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Updated: 2 days 18 hours ago

Elon Musk acts to promote open-source electric-car development

16 June 2014
Throughout the US media, journalists hail a new intellectual-property policy at Tesla Motors.

Networking atomic clocks via quantum entanglement

16 June 2014

Nature: As researchers work to make timekeeping ever more precise, they have been seeking ways to accurately synchronize clocks all over the world. To that end, Eric Kessler of Harvard University and colleagues are using the principle of quantum entanglement to try to create a global network of atomic clocks. Their procedure involves entangling the particles of the network’s central clock; that clock would then communicate the entanglement to a neighboring clock, which in turn would communicate it to the next. Such an entangled network would have several advantages, including the fact that it would improve precision by reducing measurement noise and allowing all the clocks to perform as “a single giant pendulum,” according to Kessler. Such an atomic clock network would be ideal for global financial markets, GPS systems, and space navigation.

Panasonic sets new record for solar cell efficiency

16 June 2014

MIT Technology Review: At the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Denver, Colorado, Panasonic revealed a new solar cell that beat  a 20-year-old record for efficiency. Although the improvement is small—the new cell can convert 25.6% of the Sun’s energy into electricity compared with the previous record of 25%—it can significantly affect the solar panels’ power generation. Panasonic achieved the increase in efficiency by adding a silicon film to both sides of its silicon wafers, which reduces the effect of imperfections in the wafers. The company also changed the physical structure of the cell to expose more of the silicon surface to the Sun. It is unclear whether the increase will be commercializable because the new cells require expensive, high-quality silicon crystal, while the previous record-holding cells do not.

US attempts to regulate import of “conflict minerals”

16 June 2014

New Scientist: As part of a global effort to crack down on the import of certain metals from conflict-ridden areas, the US Securities and Exchange Commission has begun to require companies to publicly disclose their use of such “conflict resources.” What have come to be called the 3TG metals—tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold—are used by the electronics industry for the manufacture of microchips, semiconductors, and circuit boards. However, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries where such minerals are plentiful, mining is often done under deplorable working conditions, and the profits go to fuel the various warring militia groups ravaging the region. The SEC now requires some 1200 US-listed companies to report annually whether the ore they use came from conflict-free mines certified by the DRC government. However, as of 31 May, when the first reports were due, most companies claimed their ore was “DRC conflict indeterminable.” Policing the mines has proven difficult and some companies have claimed that having to declare their mineral source is a breach of their free speech. Still, the movement to minimize the use of such conflict minerals is growing worldwide; the European Union and China are preparing to adopt guidelines soon.

Two scientists knighted for role in Higgs particle discovery

16 June 2014

BBC: Tom Kibble and Tejinder Jim Virdee, both of Imperial College London, have been granted knighthoods as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honors. In the 1960s, Kibble was one of the six scientists who contributed to the theories that predicted the particle that came to be known as the Higgs boson (after Peter Higgs, one of the other predictors). Although Higgs and François Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, Kibble and the two other living theorists were not included in the award. Virdee helped develop the idea for and oversaw the construction of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector, one of the two detectors in the Large Hadron Collider used to confirm the Higgs boson’s existence.

Confirming antihydrogen neutrality with voltage bias

16 June 2014
Antiatoms released from a cryogenic trap are unaffected by an external electric field.

Victor Philippe Henri

13 June 2014

Spanish physicist joins the European Parliament

13 June 2014

Nature: Pablo Echenique, a chemical physics researcher at the Spanish National Research Council in Zaragoza, was recently elected a member of the European Parliament. He is also a blogger who frequently writes about his disability, spinal muscular atrophy. When the Podemos political party formed four months before the election, Echenique decided to join and run for office. Among the party’s goals are fighting established political corruption and providing more support for the poor. Echenique also hopes to help guide the new party’s science policy opinions, although he says he was driven to run more because of the growing social inequality than because of scientific issues.

Thermal camera can make any surface interactive

13 June 2014

MIT Technology Review: Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and other display systems, most people are familiar with touchscreen technology. Now a company called Metaio is developing a way to turn almost any surface into an interactive screen. Called Thermal Touch, the system uses a normal camera to display a surface on a screen and overlays a graphical interface. When a person touches the surface, a separate thermal camera detects the traces of heat left behind by the touch. The system then maps the position of the hand motion onto the graphical interface on the screen. Currently the system consists of a standalone prototype that is plugged into a computer or smartphone. Daniel Kurz, head of the company’s advanced technologies group, believes that soon thermal cameras will be regularly included in mobile devices, much the same way accelerometers and other sensors are.

