SciTech Now Episode 513

In this episode of SciTech Now, discover how researchers are saving Scallops; launching a Human to Mars; the rising power of Social Media; and the latest technology to fight fires.



Coming up, saving scallops.

It's a species that we would love to understand what makes it tick and to be able to tweak the system to help scallops.

Launching a human to Mars.

You're in deep space for months.

You don't have the protection of Earth's magnetic field.

The weaponization of social media.

The networks were created not to reward veracity but virality.

Fighting fires with technology.

It has a dual-camera system.

It sees about approximately 20 times better than the human eye.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by...


I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

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

Let's get started.

Due to warming waters, scallops have struggled to exist in North Carolina's bays and estuaries.

However, thanks to a new research study at the University of North Carolina, scallops may have a new lease on life.

Here's the story.

Found a live, adult wild scallop.

They get to be a bit larger than this.

I would say he's what we could call a teenager or a juvenile scallop.

But sad to say, this is a pretty lonely teenage bay scallop.

To find out why, dive down to the sandy seagrass beds at the bottom of North Carolina's bays and estuaries.

They have a very neat life history where they're in the water as a larva for a month or so, and in that time, they have a little shell, just like an adult scallop.

They eventually find the cues that mean seagrass is probably in the area.

They float down towards the bottom, or swim down towards the bottom, and they use something called byssal threads, a little line that they can attach to individual seagrass blades.

So they hang on the seagrass blades until they grow to a size that's safer, and then they drop to the bottom and just live laying on the bottom in the seagrass meadow.

Those seagrass beds were filled with bay scallops in the 1920s.

North Carolina topped the nation with 1.4 million pounds harvested, but a red ride in the 1980s decimated the population.

Overfishing, natural predation and a decline in seagrass caused by rising water temperatures and lower water quality all combined to put the species at risk.

Since then, bay scallops have not recovered, and the fishery has been officially closed since 2006.

So they can flap their shells together in order to propel themselves through the water, and that's how they swim.

Thirteen sixty-seven is 8.81.

Twelve eighty-nine is 8.6.

But now, the bay scallop is getting some love.

One-four-five-three was 8.32.

All species are important to the biodiversity of our ecosystem.

These guys, I would say the most important function that they serve as a prey item for other important species.

However, they also perform filtering functions similar to oysters.

Our estuaries are increasingly becoming more and more sedimented, filled with nutrients, and these guys are one of the critters available to filter out some of those nutrients that are becoming harmful and detrimental to the ecosystem.

Thirteen-oh-three is 5.85.

In a unique research project requiring a lot of patience and utilizing a drop of glue, fishing line, metal frame and living bay scallops, scientists are tethering more than 1,600 scallops to mark steel frames.

So the aim of this research is to discern why bay scallops have not recovered.

We have a few hypotheses as to why that has occurred, and we also want to look into what would be the best landscape of artificial seagrass, or in the future, natural seagrass to focus our efforts on for the restoration of bay scallops.

The living scallops are tethered because they can swim through the water.

The frames and tiny scallops are then placed in nine artificial seagrass beds on Oscar Shoal.

That's just off Beaufort.

The beds vary in size and thickness.

Bay scallops were once abundant in the area.

And if there's sun, you can see the outlines, and really, you navigate by breaks kind of where there are spaces between the mats, but as I said today, it's kind of... You have no choice but to dive down and put your face right up against it and try to navigate that way.

We are tethering bay scallops in order to come back day after day and follow the fate of that same scallop through time.

Each time we revisit the scallop, we will record whether it is present or absent, meaning whether it has survived its night or it has been eaten by a predator potentially, and after a few days to a week, we can come back and we can measure that same individual, and calculate a growth rate.

Survival and growth are both important factors that we need to consider for scallop restoration.

Researchers expect to find survival and growth rates will differ between seagrass landscapes.

Once researchers determine which bed has the best survival rate, more than 10,000 scallops will be scattered throughout the natural and artificial seagrass beds to see where they prefer to locate themselves without human intervention.

And it's a species that we would love to understand what makes it tick and to be able to tweak the system, if possible, in a way that helps scallops, or to understand where to try to restore scallops.

Could we pick the meadows if we were going to put out hatchery-raised little baby scallops?

Where is their best chance of surviving to become spawners themselves?

♪♪ ♪♪

Dave Mosher is a science reporter who has written for National Geographic News and

Throughout his career, he's watched humans and robots launch into space, flown over the North Pole to catch a total solar eclipse, and toured a cutting-edge nuclear reactor.

He joins us now to discuss life on planet Mars and the future of colonization in space.

