A Beautiful Mind | The Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/19/a-beautiful-mind_n_1773468.html

 

TECH 08/13/2012 02:42 pm ET | Updated Oct 19, 2012A Beautiful MindBy Bianca Bosker160“Let’s see if I can get us killed,” Sebastian Thrun advises me in a Germanic baritone as we shoot south onto the 101 in his silver Nissan Leaf. Thrun, who pioneered the self-driving car, cuts across two lanes of traffic, then jerks into a third, threading the car into a sliver of space between an eighteen-wheeler and a sedan. Thrun seems determined to halve the normally eleven minute commute from the Palo Alto headquarters of Udacity, the online university he oversees, to Google X, the secretive Google research lab he co-founded and leads.He’s also keen to demonstrate the urgency of replacing human drivers with the autonomous automobiles he’s engineered.“Would a self-driving car let us do this?” I ask, as mounting G-forces press me back into my seat.“No,” Thrun answers. “A self-driving car would be much more careful.”Thrun, 45, is tall, tanned and toned from weekends biking and skiing at his Lake Tahoe home. More surfer than scientist, he smiles frequently and radiates serenity—until he slams on his brakes at the sight of a cop idling in a speed trap at the side of the highway. Something heavy thumps against the seat behind us and when Thrun opens the trunk moments later, he discovers that three sheets of glass he’s been shuttling around have shattered.Once we reach Google X, he regains his stride, leaving me trotting by his side as he racewalks to his office. Motion is a constant in his life. A pair of black roller skates sit by his desk. Twelve years ago, he borrowed his wife’s sneakers to run the Pittsburg marathon, without bothering to train for the race. He got his son on skis before most other kids his age got out of diapers.When Thrun finds something he wants to do or, better yet, something that is “broken,” it drives him “nuts” and, he says, he becomes “obsessed” with fixing it.Over the last 17 years, Thrun has been the author of, or a pivotal force behind, a list of solutions to a entire roster of “broken” things, making him a folk hero of sorts among Silicon Valley innovators, though hardly a household name elsewhere. While he’s in a hurry in almost every other aspect of his life, he embraces a slow-cooking approach to invention and product-building that sets him apart from many of the create-it-fund-it-and-flip-it whiz kids and veterans who populate the Valley.Thrun’s resume is populated with seismic efforts, either those already set in motion or others just around the corner. There are various robotic self-navigating vehicles that guide tourists through museums, explore abandoned mines, and assist the elderly. There is the utopian self-driving car that promises to relieve humanity from the tedium of commuting while helping reduce emissions, gridlock, and deaths caused by driver error. There are the “magic” Google Glasses that allow wearers to instantly share what they see, as they are seeing it, with anyone anywhere in the world—with the blink of an eye. And there is the free online university Udacity, a potentially game-changing educational effort that, if Thrun has his way, will level the playing field for learners of all stripes.“While everyone is running around saying ‘I’m going to do a better mobile photo thing so I can defeat Facebook and suck out more of their market cap to me,’ Sebastian is going around saying, ‘I think driving is totally screwed up and there should be autonomous cars,’” says venture capitalist George Zachary, an investor in Udacity. “He thinks much more boldly about the problems.”Other observers say all of this is firmly in the tradition of the best sort of innovators.“What’s unique about Sebastian, and all innovators, perhaps, is that they don’t start with the current situation and try to make incrementally better based on what’s been done in the past. They look out and say, ‘Given the current state of technology, what can I do radically differently to make a discontinuity—not an incremental change, but put us in a different place?’” says Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway. “He is a true innovator…And he has a fantastic vision.”Many Silicon Valley standouts have succeeded by making radical improvements to products that already exist. Facebook, for example, did social networking better than any of its predecessors. Smartphones were around well before the iPhone, but Apple came up with a gadget far slicker than the competition.Thrun likes creating new things from scratch and invents for a world that should be, for an audience that may not yet be out there, for conditions that may never be met. “I have a strong disrespect for authority and for rules,” he says. “Including gravity. Gravity sucks.”To that end, and for all of his bravado, Thrun also says that he distrusts even his own beliefs and theories, calling them “traps” that might ensnare him in a solution based more on his own ego than logic.“Every time I act on a fear, I feel disappointed in myself.  I have a lot of fear.  If I c

Source: A Beautiful Mind | The Huffington Post

 

— excerpt  —

TECH

08/13/2012 02:42 pm ET | Updated Oct 19, 2012

A Beautiful Mind

2012-08-17-photo11.PNG

“Let’s see if I can get us killed,” Sebastian Thrun advises me in a Germanic baritone as we shoot south onto the 101 in his silver Nissan Leaf.

Thrun, who pioneered the self-driving car, cuts across two lanes of traffic, then jerks into a third, threading the car into a sliver of space between an eighteen-wheeler and a sedan. Thrun seems determined to halve the normally eleven minute commute from the Palo Alto headquarters of Udacity, the online university he oversees, to Google X, the secretive Google research lab he co-founded and leads.

He’s also keen to demonstrate the urgency of replacing human drivers with the autonomous automobiles he’s engineered.

“Would a self-driving car let us do this?” I ask, as mounting G-forces press me back into my seat.

“No,” Thrun answers. “A self-driving car would be much more careful.”

Thrun, 45, is tall, tanned and toned from weekends biking and skiing at his Lake Tahoe home. More surfer than scientist, he smiles frequently and radiates serenity—until he slams on his brakes at the sight of a cop idling in a speed trap at the side of the highway. Something heavy thumps against the seat behind us and when Thrun opens the trunk moments later, he discovers that three sheets of glass he’s been shuttling around have shattered.

Once we reach Google X, he regains his stride, leaving me trotting by his side as he racewalks to his office. Motion is a constant in his life. A pair of black roller skates sit by his desk. Twelve years ago, he borrowed his wife’s sneakers to run the Pittsburg marathon, without bothering to train for the race. He got his son on skis before most other kids his age got out of diapers.

When Thrun finds something he wants to do or, better yet, something that is “broken,” it drives him “nuts” and, he says, he becomes “obsessed” with fixing it.

Over the last 17 years, Thrun has been the author of, or a pivotal force behind, a list of solutions to a entire roster of “broken” things, making him a folk hero of sorts among Silicon Valley innovators, though hardly a household name elsewhere. While he’s in a hurry in almost every other aspect of his life, he embraces a slow-cooking approach to invention and product-building that sets him apart from many of the create-it-fund-it-and-flip-it whiz kids and veterans who populate the Valley.

