Science X Newsletter Thursday, Mar 19

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for March 19, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

A cyclic phosphate-based electrolyte for safe and high voltage lithium-ion batteries

Researchers demonstrate first terahertz quantum sensing

Evolution selects for 'loners' that hang back from collective behavior—at least in slime molds

Astronomers determine chemical composition of a nearby stellar stream

Scientists learn how vampire bat strangers make friends

Global human genomes reveal rich genetic diversity shaped by complex evolutionary history

Scientists program cells to carry out gene-guided construction projects

'Sushi parasites' have increased 283-fold in past 40 years

New research shows which ovarian cancer patients won't benefit from immune-PARP combo

New insights into US flood vulnerability revealed from flood insurance big data

SpaceX plans first manned flight to space station in May

Self-assembly required: Neutrons probe novel polymer behavior for biomedical materials

This drone can play dodgeball—and win

Fusion researchers endorse push for pilot power plant in US

Tracking data used to identify biodiversity hot spots in Southern Ocean ecosystems

Physics news

Researchers demonstrate first terahertz quantum sensing

Quantum physicists rely on quantum sensing as a highly attractive method to access spectral regions and detect photons (tiny packets of light) that are generally technically challenging. They can gather sample information in the spectral region of interest and transfer the details via biphoton correlations into another spectral range with highly sensitive detectors. The work is specifically beneficial for terahertz radiation without semiconductor detectors, where physicists must use coherent detection schemes or cryogenically cooled bolometers instead. In a new report on Science Advances, Mirco Kutas and a research team in the departments of industrial mathematics and physics in Germany described the first demonstration of quantum sensing in the terahertz frequency range. During the experiments, terahertz frequencies interacted with a sample in free space and provided information about the sample thickness by detecting the visible photons. The team obtained layer thickness measurements with terahertz photons based on biphoton interference. Since the ability to measure layer thickness non-destructively is of high industrial relevance, Kutas et al. expect these experiments to be a first step toward industrial quantum sensing.

Chip-based devices improve practicality of quantum-secured communication

monstrated new chip-based devices that contain allthe optical components necessary for quantum key distribution while increasing real-world security. The fast and cost-effective platform is poised to facilitate implementation of extremely secure data communication that can be used to protect everything from emails to online banking information.

Three national laboratories achieve record magnetic field for accelerator focusing magnet

In a multiyear effort involving three national laboratories from across the United States, researchers have successfully built and tested a powerful new magnet based on an advanced superconducting material. The eight-ton device—about as long as a semi-truck trailer—set a record for the highest field strength ever recorded for an accelerator focusing magnet and raises the standard for magnets operating in high-energy particle colliders.

Researchers unlock secrets to swimming efficiency of whales, dolphins for next-gen underwater robots

Someday, underwater robots may so closely mimic creatures like fish that they'll fool not only the real animals themselves but humans as well. That ability could yield information ranging from the health of fish stocks to the location of foreign watercraft.

Compact beam steering studies to revolutionize autonomous navigation, AR, neuroscience

While beam steering systems have been used for many years for applications such as imaging, display, and optical trapping, they require bulky mechanical mirrors and are overly sensitive to vibrations. Compact optical phased arrays (OPAs), which change the angle of an optical beam by changing the beam's phase profile, are a promising new technology for many emerging applications. These include ultra-small solid-state LiDAR on autonomous vehicles, much smaller and lighter AR/VR displays, large-scale trapped-ion quantum computer to address ion qubits, and optogenetics, an emerging research field that uses light and genetic engineering to study the brain.

Scientists create quantum sensor that covers entire radio frequency spectrum

A quantum sensor could give Soldiers a way to detect communication signals over the entire radio frequency spectrum, from 0 to 100 GHz, said researchers from the Army.

Artificial solid fog material creates pleasant laser light

With a porosity of 99.99 %, it consists practically only of air, making it one of the lightest materials in the world: Aerobornitride is the name of the material developed by an international research team led by Kiel University. The scientists assume that they have thereby created a central basis for bringing laser light into a broad application range. Based on a boron-nitrogen compound, they developed a special three-dimensional nanostructure that scatters light very strongly and hardly absorbs it. Irradiated with a laser, the material emits uniform lighting, which, depending on the type of laser, is much more efficient and powerful than LED light. Thus, lamps for car headlights, projectors or room lighting with laser light could become smaller and brighter in the future. The research team presents their results in the current issue of the renowned journal Nature Communications, which was published today.

