SciTech Now Episode 608

In this episode of SciTech Now, sailing into space on sunlight, combating cross-border water pollution, mastering broadcast technology, and rapid stroke technology.


Coming up, sailing into space on sunlight...

Particles of light don't have any mass, but they have momentum.

...combating cross-border water pollution...

It's one of the biggest environmental disasters that our country suffers every single year.

...mastering broadcast technology...

You're not just coming in here and learning how to use a camera.

You're really learning how to work with people, and there are so many, different, you know, skills you'll get from this class.

...RAPID stroke technology.

It's estimated that 2 million neurons are lost every minute during a stroke.

Speed is of the essence.

It's all ahead.


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.

Using only the power of sunlight, a small spacecraft, called LightSail, is now circling the Earth, the first ever to use this technology.

It's a crowd-funded project from the nonprofit group The Planetary Society, headed by Bill Nye, and if it succeeds, LightSail may dramatically lower the cost of spaceflight.

Loren Grush is a senior reporter for who specializes in space news, and she's covering the LightSail mission.

Thanks for joining us.

So, how do we -- How does something get propelled by light?

Right. So, particles of light don't have any mass, but they have momentum, and if you have a reflective thin sail, and you have a spacecraft in space, theoretically... Well, now it's been shown that this light can actually push onto that material, and that can be used to propel you through space, and it's actually a really neat form of propulsion because normally, when you send a spacecraft into orbit, if you want to maneuver it through space, you equip it with thrusters that use chemicals, and that makes it heavy, and it can be very expensive, but this is kind of a new technique that doesn't require any fuel.

Instead, all you need is a very thin piece of material that can act like a sail.

Okay. And how -- What's... You know, we kind of think about a sail in the context of a sailboat.

It has a pretty tall mast, and it's got a ship this big, and the breeze can push it.

Well, what's the kind of ratio here?

If it's the size of a wine bottle, how big does the sail have to be versus the size of a car?


So particularly for LightSail 2, they have a small CubeSat, and that's a type of standardized satellite that's about the size of a cereal box, and then their sail, when deployed, is about the size of a boxing ring.

So you do definitely need something quite large for this to actually be workable, and then for the next month or so, what they'll do is they'll take their satellite, and when they approach the Sun, they turn it so that the sail is facing the sunlight, get a bit of a push, and then they use that to slightly raise their orbit each time around the Earth.

Okay. And what happens when it -- Does it ever go on another side of the Earth where the Sun is not?

Right. So, once they have used the Sun to raise their orbit, then they'll turn head-on, or I guess perpendicular to the Sun, wait until they come back around again, and once they're at the Sun, turn so that it's facing the Sun and then come back.

So it's like a bit of a dance in orbit where they're twisting and turning.

So it's similar to how a sailor would navigate if they have to go up against the breeze.

Right, but they're using the particles of the Sun as their wind.

It's not technically the solar wind.

It's actually the light, but, yes, it's the same kind of technique.

So if we wanted an actual ship with humans in it to be propelled by this, that would require an enormous LightSail, right?

So that kind of decreases a little bit of the practicality of it.

Right. I don't think it's -- This kind of propulsion wouldn't really be practical for human spaceflight.

It really gives an option to small satellite operators perhaps, you know, research organizations, universities that maybe don't have a lot of money to spend on a spacecraft but want to send some kind of satellite into orbit, and then they don't want to equip it with thrusters but maybe, 'Oh, we can add a sail and use it to stay in orbit a little bit longer or propel small things all the way to the Moon,' and then of course you have much more ambitious ideas of using a giant laser to propel a solar sail all the way to Alpha Centauri.

Not sure if that is actually workable, but there are all sorts of different types of applications for this, and I think this is just the first step showing that, you know, the smallest possible scenario can be done.

So in this laser scenario, we would be basically shooting that sail with the type of photons to push that all the way, so that would be the sort of accelerant to get it going?

It'd be a huge array of lasers on the ground at Earth shooting towards this solar sail, speeding it up to about 1/4 the speed of light, which --


Yeah, quite ludicrous speeds, but like I said, you know, people are working on that to see if that's even possible.

There are a lot of caveats that might make it, you know, not a practical mission, but we shall see.

And what about the kind of initial thrust that is necessary?

I mean, obviously these satellites would get thrown up there with a rocket, right?


And then they would kind of expand when it's up there, and then what it gives it that initial propulsion either to orbit or to head toward Mars?

So it's exactly what you said -- you send it up with a rocket first.

The rocket propels it to the speed to get it into orbit, and then with LightSail, what they did is, once it was in orbit around the Earth a few times, then they deployed the sail with this mechanism that they had developed at the Planetary Society, and that's when they started twisting and turning with a momentum wheel inside of the spacecraft in order to get that push from the Sun.

