Earth

Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles (theguardian.com) 219

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles -- by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. From a report: The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug. The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. "What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock," said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. "It's great and a real finding." The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic -- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.
Science

The Scientific Paper Is Obsolete (theatlantic.com) 152

James Somers, writing for The Atlantic: The scientific paper -- the actual form of it -- was one of the enabling inventions of modernity. Before it was developed in the 1600s, results were communicated privately in letters, ephemerally in lectures, or all at once in books. There was no public forum for incremental advances. By making room for reports of single experiments or minor technical advances, journals made the chaos of science accretive. Scientists from that point forward became like the social insects: They made their progress steadily, as a buzzing mass.

The earliest papers were in some ways more readable than papers are today. They were less specialized, more direct, shorter, and far less formal. Calculus had only just been invented. Entire data sets could fit in a table on a single page. What little "computation" contributed to the results was done by hand and could be verified in the same way.

The more sophisticated science becomes, the harder it is to communicate results. Papers today are longer than ever and full of jargon and symbols. They depend on chains of computer programs that generate data, and clean up data, and plot data, and run statistical models on data. These programs tend to be both so sloppily written and so central to the results that it's contributed to a replication crisis, or put another way, a failure of the paper to perform its most basic task: to report what you've actually discovered, clearly enough that someone else can discover it for themselves.

Medicine

Researchers Find Genetic Cause For Alzheimer's, Possible Method To Reverse It (upi.com) 113

schwit1 quotes UPI: Scientists at an independent biomedical research institution have reported a monumental breakthrough: The cause of the primary genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, and a possible cure for the disease. Researchers at Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco identified the primary genetic risk factor for the disease, a gene called apoE4... Their findings were published this week in the journal Nature Medicine... By treating human apoE4 neurons with a structure corrector, it eliminated the signs of Alzheimer's disease, restored normal function to the cells and improved cell survival.
The study's senior investigator says he's already working with a San Francisco pharmaceutical startup to develop the approach and move towards clinical trials, adding that "we are working to accelerate the timeline as much as possible."
Space

ULA Is Livestreaming An Atlas V Rocket Launch (upi.com) 59

United Launch Alliance -- a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing -- is livestreaming tonight's launch of an Atlas V rocket. UPI reports: The rocket is set to blast-off at 7:13 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The primary payload is the Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM, or CBAS, a geostationary communications satellite... Behind the CBAS payload is EAGLE, a platform capable of releasing several secondary payloads into space. According to Gunter's Space Page, EAGLE is carrying five additional payloads, all experimental satellites.
Here's a good overview of the mission: Saturday's mission will begin with ignition of the Atlas Common Core Booster's RD-180 engine, 2.7 seconds before the countdown reaches zero... Five Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-60A solid rocket motors will augment the CCB at liftoff, igniting about T+1.1 seconds as the rocket lifts off. Climbing away from Cape Canaveral, AV-079 will begin a series of pitch and yaw maneuvers 3.9 seconds into its mission, placing the rocket onto an 89.9-degree azimuth -- almost due East -- for the journey into orbit. Atlas will reach Mach 1, the speed of sound, 34.4 seconds after liftoff, passing through the area of maximum dynamic pressure -- Max-Q -- eleven-and-a-half seconds later.
Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro also shares an interesting remark by the CEO of Boeing when asked if Boeing's cancelled Sonic Cruiser might be making a comeback. "'Something better,' teased the Boeing boss, promising point-to-point connectivity anywhere on Earth in a matter of hours."

And when asked whether Boeing might launch a car into space, he replied instead that "We might pick up the one that's out there and bring it back."
The Almighty Buck

NASA May Fly Humans On the Less Powerful Version of Its Deep-Space Rocket (theverge.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: NASA may make some big changes to the first couple flights of its future deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, after getting a recent funding boost from Congress to build a new launch platform. When humans fly on the rocket for the first time in the 2020s, they might ride on a less powerful version of the vehicle than NASA had expected. If the changes move forward, it could scale down the first crewed mission into deep space in more than 45 years. The SLS has been in development for the last decade, and when complete, it will be NASA's main rocket for taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars. NASA has long planned to debut the SLS with two crucial test missions. The first flight, called EM-1, will be uncrewed, and it will send the smallest planned version of the rocket on a three-week long trip around the Moon. Three years later, NASA plans to launch a bigger, more powerful version of the rocket around the Moon with a two-person crew -- a mission called EM-2.

