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Mapping the atmosphere on Mars can help advance science on our own planet

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Mapping the atmosphere on Mars can help advance science on our own planet


The Hope probe has three main objectives, the first is to understand the lower Martian atmosphere and its weather and climate. Yousuf continues, “The second objective is to correlate the lower atmosphere conditions with the upper atmosphere to explain how weather changes the escape of hydrogen and oxygen. And the final objective that we have is to understand the structure and variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere and why Mars is losing them into space.”

The focus on space for the UAE comes at an important time as mapping Mars will contribute to the work of not just the knowledge economy of the UAE, but advance science for the whole world. “The UAE is basically investing in space, as investing in the space sector means investing in the human capital towards a better future for all,” says Yousuf.

This episode of Business Lab is produced in association with the UAE Pavilion Expo 2020 Dubai.

Show notes and references

Meet the Emirati engineers of Hope Probe Mars Mission, Gulf News, February 10, 2021

Full transcript:

Laurel Ruma: From MIT Technology Review, I’m Laurel Ruma. And this is Business Lab. The show that helps business leaders make sense of new technologies coming out of the lab and into the marketplace.

Our topic today is the Emirates Mars Mission, also known as the Hope Probe. Hope aims to be the first probe to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers. The data collected by Hope will help answer key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of one Martian year.

Two words for you, space data.

My guest today is Maryam Yousuf, who is a data analyst for the Emirates Mars Mission.

This podcast is produced in association with UAE Pavilion Expo 2020 Dubai.

Welcome, Maryam.

Maryam: Hi, Laurel. Thank you for having me.

Laurel: To begin with, I want to congratulate you and your team. The United Arab Emirates is the fifth country in history to reach Mars and only the seventh in the world to reach the orbit of another planet. And to top it all off, the performance of the spacecraft is exceeding expectations. What does this mean for the UAE? And what kind of impact is it having on the UAE’s aspiring scientists?

Maryam: Thank you for the congratulations. And it’s for everyone, I think, having this mission to go to Mars and get the unique data that we have. Hope Probe is the vision of the late founder of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, where he envisioned the UAE leading in the sector one day. One of the predominant project goals is developing the science and technology sectors within the UAE, in terms of capacity building and forging new pathways for the younger generations in research and development in the natural sciences domains, as they lay the foundation for any space exploration initiative in the future.

Laurel: That is very inspiring. The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center with the international Mars science community is defining the objectives for the mission. What are those objectives and how will they further international goals to understand Mars?

Maryam: The Emirates Mars Mission will be the first mission to provide the full global picture of the Martian atmosphere. So three scientific objectives. The first objective is to characterize the Martian lower atmosphere to understand the climate dynamic and the global weather map. The second objective is to correlate the lower atmosphere conditions with the upper atmosphere to explain how weather changes the escape of hydrogen and oxygen. And the final objective that we have is to understand the structure and variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere and why Mars is losing them into space.

Laurel: No small feats. These are big goals, for sure. Hope aims to provide the first comprehensive picture of Mars’ climate and atmosphere. Hope’s unique 25-degree elliptical orbit enables it to collect data and high-resolution images of the planet’s atmosphere every 225 hours or 9.5 days. What data is the Hope Probe collecting? How does it actually collect it?

Maryam: We have three instruments on board of Hope Probe. Two are studying the lower atmosphere and one is studying the upper atmosphere. If we speak about those that are studying the lower atmosphere, we have the Emirates Exploration Imager or EXI, which is a digital camera that is capable of taking 12-megapixel images while maintaining the radiometric calibration needed for the detailed scientific analysis. It will capture high resolution images of Mars, which is the RGB. And then it will measure optical depth of water ice at the range of 305 to 335 nanometers. And it will also measure the abundance of ozone at the range of 245 to 275 nanometers. All this is basically the ultraviolet bands.

The second instrument, which is the Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer or EMIRS, collects its data from the lower atmosphere. It is an interferometric thermal infrared spectrometer that will give a better understanding of the energy balance in the current Martian climate by characterizing the state of the lower atmosphere and the processes that are driving the global circulation. It’ll measure both the surface and the atmospheric temperatures, as well as the optical depths of water ice, and dust, and the abundance of water vapor. All of this will be measured from 6 to 40 plus micrometers.

