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 67 posts for the selected month (May 2015).
May 27, 2015 11:13 AM

Japan approves restart of two nuclear reactors

Japan Times: In March 2011 three of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant suffered meltdowns. The disaster triggered the shutdown of all Japan's nuclear reactors pending a safety review. Now commissioners at Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority have approved the restart of two nuclear reactors at a power plant on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's main islands. Whether Kyushu Electric Power Co will bring the reactors back on line remains to be seen. In the wake of the shutdown, household electricity bills increased by an average of 20%, yet polls indicate the public opposes restarts by two-to-one.

May 26, 2015 4:38 PM

Analysis ranks "sleeping beauty" academic papers

Nature: The first five years after an academic paper is published is a good predictive measure of how influential the paper will be, with most papers' rate of citation slowing over time. However, some papers may wait many years before their importance is recognized and they have sudden spikes in their citation rate. In 2004, papers that fit that behavior were dubbed "sleeping beauties" by Anthony van Raan of Leiden University in the Netherlands. Now Filippo Radicchi of Indiana University Bloomington and his colleagues have analyzed the citation pattern of 22 million papers to rate their "beauty." A paper with a linear citation rate of one per year has a beauty coefficient B of 0. The top paper has a score of B = 11 600. Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen's famous paper "Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?" is the 14th most beautiful.

May 26, 2015 3:01 PM

International study suggests science is widely viewed as a male profession

Science: Around 350 000 people in 66 countries participated in a study of explicit and implicit associations between gender and science. Each participant was asked how strongly they associated being a scientist with being either male or female. Then each participant was asked to categorize displayed words. For some questions, the participants pressed one key to signal "male" or "science" and another key to signal "female" or "liberal arts." For other questions, the keys signaled "male" or "liberal arts" and "female" or "science." The differences in response times are used to determine when the key's gender doesn't align with the participant's implicit bias. Both the explicit and implicit tests showed a global association between being male and being a scientist. The results correlated with the percentage of women in each country earning an undergraduate degree in science.

May 26, 2015 12:14 PM

Reducing blue light in LEDs reduces their attractiveness to bugs

New York Times: Mosquitoes and other bugs that carry diseases are attracted to the shorter wavelengths emitted by lightbulbs. For that reason, developing bulbs that are less attractive to insects could help reduce the spread of disease. Travis Longcore of the University of Southern California has found that reducing the amount of blue light emitted by LED bulbs attracts 20% fewer bugs than standard LEDs. He compared new "color-tunable" LEDs with off-the-shelf LEDs and fluorescent bulbs, all of which were suspended over soapy water to trap bugs. The LEDs attracted fewer bugs than the fluorescents, which emit widely in the violet and UV wavelengths. The tunable LEDs performed best when the amount of blue light was turned down.

May 26, 2015 11:42 AM

Asteroids that hit Earth roughly 3.3 billion years ago may have caused the ocean to boil

Ars Technica: After a period of extremely frequent impacts from large asteroids that occurred between 4.1 billion and 3.8 billion years ago, there were still occasional major bombardments. Now Donald Lowe of Stanford University and Gary Byerly of Louisiana State University believe they've found evidence of eight large impacts in South Africa. The impact layers date to 3.3 billion years ago and span 250 million years. Each layer contains evidence that the bedrock was vaporized by the impact and was hit by tsunamis soon after. Lowe and Byerly estimate that the asteroids ranged from 20 km to 100 km across. They also propose that two of the impacts were large enough to boil away the ocean at the impact sites. In what they admit is speculative, they suggest that the presence of silica, which precipitated into the layers, is a potential sign that the sea floor was exposed and cracked open by the boiling of the water.

May 22, 2015 4:03 PM

Microsoft's hologram system adjusts image display to its surroundings

MIT Technology Review: Microsoft's HoloLens combines a video studio with 100 cameras, processing software, and a headset with sensors that detect the surroundings of the wearer. The result is a photorealistic holographic display that is projected into the user's present reality; the headset wearer can interact with the images as if they were solid and real. The headset uses sensor systems to determine how to fit the images to the user's surroundings. This approach is different from most other virtual displays, which block off the outside world. The images can also be presented on two-dimensional displays, and users can interact with them via touchscreens. Microsoft is trying to determine how to reduce the cost of the recording studio to make it more accessible.