Dinosaurs may have been neither warm- nor cold-blooded

13 June 2014

BBC: Mammals and birds are warm-blooded, or endothermic, and reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded, or ectothermic, but dinosaurs may have been something in between, according to a new study by John Grady of the University of New Mexico and colleagues. The researchers studied the growth rates of 381 different species both living and extinct, including 21 dinosaurs; rates for dinosaurs were calculated from their bones' growth rings. Because warm-blooded animals eat more, they tend to grow faster. Assuming that growth rate and metabolic rate are linked, the researchers found that dinosaurs fall somewhere between the endotherms and the ectotherms—in a new middle category, called mesotherms. They point out that even today, a handful of species, such as the leatherback turtle and some sharks, could be classified as mesotherms because of their unusual energy habits. While some scientists support the addition of a new mesothermal category because they believe the cold-blooded–warm-blooded system to be too simplistic, others say the comparative lack of mesothermal species today shows that from an evolutionary standpoint, there are advantages to being either ectothermal or endothermal.

Interviewing: The audition that never ends

13 June 2014
The face-to-face interview is only one of the personal interactions that employers consider when they evaluate candidates.

Extreme weather to increase around Indian Ocean

12 June 2014
Global warming is predicted to boost the frequency of floods in East Africa and droughts in Australia and Indonesia.

NASA races to propose Space Station research projects

11 June 2014
Nature: Because of weakening US–Russia relations in the wake of Russia’s recent intervention in Ukraine, the fate of the International Space Station (ISS) is uncertain. Since the US ceased its space shuttle program in 2011, it has depended on Russian rockets to shuttle its astronauts back and forth. Although the US would like to extend the ISS’s operations four more years until 2024, Russia has indicated it will pull out in 2020, at the program’s scheduled end date. As a result, NASA is pushing to get as many research projects as possible onto the ISS in the time remaining. Next week researchers from across the country will have a chance to propose their projects at the 3rd Annual ISS Research and Development Conference taking place in Chicago.

Study of ancient Earth–Theia collision sheds new light on geologic history

11 June 2014
New Scientist: A new study could alter the long-held belief that the collision that formed the Moon also completely melted Earth’s mantle. It has been proposed that a primordial planet named Theia struck Earth and that debris from the collision congealed into the Moon. Had the energy of the collision totally melted Earth’s mantle, elemental isotopes should have been evenly distributed throughout. However, new observations by Sujoy Mukhopadhyay of Harvard University and colleagues show that the ratio of helium-3 to neon-22 is much higher in the shallow part of Earth’s mantle than in the deeper part. The researchers propose that although the energy from the giant impact would have been sufficient to melt the entire planet, it was not evenly distributed, with the side where Theia collided bearing the brunt of the melting. The new insight could help further research into the different stages of Earth’s development.

Chilean government rejects massive hydroelectric project

11 June 2014
BBC: The HidroAysen project proposed to build five large dams on two rivers in Patagonia in the Aysen Region of Chile. It would have been the largest energy project in the country's history. However, the proposal received lots of criticism for the potential damage to the wilderness in one of the country's largest tourist destinations. According to Environment Minister Pablo Badenier, the proposal did not adequately evaluate the environmental damage that would have been caused by the construction of the dams and the resulting lakes. Nor did it provide fair support for populations that would have been displaced.

William Clayman

11 June 2014

Warren Keith Sinclair

11 June 2014

John R. Huizenga

11 June 2014

Microsoft opens up about its research in quantum computing

11 June 2014
MIT Technology Review: Microsoft has been researching quantum computing for several years but has just started talking about its work, says Peter Lee, head of Microsoft Research, because "now the physics community takes us seriously." The company has a dedicated research lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has supported other labs around the world with grants and tools. According to Lee, the company is focusing its efforts on a topological qubit, which it believes will be a much more robust qubit than those developed by other researchers. After eight years of theoretical work and promising early testing, the company is now building a prototype.

Paolo Budinich

11 June 2014

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