Science X Newsletter Wednesday, Nov 11

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for November 11, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Using social robots to improve children's language skills

Camel-fur-inspired power-free system harnesses insulation and evaporation to keep items cool

Largest set of mammalian genomes reveals species at risk of extinction

Noise and light alter bird nesting habits and success

New genome alignment tool empowers large-scale studies of vertebrate evolution

Scientists release genomes of birds representing nearly all avian families

Atmospheric rivers help create massive holes in Antarctic sea ice

Sugar work: Study finds sugar remodels molecular memory in fruit flies

Sensor for smart textiles survives washing machine, cars and hammers

Puzzled otters learn from each other

New fossil seal species rewrites history

Low fitness linked to higher depression and anxiety risk

Team makes breakthrough discovery on brain cortex functionality

Newly discovered primate in Myanmar 'already facing extinction'

SpaceX ready to take four astronauts to ISS Saturday

Physics news

New research explores the thermodynamics of off-equilibrium systems

Almost all truly intriguing systems are ones that are far away from equilibrium—such as stars, planetary atmospheres, and even digital circuits. But, until now, systems far from thermal equilibrium couldn't be analyzed with conventional thermodynamics and statistical physics.

New tractor beam has potential to tame lightning

Lightning never strikes twice, so the saying goes, but new technology may allow us to control where it hits the ground, reducing the risk of catastrophic bushfires.

Researchers demonstrate attosecond boost for electron microscopy

A team of physicists from the University of Konstanz and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit√§t M√ľnchen in Germany have achieved attosecond time resolution in a transmission electron microscope by combining it with a continuous-wave laser—offering new insights into light-matter interactions.

Researchers trap electrons to create elusive crystal

Like restless children posing for a family portrait, electrons won't hold still long enough to stay in any kind of fixed arrangement.

Observation of four-charm-quark structure

The strong interaction is one of the fundamental forces of nature, which binds quarks into hadrons such as the proton and the neutron, the building blocks of atoms. According to the quark model, hadrons can be formed by two or three quarks, called mesons and baryons respectively, and collectively referred to as conventional hadrons. The quark model also allows for the existence of so-called exotic hadrons, composed by four (tetraquarks), five (pentaquarks) or more quarks. A rich spectrum of exotic hadrons is expected just as for the conventional ones. However, no unambiguous signal of exotic hadrons was observed until 2003, when the X(3872) state was discovered by the Belle experiment. In the following years, a few more exotic states were discovered. The explanation of their properties requires the existence of four constituent quarks. Identification of pentaquark states is even more difficult, and the first candidates were observed by the LHCb experiment in 2015. All these known states contain at most two heavy quarks—the beauty or charm quark.

Connecting two classes of unconventional superconductors

The understanding of unconventional superconductivity is one of the most challenging and fascinating tasks of solid-state physics. Different classes of unconventional superconductors share that superconductivity emerges near a magnetic phase despite that the underlying physics is different. Two of these unconventional materials are the heavy-fermion and the iron-based superconductors.

The transformation of a pair: How electrons supertransport current in 'bad metals'

To researchers in the field, they are known as 'bad metals,' but they are not really so bad. As a matter of fact, they are the best superconductors because they are able to conduct current with the highest efficiency and without resistance up to high temperatures. This has been seen experimentally. Yet their behavior remains a mystery. The repulsive forces between the electrons in these materials are much stronger than in low-temperature superconductors: so how do particles with the same charge overcome these forces and manage to pair-up and to transport current as it happens in 'traditional' superconductors?

Identifying the microscopic mechanism of vibrational energy harvesters

A Japanese research team elucidated the microscopic mechanism in which amorphous silica becomes negatively charged as a vibrational energy harvester, which is anticipated to achieve self-power generation without charging, as it is needed for IoT that is garnering attention in recent years with its 'trillion sensors' that create a large-scale network of sensors. Unlike wind power and solar power generation, vibrational power generation, which utilizes natural vibration for power generation, is not affected by weather.

Astronomy and Space news

SpaceX ready to take four astronauts to ISS Saturday

Three NASA crew and one Japanese astronaut are set for launch aboard a SpaceX rocket Saturday, bound for the International Space Station in the program's first six-month routine mission since the United States resumed crewed space flight in May after nine years of reliance on Russia.

