Science X Newsletter Thursday, Oct 31

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for October 31, 2019:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

A theoretical explanation for an enhanced thermal Hall response in high-temperature superconductors

Modeling and simulating complex dynamic musculoskeletal architectures

Rotavirus vaccine: A potential new role as an anticancer agent

Study details the mechanism and scope of measles-induced immune amnesia in the wake of infection

Scientists may have discovered whole new class of black holes

Study reveals surprising amount of gene flow among butterfly species

Researchers discover mechanisms for the cause of the Big Bang

Squeeze leads to stellar-mass black hole collision precision

Astronomers catch wind rushing out of galaxy

Even 'Goldilocks' exoplanets need a well-behaved star

Unlocking the black box of embryonic development

Research reveals how malaria parasite plans ahead, preparing blueprint to strike in humans

Insect decline more extensive than suspected

First South American insect that emits blue light is discovered

Zeroing in on food security as agricultural impacts of climate crisis become more apparent

Physics news

A theoretical explanation for an enhanced thermal Hall response in high-temperature superconductors

A few months ago, a team of researchers led by Louis Taillefer at the University of Sherbrooke measured the thermal Hall conductivity in several compounds of copper, oxygen and other elements that are also high-temperature superconductors known as 'cuprates.' In physics, the thermal Hall effect describes heat flow in a direction transverse to a temperature gradient.

Squeeze leads to stellar-mass black hole collision precision

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have found a way to better detect all collisions of stellar-mass black holes in the universe.

Dark matter experiment's central component takes a deep dive—nearly a mile underground

Q: How do you get a 5,000-pound, 9-foot-tall particle detector, designed to hunt for dark matter, nearly a mile underground?

Researchers create quantum chip 1,000 times smaller than current setups

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a quantum communication chip that is 1,000 times smaller than current quantum setups, but offers the same superior security quantum technology is known for.

Evading Heisenberg isn't easy

EPFL researchers, with colleagues at the University of Cambridge and IBM Research-Zurich, unravel novel dynamics in the interaction between light and mechanical motion with significant implications for quantum measurements designed to evade the influence of the detector in the notorious 'back action limit' problem.

Novel NRL instrument enhances ability to measure nuclear materials

Researchers with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) designed and built an instrument called NAUTILUS to provide new measurement capabilities unlike those available at other laboratories to measure nuclear, cosmo/geo-chemical, and electronic materials.

Scientists tame Josephson vortices

MIPT physicists have learned how to locally control Josephson vortices. The discovery can be used for quantum electronics superconducting devices and future quantum processors. The work has been published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.

Astronomy & Space news

Scientists may have discovered whole new class of black holes

Black holes are an important part of how astrophysicists make sense of the universe—so important that scientists have been trying to build a census of all the black holes in the Milky Way galaxy.

Researchers discover mechanisms for the cause of the Big Bang

The origin of the universe started with the Big Bang, but how the supernova explosion ignited has long been a mystery—until now.

Astronomers catch wind rushing out of galaxy

Exploring the influence of galactic winds from a distant galaxy called Makani, UC San Diego's Alison Coil, Rhodes College's David Rupke and a group of collaborators from around the world made a novel discovery. Published in Nature, their study's findings provide direct evidence for the first time of the role of galactic winds—ejections of gas from galaxies—in creating the circumgalactic medium (CGM). It exists in the regions around galaxies, and it plays an active role in their cosmic evolution. The unique composition of Makani—meaning wind in Hawaiian—uniquely lent itself to the breakthrough findings.

Even 'Goldilocks' exoplanets need a well-behaved star

An exoplanet may seem like the perfect spot to set up housekeeping, but before you go there, take a closer look at its star.

Spitzer Telescope spots a ghoulish gourd

A carved-out cloud of gas and dust looks like a celestial jack-o'-lantern in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

How we discovered a glowing galactic ghoul

It's a classic Halloween tale. A group of ghost hunters visit a grand old house that is rumored to be haunted. But after thoroughly exploring, they leave disappointed: there are no ghosts to be seen. Only later, when looking through their photographs of the place do they notice the mysterious apparition on the stairs. It was there all the time.

Clouds on Jupiter rising up above the surrounding atmosphere

Though it looks like it to us, Jupiter's clouds do no form a flat surface. Some of its clouds rise up above the surrounding cloud tops. The two bright spots in the right center of this image are much higher than the surrounding clouds.

