The Ethics of Colonization on Mars

Image from Wikipedia

Welcome back to Aleiah who posted for the Turret while she was a student in Communication in Engineering (CCOM 206). Here is a post she wrote with her fellow student, Kevin Xie, for a class assignment for Engineering Professional Practice (FACC 400).


The Ethics of Colonization on Mars

Humanity is on the verge of technological advancement which will make possible the colonization of Mars, the red planet. According to SpaceX the first human is planned to land on Mars by the year 20241. However, this calls into question: Should humanity colonize Mars?

The colonization of Mars is a complex issue with many underlying aspects. There are also many technical challenges such as, overcoming cosmic radiation, bone demineralization and the psychological stress of a journey to Mars.  For Mars to be habitable by humans, it must first be terraformed. Terraforming is a process in which the environment of a planet is modified to emulate the earth. It involves the modification of the atmosphere, topography, temperature and ecology. Doing this will help scientists on Earth understand Earth’s own environment as well as facilitate human life on mars. Any technological advancements made will help all of humanity. An example of this is climate change on Earth. Understanding how to control the temperature of a planet can help solve climate change on Earth.

Whether or not the Mars colonization project is a success, humanity can benefit from this project as the technology required to successfully colonize Mars can be useful on Earth as well. For example, here are three industries that would be greatly advanced thanks to the Mars project, to the benefit of humans on Earth:

  1. Agriculture:

The World Bank reported in 20152 that approximately 11% of Earth is arable, meaning capable of being ploughed and used for crops. As human population grows and food security becomes a greater issue, the agricultural industry would benefit from technology that allowed them to farm on unforgiving land. The Mars project faces this exact design problem as humans would need to start growing their own food on Mars in order to successfully colonize there.

  1. Medical:

Astronauts face a number of health issues in space, such as loss of bone density and muscular atrophy due to the lower gravity. In particular, Mars only has 38% of Earth’s gravity. Under prolonged circumstances, astronauts could find themselves facing skeletal damage. Although the circumstances are unique to the astronauts, these health concerns are not. Osteoporosis is a common public health problem whose patients tend to neglect their medication as they don’t believe in the effectiveness of the treatment. Solving this problem for astronauts will also help these patients.

  1. Nuclear Power:

Mars offers very little radiation protection and shielding compared to Earth, due to having no magnetosphere and a very thin atmosphere. Whereas humans on Earth are naturally protected from solar radiation and galactic cosmic rays, as Earth explores more sources of energy including nuclear power, it will soon become increasingly important to create technology that would protect humans from radiation.

Additionally, it is important to think of the colonization of Mars not as a transfer, but an expansion. Creating a colony on Mars does not mean that the earth will be abandoned. It can be compared to the first European settlers arriving in America. America was simply an expansion. In order for humanity to continue to progress, Mars must be colonized.

The colonization of Mars is also a stepping stone for humans to move beyond the solar system. The knowledge gained from colonizing mars will not only pave the way to going to other planets, but also building permanently habitable space stations in which humans can live.

Citations

Arable land (% of land area). (n.d.). Retrieved November 09, 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.ARBL.ZS?end=2015&start=2015&view=bar

This is how SpaceX will get humans to Mars by 2024 | CBC News. (2017, September 29). Retrieved November 09, 2018, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/spacex-mars-rocket-elon-musk-1.4312878

A little piece of Schulich Library goes to China!

One of the main reasons I love working at McGill is the opportunity to interact with amazing students and staff who are doing exciting projects that could potentially change the world. The 99 McGill and Concordia student, staff, and alumni members of Team Montreal are currently part of one such endeavor. They are building a net zero energy home, a prototype that could revolutionize how we live in the future since the technological design features of this house enable it to create as much energy as the house dwellers consume. They have all kinds of sponsors including their lead presenting sponsor, Hydro Quebec, who sees this project as an opportunity for them to become a main player in technologies related to intelligent and sustainable home design. Hydro Quebec’s vice-president of client services, Eric Filion, sees this project as a way for them to learn more about innovative technologies and actually test them out.

