SciTech Now: Episode 612

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

Coming up, growing meat in a lab instead of on a farm.

You can grow one or you can grow 50,000 of these hamburgers in a very small space.

Next, we continue our exploration of the impact of technology in schools...

My son used to have his phone all the time, and I'd say, 'no more screen time,' and I'd take it away, and he's researching something about some amazing topic that I didn't know anything about.

...using tech to make skyscrapers earthquake-safe.

When the bigger earthquake comes -- and it will -- I would like to be in one of these high-rise buildings.

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.

Hamburgers, steaks, chicken, pork -- all the meat we eat comes from animals raised on farms and ranches.

But scientists have now successfully created meat in a petri dish using cells from those animals.

The goal is twofold -- to make more meat for the rapidly increasing world population, and to reduce methane -- a greenhouse gas that cows produce.

Ainissa Ramirez, scientist and host of the podcast 'Science Underground' is here now to tell us more about how close we are to eating lab-grown meat.

Lab grown meat, right?

That's just -- It's sort of a cultural shift even to think about the idea of meat that's not coming from a farm.

Right.

Not coming from a farm, but coming from a laboratory.

So meaning no cows were involved in the --

Well, the cows were involved because we borrowed their cells.

Okay.

You know, what happens in a cow is when a cow is growing or -- This happens to us all the time.

If we have an injury with a muscle, we have these stem cells that will repair and replenish those muscles.

Now, that process which happens inside of the body, we're now gonna take outside of the body and put into a laboratory, give those cells the proper nutrients and the environment for them to grow.

And nine weeks later, you should have a hamburger.

Scientists would say that cows are very efficient at producing protein.

Yeah.

'Cause they need a lot of space, a lot of resources.

But now what you'll have is you'll have a small container that's in a refrigerator of some sort that's got the proper nutrients, and you can grow one or you can grow 50,000 of these hamburgers in a very small space.

Okay, and what kinds of meat is it limited to?

I mean, can you basically take the cut, so to speak, of the cow, and then say, 'okay, this is the kind of cell that I want?'

Well, it won't look like a steak.

It won't be like a perfect sirloin or things like that.

It'd be more like a hamburger because you don't have the control, at the moment, for cells to grow in a specific way.

But it's about creating that source of protein very, very rapidly.

Now, have you tried any of it?

I haven't tried it.

But I asked about the price.

Now, the price is very expensive.

I mean, it's over a quarter of a million dollars to make a hamburger right now.

That's a bit much.

That's right.

A Quarter Pounder is a quarter-million pounder.

Quarter-million pounder -- exactly.

And it's also because when you think about the burger, you're thinking about the equipment that it takes to build it, so that's what's in the price.

But as it scales up, that price should go down.

Significantly?

I hope so.

I mean, this is driven by forces that say, 'okay, in the long haul, we are actually gonna save a ton of money by doing this this way.'

And really, the ethical question, too.

It's totally eth-- It's -- it's -- it's -- it's the how we treat the animals is definitely one component.

But it's really the green element that we should consider.

You know, cows are very efficient and they produce a lot of gas.

They belch, they -- they produce a lot of gas.

I'll just say that.

And they produce methane, and methane is a greenhouse gas.

And depending on who you read, but it's 3% to about 10% of some of the gases produced are coming from cows.

It's also interesting, as people climb up that sort of economic development ladder, they have protein as an expectation.

I know. I know.

Once of the greatest resource or exports that we have as Americans is our food.

So China and other Asian countries, they don't eat a lot of meat.

But now that we have -- you know, some of the restaurants that we have are going out there, they're getting accustomed to eating meat, so more people want meat.

So we're gonna have to figure how we can make it so it's better for the planet.

And you can't necessarily change everybody's diets already.

I mean, you can't necessarily.

I mean, it might be -- You say, 'everyone,' just wave your magic wand and stop eating meat altogether, but that's not gonna solve our situation.

But we should be eating more vegetables.

I mean, the reports say that we should be eating less meat.