But now, NASA may delay that rocket upgrade and fly the same small version of the SLS for the crewed flight instead. If that happens, NASA would need to come up with a different type of mission for the crew to do since they won't be riding on the more powerful version of the vehicle. "If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can't do what we could do if we had the [larger SLS]," Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, said during a Congressional hearing yesterday. NASA clarified that astronauts would still fly around the Moon on the second flight. However, the rocket would not be able to carry extra science payloads as NASA had originally planned. "The primary objective for EM-2 is to demonstrate critical functions with crew aboard, including mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces, and navigation and guidance in deep space, which can be accomplished on a Block 1 SLS," a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

Medicine

'Is Curing Patients a Sustainable Business Model?' Goldman Sachs Analysts Ask (arstechnica.com) 368

In an April 10 report for biotech clients, Goldman Sachs analysts noted that one-shot cures for diseases are not great for business as they're bad for longterm profits. The investment banks' report, titled "The Genome Revolution," asks clients: "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" The answer may be "no," according to follow-up information provided. Slashdot reader tomhath shares the report from Ars Technica: Analyst Salveen Richter and colleagues laid it out: "The potential to deliver 'one shot cures' is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically engineered cell therapy, and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies... While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow."

For a real-world example, they pointed to Gilead Sciences, which markets treatments for hepatitis C that have cure rates exceeding 90 percent. In 2015, the company's hepatitis C treatment sales peaked at $12.5 billion. But as more people were cured and there were fewer infected individuals to spread the disease, sales began to languish. Goldman Sachs analysts estimate that the treatments will bring in less than $4 billion this year. [Gilead]'s rapid rise and fall of its hepatitis C franchise highlights one of the dynamics of an effective drug that permanently cures a disease, resulting in a gradual exhaustion of the prevalent pool of patients," the analysts wrote. The report noted that diseases such as common cancers -- where the "incident pool remains stable" -- are less risky for business.

Earth

Ocean Current That Keeps Europe Warm Is Weakening Because of Climate Change (washingtonpost.com) 193

The Washington Post: The Atlantic Ocean circulation that carries warmth into the Northern Hemisphere's high latitudes is slowing down because of climate change, a team of scientists asserted Wednesday, suggesting one of the most feared consequences is already coming to pass (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation has declined in strength by 15 percent since the mid-20th century to a "new record low," the scientists conclude in a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature. That's a decrease of 3 million cubic meters of water per second, the equivalent of nearly 15 Amazon rivers.

The AMOC brings warm water from the equator up toward the Atlantic's northern reaches and cold water back down through the deep ocean. The current is partly why Western Europe enjoys temperate weather, and meteorologists are linking changes in North Atlantic Ocean temperatures to recent summer heat waves. The circulation is also critical for fisheries off the U.S. Atlantic coast, a key part of New England's economy that have seen changes in recent years, with the cod fishery collapsing as lobster populations have boomed off the Maine coast.

NASA

Hubble Telescope Discovers a Light-Bending 'Einstein Ring' In Space (space.com) 71

Space.com reports of the Hubble Space Telescope's discovery of a light-bending "Einstein Ring" in space: The perfect circle surrounding a galaxy cluster in a new Hubble Space Telescope image is a visual indicator of the huge masses that are bending time and space in that region. The galaxy cluster, called SDSS J0146-0929, features hundreds of individual galaxies all bound together by gravity. There's so much mass in this region that the cluster is distorting light from objects behind it. This phenomenon is called an Einstein ring. The ring is created as the light that comes from distant objects, like galaxies, passes by "an extremely large mass, like this galaxy cluster," NASA said in a statement. "In this image, the light from a background galaxy is diverted and distorted around the massive intervening cluster and forced to travel along many different light paths toward Earth, making it seem as though the galaxy is in several places at once." The ring is named after Albert Einstein, who wrote his theory of general relativity in the early 1900s. In it, he suggested that a massive object would warp space and time. This process is known today as a gravitational lens. When the most massive galaxies and galaxy clusters get in line with a more distant object, they produce an Einstein ring -- a type of gravitational lens.
Earth

XPRIZE Projects Aim To Convert CO2 Emissions, But Skepticism Remains (scientificamerican.com) 83

The XPRIZE foundation exists to encourage particular innovations that might be useful but from which conventional financial backers are likely to shy away. Previous X Prizes have been awarded for feats such as flying a reusable spacecraft to the edge of space, and designing cheap sensors to measure oceanic acidity. This week, the foundation announced a new prize. From a report: One pioneering team hopes to use carbon dioxide to make a stronger form of cement. Another wants to use carbon to make bioplastic. Still another is planning to transform CO2 into solid carbonates that can be used as building materials. The XPRIZE Foundation unveiled 10 teams yesterday as finalists in its $20 million contest to find a solution to carbon emissions.

Its carbon competition is meant to find an economic use for planet-warming emissions. The basic idea: If emissions can be turned into a product, power companies will have an incentive to capture and sell carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. A group of 47 teams from across the world initially submitted proposals. The remaining 10 teams will compete in two groups. One will test their technologies at a coal-fired power plant in Gillette, Wyo. The other will compete at a natural gas plant in Calgary, Alberta. Winners will be announced in 2020. They will split the $20 million purse.

