHOULDN'T SOMEONE BE INCENTIVIZED TO SAY, 'HEY, LET ME TAKE THE WHATEVER REALLY SPECIAL METAL OUT OF YOUR SMARTPHONE SO I CAN REUSE IT SOMEWHERE'? I MEAN, WILL WE RUN OUT?

YOU HIGHLIGHT THE CHALLENGE OF RECYCLING.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE SMARTPHONE AND IT HAS HALF THE ELEMENTS KNOWN TO MAN, WE'D LOVE TO BE ABLE TO EXTRACT THEM OUT.

BUT WE DON'T HAVE THE SCIENTIFIC CAPABILITY, WE DON'T HAVE THE SUPPLY CHAIN TO BRING EVERY METAL OUT.

AT BEST, WE'RE RECOVERING ABOUT 20 METALS, AND THAT'S AT BEST.

THERE IS NOT A LOT OF ECONOMIC INCENTIVE BECAUSE WE'VE BEEN GETTING GOOD AT TAKING SOME METALS OUT OF THE NATURAL ORES THAT THEY'RE FOUND IN.

BUT EACH PHONE IS A DIFFERENT ORE BODY.

IT'S UNIQUE.

AND TO LEARN HOW TO EXTRACT IT FROM JUST ONE PHONE WOULD BE A CHALLENGE, BUT WHEN YOU'RE PUTTING THEM ALL TOGETHER IN THIS NEW AMALGAMATION OF CRUNCHED-UP iPHONES, IT'S A REAL SCIENTIFIC CHALLENGE TO PULL ALL THE ELEMENTS.

AND WHAT WE FIND OUT IS THAT, FOR MOST OF THESE RARE METALS, THEIR RECYCLING RATES ARE LOWER THAN 1%. SO WE'RE NOT DOING A VERY GOOD JOB OF GETTING THEM OUT, AND WE DON'T HAVE THE COLLECTION SYSTEMS TO ENSURE THAT THIS COMPONENT GOES HERE SO WE CAN RECYCLE THE PARTICULAR RARE METAL.

IS THERE ANY GOING BACK?

I MEAN, IT DOESN'T SEEM LIKE SOCIETY'S GONNA SAY, 'YOU KNOW WHAT?

LET'S GO START USING WOOD BLOCKS AGAIN FOR EVERYTHING.'

EXACTLY.

THE FUTURE IS NOT MADE FROM WOOD, ROPE, AND NAILS.

WE'RE GOING TO USE MORE OF THESE MATERIALS, AND IT'S A GOOD THING THAT WE'RE ABLE TO HARNESS THE POWER OF THESE MATERIALS.

THE QUESTION IS -- HOW CAN WE HAVE THESE PRODUCTS LAST LONGER?

HOW DO WE DEVELOP WAYS THAT WE'RE NOT JUST BURNING THROUGH THE COMMODITIES?

EVERY TIME WE THROW AWAY A CELLPHONE, WE THROW AWAY HALF THE ELEMENTS KNOWN TO MAN.

WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO DEVELOP SYSTEMS OF CREATING A CIRCULAR ECONOMY.

AND THERE ARE STEPS THAT WE'RE MOVING IN THAT DIRECTION.

ALL RIGHT, DAVID ABRAHAM, THE AUTHOR OF 'THE ELEMENTS OF POWER.'

THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

DID YOU KNOW THAT ONE OF THE OLDEST AND LARGEST SINGLE ORGANISMS ON EARTH RESIDES IN SOUTHERN UTAH?

KNOWN AS PANDO, THIS LARGE GROVE OF ASPEN TREES SHARES A SINGLE ROOT SYSTEM, MAKING IT ONE OF THE LARGEST LIVING ORGANISMS IN THE WORLD.

HERE'S A LOOK AT HOW RESEARCHERS ARE TEAMING UP WITH STUDENTS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS ANCIENT AND ENDANGERED TREE COLONY.

PANDO IS A GIANT ASPEN CLONE -- AND WHAT I MEAN BY 'CLONE' IS THAT ALL OF THE STEMS THAT YOU SEE AROUND YOU, ALL THE LARGE STEMS AND SMALL STEMS, ARE THE SAME EXACT GENETIC TYPE BECAUSE THEY'RE CONNECTED BY A ROOT SYSTEM UNDERGROUND.

AND SO THE TREES SPROUT UP FROM THE ROOTS INSTEAD OF FROM SEEDS.

AND THE TERM PANDO IS LATIN FOR 'I SPREAD,' AND THIS IS A GIANT CLONE, THOUGHT TO BE THE LARGEST LIVING THING IN THE WORLD.

AND IT'S ABOUT 106 ACRES IN SIZE.

PANDO IS REALLY LIKE A COMMUNITY, BECAUSE IF ONE ASPECT OF IT IS AFFECTED -- IF PANDO DIES OFF, THEN THE REST OF THE SPECIES IN THE AREA WILL ALSO BE AFFECTED.

IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT THAT WE KEEP IT SAFE SO THAT IF THE TREES DIE OFF, WE DON'T HAVE THE DEER DYING OFF, AS WELL, OR, IF THE DEER DIE OFF, WE DON'T HAVE AN OVERGROWTH OF TREES.

