Shinya KOMUGI [小麦 真也] - TEDxSeeds 2012

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 18.11.2012

Searching with electromagnetic waves for the space undiscovered
Endless curiosity in fundamental mysteries
New eyes for the human
Good morning everyone.
Before I explain where I am,
I'd like you to use your imagination.
Please look at the tip of your right index finger.
Now, consider your eyes to be an ultra-high-performance microscope.
Let's use this microscope and
take a look at just one spot on the fingertip.
You should be able to see wrinkles on the skin.
Let's start zooming in.
You're now looking at the cells of the skin.
Let's zoom in more.
You're now looking at the DNA helix structure in the cell.
Take a look at the amino acid molecules in the helix.
Now, focus on the atoms making up these molecules.
You can close your eyes if you're getting dizzy.
The human structure at the atomic level is quite simple.
We're mostly made of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen.
Let's focus on to carbon now.
Carbon atoms in your body are very robust.
They will never disappear.
They won't decrease or increase.
Are these the same carbon atoms you were born with?
The answer is no.
Human skin cells are replaced completely in about 1 month.
Did the carbon atoms you're looking at now
appear on your fingertip as new atoms
when skin cells were replaced?
The tip of your finger
may not look any different from before.
But at the atomic level, it is rapidly and constantly changing.
Where were those carbon atoms a month ago?
The microscope you have is very advanced.
It comes with a time machine function.
Let's take advantage of this advanced feature.
We are going back in time to a month ago
while following the carbon atoms on your fingertip.
OK, here we go.
The carbon atoms on your fingertip
probably came from the bacon you ate last month.
Let's go back in time several months further.
The bacon came from a pig which was fed at a ranch.
We're going back even further in time.
The carbon atoms you're looking at now could be
traced back to the toenail of a Tyrannosaurus 67 million years ago.
Are you ready to go back even further?
This is about 4.6 billion years ago.
The Earth was yet to be born.
We can trace the carbon atoms back to
the gas and dust which were drifting around the Sun.
If we go back in time for hundreds of millions of years
before even the Sun was born,
we can trace them back to the atoms
which were released when an old star had died.
Some of you are 10 years old now.
Some may be 70 years old.
But the carbon atoms on your fingertip are
all older than 5 billion years.
Not only the carbon atoms on your fingertips but also almost
all atoms except the hydrogen in your body and the Earth, were
created as a result of fusion reaction on a star a long time ago.
It is possible to figure out where and when
the atoms in your body have originated and
how they ended up on your fingertip
by using the microscope that you have just imagined.
You may think this microscope is just a figment of imagination,
but such a device actually does exist.
It is called the ALMA telescope.
"Alma" means "soul" in Spanish.
The huge parabolic antenna behind me
is the ALMA telescope.
The ALMA telescope is the most monumental astronomy project
in history participated in by various countries from East Asia
including Japan, North America and Europe.
Right now, I'm standing outside of
the test facilities at the ALMA observatory located in
northern Atacama Desert in Chile, South America,
at an elevation of 2,900 meters.
Once tested here, the antennas will be moved to
an elevation of 5,000 meters for astronomical observation.
Many atoms, molecules, and dust are floating in space.
All of them emit electromagnetic waves.
Using 66 parabolic antennas like the one behind me,
the ALMA telescope collects electromagnetic waves
coming from all around the universe.
The total area is equivalent to the eyes of 90 million people.
Your vision is probably between 0.1 (20/200) and 2.0 (20/10) at best.
The "vision" of the ALMA telescope is up to 6000 (20/0.003333).
If you can look at your fingertip placed 10 centimeters away
using the ALMA telescope,
you may be able to see the actual amino acid molecules.
The universe is vast.
It will take hundreds of millions of years for
electromagnetic waves from a far-away place to reach us.
Instead of looking at fingertips,
ALMA looks at far-away places.
In other words, by looking at electromagnetic waves coming from
a long time ago, it works as a time machine.
We still don't know how far in the past ALMA can see.
We're hoping that it can see back to 13.5 billion years ago
which is 200 million years after the universe was born.
By using ALMA we are trying to find out
how the universe and human
have ended up where we are.
Now, I will show you what exactly ALMA can see.
Let's look at the slide.
You're looking at a galaxy called LESS J0332.
The image is very grainy, but there's a reason for that.
This is an image of nitrogen atoms emitted 12.4 billion years ago.
This image tells us that the universe was already filled with
nitrogen atoms 12.4 billion years ago.
Let's go to the next slide.
This is an old star called Red Giant R Sculptoris
located much closer, 1,000 light years away from us.
It is on the verge of dying and
is spirally emitting gas and dust.
This spiral consists of carbon and oxygen.
These carbon and oxygen particles will eventually become
a next Sun and a next Earth.
They will become the ingredients which make us up.
ALMA can also capture
how these carbon and oxygen particles look like
around the stars including the sun.
Within the square in the next picture, you can see a red spot.
This is a young star called IRAS 16293.
ALMA has found sugar around this star.
Similar to the sugar you put in your coffee.
Sugar is a substance essential to life,
which means the ingredient for life existed in the universe
before the Earth was born.
We're done with the slides.
Currently, ALMA is using only a limited number of antennas.
In other words, it hasn't reached its full potential.
It will take many years for us to complete ALMA.
Then, we will look for the very first galaxy in the universe.
We will search for the space where a planet similar to the Earth exists.
Then, we'll look for amino acid
which is the building block for life forms.
This is just like looking backward in history
where we came from.
However, even with ALMA, we cannot figure out
everything about the universe.
Your imaginary microscope can perform much better.
In order to resolve questions ALMA cannot answer,
we are required to create even larger human eyes.
What made the difference between
the human 1,000 years ago and us
is imagination and curiosity.
I believe imagination and curiosity are
the driving force behind the development of human beings.
The ALMA telescope does not promise
innovative new products 10 years from now.
But in 100 years,
it may yield some common sense knowledge just as
today we realize the Earth is round.
Or in 1,000 years,
we may be able to tell
from where and when every single atom
on our fingertip has originated
and how it came to arrive where it is now.
This is exactly the same thing as our imaginary microscope.
Thank you very much.