Thrun’s resume is populated with seismic efforts, either those already set in motion or others just around the corner. There are various robotic self-navigating vehicles that guide tourists through museums, explore abandoned mines, and assist the elderly. There is the utopian self-driving car that promises to relieve humanity from the tedium of commuting while helping reduce emissions, gridlock, and deaths caused by driver error. There are the “magic” Google Glasses that allow wearers to instantly share what they see, as they are seeing it, with anyone anywhere in the world—with the blink of an eye. And there is the free online university Udacity, a potentially game-changing educational effort that, if Thrun has his way, will level the playing field for learners of all stripes.

“While everyone is running around saying ‘I’m going to do a better mobile photo thing so I can defeat Facebook and suck out more of their market cap to me,’ Sebastian is going around saying, ‘I think driving is totally screwed up and there should be autonomous cars,’” says venture capitalist George Zachary, an investor in Udacity. “He thinks much more boldly about the problems.”

Other observers say all of this is firmly in the tradition of the best sort of innovators.

“What’s unique about Sebastian, and all innovators, perhaps, is that they don’t start with the current situation and try to make incrementally better based on what’s been done in the past. They look out and say, ‘Given the current state of technology, what can I do radically differently to make a discontinuity—not an incremental change, but put us in a different place?’” says Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway. “He is a true innovator…And he has a fantastic vision.”

Many Silicon Valley standouts have succeeded by making radical improvements to products that already exist. Facebook, for example, did social networking better than any of its predecessors. Smartphones were around well before the iPhone, but Apple came up with a gadget far slicker than the competition.

Thrun likes creating new things from scratch and invents for a world that should be, for an audience that may not yet be out there, for conditions that may never be met. “I have a strong disrespect for authority and for rules,” he says. “Including gravity. Gravity sucks.”

To that end, and for all of his bravado, Thrun also says that he distrusts even his own beliefs and theories, calling them “traps” that might ensnare him in a solution based more on his own ego than logic.

“Every time I act on a fear, I feel disappointed in myself.  I have a lot of fear.  If I can quit all fear in my life and all guilt, then I tend to be much, much more living up to my standards,” Thrun says. “I’ve never seen a person fail if they didn’t fear failure.”

Thrun imagines a future where cars fly, news articles are tailored to the time you have to read them, and teachers are as famous and well-paid as Hollywood celebrities. He grouses that we don’t wear devices to monitor our health twenty-four-seven instead of relying on symptoms to diagnose what ails us. He can spot inefficiencies everywhere he turns, and in most cases, sees technology as the magic bullet.

When he talks about his mission to “look for areas that are just intolerably broken where even small amounts of technology can yield a fundamental sea change,” Thrun makes it clear that his goal isn’t to make us high-tech, but to make us high-human.

“I have a really deep belief that we create technologies to empower ourselves. We’ve invented a lot of technology that just makes us all faster and better and I’m generally a big fan of this,” Thrun says. “I just want to make sure that this technology stays subservient to people. People are the number one entity there is on this planet.”

Simple and Streamlined

Though Thrun says his adult life revolves around trying to find ways that technology can help people, his childhood and adolescence were mainly about self-help.

The youngest of three children, Thrun was born in 1967 in Solingen, Germany. His parents, devout Catholics, told him he was an unplanned baby. Thrun recalls having little contact with his parents, and especially his father. His siblings “required a lot of attention and there was almost no attention left for me,” he says.

His father was a construction company executive and more often than not his first order of business was disciplining Sebastian or his one of siblings with a beating, at the request of his wife. Thrun says his stay-at-home mom was “heavy into punishing people and sins and all that stuff.”

Thrun responded by retreating into a solo world of calculators, computers and code.

“I reacted a lot by just insulating myself from this and so mentally, emotionally I wasn’t that connected,” he says. “I learned to basically pull my own weight, just do my own thing. I spent a lot of time alone and I loved it. It was actually really great because to the present day I love spending time alone. I go bicycling alone, go climbing alone and I just love being with myself and observing myself and learning something.”

Thrun befriended an inventor in his neighborhood who gave him spare parts and a soldering iron, then let him tinker. As an eight-year-old, he’d come home from school, shut himself up in his room, turn on Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Mozart, or Bach, and spend hours sitting on his bed programming his Texas Instruments TI-57 calculator to solve math problems and play games (These days you can find him blasting a mix of classical concertos and Rihanna).

The calculator had no memory, of course, so every time he switched it off, he lost all his code. Eventually, he graduated from his calculator to a display model computer at the local department store, but basically, he was still dealing with the same problem: after four or five hours building games on the store machine, he’d be kicked out and all his work vanished. He took this inconvenience as a challenge to perfect his code so that he could re-enter it in the fewest possible steps. This fastidious dedication to simple, streamlined programming stayed with him, and he would later require his students to write straightforward, elegant code.

When not sitting at a screen, Thrun sang in a five-person choir with Petra Dierkes, a girl two years his junior who would become his girlfriend when he was 18, and, eventually, his wife and colleague at Stanford University. He also played the piano, improvising his own songs as a way to study and express his emotions.

Thrun was a gifted student and terrible pupil with a self-imposed homework ban that lasted from seventh grade through high school graduation. In college, the unprecedented freedom to choose his own coursework sparked a newfound passion for his academic work. He combined a major in computer science with an unorthodox double minor in medicine and economics, a combination that would eventually help him design a “nursebot” to assist elderly patients. When he graduated from the University of Bonn with a Ph. D. in computer science and statistics in 1995, he leaped at the chance to join the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University—what then seemed like “paradise” to Thrun—and spent eight years there before moving to Stanford, where he was computer science guru.

Out in the Valley, Thrun struck up an acquaintanceship with Google co-founder Larry Page, who asked him to see a robot Page had built in his spare time. The two men met for dinner at a casual Japanese restaurant in Palo Alto and Thrun returned to Page’s house to see his creation. The robot’s hardware was in decent shape, but Page “got stuck on the software side of it,” according to Thrun’s diagnosis. He borrowed the robot, flew in a few friends, and returned Page’s bot within a day after giving it the ability to localize itself. After another two or three days of work, the robot could navigate. Thrun said Page was “blown away.”

