Science X Newsletter Monday, Mar 30

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for March 30, 2020:

Due to an increasing volume of information and news about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have split stories concerning the virus into a separate category in the MedicalXpress daily newsletter. As always, you may configure your email newsletter preferences in your ScienceX account.

Spotlight Stories Headlines

An optically driven digital metasurface to bridge visible light and microwave communications

Resolving spatial and energetic distributions of trap states in metal halide perovskite solar cells

Astronomers observe high-redshift quasar PSO J006.1240+39.2219 with Subaru telescope

Energy-harvesting design aims to turn Wi-Fi signals into usable power

A Martian mash up: Meteorites tell story of Mars' water history

Tree rings could pin down Thera volcano eruption date

Projecting the outcomes of people's lives with AI isn't so simple

Tiny optical cavity could make quantum networks possible

Where lions roam: West African big cats show no preference between national parks, hunting zones

Engineers 3-D print soft, rubbery brain implants

Researchers discover a novel chemistry to protect our crops from fungal disease

Enhancing cardiac repair effectiveness with in vivo priming strategy to train stem cells

Geopolymer concrete: Building moon bases with astronaut urine and regolith

Physicists develop new photon source for tap-proof communication

Free-floating stars in the Milky Way's bulge

Physics news

Resolving spatial and energetic distributions of trap states in metal halide perovskite solar cells

In a new report published on Science, Zhenyi Ni and a research team in applied physical sciences, mechanical and materials engineering and computer and energy engineering in the U.S. profiled spatial and energetic distributions of trap states or defects in metal halide perovskite single-crystalline polycrystalline solar cells. The researchers credited the photovoltaic performance of metal halide perovskites (MHPs) to their high optical absorption coefficient, carrier mobility, long charge-diffusion length and small Urbach energy (representing disorder in the system). Theoretical studies have demonstrated the possibility of forming deep charge traps at the material surface due to low formation energy, structural defects and grain boundaries of perovskites to guide the development of passivation techniques (loss of chemical reactivity) in perovskite solar cells. Charge trap states play an important role during the degradation of perovskite solar cells and other devices. Understanding the distribution of trap states in their space and energy can clarify the impact of charge traps (defects) on charge transport in perovskite materials and devices for their optimal performance.

Energy-harvesting design aims to turn Wi-Fi signals into usable power

Any device that sends out a Wi-Fi signal also emits terahertz waves —electromagnetic waves with a frequency somewhere between microwaves and infrared light. These high-frequency radiation waves, known as "T-rays," are also produced by almost anything that registers a temperature, including our own bodies and the inanimate objects around us.

Tiny optical cavity could make quantum networks possible

Engineers at Caltech have shown that atoms in optical cavities—tiny boxes for light—could be foundational to the creation of a quantum internet. Their work was published on March 30 by the journal Nature.

Physicists develop new photon source for tap-proof communication

An international team with the participation of Prof. Dr. Michael Kues from the Cluster of Excellence PhoenixD at Leibniz University Hannover has developed a new method for generating quantum-entangled photons in a spectral range of light that was previously inaccessible. The discovery can make the encryption of satellite-based communications much more secure in the future.

Skyrmion 'whirls' show promise for low-energy computer circuitry

UNSW material scientists have shed new light on a promising new way to store and process information in computers and electronic devices that could significantly cut down the energy required to maintain our digital lifestyles.

Machine learning puts a new spin on spin models

Researchers from Tokyo Metropolitan University have used machine learning to analyze spin models, which are used in physics to study phase transitions. Previous work showed that an image/handwriting classification model could be applied to distinguish states in the simplest models. The team showed the approach is applicable to more complex models and found that an AI trained on one model and applied to another could reveal key similarities between distinct phases in different systems.

Astronomy and Space news

Astronomers observe high-redshift quasar PSO J006.1240+39.2219 with Subaru telescope

Using the Subaru telescope, astronomers from Taiwan have conducted spectroscopic observations of a high-redshift quasar designated PSO J006.1240+39.2219. Results of these observations, presented in a paper published March 19 on the arXiv pre-print server, provide more insights into the nature of this object.

A Martian mash up: Meteorites tell story of Mars' water history

In Jessica Barnes' palm is an ancient, coin-sized mosaic of glass, minerals and rocks as thick as a strand of wool fiber. It is a slice of Martian meteorite, known as Northwest Africa 7034 or Black Beauty, that was formed when a huge impact cemented together various pieces of Martian crust.

Free-floating stars in the Milky Way's bulge

The path of a light beam is bent by the presence of mass, as explained by General Relativity. A massive body can therefore act like a lens—a so called "gravitational lens"—to distort the image of an object seen behind it. Microlensing is a related phenomenon: a short flash of light is produced when a moving cosmic body, acting as a gravitational lens, modulates the intensity of light from a background star as it fortuitously passes in front of it. About fifty years ago scientists predicted that if it ever became possible to observe a microlensing flash from two well-separated vantage points, a parallax measurement would pin down the distance of the dark object. The Spitzer Space Telescope, orbiting the Sun at the distance of the Earth but trailing behind the Earth by about one-quarter of the orbital path, had been working with ground-based telescopes to do just that until it was shut down last month by NASA as a cost-savings measure.

How will clouds obscure the view of exoplanet surfaces?

In 2021, NASA's next-generation observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), will take to space. Once operational, this flagship mission will pick up where other space telescopes—like Hubble, Kepler and Spitzer—left off. This means that in addition to investigating some of the greatest cosmic mysteries, it will also search for potentially habitable exoplanets and attempt to characterize their atmospheres.

Image: Hubble hooks a one-arm galaxy

NGC 4618 was discovered on April 9, 1787, by the German-British astronomer William Herschel, who also discovered Uranus in 1781. Only a year before discovering NGC 4618, Herschel theorized that the "foggy" objects astronomers were seeing in the night sky were likely to be large star clusters located much farther away than the individual stars he could easily discern.