For the upper atmosphere, we have the final instrument, which is the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer, which is EMUS. It is a far ultraviolet spectrometer that will measure oxygen and carbon monoxide and the thermosphere, and then it will measure the variability of the hydrogen and oxygen and the upper atmosphere.

Laurel: That absolutely is comprehensive. It will have a really good idea of a map of Mars from everything, from the surface to the atmosphere.

Maryam: Yeah.

Laurel: As a data analyst on the Mars Probe, what is your job like? How do you analyze so much data, and what are you looking for?

Maryam: For me personally, I only use EMIRS data for now. I basically study the impact of varying atmosphere conditions to the lower atmosphere on the out thermo-physical properties, on the Martian surface. And the thermo-physical properties are the properties that affect the energy budget itself.

All the instruments that we have on board of the Hope Probe are built on heritage data, which means we built the instruments based on the instruments used during previous Mars missions. When it comes to EMIRS specifically, we can use data from the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES), which was on board of the Mars Global Surveyor and before the launch and so on, I used to build my code and models using TES data. Now I basically use EMIRS instead of TES.

Laurel: That’s pretty exciting. You came to the mission itself as a recent graduate with a background in biomedical engineering and now you’re exploring space data from Mars. How have you been able to use your own analytic skills to make that transition?

Maryam: It was very challenging, but I like to challenge myself, and I like to seize any opportunity that is presented to me. So when this opportunity was there, I was like, why not? Because everything that we need to know, we can learn it from experts or we can learn it online. I challenged myself by learning programming, which is Python language, through online courses and online sources available that we can get our hands on. And then when it comes to the science, the space science in particular, the Emirates Mars mission was built on a knowledge transfer program. So we have experts from the United States that monitor the project that we’re working on. So, I have mentors that teach me about all this amazing space science that relates to Mars as well.

Laurel: That is amazing because this data will actually help the entire planet address climate change. Correct?

Maryam: I wouldn’t say there is a known correlation between earth and Mars. But Mars, billions of years ago, had a very similar atmosphere to earth. It had a warm, wet, and thick atmosphere that was capable of accommodating life. Now it’s basically dry, cold, and it has a very thin atmosphere. When we understand the evolution and what’s currently happening to Mars that might aid us in answering questions like, what happened and what could happen to our own planet. So yeah, I can’t really pinpoint the correlation between both the planets, but exploring other planets might help us in understanding our own planet.

Laurel: That’s a very good point for clarification. Thank you. The Emirates Mars Mission is unique, in that the troves of data collected by Hope are being released to the public. So that means anyone — me, our listeners, and more importantly, scientists based in more than 200 universities and research institutes globally — can go to the Mission’s website and register to access the data. Why is this important to the Mission, that all of the data be available at this scale?

Maryam: As a team, we have our objectives and hypothesis that we want to achieve or confirm. And when we share the data with everyone, they add on their knowledge and perspective to our current understanding. This contributes to a more knowledge-based economy and fosters the science community’s capabilities as a collective. This step was taken to encourage the science community to break the barriers and work together for the greater good.

Laurel: Releasing all of this data in an open way and sharing it is certainly going to be exciting to young scientists and engineers and people around the world who are perhaps looking for different kinds of data sets to experiment with. What do you think it means to do this in such a collaborative way?

Maryam: A lot of things come from this. If we talk about the UAE community itself, we do a lot of outreach activities here, and we get approached by the youth and even researchers within the UAE that have used the data itself for their own projects or research. So that’s one of the program objectives is basically to encourage more people to be involved in the STEM fields and so on. Another thing is when we go to conferences and other people will come to us and they basically want to collaborate, and they want to make a connection between their own projects and our projects and basically the objectives or whatever we’re seeing with the data. For example, maybe they had a hypothesis about it and they want to confirm it through our data because we have such unique data. So that’s really exciting. And the more we see people are into using our data, we basically want to produce the data as soon as we can.

Laurel: To keep that excitement going. Yeah.

Maryam: Yep.

Laurel: Before Hope even arrived at Mars, the probe was gathering valuable data. In November 2020, the European spacecraft, BepiColombo, was headed to Mercury. Both BepiColombo and Hope instruments were facing each other, so scientists took the opportunity to measure the amount of hydrogen between the two probes. What other unexpected opportunities has the mission encountered?

