Science X Newsletter Friday, Nov 13

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for November 13, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

HAMLET: A platform to simplify AI research and development

Reviewing past neuroscience research that explores the neural mechanisms of aggression

Wolves alter wetland creation and recolonization by killing ecosystem engineers

In new step toward quantum tech, scientists synthesize 'bright' quantum bits

Solar system formed in less than 200,000 years

Holographic fluorescence imaging to 3-D track extracellular vesicles

Dynamic risk management in cell populations

Are the movements of tiny hairlike structures a key to our health?

In-utero exposure to coronavirus pandemic could cause developmental difficulties, accelerated aging in the century ahead

Once-discounted binding mechanism may be key to targeting viruses

'Rewiring' metabolism in insulin-producing cells may aid type 2 diabetes treatment

Novel insights on cellular suicide could provide new avenues for cancer therapies

Pearls may provide new information processing options for biomedical, military innovations

Painstaking race against time to uncover Viking ship's secrets

Scientists discover new family of quasiparticles in graphene-based materials

Physics news

In new step toward quantum tech, scientists synthesize 'bright' quantum bits

With their ability to harness the strange powers of quantum mechanics, qubits are the basis for potentially world-changing technologies—like powerful new types of computers or ultra-precise sensors.

Holographic fluorescence imaging to 3-D track extracellular vesicles

Biologists commonly use fluorescence microscopy due to the molecular specificity and super-resolution of the technique. However, the method is withheld by imaging limits. In a new report on Science Advances, Matz Liebel and a research team at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Spain and the U.S. reported an imaging approach to recover the full electric field of fluorescent light using single-molecule sensitivity. The team experimented with the concept of digital holography for fast fluorescence detection by tracking the three-dimensional (3-D) trajectory of individual nanoparticles using an in-plane resolution of 15 nanometers. As proof-of-concept biological applications, the researchers imaged the 3-D motion of extracellular vesicles inside live cells.

Researchers create MRI-like technique for imaging magnetic waves

A team of researchers from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), Leiden University, Tohoku University and the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter has developed a new type of MRI scanner that can image waves in ultrathin magnets. Unlike electrical currents, these so-called spin waves produce little heat, making them promising signal carriers for future green ICT applications.

Dark matter candidate could display stringy effects in the lab

A hypothetical particle that could solve one of the biggest puzzles in cosmology just got a little less mysterious. A RIKEN physicist and two colleagues have revealed the mathematical underpinnings that could explain how so-called axions might generate string-like entities that create a strange voltage in lab materials.

Researchers describe a new beam scanning device utilizing 'photonic crystals

Scanning lasers—from barcode scanners at the supermarket to cameras on newer smartphones—are an indispensable part of our daily lives, relying on lasers and detectors for pinpoint precision.

CCNY team in quantum algorithm breakthrough

Researchers led by City College of New York physicist Pouyan Ghaemi report the development of a quantum algorithm with the potential to study a class of many-electron quantums system using quantum computers. Their paper, entitled "Creating and Manipulating a Laughlin-Type ν=1/3 Fractional Quantum Hall State on a Quantum Computer with Linear Depth Circuits," appears in the December issue of PRX Quantum, a journal of the American Physical Society.

In-plane antiferromagnets host a rich class of particle-like spin textures

Compared with the chiral spin textures in ferromagnets, their antiferromagnetic counterparts can be manipulated by spin currents with a more direct approach due to the absence of the skyrmion Hall effect, and much lower power consumption, as well. So far, most research has focused on isolated excitation in perpendicular antiferromagnetic spin systems, for example, skyrmion solitons. Meanwhile, the characteristics and the related physics of its in-plane analog, the bimeron, remain elusive.

Japan Nobel laureate Koshiba who found neutrinos dies at 94

Japanese astrophysicist Masatoshi Koshiba, a co-winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in physics for confirming the existence of elementary particles called neutrinos, has died. He was 94.

