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Updated: 2 hours 22 min ago

Former EU science adviser “very pessimistic” after Brexit vote

28 June 2016
Science: In a Q&A with former European Union (EU) science adviser Anne Glover, the Scottish biologist discusses the recent vote by the UK to withdraw from the EU. Glover expresses dismay over the decision and believes it was based on prejudice concerning immigration rather than on factual evidence. She says that UK science and research benefited enormously from EU membership. She adds that Scotland may hold its own referendum to withdraw from the UK and remain in the EU.

Xenon chemistry under pressure

27 June 2016
Diamond-anvil-cell experiments and ab initio models confirm that at high pressure and temperature, xenon bonds with oxygen to form a host of stable oxides.

As British leaders look to slow things down, EU leaders may push for faster exit

27 June 2016

Washington Post: Both David Cameron, who announced that he will step down as prime minister in October, and leading proponents of the UK's departure from the European Union have called for a delay in beginning the country's formal exit. Cameron has said that he would leave the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to his successor and that the exit has to be officially approved by Parliament. However, some officials, such as France's finance minister Michel Sapin, have suggested that the UK should begin the process as soon as possible. Angela Merkel says she is against conducting informal negotiations that might give the UK more time, but a foreign policy official indicated that the German chancellor might be more accommodating if the UK seriously reconsiders its exit decision.

Researchers fully model the early universe with general relativity

27 June 2016

Nature: Einstein's general relativity has been used to model the expansion of the early universe, but only in a simplified form. The complexity of the equations requires the assumption that matter was uniformly distributed in the early universe, which likely does not match reality. Even after the development of supercomputers, calculations continued the simplification for models that extended beyond a small region. Now two groups have independently created full-universe simulations that include a non-uniform distribution of matter. One group—led by Eloisa Bentivegna of the University of Catania, Italy, and Marco Bruni of the University of Portsmouth, UK—developed a model to study the formation of large, superdense structures. The model developed by the other group—led by Glenn Starkman of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio—focuses on how the universe expands and how its curvature affects the propagation of light. Both groups' models used numerical-solution techniques that were developed for calculating the warping of spacetime caused by black hole pairs like those that created the recently detected gravitational waves.

NASA plans to extend <em>Hubble</em> mission through 2021

27 June 2016

New Scientist: On 23 June, NASA announced that it intends to continue using the Hubble Space Telescope through June 2021. Launched in 1990 and last serviced in 2009, Hubble can easily continue working into the 2020s, NASA says. The extension of Hubble means the telescope will still be in use when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is launched in 2018. Using the two telescopes in tandem will provide a valuable opportunity to study objects with Hubble's visible and UV cameras and JWST's IR cameras.

Brexit vote rattles UK and European scientists

24 June 2016
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union leads to concerns over funding and collaboration.

Arthur J. Freeman

24 June 2016

Quantum computer used for high-energy physics simulation

23 June 2016

Nature: Simulations of phenomena involving the strong nuclear force are too hard to perform from first principles on classical computers. Now Esteban Martinez of the University of Innsbruck in Austria and his colleagues have used a quantum computer to complete a proof-of-concept simulation of the conversion of energy into an electron and positron pair. It's the first time a quantum computer has been used to simulate a high-energy physics experiment. The simulation matched the predictions of a simplified form of quantum electrodynamics. The quantum computer contained four qubits in a linear arrangement. Martinez's team now hopes to use a two-dimensional arrangement of qubits and scale up the simulation.

Conservative media sustain alarm about a possible electromagnetic-pulse catastrophe

23 June 2016
National Review and others emphasize an “existential threat” in an EMP from a high-altitude nuclear burst—but solar activity stirs the fear too.

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23 June 2016

Imaging small proteins for drug discovery

23 June 2016
Cryoelectron microscopy, despite a flurry of recent progress, has until now been limited to large biomolecules.

Square Kilometre Array telescope faces community pushback in South Africa

22 June 2016

Nature: The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an international radio telescope being built in Australia and South Africa. Construction of the first of 197 radio dishes has already begun in South Africa's Northern Cape province, a sparsely populated area of mostly farmland. The SKA project is now facing protests from local residents as the organization begins to purchase more land to construct the majority of the dishes. The SKA organization's initial outreach to the community focused on how the project would create jobs and improve economic and educational opportunities. It currently is providing support for new teachers in nearby Carnarvon and is paying tuition for some students to attend universities. But the benefits have not been evenly distributed among the local communities. Additionally, residents are concerned that the loss of farmland will damage the local economy.

