Science X Newsletter Thursday, Feb 6

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for February 6, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

3-D trapping of Rydberg atoms in holographic optical bottle beam traps

A vision for the creation of 6G communications

Collaboration lets researchers 'read' proteins for new properties

Key molecular machine in cells pictured in detail for the first time

Water-conducting membrane allows carbon dioxide to transform into fuel more efficiently

Why bumble bees are going extinct in time of 'climate chaos'

CRISPR-edited immune cells can survive and thrive after infusion into cancer patients

World's most powerful particle accelerator one big step closer

Rosetta data reveals process behind color-changing chameleon comet

Study shows acceleration of global mean ocean circulation since 1990s

Researchers develop a roadmap for growth of new solar cells

Team finds that their cancer-fighting compound fights obesity and diabetes, too

Sediment loading key to predicting post-wildfire debris flows

US astronaut returns to Earth after longest mission by woman

Multiple eco-crises could trigger 'systemic collapse': scientists

Physics news

3-D trapping of Rydberg atoms in holographic optical bottle beam traps

Researchers at CNRS, Université Paris-Saclay in France have recently demonstrated the 3-D trapping of atoms in a Rydberg state inside holographic optical bottle beam traps. Their demonstration, outlined in a paper published in Physical Review Letters, could have important implications for the future realization of quantum simulations.

World's most powerful particle accelerator one big step closer

Scientists have demonstrated a key technology in making next-generation high-energy particle accelerators possible.

Quantum fluctuations sustain the record superconductor

Calculations performed by an international team of researchers from Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Japan show that the crystal structure of the record superconducting LaH10 compound is stabilized by atomic quantum fluctuations. This result suggests that superconductivity approaching room temperature may be possible in hydrogen-rich compounds at much lower pressures than previously expected with classical calculations. The results are published today in Nature.

Researchers demonstrate optical backflow of light

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have for the first time demonstrated the backflow of optical light propagating forward. The phenomenon, theorized more than 50 years ago by quantum physicists, has never before been demonstrated successfully in any experiment—until now.

Physicists find evidence of previously unseen transition in ferroelectrics

In a recent study, University of Arkansas physics researchers found evidence of an inverse transition in ferroelectric ultrathin films, which could lead to advances in development of data storage, microelectronics and sensors.

How iron carbenes store energy from sunlight—and why they aren't better at it

Photosensitizers are molecules that absorb sunlight and pass that energy along to generate electricity or drive chemical reactions. They're generally based on rare, expensive metals; so the discovery that iron carbenes, with plain old iron at their cores, can do this, too, triggered a wave of research over the past few years. But while ever more efficient iron carbenes are being discovered, scientists need to understand exactly how these molecules work at an atomic level in order to engineer them for top performance.

Setting up fundamental bases for information metasurfaces

When illuminated by electromagnetic waves, subwavelength-scale particles of metasurfaces can couple the incident energy to free space with controllable amplitude, phase and polarizations, such that the transmitted wave can be manipulated flexibly with predesigned functionalities. In recent years, rapid developments of digital and information metasurfaces have stimulated many information processing applications, such as computational imaging, wireless communications, and performing mathematical operations. With the increasing amount of research focused on the topic of information processing with metasurfaces, a general theory to characterize the properties of metasurfaces from the information perspective is urgently needed.

Scientists develop method to build up functional elements of quantum computers

Scientists from Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU, Vladivostok, Russia), together with colleagues from FEB RAS, China, Hong Kong, and Australia, manufactured ultra-compact bright sources based on IR-emitting mercury telluride (HgTe) quantum dots (QDs), the future functional elements of quantum computers and advanced sensors. A related article is published in Light: Science and Applications.

Astronomy & Space news

Rosetta data reveals process behind color-changing chameleon comet

A grand synthesis of Rosetta data has shown how its target comet repeatedly changed color during the two years it was watched by the spacecraft. The chameleon comet's nucleus became progressively less red as it made its close pass around the sun, and then red again as it returned to deep space.

US astronaut returns to Earth after longest mission by woman

NASA's Christina Koch returned to Earth safely on Thursday after shattering the spaceflight record for female astronauts with a stay of almost 11 months aboard the International Space Station.

