Biotech experts gather for White House summit

White House summit

Federal officials discuss America’s bioeconomy during a White House summit. (OSTP Photo via Twitter)

More than 100 biotech researchers, industry executives and government officials met at the White House today for a summit focusing on America’s bioeconomy — the range of products, services and data derived from biological processes and bioscience research.

“The bioeconomy is already an integral part of the general economy,” White House chief technology officer Michael Kratsios told the attendees. “In 2017, revenues from engineered biological systems reached nearly $400 billion.”

He cited figures from SynBioBeta suggesting that the private sector alone invested more than $3.7 billion in early-stage biological engineering and manufacturing tech companies during 2018.

“But we are not only here because of what biotechnology has done — we are invested in what biotechnology is going to do,” Kratsios said.

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Suggest names for Saturn’s latest crop of moons

This artist’s conception shows the 20 newly discovered moons orbiting Saturn. (Illustration courtesy of Carnegie Institute for Science. Saturn image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute. Starry background courtesy of Paolo Sartorio / Shutterstock.)

Saturn has pulled ahead of Jupiter again in the moon discovery race, thanks to a batch of 20 outer moons that bring the ringed planet’s total tally to 82.

The newly reported satellites, confirmed by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, were found by the same team that reported spotting 12 new moons of Jupiter last year.

As was the case with those moons of Jupiter, the discovery team at the Carnegie Institution for Science is soliciting suggestions for naming the newly reported moons of Jupiter. Right now, they’re known only by their numerical designations, such as S/2004 S29 or S5593a2.

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MagniX revs up electric motor to get set for flight

The Magni500 sounds just about as loud as you’d expect for an airplane engine — but technically speaking, this is no engine. It’s a 750-horsepower, all-electric motor that MagniX has been revving up to turn an aircraft propeller at full power.

That’s a significant milestone for MagniX, which has offices in Redmond, Wash., and in Australia. The successful ground tests signal that the company is getting closer to having the Magni500 flight-tested on a Harbour Air plane in British Columbia.

“This milestone is significant not only for MagniX, but for the electric aviation industry in general, because it is now the world’s largest all-electric motor (560 kw /  750HP) that has been installed in an aircraft-like system, turning a real full-sized aircraft propeller and controlling prop pitch via a governor,” MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski told GeekWire in an email.

“This was the last step before installing such a system on an aircraft — in our case, the Harbour Air Beaver,” he said. “We are now testing our third 750HP motor.”

Ganzarski said MagniX has completed more than 50 hours of multiple full-power, full-flight profile tests on the Magni500 at its engineering center on Australia’s Gold Coast. “The motor has shipped to B.C. and has now been installed on the Beaver aircraft as part of the full system integration,” he said.

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Bill Gates predicts the future of global health

Bill Gates

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates lays out his predictions for global health in 2040 during a lecture given at the Cambridge Union in honor of Stephen Hawking. (Cambridge Union via YouTube)

What’s the shape of global health to come? Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates issued two hopeful predictions for the year 2040 today during a lecture given at the late physicist Stephen Hawking’s home university in his honor.

Spoiler alert: Gates says insights into how our microbiome works, and efforts to cut down on infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV, will make life dramatically better for wide swaths of the world’s population by 2040.

Gates drew upon his experience as the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and upon data relating to global health trends — to support the case he laid out in the Professor Hawking Fellowship Lecture, presented by the Cambridge Union.

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Museum readies new home for age-old treasures

Burke Museum

The New Burke Museum is at the corner of Northeast 43rd Street and 15th Avenue Northeast, on the western edge of the University of Washington’s main campus in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

After a three-year, $99 million construction effort, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is putting the finishing touches on a new home that shows off old favorites and a brand-new centerpiece for the ages: a 66 million-year-old T. rex skull that museum volunteers discovered in Montana in 2015.

“That skull is completely prepared and mounted — and the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” the museum’s executive director, Julie Stein, told GeekWire.

But that’s not all: There’ll be other treasures on display, both scary and soulful.

The skeletons of a mastodon and a beaked whale, plus a gleaming glass monument done up in Coast Salish style, will greet visitors when they enter through the lower-level lobby.

Museumgoers will be able to nosh on frybread tacos at the Off the Rez Cafe. They can feast their eyes on totem poles and other artifacts from Northwest tribes. And they’ll have the chance to reacquaint themselves with their favorite items from the old Burke Museum building, which has now been replaced by a parking lot.

Stein, whose new office isn’t far from the T. rex, doesn’t miss the old place at all.

“The old building was very difficult to live in. It was the lack of air conditioning and the lack of humidity control. The facility was falling apart. The restrooms were inadequate,” she recalled.

“Inviting the public into a place that was shabby was disheartening,” she said.

In contrast, Stein is excited about the opening of the New Burke, which was built right next to the old museum site, on the western edge of the University of Washington’s campus.

“I just can’t wait for the visitors to come,” Stein said.

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NASA picks 25 space technologies for testing

Suborbital rocket ships

Three of the vehicles to be used for testing space technologies are Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship and Masten Space Systems’ lander vehicle. (Virgin Galactic / Blue Origin / Masten via NASA)

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has selected 25 promising space technologies for testing aboard aircraft, high-altitude balloons and suborbital rocket ships — including Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft.

Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and headquartered in Kent, Wash., will be involved in testing 11 of the technologies. The company has been providing flights for suborbital space experiments since 2016 at its West Texas spaceport.

The latest projects were selected as part of NASA’s Tech Flights solicitation. Awardees typically receive a grant or enter into a cost-sharing agreement through which they can select a commercial flight provider that meets the requirements for their payload.

“With vibrant and growing interest in exploration and commercial space across the country, our goal with these selections is to support innovators from industry and academia who are using rapid and affordable commercial opportunities to test their technologies in space,” Christopher Baker, program executive for Flight Opportunities at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release.

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Japan joins the global gravitational wave hunt

KAGRA detector

An illustration provides a cutaway view of the underground KAGRA gravitational-wave detector in Japan. (ICRR / Univ. of Tokyo Illustration)

Japan’s Kamioka Gravitational-Wave Detector, or KAGRA, is due to start teaming up with similar detectors in Washington state, Louisiana and Italy in December, boosting scientists’ ability to triangulate on the origins of cataclysmic cosmic events such as black hole smash-ups.

Representatives of KAGRA, the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Europe’s Virgo detector signed a memorandum of agreement today in Toyama, Japan, to confirm their collaboration. The agreement includes plans for joint observations and data sharing.

“This is a great example of international scientific cooperation,” Caltech’s David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, said in a news release. “Having KAGRA join our network of gravitational-wave observatories will significantly enhance the science in the coming decade.”

Nobel-winning physicist Takaaki Kajita, principal investigator of the KAGRA project, said “we are looking forward to joining the network of gravitational-wave observations later this year.”

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