Science X Newsletter Thursday, Oct 22

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for October 22, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

A machine-learning algorithm that can infer the direction of the thermodynamic arrow of time

Researchers discover 'spooky' similarity in how brains and computers see

How'd we get so picky about friendship late in life? Ask the chimps

Researchers develop an efficient, low-energy method for upcycling polyethylene plastic waste into valuable molecules

Pituitary puzzle gets a new piece, revising evolutionary history

Do the twist: Making two-dimensional quantum materials using curved surfaces

Control ions for quantum computing and sensing via on-chip fiber optics

Shedding light on moiré excitons: A first-principles perspective

Cicada-inspired waterproof surfaces closer to reality, researchers report

Mystery of unusual neutron star system revealed after 20 years, thanks to thousands of volunteers

Scientists borrow solar panel tech to create new ultrahigh-res OLED display

High-quality cat genome helps identify novel cause of dwarfism

Ice loss likely to continue in Antarctica

Scientists use gene therapy and a novel light-sensing protein to restore vision in mice

New approach could lead to designed plastics with specific properties

Physics news

A machine-learning algorithm that can infer the direction of the thermodynamic arrow of time

The second law of thermodynamics delineates an asymmetry in how physical systems evolve over time, known as the arrow of time. In macroscopic systems, this asymmetry has a clear direction (e.g., one can easily notice if a video showing a system's evolution over time is being played normally or backward).

Do the twist: Making two-dimensional quantum materials using curved surfaces

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered a way to control the growth of twisting, microscopic spirals of materials just one atom thick.

Control ions for quantum computing and sensing via on-chip fiber optics

Walk into a quantum lab where scientists trap ions, and you'll find benchtops full of mirrors and lenses, all focusing lasers to hit an ion "trapped" in place above a chip. By using lasers to control ions, scientists have learned to harness ions as quantum bits, or qubits, the basic unit of data in a quantum computer. But this laser setup is now holding research back—making it difficult to experiment with more than a few ions and to take these systems out of the lab for real use.

Shedding light on moiré excitons: A first-principles perspective

Moiré superlattices that are located within van der Waals (vdW) heterostructures can trap long-lived interlayer excitons to form ordered quantum dot arrays, paving the way for unprecedented optoelectronic and quantum information applications. Excitons are an electrically neutral quasiparticle that can transport energy without transporting net electric charge. They form when a material absorbs a photon of higher energy than its bandgap and the concept can be represented as the bound state of an electron and an electron hole that are attracted to each other by an electrostatic Coulomb force. In a new report now published on Science Advances, Hongli Guo and a team of scientists in the department of physics and astronomy at the California State University, Northridge, U.S., performed first-principles simulations to shed light on moiré excitons in twisted molybdenum disulfide/ tungsten disulfide (MoS2/WS2 ) heterostructures. The team showed direct evidence of localized interlayer moiré excitons in vdW heterostructures and mapped out the interlayer and intralayer moiré potentials based on energy gaps. They noted nearly flat valence bands in the heterostructures while exploring how the vertical field could be tuned to control the position, polarity, emission energy and hybridization strength of the moiré excitons. The scientists then predicted that the alternating electric fields could control the dipole moments of hybridized moiré excitons, while suppressing their diffusion in moiré lattices.

Researchers develop simple way to capture high quality 3-D images of live cells and organisms

Researchers have developed a simple method for simultaneously acquiring images at different depths with a standard microscope. The new technique can be applied to a variety of microscopy methods, making it useful for a wide range of biological and biomedical imaging applications.

Optical wiring for large quantum computers

Researchers at ETH have demonstrated a new technique for carrying out sensitive quantum operations on atoms. In this technique, the control laser light is delivered directly inside a chip. This should make it possible to build large-scale quantum computers based on trapped atoms.

World record resolution in cryo electron microscopy

Holger Stark from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and his team have broken a crucial resolution barrier in cryo electron microscopy. For the first time, his group succeeded in observing individual atoms in a protein structure and taking the sharpest images ever with this method. Such detailed insights make it easier to understand how proteins do their work or cause diseases in the living cell. The technique can also be used in the future to develop new drugs.

Reviewing multiferroics for future, low-energy data storage

,A new UNSW study comprehensively reviews the magnetic structure of the multiferroic material bismuth ferrite (BiFeO3—BFO).

Microscopy breakthrough reveals how proteins behave in 3-D

Six years ago, the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for finding ways to visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells.

