Science X Newsletter Monday, Dec 21

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for December 21, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

LUCIDGames: A technique to plan adaptive trajectories for autonomous vehicles

Exploring the potential of near-sensor and in-sensor computing systems

New engine capability accelerates advanced vehicle research

Muddying the waters: Weathering might remove less atmospheric carbon dioxide than thought

Satellites can reveal risk of forced labor in the world's fishing fleet

Defeating pathological autoimmunity with kinase inhibition

Designing high-performance hypergolic propellants for space rockets based on the materials genome

Open cluster NGC 2158 investigated in detail

Robust stellar flares might not prevent life on exoplanets, could facilitate its detection

Study finds meteoric evidence for a previously unknown asteroid

Evolution of a killer: How African Salmonella made the leap from gut to bloodstream

Scientists and philosopher team up, propose a new way to categorize minerals

Volcanic eruptions directly triggered ocean acidification during Early Cretaceous

High-five or thumbs-up? New device detects which hand gesture you want to make

Researchers take a closer look at the genomes of microbial communities in the human mouth

Physics news

Researchers invent method to 'sketch' quantum devices with focused electrons

It has long been a dream to invent new materials from the "top down" choosing which atoms go where to engineer properties of interest. A technique created by researchers out of the Department of Physics and Astronomy enables them to "sketch" patterns of electrons into a programmable quantum material—lanthanum aluminate/strontium titanate or "LAO/STO". Using this approach, they can create quantum devices and with feature sizes comparable to the spacing between electrons, and even "sketch" artificial lattices for electrons to traverse, with extremely high precision.

Seeking answers in ferroelectric patterning

Why do some ferroelectric materials display bubble-shaped patterning, while others display complex, labyrinthine patterns?

Optoelectronic devices that emit warm and cool white light

The advantages of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), such as their tiny size, low cost and excellent power efficiency, mean they are found everywhere in modern life. A KAUST team has recently developed a way of producing a white-light LED that overcomes some critical challenges.

World's shortest wavelength for a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser demonstrated

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, with collaborators at Technische Universität Berlin, have demonstrated the shortest wavelength ever reported of a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL). This can pave the way for future use in, for example, disinfection and medical treatment. The results were recently published in the scientific journal ACS Photonics.

Looking for dark matter near neutron stars with radio telescopes

In the 1970s, physicists uncovered a problem with the Standard Model of particle physics—the theory that describes three of the four fundamental forces of nature (electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions; the fourth is gravity). They found that, while the theory predicts that a symmetry between particles and forces in our Universe and a mirror version should be broken, the experiments say otherwise. This mismatch between theory and observations is dubbed 'the Strong CP problem'—CP stands for Charge+Parity. What is the CP problem, and why has it puzzled scientists for almost half a century?

Researcher experiments with electron-plasma interactions

A paper on research conducted by Meirielen Caetano de Sousa, postdoctoral fellow at the University of São Paulo's Physics Institute (IF-USP) in Brazil, is highlighted as Editor's Pick in the September issue of Physics of Plasmas, published by the American Institute of Physics with the cooperation of The American Physical Society. The paper, entitled "Wave-particle interactions in a long traveling wave tube with upgraded helix", is signed by Sousa, Iberê Caldas, her supervisor at IF-USP, and collaborators at Aix-Marseille University in France, where Sousa served a research internship with the support of a scholarship from FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation) and CAPES, the Brazilian Ministry of Education's higher research council.

New optical fiber brings significant improvements to light-based gyroscopes

Researchers have taken an important new step in advancing the performance of resonator fiber optic gyroscopes, a type of fiber optic sensor that senses rotation using only light. Because gyroscopes are the basis of most navigation systems, the new work could one day bring important improvements to these systems.

Skyrmions proposed as the basis for a completely new computer architecture

The magnetic interactions between atoms at minute scales can create unique states such as skyrmions. Skyrmions have special properties and can exist in certain material systems, such as a 'stack' of different sub-nanometer-thick metal layers. Modern computer technology based on skyrmions—which are only a few nanometers in size—promises to enable an extremely compact and ultrafast way of storing and processing data.

