Science X Newsletter Wednesday, May 20

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Spotlight Stories Headlines

A deep-learning-enhanced e-skin that can decode complex human motions

Nature-inspired CRISPR enzymes for expansive genome editing

ALMA discovers massive rotating disk in early universe

Researchers reveal origins of complex hemoglobin by resurrecting ancient proteins

Researchers build hybrid quantum system by entangling molecule with atom

Intermolecular vibrational energy transfer via microcavity strong light-matter coupling

Microsoft OpenAI computer is world's 5th most powerful

Cosmic rays may have left indelible imprint on early life, physicists say

Researchers build a fast-moving jumping soft robot

Untangling a key step in photosynthetic oxygen production

Ancient giant armored fish fed in a similar way to basking sharks

Scientists dissect the complex choices of animals

Unsung heroes? How hoverflies play key pollination role

Climate change will turn coastal Antarctica green, say scientists

Very Large Telescope sees signs of planet birth

Physics news

Researchers build hybrid quantum system by entangling molecule with atom

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have boosted their control of the fundamental properties of molecules at the quantum level by linking or "entangling" an electrically charged atom and an electrically charged molecule, showcasing a way to build hybrid quantum information systems that could manipulate, store and transmit different forms of data.

Intermolecular vibrational energy transfer via microcavity strong light-matter coupling

Strong coupling between cavity photon modes and donor/acceptor molecules can form polaritons (hybrid particles made of a photon strongly coupled to an electric dipole) to facilitate selective vibrational energy transfer between molecules in the liquid phase. The process is typically arduous and hampered by weak intermolecular forces. In a new report now published on Science, Bo Xiang, and a team of scientists in materials science, engineering and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, U.S., reported a state-of-the-art strategy to engineer strong light-matter coupling. Using pump-probe and two-dimensional (2-D) infrared spectroscopy, Xiang et al. found that strong coupling in the cavity mode enhanced the vibrational energy transfer of two solute molecules. The team increased the energy transfer by increasing the cavity lifetime, suggesting the energy transfer process to be a polaritonic process. This pathway on vibrational energy transfer will open new directions for applications in remote chemistry, vibration polariton condensation and sensing mechanisms.

Cosmic rays may have left indelible imprint on early life, physicists say

Before there were animals, bacteria or even DNA on Earth, self-replicating molecules were slowly evolving their way from simple matter to life beneath a constant shower of energetic particles from space.

Counting kinks in a collapsing ring to predict stability

A team of researchers from the University of Oxford, MIT and the University of Limerick has found that it is possible to predict the stability of a collapsing ring by counting its kinks. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the group describes experiments they conducted that involved placing an elastic ring over a soap film and recording what happens when the ring collapses.

Elucidating the mechanism of a light-driven sodium pump

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have succeeded for the first time in recording a light-driven sodium pump from bacterial cells in action. The findings promise progress in the development of new methods in neurobiology. The researchers used the new X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL for their investigations. They have published their findings today in the journal Nature.

Photon discovery is a major step toward large-scale quantum technologies

A team of physicists at the University of Bristol has developed the first integrated photon source with the potential to deliver large-scale quantum photonics.

Laser-based technique captures 3-D images of impressionist-style brushstrokes

Researchers have developed a new strategy that uses optical coherence tomography (OCT) to acquire both the surface and underlying details of impressionist style oil paintings. This information can be used to create detailed 3-D reconstructions to enhance the viewing experience and offer a way for the visually impaired to experience paintings.

A new plasma engine will allow less expensive, more efficient, and longer space missions

Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) have patented a new spatial plasma-fueled engine capable of satellite and spacecraft propulsion, with magnetic field geometry and configuration that would minimize losses on walls and their erosion, thereby resolving issues of efficiency, durability, and operating restrictions of engines that are currently in orbit.