Adaptive turbo equalizer for underwater acoustic differential orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing systems

In mobile underwater acoustic communications (UAC), the relative movement between the transceivers will cause Doppler spread in the received signal, which will bring inter-carrier interference to the orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) UAC system, thereby distorting the transmitted symbols. The design of a high-performance low-complexity receiver in mobile OFDM UAC systems remains a difficult problem.

For the first time: Realistic simulation of plasma edge instabilities in tokamaks

Edge Localized Modes, ELMs for short, are one of the disturbances of the plasma confinement that are caused by the interaction between the charged plasma particles and the confining magnetic field cage. During ELM events, the edge plasma loses its confinement for a short time and periodically throws plasma particles and energy outwards onto the vessel walls. Typically, one tenth of the total energy content can thus be ejected abruptly. While the present generation of medium-sized fusion devices can cope with this, large devices such as ITER or a future power plant would not be able to withstand this strain.

Astronomy and Space news

Mystery of unusual neutron star system revealed after 20 years, thanks to thousands of volunteers

After more than two decades, an international research team has identified a galactic mystery source of gamma rays: a heavy neutron star with a very low mass companion orbiting it.

Trio who lived on space station return to Earth safely

A trio of space travelers safely returned to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

NASA spacecraft sent asteroid rubble flying in sample grab

NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft crushed rocks and sent rubble flying as it briefly touched an asteroid, a strong indication that samples were collected for return to Earth, officials said Wednesday.

OSIRIS-REx TAGs surface of asteroid Bennu

Captured on Oct. 20, 2020 during the OSIRIS-REx mission's Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event, this series of images shows the SamCam imager's field of view as the NASA spacecraft approaches and touches down on asteroid Bennu's surface, over 200 million miles (321 million km) away from Earth. The sampling event brought the spacecraft all the way down to sample site Nightingale, touching down within three feet (one meter) of the targeted location. The team on Earth received confirmation at 6:08 pm EDT that successful touchdown occurred. Preliminary data show the one-foot-wide (0.3-meter-wide) sampling head touched Bennu's surface for approximately 6 seconds, after which the spacecraft performed a back-away burn.

Einstein's theory of relativity, critical for GPS, seen in distant stars

What do Albert Einstein, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and a pair of stars 200,000 trillion miles from Earth have in common?

Dark matter: Our method for catching ghostly halos could help unveil what it's made of

The search for dark matter—an unknown and invisible substance thought to make up the vast majority of matter in the universe—is at a crossroads. Although it was proposed nearly 70 years ago and has been searched for intensely—with large particle colliders, detectors deep underground and even instruments in space—it is still nowhere to be found.

Supercomputers dig into first star fossils

No one has yet found the first stars.

The implications of signs of life on Venus?

The planet Venus has arguably remained less captivating than, say, the legendary tennis star or, for that matter, the women's razor blade company—both of those Venuses have at least enjoyed ample airtime on cable TV.

The science behind life in space on 'Away'

Do you feel like you've been locked in a small room for months on end, isolated from the people that you love? Welcome to Netflix's "Away" and the bubble of five scientists on the world's first manned mission to Mars.

What would a realistic space battle look like?

Science fiction space movies can do a poor job of educating people about space. In the movies, hot-shot pilots direct their dueling space ships through space as if they're flying through an atmosphere. They bank and turn and perform loops and rolls, maybe throw in a quick Immelman turn, as if they're subject to Earth's gravity. Is that realistic?

Technology news

Researchers discover 'spooky' similarity in how brains and computers see

The brain detects 3-D shape fragments (bumps, hollows, shafts, spheres) in the beginning stages of object vision—a newly discovered strategy of natural intelligence that Johns Hopkins University researchers also found in artificial intelligence networks trained to recognize visual objects.

Scientists borrow solar panel tech to create new ultrahigh-res OLED display

By expanding on existing designs for electrodes of ultra-thin solar panels, Stanford researchers and collaborators in Korea have developed a new architecture for OLED—organic light-emitting diode—displays that could enable televisions, smartphones and virtual or augmented reality devices with resolutions of up to 10,000 pixels per inch (PPI). (For comparison, the resolutions of new smartphones are around 400 to 500 PPI.)

Boston Dynamics to give Spot a robot arm and charging station

Boston Dynamics announced that it has developed a robot arm for its "Spot" robot and also a charging station. Both will be available for purchase this spring.

Tesla posts net profit for fifth straight quarter

Tesla charged through a summertime auto industry sales slump in the U.S. to post stronger-than-expected net earnings for the third quarter.