Of course it's totally speculative.

We've never thought about living there actually, but there are more people deciding to think about living there long-term now and in the last 15 years than we've ever contemplated as a society before.

What kind of challenges do we have of thinking about living there?

I think the way to phrase this question is 'What challenges don't we have?'

...Don't we have, yeah.


So Mars is an average of 140 million miles away from Earth.

There are some windows every 2 years where we can get there pretty quickly, you know, within 6 to 9 months depending on how much propellant you have and how fast you want to go and how fast you can slow down, too.

So that's the challenge number one.

You're in deep space for months.

You don't have the protection of Earth's magnetic field, so you have radiation just pummeling your body, blasting away your DNA.

You can have not just... It's not just cancer, a risk of cancer.

You can lose your cognitive function, scientists are starting to think, based on animal model studies.


You can lose your immunity, so if there is any sort of, like, biological attack, like, your body revolts against itself.

It's the bacteria in your intestines.

You may not be able to fight that off very effectively.

So there's all sorts of tangential effects of deep-space radiation that we're just now starting to understand...


...based on research that's going on at the International Space Station, which frankly, I don't think is happening quickly enough based on some of the time lines that are being thrown out.

So that's one.

Two is how do you get all the supplies you need there without breaking, you know, the bank of the US government or other governments?

And then three is how do you feed people there?

Because stuff expires.

You know, your vitamin C, which you're going to need to avoid space scurvy.

That goes after a year or two, and that's just, like, scratching the surface.

There's so many other challenges that are in the way.


So what are the technologies that support the idea of getting us there?

I mean, there's the rocket ships, okay.

Now, okay, fine.

Let's say we know how to launch a rocket.

We certainly have launched satellites and probes around Mars' orbit and onto the surface, but what other technologies kind of do we have to be designing in order to sustain even just life on a rocket ship for that long to get here?

Yeah, so radiation, going back to radiation.


You need to protect yourself from that.

You need some sort of of a shield, some sort of a protection mechanism, especially if the Sun starts acting up and belching out a solar storm of protons.

You don't want those hitting your body.

It's actually more of the stuff they generate when they pass by you.

They can accelerate electrons, and those can hit you, and generate gamma rays and all sorts of stuff.

It's bad news.

So you need, like, you need somewhere to hide in your spaceship.

So that's one thing you've got to have.

Are we designing space suits differently?

Are we thinking about what kind of life-sustaining qualities those suits have that kind of our normal astronaut suits today might not have to have?

Yeah, so a terrestrial space suit is something NASA has been working on for a long time, in addition to all the other problems they're concerned about.

You need to be able to move around on the planet without getting some of the stuff on you.

Mars is covered in something called perchlorate, which is fine if it's in a vacuum, which is basically what Mars is, but once you bring it inside, it's nasty stuff.

You don't want to eat this stuff.

It's toxic.

So that's one challenge, and you also need a place to live.

Like, how do you live on Mars?

Do you live in your spaceship?

Do you live in a habitat?


How do you create energy?

How do you recycle your water?

What do you do with your waste?

How do you grow food?

Is it more likely to be done by the private sector or different governments coming together?

So this is an interesting thing that's happening right now.

For many years, really up until Elon Musk said, 'Screw it.

I'm going to launch SpaceX,' in 2002 because he was frustrated that NASA wasn't doing anything.

Like, he logged onto NASAs website and was like, 'Where is the Mars mission?

Like, why aren't we going?'

So ever since then, you know, for the past 16 years, he has been pushing and hammering and pressing and fighting to get something that can go to Mars.

He is trying to do the 'Field of Dreams,' 'If you build it, they will come.'

The space agencies of the world are going to be like, 'Hey, we need to get on this train,' and then, behind that will come all of these technologies.

The life support technologies, the radiation technologies, like, everything you would need to stay there once you get there.

This drives the other question.


Why go there?

I mean, you just described a relatively inhospitable planet, at least for human beings.

What are we gaining from being there, colonizing Mars?

Musk believes that we need a backup planet.

He's seeing the way things are going on Earth and is not really... He's not really confident that we'll, you know, figure our stuff out in 100, 200 years.

You know, we're looking at very catastrophic, rapid climate change.

We are looking down that gun barrel right now on planet Earth.

That is why you would want to go to Mars.

Some people say, 'Well, why can't we fix the planet we're already on?'

That's a valid argument, I think.

But yeah, there's also this, like, sort of intangible, abstract thing of, like, knowing that we're on another planet that just sort of makes your spine tingle, and in a good way, I guess, makes my spine tingle.