Researchers give radar new abilities using optical data about meteors

It is thought that over 1,000 kilograms of so-called interplanetary dust falls to Earth every day. This dust is produced by an untold number of small faint meteors, discarded remnants of asteroids and comets that pass by the Earth. Two ways to study faint meteors are radar and optical observations, each with advantages and limitations. Astronomers have combined specific observations with both methods, and can now use radar to make the kinds of observations that previously only optical telescopes could make.

Tree rings may hold clues to impacts of distant supernovas on Earth

Massive explosions of energy happening thousands of light-years from Earth may have left traces in our planet's biology and geology, according to new research by University of Colorado Boulder geoscientist Robert Brakenridge.

Technology news

Using social robots to improve children's language skills

As robots share many characteristics with toys, they could prove to be a valuable tool for teaching children in engaging and innovative ways. In recent years, some roboticists and computer scientists have thus been investigating how robotics systems could be introduced in classroom and pre-school environments.

Camel-fur-inspired power-free system harnesses insulation and evaporation to keep items cool

Camels have evolved a seemingly counterintuitive approach to keeping cool while conserving water in a scorching desert environment: They have a thick coat of insulating fur. Applying essentially the same approach, researchers at MIT have now developed a system that could help keep things like pharmaceuticals or fresh produce cool in hot environments, without the need for a power supply.

Sensor for smart textiles survives washing machine, cars and hammers

Think about your favorite t-shirt, the one you've worn a hundred times, and all the abuse you've put it through. You've washed it more times than you can remember, spilled on it, stretched it, crumbled it up, maybe even singed it leaning over the stove once.

Intelligent surfaces signal better coverage

A mathematical model shows specialized reflective panels could be deployed on a large scale to enhance communication networks in urban areas.

Researchers use dynamical systems and machine learning to add spontaneity to AI

Autonomous functions for robots, such as spontaneity, are highly sought after. Many control mechanisms for autonomous robots are inspired by the functions of animals, including humans. Roboticists often design robot behaviors using predefined modules and control methodologies, which makes them task-specific, limiting their flexibility. Researchers offer an alternative machine learning-based method for designing spontaneous behaviors by capitalizing on complex temporal patterns, like neural activities of animal brains. They hope to see their design implemented in robotic platforms to improve their autonomous capabilities.

New method brings physics to deep learning to better simulate turbulence

Deep learning, also called machine learning, reproduces data to model problem scenarios and offer solutions. However, some problems in physics are unknown or cannot be represented in detail mathematically on a computer. Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign developed a new method that brings physics into the machine learning process to make better predictions.

To the future: Finding the moral common ground in human-robot relations

AI robots are still not sophisticated enough to understand humans or the complexity of social situations, says UNSW's Dr. Masimiliano Cappuccio.

DNS cache poisoning ready for a comeback

Agroup led by UC Riverside computer security researchers unveiled discovery of a series of critical security flaws that could lead to a revival of DNS cache poisoning attacks this week at the 2020 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security. The attack succeeds by derandomizing the source port and works on all layers of caches in the DNS infrastructure, such as forwarders and resolvers.

Estimating the actual costs of converting to renewable energy sources

A pair of researchers at Imperial College London has taken on the difficult task of attempting to estimate the actual cost of utilities converting to renewable energy sources. In their paper published in the journal Nature Energy, Philip Heptonstall and Robert Gross looked at the costs associated with installation, hardware, maintenance, distribution and handling of off-times for renewable energy sources and compared them to traditional sources such as coal and oil.

Samsung develops a slim-panel holographic video display

A team of researchers at Samsung has developed a slim-panel holographic video display that allows for viewing from a variety of angles. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the group describes their new display device and their plans for making it suitable for use with a smartphone.

PLATYPUS reveals new vulnerabilities discovered in Intel processors

An international team of security researchers, including experts from the University of Birmingham, is presenting new side-channel attacks, which use fluctuations in software power consumption to access sensitive data on Intel CPUs.