Maryam: Another observation that we haven’t put our mind into is basically with the EMUS instrument. The EMUS instrument is very sensitive when it comes to the EUV, the extreme ultraviolet bands. So this basically allows us to see the discrete Aurora and this is basically not from our objectives. From about 400 observations that we’ve seen, we saw discrete Aurora more than 60% of the time. And that wasn’t an expectation that we had or something any other mission has seen before. So, yeah, that was exciting for us.

Laurel: Speaking of other observations, the Hope Probe has made a number of them, right? With the Martian atmospheric phenomenon, including discrete aurora on Mars’ nightside, remarkable concentrations of oxygen and carbon monoxide, and never-before seen images of Martian dust storms. When you see this data and the images come in, which one of these, or perhaps there are other events, has caused everyone to sit up and say, “Wow, that is from Mars. No one’s ever seen that before. And we’re the first ones.”

Maryam: I’d have to speak about myself on this one. Personally, I find dust storms very fascinating. One, because I live in a country that has a tropical desert environment, which means dust storms are very common here. Every time it becomes very dusty here, I wonder if it’s the same thing that’s happening on Mars atmosphere or not. But if I speak about the team, I can tell you that we see all observations of value and impact.

Laurel: Oh, I’m sure. How is the success of Hope fueling other space exploration initiatives by the UAE? Because this has been successful, what else is possible?

Maryam: The Emirates Mars Mission is just the beginning of exploring the frontiers of space. Hope Probe is the gateway to space exploration in the UAE. So currently the UAE is working on multiple initiatives in the space sector, such as the UAE Astronaut program, which prepares Emirate astronauts for scientific space exploration missions. And the new Emirati interplanetary mission, which involves an expedition to the orbit of Venus followed by an exploration of the asteroid belt, which is beyond Mars. And then in addition, we have the Emirates Lunar Mission that is launching Rashid rover by the end of this year. So that’s really exciting for us. The UAE is basically investing in space, as investing in the space sector means investing in the human capital towards a better future for all.

Laurel: Maryam, thank you very much for joining us today on Business Lab.

Maryam: Thank you for having me.

Laurel: That was Maryam Yousef, a data analyst for the Emirates Mars Mission, who I spoke with from Cambridge, Massachusetts, the home of MIT and MIT Technology Review, overlooking the Charles River.

That’s it for this episode of Business Lab. I’m your host, Laurel Ruma. I’m the director of Insights, the custom publishing division of MIT Technology Review. We were founded in 1899 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And you can find us in print, on the web, and at events each year around the world. For more information about us and the show, please check out our website at technologyreview.com.

This show is available wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoyed this episode, we hope you’ll take a moment to rate and review us. Business Lab is a production of MIT Technology Review. This episode was produced by Collective Next. Thanks for listening.

This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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Your microbiome ages as you do—and that’s a problem

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Your microbiome ages as you do—and that’s a problem


These ecosystems appear to change as we age—and these changes can potentially put us at increased risk of age-related diseases. So how can we best look after them as we get old? And could an A-grade ecosystem help fend off diseases and help us lead longer, healthier lives?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering this week, partly because I know a few people who have been put on antibiotics for winter infections. These drugs—lifesaving though they can be—can cause mass destruction of gut microbes, wiping out the good along with the bad. How might people who take them best restore a healthy ecosystem afterwards?

I also came across a recent study in which scientists looked at thousands of samples of people’s gut microbe populations to see how they change with age. The standard approach to working out what microbes are living in a person’s gut is to look at feces. The idea is that when we have a bowel movement, we shed plenty of gut bacteria. Scientists can find out which species and strains of bacteria are present to get an estimate of what’s in your intestines.

In this study, a team based at University College Cork in Ireland analyzed data that had already been collected from 21,000 samples of human feces. These had come from people all over the world, including Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Nineteen nationalities were represented. The samples were all from adults between 18 and 100. 

The authors of this study wanted to get a better handle on what makes for a “good” microbiome, especially as we get older. It has been difficult for microbiologists to work this out. We do know that some bacteria can produce compounds that are good for our guts. Some seem to aid digestion, for example, while others lower inflammation.
 
But when it comes to the ecosystem as a whole, things get more complicated. At the moment, the accepted wisdom is that variety seems to be a good thing—the more microbial diversity, the better. Some scientists believe that unique microbiomes also have benefits, and that a collection of microbes that differs from the norm can keep you healthy.
 
The team looked at how the microbiomes of younger people compared with those of older people, and how they appeared to change with age. The scientists also looked at how the microbial ecosystems varied with signs of unhealthy aging, such as cognitive decline, frailty, and inflammation.
 
