Science X Newsletter Wednesday, Nov 18

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for November 18, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

A robot that can track specific people and follow them around

A technique to over-dope graphene beyond the van Hove singularity

Teaching and complex tools 'evolved together'

Solar device can sterilize medical tools in off-grid areas without the need for electricity

Lurking in genomic shadows: How giant viruses fuel the evolution of algae

Versatile building blocks make structures with surprising mechanical properties

Curved origami provides new range of stiffness-to-flexibility in robots

Deep learning helps robots grasp and move objects with ease

Five new dwarf galaxies detected around M63

In the mysterious Blue Ring Nebula, scientists see the fate of binary stars

Microsoft teams with chip makers on new super secure processor

In the Amazon's 'sand forests,' birds play by different evolutionary rules

New analysis refutes claim that dinosaurs were in decline before asteroid hit

Researchers hacked a robotic vacuum cleaner to record speech and music remotely

Small differences, big impact: A Hox paradigm for studying protein evolution

Physics news

Oil droplet predators chase oil droplet prey

Oil droplets can be made to act like predators, chasing down other droplets that flee like prey. The behavior, which is controlled by chemical signaling produced by the droplets, mimics behavior seen among living organisms but, until now, had not been recreated in synthetic systems. This tunable chemical system could potentially serve a model to help understand interactions in many-body systems such as schools of fish, bacterial colonies, or swarms of insects.

Faster magnetic switch with lower energy consumption developed

Magnetic materials are ubiquitous in modern society, present in nearly all the technological devices we use every day. In particular, personal electronics like smartphones/watches, tablets, and desktop computers all rely on magnetic material to store information. Information in modern devices is stored in long chains of 1's and 0's, in the binary number system used as the language of computers.

Researchers establish proof of principle in superconductor study

Three physicists in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, together with their colleagues from the Southern University of Science and Technology and Sun Yat-sen University in China, have successfully modified a semiconductor to create a superconductor.

A new understanding of ionic interactions with graphene and water

A research team led by Northwestern University engineers and Argonne National Laboratory researchers have uncovered new findings into the role of ionic interaction within graphene and water. The insights could inform the design of new energy-efficient electrodes for batteries or provide the backbone ionic materials for neuromorphic computing applications.

Researchers describe fundamental processes behind movement of magnetic particles

The motion of magnetic particles as they pass through a magnetic field is called magnetophoresis. Until now, not much was known about the factors influencing these particles and their movement. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago describe several fundamental processes associated with the motion of magnetic particles through fluids as they are pulled by a magnetic field.

Physicists use computer simulation to investigate aging in living glassy systems

Aging is a process that affects not only living beings. Many materials, like plastics and glasses, also age—i.e. they change slowly over time as their particles try to pack better—and there are already computer models to describe this. Biological materials, such as living tissue, can show similar behavior to glasses except that the particles are actual cells or bacteria which have their own propulsion. Researchers at the University of Göttingen have now used computer simulations to explore the aging behavior of these "living" glassy systems. There was a surprise in that the activity of the particles can actually drive aging, which has potential consequences for a number of applications. Their research was published in Physical Review Letters.

Small finlets on owl feathers point the way to less aircraft noise

A recent research study conducted by City, University of London's Professor Christoph Bruecker and his team has revealed how micro-structured finlets on owl feathers enable silent flight and may show the way forward in reducing aircraft noise in future.

Astronomy and Space news

Five new dwarf galaxies detected around M63

Using an amateur 0.14-m aperture telescope, astronomers have observed a nearby spiral galaxy known as M63 (or NGC 5055). The observations identified the presence of five faint dwarf galaxies around M63 and allowed the researchers to determine their basic parameters. The finding is reported in a paper published November 10 on

In the mysterious Blue Ring Nebula, scientists see the fate of binary stars

Scientists have discovered a rare object called the Blue Ring Nebula, a ring of hydrogen gas with a star at its center. The properties of this system suggest it is the remnant of two stars meeting their ultimate demise: an inward orbital dance that resulted in the two stars merging. The result offers a new window into the fate of many tightly orbiting binary star systems.

Will small rockets finally lift off?

The boom in demand for placing small satellites into orbit has boosted interest in small rockets, but industry players do not think the niche will become a business segment of its own.

Ten times more hyper-luminous galaxies observed than stars can produce

A team of astronomers led by SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research has observed 10 times more hyper-luminous galaxies in the infrared than stars can produce according to the models. If the theory is correct, it means that stars alone cannot account for the brightness of the most luminous infrared galaxies. The paper was published in a special issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Spacewalking astronauts prep for 2021 arrival of Russian lab

The International Space Station's two Russian astronauts began spacewalking work Wednesday to prepare for next year's arrival of a long-delayed lab, but had to scrap another chore because of a stubborn bolt.

ExoMars parachute testing moves forward

The parachute system that will help deliver the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover to Mars has completed the first full-scale high altitude drop test with redesigned elements following two unsuccessful tests last year. Parachute extraction and deceleration proceeded as expected, the test vehicle landed safely and the test parachutes were recovered. However, some canopy damage occurred, pointing to the early inflation process for the focus of further improvements.

