Science X Newsletter Tuesday, Dec 15

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for December 15, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Best of Last Year: The top Phys.org articles of 2020

New constraints on alternative gravity theories that could inform dark matter research

Large ionized bubble around NGC 5585 X-1 investigated in detail

Weak force has strong impact on nanosheets

Chameleon-like material spiked with boron comes closer to mimicking brain cells

Apathy could predict onset of dementia years before other symptoms

New dinosaur showed descendants how to dress to impress

Scientists warn of likely massive oil spill endangering the Red Sea, region's health

Researchers uncover blind spots at the intersection of AI and neuroscience

Emerging from the fog: Little understood post-stroke cognitive issues are verified

An unexpected role for the brain's immune cells

Nanoengineered cement shows promise for sealing leaky gas wells

Researchers use origami to solve space travel challenge

Research explores the relationship between nitrogen and carbon dioxide in greenhouse gas emissions

Salt-tolerant bacteria with an appetite for sludge make biodegradable plastics

Physics news

New constraints on alternative gravity theories that could inform dark matter research

While particle theories are currently the most favored explanations for dark mater, physicists have still been unable to detect dark matter particles in ways that would confirm or contradict these theories. Some theorists have thus been exploring new theories of gravity that clearly account for and explain the existence of this elusive type of matter. In order to obviate the need for dark matter, however, these theories should be aligned with cosmological observations gathered so far.

'Chaotic' way to create insectlike gaits for robots

Researchers in Japan and Italy are embracing chaos and nonlinear physics to create insectlike gaits for tiny robots—complete with a locomotion controller to provide a brain-machine interface.

Fast walking in narrow corridors can increase COVID-19 transmission risk

Computational simulations have been used to accurately predict airflow and droplet dispersal patterns in situations where COVID-19 might be spread. In the journal Physics of Fluids, results show the importance of the shape of the space in modeling how virus-laden droplets move through the air.

The mask matters: How masks affect airflow, protection effectiveness

Even though it has been widely known that wearing a face mask will help mitigate the community spread of COVID-19, less is known regarding the specific effectiveness of masks in reducing the viral load in the respiratory tracts of those wearing them.

An elusive effect, captured on a chip, that promises new technologies

A single laser is shot through a microscopic comb, which splits into a rainbow of colors. It all happens in a highly controlled manner on a tiny photonic resonator, and could pave the way toward more accurate clocks, the discovery of exoplanets and improved GPS systems.

Temporal control of light echoes

Scientists at Paderborn University, the Technical University of Dortmund and the University of W├╝rzburg have for the first time used laser pulses to precisely control photon echoes, which can occur when light waves superimpose on each other. The findings of the research have now been published in scientific journal Communications Physics.

Accurate theoretical modeling unravels changes in molecules interacting with quantum light

A team of researchers from Italy, Norway, and Germany has demonstrated that the properties of molecules undergo significant changes when interacting with quantized electromagnetic fields in optical cavities. Using novel theoretical methodologies and computational simulations, the team revealed that the ground- and excited-state chemistry of molecules can be modified by a confinement in space. They show how the transfer of electrons inside the system can be controlled by modulating the frequency of the cavity field. Their newly-developed methodology could have a profound impact on many chemical and technological applications, such as photovoltaics, photochemistry, and optoelectronic devices. The team's work has now been published in Physical Review X and additionally highlighted in a Viewpoint by the journal.

Quantum mysteries: Probing an unusual state in the superconductor-insulator transition

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) approach the two decade-old mystery of why an anomalous metallic state appears in the superconductor-insulator transition in 2-D superconductors. Through experimental measurements of a thermoelectric effect, they found that the quantum liquid state of quantum vortices causes the anomalous metallic state. The results clarify the nature of the transition and could help in the design of superconducting devices for quantum computers.

New approach can improve COVID-19 predictions worldwide

Methods currently used around the world for predicting the development of COVID-19 and other pandemics fail to report precisely on the best and worst-case scenarios. Newly developed prediction method for epidemics, published in Nature Physics, solve this problem.

Astronomy and Space news

Large ionized bubble around NGC 5585 X-1 investigated in detail

An international team of astronomers have conducted a detailed study of a large ionized bubble an ultraluminous X-ray source (ULX) in the galaxy NGC 5585. Results of the research, presented in a paper published December 7 on arXiv.org, provide more insights into the nature of this bubble.