They found that the microbiome does seem to change with age, and that, on the whole, the ecosystems in our guts do tend to become more unique—it looks as though we lose aspects of a general “core” microbiome and stray toward a more individual one.
 
But this isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, this uniqueness seems to be linked to unhealthy aging and the development of those age-related symptoms listed above, which we’d all rather stave off for as long as possible. And measuring diversity alone doesn’t tell us much about whether the bugs in our guts are helpful or not in this regard.
 
The findings back up what these researchers and others have seen before, challenging the notion that uniqueness is a good thing. Another team has come up with a good analogy, which is known as the Anna Karenina principle of the microbiome: “All happy microbiomes look alike; each unhappy microbiome is unhappy in its own way.”
 
Of course, the big question is: What can we do to maintain a happy microbiome? And will it actually help us stave off age-related diseases?
 
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that, on the whole, a diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, and fiber is good for the gut. A couple of years ago, researchers found that after 12 months on a Mediterranean diet—one rich in olive oil, nuts, legumes, and fish, as well as fruit and veg—older people saw changes in their microbiomes that might benefit their health. These changes have been linked to a lowered risk of developing frailty and cognitive decline.
 
But at the individual level, we can’t really be sure of the impact that changes to our diets will have. Probiotics are a good example; you can chug down millions of microbes, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll survive the journey to your gut. Even if they do get there, we don’t know if they’ll be able to form niches in the existing ecosystem, or if they might cause some kind of unwelcome disruption. Some microbial ecosystems might respond really well to fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, while others might not.
 
I personally love kimchi and sauerkraut. If they do turn out to support my microbiome in a way that protects me against age-related diseases, then that’s just the icing on the less-microbiome-friendly cake.

To read more, check out these stories from the Tech Review archive:
 
At-home microbiome tests can tell you which bugs are in your poo, but not much more than that, as Emily Mullin found.
 
Industrial-scale fermentation is one of the technologies transforming the way we produce and prepare our food, according to these experts.
 
Can restricting your calorie intake help you live longer? It seems to work for monkeys, as Katherine Bourzac wrote in 2009. 
 
Adam Piore bravely tried caloric restriction himself to find out if it might help people, too. Teaser: even if you live longer on the diet, you will be miserable doing so. 

From around the web:

Would you pay $15,000 to save your cat’s life? More people are turning to expensive surgery to extend the lives of their pets. (The Atlantic)
 
The World Health Organization will now start using the term “mpox” in place of “monkeypox,” which will be phased out over the next year. (WHO)
 
After three years in prison, He Jiankui—the scientist behind the infamous “CRISPR babies”—is attempting a comeback. (STAT)
 
Tech that allows scientists to listen in on the natural world is revealing some truly amazing discoveries. Who knew that Amazonian sea turtles make more than 200 distinct sounds? And that they start making sounds before they even hatch? (The Guardian)
 
These recordings provide plenty of inspiration for musicians. Whale song is particularly popular. (The New Yorker)
 
Scientists are using tiny worms to diagnose pancreatic cancer. The test, launched in Japan, could be available in the US next year. (Reuters)

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The Download: circumventing China’s firewall, and using AI to invent new drugs

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The Download: circumventing China’s firewall, and using AI to invent new drugs


As protests against rigid covid control measures in China engulfed social media in the past week, one Twitter account has emerged as the central source of information: @李老师不是你老师 (“Teacher Li Is Not Your Teacher”). 

People everywhere in China have sent protest footage and real-time updates to the account through private messages, and it has posted them, with the sender’s identity hidden, on their behalf.

The man behind the account, Li, is a Chinese painter based in Italy, who requested to be identified only by his last name in light of the security risks. He’s been tirelessly posting footage around the clock to help people within China get information, and also to inform the wider world.

The work has been taking its toll—he’s received death threats, and police have visited his family back in China. But it also comes with a sense of liberation, Li told Zeyi Yang, our China reporter. Read the full story.

Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs

The news: Text-to-image AI models like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2—programs trained to generate pictures of almost anything you ask for—have sent ripples through the creative industries. Now, two biotech labs are using this type of generative AI, known as a diffusion model, to conjure up designs for new types of protein never seen in nature.

