Science X Newsletter Wednesday, Jan 15

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for January 15, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Precise measurements find a crack in universal physics

Shrinking dinosaurs and the evolution of endothermy in birds

Building materials come alive with help from bacteria

Researchers demonstrate first stable semiconductor neutron detector

Transparency discovered in crystals with ultrahigh piezoelectricity

Astronomers discover class of strange objects near our galaxy's enormous black hole

Researchers gain control over internal structure of self-assembled composite materials

Beach-combing Neanderthals dove for shells

V473 Lyr has a low-mass companion, study suggests

Analyzing DNA in soil could be an effective way of tracking animals

Having less sex linked to earlier menopause

Animals reduce the symmetry of their markings to improve camouflage

What keeps couples together

Researchers use game theory to help policy makers create liability rules for accidents involving self-driving cars

In mice, alcohol dependence results in brain-wide remodeling of functional architecture

Physics news

Precise measurements find a crack in universal physics

The concept of universal physics is intriguing, as it enables researchers to relate physical phenomena in a variety of systems, irrespective of their varying characteristics and complexities. Ultracold atomic systems are often perceived as ideal platforms for exploring universal physics, owing to the precise control of experimental parameters (such as the interaction strength, temperature, density, quantum states, dimensionality, and the trapping potential) that might be harder to tune in more conventional systems. In fact, ultracold atomic systems have been used to better understand a myriad of complex physical behavior, including those topics in cosmology, particle, nuclear, molecular physics, and most notably, in condensed matter physics, where the complexities of many-body quantum phenomena are more difficult to investigate using more traditional approaches.

Researchers demonstrate first stable semiconductor neutron detector

Homeland Security might soon have a new tool to add to its arsenal.

Transparency discovered in crystals with ultrahigh piezoelectricity

Use of an AC rather than a DC electric field can improve the piezoelectric response of a crystal. Now, an international team of researchers say that cycles of AC fields also make the internal crystal domains in some materials bigger and the crystal transparent.

High-gravity water waves

What might look like jelly being stirred is actually water subjected to 20 times normal Earth gravity within ESA's Large Diameter Centrifuge—as part of an experiment giving new insight into the behavior of wave turbulence.

Verifying the output from a quantum computer by comparing it to the output of another quantum computer

A team of researchers from the University of Innsbruck and the Austrian Academy of Sciences has developed a way to verify the output from one quantum computer by comparing it to the output of another quantum computer. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the group describes developing and testing their efficient approach to verifying quantum devices.

Brain-inspired computing for a post-Moore's Law era

Since the invention of the transistor in 1947, computing development has seen a consistent doubling of the number of transistors that can fit on a chip. But that trend, known as Moore's Law, may reach its limit as components of submolecular size encounter problems with thermal noise, making further scaling impossible.

The mysterious movement of water molecules

Water is ubiquitous and essential for life. Nevertheless, experimental information about its behaviour on the atomic level—above all how it interacts with surfaces—is scarce. Thanks to a new experimental method, TU Graz researchers have now delivered insights into the atomic-level movement of water molecules, which they outline in a paper in Nature Communications.

Scientists explain how leaf apex enhances water drainage

Chinese scientists have recently shown how the tiny apex structure in plant leaves controls water drainage and confers an evolutionary advantage.

Spinning quantum dots

The name 'quantum dots' is given to particles of semiconducting materials that are so tiny—a few nanometres in diameter—that they no longer behave quite like ordinary, macroscopic matter. Thanks to their quantum-like optical and electronic properties, they are showing promise as components of quantum computing devices, but these properties are not yet fully understood. Physicists Sanjay Prabhakar of Gordon State College, Georgia, USA and Roderick Melnik of Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada have now described the theory behind some of these novel properties in detail. This work is published in The European Physical Journal B.

Diabolical points in coupled active cavities with quantum emitters

Diabolical points (DPs) introduce ways to study topological phase and peculiar energy dispersion. Scientists in China and partners from the United Kingdom demonstrated DPs in strongly coupled active microdisks. A new macroscopical control of backscattering based on the competition between defects and quantum emitters was used to achieve DPs. This work paves the way to integrate DPs and more exotic phenomena into quantum information processes with quantum emitters, and will inspire further research with DPs.

Astronomy & Space news

Astronomers discover class of strange objects near our galaxy's enormous black hole

Astronomers from UCLA's Galactic Center Orbits Initiative have discovered a new class of bizarre objects at the center of our galaxy, not far from the supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. They published their research today in the journal Nature.

