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XO Files

Extraordinary Opportunities… on the Brink of Discovery.
But what is needed to make that happen?

The XO Files are case studies of basic scientific research opportunities with extraordinary intellectual and social potential, selected by a distinguished editorial board. Visionary long term philanthropic support could unlock that potential and ensure continued U.S. leadership on the frontier of discovery science.

Why are the XO Files urgently needed?

  • Because of the sheer novelty of the potential breakthroughs
  • Because of constrained federal research budgets to explore fundamental science
  • Because the proposed research falls between agency mandates

The XO Files is a project of the Science Philanthropy Alliance whose members are dedicated to building a community of supporters to advance and fund basic scientific research.

The XO Files have been published into a booklet. Additional case studies have been assembled by MIT and published as a book, The Future Postponed. Also available at futurepostponed.org.

Predicting the Future of Earth’s Forests

Forests absorb carbon dioxide and are thus an important buffer against climate change, for now. Understanding forest dynamics would enable both better management of forests and the ability to assess how they are changing.

Opening a New Window into the Universe

A new generation of adaptive optics technology could transform infra-red and optical astronomy and bring fundamental new insights into the nature of massive black holes, dark matter, and extrasolar planets.

The Origin of the Universe

Measuring tiny variations in the cosmic microwave background will enable major discoveries about the origin of the universe, including details of its early expansion and of physical phenomena at energies a trillion times greater than those of the largest earthbound accelerators.

Unveiling the Viral Ecology of Earth

Viral infections modify and transform the functioning of individual cells. They do this not just for humans, animals, and plants, but also for the microbes that drive the Earth’s carbon cycle. Could this tiniest form of life impact the balance of nature on a global scale?

Creating a Census of Human Cells

For the first time, new techniques make possible a systematic description of the myriad types of cells in the human body that underlie both health and disease.

XO Files Archives

Measuring tiny variations in the cosmic microwave background will enable major discoveries about the origin of the universe, including details of its early expansion and of physical phenomena at energies a trillion times greater than those of the largest earthbound accelerators.
The stability of life on Earth depends on the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and other essential elements, which in turn depend on microbial ecosystems that are, at present, poorly understood. New approaches could help gauge the potential for another mass extinction.
Viral infections modify and transform the functioning of individual cells. They do this not just for humans, animals, and plants, but also for the microbes that drive the Earth’s carbon cycle. Could this tiniest form of life impact the balance of nature on a global scale?
We know that the circadian clock keeps time in every living cell, controlling biological processes such as metabolism, cell division, and DNA repair, but we don’t understand how. Gaining such knowledge would not only offer fundamental insights into cellular biochemistry, but could also yield practical results in areas from agriculture to medicine to human aging.
Einstein’s 100-year old theory of General Relativity has withstood every test. Why then do many scientists believe it will need to be modified, and what new evidence could be obtained in the next 10 years to point the way?
Physicists are hot on the trail of a new fundamental particle, whose discovery would not only revolutionize particle physics and require major revisions to current theories, but might also help resolve astrophysical mysteries.
Documenting the human genome catalyzed fundamental new approaches in medicine. But genes are only the “nature” half of the story. And it’s now possible to map and understand the biological markers that define “nurture”—the total of a person’s lifetime exposure to nutrition, bacteria, viruses, and environmental toxins—which also profoundly influence human health.
What’s out there in the vastness of the universe? Stars, of course, made of “normal” matter like our sun. But mostly what’s out there is dark matter and dark energy, which we can’t see and don’t yet understand.

Editorial Advisors

PAUL ALIVISATOS

PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY, UC BERKELEY

MARIAN CARLSON

DIRECTOR OF LIFE SCIENCES, SIMONS FOUNDATION

MARC KASTNER

PRESIDENT, SCIENCE PHILANTHROPY ALLIANCE

JAMES POTERBA

PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

MICHAEL WITHERELL

DIRECTOR, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY

ROGER BLANDFORD

PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS, STANFORD UNIVERSITY AND STANFORD LINEAR ACCELERATOR (SLAC)

MARK GREEN

PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UCLA

MARCIA MCNUTT

PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

ROBERT TJIAN

PROFESSOR OF BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, UC BERKELEY

XO Files Editor: Al Hammond, al.hammond@gmail.com

This project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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