Science X Newsletter Thursday, Jan 28

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for January 28, 2021:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Deep learning-based assessment of student engagement could aid classroom research

Vaccine wars escalate as new antibody escape variants raise the bar

'Liquid' machine-learning system adapts to changing conditions

Improvements to holographic displays poised to enhance virtual and augmented reality

How evolution can change science for the better

X-Ray tomography lets researchers watch solid-state batteries charge, discharge

A high-resolution glimpse of gene expression in cells

Researchers create powerful unipolar carbon nanotube muscles

Carbon at pressures 5 times that of the Earth's core breaks crystal formation record

Naked mole rats speak in dialect

First evidence that water can be created on the lunar surface by Earth's magnetosphere

Alcohol causes immediate effects linked to heart malady

635 million-year-old fungi-like microfossil that bailed us out of an ice age discovered

Turning food waste back into food

How a little-known glycoprotein blocks a cancer cell's immune response

Physics news

Improvements to holographic displays poised to enhance virtual and augmented reality

Researchers have developed a new approach that improves the image quality and contrast for holographic displays. The new technology could help improve near-eye displays used for virtual and augmented reality applications.

Carbon at pressures 5 times that of the Earth's core breaks crystal formation record

Carbon, the fourth most abundant element in the universe, is a building block for all known life and a material that sits in the interior of carbon-rich exoplanets.

Zapping quantum materials with lasers tells us how atoms relate

Phase transitions are a fundamental piece of physics and chemistry. We're all familiar with different phases of water, for example, but this idea of a system of particles changing what it looks like and how it behaves is really ubiquitous in science. And while we know the outcome of water changing into ice, the precise process leads to many different kinds of ice: sometimes ice is transparent and other times not, and the difference has to do with how you freeze it. Thus, studying how a phase transition happens tells us a lot about fundamental physics, and about the resulting phases on both sides.

An efficient tool to link X-ray experiments and ab initio theory

Molecules consisting of many atoms are complex structures. The outer electrons are distributed among the different orbitals, and their shape and occupation determine the chemical behavior and reactivity of the molecule. The configuration of these orbitals can be analyzed experimentally. Synchrotron sources such as BESSY II provide a method for this purpose: Resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS). However, to obtain information about the orbitals from experimental data, quantum chemical simulations are necessary. Typical computing times for larger molecules take weeks, even on high-performance computers.

New concept for rocket thruster exploits the mechanism behind solar flares

A new type of rocket thruster that could take humankind to Mars and beyond has been proposed by a physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

Harnessing the power of AI to understand warm dense matter

The study of warm dense matter helps us understand what is going on inside giant planets, brown dwarfs, and neutron stars. However, this state of matter, which exhibits properties of both solids and plasmas, does not occur naturally on Earth. It can be produced artificially in the lab using large X-ray experiments, albeit only at a small scale and for short periods of time. Theoretical and numerical models are essential to evaluate these experiments, which are impossible to interpret without formulas, algorithms, and simulations. Scientists at the Center for Advanced Systems Understanding (CASUS) at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have now developed a method to evaluate such experiments more effectively and faster than before.

CERN's latest LS2 Report: Beams circulate in the PS Booster

If you follow CERN on social media, you probably saw back in December that the first beam had been injected into the PS Booster (PSB), thus connecting the machine for the first time to the new Linac4.

Lasing mechanism found in water droplets

Tiny molecular forces at the surface of water droplets can play a big role in laser output emissions. As the most fundamental matrix of life, water drives numerous essential biological activities, through interactions with biomolecules and organisms. Studying the mechanical effects of water-involved interactions contributes to the understanding of biochemical processes. According to Yu-Cheng Chen, professor of electronic engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), "As water interacts with a surface, the hydrophobicity at the bio-interface mainly determines the mechanical equilibrium of the water. Molecular hydrophobicity at the interface can serve as the basis for monitoring subtle biomolecular interactions and dynamics."

National laboratories' look to the future of light sources with new magnet prototype

With a powerful enough light, you can see things that people once thought would be impossible. Large-scale light source facilities generate that powerful light, and scientists use it to create more durable materials, build more efficient batteries and computers, and learn more about the natural world.

Breakthrough for laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is a rapid chemical analysis tool. A powerful laser pulse is focused on a sample to create a microplasma. The elemental or molecular emission spectra from that microplasma can be used to determine the elemental composition of the sample.

Efficient fluorescent materials and OLEDs for the NIR

Near-infrared emitters (NIR) will be of crucial importance for a variety of biomedical, security and defense applications, as well as for (in)visible light communications and the internet-of-things (IoT). Researchers from the UK and Italy have developed porphyrin oligomer NIR emitters which afford high efficiencies despite being totally free from heavy metals. They demonstrated organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) at 850 nm with 3.8% peak external quantum efficiency, together with a novel quantitative model of device efficiency.

Astronomy and Space news

First evidence that water can be created on the lunar surface by Earth's magnetosphere

Before the Apollo era, the moon was thought to be dry as a desert due to the extreme temperatures and harshness of the space environment. Many studies have since discovered lunar water: ice in shadowed polar craters, water bound in volcanic rocks, and unexpected rusty iron deposits in the lunar soil. Despite these findings, there is still no true confirmation of the extent or origin of lunar surface water.