May 22, 2015 12:13 PM

Scientist database to store peer-reviewer information

Nature: The Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) scientist registry system has announced that it will include peer-reviewer information in its database. The system will use a standard developed in partnership with the Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information and publisher Faculty of 1000. The system, which is voluntary, will allow researchers to add to their ORCID profile information about their peer review activities. For journals that participate in the standard, the reviewer's report itself can be added to the profile. For other journals, all that would be stored would be the number of reviews the researcher has completed for the journal in a certain period of time. The American Geophysical Union has already announced that it will use the new standard for its publications.

May 22, 2015 12:12 PM

Vesta may have eaten any moons it had

New Scientist: Vesta is the second most massive and third largest asteroid in the main belt and is classed as a minor planet. Like Ceres and Pallas, the other two most massive and largest asteroids, it doesn't have any natural satellites. That the three largest asteroids don't have any moons is curious because more than 100 main-belt asteroids are known to have other bodies in orbit around them. Vesta in particular looks like it ought to have a moon because its surface shows two large craters whose formation by impact should have created enough debris to form satellites. Lucy McFadden of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and her colleagues examined flyby images from the Dawn spacecraft to confirm the absence of any bodies larger than 6 m orbiting Vesta. Nick Gorkavyi, also of NASA Goddard, suggests that Vesta's high rate of rotation could have resulted in any satellites that formed losing momentum and merging with the asteroid. Gorkavyi says such merging events could explain the large canyons on Vesta's surface.

May 21, 2015 3:36 PM

Cold weather kills more people than hot weather

Los Angeles Times: After studying 74 million deaths in 13 countries between 1985 and 2012, a team led by Antonio Gasparini of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has concluded that cold weather is deadlier than hot weather. The study calculated an "optimum" temperature for each of 384 cities in the study. The optimum marked the temperature when deaths were least likely to occur and for each city was closer to the highest temperature than the lowest. Days were then labeled cold or hot depending on whether they were below or above that optimum temperature. Then the 2.5% of the coldest and hottest days in each city were used to define when temperatures were extreme. Each day's deaths were categorized as weather-related or not. Cold but not extremely cold days accounted for 6.7% of total deaths and extremely cold days accounted for another 0.6%. However, extreme cold was the cause of 10% of deaths on those days. Hot days accounted for only 0.4% of total deaths, but on extremely hot days, weather-related deaths were nearly 50% of the daily total. Because the study didn't include any nations in the Middle East or Africa, the result may not hold true everywhere, but having a better understanding of weather-related deaths overall may improve public health policies.

May 21, 2015 12:58 PM

Octopus uses light-sensitive skin for camouflage

New Scientist: Many octopi have the ability to camouflage themselves by changing pigments in their skin. In one species, the ability has now been shown to be the result of light-sensitive cells in the octopus's skin. Desmond Ramirez and Todd Oakley of the University of California at Santa Barbara took samples of the skin of the California two-spot octopus and exposed them to light and within six second the brown spots the octopus uses for camouflage appeared. The pigment change is controlled by muscle cells that stretch sacs of pigment called chromatophores and is triggered by a protein called r-opsin that is also present in the octopus's eyes.

May 21, 2015 12:28 PM

House passes controversial science-policy bill

Science: After two years of Republican Party effort, the America COMPETES Act (HR 1806) has passed the House, with voting mostly along party lines. The goal of the bill is to define priorities for NSF, the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The primary changes are to shift funds away from climate and geosciences research and to add restrictions to the way NSF makes grant application decisions. President Barack Obama has said that he will veto the bill as it currently stands, but it still needs Senate approval.

May 21, 2015 12:12 PM

LHC reaches 13-TeV collisions

BBC: Before CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) begins science-gathering collisions, workers there are testing its equipment, slowly ramping up the energy of its proton beams. Yesterday evening the collider reached an energy of 13 TeV at four collision points in the ring. During testing only a very few packets of protons are circulating at any one time. When the official "physics collisions" begin in June, several thousand packets will be in circulation simultaneously. The primary concern in the test collisions is determining whether the LHC systems can properly steer the protons at such high energies without damaging the machine or the detectors.

May 20, 2015 3:00 PM

Lab experiment reveals potential volcano trigger

The Guardian: An international team of researchers led by geologist Sandy Cruden of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has identified a new mechanism by which ascending magma could trigger volcanic eruptions. The team made the discovery by simulating Earth's crust with a tank filled with two layers of pigskin gelatin of differing viscosity. Colored water was injected from below to mimic upwelling magma. When passing through the lower-viscosity layer at the bottom, the water flowed in a vertical column. But when it reached the high-viscosity layer, it spread horizontally to form what geologists call a sill. By suffusing the gelatin with fluorescent particles and illuminating it with a laser, the researchers found that the horizontal spreading lowered the pressure in the upper layer, causing the layer to sag. Some volcanic eruptions occur when a reduction in pressure causes one side of a volcano to collapse. Sill formation could be the trigger.

