Science X Newsletter Monday, Sep 21

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for September 21, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

PufferBot: A flying robot with an expandable body

Infrared eyes on Enceladus: Hints of fresh ice in northern hemisphere

Why there is no speed limit in the superfluid universe

Rosetta spacecraft detects unexpected ultraviolet aurora at a comet

Almost a dozen new variable stars detected in the open cluster NGC 1912 and its surroundings

High-sensitivity nanoscale chemical imaging with hard x-ray nano-XANES

Carbon nanotubes developed for super efficient desalination

Astronomers discover an Earth-sized 'pi planet' with a 3.14-day orbit

NASA's IRIS spots nanojets: Shining light on heating the solar corona

Marine sponges inspire the next generation of skyscrapers and bridges

Researchers identify new type of superconductor

Pointed tips on aluminum 'octopods' increase catalytic reactivity

Storms Alpha and Beta named for Greek alphabet, second time ever

Microsoft offers Windows 10 October update

Google testing automatic tab-grouping feature

Physics news

Why there is no speed limit in the superfluid universe

Physicists from Lancaster University have established why objects moving through superfluid helium-3 lack a speed limit in a continuation of earlier Lancaster research.

Researchers identify new type of superconductor

Until now, the history of superconducting materials has been a tale of two types: s-wave and d-wave.

Defying a 150-year-old rule for phase behavior

Frozen water can take on up to three forms at the same time when it melts: liquid, ice and gas. This principle, which states that many substances can occur in up to three phases simultaneously, was explained 150 years ago by the Gibbs phase rule. Today, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology and University Paris-Saclay are defying this classical theory, with proof of a five-phase equilibrium, something that many scholars considered impossible. This new knowledge yields useful insights for industries that work with complex mixtures, such as in the production of mayonnaise, paint or LCDs. The researchers have published their results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Self-induced ultrafast demagnetization limits amount of light diffracted from magnetic samples at soft x-ray energies

Free electron X-ray lasers deliver intense, ultrashort pulses of X-rays, which can be used to image nanometer-scale objects in a single shot. When the X-ray wavelength is tuned to an electronic resonance, magnetization patterns can be made visible. When using increasingly intense pulses, however, the magnetization image fades away. The mechanism responsible for this loss in resonant magnetic scattering intensity has now been clarified.

Promising computer simulations for stellarator plasmas

The turbulence model called Gyrokinetic Electromagnetic Numerical Experiment (GENE), developed at Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) at Garching, Germany, has proven to be very useful for the theoretical description of turbulence in the plasma of tokamak-type fusion devices. Extended for the more complex geometry of stellarator-type devices, computer simulations with GENE now indicate a new method to reduce plasma turbulence in stellarator plasmas. This could significantly increase the efficiency of a future fusion power plant.

Having a ball: Crystallization in a sphere

Crystallization is the assembly of atoms or molecules into highly ordered solid crystals, which occurs in natural, biological, and artificial systems. However, crystallization in confined spaces, such as the formation of the protein shell of a virus, is poorly understood. Researchers are trying to control the structure of the final crystal formed in a confined space to obtain crystals with desired properties, which requires thorough knowledge of the crystallization process.

Scientists find a new mechanism for the stabilization of skyrmions

Tiny magnetic whirls that can occur in materials—so-called skyrmions—hold high promises for novel electronic devices or magnetic memory in which they are used as bits to store information. A fundamental prerequisite for any application is the stability of these magnetic whirls. A research team of the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics of Kiel University has now demonstrated that so far neglected magnetic interactions can play a key role for skyrmion stability and can drastically enhance skyrmion lifetime. Their work, which has been published today in Nature Communications, opens also the perspective to stabilize skyrmions in new material systems in which the previously considered mechanisms are not sufficient.

Spin Hall effect in Weyl semimetal for energy-efficient information technology

The discovery of topological Weyl semimetals in 2017 has revealed opportunities to realize several extraordinary physical phenomena in condensed matter physics. Now, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have demonstrated the direct electrical detection of a large spin Hall effect in this topological quantum material. Weyl semimetal takes advantage of its strong spin-orbit coupling and novel topological spin-polarized electronic states in its band structure. These experimental findings can pave the way for the utilization of spin-orbit induced phenomena in developing next-generation of faster and energy-efficient information technology and have been published in the scientific journal Physical Review Research.

Aberrant electronic and structural alterations in pressure-tuned perovskite

The perovskite NaOsO3 has a complicated but interesting temperature-dependent metal-insulator transition (MIT). A team led by Drs. Raimundas Sereika and Yang Ding from the Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research (HPSTAR) showed that the insulating ground state in NaOsO3 can be preserved up to at least 35 GPa with a sluggish MIT reduction from 410 K to a near room temperature and possible transformation to a polar phase. The work has been published in npj Quantum Materials.

