Science X Newsletter Wednesday, Mar 17

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for March 17, 2021:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Study offers new insight about gene expression and neurological disease heritability

RoboEYE: A semi-autonomous and gaze-guided wheelchair

Eight new millisecond pulsars discovered by MeerKAT

Scientists determine the origin of extra-solar object 'Oumuamua

New technique reveals genes underlying human evolution

Scientists create model of an early human embryo from skin cells

For migrating elephant seals, 'lightscapes of fear' shape feeding, resting strategies

Magnetism meets topology on a superconductor's surface

Missing baryons found in far-out reaches of galactic halos

Nanotech scientists create world's smallest origami bird

As endangered birds lose their songs, they can't find mates

Researchers derive urban scaling laws from the 3D geometry of a city

More precise diagnoses made possible with whole genome sequencing

Study finds evidence of 55 new chemicals in people

Boosting insect diversity may provide more consistent crop pollination services

Physics news

Magnetism meets topology on a superconductor's surface

Electrons in a solid occupy distinct energy bands separated by gaps. Energy band gaps are an electronic "no man's land," an energy range where no electrons are allowed. Now, scientists studying a compound containing iron, tellurium, and selenium have found that an energy band gap opens at a point where two allowed energy bands intersect on the material's surface. They observed this unexpected electronic behavior when they cooled the material and probed its electronic structure with laser light. Their findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could have implications for future quantum information science and electronics.

Researchers develop first self-cooling laser made with a silica fiber

Researchers have toiled for years, unsuccessfully, in pursuit of a silica optical fiber that would cool itself when excited with infrared laser light. Such a fiber would make it possible to use the most ubiquitous type of laser fiber—silica—without having to cool it externally and, theoretically, produce laser-based devices with exceptionally pure and stable frequencies.

Ultrafast intra-atom motion tracked using synchrotron radiation

Scientists in Japan have observed and interfered with the ultrafast motion of electron movement inside of a Xenon atom using the coherent pairs of short light waves in synchrotron radiation. Xenon, consisting of a nucleus surrounded by five nested shells containing a total of 54 electrons, is used in flash lamps, and it burns bright and fast. The luminescent electrons move there on a time scale of one billionth of a second. The fast electron movement is however six orders of magnitude slower than that the scientists observed. Using the synchrotron facility at Institute for Molecular Science, they tracked the electron movement in relaxation to shed energy by dropping from an outer shell to an inner shell. The process happens at a timescale of femtoseconds, or one millionth of a billionth of a second. A femtosecond is to a second as a second is to almost 32 million years. The ability to observe and control such ultrafast processes could open the door to next-generation experiments and applications, according to the researchers.

New efficient quantum algorithm surpasses the Quantum Phase Estimation norm

Quantum computers have seen a lot attention recently as they are expected to solve certain problems that are outside the capabilities of normal computers. Primary to these problems is determining the electronic states of atoms and molecules so they can be used more effectively in a variety of industries—from lithium-ion battery designs to in silico technologies in drug development. A common way scientists have approached this problem is by calculating the total energies of the individual states of a molecule or atom and then determine the difference in energy between these states. In nature, many molecules grow in size and complexity, and the cost to calculate this constant flux is beyond the capability of any traditional computer or currently establish quantum algorithms. Therefore, theoretical predictions of the total energies have only been possible if molecules are not sizable and isolated from their natural environment.

Astronomy and Space news

Eight new millisecond pulsars discovered by MeerKAT

Using the MeerKAT radio telescope array, an international team of astronomers has detected eight new millisecond pulsars. The newfound objects are located in six globular clusters. The finding is reported in a paper published March 8 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

Scientists determine the origin of extra-solar object 'Oumuamua

In 2017, the first interstellar object from beyond our solar system was discovered via the Pan-STARRS astronomical observatory in Hawaii. It was named 'Oumuamua, meaning "scout" or "messenger" in Hawaiian. The object was like a comet, but with features that were just odd enough to defy classification.

Missing baryons found in far-out reaches of galactic halos

Researchers have channeled the universe's earliest light—a relic of the universe's formation known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB)—to solve a missing-matter mystery and learn new things about galaxy formation. Their work could also help us to better understand dark energy and test Einstein's theory of general relativity by providing new details about the rate at which galaxies are moving toward us or away from us.

Astronauts in crewed missions to Mars could misread vital emotional cues

Living for nearly 2 months in simulated weightlessness has a modest but widespread negative effect on cognitive performance that may not be counteracted by short periods of artificial gravity, finds a new study published in Frontiers in Physiology. While cognitive speed on most tests initially declined but then remained unchanged over time in simulated microgravity, emotion recognition speed continued to worsen. In testing, research participants were more likely to identify facial expressions as angry and less likely as happy or neutral.

