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Imagining the possibility of life in a universe without the weak force

Imagining the possibility of life in a universe without the weak force | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan has conducted a thought experiment regarding the nature of a universe that could support life without the weak force. In their paper uploaded to the ArXiv preprint server, the researchers suggest life could be possible in such an alternative universe, but it would definitely be different from what we observe in ours.


Physicists have debated the possibility of the existence of alternate universes for some time, though there is no evidence they exist. In this new thought experiment, the team at UM wondered if one or more of the laws of physics that we have discovered in this universe might not exist in others—if they do exist. Because it would be hard to imagine a universe that could exist without gravity and the strong and electromagnetic forces, the team instead focused on the weak force—the one behind such things as neutrons decaying into protons.


The team wondered what a universe without the weak force would look like. To visualize it, they created a simulation of such a universe starting from the Big Bang. In the simulation, matter was still created and condensed into stars, but from there on, things would be different, because in our universe, the weak force is responsible for the creation of the heavier elements. In a universe without the weak force, the existence of anything other than stars would require more free protons and fewer neutrons (because they could not decay). In such a universe, neutrons and protons could link up to make deuterium.


Stars fueled by deuterium instead of hydrogen, the researchers note, would still shine, they would just look different—likely redder and larger. But such stars could also serve as the source of all of the elements in the periodic table prior to iron, and the stellar winds could carry them out into space. If planets happened to form, they further note, they could hold water made from deuterium rather than hydrogen—and it is not impossible to imagine, they suggest, life forms made with deuterium water.

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20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities

20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities | Amazing Science |



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Microplastics discovered in human stools across the globe in a 'first of its kind' study

Microplastics discovered in human stools across the globe in a 'first of its kind' study | Amazing Science |

Researchers monitored a group of participants from 8 countries across the world with results showing that every single stool sample tested positive for the presence of microplastic and up to 9 different plastic types were identified.

Microplastics have been found in the human food chain as particles made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) and others were detected in human stools, research presented today at the 26th UEG Week in Vienna reveals.

Microplastics are small particles of plastic less than 5mm and are used in various products for specific purposes; as well as being created unintentionally by the breaking down of larger pieces of plastic through weathering, degradation, wear and tear. Microplastic may impact human health via the GI tract where it could affect the tolerance and immune response of the gut by bioaccumulation or aiding transmission of toxic chemicals and pathogens.

The pilot study was conducted with eight participants from across the globe. Each person kept a food diary in the week leading up to their stool sampling. The diaries showed that all participants were exposed to plastics by consuming plastic wrapped foods or drinking from plastic bottles. None of the participants were vegetarians and six of them consumed sea fish.

The stools were tested at the Environment Agency Austria for 10 types of plastics following a newly developed analytical procedure. Up to nine different plastics, sized between 50 and 500 micrometres, were found, with polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) being the most common. On average, the researchers found 20 microplastic particles per 10g of stool.

Lead researcher Dr. Philipp Schwabl, who is presenting the findings at the 26th UEG Week, commented: "This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases. While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver. Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health."

Renato P. dos Santos's curator insight, Today, 7:57 AM

Microplastics discovered in human stools across the globe in a 'first of its kind' study

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Google ponders the shortcomings of machine learning

Google ponders the shortcomings of machine learning | Amazing Science |

Critics of the current mode of artificial intelligence technology have grown louder in the last couple of years, and this week, Google, one of the biggest commercial beneficiaries of the current vogue, offered a response, if, perhaps, not an answer, to the critics.


In a paper published by the Google Brain and the Deep Mind units of Google, researchers address shortcomings of the field and offer some techniques they hope will bring machine learning farther along the path to what would be "artificial general intelligence," something more like human reasoning.


The research acknowledges that current "deep learning" approaches to AI have failed to achieve the ability to even approach human cognitive skills. Without dumping all that's been achieved with things such as "convolutional neural networks," or CNNs, the shining success of machine learning, they propose ways to impart broader reasoning skills.


The paper, "Relational inductive biases, deep learning, and graph networks," posted on the arXiv pre-print service, is authored by Peter W. Battaglia of Google's DeepMind unit, along with colleagues from Google Brain, MIT, and the University of Edinburgh. It proposes the use of network "graphs" as a means to better generalize from one instance of a problem to another.


Battaglia and colleagues, calling their work "part position paper, part review, and part unification," observe that AI "has undergone a renaissance recently," thanks to "cheap data and cheap compute resources."

However, "many defining characteristics of human intelligence, which developed under much different pressures, remain out of reach for current approaches," especially "generalizing beyond one's experiences."


Hence, "A vast gap between human and machine intelligence remains, especially with respect to efficient, generalizable learning."

The authors cite some prominent critics of AI, such as NYU professor Gary Marcus.


Read also: Google Brain, Microsoft plumb the mysteries of networks with AI

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Microsoft Has a Whole New Kind of Computer Chip—and It Might Just Change Everything

Microsoft Has a Whole New Kind of Computer Chip—and It Might Just Change Everything | Amazing Science |
High-end, custom-built "field programmable gate arrays" will run Bing, Office 365, and Azure.


