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Future of Egyptian science hub in question following Nobel laureate's death

12 August 2016
Nature: Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian-born American, was the first Arab to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences. In 1999 he proposed establishing a university and science hub near Cairo as a flagship project for Egypt's domestic research efforts. After delays stemming from the country's political instability and bureaucracy, the Zewail City of Science and Technology finally opened in 2011. In the five years since, the project's leaders have had trouble funding campus construction and providing scholarships to students. Last week, Zewail passed away at the age of 70. His influence was widely considered a driving force for the hub's ability to gain private funding. However, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has spoken out in support of the institute, saying that construction by military engineers will be completed regardless of funding. Researchers and administrators at the institute expect that they will have to rely on the government for funding, but they are concerned that state support could reduce the institute's unusual level of autonomy in hiring and research focuses.

Unusual meteorite may have come from the Kuiper belt

12 August 2016

New Scientist: In 2000 an unusual meteorite fell onto icy Tagish Lake in British Columbia, Canada. Its composition was significantly different from that of other meteorites that have fallen to Earth. Previous analyses of the meteorite have suggested it is a D-type asteroid, which is rare in the asteroid belt but much more common around the solar system's gas giants. Now Bill Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and his colleagues have suggested that the Tagish Lake meteorite and other similar rocks that have been seen in the asteroid belt might come from the Kuiper belt. The researchers say the movement of the outer planets early in the formation of the solar system could have launched the asteroids inward. If so, the Tagish Lake meteorite could prove to be a handy point of reference for scientists anticipating the New Horizons spacecraft's visit to Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 in 2019.

Ahmed H. Zewail

11 August 2016

Deuteron joins proton as smaller than expected

11 August 2016
A new measurement of the muonic deuterium nucleus further complicates the proton radius puzzle.

Stephen Gasiorowicz

11 August 2016

Newly discovered trans-Neptunian object is almost perpendicular to solar-system plane

11 August 2016

New Scientist: When a solar system forms, all the components should orbit in the same direction about the central axis. But Matthew Holman of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his colleagues have now found an object orbiting the Sun at an angle 110° from the plane of the solar system. Dubbed Niku, the object was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System 1 Survey on Haleakala in Hawaii. Niku is 160 000 times fainter than Neptune, meaning it could be less than 200 km in diameter. The new trans-Neptunian object does not appear related to the collection of highly inclined objects that some astronomers think could be evidence of Planet Nine, a large object well outside the orbit of Pluto.

Higgs boson's properties clarified by fresh LHC data

11 August 2016

Science News: When the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012, researchers at CERN were already looking forward to the next runs of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). According to Tiziano Camporesi of the CMS experiment at the LHC, the current run has already begun clarifying the presence or lack of variations in the production and decay of the particle. The higher collision energies have provided hints but not yet proof of a theorized process in which the Higgs and two top quarks are produced together. Evidence for the Higgs decaying into bottom quarks, which should occur in more than half of Higgs decays, is still hard to isolate because of the many other ways in which bottom quarks are produced.

ACS creates preprint server dedicated to chemistry

11 August 2016
Chemical & Engineering News: To more quickly disseminate research results, solicit feedback, and encourage collaborations, the American Chemical Society (ACS) has created its own preprint server dedicated to chemistry research. Tentatively called ChemRxiv, it follows in the footsteps of other similar servers, such as arXiv for physics and bioRxiv for biology. ACS is seeking other organizations interested in developing the server, which could launch in the next few months. Past attempts to create a preprint server for chemists failed, due in part to journal editors’ reluctance to publish research that has already been shared online. Proponents of the preprint strategy say that both authors and publishers benefit because preprint servers allow the sharing and vetting of preliminary research results before the more formal peer-review process.

Nonpartisan group pushes for science debate among US presidential candidates

11 August 2016
Science: Getting political candidates to voice their stance on key science and technology issues is the goal of ScienceDebate.org, a nonpartisan coalition of 56 higher education and scientific organizations. For the current roster of US presidential hopefuls, the group has come up with what it deems the 20 most important questions to be asked on such topics as innovation policy, climate change, energy, and space. Examples include the following: What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of science and engineering innovation? What are each candidate’s science and engineering research priorities? What are the candidates' views on climate change, and how will they act on those views? Although the coalition would prefer a live debate among the candidates, they are seeking at the very least to receive written answers from each campaign organization.

Is there command and control over our nuclear weapons?

10 August 2016
A documentary and a new book remind us that possessing a nuclear arsenal always carries risks.

Internet data growth faces larger bandwidth bottlenecks

10 August 2016

Nature: Global internet traffic is growing by about 22% per year, with demand from mobile alone growing at an estimated 53% rate. The infrastructure to handle that growth is outdated in many areas and occasionally gets overwhelmed. In some cases private companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook lay high-bandwidth fiber optic cables between countries, yet many areas still use legacy copper telephone cables. On the mobile side, second-generation (2G) networks are being phased out in favor of 3G and 4G networks in much of the world but still account for 75% of mobile subscriptions in Africa and the Middle East. Even at 100 megabits per second, 4G networks will need to be upgraded to 5G, which is 100 times faster, by the mid 2020s to meet expected data demands. Those networks will have to support significantly more devices with the growth of the "Internet of Things"—networked devices such as fitness trackers, home appliances, and more.

World's first practical dissolvable battery developed

10 August 2016

BBC: Dissolvable batteries have been a goal of researchers for years because of the potential to reduce electronic waste and perhaps operate inside the human body. Now Reza Montazami of Iowa State University in Ames and his colleagues have developed what they say is the first practical, dissolvable lithium-ion battery. The 2.5 V battery is 5 mm × 1 mm × 6 mm and houses the electrodes and electrolyte between two layers of a polyvinyl alcohol-based polymer. When exposed to water, the casing swells and the electrodes break apart; the full process takes around 30 minutes. Scaling the battery up is possible, but the cell would take longer to dissolve. Montazami's team suggests the battery could be used for powering environmental monitoring devices. The lithium-ion chemistry, however, is not suitable for use in the body.

