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 8 posts for the selected month (September 2015).
September 2, 2015 3:23 PM

Model predicts level of surveillance needed for early invasive-disease detection

BBC: The early detection of invasive diseases is important in protecting crops, but crop surveillance is expensive. Now Stephen Parnell of the University of Salford, UK, and his colleagues have developed a model to determine the minimum amount of surveillance needed to detect invasive diseases before they reach epidemic levels. The model is based on current surveillance efforts and their ability to detect diseases and at what level of incidence. By defining the maximum level of incidence a disease should be allowed to reach before it is detected, the model can tell what level of surveillance is needed.

September 2, 2015 2:00 PM

New journal to publish on all aspects of the research cycle

Science: To generate interest and funding early in the research process, a new journal has been launched called Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO). The open-access journal is published by Pensoft, an independent academic publishing company that already hosts several other open-access journals. Its founding editor, Ross Mounce, says he seeks to publish articles on all aspects of the research cycle, including project proposals, methods, and workflow, to encourage scientists to provide feedback to and collaborate with other researchers. However, he has been criticized for some of his policies, such as making peer review optional and charging publishing fees. Whether RIO will be successful may depend on the willingness of researchers to publish their ideas early on and risk the possibility that someone else will then develop them first and receive the credit.
September 2, 2015 1:43 PM

Earth-based and New Horizons measurements of Pluto's atmospheric pressure conflict

Nature: According to measurements taken from Earth, Pluto's atmosphere has been getting denser since 1988. But measurements taken by New Horizons as it flew by the dwarf planet in July show the opposite. A group of researchers led by Eliot Young of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, say that on 29 June, just a few weeks before New Horizons's arrival, Pluto's atmospheric pressure was 0.022 Pa. New Horizons measured a pressure of just 0.005 Pa. The discrepancy could be due to the indirect measurement method used by the researchers, who based their finding on the fading of a star's light as Pluto passed in front of it. Furthermore, the Earth-based calculation determines the pressure at an altitude of 50–75 km, whereas New Horizons calculated the pressure at Pluto's surface. It does so by measuring the deflection of radio waves sent from Earth as they pass through Pluto's atmosphere. To try to reconcile the two different measurements, the researchers plan to compare them with existing and new models of Pluto's atmosphere.

September 2, 2015 11:00 AM

Plate tectonics may have triggered evolution of life on Earth

New Scientist: The breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea some 125 million years ago may have provided the environment necessary to generate life deep in Earth’s oceans. Frieder Klein of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and his colleagues examined rock samples collected from beneath the sea floor off Portugal and found that they contain a sizable percentage of organic material—about 0.5% by weight—as well as amino acids, proteins, and fatty lipids. The researchers say that hydrogen- and methane-rich hydrothermal fluids were abundant in Earth’s mantle, and as Pangaea broke apart, ocean water seeped into the rock’s fissures and cavities. Oxygen, sulphates, bicarbonates, and other materials in the seawater reacted with the mantle material to fuel the growth of microbial communities. Moreover, conditions similar to those that created the microbes found by the researchers may have also spawned the first life on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago. And those same conditions may exist elsewhere in the solar system, says Klein.
September 1, 2015 2:10 PM

Modern storm-risk assessment must look beyond historical record

Science: Parts of the world that have experienced extreme storms in the past are generally better prepared for such disasters in the future. But just because a region hasn’t had a bad storm doesn’t mean it never will. A new risk-assessment tool looks beyond the historical record and takes into account other factors, such as the physics of storms and the shape of an area’s sea floor and coastline. As evidenced by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which struck New Orleans and the US East Coast, respectively, it is storm surge that can wreak the most destruction. To predict the likelihood of storm surge, researchers used a two-part model that simulated storms all over the world over tens of thousands of years and then statistically analyzed all the data. They found that some areas historically lacking severe storms actually have a potentially large risk of one, a risk that will likely increase due to climate change and rising sea levels.
September 1, 2015 1:45 PM

Majority of Europe's electronic waste is improperly handled

New Scientist: According to a new report from the United Nations University and INTERPOL, in 2012 only 35% of Europe's electronic waste was properly disposed of. Of the remainder, 1.3 million tons were stolen, including functional computer components and precious metals worth some €1.7 billion ($1.9 billion). Another 4.7 million tons were improperly disposed of or illegally traded. Improper disposal of electronics poses a threat to the environment and to public health because of the variety of toxic materials—such as lead, cadmium, and mercury—they contain.

September 1, 2015 1:44 PM

Binary stars can perturb planetary orbits

Ars Technica: Some exoplanetary systems consist of planets orbiting stars that have distant binary companions. According to new simulations of such systems, if a planet's orbital precession around its star falls into resonance with the orbital period of the binary, the resulting gravitational forces could lead to drastic changes in the planet's orbit. In particular, the planet's orbit could become highly elliptical or be forced into a different plane from that of the other planets in the system. In extreme cases, the planet could be ejected from the system or forced to collide with another planet or with one of the stars.

September 1, 2015 10:45 AM

Open-source motion-detection software encourages innovation

Nature: To track and study how animals move, a plethora of motion-tracking tools have sprung up that are based on motion-capture imaging technology. They are being used in various ways, such as to determine how ancient fossilized creatures may have moved or to detect aberrant movements that might indicate a neurological disorder, like Parkinson’s disease. One tool, called XROMM (x-ray reconstruction of moving morphology), uses x rays to image bones and joints moving inside live animals. Another, called MouseWalker, uses a high-speed video camera to detect the scattering of light as a mouse’s paws make contact with a transparent surface surrounded by LED lights. Both are among a growing number of software tools that have been made open source and thus freely available. The hope is that researchers will take the tools and go on to modify and redistribute them and further expand their applications.
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Scitation: News Picks - Blog