Science X Newsletter Monday, Dec 14

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for December 14, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Are primordial magnetic field theories getting in a twist?

An open-source and low-cost robotic arm for online education

Study explores a unique filament of the Cygnus X complex

Physicists create time-reversed optical waves

Scientists recruit new atomic heavyweights in targeted fight against cancer

Silica the best environmental alternative to plastic microbeads, study finds

Mapping corals from the sky guides reef conservation

Critical temperature for tropical tree lifespan revealed

Ancient DNA continues to rewrite corn's 9,000-year society-shaping history

How computer simulation will accelerate development of human-interactive 'smart robots'

Magnetically controlled, hydrogel-based smart transformers

'Magic' angle graphene and the creation of unexpected topological quantum states

'Lost connection' hampers Virgin Galactic's test flight (Update)

Carrots are healthy, but active enzyme unlocks full benefits

Chinese capsule with moon rocks begins return to Earth

Physics news

Are primordial magnetic field theories getting in a twist?

In cosmic voids where the density of galaxies is far lower than standard, astronomers have observed weak magnetic fields that may provide a window into the early universe. The fields 10-17-10-10 G in magnitude with large coherence lengths of up to megaparsecs are thought to have their origins in the early universe, but so far it is unclear when or how they were generated. One hypothesis is that an imbalance in the numbers of "left-handed" and "right-handed" fermions may be at the heart of it, as this could give rise to helical magnetic fields. But so far there has been no detailed analysis as to how the evolution of the numbers of left- and right-handed fermions might stack up against this hypothesis. Now a collaboration of researchers in Europe report a more rigorous analysis of this chirality imbalance with surprising results.

Physicists create time-reversed optical waves

Optics researchers from The University of Queensland and Nokia Bell Labs in the US have developed a new technique to demonstrate the time reversal of optical waves, which could transform the fields of advanced biomedical imaging and telecommunications.

'Magic' angle graphene and the creation of unexpected topological quantum states

Electrons inhabit a strange and topsy-turvy world. These infinitesimally small particles have never ceased to amaze and mystify despite the more than a century that scientists have studied them. Now, in an even more amazing twist, physicists have discovered that, under certain conditions, interacting electrons can create what are called 'topological quantum states.' This finding, which was recently published in the journal Nature, has implications for many technological fields of study, especially information technology.

Righting a wrong, nuclear physicists improve precision of neutrino studies

Led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a new study clears up a discrepancy regarding the biggest contributor of unwanted background signals in specialized detectors of neutrinos. Better characterization of background could improve current and future experiments to detect real signals from these weakly interacting, electrically neutral subatomic particles and understand their role in the universe.

Controlling the speed of light bullets

Though it sounds like something straight out of science fiction, controlling the speed of light has in fact been a long-standing challenge for physicists. In a study recently published in Communications Physics, researchers from Osaka University generated light bullets with highly controllable velocities.

Researchers pinpoint more precise method for atomic-level manufacturing

Quantum computers have the potential to transform fields such as medicine, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence by solving hard optimization problems that are beyond the reach of conventional computing hardware.

Physics discovery leads to ballistic optical materials

Electronics are increasingly being paired with optical systems, such as when accessing the internet on an electronically run computer through fiber optic cables.

Acoustic plasmons found in hole-doped cuprate superconductors

The presence of acoustic plasmons in p-type (hole-doped) cuprate superconductors has now been confirmed by Dr. Ke-Jin Zhou and his team using high-resolution RIXS (Resonant Inelastic X-ray Scattering), at Diamond Light Source's I21 beamline. This discovery described in their recently published paper in Physical Review Letters opens up new opportunities to study and understand these collective charge excitations and their role in superconductivity. This may make it possible to design very-high-temperature superconductors, which lend themselves to practical applications such as highly-efficient energy transmission.

High-brightness source of coherent light spanning from the UV to THz

Analytical optical methods are vital to our modern society as they permit the fast and secure identification of substances within solids, liquids or gases. These methods rely on light interacting with each of these substances differently at different parts of the optical spectrum. For instance, the ultraviolet range of the spectrum can directly access electronic transitions inside a substance while the terahertz is very sensitive to molecular vibrations.