V473 Lyr has a low-mass companion, study suggests

Using ESA's XMM-Newton spacecraft, astronomers have conducted X-ray observations of a peculiar Cepheid variable star known as V473 Lyr. Results of the study suggest that this star has a young, low-mass companion. The finding is detailed in a paper published January 7 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

Astronomers reveal interstellar thread of one of life's building blocks

Phosphorus, present in our DNA and cell membranes, is an essential element for life as we know it. But how it arrived on the early Earth is something of a mystery. Astronomers have now traced the journey of phosphorus from star-forming regions to comets using the combined powers of ALMA and the European Space Agency's probe Rosetta. Their research shows, for the first time, where molecules containing phosphorus form, how this element is carried in comets, and how a particular molecule may have played a crucial role in starting life on our planet.

Huygens landing spin mystery solved

Fifteen years ago today, ESA's Huygens probe made history when it descended to the surface of Saturn's moon Titan and became the first probe to successfully land on another world in the outer solar system. However, during its descent, the probe began spinning the wrong way—and recent tests now reveal why.

Active asteroid unveils fireball identity

At around 1 a.m. local standard time on April 29, 2017, a fireball flew over Kyoto, Japan. Compared to other fireballs spotted from Earth, it was relatively bright and slow. Now, scientists have determined not only what the fireball was, but also where it came from.

Astronaut completes spacewalk without helmet camera, lights (Update)

Spacewalking astronauts had to make do with fewer lights and camera views from one helmet Wednesday while performing critical battery work outside the International Space Station.

Taking the temperature of dark matter

Warm, cold, just right? Physicists at the University of California, Davis are taking the temperature of dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up about a quarter of our universe.

Plant-powered sensor sends signal to space

A device that uses electricity generated by plants as its power source has communicated via satellite—a world first.

Putting the universe under the telescope

We humans are a curious, questing lot, and the 2020s will see us continue to observe the universe around us, trying to understand more about fundamental particles, forces, objects and relationships from both ground and space-based instruments.

X-60A program conducts integrated vehicle propulsion system verification test

The Air Force Research Laboratory's X-60A program recently achieved a key developmental milestone with the completion of integrated vehicle propulsion system verification ground testing.

Technology news

Researchers use game theory to help policy makers create liability rules for accidents involving self-driving cars

A recent decision by the National Transpiration Safety Board (NTSB) on the March 2018 Uber crash that killed a pedestrian in Arizona split the blame among Uber, the company's autonomous vehicle (AV), the safety driver in the vehicle, the victim, and the state of Arizona. With the advent of self-driving cars, the NTSB findings raise a number of questions about the uncertainty in today's legal liability system. In an accident involving an AV and a human driver, who is liable? If both are liable, how should the accident loss be apportioned between them?

Carriers' insecure procedures make life easy for SIM swap tricksters

So, you have confidence that you are safe from attackers who wreak havoc with authentication weaknesses? Think again or at least consider recent research findings. Five carriers used insecure authentication challenges—insecurity that attackers could leverage in mischievous SIM swap attempts.

Google claims its 'nowcast' short-term weather predictions are more accurate than advanced models

A team of researchers working at Google's Mountain View research center has developed a deep-learning-based weather forecasting tool for predicting short-term weather events. They have written a paper describing their "nowcasting tool," and have uploaded it to the arXiv preprint server. They have also published a news piece describing their work on the Google AI Blog.

Pinterest pops past Snapchat in US

Shares in Pinterest popped on Tuesday after a market tracker reported that the online bulletin board surpassed Snapchat to become the third most used social media platform in the US.

Resale ticket markets benefit sports teams and fans

New research co-authored by Yanwen Wang, an assistant professor in the UBC Sauder School of Business, reveals that the resale ticket market also appeals to sports fans who normally buy season tickets.

London heads European investment in tech sector: study

Investment in tech across Europe reached a record level in 2019, according to a study published on Wednesday, with London maintaining the number one spot despite Brexit uncertainties.

Amazon reinstates FedEx for some Prime deliveries

Amazon said Tuesday it was bringing back FedEx for deliveries of some of its Prime orders sold through third parties after banning the freight service during the holiday period.

Five noteworthy electric vehicles to buy in 2020

Your options for a new electric vehicle in 2020 are more diverse than ever. There will be an EV for nearly every vehicle type. But increased choice also makes it harder to choose. Edmunds has selected five top EVs that you'll want to consider.

Tech firms are winning the AI race because they understand data better than other sectors

Artificial intelligence is already powering much of the technology helping to drive the modern economy. AI is now an essential part of how we use the internet but can also be found in stock exchanges, advanced factories and automated warehouses. It is starting to drive our cars and even vacuum our floors. And yet only a fraction of companies which stand to significantly benefit from AI are exploiting this approach to help deliver their products and services.

How we consume electricity has changed dramatically in the past 20 years

It's been more than two decades since Britain's retail electricity market was opened to full competition in 1999. Before that, retail supply was provided by state-owned entities with regional monopolies. Today, all consumers, including households and businesses, are able to "shop around" for their electricity, switching to a different supplier or tariff to take advantage of better prices and services.

