Science

Cancer Took His Wife. Now He’s CEO Of One Of The Most Audacious Cancer Startups In Years

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Jeff Huber, who helped lead the development of Google’s ad software and its iconic maps application will be the chief executive of Grail, a startup that raised $100 million last month to create a blood test to detect cancer early, when it is treatable.

His reasons are scientific, but also personal. On November 10, Huber’s wife Laura, died of colon cancer. She left behind two children, ages 12 and 14. “That’s a big part of why I’m taking this up,” Huber says.

Before Laura became sick, Huber was already turning his focus toward biology. He missed the energy of his early days at Google GOOGL +2.17%, the early days of ads, of Google Apps, of Google Maps. Rather than jumping back into building a big system at Google, it felt to him that biology was going through a “phase change,” like the transition from analog to digital. The ability to get huge amounts of data–like DNA sequence–would allow researchers to understand complex biological systems. And he had the expertise to help with that revolution.

 

He joined the board of directors at Illumina ILMN +4.38%, the company that has pushed forward dramatic increase in scientists’ ability to read DNA code. He focused his own projects on life science.

Then cancer crept up on Laura. She was 46, super-healthy, super-fit and full of energy. She had no family history of cancer. She felt her energy ebb, he says, and at first the doctor just told her she was going through menopause. But the diagnosis didn’t seem to fit, and they decided on more tests. And endoscopy and colonoscopy were expected to turn up irritable bowel syndrome, or perhaps, at worst, Crohn’s disease, the inflammatory bowel disorder.

jindalee@dminCancer Took His Wife. Now He’s CEO Of One Of The Most Audacious Cancer Startups In Years
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Einstein’s Gravitational Waves Have Been Detected For The First Time

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Today, scientists announced that, for the first time in history, gravitational waves have been detected.

Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime throughout the universe. What’s truly remarkable about this discovery is that Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves 100 years ago, but scientists have never been able to detect them, until now.

The discovery came out of the U.S. based Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). The mission of LIGO was to directly measure gravitational waves. In order to do that, LIGO scientists needed to construct the most precise measuring device the world had ever seen.

The LIGO project, which began in 1992, was the largest scientific investment the National Science Foundation (NSF) has ever made.

At an NSF press conference this morning, LIGO Laboratory Executive Director, David Reitze, said “This was a scientific moon shot. And we did it – we landed on the moon.”

LIGO consists of two 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) tunnels located in Louisiana and the state of Washington. Because gravitational waves stretch space in one direction and compress space in the other, LIGO was designed to measure changes in length across large land distances.

Stretching of spacetime by a gravitational wave / Image courtesy of Wikicommons

Stretching of spacetime by a gravitational wave / Image courtesy of Wikicommons

If they could detect a stretch of land in the LIGO tunnels in one direction and compression in the other, they could theoretically detect a gravitational wave.

 

Northern leg (x-arm) of LIGO interferometer on Hanford Reservation in Washington / Image courtesy of Wikicommons

Northern leg (x-arm) of LIGO interferometer on Hanford Reservation in Washington / Image courtesy of Wikicommons

The “ruler” that scientists used to measure these tunnel lengths was the speed of light. The speed of light is constant, so LIGO can determine the length of the tunnels by measuring the time it takes for a laser to bounce from one end of the tunnel to the other.

Gravitational waves are created when masses accelerate. Measured back on September 14th, 2015, the gravitational wave signal that the LIGO scientists detected matches the exact signal they’d expect from two merging black holes accelerating at half the speed of light.

It took half a year to announce this discovery because the LIGO scientists needed time to rule out every other potential source of that signal. Today, they are confident that it was produced by a gravitational wave.

 

“What’s really amazing about this is this is the first time that this kind of a system has ever been seen – a binary black hole merger – and it’s proof that binary black holes exist in the universe.” David Reitze

Reitze explained that the black holes that created this gravitational wave merged 1.3 billion years ago. It took that long for the wave to travel to the Earth.

Each of the black holes were 30 times the mass of the sun and were accelerating at half the speed of light when they collided into each other.

The ability to measure gravitational waves will open up an entirely new window for astronomy. Reitze explained that this will enable scientists to look at the universe in a new way.

 

“This is the first time the universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves. Up until now we’ve been deaf to gravitational waves. Today, we’re able to hear them.”  David Reitze

Today’s announcement is a milestone for the scientific community. LIGO proved that we now have the technology to detect gravitational waves. This capability, rather than the signal detected back in September, is the most important part of today. The LIGO scientists have created a new way to study the universe, which means the most exciting discoveries may lay ahead of us.

jindalee@dminEinstein’s Gravitational Waves Have Been Detected For The First Time
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