A nanoscale laser made of gold and zinc oxide

Tiny particles composed of metals and semiconductors could serve as light sources in components of future optical computers, as they are able to precisely localize and extremely amplify incident laser light. A team from Germany and Sweden led by Prof. Dr. Christoph Lienau and Dr. Jin-Hui Zhong from the University of Oldenburg has now explained for the first time how this process works. The study is published in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers detail how antineutrino detectors could aid nuclear nonproliferation

Patrick Huber, a professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Physics, has co-authored an article that describes the potential uses and limitations of antineutrino detectors for nuclear security applications related to reactor, spent fuel, and explosion monitoring.

A landmark plan for realizing fusion energy and advancing plasma science

Creating and controlling on Earth the fusion energy that powers the sun and stars is a key goal of scientists around the world. Production of this safe, clean and limitless energy could generate electricity for all humanity, and the possibility is growing closer to reality. Now a landmark report released this week by the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics Community Planning Process proposes immediate steps for the United States to take to accelerate U.S. development of this long-sought power. The report also details opportunities for advancing our understanding of plasma physics and for applying that understanding to benefit society.

Astronomy & Space news

Astronomers determine chemical composition of a nearby stellar stream

By conducting high-resolution optical spectroscopic observations of a nearby stellar stream known as Pisces–Eridanus, astronomers have unveiled essential information about its chemical nature. Results of the new study are presented in a paper published March 10 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

SpaceX plans first manned flight to space station in May

Elon Musk's SpaceX will send astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time in May, NASA said, announcing the first crewed launch from the United States to the platform since 2011.

Merger between two stars led to blue supergiant, iconic supernova

A supernova in a nearby galaxy may have originated from an explosion of a blue supergiant formed by the merger of two stars, simulations by RIKEN astrophysicists suggest. The asymmetric nature of this explosion may provide hints for where to look for the elusive neutron star birthed in this stellar cataclysm.

Ticking cosmic clocks reveal the evolution of stars over millions of years

Pulsars, a type of rotating neutron star, are well-known as incredibly stable astrophysical clocks. Their regularity, used to measure their radio pulses, has led to some of the most exciting tests of Einstein's general theory of relativity and allowed scientists to examine the behavior of the extremely dense matter inside neutron stars.

Small robots practice scouting skills for future moon mission

The upgraded Autonomous Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot, or A-PUFFER, is on a roll. The technology could find itself on a commercial lunar lander in the next few years.

Dark matter and massive galaxies

About 85% of the matter in the universe is in the form of dark matter, whose nature remains a mystery, and the rest is of the kind found in atoms. Dark matter exhibits gravity but otherwise does not interact with normal matter, nor does it emit light. Astronomers studying the evolution of galaxies find that because it is so abundant dark matter does, however, dominate the formation in the universe of large-scale structures like clusters of galaxies.

Iron is everywhere in Earth's vicinity, suggest two decades of Cluster data

Using over 18 years of data from ESA's Cluster mission, scientists have mapped the heavy metals in the space surrounding Earth, finding an unexpected distribution and prevalence of iron and shedding light on the composition of our cosmic environment.

The strange orbits of 'Tatooine' planetary disks

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have found striking orbital geometries in protoplanetary disks around binary stars. While disks orbiting the most compact binary star systems share very nearly the same plane, disks encircling wide binaries have orbital planes that are severely tilted. These systems can teach us about planet formation in complex environments.

Chandra data tests 'theory of everything'

One of the biggest ideas in physics is the possibility that all known forces, particles, and interactions can be connected in one framework. String theory is arguably the best-known proposal for a "theory of everything" that would tie together our understanding of the physical universe.

Team discovers quasar tsunamis capable of preventing stars from forming

Using the unique capabilities of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, a team of astronomers led by Virginia Tech's Nahum Arav has discovered the most energetic outflows ever witnessed in the universe.