New facility tests future neutrino detector systems with 'beautiful' results

The international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, or DUNE, hosted by Fermilab, will be huge. In fact, with more than 1,000 collaborators from over 30 countries and five continents, it's the largest international science project ever hosted in the U.S.

Researchers combine photoacoustic and fluorescence imaging in tiny package

Researchers have demonstrated a new endoscope that uniquely combines photoacoustic and fluorescent imaging in a device about the thickness of a human hair. The device could one day provide new insights into the brain by enabling blood dynamics to be measured at the same time as neuronal activity.

Astronomy and Space news

Infrared eyes on Enceladus: Hints of fresh ice in northern hemisphere

Scientists used data gathered by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during 13 years of exploring the Saturn system to make detailed images of the icy moon—and to reveal geologic activity.

Rosetta spacecraft detects unexpected ultraviolet aurora at a comet

Data from Southwest Research Institute-led instruments aboard ESA's Rosetta spacecraft have helped reveal auroral emissions in the far ultraviolet around a comet for the first time.

Almost a dozen new variable stars detected in the open cluster NGC 1912 and its surroundings

Chinese astronomers have conducted a study of variable stars in the galactic open cluster NGC 1912 and its surrounding field, detecting 11 new variables in this cluster, including binary systems. The study was detailed in a research paper published September 11 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

Astronomers discover an Earth-sized 'pi planet' with a 3.14-day orbit

In a delightful alignment of astronomy and mathematics, scientists at MIT and elsewhere have discovered a "pi Earth"—an Earth-sized planet that zips around its star every 3.14 days, in an orbit reminiscent of the universal mathematics constant.

NASA's IRIS spots nanojets: Shining light on heating the solar corona

In a paper published today in Nature Astronomy, researchers report the first ever clear images of nanojets—bright thin lights that travel perpendicular to the magnetic structures in the solar atmosphere, called the corona—in a process that reveals the existence of one of the potential coronal heating candidates: nanoflares.

Rock types on Ryugu provide clues to the asteroid's turbulent history

The asteroid Ryugu may look like a solid piece of rock, but it's more accurate to liken it to an orbiting pile of rubble. Given the relative fragility of this collection of loosely bound boulders, researchers believe that Ryugu and similar asteroids probably don't last very long due to disruptions and collisions from other asteroids. Ryugu is estimated to have adopted its current form around 10 million to 20 million years ago, which sounds like a lot compared to a human lifespan, but makes it a mere infant when compared to larger solar system bodies.

Parker Solar Probe, Akatsuki and Earth-bound observers give rare top-to surface glimpse of Venus

Observations of Venus by NASA's Parker Solar Probe, JAXA's Akatsuki mission and astronomers around the world have given a rare cloud-top-to-surface glimpse of the Earth's neighboring planet. The results are being presented this week at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020, which is taking place as a virtual meeting from 21 September-9 October.

Design for a space habitat with artificial gravity that could be enlarged over time to fit more people

There are two main approaches that humanity can take to living in space. The one more commonly portrayed is colonizing other celestial bodies such as the moon and Mars. That approach comes with some major disadvantages, including dealing with toxic soils, clingy dust and gravity wells.

If there is life on Venus, how could it have got there? Origin of life experts explain

The recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus is exciting, as it may serve as a potential sign of life (among other possible explanations).

Cosmic X-rays reveal a distinct signature of black holes

An international team of astrophysicists has found distinctive signatures of black hole event horizons, unmistakably separating them from neutron stars, which are objects comparable to black holes in mass and size but confined within a hard surface. This is by far the strongest steady signature of stellar-mass black holes to date. The team consisting of Mr. Srimanta Banerjee and Professor Sudip Bhattacharyya from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, India, and Professor Marat Gilfanov and Professor Rashid Sunyaev from Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Germany and Space Research Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia is publishing this research in a paper that has been accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

New technology is a 'science multiplier' for astronomy

Federal funding of new technology is crucial for astronomy, according to results of a study released Sept. 21 in the Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments and Systems.

Technology news

PufferBot: A flying robot with an expandable body

Researchers at University of Colorado Boulder's ATLAS Institute and University of Calgary have recently developed an actuated, expandable structure that can be used to fabricate shape-changing aerial robots. In a paper pre-published on arXiv, they introduced a new robot, dubbed PufferBot, which was built using this unique and innovative structure.

Microsoft offers Windows 10 October update

They say big things come in small packages. But when Microsoft releases its second semiannual Windows 10 update next month, it'll be mainly small things in a big package.

Google testing automatic tab-grouping feature

There are people in this world who are perfectly content to work on their computers with only one or two open browser tabs at a time. But then there are folks who collect a dozen, two dozen or more tabs each session, frantically darting among the pages in often futile efforts to remain focused and organized.

