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The Fermi paradox

6 minutes

The power of expectations

3 minutes

Primitive technology: round hut

11 minutes

Baby brother

14 minutes

Inferno observatory

5 minutes

Life is durable and Earth-like planets aren’t rare. So where are all the aliens?

Potentially habitable planets are more plentiful then we once thought: there are trillions in the Universe, and an estimated million in the Milky Way alone. Looking inward at our own small life-sustaining planet, we’ve also discovered that life isn’t nearly as delicate as we had imaged: lifeforms exist buried in the Earth’s crust and deep underwater, in extreme heat and extreme cold. So why, in every search for intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, have we come up so utterly empty?

Video by Kurzgesagt

Want to make a lab rat smarter? Treat it like a smarter lab rat

It’s perhaps not startling to learn that the expectations of others have a significant impact on us. Over the past century, however, scientists have been surprised to observe just how forcefully expectations can nudge the abilities of people – and rats – in one direction or another. Featuring audio excerpts from NPR’s Invisibilia podcast, this animation draws on the work of the US psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Carol Dweck to briefly delve into how expectations can raise or lower student performance, speed up or slow down soldiers, and make maze-solving lab rats smarter or dumber.

Director and Animator: Francesca Cattaneo

Website: Invisibilia

Learn to build your own rainproof hut – or, at least, marvel at the man who knows how

The popular Primitive Technology YouTube channel features an anonymous man in Far North Queensland in Australia fashioning tools and structures using only naturally occurring, found materials. In this installment, following the deterioration of his A-frame hut, he builds what he hopes will be a more durable round hut from the ground up. Starting with wood posts tied together with cane, the man makes the structure water-resistant by adding a palm roof, a drainage trench, and walls built from a combination of mud and cane. In the process, he also almost manages to make his remarkable ingenuity look easy. To learn more about the step-by-step process while watching, turn on closed captions in the video player. 

‘I thought I was gonna be a teenager forever’: moving back in with the parents at 23

In his short documentary Baby Brother, the US filmmaker Kamau Bilal offers a bit of vérité filmmaking at its most refreshing, transforming the mundanity of his younger brother’s return to their parents’ Missouri home into a funny and poignant exploration of the weirdness of young adulthood. Ismaeel is 23 and affable, if somewhat hapless, but the intimacy of his brother’s filmmaking – and presumably his affection for Ismaeel – makes the treatment of the young man’s charms, flaws and idiosyncrasies gently revelatory. His stifled ambitions and uneasiness about the trappings and responsibilities of adulthood echo a distinctly millennial malaise, at the same time as being deeply rooted in his personal experience. This heartfelt and charming short was a favourite on the 2018 film festival circuit, screening at the Sundance Film Festival, True/False and Sheffield Doc/Fest, among many others. 

Director: Kamau Bilal

Scientists haven’t tamed volcanoes but it’s wild and fun to watch them try

During a fellowship at the Mineral Sciences Laboratory at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the UK filmmakers Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt stumbled upon a collection of 16mm films shot by volcanologists in the field. Originally presented as an installation at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool in 2011, this three-channel video combines the found footage with a churning, propulsive soundtrack to explore the human fascination with Earth-rupturing natural phenomena. Across the three channels, erupting volcanoes are at once powerful forces of nature as well as fodder for quantifiable scientific data – and high jinks.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

Life is durable and Earth-like planets aren’t rare. So where are all the aliens?

Potentially habitable planets are more plentiful then we once thought: there are trillions in the Universe, and an estimated million in the Milky Way alone. Looking inward at our own small life-sustaining planet, we’ve also discovered that life isn’t nearly as delicate as we had imaged: lifeforms exist buried in the Earth’s crust and deep underwater, in extreme heat and extreme cold. So why, in every search for intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, have we come up so utterly empty?

Video by Kurzgesagt

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Essay/
Philosophy of Science
The blind spot

It’s tempting to think science gives a God’s-eye view of reality. But we forget the place of human experience at our peril

Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser & Evan Thompson

Essay/
Ecology & Environmental Sciences
Time-bombing the future

Synthetics created in the 20th century have become an evolutionary force, altering human biology and the web of life

Rebecca Altman