Science X Newsletter Wednesday, Jul 22

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for July 22, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Deep-Grid MAP-Elites: An algorithm to produce collections of diverse and high performing solutions in noisy domains

New study shows retreat of East Antarctic ice sheet during previous warm periods

Proteins—and labs—coming together to prevent Rett syndrome

Chemists make tough plastics recyclable

Genomic basis of bat superpowers revealed: Like how they survive deadly viruses

Diamonds shine a light on hidden currents in graphene

Mapping the brain's sensory gatekeeper

Researchers diffract a beam of organic molecules

Faster identification and isolation of COVID-19 symptomatic individuals found to shorten average serial interval

Active leak of sea-bed methane discovered in Antarctica for first time

Flood data from 500 years: Rivers and climate change in Europe

Radio relic detected in a merging galaxy cluster

Earliest humans stayed at the Americas 'oldest hotel' in Mexican cave

First image of a multi-planet system around a sun-like star

Crown-of-thorns enhance their growth by switching diets early

Physics news

Researchers diffract a beam of organic molecules

A team of researchers from Austria, Germany, and the U.K. has succeeded in diffracting a beam of organic molecules. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the researchers describe demonstrating Bragg diffraction of the molecules ciprofloxacin and phthalocyanine.

While birds chirp, plasma shouldn't: New insight could advance fusion energy

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have furthered understanding of a barrier that can prevent doughnut-shaped fusion facilities known as tokamaks from operating at high efficiency by causing vital heat to be lost from them.

Instantaneous color holography system for sensing fluorescence and white light achieved

The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), Toin University of Yokohama, and Chiba University have succeeded in developing a color-multiplexed holography system by which 3-D information of objects illuminated by a white-light lamp and self-luminous specimens are recorded as a single multicolor hologram by a specially designed and developed monochrome image sensor.

Researchers develop photonic crystal light converter

Spectroscopy is the use of light to analyze physical objects and biological samples. Different kinds of light can provide different kinds of information. Vacuum ultraviolet light is useful as it can aid people in a broad range of research fields, but generation of that light has been difficult and expensive. Researchers created a new device to efficiently generate this special kind of light using an ultrathin film with nanoscale perforations.

Valley Hall nanoscale lasers developed

Topological photonics underpins a promising paradigm for robust light manipulation, as well as smart design of optical devices with improved reliability and advanced functionalities that are governed by the nontrivial band topology. Nanostructures made of high-index dielectric materials with resonant elements and lattice arrangements show special promise for implementation of topological order for light at the nanoscale and optical on-chip applications. High-index dielectrics such as III-V semiconductors that can contain strong optical gain further enhanced by topological field localization form a promising platform for active topological nanophotonics.

New 'super light source' should allow fascinating insights into atoms

The 'Gamma Factory initiative'—an international team of scientists—is currently exploring a novel research tool: They propose to develop a source of high-intensity gamma rays using the existing accelerator facilities at CERN. To do this, specialized ion beams will be circulated in the SPS and LHC storage rings, which will then be excited using laser beams so that they emit photons. In the selected configuration, the energies of the photons will be within the gamma radiation range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is of particular interest in connection with spectroscopic analysis of atomic nuclei. Furthermore, the gamma rays will be designed to have a very high intensity, several orders of magnitude higher than those of systems currently in operation. In the latest issue of the journal Annalen der Physik, the researchers claim that a 'Gamma Factory' constructed in this way will enable not only breakthroughs in spectroscopy but also novel ways of testing fundamental symmetries of nature.

Astronomy and Space news

Radio relic detected in a merging galaxy cluster

Using the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), an international team of astronomers has detected a radio relic in a merging galaxy cluster known as SPT-CL 2023-5535. The discovery is reported in a research paper published July 16 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

First image of a multi-planet system around a sun-like star

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO's VLT) has taken the first ever image of a young, sun-like star accompanied by two giant exoplanets. Images of systems with multiple exoplanets are extremely rare, and—until now—astronomers had never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the sun. The observations can help astronomers understand how planets formed and evolved around our own sun.

Study illuminates fates of distant planetary atmospheres

When telescopes became powerful enough to find planets orbiting distant stars, scientists were surprised to see that a lot of them didn't have atmospheres like Earth's. Instead, they appear to have thick blankets of hydrogen.