In December 2012, Doug Burger was standing in front of Steve Ballmer, trying to predict the future. Ballmer, the big, bald, boisterous CEO of Microsoft, sat in the lecture room on the ground floor of Building 99, home base for the company’s blue-sky R&D lab just outside Seattle. The tables curved around the outside of the room in a U-shape, and Ballmer was surrounded by his top lieutenants, his laptop open. Burger, a computer chip researcher who had joined the company four years earlier, was pitching a new idea to the execs. He called it Project Catapult.


The tech world, Burger explained, was moving into a new orbit. In the future, a few giant Internet companies would operate a few giant Internet services so complex and so different from what came before that these companies would have to build a whole new architecture to run them. They would create not just the software driving these services, but the hardware, including servers and networking gear. Project Catapult would equip all of Microsoft’s servers—millions of them—with specialized chips that the company could reprogram for particular tasks.


But before Burger could even get to the part about the chips, Ballmer looked up from his laptop. When he visited Microsoft Research, Ballmer said, he expected updates on R&D, not a strategy briefing. “He just started grilling me,” Burger says. Microsoft had spent 40 years building PC software like Windows, Word, and Excel. It was only just finding its feet on the Internet. And it certainly didn’t have the tools and the engineers needed to program computer chips—a task that’s difficult, time consuming, expensive, and kind of weird. Microsoft programming computer chips was like Coca Cola making shark fin soup.


Burger—trim, only slightly bald, and calmly analytical, like so many good engineers—pushed back. He told Ballmer that companies like Google and Amazon were already moving in this direction. He said the world’s hardware makers wouldn’t provide what Microsoft needed to run its online services. He said that Microsoft would fall behind if it didn’t build its own hardware. Ballmer wasn’t buying it. But after awhile, another voice joined the discussion. This was Qi Lu, who runs Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Lu’s team had been talking to Burger about reprogrammable computer chips for almost two years. Project Catapult was more than possible, Lu said: His team had already started.


Today, the programmable chips that Burger and Lu believed would transform the world—called field programmable gate arrays—are here. FPGAs already underpin Bing, and in the coming weeks, they will drive new search algorithms based on deep neural networks—artificial intelligence modeled on the structure of the human brain—executing this AI several orders of magnitude faster than ordinary chips could. As in, 23 milliseconds instead of four seconds of nothing on your screen. FPGAs also drive Azure, the company’s cloud computing service. And in the coming years, almost every new Microsoft server will include an FPGA. That’s millions of machines across the globe. “This gives us massive capacity and enormous flexibility, and the economics work,” Burger says. “This is now Microsoft’s standard, worldwide architecture.”

Via Fernando Gil
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Interesting Fibonacci Formulas

Interesting Fibonacci Formulas | Amazing Science |
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Chances DNA can be used to find your family? Sixty percent and rising

Chances DNA can be used to find your family? Sixty percent and rising | Amazing Science |
If you're of European descent, there's a good chance that you can be found.


Earlier in 2018 news broke that police had devised an unexpected new method to crack cold cases. Rather than use a suspect's DNA to identify them, data from the DNA was used to search public repositories and identify an alleged killer's family members. From there, a bit of family tree building led to a limited number of suspects and the eventual identification of the person who was charged with the Golden State killings. In the months that followed, more than a dozen other cases were reported to have been solved in the same manner (Genealogy websites identify rape suspect who eluded police for 40 years).


The potential for this sort of analysis had been identified by biologists as early as 2014, but they viewed it as a privacy risk—there was potential for personal information from research subjects to leak out to the public via their DNA sequences. Now, a US-Israeli team of researchers has gone through and quantified the chances of someone being identified through public genealogy data. If you live in the US and are of European descent, odds are 60 percent that you can be identified via information that your relatives have made public.


Any two humans share identical versions of the vast majority of their DNA. But there are enough differences commonly scattered across the three billion or so bases of our genomes that it's now cheap and easy to determine which version of up to 700,000 differences people have. This screen forms the basis of personal DNA testing and genealogy services.


These differences make it easy to identify an individual's DNA, even if they're in a large database. While any two individuals may share the same variant at one location, everyone but identical twins will have enough differences to be distinguished. And, as you might imagine, close family members share more similarities than any two random strangers. But as you move out along the branches of the family tree to more distant relatives like third cousins, the number of differences continues to grow. At this point, a different sort of analysis works better. Variations that are on the same chromosome are physically linked because they reside on the same DNA molecule, so they tend to be inherited together.


Over time, exchanges between chromosomes will break up this run of linked variations, but this happens slowly. As a result, distant cousins may not have a huge number of shared variations, but the shared ones will all tend to cluster together as a run of identical variations on a small stretch of a chromosome. The size of those identical stretches will tend to go down over the generations.


Many of the DNA testing and genealogy services offer this analysis as a way to find lost family members who have used the same service. But they also allow you to download the data on your variations and then upload them to independent services, which may have a larger user base, and thus a better chance of picking out family members. It was one of these services that made the match that was key to the Golden Gate Killer case.


Police did enough DNA testing to have a list of the killer's variations, formatted the information appropriately, and used one of these services to identify a likely family member. From there, other genealogical information and public records could be used to build a family tree and identify likely suspects on it.



While most people would support the solving of crimes using this method, there are some basic privacy implications. Some might not be comfortable with having personal genetic information about themselves shared by their family members without permission. And, as noted above, this could be used to obtain personal health information if the participant has ever been involved in medical studies.