Black holes eat stars in variable mood lighting

When a black hole chews up a star, it produces visible light or X-rays, but astronomers have almost never detected both types of radiation. Astronomer Peter Jonker (SRON / Radboud University) and his colleagues have now spotted a number of captured stars with an X-ray telescope a few years after they were discovered in optical light. It appears that black holes all dine in the same way after all, while the mood lighting varies according to a fixed pattern. Their study is published in the Astrophysical Journal.

For the first time, an ESA deep space antenna controlled two spacecraft with one dish

For the first time, an ESA deep space antenna has sent commands to two ESA spacecraft, simultaneously, at the Red Planet.

'Racing certainty' there's life on Europa and Mars, says leading UK space scientist

It's 'almost a racing certainty' there's alien life on Jupiter's moon Europa—and Mars could be hiding primitive microorganisms, too.

Solar Orbiter: Ready for launch

The fairing of the US Atlas V 411 rocket with ESA's Solar Orbiter spacecraft inside at the Astrotech payload processing facility near Kennedy Space Center in Florida during launch preparations on 21 January 2020.

Technology news

A vision for the creation of 6G communications

Now that the standardization of fifth-generation (5G) communications has been accomplished, with the 5G network set to be launched this year, researchers have already started thinking about what a 6G network could look like. An interesting perspective on the future development of 6G can be found in a paper published in Nature Electronics, carried out by researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Saudi Arabia.

Researchers develop a roadmap for growth of new solar cells

Materials called perovskites show strong potential for a new generation of solar cells, but they've had trouble gaining traction in a market dominated by silicon-based solar cells. Now, a study by researchers at MIT and elsewhere outlines a roadmap for how this promising technology could move from the laboratory to a significant place in the global solar market.

Patches to make Sudo utility less open to abuse

A flaw that gave out root privileges gets patched. It is a utility that, said Dan Goodin in Ars Technica, can be found in "dozens of Unix-like operating systems."

Improving pavement networks by predicting the future

With around 4.18 million miles of roads in the United States, planning pavement maintenance can seem like a daunting process.

Could the next generation of particle accelerators come out of a 3-D printer?

Imagine being able to manufacture complex devices whenever you want and wherever you are. It would create unforeseen possibilities even in the most remote locations, such as building spare parts or new components on board a spacecraft. 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, could be a way of doing just that. All you would need is the materials the device will be made of, a printer and a computer that controls the process.

Energy choices can be contagious – but why? New insights into peer influence

A growing body of research shows that the behavior of peers has a significant influence on an individual's energy-related decisions, whether it's choosing to install solar panels or to purchase a hybrid vehicle. In short, personal energy choices can be contagious.

Apps could take up less space on your phone, thanks to new 'streaming' software

If you resort to deleting apps when your phone's storage space is full, researchers have a solution.

Toyota logs nine-month profit gain, upgrades annual forecasts

Japanese car giant Toyota on Thursday reported a surge in net profit on record sales for the nine months to December, and upgraded its full-year profit forecasts.

Staff making iPhones in central China plant to be quarantined

Workers making iPhones at tech giant Foxconn's plant in central China will be quarantined for up to two weeks, the company said Thursday, as cities on the mainland tighten their defences against the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Airbnb to limit bookings by people under 25 in Canada

People under 25 will no longer be able to rent local listings for entire homes on Airbnb in Canada, the company announced Wednesday after a fatal shooting at a Toronto apartment booked through the website.

Child safety groups urge Facebook to halt encryption plans

More than 100 child protection organizations Thursday urged Facebook to halt plans for strong encryption of all its platforms, saying that would allow predators to operate freely.

Huawei sues Verizon over alleged patent infringement

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei said Thursday it had filed two lawsuits in Texas courts against Verizon that accuse the US wireless carrier of patent infringement.

Google Maps marks 15-year milestone with new features

Google Maps marked 15 years on the road Thursday with the rollout of new features for the popular mobile app which has helped move navigation into the digital age.

Nokia reports higher profit, boosts 5G investments

Finnish telecom equipment maker Nokia Corp. has reported a rise in fourth-quarter earnings mainly due to cost savings and pledged to boost investments in next-generation 5G networks, of which it is one of the world's main suppliers.

