The Science behind “The Avengers”

 

Our favourites, the Avengers have been battling to save Earth, be it alien invasions, the evil super-god Loki or the killing machine Ultron.

They obviously have some super-awesome powers-the Iron Man’s suit, super-healing abilities of Black Widow and Captain America’s indestructible shield.

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But it often makes us ask, how scientifically sound are these powers actually, and do any of them hold up to those laws of physics and chemistry as we know them?

It’s interesting to note that even the American Chemical Society took it’s turn at the science behind the heroics of the Avengers!

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It began looking at Tony Stark, a.k.a Iron Man and his suit of armour. Originally his suit was made only of iron and weighed around 70kg (150lbs) not very comfortable to move around in and difficult to maneuver. He later upgraded his suit to a nickel-titanium alloy called nitinol, and as Dr Raychelle Burks explained, this alloy was “strong but light, and can be reformed after taking damage.” The current suit also supports rocket boots, made of graphite reinforced with carbon fibre, which act as a heat absorber when the comic character lands on his boots.

But how could we forget the source of all these powers, Mr. Stark’s own portable nuclear power station – the Arc Reactor. In Iron Man 2 he first used palladium – but we  all learn how it was poisoning and killing him. So instead, he created his own new element (a scene which all of us must remember vividly)- and scientists claim that this might not be as far-fetched as it seems. Stark used his own particle accelerator to smash the nuclei of atoms together and fabricate a new type of atom. Interestingly, this is not entirely dissimilar to the experiments taking place at real-life accelerators such as CERN. ‘Scientists have made 20 synthetic elements this way, so it’s not unbelievable that Stark would have made new elements to power his suit,’ said Dr Burks.

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Obviously, Stark isn’t the only one with super-human abilities. The other avengers, with the likes of Captain America and Black Widow have super strength, quick reflexes, and super-fast healing abilities. In normal healing, a type of white blood cell called a macrophage fights infections and oversees the repair process. While this can take two to five days in regular humans, the macrophages of Captain American and Black Widow appear to be super productive, helping them heal quickly, in a matter of hours.

Coming to Captain America’s shield which possess the ability to deflect bullets, grenades, lasers and so on. Most of its protection appears to come from steel, although this is not a great shock absorber – and somehow Captain America is able to survive even the heaviest of blows from Thor’s hammer. The credit goes to the imaginary mineral called vibranium which, while fictional, has some science at its core.

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This material can absorb enormous amounts of vibration energy without getting too hot or melting. For example, the flash of light which appeared as Thor’s hammer hit the shield can be speculated to have arisen when the material converts vibrational or mechanical energy to light energy, keeping the avengers’ leader safe.

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Of course, we have to suspend disbelief just a bit to assume this is possible – but perhaps the Avengers have more of a root in science than we all could have presumed.

 

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The Invisibility Cloak

People who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are ones who do.

~Steve Jobs

‘The Invisibility Cloak’, one of the three ‘Deathly Hallows’, is one of the most amazing artefact in the ‘Harry Potter’ series. The cloak was used by James Potter (father of Harry Potter) and his friends to assist him in their mischief and then was gifted to Harry Potter by Prof. Albus Dumbeldore. Now, think about having one with you? No, we are not running a franchise of sellers 😉 , we are here to discuss the science behind it.

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Image credits: http://i.telegraph.co.uk

Well, physicists have listened to our prayers and are close to making one for us. Let us know how they are trying to achieve this mysterious goal – the goal to use science to defeat the eyes of viewer, just like an illusion created by a magician. This is possible by the use of ‘Metamaterials’, the materials which can bend electromagnetic radiation, such as light, around an object, giving the appearance that it was never there at all. Let us explore, how these metamaterials work.

Before we see how actual metamaterials work, let us look how bending light around objects can work in creating a camouflage to hide ourselves. We can accomplish this by simply using a plane mirror and two parabolic mirrors to reflect light around us. The incident waves are guided around the object without being affected by the object itself. The object becomes invisible from both the sides as can be understood with the help of the following ray diagram:

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In a similar manner, metamaterial invisibility cloak will work by steering radiation in every direction. The tiny elements of the metamaterial pick up the rays from the far side of an observer and relay that ray around the material. Whenever the ray arrives at the side facing the observer, it is re-emitted in the direction it would have taken, as if the object was not there at all. Unlike the parabolic mirror, a metamaterial cloak does so in all directions.

Now we know that the “Invisibility Cloak” is after all not just a fantasy, but an achievable goal. What would you do if you become “Invisible”?

For more information about this topic, visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metamaterial_cloaking

References: http://thequantumtunnel.com/metamaterials-science-invisibility-continuum/

How blockchains could disrupt the world

The technology likely to have the greatest impact on the future of the world economy has arrived, and it’s not self-driving cars, solar energy, or artificial intelligence. It’s called the blockchain.