Quantum interference in time

Since the very beginning of quantum physics, a hundred years ago, it has been known that all particles in the universe fall into two categories: fermions and bosons. For instance, the protons found in atomic nuclei are fermions, while bosons include photons—which are particles of light- as well as the BroutEnglert-Higgs boson, for which François Englert, a professor at ULB, was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013.

Massive underground instrument finds final secret of our sun's fusion

A hyper-sensitive instrument, deep underground in Italy, has finally succeeded at the nearly impossible task of detecting CNO neutrinos (tiny particles pointing to the presence of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) from our sun's core. These little-known particles reveal the last missing detail of the fusion cycle powering our sun and other stars.

Astronomy and Space news

Study explores a unique filament of the Cygnus X complex

Using the Shanghai 65-m TianMa Radio Telescope (TMRT), Chinese astronomers have investigated a gas filaments of the Cygnus X molecular cloud complex known as DR21SF. Results of the new study, presented in a paper published December 4, shed more light on the properties of this unique structure.

'Lost connection' hampers Virgin Galactic's test flight (Update)

A Virgin Galactic test flight Saturday ended prematurely as the spacecraft's rocket motor failed to ignite and it then glided down safely to its landing site in southern New Mexico.

Chinese capsule with moon rocks begins return to Earth

A Chinese space capsule bringing back the first moon rocks in more than four decades started its three-day return to Earth on Sunday.

A young but completely evolved entirely self-made galaxy

So young and already so evolved: Thanks to observations obtained at the Large Binocular Telescope, an international team of researchers coordinated by Paolo Saracco of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF, Italy) was able to reconstruct the wild evolutionary history of an extremely massive galaxy that existed 12 billion years ago, when the universe was only 1.8 billion years old, less than 13% of its present age. This galaxy, dubbed C1-23152, formed in only 500 million years, an incredibly short time to give rise to a mass of about 200 billion suns. To do so, it produced as many as 450 stars per year, more than one per day, a star formation rate almost 300 times higher than the current rate in the Milky Way. The information obtained from this study will be fundamental for galaxy formation models for objects it for which it is currently difficult to account.

Direct image of newly discovered brown dwarf captured

Astronomers using two Maunakea Observatories—Subaru Telescope and W. M. Keck Observatory—have discovered a key benchmark brown dwarf orbiting a sun-like star just 86 light-years from Earth that provides a key reference point for understanding the properties of the first directly-imaged exoplanets.

Black 'sand-like' asteroid dust found in box from Japan probe

Black sandy dust found in a capsule brought to Earth by a Japanese space probe is from the distant asteroid Ryugu, scientists confirmed after opening it on Monday.

Chile awaits total eclipse of the sun as Covid restrictions rise

Chileans will turn their eyes to the sky on Monday to admire a total eclipse of the sun, but unlike last year's phenomenon their numbers will be severely reduced by coronavirus restrictions.

Russia stages 'successful' second launch of new rocket

Russia on Monday conducted a second launch of its new heavy-class Angara rocket—the first developed after the fall of the Soviet Union—nearly six years after its maiden voyage.

Is there a way to detect strange quark stars even though they look like white dwarfs?

Matter is built around quarks, forming the nuclei of the atoms and molecules. While there are six types of quarks, regular matter contains only two: up quarks and down quarks. Protons contain two ups and a down, while neutrons contain two downs and an up. On Earth, the other four types are only seen when created in particle accelerators. But some of them could also appear naturally in dense objects such as neutron stars.

Hibernating lemurs may be the key to cryogenic sleep for human space travel

Science fiction is shifting into reality. With humanity's plans to return to the moon this decade and further ambitions to travel to Mars in the next, we need to figure out how to keep astronauts healthy for these years-long missions. One solution long championed by science fiction is suspended animation, or putting humans in a hibernation-like sleep for the duration of travel time.

Venus was once more Earth-like, but climate change made it uninhabitable

We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of 450℃ (the temperature of an oven's self-cleaning cycle) and an atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide (96 percent) with a density 90 times that of Earth's.

Indonesia wants to lure SpaceX to build rocket launch site

Indonesia has invited Tesla boss Elon Musk to build a launch site for his SpaceX's rocket in the Southeast Asian country, pointing out the benefits of a location next to the equator, officials said.