If you can have one less hamburger per week, you're gonna make an impact in terms of reducing your impact.

How far away are we from lab-grown meat being on a grocery store shelf?

On a shelf?

I don't know exactly, 'cause there's still many, many steps that it has to overcome.

It has to go through different agencies that are regulating it.

And it's not there yet.

So a couple years before it goes through that process.

Also, there's a lot of push-back, as you can imagine.

People who are ranchers and cattle owners, they're not too crazy about this.

So there's also gonna be some litigation as well.

'Cause they're saying, 'you can't label that meat.'

You can't label that meat.

Exactly.

They want to make sure that that label is very clear about that.

Yeah, animal meat over here, and then we've got this lab meat over here.

You have to call yourself 'lab meat.'

That's right.

You have to call it something else so that it's not 'beef.'

This is beef.

This is not beef.

This is, you know, cell-based meat or whatever.

I can see the ads now.

Remember the whole 'Beef, It's what's for dinner'?

'Where's the beef?'

And then it's like, 'it's in the cow.

It's from the cow.'

This is not from a lab.

Exactly.

So there's that.

And also there's some people who are saying, 'should this be considered to be a food, which will go through the process very quickly, or should it be considered to be a drug, because it uses a lot of processes that we use to develop drugs.'

And going through drug regulation is a much slower process.

So I think it's gonna be an interesting story to see how this develops.

Ainissa Ramirez, thanks so much.

Thank you.

♪♪ [ Jet engine roars ]

SARP is a NASA internship for undergraduate students who are familiar with science and math and engineering but maybe haven't had a chance to do some these really unique field-research experiences.

What really is cool about SARP is that it gives students from all over the country a chance really get up there and experience Earth Science firsthand.

It takes 28 students from around the United States and splits them into four groups.

So there's two remote sensing groups, and then there's two airborne science groups.

And, so, the students in their groups conduct individual research projects that the mentors help them with and that the faculty oversee.

I'm studying earthquakes there, too.

Specific gases that come out -- carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

So I'm gonna find out how high those levels are.

I'm trying to use ocean remote sensing to see if we can detect plastics in the ocean.

My purpose is to determine where plants are in specific areas thermally instead of just looking at their spectra.

So we can accurately see if the thermal data matches up with the spectra data.

We're going to be exploring how some algae in Lake Elsinore produce toxins, how they're aerosolize, and where they end up going.

I'll be studying nitrogen compounds, gases, and particulates in the San Joaquin Valley.

Over 4 million residents live there, and then the population is increasing rapidly.

And by 2100, the population will increase by, like, 60%. So it's really important understand the impacts on human health.

♪♪

With the cloud being white, having higher albedo, you're causing the chemistry to become faster, so you're going to see an enhancement of aerosol production and chemistry there.

Alright.

When we want to take the sample, we close the outlet and open the can that we're taking the sample into, and we watch the pump drop down to just above zero, hopefully.

Once the pressure goes up to 35, we close the can and open the outlet again, and then we'll later test it in the lab.

It's not the typical commercial aircraft.

It has a lot of experts on the plane.

So you're seeing the gases being analyzed as you're flying in the aircraft and you get to explore all the different parts of the plane and participate in the research.

So it's a great experience.

I've learned the importance of how to read scientific papers and how to get the important information, as well as R and MATLAB, which are two important computer programs for analyzing data.

And all these skills that I'm learning, I'll be able to take to either a graduate program or even industry in the next step.

I'd say the biggest skill is learning how to run a project from start to finish which is gonna be super helpful for graduate school.

And all the data analysis that I'm learning, I feel like I would definitely use later on, no matter what I do.

Earth Sciences affect us every day and having that greater understanding has been invaluable for developing me, not only as a scientist but also just as an environmentally concerned citizen.

When else are you going to get a chance to fly in a NASA DC-8 airplane and work with experimenters and gather data?

It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

♪♪

In Austin, Texas, growing concern over screen exposure has some parents questioning the number of devices in the classroom.

Here's the story.

Move this one in here.