Japanese grocery chain testing remotely controlled robot stockers

Japanese grocery chain FamilyMart has teamed up with Tokyo startup Telexistence to test the idea of using a remotely controlled shelf stocking robot named the Model-T to restock grocery shelves. On its website, Telexistence describes the robot as a means for addressing labor shortages in Japan and also as a way to improve social distancing during the pandemic.

Smart suit wirelessly powered by a smartphone

Athletes are always on the lookout for new ways to push the limits of human performance and one needs to first pinpoint their current limits objectively if they seek to overcome them. A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a smartphone-powered suit capable of providing athletes with physiological data such as their posture, running gait and body temperature while they are out on the field.

New discovery to have huge impact on development of future battery cathodes

A new paper published today in Nature Energy reveals how a collaborative team of researchers have been able to fully identify the nature of oxidized oxygen in the important battery material—Li-rich NMC—using RIXS (Resonant Inelastic X-ray Scattering) at Diamond Light Source. This compound is being closely considered for implementation in next generation Li-ion batteries because it can deliver a higher energy density than the current state-of-the-art materials, which could translate to longer driving ranges for electric vehicles. They expect that their work will enable scientists to tackle issues like battery longevity and voltage fade with Li-rich materials.

Mirror-like photovoltaics get more electricity out of heat

New heat-harnessing "solar" cells that reflect 99% of the energy they can't convert to electricity could help bring down the price of storing renewable energy as heat, as well as harvesting waste heat from exhaust pipes and chimneys.

Engineers imitate human hands to make better sensors

An international research team has developed "electronic skin" sensors capable of mimicking the dynamic process of human motion. This work could help severely injured people, such as soldiers, regain the ability to control their movements, as well as contribute to the development of smart robotics, according to Huanyu "Larry" Cheng, Dorothy Quiggle Early Career Professor in the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics.

Data-trackers turn from cookies to phone sensors

Lou Montulli and the late Ruth Wakefield share a common bond. Sort of. Ruth invented the chocolate chip cookie, which has fueled many programmers through long trying hours into the evening testing code and tracking down bugs. Lou invented the digital cookie, which tracks computer users' behavior and has been the foundation of the marriage between commerce and web browsing for decades.

An acoustically actuated microscopic device

Researchers at EPFL have developed remote-controlled, mechanical microdevices that, when inserted into human tissue, can manipulate the fluid that surrounds them, collect cells or release drugs. This breakthrough offers numerous potential applications in the biomedical field, from diagnostics to therapy.

Engineers use machine learning to speed bioscaffold development

A dose of artificial intelligence can speed the development of 3-D-printed bioscaffolds that help injuries heal, according to researchers at Rice University.

WeChat, TikTok ban is test for open internet, free expression

The US ban on Chinese-owned apps WeChat and TikTok sets up a pivotal legal challenge on digital free expression with important ramifications for the global internet ecosystem.

In California, Wi-fi minivans help disadvantaged students

A minivan with a Wi-fi router attached to the dashboard and a satellite antenna on the roof is helping 200 disadvantaged students in Santa Ana, close to Los Angeles, cope with the rigors of distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

US TikTok users prepare for a possible exit from platform

American TikTok users reacted with a collective shrug Friday to the US move to ban new downloads of the video-sharing app—but many are already planning an exit to other platforms should the clampdown lead to an outright ban.

Google briefly removes India payments app for betting violations ahead of IPL

Google Friday removed one of India's biggest digital payment apps for several hours from its online store for breaching gambling rules, a day before the start of the lucrative Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Millions of US users to be hit by WeChat block

Washington's crackdown on WeChat will disrupt communications between millions of people in the United States and their friends, families and business partners in China.

Palantir listing may shine light on secretive Big Data firm

Perhaps the most secretive firm to emerge from Silicon Valley, Palantir Technologies is set for a stock market debut this month that may shed light on the Big Data firm specializing in law enforcement and national security.

Judge halts WeChat download ban in US-China tech battle

A US judge on Sunday blocked the government's ban on WeChat downloads, hours before it was due to take effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.

Founder of truck maker Nikola resigns after fraud allegations

Shares of embattled auto startup Nikola were under renewed pressure Monday following the sudden resignation of company founder Trevor Milton in the wake of fraud allegations.

Creating cross-domain kill webs in real time

Two DARPA-developed technologies—a novel decision aid for mission commanders and a rapid software integration tool—played a critical role in the recent Air Force demonstration of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).

Price does not equate to accuracy in watches for runners: study

Which of the GPS devices used by marathon, half-marathon, long-distance or 10k runners is more accurate? Are sports or mobile phone watches better? Is there a difference between men and women when choosing one device or another? A team of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) has analyzed 85 different models and over 70,000 pieces of data from the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Valencia marathons from 2016 to 2019, registered on the Strava platform. Among the many conclusions, the study shows that price does not equate to accuracy in watches, and that men and women have different priorities when choosing them. The study has been published in IEEE Consumer Electronics.