Bike share programs are on the rise, yet the gender gap persists

It's no secret that there is a significant gender gap in cycling in North American cities. According to the American Community Survey, women make up less than one-third (28 percent) of commuters who regularly bicycle to work in the United States.

EU legal opinion: mass data retention at odds with EU law

A legal adviser at the European Union's highest court said Wednesday that the bloc's data protection rules should prevent member states from indiscriminately holding personal data seized from Internet and phone companies, even when intelligence agencies claim that national security is at stake.

Who is taking and selling your personal data? Washington state lawmakers work to give people more of a say

Washington lawmakers are making another push to pass privacy regulations that govern companies' collection and sale of people's private digital information.

Software detects backdoor attacks on facial recognition

As the U.S. Army increasingly uses facial and object recognition to train artificial intelligent systems to identify threats, the need to protect its systems from cyberattacks becomes essential.

Does the naked body belong on Facebook? It's complicated

When is a photograph of nude bodies artistic or titillating? A woman's exposed nipple a political statement or erotica?

Amazon tycoon Bezos flies into internet trading storm in India

Angry Indian street traders vowed Wednesday to stage protests against the world's richest man Jeff Bezos as the Amazon tycoon started a visit just as authorities launched an anti-trust investigation into e-commerce giants.

To stop sign stealing, MLB could fight tech with more tech

If Major League Baseball really wants to stop its teams from electronically stealing signs, it might consider fighting technology with more technology.

Bezos promises $1 billion in bid to see off Indian e-commerce storm

Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos promised Wednesday a new billion-dollar investment in India, just two days after authorities launched an anti-trust investigation into the e-commerce giant.

Breakthrough results with high-power laser technology to transform electric vehicles

The northern lights are shining extra-bright in Tampere Finland this month as a major step forward in amplifying the power of lasers was achieved.

British Airways owner files EU complaint over Flybe rescue

British Airways-parent IAG on Wednesday filed a formal complaint to Brussels over the British government's last-minute financial rescue of struggling no-frills carrier Flybe.

Turkey lifts ban on Wikipedia

A Turkish court on Wednesday lifted a ban on Wikipedia after almost three years.

A smart way to predict building energy consumption

In a time of aging infrastructure and increasingly smart control of buildings, the ability to predict how buildings use energy—and how much energy they use—has remained elusive, until now.

Designing better nursing care with robots

Robots are becoming an increasingly important part of human care, according to researchers based in Japan. To help improve the safety and efficacy of robotic care, the scientists have developed a control method that could help robots better replicate human movement when lifting and moving a patient. They published their results in IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica.

Ahead in the clouds: Alibaba plans to change the Olympics

Alibaba's promise to the Olympic family is to bring its technological might to help organizers, broadcasters and fans.

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Steven Strogatz Talks Science and Math With Leading Minds

In The Joy of x, a new podcast from Quanta Magazine, the celebrated mathematician and author Steven Strogatz holds intimate, lively conversations with top scientists about their discoveries and the inspirations, frustrations and pleasures along the way. In each episode, Strogatz shares with listeners his passion for scientific inquiry — as one scientist genuinely interested in the inner world of another.

The topics of conversation range from the beginning of time, the power of black holes, the evolution of brains and behaviors, the mathematics of rigged elections, the nature of scientific evidence and how a former NFL player ended up pushing the boundaries of graph theory.

In a guest column today on Quanta Magazine, Strogatz explains how the podcast came to be and what he and the producers aspire to do with it:

Maybe you're wondering why we call this podcast The Joy of x... [We] feel that this is a show about different kinds of joy — the joy of discovery, the joy of curiosity, and the joy of being a scientist, to name a few. As in algebra, the letter x represents the unknown quantity, the solution we're seeking. But to us it connotes anything that sparks imagination and curiosity, anything that lies beyond the edge of what's known. In short, x stands for the scientific quest.

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Upcoming episodes of The Joy of x will feature conversations with such great minds as astrophysicist Priya Natarajan, mathematical physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, mathematical biologist Corina Tarnita, mathematician Alex Kontorovich, neurobiologist Leslie Vosshall, mathematician and retired NFL player John Urschel, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, mathematician Tadashi Tokieda, neurobiologist Cori Bargmann, astrophysicist Brian Keating, mathematician Moon Duchin, mathematician Rebecca Goldin, and psychologist Brian Nosek.

You can find The Joy of x now (or very soon) on Apple Podcasts, Android, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcasting app, or you can stream it from Quanta. The first full episode will be posted on January 22nd, but you can subscribe today and download a short audio teaser about the conversations to come.

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