But then the owl shoots off the board.

That's good.

No, it doesn't.

Because then you get to put it anywhere.

Meaghan Edwards thought she made the right choice sending her kids to school in Eanes ISD.

I had read a 'Texas Monthly' article about the school district and how great it was.

And, so, we decided instead of moving back to Houston and maybe doing -- you know, trying to get into a neighborhood there, we would just come here and settle in Austin.

And when she heard about the one-to-one program, she was excited.

I bragged to my in-laws that live in Pittsburgh and said, you know, 'they get to use these iPads, and school's probably the safest place to learn this technology.

And so I don't have to do it at home.'

I don't have to manage screen time or worry about it at home if they're learning it at school.

But after visiting her son's class, her opinion changed.

I went in to be a mystery reader in third grade last year, and I read the kids three or four books, and there was about 10 to 15 minutes left until lunch.

And the teacher just said, 'okay, well, we have 10 minutes till lunch.

Y'all can just use your iPads until it's lunch time.

That's where I saw him playing this game.

I'd rather him sit there and talk to friends and have, you know, some social-emotional learning how to have a conversation than be kind of conked out on a screen.

Edwards now leads a movement to get iPads out of the classroom and EISD.

She's gathered more than 350 signatures from parents who are against using these devices in schools.

Parents who signed the petition are worried about things like screen time, safety, and even stress.

The challenge for our son at that time was, each teacher wanted them to submit homework through the backpack program but also utilize these apps to do work and research and homework, and then separate apps for group projects.

So it was really an information overload.

It's not allowing them to know how to rest.

They don't understand what downtime is.

Parents like Breedlove are worried about how technology has taken over every aspect of kids' lives.

They long for the days when children played outside for hours and had more time for their minds to wander.

When you put them in this technological box and say, 'here's the app I want you to use.

You have to do it within this framework.'

Then it takes away their own ability to connect the dots in their own mind of how to create something or or ingest some concept that they're being taught in physics.

Psychologist and addiction specialist Nicholas Kardaras agrees devices are changing the way kids think.

We've undergone a global seismic shift in not only in the classroom, but how we are as human beings -- how we think, how we interact, how we process information.

What it means to be human has changed entirely in the last 10 to 15 years.

He says a child's brain isn't designed for so much screen time.

A child does not have a fully-developed executive functioning.

So they don't have the ability to manage or moderate their impulsivity in the way that an adult does.

But we're giving them something that's so stimulating and potentially habit forming, and then we're saying, 'but do it for half an hour' or 'do it for an hour.'

But that child doesn't have the neurophysiological apparatus.

To moderate impulsivity

And Kardaras says this has led to some adverse health effects.

We're seeing children and adolescents that have the worst mental health metrics that we've ever seen before.

Highest rates of depression, highest rates of anxiety.

So there is a correlation with -- and actually there's several dozen studies that have shown some of these adverse clinical impacts of screen time.

Kardaras, Breedlove, and Edwards all believe technology should be introduced to children at a later age.

And in some ways the Eanes district agrees.

Yes, kindergartners are given iPads.

But the way a student uses the device evolves with each grade level.

For example iPads aren't allowed to come home until students are in sixth grade.

Each individual child has a login that determines what grade level they are.

And so that gives them the appropriate filters for the Internet.

We have a whitelist where they have Web sites where they are allowed to go to, and then otherwise, they can't go to it.

So that's helpful.

District leaders are concerned about screen time too.

Okay. Hands on top.

Kind of set guidelines of what screen time would make sense developmentally.

We want parents in our community to know, too, that we are absolutely using it for instructional purposes, and that's what we want, and that's what we're monitoring.

EISD says it provides a thoughtful approach to technology, and that introducing kids to tech at a younger age gives them a leg up when they're older.

And media expert Craig Watkins says the ability to introduce kids to technology at a later age is a luxury that's not afforded to all parents.

A lot of this riot is sort of emerged from affluent parents, affluent parents in a city like Austin, affluent parents in Silicon Valley.