Twitter surges as global user growth revives

Twitter shares jumped Thursday after an update showing it added millions of new users and boosted ad revenue in the fourth quarter, sparking optimism over its growth prospects.

Engineers mix and match materials to make new stretchy electronics

At the heart of any electronic device is a cold, hard computer chip, covered in a miniature city of transistors and other semiconducting elements. Because computer chips are rigid, the electronic devices that they power, such as our smartphones, laptops, watches, and televisions, are similarly inflexible.

Self-driving the longest route yet

A project researching the latest autonomous vehicle technologies has successfully completed a 230-mile self-navigated journey on UK roads.

Making memes accessible for people with visual impairments

People with visual impairments use social media like everyone else, often with the help of screen reader software. But that technology falls short when it encounters memes, which don't include alternate text, or alt text, to describe what's depicted in the image.

Engineering a better world using mirrors, sun and steam

Partha Dutta, a professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, envisions a not-so-distant future where even the most remote parts of the world would have access to clean and renewable energy. His vision wouldn't require a large power grid or expensive technology. Instead, he believes it could be accomplished using simple mirrors, local resources, and the sun.

Testing shows drones can use autonomous technology to dodge other air traffic

In the drone industry, it's called "the detect and avoid problem." Enabling drones to sense nearby aircraft and move out of their way has long been one of the most formidable barriers between a technology narrowly confined to specialized applications and one reaching its potential.

Charging your phone using a public USB port? Beware of 'juice jacking'

Have you ever used a public charging station to charge your mobile phone when it runs out of battery? If so, watch out for "juice jacking."

New production process for perovskite cells: Fast, cheap track to new types of solar cells

The semiconductor perovskite is seen as a new hope to bring the production price of solar cells down below that of silicon used so far. Empa is developing new manufacturing processes to make perovskite solar cells not only cheaper but also faster to produce and make them ready for industrial use.

Online dating goes mainstream despite some doubts: US survey

Americans' use of online apps and dating websites to meet potential partners is growing even if many people express concerns about participating in these services, a survey showed Thursday.

US lets autonomous vehicle bypass human-driver safety rules

For the first time, the U.S. government's highway safety agency has approved a company's request to deploy a self-driving vehicle that doesn't meet federal safety standards that apply to cars and trucks driven by humans.

Design approach may help fix bias in artificial intelligence

Bias in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning programs is well established. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Pennsylvania State University are now proposing that software developers incorporate the concept of "feminist design thinking" into their development process as a way of improving equity—particularly in the development of software used in the hiring process.

FAA says Boeing MAX test flight could come in weeks

Boeing shares rallied Thursday following a top US air safety regulator that a certification flight for the 737 MAX could occur within weeks.

Tinder a good example of how people use technology for more than we think

Tinder's meteoric rise in popularity has cemented its position as the go-to dating app for millions of young and not-so-young users. Although it is widely known as a platform to facilitate hookups and casual dating, some of the app's estimated 50 million+ worldwide users are employing it for something altogether different.

US agency to hear patent complaint over Google speakers

A US trade panel said Thursday it was investigating a complaint that Google infringed on patented technology of smart speaker maker Sonos.

Uber loses $1.1B investing in food delivery, driverless cars

Uber continued to lose money as it builds up its food delivery business and develops technology for driverless cars, but revenue for its rides business nearly tripled as the company picked up more passengers around the world.

Inkjet printing technology for battery elements

A group of St. Petersburg scientists has proposed a new method of manufacturing electrodes for lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, smartphones and tablets. The researchers have shown that these elements can be printed with an inkjet printer, which will reduce the electrode thickness by 10 to 20 times and open up new possibilities for manufacturers of compact electronics. Their article has been published in the journal Energy Technology.

Crawling the invisible web genetically

The world-wide web has grown immensely since its academic and research inception in 1991, and its subsequent expansion into the public and commercial domains. Initially, it was a network of hyperlinked pages and other digital resources. Very early on, it became obvious that some resources were so vast that it would make more sense to generate the materials required by individual users dynamically rather than storing every single digital entity as a unique item.

Fiat Chrysler profit skids as sales slow

US-Italian automaker Fiat Chrysler said Thursday its net earnings fell by nearly a fifth last year as sales slowed, although both rose in the final quarter.

