Science X Newsletter Thursday, Mar 11

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for March 11, 2021:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Researchers assess the life-cycle of industrial air capture plants operated by Climeworks

Observing the birth of a quasiparticle

Not so fast, supernova: Highest-energy cosmic rays detected in star clusters

Scientists stabilize atomically thin boron for practical use

After cracking the 'sum of cubes' puzzle for 42, researchers discover a new solution for 3

Climate change may not expand drylands

Elite women may have ruled El Argar 4,000 years ago

Fishers at risk in 'perfect storm'

Proteins choreograph the infinitesimal dance of living cells and functional biomaterials

Scientists move closer to developing 'game-changing' test to diagnose Parkinson's

Researchers set new resolution record for imaging the human eye

Research leads to better understanding of the immune system in kidney cancer

Study of Redoubt and other volcanoes improves unrest detection

Making green energy the default choice can help tackle climate change, study finds

Foodborne fungus impairs intestinal wound healing in Crohn's disease

Physics news

Observing the birth of a quasiparticle

Over the past decades, physicists worldwide have been trying to gain a better understanding of non-equilibrium dynamics in quantum many-body systems. Some studies investigated what are known as quasiparticles, disturbances or entities in physical systems that exhibit behavior similar to that of particles.

Scientists stabilize atomically thin boron for practical use

Northwestern University researchers have, for the first time, created borophane—atomically thin boron that is stable at standard temperatures and air pressures.

Researchers set new resolution record for imaging the human eye

Researchers have developed a noninvasive technique that can capture images of rod and cone photoreceptors with unprecedented detail. The advance could lead to new treatments and earlier detection for retinal diseases such as macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss.

Robots learn faster with quantum technology

Artificial intelligence is part of our modern life by enabling machines to learn useful processes such as speech recognition and digital personal assistants. A crucial question for practical applications is how fast such intelligent machines can learn. An experiment at the University of Vienna has answered this question, showing that quantum technology enables a speed-up in the learning process. The physicists, in an international collaboration within Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S., have achieved this result by using a quantum processor for single photons as a robot. This work, which con-tributes to the advancement of quantum artificial intelligence for future applications, is published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Setback for Majorana fermion as Microsoft team retracts research paper

A team of researchers at a Microsoft laboratory in the Netherlands, who published a 2018 paper in the journal Nature, has now retracted that paper, citing a lack of evidence to support their previous conclusions. The study involved trying to prove the existence of the fermion—a theorized particle that could possibly be both matter and antimatter. The retraction came after Sergey Frolov, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, found that another quantum phenomenon could mimic the results found by the original research team. After a re-analysis of their work, the researchers agreed with Frolov and contacted Nature to ask for a retraction.

Laser-driven experiments provide insights into the formation of the universe

The universe is filled with magnetic fields. Understanding how magnetic fields are generated and amplified in plasmas is essential to studying how large structures in the universe were formed and how energy is divided throughout the cosmos.

Scientists propose novel self-modulation scheme in seeded free-electron lasers

Seeded free-electron lasers (FELs), which use frequency up-conversion of an external seed laser to improve temporal coherence, are considered ideal for supplying stable, fully coherent, soft X-ray pulses. However, the requirement for an external seed laser with sufficient peak power to modulate the electron beam can hardly be met by the present state-of-the-art laser systems, it remains challenging for seeded FELs to operate at high repetition rate, e.g., MHz repetition rate.

Researchers extract in-demand isotope from plutonium leftovers

A new method developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory proves one effort's trash is another's valuable isotope.

Superconducting coils for contactless power transmission in the kilowatt range

A team led by Christoph Utschick and Prof. Rudolf Gross, physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), has developed a coil with superconducting wires capable of transmitting power in the range of more than five kilowatts contactless and with only small losses. The wide field of conceivable applications include autonomous industrial robots, medical equipment, vehicles and even aircraft.

Optical-resolution photoacoustic microscopy innovation enables simultaneous multicontrast imaging

Optical-resolution photoacoustic microscopy (OR-PAM), a new hybrid imaging technique, allows us to listen to the sound of light and see the color of biological tissue itself. It can be used for live, multicontrast functional imaging, but the limited wavelength choice of most commercial lasers and the limitations of the existing scanning methods have meant that OR-PAM can obtain only one or two different types of contrast in a single scan. These limitations have made multicontrast functional imaging time-consuming, and it's been difficult to capture the dynamic changes of functional information in biological tissues.

