Science X Newsletter Friday, Aug 13

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for August 13, 2021:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Why boiling droplets can race across hot oily surfaces

Polymer enables tougher recyclable thermoplastics

'Likes' and 'shares' teach people to express more outrage online

Scientists show how blocking opioid receptors in specific neurons can restore breathing during an overdose

Boeing Starliner launch faces further delays

New study shows the potential of DNA-based data-structures systems

Human sperm mutations that can cause disease in children identified

Brain's navigation center calls on mental state as well as physical environment, researchers find

Lung drug hope for heart failure patients

New algorithm can help improve cellular materials design

Researchers unlock genetic 'treasure map' for chronic kidney disease

Shared antibodies may push COVID variants: study

Dog coat patterns have ancient origin

Neutrons help measure cell membrane viscosity—and reveal its basis

Disease ecologists document person-to-person spread of antimicrobial-resistant plague

Physics news

Why boiling droplets can race across hot oily surfaces

When you're frying something in a skillet and some droplets of water fall into the pan, you may have noticed those droplets skittering around on top of the film of hot oil. Now, that seemingly trivial phenomenon has been analyzed and understood for the first time by researchers at MIT—and may have important implications for microfluidic devices, heat transfer systems, and other useful functions.

Neutrons help measure cell membrane viscosity—and reveal its basis

We now have a clearer picture of the lightning-fast molecular dance occurring within the membrane that encloses each cell in our body, revealed in part by neutron beams at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The findings may have applications in drug development, and they also address long-standing fundamental mysteries about why cell membranes move as they do.

Shielding ultracold molecules with microwaves

Ultracold molecules are promising for applications in new quantum technologies. Unfortunately, these molecules are destroyed upon colliding with each other. Researchers at Harvard University, MIT, Korea University and Radboud University have demonstrated that these collisional losses can be prevented by guiding the interaction between molecules using microwaves in such a way that they repel each other and, therefore, do not come close to each other during collisions. Their paper will be published in Science on 13 August.

Engineers make critical advance in quantum computer design

Quantum engineers from UNSW Sydney have removed a major obstacle that has stood in the way of quantum computers becoming a reality. They discovered a new technique they say will be capable of controlling millions of spin qubits—the basic units of information in a silicon quantum processor.

Progress in algorithms makes small, noisy quantum computers viable

As reported in a new article in Nature Reviews Physics, instead of waiting for fully mature quantum computers to emerge, Los Alamos National Laboratory and other leading institutions have developed hybrid classical/quantum algorithms to extract the most performance—and potentially quantum advantage—from today's noisy, error-prone hardware. Known as variational quantum algorithms, they use the quantum boxes to manipulate quantum systems while shifting much of the work load to classical computers to let them do what they currently do best: solve optimization problems.

A complete platform for quantum computing

In a new groundbreaking work, researchers from DTU have now realized the complete platform for an optical quantum computer. The platform is universal and scalable, it all takes place at room temperature, and the technology is directly compatible with standard fiber optic networks. This puts DTU right at the forefront of the development.

Researchers develop new way to study neurodegenerative diseases

Some proteins in cells can separate into small droplets like oil droplets in water, but faults in this process may underlie neurodegenerative diseases in the brains of older people. Now, Rutgers researchers have developed a new method to quantify protein droplets involved in these diseases.

Electrically-tunable metasurfaces using dual epsilon-near-zero resonances

In a new publication from Opto-Electronic Advances, Researchers led by Professor Jinghua Teng from Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore consider ultra-high extinction-ratio light modulation by electrically tunable metasurfaces.

Astronomy and Space news

Boeing Starliner launch faces further delays

Boeing's troubled Starliner spaceship could be set for further delays after the company said Thursday it was working to solve problems with the propulsion system.

Traces of Ceres' icy crust found at occator crater

Anomalies in the distribution of hydrogen at Occator crater on the dwarf planet Ceres reveal an icy crust, says a new paper led by Tom Prettyman, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. 

Image: Hubble peers into a dusty stellar nursery

Nestled among the vast clouds of star-forming regions like this one lie potential clues about the formation of our own solar system.