Novel quantum dots facilitate coupling to quantum memory systems

Researchers at the University of Basel and Ruhr-Universität Bochum have realized quantum dots—tiny semiconductor nanostructures—that emit light close to the red part of the spectrum with ultra-low background noise. Quantum dots might one day constitute the basis for quantum computers; the light particles, also called photons, would then serve as information carriers. Quantum dots with adequate optical properties had previously only been obtained for photons with wavelengths in the near-infrared range. Now, the researchers have succeeded in creating low-noise states at wavelengths between 700 and 800 nanometres, i.e. close to the visible red range. This would, for example, enable coupling to other photonic systems. They outline their findings in the journal Nature Communications from 21 September 2020.

Handles and holes in abstract spaces: How a material conducts electricity better

A sphere and a cube can be deformed into one another without cuts or stitches. A mug and a glass cannot because, to deform the first into the second, the handle needs to be broken. Topology is the branch of mathematics that formalizes this difference between mugs and glasses, extending it also to abstract spaces with many dimensions. A new theory developed by scientists at SISSA in Trieste has succeeded in establishing a new relationship between the presence or absence of 'handles' in the space of the arrangements of atoms and molecules that make up a material, and the propensity of the latter to conduct electricity. According to this theory, the insulating materials 'equipped with handles' can conduct electricity as well as metals, while retaining typical properties of insulators, such as transparency.

Astronomy and Space news

Solar system formed in less than 200,000 years

A long time ago—roughly 4.5 billion years—our sun and solar system formed over the short time span of 200,000 years. That is the conclusion of a group of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists after looking at isotopes of the element molybdenum found on meteorites.

Earth may have captured a stray 1960s-era rocket booster

Earth has captured a tiny object from its orbit around the sun and will keep it as a temporary satellite for a few months before it escapes back to a solar orbit. But the object is likely not an asteroid; it's probably the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that helped lift NASA's ill-fated Surveyor 2 spacecraft toward the moon in 1966.

Family tree of the Milky Way deciphered

Scientists have known for some time that galaxies can grow by the merging of smaller galaxies, but the ancestry of our own Milky Way galaxy has been a long-standing mystery. Now, an international team of astrophysicists has succeeded in reconstructing the first complete family tree of our home galaxy by analyzing the properties of globular clusters orbiting the Milky Way with artificial intelligence. The work is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Apophis asteroid might be more likely to strike Earth in 2068 than thought

David Tholen, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, recently reported on the status of asteroid Apophis during a virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences. During his presentation, he outlined research he and his team conducted regarding the path of the asteroid and the likelihood that it will strike Earth.

Aurora-chasing citizen scientists help discover a new feature of STEVE

In 2018, a new aurora-like discovery struck the world. From 2015 to 2016, citizen scientists reported 30 instances of a purple ribbon in the sky, with a green picket fence structure underneath. Now named STEVE, or Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, this phenomenon is still new to scientists, who are working to understand all its details. What they do know is that STEVE is not a normal aurora—some think maybe it's not an aurora at all—and a new finding about the formation of streaks within the structure brings scientists one step closer to solving the mystery.

Ariel moves from blueprint to reality

ESA's exoplanet mission Ariel, scheduled for launch in 2029, has moved from study to implementation phase, following which an industrial contractor will be selected to build the spacecraft.

Surprisingly little water has escaped to space from Venus, study finds

On 13 November Moa Persson, Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) and Umeå University, will defend her doctoral thesis. Her thesis shows that only a small part of the historical water content on Venus has been lost to space over the past 4 billion years. This is much less than researchers previously thought.

Cosmic furnace seen by X-ray observatory

This burst of color shows a fascinating discovery: a galaxy cluster acting as a cosmic furnace. The cluster is heating the material within to hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius—well over 25 times hotter than the core of the sun.

SpaceX-NASA launch postponed to Sunday due to weather

NASA on Friday said the planned launch of a crewed SpaceX vessel to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday had to be postponed by a day due to inclement weather.