Striking new image of the stately galaxy Messier 106 taken with the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope

This spectacular image highlights the majestic spiral galaxy Messier 106 and its diminutive neighbors, as well as a dense field of background galaxies and foreground stars. This may be the best view yet of Messier 106 in its entirety, showing both the warped central disk and the tenuous outer reaches of the galaxy.

Meteorite hunters: How we found the first bit of UK space rock in over 30 years

Wednesday 3 March started just like every other day in 2021. We were working from home. But by mid-afternoon, our colleague Luke had told us to pack our bags and fill our petrol tanks, just in case we got the OK to go on a meteorite hunt.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot feeds on smaller storms

The stormy, centuries-old maelstrom of Jupiter's Great Red Spot was shaken but not destroyed by a series of anticyclones that crashed into it over the past few years.

A Titan mission could refuel on site and return a sample to Earth

This decade promises to be an exciting time for space exploration. Already, the Perseverance rover has landed on Mars and begun conducting science operations. Later this year, the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), and Lucy spacecraft (the first mission to Jupiter's Trojan asteroids) will launch. Before the decade is out, missions will also be sent to Europa and Titan to extend the search for signs of life in our solar system.

A pocket guide to Mars: Now you can buy an atlas for the Red Planet

A pocket atlas of Mars has been published that uses geographic techniques developed for terrestrial maps to reveal a wealth of information about the surface of the Red Planet, as well as its climate and cloud cover. The atlas is being presented this week at the 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Ten years of safer skies with Europe's other satnav system

With 26 satellites in orbit and more than two billion receivers in use, Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system has made a massive impact. But our continent has another satnav system that has been providing safety-of-life services for ten years now—chances are that you've benefited from it without noticing.

Technology news

RoboEYE: A semi-autonomous and gaze-guided wheelchair

Recent technological advancements have enabled the development of new tools to assist people with different types of disabilities, allowing them to move more freely in their surroundings and complete a number of everyday tasks. These include a broad range of smart technologies and devices, ranging from home assistants to mobile robots and bionic limbs.

Nanotech scientists create world's smallest origami bird

If you want to build a fully functional nanosized robot, you need to incorporate a host of capabilities, from complicated electronic circuits and photovoltaics to sensors and antennas.

BMW announces all-electric iDrive 8

In the footsteps of Tesla, BMW will introduce its new iDrive 8 model alongside the BMW iX and i4 fully electric cars.

Pressure sensors could ensure a proper helmet fit to help protect the brain

Many athletes, from football players to equestrians, rely on helmets to protect their heads from impacts or falls. However, a loose or improperly fitted helmet could leave them vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), a leading cause of death or disability in the U.S. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Sensors have developed a highly sensitive pressure sensor cap that, when worn under a helmet, could help reveal whether the headgear is a perfect fit.

Net zero by 2050 only possible if renewables ramp up

Australia will not achieve net zero emissions until well after 2050 at the rate emissions are declining, experts from The Australian National University (ANU) warn.

New perovskite design shows path to higher efficiency

Restructuring the way perovskite solar cells are designed can boost their efficiency and increase their deployment in buildings and beyond, according to researchers with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Drivers with adaptive cruise control more likely to exceed speed limits

A combined team of researchers from MIT and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that drivers with adaptive cruise control (ACC) tend to be more likely to exceed speed limits than they would were it not for the convenience feature. In their paper posted on the IIHS web site, the group describes how they tested the impact of giving drivers the option of using ACC and what they learned.

Organic semiconductors that could help generate electricity from industrial and residential waste heat

Electronic organic materials offer promise to support alternative and green energy sources to meet escalating global energy demands and strict environmental regulations. A KAUST-led team has now developed electron-transporting, so-called n-type, organic semiconductors that could help generate electricity from waste heat released by industrial processes and homes.

Go with the flow: New model helps cities crack bottlenecks, decrease commute times

A world-first 'flow model' devised by Australian researchers could drastically slash public transport commuter times during peak periods on some of the busiest roads in major cities, new research shows.

Facial recognition ID with a twist: Smiles, winks and other facial movements for access

Using your face to unlock your phone is a pretty genius security protocol. But like any advanced technology, hackers and thieves are always up to the challenge, whether that's unlocking your phone with your face while you sleep or using a photo from social media to do the same.

Uber grants UK drivers worker status in world first

Uber on Tuesday said it is granting its UK drivers worker status, with benefits including a minimum wage—a world first for the US ride-hailing giant.

Apple Maps will now display where to get a COVID-19 vaccine

Your iPhone will make it easier to find a location to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Novel battery capable of producing hydrogen and electricity quickly while eliminating carbon dioxide

A recent study, affiliated with UNIST has unveiled a novel system, capable of producing hydrogen and electricity quickly and effectively while eliminating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly.

Artificial intelligence and algorithmic irresponsibility: The devil in the machine?