NASA's 'robot hotel' gets its occupants

Storage is just as important aboard the International Space Station as it is on Earth. While the space station is about the size of a football field, the living space inside is much smaller than that. Just as you wouldn't store garden tools in a house when you could store them in a shed outside, astronauts now have a "housing unit" in which they can store tools for use on the exterior of the space station.

Image: Letting a satellite breathe

This air intake collector is designed to harvest sufficient air particles as it skims the top of the atmosphere to fuel an "air-breathing" electric thruster. The aim is to help satellites to overcome atmospheric drag to operate on an ongoing basis in orbits from as low as 180 km to a maximum 250 km altitude.

Technology news

Deep-Grid MAP-Elites: An algorithm to produce collections of diverse and high performing solutions in noisy domains

Over the past few decades, research teams worldwide have developed a wide variety of computational tools and technological solutions. Quality-diversity (QD) optimization algorithms are an approach that can generate large collections of diverse and highly performing solutions to computational problems rather than identifying a single high-quality solution, as a more conventional optimization algorithm would.

Tracking misinformation campaigns in real-time is possible, study shows

A research team led by Princeton University has developed a technique for tracking online foreign misinformation campaigns in real time, which could help mitigate outside interference in the 2020 American election.

Is it a bird, a plane? Not superman, but a flapping wing drone

A drone prototype that mimics the aerobatic manoeuvres of one of the world's fastest birds, the swift, is being developed by an international team of engineers in the latest example of biologically inspired flight.

Investigating 3-D-printed structures in real time

A team of scientists working at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Brookhaven National Laboratory has designed an apparatus that can take simultaneous temperature and X-ray scattering measurements of a 3-D printing process in real time, and have used it to gather information that may improve finished 3-D products made from a large variety of plastics. This study could broaden the scope of the printing process in the manufacturing industry and is also an important step forward for Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University's collaborative advanced manufacturing program.

Report: Web security improves, but big gaps remain

A report released this week reveals good news and bad news concerning the current global state of security on the Internet. The good news, according to a massive study last spring conducted by the security analytics firm Rapid7, is that despite potential tremors the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 might have unleashed on the Internet, the system is actually holding up relatively well and security measures are improving.

Solar-driven membrane distillation technology that can double drinking water production

A joint research team from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), led by Dr. Kyung-guen Song from the KIST Water Cycle Research Center and Dr. Won-jun Choi from the KIST Center for Opto-Electronic Materials and Devices, has used solar energy technology to develop a highly efficient membrane distillation technology that can produce drinking water from seawater or wastewater.

Researcher uses social media data to analyze public reaction to the pandemic

From the moment news broke of an unknown, potentially deadly virus, the topic lit up social media channels—creating a trove of data for the University of Toronto's Jia Xue, who uses computational approaches to study social justice issues.

COVID-19 shutdown led to increased solar power output

As the Covid-19 shutdowns and stay-at-home orders brought much of the world's travel and commerce to a standstill, people around the world started noticing clearer skies as a result of lower levels of air pollution. Now, researchers have been able to demonstrate that those clearer skies had a measurable impact on the output from solar photovoltaic panels, leading to a more than 8 percent increase in the power output from installations in Delhi.

People 'fly to quality' news on social sites when faced with uncertainty

When information becomes a matter of life or death or is key to navigating economic uncertainty, as it has during the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears people turn to tried and true sources of information rather than iffy sites that have become increasingly part of the social media news diet in recent years.

Renewables now EU's biggest source of electricity: study

Renewable energy sources such as the wind and the sun overtook fossil fuels as the European Union's main generators of electricity in the first half of this year, according to a new report published on Wednesday.

Facebook and Instagram to study racial bias against African Americans, Hispanics on their platforms

Acknowledging complaints over censorship and harassment, Facebook is creating teams to examine and address racial bias on its platform and on Instagram.

A rapid-response chatbot to address freshmen queries

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has rolled out a new virtual assistant powered by Google Cloud to help some 6,000 incoming freshmen transition to university life on the NTU Smart Campus.

