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Updated: 3 hours 54 min ago

A new, exquisitely precise determination of Planck’s constant

7 July 2016
Once the metrology community has settled on a value, the unit of mass will be redefined.

Jordan seeks nuclear technology deal with the US

6 July 2016

Associated Press: Jordan's nuclear energy program is more than a decade old, but the country still relies on fossil fuel imports to provide 98% of its electricity. Khaled Toukan, chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, says his country is negotiating an agreement with the US for access to nuclear technology such as small modular reactors. Currently, Jordan has a $10 billion deal with Russia for the construction of two large reactors to be built by 2025, but the financing isn't settled. If that deal falls through, Toukan still wants the country to go forward with a deal for smaller reactors, which he says could be used for powering desalination plants. The discussions with the US had previously stalled when Jordan refused to rule out uranium enrichment, which can be used for not only generating electricity but also building nuclear weapons.

Wellcome Trust to publish an open-access online journal

6 July 2016

Science: The Wellcome Trust, a London-based charity that is one of the largest nongovernmental sources of funding for biomedical research, is launching an open-access online journal this fall. Wellcome Open Research will feature the work of researchers who are funded by Wellcome Trust grants, and the charity will also cover publishing costs for the authors. This will be the second time the company has been involved in an open-access journal: In 2012 it partnered with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Germany's Max Planck Society to launch eLife. Wellcome Open Research will function more like the preprint server arXiv than a traditional journal, with authors encouraged to post anything from a full paper to just a data set. Following publication, a publicly selected group of peer reviewers will evaluate and comment on the work. The site will be managed by Science Navigation Group's F1000 publishing service.

Increase in Antarctic sea ice does not contradict global warming

6 July 2016

Washington Post: Even though the area of sea ice surrounding Antarctica has been increasing since 2000 and reached an all-time high in 2014, Earth is still undergoing climate change, according to a recent study in Nature Geoscience. The reason for the increasing Antarctic sea ice is natural climate variability, say Gerald Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and his colleagues. Antarctic sea ice is affected by the interaction of several meteorological phenomena, such as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) and the Amundsen Sea Low, a climatological low-pressure system off the Antarctic coast. Because the IPO has been in its negative phase, it has been causing the Pacific’s surface to cool, the Amundsen Sea Low to deepen, and local winds to increase; those forces together have resulted in sea ice being pushed away from the Antarctic continent and new ice forming in the gaps. Now, however, the IPO has shifted, and Meehl says Antarctic sea ice will probably “stop growing, maybe start shrinking a little bit.”

UK researchers already feeling impact of Brexit

6 July 2016
BBC: The future of British research is up in the air following the recent decision by the UK to quit the European Union. Although leaving the EU does not necessarily mean leaving its research funding system, uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the ultimate consequences is already causing problems. Researchers in other European countries are asking that some UK researchers withdraw their applications for funding on certain projects. The disruption could affect current and future collaborations, which are critical for the advancement of cutting-edge research.

Optimizing solar cells

6 July 2016
New materials and innovative synthesis methods address problems with solar cell efficiency and cost.

Curbing fraud or restraining speech?

5 July 2016
Reporters and commentators engage the impassioned legal struggle over Exxon and climate.

China builds largest-ever radio telescope

5 July 2016
New Scientist: This week China completed construction of the largest radio telescope in the world, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST). Situated in a crater-like depression in China's southwestern province of Guizhou, FAST comprises 4450 triangular panels that can be rearranged to track radio waves from specific objects, giving the telescope far greater range and sensitivity than other radio dishes. Once it is up and running, FAST will be used to look for pulsars and exoplanets, to detect molecules such as hydrogen in space, and to search for potential electromagnetic signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.

NASA extends missions of nine planetary spacecraft

5 July 2016

New York Times: On 1 July, NASA announced mission extensions for nine current spacecraft that have already completed their primary missions. The New Horizons probe, which flew past Pluto, will continue on to study the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69. The other funded missions are Dawn, which is orbiting Ceres; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter; the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution orbiter; the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on Mars; the Mars Odyssey orbiter; and the European Space Agency's Mars Express, for which NASA is providing support. Extensions for most of the missions were expected, but the inclusion of Dawn surprised the team that is managing the mission. The craft is low on fuel because of its reliance on thrusters after the failure of two reaction wheels. Now Dawn will remain in place around Ceres, where it will continue to make observations as the dwarf planet approaches perihelion.

Large data sets overwhelm facial recognition software

5 July 2016

IEEE Spectrum: Many facial recognition algorithms have a success rate above 95% when tested against databases of just a few thousand faces. A new test called the MegaFace Challenge evaluates the performance of algorithms when they are presented with a database of 1 million images of 690 000 people. The challenge is for the algorithms to evaluate whether two different pictures are of the same person and to determine if a given person is in the database. The success rates for all the tested facial recognition programs dropped significantly when faced with so much data. Google's FaceNet, the top-scoring algorithm tested, dropped from near 100% accuracy on the widely used Labeled Faces in the Wild (LFW) test to just 75% on the MegaFace Challenge. Several algorithms that scored above 90% on LFW dropped to below 60% accuracy. Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman of the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues organized the MegaFace Challenge to evaluate the effectiveness of facial recognition software in more realistic situations.

NASA’s <em>Juno</em> spacecraft achieves orbit around Jupiter

5 July 2016
Nature: On 4 July NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit. Launched in August 2011, the craft took almost five years to make the roughly 2.7 billion km trip. Juno is to complete two 53-day orbits of the planet before burning its main engine and settling into a shorter, 14-day orbiting pattern. The first spacecraft in more than two decades to visit Jupiter, Juno will investigate the giant planet’s composition, Great Red Spot, and massive radiation belts. The ultimate goal is to gain insight into how Jupiter, and the entire solar system, evolved.