In 2005, Thrun’s engineering team at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory built a driverless car, a blue Volkswagen Touareg SUV named Stanley, that managed to navigate 132 miles of desert terrain on its own, becoming the first self-driving car in history to win the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge — a race through the sands of Nevada organized by the United States Department of Defense. The previous year, not a single one of the 15 entries from some of the most powerful robotics engineers in the world had managed to complete more than eight miles of the course. Thrun won the first year he competed, just 15 months after deciding to enter the race.

Page, who professes self-driving cars have “been a passion of mine for years,” watched Stanley’s triumph in the Mojave desert. Soon after, Google hired Thrun to sire the sons of Stanley. In 2010, Thrun helped Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s other co-founder, launch Google X, a top-secret and closely-guarded lab that the search giant tasked with making the impossible possible. The following year, Thrun relinquished his tenure at Stanford.

Xtreme engineering

Google X’s engineers are housed in a low structure covered in squares of dark, mirrored glass that offer a mercury-tinted reflection of the parking lot, bikes and trees that surround it. There are jails less secure than this research lab. Employees need a key card to unlock the entrance, and then are admitted to a small waiting area furnished with two chairs and a foosball table. From there, employees must swipe their badges again to enter any of the labs within, each door plastered with signs warning Googlers to stay vigilant of “tailgaters.”

For a visitor, it’s like stepping into the labs of a mad, hipster scientist. Floors are made of concrete, wires hang from ceiling, tubing covered in foil gleams from the rafters and row after row of black metal desks fill the wide-open space. Thrun’s desk stands in the center of a vast space, at the end of a long row of identical workstations. His is tidy and spare, save for a nametag, an unopened cardboard box, a DVD about the DARPA Grand Challenge, a white Japanese humanoid robot and The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner’s history of Bell Labs—AT&T’s legendary innovations incubator that won seven Nobel prizes and helped usher in the information age.

Thrun says he rarely reads books (they’re “too long”), but Gertner’s tome is particularly fitting in a place that aspires to be the heir to the Bell Labs throne. Its mission, according to Thrun, is to work on areas of innovation that have “hard scientific challenges” and “can influence society in a massive way.” Thrun had considered working with the government to deploy self-driving technology to help soldiers in the field, but the military’s stipulation that he not publish his results killed the collaboration. He instead brought his autonomous vehicles to Google, where they provided the inspiration for Google X and, in Thrun’s view, would get the support they needed to “impact large, large numbers of people.”

Thrun crouches down to strap on his roller skates, but is distracted by a Google X-branded skateboard produced by a colleague. He grabs the board and starts wheeling around the room.

“Sergey fell on this? Awesome,” Thrun remarks with a smile on his second lap. The cavernous area, nearly empty at 9 a.m., echoes with his chirps — “Aah!” “Whee!”— as he loops the room, narrowly missing the edges of the desks, bookcases and fridges stocked with free food.

“Don’t fall, we need you,” a Googler shouts at Thrun.

A fascination with images as facilitator for human relationships infused Thrun’s work on Google Street View, which allows people to digitally meander the streets of Mumbai, trace a nature hike in Yosemite, or tour New York’s Times Square—all from the comfort of their homes. In 2007, Google acquired mapping technology which Thrun’s team at Stanford had developed to train Stanley—technology Thrun nearly used to start his own company, Vutool.

Page tasked Thrun with applying the software to scaling Google Street View as quickly as possible.
“I always felt that if countries knew each other better, there would be less war,” says Thrun. “Often conflict goes with demonizing other countries and cultures. I figured if we could bridge the gap between cultures with images, that would not be a bad thing to do.”

Two years ago, Thrun assembled a team of Google X engineers and tasked them with another assignment, one also rooted in the future: to reinvent the computer.

The result is Project Glass, a.k.a. Google Glasses, an endeavor Thrun makes a point of asking me to note is now being led by his colleague Babak Parviz. Thrun hands me a pair of the “glasses,” which will be available for $1500 to a limited group of tech industry insiders in early 2013. Worn like a pair of lens-less spectacles, the device suspends a glass cube around half an inch wide just far enough to the right of my retina that I can still make direct eye contact with Thrun, who all but hovers with excitement in the chair across from mine.

A video of fireworks begins to play on the cube and the screen glows purple, pink and blue, both from my vantage point and Thrun’s. A faint soundtrack of the explosions hums from a speaker just above my ear. The image on the glass shifts as I tilt my chin and move my gaze, and without realizing it, I snap a picture of Thrun. A small row of icons appears with the option to share it.

Google Glasses’ creators have taken pains to design a device that won’t isolate people from their surroundings. For example, the speaker sits above the wearer’s ear, not in it, and the cube rests above the eye, not in front of it. The suspended square of glass lights up from both sides, so a person speaking to someone wearing Google Glasses can tell if the wearer has the device switched on.

Thrun’s deep investment in the project seems to come from a personal aversion to the madly proliferating gadgets that stand between people and the world around them. The inspiration is to “get technology out of your way” so people “spend less time on technology and more time on the real world,” he says.

And for someone who hopes to see us endowed with an all-seeing electronic third eye, Thrun is remarkably hostile to his devices. Cellphones are a distraction that make us socially “cut off” from an environment, he gripes. He’ll finish a two-hour meal without once glancing at his phone. To him, phone calls are a “super negative” experience because they interrupt what he’s doing.

“I once saw a family of five children and two parents in a Lake Tahoe restaurant, where every single person was just looking at their phone while they were having dinner together. That made me so sad because they have this brief of moment of time with their family and they should just enjoy each other,” Thrun recalls. “I can’t tell if Google Glass has succeeded, but it’s a really big emotional thing for me: having the technology that we love and connections that bring us to other people. Technology is synonymous for connection with other people.”

Maybe.

A cellphone can slip into a pocket and be temporarily out of sight. Google Glasses are at eye level and constantly in your face, or on someone else’s face. Making it easier to snap and share photos all but guarantees we’ll take more of them and share more of them, thus connecting ourselves more directly to the people who aren’t present. Surveillance—and documentation—will become more pervasive as well in a world full of Google Glasses.

Does Thrun worry that omnipresent Google Glasses will make us more likely to disconnect from people around us?

“All the time,” he says, explaining that he and other Google X engineers have been wearing the device as much as possible to see what dinner table conversation is like once the novelty of the gadget has worn off. “Maybe the outcome will be socially not that acceptable, we don’t know.”

