SciTech Now Episode 607

In this episode of SciTech now, what’s ahead in the 5G future, sustainable tree harvesting, tackling the high skilled technical jobs and the unisexual mole salamander.



Coming up... what's ahead in the 5G future?

It will be the enabling technology for things that so far, even with 4G, have not been possible.

Sustainable tree harvesting.

These loggers rely on this forest just as much as we do.

Tackling high-skill technical jobs.

It does come down to reading diagnostic codes, data communication, and very technical pathways.

The unisexual mole salamander.

They are virtually able to sort of flip-flop between sexual and asexual reproduction.

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 and technology and innovation.

Let's get started.

In 2018, there were estimates that 10 billion devices were connected to the Internet.

It's known as the Internet of Things, and, astonishingly, it's expected to have more than 60 billion devices by the year 2025.

Our current 4G, or fourth generation, systems which handle all the data those devices are exchanging is going to need an upgrade, and 5G is on the way.

It's one of the most talked-about topics for members of the world's largest organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.

That is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, known as the IEEE.

Babak Beheshti is an IEEE member, and he's also the dean of the New York Institute of Technology's College of Engineering and Computing Sciences.

Thanks for being with us.


You know, 5G is almost like the Holy Grail when people start to describe it.

'Oh, my God, you're gonna be able to do all these amazing things!'

So let's rattle off some of the things that you hope that 5G does enable that we can't do quite yet.


So, 5G has been touted as being a new network architecture and new radio interface, but also it's been touted as a new era.

So I guess to your question, what we're seeing coming from technology forecasters and standards-body spokespeople?

The opportunities that the 5G ecosystem will bring forward will change the workplace, will change how we get entertained, and it will be the enabling technology for things that so far, even with 4G, have not been possible.

And this is all because, what, the pipes are getting bigger so that information can flow between objects faster?

So that -- So it's a combination of multiple enabling technologies.

Some of them are not new technologies, but they get incorporated into 5G, and some of them new.

So absolutely a higher data rate and lower latency, but a hundred times less latency response time as compared to 4G --

And that's the time it takes between places.

So if I was sending you information, how long --

And a response.

And a response.


But in addition to that, there's a whole bunch of other enabling technologies that would bring that forward.

For example, people may have heard terms such as multi-axis edge computing.

The idea behind edge computing is that now, if you want to have a situation where you need to communicate with the network but very quickly get computation done and responses back to you, you don't want your signal to travel through the whole network.

So you put processing power and storage at the edge of the cloud, edge of the network, so that the end user can communicate with it.

For example, for self-driving cars, that would be a fantastic technology.

Network slicing -- that has been around, but now it's being associated with 5G, the idea being that you, as an end user or an enterprise, will purchase, rent a segment of the entire network with a particular set of characteristics -- certain bandwidth, certain latency, and so forth, quality of service -- and, to you, the network looks that way, a certain configuration.

The very same hardware infrastructure would look completely different to me as a different end user because I lease a slice of that network with a completely different end use in mind.

You could be using it for fast video streaming because you are doing a real-time video streaming from a concert.

I would be doing massive machine-to-machine, Internet of Things -- many, many sensors within a smart city, communicating with one another.

What needs to happen for cars to be able to get and send information to another car that's right in front of it, basically if two cars are both self-driving?

The self-driving car obviously has to be well-aware of its surroundings.

So what that does mean, that means that massive amount of data will be transmitted from a car to the network so that other cars could benefit from the information.

That means what all the cameras are sensing, all the radar is sensing, all of that data is going --

Lots of video, lots of other sensor inputs and so forth, but in addition to that, a lot of computation have to be done.

So, for example, you would use machine learning and AI technologies to extract features from the video streams that you're receiving.

So that can be done now in an edge-computing infrastructure.

So it doesn't have to go all the way up into the sort of deep recesses of the cloud.

It can actually just go to the closest kind of -- not quite cell tower but --

It could be a cell tower, actually.

That's coming, and that computation sits right there.

So it's the network slicing, it's beam forming, for example.

So now with MIMO, multi-input, multi-output antennas, now if they have multiple vehicles, you know, on a road, the cell tower can communicate with each of them individually through a beam, effectively, that follows them.

So that allows for less interference between multiple communications, but also it allows for a higher speed of vehicles while staying in communication.