Artificial intelligence brings greater precision to operations

Operations based on an MRI or CT scan are made trickier by the fact that people can never lie completely still. Doctoral candidate Koen Eppenhof has shown that an algorithm based on deep learning can be used to correct for the inevitable movements.

Fiat Chrysler: prolonged virus trouble can hurt Europe plant

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Thursday that while the virus outbreak in China posed no immediate business risk, production at one European plant could be affected if supply chains remain blocked.

US should buy control of Nokia, Ericsson to fight Huawei: attorney general

The United States and its allies should take controlling stakes in Nokia, Ericsson or both to battle Chinese telecoms giant Huawei's dominance of the 5G market, US Attorney general Bill Barr said Thursday.


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▼ Microsoft is looking past the Xbox before the internet is really ready for cloud gaming

Big news from Microsoft today, as it has put its most visionary product person, Panos Panay, in charge of Windows in addition to hardware. Technically Panay isn't in charge of all of Windows, but the client experience you see on your computers. Very technically, understanding how the matrix of the various desktop and cloud pieces of Windows interact with Microsoft's org chart is beyond the scope of this (or maybe any) newsletter.

There are going to be a lot of implications for Windows, so keep an eye out for analysis from Tom Warren today.

I'm leaving that to him so I can write a little more about Microsoft's cloud efforts here — specifically Phil Spencer's comments that as the head of Xbox, his main competition isn't Sony but instead Google and Amazon.

That's quite a statement for a person about to launch a brand new generationof gaming consoles to make! I'll get into it after the links.

- Dieter

Stories from The Verge

└ Waymo workers complain about cuts to benefits and needles in self-driving cars

└ Boosted's struggling to move beyond electric skateboards

Sean O'Kane's reporting here reveals a lot of very troubling financial issues, though perhaps a big infusion of venture capital could solve things, at least temporarily. Seems like the tariffs have been a real problem.

└ Spotify needed a huge podcast, and it just bought one of the biggest

Ashley Carman has some reporting on the deal and how Simmons' podcasts will transition to the Spotify model, then she ends it by describing what some might consider the nightmare scenario for podcasting: what was once open will become closed.

All this data targeting could make listeners uneasy, as can a walled garden approach to the typically open podcast market. Spotify's snatching up shows, gathering information about listeners, and making a name for itself in the business. There doesn't seem to be much listeners can do about it, and with Simmons on board, the Spotify message can reach hundreds of thousands of people, making Spotify synonymous with podcasting.

└ Your Philips Hue light bulbs can still be hacked — and until recently, your network

There may be more disclosures to come, as Sean Hollister writes:

And though Check Point hasn't necessarily tested other brands yet, its researchers claim this vulnerability may not be limited to Philips Hue bulbs and hubs. It's in the Zigbee communications protocol used by loads of smart home brands, including Amazon's Ring, Samsung SmartThings, Ikea Tradfri, Belkin's WeMo, as well as Yale locks, Honeywell thermostats, and Comcast's Xfinity Home alarm system.

└ Coronavirus threatens to throw world's biggest phone show into chaos

I certainly don't think we should be sowing fear and doubt, but the response Sam Byford is detailing here doesn't seem like it's enough.

"There is minimal impact on the event thus far," the association said in a statement yesterday. "MWC Barcelona 24-27 February 2020 will proceed as planned across all venues." The GSMA says it will be increasing medical support and disinfection measures on site and communicating best practices to attendees. Speakers will be subject to a new microphone changing protocol. A "no-handshake policy" is also being advised for all at the show, though that sounds impractical to enforce.

└ Developer suing Apple for stealing idea calls on others to join the fight

Sherlocking, if you're not familiar, is the term for when Apple copies a third-party app and builds it in to its own operating system. It's named after a Mac app called Sherlock, which copied Watson. Both were from an earlier age of the web, integrating a bunch of services into widget-like features in a single app. In some ways we don't have anything like it anymore, though widget centers have come close. Back in the day it was a bummer when it happened, but now that there are questions about monopolistic practices for tech, Sherlocking feels different. Jon Porter has much more:

Sherlocking isn't a black-and-white issue since there are times when getting more functionality built into your operating system feels very convenient. After all, is there anyone out there who'd seriously argue we should return to the days of third-party flashlight apps? But it's hard to not feel sympathy for the developers who are clearly producing something important enough to warrant being imitated in the first place.