So far, he’s felt “amazingly empowered” by the ability to take pictures, share pictures, and bring people into what he’s doing at that very moment. To Thrun, Google Glasses’ primary appeal is as a camera. He predicts we’ll share ten times as many photos as we do now and that the images we share will be “uglier”— more personal, more authentic, and more of the moment. These intimate images of what we’re seeing right this instant — a baby’s face, the steak we’re about to bite into — will allow a kind of elementary teleportation that lets us each bring everyone along for the ride.

Your mind can be closer than ever to mine.

If Google Glasses embody Thrun’s vision for a device that brings people together, the house he’s building near Palo Alto is a wish for a home that does the same.

The frame of the house tops a gold, grassy hill on a $5.9 million, nine-acre plot of land in Los Altos Hills. Seen from afar, it might be mistaken for a red flying saucer that has descended on Silicon Valley. Designed by Eli Attia, former chief of design for Philip Johnson, the building is a squat, single-story cylinder with exterior walls made entirely of floor-to-ceiling glass. A glass cone protrudes from the roof at the center of the circle and directly below it, a spiral staircase leads to a garage. Thrun says with a touch of pride that at 5,000 square feet, the three-bedroom home is a fraction the size of its neighboring mansions. There are also no corridors or load-bearing walls in the floor plan, and much of the eco-friendly home is given over to common areas.

“It’s really compact,” Thrun says. “The idea to make as compact as possible so family stays as close together as possible.”

During the tour, a neighbor stops by to ask if Thrun will join him at this year’s Bohemian Club retreat. Like Thrun, he’s a member of this elite society where men—and only men—with big checkbooks and big roles to play in life get together to schmooze, booze, sing and pee in the woods, according to accounts. Thrun says it isn’t likely. Later, he tells me he wouldn’t want to go on vacation without his wife and son.

The Laws Of Motion

Even as Thrun seeks to get gadgets out of our way, his vision suggests an effort to make humans a bit more like computers: more rational and less inclined to give into foolish fears. Thrun sees a very real and important place for technology that advances clarity, eliminates obfuscation, and gives people all the help they need to solve problems on their own.

Thrun approaches problems armed with facts and cool hard logic, and seems troubled by people who do otherwise. He has an impressive number of statistics at his fingertips: the energy efficiency of planes versus trains, the fraction of materials shipped to a construction site that go to waste, the number of years required to fly to Mars and the percentage of Americans who don’t believe in evolution (a number irksomely large, in his view). He imagines a device more instantaneous, personalized and melded with our mind than a smartphone, one that would elevate conversations by allowing user to more easily research and surface facts during a discussion. No more messy speculation or faulty memories.

“We’ve stopped thinking. We’ve really stopped thinking,” he says. “We don’t look at problems logically, we look at them emotionally. We look at them through the guts. We look at them as if we’re doing a high school problem, like what is beautiful, what makes me recognized among my peers. We don’t go and think about things. We as a society don’t wish to engage in rational thought.”

Thrun blames the sorry state of our minds on an education system that raises students “like robots” and trains them to “follow rules.” Thrun’s pedagogy, at Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and now Udacity, leans heavily on learning by doing. He advises that I take up snowboarding so I can understand the laws of motion by living them rather than memorizing them in a classroom.
Thrun also believes that connectivity is fundamental to learning. It’s through interactions with as many good minds as possible that good ideas take hold.

Conversations with people like Dean Kamen, Elon Musk and Google’s co-founders are crucial to Thrun’s problem solving process. He listens, debates and tests ideas out on people to see how they react. Being around Page and Brin makes Thrun feel “stupid,” like “a schoolboy,” and he says he can’t get enough of it.

“For me these are the high points of my life: When I go in and somebody just shows me how dumb I am and how little I know. That’s what I live for. Just to learn something new,” he says.

On a recent afternoon, Thrun is at Udacity’s headquarters in Palo Alto, just blocks from Stanford’s campus, rallying the troops. He has called an all-hands meeting and the company’s 30-odd employees, mostly 20-somethings in jeans, are gathered in a semi circle around him leaning on desks, squished onto couches, or sitting cross-legged on the floor. His two co-founders, David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky, former members of Stanford’s self-driving car team, have also joined.

“The purpose of this week has been for me to think about where the focus is and I know all of you have been asking me for this and it’s obviously something I’ve been slacking to do and not doing really well, so score me on the performance review and make sure that you put a check mark on ‘Sebastian is not particularly fast,’” he tells his staff.

Since Udacity launched in 2011, first under the name Know Labs, over 730,000 students have enrolled in classes—including the 160,000 that registered for Thrun’s first online course, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence—and 150,000 of them are actively taking Udacity courses. Enrollment is down, Thrun acknowledges, though he doesn’t say by how much.

But Thrun is undaunted.

“If we do a really good job here, then we’re going to shape society, together with our partners and other entities in the space, to really, really redefine education,” he says. “That’s pretty cool for a mission. That’s much better than being Instagram.”

Thrun predicts education will radically transform in the next ten years. Like blockbuster films, blockbuster online classes will command huge audiences and cost millions of dollars to produce. Many alma maters will shutter their doors as low-cost, high-quality online courses put second-tier schools out of business. Learning won’t stop the moment careers begin, and instead co-exist with work throughout life. He hopes to see teens start working earlier. Books will play a reduced role in teaching and short-but-comprehensive, quiz-intensive lessons will replace them.

Udacity marks Thrun’s effort to make all of the above come true. He’s after an audience of people from 18 to 80 years old, from Sacremento to Shanghai, from novice to knowledgeable. Thrun calls Udacity the “Twitter of education,” in keeping with his vision that universities “will go from mammoth degrees to 140-character education.”

Shorter, more digestible units created by professors concerned with teaching, not tenure, will seamlessly “fit” in students’ lives. Udacity’s lessons — YouTube videos split into segments three to five minutes in length — feature a professor narrating principles or equations as they are sketched out by a disembodied hand.

Each lesson ends with a quiz, followed by an explanation of how to properly answer the problem.

Unlike traditional universities, Udacity plans to turn a profit. For a fee, the company will provide official certification to students who pass course exams at an in-person testing center. Udacity also plans to play matchmaker between students and companies looking to hire them, and, like LinkedIn, will charge firms to browse its database of resumes.