So, the researchers behind the new study decided to quantify the risks involved. They started with a database of 1.3 million people who had been tested by a consumer genealogy company. They then chose individuals at random from this pool and searched for distant family members. They decided to go for distant family members because close family members often coordinate DNA tests and do them at the same time. This involved searching for stretches of identical variants that were long enough to indicate relation, but not as long as what you'd typically see in first cousins. In 15 percent of the cases, they were able to identify what appeared to be second cousins. Another 45 percent were third or fourth cousins for a total of a 60-percent success rate for identifying likely family members.

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3-D bioprinting technique could create artificial blood vessels, organ tissue

3-D bioprinting technique could create artificial blood vessels, organ tissue | Amazing Science |

University of Colorado Boulder engineers have developed a 3-D printing technique that allows for localized control of an object's firmness, opening up new biomedical avenues that could one day include artificial arteries and organ tissue.


The study, which was recently published in the journal Nature Communications, outlines a layer-by-layer printing method that features fine-grain, programmable control over rigidity, allowing researchers to mimic the complex geometry of blood vessels that are highly structured and yet must remain pliable.


The findings could one day lead to better, more personalized treatments for those suffering from hypertension and other vascular diseases. "The idea was to add independent mechanical properties to 3-D structures that can mimic the body's natural tissue," said Xiaobo Yin, an associate professor in CU Boulder's Department of Mechanical Engineering and the senior author of the study. "This technology allows us to create microstructures that can be customized for disease models."


Hardened blood vessels are associated with cardiovascular disease, but engineering a solution for viable artery and tissue replacement has historically proven challenging. To overcome these hurdles, the researchers found a unique way to take advantage of oxygen's role in setting the final form of a 3-D-printed structure.


"Oxygen is usually a bad thing in that it causes incomplete curing," said Yonghui Ding, a postdoctoral researcher in Mechanical Engineering and the lead author of the study. "Here, we utilize a layer that allows a fixed rate of oxygen permeation." By keeping tight control over oxygen migration and its subsequent light exposure, Ding said, the researchers have the freedom to control which areas of an object are solidified to be harder or softer—all while keeping the overall geometry the same. "This is a profound development and an encouraging first step toward our goal of creating structures that function like a healthy cell should function," Ding said.


As a demonstration, the researchers printed three versions of a simple structure: a top beam supported by two rods. The structures were identical in shape, size and materials, but had been printed with three variations in rod rigidity: soft/soft, hard/soft and hard/hard. The harder rods supported the top beam while the softer rods allowed it to fully or partially collapse. The researchers repeated the feat with a small Chinese warrior figure, printing it so that the outer layers remained hard while the interior remained soft, leaving the warrior with a tough exterior and a tender heart, so to speak.


The tabletop-sized printer is currently capable of working with biomaterials down to a size of 10 microns, or about one-tenth the width of a human hair. The researchers are optimistic that future studies will help improve the capabilities even further.

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‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss

‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss | Amazing Science |

Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.


In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.


The latest report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.


“This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” said David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with this research. He added: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”

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Scientists Have Connected The Brains of 3 People, Enabling Them to Share Thoughts

Scientists Have Connected The Brains of 3 People, Enabling Them to Share Thoughts | Amazing Science |

Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people share their thoughts – and in this case, play a Tetris-style game. The team thinks this wild experiment could be scaled up to connect whole networks of people, and yes, it's as weird as it sounds.


It works through a combination of electroencephalograms (EEGs), for recording the electrical impulses that indicate brain activity, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), where neurons are stimulated using magnetic fields. The researchers behind the new system have dubbed it BrainNet, and say it could eventually be used to connect many different minds together, even across the web. But apart from opening up strange new methods of communication, BrainNet could actually teach us more about how the human brain functions on a deeper level.


"We present BrainNet which, to our knowledge, is the first multi-person non-invasive direct brain-to-brain interface for collaborative problem solving," write the researchers. "The interface allows three human subjects to collaborate and solve a task using direct brain-to-brain communication."


In the experiment set up by the scientists, two 'senders' were connected to EEG electrodes and asked to play a Tetris-style game involving falling blocks. They had to decide whether each block needed rotating or not. To do this, they were asked to stare at one of two flashing LEDs at either side of the screen – one flashing at 15 Hz and the other at 17 Hz – which produced different signals in the brain that the EEG could pick up on.


These choices were then relayed to a single 'receiver' through a TMS cap that could generate phantom flashes of light in the receiver's mind, known as phosphenes. The receiver couldn't see the whole game area, but had to rotate the falling block if a light flash signal was sent. Across five different groups of three people, the researchers hit an average accuracy level of 81.25 percent, which is decent for a first try.

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University of Tokyo Researchers Create Transforming DRAGON Snake Drone

University of Tokyo Researchers Create Transforming DRAGON Snake Drone | Amazing Science |
The DRAGON can autonomously decide which shape would serve it best to fit through narrow gaps or complex environments.


Researchers at the University of Tokyo’s Jouhou System Kougaku (JSK) Lab have developed a modular, transforming drone called DRAGON, which stands for “Dual-Rotor Embedded Multilink Robot with the Ability of Multi-Degree-of-Freedom Aerial Transformation.” While the corresponding acronym here is quite the reach, the DRAGON’s ability to elongate itself to form a square or snake through dense environments while the ducted fans keep it afloat is quite impressive.