For example, 5G, the IMT-2020 standards require a maximum speed of 500 kilometers per hour.

So think about it -- could be traveling at, what, 350 miles per hour without losing connection.

So, now, thinking about losing connection and thinking about beams, what about when it rains or snows?

What about if you're trying to go through a tree?

In the millimeter-wave radio frequencies that we're talking about, radio waves don't bend around corners, which means that they're line-of-sight, which means that you're going to have many, many more cell sites or antennas to really have line-of-sight, less-than-1,200-feet interface to the end users.

Now, 1,200 feet, that's fine for a big dense city like New York.

But once you get out into the countryside, are you gonna have a cell tower every 1,200 feet?

You know what I mean?

Is there a gap here between how rural communities might perceive or have access to 5G versus urban communities?

Now, in rural, lower-density areas, what I would envision is that there would be reliance on 4G technologies to allow for longer-distant transmission, and then marry it with 5G and the rest of the network.

The beauty of it is that 5G has built into it to be a heterogeneous network so it can interact with non-5G networks.

How far away is all this?

I mean, are we talking about two years out, five years out, until we see this being rolled out?


So, in earnest, it has started since 2018.

You've been hearing 5G here and there.

So what have been so far being rolled out in the U.S., for example, by Verizon and AT&T in multiple cities -- San Diego, Minneapolis, Houston, et cetera -- these are trials, mainly fixed-wireless, so no mobile, and all of them share the characteristic of being non-stand-alone 5G, which means that your handset, your device will be 5G but it's using a 4G network.


So the ramp-up will begin, I suspect, mid 2021.

Release 16 will be released March of 2020, so by the time the compliant equipment is manufactured and tested and certified, so about two years.

'21 to '23 will be the ramp-up, would be the commercial rollout, and I would say big time would be probably mid 2023 and beyond.

So we have a few years behind.


Babak Beheshti from the IEEE.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you.


The most comprehensive data set from NASA's Kepler Mission will help researchers discover how many Earth-sized planets are in our galaxy.

Using the first four years of Kepler observations in the constellation of Cygnus, the planet-candidate catalog contains the best characterized data yet.

The data contains 219 new planet candidates.

10 of these are less than twice the size of the Earth and orbit in their star's habitable zones.

The habitable zone is a range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

The data will be used by scientists to help determine the frequency and variety of planets in the galaxy.

A recent discovery using Kepler data showed that small planets come in two distinct size classes -- the Earth and super-Earth-size class and the slightly larger mini-Neptune-size class.

The result shows that nature commonly makes rocky planets up to about 75% bigger than Earth.

Kepler has identified more than 4,000 planet candidates beyond the solar system and 2,335 of which have been confirmed as planets.

Kepler's search for planets continues as part of an ongoing study of different regions of space.

Future studies could reveal a vast range of planet demographics and help enable the search for life.

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The timber industry has been a mainstay of Michigan's 'Blue Economy' for nearly two centuries, but it almost disappeared.

Detroit Public Television's Great Lakes Bureau trekked to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and brought back this story about how sustainable tree harvesting has revived a historic industry.

Sustainable agriculture is part of the Blue Economy, and that includes trees.

Nick Monkevich is a forester.

His job is to manage how trees are harvested, like a farmer for forests.

I got into forestry because I like the woods.

I like to hunt, I like to fish, I like to camp, and, to me, it is a big deal to make sure that we do things responsibly.

It wasn't always that way.

The timber industry has been a mainstay of Michigan's Blue Economy for nearly two centuries, but it almost disappeared, and jobs and a way of life were threatened.

Charles Lundquist knows all about the history of logging in the U.P.

Originally, they were just some men who went out and chopped down trees.

White pine of course was the tree they were really after through most of the 19th century.

But as logging became more organized, you had logging camps that began to emerge.

With logging camps came industrial logging.

Millions of pine trees, worth more than all the gold in California, were clear-cut.

After a century of industrial logging, the once massive forests were reduced to a fraction of their original size.

You see pictures and the way it looked, and it was really barren -- really barren.

There were just stumps, no trees.

They clear-cut -- they cut every tree down that was going to be of any value to them.

And it was of course at that time that people began to think, 'What do we do now?

You know, the trees are gone.'