NASA microgap-cooling technology immune to gravity effects and ready for spaceflight

A groundbreaking technology that would allow NASA to effectively cool tightly packed instrument electronics and other spaceflight gear is unaffected by weightlessness, and could be used on a future spaceflight mission.

WFIRST will add pieces to the dark matter puzzle

The true nature of dark matter is one of the biggest mysteries in the universe. Scientists are trying to determine what exactly dark matter is made of so they can detect it directly, but our current understanding has so many gaps, it's difficult to know just what we're looking for. WFIRST's ability to survey wide swaths of the universe will help us figure out what dark matter could be made of by exploring the structure and distribution of both matter and dark matter across space and time.

3-2-1-Cookoff! Astronauts to bake cookies with new test oven

Forget reheated, freeze-dried space grub. Astronauts are about to get a new test oven for baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch.

Technology news

Modeling and simulating complex dynamic musculoskeletal architectures

Life scientists and bioengineers study natural systems and organisms to understand their biophysical mechanisms, in order to drive biomimetic engineering applications in the lab. In a recent report on Nature Communications, Xiaotian Zhang and colleagues in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Supercomputing Applications in the U.S. presented a numerical approach to simulate musculoskeletal architectures. The method relied on the assembly of heterogenous active and passive Cosserat rods (a deformable-directed rod based curve) into dynamic structures to model bones, tendons, ligaments, fibers and muscle connectivity. They demonstrated applications of the technique by solving a range of problems in biological and soft robotic scenarios across many environments and scales. The team engineered bio-hybrid robots at the millimeter-scale and reconstructed complex musculoskeletal systems. The method is versatile and offers a framework to assist forward and reverse bioengineering designs for fundamental discoveries on the functions of living organisms.

Project will explore game play's potential to reduce mental distress

The just line of surrender in the never-ending debate about video games as bad or good for people is that line where people agree to disagree, where people examine all the studies pro and con to recognize that the truth refuses to take up residence on either side.

Robots can outwit us on the virtual battlefield, so let's not put them in charge of the real thing

Artificial intelligence developer DeepMind has just announced its latest milestone: a bot called AlphaStar that plays the popular real-time strategy game StarCraft II at Grandmaster level.

Shedding new light on the charging of lithium-ion batteries

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have reported a new mechanism to speed up the charging of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. Simply exposing the cathode to a beam of concentrated light—for example, the white light from a xenon lamp—lowers the battery charging time by a remarkable factor of two or more. If commercialized, such technology could be a game changer for electric vehicles.

New technique lets researchers map strain in next-gen solar cells

People can be good at hiding strain, and we're not alone. Solar cells have the same talent. For a solar cell, physical strain within its microscopic crystalline structure can interrupt its core function—converting sunlight into electricity—by essentially "losing" energy as heat. For an emerging type of solar cell, known as lead halide perovskites, reducing and taming this loss is key to improving efficiency and putting the perovskites on par with today's silicon solar cells.

Apple TV Plus joins streaming wars, has Oprah but no catalog

As the streaming wars near a fever pitch and viewers are targeted from every vantage point—Disney Plus has the Marvel and Star Wars brands! HBO Max counters with "Game of Thrones" and DC superheroes!—Apple TV Plus could be cast as the highly pedigreed and improbable underdog.

Samsung Electronics third-quarter net profit slumps 52%

The world's largest smartphone and memory chip maker Samsung Electronics saw net profits slump by more than half in the third quarter, it said Thursday, hit by an enduring downturn in the global chip market.

Boeing says dozens of 737NG planes grounded globally over cracks

Boeing announced Thursday that dozens of its popular 737NG planes had been taken out of service after cracks in them were detected, marking another setback for the crisis-stricken US aircraft maker.

Nintendo first-half sales leap on strong demand for Switch games

Japanese gaming giant Nintendo said Thursday its first-half sales were boosted by demand for its a smaller, cheaper version of its popular Switch console.

China rolls out 5G services in race to narrow tech gap

China's three major state telecom operators rolled out 5G wireless technology Thursday, as the country races to narrow its technology gap with the US amid a bruising trade war.

Voice assistant technology is in danger of trying to be too human

More than 200m homes now have a smart speaker providing voice-controlled access to the internet, according to one global estimate. Add this to the talking virtual assistants installed on many smartphones, not to mention kitchen appliances and cars, and that's a lot of Alexas and Siris.