AND SO IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO LOOK AT WHAT'S BEING AFFECTED AND HOW IT'S CONNECTED.

THE STUDENTS HERE ARE HELPING ME MEASURE THE CONDITION OF THE CLONE, AND SO HOW MANY LIVE TREES AND DEAD TREES AND PARTICULARLY HOW MANY YOUNG TREES ARE REPRODUCING.

THIS IS THE MISSING ELEMENT WE HAVE HERE AT THE PANDO CLONE.

SO, WE HAVE A LOT OF VERY OLD TREES, IN HUMAN TERMS, WE'D THINK OF AS SENIOR CITIZENS, BUT IF WE WANT THIS CLONE TO SURVIVE -- AND IT'S WORLD-RENOWNED AT THIS POINT -- WE NEED TO HAVE A DIVERSITY OF AGE CLASSES -- YOUNG ONES, TEENAGERS, MIDDLE-AGED ONES.

SO THAT WHEN THE OLDER ONES DIE, AS MANY OF THEM, AS YOU CAN SEE AROUND YOU, ARE RIGHT NOW, WE HAVE SORT OF THE NEXT GENERATION TO FILL IN.

THERE'S A WHOLE MOVEMENT, IN SCIENCE IN GENERAL, HAVING WHAT'S CALLED CITIZEN SCIENCE OR CITIZEN SCIENTISTS PARTICIPATE IN THINGS.

AND THIS IS A WAY FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE PROFESSIONAL SCIENTISTS, LIKE MYSELF, TO REACH OUT TO THE COMMUNITY AND GET THEM TO UNDERSTAND ISSUES, TO HAVE THEM PHYSICALLY PARTICIPATE IN TAKING MEASUREMENTS AND BRINGING DATA HOME.

AND, IN THIS WAY, THEY'RE INVESTED IN THE RESOURCES OR ISSUES THAT THEY'RE INTERESTED.

IN THE CASE OF THE STUDENTS HERE, FROM THE INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE PROGRAM FROM OGDEN HIGH SCHOOL, THEY'RE HELPING US TO TAKE PHYSICAL MEASUREMENTS ON THE GROUND TO CHARACTERIZE THE CONDITION OF THIS PANDO CLONE AND THIS PART OF THE CLONE.

THIS ADDS TO, NOW, A BODY OF KNOWLEDGE IN WHICH WE'VE MANIPULATED THE CLONE IN DIFFERENT PLACES TO TRY TO GET IT TO RECOVER, TO SAVE IT.

BOTH OF MY PARENTS HAVE ALWAYS LIKED TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME OUTSIDE AND IN THE MOUNTAINS, AND SO FROM, YOU KNOW, BEFORE I WAS EVEN BORN AND AS A REALLY, REALLY SMALL BABY, THEY WERE ALWAYS TAKING ME OUT HIKING AND CAMPING AND SKIING.

AND SO I'VE ALWAYS BEEN ABLE TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME OUTSIDE, AND IT'S MADE ME REALLY APPRECIATE ALL THE THINGS THAT WE HAVE PROTECTED.

AND, SO, SORT OF AS A PERSON THAT APPRECIATES IT, I FEEL THE RESPONSIBILITY, IN A WAY, TO CONTINUE TO PROTECT IT, ESPECIALLY IN AREAS LIKE THIS, WHERE WE HAVE THINGS THAT ARE SO UNIQUE AND SO INCREDIBLE TO LOOK AT.

AND GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE HOW INCREDIBLE IT IS, IT GIVES ME THE RESPONSIBILITY TO WANT TO KEEP GOING AND RESEARCHING WAYS TO PROTECT IT AND WAYS TO KEEP IT ALIVE.

I DID THIS THING CALLED SCIENCE IN THE PARKS, AND IT'S ALL ABOUT GETTING INNER-CITY KIDS TO, LIKE, HELP THEM AND SHOW THEM HOW COOL SCIENCE IS.

AND, SO, WHEN YOU SAY 'CITIZEN SCIENCE,' I KIND OF THINK THAT ANYONE CAN BE INVOLVED WITH SCIENCE AND REALLY GETTING PEOPLE INTERESTED IN PROTECTING THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT WE HAVE AROUND US.

SO, THAT'S WHY SCIENCE IS JUST SO COOL.

I THINK IF PEOPLE CAN COME TO A PLACE NOT ONLY LIKE PANDO, BUT TO A PLACE, YOU KNOW, IN NORTHERN UTAH OR SOUTHERN UTAH OR ANYWHERE ACROSS THE U.S., ACROSS THE WORLD, TO BE ABLE TO HAVE CITIZENS WHO AREN'T EVEN TRAINED IN THE SCIENTIFIC FIELD TO COME OUT AND UNDERSTAND HOW INCREDIBLE IT IS THAT THEY'RE SURROUNDED BY THIS AND KNOW THAT THAT'S SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE PROTECTED AND THAT THEY CAN PROTECT IT.

AND THEN THAT'S SORT OF SHARING OF INFORMATION CAN CREATE A LARGER POPULATION OF PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF WHAT THEY NEED TO DO AND WHAT THEY CAN DO.

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.

YOU CAN ALSO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR YouTube CHANNEL.

UNTIL NEXT TIME, I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

THANKS FOR WATCHING.

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