Science X Newsletter Tuesday, Mar 17

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for March 17, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Enhanced imitation learning algorithms using human gaze data

Emissions of several ozone-depleting chemicals are larger than expected

Observations unveil the nature of chemically peculiar star HD 63401

Inflammation in the brain linked to several forms of dementia

Mysterious bone circles made from the remains of mammoths reveal clues about Ice Age

Tang Dynasty noblewoman buried with her donkeys, for the love of polo

Vitamin D boosts chances of walking after hip fracture

Composing new proteins with artificial intelligence

Engineered botox is more potent and safer in mice

What you're seeing right now is the past, so your brain is predicting the present

The life and death of one of America's most mysterious trees

Doctors map body's COVID-19 immune response: study

Study draws Southern California coastal light pollution into focus

Heavy spring rainfall is followed by spikes in gastrointestinal illness in Philadelphia

Knowing why bacteria are great upstream swimmers may prevent serious infections

Physics news

Researchers set benchmark to determine achievement of quantum computing

The race toward the first practical quantum computer is in full stride. Companies, countries, collaborators, and competitors worldwide are vying for quantum supremacy. Google says it's already there. But what does that mean? How will the world know when it's been achieved?

Semiconductors can behave like metals and even like superconductors

The crystal structure at the surface of semiconductor materials can make them behave like metals and even like superconductors, a joint Swansea/Rostock research team has shown. The discovery potentially opens the door to advances like more energy-efficient electronic devices.

Machine learning to scale up the quantum computer

,,Quantum computers are expected to offer tremendous computational power for complex problems –currently intractable even on supercomputers—in the areas of drug design, data science, astronomy and materials chemistry among others.

Radiation damage spreads among close neighbors

A single X-ray can unravel an enormous molecule, physicists report in the March 17 issue of Physical Review Letters. Their findings could lead to safer medical imaging and a more nuanced understanding of the electronics of heavy metals.

Physicists propose new filter for blocking high-pitched sounds

Need to reduce high-pitched noises? Science may have an answer.

Long-distance fiber link poised to create powerful networks of optical clocks

An academic-industrial team in Japan has connected three laboratories in a 100-kilometer region with an optical telecommunications fiber network stable enough to remotely interrogate optical atomic clocks. This type of fiber link is poised to expand the use of these extremely precise timekeepers by creating an infrastructure that could be used in a wide range of applications such as communication and navigation systems.

Seeing with electrons: scientists pave the way to more affordable and accessible cryo-EM

Visualizing the structure of viruses, proteins and other small biomolecules can help scientists gain deeper insights into how these molecules function, potentially leading to new treatments for disease. In recent years, a powerful technology called cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM), where flash-frozen samples are embedded in glass-like ice and probed by an electron beam, has revolutionized biomolecule imaging. However, the microscopes that the technique relies upon are prohibitively expensive and complicated to use, making them inaccessible to many researchers.

Promising material shows new evidence of unconventional superconductivity

In recent years, the search for non-trivial topological materials has become a hot topic in condensed matter physics. Since Hor et al, first reported the discovery of superconductivity in Cu doped topological material Bi2Se3 in 2010, the CuxBi2Se3 has become one of the most promising materials as topological superconductor due to its unique physical properties and crystal structure. However, the superconducting transition temperature Tc up to 3.8 K in CuxBi2Se3 is unexpectedly "high" for a low carrier density semiconductor. So far, the mechanism of such anomalous enhanced Tc phenomenon remains unclear despite nearly a decade of extensive research.

Fast reconnection in turbulent media

Solar flares, similar to many other astrophysical energetic processes, are related to magnetic reconnection. During these events magnetic energy is transferred from other forms of energy, mostly heat and energetic particles. Traditionally, the goal of various models of magnetic reconnection was to explain the rate of this energy transfer. However, the flares are just one of the processes that involve magnetic reconnection. If one imagines any complex motion in a highly conducting medium, the magnetic field, which is assumed to be frozen into the fluid as a result of the famous Alfven (1942) theorem, should create intersections of "knots" that have to arrest the motion of the fluid, unless the magnetic reconnection is fast. Turbulent motions, that are ubiquitous for high Reynolds number astrophysical fluids, present a typical example of such complex fluid motions.