Upsetting the status quo in lecture halls around the country has become big business and Udacity faces a growing number of competitors, most of which have, unlike Udacity, partnered with existing universities to produce their courses. Coursera, a company that’s the brainchild of two Stanford professors, boasts a dozen partners from Princeton to Penn. EdX is a not-for-profit initiative founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to provide instruction online. And 2tor is working with a growing roster of universities to offer online graduate degrees in business, law and nursing, among other fields.
Thrun says he welcomes these rivals because more choice is the best thing that could happen to students.

Udacity looks to be a breeding ground for cultivating the talents of the young Thruns of the world: motivated individuals who want to learn, know what subjects they care about, seek a braniac community and are determined to teach themselves, no matter what. It’s the experience Thrun didn’t have growing up, but would have wanted. Classes are structured around solving a problem — building a search engine, programming a robotic car — rather than mastering theory or reviewing a canon. The thirteencourses offered so far cover programming physics, math, statistics and artificial intelligence.

“It’s opening up the chances for other people to also become innovators,” Zachary, the venture capitalist, says of Udacity and Thrun. “It is passing forward his spirit of innovation.”

Thrun considers Udacity his most important undertaking and it will perhaps prove his most challenging one. Regardless, he doesn’t think about his legacy and he doesn’t imagine he’ll be remembered in a generation. After all, he’s only human.

“I screw up every day,” he says. “I have a broken piece of glass in my car. I almost got a ticket this morning.” In the meantime, he plans to keep aiming high.

“Question every assumption and go towards the problem, like the way they flew to the moon,” he says. “We should have more moon shots and flights to the moon in areas of societal importance.”

This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.

Ed Yong: Zombie roaches and other parasite tales | TED Talk | TED.com

Watch this fascinating, hilarious, extremely well written TED Talk.

suicidal_wasps_zombie_roaches_and_other_tales_of_parasites

— excerpt of video transcript below —
13:14

Ed Yong

Zombie roaches and other parasite tales

Posted Mar 2014 Rated Fascinating, Informative
0:11

A herd of wildebeests, a shoal of fish, a flock of birds. Many animals gather in large groups that are among the most wonderful spectacles in the natural world. But why do these groups form? The common answers include things like seeking safety in numbers or hunting in packs or gathering to mate or breed, and all of these explanations, while often true, make a huge assumption about animal behavior, that the animals are in control of their own actions, that they are in charge of their bodies. And that is often not the case.
0:46

This is Artemia, a brine shrimp. You probably know it better as a sea monkey. It’s small, and it typically lives alone, but it can gather in these large red swarms that span for meters, and these form because of a parasite. These shrimp are infected with a tapeworm. A tapeworm is effectively a long, living gut with genitals at one end and a hooked mouth at the other. As a freelance journalist, I sympathize. (Laughter) The tapeworm drains nutrients from Artemia’s body, but it also does other things. It castrates them, it changes their color from transparent to bright red, it makes them live longer, and as biologist Nicolas Rode has found, it makes them swim in groups. Why? Because the tapeworm, like many other parasites, has a complicated life cycle involving many different hosts. The shrimp are just one step on its journey. Its ultimate destination is this, the greater flamingo. Only in a flamingo can the tapeworm reproduce, so to get there, it manipulates its shrimp hosts into forming these conspicuous colored swarms that are easier for a flamingo to spot and to devour, and that is the secret of the Artemia swarm. They aren’t sociable through their own volition, but because they are being controlled. It’s not safety in numbers. It’s actually the exact opposite. The tapeworm hijacks their brains and their bodies, turning them into vehicles for getting itself into a flamingo.
2:20

And here is another example of a parasitic manipulation. This is a suicidal cricket. This cricket swallowed the larvae of a Gordian worm, or horsehair worm. The worm grew to adult size within it, but it needs to get into water in order to mate, and it does that by releasing proteins that addle the cricket’s brain, causing it to behave erratically. When the cricket nears a body of water, such as this swimming pool, it jumps in and drowns, and the worm wriggles out of its suicidal corpse. Crickets are really roomy. Who knew?
2:59

The tapeworm and the Gordian worm are not alone. They are part of an entire cavalcade of mind-controlling parasites, of fungi, viruses, and worms and insects and more that all specialize in subverting and overriding the wills of their hosts. Now, I first learned about this way of life through David Attenborough’s “Trials of Life” about 20 years ago, and then later through a wonderful book called “Parasite Rex” by my friend Carl Zimmer. And I’ve been writing about these creatures ever since. Few topics in biology enthrall me more. It’s like the parasites have subverted my own brain. Because after all, they are always compelling and they are delightfully macabre. When you write about parasites, your lexicon swells with phrases like “devoured alive” and “bursts out of its body.” (Laughter)
3:45

But there’s more to it than that. I’m a writer, and fellow writers in the audience will know that we love stories. Parasites invite us to resist the allure of obvious stories. Their world is one of plot twists and unexpected explanations. Why, for example, does this caterpillar start violently thrashing about when another insect gets close to it and those white cocoons that it seems to be standing guard over? Is it maybe protecting its siblings? No. This caterpillar was attacked by a parasitic wasp which laid eggs inside it. The eggs hatched and the young wasps devoured the caterpillar alive before bursting out of its body. See what I mean? Now, the caterpillar didn’t die. Some of the wasps seemed to stay behind and controlled it into defending their siblings which are metamorphosing into adults within those cocoons. This caterpillar is a head-banging zombie bodyguard defending the offspring of the creature that killed it.
4:48

(Applause)
4:52

We have a lot to get through. I only have 13 minutes. (Laughter)
4:56

Now, some of you are probably just desperately clawing for some solace in the idea that these things are oddities of the natural world, that they are outliers, and that point of view is understandable, because by their nature, parasites are quite small and they spend a lot of their time inside the bodies of other things. They’re easy to overlook, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. A few years back, a man called Kevin Lafferty took a group of scientists into three Californian estuaries and they pretty much weighed and dissected and recorded everything they could find, and what they found were parasites in extreme abundance. Especially common were trematodes, tiny worms that specialize in castrating their hosts like this unfortunate snail. Now, a single trematode is tiny, microscopic, but collectively they weighed as much as all the fish in the estuaries and three to nine times more than all the birds. And remember the Gordian worm that I showed you, the cricket thing? One Japanese scientist called Takuya Sato found that in one stream, these things drive so many crickets and grasshoppers into the water that the drowned insects make up some 60 percent of the diet of local trout. Manipulation is not an oddity. It is a critical and common part of the world around us, and scientists have now found hundreds of examples of such manipulators, and more excitingly, they’re starting to understand exactly how these creatures control their hosts.
6:23