└ Apple enables universal purchases for Mac and iOS apps

└ This guy now owns Murfie's nearly 1 million abandoned CDs

└ Teenage Engineering's 3D printing files let you make your own Ikea speaker accessories

What a great idea, even if very few people actually do it. Teenage Engineering is still having more fun than anybody else in consumer tech.


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Microsoft is looking past the Xbox before the internet is really ready for cloud gaming

Spencer's claim is part of a trend of Microsoft executives minimizing their consumer products in favor of talking up their cloud services. Which is to say: I think some portion of Spencer's comments are about hammering home Microsoft's new marketing message than dismissing the next generation of consoles.

Some, but not all. Microsoft really is looking ahead to the next battle after (or at minimum, alongside) the Xbox vs Sony console war. He's looking at cloud gaming. It's been joined by Google and Nvidia already and Amazon has indeed been rumored to deliver something this year. Sony's in there too, but it's a little hard for me to say if the company's heart is really in it.

We'll leave Amazon's effort aside for now since it's still deeply in rumor territory, but we can already see that Google, Microsoft, and Nvidia each have very different ideas of how cloud gaming should work. Google is treating it essentially as a console in the sky, Nvidia is trying to get you access to your PC gaming library (Steam in the sky!), and Microsoft is hoping to leverage its Xbox and Windows ecosystems by bringing the games it's already developed and licensed.

Each model comes with pitfalls. All three have different challenges getting games publishers to put games on their platforms. Google needs a big library fast since it can't lean on an existing games ecosystem. Nvidia has a little breathing room but perhaps not as strong a negotiating position for its deals. Microsoft has struggled with getting Xbox exclusives in the recent past and it hasn't convinced enough developers to adopt its ecosystem instead of (or in addition to) Steam.

Spencer is probably right to be more worried about competing in cloud gaming than competing with Sony and Nintendo on console sales. But it does make me wonder if the next generation of Xboxes is going to repeat the Xbox One's rocky launch, where games played third fiddle to Microsoft's doomed TV ambitions.

So these companies have different business models, challenges, and ecosystems to build on. But they all share a common problem: cloud gaming just isn't that good yet. It is a little weird for Spencer to say his competition is Google and Amazon when Amazon hasn't launched and Google's Stadia launch has been so rough.

I use Stadia under very close to ideal internet conditions and it's really rough. Cloud gaming might be the future, but unless our internet infrastructure gets way better, it's all a pipe dream. Or maybe a "series of tubes" dream.

It's also possible that the push for cloud gaming foretells yet another attempt for big tech to convince us to switch our computers to "thin clients," super-light and not-very-powerful local computers with the real power in the cloud. Chromebooks are basically that already. It seems like a good trade off until Windows search mysteriously goes down for hours because of a Microsoft services outage.

One last thought: go read Sean Hollister's story about Nvidia's GeForce Now launch, specifically on the section of what games are and are not available. If Nvidia is promising to just put the games you've already bought into the cloud, why can't it do that with every publisher's game? It clearly feels it needs to get a separate license.

Just this past week we watched Fox and Roku get into a fight that very nearly took Fox's app away right before the Super Bowl. We see channels and cable providers get into carriage battles all the time, taking channels offline. It's reasonable to expect the same thing could happen between, say, EA and Nvidia, or Google or Microsoft.

The cloud isn't just made up of server racks and fiber connections, it's made up of a byzantine series of deals and agreements. As we rush to turn our consoles and laptops into thin clients beholden to more powerful computers in a data farm somewhere, we would do well to remember that access to our software is increasingly not a matter of ownership.


Verge Deal of the day 

This $349 Xbox One X console bundle includes a free game and controller

Around Black Friday, it was easy to stumble on a deal for an Xbox One X bundled with a recent game and an accessory you'll actually get some use out of. But those have become more rare since then. That's why this deal at Dell is worth sharing. For a limited time, you'll get an Xbox One X console, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and an additional Xbox wireless controller with purchase for $349.


You are reading Processor, a newsletter about computers by Dieter Bohn. Dieter writes about consumer tech, software, and the most important news of the day from The Verge. This newsletter delivers about four times a week, at least a couple of which include longer essays.

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