It's sort of a thrilling idea, and I think that's exciting to a lot of people.

That's why there's so many fans of SpaceX.

They're fans of Musk's brusqueness and just sort of, like, can-do attitude.

They find that inspiring, and I think they're willing to follow that idea to its logical conclusion, even if it's going to kill people, which is something that Musk has been very clear about, like...

This is rocket science for a reason.

Yeah, and experts have told me, too, like, 'Look, when we launch these missions, people are going to die.'

Like, there's no bones about it.

Musk has said it.

I'm saying it.

This is incredibly risky.

You know, there's so many unknowns.

It's so dangerous.

Like, it is going to happen.

People are going to die.

All right.

Dave Mosher.

Thanks so much.

Thank you.

The impact of technology, the Internet and social media on every aspect of society today is a topic of great debate.

P.W. Singer, author of 'LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media,' joins me now via Google Hangout to discuss the changes in technology and politics with the rising power of social media.

Thanks for joining us.

So first, let's talk a little bit about how'd you come up with this name, 'LikeWar.'

What's a like war?

So LikeWar is, like so much else here, a play on words.

It's about how social media has changed news politics and war, and news politics and war has changed social media for the rest of us.

And what social media has become is the nervous system of the modern world.

It's where we engage in everything from posting our photos of family birthday parties to dating to business, but it's also become like a war zone, and a war zone that the combatants range from actual terrorist groups to digital marketers to political campaigns, you name it.

And what they're all trying to do is hack not the network itself the way you might think of cyber war, but rather hack the people on the network through a mix of likes and lies, driving ideas viral to achieve their goal.

And their goal isn't just to win power on the Internet.

It's to use it to win power in the real world, whether it's to win a presidential election or if it's a story of ISIS to use social media to recruit people to join it, to help it seize an Iraqi city.

Or if it's Taylor Swift, to win power at the game of celebrity.

So how does this roll out?

I mean, is there a pattern?

Is there a formula for... or are there necessary preconditions where some of these campaigns are more successful than others?

That's actually one of the most surprising things that came out of the research is when we were looking at these wildly diverse groups, when something went viral, when they achieved their goal, it had the same kind of attributes, the same characteristics.

So for example, the winners of the Internet are those that have mastered the power of narrative, the power of emotion.

They'd figured out that the Internet allows both mass communication, but also one-on-one.

So they were doing both inundation, but simultaneously experimentation.

There's also a feature known as planned authenticity, which sounds like a little bit of a contradiction, but it's a tactic that both Taylor Swift and ISIS's top recruiter used.

They would... It really was them, and they would interact directly with their targets, be it a fan who is sad because her boyfriend broke up with her, or it's someone who feels disconnected and is searching for a new identity.

But they would do it in full knowledge that the rest of the world was watching.

So it allows them to individually communicate, but mass scale because these rules are out in the open for everyone to watch, everyone know is learning, and so they're copycatting each other.

Not only are the early winners, you know, a extremist group recruiter are copying what a celebrity does, but now, for example, the US military that was once behind is now copycatting the Russian troll tactics that worked against the US in 2016.

How does all of this impact our notion of what a fact is or what truth is?

That's maybe one of the scariest parts of this in that the networks were created not to reward veracity but virality.

That's how they were designed.

They are for-profit mechanisms.

They're run by companies that want to make money and have shareholders that judge them in that way, and so they're designed to draw us in and to make us want to click more and share more.

And unfortunately, lies spread further and faster for a variety of reasons.

One is that they can be designed for that network in a way that the truth cannot, but also there is our own mentality that we bring into this space.

There are certain things that we kind of mentally react to, and again, lies touch on that.

For example, the power of emotion is very strong, but the strongest emotion online is anger.

There's also a phenomenon known as a homophily, which is love of self, and it plays out online.

It's one of the reasons we kind of cluster into communities, and then what become almost like tribes where we judge our identity, and we judge the truth itself by being exposed to other people that think like us.

It used to be that politicians or people who justified their actions would look to social movements and say, you know, there's a groundswell of opinion.

There are people taking to the streets.

There's such clear public support for, let's say, a Supreme Court nominee or an ad campaign, but what you're saying is that even those things can be manipulated so that we're seeing a distorted, well, reality on the ground, but what we thought was real was actually manufactured.

We live in a world where attention is power online, and online power can be turned into real-world power.

Whether it is shaping the election of a president to shaping the emergence of a terrorist group to shaping the marketing of what movie you want to go see.

And in that space, that online attention can be manipulated.

It can be steered.