And this is one of my favorite examples. This is Ampulex compressa, the emerald cockroach wasp, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that an emerald cockroach wasp in possession of some fertilized eggs must be in want of a cockroach. When she finds one, she stabs it with a stinger that is also a sense organ. This discovery came out three weeks ago. She stabs it with a stinger that is a sense organ equipped with small sensory bumps that allow her to feel the distinctive texture of a roach’s brain. So like a person blindly rooting about in a bag, she finds the brain, and she injects it with venom into two very specific clusters of neurons. Israeli scientists Frederic Libersat and Ram Gal found that the venom is a very specific chemical weapon. It doesn’t kill the roach, nor does it sedate it. The roach could walk away or fly or run if it chose to, but it doesn’t choose to, because the venom nixes its motivation to walk, and only that. The wasp basically un-checks the escape-from-danger box in the roach’s operating system, allowing her to lead her helpless victim back to her lair by its antennae like a person walking a dog. And once there, she lays an egg on it, egg hatches, devoured alive, bursts out of body, yadda yadda yadda, you know the drill. (Laughter) (Applause)
7:48

Now I would argue that, once stung, the cockroach isn’t a roach anymore. It’s more of an extension of the wasp, just like the cricket was an extension of the Gordian worm. These hosts won’t get to survive or reproduce. They have as much control over their own fates as my car. Once the parasites get in, the hosts don’t get a say.
8:09

Now humans, of course, are no stranger to manipulation. We take drugs to shift the chemistries of our brains and to change our moods, and what are arguments or advertising or big ideas if not an attempt to influence someone else’s mind? But our attempts at doing this are crude and blundering compared to the fine-grained specificity of the parasites. Don Draper only wishes he was as elegant and precise as the emerald cockroach wasp. Now, I think this is part of what makes parasites so sinister and so compelling. We place such a premium on our free will and our independence that the prospect of losing those qualities to forces unseen informs many of our deepest societal fears. Orwellian dystopias and shadowy cabals and mind-controlling supervillains — these are tropes that fill our darkest fiction, but in nature, they happen all the time.
9:06

Which leads me to an obvious and disquieting question: Are there dark, sinister parasites that are influencing our behavior without us knowing about it, besides the NSA? If there are any — (Laughter) (Applause) I’ve got a red dot on my forehead now, don’t I? (Laughter)
9:29

If there are any, this is a good candidate for them. This is Toxoplasma gondii, or Toxo, for short, because the terrifying creature always deserves a cute nickname. Toxo infects mammals, a wide variety of mammals, but it can only sexually reproduce in a cat. And scientists like Joanne Webster have shown that if Toxo gets into a rat or a mouse, it turns the rodent into a cat-seeking missile. If the infected rat smells the delightful odor of cat piss, it runs towards the source of the smell rather than the more sensible direction of away. The cat eats the rat. Toxo gets to have sex. It’s a classic tale of Eat, Prey, Love. (Laughter) (Applause)
10:18

You’re very charitable, generous people. Hi, Elizabeth, I loved your talk.
10:24

How does the parasite control its host in this way? We don’t really know. We know that Toxo releases an enzyme that makes dopamine, a substance involved in reward and motivation. We know it targets certain parts of a rodent’s brain, including those involved in sexual arousal. But how those puzzle pieces fit together is not immediately clear. What is clear is that this thing is a single cell. This has no nervous system. It has no consciousness. It doesn’t even have a body. But it’s manipulating a mammal? We are mammals. We are more intelligent than a mere rat, to be sure, but our brains have the same basic structure, the same types of cells, the same chemicals running through them, and the same parasites. Estimates vary a lot, but some figures suggest that one in three people around the world have Toxo in their brains. Now typically, this doesn’t lead to any overt illness. The parasite holds up in a dormant state for a long period of time. But there’s some evidence that those people who are carriers score slightly differently on personality questionnaires than other people, that they have a slightly higher risk of car accidents, and there’s some evidence that people with schizophrenia are more likely to be infected. Now, I think this evidence is still inconclusive, and even among Toxo researchers, opinion is divided as to whether the parasite is truly influencing our behavior. But given the widespread nature of such manipulations, it would be completely implausible for humans to be the only species that weren’t similarly affected.
11:53

And I think that this capacity to constantly subvert our way of thinking about the world makes parasites amazing. They’re constantly inviting us to look at the natural world sideways, and to ask if the behaviors we’re seeing, whether they’re simple and obvious or baffling and puzzling, are not the results of individuals acting through their own accord but because they are being bent to the control of something else. And while that idea may be disquieting, and while parasites’ habits may be very grisly, I think that ability to surprise us makes them as wonderful and as charismatic as any panda or butterfly or dolphin.
12:32

At the end of “On the Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin writes about the grandeur of life, and of endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful, and I like to think he could easily have been talking about a tapeworm that makes shrimp sociable or a wasp that takes cockroaches for walks.
12:51

But perhaps, that’s just a parasite talking.
12:54

Thank you.
12:55

(Applause)
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For healthier buildings, just add bacteria? |

http://ideas.ted.com/for-healthier-buildings-just-add-bacteria/

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For healthier buildings, just add bacteria?