Making email more efficient means answering more emails even faster

If you're a Gmail user, you might have recently noticed a ghost-like presence in your email account. It's light gray, and it comes and goes, sometimes when you're not expecting it. And, like most ghost sightings, glimpses of it have been reported to be a little creepy.

Seattle AI lab's free search engine aims to accelerate scientific breakthroughs

The Seattle-based Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) is expanding its free search tool Semantic Scholar to include papers in multiple domains such as natural, social, interdisciplinary and social sciences. Semantic Scholar quadrupled its corpus of scientific papers to include more than 175 million papers that range far beyond the project's original fields of computer science and biomedicine.

Mimicking body's circulatory AC could keep airplanes, cars and computers cooler

The complex network of veins that keeps us cool during the heat of summer has inspired engineers to create novel thermal management systems. But replicating the circulatory system, in form or function, has been no easy task. Recently, a team of researchers from Drexel University and North Carolina State University have created a computational platform that could be the key to mimicking the body's evolutionary optimized cooling system. Microvasculature

HBO Max will be more expensive than Netflix, Disney or Apple. Does that mean it'll be a tough sell?

Welcome to the hard sell.

Security firm says Chinese hackers intercepted text messages

Chinese hackers with a history of state-sponsored espionage have intercepted the text messages of thousands of foreigners in a targeted campaign that planted eavesdropping software on a telecommunications provider's servers, a cybersecurity firm said.

This AI birdwatcher lets you 'see' through the eyes of a machine

It can take years of birdwatching experience to tell one species from the next. But using an artificial intelligence technique called deep learning, Duke University researchers have trained a computer to identify up to 200 species of birds from just a photo.

Movement and flow: Simulating complexity of fluids and strands in the virtual world

Simulating the physics behind the movement of liquids and how fluids—thick or thin—interact with other objects is a key problem in visual effects. Bringing to life such scenarios as a brush stirring and spreading oil paint onto a canvas or spaghetti tossed in pasta sauce involves sophisticated computational modeling. These types of scenarios, in particular, are difficult to simulate due to the complex rheology of liquid—how its shape changes and transforms with movement—and the intricate interactions between the liquid and the strands.

Smartphone sales see modest rebound after two-year slump: survey

Global smartphone sales increased modestly in the third quarter, the first growth for the segment after a two-year slump, a market tracker said.

'From the internet up': Toronto plans futuristic bayfront

Toronto authorities gave a provisional green light Thursday to plans by a tech company in the Google empire to build a futuristic neighborhood on a strip of lakefront that will include robots for delivering mail and collecting garbage.

Watchdog sues FBI over facial recognition secrecy

A civil liberties watchdog Thursday sued the FBI and other federal agencies claiming the government is improperly withholding information on how it uses a facial recognition database of millions of Americans.

The pressure is now on Facebook to ban political ads, too

Twitter's ban on political advertising is ratcheting up pressure on Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg to follow suit. But so far, that doesn't appear likely to happen.

GM recalling more than 600,000 trucks and SUVs

General Motors is recalling more than 600,000 four-wheel drive trucks and SUVs because a software error could activate the braking system, increasing the risk of a crash.

PSA, Fiat Chrysler unveil merger of equals

Peugeot-maker PSA and Fiat Chrysler unveiled Thursday a plan for a 50-50 merger that aims to create the world's fourth-largest car manufacturer, but quickly came under pressure to preserve jobs.

Google invests in affordable housing project in San Jose that will provide units for people with disabilities

Google has invested $5.3 million in a large affordable housing project near downtown San Jose that will set aside units for people with developmental disabilities, the search giant and the project's developer said Tuesday.

Fiat Chrysler, Peugeot to create fourth-biggest carmaker

Fiat Chrysler and France's PSA Peugeot said Thursday they have agreed to merge to create the world's fourth-largest automaker with enough scale to confront big shifts in the industry, including a race to develop electric cars and driverless technologies.

India seeks answers from WhatsApp after cyberespionage

India demanded answers from WhatsApp over a snooping scandal Thursday after coming under fire from critics who accused authorities of using malware installed on the Facebook-owned messaging service to spy on citizens.

Cognizant turning away from vile online content control

Digital services company Cognizant on Thursday said it will stop its work to help filter vile content posted at online venues such as Facebook.

US Interior Department grounds Chinese-made drones

The US Department of the Interior has grounded its fleet of Chinese-made drones as it conducts a review of the program.