ExxonMobil continues legal fight with Massachusetts attorney general

10 August 2016
InsideClimate News: ExxonMobil and Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey have been waging a legal battle over the company’s alleged failure to disclose to investors and consumers that its chief product, fossil fuels, is likely contributing to climate change. Because of the recent Paris climate agreement limiting carbon dioxide emissions, she says, the company’s vast fossil fuel reserves could “be stranded, placing shareholder value at risk.” To protect her state’s shareholders, Healey filed suit against the company, citing the Massachusetts’Consumer Protection Act. Exxon responded by filing a countersuit in Texas federal court. Healey's efforts so far have the support of the attorneys general of at least 14 other states.

White House encourages adoption of drones

9 August 2016
New measures follow a recent issuance of an FAA rule governing operation of small UAVs.

Weird star keeps getting weirder

9 August 2016

New Scientist: First spotted by NASA's Kepler space telescope, KIC 8462852 drew scientific attention because of its erratic changes in brightness. The star dimmed at irregular intervals by up to 20%, whereas most of the stars Kepler saw dimmed regularly and by no more than 1%. One astronomer suggested the variations were caused by aliens constructing a Dyson sphere, a proposal that garnered widespread popular attention. Since then another researcher has dug up archival images revealing a gradual decrease in the star's brightness over the past 100 years. Now, Benjamin Montet of Caltech and his colleagues have examined more Kepler data and found a different dimming behavior. For the first 1000 days of the Kepler mission, KIC 8462852 dimmed at roughly 0.34% per year, twice the rate indicated by the archival images. Then, in just 200 days, the brightness dropped another 2.5% before beginning to level out. The new result makes it even more difficult to find a known phenomenon or combination of phenomena to explain the behavior. The leading explanations include a comet swarm or gas cloud around the star.

Bottom quarks show odd behavior in LHC data

9 August 2016
Science News: The absence of a diphoton signal at 750 GeV dampened the enthusiasm surrounding the release of data analyses from the research teams at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). But other interesting signals from the particle accelerator are raising eyebrows. The LHCb experiment found that twice as many b hadrons as expected scattered away at an angle from high-energy proton–proton collisions. The unusual behavior is not predicted by the current understanding of quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory that explains the interactions of quarks via the strong force. Understanding the behavior may require adjusting certain values in the QCD calculations.

Plate tectonics reveals evidence of ancient sea beneath the Philippines

9 August 2016
Washington Post: Researchers say an ancient sea may have existed some 52 million years ago at the intersection of three major tectonic plates: the Eurasian, Pacific, and Indo-Australian. Through the use of seismic tomography, Jonny Wu and John Suppe of National Taiwan University were able to peer some 500–1300 km below Earth’s crust into the mantle below the Philippine Sea and search for tectonic plates that had been subducted under other plates. The researchers found 28 such plates floating in the mantle and used software to virtually stitch them together like a jigsaw puzzle. The scientists conclude that the ancient plate sat at the bottom of a sea that at one time may have covered more than 15 million km2. The sea shrank over time, however, as the three major tectonic plates shifted and caused pieces of the plate under the sea to subduct one by one into the mantle.

Climate change is affecting the speed of sound in the Arctic Ocean

9 August 2016
Nautilus: The speed of sound varies in water: The colder the temperature, the slower sound travels. The phenomenon is important for underwater communications, such as the sonar used by the US Navy. Since about 1975 ocean water flowing below the icy surface of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean has been warming due to climate change. The result is a channel of warmer water called the Beaufort Lens, which stretches from Alaska to the Northwest Territories. Its multilayer structure allows sound to travel through it much farther and faster than expected. To get a better idea of the sound channel's acoustic properties, a team of scientists with the navy and MIT traveled there in March and dropped a 385 kg, 3.5 m drone through the ice. Another foray with a more precise and complex measurement system is already being planned for 2018.

Stratigraphic data pinpoint prehistoric Chinese flood

8 August 2016
BBC: According to legend, some four millennia ago China’s Emperor Yu tamed the so-called Great Flood on the Yellow River. After more than a decade of work to build canals and drain the water out to sea, Yu founded the Xia dynasty, which according to Chinese history was the first one. Until now the exact dates of the flood and the start of the Xia dynasty were unknown. By studying sediments washed about 25 km downriver to an abandoned prehistoric site called Lajia, Wu Qinglong of Nanjing Normal University and colleagues have managed to trace the legendary sequence of events. Lajia’s cave dwellings and cultural artifacts had been buried the year before the flood by a major earthquake, which the researchers say could have also caused a landslide farther upstream that dammed up the Yellow River. The bursting of that dam some six to nine months later created the cataclysmic flooding event. Because of Lajia, known as the Pompeii of China, the researchers have been able to determine that the flood occurred around 1922 BC, and hence that the Xia dynasty was founded around 1900 BC, which is 200–300 years later than had been previously thought.

Iranian nuclear scientist executed

8 August 2016
Guardian: Nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri was hanged in his home country of Iran last week. The Iranian judiciary had accused him of giving away state secrets. His activities in recent years had been "shrouded in mystery," writes Saeed Kamali Dehghan for the Guardian, starting with Amiri's disappearance in 2009 in Saudi Arabia while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was thought by some that he had defected to the US as part of an intelligence coup. Whether he returned willingly to Tehran in 2010 or whether he did so because his family had been threatened has not been determined. “Amiri was a victim of the nuclear standoff and its viciousness,” according to Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group.

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