I mean, they're obviously coming from a position of privilege.

So when these parents decide -- and at some point, they will decide -- that their kids will need access to smartphones or their kids will need access to computers and to be able to navigate the Internet effectively, they'll be able to provide them with the technology and they'll be able to provide them with the resources and the access to the people and knowledge that allows them to use that technology in more meaningful and influential ways, in terms of their own learning.

EISD parent Karen Hollander supports the one-to-one program because she knows how easy it can be for kids to be left behind.

Right now, if you're on certain sports teams, you don't know what color uniform you're supposed to wear and you don't know if there's a field change if you're not part of the group chat.

and you need to be in the know what's going on.

That's just the world we live in.

I think it makes it extremely difficult for the kids who have limited access to electronics because they're always, sort of, not prepared for what's going on.

And Hollander believes parents have to monitor and understand what their children are using these devices for.

My son used to have his phone all the time, and I say, 'no more screen time,' and I take it away, and he's researching something about some amazing topic that I didn't know anything about.

So he wouldn't be able to get that information for me.

I think there are some traps and things that kids can get hurt by.

I think there are also things that can really enrich their lives.

And, so, it's up to us as parents to make sure that they stay on the side of enrichment.

Still, Edwards believes the district should provide an opt-out program for parents like her.

That's why she made one last plea to administrators at a school board meeting.

I ask you one last time to vote as a board and allow parents the privilege of not forcing screen time on our kids at school and at home.

After this meeting, Edwards removed her kids from Eanes schools.

We just want moderation.

and so we're gonna have to go and look for where moderation is and do it at home with our kids until we find somewhere we feel safe and comfortable and we feel heard.

So where does EISD go from here?

That's next time.

[ Laughs ] ♪♪

Besides being generally awesome to observe, solar eclipses have told us a thing or two about the way spacetime works.

Back when Einstein's theory of general relativity was fairly new, the idea that large objects bend spacetime toward themselves was yet to be observed.

This theory predicted that the gravity of a massive object like the Sun would bend light to a predictable degree.

But the most massive object in our solar system is also the brightest object in our solar system, so it's hard to observe any light that might bend.

That's where the solar eclipse of 1919 comes in.

Scientists waited until the exact moment when the moon blocks the sun in order to observe the light from a cluster of stars behind the sun.

And that observation showed that although it was tiny, the sun's gravity did indeed bend the light to a degree that proved Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Today we use this general relativity to do a whole bunch of things.

So next time you witness a solar eclipse, you can think of Einstein and his totally awesome idea.

Southern California has more than half of all the earthquakes in the United States.

In this segment, we take a look at the overwhelmingly rapid rate of building development in Los Angeles and how developers and engineers are making skyscrapers and towers earthquake-safe using the latest technology.

If you're afraid of heights, viewer discretion is advised.

If not, a view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline from 70 stories high is something to see.

Los Angeles skyscrapers were sort of a late arrival to urban development compared to cities like New York, Chicago, Miami, or Houston.

However today, L.A. has more towers being built than any other city in the country.

There's well over a hundred projects either under construction or about to be constructed in downtown Los Angeles.

There's probably about 40 cranes in the sky, right now as we speak, constructing buildings.

Hal Bastian has been working with L.A. developers on downtown real-estate projects for 25 years.

He is part of the downtown Los Angeles revitalization project.

There's a reason that downtown Los Angeles wasn't a high-rise city like New York City.

One was land economics.

We had nothing but land.

We weren't on a little island called Manhattan.

Another was cultural.

People came from the east.

They didn't want to have that kind of density.

And the third reason that we didn't have really tall buildings, until recently in the last 30 years, is because we have big earthquakes every once in a while.

the last major earthquake in Los Angeles County was the 6.7 Northridge quake in 1994.

57 people died, 9,000 were injured, and thousands of buildings were either damaged or destroyed at a total cost of over $40 billion.

Northridge is part of the San Fernando Valley about 25 miles from downtown L.A.

in Southern California, we have about half of the nation's total earthquake risk.