[...] Significant skepticism over carbon utilization's effectiveness persists, however. The chief concern is that global carbon emissions outweigh the market for carbon products. "There is no question you can do it. The question is whether it can be a meaningful contribution to climate mitigation," said Edward Rubin, a professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Encryption

Researchers Devise a Way To Generate Provably Random Numbers Using Quantum Mechanics (newatlas.com) 139

No random number generator you've ever used is truly, provably random. Until now, that is. Researchers have used an experiment developed to test quantum mechanics to generate demonstrably random numbers, which could come in handy for encryption. From a report: The method uses photons to generate a string of random ones and zeros, and leans on the laws of physics to prove that these strings are truly random, rather than merely posing as random. The researchers say their work could improve digital security and cryptography. The challenge for existing random number generators is not only creating truly random numbers, but proving that those numbers are random. "It's hard to guarantee that a given classical source is really unpredictable," says Peter Bierhorst, a mathematician at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where this research took place. "Our quantum source and protocol is like a fail-safe. We're sure that no one can predict our numbers." For example, random number algorithms often rely on a source of data which may ultimately prove predictable, such as atmospheric noise. And however complex the algorithm, it's still applying consistent rules. Despite these potential imperfections, these methods are relied on in the day-to-day encryption of data. This team's method, however, makes use of the properties of quantum mechanics, or what Einstein described as "spooky action at a distance." Further reading: Wired, LiveScience, and CNET.
Science

Late To Bed, Early To Die? Night Owls May Die Sooner (livescience.com) 217

An anonymous reader shares a report: Bad news for "night owls": Those who tend to stay up late and sleep in well past sunrise are at increased risk of early death, a new study from the United Kingdom suggests. The research, which involved nearly half a million people, found that self-described "evening people" were 10 percent more likely to die over a 6.5-year period, compared with self-described morning people. The findings add to a growing body of research that suggests that being a night owl could have negative effects on health. Many of these effects may be attributable to a misalignment between a person's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, and the socially imposed timing of work and other activities, the researchers said. "'Night owls' trying to live in a 'morning lark' world may have health consequences for their bodies," study co-author Kristen Knutson, an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.
AI

FDA Approves AI-Powered Software To Detect Diabetic Retinopathy (engadget.com) 34

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved an AI-powered device that can be used by non-specialists to detect diabetic retinopathy in adults with diabetes. Engadget reports: Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the high levels of blood sugar in the bloodstream cause damage to your retina's blood vessels. It's the most common cause of vision loss, according to the FDA. The approval comes for a device called IDx-DR, a software program that uses an AI algorithm to analyze images of the eye that can be taken in a regular doctor's office with a special camera, the Topcon NW400. The photos are then uploaded to a server that runs IDx-DR, which can then tell the doctor if there is a more than mild level of diabetic retinopathy present. If not, it will advise a re-screen in 12 months. The device and software can be used by health care providers who don't normally provide eye care services. The FDA warns that you shouldn't be screened with the device if you have had laser treatment, eye surgery or injections, as well as those with other conditions, like persistent vision loss, blurred vision, floaters, previously diagnosed macular edema and more.
Cellphones

The Personality Traits That Put You At Risk For Smartphone Addiction (washingtonpost.com) 73

Zorro shares a report from The Washington Post: When the Trump-affiliated firm Cambridge Analytica obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users, it used the "Big 5" or "Five Factor Model" personality test to target them with ads designed to influence their votes in the 2016 election. The test scores people on five traits -- openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism -- and was used in the election to predict the way a voter would respond to an advertisement. But the Big 5 can predict a lot more -- including how likely you are to even use Facebook or any other social media (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source).

That's because the way you score on the test can tell you how likely you are to become addicted to your screen. Research shows that people who score high on neuroticism, low on conscientiousness, and low on agreeableness are more likely to become addicted to social media, video games, instant messaging, or other online stimuli. Studies have also found that extraverts are more likely to become addicted to cellphone use than introverts. Some of the correlations make sense. Less agreeable people may be more apt to immerse themselves in technology because it does not require the kind of friendly interactions that real life does. Neurotic people have been shown to spend more time online because it validates their desire to belong or be part of a group. Conscientious people are less impulsive and therefore more able to control and organize their time. But then it gets complicated. Because according to a new study out of the State University of New York at Binghamton, specific combinations of those personality traits can mitigate or exaggerate one's propensity to addiction.

Medicine

Eating World's Hottest Pepper Sparks Brain Disorder, Thunderclap Headaches (arstechnica.com) 155

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Extremely hot peppers don't just blister your mouth and bum -- they can also spark fiery havoc in your brain, according to a report published Monday in BMJ Case Reports. An otherwise healthy 34-year-old man developed a blood-flow disorder in his brain and suffered several debilitating "thunderclap" headaches after entering a hot pepper eating contest, U.S. doctors reported. The man had managed to get down a Carolina Reaper pepper, which in 2013 earned the title of the world's hottest chili by Guinness World Records.

