Science X Newsletter Thursday, Apr 16

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for April 16, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Simultaneously tuning the surface structure and oxidation state of copper catalysts

Gas storage method could help next-generation clean energy vehicles

Climate-driven megadrought is emerging in western US, study says

Astronomers investigate young stellar complexes in the galaxy UGC 11973

Bactericidal nanomachine: Researchers reveal the mechanisms behind a natural bacteria killer

Mining bacteria parts to build around-the-clock biosensors

Seeing 'under the hood' in batteries

Low-cost imaging system poised to provide automatic mosquito tracking

Applying mathematics to accelerate predictions for capturing fusion energy

Very Large Telescope sees star dance around supermassive black hole, proves Einstein right

New photon-counting camera captures 3-D images with record speed and resolution

Male ring-tail lemurs exude fruity-smelling perfume from their wrists to attract mates

Extreme floods to hit US cities 'almost daily' by 2100

Can coral reefs 'have it all'?

Study finds evidence for existence of elusive 'metabolon'

Physics news

Applying mathematics to accelerate predictions for capturing fusion energy

A key issue for scientists seeking to bring the fusion that powers the sun and stars to Earth is forecasting the performance of the volatile plasma that fuels fusion reactions. Making such predictions calls for considerable costly time on the world's fastest supercomputers. Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have borrowed a technique from applied mathematics to accelerate the process.

New photon-counting camera captures 3-D images with record speed and resolution

Researchers have developed the first megapixel photon-counting camera based on new-generation image sensor technology that uses single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs). The new camera can detect single photons of light at unprecedented speeds, a capability that could advance applications that require fast acquisition of 3-D images such as augmented reality and LiDAR systems for autonomous vehicles.

Testing how accurately X-ray lasers can measure the inner workings of biological molecules

One of the great advantages of X-ray free-electron lasers like the one at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is that they allow researchers to determine the structure of biological molecules in natural environments. This is important if you want to study how a potential new drug interacts with a virus in conditions similar to those found in the human body. By hitting these samples with ultrashort X-ray laser pulses, scientists can collect data in the instant before damage from the X-rays has time to propagate through the sample.

Peeking into a world of spin-3/2 materials

Researchers have been pushing the frontiers of the quantum world for over a century. And time after time, spin has been a rich source of new physics.

Could shrinking a key component help make autonomous cars affordable?

Engineers and business leaders have been working on autonomous cars for years, but there's one big obstacle to making them cheap enough to become commonplace: They've needed a way to cut the cost of lidar, the technology that enables robotic navigation systems to spot and avoid pedestrians and other hazards along the roadway by bouncing light waves off these potential obstacles.

Scientists find a rule to predict new superconducting metal hydrides

The search for coveted high-temperature superconductors is going to get easier with a new 'law within a law' discovered by Skoltech and MIPT researchers and their colleagues, who figured out a link between an element's position in the Periodic Table and its potential to form a high-temperature superconducting hydride. The new paper is published in the journal Current Opinion in Solid State & Materials Science. The research was supported by the Russian Science Foundation.

Astronomy and Space news

Astronomers investigate young stellar complexes in the galaxy UGC 11973

Astronomers have performed photometric and spectroscopic observations of young stellar complexes in the giant spiral galaxy UGC 11973. Results of this observational campaign provide important insights into the properties of these complexes. The study was detailed in a paper published April 9 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

Very Large Telescope sees star dance around supermassive black hole, proves Einstein right

Observations made with ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) have revealed for the first time that a star orbiting the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way moves just as predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity. Its orbit is shaped like a rosette and not like an ellipse as predicted by Newton's theory of gravity. This long-sought-after result was made possible by increasingly precise measurements over nearly 30 years, which have enabled scientists to unlock the mysteries of the behemoth lurking at the heart of our galaxy.

One step closer to touching asteroid Bennu

After the successful completion of its "Checkpoint" rehearsal, NASA's first asteroid-sampling spacecraft is one step closer to touching down on asteroid Bennu. Yesterday, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed the first practice run of its sample collection sequence, reaching an approximate altitude of 246 feet (75 meters) over site Nightingale before executing a back-away burn from the asteroid. Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx's primary sample collection site, is located within a crater in Bennu's northern hemisphere.

Simulating early ocean vents shows life's building blocks form under pressure

Where did life first form on Earth? Some scientists think it could have been around hydrothermal vents that may have existed at the bottom of the ocean 4.5 billion years ago. In a new paper in the journal Astrobiology, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory describe how they mimicked possible ancient undersea environments with a complex experimental setup. They showed that under extreme pressure, fluid from these ancient seafloor cracks mixed with ocean water could have reacted with minerals from the hydrothermal vents to produce organic molecules—the building blocks that compose nearly all life on Earth.

