News Picks

Physics Today’s online staff summarize the most important and interesting news about science from the world's top media outlets.

There are 12 posts for the selected month (March 2015).
March 4, 2015 2:06 PM

Australian research facilities face funding threat

Sydney Morning Herald: A budget fight in Australia's federal government threatens the funding for a number of the nation's research institutes. According to a letter written by the National Research Alliance to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, many of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy's 27 agencies will be forced to shut down if their funding is delayed. The facilities require just $150 million in annual operating costs, but that money supports more than $2 billion worth of infrastructure and equipment.

March 4, 2015 12:53 PM

Galaxy formed in early universe is dustier than expected

Los Angeles Times: Gravitational lensing has revealed a galaxy that, despite being just 700 million years old, has a dust-to-gas ratio similar to that of the Milky Way, which is 13 billion years old. Darach Watson of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues were able to examine the distant galaxy because its light gets amplified by passing through a massive galaxy cluster called Abell 1689. Galaxies that formed early in the universe's history had not been expected to have collected much dust because most early dust would have been reused to form new stars.

March 4, 2015 12:50 PM

US Defense Department promotes international collaboration with UK

Science: Since the mid 1980s the US Department of Defense has been funding the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) program, which encourages researchers from different disciplines and universities to collaborate on specific research topics determined by the participating defense agencies. Now for the first time, DOD has extended the estimated $250 million in basic research funding to collaborations among US researchers and their UK counterparts. The goal is to “accelerate progress in some key research areas,” according to Robin Staffin, director of DOD’s Basic Research Office. MURI applications are currently being considered by DOD reviewers, who will announce the recipients later this year.
March 4, 2015 10:55 AM

Report assesses risk posed by volcanic eruptions

Nature: Indonesia is one of the countries most threatened by volcanic activity, according to a recent report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. As part of a larger international hazard assessment, researchers looked at some 9500 eruptions that have occurred over the past 10 000 years. They determined that about 800 million people live within 100 km of a potentially active volcano and that the risk involved varies depending on the landscape. Eruptions can result in heavy lava flows, mudslides, ash fall, or floodwaters from melted ice. With modern scientific monitoring equipment, however, local residents can be forewarned and much of the risk can be mitigated. Some countries even use human volunteers to watch a volcano and report on any changes.
March 3, 2015 12:48 PM

Syrian conflict linked to drought exacerbated by climate change

New York Times: From 2006 through 2009, Syria suffered its most extreme drought in modern times. According to a new computer-modeling study by Colin Kelley of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the drought's unusual severity was most likely due to the effects of climate change. Whether the drought contributed to the outbreak in 2011 of Syria's continuing civil war is controversial. Crop failures prompted up to 1.5 million people to move from rural areas to Syria's towns and cities, intensifying social tensions. However, the initial protests that sparked the war were largely for political, not economic, reforms.

March 3, 2015 12:10 PM

New Ikea furniture line includes wireless charging stations

Wall Street Journal: On 1 March Ikea announced a new line of furniture that features Qi-standard wireless charging stations. Wireless charging uses induction to provide energy to smartphones and other electronics that have the capability enabled. The furniture will be available in stores in Europe and the US on 15 April. The wireless charging marketplace is hotly contested with three different standards competing for global dominance. The Qi standard that Ikea chose is run by the Wireless Power Consortium and is supported by phone makers such as Samsung, HTC, and Microsoft. The Power Matters Alliance (PMA) standard is most common in the US and has recently partnered with Starbucks. The third standard is the Alliance For Wireless Power (A4WP).

March 3, 2015 11:57 AM

Science funding in India to remain flat

Nature: India's 2015–16 budget, announced last Friday, disappointed many of the country's scientists because it did not include an overall boost in science funding. Although India's principal science funding agency, the Ministry of Science and Technology, received an 8% budget increase, other agencies had their budgets cut, among them the Ministry for Earth Sciences, whose allocation fell by 4.6%. Despite the flat science budget, India will expand its Indian Institutes of Technology system. Two new IIT centers now have funding.

March 3, 2015 11:38 AM

Proposed experiment using Casimir effect could reveal quantum gravity

New Scientist: The Casimir effect arises when metal plates held parallel and extremely close together in a vacuum attract each other. It happens because the metal sheets damp quantum fluctuations between the plates but not outside them. Because the effect is generic to quantum fields, it could have counterparts in other forces. In a new paper, James Quach of the University of Tokyo proposes that detecting a gravitational Casimir effect would constitute evidence of gravity's quantum nature. Confining quantum fluctuations in a gravitational field could be done, says Quach, by using plates made from supercooled superconductors.

March 2, 2015 2:18 PM

Great white sharks exploit Sun's glare when they attack

New Scientist: Great white sharks favor dawn and dusk for their attacks. Suspecting that the Sun's low position on the horizon might be behind that preference, Charlie Huveneers of Flinders University in Australia and his colleagues conducted an experiment at sea. They lured great white sharks to their boat using fish oil and minced fish. They then tossed chunks of tuna into the water and observed how the sharks attacked their "prey" at different times of day. When they attacked at dawn and dusk, the sharks invariably approached the tuna chunks with the Sun behind them. Huveneers speculates that the sharks use the Sun's glare to hide their attacks.

March 2, 2015 1:16 PM

UK unveils first plans for lagoon power plants

BBC: A £1 billion ($1.54 billion) plan to build a tidal-lagoon-driven power plant has won the approval of UK energy secretary Ed Davey, although the government is still in negotiations with the company behind the proposal. Tidal Lagoon Power wants to build an artificial lagoon off the coast of Swansea and use giant turbines embedded in seawalls to capture energy from the tides. It also proposes to expand to six more sites throughout the UK and says the combined plants could produce 8% of the country's energy at a cost of £30 billion. The initial cost of the electricity generated by the Swansea plant would be £168 per kilowatt hour but would drop to £90 when a second plant opened. That reduced cost would be in the same range as the predicted cost for the power from a planned nuclear plant, but the lagoon plant would also have a longer lifetime and be safer than the nuclear one. The plan, however, is facing some environmental challenges because of the impact the seawalls could have on local shorelines and wildlife.

March 2, 2015 1:15 PM

Plans for next UN climate report take shape

Nature: The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, just months after releasing its fifth climate assessment, is already organizing for the next edition of the report. At a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, at the end of February, the group approved roughly the same framework used to guide the fifth report. The mostly minor changes are primarily focused on obtaining wider input and more effective sharing of the study results. The panel wants to increase the representation of scientists from the developing world, particularly by using more non-English scientific literature. It also wants to include more science communicators in the process to better reach the nonscientific public. To assist in that, the panel intends to open some of its closed-door meetings to researchers. The panel is also trying to find a new chairperson following the resignation of Rajendra Pachauri, who stepped down in response to allegations he sexually harassed a colleague at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, India.

March 2, 2015 12:12 PM

Cold-atom experiment mimics aspect of high-temperature superconductivity

Science: A team led by Randall Hulet of Rice University in Houston, Texas, has trapped a collection of 100 000 to 250 000 lithium-6 ions in an optical lattice and, using lasers, caused the ions to settle into an antiferromagnetic state—that is, a pattern in which neighboring spins alternate between up and down. The feat is significant because high-temperature superconductivity emerges from a antiferromagnetic state. What's more, Hulet's lattice is a physical embodiment of the Fermi–Hubbard model, a physically simple yet mathematically intractable description of electron–electron interactions. With further experimental advances, Hulet and his team could prove (or disprove) whether the model is sufficient to capture the physics of high-temperature superconductivity.

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Scitation: News Picks - Blog