It can be created, and there are all sorts of different means to do it, whether it is false accounts, sock puppets, which have been used by everything from disinformation warriors based in Russia to political campaigns to a movie, trying to sell movies.

I'm giving you real-world examples of all of this.

Or it might be bots, which are artificial voices.

They're machines that, on scale, help drive the algorithms that steer things into your news feed.

They make something appear more popular than they are not.

These false accounts can measure not just in terms of the ones, the tens, the hundreds, but in some cases, the hundreds of thousands.

And so you can see -- this is often known as astroturfing -- where you create the appearance of a grassroots movement out of nothing.

But again, what's important is if it takes on online power, it can then become real, and we've seen example after example of that.

And that's where we have to understand the shifts that come out of this, if we want to deal with it.

The book is called the 'LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media.'

P.W. Singer, thanks for joining us.

Appreciate it.

Thank you.


In an effort to save lives, firefighters in Syracuse, New York, are utilizing the latest technology to fight fires.

Let's take a look at how Engine One Company is testing new equipment like high-tech thermal imaging drones.

Take a look.

[ Engines running ]


I'm the captain of Engine Company Three.

I work on shift with a crew of three firefighters, so I am an Engine Company captain that works the lines with the fire department.

I also am the program coordinator as we're getting our drone program up and running.

Why it is important to utilize the best and most advanced technology in this line of work?

So really for us, time makes a big difference in a lot of things that we do.

Once we're on scene, the faster were able to deploy our resources, the faster we're able to deliver medical care, or get in and put out a fire.

That time makes a big difference, and all of the little things that happen to save time make a big difference in the end.

When thinking about these new methods and new technologies and stuff, what do you look for?

Like, an instance, what did you look for in the drone to know that it could help do what you do?

So for the drone, that was really balancing what the fire department's mission is and what that technology could bring in.

So we knew, for example, thermal imaging was going to be an important thing for us.

There's a lot of technology out there in the cameras.

We do use thermal imaging on our frontline rigs.

We use that every fire we go to.

There was a lot of drone technology that did use thermal imaging and a lot of drone technology that didn't.

So we really had to evaluate the drone platforms and then the camera that came with it and the photography aspect of it, how that would work best for our mission.




Arms unfolded and locked.

All right.

Unfolded and locked.

The platform that we went with was the Yuneec, and it's the H520, and really the reason we went with that one is the camera on it is a CGOET.

That camera gave us the best combination of still photography, video and thermal imaging.

One of the things that really led us down the path of selecting that platform to carry that camera was the fact that we could see the thermal imaging picture in picture with a standard video feed.

It has a dual camera system.

It's called a CGOET.

That allows us to take up to 20-megapixel still shots, 1080p video, and it also has a camera that allows for low-set, low-light video.

Says it sees about approximately 20 times better than the human eye.

We're allowed to fly it, in some areas, up to 400 feet above any incident where we never had a vantage point 400 feet above any incident before.


Let our viewers have an understanding of what the foam is, how it works and why it helps in our type of climate here in this region.

So really, we use two different foams.

We use a class A foam.

The class A foam is used on all of our fire apparatus, all of our engines, all of our pumpers.

It adds a surfactant to the water, and it also gives it that foaming capability, and as we're overhauling a fire, it becomes really important, again, to get that water in and to keep that from rekindling or furthering that fire extension.

The other foam that we use that's carried by our hazmat team is a class B foam, and that's used for hydrocarbons, petroleums, any kind of spill along those lines.

It's a film forming, so it puts a film over top of those liquids.

If it is on fire, it'll smother that fire, and it has a cooling effect through the application of the water-foam mixture.


Those that are in the upper ranks, that have... are veterans of this job and have been doing it for a long time, is it then sometimes challenging to translate the ideas of new technologies?

There is a lot of openness to it.

However, we are rooted in tradition, so just that, you know, even though technology has improved the materials we work with and improved our tools, a lot of those still resemble fire fighting of old.

We still send water down the hose.

So specifically with the drone, once we were able to show people physically what its capabilities were, I think that opened up a lot of opportunity for people to say, 'Okay. There really is some different mission sets,' and we can start to think about how to integrate it into what we do a little bit differently.

So the training exercise that we conducted was very useful to say, 'Here's the hands-on physical and visual description of what this is,' so people can really see it firsthand.

I would say that, for me, any technology that helps make our job safer, any technology that would have an impact on firefighters' being able to go home at the end of their shift, anything that would help reduce line-of-duty deaths, any technology that comes along that way, that's a positive for us.


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 then, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by...