Arbitrary polarization conversion dichroism metasurfaces for full Poincaré sphere polarizers

Polarization control is essential for tailoring light-matter interactions and is the foundation for many applications such as polarization imaging, nonlinear optics, data storage, and information multiplexing. A linear polarizer, which is a polarization optical element that filters a specific linear polarization from unpolarized light, plays an important role in both polarization generation and manipulation. However, the generation of arbitrary polarization states other than linear polarization usually requires cascading of multiple optical polarization elements, including both linear polarizers and waveplates based on anisotropic materials or nanostructures, leading to bulky optical systems that are far from the long-sought miniaturization and integration.

Real-time observation of frequency Bloch oscillations with fibre loop modulation

Bloch oscillations (BOs) were initially predicted for electrons in a solid lattice as a static electric field is applied. Scientists in China created a synthetic frequency lattice in a fiber loop under detuned phase modulation and directly observed the frequency BOs in real time. The frequency spectrum in telecommunication band can be shifted as large as hundreds of GHz. The study may find applications in frequency manipulations in optical fiber communication systems.

Optimal design for acoustic unobservability in water

Until now, it was only possible to optimize an acoustic cloaking structure for the air environment. However, with this latest research, "Acoustic cloak designed by topology optimization for acoustic-elastic coupled systems," published in the latest Applied Physics Letters, it is possible to design an acoustic cloak for underwater environments.

Information transition mechanisms of spatiotemporal metasurfaces

Spatiotemporal metasurfaces are analyzed from an information perspective, in which two information transition mechanisms on group extension and independent control of multiple harmonics are revealed and characterized. The information transition efficiencies of these mechanisms are analyzed as well, which could be used to predict the channel capacity of the spatiotemporal metasurfaces for wireless communications. The presented framework and gained results would be helpful to lay the groundwork for information-based spatiotemporal metasurfaces.

Modulation of photocarrier relaxation dynamics in two-dimensional semiconductors

Two-dimensional (2D) semiconductors can host a rich set of excitonic species because of the greatly enhanced Coulomb interactions. The excitonic states can exhibit large oscillator strengths and strong light-matter interactions, and dominate the optical properties of 2D semiconductors. In addition, because of the low dimensionality, excitonic dynamics of 2D semiconductors can be more susceptible to various external stimuli, enriching the possible tailoring methods that can be exploited.

Tracking cosmic ghosts

The idea was so far-fetched it seemed like science fiction: create an observatory out of a one cubic kilometer block of ice in Antarctica to track ghostly particles called neutrinos that pass through the Earth. But speaking to Benedickt Riedel, global computing manager at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, it makes perfect sense.

Astronomy and Space news

Not so fast, supernova: Highest-energy cosmic rays detected in star clusters

For decades, researchers assumed the cosmic rays that regularly bombard Earth from the far reaches of the galaxy are born when stars go supernova—when they grow too massive to support the fusion occurring at their cores and explode.

Massive stars in the early universe may have been progenitors of super-massive black holes

Recent observations have shown that there is a supermassive black hole at the center of each galaxy. However, what is the origin of these supermassive black holes? It is still a mystery today. An international research team led by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan has predicted an extreme supernova from a supermassive star, possible the progenitor of supermassive black holes. Their calculation suggested that this supernova can be observed by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) that will be launched by the end of 2021.

Perseverance rover's SuperCam science instrument delivers first results

The first readings from the SuperCam instrument aboard NASA's Perseverance rover have arrived on Earth. SuperCam was developed jointly by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and a consortium of French research laboratories under the auspices of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The instrument delivered data to the French Space Agency's operations center in Toulouse that includes the first audio of laser zaps on another planet.

New Vacuum Solar Telescope reveals acceleration of magnetic reconnection

Magnetic reconnection shows the reconfiguration of magnetic field geometry. It plays an elemental role in the rapid release of magnetic energy and its conversion to other forms of energy in magnetized plasma systems throughout the universe.

The solar wind, explained

The solar wind is a flow of particles that comes off the sun at about one million miles per hour and travels throughout the entire solar system. First proposed in the 1950s by University of Chicago physicist Eugene Parker, the solar wind is visible in the halo around the sun during an eclipse and sometimes when the particles hit the Earth's atmosphere—as the aurora borealis, or northern lights.

