Physics Today Daily Edition
Nature: That young scientists are generally considered to be at the forefront of new ideas in their fields is a widely held belief throughout the sciences. Now, Mikko Packalen of the University of Waterloo in Canada and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University and their colleagues have found proof to back that up. They wrote a computer program to look for the most commonly used 1-, 2-, and 3-word phrases in the titles and abstracts in the MEDLINE database of biomedical research. To determine which articles were the most innovative, they looked at when the terms first appeared. By calculating the ages of the contributing authors, the researchers found that scientists are significantly more likely to cite innovative ideas in the first 10–15 years of their career than they are later in life. They also found that the most innovative papers had an early-career first author and a mid-career last author. The numbers might shift somewhat depending on the particular field of study, or if the full text of the articles were analyzed.
New Scientist: Meteors pass through Earth's sky every day, but determining which will hit the ground is not easy. Now, Manuel Moreno-Ibàñez of the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain and his colleagues have developed a model that predicts which meteors will explode and which will land. Their model relies on two parameters: the drag and the heating the meteor experiences because of friction in the atmosphere. To test the model, the researchers used trajectory and height data from the Meteorite Observation and Recovery Project. The model also predicts how much energy meteorites will have at impact and where they will strike. Although not useful as any sort of early warning system, it will help scientists locate meteorites after impact for further study.
Nature: The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E) was established seven years ago to help promote investment in clean-energy technology. On 9 February, at the program's annual summit, the project managers announced that technologies supported by ARPA–E have also received $850 million in private investment. The ARPA–E program itself has invested $1.1 billion in more than 400 projects, but determining the actual impact of the investment is difficult because of the slow-moving nature of the energy industry. However, over the past two years, venture-capital investment in the US has dropped sharply, with almost none going to early-stage clean-energy research. To help reverse that trend, the US government announced on 10 February a new initiative to increase private investment, which has already garnered a pledge of $1 billion from the University of California Board of Regents for investment in climate-friendly technologies.
New Scientist: Other than Earth, Mars is the most studied planet in the solar system. Nevertheless, mysterious phenomena continue to be observed there. On 12 March 2012 amateur astronomers saw what appeared to be a plume of gas and dust rising up to 250 km above Mars's surface. Over the next 11 days the plume grew to cover an area 1000 km across. By 2 April it had faded away. Just 4 days later a second plume appeared that lasted another 10 days. To date, no one has provided a satisfactory explanation of the plumes' origin. Agustin Sánchez-Lavega of the University of the Basque Country, Spain, and his colleagues have collected images of those events and searched archival images of Mars. Among the images, the researchers found a similar event from 1997. Because of the plumes' altitude and duration, they are unlike any other known clouds in the solar system. And as there are no known active volcanoes on Mars, they probably aren't volcanic plumes. Observing another such event may be the best option for figuring out what is going on, but they occur so rarely that it could be some time before that's possible.
Nature: China's National Natural Science Award is so highly prized by Chinese government officials that they don't award it in years when they don't think a suitable recipient is available. Now, the computer scientist that received the award in January has been accused of copying open-source software and claiming it as original work. Zhang Yaoxue of Tsinghua University was awarded the prize for a computer program that allows access to multiple operating systems on a remote computer. But Chinese social media users soon pointed out that Zhang's work appeared to be heavily based on an open-source program available on the software sharing site GitHub. The author of that program, Iordan Iordanov, a Bulgarian-born Canadian, had posted his software under a license allowing anyone to use the program as long as they did not claim copyright. The Chinese government has acknowledged the allegations, but has not said whether they will have any effect on Zhang's award.
BBC: A new analysis of climate models by Ben Cook of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and his colleagues suggests that the US is likely to experience droughts on a scale unseen in nearly 1000 years. Cook's team combined reconstructions of past climate conditions and compared the data with 17 future climate models. According to their analysis, after 2050 the central and southwestern parts of the US will probably shift to conditions that will make them susceptible to decade-long droughts. The researchers also found that if current climate change rates are unchanged, there's an 85% chance that a 35-year-long drought will occur in those regions.