Science X Newsletter Tuesday, Jan 14

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Spotlight Stories Headlines

New classes of topological crystalline insulators having surface rotation anomaly

Connecting the dots in the sky could shed new light on dark matter

How to verify that quantum chips are computing correctly

AstroSat observations unveil properties of black hole binary MAXI J1820+070

Magnetic storms originate closer to Earth than previously thought, threatening satellites

Flame retardants and pesticides overtake heavy metals as biggest contributors to IQ loss

Life's clockwork: Scientist shows how molecular engines keep us ticking

The advantage of changing sex in fish population recovery

New climate models suggest Paris goals may be out of reach

How nodules stay on top at the bottom of the sea

Controlled phage therapy can target drug-resistant bacteria while sidestepping potential unintended consequences

New study finds evidence for reduced brain connections in schizophrenia

Custom-built molecules enable editing of genes previously obscured by DNA's innately protective structure

What we're learning about the reproductive microbiome

Gut bacteria could guard against Parkinson's, study finds

Physics news

New classes of topological crystalline insulators having surface rotation anomaly

In a new report on Science Advances, Chen Fang and Liang Fu from the Beijing National Laboratory for Condensed Matter Physics in China, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Sciences and the Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. Detailed the discovery of new types of quantum anomalies in two-dimensional systems with time-reversal symmetry (T) (conservation of entropy) and discrete rotation symmetry; where a shape retains the same structure after rotation by a partial turn and order. They then physically realized anomalous states on the surface of new classes of topological crystalline insulators (TCIs) normal to the rotation axis and supporting a helical mode. The presence of helical modes allowed them to form a new quantum device from a topological crystalline insulator known as a helical nanorod with quantized longitudinal conductance.

Connecting the dots in the sky could shed new light on dark matter

Astrophysicists have come a step closer to understanding the origin of a faint glow of gamma rays covering the night sky. They found that this light is brighter in regions that contain a lot of matter and dimmer where matter is sparser—a correlation that could help them narrow down the properties of exotic astrophysical objects and invisible dark matter.

How to verify that quantum chips are computing correctly

In a step toward practical quantum computing, researchers from MIT, Google, and elsewhere have designed a system that can verify when quantum chips have accurately performed complex computations that classical computers can't.

Magnetic storms originate closer to Earth than previously thought, threatening satellites

Beyond Earth's atmosphere are swirling clouds of energized particles—ions and electrons—that emanate from the sun. This "solar wind" buffets the magnetosphere, the magnetic force field that surrounds Earth.

Reliable and extremely fast quantum calculations with germanium transistors

Transistors based on germanium can perform calculations for future quantum computers. This discovery by the team of Menno Veldhorst is reported in Nature.

New quantum loop provides testbed for quantum communication technology

Scientists from Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago launched a new testbed for quantum communication experiments from Argonne last week.

Physicists prove that 2-D and 3-D liquids are fundamentally different

A 50-year-old puzzle in statistical mechanics has been solved by an international team of researchers who have proved that two-dimensional (2-D) liquids have fundamentally different dynamical properties to three-dimensional (3-D) liquids.

Solving complex problems at the speed of light

Many of the most challenging optimization problems encountered in various disciplines of science and engineering, from biology and drug discovery to routing and scheduling can be reduced to NP-complete problems. Intuitively speaking, NP-complete problems are "hard to solve" because the number of operations that must be performed in order to find the solution grows exponentially with the problem size. The ubiquity of NP-complete problems has led to the development of dedicated hardware (such as optical annealing and quantum annealing machines like "D-Wave") and special algorithms (heuristic algorithms like simulated annealing).

Galactic gamma-ray sources reveal birthplaces of high-energy particles

Nine sources of extremely high-energy gamma rays comprise a new catalog compiled by researchers with the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma-Ray Observatory. All produce gamma rays with energies over 56 trillion electron volts (TeV) and three emit gamma rays extending to 100 TeV and beyond, making these the highest-energy sources ever observed in our galaxy. The catalog helps to explain where the particles originate and how they are accelerated to such extremes.