Potential plumes on Europa could come from water in the crust

Plumes of water vapor that may be venting into space from Jupiter's moon Europa could come from within the icy crust itself, according to new research. A model outlines a process for brine, or salt-enriched water, moving around within the moon's shell and eventually forming pockets of water—even more concentrated with salt—that could erupt.

Preparing for a human mission to Mars

Future human missions to Mars depend on field research in an environment similar to that of Mars. It will enable the evaluation of operational concepts and optimization of strategies. The goals and results of the AMADEE-18 Mars analog mission are detailed in a special collection of articles in the peer-reviewed journal Astrobiology.

Heat and dust help launch Martian water into space, scientists find

Scientists using an instrument aboard NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, spacecraft have discovered that water vapor near the surface of the Red Planet is lofted higher into the atmosphere than anyone expected was possible. There, it is easily destroyed by electrically charged gas particles—or ions—and lost to space.

Technology news

HAMLET: A platform to simplify AI research and development

Machine learning (ML) algorithms have proved to be highly valuable computational tools for tackling a variety of real-world problems, including image, audio and text classification tasks. Computer scientists worldwide are developing more of these algorithms every day; thus, keeping track of them and quickly finding or accessing those introduced in the past is becoming increasingly challenging.

Scientists use artificial intelligence to forecast large-scale traffic patterns more accurately

It's no secret that Los Angeles is notorious for its traffic jams, typically ranking first in studies of the nation's traffic hot spots. Estimates suggest that Angelinos spend an extra 120 hours a year stuck in them. While a nightmare for drivers, the L.A. transportation system does have its advantages if you're devising a new system to quickly predict and potentially redirect that traffic.

Artificial intelligence makes 'smart' apps faster, more efficient

Tired of Siri or Google Assistant draining your phone battery?

System brings deep learning to Internet of Things devices

Deep learning is everywhere. This branch of artificial intelligence curates your social media and serves your Google search results. Soon, deep learning could also check your vitals or set your thermostat. MIT researchers have developed a system that could bring deep learning neural networks to new—and much smaller—places, like the tiny computer chips in wearable medical devices, household appliances, and the 250 billion other objects that constitute the "internet of things" (IoT).

First digital single-chip millimeter-wave beamformer will exploit 5G capabilities

The first fully integrated single-chip digital millimeter-wave (MMW) beamformer, created by electrical and computer engineers at the University of Michigan, opens up new possibilities in high-frequency 5G communications. The technology could be used to improve vehicle-to-vehicle communication, autonomous driving, satellite internet, and national defense, to name a few.

New green materials could power smart devices using ambient light

We are increasingly using more smart devices like smartphones, smart speakers, and wearable health and wellness sensors in our homes, offices, and public buildings. However, the batteries they use can deplete quickly and contain toxic and rare environmentally damaging chemicals, so researchers are looking for better ways to power the devices.

New fiber optic sensors transmit data up to 100 times faster

Fiber optic sensors—used in critical applications like detecting fires in tunnels, pinpointing leaks in pipelines and predicting landslides—are about to get even faster and more accurate.

Machine learning for making machines: Applying visual search to mechanical parts

Computer vision researchers use machine learning to train computers in visually recognizing objects—but very few apply machine learning to mechanical parts such as gearboxes, bearings, brakes, clutches, motors, nuts, bolts and washers.

Electrophone: The Victorian-era gadget that was a precursor to live-streaming

As the battle against COVID-19 continues to rage, the plight of Britain's theaters, which have suffered catastrophic financial strain thanks to lockdown, continues to rumble through the arts world. Theaters were forced to close at the end of March and, with few exceptions, have remained closed since. These venues must decide whether reopening when the latest lockdown eases will be viable, thanks to the very real prospect of continuing social distancing measures which make live performance almost impossible.

