Science X Newsletter Thursday, Jul 22

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for July 22, 2021:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

An autonomous system to assemble reconfigurable robotic structures in space

New quantum research gives insights into how quantum light can be mastered

RNA breakthrough creates crops that can grow 50% more potatoes, rice

Eyes wide shut: How newborn mammals dream the world they're entering

Italian astronomers inspect galaxy Markarian 509 with ALMA

Clever cockatoos learn through social interaction

Researchers develop tool to drastically speed up the study of enzymes

Unravelling the knotty problem of the sun's activity

New simulator helps robots sharpen their cutting skills

Dynamic heart model mimics hemodynamic loads, advances engineered heart tissue technology

Team streamlines neural networks to be more adept at computing on encrypted data

New framework applies machine learning to atomistic modeling

Targeted removals and enhanced monitoring can help manage lionfish in the Mediterranean

Smog tower to help Delhi breathe but experts sceptical

Astronomers make first clear detection of a moon-forming disc around an exoplanet

Physics news

New quantum research gives insights into how quantum light can be mastered

A team of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory propose that modulated quantum metasurfaces can control all properties of photonic qubits, a breakthrough that could impact the fields of quantum information, communications, sensing and imaging, as well as energy and momentum harvesting. The results of their study were released yesterday in the journal Physical Review Letters, published by the American Physical Society.

Imaging tool under development exposes concealed detonators—and their charge

Behold the neutron, the middle child of subatomic particles. At times overshadowed by its electrically charged siblings the proton and the electron, neutrons quietly play important roles in national security. They start nuclear reactions for weapons and power plants. They bombard materials for nuclear safety tests. And now they have a new skill: telling whether a concealed, electric detonator is charged.

An X-ray vision-like camera to rapidly retrieve 3D images

It's not exactly X-ray vision, but it's close. In research published in the journal Optica, University of California, Irvine researchers describe a new type of camera technology that, when aimed at an object, can rapidly retrieve 3D images, displaying its chemical content down to the micrometer scale. The new tech promises to help companies inspect things like the insides of computer chips without having to pry them open—an advancement the researchers say could accelerate the production time of such goods by more than a hundred times.

Antimatter from laser pincers

In the depths of space, there are celestial bodies where extreme conditions prevail: Rapidly rotating neutron stars generate super-strong magnetic fields. And black holes, with their enormous gravitational pull, can cause huge, energetic jets of matter to shoot out into space. An international physics team with the participation of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) has now proposed a new concept that could allow some of these extreme processes to be studied in the laboratory in the future: A special setup of two high-intensity laser beams could create conditions similar to those found near neutron stars. In the discovered process, an antimatter jet is generated and accelerated very efficiently. The experts present their concept in the journal Communications Physics

Gaming graphics card allows faster, more precise control of fusion energy experiments

Nuclear fusion offers the potential for a safe, clean and abundant energy source.

Astronomy and Space news

Italian astronomers inspect galaxy Markarian 509 with ALMA

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), Italian astronomers have investigated an active galaxy known as Markarian 509. Results of the study, presented in a paper published July 14 on, deliver important insights into the distribution and kinematics of the galaxy's cold molecular gas.

Unravelling the knotty problem of the sun's activity

A new approach to analyzing the development of magnetic tangles on the Sun has led to a breakthrough in a longstanding debate about how solar energy is injected into the solar atmosphere before being released into space, causing space weather events. The first direct evidence that field lines become knotted before they emerge at the visible surface of the Sun has implications for our ability to predict the behavior of active regions and the nature of the solar interior. Dr. Christopher Prior of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Durham University, will present the work today at the virtual National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2021).

Astronomers make first clear detection of a moon-forming disc around an exoplanet

Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, astronomers have unambiguously detected the presence of a disk around a planet outside our Solar System for the first time. The observations will shed new light on how moons and planets form in young stellar systems.

NASA's Webb to explore a neighboring, dusty planetary system

Researchers will use NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to study Beta Pictoris, an intriguing young planetary system that sports at least two planets, a jumble of smaller, rocky bodies, and a dusty disk. Their goals include gaining a better understanding of the structures and properties of the dust to better interpret what is happening in the system. Since it's only about 63 light-years away and chock full of dust, it appears bright in infrared light—and that means there is a lot of information for Webb to gather.

