NASA chief says agency plans to launch crew on Soyuz in December

Science - Posted On:2018-10-23 14:15:00 Source: arstechnica

Less than two weeks ago, a Soyuz rocket took off with a Russian cosmonaut and a NASA astronaut riding in a Soyuz capsule. The launch proceeded normally for about two minutes until the rocket experienced a problem, and one of the Soyuz's emergency escape systems fired automatically and pulled the crew vehicle away from the booster. After a few seconds of rapid acceleration, the crew capsule carrying Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague made a relatively normal, safe return to Earth.

In the wake of the accident, NASA officials expressed confidence in the ability of the Russian space agency to identify the problem with the Soyuz rocket and implement a fix. "It's my speculation that they will put a lot of resources into trying to understand exactly what happened," Kenny Todd, the International Space Station's mission operations integration manager, said at the time. "I would anticipate that they would try to do that sooner rather than later."

Russian officials have said that they intend to complete their investigation of the Soyuz failure by the end of October, and their report will include recommendations on how to fix the problem. Anonymous sources quoted in Russian media say the problem occurred because one of the Soyuz rocket's side-mounted boosters was improperly attached to the rocket core. This booster struck the core when it was supposed to fall away during launch, triggering a launch abort.

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NASA brings a Hubble gyro back to life after a seven-year hibernation

Science - Posted On:2018-10-22 18:15:00 Source: arstechnica

After NASA's Hubble Space Telescope entered "safe" mode about two weeks ago, its operations team has been scrambling to bring a balky gyroscope back online. Now, the space agency says it believes it has fixed the problem.

"The Hubble operations team plans to execute a series of tests to evaluate the performance of the gyro under conditions similar to those encountered during routine science observations, including moving to targets, locking on to a target, and performing precision pointing," NASA said in a news release. "After these engineering tests have been completed, Hubble is expected to soon return to normal science operations."

Ground operators put the telescope into a stable configuration earlier this month after one of the three active gyros that help point the telescope failed. According to NASA, the gyro that failed last week had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for about a year, and its failure was not unexpected.

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Hubble Space Telescope expected to resume normal science operations soon

Science - Posted On:2018-10-22 17:59:59 Source: arstechnica

After NASA's Hubble Space Telescope entered "safe" mode about two weeks ago, its operations team has been scrambling to bring a balky gyroscope back online. Now, the space agency says it believes it has fixed the problem.

"The Hubble operations team plans to execute a series of tests to evaluate the performance of the gyro under conditions similar to those encountered during routine science observations, including moving to targets, locking on to a target, and performing precision pointing," NASA said in a news release. "After these engineering tests have been completed, Hubble is expected to soon return to normal science operations."

Ground operators put the telescope into a stable configuration earlier this month after one of the three active gyros that help point the telescope failed. According to NASA, the gyro that failed last week had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for about a year, and its failure was not unexpected.

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Oxygen-Rich Liquid Water May Exist on Mars

science - Posted On:2018-10-22 16:30:00 Source: slashdot

Brines suffused with the life-giving gas could offer hope for past and even present microbes on the Red Planet, according to a new study. From a report: New research suggests our neighboring world could hide enough oxygen in briny liquid water near its surface to support microbial life, opening up a wealth of potentially habitable regions across the entire planet. Although the findings do not directly measure the oxygen content of brines known to exist on the Red Planet, they constitute an important step toward determining where life could exist there today. Aerobic respiration, which relies on oxygen, is a key component of present-day life on Earth. In this process, cells take in oxygen and break it down to produce energy to drive metabolism. Mars's very low levels of atmospheric oxygen have led many scientists to dismiss the possibility of aerobic respiration there today, but the new research brings this possibility back into play. The study appears in the October 22 edition of Nature Geoscience. "Our work is calling for a complete revision for how we think about the potential for life on Mars, and the work oxygen can do, implying that if life ever existed on Mars it might have been breathing oxygen," says lead study author Vlada Stamenkovic, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. "We have the potential now to understand the current habitability." Although Mars is today a freeze-dried desert, it possesses abundant reserves of subsurface water ice, as well as some amount of liquid water in the form of brines. The brines' high salt content lowers the temperature at which they freeze, allowing them to remain liquid even on Mars's frigid surface. In their new study, Stamenkovic and his colleagues coupled a model of how oxygen dissolves in brines with a model of the Martian climate. Their results revealed that pools of salty liquid at or just beneath the surface could capture the meager amounts of oxygen from the Red Planet's atmosphere, creating a reservoir that microbes might metabolically utilize. According to the research, Martian brines today could hold higher concentrations of oxygen than were present even on the early Earth -- which prior to about 2.4 billion years ago harbored only trace amounts of the gas in its air. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Trauma of US Civil War POW experience affected the next generation

Science - Posted On:2018-10-22 11:45:01 Source: arstechnica

"It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles." – General Ulysses S. Grant, August 18, 1864.