The searing pepper didn't sit well in the chili-eating contestant. Immediately after slaying a Reaper, the man began dry heaving and developed pain in his neck and the back of his skull. That morphed into a diffuse, painful headache. Over the next few days, he experienced thunderclap headaches at least twice -- but likely more, he just couldn't recall exactly. Thunderclap headaches are severe, sudden, with quick pains that strike like a clap of thunder rumbling through your skull. They tend to peak within 60 seconds and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, altered mental state, seizures, and fever. Their stormy aches can be a sign of serious problems, like bleeding in the brain, a brain infection, or a cerebrospinal fluid leak. The pain was excruciating enough that the man went to the emergency room. But doctors didn't find any immediate problems with him to explain the episodes. He didn't have any slurred speech, loss of vision, neurological deficits, muscle weakness, or tingling. His blood pressure was a little high, but not extremely so, at 134/69 mmHg. Initial CT scans found no problems in his neck and head.

Businesses

Theranos Lays Off Almost All of Its Remaining Workers (marketwatch.com) 91

A few months ago, Theranos laid off almost half of its workforce as it struggled to recover from the backlash generated when the company failed to provide accurate results to patients using its proprietary blood test technology. Now, according to people familiar with the matter, the company is laying off most of its remaining workforce in a last-ditch effort to preserve cash and avert or at least delay bankruptcy for a few more months. MarketWatch reports: Tuesday's layoffs take the company's head count from about 125 employees to two dozen or fewer, according to people familiar with the matter. As recently as late 2015, Theranos had about 800 employees. Elizabeth Holmes, the Silicon Valley firm's founder and chief executive officer, announced the layoffs at an all-employee meeting at Theranos's offices in Newark, Calif. on Tuesday, less than a month after settling civil fraud charges with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Under the SEC settlement, Holmes was forced to relinquish her voting control over the company she founded 15 years ago as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout, give back a big chunk of her stock, and pay a $500,000 penalty. She also agreed to be barred from being an officer or director in a public company for 10 years.
Space

Northrop Grumman, Not SpaceX, Reported To Be at Fault For Loss of Top-Secret Zuma Satellite (cnbc.com) 70

Northrop Grumman built and operated the components that failed during the controversial January launch of the U.S. spy satellite known as Zuma, WSJ reported over the weekend. From a report: Two independent investigations, made up of federal and industry officials, pointed to Northrop's payload adapter as the cause of the satellite's loss, the report said, citing people familiar with the probes. The payload adapter is a key part of deploying a satellite in orbit, connecting the satellite to the upper stage of a rocket. Zuma is believed to have cost around $3.5 billion to develop, according to the report. The satellite was funded through a process that received a lesser degree of oversight from Congress compared with similar national security-related satellites, industry officials said.
Medicine

FDA Worried Drug Was Risky; Now Reports of Deaths Spark Concern (cnn.com) 183

Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, writing for CNN: Two years ago, Brendan Tyne pleaded with the Food and Drug Administration to approve a drug that he was hopeful could finally bring his mother some peace. She could no longer move without assistance and had fallen victim to the debilitating and frightening psychosis that haunts many people with Parkinson's disease. "She thinks there are people in the house and animals are trying to get her," he told an FDA advisory committee. He believed that a new medication called Nuplazid, made by San Diego-based Acadia Pharmaceuticals, was the answer.

Nuplazid's review was being expedited because it had been designated a "breakthrough therapy" -- meaning that it demonstrated "substantial improvement" in patients with serious or life-threatening diseases compared to treatments already on the market. Congress created this designation in 2012 in an effort to speed up the FDA's approval process, which has long been criticized for being too slow. Around 200 drugs have been granted this designation since its creation. [...] The committee voted 12-2 and recommended that the FDA approve Nuplazid for the treatment of Parkinson's disease psychosis based on a six-week study of about 200 patients. It hit the market in June 2016. As caregivers and family members rushed to get their loved ones on it, sales climbed to roughly $125 million in 2017

[...] In November, an analysis released by a nonprofit health care organization, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, warned that 244 deaths had been reported to the FDA between the drug's launch and March 2017. [...] Since the institute released its analysis, FDA data shows that the number of reported deaths has risen to more than 700. As of last June, Nuplazid was the only medication listed as "suspect" in at least 500 of the death reports.

Earth

One-Degree Rise In Temperature Causes Ripple Effect In World's Largest High Arctic Lake (folio.ca) 303

An anonymous reader quotes a report from FOLIO Magazine: A 1 C increase in temperature has set off a chain of events disrupting the entire ecology of the world's largest High Arctic lake. "The amount of glacial meltwater going into the lake has dramatically increased," said Martin Sharp, a University of Alberta glaciologist who was part of a team of scientists that documented the rapid changes in Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island over a series of warm summers in the last decade. "Because it's glacial meltwater, the amount of fine sediment going into the lake has dramatically increased as well. That in turn affects how much light can get into the water column, which may affect biological productivity in the lake." The changes resulted in algal blooms and detrimental changes to the Arctic char fish population, and point to a near certain future of summer ice-free conditions. The findings document an unprecedented shift from the previous three centuries, challenging scientists' expectations of how such a large system could respond so rapidly to a one-degree rise. The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Science

