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#14: Simulating a human brain, Hubble, Largest Bacterium Ever, Fusion Energy, Windows 11 goes green, and more!

Hi everyone!

Last week, Simply Explained reached 400,000 subscribers on YouTube! This is a huge milestone, and I want to thank everyone for watching my videos, reading my blog posts and newsletters. Your support really means a lot to me! I know I haven't been uploading new videos for a while now, but that'll change soon. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, you can check out all the cool and interesting things I found on the web this month.


🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet

Interactive article: how GPS works

In issue #7, I shared an article that explained how GPS works (basically fancy clocks floating in space). Now I found an "interactive article" which also explains GPS with cool animations. It was created by Bartosz Ciechanowski, which I mentioned in issue #4 for his interactive article on how internal combustion engines work.

Simulating the human brain: soon possible?

The company Graphcore is building a computer that will handle artificial intelligence models with up to 500 trillion parameters. That's 25 times more than the famous GPT-3 model, and 5 times bigger than the human brain. However, it's unlikely that the machine will actually be 5 times better than our grey matter. The brain is very efficient: it's small, doesn't use a lot of energy and it can change its physical structure to "compute" things more efficiently (plasticity).

👽 Space

What did Hubble see on your birthday?

Hubble explores the universe 24/7, and on this website you can see what Hubble photographed on your birthday. In my case, it found the Doradus Nebula (photographed on April 7th, 2013).

Satellite finds massive methane leaks

Three years ago, The European Space Agency (ESA) launched a special satellite that can find methane leaks. The satellite found a ton of methane leaks, sometimes caused by accidents, but some leaks are due to gas companies venting pipelines for repair or maintenance. Finding these leaks is important because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.

🌸 Nature

Life in the soil was thought to be silent

What happens if you stick a nail into the ground and convert the signal into sounds we can hear? Well, you would hear animals moving and the roots of plants growing! We think of sound as a pressure wave traveling through air, but it can also propagate through soil or water. Many animals use this to their advantage. Elephants communicate over long distances by producing a low-frequency rumble that propagates through the ground. Their distant relatives can pick this up with the soles of their feet!

The largest bacterium ever discovered

Scientists discovered a type of bacteria (Thiomargarita magnifica) that can grow up to 2 centimeters in size. That's as big as a peanut or 5000 times bigger than other microbes. Not only its size is odd, its insides are as well. Bacteria are single-celled organisms. But this one has multiple zones within its cell (organelles) and its DNA is kept in a separate section, something we only see in more complex cells like the ones in our body. This bacteria breaks our current categorization of life.

⚡️ Energy & Environment

Windows 11 will only update when green energy is available

Microsoft released a Windows 11 beta that will delay the installation of updates until there's enough "green" electricity available. It does this based on data from electricityMap and WattTime. As we transition to renewable energy sources, it becomes important to shift our electricity usage towards periods with lots of sun or wind. This is one step in that direction, and one that could have a big impact given the popularity of Windows.

JET Fusion Reactor smashes energy record

Fusion energy is still the holy grail of electricity generation. If we can make it work, we'll have an endless supply of clean energy. The experimental JET reactor in Oxford recently produced 59 megajoules of energy for 5 seconds. This result is great news for ITER as well, because JET is a small-scale version.

France will build 6 new nuclear reactors

France realized it can't power the country with clean or renewable energy sources alone. Instead, it will keep nuclear reactors open longer (when it's safe to do so) and build 6 new reactors of type EPR2. President Emmanuel Macron called it "nuclear renaissance". The first reactor should begin operation in 2035 and will provide relatively clean energy. In theory, this should buy them enough time to transition to 100% renewable energy!

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