General Grant did not halt the exchange of Union and Confederate soldiers between the summers of 1863 and 1864, although this quotation—chiseled into a monument on the site of Camp Sumter military prison in Andersonville, Georgia—is often cited as evidence that he did. The exchange halted as a consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation. Black Union soldiers started enlisting in increasing numbers, and the Confederates refused to trade them along with their white officers.

Once the exchange stopped, prisons got more and more crowded and more and more squalid. Malnutrition and disease were rampant. And, according to a new study, the consequences lasted for generations.

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Sons born to US Civil War POWs were more likely to die young

Science - Posted On:2018-10-22 11:30:00 Source: arstechnica

"It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles." – General Ulysses S. Grant, August 18, 1864.

General Grant did not halt the exchange of Union and Confederate soldiers between the summers of 1863 and 1864, although this quotation—chiseled into a monument on the site of Camp Sumter military prison in Andersonville, Georgia—is often cited as evidence that he did. The exchange halted as a consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation. Black Union soldiers started enlisting in increasing numbers and the Confederates refused to trade them along with their white officers.

Once the exchange stopped, prisons got more and more crowded and more and more squalid. Malnutrition and disease were rampant. And, according to a new study, the consequences lasted for generations.

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Relativity hires senior Tesla manager to help automate rocket production

Science - Posted On:2018-10-22 09:59:56 Source: arstechnica

No one could argue that a company like SpaceX has one of the most cutting-edge rocket factories in the world, as the company builds some of the most advanced boosters launching today. And yet much of the manufacturing is still done by hand, at various work stations. Humans remain integral to building rockets.

However, a new company called Relativity Space is among those trying to radically automate the process. The California-based company is perhaps best known for its goal to print the entirety of its boosters, from payload fairings to the engines, with additive manufacturing. Equally revolutionary is the company's goal to automate the production of rockets.

To that end, Relativity recently announced the hiring of Tobias Duschl, who has worked for the last six years as senior director of global business operations for Tesla, the electric vehicle company. He will run operations for Relativity as it transitions from development to commercial spaceflight operations over the next three to four years.

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A Device That Can Pull Drinking Water From the Air Just Won the Latest XPrize

science - Posted On:2018-10-22 03:44:57 Source: slashdot

Two years ago, XPrize, which creates challenges that pit the brightest minds against one another, announced that it would give any startup or company $1 million that can turn thin air into water. This month, it announced that the challenge has been concluded. From a report: A new device that sits inside a shipping container can use clean energy to almost instantly bring clean drinking water anywhere -- the rooftop of an apartment building in Nairobi, a disaster zone after a hurricane in Manila, a rural village in Zimbabwe -- by pulling water from the air. The design, from the Skysource/Skywater Alliance, just won $1.5 million in the Water Abundance XPrize. The competition, which launched in 2016, asked designers to build a device that could extract at least 2,000 liters of water a day from the atmosphere (enough for the daily needs of around 100 people), use clean energy, and cost no more than 2 cents a liter. "We do a lot of first principles thinking at XPrize when we start designing these challenges," says Zenia Tata, who helped launch the prize and serves as chief impact officer of XPrize. Nearly 800 million people face water scarcity; other solutions, like desalination, are expensive. Freshwater is limited and exists in a closed system. But the atmosphere, the team realized, could be tapped as a resource. "At any given time, it holds 12 quadrillion gallons -- the number 12 with 19 zeros after it -- a very, very, big number," she says. The household needs for all 7 billion people on earth add up to only around 350 or 400 billion gallons. A handful of air-to-water devices already existed, but were fairly expensive to use. The new system, called WEDEW ("wood-to-energy deployed water") was created by combining two existing systems. One is a device called Skywater, a large box that mimics the way clouds are formed: It takes in warm air, which hits cold air and forms droplets of condensation that can be used as pure drinking water. The water is stored in a tank inside the shipping container, which can then be connected to a bottle refill station or a tap. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Not Exercising Worse For Your Health Than Smoking, Diabetes and Heart Disease, Study Reveals