According to IEEE Spectrum, DRAGON can autonomously conclude which kind of shape would be most efficient and productive when faced with space constraints or oddly-shaped environments. Instead of focusing on small unmanned aerial vehicles that could naturally fit through densely packed rooms or surroundings, JSK researchers tried to develop an agile drone that could traverse various territories without having to reach miniature or nano-drone size restrictions.


DRAGON is comprised of numerous modules, each of which has dual fans serving as thrusters, which can point in any direction required. These modules are connected to each other by hinged joints, which means one module can turn and rotate as it needs without affecting the others. Think of this as a snake which could move sections of its body independently of the others, or how an owl can fully rotate its head without moving its body.


While a battery pack provides DRAGON with three minutes of flight time, the software letting it run autonomously is built on Intel’s Euclid software development kit (SDK). The prototype seen here is comprised of four modules, with the Euclid running along its spine, regardless of shapes being formed. Currently, DRAGON can fly as a straight line, a square, an “L” shape, in a zig-zag shape, or a spiral.


When most drones look the same and have pretty similar movements to offer, DRAGON’s highly modular transformative capabilities (which aren’t even past the prototype stage) are pretty impressive. Drones are becoming more fluid, and that’s exciting.

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NASA’s Fermi Mission Maps Out the Sky With Gamma-ray Constellations

NASA’s Fermi Mission Maps Out the Sky With Gamma-ray Constellations | Amazing Science |
Scientists on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope mission have devised a set of modern constellations constructed from the sky's brightest gamma-ray sources.


Since July 2008, Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) has been scanning the entire sky each day, mapping and measuring sources of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the universe. The emission may come from pulsarsnova outbursts, the debris of supernova explosions and giant gamma-ray bubbles located in our own galaxy, or supermassive black holes and gamma-ray bursts — the most powerful explosions in the cosmos — in others. 


“By 2015, the number of different sources mapped by Fermi’s LAT had expanded to about 3,000 — 10 times the number known before the mission,” said Goddard’s Elizabeth Ferrara, who led the constellation project. “For the first time ever, the number of known gamma-ray sources was comparable to the number of bright stars, so we thought a new set of constellations was a great way to illustrate the point.”    


The 21 gamma-ray constellations include famous landmarks — such as Sweden’s recovered warship, Vasa, the Washington Monument and Mount Fuji in Japan — in countries contributing to Fermi science. Others represent scientific ideas or tools, from Schrödinger’s Cat — both alive and dead, thanks to quantum physics — to Albert Einstein, Radio Telescope and Black Widow Spider, the namesake of a class of pulsars that evaporate their unfortunate companion stars.


Ferrara and Daniel Kocevski, an astrophysicist now at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, developed a web-based interactiveto showcase the constellations, with artwork from Aurore Simonnet, an illustrator at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, and a map of the whole gamma-ray sky from Fermi. Clicking on a constellation turns on its artwork and name, which includes a link to a page with more information. Other controls switch on the visible sky and selected traditional constellations.


“Fermi is still going strong, and we are now preparing a new all-sky LAT catalog,” said Jean Ballet, a Fermi team member at the French Atomic Energy Commission in Saclay. “This will add about 2,000 sources, many varying greatly in brightness, further enriching these constellations and enlivening the high-energy sky!”


NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

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Macro Photographs Composed of Nearly Ten Thousand Images Show the Incredible Detail of Insect Specimens

Macro Photographs Composed of Nearly Ten Thousand Images Show the Incredible Detail of Insect Specimens | Amazing Science |

Commercial photographer Levon Biss typically shoots portraits of world-class athletes—sports players caught in motion. His new series however, catches subjects that have already been paused, insect specimens found at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. The series originally started as a side-project capturing the detail of bugs that his son would catch at home, and is now displayed at the museum in an exhibition titled Microsculpture.


During the course of his selection from the museum’s collection Biss rejected more than 99% of the bugs he came across, only choosing those that were of the right size and color. To capture these subjects in such immense detail, each part of the insect required a completely different lighting setup.


“I will photograph an antenna and light that antenna so it looks as best as it possibly can,” said Biss. “Once I move onto the next section, for example the eye, the lighting will change completely. I work my way across the whole body of the insect until I end up with 30 different sections, each photographed individually.”


Working in this comprehensive manner required between 8,000 and 10,000 shots for each final image, moving the camera just ten microns (1/7th of the width of a human hair) between each shot. With this volume of imagery, it takes over two weeks for Biss to complete each photograph start to finish.


You can see Microsculpture through October 30th at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History where the images are displayed next to their actual specimens. In case you can’t make it to the UK, you can take a detailed look at all 22 of Biss’s images on his interactive Microsculpture website. (via PetaPixel)

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Google aims for 100% renewable energy all day, every day

Google aims for 100% renewable energy all day, every day | Amazing Science |
Buying enough clean energy to make up for your dirty energy is one thing; using all clean energy 24/7 is another, and it could signal a new approach.


Our time to move away from dirty energy to green sources is limited. Federal governments can’t be relied upon to push the conversion–especially not the one in the U.S., which is actively working against large-scale adoption of green energy. Much of the progress we’ve seen so far has come from big corporate energy buyers demanding carbon-free power. There is an ecological motivation, but it’s also driven by a desire to get in on the falling cost and high cost predictability of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.


The largest corporate buyers are big tech companies that rely heavily on global networks of large power-hungry data centers, storing and serving up most of the internet’s digital content: videos and movies, webpages, search results. No surprise: Google is a gigantic energy hog, but it’s also currently the world’s largest buyer of renewable energy, in its various forms—over 3 gigawatts—according to a March report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.