Artificial intelligence sets sights on the sun

Scientists from the University of Graz and the Kanzelhöhe Solar Observatory (Austria) and their colleagues from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) developed a new method based on deep learning for stable classification and quantification of image quality in ground-based full-disk solar images. The research results were published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and are available via open access.

Solar eclipse plunges southern Chile, Argentina into darkness

Thousands of people turned their heads to the sky to watch a solar eclipse that lasted around two minutes on Monday as southern Chile and Argentina were plunged into darkness.

Galactic archaeology: Astronomers are using stars as fossils to study the Milky Way

Our Milky Way is thought to be home to as many as 400 billion stars, one of which is, of course, our own sun. But how and when did these stars form, and where did they come from?

Technology news

An open-source and low-cost robotic arm for online education

Researchers at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico have recently created a low-cost robotic arm that could enhance online robotics education, allowing teachers to remotely demonstrate theoretical concepts explained during their lessons. This robotic arm, presented in a paper published in Hardware X, is fully open source and can be easily assembled by all teachers and educators worldwide.

How computer simulation will accelerate development of human-interactive 'smart robots'

Jeffrey C. Trinkle has always had a keen interest in robot hands. And, though it may be a long way off, Trinkle, who has studied robotics for more than thirty years, says he's most compelled by the prospect of robots performing "dexterous manipulation" at the level of a human "or beyond."

AI can predict Twitter users likely to spread disinformation before they do it

A new artificial intelligence-based algorithm that can accurately predict which Twitter users will spread disinformation before they actually do it has been developed by researchers from the University of Sheffield.

A cool advance in thermoelectric conversion

More than two-thirds of the energy used worldwide is ultimately ejected as "waste heat." Within that reservoir of discarded energy lies a great and largely untapped opportunity, claim scientists in MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE). As reported in a recent issue of Nature Communications, the MIT team—led by Assistant Professor Mingda Li, who heads NSE's Quantum Matter Group—has achieved a breakthrough in thermoelectric generation, which offers a direct means of converting thermal energy, including waste heat, into electricity.

Optical pre-processing makes computer vision more robust and energy efficient

Image analysis is ubiquitous in contemporary technology: from medical diagnostics to autonomous vehicles to facial recognition. Computers that use deep-learning convolutional neural networks—layers of algorithms that process images—have revolutionized computer vision.

High-rate Li-ion batteries demonstrate superior safety

As the inevitable growth of transport electrification continues, the types of batteries that will be used in such vehicles, their charging parameters, infrastructure and timeframes are key considerations that will speed up the transition to electrification.

Benefits of renewable energy vary from place to place

A new study from North Carolina State University finds that the environmental benefits of renewable power generation vary significantly, depending on the nature of the conventional power generation that the renewable energy is offsetting. The researchers hope the work will help target future renewable energy investments in places where they can do the most good.

Improving portraits by adding light after a picture was taken

Recently, Google introduced Portrait Light, a feature on its Pixel phones that can be used to enhance portraits by adding an external light source not present at the time the photo was taken. In a new blog post, Google explains how they made this possible.

Creating a realistic VR experience using a normal 360-degree camera

Scientists at the University of Bath have developed a quick and easy approach for capturing 360° VR photography without using expensive specialist cameras. The system uses a commercially available 360° camera on a rotating selfie stick to capture video footage and create an immersive VR experience.

An LED that can be integrated directly into computer chips

Light-emitting diodes—LEDs—can do way more than illuminate your living room. These light sources are useful microelectronics too.

Amazon's Zoox unveils autonomous electric vehicle

An autonomous vehicle company acquired this year by Amazon has unveiled a four-person "robo-taxi," a compact, multidirectional vehicle designed for dense, urban environments.

Oracle says it will move HQ from Silicon Valley to Texas

Tech giant Oracle Corp. said Friday it will move its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, and let many employees choose their office locations and decide whether to work from home.

Minnesota grants will prioritize EV charging solar panels

The next group of electric vehicle charging station grants from Minnesota's Volkswagen emissions-cheating settlement will prioritize projects that incorporate solar panels or other sources of local clean energy.