May 20, 2015 1:45 PM

Russia moves to stifle private science foundation

Nature: Having made a fortune in telecommunications, businessman Dmitry Zimin established the Dynasty Foundation in 2002 to support science and education in Russia. Now Dynasty's existence is under threat from the Russian government. Last month the country's Justice Ministry ruled that the foundation qualifies as a "foreign agent." With that designation comes a range of onerous reporting requirements that trigger criminal penalties if unmet. Dynasty's activities that could be interpreted as foreign include requiring grant applications to be submitted in English, translating popular science books into Russian, and funding an annual summer school for high school students, postdoctoral researchers, and senior scientists from Russia and abroad.

May 20, 2015 11:21 AM

Senate subcommittee to US government: Quit ITER

Science: The Senate appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development yesterday marked up a spending bill for the 2016 fiscal year that omitted funding for ITER, the multi-billion-dollar international fusion experiment that is currently under construction in Cadarache, France. The same bill increases funding for basic research at the Department of Energy by 1.5% to $5.1 billion. Whether the ITER cut will survive is unclear. On 1 May the House passed its version of the bill, which provided $150 million for ITER.

May 20, 2015 11:15 AM

Wind power on the brink of spreading to all US states

New York Times: Friction from trees, buildings, and other structures slows wind that blows over land. When it comes to harvesting wind energy, the taller a turbine is, the better. According to a newly released report from the US Department of Energy, the availability of new turbines that stand up to 150 meters above the ground will extend the practicality of wind energy to the entire US. The new turbines, the report says, will add 0.7 million square miles—equivalent to one-fifth of the country's surface area—to the 1.1 million square miles where wind power is already practical.

May 19, 2015 2:03 PM

Filtering system explains jumping spiders' full color vision

Los Angeles Times: Many species of jumping spiders, such as Habronattus pyrrithrix, are brightly colored but their eyes have photoreceptors only for UV and green light. Why the spiders would have evolved coloring that they couldn't see was unclear. Now Daniel Zurek of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and his colleagues have determined that H. pyrrithrix can, in fact, see the coloring because its eyes contain filters over some of the green pigment photoreceptors. The discovery also helps to explain the unusual scanning movement of the spiders' eyes. The area of the eye that has the filters is so small that the field of vision is very narrow. The scanning greatly expands the field of view. Zurek's team found that the pigment filter is common to many of the Habronattus spiders, which may explain the success and diversity of the species.

May 19, 2015 2:03 PM

Indian Ocean may be cause of warming slowdown

Nature: A new study suggests that the Indian Ocean may be storing 70% of the heat absorbed by upper oceans globally over the past decade. If so, that could be a major reason why global warming has appeared to slow in the same period. Observers had thought that the slowdown was due to oceans absorbing heat from the atmosphere, but measurements of upper ocean temperatures showed them to be lower than expected in the Pacific Ocean and higher than expected in the Indian Ocean. Now Sang-Ki Lee of the University of Miami, Florida, and his colleagues have created a model that explains how heat could have flowed from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean through Indonesia. However, the model only looks at the upper 700 m, so it doesn't account for heat sinking to deeper levels. Also, some separate temperature estimates based on satellite data don't match the NOAA data that Lee's team used for their model.

May 19, 2015 11:25 AM

DOD to begin tracking grant applicant gender

Science: Last year, three members of the US House of Representatives asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the six largest grant-giving federal agencies for gender discrimination in the grant process. In the GAO's initial analysis, they found that the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and NASA did not track that information. Last week, the DOD announced that it found no legal objection to collecting that information and would work to determine how to most effectively do so. Neither DOE nor NASA has yet responded to the request to track gender data of grant applicants.

May 19, 2015 11:23 AM

US to launch X-37B research space plane on Wednesday

New Scientist: First launched in 2010, the X-37B is an uncrewed orbital space plane originally built for NASA but now operated by the US Air Force for secretive research projects. The USAF currently operates two of the vehicles. This will be the third launch for the first of the two vehicles. Details of the previous missions have been kept secret, but the space plane is generally considered to be a platform for long-term experiments; the previous missions lasted 224 days, 469 days, and 675 days each. Two of the payloads for tomorrow's launch have been made public. One, for NASA, is a collection of materials that will be exposed to space for more than 200 days. The other is an experimental Hall effect thruster being tested for satellite maneuverability.

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Scitation: News Picks - Blog