What It Feels Like to Die

Science is just beginning to figure it out, writes Jennie Dear at The Atlantic:

“Roughly from the last two weeks until the last breath, somewhere in that interval, people become too sick, or too drowsy, or too unconscious, to tell us what they’re experiencing,” says Margaret Campbell, a professor of nursing at Wayne State University who has worked in palliative care for decades. The way death is talked about tends to be based on what family, friends, and medical professionals see, rather than accounts of what dying actually feels like.

James Hallenbeck, a palliative-care specialist at Stanford University, often compares dying to black holes. “We can see the effect of black holes, but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to look inside them. They exert an increasingly strong gravitational pull the closer one gets to them. As one passes the ‘event horizon,’ apparently the laws of physics begin to change.”

What does dying feel like? Despite a growing body of research about death, the actual, physical experience of dying—the last few days or moments—remains shrouded in mystery. Medicine is just beginning to peek beyond the horizon.

How Stanford University and the American taxpayers got into the patent trolling business

The Muscle Patents [Planet Money (podcast)]:

Bodybuilders are competitive. They are tough. And when former-bodybuilder Jared Wheat was pushed, he pushed back.

Wheat runs a company that makes workout supplements. He’s got one for stamina. He’s got one for virility. These products are supposed to help you get more out of your workout.

And in these products of his, there is this one ingredient that’s causing a big fight: arginine. It is an amino acid found in nature, a basic building block of life. Many people say it is supposed to improve blood flow. It has existed since long before humans, and it has been used by bodybuilders for decades. But now, Jared Wheat is being sued over a patent on arginine. The guy suing him? Also a former bodybuilder.

What makes this beef between bodybuilders stand out is where the patent comes from: a prestigious research university. A scientist was looking into whether arginine could help fight heart disease. He got a patent on what he found. But his research hit a dead end, and, through a complicated series of events, his noble patent got caught up in a fracas between two bodybuilders and their lawyers.

There are no heroes in this story. One reason the patent was for sale is that further research showed arginine turned out to be harmful. So maybe Wheat shouldn’t be selling the stuff anyway.

Six tiny microbots weighing 3.5 ounces pull a 3,900-pound car

Slow but steady does it.

John Markoff at the New York Times:

A group of researchers at the Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory at Stanford University has been exploring the limits of friction in the design of tiny robots that have the ability to pull thousands of times their weight, wander like gecko lizards on vertical surfaces or mimic bats.

[Modeled After Ants, Teams of Tiny Robots Can Move 2-Ton Car / John Markoff / The New York Times]