California to bring antitrust lawsuit against Google

California will join the US government and 11 other states in bringing lawsuits against Google for abusing its market dominance, the state's top prosecutor said Friday.

EU flexes muscle against big tech 'gatekeepers'

US tech giants such as Facebook and Google face unprecedented regulation in Europe, as the EU prepares to unveil landmark proposals that could change the face of life online.

US looking into possible Treasury Department computer hack

Hackers got into computers at the U.S. Treasury Department and possibly other federal agencies, touching off a government response involving the National Security Council.

US agencies hacked in monthslong global cyberspying campaign

U.S. government agencies were ordered to scour their networks for malware and disconnect potentially compromised servers after authorities learned that the Treasury and Commerce departments were hacked in a monthslong global cyberespionage campaign discovered when a prominent cybersecurity firm learned it had been breached.

Reddit snaps up TikTok rival Dubsmash

Reddit has acquired the Tik Tok-like app Dubsmash, both companies said Sunday, as big tech moves to carve out territory in the lucrative short-form video-sharing market.

Draft EU rules propose mammoth fines, bans for tech giants

Draft EU rules to be unveiled Tuesday would see tech giants face huge fines or banned from the market for breaches, sources said, posing a major challenge to the likes of Google and Facebook.

Buggy Cyberpunk 2077 shaves billions off company stock

Video game maker CD Projekt RED has lost billions in value since the ill-fated launch of its much-hyped Cyberpunk 2077 title last week, Monday stock figures showed.

Massive outage hits Google services worldwide

A massive outage knocked Google services including Gmail and video sharing platform YouTube offline across much of the globe Monday.

Warning over 'blind adoption' of AI and rights impact

People need stronger protection from the effects of artificial intelligence, the EU's rights agency argued in a report Monday, as one expert warned against the "blind adoption" of such technology.

Apple's greatest chip challenge yet: Replacing Qualcomm modems

Apple Inc. has become a chip powerhouse in the past decade, beating some of the semiconductor industry's leading companies at their own game. But the iPhone maker is embarking on its biggest challenge to date as it tries to replace Qualcomm Inc. cellular modems with its own design.

Amazon says latest wind and solar deals make it the world's largest corporate buyer of renewable energy

Amazon said it has become the world's largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy after signing agreements Thursday to purchase energy from 26 wind and solar projects around the world.

Apple's app stores open new privacy window for customers

Apple will begin spelling out what kinds of personal information is being collected by the digital services displayed in its app stores for iPhones and other products made by the trendsetting company.

US agencies, companies secure networks after huge hack

U.S. government agencies and private companies rushed Monday to secure their computer networks following the disclosure of a sophisticated and long-running cyber-espionage intrusion that experts said almost certainly was carried out by a foreign state.

Workers riot at India iPhone factory over 'exploitation' claims

Authorities vowed to crack down on workers who went on a violent rampage at a Taiwanese-run iPhone factory in southern India over allegations of unpaid wages and exploitation, with 100 people arrested so far.

China's Alibaba, Tencent unit fined under anti-monopoly law

China's market regulator on Monday said it fined Alibaba Group and a Tencent Holdings-backed company for failing to seek approval before proceeding with some acquisitions.

South Africa's electricity supply: what's tripping the switch

Eskom, South Africa's state-owned power utility, has a litany of financial and operational problems. In 2017 the Goldman Sachs Group declared it the biggest risk to the South African economy. Several cabinet members have said so too. President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that Eskom is "too big to fail."

Major Norway cruise line Hurtigruten hit by cyberattack

A Norwegian cruise company said Monday its systems have been hit by what it called "a comprehensive" ransomware virus data attack but stressed that it was not expected to have major financial consequences.

"Cyberpunk 2077" developers apologize for PS4, Xbox issues, says players can seek refunds

The developers of Cyberpunk 2077 apologized Monday for a series of bugs and crashes plaguing versions of the highly-anticipated video game for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Explainer: How bad is the hack that targeted US agencies?

Governments and major corporations worldwide are scrambling to see if they, too, were victims of a global cyberespionage campaign that penetrated multiple U.S. government agencies and involved a common software product used by thousands of organizations.

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