Airbus aims for hydrogen-powered plane by 2035

Airbus is aiming to put the world's first hydrogen-powered commercial plane into service by 2035, the European aircraft maker's boss said in remarks published Monday.

Researchers discover cyber vulnerabilities affecting bluetooth based medical devices

Internet-of-Things (IoT) such as smart home locks and medical devices, depend largely on Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology to function and connect across other devices with reduced energy consumption. As these devices get more prevalent with increasing levels of connectivity, the need for strengthened security in IoT has also become vital.

Advancing the accurate tracking of energy poverty

IIASA researchers have developed a novel measurement framework to track energy poverty that better aligns with the services people lack rather than capturing the mere absence of physical connections to a source of electricity. This alternative framework can aid better tracking of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 by virtue of its simplicity and sensitivity to the diversity in service conditions among the poor.

Researchers analyze the use of solar energy at US airports

By studying 488 public airports in the United States, University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs researcher Serena Kim, Ph.D., found that 20% of them have adopted solar photovoltaic (PV), commonly known as solar panels, over the last decade. Solar photovoltaic (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect.

Microsoft buys gaming firm ZeniMax Media for $7.5 bn

Microsoft on Monday announced it will acquire ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion, adding muscle to its Xbox arm ahead of a fierce battle in the market for new gaming consoles.

Parents furious with Facebook over Oculus account change

Parents are furious over a Facebook rule change: Kids who play the Oculus virtual reality games will soon need to have a Facebook account.

Apple had its big week. Now it's Amazon's turn

This week, it was Apple's turn. Thursday, the spotlight turns to Amazon.

A computer predicts your thoughts, creating images based on them

Researchers at the University of Helsinki have developed a technique in which a computer models visual perception by monitoring human brain signals. In a way, it is as if the computer tries to imagine what a human is thinking about. As a result of this imagining, the computer is able to produce entirely new information, such as fictional images that were never before seen.

Robert W. Gore, the inventor of Gore-Tex fabric, dead at 83

Robert W. Gore, whose invention of what created the breathable-yet-waterproof fabric known as Gore-Tex revolutionized outdoor wear and helped spawn uses in numerous other fields, has died. He was 83.

Q&A: What does banning TikTok and WeChat mean for users?

The U.S. government is cracking down on the Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat, starting by barring them from app stores on Sunday.

Trump touts 'fantastic' TikTok deal with Walmart and Oracle

Popular video app TikTok announced Saturday it has proposed an agreement with Oracle as its US technology provider and Walmart as a commercial partner, a potential deal US President Donald Trump touted as "fantastic."

TikTok Global to launch public offering, Chinese parent firm says

TikTok Global plans to hold a public listing, its Chinese parent company ByteDance said Monday, after announcing a deal over the weekend that would avert a shutdown of the popular app in the US.

Facebook launches new campaign to encourage voting

Facebook is launching a new initiative this week to encourage Americans to vote in the upcoming presidential election, the latest effort by the social network to prove it is a responsible player on the internet.

Five things to know about: making self-driving cars safe

Self-driving cars, or connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), are closer than ever to becoming a mainstay on our roads. Already, many modern cars have self-driving capabilities—now the next step is full automation.

An algorithm for problem solving in cars and the human brain

Imagine having a car accident in a parking lot, your car has some small damage and you have to get it fixed. What if your car could tell you which parts are broken and how much it will cost to fix it? During his Ph.D. at BMW, Milan Koch designed the Automated Damage Assessment service, a customer service that does just this. "It should be a nice experience for customers, even in such an awful situation."

Lufthansa to cut more jobs as virus pummels travel

Lufthansa said Monday it will slash more jobs on top of 22,000 previously announced cuts and put more planes out of service as the coronavirus continues to crush travel demand.

Bailout will keep Air France-KLM afloat for less than year: CEO

Bailouts provided to Air France-KLM by the French and Dutch governments will keep the airline flying less than a year, its CEO Benjamin Smith said Monday and evoked the possibility of injecting new capital.

Trump vows to block any TikTok deal that allows Chinese control

A deal to restructure ownership of the popular video app TikTok was thrown into doubt Monday by President Donald Trump, who vowed to block any deal that allows its Chinese parent firm to retain any control.

Amazon's buying spree for used airplanes makes green pledge harder to keep

While flight shaming and the coronavirus pandemic have spurred airlines to hasten the retirement of their oldest, fuel-guzzling aircraft, not all those planes end up in boneyards in the desert. Many find a second life in the fleets of Inc. and other cargo carriers.

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