Alternative fuels originating either from renewable or circular-economy feedstock decrease particle number emission

Alternative fuels originating either from renewable or circular-economy feedstock will not bring penalties in terms of number-based particle emissions in high- or medium-speed non-road engines. This is a conclusion of Teemu Ovaska's doctoral dissertation in the field of Energy Technology.

AI tool can distinguish between a conspiracy theory and a true conspiracy

The audio on the otherwise shaky body camera footage is unusually clear. As police officers search a handcuffed man who moments before had fired a shot inside a pizza parlor, an officer asks him why he was there. The man says to investigate a pedophile ring. Incredulous, the officer asks again. Another officer chimes in, "Pizzagate. He's talking about Pizzagate."

GM recalling nearly 69K Bolt electric cars due to fire risk

General Motors is recalling nearly 69,000 Chevrolet Bolt electric cars worldwide because the batteries have caught fire in five of them.

Vanish mode: Facebook introduces disappearing messages for Messenger, Instagram

Facebook is rolling out a new feature that makes messages disappear in Messenger and Instagram.

Instagram adds Reels, Shop tabs in its home screen, removes Search, Notifications tabs

Instagram redesigned its home screen to give users easy access to its Reels and Shop features instead of the Search tool and Notifications page.

TikTok gets reprieve as US holds off on enforcing ban

The US government announced Thursday it would delay enforcement of a ban on TikTok, saying it would comply with a court order in favor of the Chinese-owned social media sensation.

Nissan's $95 million suit against Ghosn begins in Japan

Proceedings in a $95 million lawsuit brought by Japanese car giant Nissan against its former chairman Carlos Ghosn began Friday in a court near Tokyo.

Twitter says flagged 300,000 'misleading' election tweets

Twitter labeled 300,000 tweets related to the US presidential election as "potentially misleading" in the two weeks surrounding the vote, making up 0.2 percent of election-related posts, the company said Thursday.

US airlines to end year with 90,000 fewer workers

Hit with a collapse of demand, US airlines will end the year with the lowest number of workers since at least 1987, 90,000 fewer than when Covid-19 hit, an industry federation said Thursday.

Pandemic hits Disney revenue, but streaming TV sees gains

Walt Disney Co. on Thursday reported a hefty loss in the just-ended quarter as the global pandemic hit its theme parks and cinema operations, but shares rose on gains in its new streaming television service.

FlyingCab acceptance study: When taxis conquer the skies

Fraunhofer IAO and Volocopter GmbH have joined forces in the FlyingCab acceptance study to analyze user opinion regarding flying taxis, which, among other things, will make transportation more individual and flexible. But just how enthusiastic are future users about the new mobility solution and the idea of navigating cities by air?

Microsoft: Russian, North Korean hackers target vaccine work

Microsoft said it has detected attempts by state-backed Russian and North Korean hackers to steal valuable data from leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers.

Delivery giant DoorDash plans IPO

Delivery giant DoorDash Inc. is planning to sell its stock to the public, capitalizing on the growing trend of consumers embracing app-based deliveries as much of the world stays home during the pandemic.

Turkey fines Google for abusing market dominance

Turkish regulators have fined Google 196.7 million Turkish liras ($25.5 million) for allegedly abusing its market dominance in online searches.

'Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War' review: A spy game worthy of your time, regardless of your video game system

The newest installment in the Call of Duty video game series, "Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War" drops you into the fight on two fronts: the Vietnam War and 1980s clandestine conflicts between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

US extends deadline for TikTok sale to Nov 27

US authorities have given the Chinese owner of TikTok two additional weeks to divest the social media sensation in order to resolve national security concerns voiced by President Donald Trump's administration.

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▼ Apple is astonishingly confident in its new M1 Mac processors

Apple's big Mac event delivered three new computers — a new MacBook Air, a new entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, and a new Mac mini. But really, it delivered one thing that those three computers have in common: the M1 chip. That's the official name for the Arm-based Apple Silicon the company is going to migrate all of its Mac computers over to.