With its sizable purchase of renewables, Google says it’s currently matching all of its total energy use with clean energy sources. But when you hear a company like Google say, “We’re 100% renewable energy,” it usually means that it is, on balance, buying as much clean, renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) as it is consuming unclean, non-renewable energy (coal, natural gas, etc.) in a given year. That’s not the same as directly “powering” their operations with all renewables all the time.


Companies typically can’t generate enough power for a data center from an onsite solar or wind farm; they have to connect to the local power grid like everyone else. And the local utilities that run the grid get their power from a mix of sources, some dirty, some clean. The energy buyer can’t choose to buy only the electrons from the grid that were generated from clean energy sources.


Instead, buyers offset their energy use. Many companies sign virtual power-purchase agreements whereby they buy renewable energy credits, financial instruments that certify that a certain amount of green energy has been added to the electric grid. In some markets, corporate customers can go directly to a green energy wholesaler to get their power.


Big buyers like Google, AppleMicrosoftAmazon, and Facebook actively organize as well as invest in new clean energy projects in markets where they operate, so there’s more of the stuff available to buy. But these tactics are just the first moves in a long game. In a new research paper, Google begins to look at an ultimate goal: converting its data centers to 100% green energy—all day, every day. And it provides a framework for achieving the real-world steps needed to get there.


“Achieving 100% renewable energy is just the beginning,” Michael Terrell, Google’s head of energy market development, told me. “We’re keeping our eyes on the prize, and that is getting to carbon free for every hour of the day for every location.”

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Structure of spherical viruses aren't as perfect as we thought | EurekAlert! Science News

Structure of spherical viruses aren't as perfect as we thought | EurekAlert! Science News | Amazing Science |

Determining the structure of a virus is an important step in understanding and treating viral disease. For decades, structural biologists have been using cryo-electron microscopy to create increasingly accurate pictures of biomolecules, but one of the assumptions they've been relying on could be wrong.


Flaviviruses, such as dengue and Zika, were assumed to be symmetrical icosahedrons (shapes with 20 identical faces) based on data from microscopes. But these icosahedral viruses might not be perfectly symmetrical after all, according to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"Up until now, any such viruses that have ever been examined have been looked at with the assumption that they had icosahedral symmetry," said Michael Rossmann, the Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at Purdue University. "Now we realize that's an approximation - it's not completely accurate. A large proportion of viruses are nearly icosahedral, and just now we're beginning to see the details."


The research team, including Richard Kuhn, the Trent and Judith Anderson Distinguished Professor of Science at Purdue, used cryo-EM to determine the structures of immature and mature Kunjin virus, a strain of West Nile virus. They followed standard procedures until the end, when data from the microscope is processed to generate a structure. Where they would normally apply a symmetry requirement, the researchers opted out.


Matthew Therkelsen, a graduate researcher at Purdue and lead author of the paper, first noticed something unusual when he was determining the structure of an antibody bound to the immature virus. Images of the antibody bound to the virus showed a preference for one side of the particle, and that side was a little fuzzy.


"The fact that the antibody seemed to prefer one side of the particle, and that side had an unusual density, made me question the assumptions we'd been making about icosahedral symmetry," Therkelsen said. "After that, I started doing asymmetrical reconstructions." What he found looked sort of like a "belly button" on the exterior of the virus.


This deviation in symmetry could come from the way the virus is produced. When enveloped viruses are assembling new virus particles, they burrow into a cellular membrane and push until they've created their own protective layer. When this layer is almost fully enclosed, the virus gives one final nudge and buds from the membrane.

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The Dire Warnings of the United Nations’ Latest Climate-Change Report

The Dire Warnings of the United Nations’ Latest Climate-Change Report | Amazing Science |
Carolyn Kormann on a new report from the I.P.C.C., which states that global climate change will have catastrophic consequences once the planet surpasses 1.5 degrees of warming, which could happen in just a few years.


In the fall of 2015, several artists in the Caribbean appeared in a film titled “1.5 Stay Alive,” featuring a series of homespun music videos. The name of the project referred to a campaign to limit the rise in average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times. Since the 2009 United Nations climate talks, in Copenhagen, the consensus among scientists and policymakers has been that two degrees Celsius should be the limit; any further temperature increase would be catastrophic. But, for the citizens of small island countries and other vulnerable places in the tropics and the Arctic, even two degrees of warming would be a death sentence. Their communities would be inundated, and eventually destroyed. This could happen by the time the children in the film reached middle age.


Later that year, at the climate talks in Paris, “1.5 to Stay Alive” had become a rallying cry for the leaders of the Alliance of Small Island States, which includes countries like the Bahamas, the Maldives, and the Marshall Islands. As a result, the final Paris Agreement declared that, while warming shall not surpass two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (the target now commonly cited), countries should pursue “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C.”


The Alliance of Small Island States also asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.)—the scientific body that informs the climate policies of the United Nations’ member states—to prepare a special report on the specific impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees, along with ways the world could feasibly keep the temperature from rising further. “We needed literature on the conditions of the 1.5-degree world, so this spurred a tremendous amount of new research,” William Solecki, a climate scientist at Hunter College, in New York, and one of the report’s lead authors, told me. “As soon as the ink was drying on the Paris Agreement, we were off.”


