Science X Newsletter Wednesday, May 19

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for May 19, 2021:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

MOBLOT: A theoretical model that describes molecular oblivious robots

Researchers design new experiments to map and test the mysterious quantum realm

Heavy metal vapors unexpectedly found in comets throughout our Solar System—and beyond

Robotic 'Third Thumb' use can alter brain representation of the hand

Half of Guadeloupe's snakes and lizards went extinct after European colonization

'Postcode lottery' of nutrient intake from crops revealed in new study

Liquid-like motion in crystals could explain their promising behavior in solar cells

Study on bizarre rodent genetics solves a mystery and reveals another

Unexpected 'Black Swan' defect discovered in soft matter for first time

Researchers identify potential approach to controlling epileptic seizures

Researchers shed light on the evolution of extremist groups

Genome mining leads to a new type of peptide prenylation

Tidal tails detected in the open cluster NGC 752

Calculating the rising energy demand for cooling

Looking for the genuine 'tiny red beasts' in the Milky Way

Physics news

Researchers design new experiments to map and test the mysterious quantum realm

A heart surgeon doesn't need to grasp quantum mechanics to perform successful operations. Even chemists don't always need to know these fundamental principles to study chemical reactions. But for Kang-Kuen Ni, the Morris Kahn associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and of physics, quantum spelunking is, like space exploration, a quest to discover a vast and mysterious new realm.

Unexpected 'Black Swan' defect discovered in soft matter for first time

In new research, Texas A&M University scientists have for the first time revealed a single microscopic defect called a "twin" in a soft-block copolymer using an advanced electron microscopy technique. This defect may be exploited in the future to create materials with novel acoustic and photonic properties.

A revolutionary method to drastically reduce stray light on space telescopes

A team of researchers at the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL) of the University of Liège has just developed a method to identify the contributors and origins of stray light on space telescopes. This is a major advance in the field of space engineering that will help in the acquisition of even finer space images and the development of increasingly efficient space instruments. This study has just been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Nuclear terrorism could be intercepted by neutron-gamma detector that pinpoints source

Scanning technology aimed at detecting small amounts of nuclear materials was unveiled by scientists in Sweden today, with the hope of preventing acts of nuclear terrorism.

Silicon chips combine light and ultrasound for better signal processing

The continued growth of wireless and cellular data traffic relies heavily on light waves. Microwave photonics is the field of technology that is dedicated to the distribution and processing of electrical information signals using optical means. Compared with traditional solutions based on electronics alone, microwave photonic systems can handle massive amounts of data. Therefore, microwave photonics has become increasingly important as part of 5G cellular networks and beyond. A primary task of microwave photonics is the realization of narrowband filters: The selection of specific data, at specific frequencies, out of immense volumes that are carried over light.

Astronomy and Space news

Heavy metal vapors unexpectedly found in comets throughout our Solar System—and beyond

A new study by a Belgian team using data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO's VLT) has shown that iron and nickel exist in the atmospheres of comets throughout our Solar System, even those far from the Sun. A separate study by a Polish team, who also used ESO data, reported that nickel vapor is also present in the icy interstellar comet 2I/Borisov. This is the first time heavy metals, usually associated with hot environments, have been found in the cold atmospheres of distant comets.

Tidal tails detected in the open cluster NGC 752

Indian astronomers have detected tidal tails in a disintegrating open cluster known as NGC 752. The newly found features extend on either side of the cluster's denser central region. The findings were presented in a research paper published May 13 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

Looking for the genuine 'tiny red beasts' in the Milky Way

There is a special group of tiny red beasts wandering across the Milky Way galaxy. They are red subdwarf stars that are 'aborigines' of the Milky Way and considered to be born in the galactic halo and thick disk. 

Finding quasars: Rare extragalactic objects are now easier to spot

Astrophysicists from the University of Bath have developed a new method for pinpointing the whereabouts of extremely rare extragalactic objects. They hope their technique for finding 'changing-look quasars' will take scientists one step closer to unraveling one of greatest mysteries of the universe—how supermassive black holes grow. Quasars are believed to be responsible for regulating the growth of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies.

Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos

Solar panels against an alien landscape, ramps and rods pointing at the Martian horizon—China's first probe on the Red Planet has beamed back its first "selfies" after its history-making landing last week.

Russia to sell Soyuz space module

Russia has put up for sale one of its space modules, which in 2018 returned a Russian and two Americans from the International Space Station (ISS).

China prepares to launch rocket carrying space station supplies

China is preparing to launch a rocket carrying supplies for its new space station just days after landing a rover on Mars, as it hustles ahead with its extraterrestrial ambitions.

A solution to space junk: Satellites made of mushrooms?

According to the latest numbers from the ESA's Space Debris Office (SDO), there are roughly 6,900 artificial satellites in orbit. The situation is going to become exponentially crowded in the coming years, thanks to the many telecommunications, internet, and small satellites that are expected to be launched. This creates all kinds of worries for collision risks and space debris, not to mention environmental concerns.

