Science X Newsletter Monday, May 3

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for May 3, 2021:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Examining how humans develop trust towards embodied virtual agents

Study investigates chemical properties of globular cluster NGC 1261

Human organ chips enable COVID-19 drug repurposing

A new way to make AR/VR glasses

New model can predict carbon cycle presence on exoplanets

SpaceX returns 4 astronauts to Earth; rare night splashdown

Baidu rolls out paid driverless taxi service in Beijing

Oceans' microscopic plants—diatoms—capture carbon dioxide via biophysical pathways

Study identifies unique characteristics of human neurons

Personalized medications possible with 3D printing

Deep space listening: 6000 hours of research to hear continuous gravitational waves

Same drug can have opposite effects on memory according to sexual differences

Light as a fairy tale: What makes a feel-good film feel good?

Researchers wirelessly record human brain activity during normal life activities

GM grass cleanses soil of toxic pollutants left by military explosives, new study shows

Physics news

A new way to make AR/VR glasses

"Image" is everything in the $20 billion market for AR/VR glasses. Consumers are looking for glasses that are compact and easy to wear, delivering high-quality imagery with socially acceptable optics that don't look like "bug eyes."

1D model helps clarify implosion performance at NIF

In inertial confinement fusion (ICF) experiments at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a spherical shell of deuterium-tritium fuel is imploded in an attempt to reach the conditions needed for fusion, self-heating and eventual ignition. Since theory and simulations indicate that ignition efficacy in one-dimension (1D) improves with increasing imploded fuel convergence ratio, it is useful to understand the sensitivity of the scale-invariant fuel convergence on all measurable or inferable 1D parameters.

A physics perspective on wound healing

In material physics understanding how systems interact across the interfaces separating them is of central interest. But can physical models clarify similar concepts in living systems, such as cells? Physicists at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), in collaboration with the University of Zurich (UZH), used the framework of disordered elastic systems to study the process of wound healing—the proliferation of cell fronts which eventually join to close a lesion. Their study identified the scales of the dominant interactions between cells which determine this process. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, will allow better analysis of cell front behavior, in terms of both wound healing and tumor development. In the future, this approach may offer personalized diagnostics to classify cancers and better target their treatment, and identify new pharmacological targets for transplantation.

Physicists reveal how motion can be generated by frustration

When two people want different things, frustration is inevitable. But these non-reciprocal interactions can also occur not just between people, but in the natural world.

Astronomy and Space news

Study investigates chemical properties of globular cluster NGC 1261

Using the Magellan Inamori Kyocera Echelle (MIKE) spectrograph, astronomers have conducted a chemical abundance study of a galactic globular cluster known as NGC 1261. Results of the research, published April 22 on, provide insights into chemical composition of this cluster.

New model can predict carbon cycle presence on exoplanets

Life thrives at stable temperatures. On Earth, this is facilitated by the carbon cycle. Scientists at SRON, VU and RUG have now developed a model that predicts whether there is a carbon cycle present on exoplanets, provided the mass, core size and amount of CO2 are known. Publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics on May 3.

SpaceX returns 4 astronauts to Earth; rare night splashdown

SpaceX safely returned four astronauts from the International Space Station on Sunday, making the first U.S. crew splashdown in darkness since the Apollo 8 moonshot.

Deep space listening: 6000 hours of research to hear continuous gravitational waves

When searching for lost keys, there are a number of possible strategies. You might try moving from room to room, casting your eye over every flat surface, in the hope of spotting the missing keys. Of course, this assumes that they are somewhere in plain sight; if they're hidden under a newspaper or have fallen behind the sofa, you'll never spot them. So which is the best strategy?

The patchy environment of a rare cosmic explosion revealed

Scientists from the National Centre for radio Astrophysics of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (NCRA-TIFR) Pune used the upgraded Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (uGMRT) to determine that AT 2018 cow, the first of a newly discovered class of cosmic explosions, has an extremely patchy environment. Sources like AT 2018cow release an enormous amount of energy, nonetheless fade extremely rapidly. This along with their extremely blue color has led to them being called FBOTs for Fast Blue Optical Transient. This is the first observational evidence of inhomogeneous emission from an FBOT. The origins of FBOTs are still under debate, but proposed models include explosion of a massive star, collision of an accreting neutron star and a star, merger of two white dwarfs, etc.