The myth of electric cars: Why we also need to focus on buses and trains

California recently announced that it plans to ban the sales of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, Ontario has invested $500 million in the production of electric vehicles (EVs) and Tesla is quickly becoming the world's highest-valued car company.

Creating 3-D maps of complex buildings for disaster management

In case of an emergency, first responders like the fire brigade need up-to-date information. Two-dimensional maps are a common source of information, but they can be difficult to read in an emergency situation. UT Ph.D. student Shayan Nikoohemat created an algorithm that can accurately generate 3-D models of the insides of large buildings from point clouds.

People want data privacy but don't always know what they're getting

The Trump administration's move to ban the popular video app TikTok has stoked fears about the Chinese government collecting personal information of people who use the app. These fears underscore growing concerns Americans have about digital privacy generally.

A roadmap for making critical infrastructure safer as natural disasters increase

According to the European Union, it costs around €20 billion to repair and maintain transport infrastructure as a direct result of natural hazards. The American Society of Civil Engineers believes neglecting to maintain transport infrastructure could have dire economic consequences, including a loss of 2.5 million jobs and $7 trillion in business sales by 2025—figures which could rise by 16 percent as a result of climate change.

Why don't we click on some social media posts?

We take the time to read a heartfelt post from a dear friend on Facebook about a struggle at work but aren't sure what to say, so we don't comment or otherwise show we read it.

Designing batteries for easier recycling could avert a looming e-waste crisis

As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.

US voter data traded on hacker forums: researchers

A database with information on virtually the entire US voting population has been circulated on hacker forums, opening up the potential for disinformation and scams that could impact the November 3 election, security researchers say.

Self-driving shuttle debuts in high-traffic Virginia spot

The future of transportation arrived in northern Virginia, looking like a big blue toaster on wheels that seats six and drives itself through the region's notorious traffic.

Comparing the promise and reality of e-scooters

Is shared micromobility the ideal first/last mile supplement to transit? Can electric scooters make it easier for historically disadvantaged populations to get around? In just three years, brand-new fleets of e-scooters have substantially disrupted and altered the urban mobility landscape. For proponents, it's tempting to view them as a new answer to old problems. A just-released study finds however, that while there is potential for improved mobility if they are paired with other interventions, the shiny rows of e-scooters parked around cities aren't a catchall solution for our longstanding issues.

In Dubai, oil-rich UAE sees a new wonder: A coal power plant

A new wonder is rising in the southern desert of Dubai against the backdrop of Persian Gulf beaches, but it's not another skyscraper to grace the futuristic sheikhdom. Instead, it's one of mankind's oldest power sources gaining its own space on the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula—a coal-fired power plant.

Short-video app Quibi shutting down just months after launch

Short-video app Quibi said it is shutting down just six months after its early April launch, having struggled to find customers.

Airbnb partners with ex-Apple design star Jony Ive

Airbnb has hired former Apple design chief Jony Ive to work on showcasing the homesharing platform's forthcoming products, it announced Wednesday.

How algorithms can help the clothing industry

Can big data and artificial intelligence (AI) improve the clothing industry's value chains, adapt products to customer needs, and help the industry keep up with how customer needs are evolving? Sheenam Jain, doctoral student in the SMDTex program, has examined this in her thesis.

American Airlines reports $2.4 bln loss in Q3

American Airlines announced Thursday that its earnings plunged 73 percent in the third quarter amid the collapse in air travel during the coronavirus pandemic, causing a loss of $2.4 billion, which was not as bad as analysts expected.

Microsoft, Alaska Airlines team up for alternative jet fuel

Microsoft and Alaska Airlines announced a partnership Thursday to use sustainable jet fuel to offset emissions from the technology giant's employee travel.

American, Southwest Airlines shore up finances amid pandemic

US airlines' continued efforts to rein in costs and step up safety measures so travelers will return to the skies paid off in results reported Thursday that showed carriers paring losses in the latest quarter.

Pandemic hurts AT&T in 3rd quarter, wireless unit stable

The pandemic continued to hit AT&T through the third quarter as closed theaters, wary U.S. moviegoers and the Hollywood shutdown hurt its WarnerMedia movie and TV business.

Artificial intelligence can predict students' educational outcomes based on tweets

Ivan Smirnov, Leading Research Fellow of the Laboratory of Computational Social Sciences at the Institute of Education of HSE University, has created a computer model that can distinguish high academic achievers from lower ones based on their social media posts. The prediction model uses a mathematical textual analysis that registers users' vocabulary (its range and the semantic fields from which concepts are taken), characters and symbols, post length, and word length.

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