Researchers discover a six-planet system with near 3:2 resonance

Almost visible to the naked eye in the Draco constellation, the star HD 158259 has been observed for the last seven years by astronomers using the SOPHIE spectrograph. This instrument, installed at the Haute-Provence Observatory in the South of France, acquired 300 measurements of the star. The analysis of the data which done by an international team led by researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), has resulted in the discovery that HD 158259 has six planetary companions: a "super-Earth" and five "mini-Neptunes." These planets display an exceptionally regular spacing, which hints at how the system may have formed. This study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, also includes TESS space telescope observations of the star, which unveil the density of the innermost planet.

CHEOPS space telescope ready for scientific operation

CHEOPS has reached its next milestone: Following extensive tests in Earth's orbit, some of which the mission team was forced to carry out from home due to the coronavirus crisis, the space telescope has been declared ready for science. CHEOPS stands for "CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite," and has the purpose of investigating known exoplanets to determine, among other things, whether they have conditions that are hospitable to life.

Technology news

Simultaneously tuning the surface structure and oxidation state of copper catalysts

Electrical energy derived from renewable sources could be used to rearrange bonds in carbon dioxide (CO2) and water molecules into complex hydrocarbons, which can then be burnt to produce new energy and CO2, ultimately enabling a carbon cycle. Copper is a catalytic material that has been found to be promising for enabling this process and facilitating the CO2 electroreduction reaction (CO2RR).

Mining bacteria parts to build around-the-clock biosensors

Imagine a Fitbit that measures much more than steps, heart rate, and calories burned. It continually tracks all of the indicators of physiological health that currently require expensive and time-consuming analyses of blood plasma. The device is inexpensive, reliable, and powered by the same proteins that our bodies produce all day, every day. Although it sounds like a far-fetched concept by today's standards, James Galagan, a Boston University biomedical engineer, says research conducted in his lab could speed that device along from the drawing board to our daily lives.

Seeing 'under the hood' in batteries

From next-gen smartphones to longer-range electric cars and an improved power grid, better batteries are driving tech innovation. And to push batteries beyond their present-day performance, researchers want to see "under the hood" to learn how the individual ingredients of battery materials behave beneath the surface.

Low-cost imaging system poised to provide automatic mosquito tracking

Mosquito-transmitted diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A new low-cost imaging system could make it easier to track mosquito species that carry disease, enabling a more timely and targeted response.

Analysis: Wind energy expansion would have $27 billion economic impact

Wind, which generates less greenhouse gas emission than burning fossil fuels, is making up an increasing share of the energy production portfolio in the United States. But wind is not as efficient as coal or natural gas, causing some concern about its economic impact.

Machine learning algorithm quantifies the impact of quarantine measures on COVID-19's spread

Every day for the past few weeks, charts and graphs plotting the projected apex of COVID-19 infections have been splashed across newspapers and cable news. Many of these models have been built using data from studies on previous outbreaks like SARS or MERS. Now, a team of engineers at MIT has developed a model that uses data from the COVID-19 pandemic in conjunction with a neural network to determine the efficacy of quarantine measures and better predict the spread of the virus.

Artificial intelligence accelerates blood flow MRI

Imaging technology helps to detect cardiovascular diseases much earlier; however, precise examinations are still very time-consuming. Researchers from ETH and the University of Zurich have now presented a method that could greatly accelerate dynamic magnetic resonance imaging of blood flow.

Lung-heart super sensor on a chip tinier than a ladybug

During a stroll, a woman's breathing becomes a slight bit shallower, and a monitor in her clothing alerts her to get a telemedicine check-up. A new study details how a sensor chip smaller than a ladybug records multiple lung and heart signals along with body movements and could enable such a future socially distanced health monitor.

Trust in humans and robots: Economically similar but emotionally different

In research published in the Journal of Economic Psychology, scientists explore whether people trust robots as they do fellow humans. These interactions are important to understand because trust-based interactions with robots are increasingly common in the marketplace, workplace, on the road and in the home. Results show people extend trust similarly to humans and robots but people's emotional reactions in trust-based interactions vary depending on partner type.

Robots ride to rescue as delivery risks rise

What looks like a rolling picnic cooler stops at the crosswalk, waits for a car to pass and then navigates its way at a leisurely pace down the sidewalk in suburban Washington.

The coronavirus contact tracing app won't log your location, but it will reveal who you hang out with

The federal government has announced plans to introduce a contact tracing mobile app to help curb COVID-19's spread in Australia.

Hackers can access your mobile and laptop cameras and record you: Cover them up now

Whether you use Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams, the webcam on your home PC or laptop device has probably never been as active as it is during this pandemic.

System to locate rescue forces in distress

In the event of fires, earthquakes, or in other emergency situations, rescue forces are often called to free persons caught in buildings. These rescue missions are very risky: Dangers are difficult to assess in advance and the helpers themselves may suddenly need help. To support them as quickly as possible, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a system to locate injured or buried rescue forces in buildings. For positioning, no GPS signal is needed.

