NASA Consultant 'Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s'

science - Posted On:2019-10-14 03:44:57 Source: slashdot

"A consultant for NASA slammed the agency for deliberately ignoring the results of the experiment he handled that showed signs of alien life on Mars," reports the International Business Times. "According to the consultant, NASA refuses to conduct new life-detection tests on the Red Planet." Engineer Gilbert Levin served as a principal investigator on NASA's Viking missions, which sent two identical landers to Mars. For his role, Levin handled the missions' biological experiments known as Labeled Release (LR). These experiments focused on identifying living microorganisms on Mars. The experiments were sent to the Red Planet through the Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions in 1975.... "As the experiment progressed, a total of four positive results, supported by five varied controls, streamed down from the twin Viking spacecraft landed some 4,000 miles apart," Levin wrote in Scientific American. "The data curves signaled the detection of microbial respiration on the Red Planet," he continued. "The curves from Mars were similar to those produced by LR tests of soils on Earth. It seemed we had answered that ultimate question." Despite the results of the LR experiment, the findings were discarded by NASA due to the agency's previous experiment on Mars. More from Levin's article in Scientific American: Life on Mars seemed a long shot. On the other hand, it would take a near miracle for Mars to be sterile. NASA scientist Chris McKay once said that Mars and Earth have been "swapping spit" for billions of years, meaning that, when either planet is hit by comets or large meteorites, some ejecta shoot into space. A tiny fraction of this material eventually lands on the other planet, perhaps infecting it with microbiological hitch-hikers. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Covering the Nobels—is it worth the bother?

Science - Posted On:2019-10-13 09:44:56 Source: arstechnica

One thing we do regularly at Ars is try out new types of content. We can make some pretty informed guesses as to what our readers will want to see but still find ourselves surprised at times—who knew you guys would be such big archeology fans?

But you readers have made it very clear that you're really not into scientific awards and prizes. We've tried out a number and received a clear message: not interested. The one, not-surprising exception had been the Nobel Prizes, which consistently drew a significant readership. (That shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that our science section started out as a blog named Nobel Intent.)

But that's started to change over the last couple of years, and with the falling reader interest, we're starting to re-evaluate our decision to cover these prizes. So, what follows is an attempt to spell out the pros and cons of Nobel coverage and an opportunity for you to give us your thoughts on the matter.

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Python Code Glitch May Have Caused Errors In Over 100 Published Studies

science - Posted On:2019-10-12 15:45:00 Source: slashdot

Over 100 published studies may have incorrect results thanks to a glitchy piece of Python code discovered by researchers at the University of Hawaii. An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: The glitch caused results of a common chemistry computation to vary depending on the operating system used, causing discrepancies among Mac, Windows, and Linux systems. The researchers published the revelation and a debugged version of the script, which amounts to roughly 1,000 lines of code, on Tuesday in the journal Organic Letters. "This simple glitch in the original script calls into question the conclusions of a significant number of papers on a wide range of topics in a way that cannot be easily resolved from published information because the operating system is rarely mentioned," the new paper reads. "Authors who used these scripts should certainly double-check their results and any relevant conclusions using the modified scripts in the [supplementary information]." Yuheng Luo, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, discovered the glitch this summer when he was verifying the results of research conducted by chemistry professor Philip Williams on cyanobacteria... Under supervision of University of Hawaii at Manoa assistant chemistry professor Rui Sun, Luo used a script written in Python that was published as part of a 2014 paper by Patrick Willoughby, Matthew Jansma, and Thomas Hoye in the journal Nature Protocols . The code computes chemical shift values for NMR, or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a common technique used by chemists to determine the molecular make-up of a sample. Luo's results did not match up with the NMR values that Williams' group had previously calculated, and according to Sun, when his students ran the code on their computers, they realized that different operating systems were producing different results. Sun then adjusted the code to fix the glitch, which had to do with how different operating systems sort files. The researcher who wrote the flawed script told Motherboard that the new study was "a beautiful example of science working to advance the work we reported in 2014. They did a tremendous service to the community in figuring this out." Sun described the original authors as "very gracious," saying they encouraged the publication of the findings. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Twisted Elastic Fibers Could Cool Your Food, Study Finds

