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Isaac Asimov Interviewed by Bill Moyers

In 1988, Bill Moyers interviewed Isaac Asimov, when Asimov's Prelude to Foundation was released. The three-part interview is fascinating, partly because of when it was recorded; Asimov's insights are partly timeless (for example, his thoughts about death) and partly extremely timely (his predictions about the near future, like global networks). Discussed: education, the future, science, astronomy, chemistry, technology, religion, population growth, employment, curiosity, and more.

Sample quote: "Human history is a chaotic thing. Small changes have big results, unpredictable in direction. But if we're looking at something that is essentially simple, such as stars and galaxies and things like that -- then, it is possible to look far, far ahead. We may be wrong, but it is possible to make a case for something that might happened 10100 years in the future -- [that's] one with a hundred zeroes after it."

The remainder of the interview is after the jump.

My favorite quote, on the topic of Asimov's having written down "every idea [he's] ever had" and the notion that others might be depressed not to have his gift for writing: "Well, I wouldn't want people to do that. A little is better than nothing. In fact, you might say that I overdo it -- lately I've been thinking that people must look upon me as some kind of a freak. There was a certain pleasure in writing 100 books, you know, I felt, 'I've accomplished something.' And then 200. But now it stands at 391, it's liable to be 400 by the end of the year, and I have every intention of continuing because I enjoy the process. In the end it seems to me that nobody'll care what I write, just the number, and maybe I will have defeated myself in that way." If you want to know that number, read up on Asimov at Wikipedia.

See also: The Late Movies: Isaac Asimov's "Visions of the Future."

(Via Brain Pickings; the source article is very much worth reading! Go read it!)

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Space
Look Up! The Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

October is always a great month for skywatching. If you missed the Draconids, the first meteor shower of the month, don't despair: the Orionids peak this weekend. It should be an especially stunning show this year, as the Moon will offer virtually no interference. If you've ever wanted to get into skywatching, this is your chance.

The Orionids is the second of two meteor showers caused by the debris field left by the comet Halley. (The other is the Eta Aquarids, which appear in May.) The showers are named for the constellation Orion, from which they seem to originate.

All the stars are lining up (so to speak) for this show. First, it's on the weekend, which means you can stay up late without feeling the burn at work the next day. Tonight, October 20, you'll be able to spot many meteors, and the shower peaks just after midnight tomorrow, October 21, leading into Sunday morning. Make a late-night picnic of the occasion, because it takes about an hour for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine, lay out and take in the open skies, and let nature do the rest.

Second, the Moon, which was new only yesterday, is but a sliver in the evening sky, lacking the wattage to wash out the sky or conceal the faintest of meteors. If your skies are clear and light pollution low, this year you should be able to catch about 20 meteors an hour, which isn't a bad way to spend a date night.

If clouds interfere with your Orionids experience, don't fret. There will be two more meteor showers in November and the greatest of them all in December: the Geminids.

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science
11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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