Physics Today Daily Edition
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Washington Post: On 30 June more than 100 Nobel laureates, including 25 physics awardees, released a letter that called for the environmental activism group Greenpeace to end its opposition to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture. The letter primarily focused on Golden Rice, a form of rice that produces high levels of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Golden Rice was developed as a potential crop for areas where the populations suffer from vitamin A deficiency. The letter says that Greenpeace has driven the resistance to the commercialization of Golden Rice and to GMOs in general, despite the lack of evidence that engineered crops are harmful. The signature campaign was organized by Richard Roberts of New England Biolabs, who shared with Phillip Sharp the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences called introns.
Wired: On 7 May, a Tesla Model S driver, who was using the vehicle's semiautonomous Autopilot feature, died after the car crashed into a tractor trailer. In a statement Tesla indicated that the accident occurred when the tractor trailer made a left turn across a divided highway. The Model S went underneath the side of the trailer, which made contact only at the height of the windshield. Neither the vehicle's driver nor the Autopilot feature engaged the Tesla's brake. Tesla claims that the Autopilot (and the driver) failed to detect the white trailer, which would have been hard to see against the bright sky. The company says that its vehicles have accumulated more than 130 million miles using the feature without any other fatal accident. Autopilot, which must be activated by the driver, uses a combination of radar, cameras, GPS, and ultrasonic sensors to control the vehicle. When activated, it reminds drivers that they are supposed to keep their hands on the steering wheel and should be ready to assume complete control of the vehicle at any time.
Washington Post: Climate scientists have repeatedly found that if the global average temperature is kept from exceeding 2 °C over the preindustrial average, then many of the most significant effects of global warming will likely be avoided. However, according to a new study of the emissions-cutting pledges made in December 2015 by the 195 nations that gathered in Paris, those pledges are not going to be enough to keep global warming below the 2 °C threshold. Led by Joeri Rogelj of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, the researchers found that the pledged cuts will more likely limit the temperature increase to between 2.6 °C and 3.1 °C by 2100. According to the analysis, by 2030 humans will probably have released the maximum amount of emissions that could have limited warming to 2 °C.