Scientists determine Mars crustal thickness

Based on the analysis of marsquakes recorded by NASA's InSight mission, the structure of Mars's crust has now been determined in absolute numbers for the first time. Beneath the InSight landing site, the crust is either approximately 20 or 39 kilometers thick. That is the result of an international research team led by geophysicist Dr. Brigitte Knapmeyer-Endrun at the University of Cologne's Institute of Geology and Mineralogy and Dr. Mark Panning at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (Caltech). InSight stands for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport." NASA's lander, which landed on Mars on 26 November 2018, explores the crust, mantle and core of the red planet. The paper "Thickness and structure of the Martian crust from InSight seismic data' will appear in Science on July 23.

Physics students take first-year project to peer-reviewed paper

Two Physics students have turned their first-year project using real data from the Cassini mission into a peer-reviewed paper.

GLOSTAR: Tracing atomic and molecular gas in the Milky Way

By combining two of the most powerful radio telescopes on Earth, an international team of researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, created the most sensitive maps of the radio emission of large parts of the Northern Galactic plane so far. The data were taken with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico in two different configurations and the 100-m Effelsberg telescope near Bonn. This provides for the first time a radio survey covering all angular scales down to 1.5 arc-seconds, the apparent size of a tennis ball lying on the ground and seen from a flying plane. Contrary to previous surveys, GLOSTAR observed not only the radio continuum in the frequency range from 4-8 GHz in full polarization, but simultaneously also spectral lines that trace the molecular gas (from methanol and formaldehyde) and atomic gas via radio recombination lines.

InSight mission: Mars unveiled

Using information obtained from around a dozen earthquakes detected on Mars by the Very Broad Band SEIS seismometer, developed in France, the international team of NASA's InSight mission has unveiled the internal structure of Mars. The three papers published on July 23, 2021 in the journal Science, involving numerous co-authors from French institutions and laboratories, including the CNRS, the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, and Université de Paris, and supported in particular by the French space agency CNES and the French National Research Agency ANR, provide, for the first time, an estimate of the size of the planet's core, the thickness of its crust and the structure of its mantle, based on the analysis of seismic waves reflected and modified by interfaces in its interior. It makes this the first ever seismic exploration of the internal structure of a terrestrial planet other than Earth, and an important step towards understanding the formation and thermal evolution of Mars.

NASA rover preparing to take first Mars rock samples

The Perseverance Mars rover is preparing to collect its first rock sample from the site of an ancient lake bed, as its mission to search for signs of past life begins in earnest, NASA said Wednesday.

Reprogrammable satellite fuelled prior to launch

A sophisticated telecommunications satellite capable of being completely repurposed in orbit has been fuelled ready for its launch on 30 July.

Survey finds bullying and harassment systemic in astronomy and geophysics

Results from a new survey of astronomers and geophysicists show that these sciences have a systemic bullying problem; one that is disproportionately worse for women and those from minority groups. In a survey carried out by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) last year of over 650 people in the field, 44% of respondents had suffered bullying and harassment in the workplace within the preceding 12 months. Aine O'Brien, RAS Diversity Officer, will present the key results in a talk at the virtual National Astronomy Meeting on Thursday 22 July.

Technology news

An autonomous system to assemble reconfigurable robotic structures in space

Large space structures, such as telescopes and spacecraft, should ideally be assembled directly in space, as they are difficult or impossible to launch from Earth as a single piece. In several cases, however, assembling these technologies manually in space is either highly expensive or unfeasible.

New simulator helps robots sharpen their cutting skills

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) Department of Computer Science and NVIDIA have unveiled a new simulator for robotic cutting that can accurately reproduce the forces acting on a knife as it slices through common foodstuffs, such as fruit and vegetables. The system could also simulate cutting through human tissue, offering potential applications in surgical robotics. The paper was presented at the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) Conference 2021 on July 16, where it received the Best Student Paper Award.

Team streamlines neural networks to be more adept at computing on encrypted data

This week, at the 38th International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML 21), researchers at the NYU Center for Cyber Security at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering are revealing new insights into the basic functions that drive the ability of neural networks to make inferences on encrypted data.

Smog tower to help Delhi breathe but experts sceptical

A new attempt at purifying New Delhi's notoriously polluted air will see forty giant fans push out filtered air in the heart of the Indian capital's posh downtown shopping district.