So somebody down here controls what's happening with the sail, or they can automate it, or they can...

Exactly, yeah.

Got it.

Loren Grush from thanks so much.

Thank you for having me.

♪♪ ♪♪

In San Diego, California, environmental groups are working to fix cross-border water pollution.

As we learn in this next segment, the pollution is causing problems on both sides of the border.

Wild Coast's Paloma Aguirre stands just a few hundred yards north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

She's in Goat Canyon.

It's one of five places where sewage-tainted water from Mexico flows freely into the United States.

It's catastrophic.

For anybody who doesn't know this area or about this issue, it's very simple.

It's one of the biggest environmental disasters that our country suffers every single year.

And now with climate change forecasting more intense storm events, we're going to see this problem exacerbated over time.

Goat Canyon is actually a success story of sorts.

Aguirre is standing beside two large catch basins that keep sediment from swamping wetlands in a nearby state park.

Whenever it rains, it's a canyon.

It drains.

The Los Laureles Creek flows across the border and into this area.

There's a pollution collector nearby that routes tainted water flow to the International Wastewater Sewage Treatment Plant.

That facility was built to help treat cross-border flows during dry weather.

Meanwhile, these catch basins keep sediment out of sensitive habitat just a few hundred yards away.

One key feature is the small fence that reaches across this basin.

These are the only types of trash booms in the entire Tijuana River Valley.

They're highly effective especially for very -- for highly floatables.

As you can see, there's a lot of plastic bottles, there's a lot of foam.

And that is because, in Mexico, in the state of Baja California, and in the city of Tijuana, they don't have a formal recycling program.

What happens if this barrier is not here and these plastics and the tires and the sediment reach the wetlands that are just over the hill there?

I mean, we had a case where there was a construction project in Tijuana, so they just cut the hillside there.

There was no plan for sediment control, and all of that excess sediment destroyed about -- I think it was between 30 and 40 acres of wetland and salt marsh habitat, so it's incredibly detrimental to the system, and obviously plastic input into the ocean.

Marine debris is one of the biggest challenges we will face in the next decade or two.

We have studies that overwhelmingly, you know, come to consensus that we'll have more plastics in the ocean than fish by 2050.

The catch basins and trash booms were put in place by state officials to protect sensitive habitat at Border Field State Park, and Aguirre says there are lessons here for other locations in the Tijuana River Valley.

Just a short distance to the east, the bridge over Dairy Mart Road separates a wide, sweeping valley and more rugged river habitat.

This sturdy concrete structure was built after flooding washed out the old bridge in the 1990s.

This is the point where the river forest or the riparian habitat begins, so a lot of the trash and tires that are carried by the storm flows become trapped in the vegetation, and whatever is not trapped makes its way downstream into the estuary and ultimately into the ocean.

On this side of the bridge, the river valley is open, but this bucolic stretch of land changes dramatically when rain drenches the region.

A small trickle of a river during dry times can become a raging torrent of swirling pollution.

When there's a strong storm event, this could be completely covered in water, and the river can be following at a rate of a billion gallons of water per day, most of which is completely sewage-tainted and polluted.

Aguirre would like to see some of the lessons from Goat Canyon applied here.

She says catch basins could capture wet-weather sewage flows, sediment, and trash.

She says the International Wastewater Plant on this side of the border and Tijuana's sewage system frequently falls short.

There's a pump station right at the border that is capturing all of that flow and sending it south from us, preventing that flow from coming across the border.

The problem is that pump station breaks down all the time because it gets clogged with sediment, because it gets clogged with trash.

So some of those -- when that pump station fails and some of those flows could be captured by the sediment basin...

Aguirre says the tainted water that currently fouls the ocean and forces health officials to close South County beaches could be held until it's treated.

Federal officials say a lack of funding keeps them from building that infrastructure, but local critics say there is a lack of will.

That's why Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, the Port of San Diego, California and Surfrider San Diego are suing the federal government.

They hope the courts compel the International Boundary and Water Commission to stop the cross-border sewage flows that pollute U.S. waters.


What makes up most of the cosmos?

Not stars or planets or even atoms.

It's something scientists call dark energy, and so far, no one has a good handle on what it actually is.

Dark energy, first discovered in 1998, is an enigmatic pressure pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster clip.

Scientists suspect it began flexing its muscles around 5 billion years ago.

Beyond that, we know very little.

Learning more about dark energy is one of the primary reasons NASA is building WFIRST, a new space telescope whose measurements will help us hone in on this mysterious cosmic component.

Without a better understanding of dark energy, our knowledge of the past and future evolution of the universe is incomplete.