Image: Hubble views a dazzling cosmic necklace

The interaction of two doomed stars has created this spectacular ring adorned with bright clumps of gas—a diamond necklace of cosmic proportions. Fittingly known as the "Necklace Nebula," this planetary nebula is located 15,000 light-years away from Earth in the small, dim constellation of Sagitta (the Arrow).

Egos clash in Bezos and Musk space race

Even the Milky Way seems too small to keep the egos of tech billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk from colliding as they vie to conquer space.

Latin America looks to space, despite limitations on ground

Mars missions, astronauts coming and going at the International Space Station, China's increasingly ambitious space program. Space-related news is flowing, and not just from the world's richest, biggest nations. Take Latin America.

Chinese company claims to be working on a Starship-like rocket

Last weekend, China celebrated its sixth "National Space Day" in Nanjing, an event that highlights advances China has made in space. Similar to Space Day that is held each year on the first Thursday in May (this year, it will be held on May 7th), the goal is to foster interest in space exploration and the STEMS so as to inspire the next generation of astronauts and aerospace engineers.

Mid-latitude glaciers on Mars could supply water to human explorers

By Earth standards, the surface of Mars is the picture of desolation. It's not only irradiated and cold enough to make Antarctica look balmy, but it's also one-thousands times drier than the driest places on Earth. However, beneath the super-arid surface of the Red Planet, there are abundant supplies of water ice that could someday be accessible to human explorers (and even settlers).

How salty is Enceladus' ocean under the ice?

An icy satellite of Saturn, Enceladus, has been a subject of increasing interest in recent years since Cassini captured jets of water and other material being ejected out of the south pole of the moon. One particularly tantalizing hypothesis supported by the sample composition is that there might be life in the oceans under the ice shells of Enceladus. To evaluate Enceladus' habitability and to figure out the best way to probe this icy moon, scientists need to better understand the chemical composition and dynamics of Enceladus' ocean.

Search for 'dark energy' could illuminate origin, evolution, fate of universe

The universe we see is only the very tip of the vast cosmic iceberg.

Lessons learned from a simulated asteroid strike

In an alternate reality playing out at this year's international Planetary Defense Conference, a fictional asteroid crashes over Europe, 'destroying' a region about 100 km wide near the Czech Republic and German border. The scenario was imagined, but the people who took part are very real, and the lessons learnt will shape our ability to respond to dangerous asteroids for years to come.

Astronomers are watching a gas giant grow, right in front of their eyes

In the vastness of space, astronomers are likely to find instances of almost every astronomical phenomenon if they look hard enough. Many planetary phenomena are starting to come into sharper focus as the astronomy community continues to focus on finding exoplanets. Now a team led by Yifan Zhou at UT Austin has directly imaged a gas giant still in formation.

Bill Nelson, head of NASA, hails 'new day in space'

Former Florida senator Bill Nelson was sworn in Monday as head of NASA, hailing a "new day" for space exploration as the United States seeks to return to the Moon.

Technology news

Examining how humans develop trust towards embodied virtual agents

Embodied virtual agents (EVAs), graphically represented 3D virtual characters that display human-like behavior, could have valuable applications in a variety of settings. For instance, they could be used to help people practice their language skills or could serve as companions for the elderly and people with psychological or behavioral disorders.

Baidu rolls out paid driverless taxi service in Beijing

Chinese tech giant Baidu rolled out its paid driverless taxi service on Sunday, making it the first company to commercialize autonomous driving operations in China.

APT actors exploit authentication bypass techniques and Pulse Secure Zero-Day

American cybersecurity firm Mandiant has recently faced a number of security incidents surrounding compromises of Pulse Secure VPN appliances. The attackers involved have used authentication bypass techniques to circumvent VPN security parameters. The threat groups appear to have installed APT via web shells to monitor systems despite VPN functionality.