science - Posted On:2019-10-12 09:14:56 Source: slashdot

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: It sounds crazy: a refrigerator made from a rubber band. But if you stretch one and hold it against your lips, it will be noticeably warmer. Release it, and it cools. This simple "elastocaloric" effect can transfer heat in much the same way as compressing and expanding a fluid refrigerant in a fridge or air conditioner. Now, scientists have created a version that not only stretches the rubber band, but also twists it. It may one day lead to greener cooling technology. As a demonstration, the researchers built a tiny fridge about the size of a ballpoint pen cartridge powered by twisted nickel titanium wires. Using this "twistocaloric" method, they cooled a small volume of water by 8C in a few seconds. Next, the team plans to run the device on a repeating cycle, alternately heating the water (and moving that heat to the outside world) and cooling it (so that it can absorb heat from the interior volume). Coated with temperature-sensitive dyes, the fibers could also serve as strain gauges or mood rings. The study has been published in the journal Science. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Why lightning strikes twice as often over shipping lanes

Science - Posted On:2019-10-12 06:44:57 Source: arstechnica

For all the progress humanity has made since Odysseus had a spot of trouble on a long voyage home, life on the high seas remains a largely joyless affair. Twenty-first-century sailors spend weeks away from home. The hours are long, the pay mediocre, the risk of calamity never quite over the horizon. And, researchers have recently learned, these men and women face a problem not even the King of Ithaca had to deal with: unnaturally large amounts of lightning. Turns out that along some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, lightning strikes are twice as common as they are in nearby areas with similar climatic conditions.

As usual in such stories, the blame doesn’t fall on a riled up Olympian. It goes to the hubris of humans who, in this case, thought their ships could burn filthy fuel without any judgement raining down.

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The First All-Female Spacewalk Is Scheduled For This Month

science - Posted On:2019-10-12 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

After the first all-female spacewalk was scrapped in March, NASA has now scheduled another attempt with astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir for October 21. CNN reports: For the intended spacewalk in March, Koch was going to be paired with astronaut Anne McClain, who has since returned to Earth. In March, NASA cited spacesuit availability as the reason for scrapping the walk. McClain herself made the decision and the teams supported her, Koch said. "We do our best to anticipate the spacesuit sizes that each astronaut will need, based on the spacesuit size they wore in training on the ground, and in some cases (including Anne McClain's) astronauts train in multiple sizes," Brandi Dean with NASA's public affairs office told CNN in March. "However, individuals' sizing needs may change when they are on orbit, in response to the changes living in microgravity can bring about in a body. In addition, no one training environment can fully simulate performing a spacewalk in microgravity, and an individual may find that their sizing preferences change in space." Koch conducted a spacewalk along with fellow astronaut Nick Hague instead of McClain at the time. When asked about spacesuit availability this time around, Koch said there are currently two medium spacesuits on board. After the first all-female plan was shifted, Koch configured the second spacesuit herself using what was available on board. She and Meir have both trained in medium-sized suits for the last six years. Koch will conduct three spacewalks in October, one alongside NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan on October 6, another with Morgan on October 11 and the walk with Meir on October 21. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Fired EPA Scientists To Release Air Pollution Report They Say Agency Unqualified To Issue

science - Posted On:2019-10-11 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: Nearly one year ago, the Trump administration fired a panel of more than two dozen scientific experts who assisted the Environmental Protection Agency in its review of air quality standards for particulate matter. Now, as the EPA prepares its report on those standards later this month, 20 of those scientists are meeting independently to release their own assessment of current air pollution levels, with a focus on the particles from fossil fuels that can make people sick. These scientists and researchers, former members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) on particulate matter, said the EPA has stripped the panel down to its core seven members, who are ill-equipped to set air quality standards and don't have the time to do it. "They fired the particulate matter review panel and they said the chartered CASAC would do the review," Chris Zarba, who served as the staff director of the Scientific Advisory Board at the EPA until 2018, said. "In the history of the agency this has never happened. The new panel is unqualified and the new panel has said they were unqualified." The new panel feels their work is necessary for the very reasons that particle pollution is regulated by the EPA: because extended exposure can cause premature death, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and respiratory issues, according to the agency. EPA said it is confident in its own panel and experts and said it "is committed to scientific integrity and transparency." "EPA has the utmost confidence in its career scientist and the members on its science advisory boards and panels," an agency spokesperson said. "EPA routinely takes comments from the public and outside organizations, including those not employed or associated with EPA, and will continue to take into consideration those comments that meet our scientific standards." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Alexei Leonov, the First Human To Walk In Space, Has Died At Age 85