Global approach is needed on battery regulation

New European Union regulations on batteries could offer a huge boost to the global decarbonisation mission—but only if it leverages its political and economic weight to ensure a fairer global marketplace.

Can AI chatbots help fill the empathy gap?

Stressed out? Need to talk? Turning to a chatbot for emotional support might help.

Disagreement may be a way to make online content spread faster, further

Disagreement seems to spread online posts faster and further than agreement, according to a new study from the University of Central Florida.

Smartphone screens effective sensors for soil or water contamination

The touchscreen technology used in billions of smartphones and tablets could also be used as a powerful sensor, without the need for any modifications.

Tesla mints nickel deal with Aussie mining giant

Anglo-Australian mining firm BHP said Thursday it had reached a deal to provide Tesla with supplies of nickel—a metal vital in producing high-powered batteries for electric cars.

'I pump but don't dump' bitcoin, says Musk

Tesla founder Elon Musk said Wednesday he personally has invested in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies but that he does not manipulate or "dump" the digital currencies.

Recirculating off-gas contributes to carbon capture

Every ton of silicon produced leads to emissions of around 5 tons of CO₂.

Mercedes sketches out all-electric scenario by decade's end

Daimler AG's luxury car brand Mercedes-Benz says it is stepping up its transition to electric cars, doubling the share of sales planned by 2025 and sketching out a market scenario in which new car sales would "in essence" be fully electric by the end of the decade.

The sunlight that powers solar panels also damages them: 'Gallium doping' is providing a solution

Solar power is already the cheapest form of electricity generation, and its cost will continue to fall as more improvements emerge in the technology and its global production. Now, new research is exploring what could be another major turning point in solar cell manufacturing.

Microstructure morphology fine-tuning of active layer film boosts organic solar cell efficiency

The power conversion efficiency (PCE) of organic solar cells (OSCs) are demonstrated to be improved via the microstructure morphology fine-tuning of active layer films. Thanks to the appealing advantages like light weight, mechanical flexibility and roll-to-roll processability, OSCs have drawn increasing attention. As a promising power source for flexible electronic systems, they feature relatively high PCE, which still needs to be improved.

Fully renewable energy feasible for Samoa

The future of Samoa's electricity system could go green, a University of Otago study has shown.

Tougher, safer bicycle helmets using a new plastic material

As cities worldwide expand their networks of cycling paths and more cyclists take to the streets, the chances of cycling accidents and potential collisions increase as well, underscoring the need for proper cycling safety in dense urban areas.

Visualizing a city's energy use

The building sector in the U.S. accounts for 39 percent of energy use, with commercial buildings responsible for about half of that. As cities grapple with climate change, making commercial buildings more efficient is a key part of the solution.

Bringing the jury to the crime scene via a 3D headset: Virtual reality leads to more consistent verdicts

As any juror will tell you, piecing together a crime from a series of documents tendered in a courtroom is no easy feat, especially when a person's future hangs in the balance.

Spyware for sale: the booming trade in surveillance tech

Israeli's NSO Group is in the eye of a storm over its Pegasus spyware—but it is far from the only company helping governments with their covert surveillance operations.

Uber buys trucking software firm for $2.25 bn

Uber on Thursday announced a $2.25 billion deal to beef up its freight unit with the acquisition of a firm specializing in logistics management software.

Ransomware victim Kaseya gets master key to unlock networks

The Florida company whose software was exploited in the devastating Fourth of July weekend ransomware attack, Kaseya, has received a universal key that will decrypt all of the more than 1,000 businesses and public organizations crippled in the global incident.

Akamai software update triggers internet outages

Websites were briefly knocked offline Thursday after a software update triggered a glitch at network specialty firm Akamai.

'Wrapping' anodes in 3D carbon nanosheets: The next big thing in li-ion battery technology

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs), which are a renewable source of energy for electrical devices or electric vehicles, have attracted much attention as the next-generation energy solution. However, the anodes of LIBs in use today have multiple inadequacies, ranging from low ionic electronic conductivity and structural changes during the charge/discharge cycle to low specific capacity, which limits the battery's performance.

Upbeat quarterly update lifts Twitter shares

Twitter on Thursday posted better-than-expected results for the recently ended quarter with gains in revenue, profit and its user base, sparking a rally in shares of the messaging platform.