The classic 1995 crime film The Usual Suspects revolves around the police interrogation of Roger "Verbal" Kint, played by Kevin Spacey. Kint paraphrases Charles Baudelaire, stating that "the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." The implication is that the Devil is more effective when operating unseen, manipulating and conditioning behavior rather than telling people what to do. In the film's narrative, his role is to cloud judgment and tempt us to abandon our sense of moral responsibility.

Social media problems with free speech and moderation could be fixed with decentralized platforms

Over the past few months, Twitter took down the account of the then-President of the United States and Facebook temporarily stopped users from sharing Australian media content. This begs the question: do social media platforms wield too much power?

Study shows new real-time method for identifying stock bubbles like GameStop's

If a stock market can be viewed as the nervous system of a nation's economy, then few things can agitate that system's nerves the way a stock bubble can. The recent roller-coaster adventures of the GameStop stock price are a case in point, with the anxiety registering not just on Wall Street but also on Capitol Hill.

New model, controller to optimize fast charging of electric vehicles

Engineers at Southwest Research Institute are using internal research funds to tackle challenges with fast charging to reduce the time needed to recharge electric vehicles (EVs).

German automaker BMW ramps up electric vehicle offerings

German automaker BMW said Wednesday it intends to speed the rollout of new electric cars, vowing to bring battery-powered models to 50% of global sales by 2030. The company underlined the point by unveiling a new all-electric model three months ahead of plan.

New software improves accuracy of factories' mass-produced 3D-printed parts

Researchers at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign developed software to improve the accuracy of 3D-printed parts, seeking to reduce costs and waste for companies using additive manufacturing to mass produce parts in factories.

Why does bitcoin use 10 times more electricity than Google?

The bitcoin market now exceeds $1 trillion with its price rising tenfold in a year, but focus is shifting towards the massive power requirements needed to sustain the online currency.

Bitcoins under the hammer in France

Governments might look askance at bitcoin, but it does not mean they do not want to cash in on its soaring value and France is set to pocket nearly $30 million from its first-ever action of the cryptocurrency, a minister said on Wednesday.

Next 5G auction to feature large tracts sought by carriers

Regulators decided the next U.S. 5G airwaves auction will offer frequencies in portions covering millions of people, a plan backed by wireless giants thirsty for spectrum and opposed by cable providers leery of expensive bidding.

Report: World demand for gasoline may never recover

The world's once-insatiable demand for gasoline is unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels, according to a report Wednesday from the International Energy Agency.

Affective computing meets EU data protection law

Affective computing (AC and sometimes called "Emotional AI') provides opportunities to automatically process emotional data. However, is EU data protection law fit for purpose when it is applied to such AC approaches?

Environmentally friendly proposal for more efficient parcel deliveries

An innovative approach to collecting parcels—which aims to reduce carbon emissions—has been modeled and evaluated by a Malmö University team. The concept of smart mobile boxes could reduce traffic related to the increase of e-commerce, as well as increase convenience for the customers.

Amazon jumps into health care with telemedicine initiative

Amazon is making its first foray into providing health care services, announcing Wednesday that it will be offering its Amazon Care telemedicine program to employers nationwide.

Can 'health passports' kickstart global travel?

From digital certificates to "health passports", countries across the globe are hoping to relaunch travel by letting people prove their COVID-free status.

Uber prompts praise, and scepticism, after granting UK drivers worker status

US ride-hailing giant Uber's decision to grant its UK drivers worker status won praise in Britain on Wednesday and raised hopes it could transform the gig economy, but it was met with scepticism elsewhere in Europe.

French data privacy watchdog opens probe into Clubhouse

France's data privacy watchdog said Wednesday that it had opened an investigation into Clubhouse, the US audio chat app that has become a social media hit.

Tech firm says musicians lose billions to illegal business streaming

At a time when musicians are struggling to live off streaming, a Swedish tech entrepreneur says his app can boost royalties by curbing the illegal use of music by millions of businesses.

Founder of Chinese e-commerce firm Pinduoduo departs

Colin Huang, founder of the Chinese e-commerce firm Pinduoduo, stepped down as chairman Wednesday just as the company's annual user base surpassed that of rival Alibaba.

Polish state websites hacked and used to spread false info

Two Polish government websites were hacked Wednesday and used briefly to spread false information about a non-existent radioactive threat, in what a Polish government official said had the hallmarks of a Russian cyberattack.

Gig economy: Free ride is over as workers strike back

US ride-hailing giant Uber has granted its drivers workers' rights for the first time ever in a major U-turn in the UK.

US teen 'mastermind' in epic Twitter hack sentenced to prison

A Florida teenager accused of masterminding a Twitter hack of celebrity accounts in a crypto currency scheme has been sentenced to three years in juvenile prison in a plea agreement, officials said.

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