science - Posted On:2019-10-11 17:00:00 Source: slashdot

The Russian space agency confirmed Friday that legendary cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space and later the commander of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that docked with a NASA Apollo capsule, has died after a long illness. CBS News reports: An accomplished amateur artist and a widely respected statesman in the international space community, Leonov remained a lifelong friend of his Apollo-Soyuz Test Project crewmates and a source of inspiration to a younger generation of cosmonauts who carried his photo to the International Space Station and marked his 85th birthday during a spacewalk in May. "Leonov was certainly a cosmonaut's cosmonaut, he was stout of mind, body and heart," James Oberg, an expert on the Russian space program, said in an interview with CBS Radio. "He came through as a real tough guy who could handle problems, including almost being killed on his first spacewalk. But he also was a very decent human being." Speaking to the NASA interviewer 50 years later, Leonov said "I really don't know how I managed to turn and go with my legs first. I was running a fever, I was sweating, I could not see much because of the sweat." Oberg said Leonov "always regretted and apologized in later years that he had been given written statements to give the press about how easy it was and how their training was perfect when, in fact, he said, it was just the opposite. He nearly died." Leonov and Belyayev returned to Earth on March 19, 1965, landing nearly 240 miles off course after their Soyuz descent module did not properly separate from from an upper compartment. Compared to the pinpoint landings Soyuz spacecraft make today returning from the International Space Station, Leonov's landing reads like an action adventure. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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To try to understand the youths, researchers snooped through their trash

Science - Posted On:2019-10-11 13:00:00 Source: arstechnica

The researchers resorted to snooping through high schoolers’ trash to get a better understanding of their vaping and smoking habits. The results of the “garbology” study appear in the October 11 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The gumshoes—Jeremiah Mock and Yogi Hendlin of University of California, San Francisco—scanned the parking lots and perimeters of 12 public high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area between July 2018 and April 2019. They picked up any trash related to e-cigarettes, combustible tobacco products, and cannabis products that they suspected litter-bug teens left behind.

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Extreme disasters costing more but killing fewer

Science - Posted On:2019-10-11 11:45:00 Source: arstechnica

With the warming climate, we should expect a change in weather-related disasters. Fewer cold snaps and stronger heat waves are the obvious issues. But we should also see more intense storms, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, while droughts may intensify in areas where rain was already sparse as the heat bakes water out of the soil.

All that suggests the costs of weather disasters will be different—but not necessarily better or worse. Researchers who have tried to study the topic have come up with very mixed results: some show an upward trend in the cost of natural disasters, while others fiercely dispute these analyses. Now, a new study suggests a possible reason for this: while the average damage caused by disasters is staying relatively stable, the most extreme events are increasing rapidly. But in a small bit of consolation, the human costs may be dropping.

It might seem that analyzing the cost of weather disasters would be simple: identify the disasters, total the cost, and see if there's a trend over time in the warming world. But the reality is more complex. One complication is obvious: offsetting effects. Heat waves are going up in a warming world, but cold snaps are dropping. If these changes have offsetting costs, you could see no effect even as the dynamics shift.