-Don Tapscott, Bestselling author of Wikinomics

Blockchain, the second generation of the internet payment system has started. It is peer-to-peer exchange of digital money. Blockchain has proved that we don’t have to have an intermediary – a powerful bank or a credit card company – trying to authenticate who we are. Exciting fact is that it works in the same way as we do when we move to a shop and buy something anonymously. This all requires a protocol, a protocol trying to build trust among peers rather than an institution to whom we can trust. The private institutions monetise the data collected or, in the case of governments, use it to spy on us, and our privacy is compromised. So, we will now try to understand the aspects and the challenges that are lying ahead of this new technology.

What is Blockchain

Blockchain acts as a public ledger of all the online transactions that have ever been executed. It is growing at an exponential rate as ‘completed’ blocks are being added to it with a new set of recordings. The blocks are added to the blockchain in a linear, chronological order. Each node (computer connected to the network using a client that performs the task of validating and relaying transactions) is facilitated with a copy of blockchain, which gets downloaded upon joining the network.

Block essentially refers to a part of blockchain, which acts as a page in the ledger. Block is like a permanent store of records which, once written can’t be altered in any case. The hash pointer list (a type of Data Structure) used in the network helps us to make sure that the information is not altered.

How the Blockchain works

The blockchain basically works as a global spreadsheet that runs on millions and millions of computers. It’s distributed and open source, meaning that anyone can view the code and see what’s going on. It doesn’t require any particular system to settle the transactions. The Blockchain is practically unhackable database of digital assets. It is essentially a platform for building trust.

All the blockchains have a digital currency of some kind associated with them, but Bitcoin stands apart from them and is biggest of them all. Thus these two terms are used interchangeably.

Although there lies hypothetical risk of attack on Bitcoin, called “51% attack” in which if a group of 51% of the miners can prevent new transactions from gaining confirmations, allowing them to halt payments. They could also double-spend the coins. But they won’t be able to destroy the old blocks or coins that are transferred.

Let’s understand the working of Blockchain with the help of an example, if Alice owes Bob $100, Alice will initiate the transaction in Bitcoin, but it is needed to be approved by someone. This someone is the bitcoin miner. The bitcoin miners have powerful computing resources. Some people estimate that the entire computing power, for Bitcoin blockchain will be 20 times that of Google in the coming years. The miner will authenticate the transaction as soon as possible as they are motivated to do so. The motivation is that as they approve the transaction and solve a complex mathematical problem, they get paid, in “Bitcoins”. This allows to solve the problem of double-spending.

In case, Alice tries to double spend that coin, she will have to hack that ten-minute block (or the time in which the ledger page will be filled). And this is practically impossible. This is how blockchain is essentially decentralised as it is running on countless number of computers across the globe. But Alice even if she hacks, can’t change the transactions that happened before even and change the transaction done by her before it is approved.

The challenges

The challenges that can be experienced are that the transactions are made anonymously and thus have become a means of cash hoarding and illegal investment. The security is also a big concern while using Bitcoin. The collapse of Mt. Gox with the presumed theft of 744,000 bitcoins (6% of all the total coins in circulation) came as a big blow to the Bitcoin market. There is still a long way to go in terms of security. “Bitcoin 2.0 needs military-grade security” as stated by some of the technical enthusiasts.

The main problem of centralization is also solved as even the creator of Bitcoin is anonymous. Satoshi, the claimed founder of Bitcoin has kept his or her identity secret, though many people have claimed to be Satoshi, including Craig Wright, a famous Australian entrepreneur (There are a lot of conspiracy theories regarding this, make sure to have fun reading them).

The vision

Though there is very optimism related to Bitcoin technology. But it has some promising issues and has the power to change the way transactions take place in the world.

Virtual Reality 101

“It had been bound to happen. If anything, technology created a space for the strange and the afraid. Some would argue that the environment had created those people, but I doubted that. Those who flocked to technology as a place to hide and to fit in would have found something else, but instead they found another life.”
― J.P. Carver   

What comes to your mind when you hear the words “Virtual Reality”?  Do you imagine someone wearing a clunky helmet attached to a computer with a thick cable? Do you think of Neo and Morpheus traipsing about the Matrix? Or do you just let the world pass by without giving a damn about it?

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Image credits: http://www.ichef-1.bbci.co.uk

Virtual reality typically refers to using computer technology to create a simulated, three-dimensional world that a user can manipulate and explore while feeling as if he were in that world. It uses a host of technologies to achieve this goal and is a technically complex feat that has to account for user’s perception and cognition.

Big time question! How did it all begin?