Astronomers' success: Seven new cosmic masers

A group of astronomers from Toruń in Poland have successfully completed a survey of the Milky Way plane. They searched for gas clouds, where there was a maser reinforcement of the OH molecule. They saw seven new sources - each of them brings scientists closer to the process by which massive stars are born. "It is like listening to the buzzing of a mosquito during a loud concert," backstage observations are recapitulated by Prof. Anna Bartkiewicz.

Swedish space instrument participates in the search for life around Jupiter

The Swedish-led satellite instrument Particle Environment Package (PEP) will help researchers at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) to understand how three of Jupiter's icy moons are affected by the particles around Jupiter and search for the pre-conditions for life. After 14 years of work, the instrument is ready to take its place on ESA's Jupiter spacecraft JUICE.

A record close shave: Asteroid 2020 VT4 just skimmed by Earth

Wow. A low-flying space rock set a record last Friday (appropriately, the 13th), when 2020 VT4 passed just under 400 kilometers (250 miles) over the Southern Pacific.

The 'Workspace of the future,' vizLab will unlock the secrets of the universe

In a refurbished Southern California garage, Carnegie astrophysicists are creating the scientific, virtual reality-enabled workspace of the future where they will unlock the mysteries of the cosmos.

Technology news

A robot that can track specific people and follow them around

Telling humans apart and following them as they move in their surrounding environment could be two highly valuable skills for service robots. In fact, when combined, these two capabilities would allow robots to follow specific people as they are interacting with them or offering their assistance.

Solar device can sterilize medical tools in off-grid areas without the need for electricity

Autoclaves, the devices used to sterilize medical tools in hospitals, clinics, and doctors' and dentists' offices, require a steady supply of pressurized steam at a temperature of about 125 degrees Celsius. This is usually provided by electrical or fuel-powered boilers, but in many rural areas, especially in the developing world, power can be unreliable or unavailable, and fuel is expensive.

Curved origami provides new range of stiffness-to-flexibility in robots

New research that employs curved origami structures has dramatic implications in the development of robotics going forward, providing tunable flexibility—the ability to adjust stiffness based on function—that historically has been difficult to achieve using simple design.

Deep learning helps robots grasp and move objects with ease

In the past year, lockdowns and other COVID-19 safety measures have made online shopping more popular than ever, but the skyrocketing demand is leaving many retailers struggling to fulfill orders while ensuring the safety of their warehouse employees.

Microsoft teams with chip makers on new super secure processor

Microsoft unveiled a new chip design Tuesday that it says will usher in a new era of security on Windows PCs.

Researchers hacked a robotic vacuum cleaner to record speech and music remotely

A team of researchers demonstrated that popular robotic household vacuum cleaners can be remotely hacked to act as microphones.

Upgraded radar can enable self-driving cars to see clearly no matter the weather

A new kind of radar could make it possible for self-driving cars to navigate safely in bad weather. Electrical engineers at the University of California San Diego developed a clever way to improve the imaging capability of existing radar sensors so that they accurately predict the shape and size of objects in the scene. The system worked well when tested at night and in foggy conditions.

New electronic chip delivers smarter, light-powered AI

Researchers have developed artificial intelligence technology that brings together imaging, processing, machine learning and memory in one electronic chip, powered by light.

Study identifies reasons for soaring nuclear plant cost overruns in the US

A new analysis by MIT researchers details many of the underlying issues that have caused cost overruns on new nuclear power plants in the U.S., which have soared ever higher over the last five decades. The new findings may help the designers of new plants build in resilience to the factors that tend to cause these overruns, thus helping to bring down the costs of such plants.

For neural research, wireless chip shines light on the brain

Researchers have developed a chip that is powered wirelessly and can be surgically implanted to read neural signals and stimulate the brain with both light and electrical current. The technology has been demonstrated successfully in rats and is designed for use as a research tool.

Biological engineer outlines state of robot hands and makes suggestions for the future

Subramanian Sundaram, a biological engineer affiliated with both Boston University and Harvard has been looking into the current state of robot hands and proposed ideas regarding where new research might be heading. He has published a Perspective piece in the journal Science outlining the current state of robotic hand engineering.

Novel magnetic spray transforms objects into millirobots for biomedical applications

Researchers in a joint research project led by a scientist from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) have developed an easy way to make millirobots, by coating objects with a glue-like, magnetic spray. Driven by the magnetic field, the coated objects can crawl, walk or roll on surfaces. As the magnetic coating is biocompatible and can be disintegrated into powders when needed, this technology demonstrates the potential for biomedical applications, including catheter navigation and drug delivery.

New semiconductor coating may pave way for future green fuels

Hydrogen gas and methanol for fuel cells, or as raw materials for the chemicals industry, for example, could be produced more sustainably using sunlight, a new Uppsala University study shows. In this study, researchers have developed a new coating material for semiconductors that may create new opportunities to produce fuels in processes that combine direct sunlight with electricity. The study is published in Nature Communications.