Robotic gripping mechanism mimics how sea anemones catch prey

Most robotic gripping mechanisms to date have relied on humanlike fingers or appendages, which sometimes struggle to provide the fine touch, flexibility or cost-effectiveness needed in some circumstances to hold onto objects. Recent work looks to provide a path forward for gripping robots from an unlikely source—the doughnut-shaped sea anemone.

Colloidal quantum dot laser diodes are just around the corner

Los Alamos scientists have incorporated meticulously engineered colloidal quantum dots into a new type of light emitting diodes (LEDs) containing an integrated optical resonator, which allows them to function as lasers. These novel, dual-function devices clear the path towards versatile, manufacturing-friendly laser diodes. The technology can potentially revolutionize numerous fields from photonics and optoelectronics to chemical sensing and medical diagnostics.

Slow light to speed up LiDAR sensors development

Quicker is not always better, especially when it comes to a 3-D sensor in advanced technology. With applications in autonomous vehicles, robots and drones, security systems and more, researchers are striving for a 3-D sensor that is compact and easy to use.

Astronomy & Space news

AstroSat observations unveil properties of black hole binary MAXI J1820+070

Simultaneous spectral and temporal observations of the newly detected black hole X-ray binary (BHXB) MAXI J1820+070 using the AstroSat spacecraft, have delivered more insights into the properties of this source. Results of the study, presented in a paper published January 6 on, could be helpful in improving our understanding of black hole binaries in general.

Data from antipodal places: First use of CMB polarization to detect gravitational lensing from galaxy clusters

Galaxies. Amalgamations of stars, interstellar gas, dust, stellar debris and dark matter. They waltz through the cold universe, gravity nurturing their embrace. Occasionally, galaxies snowball into enormous galaxy clusters with masses averaging 100 trillion times that of our sun.

X-rays and gravitational waves combine to illuminate massive black hole collision

A new study by a group of researchers at the University of Birmingham has found that collisions of supermassive black holes may be simultaneously observable in both gravitational waves and X-rays at the beginning of the next decade.

'Cold Neptune' and two temperate super-Earths found orbiting nearby stars

A "cold Neptune" and two potentially habitable worlds are part of a cache of five newly discovered exoplanets and eight exoplanet candidates found orbiting nearby red dwarf stars, which are reported in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series by a team led by Carnegie's Fabo Feng and Paul Butler.

Final images from Cassini spacecraft

Researchers are busy analysing some of the final data sent back from the Cassini spacecraft which has been in orbit around Saturn for more than 13 years until the end of its mission in September 2017.

Hot gas feeds spiral arms of the Milky Way

An international research team, with significant participation of astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), has gained important insights into the origin of the material in the spiral arms of the Milky Way, from which new stars are ultimately formed. By analysing properties of the galactic magnetic field, they were able to show that the dilute so-called warm ionized medium (WIM), in which the Milky Way is embedded, condenses near a spiral arm. While gradually cooling, it serves as a supply of the colder material of gas and dust that feeds star formation.

NASA's Mars 2020 rover closer to getting its name

NASA's Mars 2020 rover is one step closer to having its own name after 155 students across the U.S. were chosen as semifinalists in the "Name the Rover" essay contest. Just one will be selected to win the grand prize—the exciting honor of naming the rover and an invitation to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Betelgeuse: Star's weird dimming sparks rumors that its death is imminent

Every season has its characteristic star constellations in the night sky. Orion—one of the most recognizable—is distinctly visible on crisp, clear winter nights in the northern hemisphere. The constellation is easy to spot even in light-polluted cities, with its bright stars representing the shape of a person.

Technology news

Panasonic charms VR fans with aviator-style glasses

Panasonic's gift to CES 2020? Panasonic shades. For a very special function. Virtual reality. The talking point about their being showcased at the event is that they are glasses in shape.

Man versus machine: Can AI do science?

Over the last few decades, machine learning has revolutionized many sectors of society, with machines learning to drive cars, identify tumors and play chess—often surpassing their human counterparts.

NSA finds major security flaw in Windows 10, free fix issued

The National Security Agency has discovered a major security flaw in Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system that could allow hackers to intercept seemingly secure communications.