Ahead of the event, I listed out ten things to watch for and though Apple didn't really go as deep as I would like, it did at least strafe all but two of them. We had wall-to-wall coverage at The Verge, and a good place to start is our article detailing the 5 biggest announcements from Apple's 'One More Thing' hardware event.

Here's my takeaway: Apple is astonishingly confident in this chip, these computers, and the software it has developed to ensure they all run well.

More after the links.

- Dieter

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More Apple news

┏ Apple HomePod mini review: playing small ball. Dan Seifert is impressed, but also notes that this thing requires that you and everybody you live with really be fully enmeshed in Apple ecosystem if you want to get the most out of it.

Fast-forward to now and Apple's new smart speaker, the $99 HomePod mini, takes a different approach. It's smaller, simpler, and way less expensive than its bigger sibling, and thanks to Apple's work on Siri over the past few years, it can actually do more than the original when it launched.

┏ Mac users couldn't launch apps this afternoon after Apple verification server issue. Quite a remarkable thing that happened! The idea that you can't launch the apps you downloaded on your computer because they can't check in with Apple to see if they're okay is, well, it's a thing. The fact that this thing involves software literally called "Gatekeeper" really does hit on the nose, don't it.

I could have many emotions about owning and controlling the computer you paid money for (and I do) and further emotions about whether and when it's appropriate for Apple to require code signing and other safety checks on Macs (and I do). Instead, I will just point out that these failures were egregious because when they happened, our Macs didn't tell us why things were broken. There was no clear indication of what was wrong nor was there an elegant fallback solution.

Things just mysteriously broke. The irony is that they mysteriously broke because Apple didn't sufficiently think through the mechanism that was design to protect the Apple ethos of ensuring bad things don't mysteriously break your computer.

┏ Apple might appease antitrust concerns by suggesting third-party apps to new iPhone owners.

┏ This leaked icon may show what Apple's rumored over-ear headphones look like.

┏ macOS Big Sur is now available to download. My advice: wait. That used to be the standard advice for all OS updates but in recent years it became a little more normal to install day one. This year the changes are big enough that I think it's safer to wait and see if your apps work well — or rather, to wait and let other people figure that out before you're forced to.

┏ Apple's 'One More Thing' Arm Mac event live blog.

┏ All the apps and games Apple promises for Arm-based Macs.

┏ Some of the new MacBook Air function keys have different functions. I'm particularly happy about this. One-button access to search is key for me (pun not intended), and I am glad that it's faster to get to Do Not Disturb. But making Dictation a top-level feature is a big win for accessibility and I hope that becomes more common across all keyboards.

More from The Verge

┏ Google Photos will end its free unlimited storage on June 1st, 2021. There has been lots of ire over this change, but I will give Google some credit for making it in a way that is transparent and not totally disruptive. The counter on your cap doesn't start until after June 1st and it only counts things you upload after that. Google is making more tools to give you transparency on what's eating your storage and clever ways to clear it out.

Still and all, Google Photos was a free product that pushed a lot of other excellent products out of the market. Then, after they were gone, Google begins charging. I'm not saying there's a direct cause and effect in that timeline, but it's hard not to look at the timeline and feel bad for any tech company that isn't one of the big ones.

┏ The best PS5 and Xbox Series X games to play at launch.

┏ PS5 media remote hands-on: simple, streamlined, safe. Andrew Webster:

I've spent a day or so using the remote and it's a nice little addition, although not all of the apps seem to be optimized for it. In the YouTube app, for instance, you'll see button prompts that reference the DualSense instead.

┏ Ring video doorbells recalled over fire concerns.

┏ Pope Francis urges followers to pray that AI and robots 'always serve mankind'. See also the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man."

