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Science Daily — Almost 62 years after detonation of the first atomic
bombs, the United States is considering controversial proposals to
produce a new generation of nuclear weapons and revamp its nuclear
weapons complex, according to an article scheduled for the March 19
issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN senior editor Jeff Johnson points out that the
proposals come at a time of growing fears about potential new nuclear
powers, such as North Korea and Iran, and potential diversion of
nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists. The U.S. Department of
Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which
oversees design, production and maintenance of nuclear weapons,
developed the proposals.

One part of the plan, for instance, calls for production of the
“renewable, replacement warhead (RRW),” a new nuclear weapon that NNSA
says will be easier and environmentally cleaner to manufacture and
more difficult for potential terrorists to disassemble or detonate.

The article describes details of the RRW, envisioned for production by
2012, and discusses differing opinions about the new proposals for the
U.S. nuclear arsenal, now believed to number about 10,000 warheads.

Some information on how to reduce nuclear bomb casualties

If you are downwind of the blast, look at tree tops to see direction of wind and then flee perpendicular to the wind. Because the plumes are significantly longer than they are wide, moving as little as one to five miles perpendicular to the plume can mean the difference between life and death. People in areas upwind of the detonation site, on the other hand, are safest staying where they are.

Today’s hospital burn units provide exemplary but time consuming care to burn victims, who typically arrive sporadically and in small numbers. A nuclear attack would bring a sudden surge of patients, but the medical system could dramatically minimize fatalities by training staff and equipping non-medical people to treat second-degree burn victims in much larger numbers. The focus must be on cleaning the wounds to avoid fatal infections, administering painkillers and then moving on to the next patient. And all of this must occur in the field, since thousands of victims would not make it to a hospital.

An excellent article by Bruce Schneier on the psychology of security is available here. It starts as follows:

Security is both a feeling and a reality. And they’re not the same.

The reality of security is mathematical, based on the probability of different risks and the effectiveness of different countermeasures. We can calculate how secure your home is from burglary, based on such factors as the crime rate in the neighborhood you live in and your door-locking habits. We can calculate how likely it is for you to be murdered, either on the streets by a stranger or in your home by a family member. Or how likely you are to be the victim of identity theft. Given a large enough set of statistics on criminal acts, it’s not even hard; insurance companies do it all the time.

We can also calculate how much more secure a burglar alarm will make your home, or how well a credit freeze will protect you from identity theft. Again, given enough data, it’s easy.

But security is also a feeling, based not on probabilities and mathematical calculations, but on your psychological reactions to both risks and countermeasures. You might feel terribly afraid of terrorism, or you might feel like it’s not something worth worrying about. You might feel safer when you see people taking their shoes off at airport metal detectors, or you might not. You might feel that you’re at high risk of burglary, medium risk of murder, and low risk of identity theft. And your neighbor, in the exact same situation, might feel that he’s at high risk of identity theft, medium risk of burglary, and low risk of murder.

The difference between the feeling of security and true security, and the difference between pursuing one thing or the other, is central to the Lifeboat Foundation’s mission. For example, planetwide risks like synthetic life or unfriendly AI should be analyzed more thoroughly and given more effort than prevention of nuclear proliferation, even if we consider the near-term probability of the former scenarios to be less, simply because their scope is so much larger. For more on this topic, see Cognitive biases affecting judgement of existential risks.


DARPA (the defense advanced research projects agency) is the R&D arm of he US military for far-reaching future technology. What most people do not realize is how much revolutionary medical technology comes out of this agency’s military R&D programs. For those in need of background, you can read about the Army & DARPA’s future soldier Landwarrior program and its medtech offshoots as well as why DARPA does medical research and development that industry won’t. Fear of these future military technologies runs high with a push towards neural activation as a weapon, direct brain-computer interfaces, and drones. However, the new program has enormous potential for revolutionary medical progess as well.

It has been said technology is neutral, it is the application that is either good or evil. (It is worth a side-track to read a discussion on this concept)

The Areas of Focus for DARPA in 2007 and Forward Are:

  1. Chip-Scale Atomic Clock
  2. Global War on TerrorismUnmanned Air Vehicles
  3. Militarization of Space
  4. Supercomputer Systems
  5. Biological Warfare Defense
  6. Prosthetics
  7. Quantum Information Science
  8. Newton’s Laws for Biology
  9. Low-Cost Titanium
  10. Alternative Energy
  11. High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System

the potential for the destructive use of these technologies is obvious, for a a complete review of these projects and the beneficial medical applications of each visit

A valuable paper by Jason Matheny of the University of Maryland is “Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction”. The abstract is as follows:

In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity. The probability of these events may be very low, but the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future lives. We review the challenges to studying human extinction risks and, by way of example, estimate the cost-effectiveness of preventing extinction-level asteroid impacts.

Continue reading it here.

A better atomic force microscope from Japan:

Credit: Oscar Custance, Osaka University

“A new type of atomic force microscope (AFM) has been developed that can “fingerprint” the chemical identity of individual atoms on a material’s surface. This is one step ahead of existing AFMs, which can only detect the position of atoms. The device determines local composition and structure using a precise calibration method, and can even be used to manipulate specific atomic species. The team demonstrated their “fingerprinting” technique by using an atomic force microscope (AFM) to distinguish atoms of tin (blue) and lead (green) deposited on a silicon substrate (red).”