Artificial intelligence helps prevent disruptions in fusion devices

An international team of scientists led by a graduate student at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has demonstrated the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the same computing concept that will empower self-driving cars, to predict and avoid disruptions—the sudden release of energy stored in the plasma that fuels fusion reactions—that can halt the reactions and severely damage fusion facilities.

Qubits that operate at room temperature

Scientists from NUST MISIS (Russia) together with colleagues from Sweden, Hungary and U.S., found a way to manufacture stable qubits that operate at room temperature, in contrast to the majority of existing analogues. This opens up new prospects for creating a quantum computer. Moreover, the results of the research can already be used to create high-accuracy magnetometers, biosensors and new quantum Internet technologies. The article is published in Nature Communications.

Astronomy & Space news

Observations unveil the nature of chemically peculiar star HD 63401

Using NASA's TESS spacecraft and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), astronomers from Canada and Ukraine have conducted observations of the magnetic chemically peculiar star HD 63401. Results of the study, presented in a paper published March 5 on the arXiv pre-print server, provide more insights into the puzzling nature of this object.

Asteroid Ryugu likely link in planetary formation

The solar system formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago. Numerous fragments that bear witness to this early era orbit the sun as asteroids. Around three-quarters of these are carbon-rich C-type asteroids, such as 162173 Ryugu, which was the target of the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission in 2018 and 2019. The spacecraft is currently on its return flight to Earth. Many scientists, including planetary researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt; DLR), intensively studied this cosmic "rubble pile," which is almost 1 kilometer in diameter and can come close to Earth. Infrared images acquired by Hayabusa2 have now been published in the scientific journal Nature. They show that the asteroid consists almost entirely of highly porous material. Ryugu was formed largely from fragments of a parent body that was shattered by impacts. The high porosity and the associated low mechanical strength of the rock fragments that make up Ryugu ensure that such bodies break apart into numerous fragments upon entering Earth's atmosphere. For this reason, carbon-rich meteorites are very rarely found on Earth and the atmosphere tends to offer greater protection against them.

Subsurface Mercury: Window to ancient, possibly habitable, volatile-rich materials

New research raises the possibility that some parts of Mercury's subsurface, and those of similar planets in the galaxy, once could have been capable of fostering prebiotic chemistry, and perhaps even simple life forms, according to a paper by a team led by Planetary Science Institute Research Scientist Alexis Rodriguez.

Reimagining our solar system's protective bubble, the heliosphere

You are living in a bubble. Not a metaphorical bubble—a real, literal bubble. But don't worry, it's not just you. The whole planet, and every other planet in the solar system, for that matter, is in the bubble too. And, we may just owe our very existence to it.

Jupiter's red spot thickness remains steady as surface area decreases

A team of researchers affiliated with Aix-Marseille Université has found evidence that suggests the thickness of Jupiter's red spot has remained relatively stable as its surface area has decreased. In their paper published in the journal Nature Physics, the group describes how they estimated the thickness of the spot and why they believe it is not going to disappear anytime soon.

NASA selects proposals to study volatile stars, galaxies, cosmic collisions

NASA has selected proposals for four missions that would study cosmic explosions and the debris they leave behind, as well as monitor how nearby stellar flares may affect the atmospheres of orbiting planets.

Waves in thin air with broad effects

Mars has a very thin atmosphere, with nearly one hundredth the density of ours on Earth, and gravity pulls with little more than one third of the strength we feel on our planet. As a result, dust storms can go global. For future missions to Mars, it is important to understand the planet's airy envelope and to forecast its moods.

Technology news

Enhanced imitation learning algorithms using human gaze data

Past psychology studies suggest that the human gaze can encode the intentions of humans as they perform everyday tasks, such as making a sandwich or a hot beverage. Similarly, human gaze has been found to enhance the performance of imitation learning methods, which allow robots to learn how to complete tasks by imitating human demonstrators.

Trapped ions may unlock a path to better batteries and much more

A serendipitous discovery during research into batteries at Oregon State University holds major implications for inventing new materials with a vast range of scientific and commercial applications, the study's corresponding author says.

AI-powered shoes unlock the secrets of your sole

Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology have developed an AI-powered, smart insole that instantly turns any shoe into a portable gait-analysis laboratory.

3-D printers saving the lives of coronavirus victims

Medical valves manufactured with portable 3-D printers are saving the lives of coronavirus victims at a hospital located in what is considered Italy's Ground Zero for the deadly viral infection.