Japan's space agency finds ample soil, gas from asteroid

Officials from Japan's space agency said Tuesday they have found more than the anticipated amount of soil and gases inside a small capsule the country's Hayabusa2 spacecraft brought back from a distant asteroid this month, a mission they praised as a milestone in planetary research.

Ice-rich flow features in Martian southern hemisphere reveal effects of recent climate cycles

A large, previously unrecognized reservoir of water ice on Mars is well preserved and formed within the past few million years, says a paper led by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Daniel C. Berman.

Powerful electrical events quickly alter surface chemistry on Mars and other planetary bodies

Thinking like Earthlings may have caused scientists to overlook the electrochemical effects of Martian dust storms.

The farthest galaxy in the universe

A team of astronomers used the Keck I telescope to measure the distance to an ancient galaxy. They deduced the target galaxy GN-z11 is not only the oldest galaxy but also the most distant. It's so distant it defines the very boundary of the observable universe itself. The team hopes this study can shed light on a period of cosmological history when the universe was only a few hundred million years old.

Device mimics life's first steps in outer space

A device developed by scientists at the CY Cergy Paris University and Paris Observatory promises insight into how the building blocks of life form in outer space.

Researchers identify where giant jets from black holes discharge their energy

The supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies are the most massive objects in the universe. They range from about 1 million to upwards of 10 billion times the mass of the Sun. Some of these black holes also blast out gigantic, super-heated jets of plasma at nearly the speed of light. The primary way that the jets discharge this powerful motion energy is by converting it into extremely high-energy gamma rays. However, UMBC physics Ph.D. candidate Adam Leah Harvey says, "How exactly this radiation is created is an open question."

China to open giant telescope to international scientists

Nestled among the mountains in southwest China, the world's largest radio telescope signals Beijing's ambitions as a global centre for scientific research.

Images reveal where lava broke through the wall of a Martian crater and began filling it up

At a fundamental level, Mars is a volcanic planet. Its surface is home to the solar system's largest extinct volcano, Olympus Mons, and another trio of well-known volcanoes at Tharsis Montes. And those are just the highlights: there are many other volcanoes on the surface. Though that volcanic activity ceased long ago, the planet's surface tells the tale of a world disrupted and shaped by powerful volcanic eruptions.

World's first gas sample from deep space confirmed

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has confirmed that the gas collected from the sample container inside the re-entry capsule of the asteroid explorer, Hayabusa2, is a gas sample originating from asteroid Ryugu.

Technology news

Researchers uncover blind spots at the intersection of AI and neuroscience

Is it possible to read a person's mind by analyzing the electric signals from the brain? The answer may be much more complex than most people think.

Novel device lenses for wireless communications

,University of Delaware Professor Mark Mirotznik and others in UD's Additive Manufacturing Technology Center are developing novel device lenses for wireless communications that could usher in a new wave of capabilities.

Building machines that better understand human goals 

In a classic experiment on human social intelligence by psychologists Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello, an 18-month old toddler watches a man carry a stack of books towards an unopened cabinet. When the man reaches the cabinet, he clumsily bangs the books against the door of the cabinet several times, then makes a puzzled noise.

Engineers go microbial to store energy, sequester carbon dioxide

By borrowing nature's blueprints for photosynthesis, Cornell University bioengineers have found a way to efficiently absorb and store large-scale, low-cost renewable energy from the sun—while sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide to use later as a biofuel.

Engineers develop soft robotic gripper

Scientists often look to nature for cues when designing robots—some robots mimic human hands while others simulate the actions of octopus arms or inchworms. Now, researchers in the University of Georgia College of Engineering have designed a new soft robotic gripper that draws inspiration from an unusual source: pole beans.

Accurate neural network computer vision without the 'black box'

The artificial intelligence behind self-driving cars, medical image analysis and other computer vision applications relies on what's called deep neural networks.

Agency homing in on social media companies' data collection

Federal regulators are ordering Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, TikTok's parent and five other social media companies to provide detailed information on how they collect and use consumers' personal data and how their practices affect children and teens.

EU to unveil tough measures to curb tech giants

The European Union on Tuesday will unveil tough draft rules targeting tech giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook, whose power Brussels sees as a threat to competition and even democracy.

The continuing quest to find a better battery

Ten years ago, if you needed a battery for something more than a flashlight or an alarm clock, your options were pretty limited. Lithium-ion batteries had found their way into consumer electronics in the 1990s, and researchers were just beginning to explore their potential for certain automotive applications.