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NASA Aims For First Manned SpaceX Mission in First-Quarter 2020

science - Posted On:2019-10-11 11:45:00 Source: slashdot

SpaceX's new Crew Dragon astronaut capsule will be ready for its first manned flight into orbit in the first quarter of next year provided "everything goes according to plan" in upcoming tests, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said on Thursday. From a report: The pronouncement of a revised time frame signaled NASA believes SpaceX is getting the Crew Dragon project back on track following an explosion during a ground test in April and technical challenges with its re-entry parachute system. Bridenstine said successful development of the capsule was key to achieving NASA's top priority -- the resumed "launching of American astronauts on American rockets from American soil" for the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. The NASA administrator spoke to reporters at the end of a visit to the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, just outside Los Angeles, where chief executive Elon Musk led him on a tour of the sprawling manufacturing plant. Their joint appearance by a giant glass-enclosed "clean room" where engineers were working on a Crew Dragon marked a show of unity following a rare public spat over delays in the project. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Rocket Report: Virgin Orbit targets Mars, SpaceX to launch rideshares on time

Science - Posted On:2019-10-11 07:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Welcome to Edition 2.18 of the Rocket Report! This week has produced a lot of news about medium-lift rockets, particularly around the issue of commercial crew—is the hardware finally ready?—as well as rideshare missions. There's also some nifty news about the Falcon 9 brute-forcing its way into a polar orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin Orbit to launch Mars smallsat mission. In what would be a landmark for small-satellite launch vehicles, Virgin Orbit announced this week that it plans to become the first private company to send cubesats to Mars. The company said it is partnering with nearly a dozen Polish universities and a Polish satellite maker called SatRevolution to design up to three robotic missions to the Red Planet over the next decade, The Verge reports.

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What if your refrigerator cooled your food by twisting wires?

Science - Posted On:2019-10-11 06:44:57 Source: arstechnica

Although some manufacturers have attempted to spice up refrigerators with an Internet-of-Things capacity, few of us have found automatic egg-inventory-tracking notifications a compelling upgrade. So are any real technological revolutions possible for this humble home appliance?

A team of researchers led by Nankai University’s Run Wang and the University of Texas at Dallas' Shaoli Fang certainly thinks so. They’re not thinking about the front of the fridge, though—for them, the party is in the back. They're looking to replaced compressed gas coolants with a twisted solid.

Refrigerators have long run on a vapor-compressor design that uses circulating coolant to pump heat energy out of the fridge and into your kitchen. At this point, we've pretty much maxed out the potential energy efficiency of that design, which isn't ideal. Also not ideal is the fact that the coolants used are not without problems if they leak—problems range from health hazards to a history of ozone depletion to their behavior as greenhouse gases.

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Lab-Grown Meat Could Be On Store Shelves By 2022

science - Posted On:2019-10-11 06:14:58 Source: slashdot

Thanks to Future Meat Technologies, lab-grown meat could be hitting store shelves by 2022. The company "has raised $14 million in new financing to build its first pilot manufacturing facilities to bring the cost of production of a cell-made streak down to $10 per pound -- or $4 if the meat is combined with plant-based meat substitutes," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The $10 price tag is a whole lot lower than the $50 target that experts from the Good Food Institute were talking about back in April of this year -- and represents a significant cost reduction that makes lab-grown meat a potentially commercially viable option much sooner than anyone expected. "With this investment, we're thrilled to bring cultured meat from the lab to the factory floor and begin working with our industrial partners to bring our product to market," said Rom Kshuk, the chief executive officer of Future Meat Technologies, in a statement. "We're not only developing a global network of investors and advisors with expertise across the meat and ingredient supply chains, but also providing the company with sufficient runway to achieve commercially viable production costs within the next two years." Unlike its other competitors, Future Meat Technologies doesn't have any interest in selling its products directly to consumers. Rather, the company wants to be the supplier of the hardware and cell lines that anyone would need to become a manufacturer of lab-grown meat. The secret to Future Meat's success is its use of undifferentiated fibroblast cells that can be triggered with small molecules to turn into either fat cells or muscle cells. Once the fat and muscle starts growing, they're placed in a culture with a specific resin that removes waste materials that have been an impediment to growth at large scales, according to chief science officer and founder Yaakov Nahmias. While Future Meat doesn't rely on fetal bovine serum to grow its meat products, it does use small molecules derived from CHO cells (Chinese hamster ovaries), which are used in new medical research and drug manufacturing. "Nahmias says using a refrigerator-sized bioreactor, a manufacturer could get about half a ton of meat and fat in about 14 days," adds TechCrunch. "In about one month, growers can make an amount of meat equivalent of two cows' worth of meat (a cow takes about 12 to 18 months to raise for slaughter)." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Changing Your Diet Can Help Tamp Down Depression and Boost Mood, Study Finds

science - Posted On:2019-10-11 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