Here is the associated article (subscription req’d).

Here’s the graphene transistor everyone’s been talking about:

One atom thick, 50 atoms wide. Here is an article going over the advance. It states that the transistors are not likely to be completely ready by 2025, but this estimate seems conservative.

Scientists from Duke recently achieved the new size record for a programmable synthetic nanostructure:

These DNA grids were formed by hierarchial self-assembly. The article on the development states, that the “grid-like structures consist of components that can be independently modified to create arbitrary patterns for different purposes”.

Reminds me of CRN’s cubic micron DNA structure ideas.

The trillion-dollar question is, “when will these advances lead to freely programmable, self-replicating molecular assemblers?” Some scientists are betting on the 2015–2020 timeframe, others say “never”.

NASA estimates the cost to find at least 90 percent of the 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets by 2020 would be about $1 billion, according to a report NASA will release later this week. It would cost $300 million if a asteroid locating telescope was piggybacked on another vehicle. The report was previewed Monday at a Planetary Defense Conference in Washington.

The agency is already tracking bigger objects, at least 3,300 feet in diameter, that could wipe out most life on Earth, much like what is theorized to have happened to dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But even that search, which has spotted 769 asteroids and comets — none of which is on course to hit Earth — is behind schedule. It’s supposed to be complete by the end of next year.

A cheaper option would be to simply piggyback on other agencies’ telescopes, a cost of about $300 million, also rejected, Johnson said.

“The decision of the agency is we just can’t do anything about it right now,” he added.

Earth got a scare in 2004, when initial readings suggested an 885-foot asteroid called 99942 Apophis seemed to have a chance of hitting Earth in 2029. But more observations showed that wouldn’t happen. Scientists say there is a 1-in-45,000 chance that it could hit in 2036.

They think it would mostly likely strike the Pacific Ocean, which would cause a tsunami on the U.S. West Coast the size of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean wave.

John Logsdon, space policy director at George Washington University, said a stepped-up search for such asteroids is needed.

“You can’t deflect them if you can’t find them,” Logsdon said. “And we can’t find things that can cause massive damage.”

Lifeboat has an asteroid shield project

Here is a piece of news from early last month, via CNN:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hackers briefly overwhelmed at least three of the 13 computers that help manage global computer traffic Tuesday in one of the most significant attacks against the Internet since 2002.

Experts said the unusually powerful attacks lasted for hours but passed largely unnoticed by most computer users, a testament to the resiliency of the Internet.

Behind the scenes, computer scientists worldwide raced to cope with enormous volumes of data that threatened to saturate some of the Internet’s most vital pipelines.

Experts said the hackers appeared to disguise their origin, but vast amounts of rogue data in the attacks were traced to South Korea.

The attacks appeared to target UltraDNS, the company that operates servers managing traffic for Web sites ending in “org” and some other suffixes, experts said. Company officials did not immediately return telephone calls from The Associated Press.

Among the targeted “root” servers that manage global Internet traffic were ones operated by the Defense Department and the Internet’s primary oversight body.

It is not likely that the South Korean government or a large company had anything to do with the attack. The crime was probably perpetrated by a relatively small hacker group, which underscores the potential for asymmetric cyberwarfare. I’m happy that the federal government has many people on the full-time job of defending cybersecurity.


With a typical launch cost for a spaceship around $20 million, it’s difficult to practically conceive of a space industry beyond federally funded agencies. Nevertheless, many people believe that expanding space travel—whether for research purposes, entertainment, or even colonization—is not impractical. Bridging the economic hurdle may be technologies such as the maglev launch assist. According to an analysis, the cost of launching payloads into the low earth orbit with maglev may be achieved with only hundreds of dollars per pound (John Olds and Peter Bellini).

Most recently, researchers in a group including Wenjiang Yang and his colleagues from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have investigated the possibility of the “Maglifter,” a maglev launch assist vehicle originally proposed in the 1980s. In this system, a spaceship would be magnetically levitated over a track and accelerated up an incline, lifting off when it reaches a velocity of 1,000 km/hr (620 miles/hr). The main cost-saving areas would come from reduced fuel consumption and the reduced mass of the spaceship.

“Magnetic levitation is a promising technology for future space transportation,” Yang told “The most expensive part of space missions to low-Earth orbit is the first few seconds—getting off the ground.”

Obviously, cost-to-orbit is highly relevant to Lifeboat’s push to build a space ark. Some might find it hard to imagine how a non-governmental organization has even a chance of building a space station in the foreseeable future, but that’s because cost-to-orbit has historically been over $10,000 per pound. With new launch technologies like maglev-assist, the cost could come down to hundreds per pound or below. Dropping costs in launch technologies are something that we can expect to accelerate once it really gets started — especially with the growing interest in private space travel.

Take a look at the Lifeboat Foundation EM Launch Competition!

“The importance of the space sector can be emphasized by the number of spacecrafts launched. In the period from 1957 till 2005, 6376 spacecraft have been launched at an average of 133 per year. The has been a decrease in the number of spacecrafts launched in the recent years with 78 launched in 2005. Of the 6378 launches, 56.8% were military spacecrafts and 43.2 were civilian. 245 manned missions have been launched in this period. 1674 communication or weather satellites were also launched. The remaining spacecraft launches has been exploration missions.”

Read the entire report here (requires free registration)