NASA's Mars perseverance rover gets its sample handling system

With the launch period for NASA's Mars Perseverance rover opening in a little less than four months, the six-wheeler is reaching significant pre-launch milestones almost daily at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rover had some components removed prior to being shipped from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California to the Cape in early February. Last week, Perseverance's assembly, test and launch operations team integrated two components that will play key roles in the acquisition, containment and eventual return to Earth of humanity's first samples from another planet: the Adaptive Caching Assembly and the Bit Carousel.

Image: The southern hemisphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission captured this look at the southern hemisphere of Jupiter on Feb. 17, 2020, during the spacecraft's most recent close approach to the giant planet.

ESA Mission Control adjusts to coronavirus conditions

Responsible for spacecraft orbiting Earth, the Sun and exploring the Solar System, teams at ESA's ESOC mission control deal with in-flight challenges every day, from faulty hardware, problematic software and hazardous space debris to computer viruses that could affect ground stations.

Technology news

A cyclic phosphate-based electrolyte for safe and high voltage lithium-ion batteries

In light of the ongoing shift toward renewable energy technologies and the growing number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, researchers worldwide have been trying to develop batteries that can operate more efficiently and for longer periods of time. Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are currently the preferred energy-storage technology for portable electronics, as they contain organic electrolytes, which typically enable high operating voltages and energy densities.

This drone can play dodgeball—and win

Using a novel type of cameras, researchers from the University of Zurich have demonstrated a flying robot that can detect and avoid fast-moving objects. A step towards drones that can fly faster in harsh environments, accomplishing more in less time.

Fusion researchers endorse push for pilot power plant in US

The growing sense of urgency around development of fusion technology for energy production in the United States got another boost this week with the release of a community consensus report by a diverse group of researchers from academia, government labs, and industry. High among its recommendations is development of a pilot fusion power plant, an ambitious goal that would be an important step toward an American fusion energy industry.

We're getting better at wildlife conservation, AI study of scientific abstracts suggests

Researchers are using a kind of machine learning known as sentiment analysis to assess the successes and failures of wildlife conservation over time. In their study, appearing March 19 in Patterns—a new open access data science journal from Cell Press—the researchers assessed the abstracts of more than 4,000 studies of species reintroduction across four decades and found that, generally speaking, we're getting better and better at reintroducing species to the wild. They say that machine learning could be used in this field and others to identify the best techniques and solutions from among the ever-growing volume of scientific research.

Portable AI device turns coughing sounds into health data for flu and pandemic forecasting

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have invented a portable surveillance device powered by machine learning—called FluSense—which can detect coughing and crowd size in real time, then analyze the data to directly monitor flu-like illnesses and influenza trends.

Nature-inspired green energy technology clears important development hurdle

Scientist Heinz Frei has spent decades working toward building an artificial version of one of nature's most elegant and effective machines: the leaf.

Google strengthens security system for all users

Google announced today that it is bolstering its malware protection system for Google account holders. It will broaden the protective web provided by its Advanced Protection Program (APP) that has been offering additional security for high-profile users who face greater risks of intrusions. Such users include celebrities, journalists, political figures, activists and business leaders, although anyone may access the program.

Remote work will stress-test the internet—and parts will need repair, expert says

With offices across the country shuttered and workers being asked to work remotely when they can, the nation is relying on the robustness of the internet and technology infrastructure as never before. To understand the issues in play, the Gazette spoke with Jim Waldo, chief technology officer for the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, professor of the practice of computer science there, and professor of technology policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Waldo, who spent three decades in the tech industry, discussed the likelihood that parts of the all-important internet will fail, and the equal likelihood that engineers will make repairs on the fly to keep people working.

How humans are teaching AI to become better at second-guessing

One of the holy grails in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) is giving machines the ability to predict intent when interacting with humans.

Intel scales neuromorphic research system to 100 million neurons

Today, Intel announced the readiness of Pohoiki Springs, its latest and most powerful neuromorphic research system providing the computational capacity of 100 million neurons. The cloud-based system will be made available to members of the Intel Neuromorphic Research Community (INRC), extending their neuromorphic work to solve larger, more complex problems.