So a lot of that, when we talk about it, is the complex system of faults -- not just the San Andreas Fault, which is the most active fault in California -- but also many hundreds of other faults, some of which are underneath L.A. and surrounding the downtown area.

So we have a complex mixture of hazard here in L.A.

Hudnut explains that L.A.

is overdue for a temblor, one that could be deadly and could certainly shut down transportation, communication, and utilities for days or weeks.

The San Andreas is about 30 miles away, but we have other faults close in.

So a smaller magnitude earthquake on one of these faults close to the downtown area could also create a problem.

Standing here amongst the clouds on one of Los Angeles's tallest skyscrapers and then peering over the edge is probably going to make anyone very nervous.

However, it's interesting to note that most of the structural engineers and real-estate developers we spoke with actually claim this is one of the safest places to be in the event a major earthquake were to hit L.A.

So when the big earthquake comes -- and it will -- I would like to be in one of these high-rise buildings because they're engineered for it.

Much safer than being on the street where things will be falling down and around you.

So the big leading question is, are these building safe that we're building?

And the answer is, life is risky but these buildings are as safe as they could be for living in earthquake region.

To really learn how these skyscrapers are earthquake-safe when they're sitting so high above ground, you first have to travel far below ground so you can see the technology of L.A.'s seismic resiliency.

Follow me.

This dark dungeon is actually a basement in one of the buildings in Los Angeles.

It's an example of the inner workings from beneath the earth that you find in some of the giant towers.

This is a glimpse of the future where beneath the building that is specially designed to withstand a major earthquake, this is the underground of the Emergency Management Operation Center for the city of L.A.

USGS seismologists say this structure is considered the safest building in all of Los Angeles.

In the event of a quake.

It uses cutting-edge technology seen in many of Japan's tallest towers, particularly Tokyo which is earthquake-prone like L.A.

Currently just a few buildings in Los Angeles house this innovative science.

What you have here, you're seeing an example of some of the systems that can be used in these buildings.

This is a friction pendulum-based isolation system.

What this does is, you see it's tied to the building, but also these pillars go 30 to 40 feet to the bedrock.

So when the ground shaking starts, when the earthquake develops, these are going to cause some movement.

What it does is it absorbs that movement, and it allows this building to maintain its integrity.

So basically there's bearings and pendulums inside of this that when you have that ground shaking it actually absorbs that.

Remember, we do have different faults in Los Angeles, so you could get a lateral-type movement, which this isolator, can handle.

But we also have vertical movements, and we do have different isolators that you can notice here which would handle that type of movement as well.

Picture a vehicle.

You're driving on a rough road, right?

You really don't feel that too much because of the shock absorbers.

And picture a skyscraper, the same thing.

Ipsen says this is kind of like a floating building suspended in air.

Nothing makes contact with the ground.

You're looking at the plumbing is suspended.

The heating and air system is suspended.

The stairwell is suspended.

The electrical cabling is suspended.

You're going to see that in these large skyscrapers.

Everything will be suspended and there's no attachment to the ground at all.

I'm just amazed by what the structural engineers are able to do.

Learning from the global experience of earthquakes all over the world and making buildings better and better advancing the code.

Learning from the experience of one earthquake after another, what kinds of things can go wrong, and what have gone wrong in earthquakes all around the world, and building that into improved codes to improve our seismic safety.

Can buildings be too tall in earthquake-prone Los Angeles?

You know I don't think we're ever going to build a building that is 'too tall' for the city of Los Angeles or downtown Los Angeles.

What we're working to do is to get people out of their cars, living in density, living in a city, and living in a safe high-rise building.

Are they safe?

Yes.

The bottom line is in every area of the country, there are hazards, whether it's a hurricane in Florida or Texas whether it's tornadoes in Kansas.

There are floods along the Mississippi, and there's earthquakes here.

I will tell you that it's a risk living anywhere.

And I'll take my risk of a big earthquake every 20, 25 years over any of those other hazards.

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... [ Theme music plays ]