WFIRST will tackle the dark energy problem using different yet complementary wide-field surveys.

A key aspect of them is a measurement called redshift.

Because space itself is expanding, the farther we look, the faster galaxies are moving away from us.

The results in a measurable shift in an object's light toward redder colors.

This redshift indicates how fast the expanding universe is carrying galaxies away from us.

If we can also figure out a galaxy's distance by other methods, we can use both pieces of information to measure how the universe expanded while the galaxy's light was traveling to us.

WFIRST will map out the positions and distances of millions of galaxies.

This will allow astronomers to see how the distribution of galaxies has changed, revealing how dark energy has evolved over cosmic time.

An alternative way to measure dark energy is by using exploding stars called type 1a supernovas.

These blasts are caused by the total destruction of a white dwarf star, and each one emits similar amounts of light, but the farther away they are, the fainter the explosions look.

By measuring how bright type 1a supernovas appear to be, we've a way to measure their distances.

It was by comparing supernovae redshifts to their apparent brightness that astronomers discovered dark energy.

These studies show that explosions at greater redshifts were dimmer than they should be in any model where the expansion of the universe was not speeding up.

WFIRST will study thousands of explosions reaching to even greater distances to measure dark energy's influence over time.

A quirk of the early universe provides another way to pin down dark energy.

In its first 1/2 million years, the universe consisted of a hot, dense expanding fluid.

Small density changes in the fluid excited sound waves that traveled throughout it.

Although the waves, called baryonic acoustic oscillations, eventually ceased, astronomers have observed their faint imprint in the way that galaxies cluster together.

This provides another way to measure galaxy distances.

WFIRST will measure how this imprint changes through cosmic history, allowing astronomers to map the expansion of the universe in more detail and probe dark energy's effects over time.

With each technique cross-checking the other, WFIRST surveys will peer deeply into dark energy, providing important data to help scientists figure out what exactly it is and how it will determine the ultimate fate of the universe.

The Broadcast Technology Program at Mountain View High School in Idaho is helping students develop new technical and professional skills as students work to meet the demands of daily deadlines.

We get the story through our American Graduate Getting to Work initiative, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

High school career programs offer many worlds to explore, from auto tech and veterinary sciences to manufacturing and the culinary arts.

At Mountain View High School in the West Ada School District, they're even exploring the world of television through a broadcast program that teaches all the skills for this production trade and so much more.

Starting with freshman year, we learned the basics of video editing and camera technique, cinematography, and from there, we've worked up our way and slowly learned more stuff that's more technical like lighting and editing, color correction, color grading, and once I hit the Broadcast Program, it became less about your personal skills and more about, you know, how your skills can apply to benefit the school.

This morning, we'll get started in the back.

We're gonna do our announcements.

Our primary task is, we need to get out the information each morning to the school as far as the daily announcements, and we try to do it in a professional way, but also, you need to keep those folks entertained, as well, so it's challenging.

It takes a lot of people.

It takes somebody running the soundboard, somebody running the tricaster.

We have two clear comm people who are communicating, one in the production control, and we have another one here on set, and they can kind of communicate different things that need to be told to the anchors, the weatherman, on what they need to adjust while we're in the show.

We've also got somebody on the teleprompter who's, you know, trying to keep it at the steady pace for the anchors.

We have a director who's kind of keeping everyone in charge.

It can be a little stressful sometimes, and we don't get it right on the first time, and you have to deal with it, but we have a product that needs to happen every day, and we have deadlines, and so this is a job.

Good morning, Mavericks.

Today is Wednesday, October 10, 2018.

I'm Chance Ladamer.

And I'm Micah Gomez.

These are your morning announcements.

You know, you're not just coming in here and learning how to use a camera.

You're really learning how to work with people, and there's so many different, you know, skills you'll get from this class, you know, that can apply to different things -- you know, setting up a stage, really directing people to complete a job.

We really get out and get especially those seniors out in the community.

We do a lot of things, side projects for the district, and it gives the students the opportunity to work in a professional environment and teach them how to work with other professionals and work with real-life equipment, and they're able to take that and do tremendous things after school.

I think after high school, it's going to be really important to have these skills in broadcasting and filmmaking, you know, not just on-set but off-set.

It's really important to work and collaborate with people no matter what your job is, and I think that's the biggest thing I've learned, is that you can't do anything alone.

You have to collaborate with people.

It very much is a team effort, but the most important thing is that it teaches these students that they have to get along, and it teaches them to be professional and kind of get out of their shell, and sometimes it stretches them.

Well, I've been really shy through high school, but I think this program has really opened me up to being more open to talking to people and working with others, and I think, you know, this class has made me way more organized because we'll have so many people bringing in different footage from different sources, and if you lose it all, you know, it's really hard because you usually -- You typically have a deadline.