Artificial intelligence solves Schrödinger's equation

A team of scientists at Freie Universität Berlin has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) method for calculating the ground state of the Schrödinger equation in quantum chemistry. The goal of quantum chemistry is to predict chemical and physical properties of molecules based solely on the arrangement of their atoms in space, avoiding the need for resource-intensive and time-consuming laboratory experiments. In principle, this can be achieved by solving the Schrödinger equation, but in practice this is extremely difficult.

New method for imaging exhaled breath could provide insights into COVID-19 transmission

A new method for visualizing breath that is exhaled while someone is speaking or singing could provide important new insights into how diseases such as COVID-19 spread and the effectiveness of face masks.

Researchers unveil the origin of Oobleck waves

"Oobleck" is a strange fluid made of equal parts of cornstarch and water. It flows like milk when gently stirred, but turns rock-solid when impacted at high speed. This fascinating phenomenon, known as shear-thickening, results in spectacular demonstrations like running on a pool of Oobleck without submerging into it, as long as the runner doesn't stop.

Discovery sheds light on the great mystery of why the universe has less antimatter than matter

It's one of the greatest puzzles in physics. All the particles that make up the matter around us, such electrons and protons, have antimatter versions which are nearly identical, but with mirrored properties such as the opposite electric charge. When an antimatter and a matter particle meet, they annihilate in a flash of energy.

New phase for synthetic aperture microscopy

Microscopy is an essential tool in multiple research fields and industries, such as biology, medicine, materials science, and quality control, to name a few. Although many microscopy techniques exist, each has pros and cons, mostly in terms of spatial resolution, speed (images per second), and applicability. For example, scanning electron microscopy can capture images with nanometric resolution, but it offers lower speed and is impractical for certain samples. Other simpler light-based microscopy techniques, such as fluorescence microscopy, are not suitable for visualizing living cells or other small structures because these are generally transparent and thin, which results in low light absorption.

Performance breakthrough by topological-insulator into a waveguide-resonator system

Waveguides and resonators are core components in electronics, photonics, and phononics, both in existing and future scenarios. In certain situations (space or frequency), critical coupling can occur between the two components, i.e., no energy passes through the waveguide after the incoming wave is coupled into the resonator. The transmission spectral characteristics resulting from this phenomenon are highly advantageous for signal filtering, switching, multiplexing, sensing, etc. However, under the existing mechanism, the occurrence of critical couplings always leads to increased reflection in the input channel due to the inevitable backscattering in practice. These reflection will further induce both intra- and interchannel crosstalk (noise) in an integrated system, whose accumulation will tend to generate large performance degradations, or even result in rapid failure of system functions. Unlike the electronic system, a passive integrated photonic or phononic diode has not been put into practical use thus far, although many notable attempts have been made. Therefore, avoiding input reflections, especially in spectral functional devices, poses a challenge for further development of integrated photonic or phononic circuitry.

Astronomy and Space news

Open cluster NGC 2158 investigated in detail

Using data from ESA's Gaia satellite, astronomers have investigated a low-metallicity galactic open cluster known as NGC 2158. The study, presented in a paper published December 11 on the arXiv pre-print server, provided important information about the properties of NGC 2158 and identified hundreds of the most likely cluster members.

Robust stellar flares might not prevent life on exoplanets, could facilitate its detection

Although violent and unpredictable, stellar flares emitted by a planet's host star do not necessarily prevent life from forming, according to a new Northwestern University study.

Study finds meteoric evidence for a previously unknown asteroid

A Southwest Research Institute-led team of scientists has identified a potentially new meteorite parent asteroid by studying a small shard of a meteorite that arrived on Earth a dozen years ago. The composition of a piece of the meteorite Almahata Sitta (AhS) indicates that its parent body was an asteroid roughly the size of Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt, and formed in the presence of water under intermediate temperatures and pressures.

