Physics Today Daily Edition
MIT Technology Review: According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the electricity demand of networked devices, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones, was 420 TWhr in 2008 and 616 TWhr in 2013. The agency predicts that by 2025, networked devices will require 1140 TWhr and account for 6% of the world's total electricity use. Up to 80% of that total will be used simply to maintain network connections, when the devices are otherwise unused. The IEA estimates that minimizing electricity consumption when devices are in standby mode could reduce electricity use by 600 TWhr per year by 2020.
Guardian: The British government will choose one of eight sites as the location for the nation's first commercial spaceport. A few days prior to stepping down as science minister on 14 July, David Willetts said that the government had already established a regulatory system for space launches. That would allow companies such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR to launch space tourism flights from the spaceport, which the government hopes to have operational by 2018. The list of locations under consideration has not been made public, but sites in northern Scotland, near the cities of Bristol and Norfolk, and on the Outer Hebrides islands have previously been discussed as likely candidates. The creation of the spaceport is part of the UK's recent efforts to grow its space industry to be worth £40 billion ($68.6 billion) and employ 100 000 people by 2030.
New York Times: As climate change brings higher temperatures and less rainfall to Australia, the country’s winemaking industry is being forced to adapt. Whereas some vintners have moved farther south to Tasmania, those who have chosen to remain are making changes, such as growing grape varieties that are more resistant to drought and modifying irrigation techniques to conserve water. In addition, Australian vintners are having to adjust their harvesting schedule as rising temperatures cause the fruit to ripen more quickly. To help find ways to deal with the country’s decreasing natural rainfall, the Australian government is conducting its own drought project, in which tarpaulins are put over rows of vines to test the effectiveness of drip irrigation, which wets only the plant’s roots and is intended to supplement natural rainfall.
New Scientist: In 1985, 60-atom hollow spheres of carbon called buckyballs were created. Boron, which is adjacent to carbon on the periodic table, was considered likely to make similar structures, but it has taken nearly 30 years for someone to do so. Now, Lai-Sheng Wang of Brown University in Rhode Island and his colleagues have created a 40-atom structure from boron that duplicates the hollow cage-like shape of buckyballs. The one major difference is that whereas buckyballs are made of pentagons and hexagons, borospheres are made of triangles, hexagons, and heptagons and thus have a less spherical shape. Wang's team created the molecules by vaporizing boron with a laser and then cooling the cloud with liquid helium. They created spectra of the resulting structures and compared them with simulations to determine what shapes were created.
Verge: Surrey NanoSystems in the UK has announced its development of a new thin-film material that is so dark the human eye can’t see it. It's “like a hole, like there's nothing there,” according to Ben Jensen, the company’s chief technical officer. Called Vantablack, the material is composed of a lattice of carbon nanotubes that absorbs 99.96% of all incident radiation. Unlike previous carbon nanotube materials, Vantablack can be applied at low temperatures and adheres well to both flat and three-dimensional surfaces. Hence it could be used in space telescopes and other sensitive instrumentation to reduce stray light and improve their ability to detect faint objects in the universe. The company plans to present the new material this week at the Farnborough International Airshow, a major trade exhibition for the aerospace and defense industries.
Nature: On 10 July the Indian government under prime minister Narendra Modi, who took office in May, announced its 2014–15 budget. Although the Department of Science and Technology received 35.44 billion rupees (US$590 million), an 11% increase over last year, most departments received funding increases less than the current inflation rate of 8%. In addition, the decision to allocate money to set up new research and education centers has been criticized because so many existing facilities need the funding. The modest budget has also raised questions about several expensive projects that have been approved but are still awaiting funding and about India’s expected contributions to international science collaborations, including the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii. Researchers remain hopeful, however, that additional funds may come through when the budget is revised in September.
New Scientist: Southwestern Australia is drying out because of rising human greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study published in Nature Geoscience. Using a high-resolution global climate model, Thomas Delworth and Fanrong Zeng of Princeton University ran a series of simulations of the Australian climate both with and without the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions. They found that only by including greenhouse gas emissions were they able to reproduce the diminishing rainfall levels over the past century. Moreover, they found that if emissions are not curbed by 2100, the average annual rainfall in southwestern Australia will drop by about 40% compared with the period 1911–74. Less rain is just one problem Australia has been experiencing because of climate change: The region has also seen more megadroughts, floods, heat waves, and bush fires.
Science: When the ground becomes saturated with water, the risk for flooding increases. Now researchers have shown that the strength of Earth’s gravity in the area also increases. They studied data collected by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in the months preceding the catastrophic 2011 flooding on the Missouri River and found that the gravity signal improved model forecasts more than measures of snowmelt and soil wetness. However, GRACE’s resolution is too low and the time it takes to retrieve and process the data is too long to make such measurements useful in current flood prediction efforts. The researchers hope to improve on that capability when a GRACE follow-on mission is launched in 2017.
New Scientist: Launched in December 2013, the European Space Agency’s Gaia is on a mission to compile the most accurate and extensive catalog of our galaxy's stars. But fulfilling that mission has been delayed because of several problems. Most important, excessive stray light has been entering the telescope. In addition, water that was trapped in the spacecraft before launch has been outgassing and freezing on the telescope’s mirrors. Although researchers tried to deal with both potential problems before launch by installing a sunshield to keep out stray light and heaters to melt the ice, the spacecraft has taken in more light and accumulated more ice than had been anticipated. Researchers are looking into modified observing strategies and computer software to optimize the data that are collected. However, mission managers say that even if the problems can’t be fixed, only the quality of the data collected for the faintest stars will be affected.