Growing crops on Mars? Probably not under the naked sun

If humans want to live on Mars for a longer period it will be necessary to grow their own crops over there. And what is more logical than growing the crops in a greenhouse on the surface, profiting from the sunlight, as seen in many scientific designs and Sci-fi movies? However, will this be possible giving the high amount of cosmic radiation at the Martian surface level? Wageningen University & Research and the Reactor Institute Delft (RID, TU Delft) have been investigating for some time now the effect of cosmic radiation on Martian surface on plant growth. This revealed that, just like humans, plants also need to be protected from the cosmic radiation.

Heat transfer experiment arrives at International Space Station

People who design spacecraft must prioritize two factors: reducing weight and managing extreme temperatures.

Technology news

Faster path planning for rubble-roving robots

A new algorithm speeds up path planning for robots that use arm-like appendages to maintain balance on treacherous terrain such as disaster areas or construction sites, researchers at the University of Michigan have shown. The improved path planning algorithm found successful paths three times as often as standard algorithms, while needing much less processing time.

A holistic approach to materials for the next generation of electrical insulation

Our electrical infrastructure has remained largely unchanged since World War II, but advances in technology—specifically materials—opened doors we never would have thought possible in the past. These advances have set the stage to redesign our electrical infrastructure for the next 100 years and beyond.

How hackers can 'poison' open-source code

Cornell Tech researchers have discovered a new type of online attack that can manipulate natural-language modeling systems and evade any known defense—with possible consequences ranging from modifying movie reviews to manipulating investment banks' machine-learning models to ignore negative news coverage that would affect a specific company's stock.

Dutch lead charge for electric car stations

They are best known for bike-riding, but the climate-vulnerable Dutch are leading the way for electric cars with the largest number of charging stations in Europe.

Microsoft protests Amazon win of big US cloud contract

Microsoft on Thursday confirmed it is challenging a decision to award a multi-billion-dollar cloud computing contract to its rival Amazon.

Kids using Zoom for school? There's a new way to keep them focused

As Zoom remains a key part of many students' experience this fall, the video conferencing tool introduced a new feature to keep them from getting distracted in class.

Bright idea: new LEDs can detect off food and lethal gases

Your smart device could soon be even smarter with a new infrared light emitting diode (LED) that is 'tuneable' to different wavelengths of light—it could enable your fridge to tell you when your food is going off and your phone to tell you if that Gucci purse is real.

NREL's thermoplastic blade research dives deep with verdant power's tidal energy turbines

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers have been exploring the use of thermoplastic composite materials for wind turbines for several years, but they have only just begun to scrape the surface of how these materials perform underwater. For the first time in history, thermoplastic composite blades, which have the potential to revolutionize the marine energy industry, are being tested on a large-scale tidal power turbine.

New study on costs and benefits of new transportation technologies the most comprehensive to date

A new Argonne study offers the most complete understanding yet of the costs of owning and operating a vehicle and how those costs vary by powertrain, from the conventional to the cutting-edge.

Smart energy meter shows energy generation instead of consumption

An energy meter indicates that hundreds of watts are generated but in reality a small amount of power is consumed. This can happen using the combination of a dimmer and some household equipment, which together only consume about twenty watts. Depending on the actual setting of the dimmer, the energy meter gives the correct read-out, a consumption that is twenty times higher, or even hundreds of watts of generated power. Researchers from the University of Twente will present and explain this effect on the large online conference on electromagnetic compatibility, EMC 2021.

Tesla hopes to start production at Berlin factory in October

Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk said Friday that he hopes to start producing cars at its new factory outside Berlin in October.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles: A realistic path to clean energy?

Each morning at a transit facility in Canton, Ohio, more than a dozen buses pull up to a fueling station before fanning out to their routes in this city south of Cleveland.

Orc-ward! Amazon ends New Zealand's role as Middle Earth

Amazon on Friday dumped New Zealand as the location of its big-budget "The Lord of The Rings" series after just one season, in a major blow to the South Pacific's self-styled Middle Earth.

Facebook delays return to campus as Delta variant rages

Facebook on Thursday postponed workers' return to the office until early next year due to surging cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Review: A taste of the good life at a price you can swallow

Samsung's new Galaxy Buds 2 are the rare example of a pair of earbuds that feel much more premium than their price point suggests. The latest Galaxy Buds offer a light and stylish design, respectable active noise canceling and a pack of features that easily puts the geriatric AirPods to shame. While I wish they were a bit more water-resistant, these earbuds offer serious punch for their price, making them an enticing draw for Samsung phone owners—and just about anyone else.