Last night, in Incheon, South Korea, after a week of deliberation, the I.P.C.C. released the new findings. The summary tells a nightmarish tale—one much worse than any of those in the I.P.C.C.’s previous reports—surveying the climate-change impacts we’re already experiencing with one degree of warming, and the severity of the impacts to come once we surpass 1.5 degrees of warming. Ten million more people would be exposed to permanent inundation, and several hundred million more to “climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty.” Malaria and dengue fever will be more widespread, and crops like maize, rice, and wheat will have smaller and smaller yields—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Security and economic growth will be that much more imperilled. “Robust scientific literature now shows that there are significant differences between 1.5 and 2 degrees,” Adelle Thomas, a geographer from the Bahamas and also one of the report’s lead authors, told me. “The scientific consensus is really strong. It’s not just a political slogan: ‘1.5 to stay alive.’ It’s true.”

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Researchers discover drug cocktail that increases lifespan in C. elegans and Drosophila

Researchers discover drug cocktail that increases lifespan in C. elegans and Drosophila | Amazing Science |

There is growing interest in pharmacological interventions directly targeting the aging process. Pharmacological interventions against aging should be efficacious when started in adults and, ideally, repurpose existing drugs. Scientists now show that dramatic lifespan extension can be achieved by targeting multiple, evolutionarily conserved aging pathways and mechanisms using drug combinations. Using this approach in C. elegans, they were able to slow aging and significantly extend healthy lifespan.


To identify the mechanism of these drug synergies, they applied transcriptomics and lipidomics analysis. They found that drug interactions involved the TGF-β pathway and recruited genes related with IGF signaling. daf-2daf-7, and sbp-1 interact upstream of changes in lipid metabolism, resulting in increased monounsaturated fatty acid content and this is required for healthy lifespan extension.


Taken together, these data suggest that combinations of drugs targeting distinct subsets of the aging gene regulatory network can be leveraged to cause synergistic lifespan benefits.

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Scientists discover what shapes language diversity

Scientists discover what shapes language diversity | Amazing Science |
A team of international researchers, led by Colorado State University's Michael Gavin, have taken a first step in answering fundamental questions about human diversity.


Humans collectively speak nearly 7,000 languages. But these languages are not spread evenly across the globe. Why do humans speak so many languages, and why are there so many languages in some places and so few in others?


In a new study published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, the team was the first to use a form of simulation modeling to study the processes that shape language diversity patterns. Researchers tested the approach in Australia, and the model estimated 406 languages on the continent; the actual number of indigenous languages is 407.


The team - which includes linguists, geographers, ecologists, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists based in the United States, Brazil, Germany, Canada, and Sweden - adapted a form of modeling first created by ecologists to study the processes shaping species diversity.


The researchers began with a grid on a blank map. The computer model placed a population of people in one cell on the grid and then used a series of simple rules that defined how the population grew, spread across the map, and divided into separate populations speaking different languages.

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Even Phenomenally Dense Neutron Stars Fall like a Feather under Gravity

Even Phenomenally Dense Neutron Stars Fall like a Feather under Gravity | Amazing Science |

Harnessing the exquisite sensitivity of the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomers have given one of Einstein’s predictions on gravity its most stringent test yet. By precisely tracking the meanderings of three stars in a single system – two white dwarf stars and one ultra-dense neutron star – the researchers determined that even phenomenally compact neutron stars “fall” in the same manner as their less-dense counterparts, an aspect of nature called the “Strong Equivalence Principle.”


Einstein’s understanding of gravity, as outlined in his general theory of relativity, predicts that all objects fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass or composition. This theory has passed test after test here on Earth, but does it still hold true for some of the most massive and dense objects in the known universe, an aspect of nature known as the Strong Equivalence Principle?


An international team of astronomers has given this lingering question its most stringent test ever. Their findings, published in the journal Nature, show that Einstein’s insights into gravity still hold sway, even in one of the most extreme scenarios the Universe can offer.

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Researchers demonstrate 120-kilowatt wireless charging for electric cars

Researchers demonstrate 120-kilowatt wireless charging for electric cars | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a 120-kilowatt wireless charging system for vehicles—providing six times the power of previous ORNL technology and a big step toward charging times that rival the speed and convenience of a gas station fill-up.


The wireless system transfers 120 kilowatts of power with 97 percent efficiency, which is comparable to conventional, wired high-power fast chargers. In the laboratory demonstration, power was transferred across a six-inch air gap between two magnetic coils and charged a battery pack.


ORNL researchers created and demonstrated the world's first 20-kilowatt wireless charging system, which is being modified for applications such as commercial delivery trucks. "It was important to maintain the same or smaller footprint as the previous demonstration to encourage commercial adoption," said project lead Veda Galigekere of ORNL's Power Electronics and Electric Machinery Group.


"We used finite element and circuit analyses to develop a novel co-optimization methodology, solving the issues of coil design while ensuring the system doesn't heat up or pose any safety issues, and that any loss of power during the transfer is minimal," he said.


To achieve 120 kilowatts, the ORNL team created a new coil design co-optimized with the latest silicon carbide power electronic devices for a lightweight, compact system. The system's architecture takes energy from the grid and converts it to high-frequency alternating current, which generates a magnetic field that transfers power across a large air gap. Once the energy is transferred to the secondary coil, it is converted back to direct current and stored in a vehicle's batteries.