No honor among cyber thieves

A backstabbing crime boss and thousands of people looking for free tutorials on hacking and identity theft were two of the more interesting findings of a study examining user activity on two online 'carding forums,' illegal sites that specialize in stolen credit card information.

Optimizing neural networks on a brain-inspired computer

Many computational properties are maximized when the dynamics of a network are at a 'critical point," a state where systems can quickly change their overall characteristics in fundamental ways, transitioning e.g. between order and chaos or stability and instability. Therefore, the critical state is widely assumed to be optimal for any computation in recurrent neural networks, which are used in many AI applications.

Meet Scout: Amazon is taking its Prime Delivery Robots to the South

Amazon has put delivery robots to work during the pandemic and is now expanding its fleet to cities in the South.

Twitter takes down QAnon conspiracy theorist accounts

Twitter has removed more than 7,000 accounts linked to the "QAnon" movement over abuse and harassment concerns, saying Tuesday it will limit the spread of conspiracy theories by its supporters.

Benin tech innovation hub sees bright future

With crimson walls and violet, yellow and red awnings, it's a building that few people in Cotonou, the tranquil economic capital of Benin, are likely to miss.

Resurgent 'techlash' overshadows Silicon Valley earnings

Big Tech, its hands full with antitrust probes and complaints growing from activists and politicians, turns its attention to quarterly earnings in the coming days expected to show the growing power of Silicon Valley giants.

Privacy, perceptions and effectiveness: the challenges of developing coronavirus contact-tracing apps

To control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 50 countries have implemented applications to trace the contacts of people who may be infected.

How to solve California's digital divide

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare all manner of social issues and disparities, from child care accessibility to the weaknesses of an underfunded public health system.

Slack files anti-competitive complaint vs. Microsoft in EU

Workplace chatting service Slack has filed a complaint in the European Union against Microsoft, accusing the software company of anti-competitive behavior.


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▼ Choosing a midrange phone is harder than ever

Hey friends, I am back in your inbox in the middle of an unscheduled summer break. I'll drop another newsletter or two on you this week before taking next week off someplace where I hope Wi-Fi cannot reach. Then we'll get back to our regularly irregular cadence of tech news again in August. As always, I'm grateful you've subscribed and apologies for dropping off so suddenly.

Today I've been thinking about how so much of the action in Android phones is happening in the midrange. Obviously that's because OnePlus just unveiled the Nord smartphone, with a 90Hz display, dual selfie cameras, and 5G. Here's Jon Porter:

If offering similar specs to the OnePlus 8 in a midrange phone sounds like a recipe for stealing some of the 8's thunder, then you wouldn't be entirely wrong. In fact, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei told me that's almost the point. Although he says the two phones are targeting different markets, he doesn't want the company to be afraid of competing with itself.

It won't be making it to the US in any real numbers (yet), but there is not a ton of daylight between it and the OnePlus 8. Wait for the Nord to be scored in Porter's full review — coming soon — but it seems like a solid phone based just on the specs.

It's also one of a few phones that I've been waiting for since December, as it uses the less-expensive Snapdragon 765G processor. There's also LG's stylish midrange Velvet phone, which launches in the US on July 22nd. Sam Byford reviewed the Korean version, which has a slightly different processor from the same series.

My hope last December was that this processor would be fast enough for the vast majority of people, which could mean that vast majority wouldn't have to compromise so much when spending less than $700 or so on a phone. Byford's review doesn't give me a ton of hope:

Apps load quickly, web pages render as expected, games run fine, and so on. But the Velvet still somehow feels slow, whether it's the 60Hz display or the stuttery scrolling in certain apps. I don't know if it's the chip itself or LG's software, but it doesn't match up to other 2020 flagship Android phones.

Dip below "mid range" and you get into territory with phones like the Samsung A51 I reviewed this past May. It has Samsung's own Exynos processor and I noticed a distinct slowness there too. In a world where the iPhone SE runs $399 with an absolutely blazing processor, Android phones are at a distinct disadvantage in that department. There are still places where Android phones are stronger than the iPhone SE, of course, but it's just not easy to choose.

(Also, someday, hopefully, maybe, whatever Google will finally announce a Pixel 4A with an entirely other rumored chip in it.)