Team creates powerful computational tool to help researchers rapidly screen molecules for anti-COVID properties

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, mass vaccinations have begun to raise the tantalizing prospect of herd immunity that eventually curtails or halts the spread of SARS-CoV-2. But what if herd immunity is never fully achieved—or if the mutating virus gives rise to hyper-virulent variants that diminish the benefits of vaccination?

Team develops stable, efficient, anode-free sodium battery

When it comes to batteries, lithium-ion are the best we have as far as energy density and convenience.

Apple and 'Fortnite' publisher Epic Games head to court May 3 in face-off over App Store

The legal showdown between Apple and Fortnite publisher Epic Games gets underway Monday in federal court.

Fortnite maker girds for epic court clash with Apple

In a court clash with potentially huge repercussions for the world of mobile tech, Fortnite maker Epic Games takes on Apple starting Monday aiming to break the grip of the iPhone maker on its online marketplace.

Apple's App Store draws developer ire and legal challenge

While Apple chief Tim Cook touts the brand's App Store as an economic miracle, Fortnite-maker Epic Games says developers suffer under its tyranny.

Technique to automatically discover simulation configurations for behaviors hard to test

A research team led by Fuyuki Ishikawa at the National Institute of Informatics (NII, Japan) has developed a technique to search automatically for simulation configurations that test various behaviors of automated driving systems. This research was conducted under the ERATO-MMSD project funded by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST, Japan). The proposed technique iterates trials on simulations using an optimization method called evolutionary computation so that it discovers simulation configurations that lead to specific features of driving behaviors such as high acceleration, deceleration, and steering operation. The outcome of this research was presented in ICST 2021, a flagship conference on software testing held during April 12-16 2021.

Electric vehicle batteries: The older they get, the safer they are

Studies at TU Graz show that the older an traction battery of electric vehicles (EV) is, the lower the danger it poses. Now the researchers and industry partners want to define parameters for the subsequent use of discarded batteries.

What can hackers do with your mobile number?

Boris Johnson's personal phone number has been publicly available on the internet for 15 years, it has been revealed. Listed at the bottom of a 2006 press release, the number has reportedly been accessible online from the time the prime minister was shadow higher education minister through to his rise to Number 10.

Sex bots, virtual friends, VR lovers: Tech is changing the way we interact, and not always for the better

Twenty-first century technologies such as robots, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are creeping into every corner of our social and emotional lives—hacking how we form friendships, build intimacy, fall in love and get off.

Longer range for electric cars

If electric vehicles are to achieve greater distances, it's not only a matter of optimizing their batteries. Instead, the entire power train has to be improved. A Fraunhofer team is therefore developing electronic control units, so-called power inverters, which convert the energy between battery and motor much more efficiently than is the case today.

Hydrogen power plant for the garden

According to data from the German Environment Agency, private households currently are responsible for about a quarter of Germany's energy consumption in total. A good half of this energy is obtained from natural gas and crude oil. Considering the intensifying climate change, this statistic is a sobering one. "Hydrogen obtained from renewable energies has so much more potential as an energy carrier for the future," says Prof. Holger Seidlitz, lightweight construction specialist at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg and Head of "Polymer Materials and Composite PYCO" research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP at the Wildau location, highlighting the situation. Together with his team and a medium-sized enterprise, he is taking a two-pronged approach to the future of hydrogen: First, he is focusing on sourcing the energy needed for hydrogen production. The cooperation partners are currently developing a small and efficient wind power plant to do this. Second, the team is busy looking at how to store this valuable gas. To this end, they are producing new types of hydrogen tanks made of fiber-reinforced composites.

Disinfection robot: Value created by linking up to building data

The disinfection robot BALTO—named after a sled dog who carried urgently needed vaccines to a highly inaccessible region of Alaska a hundred years ago—is capable of disinfecting door knobs and similar objects. It does this autonomously, reacting to human beings in the surrounding area at the same time. An interface with the Building Information Modeling (BIM) process makes this possible.

Researchers promote usability for everyone, everywhere

According to Michael Twidale, professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, bad usability can be an irritation for everyone but "especially awful" for the underprivileged. In "Everyone Everywhere: A Distributed and Embedded Paradigm for Usability," which was recently published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST), Twidale and coauthors David M. Nichols (University of Waikato, New Zealand) and Christopher P. Lueg (Bern University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland) present a new paradigm to address the persistence of difficulties that people have in accessing and using information.