science - Posted On:2018-10-21 16:30:00 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: We've all heard exercise helps you live longer. But a new study [published in the journal JAMA Network Open] goes one step further, finding that a sedentary lifestyle is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease. Researchers retrospectively studied 122,007 patients who underwent exercise treadmill testing at Cleveland Clinic between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 2014 to measure all-cause mortality relating to the benefits of exercise and fitness. Those with the lowest exercise rate accounted for 12% of the participants. Dr. Wael Jaber, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and senior author of the study, said the other big revelation from the research is that fitness leads to longer life, with no limit to the benefit of aerobic exercise. Researchers have always been concerned that "ultra" exercisers might be at a higher risk of death, but the study found that not to be the case. "There is no level of exercise or fitness that exposes you to risk," he said. "We can see from the study that the ultra-fit still have lower mortality." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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How the Finnish Survive Without Small Talk

science - Posted On:2018-10-21 13:30:00 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Finnish people often forgo the conversational niceties that are hard-baked into other cultures, and typically don't see the need to meet foreign colleagues, tourists and friends in the middle. As Tiina Latvala, a former English instructor in Sodankyla, Lapland, explained, part of her job was to introduce her young students to the concept of small talk. "We had a practice where you had to pretend to meet someone for the first time," Latvala said. "You had to pretend you were meeting at the cafe or on a bus and [that] you didn't know each other and do a bit of chit chat. We had written on the whiteboard all the safe topics so they didn't have to struggle with coming up with something to talk about. We brainstormed. They usually found it really difficult." "[They're] about basic conversation," she explained. "The answers are already there. We are taught to answer 'I'm great, how about you?'; 'How is your mum?'. It was very clear how to be in a conversation, as if we didn't already know. It was very weird as if there were right answers to the questions." There are more hypotheses than answers for why Finnish culture has a veil of silence permanently stitched in place. Latvala believes their trademark directness has something to do with the complexity of the Finnish language and the fairly large distance between cities (Latvala's reasoning: If you've travelled any distance to see someone, why waste time?). [...] It isn't for lack of skill, for Finland has two national languages -- Finnish and Swedish -- and Finns begin English lessons when they're six or seven. But rather it's because when faced with expressing themselves in second (or third) language, many often choose to not say anything rather than risk not being fully understood. However, when among their own, silence functions as an extension of comfortable conversation. "'It's not about the structure or features of the language, but rather the ways in which people use the language to do things,' Dr Anna Vatanen, a researcher at the University of Oulu, explained via email. 'For instance, the 'how are you?' question that is most often placed in the very beginning of an encounter. In English-speaking countries, it is mostly used just as a greeting and no serious answer is expected to it. On the contrary, the Finnish counterpart (Mita kuuluu?) can expect a 'real' answer after it: quite often the person responding to the question starts to tell how his or her life really is at the moment, what's new, how they have been doing.'" Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight With Bits of Halley's Comet

science - Posted On:2018-10-20 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com: If you're a meteor enthusiast, the year 2018 has been very kind to you. This past summer, the annual Perseid meteor shower reached its peak the day after a new moon, ensuring that no moonlight would hinder those spotting celestial streakers. And looking ahead to December, the Geminid meteor shower, the most prolific of all of the annual displays, will reach its peak when an almost-first-quarter moon is setting during the late evening hours. This will make for excellent viewing conditions. And coming almost midway between these two popular showers, this weekend brings one of the most reliable meteor events. A sort of lesser version of the summertime Perseids, the Orionid meteor shower should reach its peak activity early on Sunday morning... [Y]ou should wait until around 2 a.m. in your local time zone, when Orion will have climbed well above the horizon. And just prior to the break of dawn, at around 5 a.m., Orion will appear highest in the sky toward the south. That's when Orionid viewing will be at its best... Past studies have demonstrated that about half of all observed Orionids leave trails that last longer than those of other meteors of equivalent brightness. This is undoubtedly connected to the makeup of Halley's Comet; the object produces meteors that start burning up very high in our atmosphere, at around 80 miles (130 km) up, possibly because they are composed of lightweight material. This suggests they came from the diffuse surface of Halley's nucleus as opposed to its core. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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NASA Has Explored Manned Missions To Venus