US weather model down to fourth best in the world

22 June 2016

Ars Technica: Over the past several years, the success of the US's Global Forecasting System (GFS) weather model has been challenged by the rise of other models, such as one put out by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. The competition between models first reached broad popular awareness in 2012, when the European model more accurately predicted the behavior of Hurricane Sandy. In a widely accepted measurement of forecast accuracy, the GFS model has now fallen behind not only the European model but also models from the UK and Canada, based on predictions over the past two months in the Northern Hemisphere. According to Cliff Mass of the University of Washington, the drop in ranking isn't because the GFS model is failing but because the other models have improved significantly.

California's last nuclear power plant will close by 2025

22 June 2016

NPR: The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is the last nuclear plant still operating in California. On 21 June Pacific Gas and Electric announced that it would close the plant by 2025 and replace it with renewable energy sources. Diablo Canyon provides energy to 1.7 million homes. Local residents and environmental groups have continually raised safety concerns because the plant and its two nuclear reactors are close to active fault lines. Protests intensified following the earthquake and tsunami that damaged Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.

Newly spotted exoplanet is in its infancy

21 June 2016

GeekWire: Trevor David of Caltech and his colleagues have spotted an intriguing planet orbiting K2-33, a star in the field of view of the Kepler space telescope during its extended K2 mission. The planet has a diameter about six times that of Earth, and it orbits its star every 5.4 days at a distance of 7.4 million km. Further examination of the system revealed that the star is still surrounded by gas and dust from the protoplanetary disk. The presence of the disk's remnants suggests that the planet is less than 10 million years old, since models of planetary system evolution predict that disks dissipate fairly quickly. Now researchers have to figure out why the youthful planet is so close to its star; most models suggest that large planets form far away and then migrate inward later.

New Chinese supercomputer twice as fast as previous best

21 June 2016

BBC: China's new Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi has first place on Top500's latest list of the world's most powerful supercomputers. At 93 petaflops (93 trillion floating point operations per second), the computer is twice as fast as the previous top computer—China's Tianhe-2—and three times as efficient. Sunway TaihuLight will be used primarily for advanced manufacturing, weather forecasting, and data analytics. For the first time, China has surpassed the US in the number of computers on the Top500 list, 167 to 165. China has two machines in the top 10—the top two. However, the US holds four of the first 10 spots. 

Watchdog group sues for documents from the Department of Energy

21 June 2016
A nuclear disarmament organization accuses the agency of years-long foot-dragging on Freedom of Information Act requests.

Cryptocurrency system experiences multimillion-dollar theft

20 June 2016

IEEE Spectrum: The systems for managing cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are intended to be secure. But as with all software systems, there are flaws that some users attempt to exploit. On 17 June a public investment system called the DAO, which is built around the Ether currency, was exploited in a way that allowed the attacker to steal more than 3 million Ether (at the time equivalent to about $60 million). Participants in the DAO use Ether to purchase DAO tokens, which give them proportional ownership of the DAO and a proportional vote in the group's investments. The DAO is designed so that token holders can split off their shares and invest them for 27 days before returning the currency to the collective pot. The attacker managed to split away more than his or her original share of the collective investment. The person behind the attack now controls a split DAO that contains 100 times as many tokens as initially invested. Those surplus tokens were taken away from other investors. The developers behind the DAO are looking for a solution. Other than resetting the system to a point before the attack began, which is counter to the principles of block-chain currencies, there does not appear to be a way to restore the stolen funds to the original owners.

Two kinds of dwarf planets

20 June 2016
Collisions in our solar system's outer reaches could determine a dwarf planet's density and the size of its moon.

NASA unveils project to develop an all-electric airplane

20 June 2016

New York Times: On 17 June NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced that the agency is developing an all-electric airplane. Designated the X-57, the relatively small plane will have 14 motors embedded in its wings and a cruising speed of around 282 km/hr. Only two of the motors—60 kW each, driving 1.5 m propellers—will be used while the plane is cruising. The other dozen motors, 9 kW each and driving 0.6 m propellers, will be used during takeoff and landing; the propellers will be folded away when unused. The additional propellers are necessary because the wings are much narrower than traditional wings, which makes them more efficient for cruising but less so for takeoff. The project is starting from an extant plane, the four-seat Tecnam P2006T. The conversion will entail replacing the passenger seats with battery packs and adding instruments for the pilot. The battery capacity should allow the plane to be airborne for about an hour; NASA is investigating the use of fuel cells instead of batteries to increase the flight time. The agency also expects to be able to scale up the technology for commuter and regional airlines.

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