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Connecting 8 Billion Minds by 2024

Connecting 8 Billion Minds by 2024 | Amazing Science |
In the next 6 years, 4 billion "New Minds" are about to be connected to the World Wide Web with bandwidths like never before.


By 2024, we are connecting every person on Earth to the web with bandwidths far beyond what Fortune 500 CEOs and heads of nations had daily access to just a couple of decades back. This revolution will ignite a renaissance of innovation, and once again transform our planet.


What will these 4.2 billion new minds discover? What will they consume? What new companies will they build? What industries will they disrupt? We’ve already seen unprecedented acceleration of network growth and connectivity. But as the other half of our planet plugs into the web, this acceleration will only accelerate.

So where are we going and how are we getting there?


Networks are currently being deployed in 3 different areas:

  1. 5G, ushering in a wireless world
  2. Balloons connecting all 8 billion of us from the atmosphere
  3. Space-based networks

Let’s dive in...

5G for Gigabit Connection Speeds, Worldwide

The jump from 3G to 4G brought you the revolutionary era of smartphones, mobile banking and e-commerce. But if you thought that was big, think again. With plans for wide-scale deployment in 2020, 5G will be 100X faster than 4G, and 10X faster than your average broadband connection.


To get a sense of what that actually means, imagine downloading a movie on your phone in a matter of seconds —or better yet, having your autonomous vehicle communicate with smart city sensors in real time. With 1 to 10 Gbps connection speeds, 5G is at the core of tomorrow’s trillion-sensor economy.


Powering autonomous vehicles, smart factories (IIoT), remotely controlled drones, VR and AR, in-home IoT, and the world’s first smart cities, 5G is about to allow every person on the planet to tap into data from billions of sensors around the globe.


It’s the promise of on-demand knowledge for anyone, anywhere, anytime. As a former Qualcomm CTO Matt Grob explains, “5G networks will allow you to measure 100,000 sensors in a city block.” Imagine the extraordinary possibilities that such a smart world could unlock. No question about your environment is unanswerable, and answers are less than a split second away. With companies like Qualcomm and Intel leading the charge, some estimates put 5G infrastructure spending at over $326 billion by 2025.


And while major players are linking the world’s devices and sensors at gigabit connection speeds on the ground, others are working from the atmosphere. As Google places high-altitude balloons in the stratosphere, SpaceX is beginning to populate space with constellations of Internet-transmitting satellites.

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IBM Releases Pretrained Watson AI Tools for Several Industries

IBM Releases Pretrained Watson AI Tools for Several Industries | Amazing Science |
IBM has introduced a number of targeted Watson AI applications to allow workers in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation to gain key insights.


In a significant expansion of the IBM Watson cognitive computing platform, IBM has launched "pretrained" artificial intelligence (AI) tools for a slew of industries including advertising, agriculture, automotive, building management, customer service, human resources (HR), manufacturing, marketing, and supply chain.

"The focus is on how AI can make each professional—across industries—more effective and more efficient," Kareem Yusuf, Ph.D, General Manager of IBM Watson IoT, told PCMag.


Watson is IBM's series of AI services and applications. By releasing this series of pretrained tools, Yusuf said IBM aims to help companies change the way they work. "We decided to release this largest-ever AI toolset pretrained for industries and professions to help businesses re-imagine how they work," Yusuf said. "A key business advantage lies in tapping into organizational insights, historical customer data, internal reporting, past transactions, and client interactions. These elements are too often underutilized."


Offering pre-trained solutions for various industries is a big deal, explained Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst at tech analyst firm The Enderle Group. "It represents a significant maturing of the Watson platform," Enderle told PCMag. Sometimes companies that deploy AI hit a snag during the training period. Since Watson completes its training before companies deploy the technology, companies can execute a more efficient deployment.


"Training is where AI deployments get hung up," Enderle said. "Much of the initial work with developed AI is to create this training, which then, through machine learning, can be passed on to new systems, significantly lowering the deployment cost and time to value. This is a critical phase to maturing the platform and getting it closer to its operational and sales potential."


With the heavy lifting completed during the training period, Watson is ready to start producing targeted, industry-specific insights right away. "Getting the system to this phase is anything but trivial. Once there, machine learning can allow the replication of an unlimited number of systems," Enderle said.

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Universe: Superclusters and Voids

Universe: Superclusters and Voids | Amazing Science |
The map shows 3,751 Abell galaxy clusters, 1,024 galaxy superclusters and 2,042 voids. Supercluster and void circles are scaled to their estimated size. Abell clusters are scaled based on the number of galaxies in the cluster. Most objects are named after the constellation in which they are located. The sphere is based on the supergalactic coordinate system and has a diameter of 12 billion light-travel years. The supergalactic equator is aligned to the planar-like distribution of galaxies in the Milky Way. The vertical distance of an object from the equator is a function of the latitude and distance of the object. For readability, the latitude and longitude are scaled to improve visual separation of objects and the sphere is split into the Northern and Southern Supergalactic Hemispheres.
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Largest batch of Earth-size, habitable zone planets

Largest batch of Earth-size, habitable zone planets | Amazing Science |

In a press release on February 22, 2017, NASA announced the discovery of the most Earth-sized planets found in the habitable zone of a single star, called TRAPPIST-1. This system of seven rocky worlds–all of them with the potential for water on their surface–is an exciting discovery in the search for life on other worlds. There is the possibility that future study of this unique planetary system could reveal conditions suitable for life.