Printable, high-performance solid-state electrolyte films for next-generation batteries

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices, electric vehicles, and grid-scale energy storage systems. Safety of Li-ion batteries, however, has been called into question repeatedly over the past several years due to a conventional organic electrolyte causing fire and explosion in many cases. Ceramic solid-state electrolyte (SSE) thin films promise a viable solution to addressing the safety issue by blocking the lithium dendrite that causes short circuit and thermal runaway, meanwhile offering high energy density for next-generation Li-ion batteries. However, current SSE thin films have low ionic conductivities, ranging from 10-8 to 10-5 S/cm, which can be attributed to poor material quality.

New test reveals AI still lacks common sense

Natural language processing (NLP) has taken great strides recently—but how much does AI understand of what it reads? Less than we thought, according to researchers at USC's Department of Computer Science. In a recent paper Assistant Professor Xiang Ren and Ph.D. student Yuchen Lin found that despite advances, AI still doesn't have the common sense needed to generate plausible sentences.

NREL advanced manufacturing research moves wind turbine blades toward recyclability

A new material for wind blades that can be recycled could transform the wind industry, rendering renewable energy more sustainable than ever before while lowering costs in the process.

UK to ban gasoline car sales by 2030 as part of green plan

Britain will ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2030, a decade earlier than its previous commitment, the prime minister said Tuesday.

Boeing Max cleared for takeoff, 2 years after deadly crashes

After nearly two years and a pair of deadly crashes, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has cleared Boeing's 737 Max for flight.

Boom in demand for friendly hackers as 5G approaches

As the number of online devices surges and superfast 5G connections roll out, record numbers of companies are offering handsome rewards to ethical hackers who successfully attack their cybersecurity systems.

Panasonic teams up with Norwegian firms for Europe battery business

Japan's Panasonic said Wednesday it has signed a partnership with two Norwegian firms to develop a "green battery" business targeting the European market, including for electric cars.

Bracing for busier skies with drone traffic management research

Over eight days of testing, 369 drone flights launched and landed at a rural test site outside Blacksburg. In a slice of airspace that covered less than a quarter of a mile, as many as 12 aircraft were sometimes flying at once. These flights were dense by design, choreographed to answer a question that's increasingly crucial to drone integration: How can drones share the air without bumping shoulders?

Apple changes course on app store, cuts fees for small developers

Apple said Wednesday it would cut in half its App Store fees for small developers, moving in the face of lawsuits over its 30 percent commission and increased antitrust scrutiny of the online marketplace.

The role of drones in 5G network security

The introduction of the fifth generation mobile network, or 5G, will change the way we communicate, multiply the capacity of the information highways, and allow everyday objects to connect to each other in real time. Its deployment constitutes a true technological revolution not without some security hazards. Until 5G technology has definitively expanded, some challenges remain to be resolved, including those concerning possible eavesdropping, interference and identity theft.

Former Yahoo CEO Mayer makes comeback with new contacts app

Former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer began her comeback to the tech scene Wednesday with the launch of a new mobile app aimed at helping people organize their contacts.

Lyft's 'Emergency Help' feature lets users silently alert unsafe rides in real time

Lyft users can now discreetly call emergency help if they feel unsafe with a driver or rider.

Researcher aids in the development of a pathway to solve cybersickness

Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Neuroimaging Center at NYU Abu Dhabi Bas Rokers and a team of researchers have evaluated the state of research on cybersickness and formulated a research and development agenda to eliminate cybersickness, allowing for broader adoption of immersive technologies.

Machine learning uncovers missing information about ethnicity and Aboriginal status in population health data: study

Machine learning can be used to fill a significant gap in Canadian public health data related to ethnicity and Aboriginal status, according to research published today in PLOS ONE by a University of Alberta research epidemiologist.

State commits to wind energy for 3.2M, eyes onshore sites

New Jersey formally committed itself Wednesday to using offshore wind energy to power 3.2 million homes and will study the best ways to get that electricity from ocean turbines to communities where it is needed.

Apple to pay $113 mn to US states over iPhone battery complaints

Apple has agreed to pay $113 million to settle litigation with more than 30 US states over its slowdown in performance of older iPhones to manage battery power.

Google to integrate bank accounts in payments app

A Google bank account?

European car sales swerve lower

European car sales swerved lower again in October, industry data showed Wednesday, as countries began to tighten restrictions on businesses to battle the spread of coronavirus infections.

Canada proposes major fines on firms that violate privacy laws

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday presented a draft law that would impose major fines on companies that violate privacy law by misusing the personal data of their customers.

Low-cost Norwegian Air Shuttle files for bankruptcy protection

Fighting for survival, low-cost Norwegian Air Shuttle filed for bankruptcy protection in Ireland on Wednesday for two of its main subsidiaries in a bid to shield itself from creditors long enough to find a solution for a financial restructuring.

The Boeing 737 MAX—your next flight?

US regulatory agency FAA on Wednesday authorized Boeing's 737 MAX to return to the skies following its grounding after two deadly crashes, but it will still be weeks before the plane is put back into service.

Fintech works to elevate minority leaders as users diversify

Data is beginning to show that communities historically cut off from banking and investing are using financial technology to increase access. Now, industry leaders are calling for more diverse perspectives in top leadership roles to help drive that progress.

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