Physics Today Daily Edition
CBC News: On 15 April, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau affirmed the country's 2016 budget allocation of Can$50 million over the next five years for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. An independent think tank established by entrepreneur Mike Lazaridis in 1999, the Perimeter Institute provides not just high-level theoretical research but also educational outreach and a popular series of lectures on physics. The Canadian government began including funding for the institute in its budget several years ago to help promote that research and education. While answering questions from the press, Trudeau impressed and surprised both the media and the researchers in attendance with his ability to give a clear explanation of the significance of the institute's research into quantum computing.
New York Times: China, Russia, and the US are all actively working to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons that are smaller and more precise than previous devices. And because of each country's modernization efforts, no progress has been made on new arms-control treaties. In the US, the next generation of weapons is intended to reinforce nuclear deterrence by replacing older weapons with updated versions. That program, estimated to cost $1 trillion over 30 years, is prompting China and Russia to not just modernize weapons but also develop new types of warfare. For example, Russian news reports say that the country's navy is developing a drone that can spread radioactive contamination over a wide area. Independent analysts worry that Russia would be willing to violate the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty as part of its development process. And China is developing a hypersonic missile similar to one that the US has tested unsuccessfully. Analysts are particularly worried that all those efforts may increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons are used in a local conflict and that they weaken the concept of mutual assured destruction that has served to deter the use of nuclear weapons since the 1950s.
MIT Technology Review: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wanted to find a way to improve results from computer software when the input data is noisy. To do that DARPA worked with Joseph Bates of Singular Computing to develop a computer chip designed to produce close-but-incorrect answers to mathematical calculations: When asked to add 1 and 1, it came up with answers like 2.01 or 1.98. Bates tested the chip for a variety of functions and found that it performed very well on tasks such as high-resolution radar imaging, extracting 3D information from stereo photos, and deep learning. In a test of software that tracks objects in a video, the chip was 100 times as fast as a conventional chip and used less than 2% as much power.
IEEE Spectrum: Ian Burkhart broke his neck in 2010, which resulted in his becoming paralyzed from the fifth cervical vertebrae down. That meant he was only able to move his head, neck, and upper arms. Now, Chad Bouton of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York City and his colleagues have developed a neural implant that connects to an electronic sleeve on Burkhart's forearm and restores his control over one of his hands. The implant is an array of 96 electrodes that monitors electrical activity in the brain's motor cortex at a rate of 30 000 times per second. Burkhart had to train multiple times per week for 15 weeks so that the system could learn which signals corresponded with certain intended motions. Once the neuro-electrical signals were mapped to movements, the implant sent electrical pulses to the sleeve on Burkhart's forearm. The sleeve contained 130 noninvasive electrodes that stimulated the muscles necessary to move the fingers, hand, and wrist. When outfitted with the system, Burkhart was able to perform actions such as swiping a credit card and using the game controller to play Guitar Hero. Currently the system requires running a cable from the implant to the sleeve, but the researchers hope to be able to create a wireless communication system.
The Atlantic: On Wednesday Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, joined by Stephen Hawking, announced the newest of Milner's Breakthrough Initiatives: Starshot, a $100 million research program to build spacecraft capable of traveling to Alpha Centauri in 20 years. For comparison's sake, the current fastest-moving spacecraft is NASA's New Horizons, which would take tens of thousands of years to reach Alpha Centauri. And at just 4.4 light-years away, Alpha Centauri is the star system closest to Earth. The program involves deploying an array of lightweight disks fitted with photon thrusters for navigation, a power source, cameras, and a communication system. Propulsion would come from a ground-based laser shining onto one side of the disk, providing pulses of energy to accelerate each probe away from Earth. Milner thinks the technology for interstellar travel can be developed within his lifetime.