Not only is Team Montreal building a house that could change for the better the way we live, they are also out to win the Solar Decathlon China 2018 competition currently taking place in China, where, as the only team from Canada, they are competing against 21 other teams from around the world. Once the competition is over, most houses will remain on public display either in China or elsewhere. Team members say there are plans to build other houses in Montreal using the same design.

What is particularly cool about the Team Montreal design is the way it takes the traditional row housing style of architecture so predominant in Montreal and creates something new, incorporating Asian-style features such as an open-air courtyard, and innovative technologies that enhance the house’s sustainability. For a sneak peek of how the house will look upon completion, check out the 3-minute video here (part-way down the page on the right-hand side).

I had heard about the project a few months back and was thrilled to be contacted in April by one of the team members who was asking for help. They wanted to have books on architecture and engineering to add to the house’s built-in bookshelves. The books could show signs of use since they wanted to give the house a lived-in feel. I was so happy to be able to support this fantastic project. Right away, I contacted my engineering librarian counterpart at Concordia, Joshua Chalifour to see if he could help out. Joshua had a number of engineering books that were going to be discarding due to them being so well-used and they had purchased replacement copies already. He willingly lugged a bunch of them over by foot from Concordia for me to add to the pile. So along with the books Joshua brought over, we had a combination of items from Schulich Library that were donations we already had in our collection, items that we were going to discard because we had duplicate copies or newer editions, and some old engineering trade magazines from my personal collection.

It was very exciting to correspond and meet with team members Kim Chayer and Thierry Syriani. Their enthusiasm for this project is certainly contagious! When they came to see the books, they were really happy to take everything! The books went out in two shipments, with the pre-fabricated house materials in big crates, the 1st shipment being in April and the 2nd one in June.

How can you help? You can support the team by liking and following them on Facebook or by following their diary where, as I write, they are in the home stretch of needing to assemble the house within the next few days. They are battling hot weather, challenges associated with pre-fabrication construction, heavy rain, and typhoon threats in order to complete the house on time. You can also support them by making a donation.

Go Team Montreal! Who knows, some of the engineering books you may have used in courses taught at McGill and Concordia might be lining the shelves of this year’s prize-winning house of the Solar Decathlon China competition!

What the heck is happening with Schulich Library?!

As those of you who use the library frequently may have noticed, there always seems to be something going on related to facilities in the building these days. In fact, in the next little while, the library will be completely closed from the evening of Fri. Mar. 2 and reopening at 9am on Tues. Mar. 6 to accommodate a complete ventilation shutdown and necessary work for the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) project. Here is the official announcement.

After-hours access will also be disabled. During this time, you are encouraged to use other branches. Please find branch opening hours here.

The HVAC project, which is set to be complete by June 2018, will see Schulich Library obtain updated heating and cooling facilities. You will find more details on the project here. Please bear with us. Once the HVAC project is finished, the library should be more comfortable for everyone.

In the mean time, there is also now a dedicated email you can use to let McGill Facilities staff know that the building (or any other library building) is too hot or too cold.

Unfortunately, the fun won’t stop with the HVAC project! In the future, the library will be going through exterior masonry work, similar to what is currently taking place and/or what will be taking place very soon in the Macdonald-Harrington Building and the Macdonald Engineering Building. You will find more details about those projects here. When it’s Schulich Library’s turn, there will be interior and exterior work being done simultaneously. Further announcements are forthcoming, once there is a projected timeline for the work in Schulich Library.

Our apologies for all the disruption. A comfortable space is the ultimate goal and unfortunately, sometimes you need to break some eggs to make a cake!

Of course, if you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to come to the service desk on the main floor or send an email to: schulich.library@mcgill.ca

Welcome Aleiah!

aleiah closeup picture

I would like to introduce a new student blogger to the Turret. Her name is Aleiah and she is a student in “CCOM 206 – Communication in Engineering” at McGill this semester. The course gives students an opportunity to develop their writing skills through various types of writing including a research paper, a cover letter, and a business proposal. She is a 3rd year student in Mechanical Engineering who is interested in aerospace and wants to works in aircraft design. She is originally from Winnipeg. Welcome to the Turret Aleiah! We look forward to having your perspective as a McGill engineering student added to the blog!

“Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre” Event Rocks Schulich Library!

Natural disasters display

Despite a risk of severe thunderstorms (very fitting for the evening’s theme!), about 50 participants braved their way to Schulich Library of Science and Engineering on Tuesday night for “Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre!” to hear all about Montreal-area natural disasters. A big thanks to everyone who joined us, and an even bigger thanks to Professors John Stix and John Gyakum for presenting loads of information on different types of natural disasters and their likelihood of taking place in Montreal. Their presentation was delivered in a conversational, fact-filled and thought-provoking style that inspired the audience.

So what natural disasters could happen here? Earthquakes, ice storms (of course!), and even hurricanes are all possibilities. Even though Professor Stix confirmed that Mount Royal isn’t a volcano, he did recount a dream he once had that Mount Royal erupted and lava came flowing down the middle of campus! (This just goes to show you the kind of things geologists dream about!) The professors also talked about increased risk of natural disasters due to human activities (such as the increased chances of extreme weather events due to rising CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and the increased likelihood of earthquakes from fracking to obtain natural gas). Professor Gyakum showed a video that gives the analogy of steroid use by baseball players to explain how climate change works (available here). He also explained that increased water vapor in the atmosphere caused by increased CO2 emissions ups the chances of more extreme weather, such as ice storms in Montreal. We are, after all, in one of North America’s freezing rain capitals. So make sure to keep those candles and bottled water handy this winter!

Their talk generated a lot of questions such as: Is there a risk of Yellowstone erupting anytime soon? Professor Stix says it is a very active geologic area, which may explain this recent news story . However, he also said “I don’t lose sleep over it.” Another participant asked: Generally, how prepared are Montreal’s buildings for an earthquake? Members of the audience concluded that we are not so prepared, especially considering the number of old buildings we have here.

In case you missed the event, you can always come check out the Natural Disasters display with information, photos and specimens related to ice storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. It is located on the main floor of the Schulich Library and will be up until, at least, the end of summer.

Finally, a special thank you to Teaching and Learning Services and Ingrid Birker from the Redpath Museum’s Science Outreach and Public Program for helping to make the evening a success.

Catch the Next Tsunami: Natural Disasters MOOC Starts Tomorrow!

natural_disastersMcGill is about to launch ATOC185x: Natural Disasters, its second MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), tomorrow and you can register here! The course is publicly available to anyone with an internet connection and interest in some of the most pressing environmental questions of our time:

  • What makes certain areas more susceptible to earthquakes, ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanoes?
  • What factors are currently increasing the vulnerability of the world’s population to natural disasters?
  • Do natural disasters happen in an isolated manner or can we predict them?
  • How can we work together to better mitigate the impacts of natural disasters in the future?

Following in the footsteps of McGill’s first MOOC – “Food for Thought” that kicked off in January 2014 and saw over 30,000 people register, this second MOOC given by volcano expert John Stix from Earth and Planetary Sciences and ice storm expert Professor John Gyakum from Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences continues to offer education for the masses on important topics that affect all our lives. Want more information on MOOCs? Check out the library’s MOOC subject guide and make sure you catch this next tsunami that is ATOC185x: Natural Disasters!

Image from www.mcgill.ca

A New Addition to the Blogging Team

I am pleased to introduce Mushfique, the Turret’s newest blogger.  He joins some of his fellow students from this semester’s Communication in Engineering course in contributing to the blog about his experiences as a new student at McGill.  Mushfique is an electrical engineering student from Dhaka, Bangladesh who will be staying on in Montreal this summer to take part in McGill’s Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering.  Welcome to the Turret Mushfique!  We look forward to hearing about your experiences as an international student in engineering. Mushfique_photo

A Keyboard Without a Keyboard

keyboardWe all know there are apps for everything.  But now there is an app that can create something out of nothing.  Imagine typing up the next great novel by simply tapping your fingers on a desk.  Florian Kräutli is an industrial designer living in the Netherlands who has designed an app that can allow you to do just that.  His invention can literally turn any surface into a keyboard for your iphone.  For his master’s degree in cognitive computing from the University of London, he created the Vibrative Virtual Keyboard, an invention that is less like transmitting Morse code and more like playing air guitar.  Unlike similar designs that allow users to type onto a laser-projected keyboard, his app requires no additional hardware other than your nearest flat surface.  The app works by taking readings from the iphone’s internal accelerometer which measures vibrations near the iphone.  The user spends some time teaching the iphone what certain taps mean, and the software figures out the rest.  The app is in its early stages and the readings from the iphone’s internal accelerometer are not always spot on.  However, Kräutli claims that “if you made the accelerometer more sensitive you could improve the accuracy quite easily” (The Telegraph).  In the meantime, the app relies on a spell checker to get words right.  Here is the app in action.