Can solar power ever fully replace fossil fuels?

The 2019/20 Australian bushfire season, known as the black summer, changed how remote communities get electricity. But can we change the entire nation's energy use?

Machine learning technique helps wearable devices get better at diagnosing sleep disorders and quality

Getting diagnosed with a sleep disorder or assessing quality of sleep is an often expensive and tricky proposition, involving sleep clinics where patients are hooked up to sensors and wires for monitoring.

Facebook to warn users who 'liked' coronavirus hoaxes

Facebook will soon let you know if you saw or interacted with dangerous coronavirus misinformation on the site.

PlayStation's coronavirus contribution: Stay home and play free 'Uncharted,' 'Journey' PS4 video games

Need some video game pursuits to keep you occupied during the stay-at-home measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus? Sony has a giveaway for PlayStation 4 players.

YouTube offers small businesses a free tool to create videos

With many businesses of all sizes struggling amid the coronavirus shutdown, YouTube announced Tuesday the launch of its Video Builder Tool for firms that need an easy and low-cost way to create videos.

Cheap smartphone guide: From iPhone to Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy, here's what $399 and less will get you

Remember the days of the $1,000 smartphone and all the backlash to those sky high prices?

Teaching robots to see and feel

More and more industrial tasks are being performed by robots, but human operators are still needed for the more complex manipulation actions, such as handling and processing food products.

Critical "Starbleed" vulnerability in FPGA chips identified

Field programmable gate arrays, FPGAs for short, are flexibly programmable computer chips that are considered very secure components in many applications. In a joint research project, scientists from the Horst Görtz Institute for IT Security at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and from Max Planck Institute for Security and Privacy have now discovered that a critical vulnerability is hidden in these chips. They called the security bug "Starbleed." Attackers can gain complete control over the chips and their functionalities via the vulnerability. Since the bug is integrated into the hardware, the security risk can only be removed by replacing the chips. The manufacturer of the FPGAs has been informed by the researchers and has already reacted.

Facebook-backed Libra unveils revamped digital money project

The Facebook-backed Libra Association unveiled plans Thursday to seek approval for digital coins in individual currencies, revamping its cryptocurrency initiative in a move aimed at minimizing disruption to the global monetary system.

Hospital hackers seize upon coronavirus pandemic

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, staffers at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District in Illinois got an unwelcome surprise when they arrived at work one morning last month: Cybercriminals had hijacked their computer network and were holding it hostage.

'Not a safe platform': India bans Zoom for government use

India has banned the use of video-conferencing app Zoom for government remote meetings, the government said Thursday, in the latest warning about the platform's security,

Contact tracing app warns of COVID-19 exposure while protecting privacy

Three Boston University computer scientists and engineers are working on a smartphone app that could let people know if they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, while protecting the privacy of all parties.

Scientific machine learning paves way for rapid rocket engine design

"It's not rocket science" may be a tired cliché, but that doesn't mean designing rockets is any less complicated.

3-D-printed swabs to help fill gap in COVID-19 test kits

Innovation at the University of Louisville involving multiple departments at the university has led to a promising solution for the shortage of swabs in COVID-19 test kits. In response to a request from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, UofL's Additive Manufacturing Institute of Science & Technology (AMIST), along with faculty and students in the Schools of Dentistry, Engineering and Medicine have created a 3-D printed swab made of a pliable resin material.

Qatar flies to the rescue, winning plaudits as virus halts aviation

Qatar Airways' crews have been applauded by passengers and won praise from governments for repatriating thousands of travellers stranded by the coronavirus aviation shutdown.

Duration of Amazon France closure 'unknown', boss says

Amazon France said Thursday it doesn't know when it will reopen its distribution centres, shuttered after a court ordered it to limit deliveries to essential goods pending a review of anti-coronavirus safety measures for its staff.

Amid COVID, computing society releases report on best practices for virtual conferences

Science and technology conferences are engines of innovation—essential to the incubation of new ideas, the dissemination of research, and the spawning of new technologies. But this year, with no warning, conferences around the globe are finding themselves in uncharted waters as the global COVID-19 pandemic makes physical meetings impossible. To help organizers cope, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has issued a new report, "Virtual Conferences: A Guide to Best Practices," on how to replace face-to-face conferences with virtual ones during the pandemic.

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If not Zoom, then what?

CNET editors' tips for Zoom's security challenges. Here are some alternatives to Zoom that may be right for you.
CNET Insider
April 16, 2020
Zoom has emerged as the unofficial video service of the coronavirus crisis, but it's also had security and privacy challenges. These alternatives could be the answer you're looking for. We've also got Zoom security tips.
Jason Hiner Jason Hiner
Editorial Director, CNET
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