Earth-sized exoplanet may have lost its original atmosphere, but gained a second one through volcanism

Orbiting a red dwarf star 41 light-years away is an Earth-sized, rocky exoplanet called GJ 1132 b. In some ways, GJ 1132 b has intriguing parallels to Earth, but in other ways it is very different. One of the differences is that its smoggy, hazy atmosphere contains a toxic mix of hydrogen, methane and hydrogen cyanide. Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have found evidence this is not the planet's original atmosphere, and that the first one was blasted away by blistering radiation from GJ 1132 b's nearby parent star. The so-called "secondary atmosphere" is thought to be formed as molten lava beneath the planet's surface continually oozes up through volcanic fissures. Gases seeping through these cracks seem to be constantly replenishing the atmosphere, which would otherwise also be stripped away by the star. This is the first time a secondary atmosphere has been detected on a world outside our solar system.

The world's oldest crater from a meteorite isn't an impact crater after all

Several years after scientists discovered what was considered the oldest crater a meteorite made on the planet, another team found it's actually the result of normal geological processes.

How the habitability of exoplanets is influenced by their rocks

The weathering of silicate rocks plays an important role to keep the climate on Earth clement. Scientists led by the University of Bern and the Swiss national center of competence in research (NCCR) PlanetS, investigated the general principles of this process. Their results could influence how we interpret the signals from distant worlds—including such that may hint towards life.

Uncovering exotic molecules of potential astrochemical interest

Looking at the night sky, one's thoughts might be drawn to astrochemistry. What molecules are found in the vast spaces between the stars? Would we see the same molecules that surround us here on Earth? Or would some of them be more exotic—something rarely observed or even unknown?

FAST captures distant fast radio bursts from the youth of universe

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are a kind of mysterious radio flash lasting only a few thousandths of a second. Confirmed to be of cosmological origin in 2016, FRBs have the potential to provide insights into a wide range of astrophysical problems.

Polarization: From better sunglasses to a better way of looking at asteroid surfaces

Using the same principles that make polarized sunglasses possible, a team of researchers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have developed a technique that will help better defend against asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

A dose of Moonlight: A mission to to provide telecommunications and navigation services for the Moon

An orange pouch and a yellow cable are paving the way for missions to the moon. By monitoring space radiation and enabling faster communications, the Dosis-3D experiment and the Columbus Ka-band or ColKa terminal, respectively, are providing the insights needed to enable safer missions father out in space.

Technology news

Researchers assess the life-cycle of industrial air capture plants operated by Climeworks

The ultimate target of many environmental interventions is to drastically reduce CO2 emissions and minimize its presence in the air. One tool that could help to achieve this goal is direct air capture (DAC) technology, which directly filters CO2 from the air, often via an adsorption-desorption process. While DAC technology is fairly promising, its high energy and material demands can lead to indirect greenhouse emissions and other undesired effects.

Making green energy the default choice can help tackle climate change, study finds

Researchers studying the Swiss energy market have found that making green energy the default option for consumers leads to an enduring shift to renewables and thus has the potential to cut CO2 emissions by millions of tonnes.

Classic math problem solved: Computer scientists have developed a superb algorithm for finding the shortest route

One of the most classic algorithmic problems deals with calculating the shortest path between two points. A more complicated variant of the problem is when the route traverses a changing network—whether this be a road network or the internet. For 40 years, researchers have sought an algorithm that provides an optimal solution to this problem. Now, computer scientist Christian Wulff-Nilsen of the University of Copenhagen and two research colleagues have come up with a recipe.

How to spot deepfakes? Look at light reflection in the eyes

University at Buffalo computer scientists have developed a tool that automatically identifies deepfake photos by analyzing light reflections in the eyes.

Using softened wood to create electricity in homes

A multi-institutional team of researchers has found that it is possible to use a type of fungus to soften wood to the point that it could be used to generate electricity. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes their process and how they tested it.

New approach found for energy-efficient AI applications

Most new achievements in artificial intelligence (AI) require very large neural networks. They consist of hundreds of millions of neurons arranged in several hundred layers, i.e. they have very 'deep' network structures. These large, deep neural networks consume a lot of energy in the computer. Those neural networks that are used in image classification (e.g. face and object recognition) are particularly energy-intensive, since they have to send very many numerical values from one neuron layer to the next with great accuracy in each time cycle.

Seeing both sides of light collection

Two types of materials are better than one when it comes to solar cells, as revealed by an international team that has tested a new combination of materials and architecture to improve solar-cell efficiency.

How to make all headphones intelligent

How do you turn "dumb" headphones into smart ones? Rutgers engineers have invented a cheap and easy way by transforming headphones into sensors that can be plugged into smartphones, identify their users, monitor their heart rates and perform other services.

Microsoft patches Internet Explorer memory corruption vulnerability

On March 9, 2021, Microsoft patched a zero-day security vulnerability related to memory corruption in its browser, Internet Explorer.