┏ Inside the final days of Quibi. Julia Alexander and Zoe Schiffer:

There was the time Pitbull dropped by, dressed in a white linen suit, and employees craned their necks to get a peak. The time her boss hadn't been notified that Emily Blunt and Reese Witherspoon were in the office — an omission she called "the ultimate betrayal." The times she'd swiped Goldfish and Snapple for her commute, taking advantage of the heaps of free snacks, which also featured nitro cold brew and flavored seltzer.

Apple is astonishingly confident in its new M1 Mac processors

First, Apple is making battery claims that I would characterize as "bombastic at best" if they were applied to a laptop with an Intel chip inside. With this M1 chip, I have no frame of reference at all except for Apple's claims — which are substantial.

Apple claims 18 hours of video playback on the MacBook Air and 20 hours on the MacBook Pro. Video playback is a bad metric (especially since modern chips are optimized for it), so the real thing to note is those claims are significantly higher than what Apple claimed on their Intel-based predecessors: 6 more on the Air and nearly double on the Pro.

But to be blunt, I expected big battery claims from Apple. We already knew it was able to extract more performance per Watt than Intel can and that translates directly to battery life. What I was not expecting is just how bullish the company would be about performance.

Since the M1 is based on the Arm architecture, Apple needs an extra software layer to run apps designed for Intel chips — it's called Rosetta 2. The very idea of emulated x86 apps on an Arm processor gives me hives. The experience of emulated Intel apps inside Arm on Windows is not great. But Apple says that for certain graphically-intensive apps it can get better performance on an app running through Rosetta 2 than it did on an equivalent Intel chip.

More than that, after the event I expected to hear warnings about certain apps not working or heavy apps running a little slower when translated through Rosetta 2. Or at least a small lowering of expectations for performance on those apps. When Steve Jobs introduced the original Rosetta back in 2005, the slide behind him said it was "Fast (enough)."

This year? No such caveats. Apple is boldly putting forth an "it just works" message on these kinds of apps — which will make up a majority of the third party apps I think most people will be using in the first year or so of this transition.

Most of all, the fact that Apple has ceased selling the Intel version of the MacBook Air is what astonishes me. The Air is Apple's best-selling Mac by far and it is coming off a quarter where Apple made more money on Macs than it ever had before. Rather than hedge its bet, it's replacing its most popular computer with this new system.

I have to admit I made an error in my thinking ahead of the event about the base, 2-port 13-inch MacBook Pro. It wasn't moving the Pro to the new chip that would signal confidence, it was the Air, Apple's most popular laptop. My mistake is that I think of it more as an entry-level Pro machine when it's probably better to conceptualize it as a beefier version of the Air. That's certainly true with the new M1 version — the only significant performance difference is that the Pro has a fan. Apple continues to sell Intel versions of it, as well.

There's a lot more to say about these systems. The fact that they cap out at 16GB of RAM and two Thunderbolt ports doesn't faze me, for one thing. Apple is starting at the lower-end of its Mac lineup, so it felt there wasn't a need for more. I am confident future Apple chips will be able to support more.

I'm less sure what the plan will be for graphics. The M1 chip has an integrated GPU, and on Intel machines that usually means sub-par graphics. We'll need to see what the reviews for these machines say, but again Apple is exuding confidence. Going forward, though, I do wonder whether discrete GPUs are in the cards, especially since Apple is also touting the benefits of sharing RAM across both the CPU and GPU in its integrated system.

Those are all interesting questions, but Apple has two years to answer them — that's how long it says this transition will take. Right now the company is already selling and will soon be shipping these new computers. I can't wait to see if Apple's confidence is justified by the performance and battery life of these computers. If it is, the M1 chip will be a huge indictment of Intel, Qualcomm, and even Microsoft — each for different reasons.

It's been a long time since a company has both promised and then delivered a step-change improvement in laptop computers. As of this moment we have a big promise, now let's see if Apple can deliver.

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You are reading Processor, a newsletter about computers by Dieter Bohn. Dieter writes about consumer tech, software, and the most important news of the day from The Verge. This newsletter delivers about four times a week, at least a couple of which include longer essays.

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