Sextuply-eclipsing sextuple star system uncovered in TESS data with an assist from AI

An international team of researchers led by Brian P. Powell at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and Veselin P. Kostov at the SETI Institute has identified a unique system consisting of six stars. The three binary stars form a gravitationally-bound system and each pair is producing eclipses. The star system, known as TYC 7037-89-1, was uncovered in data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) data with a neural network designed to detect eclipsing binary stars. This newly discovered complex star system is located in the Eridanus constellation, ~1,900 light-years away from Earth.

NASA's Perseverance rover 22 days from Mars landing

Seven minutes of harrowing descent to the Red Planet is in the not-so-distant future for the agency's Mars 2020 mission.

NASA's Artemis Base Camp on the moon will need light, water, elevation

American astronauts in 2024 will take their first steps near the moon's south pole: the land of extreme light, extreme darkness, and frozen water that could fuel NASA's Artemis lunar base and the agency's leap into deep space.

High schoolers discover four exoplanets through Harvard and Smithsonian mentorship program

They may be the youngest astronomers to make a discovery yet.

Thick lithosphere casts doubt on plate tectonics in Venus's geologically recent past

At some point between 300 million and 1 billion years ago, a large cosmic object smashed into the planet Venus, leaving a crater more than 170 miles in diameter. A team of Brown University researchers has used that ancient impact scar to explore the possibility that Venus once had Earth-like plate tectonics.

What did the solar system look like before all the planets migrated?

Early planetary migration in the solar system has been long established, and there are myriad theories that have been put forward to explain where the planets were coming from. Theories such as the Grand Tack Hypothesis an the Nice Model show how important that migration is to the current state of our solar system. Now, a team from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has come up with a novel way of trying to understand planetary migration patterns: by looking at meteorite compositions.

Low-cost approach to scanning historic glass plates yields an astronomical surprise

You never know what new discoveries might be hiding in old astronomical observations. For almost a hundred years starting in the late 19th century, emulsion-coated dry glass plate photography was the standard of choice used by large astronomical observatories and surveys for documenting and imaging the sky. These large enormous glass plate collections are still out there around the world, filed away in observatory libraries and university archives. Now, a new project shows how we might bring the stories told on these old plates back to light.

Thousands more satellites will soon orbit Earth—we need better rules to prevent space crashes

In recent years, satellites have become smaller, cheaper, and easier to make with commercial off the shelf parts. Some even weigh as little as one gram. This means more people can afford to send them into orbit. Now, satellite operators have started launching mega-constellations—groups of hundreds or even thousands of small satellites working together—into orbit around Earth.

Simulating space

While most ESA personnel work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, essential activities continue to take place on site across Agency establishments while following social distancing protocols.

Successful test paves way for new planetary radar

The National Science Foundation's Green Bank Observatory (GBO) and National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and Raytheon Intelligence & Space conducted a test in November to prove that a new radio telescope system can capture high-resolution images in near-Earth space.

35 years since Challenger launch disaster: 'Never forgotten'

NASA leaders, retired launch directors, families of fallen astronauts and space fans marked the 35th anniversary of the Challenger disaster on Thursday, vowing never to forget the seven who died during liftoff.

Technology news

Deep learning-based assessment of student engagement could aid classroom research

Past research has identified student engagement, or the extent to which students participate and are involved in classroom activities, as a crucial factor determining both the quality of education programs and the academic performance of individual students. As a result, many educators worldwide are actively trying to devise courses that maximize student engagement.

'Liquid' machine-learning system adapts to changing conditions

MIT researchers have developed a type of neural network that learns on the job, not just during its training phase. These flexible algorithms, dubbed "liquid" networks, change their underlying equations to continuously adapt to new data inputs. The advance could aid decision making based on data streams that change over time, including those involved in medical diagnosis and autonomous driving.

Samsung Electronics profit spikes on pandemic-driven demand

Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest smartphone and memory chip maker reported fourth-quarter net profits up by more than a quarter year-on-year Thursday, with coronavirus-driven working from home boosting demand for devices powered by its chips.

Regulator says Australia must address Google ad dominance

A lack of competition for Google and a lack of transparency in the digital advertising supply chain needed to be addressed because they were impacting publishers, advertisers and consumers, Australia's competition watchdog said on Thursday.

Apple to crack down on tracking iPhone users in early spring

Apple says it will roll out a new privacy control in the spring to prevent iPhone apps from secretly shadowing people. The delay in its anticipated rollout aims to placate Facebook and other digital services that depend on such data surveillance to help sell ads.

Singapore launches new self-driving bus trial

Singapore has moved a step closer to a driverless public transport network with the launch of a new trial of self-driving buses.

Toyota overtakes Volkswagen as top-selling global auto maker

Japan's Toyota reclaimed the title of world's top-selling automaker in 2020, according to data released by the firm on Thursday, pushing Volkswagen into second place for the first time in five years.