Back to the space cradle: ESA astronaut's ongoing experiments in the ISS

Like an infant adjusting to the new world, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is relearning how to move around the weightless environment of space. His cradle is a familiar place though—this is Thomas's second mission to the International Space Station, the orbiting lab where he where he broke records for science during his first six months in orbit.

Cool test of Proba-V companion during preparation for 'thermal balance' testing

A test version of ESA's Proba-V Companion CubeSat seen during preparation for 'thermal balance' testing in the Agency's Mechanical Systems Laboratory at its ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.

NASA's Webb to study how massive stars' blasts of radiation influence their environments

In a nearby stellar nursery called the Orion Nebula, young, massive stars are blasting far-ultraviolet light at the cloud of dust and gas from which they were born. This intense flood of radiation is violently disrupting the cloud by breaking apart molecules, ionizing atoms and molecules by stripping their electrons, and heating the gas and dust. An international team using NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in October, will study a portion of the radiated cloud called the Orion Bar to learn more about the influence massive stars have on their environments, and even on the formation of our own solar system.

Highest bid for Blue Origin's maiden voyage $2.6 million and climbing

An online bid for a seat aboard Blue Origin's first crewed spaceflight was going for $2.6 million on Wednesday afternoon as the company prepares to blast off this summer.

China postpones launch of rocket carrying space station supplies

China has postponed the planned launch Thursday of a rocket carrying supplies for its new space station due to technical reasons, state media said.

Technology news

MOBLOT: A theoretical model that describes molecular oblivious robots

Research focusing on swarm robotics typically uses theoretical approaches to describe robotic systems in an abstract way. A theoretical model that is often used in robotics studies is OBLOT, an approach that represents robots as simple systems, all identical, without a memory and unable to communicate with each other.

Robotic 'Third Thumb' use can alter brain representation of the hand

Using a robotic 'Third Thumb' can impact how the hand is represented in the brain, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

Calculating the rising energy demand for cooling

Due to climate change, the average global temperature will rise in the coming decades. This should also significantly increase the number of so-called cooling degree days. These measure the number of hours above a certain ambient temperature threshold at which a building must be cooled to keep the indoor temperature at a comfortable level. The rising values may lead to an increased installation of AC systems in households. This could lead to a higher energy demand for cooling buildings, which is already expected to increase due to climate change and population growth.

Scientists take a bite out of solar efficiency challenge with sandwich model

In a world hungry for cheaper, more efficient renewable energy, Australian researchers have served up a treat.

New research could help manufacturers avoid 3D-printing pitfall

A research team has found that a method commonly used to skirt one of metal 3D printing's biggest problems may be far from a silver bullet.

A safer, greener way to make solar cells: Researchers find replacement for toxic solvent

Scientists at SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Swansea University, have found a way to replace the toxic, unsustainable solvents currently needed to make the next generation of solar technology.

Project Starline: Google's video chat makes it look like users are physically in the same room

Picture using video chat like Zoom, except instead of seeing the person you call on a screen, it feels as if they are physically sitting across from you.

Google aims to use AI to help recognize common skin conditions

Provided the many uses of AI for healthcare—from breast cancer diagnosis to better detecting tuberculosis—Google plans to use artificial intelligence to help users learn more about common skin conditions. When combined with technology such as smartphones, this kind of medical knowledge can really improve the way individuals understand their own health.

Bitcoin tumbles to $30,000 after China warning, Musk remarks

Bitcoin plunged by 30 percent on Wednesday after China signalled a new crackdown on the cryptocurrency and Tesla head Elon Musk sent mixed signals about his car company's use of the unit.

Amazon to extend ban on police use of face recognition tech

Amazon said Tuesday it is extending its ban on the use of its facial recognition tools for law enforcement, amid persistent concerns of bias in the technology.

New case study shows potential of geothermal energy for reducing carbon emissions

Geothermal energy as a sustainable energy source can make its own significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions in Germany. This is shown by a case study of the Kirchstockach power plant published by scientists at the Center for Energy Technology (ZET) at the University of Bayreuth in the journal Renewable Energy. Geothermal research at ZET is integrated into the Geothermal-Alliance Bavaria, which has been funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Science since 2016. Within the framework of the recently launched second funding phase, ZET will receive around 500,000 euros.

Study of indium arsenide paves way to smaller, more powerful electronics

Skoltech researchers have studied the electronic properties of indium arsenide, a semiconductor that is currently widely used for photodiodes in the infrared range and proposed as a building block for alternative infrared lasers and terahertz oscillators. The paper was published in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

Coal-fired Poland turns toward the sun

A solar boom is helping Poland take a big step towards weaning itself off coal as a new homegrown photovoltaic technology is poised to be a game-changer in harnessing the power of the sun.