Scientists Discover That Puffin Beaks Are Fluorescent (www.cbc.ca) 36

A scientist in England discovered that the bills of Atlantic puffins glow like freshly cracked glow sticks when under a UV light. CBC.ca reports of how ornithologist Jamie Dunning stumbled upon the discovery: Dunning normally works with twites, another type of bird, but he had been wondering if puffins had Day-Glo beaks for a while, since crested auklets -- seabirds in the same family -- also have light-up bills. So one January day, while having a "troubling" time in the lab, he threw off the lights and shone a UV light on a puffin carcass. "What happened was quite impressive, really," he said. The two yellow ridges on the puffin's bill -- called the lamella and the cere -- lit up like a firefly. And it's real fluorescence, Dunning emphasizes: something about those parts of the puffin bill is allowing that UV light to be absorbed and re-emitted as a bright glowing light.

The fact some birds have this quality and some birds don't indicates the fluorescence certainly has some use for the puffins, Dunning said, but he's not sure what that use might be. "The bill of a puffin is forged by generations, hundreds and thousands of years, of sexual selection. There's a lot going on there. That's why it's so colorful and pretty." But the radiant color is almost certainly not being used as a headlight, he said. He said whatever's making the beak glow is reacting with the UV light waves, and those light waves aren't around in the dark.

Math

Did Harvard Scientists Predict The End of the Universe? (gizmodo.com) 155

The universe will end with a bang -- and not a whimper -- reports The New York Post, citing a new study by Harvard Researchers predicting exactly when (and how) the universe will end. But Gizmodo's science writer takes issue with the media coverage: That paper predicts that the universe's lifetime would be between 10**88 and 10**241 years, but probably probably around 10**139 years. "I think people don't have a sense as to how big these numbers are," study author and physicist Matthew Schwartz from Harvard told Gizmodo. "It's such an enormous out of time. But they think 10**139 years is 139."

The universe is around 10 billion, or 10**10 years old. 10**139 is a completely unfathomable number of years... It's more than the amount of time it would take to count every atom in the universe, if you had to wait from the Big Bang until now in between counting each atom. That number of years eludes any rational attempt to understand it (Which is probably why it sounds so close -- our heads just short circuit and say, threat!!!). It is forever.

Earth

New Theory Suggests Dinosaurs Were Already Dying When Asteroid Hit (phys.org) 167

The new "biotic revenge hypothesis" suggests that dinosaurs were killed off by toxic plants. (And an inability to recognize the taste of a toxic plant.) the gmr summarizes a new paper reported at Phys.org: The dinosaur population had been drastically decreasing before the asteroid impact, [and] the appearance of the first flowering plants -- angiosperms -- in the fossil record coincides with the gradual disappearance of the dinosaurs... The scientists concluded that though the asteroid played a role in the extinction of dinosaurs, the "plants had already placed severe strain on the species."
Crocodiles (believed to be descended from dinosaurs) also can't recognize the taste of toxic plants -- the researchers tested 10 different species. And they point out that not only did dinosaurs start to disappear before the asteroid impact -- they continued to "gradually disappear for millions of years afterward."
Space

Anticipating the Dangers of Space Radiation (utexas.edu) 23

aarondubrow writes: Astronauts and future space tourists face risks from radiation, which can cause illness and injure organs. Researchers from Texas A&M, NASA, and the University of Texas Medical Branch used supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to investigate the radiation exposure related to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory mission, planned for the 1960s and 1970s [but never actually flown], during which a dangerous solar storm occurred. They also explored the historical limitations of radiation research and how such limitations could be addressed in future endeavors.
Supercomputers could be "a game-changer" when it comes to predicting the risks of space radiation, allowing NASA to make life-saving decisions in real-time, argues one of the researchers. During that 1972 solar storm, skin and organs would've risked being exposed to radiation in excess of NASA limits, though one of the study's co-authors believes that rather than risking harm to the astronauts, NASA would've promptly terminated that mission.

"Though the study explored the historical missions, the researchers had in mind future commercial space flights, like those proposed by SpaceX or Virgin Galactic, that will likely travel a similar orbit to best show off the beauty of Earth from space."
Printer

Scientists Modify A 3D Printer To Print All-Liquid Structures (lbl.gov) 15

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have successfully printed three-dimensional structures composed entirely of liquids. A special nanoparticle-derived coating can lock water in place for several months in a solution of silicone oil. omaha393 writes: Using a modified 3D printer, the team demonstrated they can reliably print liquid tubes sheathed in surfactants with precision that allows spiral and branching shapes with diameters ranging from micrometers to millimetres. The technique offers a means to finely control small scale synthetic reactions but the team suggest it could lead to wearable, stretchable electronics. A brief video showing the technology is available and the full paper is available at Advanced Materials.
Space