Jan 24, 2017 / Ed Yong

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Just like a human being, a house or office has its own microbiome, with good and bad microorganisms. One researcher has a targeted idea: to customize our spaces with the right microbes.
Right before the University of Chicago’s Center for Care and Discovery opened in 2013, a team of researchers — overseen by Jack Gilbert, microbial researcher and director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago — went through the eerily empty hallways, armed with bags of Q-tips. None of the rooms were home to humans yet; their only residents were microbes, which the team was there to collect. They swabbed the pristine floors, the gleaming bedrails, the perfectly folded sheets. They collected samples from light switches, door handles, air vents and more. Finally, they fitted the rooms with data loggers to measure light, temperature, humidity and air pressure, carbon dioxide monitors that would automatically record if a room was occupied, and infrared sensors that could tell when people entered or left. After the hospital opened, the team collected weekly samples.
Just as others have catalogued the developing microbiome of a newborn baby, Gilbert has, for the first time, catalogued the developing microbiome of a newborn building. His team is analyzing the data to work out how the presence of humans has changed the building’s microbial character and whether those environmental microbes have flowed back into the occupants. Nowhere are those questions more important than in a hospital. There, the flow of microbes can mean life or death — a lot of deaths. In the developed world, around five to ten percent of people who check into hospitals and other health-care institutions pick up an infection during their stay, falling ill in the very places that are meant to make them healthier. In the United States alone, this means around 1.7 million infections and 90,000 deaths a year.
Ever since the 1860s, when Joseph Lister instigated sterile techniques in his hospital, cleaning regimes have helped curb the spread of pathogens. But just as we have gone overboard in taking unnecessary antibiotics or lathering ourselves in antibacterial sanitizers, we have also gone too far in cleaning our buildings, even our hospitals. As an example, one US hospital recently spent around $700,000 to install flooring that was impregnated with antibacterial substances, despite no evidence that such measures work. They might even make things worse. Perhaps the quest to sterilize our hospitals has created dysbiosis in the microbiomes of our buildings. By removing harmless bacteria that would otherwise impede the growth of pathogens, perhaps we have inadvertently constructed a more dangerous ecosystem.
    Researcher Gilbert has visions of adding microbial spheres to neonatal intensive care units, to expose babies to a ‘rich microbial ecosystem’
Rather than trying to exclude microbes from our buildings and public spaces, perhaps it is time to lay the welcome mat out for them. One of Gilbert’s many microbial ideas: to deliberately seed buildings with bacteria. The microbes won’t be sprayed or plastered onto walls. Instead, they’ll come caged within tiny plastic spheres, created by engineer Ramille Shah. She will use three-dimensional printers to fashion balls that contain a warren of microscopic nooks and crannies. Gilbert will then impregnate these with useful bacteria like Clostridia, which digests fiber and quenches inflammation, as well as nutrients that nourish those microbes.
These bacteria should then jump over to anyone who interacts with the spheres. Gilbert is testing this with germ-free mice. He wants to see if the bacteria are stable in their cages, if they jump into rodents that play with the balls, if they last in their new hosts and if they can cure the rodents of inflammatory diseases. If that works, Gilbert has visions of testing the microbial spheres in office blocks or hospital wards. He imagines adding them to the cots in neonatal intensive care units, so that the infants would “be constantly exposed to a rich microbial ecosystem that we’ve designed to be beneficial.” He adds, “I want to create 3D-printable teething toys, too. You can imagine children playing with these.”
These spheres are effectively a different take on probiotics — a way of delivering beneficial microbes not through yogurt drinks or nutritional supplements, but via an animal’s surroundings. “I don’t want to put the microbes in their food and shove it down their gullet,” he says. “I want the microbes to interact with their nasal membranes, their mouths and their hands. I want them to experience that microbiome in a more natural way.”
    Microbes that prevent dandruff and dermatitis might be used to stop mold from developing in homes
But Gilbert is interested in implementing his ideas on a much larger scale. He wants to shape the microbiomes of entire cities, starting with Chicago. He has been talking to architect Luke Leung, who designed the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Since meeting Gilbert, Leung has also become something of a microbiome fanatic. In several of his buildings, Leung has routed the ventilation system so that it flows through a wall of plants, which not only pleases the eye but also filters the air. To him, Gilbert’s idea of lacing walls with microbial spheres — which I’ve suggested should be called Baccy Balls — makes perfect sense. Karen Weigert, Chicago’s chief sustainability officer, has also become a microbiome enthusiast.
The four of us — Leung, Gilbert, Weigert and me — are meeting for lunch at a Chicago restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan. Like Leung, Weigert is excited about using bacteria in architecture, and she asks Gilbert if the Baccy Balls would work in low-income housing, as well as in skyscrapers. Yes, he says. He wants to make them as cheaply as possible.
She switches the conversation to Chicago’s perennial problem with flooding. The sewer system backs up a lot and will probably do so more and more as the global climate changes. “Is there something we can do to manage flooding, or after-effects like mold?” she asks. “There actually is,” says Gilbert.
In a different project, he has been working with L’Oréal to identify bacteria that can prevent dandruff and dermatitis, by stopping fungi from germinating on the scalp. These microbes could form the basis of anti-dandruff probiotic shampoos, but they could also be used to create “micro-wetlands” that stop flooded homes from becoming overrun by mold. So if a home floods, fungi would get a bonanza of water, but also face a bloom of antifungal microbes. “You’d get automatic built-in mold control,” says Gilbert.
“So how real is all of this? Where are you with it?” asks Weigert.
“We’ve got the fungal control agents, and we’re trying to work out how to implant them into plastics,” says Gilbert. “We’re probably two or three years off from having something that we’d feel comfortable inserting in somebody’s home — someone who wasn’t a colleague. And it may be three or four years before we have something reliable we can roll out.”
“We’ve been getting pretty good at killing bacteria, but we want to revitalize that relationship,” Leung says. “We want to understand how the bacteria can help us in the built environment.”
    It’s the start of a new era, when people are finally able to embrace the microbial world.
Manipulating the microbiomes of buildings and cities is just the start of Gilbert’s ambitions. As well as the hospital and aquarium initiatives, he is also studying the microbiomes of a local gym and a college dorm. He and microbial researcher Rob Knight at UC San Diego (TED Talk: How our microbes make us who we are) are looking into forensic applications. He is studying the microbiomes of a wastewater treatment plant, floodplains, oil-contaminated waters in the Gulf of Mexico, prairies, a neonatal intensive care unit and Merlot grapes. He is studying how gut microbes change over the course of the day and whether that affects our risk of becoming fat. He is analyzing samples from several dozen wild baboons to see if the females that are most successful at rearing young have anything distinctive in their microbiomes.
Finally, together with Knight and Janet Jansson (of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), Gilbert is coordinating the Earth Microbiome Project — a breathtakingly ambitious plan to take full stock of the planet’s microbes. The team are making contact with people who work on oceans or grasslands or floodplains, and persuading them to share their samples and their data. Ultimately, they want to be able to predict the kinds of microbes that live in a given ecosystem by plugging in basic factors like temperature, vegetation, wind speed or levels of sunlight. And they want to predict how those species would respond to environmental changes, like the flooding of a river, or the passage from night to day. As goals go, it is ludicrously ambitious; some would say, unachievably so. But Gilbert and his colleagues are undeterred.
Now is a time for thinking big. It’s a time when families can be persuaded to swab their houses for researchers, when aquarium managers are as concerned about the invisible life in their waters as they are about the charismatic dolphins, when hospitals are seriously considering adding microbes to walls rather than removing them. It’s the start of a new era, when people are finally ready to embrace the microbial world.
Excerpted from the new book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View on Life by Ed Yong. Copyright 2016 Ed Yong. Reprinted with permission from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
 