New combustion strategies plus biofuels add up to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks

Last year, average fuel economy for light-duty vehicles hit a new high, while the pandemic reduced time on the road, fuel consumption, and emissions. These short-term reductions have spurred efforts to cement even greater long-term fuel efficiency gains and emissions reductions for gasoline-powered vehicles, which are likely to make up the majority of the U.S. automotive market for years to come. At the same time, to meet delivery demands from surges in online ordering by quarantined Americans, freight trucks have regained activity and diesel consumption levels even higher than those seen prior to the pandemic.

Critics say there are no legitimate uses of encryption—they're wrong

Australia's parliament is considering legislation to give new powers to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Federal Police. These powers will allow them to modify online data, monitor network activity, and take over online accounts in some circumstances.

App assesses value of energy storage for businesses, utilities

Utility companies and corporate project developers now have help assessing how much money adding an energy storage system will save them thanks to new Sandia National Laboratories software.

Magnetically propelled cilia power climbing soft robots and microfluidic pumps

The rhythmic motions of hair-like cilia move liquids around cells or propel the cells themselves. In nature, cilia flap independently, and mimicking these movements with artificial materials requires complex mechanisms. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces have made artificial cilia that move in a wave-like fashion when a rotating magnetic field is applied, making them suitable for versatile, climbing soft robots and microfluidic devices.

Envisioning safer cities with AI

Artificial intelligence is providing new opportunities in a range of fields, from business to industrial design to entertainment. But how about civil engineering and city planning? How might machine- and deep-learning help us create safer, more sustainable, and resilient built environments?

California's next climate challenge: Replacing its last nuclear power plant

The twin reactors along California's Central Coast were nearing completion, and tens of thousands of people had gathered to protest. It was 1979, just months after a partial nuclear meltdown at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island, and a young Jerry Brown—serving his first stint as California governor—earned a standing ovation when he declared, "No on Diablo Canyon."

Use Google services? These five updates will make your lives easier

Get ready for a lot of new changes to most of your Google experiences.

Hackers targeted SolarWinds earlier than previously known

The hackers who carried out the massive SolarWinds intrusion were in the software company's system as early as January 2019, months earlier than previously known, the company's top official said Wednesday.

WarnerMedia to offer $10 ad-supported tier of HBO Max

WarnerMedia is rolling out a $10-a-month ad supported version of its HBO Max streaming service starting in June.

Twitter drops image-cropping algorithm after finding bias

Twitter said Wednesday it was scrapping an automated image-cropping system after its review found bias in the algorithm controlling the function.

Ford to unveil all-electric F-150 pickup

One day after winning an enthusiastic endorsement from President Joe Biden, Ford will officially preview the all-electric version of its best-selling F-150 truck on Wednesday.

EU Parliament votes to take down illegal sports streaming

European legislators adopted a proposal Wednesday to combat online piracy of live sporting events that includes the option to block illegal broadcasts within half an hour.

Less choice, higher car prices in chip shortage

The pandemic appears to be receding in the U.S. and the economy is recovering, yet car shoppers heading back to car dealerships are in for a surprise: There are fewer vehicles to choose from and higher prices as a result.

JetBlue sets date for start of flights between US and London

JetBlue Airways said Wednesday it will start transatlantic service late this summer, competing against bigger rivals on the lucrative route between New York and London.

Southwest says flights are more full and fares are rising

Southwest Airlines said Wednesday that bookings are improving and leisure-travel fares for June are approaching pre-pandemic levels, further signs that the airline industry is recovering from a deep slump.

Getting 'wind' of the future: Making wind turbines low-maintenance and more resilient

A key driver of energy research is the ever-growing demand for energy. Traditional fossil-fuel-based energy sources currently meet these demands and do it well, but they're non-renewable and cause major environmental pollution. In a world with looming climate and resource crisis threats, researchers have turned to renewable sources of energy as sustainable alternatives. Among renewables, wind energy, in particular, has gained considerable attention due to its low cost. As Dr. Afef Fekih, Computer Engineer at the University of Louisiana, U.S., with a specialization in wind turbine design, notes, "Wind energy has been described as 'the world's fastest-growing renewable energy source,' seeing a 30% annual growth on average over the last two decades."

Computer science expert reviews a pandemic-stressed internet

Ayear ago, the Gazette spoke with Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Professor Jim Waldo about the technological side of the pandemic-forced shift to work from home. Waldo said then that the world was experiencing a real-time experiment that would stress test the internet in ways it hadn't been previously. A year later, the Gazette caught up with Waldo, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science and the Paulson School's chief technology officer, to see how it went.

Colonial Pipeline confirms it paid $4.4M to hackers

The operator of the nation's largest fuel pipeline confirmed it paid $4.4 million to a gang of hackers who broke into its computer systems.

Boeing resumes 737 MAX deliveries after electrical problem

Boeing confirmed Wednesday that it resumed deliveries of the 737 MAX after garnering regulatory approval for a fix to an electrical problem that had grounded more than 100 planes.

Facebook touts progress in curbing hate, violent content

Facebook said Wednesday it was making steady progress in curbing hate speech and violent content on the massive social network as it released its quarterly update on enforcing its standards.

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