Physics Today Daily Edition
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.