I get the opportunity as a teacher oftentimes to take these folks from when they're freshmen and see them grow and learn which is really neat, you know, and a kid like Justin, he was making Lego movies when he was in seventh grade.

Yep, so I've been interested in film since I was a little kid.

I was making little Lego movies, and since middle -- or, once middle school hit, I got more interested into live-action film and acting, writing, directing.

I think up a lot of crazy stories in my mind, and I just have to tell them somehow, and, you know, I'm not very good with my words and writing and descriptive writing, so I really just like to show it off in film and, you know, it's been really cool for me to be able to tell my stories like that.

All right.

So, in your packets, you will have your subgenre.

So, in a 48-hour film festival, basically filmmakers are given a packet with a bunch of different requirements that need to be in their film.

We got slasher as the subgenre.

The prop we're going to be using is clamps, and the line of dialogue we have to include is, 'Does that hurt? No?

How about now?'

So we'll have to write, shoot and edit it all and turn it in by Sunday night.

It's like, so you say the first one, like, 'Why would you do that?' and the second one, like, 'Why would you do that?'

And, like, as you're saying, like, 'Do,' I want her to be, like, pulling your head back and then slamming it, and the thing you want to emphasize most is just the top of your head because your hair is going to really sell it.

You don't need to actually slam anything.

All right.

You guys ready?

And action.

Why would you do that?

Why would you do that?!

And cut.


That looked good.

You don't really learn how to make a horror film in broadcasting, so I think this whole weekend before Horror 48 Film Festival, I just spent the whole time either watching horror movies or watching people's advice on how to make horror movies.

You know, that's most of my films are these 48-hour film festivals is because, you know, it's really hard to coordinate time to get everyone scheduled together, but when you have one whole set weekend that, you know, is based towards nothing else but making a film, you can really actually get a lot done.

They're learning while they're doing, which is important, but learning is fun, and I think you can -- you should be learning your whole life, and whatever that might be.

I think what I really want my end goal to be is working on, you know, a storytelling-type set where, you know, everyone is there for the same purpose.

They're here for a job where it's pre-recorded, not live, and it's just made to entertain people.

And action.

If you're looking for new worlds to explore, talk with your college and career counselor about career programs in your school district, and check out our Idaho Public Television American Graduate website to learn more.

This program was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of American Graduate, Getting to Work, a public media initiative to help communities prepare all students for success in school and careers.

♪♪ ♪♪

One of the healthcare systems in San Antonio, Texas, is the first to use what's called RAPID stroke technology.

Rather than going to a radiology room to read a patient's CT scans, RAPID stroke transmits scans directly to a doctor's cellphone.

Here's the story.

When we looked at this before, this was the more traditional way to look at imaging for any patient.

You're in the hospital, and you're looking at it on a computer.

When a person suffers a stroke, time and speed are of the essence in treating them.

The medical team here at St. Luke's Baptist Hospital in San Antonio is utilizing a technology called RAPID stroke technology where doctors can get imagery and information right on their smartphone.

This is an e-mail that came across at 4:23 a.m. last night.

It's an 82-year-old female, and you can see we're getting a CTA, which is a map of the blood vessels in the brain very similar to what we could get on the computer.

It's estimated that 2 million neurons are lost every minute during a stroke, so speed is of the essence, and, you know, we're constantly looking at areas where we can cut down on time and get the patient treated as soon as possible.

♪♪ And it starts with EMS.

So it starts with EMS identifying that it's a stroke and getting the patient to the right hospital.

♪♪ A stroke is kind of a general term that describes any vascular insult to the brain.

Most commonly, it's being used to describe an artery that's blocked, and that part of that brain is lacking oxygen because of that blocked artery.

♪♪ We can look at the patient from the front, and we can also look at the blood vessels from the side.

Doctor, once you've identified that a patient is a candidate for surgery, what's the next step?

Right. So, we get them over here to the cath lab immediately.

This is a biplane angiography suite, and we get the patient on the table.

We access their arterial system by putting a catheter into their femoral artery in the groin, and then we track that catheter all the way up the aorta, all the way up the carotid artery, and then all the way into the brain, and we get that catheter to the occlusion, and then we use various techniques to get the blood clot out.

♪♪ And so I've had experiences where I've been -- I've received an e-mail, a Rapid e-mail.

I've seen a large vessel occlusion, an occlusion that I think that I can potentially help.

I haven't heard about the patient yet, and I'm able to just walk across the hallway to the emergency room before they even call me, and so I'm now aware of that patient, and I'll be looking out for a new e-mail on my phone and to be ready just in case.


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.

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