Installing solar panels over California's canals could yield water, land, air and climate payoffs

Climate change and water scarcity are front and center in the western U.S. The region's climate is warming, a severe multi-year drought is underway and groundwater supplies are being overpumped in many locations.

Smart finger ring with integrated RFID chip

House key, wallet, health insurance card, hotel key card—a smart finger ring could replace all these in the future. Produced by a 3D printing process, the ring has an integrated RFID chip, tamper-proof, sealed and invisible. The technology of integrating electronics during 3D printing can of course be used for other applications too. The multifunctional ring was developed by a research team at Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV.

Renewable energy sources: Toward large-scale thermal storage systems

High-temperature technologies enable electrothermal storage systems for large amounts of energy from renewable sources. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the industry partner KSB have now launched the LIMELISA project to develop the necessary basis. Research is funded with EUR 3.8 million by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Apple, Epic in heated US court clash over app market

Fortnite maker Epic Games and Apple clashed in court Monday at the opening of a blockbuster trial on the iPhone maker's App Store with potentially big implications for the world of mobile tech, trading barbs over alleged monopolistic actions and what is best for consumers.

Verizon to sell Yahoo, AOL for $5 bn to private equity firm

Verizon announced Monday it was selling faded internet stars Yahoo and AOL to a private equity firm for $5 billion, ending the online media ambitions of the telecoms giant.

Empowering citizens for successful energy transitions

The terms "co-creation" and "co-production," which denote the possibility for laypeople to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives, have been gaining popularity. A new IIASA-led study explored options for empowering citizens as a driver for moving from awareness about the need to transform energy systems to action and participation.

Clean megaprojects divide surprise group: Environmentalists

Sprawling wind farms located off the coast. Hydropower transmission lines that cut through some of America's most beloved forests and rivers. Solar megaprojects of unprecedented size.

Apple reportedly looking at blood sugar, blood pressure and alcohol monitoring for future Apple Watches

Your Apple Watch is apparently going to get a lot smarter in the months ahead.

Intel: $3.5B investment is critical to microchip future

Intel will be investing $3.5 billion in its New Mexico plant to manufacture what executives said Monday will fuel "a new era of innovation" and advanced computing as demands increase for the tiny microchips used in nearly all modern devices.

Third of US software firm's employees resign over politics ban

About a third of the employees at US productivity software firm Basecamp have announced their resignations after the company banned political conversations in the workplace.

Pandemic boosted e-commerce in 2020: UNCTAD

The COVID-19 pandemic provided a boost for e-commerce last year, but the digital windfall was not enjoyed equally across the board, a UN study found Monday.

Machine vision system for almond grading and safety

Researchers at UniSA have developed a world-first automated technique for simultaneously grading almond quality and detecting potentially serious mycotoxin contamination in kernels.

A decision on suspended Trump Facebook account this week

Former President Donald Trump will find out this week whether he gets to return to Facebook in a decision likely to stir up strong feelings no matter which way it goes.

Germany smashes online child porn network with 400,000 members

German police said Monday they had shut down "one of the biggest darknet child pornography platforms in the world" and arrested four of its members in a series of raids in mid-April.

US sets pandemic-era high for air travel, over 1.6 million

The United States set another record for the number of air travelers since the pandemic set in, although passenger numbers remain far below 2019 levels.

Team develops imaging technique to detect building air leakage

A team of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a method to detect and measure air leaking from a building's walls and roof that is quicker, cheaper and less disruptive to occupants.

Large-scale 3D printing with multimaterials and recycled composites

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers, in collaboration with Cincinnati Inc., demonstrated the potential for using multimaterials and recycled composites in large-scale applications by 3D printing a mold that replicated a single facet of a precast concrete tool.

Google signs deal with WNBA to help champion women's sports

The WNBA signed a multiyear deal with Google on Monday to be the presenting partner for the league's playoffs, part of the technology giant's efforts to help champion women's sports.

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