Bombardier sells Belfast, Casablanca, Dallas operations for $1.2bn

Canadian manufacturing group Bombardier announced Thursday it was selling its aerostructures business to US firm Spirit AeroSystems, involving operations in Belfast, Casablanca and Dallas, in a $1.2 billion cash-plus-debt deal.

WeWork's ex-CEO faces new pregnancy discrimination complaint

A former top aide to WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann has filed a federal discrimination complaint against him, saying she was demoted for becoming pregnant, subjected to derisive comments and ultimately fired for raising concerns.

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Neural network reconstructs human thoughts from brain waves in real time

Neural network reconstructs human ‘thoughts’ from brain waves in real time
Figure 1. Each pair presents a frame from a video watched by a test subject and the corresponding image generated by the neural network based on brain activity. Credit: Grigory Rashkov/Neurobotics
Researchers from Russian corporation Neurobotics and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology have found a way to visualize a person's brain activity as actual images mimicking what they observe in real time. This will enable new post-stroke rehabilitation devices controlled by brain signals. The team published its research as a preprint on bioRxiv and posted a video online showing their "mind-reading" system at work.

The existing solutions for extracting observed images from brain signals either use functional MRI or analyze the signals picked up via implants directly from neurons. Both methods have fairly limited applications in clinical practice and everyday life.
The brain-computer interface developed by MIPT and Neurobotics relies on  and electroencephalography, or EEG, a technique for recording brain waves via electrodes placed noninvasively on the scalp. By analyzing brain activity, the system reconstructs the images seen by a person undergoing EEG in real time.

"We're working on the Assistive Technologies project of Neuronet of the National Technology Initiative, which focuses on the brain-computer interface that enables post-stroke patients to control an exoskeleton arm for neurorehabilitation purposes, or paralyzed patients to drive an electric wheelchair, for example. The ultimate goal is to increase the accuracy of neural control for healthy individuals, too," said Vladimir Konyshev, who heads the Neurorobotics Lab at MIPT.

Neural network reconstructs human ‘thoughts’ from brain waves in real time
Figure 2. Operation algorithm of the brain-computer interface (BCI) system. Credit: Anatoly Bobe/Neurobotics, and @tsarcyanide/MIPT
In the first part of the experiment, the neurobiologists asked healthy subjects to watch 20 minutes of 10-second YouTube video fragments. The team selected five arbitrary video categories: abstract shapes, waterfalls, human faces, moving mechanisms and motor sports. The latter category featured first-person recordings of snowmobile, water scooter, motorcycle and car races.
By analyzing the EEG data, the researchers showed that the brain wave patterns are distinct for each category of videos. This enabled the team to analyze the brain's response to videos in real time.
In the second phase of the experiment, three random categories were selected from the original five. The researchers developed two neural networks: one for generating random category-specific images from "noise," and another for generating similar "noise" from EEG. The team then trained the networks to operate together in a way that turns the EEG signal into actual images similar to those the  were observing (fig. 2).

Neural network reconstructs human ‘thoughts’ from brain waves in real time
Illustration. Brain-computer interface. Credit: @tsarcyanide/MIPT
To test the system's ability to visualize , the subjects were shown previously unseen videos from the same categories. As they watched, EEGs were recorded and fed to the . The system passed the test, generating convincing images that could be easily categorized in 90 percent of the cases (fig. 1).
"The electroencephalogram is a collection of  recorded from scalp. Researchers used to think that studying  processes via EEG is like figuring out the internal structure of a steam engine by analyzing the smoke left behind by a steam train," explained paper co-author Grigory Rashkov, a junior researcher at MIPT and a programmer at Neurobotics. "We did not expect that it contains sufficient information to even partially reconstruct an image observed by a person. Yet it turned out to be quite possible."
"What's more, we can use this as the basis for a  operating in real time. It's fairly reassuring. With present-day technology, the invasive neural interfaces envisioned by Elon Musk face the challenges of complex surgery and rapid deterioration due to natural processes — they oxidize and fail within several months. We hope we can eventually design more affordable neural interfaces that do not require implantation," the researcher added.
Explore further
Who you see matters: Stroke patients benefit more from observing their own hand movements during therapy

More information: Grigory Rashkov et al. Natural image reconstruction from brain waves: a novel visual BCI system with native feedback, (2019). DOI: 10.1101/787101