science - Posted On:2018-10-20 14:44:59 Source: slashdot

NASA recently developed a program for manned missions to explore Venus -- even though the planet's surface is 860 degrees, which NASA explains is "hot enough to melt lead." Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro shares this week's article from Newsweek: As surprising as it may seem, the upper atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like location in the solar system. Between altitudes of 30 miles and 40 miles, the pressure and temperature can be compared to regions of the Earth's lower atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure in the Venusian atmosphere at 34 miles is about half that of the pressure at sea level on Earth. In fact you would be fine without a pressure suit, as this is roughly equivalent to the air pressure you would encounter at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Nor would you need to insulate yourself as the temperature here ranges between 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The atmosphere above this altitude is also dense enough to protect astronauts from ionising radiation from space. The closer proximity of the sun provides an even greater abundance of available solar radiation than on Earth, which can be used to generate power (approximately 1.4 times greater).... [C]onceivably you could go for a walk on a platform outside the airship, carrying only your air supply and wearing a chemical hazard suit. Venus is 8 million miles closer to Earth than Mars (though it's 100 times further away than the moon). But the atmosphere around Venus contains traces of sulphuric acid (responsible for its dense clouds), so the vessel would need to be corrosion-resistant material like teflon. (One NASA paper explored the possibility of airbone microbes living in Venus's atmosphere.) There's a slick video from NASA's Langley Research Center titled "A way to explore Venus" showcasing HAVOC -- "High Altitude Venus Operational Concept." "A recent internal NASA study...led to the development of an evolutionary program for the exploration of Venus," explains the project's page at NASA.gov, "with focus on the mission architecture and vehicle concept for a 30 day crewed mission into Venus's atmosphere." NASA describes the project as "no longer active," though adding that manned missions to the atmosphere of Venus are possible "with advances in technology and further refinement of the concept." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Collapse of ancient city’s water system may have led to its demise

Science - Posted On:2018-10-20 09:44:57 Source: arstechnica

The Cambodian city of Angkor was once the largest in the world... then the vast majority of its inhabitants suddenly decamped in the 15th century to a region near the modern city of Phnom Penh. Historians have put forth several theories about why this mass exodus occurred. A new paper in Science Advances argues that one major contributing factor was an overloaded water distribution system, exacerbated by extreme swings in the climate.

Angkor dates back to around 802 CE. Its vast network of canals, moats, embankments, and reservoirs developed over the next 600 years, helping distribute vital water resources for such uses as irrigation and to help control occasional flooding. By the end of the 11th century, the system bore all the features of a complex network, with thousands of interconnected individual components heavily dependent on each other.

Such a configuration, hovering at or near the so-called critical point, is ideal for the effective flow of resources, whether we're talking about water, electricity (power grids), traffic, the spread of disease, or information (the stock market and the Internet). The tradeoff is that it can become much more sensitive to even tiny perturbations—so much so that a small outage in one part of the network can trigger a sudden network-wide cascading failure.

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Spacecraft BepiColombo Poised For Mission To Mercury

science - Posted On:2018-10-20 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

The European Space Agency is launching a spacecraft to explore the mysteries of Mercury. BepiColombo, named after the Italian mathematician and engineer Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, is set to launch at 9:45 p.m. ET Friday aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from a spaceport in French Guiana. The launch will be livestreamed via ESA's website. NPR reports: The spacecraft is actually made up of two probes: One will go into orbit close to the planet, while the other, supplied by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will orbit farther away, measuring Mercury's magnetic field. "What this lets you do is look at that space environment around Mercury from two different perspectives at exactly the same time," says Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. That gives a clearer picture of what's changing during the 88 days it takes Mercury to make one revolution around the sun. Radar measurements from Earth first suggested that there was ice on Mercury. Earlier this decade, NASA's Messenger mission was able to confirm that the ice was actually there. But Messenger only came close enough to see the ice at Mercury's north pole. The real icy action, Chabot says, is at the south pole. "The largest crater to host these water ice deposits is right smack dab at the south pole of Mercury," she says. "And so I'm very excited that BepiColombo is going to be in an orbit that passes much closer to the southern hemisphere." BepiColombo will take a rather circuitous path to Mercury. It will fly by Earth once, Venus twice and Mercury six times before it is in the right orientation to go into orbit around the innermost planet in our solar system. The entire trip will take slightly more than seven years. When BepiColombo gets into orbit, it may be able to see where Messenger crash-landed on the planet. It is estimated to have made a crater about 60 feet across. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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New material could up efficiency of concentrated solar power

Science - Posted On:2018-10-19 12:00:01 Source: arstechnica

With the price of photovoltaics having plunged dramatically, solar is likely to become a major contributor to the electrical generating mix in many countries. But the intermittent nature of photovoltaics could put a limit on how much they contribute to future grids or force us to develop massive storage capabilities.

But photovoltaics aren't the only solar technology out there. Concentrated solar power uses mirrors to focus the Sun's light, providing heat that can be used to drive turbines. Advances in heat storage mean that the technology can now generate power around the clock, essentially integrating storage into the process of producing energy. Unfortunately, the price of concentrated solar hasn't budged much, and photovoltaics have left it in the dust. But some materials scientists may have figured out a way to boost concentrated solar's efficiency considerably, clawing back some of photovoltaics' advantage.