Molecule-plasmon coupling strength tunes surface-enhanced infrared absorption spectral lineshapes

Plasmon-enhanced molecular spectroscopies have attracted tremendous attention as powerful detection tools with ultrahigh sensitivity down to the single-molecule level. The optical response of molecules in the vicinity of nanostructures with plasmon resonance would be dramatically enhanced through interactions with plasmons. However, beyond the signal amplification, the molecule-plasmon interaction also inevitably induce strong modifications in the spectral lineshapes and distort the implied chemical information of molecules. A typical example is surface-enhanced infrared absorption (SEIRA) spectra. Due to the dominated molecule-plasmon coupling, the lineshapes of molecular absorption spectra exhibit complicated asymmetric Fano lineshapes, instead of the symmetric Lorentzian lineshapes of probe molecules in the gas phase or in solution phase.

4-D electric circuit network with topology

In recent years, topology has emerged as an important tool to classify and characterize properties of materials. It has been found that many materials exhibit a number of unusual topological properties, which are unaffected by deformations, e.g., stretching, compressing, or twisting. These topological properties include quantized Hall currents, large magnetoresistance, and surface excitations that are immune to disorder. It is hoped that these properties could be utilized for future technologies, such as, low-power electronics, ultrafast detectors, high-efficiency energy converters, or for quantum computing.

Astronomy and Space news

ALMA discovers massive rotating disk in early universe

In our 13.8 billion-year-old universe, most galaxies like our Milky Way form gradually, reaching their large mass relatively late. But a new discovery made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) of a massive rotating disk galaxy, seen when the universe was only ten percent of its current age, challenges the traditional models of galaxy formation. This research appears on 20 May 2020 in the journal Nature.

Very Large Telescope sees signs of planet birth

Observations made with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO's VLT) have revealed the telltale signs of a star system being born. Around the young star AB Aurigae lies a dense disc of dust and gas in which astronomers have spotted a prominent spiral structure with a 'twist' that marks the site where a planet may be forming. The observed feature could be the first direct evidence of a baby planet coming into existence.

Swarm probes weakening of Earth's magnetic field

In an area stretching from Africa to South America, Earth's magnetic field is gradually weakening. This strange behaviour has geophysicists puzzled and is causing technical disturbances in satellites orbiting Earth. Scientists are using data from ESA's Swarm constellation to improve our understanding of this area known as the 'South Atlantic Anomaly.'

NASA exec resigns days before 1st astronaut launch in years

NASA's chief of human exploration has resigned just days before the first astronaut launch in nearly a decade from Kennedy Space Center.

DY Centauri: Stellar evolution while you watch

In 1930, Dorrit Hoffleit reported that star number #4749 in the Harvard List of variables had faded four times between 1897 and 1929, and identified it as an R Coronae Borealis (RCB) variable. RCB stars are luminous low-mass stars (red giants) with surfaces around 5,000—7,000 K—not much hotter than the sun. They are remarkable for having little or no hydrogen on their surfaces; this is replaced by helium and carbon. They dim by factors of 100 or more every so often by ejecting clouds of carbon, or "soot." When thrown towards Earth, soot clouds block the starlight, until they expand enough to let the light through once more. Being in the constellation of Centaurus, H.V. 4749 was given the variable star name DY Centauri, or DY Cen for short.

The Tunguska explosion could have been caused by an asteroid that still orbits the sun

On a cool summer morning in 1908, a fireball appeared over northern Siberia. Eyewitnesses described a column of blue light that moved across the sky, followed by a tremendous explosion that leveled trees across more than 2,000 square kilometers. The explosion is consistent with a large meteor strike, but to this day, no evidence of a crater has been found. Now known as the Tunguska event, its cause remains a mystery to this day.

Coming to a sky near you: Comet SWAN at its best

Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN), perhaps the brightest comet we will see this year, is at its best from now until mid-June. It should be visible in from the UK in the northwestern sky after sunset, close to the horizon.