New helmet design can deal with sports' twists and turns

As a neurologist, Robert Knight has seen what happens when the brain crashes around violently inside the skull. And he's aware of the often tragic consequences.

Clearing the air (inside your car)

Did you know that your biggest daily exposure to air pollutants comes while driving your car to work?

The G7 wants to regulate artificial intelligence. Should the US get on board?

With the introduction of new export controls on artificial intelligence software last week, the White House appealed to lawmakers, businesses, and European allies to avoid overregulation of artificial intelligence. It also maintained its refusal to participate in a project proposed by the Group of Seven leading economies, which seeks to establish shared principles and regulations on artificial intelligence, as the U.S. prepares to take over the presidency of the organization this year.

Are self-driving cars safe? Expert on how we will drive in the future

Cars are changing—fast. But are innovations such as autonomous and flying cars a bright new dawn, or just a wild pipe dream? And if they become the future's way of getting from A to B, can we trust them to take us there safely? Here are five key questions answered by an expert.

The psychology of human creativity helps artificial intelligence imagine the unknown

By learning to deviate from known information in the same way that humans do, an "imagination" algorithm for artificial intelligence (AI) is able to identify previously unseen objects from written descriptions.

CES behind us, so now it's onto the next Galaxy

Most of the products introduced at the just concluded CES will never see the light of day.

Cutting the cord: As prices go up, here's how you can still save money streaming

For years, cutting the pay-TV cord has been seen as a way to save money—you don't pay for channels you don't watch and are free from long-term contracts.

Robocalls continue to rise, and these states get the most: Where does yours rank?

Every state gets plenty of robocalls, but people in a few states, such as Maryland and Nevada, bear more than their share.

Tinder, Grindr accused of illegally sharing user data

Popular dating apps like Tinder and Grindr are sharing the personal data of their users to third parties in breach of EU regulations, a Norwegian consumer rights group said Tuesday.

Encryption battle reignited as US govt at loggerheads with Apple

Apple and the US government are at loggerheads for the second time in four years over unlocking iPhones connected to a mass shooting, reviving debate over law enforcement access to encrypted devices.

Google says it will phase out web-tracking 'cookies'

Google on Tuesday said is making progress in its quest to vanquish third-party "cookies" on its popular browser used to track people's online activities, a focus of many privacy activists.

Boeing reports net drop in 2019 orders amid MAX crisis

Boeing reported Tuesday a net drop in commercial plane orders in 2019 and much lower deliveries as its protracted 737 MAX crisis weighed heavily on operations.

German carmakers beat global sales slump

German car giants Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler have posted strong sales growth in the face of a contracting global market in 2019, shifting massive numbers of SUVs ahead of a pivotal year for electric mobility.

Nissan denies reported plans to split with Renault

Nissan is "in no way" planning to end its partnership with Renault, the Japanese auto giant insisted on Tuesday after a report suggested a divorce was possible in the wake of the Carlos Ghosn scandal.

Softbank-funded hotel firm Oyo lays off 10% of India staff

Indian hotel giant Oyo said Tuesday it is cutting 1,000 employees, or 10 percent of its local staff, as it battles multiple allegations including bribery and pressure from Japanese backer SoftBank to cut costs.

New York Times hits 5 million subscribers

The New York Times said Tuesday it now has more than five million total subscribers after adding one million for its digital offerings in the past year.

Germany vows 62 billion-euro injection into railways

The German government on Tuesday agreed to pump 62 billion euros ($69 billion) into its rail network as part of a wider plan to promote greener transport.

Peugeot subsidiary Opel announces 2,100 job cuts in Germany

Peugeot subsidiary Opel said Tuesday it would offer 2,100 more German workers voluntary redundancies, as it struggles to stay afloat faced with collapsing demand and an EU emissions squeeze.

UK reaches deal to keep Flybe flying

The UK government announced a rescue deal Tuesday for the troubled no-frills airline Flybe aimed at keeping Europe's largest regional carrier flying and preserving around 2,000 jobs.