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About the author
Ed Yong writes the award-winning blog Not Exactly Rocket Science (hosted by National Geographic). He also contributes to Nature, Wired, Scientific American and many other web and print outlets.
    baccy ballsbacteriabook excerptearth microbiome projectEd Yongjack gilbertJoseph ListerKaren WeigertLuke LeungmicrobesmicrobiologymicrobiomeRamille ShahRob Knight

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MIT researchers create new form of matter | MIT News

http://news.mit.edu/2017/mit-researchers-create-new-form-matter-0302

— excerpt below —

    This image shows the equipment used by the Ketterle group to create a supersolid.
    This image shows the equipment used by the Ketterle group to create a supersolid.
    Photo courtesy of the researchers

    The Ketterle group at MIT’s Killian court. Pictured from left to right: Furkan Çağrı Top, Junru Li, Sean Burchesky, Alan O. Jamison, Wolfgang Ketterle, Boris Shteynas, Wujie Huang, and Jeongwon Lee.
    The Ketterle group at MIT’s Killian court. Pictured from left to right: Furkan Çağrı Top, Junru Li, Sean Burchesky, Alan O. Jamison, Wolfgang Ketterle, Boris Shteynas, Wujie Huang, and Jeongwon Lee.
    Photo courtesy of the researchers

    This image shows the equipment used by the Ketterle group to create a supersolid.
    This image shows the equipment used by the Ketterle group to create a supersolid.
    Photo courtesy of the researchers

    The Ketterle group at MIT’s Killian court. Pictured from left to right: Furkan Çağrı Top, Junru Li, Sean Burchesky, Alan O. Jamison, Wolfgang Ketterle, Boris Shteynas, Wujie Huang, and Jeongwon Lee.
    The Ketterle group at MIT’s Killian court. Pictured from left to right: Furkan Çağrı Top, Junru Li, Sean Burchesky, Alan O. Jamison, Wolfgang Ketterle, Boris Shteynas, Wujie Huang, and Jeongwon Lee.
    Photo courtesy of the researchers
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MIT researchers create new form of matter
Supersolid is crystalline and superfluid at the same time.
Julia C. Keller | School of Science

March 2, 2017

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MIT physicists have created a new form of matter, a supersolid, which combines the properties of solids with those of superfluids.
By using lasers to manipulate a superfluid gas known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, the team was able to coax the condensate into a quantum phase of matter that has a rigid structure — like a solid — and can flow without viscosity — a key characteristic of a superfluid. Studies into this apparently contradictory phase of matter could yield deeper insights into superfluids and superconductors, which are important for improvements in technologies such as superconducting magnets and sensors, as well as efficient energy transport. The researchers report their results this week in the journal Nature.
“It is counterintuitive to have a material which combines superfluidity and solidity,” says team leader Wolfgang Ketterle, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics at MIT. “If your coffee was superfluid and you stirred it, it would continue to spin around forever.”  
Physicists had predicted the possibility of supersolids but had not observed them in the lab. They theorized that solid helium could become superfluid if helium atoms could move around in a solid crystal of helium, effectively becoming a supersolid. However, the experimental proof remained elusive.
The team used a combination of laser cooling and evaporative cooling methods, originally co-developed by Ketterle, to cool atoms of sodium to nanokelvin temperatures. Atoms of sodium are known as bosons, for their even number of nucleons and electrons. When cooled to near absolute zero, bosons form a superfluid state of dilute gas, called a Bose-Einstein condensate, or BEC. 
Ketterle co-discovered BECs — a discovery for which he was recognized with the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics.
“The challenge was now to add something to the BEC to make sure it developed a shape or form beyond the shape of the ‘atom trap,’ which is the defining characteristic of a solid,” explains Ketterle.
Flipping the spin, finding the stripes
To create the supersolid state, the team manipulated the motion of the atoms of the BEC using laser beams, introducing “spin-orbit coupling.”
In their ultrahigh-vacuum chamber, the team used an initial set of lasers to convert half of the condensate’s atoms to a different quantum state, or spin, essentially creating a mixture of two Bose-Einstein condensates. Additional laser beams then transferred atoms between the two condensates, called a “spin flip.”
“These extra lasers gave the ‘spin-flipped’ atoms an extra kick to realize the spin-orbit coupling,” Ketterle says.
Physicists had predicted that a spin-orbit coupled Bose-Einstein condensate would be a supersolid due to a spontaneous “density modulation.” Like a crystalline solid, the density of a supersolid is no longer constant and instead has a ripple or wave-like pattern called the “stripe phase.” 
“The hardest part was to observe this density modulation,” says Junru Li, an MIT graduate student who worked on the discovery. This observation was accomplished with another laser, the beam of which was diffracted by the density modulation. “The recipe for the supersolid is really simple,” Li adds, “but it was a big challenge to precisely align all the laser beams and to get everything stable to observe the stripe phase.”
Mapping out what is possible in nature
Currently, the supersolid only exists at extremely low temperatures under ultrahigh-vacuum conditions. Going forward, the team plans to carry out further experiments on supersolids and spin-orbit coupling, characterizing and understanding the properties of the new form of matter they created.
“With our cold atoms, we are mapping out what is possible in nature,” explains Ketterle. “Now that we have experimentally proven that the theories predicting supersolids are correct, we hope to inspire further research, possibly with unanticipated results.”
Several research groups were working on realizing the first supersolid. In the same issue of Nature, a group in Switzerland reported an alternative way of turning a Bose-Einstein condensate into a supersolid with the help of mirrors, which collected laser light scattering by the atoms. “The simultaneous realization by two groups shows how big the interest is in this new form of matter,” says Ketterle.
Ketterle’s team members include graduate students Junru Li, Boris Shteynas, Furkan Çağrı Top, and Wujie Huang; undergraduate Sean Burchesky; and postdocs Jeongwon Lee and Alan O. Jamison, all of whom are associates at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics.
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office for Scientific Research, and the Army Research Office.


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