Center of the Milky Way Has Thousands of Black Holes, Study Shows (npr.org) 64

New submitter xonen shares a report from NPR: For decades, scientists have thought that black holes should sink to the center of galaxies and accumulate there. But scientists had no proof that these exotic objects had actually gathered together in the center of the Milky Way. Isolated black holes are almost impossible to detect, but black holes that have a companion -- an orbiting star -- interact with that star in ways that allow the pair to be spotted by telltale X-ray emissions. The team searched for those signals in a region stretching about three light-years out from our galaxy's central supermassive black hole. What they found there: a dozen black holes paired up with stars. Finding so many in such a small region is significant, because until now scientists have found evidence of only about five dozen black holes throughout the entire galaxy. What they've found should help theorists make better predictions about how many cosmic smashups might occur and generate detectable gravitational waves. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Medicine

Hot-Air Dryers Suck In Nasty Bathroom Bacteria, Shoot Them At Your Hands (arstechnica.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Hot-air dryers suck in bacteria and hardy bacterial spores loitering in the bathroom -- perhaps launched into the air by whooshing toilet flushes -- and fire them directly at your freshly cleaned hands, according to a study published in the April issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The authors of the study, led by researchers at the University of Connecticut, found that adding HEPA filters to the dryers can reduce germ-spewing four-fold. However, the data hints that places like infectious disease research facilities and healthcare settings may just want to ditch the dryers and turn to trusty towels. Indeed, in the wake of the blustery study -- which took place in research facility bathrooms around UConn -- "paper towel dispensers have recently been added to all 36 bathrooms in basic science research areas in the UConn School of Medicine surveyed in the current study," the authors note. The researchers speculated that "one reason hand dryers may disperse so many bacteria is the large amount of air that passes through hand dryers, 19,000 linear feet/min at the nozzle. The convection generated by high airflow below the hand dryer nozzles could also draw in room air."
AI

Researchers Develop Device That Can 'Hear' Your Internal Voice (theguardian.com) 108

Researchers have created a wearable device that can read people's minds when they use an internal voice, allowing them to control devices and ask queries without speaking. From a report: The device, called AlterEgo, can transcribe words that wearers verbalise internally but do not say out loud, using electrodes attached to the skin. "Our idea was: could we have a computing platform that's more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?" said Arnav Kapur, who led the development of the system at MIT's Media Lab.

Kapur describes the headset as an "intelligence-augmentation" or IA device, and was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's Intelligent User Interface conference in Tokyo. It is worn around the jaw and chin, clipped over the top of the ear to hold it in place. Four electrodes under the white plastic device make contact with the skin and pick up the subtle neuromuscular signals that are triggered when a person verbalises internally. When someone says words inside their head, artificial intelligence within the device can match particular signals to particular words, feeding them into a computer.

Businesses

SpaceX Can't Broadcast Earth Images Because of a Murky License (cnet.com) 177

Last Friday, SpaceX wasn't able to give its fans a view of the 10 new Iridium satellites it released into orbit from its Falcon 9 upper stage. Here's why. From a report: Weirdly, company engineers staffing the launch webcast blamed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restrictions for the blackout from the stage, a staple of most SpaceX launches. Well, at least those that don't involve deploying spy satellites or top-secret space planes. The story behind the missing live feed is a muddy bureaucratic affair. It appears that NOAA has recently decided to start interpreting or enforcing a decades-old law in a new way. The agency says SpaceX and other commercial space companies must apply for a license to broadcast video from orbit.

"The National and Commercial Space Program Act requires a commercial remote sensing license for companies having the capacity to take an image of Earth while on orbit," NOAA said in a statement last week. "Now that launch companies are putting video cameras on stage 2 rockets that reach an on-orbit status, all such launches will be held to the requirements of the law and its conditions."

Canada

Canada Has Pulled Off a Brain Heist (axios.com) 351

An anonymous reader writes: Seoul-born Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, a professor at Brown University known for her work on fake news, is moving to Canada. So is Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a Harvard chemistry professor working on quantum computing and artificial intelligence. They are among 24 top academic minds around the world wooed to Canada by an aggressive recruitment effort offering ultra-attractive sinecures, seven-year funding arrangements -- and, Chun and Aspuru-Guzik said in separate interviews with Axios, a different political environment from the U.S. The "Canada 150 Research Chairs Program" is spending $117 million on seven-year grants of either $350,000 a year or $1 million a year. It's part of a campaign by numerous countries to attract scholars unhappy with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and other political trends, sweetened with unusually generous research conditions.
Science

Humans Produce New Brain Cells Throughout Their Lives, Say Researchers (theguardian.com) 57

An anonymous reader shares a report: Humans continue to produce new neurons in a part of their brain involved in learning, memory and emotion throughout adulthood, scientists have revealed, countering previous theories that production stopped after adolescence. The findings could help in developing treatments for neurological conditions such as dementia. Many new neurons are produced in the hippocampus in babies, but it has been a matter of hot debate whether this continues into adulthood -- and if so, whether this rate drops with age as seen in mice and nonhuman primates. Although some research had found new neurons in the hippocampus of older humans, a recent study scotched the idea, claiming that new neurons in the hippocampus were at undetectable levels by our late teens.
AI