Alphabet harnesses light beams to bring Internet to Africa

While we tackle scores of digital tasks daily on our desktop computers, smartphones, smart watches, notebooks, security devices and sound systems, and converse with Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant to answer questions or execute everyday tasks, we sometimes forget how lucky we are.

New strategy to 'buffer' climate change: Developing cheaper, eco-friendly solar cells

Solar power is an eco-friendly alternative to conventional, non-renewable sources of energy. However, current solar panels require the use of toxic materials as buffers, which is not sustainable. To this end, a team of scientists in Korea developed a new eco-friendly alternative, called the ZTO buffer, which can overcome this limitation. This new development to make solar panels even more sustainable is indeed a cherry on top.

Making a case for organic Rankine cycles in waste heat recovery

A team from City, University of London's Department of Engineering believes that a new approach to generating energy through waste heat could yield important insights into delivering environmentally-friendly power.

Lyft's results show pain but also hope as some riders return

Lyft is still feeling the pandemic's severe impact on the ride-hailing industry but its third-quarter results show signs of a recovery from the previous three months when passengers stayed locked down.

Honda wins world-first approval for Level 3 autonomous car

Honda on Wednesday won approval to sell Level 3 autonomous cars in Japan, in what the automaker and Japanese authorities said was a world-first.

Tsunami-hit Japanese nuclear reactor gets restart approval

A nuclear reactor in northern Japan on Wednesday became the first among those damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami to get final restart approval, with support from regional authorities.

Rethink needed to stop the spread of hateful material online

Digital platform Reddit's efforts to limit the spread of hateful and misogynistic content is driving users to self-moderated forums where the material can spread largely unchecked, according to new research from The Australian National University (ANU).

New technology exploits fluorescence and machine learning to speedily scan thousands of images

Any biological sample—dirt, water, or food, for example—contains billions of bacteria. Only a few are harmful to humans, or pathogenic. But those few pathogens can mean the difference between a reliable supply of meat or lettuce, for example, and an outbreak of food poisoning—or worse, a pandemic.

How coronavirus might have changed TV viewing habits for good

As new social restrictions are imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19, it will be no surprise if people once again turn to their television screens for entertainment and companionship. In the UK, as the days turn darker and colder, popular shows including The Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing have made welcome returns, providing comfort and familiarity.

Is Elon Musk's tunneling company also eyeing Austin?

It's possible that Tesla isn't the only Elon Musk-led company with its eyes on Austin.

Future of business travel unclear as virus upends work life

For the lucrative business travel industry, Brian Contreras represents its worst fears.

Japan's Toshiba retreats from coal-fired power stations

Japanese engineering giant Toshiba will not build any more coal-fired power plants and will shift to renewable energy in a bid to reduce greenhouse emissions, the company's president said Wednesday.

China's shoppers splash the cash in world's biggest spending spree

Chinese consumers snapped up everything from food to electronics and beauty products Wednesday as retailers slashed prices for the world's largest online shopping bonanza, closely watched this year for clues on post-pandemic consumer sentiment.

Japan telecom firms challenge $40 billion NTT takeover bid

Japanese telecoms firms appealed Wednesday to the communications ministry over a planned $40-billion takeover of the country's biggest mobile carrier by its government-backed parent, warning it would "prevent fair competition".

TikTok files last-minute petition against Trump order

TikTok asked a Washington court Tuesday to stop an order from US President Donald Trump's administration from taking effect this week as the White House seeks to ban the Chinese-owned app in the United States.

Netflix says ready to pay tax after Vietnam complaint

Netflix insisted Wednesday it was prepared to pay tax in Vietnam after a government minister accused the streaming giant of dodging its obligations to the communist nation.

Philippines bans new coal-fired projects

By declaring a moratorium on the construction of greenfield coal power plants in a statement issued on 27 October, the Philippines has announced intent to follow other Asia Pacific countries into a green future.

Chinese shoppers spend over $100 billion in shopping fest

Chinese consumers spent over a hundred billion dollars during this year's Singles' Day shopping festival, signaling a rebound in consumption as China recovers from the coronavirus pandemic and a battering of the economy.

Airline alliances urge testing over quarantines

Three global airline alliances are urging governments to put into practice common guidelines for passenger testing and digital health pass technology, to help people start flying again.

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