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plugged by nature

Or... plugs plugs plugs plugs.
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Plugged In

This week, Plugged In is licking the wall and sticking its tongue in every available socket.

Friends, enemies, people who haven't made their mind up about me yet — I've done something I haven't in over a year: come back to the UK.

Don't worry, this isn't an ode to British culture (music! pints! gravy!), YET... there's one towering part of the country's civilization that smacked me right in my mindface when I arrived.

You guessed it, I'm talking about plugs.

I've lived in Amsterdam for a few years now and, the thing about Europe, is that pretty much everywhere uses the same plugs. You know, these ones:

giphy-Aug-13-2021-11-47-48-53-AMThis is the only GIF of an EU plug I could find, soooo.... enjoy?


These are exactly the sort of plugs that the UK does not use.

And — in my endless, ever flowing wisdom — I made the mistake of bringing but a single adaptor.

That might not sound too bad, but it is. Oh my lord it is. 

Let me spray some context on that statement. Currently, I have four separate pieces of technology that need charging touching my body.

giphy-downsized-largeFor the intrigued, I'm typing on a laptop, have a phone in my pocket, an Apple Watch on my wrist, and am wearing headphones.

Of course, My Struggle is My Own Damn Fault™ — and I'm not gonna dispute that.

But this has led me to a place I didn't expect to be in, specifically a place where I'm thinking about plugs quite a lot.

Solving my issue was easy. Almost cool.

I ordered an adaptor for about $5 that arrived on the same day and allowed me to juice up my devices with impunity.

But, on the other hand… what?


Look, I get it. AC power infrastructure was created long enough ago that standards differ across the world. But... can't we all just agree to move to USB or something? Make my life just a little simpler.

This issue riles me up even more when I remember that... the UK and Europe are… right there...? next to each other...? close enough to swim between...?


If only there was some sort of united governmental body across the continent that could work together to make its part of the world a better place for its inhabitants.

No. I'm being stupid. That could never work.

(P.S. We're keen to improve Plugged In and hear what you think about it, so head to the bottom of this email to give us your thoughts!)

News you need



Samsung! Unpacked! Announcements!


Yes, this edition is all about Samsung Unpacked. Here's info on the company's new folding phones.

Aaaand here's some shit about Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4


FINALLY! Here's why Samsung's foldables will always play second fiddle... until they're as good as normal phones.


Bonus news: We like Xbox Night Mode. A lot.

A review you're required to read

Okay... Windows laptops? Which one should you choose?

Well, how about the HP Spectre x360 14?Screenshot 2021-08-12 at 14.43.07

This gorgeous ultraportable laptop is close to being the perfect Windows machine.

To make things easier (and so you don't have to wade through an endless sea of text), we've split the review into the good, the okay, and the bad.

Let's just say there's a lot more in that first category than the following two.

Find our full thoughts here.

Sponsored by TNW

Hold on one hot minute... is that Tom Cruise?

Oh lord I'm getting all sweaty in excitement about TNW2021 — and you really should be feeling the same.

Why? Because of speakers like Chris Ume. He's the co-founder of, and is widely recognized as the world expert in the emerging field of hyper-real videos.

Yoy may remember him as the creator of the deepfake Tom Cruise on TikTok.

Anyway, you can find out more about the body-tingling TNW2021 right here. Come and hang in Amsterdam.

Here's a cool thing (also, cya)


Recently, I read a book called The Shepherd's Life: A People's History of the Lake District.

Written by James Rebanks, this piece of non-fiction describes his life as a shepherd in one of England's most famous bits of countryside.

At times, I came close to adoring the novel. In the end though, I settled on it being pretty damn good instead.

The main issue is the narrator, Mr. Rebanks himself, kiiinda comes across like an arrogant know-it-all who's convinced that his way of life is the only way.

And yes, stones and glass houses and all that.

Despite this, The Shepherd's Life has some absolutely glorious moments. The writing is sparse and evocative — especially when Rebanks is describing landscapes and weather.

Where his book really shines though is giving an insight into the ancient nature of shepherding in the Lake District. It's impossible not to be fascinated when he's talking about the ebb-and-flow of the seasons and how it relates to sheep rearing.

If you're looking for a non-fiction read that'll shine a gorgeous light on a world you probably know little about, you could do far worse than The Shepherd's Life.


Tell your enemies all about Plugged In. I'll see the rest of you jabronis later.


Peas & Louvre,


(Find me on Twitter here and on Instagram here).

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