Computer Searches Telescope Data For Evidence of Distant Planets (mit.edu) 12

As part of an effort to identify distant planets hospitable to life, NASA has established a crowdsourcing project in which volunteers search telescopic images for evidence of debris disks around stars, which are good indicators of exoplanets. From a report: Using the results of that project, researchers at MIT have now trained a machine-learning system to search for debris disks itself. The scale of the search demands automation: There are nearly 750 million possible light sources in the data accumulated through NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission alone. In tests, the machine-learning system agreed with human identifications of debris disks 97 percent of the time. The researchers also trained their system to rate debris disks according to their likelihood of containing detectable exoplanets. In a paper describing the new work in the journal Astronomy and Computing, the MIT researchers report that their system identified 367 previously unexamined celestial objects as particularly promising candidates for further study.
Earth

Scientists Harvest First Vegetables in Antarctic Greenhouse (apnews.com) 83

Scientists in Antarctica have harvested their first crop of vegetables grown without earth, daylight or pesticides as part of a project designed to help astronauts cultivate fresh food on other planets. From a report: Researchers at Germany's Neumayer Station III say they've picked 3.6 kilograms (8 pounds) of salad greens, 18 cucumbers and 70 radishes grown inside a high-tech greenhouse as temperatures outside dropped below -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). The German Aerospace Center DLR, which coordinates the project, said Thursday that by May scientists hope to harvest 4-5 kilograms of fruit and vegetables a week.
Medicine

Drug-Resistant 'Nightmare Bacteria' Pose Growing Threat (statnews.com) 87

"Nightmare bacteria" with unusual resistance to antibiotics of last resort were found more than 200 times in the United States last year in a first-of-a-kind hunt to see how much of a threat these rare cases are becoming, health officials said this week. From a report: That's more than they had expected to find, and the true number is probably higher because the effort involved only certain labs in each state, officials say. The problem mostly strikes people in hospitals and nursing homes who need IVs and other tubes that can get infected. In many cases, others in close contact with these patients also harbored the superbugs even though they weren't sick -- a risk for further spread. Some of the sick patients had traveled for surgery or other health care to another country where drug-resistant germs are more common, and the superbug infections were discovered after they returned to the U.S.
China

US' Proposed China Tariffs Would Target Robotics, Satellites (engadget.com) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The U.S. Trade Representative has published the list of Chinese products that would be subject to its proposed tech tariffs, and there are a few clear themes. The move would hike the costs of about 1,300 products, including industrial robots, communication satellites, spacecraft and a slew of semiconductors.The aim, as before, is to punish China for allegedly goading American companies into transferring their patents and technology to Chinese firms for the sake of claiming economic superiority. The USTR claimed the proposed tariffs would stymie Chinese plans while "minimizing the impact" on the American economy. The tariffs are still subject to a 60-day notice process that would include public comments until May 11th and a public hearing on May 15th.
Businesses

NASA Hires Lockheed Martin To Build Quiet Supersonic X-Plane (space.com) 98

New submitter john of sparta shares a report from Space.com: NASA has taken a huge leap forward in its quest to create an aircraft that can travel faster than the speed of sound without causing the ear-splitting sonic boom. The space agency announced today (April 2) that it has awarded the aerospace company Lockheed Martin a $247.5 million contract to design and build a new X-plane, known as the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD), which may soar silently over the U.S. by 2022. Lockheed Martin's LBFD won't be built for transporting people. Before any supersonic planes will be allowed to fly over land, NASA and Lockheed Martin must prove that it's possible to break the sound barrier without the sonic boom.

Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, said that the LBFD will fly over select U.S. cities starting in mid-2022 and NASA will "ask the people living and working in those communities to tell us what they heard, if anything." The LBFD aircraft will be 94 feet (29 meters) long, or about the size of a small business jet. It will fly at a cruising altitude of about 55,000 feet (17,000 meters) and reach a speed of 1.4 times the speed of sound (about 1,000 mph, or 1,600 km/h). This will "create a sound about as loud as a car door closing," NASA officials said in the news conference.