Anyway, when I say "all the action" is in this price range, what I mean is that there seems to be a lot more experimentation, mixing and matching of components, and differentiation. Everything over a thousand bucks is flat out trying to give you the bestest and mostest, so choosing a phone is relatively simple. (Let's set aside foldables for now.)

But down here in the more reasonable range you sort of have to be more savvy about what you want. Do you care about screen size? Screen quality? Battery life? Camera? Speed? Gaming performance? The truth is that unless you veer into flagship territory, you have to pick one or a few of those things — you can't have it all.


Verge Deal of the day

Get $100 off a two-pack of Google Nest Hub Max displays

A single Google Nest Hub Max smart display usually costs $229, but Best Buy will knock $100 off the total if you buy two. The final cost for the two at checkout will be $360 instead of $460. This is a great deal if you're looking to invest in a smart display that has a camera. Additionally, the Nest Hub Max recently gained official Netflix support.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy. Prices displayed are based on the MSRP at time of posting.


Samsung news

Samsung's Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may try to be the Xbox Phone. Jay Peters:

The two companies also announced they would be partnering on a cloud-based game streaming service in February. A Microsoft-made game streaming service would also fill a hole for Samsung, which shut down its own PC-to-phone game streaming service in March. More than 90 games will apparently be available to stream on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra over xCloud, according to WinFuture.

┏ This is what Samsung's bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live will look like in your ears. Beans... Beans... Beans. BEANS. BEANS! BEANS! BEANS!

┏ Samsung Galaxy Note 20 shown off in most detailed leak yet.

The render shows off a handset with a much flatter screen than what we're expecting from the Ultra, and the rear camera module also appears to lack the Ultra's fourth sensor, which is speculated to be either a 3D ToF sensor or a laser autofocus.

┏ Blurry Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 leak hints at camera upgrades and gold model.

Separate rumors suggest the Galaxy Fold 2 will launch at a cheaper price point, with less storage. The original model started at $1,980, so any cost savings could help push dual-screen and foldable devices towards the mainstream.

Android news

┏ If you really want a smaller phone, try the tiny Jelly 2. Sam Byford takes a look at the latest minimalist Android phone, which avoids the Palm phone's biggest problem: the Jelly 2 has a 2,000mAh battery instead of the Palm's 800mAh.

┏ The brain behind the Google Pixel camera is building a universal camera app for Adobe.

┏ OnePlus Buds review: cheap AirPods for OnePlus phones. Chris Welch:

The OnePlus Buds require a OnePlus phone if you want to get the most from them, so these really won't appeal to owners of other Android devices. You won't get features like wireless charging or noise cancellation at a price this low, but if you've found yourself envious of Apple's AirPods and don't like how in-ear earbuds feel, it's hard to beat the value factor here.

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More from The Verge

┏ Virtual dating is booming, but daters say it's not enough. Why'd You Push That Button with Ashley Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany is back with a special episode! Listen! It's great! Exclamation point!

┏ I mapped my entire apartment's Wi-Fi signal. A great video from Verge Science and Becca Farsace.

┏ Microsoft teases its future Office UI. RIP The Ribbon. Tom Warren:

This adaptive commanding will see Office's ribbon interface replaced with a toolbar that can be undocked to float nearby actions you're taking in documents with contextual commands. Microsoft is currently exploring how this interface will work, but some of the design details the company is teasing today will roll out within a year or two, according to Friedman.

┏ New COVID testing strategy could speed up backlogged labs. Nicole Wetsman:

Quest's method will combine samples taken from four people. If the multi-sample test is negative, all four are considered negative. If it's positive, each sample gets retested on its own to figure out who has the virus

┏ Sony's first vlogging camera almost nails it. Here's my review of a great little Sony camera. I am hesitant to tell you to get it, as it really is dependent on your particular needs. But if you're in that particular gap between wanting a video camera more powerful than your phone but still very pocketable, this is one of the very few things that can fill it.

┏ Windows 10X might not arrive until 2021. What in the world happened to 10X? The simple explanation is that product development is harder in the pandemic — but it's difficult not to cast about for other reasons. Microsoft doesn't exactly have a stellar history when it comes to alternate versions of Windows, so it's reasonable to assume something has gone wrong.

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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