Temporal constraint background-aware correlation filter drives accurate visual tracking

Visual object tracking is one of the most challenging problems in multimedia processing with numerous applications, such as video retrieval, video editing, video surveillance, augmented reality, motion analysis, human-computer interaction with multimedia, etc. Despite significant progress has been made in recent years, various factors, such as occlusions, out-of-view, non-rigid deformations, illumination changes, fast motion and scale variations, make it still an open problem.

New, free tool adds layer of security for the software supply chain

The software supply chain has long been a prime target for cyberattacks, putting servers, IoT devices, personal computers, and connected equipment from surgically embedded devices to avionics at risk of sabotage. These risks will increase dramatically with the global rollout of such new technologies as 5G telecommunications, and new tools will be required to affirm the security and authenticity of software projects. Against this backdrop, in-toto, an open-source tool developed by researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering that provides an unprecedented level of assurance against such attacks, announces it has hit a significant milestone with the release of its first major version.

It takes a lot of energy for machines to learn: Why AI is so power-hungry

This month, Google forced out a prominent AI ethics researcher after she voiced frustration with the company for making her withdraw a research paper. The paper pointed out the risks of language-processing artificial intelligence, the type used in Google Search and other text analysis products.

Device uses light sensors to tell whether the wearer is inside or outside

Taking an interdisciplinary approach—and mixing in a little do-it-yourself initiative—a team of Penn State Berks researchers developed a wearable device that can tell the difference between indoor and outdoor lighting. The team adds that the device could help scientists better understand the health benefits of outdoor lighting and, in the future, lead to wearables that could nudge users to get more outdoor time.

Positive messages encourage safer driver behavior than fear tactics

A new study has shown that films demonstrating responsible behavior could lead to young drivers taking fewer risks on the road than if they only saw videos aimed at provoking fear of accidents.

Study IDs four things that make people feel good about using chatbots

A recent study has identified four factors that predict user satisfaction with customer service chatbots. The study also found that a positive chatbot experience was associated with customer loyalty, highlighting the potential importance of the findings to corporate brands.

Earable computing: A new research area in the making

CSL's Systems and Networking Research Group (SyNRG) is defining a new sub-area of mobile technology that they call "earable computing." The team believes that earphones will be the next significant milestone in wearable devices, and that new hardware, software, and apps will all run on this platform.

Google complains EU tech law targets 'handful of companies'

US internet titan Google on Tuesday complained that draft laws unveiled by the European Union to curb the dominance of Big Tech appeared to be aimed at a few select firms.

To the brain, reading computer code is not the same as reading language

In some ways, learning to program a computer is similar to learning a new language. It requires learning new symbols and terms, which must be organized correctly to instruct the computer what to do. The computer code must also be clear enough that other programmers can read and understand it.

Supporting renewable electricity: EU member states should coordinate reform efforts

The European Union recently adopted more ambitious climate goals for 2030—their implementation is now the focus of debate. What do the Member States need to consider? A new study shows how important it is that governments coordinate policy reforms to support renewable electricity. Otherwise, many investors are likely to shift their focus to technologies that will continue to be subsidized or to countries where subsidies are still available. This outcome would increase the overall costs of expanding renewable electricity generation in Europe.

Google think tank's report on white supremacy says little about YouTube's role in people driven to extremism

A Google-funded report examines the relationship between white supremacists and the internet, but it makes scant reference—all of it positive—to YouTube, the company's platform that many experts blame more than any other for driving people to extremism.

Can't find your size? Amazon's new tool allows you to customize your own T-shirt size

Amazon launched today a tool that allows customers to customize a T-Shirt to their exact measurements.

Pinterest to pay $22.5 mn to settle gender discrimination suit

Popular online bulletin board Pinterest will pay former chief operating officer Francoise Brougher $20 million in a deal reached to settle a gender discrimination suit, a regulatory filing showed Monday.

California wants pandemic cases info from Amazon

California on Monday accused Amazon of failing to adequately comply with subpoenas demanding details about coronavirus cases and protocols at its facilities here.

Google delays return to office until at least September

Google-parent Alphabet on Monday confirmed that it is delaying the return of workers to its offices until at least September 2021 and is testing "flexible work weeks" for the longer term.

Volkswagen buries hatchet in boardroom battle

Car giant Volkswagen's supervisory board on Monday announced a deal to end infighting over top jobs and strategy that risked toppling chief executive Herbert Diess, saying the boss's strategy had their "full support".

UK plans big fines for online companies over harmful content

Social media and other internet companies face big fines in Britain if they don't remove and limit the spread of harmful material such as child sexual abuse or terrorist content and protect users on their platforms, officials said Tuesday.


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