Synergy emergence in deep reinforcement motor learning

Human motor control has always been efficient at executing complex movements naturally, efficiently, and without much thought involved. This is because of the existence of motor synergy in the central nervous system (CNS). Motor synergy allows the CNS to use a smaller set of variables to control a large group of muscles; thereby simplifying the control over coordinated and complex movements.

The power of light for internet of underwater things

A system that can concurrently transmit light and energy to underwater energy devices is under development at KAUST. Self-powered internet of underwater things (IoUT) that harvest energy and decode information transferred by light beams can enhance sensing and communication in the seas and oceans. KAUST researchers are now solving some of the many challenges to this technology being employed in such harsh and dynamic environments.

Will coronavirus make mobile payment systems like Apple Pay, Google Pay mainstream?

At the Cameron's Deli takeout restaurant in New York's Westchester County, owner Albert D'Alisa just hung up new signs urging patrons to pay with contactless methods, like mobile pay.

Lyft looking to add food, medical supplies delivery service

Ride-sharing company Lyft says it is exploring government and health care partnerships to create safer earning opportunities for drivers by having them deliver medical supplies, food and other items.

Trying to order groceries online? Some tips to do it successfully

If you've tried ordering groceries for delivery this week, it isn't you. In a coronavirus era, the old rules and expectations have been thrown out the window.

No, Microsoft won't necessarily be serving up new Xbox for Thanksgiving

For a few minutes on Tuesday, the impending arrival of the new Xbox video game console became clearer—then that update disappeared in the ether.

Virus-shocked Hollywood gets break with streaming services

Sports are on hold, theaters are closed and so are amusement parks, a disaster-movie scenario that has Hollywood reeling. But Americans held captive at home by the coronavirus can turn to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other streaming services, outliers in an entertainment industry brought to an unprecedented standstill.

Uber shares surge after citing signs of rebound from virus slump

Uber shares surged Thursday after the ridesharing giant suggested it is seeing the "beginnings of a recovery" in parts of the world following a brutal coronavirus-induced slump.

Coronavirus: Lime removes scooters in US, other countries

Transport company Lime is pulling its electric scooters from nearly two dozen countries, including the United States, as the new coronavirus spreads worldwide.

Chip-based device opens new doors for augmented reality and quantum computing

Researchers have designed a new chip-based device that can shape and steer blue light with no moving parts. The device could greatly reduce the size of light projection components used for augmented reality and a variety of other applications.

Virus endangers 'future of aviation' without state aid: Lufthansa

The chief executive of German airline giant Lufthansa warned Thursday that governments might need to save the industry from the coronavirus crisis, as "drastic cutbacks in flight operations" have grounded over 90 percent of its planes.

Wealthy flock to private jets as pandemic spreads and airlines tank

With commercial airlines engulfed by the maelstrom of the coronavirus pandemic one sector of the industry favoured by the wealthy is thriving: private jets.

Australian airline Qantas to cut all international flights

Australia's biggest airline Qantas said it would halt all international flights and suspend 20,000 staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, days after the island nation's other main carrier Virgin shut its overseas routes.

Dating in the time of coronavirus: chat online, meet much later

With governments clamping down on social interactions to contain the coronavirus spread, dating sites are discouraging dates and asking users to get to know each other virtually instead.

Mideast airlines lose $7B as airports shut to combat virus

Seven Middle Eastern countries have suspended all commercial flights due to a fast-spreading new virus as the aviation industry's largest trade association announced Thursday that airlines in the region have already lost more than $7 billion in revenue.

France warns Amazon over 'unacceptable' pressure on workers

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire accused Amazon on Thursday of placing "unacceptable" pressure on employees after unions claimed the retailer will not pay staff who refuse to go in to work fearing coronavirus contagion.

Air Canada to suspend 'majority' of international flights

Air Canada said the flag carrier would suspend most international flights by the end of March to stop the spread of the coronavirus after the US-Canadian border was partially closed.

Facebook appears to have a bug flagging posts as 'spam'

If you're trying to post a news story on Facebook, the platform might just stop you from doing that—even if the link is to a reputable source.

Virus-hit Air New Zealand offered US$515 mn bailout

The government in Wellington on Friday announced an NZ$900 million (US$515 million) loan deal with Air New Zealand to help the flag carrier survive the coronavirus crisis.

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