The real-life war that the movie 'Star Wars' almost caused
The first Star Wars movies were filmed in a number of exotic locations: The lush and dense California Redwoods served as the forest moon of Endor, Hoth scenes were filmed on the frozen tundra of Norway's Hardangerjokulen Glacier, and the set of the Lars Homestead was famously built in Tunisia, North Africa surrounded by sands and sun. This is where the war in the stars almost came too close to home, thanks to a border dispute, a crazed dictator, and a group of junk-trading Jawas. While a miniature was used for full shots of the Jawa's mobile droid and salvage shop making its way through the desert, for scenes that required actor participation a large background prop of the lower tread and ramps of the sandcrawler was built. This tank-like treaded structure immediately drew the ire of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, who demanded that Tunisia cease it's military buildup near the Libyan border. Lucas immediately complied with the demands and moved the filming to a more discreet location.
AI described how to create 40,000 new chemical weapons in just six hours
It took less than six hours for drug-developing AI to invent 40,000 potentially lethal molecules. Researchers put AI normally used to search for helpful drugs into a kind of “bad actor” mode to show how easily it could be abused at a biological arms control conference. All the researchers had to do was tweak their methodology to seek out, rather than weed out toxicity. The AI came up with tens of thousands of new substances, some of which are similar to VX, the most potent nerve agent ever developed. Shaken, they published their findings this month in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence. "The biggest thing that jumped out at first was that a lot of the generated compounds were predicted to be actually more toxic than VX. And the reason that’s surprising is because VX is basically one of the most potent compounds known," one of the scientists said.
The women who traveled around the world in the late 1800s
Traveling around the world in the late 1800s was a challenging task, especially when trying to recreate the travels in the famous Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. But one American journalist named Nellie Bly and a rival she didn’t know about took on the feat during the time period. They not only shattered how many days it took to travel around the world, but one also had enough time to interview Verne himself. Jules Verne released Around the World in Eighty Days in 1872, and the story told of the fictional character named Phileas Fogg, who wagered that he could travel from the Reform Club in London around the world and end up back at the club in less than 80 days. Verne had written the story based on the innovations that had taken place worldwide, starting in 1869 with the Transcontinental Railroad across the United States, the opening of the Suez Canal, and the railway connecting the Indian sub-continent.
The Muslim inventor who made the first robots and inspired Leonardo Da Vinci
Ismail Al Jazari was born in 1136 in Diyarbakir. He belonged to a family of humble craftsmen and was born during a time full of political instability and aftereffects of the crusades. Ismail served as an engineer to several regional rulers known as the Artuqids. He documented all his work and explained how he constructed his machines, and in 1206 he published a catalog of his inventions, including diagrams and illustrations of how to assemble them. His book contained machines that were practical yet playful, ranging from musical devices to automatic vessels for drinks, fountains, water-raising machines and machines for measuring. His contemporaries included the great philosophers Ibn Rushd and Ibn Arabi, and Al Jazari is thought to have inspired Leonardo Da Vinci. In fact, Al-Jazari acknowledged the debt his work owed to those that came before him. One of Al Jazari’s well-known inventions was the first ever four-dial combination lock for a chest or casket. Only five caskets from the early 13th century are known to exist.
Ghana's detention camps for women suspected of being witches
Looking at measurements of democratic institutions, healthcare, poverty and economic growth, Ghana has performed well since its independence in 1957, writes the Stone Age Herbalist. However, belief in witchcraft is highly prevalent across the country, manifesting in a number of ways. One such is the well documented phenomenon of the ‘spirit child,' called chichuru, or kinkiriko. These are believed to be malevolent spirits who inhabit the body of a newborn child, often manifesting in disabilities or deformities. As of today Ghana has around six functioning witch camps, although others have opened and closed. Three of them - Gushegu, Nabuli and Kpatinga - are located in the Gushegu district. The exact number of residents is unclear, several thousand is a rough estimate. This is in part because these camps are more like an open market/village.
Scientists show that bacteria can be engineered to fight cancer in mice
Most research into the microbiome has focused on the trillions of bugs that live in our guts. But our skin is also home to multiple microbial ecosystems. Michael Fischbach at Stanford University and his team wondered if they might be able to hijack this population to tweak the immune response. They started the investigation by choosing a microbe that is commonly found on human skin. S. epidermidis is thought to be a member of the human microbiome, and it doesn’t typically cause disease. The microbes the researchers used were originally collected from behind the ear of a human volunteer, and they modified these microbes by inserting a new gene into them. The gene codes for a protein that sits on the surface of some cancer cells. The idea is that if the immune system generates cells that recognize the microbe, these cells will also recognize tumors.