Inverse Daily: Inside First Light Fusion's fight to save the planet

Nuclear energy with no meltdowns and barely any waste. Can nuclear fusion beat the skeptics?

While I wonder if I should see Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep this weekend, let’s get caught up on the latest scientific wonders reported by Inverse.

I’m Nick Lucchesi, executive editor at Inverse, and this is Inverse Daily. Let’s get into it.

This article is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day.

INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“That’s basically if all the oceans went from being liquid to being steam.”

— Emil Rivera-Thorsen, an astrophysicist at Stockholm University.

Going nuclear

Could First Light Fusion have the answer to humanity’s energy needs? The Oxford-based firm is aiming to generate electricity from nuclear fusion, which despite decades of research has so far failed to materialize as a reliable source of energy.

The plan, CEO Nick Hawker tells Inverse staff writer Mike Brown, is to use a railgun-like setup to fire a projectile at high speed and generate energy that can turn a turbine. The approach is similar to how a pistol shrimp clicks its claw at speed to attack unsuspecting prey. To demonstrate this they’ve built Machine 3, a £3.6 million ($4.7 million) construction completed in February. It’s the largest pulsed power machine for fusion energy in the world.

The company is aiming to demonstrate first fusion by the end of this year, followed by first gain five years later. Although skepticism runs high around fusion, the team at work seem aware of the scale of the challenge: when asked what motivated him to take on fusion, Hawker told Inverse that the initial attraction was “because it’s the hardest problem in the world.”

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Take me to church

In the United States, a growing number of people are secular, a trend that mirrors what’s generally happening in the global “West.” But despite shifting attitudes, new research indicates that the legacy of organized religion still permeates our social structure, collective values, and our approach to life — even if one feels disconnected from religion.

For Inverse, Alexandra Pattillo writes that a team of economists and evolutionary biologists reveal the far-reaching influence of the medieval Western Church, a branch of Christianity that became the Roman Catholic Church. They present evidence detailing how the Church’s marriage and kinship policies disrupted family patterns, broke down extended family networks, and promoted small, monogamous, nuclear families.

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No more junk in my food

To eat sustainably, scientists say we have to switch from meat-heavy to mostly plant-based diets. They’ve even released specific guidelines, like eating fruits and veggies, fish, and whole grains. But billions of people can’t afford to follow these recommendations, a new study shows.

For Inverse, Nina Pullano reports that researchers looked at affordability not to debunk the scientists’ recs, but to send a message to policymakers: We need to take steps to make healthy, eco-friendly food affordable.

They also uncovered some curious trends about how much money people spend on food — and what types of food — around the world.

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Mic Check

Like you, we spend a lot of time on the internet. We also spend a lot of time managing the stress that comes with staying informed.

Mic Check is a place where we can work through what’s happening in the world together, and have a little fun in the process.

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Quick maths

Whether it’s the — mostly male — television personalities that present science to the masses (Bill Nye the Science Guy, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson… ), or the — again, mostly male — heroes of hit films about math and science like A Beautiful Mind, our cultural conscience is laced with oblique signals that reinforce a tired gender stereotype: Boys are just better at math and science than are girls.

But the idea that boys are more adept at math and science than girls has no foundation in the brain, according to new research.

Inverse senior science editor Claire Cameron writes that this study is the first to look at human neurobiology to try to understand whether supposed gender differences in mathematical ability are grounded in biology.

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The more you know:

Hearts in space

Commercial space travel is officially on humanity’s agenda, and yet we know very little on how being in space actually affects the human body — most importantly, our hearts.

For Inverse, Passant Rabie reports that in order to better understand the effects of microgravity on the human heart, a team of medical researchers launched beating, human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes — a kind of heart muscle cell — to the International Space Station.

The experiment revealed that time spent in microgravity alters the gene expression of the heart muscle cells, but most of these changes reverted back once the cells were back on Earth.

The researchers plan on comparing their data with records of physiological changes in astronauts during missions and with symptoms of heart disease in order to interpret the results’ real-life effects. The data can also be used to improve heart health for those on Earth, offering insight into how the heart adapts to different environments.

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Meanwhile …

  • Scientists at Yale have developed a new technique for monitoring how the brain operates in real-time.
  • At some point during the earliest years of the universe’s existence, the cosmos went from opaque to transparent.
  • Karl Urban teases sooner-than-expected release date for The Boys Season 2.

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That’s all for today!

Thank you for reading, and if you have a suggestion for how to make this newsletter better, drop me a line at nick@inverse.com. And follow me on Twitter, where I retweet the best of Inverse every day.