In February 2018, closer study of the seven planets suggested that some could harbor far more water than the oceans of Earth, in the form of atmospheric water vapor for the planets closest to their star, liquid water for others, and ice for those farthest away. The new study pinned down the density of each planet more precisely, making TRAPPIST-1 the most thoroughly known planetary system apart from our own.

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Touchdown on Titan: How we landed a probe on another planet's moon in 2005

Touchdown on Titan: How we landed a probe on another planet's moon in 2005 | Amazing Science |
When the Huygens probe dropped into Titan’s atmosphere January 14, 2005, no one knew what to expect. Would it splash down into a methane ocean? Sink into a tar pit? Crash into sharp rocks or tumble off a ravine? And, most importantly, what manner of world lurked beneath Titan’s thick shroud of haze and clouds?
For landings on Mars or the Moon, mission scientists plotted out landing sites with meticulous care. Telescopes and orbiters scanned the ground, imaging dangerous terrain and safe zones, and flight engineers pored over their maps and planned accordingly.
But Titan was a mystery. Aside from a brief pass by Voyager 1, little was known about Saturn’s largest moon. What the Huygens descent probe would find was anyone’s guess. Huygens had to be prepared for anything.
Alex Hayes, a Titan researcher at Cornell University who has been part of the Cassini orbiter team since the craft’s arrival at Saturn, is enthusiastically proud of the probe’s success, though he didn’t work with Huygens himself. “No matter what data Cassini collects over the 13 years of its mission, there is something special about reaching out and touching something,” he says. “There’s something special about landing on the surface, about getting data from the surface, and Huygens provided that ground truth.”
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Neural network that securely finds potential useful drug candidates efficiently could encourage large-scale pooling of sensitive data

Neural network that securely finds potential useful drug candidates efficiently could encourage large-scale pooling of sensitive data | Amazing Science |
MIT researchers have developed a cryptographic system that could help neural networks identify promising drug candidates in massive pharmacological datasets, while keeping the data private. Secure computation done at such a massive scale could enable broad pooling of sensitive pharmacological data for predictive drug discovery.


Datasets of drug-target interactions (DTI), which show whether candidate compounds act on target proteins, are critical in helping researchers develop new medications. Models can be trained to crunch datasets of known DTIs and then, using that information, find novel drug candidates.


In recent years, pharmaceutical firms, universities, and other entities have become open to pooling pharmacological data into larger databases that can greatly improve training of these models. Due to intellectual property matters and other privacy concerns, however, these datasets remain limited in scope. Cryptography methods to secure the data are so computationally intensive they don't scale well to datasets beyond, say, tens of thousands of DTIs, which is relatively small.


In a paper published in Science, researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) describe a neural network securely trained and tested on a dataset of more than a million DTIs. The network leverages modern cryptographic tools and optimization techniques to keep the input data private, while running quickly and efficiently at scale.


The team's experiments show the network performs faster and more accurately than existing approaches; it can process massive datasets in days, whereas other cryptographic frameworks would take months. Moreover, the network identified several novel interactions, including one between the leukemia drug imatinib and an enzyme ErbB4—mutations of which have been associated with cancer—which could have clinical significance.


"People realize they need to pool their data to greatly accelerate the drug discovery process and enable us, together, to make scientific advances in solving important human diseases, such as cancer or diabetes. But they don't have good ways of doing it," says corresponding author Bonnie Berger, the Simons Professor of Mathematics and a principal investigator at CSAIL. "With this work, we provide a way for these entities to efficiently pool and analyze their data at a very large scale."

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Dandelion seeds fly using ‘impossible’ method never before seen in nature

Dandelion seeds fly using ‘impossible’ method never before seen in nature | Amazing Science |
The seeds contain a lot of open space, which seems to be the key to sustaining flight.


The extraordinary flying ability of dandelion seeds is possible thanks to a form of flight that has not been seen before in nature, research has revealed. The discovery, which confirms the common plant among the natural world's best fliers, shows that movement of air around and within its parachute-shaped bundle of bristles enables seeds to travel great distances -- often a mile or more, kept afloat entirely by wind power.


Researchers from the University of Edinburgh carried out experiments to better understand why dandelion seeds fly so well, despite their parachute structure being largely made up of empty space. Their study revealed that a ring-shaped air bubble forms as air moves through the bristles, enhancing the drag that slows each seed's descent to the ground.


This newly found form of air bubble -- which the scientists have named the separated vortex ring -- is physically detached from the bristles and is stabilized by air flowing through it. The amount of air flowing through, which is critical for keeping the bubble stable and directly above the seed in flight, is precisely controlled by the spacing of the bristles. This flight mechanism of the bristly parachute underpins the seeds' steady flight. It is four times more efficient than what is possible with conventional parachute design, according to the research.


Researchers suggest that the dandelion's porous parachute might inspire the development of small-scale drones that require little or no power consumption. Such drones could be useful for remote sensing or air pollution monitoring.


The study, published in Nature, was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Society. Dr Cathal Cummins, of the University of Edinburgh's Schools of Biological Sciences and Engineering, who led the study, said: "Taking a closer look at the ingenious structures in nature -- like the dandelion's parachute -- can reveal novel insights. We found a natural solution for flight that minimises the material and energy costs, which can be applied to engineering of sustainable technology."

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