A new technology to reduce motion sickness associated with VR headsets

Researchers in Korea have analyzed the symptoms of motion sickness that users may experience in VR content and developed a technology to reduce VR sickness using artificial intelligence. The technology is expected to be of great help to VR content developers in creating application services while giving full rein to their creativity.

Cleaning up noisy photos

Researchers writing in the International Journal of Arts and Technology, have proposed the use of the affine transformation to improve the performance of the edge fusion algorithms for removing noise from digital photographs, specifically in the art world.

How to give light-capturing 'solar-cell boosters' a bright future

To help commercialize so-called luminescent solar concentrators, TU/e researcher Michael Debije along with experts in Italy and the UK propose specific measurement protocols as a new golden standard.

Investors see green returns as renewable energy rises

The future looks bright for solar and other renewable energy technology.

Renewables become biggest UK electricity source: study

Renewable energy beat fossil fuels last year to become the largest source of electricity in Britain, according to a study.

Study finds Singapore public less keen on drone use in residential areas than industrial zones

When it comes to drones, the Singapore public is not as keen for them to be used to provide services around their living spaces, finds a study by researchers at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore). However, they are more accepting of drones being used in areas like recreational spots or industrial areas.

Researcher uses machine learning to identify mood swings through social media

Researchers showed long ago that artificial intelligence models could identify a person's basic psychological traits from their digital footprints in social media.

Researchers develop on-chip printed 'electronic nose'

Skoltech researchers and their colleagues from Russia and Germany have designed an on-chip printed "electronic nose" that serves as a proof of concept for this kind of low-cost and sensitive devices to be used in portable electronics and healthcare. The paper was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials Interfaces.

General Motors sets 2035 goal for eliminating emissions from most cars

General Motors on Thursday announced that it aims to make most of its cars and trucks emissions-free by 2035, as part of a wider campaign by the American auto giant to go carbon neutral.

Attacks on individuals fall as cybercrime shifts tactics

Cybercriminals shifted away from stealing individual consumers' information in 2020 to focus on bigger, more profitable attacks on businesses, according to a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center.

New catalyst moves seawater desalination, hydrogen production closer to commercialization

Seawater makes up about 96% of all water on earth, making it a tempting resource to meet the world's growing need for clean drinking water and carbon-free energy. And scientists already have the technical ability to both desalinate seawater and split it to produce hydrogen, which is in demand as a source of clean energy.

Apple CEO escalates battle with Facebook over online privacy

Apple CEO Tim Cook fired off a series of thinly veiled shots at Facebook and other social media companies Thursday, escalating an online privacy battle pitting the iPhone maker against digital services that depend on tracking people to help sell ads.

WhatsApp adds biometric authentication to link phone, web accounts

WhatsApp users with biometric authentication—including facial recognition and fingerprint features—enabled on their phones will now have an added layer of security if they want to link their accounts with their computer's web browser or desktop app.

Ring will roll out $60 video doorbell in February

Owning a Ring video doorbell will soon be more affordable.

Chinese app TikTok cuts jobs in India following ban

Popular short-video Chinese app TikTok is cutting its workforce in India after hundreds of millions of its users dropped it to comply with a government ban on dozens of Chinese apps amid a military standoff between the two countries.

EasyJet says revenues slump almost 90% on virus hit

British no-frills airline EasyJet said Thursday that revenues collapsed by almost 90 percent in its first quarter as coronavirus ravaged travel demand, warning that second quarter capacity will be slashed.

Facebook to stop recommending political groups to users

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said the social network will no longer recommend politics-themed groups to users, a measure already taken in the US due to election tensions.

Cathay Pacific shares plunge as bond sale announced to stem cash crisis

Shares in Hong Kong's marquee carrier Cathay Pacific plunged on Thursday after the struggling airline unveiled a HK$6.7 billion (US$870 million) bond sale to try to stem its rampant cash burn.

Neural network has learned to identify tree species

Skoltech scientists have developed an algorithm that can identify various tree species in satellite images. Their research was published in the IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing.

American Airlines reports huge loss as shares swept into Reddit revolt

American Airlines reported on Thursday a massive annual loss due to the continued drag from the coronavirus, but shares soared as the US carrier became the latest vehicle in a burgeoning Wall Street trading revolt by amateur investors.

Facebook panel overturns 4 content takedowns in first ruling

Facebook's quasi-independent oversight board issued its first rulings on Thursday, overturning four out of five decisions by the social network to take down questionable content.

US airlines eye slow, gradual comeback after 2020 battering

US airlines expect a better year in 2021 after last year's disastrous showing, but the comeback will be gradual and include more pain in the short-run.

Amazon seeks to block proposal calling for greater diversity in hiring

Amazon has asked federal regulators to block a number of shareholder proposals that strike to the heart of many recent criticisms of the Seattle-based commerce behemoth, including its stances on curbing hate speech and offensive content, diversity in hiring, workplace conditions for hourly warehouse employees and its surveillance technologies.

Qualtrics goes public 2 years after being bought by SAP

Survey software provider Qualtrics went public Thursday two years after German giant SAP bought the company for $8 billion, marking the latest achievement for the company that has become one of the crown jewels of a technology corridor near Salt Lake City that Utah likes to call "Silicon Slopes."

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