There's fresh evidence that eating a healthy diet, one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and limits highly processed foods, can help reduce symptoms of depression. NPR reports: A randomized controlled trial published in the journal PLOS ONE finds that symptoms of depression dropped significantly among a group of young adults after they followed a Mediterranean-style pattern of eating for three weeks. Participants saw their depression "score" fall from the "moderate" range down to the "normal" range, and they reported lower levels of anxiety and stress too. Alternatively, the depression scores among the control group of participants -- who didn't change their diets -- didn't budge. These participants continued to eat a diet higher in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugary foods and beverages. Their depression scores remained in the "moderate severity" range. In this study, participants in the "healthy eating" arm of the study ate about six more servings of fruits and vegetables per week, compared with the control group. Participants "who had a greater increase in fruit and vegetable intake showed the greatest improvement in depression symptoms," Francis said. Participants were also instructed to increase consumption of whole grains to a recommended three servings per day, as well as three servings per day of protein from lean meats, poultry, eggs, tofu and beans. In addition, they were told to get three servings of fish per week. As for dairy, the recommendation was three servings per day, unsweetened. Participants were also instructed to consume three tablespoons of nuts and seeds per day, as well as two tablespoons of olive oil per day, and were advised to add in spices, including turmeric and cinnamon. Instead of relying on the participants' recollection of what they ate in the past, they used a device called a spectrophotometer to scan the participants' palms and detect what was eaten. "The device can detect the degree of yellowness in your skin, which correlates with your intake of carotenoids, which you get from eating fruits and vegetables," reports NPR. The scientists also used several research questionnaires to evaluate participants' mental health, including one that asked them how often over the prior week they'd experienced symptoms of depression. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Some Corals Grow After 'Fatal' Warming

science - Posted On:2019-10-10 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: For the first time ever, scientists have found corals that were thought to have been killed by heat stress have recovered, a glimmer of hope for the world's climate change-threatened reefs. The chance discovery, made by Diego K. Kersting from the Freie University of Berlin and the University of Barcelona during diving expeditions in the Spanish Mediterranean, was reported in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. Kersting and co-author Cristina Linares have been carrying out long-term monitoring of 243 colonies of the endangered reef-builder coral Cladocora caespitosa since 2002, allowing them to describe in previous papers recurring warming-related mass mortalities. [T]he researchers found that in 38 percent of the impacted colonies, the polyps had devised a survival strategy: shrinking their dimensions, partly abandoning their original skeleton, and gradually, over a period of several years, growing back and starting a new skeleton. They were then able to gradually re-colonize dead areas through budding. "Coral are made up of hundreds to thousands of tiny creatures called polyps that secrete a hard outer skeleton of calcium carbonate (limestone) and attach themselves to the ocean floor," the report mentions. In order to be sure that the polyps were the same animals staging a comeback, "the team used 3D computer imaging to confirm the old, abandoned skeleton was connected to the new structure." "This process of 'rejuvenescence' was known to exist in the fossil record but had never before been observed in coral colonies that exist today." While further investigation is required, the team says the findings open up the possibility that other modern corals around the world might be apply similar strategies to survive. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Da Vinci Bridge Design Holds Up Even After 500 Years, MIT Proves

science - Posted On:2019-10-10 20:29:59 Source: slashdot

Researchers at MIT have proven that Leonardo da Vinci knew what he was doing when he came up with a novel bridge design that would connect Istanbul with its neighbor city Galata. At the time, it would've been the world's longest bridge, with an unprecedented single span of 790 feet -- constructed without wood planks or even mortar joints. But, unfortunately, it was only recently put to the test since the design was rejected by Sultan Bayezid II in 1502 A.D. CNET reports: "It was time-consuming, but 3D printing allowed us to accurately recreate this very complex geometry," MIT graduate student Karly Bast said in a release on Thursday. Bast worked with a team of engineering academics to finally bring to life a faithful 1-to-500 scale model of da Vinci's famously rejected bridge design, putting the Renaissance man's long-questioned geometry to the test by slicing the complex shapes into 126 individual blocks, then assembling them with only the force of gravity. The group, which presented its work this week in Barcelona, relied on the sketches and descriptions found in da Vinci's letter bidding for the job, along with their own analysis of the era's construction methods. The structure is held together only by compression -- the MIT team wanted to show that the forces were all being transferred within the structure, said Bast. "When we put it in, we had to squeeze it in." Bast said she had her doubts, but when she put the keystone in, she realized it was going to work. When the group took the scaffolding out, the bridge stayed up. "It's the power of geometry," she said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Elon Musk and NASA chief get on same page, vow to complete Crew Dragon