A Rosetta stone for planet formation

Planets are formed from the disk of gas and dust around a star, but the mechanisms for doing so are imperfectly understood. Gas is the key driver in the dynamical evolution of planets, for example, because it is the dominant component of the disk (by mass). The timescale over which the gas dissipates sets the timescale for planet formation, yet its distribution in disks is just starting to be carefully measured. Similarly, the chemical composition of the gas determines the composition of the future planets and their atmospheres, but even after decades of studying protoplanetary disks, their chemical compositions are poorly constrained; even the gas-to-dust ratios are largely unknown.

Jupiter and Saturn cheek-to-cheek in rare celestial dance

The solar system's two biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, came within planetary kissing range in Monday's evening sky, an intimacy that will not occur again until 2080.

Scientists complete yearlong pulsar timing study after reviving dormant radio telescopes

While the scientific community grapples with the loss of the Arecibo radio telescope, astronomers who recently revived a long-dormant radio telescope array in Argentina hope it can help modestly compensate for the work Arecibo did in pulsar timing. Last year, scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology and the Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomia (IAR) began a pulsar timing study using two upgraded radio telescopes in Argentina that previously lay unused for 15 years.

How nearby galaxies form their stars

Stars are born in dense clouds of molecular hydrogen gas that permeates interstellar space of most galaxies. While the physics of star formation is complex, recent years have seen substantial progress towards understanding how stars form in a galactic environment. What ultimately determines the level of star formation in galaxies, however, remains an open question.

How to photograph Monday's Winter Solstice from your phone

Another great photo opportunity occurs Monday after sundown: the Winter Solstice and the sighting of the "Christmas Star."

The Kilonova-Chasing Gravitational-Wave Optical Transient Observer is about to be watching the whole sky

Lately, there has been a flood of interest in gravitational waves. After the first official detection at LIGO / Virgo in 2015, data has been coming in showing how common these once theoretical phenomena actually are. Usually they are caused by unimaginably violent events, such as a merging pair of black holes. Such events also have a tendency to emit another type of phenomena—light. So far, it has been difficult to observe any optical associated with these gravitational-wave emitting events. But a team of researchers hope to change that with the full implementation of the Gravitation-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) telescope.

Major changes coming over the horizon for the global space industry

The attention of the world has recently been captured by the return of Japan's Hayabusa-2 asteroid mission, the activities of Elon Musk's SpaceX venture, and China's Chang'e 5 moon landing, yet a quiet revolution is taking place in the global space industry. This revolution started in the 2010s and its full impact on global space industry should be measured over the next decade.

How to get people from Earth to Mars and safely back again

There are many things humanity must overcome before any return journey to Mars is launched.

Technology news

LUCIDGames: A technique to plan adaptive trajectories for autonomous vehicles

While many self-driving vehicles have achieved remarkable performance in simulations or initial trials, when tested on real streets, they are often unable to adapt their trajectories or movements based on those of other vehicles or agents in their surroundings. This is particularly true in situations that require a certain degree of negotiation, for instance, at intersections or on streets with multiple lanes.

Exploring the potential of near-sensor and in-sensor computing systems

As the number of devices connected to the internet continues to increase, so does the amount of redundant data transfer between different sensory terminals and computing units. Computing approaches that intervene in the vicinity of or inside sensory networks could help to process this growing amount of data more efficiently, decreasing power consumption and potentially reducing the transfer of redundant data between sensing and processing units.

New engine capability accelerates advanced vehicle research

In the quest for advanced vehicles with higher energy efficiency and ultra-low emissions, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are accelerating a research engine that gives scientists and engineers an unprecedented view inside the atomic-level workings of combustion engines in real time.

High-five or thumbs-up? New device detects which hand gesture you want to make

Imagine typing on a computer without a keyboard, playing a video game without a controller or driving a car without a wheel.