Solar thermal revolves around transfers of heat. Sunlight is used to heat up a working fluid at the mirrors' focus. That then transfers the heat either to a storage system or directly to another fluid that is used to drive a turbine—typically steam. Higher temperatures typically mean more work can be extracted, making the efficiency of these transfers critical.

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Two orbiters begin their long journey to Mercury Friday night

Science - Posted On:2018-10-19 10:59:56 Source: arstechnica

One might think it's a relatively easy thing to reach Mercury, the innermost planet in the Solar System. At its closest approach, Mercury is just 77 million kilometers from Earth, or not all that much further than the closest that Earth comes to Mars. The Earth-Mars transit typically only takes about six months.

However, the Sun's enormous gravity makes putting a spacecraft into orbit around Mercury quite difficult. How much gravity are we talking about? The g-force at the surface of the Earth is 9.8 meters per second. By comparison, the Sun's gravity is nearly 30 times greater, at 274 m/s.

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Rocket Report: Why SpaceX stays in LA, Russia moves on, buy a missile silo

Science - Posted On:2018-10-19 07:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Welcome to Edition 1.22 of the Rocket Report! We have plenty to discuss this week, from Paul Allen's untimely passing to the Atlas V rocket's success as well as why SpaceX remains in Los Angeles despite California's high taxes and regulations. We also have a fun story about a Titan II missile silo for sale.

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.

Rocket Lab takes steps toward high launch cadence. It may have been nine months since Rocket Lab has launched its Electron booster, but the company is growing both in people and facilities. The New Zealand Herald reports that Rocket Lab's staff has nearly doubled, to 330, in the past year, with around 200 in New Zealand and the remainder in the United States. The company plans to hire another 180 employees over the next year.

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Measurement Shows the Electron's Stubborn Roundness

science - Posted On:2018-10-19 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

OneHundredAndTen writes: A new article in Nature reports of a new, extremely precise measurement of the electric dipole moment of the electron. The conclusion is that, within the margin of error of the measurement, the electron remains a perfect sphere. This implies that supersymmetric theories keep running out of corners to hide, that another nail is driven into their coffin, and that string theory looks less and less compelling. By lighting up the molecules with lasers, "the scientists were able to interpret how other subatomic particles alter the distribution of an electron's charge," reports Scientific American. "The symmetrical roundness of the electrons suggested that unseen particles aren't big enough to skew electrons into squashed oblong shapes, or ovals. These findings once again confirm a long-standing physics theory, known as the Standard Model, which describes how particles and forces in the universe behave." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Microplastics Found In 90 Percent of Table Salt

science - Posted On:2018-10-18 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from National Geographic: New research shows microplastics in 90 percent of the table salt brands sampled worldwide. Of 39 salt brands tested, 36 had microplastics in them, according to a new analysis by researchers in South Korea and Greenpeace East Asia. Salt samples from 21 countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia were analyzed. The three brands that did not contain microplastics are from Taiwan (refined sea salt), China (refined rock salt), and France (unrefined sea salt produced by solar evaporation). The study was published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The density of microplastics found in salt varied dramatically among different brands, but those from Asian brands were especially high, the study found. The highest quantities of microplastics were found in salt sold in Indonesia. Asia is a hot spot for plastic pollution, and Indonesia -- with 34,000 miles (54,720 km) of coastline -- ranked in an unrelated 2015 study as suffering the second-worst level of plastic pollution in the world. In another indicator of the geographic density of plastic pollution, microplastics levels were highest in sea salt, followed by lake salt and then rock salt. Even though the study found that the average adult consumes approximately 2,000 microplastics per year through salt, it's not clear what the health consequences are. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Automation is Democratizing Experimental Science

science - Posted On:2018-10-18 17:29:59 Source: slashdot

New advances are taking automation to the highest end of human endeavors, offering scientists a shot at some of the most intractable problems that have confounded them -- and along the way tipping a global balance to give upstarts like China a more level playing field in the lab. From a report: A combination of artificial intelligence and nimble robots are allowing scientists to do more, and be faster, than they ever could with mere human hands and brains. "We're in the middle of a paradigm shift, a time when the choice of experiments and the execution of experiments are not really things that people do," says Bob Murphy, the head of the computational biology department at Carnegie Mellon University. Automated science is "moving the role of the scientist higher and higher up the food chain," says Murphy. Researchers are focusing their efforts on big-picture problem-solving rather than the nitty-gritty of running experiments. He says it will also allow scientists to take on more problems at once -- and solve big, lingering ones that are too complex to tackle right now. Starting next year, Murphy's department will offer students a master's degree in automated science, the university announced last week. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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