Science - Posted On:2019-10-10 19:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Back in 2016, during the heat of the presidential election, I had lunch in southern Louisiana with a senior manager of NASA's Space Launch System program. We were speaking off the record, so I won't share his name even now. But one of the important points he sought to make was how a number of big-ticket items in NASA's portfolio were set up for the next president.

During a first term for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, he said, there would be a lot of big "wins." For the first time since 2011, humans would launch into space from the United States via NASA's commercial crew program. The James Webb Space Telescope, an epic scientific instrument, would fly. And the Space Launch System rocket—the largest booster since the Saturn V—would take to the skies for the first time.

A little more than three years later, it is clear that only one of these three achievements has a chance of happening in the year 2020: a commercial crew flight. It will happen on SpaceX's Crew Dragon, Boeing's Starliner, or perhaps both. So what may have appeared as a wealth of big spaceflight moments for the Trump administration has withered to one.

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Quantum Computing May Be Closer Than Expected With 'Game Changer' Discovery

science - Posted On:2019-10-10 18:44:59 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Inverse: Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University describe a superconducting material, B-Bi2Pd, that naturally exists in a quantum state without the additional influence of magnetic fields usually needed for such an effect. The authors write that the low-maintenance, stability of this material makes it a perfect candidate for designing quantum systems. The research will be published Friday in the journal Science by physicists from Johns Hopkins University. "We've found that a certain superconducting material contains special properties that could be the building blocks for technology of the future," the paper's first author, Yufan Li, said in a press release. "A ring of B-Bi2Pd already exists in the ideal state and doesn't require any additional modifications to work. This could be a game changer." What makes this superconducting material special is the unique state it occupies as its ground state, or when no other forces are being exerted on it. While other superconducting materials can be forced to maintain a quantum state using external magnetic fields or energy-sustaining "quantum spin liquid," the researchers found that this material naturally exists in a quantum superposition, in which current can simultaneously flow clockwise and counter-clockwise in a ring of the material. This discovery is the realization of a prediction made by physicists in the 80s. The authors write that this property makes it an ideal candidate for quantum systems. But that doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet when it comes to our halting approach to universal quantum computing. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Researchers Created Lenses a Thousand Times Thinner To Hopefully Eliminate Ugly Smartphone Camera Bumps

science - Posted On:2019-10-09 22:14:59 Source: slashdot

Camera bumps on smartphones may soon go away thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Utah who've developed a radically thin camera lens. Gizmodo reports: For comparison, the lens elements used in today's smartphone cameras, which gather and focus light onto a tiny sensor, are a few millimeters thick. It might not sound like much, but the best smartphone cameras use multiple elements, which quickly add up, resulting in a thin phone simply not having enough room to house all of them: hence the camera bump trend. But a team of electrical and computer engineering researchers at the University of Utah have succeeded in creating a new type of optical lens that measures just a few microns thick, or about a thousand times thinner and one hundred times lighter than what you'll find in smartphones today. The lens the researchers created is actually made up of innumerable tiny microstructures, imperceptible to the human eye, and strategically positioned so that each one bends and redirects light towards a camera's sensor. When they're all working together, they produce the same results as a single curved element does. Manufacturing the lenses also required the team to develop a new fabrication process, a new polymer, and custom algorithms to calculate the shape and position of each microstructure. But the resulting lens can be completely flat, and made of lightweight plastic. If you've ever spent a day carrying around a camera with a big lens hanging off the front, you'll appreciate that benefit alone. The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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