France weighs cybersecurity moves after spyware reports

French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency cybersecurity meeting Thursday to weigh possible government action after reports that his cellphone and those of government ministers may have been targeted by spyware.

Merkel: No way back on German plan to end nuclear power use

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday defended her decision to end Germany's use of nuclear power next year, but acknowledged that it will make it harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term.

Dutch data protection authority fines TikTok over privacy

The Netherlands' Data Protection Authority said Thursday it has fined TikTok 750,000 euros ($885,000) for not offering a privacy statement in Dutch, saying many children who use the popular video sharing app would be unable to understand the information.

Tokyo Olympics: Google is rolling out these updates to get into the Summer Games spirit

Ready to participate in your own Summer Games?

Sunnier skies: US airline recovery gets off the ground

US airlines are seeing profits return and betting that the rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus will not derail a domestic travel comeback even as it clouds the outlook for an international recovery.

Pegasus spy claims probed as Macron switches phone

Hungary, Israel and Algeria on Thursday probed allegations that Israeli-made spyware was used on journalists, rights activists and 14 heads of state, as French leader Emmanuel Macron ordered tighter security and changed his phone over espionage concerns.

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You're not funny

We've all heard that 'you should always start with a joke' — but I'd say it's much more nuanced than that.
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A letter from Boris

Before we get started...

First, a few things to get us warmed up:

  • What I read: I was amazed by this startup's story of how they turned their office into an art gallery — and its unexpected benefits.
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That's it, time for this week's big dose of deep thoughts.


You are you


Once upon a time, I was hired by a company and given the title 'general manager' of a business unit. I was 30, had started two companies before, but had never felt like a manager or knew what was expected from a manager.

So what did I do? I panicked.

I started looking around me to see what the other managers were doing. I noticed they carried leather-bound notebooks and wore suits... so I bought a suit and a notebook.

I basically tried to emulate the other managers as much as possible, but I felt awful and insecure every step of the way because none of it felt natural to me.

One day I broke down and confessed to my own manager that I had no idea what I was doing.

He smiled and said "Boris, we already have 10,000 managers here. We don't need another one that looks and acts like the ones we already have. We hired you for your unique skills and personality. So stop trying to act like a manager and just be yourself."

You can imagine the immense relief I felt when I heard him say that and how much better I felt about myself.

But why am I going on about this? Well, I was reminded of this time in my life when I saw this tweet:

Screenshot 2021-07-21 at 15.42.44

My first thought was "yes, that's brilliant!"

If you have someone applying for a job, and the chemistry is so good you can have a laugh together from the start, I'd definitely consider that a good sign!

...but then I also thought about all the bad presentations I've seen in my life.

We've all seen presentations where the person has clearly read somewhere that 'you should always start with a joke.' So despite it not being natural to them, they take their shot at standup comedy and fail miserably — making the whole thing excruciatingly awkward.

Starting a presentation with a joke — or making a joke during a job interview — are incredibly scary and risky things to attempt, and I would never give this as general advice to anyone.

But what would be my general advice? Do what makes you feel at ease.


A friend and colleague of mine of ten years recently announced she's leaving my company. After I overcame my disappointment we started chatting about how she had applied for her new job. Turns out, she didn't...?

Halfway through the meeting she had with the company, the interviewer said "We're going to make you an offer" at which point she suddenly realized "Oh shit, this is a job interview!"

I laughed out loud at the story, as it seemed so naive and absentminded — but I also quickly realized that this probably helped her land the job.

She must've looked confident and come across as a person who's easy to get along with during the interview. And that's because she IS confident and easy to get along with.

I understand this advice is much more complex than just saying 'start with a joke' — but that's just how it is. You are unique and I hope you'll find a company or team that recognizes your uniqueness. And if they don't, then the job probably isn't right for you.

But also, always start your presentation with a joke.

Like this and want to share it with a friend? Here's the link to the published version.

Sponsored by TNW

Wait... is that Tom Cruise?

I'm getting super excited for TNW2021 — and you should too!

Why? Because of speakers like Chris Ume. I can't wait to see him on stage as he's the co-founder of, and is widely recognized as the world expert in the emerging field of hyper-real videos... and he created deepfake Tom Cruise on TikTok.

Come join me in Amsterdam to see him!

Tweet of the week

Screenshot 2021-07-21 at 15.56.52


Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Co-founder & CEO, TNW

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