Throughout the 20th century, environmentalists and government agencies worked hard to restore forest habitats throughout the Great Lakes Basin, planting millions of trees.

But most of the land in the Great Lakes region is in private hands or owned by timber companies.

Environmentalists, foresters, and loggers must work together to develop land-management plans that allow for sustainable timber harvesting and for the preservation of the natural environment.

There's an awful lot of wildlife, birds included, that take up residence in the Upper Peninsula.

And, yes, it does speak to the quality of the woods and the water of our area.

Areas that are managed by foresters like Nick Monkevich.

These forests up here in the Upper Peninsula, they produce high-dollar, high-value logs that actually sometimes get exported to other countries, you know, to be turned.

Those are really special, special logs.

It's not just foresters that have a role to play in keeping these trees around for generations to come.

If you drive the highways in this area, you're bound to run across some big logging truck on its way to the mill.

So there's an awful lot of employment in the woods.

In Michigan, the forestry industry generates over $16 billion in economic activity, and it employs over 70,000 people in jobs like logging and transportation and at lumber and paper mills.

For modern woodsmen, sustainability is a smart decision both environmentally and economically.

These loggers rely on this forest just as much as we do.

A lot of these loggers, these are family-owned businesses.

Some of these are third-generation family loggers, and their kids are coming up in it, too.

So they want to make sure that there's wood to cut, too.

And that's what forestry is all about.

You know, we believe in cutting trees, but we also believe in trees.

That's the balance.

Now the forests are back, and they're a vital part of the Blue Economy.

University of Alaska Anchorage Community & Technical College offers skills-based automotive and diesel programs that prepare students for jobs in the transportation and power industries.

We get the details in this story from our American Graduate: Getting to Work initiative, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I remember as a kid, my mom would find little radios and engines and stuff at garage sales that was already broke, and she'd bring it home, and I would take it all apart just to see how it worked.

I never thought that I was going to pursue it as a career.

I thought it was just gonna be a hobby for me, and I decided to come back to school.

I got my associate's in automotive technology.

Right after I graduated, I already had a job.

I was already working for a Chevy dealership.

I got out of the industry for a little bit, and when my wife finally said, 'You need to get back to work,' I went out and put in applications at just about everywhere I could think of.

And by the end of the week, I had nine job offers with very good wages attached to them, and at that point, I kind of got to decide where I wanted to work.

I was telling somebody today that I'd probably get two to three job offers per month, on average, of people wanting me to come work for them because it's an in-demand field.

It's everywhere.

It's more than just changing tires, just changing oil.

It does come down to reading diagnostic codes, data communication, and very technical pathways.

I like to fix things.

And I like to figure out how things work and why they work that way and how it could be better.

I didn't actually know what I wanted to do for the longest time.

I didn't decide till my senior year -- like, 'Rylea, you're graduating in a month.

What do you want to do with your life?'

And I'd much rather be in an engine than sitting at a desk.

I suggest to anybody wanting to get into a more technical field where you're both working with your hands and being able to use your brain a lot and being able to work on new technologies all the time -- this is definitely a good way to go.

[ Horn honks ]

Alaska @ Work is part of American Graduate: Getting to Work, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Meet the unisexual mole salamander.

This species seems like many of the salamanders you may find in ponds in the Midwest, with one major difference -- the mole Salamander only has one sex -- female.

Our partner, 'Science Friday,' brings us the story.

Are you ready to hear a story about sex that you're not gonna believe?

Humans have such a perception of reproduction that's human-centric.

And when that's challenged, it really throws folks for a loop to think of something that doesn't need its own males but crosses the species' boundaries in order to obtain that reproductive material.

What does a world look like with no males or clonal reproduction?

What does that mean from the perspective of these cute little animals?

My name is Rob Denton.

I'm an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Morris.

These salamanders are unbelievable.

They're an all-female group of salamanders that can steal sperm from males of other species.

My name is Katy Greenwald.

I am an associate professor at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

If you think about it, a lineage that's all made up of females can actually grow twice as fast as a lineage that has both males and females.

Numbers-wise, that lineage should eventually swamp out, outcompete, and beat a lineage that has evolved to have both males and females.

We sometimes call this the 'twofold cost of males.'

It costs to make males, and males take away resources that could be used for females.

It's still relatively mysterious why sex evolved and how it's been maintained for so long across so many different species across the tree of life.

