Prof. Rosalyn Berne discussed the frontiers in various sciences such as synthetic biology, and nanotechnology, as well as her first hand experiences with animal communication. She detailed how she incorporates science-fiction ideas (such as from films like The Matrix) into the engineering classes she teaches as a way to make material more relatable to her students. "We've been asking what are we doing with our technology, who are we becoming," as we explore the complexities of what it means to be alive, and to be human, as technology changes us and our world, she explained.
Synthetic biology, which involves the engineering of fundamental components of biology to create something that doesn't exist in nature (like Craig Venter's creation of a synthetic life form) , has stirred up some controversy-- a group of environmentalists have called for more oversight, she noted. Berne also outlined developments in nanotechnology-- she is particularly excited about the possibility of its usage to treat diseases such as cancer, where nanotech might target just cancer cells without damaging other parts of the body. She did express concern about products already in the marketplace that contain nano-materials (such as some sunscreens), as we don't yet know the long term health and environmental risks.
With all the focus on technology, we sometimes lose our deep connection to the earth, and other living beings, said Berne, who shared how she began to receive communications from a horse by happenstance during a trail ride. While humans convert meaning into language in their brains, animals convert it into images and senses about what they're feeling. She discovered, particularly with horses, that she can "capture the meaning" that comes from them in a pre-linguistic place. Horses have larger hearts compared to humans, and they communicate from the heart which flows into their brain-- this could be a lesson to humans, who tend to be too cerebral, she commented.
First hour guest, aerospace engineer Dr. Robert Zubrin reacted to the lack of methane findings on Mars by the Curiosity rover. This doesn't completely rule out the possibility for life on the Red Planet, he said, noting there may be "missing links"-- life simpler than bacteria existing in the groundwater, which could be drilled into on a manned mission. Interest in Mars missions may come from private enterprise, and foreign countries if NASA lags behind, he indicated. Zubrin also gave an update on the Mars Arctic 365 project, a simulated Mars mission that will take place in the Arctic for one year.