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Samsung Galaxy S20, Bloom, and more tech trends from CES

Welcome back to Processor, a newsletter I say is "about computers" mainly because it amuses me because everything is a computer. Heck, the original computers were people who calculated! Anyway, I mostly write about gadgets here, and from time to time I'll reintroduce myself for new subscribers. Howdy! Today's essay is short and about Samsung's rumored phone names. You'll find it after the links. - Dieter

Now that CES is over, we turn our attention to the next big tech unveiling — no rest for the wicked! Samsung announced its February 11th "Unpacked" event ahead of CES and is widely expected to have two phones: an update to the Galaxy S10 and a new, clamshell-style folding phone.

Because nothing can ever be simple, Samsung has decided to change the naming scheme for the Galaxy S series away from sequential, incremental numbering to the year of release. Or at least, I hope that the fact it's getting released in 2020 is the reason Samsung appears to be calling its next phone the Galaxy S20 instead of the S11. I hope that mostly because I don't know if I can handle having to listen and react to any other rationalization.

More after the links.

News from The Verge

└ Trump's attorney general asks Apple to unlock a shooter's iPhones

└ Microsoft CEO says encryption backdoors are a 'terrible idea'

└ Alphabet's top lawyer is leaving with no exit package following misconduct scandals

└ Microsoft says Xbox Series X won't have exclusive first-party games at launch

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for 'em.

└ Elon Musk: 'Teslas will soon talk to people if you want. This is real'

I don't know why the "This is real" addition is what makes this story, but it's absolutely what makes this story. I'm going to start appending that phrase to everything I say that's even a little bit difficult to imagine. "I will try to make a frittata this weekend. This is real." "Tomorrow I am going to reduce the number of emails in by inbox by 20 percent. This is real." "I think stepping on a bathmat with wet feet is a wildly inconsiderate thing to do to your roommates. This is real."

└ GTA IV has disappeared from Steam because of Games for Windows Live

Is it a stretch to turn this weird story into an allegory for how dangerous it is to depend entirely on app store infrastructure for app and game functionality, no matter how convenient it is for users to not have to deal with multiple sign-in and no matter how big the check from the big platforms might be? Probably, but not definitely.

└ Apple gets regulatory approval for mystery MacBook

I hope Apple aggressively refreshes the entire MacBook line with the new magic keyboard this year, optics and standard product cycles be damned. The real magic in the magic keyboard will be the extra money that will magically appear on Apple's quarterly earnings from people begrudgingly buying new laptops earlier than they otherwise would have because they're sick unto death of the butterfly keyboard.

Verge Deal of the day 

Save $45 on Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite

If you're in need of an e-reader, Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite is the best one that you can buy, especially since it's under $100 right now. The base model with 8GB of storage (and Amazon's ads built in) costs $84.99, which matches the best price that we've seen. Compared to Amazon's cheaper model, this one has a higher resolution display, and it's waterproof.

More tech trends we saw kick off last week

└ The Verge Awards at CES 2020: welcome to the land of the concept

Note that we put scare quotes about "best" in the "'Best' of CES." I've been writing about the balance of concepts to products for a week now, so I don't have a whole lot more to add here. Some good picks in the other categories, though, worth a look!

└ Laptops were boring at CES, but there's hope for the future

CES landed in a particular dip in the parts cycle this time around. There are exciting new chips and exciting new form factors coming, but neither was really ready to come out in force this January. Don't let it get you down.

└ This year's monitors will be faster, brighter, and curvier than ever

I agree with Sam Byford on this:

If I were buying a gaming monitor today, I would probably at least want to future-proof myself with HDR support, and I think that would probably mean considering a high DisplayHDR spec to be essential. As for Mini LED, it's hard to say how much of a leap forward it represents — the effectiveness of LED dimming solutions can vary from model to model or panel to panel. But if nothing else, it should signal that you're looking at a monitor with serious HDR support

└ How gaming PCs are competing with the PS5 and Xbox Series X

Good analysis from Nick Statt. Expect to see PCs and consoles wander into each others' turf a lot this year.