The reason that we're so interested in these unisexual Ambystoma salamanders is that they are virtually able to sort of flip-flop between sexual and asexual reproduction.

These various options in terms of how these offspring are produced is, as far as we know, completely globally unique, and it makes this system a really excellent one to look at when sexual reproduction is adaptive versus when asexual reproduction is adaptive.

[ Slow, suspenseful old-Western music plays ]

Imagine you are one of these females.

You come to a wetland in the spring, and you proceed to find a packet of sperm at that wetland that was laid there by a male of a different species.

You require that sperm just to even have eggs, to produce eggs, and lay them.

You do so, and most of your offspring are clones of Mom.

They're exactly the same.

They have all of the same chromosomes, all the same genetic material.

What makes these animals separate and distinct and interesting is the rate at which those other genomes sneak in to the offspring.

You know, typical sexually reproducing organisms are getting one set of their DNA, set of chromosomes from Mom, one set from Dad, and so all of us have two sets of chromosomes.

The unisexual salamanders, we do sometimes get them with two sets, but it's much more common for them to have three or four sets, and we sometimes even find them with five.

Five tends to be about where they max out.

Ohio and Indiana are kind of the epicenter of craziness for the complex because there are actually five different sexual species that they can reproduce with, that they can breed with the males and then potentially incorporate those males' DNA.

It's not only that they have these different potential outcomes, but that even within a single clutch of eggs where those are all siblings, all sisters, you may have actually different types of salamanders being produced.

It's amazing that they have this scenario of having multiple genomes, but I think what puts it into perspective is how distantly related these species are that are sharing this genetic information.

If we were to take a sample of my blood and I had a set of chromosomes from my mother from my father but, in addition, a whole set from a gorilla, from an orangutan, from a chimpanzee, that's the type of evolutionary divergence between these salamanders, but I would be a fully functioning, normal human being.

[ Laughs ]

You have a salamander in here.





Oh, buddy!

[ Laughs ]

Pull the trap out of...

[ Laughs ] Are you kidding me?

What we're setting up here are breeding experiments where we put the unisexual females in with different types of males, and then we genotype the parents and the offspring to see when the male DNA makes it in.

So far, what we've been looking at is whether the female has any preference for a male that's from her same pond versus a male that's from a more distant pond.

And over the last couple of years, we've been running these experiments and are, so far, seeing a pattern where the females are more likely to include the males' DNA if he's from the same pond that she is, versus a pond on the other side of the reserve.

You could imagine that, if you are a unisexual with a lot of blue-spotted DNA and you end up in a pond with a lot of Jefferson salamanders, that's probably a good place to be a Jefferson salamander.

And so, as that female, are you more likely then to add some of those Jefferson's genes to your offspring?

In which case, you're able to potentially grab a whole locally adapted genome and stick it right into your offspring [Chuckles] without splitting it in half.

So, I'm working to establish a collection of these animals that captures their whole diversity across their range, from Kentucky to Maine to Minnesota to Canada.

Some of these people who work for state agencies or wildlife-management areas sample these animals every year, help them cross the road, protect them, educate the public about these animals, without ever really knowing what they have.

How many genomes does it have, and where do they come from?

And so this is a way that we can answer some of those questions and also ask more basic research questions about their evolution, for instance.

The scenario of having these multiple genomes produces some really confusing results.

So, for example, we have studies that show that they can regenerate their tissues faster than sexual species.

At the same time, there are other tests, such as locomotor endurance, where they perform really poorly.

They're very successful.

Across their range, they're often abundant.

Sometimes they can outnumber the sexual species by two to one, three to one at these wetlands.

So we know they're doing well.

We know they've been around for a really long time, but it's really difficult to explain why that is.

These salamanders really are taking advantage of the system, right?

They're all female, so they don't bear that cost of producing males.

But they're occasionally incorporating DNA from other species.

In some ways, it seems like this potentially totally unique evolutionary win-win, which might ultimately let us learn a little bit more about the evolution and maintenance of sexual reproduction.

They defy all boundaries of what we know a species is.

So it raises a lot of interesting questions about what do we care to conserve -- an individual that we know is a blue spotted salamander, or their genetic legacy?

People argue about what a species is.

And these animals are so far from that argument that it's not worth having it.

[ Chuckles ]

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... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