Why it matters: Proteins are the fundamental building blocks of living systems. These protein generators can be directed to produce designs for proteins with specific properties, such as shape or size or function. In effect, this makes it possible to come up with new proteins to do particular jobs on demand. Researchers hope that this will eventually lead to the development of new and more effective drugs. Read the full story.

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The Blue Technology Barometer 2022/23

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The Blue Technology Barometer 2022/23


Overall ranking

Pillars

Comparative

The overall rankings tab shows the performance of the examined
economies relative to each other and aggregates scores generated
across the following four pillars: ocean environment, marine activity,
technology innovation, and policy and regulation.

This pillar ranks each country according to its levels of
marine water contamination, its plastic recycling efforts, the
CO2 emissions of its marine activities (relative to the size
of its economy), and the recent change of total emissions.

This pillar ranks each country on the sustainability of its
marine activities, including shipping, fishing, and protected
areas.

This pillar ranks each country on its contribution to ocean
sustainable technology research and development, including
expenditure, patents, and startups.

This pillar ranks each country on its stance on ocean
sustainability-related policy and regulation, including
national-level policies, taxes, fees, and subsidies, and the
implementation of international marine law.

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Experts

MIT Technology Review Insights would like to thank the following
individuals for their time, perspective, and insights:

  • Valérie Amant, Director of Communications, The SeaCleaners
  • Charlotte de Fontaubert, Global Lead for the Blue Economy, World Bank Group
  • Ian Falconer, Founder, Fishy Filaments
  • Ben Fitzgerald, Managing Director, CoreMarine
  • Melissa Garvey, Global Director of Ocean Protection, The Nature Conservancy
  • Michael Hadfield, Emeritus Professor, Principal Investigator, Kewalo Marine Laboratory, University of Hawaii
    at Mānoa
  • Takeshi Kawano, Executive Director, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology
  • Kathryn Matthews, Chief Scientist, Oceana
  • Alex Rogers, Science Director, REV Ocean
  • Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Thierry Senechal, Managing Director, Finance for Impact
  • Jyotika Virmani, Executive Director, Schmidt Ocean Institute
  • Lucy Woodall, Associate Professor of Marine Biology, University of Oxford, and Principal Scientist at Nekton
Back

About

Methodology: The Blue Technology Barometer 2022/23

Now in its second year, the Blue Technology Barometer assesses and ranks how each of the world’s largest
maritime economies promotes and develops blue (marine-centered) technologies that help reverse the impact of
climate change on ocean ecosystems, and how they leverage ocean-based resources to reduce greenhouse gases and
other effects of climate change.

To build the index, MIT Technology Review Insights compiled 20 quantitative and qualitative data indicators
for 66 countries and territories with coastlines and maritime economies. This included analysis of select
datasets and primary research interviews with global blue technology innovators, policymakers, and
international ocean sustainability organizations. Through trend analysis, research, and a consultative
peer-review process with several subject matter experts, weighting assumptions were assigned to determine the
relative importance of each indicator’s influence on a country’s blue technology leadership.

These indicators measure how each country or territory’s economic and maritime industries have affected its
marine environment and how quickly they have developed and deployed technologies that help improve ocean
health outcomes. Policy and regulatory adherence factors were considered, particularly the observance of
international treaties on fishing and marine protection laws.

The indicators are organized into four pillars, which evaluate metrics around a sustainability theme. Each
indicator is scored from 1 to 10 (10 being the best performance) and is weighted for its contribution to its
respective pillar. Each pillar is weighted to determine its importance in the overall score. As these research
efforts center on countries developing blue technology to promote ocean health, the technology pillar is
ranked highest, at 50% of the overall score.

The four pillars of the Blue Technology Barometer are:

Carbon emissions resulting from maritime activities and their relative growth. Metrics in this pillar also
assess each country’s efforts to mitigate ocean pollution and enhance ocean ecosystem health.

Efforts to promote sustainable fishing activities and increase and maintain marine protected areas.

Progress in fostering the development of sustainable ocean technologies across several relevant fields:

  • Clean innovation scores from MIT Technology Review Insights’ Green Future Index 2022.
  • A tally of maritime-relevant patents and technology startups.
  • An assessment of each economy’s use of technologies and tech-enabled processes that facilitate ocean
    sustainability.

Commitment to signing and enforcing international treaties to promote ocean sustainability and enforce
sustainable fishing.

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Insights is the custom publishing division of MIT Technology Review. We conduct qualitative and quantitative
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