Well, it all started with an idea, a vision- A story! The first references to the concept of virtual reality came from science fictionStanley G. Weinbaum‘s 1935 short story “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” described a goggle-based virtual reality system with holographic recording of fictional experiences, which included smell and touch. This was followed by the first type of multimedia device in the form of an interactive theatre experience, devised by Morton Heilig in 1957, and known as the ‘Sensorama’. It consisted of a viewing screen within an enclosed booth which displayed stereoscopic images, oscillating fans, audio output (speakers) and smell emitting devices. The viewer would sit on a rotating chair which enabled them to face this screen. He would be shown these stereoscopic images which gave the illusion of depth and the ability to view something from different angles.

Most 2016-era virtual realities are displayed either on a computer monitor, a projector screen, or with a virtual reality headset (or HMD). HMDs typically take the form of head-mounted goggles with a screen in front of the eyes. Some simulations include additional sensory information and provide sounds through speakers or headphones. Some VR systems used in video games can transmit vibrations and other sensations to the user via the game controller. Virtual reality also refers to remote communication environments which provide a virtual presence of users with through telepresence.

The applications of VR are not limited to gaming and entertainment. It extends its uses in other fields like healthcare, space, manufacturing, education, meditation and even military. Virtual-reality (VR) headsets are now being used in many industries as a way of training people or providing a new way to experience things. The scope is clearly limitless. Market offers a multiple range of companies to choose from, like Google, Facebook,  Apple, HTC, Valve, Samsung, Microsoft, Intel,Campustours,Sketchfab.

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself one and have the wonderful experience for yourself.

 

 

 

 

Turing’s Test-Can Machines think like Humans?

  I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I’m after is just a mediocre brain,   something like the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company

-Alan Turing

 

In the 1950s, Alan Turing, a prominent English Mathematician and Computer Scientist, asked himself a basic, yet intriguing question, “Could a machine think like we humans do?”

 

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Credits: www.csunplugged.org

 

Building on this idea, Turing wondered that if a computer’s response were indistinguishable from a human, then the computer could be considered a thinking machine. This motivated him to lay the foundations of the famous “Turing Test”. 

                 The objective of this article is to explain the Turing’s Test and enlist its objectives and fundamentals and how Alan Turing derived the famous “Imitation Game”. So, in order to test the intelligence of computer machinery, Turing devised a game consisting of 3 Players-A, Z and X. The Player A is the interrogator, who is communicating with X and Y through an interface. Out of X and Z, one is a machine, and the other is a human being, and both try to convince A that they are human beings, through this “chatting session”. The duration of this session wasn’t defined by Turing. So, in this session, if A is able to detect and distinguish successfully between the two, as to which one is a computer and which one is actually a human being, then the machine isn’t intelligent enough and is declared to fail the test. However, if the person A is unable to do so, then the test is carried by taking different interrogators, that is, different A, and the results from the different tests conducted by changing the interrogators are recorded. If the computer prevents from “failing” a particular percentage of the test cases, it is declared “passed” for the overall test. Again, here also Turing didn’t define the exact pass-percentage, and hence usually scientists have assumed it to be 66% percentage, or one could say a 2/3 factor. That is if the machine passes in 2 out of every 3 test cases, it is deemed intelligent enough.

                Alan Turing defined some ground rules to authenticate the results of a test. For example, if a supposed “Turing test” omits the human and uses machine for both the
players (X and Z), then it is not a “Turing test”. Similarly, if a supposed “Turing test” has the actual-human counterpart trying to give computer-ish answers to fool A, then also it is not a “Turing test”. Further, if a supposed “Turing test” deceives A by trying to hide the fact that a Turing test is being conducted, and informs A that he is chatting with 2 humans, and concludes that a lack of suspicion on A’s part is sufficient to claim that A could not distinguish between a human can computer, then also it is disqualified to be a “Turing test”.
                     

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Credits: http://www.xkcd.com

                        The first computer program which passed Turing’s Test successfully was “Eugene”. The program claimed to be a 13-year-old boy from Ukraine – two factors that could be used to excuse any grammatical errors in the computer’s replies as well as its ignorance of more specialized forms of knowledge. Only 33 per cent of the judges ‘Eugene’ spoke to had to be convinced he was a human and the conversation was only five minutes long with each.

For this reason, and a few others, a lot of computer scientists have stopped viewing the Turing Test as a credible way to assess artificial intelligence. However, that doesn’t mean it’s completely useless. As it stands, the Turing test passed by ‘Eugene’ isn’t insignificant, it speaks a lot about the sophistication of the new robots, and the main take away from this is perhaps that the goalposts have moved. Turing’s original test came from a time when computers the size of buildings were less powerful than our current smartphones – the fact that it’s no longer as relevant as we first thought is a thing to be celebrated as well.