To safely explore the solar system and beyond, spaceships need to go faster—nuclear-powered rockets may be the answer

With dreams of Mars on the minds of both NASA and Elon Musk, long-distance crewed missions through space are coming. But you might be surprised to learn that modern rockets don't go all that much faster than the rockets of the past.

Astronauts arriving for NASA's 1st home launch in decade

The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for NASA flew to Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.

Technology news

A deep-learning-enhanced e-skin that can decode complex human motions

Researchers at Seoul National University and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have recently developed a sensor that can act as an electronic skin and integrated it with a deep neural network. This deep learning-enhanced e-skin system, presented in a paper published in Nature Communications, can capture human dynamic motions, such as rapid finger movements, from a distance.

Microsoft OpenAI computer is world's 5th most powerful

Microsoft announced Tuesday that it has built the fifth most powerful computer on Earth.

Researchers build a fast-moving jumping soft robot

Buckling, the sudden loss of structural stability, is usually the stuff of engineering nightmares. Mechanical buckling means catastrophic failure for every structural system from rockets to souffl├ęs. It's what caused the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, among numerous other disasters.

New method analyzes images to improve healthcare and manufacturing

Patterns appear in both natural and human made systems, but they can be difficult for humans to recognize and analyze, especially in dynamic systems like the human heart or factory machines. To address this issue, researchers in the Penn State College of Engineering have developed a novel algorithm, which has implications for health care and manufacturing.

3-D-printed system speeds up solar cell testing from hours to minutes

Tests on new designs for next-gen solar cells can now be done in hours instead of days thanks to a new system built by scientists at Australia's Monash University, incorporating 3-D-printed key components.

Apple, Google release technology for pandemic apps

Apple and Google on Wednesday released long-awaited smartphone technology to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus.

By 'reading' books and news articles, machines can be taught 'right' from 'wrong'

Is it OK to kill time? Machines used to find this question difficult to answer, but a new study reveals that Artificial Intelligence can be programmed to judge 'right' from 'wrong'.

Renewable energy should be at the heart of virus recovery plans: IEA

The International Energy Agency on Wednesday called on governments to put clean energy at the heart of their coronavirus economic recovery plans, as it forecast the first slowdown in new renewable power installations worldwide in two decades.

France looks past Google, Apple for virus contact tracing

France, which has long been sceptical of the growing power of US tech titans, is seeking to bypass Apple and Google for a smartphone app to help trace people infected with the novel coronavirus.

Forced retrofitting of VW Diesel engines successfully reduced nitrogen oxide emissions

Using exhaust gas measurements taken from the roadside, a team from the University of York and Empa was able to prove the "Dieselgate" scandal has led to positive results. The forced retrofitting of thousands of VW diesel engines reduced considerable amounts of nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the environment throughout Europe.

Fact or fake? The role of knowledge neglect in misinformation

At this point we've all heard about the problems posed by misinformation in our society. From accusations that we're living in a post-truth world, to deep fakes that can make former President Obama say "Killmonger was right," to coronavirus cures—the past five years have catapulted the problem of misinformation into the public discourse.

Advanced combustion modes could squeeze much more mileage from each drop of fuel

A method to predict and avoid undesirable combustion events in advanced engines, such as knocking and super-knock, implicates the initial mix of fuel and air.

Using machine learning to estimate COVID-19's seasonal cycle

One of the many unanswered scientific questions about COVID-19 is whether it is seasonal like the flu—waning in warm summer months then resurging in the fall and winter. Now scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are launching a project to apply machine-learning methods to a plethora of health and environmental datasets, combined with high-resolution climate models and seasonal forecasts, to tease out the answer.

The dangers of sharing personal information on social media

An innocent, seemingly fun and engaging social media trend has been popping up on news feeds. In an act of solidarity with high school seniors who were finishing out their final semester at home due to the coronavirus stay-at-home order, Facebook users were sharing their own senior class photos in nostalgic posts.