How do you get your keyboard without a keyboard installed on your iphone?  The app is still in its proof of concept phase and has yet to be commercialized.  So for now, you’ll need some hardware or at least a pen and paper to get started on that novel!

Image from Goldsmiths, University of London

The Science of Loooooove!

The-Science-of-Love beakerIt’s time to get your groove on!  Get your Mojo working and get in the mood for love!  McGill’s Freaky Friday series is sponsoring a love-in of sorts with their Science of Love Competition just in time for Valentine’s Day!  Open to undergraduate students in science, the six best one-page proposals on the chemistry, biology or physics of all things love-related will be chosen to deliver a 4-slide 4-minute presentation at Redpath Museum for the McLovin’ Science Prize.  The big event will take place on Valentine’s Day (of course!) at 5pm in Redpath Museum and is open to the public.  Proposals are due Jan. 31.  Please click here for further contest details.

In need of some inspiration to get the juices flowing?  Check out the BBC’s Three stages of falling in love page, PositScience’s Your brain in love page, Nature’s blog post reporting on research that confirms the existence of love at first sight and Scientific American’s Illusions of love page.  Or check out McGill’s home grown talent from the Mini-Science lectures on Science, Sex and Gender delivered by some of McGill’s most renowned scientists like Chemistry’s own Dr. Joe Schwarcz and Dr. Ehab Abouheif from the Department of Biology.

What could be more romantic than seducing the apple of your eye by showing him or her what an expert you are in love talk and winning the grand McLovin’ Science Prize?  Go ahead and wear your heart on your sleeve.  Share what you know about the Science of Love!

Image from Arif-nma.com

The Power of the Mind

EEG headset

Just how far are we away from the mind-powered car? These were my thoughts when I read an article in Prism about Japanese researchers at Toyota who were developing a headset device for wheelchair users that would allow them to control their wheelchairs by simply thinking about where they wanted to go. Toyota’s “Brain Machine Interface” technology uses electroencephalography (EEG) data to enable people with physical disabilities to drive, steer and stop their wheelchairs using the power of the mind. The technology takes some training in order to coordinate the user’s thought patterns and the system’s responses. Researchers claim that the system can “adapt to a particular user’s thought patterns to improve accuracy to as high as 95%… Training on the system for 3 hours a day for a week is enough to have it tuned in to a user’s motor-control thought patterns” (PC World). The applications of such a revolutionary technology seem boundless! Imagine you could just think up what you wanted to have for dinner, mentally going through the various tasks while a robot actually went about preparing the meal. You might not even have to lift a finger in order to sit down to a four-course meal! Even though Japanese researchers are working on applications of this technology for use in controlling robots, we’re not quite there yet.

But now an electronics company called Emotiv has partnered with Hyundai in Australia to market a brain-powered car which uses similar EEG technology to control a vehicle via the mind and researchers in Germany are testing similar technology called BrainDriver that can actually drive a car. At this point, the only technology that has been commercialized is limited to making sure that drivers stay alert as inattentiveness on the road accounts for nearly 50% of fatal vehicle accidents in Australia (Drive.com). The Attention Powered Car will slow down and come to a stop if the driver becomes fatigued. Here it is in action. In terms of implications for road safety, Australians are already headed in the right direction!

This brings me back to my initial question: just how far are we away from a vehicle that not only stops when a driver is fatigued but is actually controlled by the impulses of the brain rather than the touch of the hand? If the work that researchers in Germany, Australia and Japan are doing is any indication, we’ll soon be driving into the future!

Image from Physiological Computing.net