New class of cobalt-free cathodes could enhance energy density of next-gen lithium-ion batteries

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have developed a new family of cathodes with the potential to replace the costly cobalt-based cathodes typically found in today's lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles and consumer electronics.

Satellite uses SAR imagery to capture world's sharpest images

A satellite carrying a camera that is so powerful it can capture an image of virtually any object on Earth with crystal-clear resolution is now offering its services to the public.

Making smart thermostats more efficient

Buildings account for about 40% of U.S. energy consumption, and are responsible for one-third of global carbon dioxide emissions. Making buildings more energy-efficient is not only a cost-saving measure, but a crucial climate change mitigation strategy. Hence the rise of "smart" buildings, which are increasingly becoming the norm around the world.

Hacked networks will need to be burned 'down to the ground'

It's going to take months to kick elite hackers widely believed to be Russian out of the U.S. government networks they have been quietly rifling through since as far back as March in Washington's worst cyberespionage failure on record.

United Airlines to resume Boeing 737 MAX flights in February

United Airlines became the latest carrier to announce a timeframe to fly the Boeing 737 MAX again, saying Friday the jet would resume flights in February.

Warming world will fry power plant production in coming years

There's no doubt the Earth's temperatures are going up. According to a December report by the World Meteorological Organization, 2020 is on track to be one of the three hottest years on record, already within the warmest decade to date. During the year's hottest months, many people rely on electricity-generated cooling systems to remain comfortable. But the power plants that keep air conditioners pushing out cold air could soon be in a vicious cycle in a warming world–not able to keep up with growing demands on hotter days and driving up greenhouse gas emissions to dangerous levels.

Modeling rainfall drop by drop

Using a network of a newly introduced type of rain gauge that can measure rainfall with drop-by-drop precision, KAUST researchers have developed a high-frequency rainfall model to improve understanding of rainfall/runoff dynamics, such as flash flooding and hydrodynamics in small watersheds.

Make drones sound less annoying by factoring in humans at the design stage

These days, almost everyone has either flown a drone or listened to the nasty whining sound they produce. Although small drones (up to 20kg) are about 40 decibels quieter than conventional civil aircraft, they produce a high pitched noise—which people tend to find very annoying.

Engineers demonstrate the first flexible hardware platform for silicon spin qubit integration on 300 mm wafers

At the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM2020), R&D hub IMEC demonstrated the first flexible hardware platform for silicon spin qubit integration on 300 mm wafers. Physicists from IMEC also proposed novel ways to operate multiple qubits in a linear array and to combine classical electronics with quantum circuits at low temperatures. These are significant steps forward in the development of large-scale silicon quantum processors, highlighted as a key emerging technology on IEDM.

Florida launches investigation into hacking of its servers

Florida officials acknowledged Friday that state servers appear to have been compromised by overseas hackers who gained entry by imbedding malicious code into networking software from a Texas-based software company, SolarWinds.

High-flying Tesla stock takes a hit on 1st day in S&P 500

In the middle of last year, Tesla's losses were piling up, sales weren't enough to cover expenses and big debt payments loomed. The situation was so bad that one influential Wall Street analyst raised the possibility that Tesla wouldn't be able to pay its bills and would have to be restructured financially.

Massive breach shows how espionage is carried out in the 21st century

Forget KGB agents Russian intelligence officers masquerading as ordinary Americans to slip inside government agencies and steal national security secrets like in television's "The Americans."

Apple is temporarily closing all California stores, a dozen more around U.S. amid COVID-19 surges

Apple is temporarily closing all 53 of its retail stores California and about a dozen outlets in other states because of COVID-19 surges.

Google Doodle celebrates Winter Solstice and Great Conjunction

Google is using its logo Monday to not only celebrate the first day of winter but a rare celestial event.

Washington Post to expand newsroom staff, add foreign hubs

The Washington Post announced plans on Monday to expand its newsroom staff to over 1,000 and add breaking news hubs in Europe and Asia to create a bigger global footprint.

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