Researchers develop unique Ag-hydrogel composite for soft bioelectronics

In the field of robotics, metals offer advantages like strength, durability, and electrical conductivity. But, they are heavy and rigid—properties that are undesirable in soft and flexible systems for wearable computing and human-machine interfaces.

How dangerous is the Fukushima nuke plant today?

A decade ago, a massive tsunami crashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Three of its reactors melted down, leaving it looking like a bombed-out factory. Emergency workers risked their lives trying to keep one of history's worst nuclear crises from spiraling out of control.

QR codes, health passports: China's tech arsenal against a pandemic

Daily life in China follows a rhythm of digital check-ins, with the QR code—at offices, malls and transport hubs—an integral defence against COVID-19 that helps to track, trace and isolate patients.

Roblox, after winning over kids, becomes a hit on Wall Street

The Roblox game world that has won over children around the world and became a pandemic hit scored big on Wall Street Wednesday, as newly listed shares surged.

It's not just a social media problem: How search engines spread misinformation

Search engines are one of society's primary gateways to information and people, but they are also conduits for misinformation. Similar to problematic social media algorithms, search engines learn to serve you what you and others have clicked on before. Because people are drawn to the sensational, this dance between algorithms and human nature can foster the spread of misinformation.

Study explains how consumers can be encouraged to conserve energy during peak periods

New research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has identified how effective certain incentives can be in motivating people to use less energy in their homes.

Team shows how Turing-like patterns fool neural networks

Skoltech researchers were able to show that patterns that can cause neural networks to make mistakes in recognizing images are, in effect, akin to Turing patterns found all over the natural world. In the future, this result can be used to design defenses for pattern recognition systems currently vulnerable to attacks. The paper, available as an arXiv preprint, was presented at the 35th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-21).

Art world rocked as digital 'NFT' work fetches $69.3 mn

A digital collage by American artist Beeple sold Thursday for a record $69.3 million at Christie's auctioneers, as virtual art rapidly establishes itself as a new—and highly profitable—creative genre.

GM partner LG to invest $4.5 billion in US battery operation

LG Energy Solution will invest more than $4.5 billion in U.S. battery production by 2025 as more automakers commit to churning electric vehicles sooner than anyone had expected.

Rolls-Royce losses double as virus hits aviation sector

British aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce said Thursday that net losses more than doubled last year to £3.2 billion as the coronavirus pandemic hammered the aviation sector and forced it to axe thousands of jobs.

Facebook halts project for undersea data cable to Hong Kong

Facebook has decided to halt its efforts to build a trans-Pacific undersea cable that would have connected California and Hong Kong, due to tensions between the United States and China.

Smart windows could reduce the need for energy-hungry air conditioners

Smart windows that control the amount of heat that enters or leaves a building can reduce the need for energy-intensive air conditioning units and help efforts to retrofit Europe's buildings to make them more energy efficient.

What's all the buzz about Bitcoin?

Bitcoin stock surged earlier this month when Elon Musk electrified its prospects by pledging that Tesla, Inc. would soon take payment for its electric vehicles in the much heard about but little-known currency.

Fire at French cloud computing firm disrupts websites

Numerous companies and websites in France suffered outages and disruptions to services after a fire swept through a cloud computing provider's facility.

Spain declares delivery riders to be staff, in EU first

Spain's government announced Thursday a deal that will recognise riders working for delivery firms such as Deliveroo and UberEats as salaried staff following complaints about their working conditions—a first in the EU.

Airline stocks cleared for takeoff, but turbulence ahead

Investors have seemingly cleared airline stocks for takeoff, but the industry still faces a long and bumpy climb.

China's Baidu plans $3.6 billion Hong Kong listing

Chinese search engine company Baidu on Thursday said it was seeking as much as $3.6 billion in a secondary listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

In Alabama, Amazon workers wage a historic battle to unionize

Timmy Johnson, a 23-year-old dock worker for Amazon, was skeptical when he first heard about the push to form a union at his warehouse. Scanning boxes and taking them to trucks was exhausting, but $15.55 an hour was more than he had earned as a stacker at Lowe's, and he didn't see the point of paying nearly $500 a year in dues.

Coronavirus relief measure could net you $50 toward your broadband bill, help erase the digital divide

Some in Congress want to do more to narrow the digital divide.

Uber, Lyft team up on database to expose abusive drivers

Uber and Lyft have teamed up to create a database of drivers ousted from their ride-hailing services for complaints about sexual assault and other crimes that have raised passenger-safety concerns for years.

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