US revises passenger safety rules for autonomous vehicles

The U.S. government is coming out with new regulations aimed at changing automotive passenger safety standards that could be barriers to autonomous vehicles.

Virus-stricken airlines face bailout or bust

Airlines worldwide face an unprecedented existential threat as the coronavirus shuts down global travel, leaving governments with controversial and costly decisions about which carriers to bail out.

Why people delay software updates, despite the risks

In May 2017, around a quarter of a million computers around the world running Microsoft Windows were attacked and infected with malware that would later be named "WannaCry." Victims found their computers locked and unusable, but could free them if the victims transferred Bitcoin—typically an amount equivalent to $300-600 USD—to the people behind the attack.

Modernizing first responder training with VR and speech recognition

With over 60 million American adults owning a smart speaker, human-to-machine conversation have largely become a part of a daily ritual. Though these exchanges are seemingly simple to the user, the complex technology that backs the interactions is powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and speech recognition. These modern machines are only continuing to grow in popularity, and for many Americans, voice recognition technology is becoming as natural as owning a smartphone. The user interfaces that drive the functionality of smart speakers have brought new and improved convenience to modern-day Americans. By the same token, this capability has the potential to alleviate burdens from the operations of our nation's first responders.

Not all young people are 'digital natives' – inequality hugely limits experiences of technology

There is a belief that younger people are fully engaged with the digital world. But I am currently leading a project exploring people's knowledge and use of online data, and the preliminary findings from our research has found that data literacy is not uniformly high among younger people, as is often assumed. Instead, some young people have very low levels of data literacy.

How big data is reshaping aging research and education

The age of big data is here: The world has created more data in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology researchers are dissecting treasure troves of information—from sources as diverse as brain scans and the human genome—to fuel groundbreaking research on improving how we age, and to reshape gerontology education to enable future scientists to make an impact in a changing field.

Tech platforms in joint effort to stem virus misinformation

The large US internet platforms have unveiled a joint effort to root out misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, while Facebook announced a $100 million program to aid small firms impacted by the crisis.

Working from home because of coronavirus? Be careful what you download to keep cybersafe

So you've been told to work remotely because of the coronavirus. About the worst thing you could do right now is download a bunch of sketchy programs for video conferencing, mobile working and the like that might carry computer viruses and make it so you can't do any work at all.

More wipes, no jeans: Amazon limits shipments to warehouses

Amazon, in an attempt to fill its warehouses with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other items in high demand, said Tuesday that it will limit what suppliers can send to its warehouses for the next three weeks.

VW to close most European plants 'for two to three weeks'

German auto giant Volkswagen said Tuesday it was preparing to shutter most of its European plants, joining a slew of other carmakers as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains and sends demand plummeting.

Australian carrier Qantas slashes international routes 90%

Australian airline Qantas announced Tuesday it was slashing its international capacity by 90 percent and domestic flights by 60 percent in a further coronavirus blow to the beleaguered travel industry.

Cathay Pacific cutting 90% of April flights due to virus

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways says it will cut its flight schedule by 90% in April after passenger traffic in February fell by more than half from a year ago amid travel curbs to fight the coronavirus.

Italy takes over Alitalia in response to virus

Italy's government vowed Tuesday to re-nationalise the bankrupt former flag carrier Alitalia to make sure crises like the coronavirus pandemic never strand its compatriots abroad.

NIST updates and expands its flagship catalog of information system safeguards

After your organization forms a general plan for tackling its cybersecurity and privacy risk management issues, it needs particular state-of-the-art tools to make that plan a reality. Computer security and privacy experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have the answer with an updated toolbox of safeguards for protecting an organization's operations and assets, as well as the personal privacy of individuals.

Brussels Airlines suspends all flights for a month

Belgian-based Brussels Airlines suspended all flights for at least a month on Tuesday, as the coronavirus pandemic savaged the air transport sector.

Amid coronavirus buying, Amazon sold out of bottled water and toilet paper, too

Those toilet paper and water shortages at your local markets and big-box retailers have affected Amazon, as well.

Companies hit pause button as coronavirus infects economy

Layoffs and cutting costs... companies are trying to adapt as the coronavirus hits demand and the draconian measures taken to contain the spread of the illness undercut both production and demand.

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