└ Wi-Fi 6 is finally here

Wi-Fi 6 was never meant to be a technology so powerful as to be worth upgrading for. It comes with speed increases, up to 9.6 Gbps from a theoretical maximum of 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5. But that extra bandwidth is more about allowing routers to scale across the multitude of devices in your home, rather than deliver incredible bursts of speed to any one device (your internet speed is likely nowhere close to that maximum anyway).

└ OnePlus confirms its next phone will jump to a 120Hz screen

I touched on this briefly in the post, but I am a little conflicted about this for a couple reasons.

First: while I do prefer higher-refresh rate screens, I am not yet convinced they're worth the trade-off for battery life just yet. Which makes this a frustrating thing to turn into a spec race, because the incentive will be to ship phones with a higher Hz number instead of phones that are well-balanced. I'm not saying OnePlus is doing that, but I am saying I worry the incentives for everybody in the industry are going to be skewed in a bad direction this year.

Second: This isn't new, but OnePlus joins LG and Google in pre-announcing features ahead of announcing the phone itself. That's all well and good, but if too many more companies jump on that bandwagon it's going to get really exhausting.

└ Asus built a mini GPU specifically for Intel's tiny gaming box

Another potential sign that this new form factor Intel is pushing might actually have legs. I can't decide yet if hope it does, but at least a small part of me wants it to succeed. Mainly because I am sure a bunch of people are going to buy into the vision this year and I'd hate for them to be left in the lurch next year and the year after.

Ad from our sponsor

Samsung is shaking up its phone names again

So, Galaxy S20 instead of S11. I'm not mad in the change, just disappointed. We already have arms races for specs on phones, the last thing I want is another one for how big the numbers in their names are.

Anyway, right on schedule we have real-world photos which confirm Samsung's next flagship phone is called the Galaxy S20, if you were holding out hope that this S20 rumor wouldn't pan out.

It's a good scoop from Max Weinbach at XDA Developers. It looks as though there'll be no fewer than five variants of this phone, but don't slam Samsung too hard for that. As OnePlus CEO Pete Lau pointed out to me last week, every phone maker is having to make extra versions of their phones during the 5G transition. So really, think of it as three version: the S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra.

That "Ultra" is apparently going to be a spec monster, and I hope Samsung uses it as permission to push the prices on the regular S20 down into more reasonable territories. The iPhone 11 starts at $699 and ideally the Galaxy S20 will too. Samsung has a little wiggle room, maybe, as it's more willing than Apple to allow a wide variety of carrier discounts.

If you missed it on Friday, there's also a blurry photo of the folding phone, which is reportedly going to be called the Samsung Bloom. I am into the rumored name, but I am feeling both optimistic and nervous about the positioning:

What's new is the name and marketing for the Bloom. Ajunews says Samsung wants the device to appeal to young women, and says its clamshell design is easy to hold in one hand. Samsung Electronics CEO DJ Koh reportedly told one partner: "We designed Galaxy Bloom with the motif of compact powder from French cosmetics brand LancĂ´me."

If Samsung is being sincere here, then I really love that advanced tech is being made with women in mind. Big companies should think harder about how to appeal to more consumers. The reason I'm feeling nervous is that Samsung itself has a lousy track record when it comes to navigating gender issues. As recently as 2017, Samsung gendered the possible voices for its Bixby assistant and created descriptor tags for the female voice that included "chipper" and "cheerful."

Back in the early 2010s a lot of companies made hamfisted attempts to create phones that appealed to women (HTC Rhyme, anyone?) and we should expect better in 2020. If Samsung really does want to appeal to a wider range of genders with the Bloom, hopefully it does more than make it small and gesture to cosmetics. The shoe industry is finally figuring out how to design for women — the phone industry can definitely do better.

I hope Samsung has learned from all those past mistakes.

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.

If you enjoyed this email, please feel free to forward to a friend. You can subscribe to Processor and our other newsletters by clicking right here and here is an RSS feed. You can also follow Dieter on Twitter: @backlon.

Processor is also a video series with the same goal: providing smart and surprising analysis with a bit of humor (there will be dad jokes). Subscribe to all of The Verge's great videos here - please do!


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