VR and AR devices at 1/100 the cost and 1/10,000 the thickness in the works

Zombies or enemies flashing right before your eyes and the dizzying feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff using virtual reality and augmented reality (AR and VR) are no longer exclusive to the games or media industries. These technologies allow us to conduct virtual conferences, share presentations and videos, and communicate in real time in virtual space. But because of the high cost and bulkiness of VR and AR devices, the virtual world is not currently within easy reach.

Autonomous cars could revolutionise transport for disabled people – if we change the way we design

The move towards driverless cars isn't just a chance for people to relax at the wheel. It's an opportunity to revolutionise personal transport in a way that offers life-changing benefits to people with disabilities.

Lawmakers: FAA certification of new planes needs an overhaul

The Federal Aviation Administration outlined steps to change how it approves new passenger planes, but lawmakers said they will push ahead with legislation to change the current system that lets aircraft makers including Boeing play a key role in the certification process.

Amazon puts heat on eSports giants with 'Crucible'

Amazon launched an assault on Fortnite and other eSports giants Wednesday with team shooter "Crucible," aiming to expand its territory in the world of game playing.

Norwegians find 'privacy' concerns in virus-tracing app

Norwegian tech experts said Wednesday that a government app released to help trace the spread of the new coronavirus in the country, did not sufficiently protect personal "privacy."

AT&T to drop misleading '5G' marketing for non-5G networks

AT&T says it will stop advertising its wireless network as "5G Evolution" after a division of the Better Business Bureau determined that its language was misleading. The network AT&T branded this way is not, in fact, 5G—a new technology for fast wireless data.

Rolls-Royce cuts 9,000 jobs as airlines turn off engines

Rolls-Royce, the British maker of plane engines, said Wednesday it will cut at least 9,000 jobs and slash costs elsewhere, as the coronavirus hammers the aviation sector.

LG chairman apologises over gas leak, fire

LG Group chairman Koo Gwang-mo apologised Wednesday over two fatal accidents at LG Chem facilities in the past two weeks, reports said, including a gas leak in India that killed 12 people.

China becomes large shareholder in Norwegian Air Shuttle

Aircraft leasing company BOC Aviation, controlled by the Chinese state, has become a major shareholder in Norwegian Air Shuttle as part of the ailing airline's rescue plan, Norwegian said Wednesday.

Aviation needs confidence to take off again: industry chief

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt airlines an unprecedented blow—to get back in business they will have to reinstill confidence in travellers and avoid a patchwork of restrictions, says the head of the industry's trade association.

Best updated cars for 2020

In every new vehicle's lifespan between full redesigns, there is usually a refresh or what's called a "midcycle update." A refresh varies from minor design tweaks to new engines and improved in-car tech. It's a way to keep a vehicle looking and feeling fresh after a few years on the market.

Enabling highways and bridges to prevent their own damage

Roads always seem to need repairs. Luna Lu is giving concrete the ability to "talk" and even heal itself.

Intent defined optical network for intelligent operation and maintenance

The automatic operation and maintenance of optical network is important for ensuring information communication and network operation. The growing variety of services has forced operation and maintenance personnel to face tremendous operational pressure. A recent study has constructed a control architecture called intent defined optical networks (IDON) to cope with the issue.

Ford temporarily closed factory after two COVID-19 cases

Ford was forced to temporarily close an auto manufacturing plant in Chicago after two workers tested positive for coronavirus, the company told AFP on Wednesday.

Virus prompts Air France-KLM to ditch A380s

Air France-KLM announced Wednesday the "definitive end" of operations of the world's biggest commercial airliner, the A380, owing to the devastating coronavirus impact on air travel.

Four tips for more professional looking—and better sounding—video calls

Many people are spending more of the workday on video calls, and most of us want to look better, sound better—and have the polished poise of a professional.

German govt agrees Lufthansa rescue offer: report (Update)

German ministers on Wednesday agreed final details of a rescue deal they will offer coronavirus-stricken airline giant Lufthansa, business daily Handelsblatt reported.

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