Space opera: New original songs add to the fun for space-loving music fans

Devotees of electronic music are snapping up space-enabled creative content as they collect unique digital keepsakes and access the latest releases.

Making satellites safer: the search for new propellants

Developing new propellants for satellites to replace toxic hydrazine would make launching and handling satellites safer but it also requires disrupting current systems, according to researchers.

Technology news

An optically driven digital metasurface to bridge visible light and microwave communications

Coding, digital, and programmable metasurfaces are engineered surfaces that can be used to manipulate electromagnetic waves, first introduced by Prof. Tie Jun Cui and his colleagues in 2014. Due to their many advantageous characteristics, these artificial structures have recently become the focus of a number of research studies.

Engineers 3-D print soft, rubbery brain implants

The brain is one of our most vulnerable organs, as soft as the softest tofu. Brain implants, on the other hand, are typically made from metal and other rigid materials that over time can cause inflammation and the buildup of scar tissue.

Thermostatic movement: What a rhododendron can teach us about robotics

On a chilly winter day, Moneesh Upmanyu took a walk with his son near their home outside of Boston. They passed a rhododendron bush, its thick green leaves curled up into thin tubes dangling limply from their stems. It looked dead, or dying.

Team demonstrates working prototype of emergency vent

A team led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Grainger College of Engineering and Carle Health has produced a prototype emergency ventilator to help address the expected surge in the need for respiratory care associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

iOS 13.4 release compromises VPN protection

Virtual Private Networks are being compromised by a bug in the latest Apple iOS version, 13.4, released last week, according to the online privacy organization ProtonVPN.

EasyJet grounds 'entire fleet' over coronavirus

British airline easyJet on Monday said it had grounded its entire fleet because of the coronavirus pandemic but would still be available for rescue flights to repatriate stranded customers.

Coronavirus may prove virtual sports game changer

With an unprecedented captive audience of three billion people in coronavirus lockdown virtual sports events are wooing fans after traditional live sports were shut down and public gatherings banned in many countries.

Society's dependence on the internet: 5 cyber issues the coronavirus lays bare

As more and more U.S. schools and businesses shutter their doors, the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic is helping to expose society's dependence—good and bad—on the digital world.

Mandatory building energy audits alone do not overcome barriers to energy efficiency

New York City's pioneering Local Law 87 requires office and residential buildings to monitor their energy use, using detailed audits. In a study published today (March 30) in the research journal Nature Energy, Constantine E. Kontokosta, Danielle Spiegel-Feld and Sokratis Papadopoulos of New York University discuss the impact of this requirement on building owners, looking closely at detailed energy use and audit data between 2011 and 2016 from about 4,000 buildings. As a result of the law, the researchers found that energy use fell by a modest -2.5% for multifamily residential buildings and -4.9% for office buildings.

For public transport to keep running, operators must find ways to outlast coronavirus

Minimising health risks has rightly been the focus of discussion during the coronavirus outbreak. This includes efforts to protect both frontline public transport employees and the travelling public. But we should also be concerned about the strategic, financial consequences for transport operators and their workforces.

Researchers develop novel supercritical water oxidation system

A research group from the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has proposed a novel supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) system with an inverse cool-wall reactor to realize energy self-sufficiency. The study was published in Applied Thermal Engineering.

Together apart: Screen time connects isolated kids with family, friends

Every afternoon Flora, 9, and Kate, 10, turn on their laptops and iPads to collaborate on a play called "World War III," a futuristic tale of two sisters who try to save the world after being blown back in time by a bomb.

Coronavirus bound? A perfect project: Backup your data

Tuesday is World Backup Day, a made-up holiday that encourages the the sale of more products like hard drives and USB thumb drives.

State-backed players join pandemic cyber crime attacks

Sophisticated state-supported actors are following cybercriminals in exploiting the coronavirous pandemic and posing an "advanced persistent threat" (APT), French defence technology giant Thales warned Monday.

AI tool predicts which coronavirus patients get deadly 'wet lung'

Researchers in the US and China reported Monday they have developed an artificial intelligence tool that is able to accurately predict which newly infected patients with the novel coronavirus go on to develop severe lung disease.

Amazon, Instacart workers protest over virus safety

Amazon warehouse employees and Instacart delivery shoppers joined protests Monday to press safety demands, highlighting the risks for workers on the front lines of supplying Americans largely sheltering at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facebook offers $100 mn to help virus-hit news media

Facebook said Monday it was donating $100 million to support news organizations globally hurting from the coronavirus pandemic, citing the need for reliable information about the crisis.

Spotify says isolation ups interest in 'chill' music

People spending more time cooped up in their homes to curb the spread of the new coronavirus have changed their daily soundtracks, with many opting for more "chill" music, streaming service Spotify said Monday.

Researchers measure reliability, confidence for next-gen AI

A team of Army and industry researchers have developed a metric for neural networks—computing systems modeled loosely after the human brain—that could assess the reliability and confidence of the next generation of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.

Renault says China, South Korea plants restarting after virus shutdown

French automaker Renault said Monday it was resuming production at two factories in China and South Korea after they were shut down as authorities tried to limit the coronavirus outbreak.

Social media fuels spread of COVID-19 information—and misinformation

COVID-19 has quickly evolved into the greatest public health challenge of a generation. People are increasingly turning to social media to understand the virus, receive updates, and learn what can be done to stay safe.

UAE loosens restrictions, but most popular apps still barred

The United Arab Emirates on Monday loosened restrictions on a number of messaging applications as residents work and study from home during a coronavirus lockdown, but it maintained the bar on WhatsApp and FaceTime.

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