Businesses

MIT Severs Ties To Company Promoting Fatal Brain Uploading (technologyreview.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: The MIT Media Lab will sever ties with a brain-embalming company that promoted euthanasia to people hoping for digital immortality through "brain uploads." The startup, called Nectome, had raised more than $200,000 in deposits from people hoping to have their brains stored in an end-of-life procedure similar to physician-assisted suicide. MIT's connection to the company came into question after MIT Technology Review detailed Nectome's promotion of its "100 percent fatal" technology. Under a subcontract, MIT was receiving approximately $300,000 from a federal grant won by Nectome to develop methods of brain preservation and analysis. According to an April 2 statement, MIT will terminate the research contract with Media Lab professor and neuroscientist Edward Boyden. Boyden said he didn't have a financial stake or other personal involvement with Nectome. MIT's connection to the company drew sharp criticism from some neuroscientists, who say brain uploading isn't possible.
Space

Hubble Space Telescope Spots the Farthest Known Star (engadget.com) 74

Researchers using Hubble space telescope data have spotted Icarus (aka MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1), a blue supergiant whose light was emitted when it was 9 billion light years away from Earth -- over 100 times farther than the previous record-setter. According to Engadget, "They captured the star thanks to a rare, ideal gravitational lensing effect where the star's light was magnified not only by the gravity of an in-between galaxy cluster 5 billion light years from Earth, but by a star inside that cluster." From the report: Observers had been keeping close watch on the cluster since 2014, when they'd detected a supernova that turned out to be present in a galaxy 9 billion light years away. They realized Icarus was present in April 2016, when a point of light near the supernova seemed to change brightness. Don't get too attached to this new discovery. With this kind of distance, Icarus has long-since turned into a neutron star or black hole. The findings are still advancing science in ways you might not expect, however. As the Guardian noted, the Icarus study ruled out a theory that dark matter consists of black holes. If that had been the case, they would have brightened Icarus even more. And if nothing else, this proves that humanity can detect more than just the largest and brightest celestial objects at these kinds of distances.
Space

SpaceX Completes Its Seventh Successful Mission of 2018 With Launch of CRS-14 (youtube.com) 24

Longtime Slashdot reader lalleglad writes: SpaceX today launched a Falcon 9 with its 14th Resupply Services mission. I saw it went well, and I hope it will also attach to the International Space Station (ISS) in good order. Incidentally, it carries the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM), which is an European Space Agency (ESA) project to investigate Earth-to-space lighting and thunder. Let's hope that it will enable better weather movement understanding, and for us plain people, better weather forecasts! "The Falcon 9 rocket, whose first stage launched ISS supplies last August, fired nine Merlin main engines again to roar from Launch Complex 40 at 4:30 p.m.," reports Florida Today. "Ten minutes later, the unmanned Dragon capsule, which launched to the ISS two years earlier, floated free of the rocket's upper stage to start a two-day journey back to the orbiting research complex. It was the second time a recycled Falcon 9 and Dragon had launched together, and the 11th time in just over a year that SpaceX had re-launched a used -- or what the company prefers to call 'flight proven' -- rocket." CNBC notes that the CRS-14 launch was the company's seventh successful mission this year. You can watch the recorded livestream of the launch here.
Earth

Large Crack in East African Rift is Evidence of Continent Splitting in Two (pbs.org) 81

A large crack, stretching several miles, made a sudden appearance recently in south-western Kenya. The tear emerged after heavy rains caused havoc in the nation last month, which also saw neighborhood get flooded and major highways closing off. The downpour also exposed a fault line that geologists now say is evidence that the African continent will split into two over the next tens of millions of years. From a report: The Earth is an ever-changing planet, even though in some respects change might be almost unnoticeable to us. Plate tectonics is a good example of this. But every now and again something dramatic happens and leads to renewed questions about the African continent splitting in two. The Earth's lithosphere (formed by the crust and the upper part of the mantle) is broken up into a number of tectonic plates. These plates are not static, but move relative to each other at varying speeds, "gliding" over a viscous asthenosphere.

[...] The East African Rift Valley stretches over 3,000km from the Gulf of Aden in the north towards Zimbabwe in the south, splitting the African plate into two unequal parts: the Somali and Nubian plates. Activity along the eastern branch of the rift valley, running along Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, became evident when the large crack suddenly appeared in south-western Kenya. When the lithosphere is subject to a horizontal extensional force it will stretch, becoming thinner. Eventually, it will rupture, leading to the formation of a rift valley. This process is accompanied by surface manifestations along the rift valley in the form of volcanism and seismic activity. Rifts are the initial stage of a continental break-up and, if successful, can lead to the formation of a new ocean basin.

Open Source

Interviews: Ask a Question To Christine Peterson, the Nanotech Expert Who Coined the Term 'Open Source' 246

Christine Peterson is a long-time futurist who co-founded the nanotech advocacy group the Foresight Institute in 1986. One of her favorite tasks has been contacting the winners of the institute's annual Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, but she also coined the term "Open Source software" for that famous promotion strategy meeting in 1998. Now Christine's agreed to answer questions from Slashdot readers. We'll pick the very best questions and forward them along for answers.

Interestingly, Christine was also on the Editorial Advisory Board of NASA's Nanotech Briefs, and on the state of California's nanotechnology task force. Her tech talks at conferences include "Life Extension for Geeks" at Gnomedex and "Preparing for Bizarreness: Open Source Physical Security" at the 2007 Singularity Summit. Another talk argues that the nanotech revolution will be like the information revolution, except that "Instead of with bits, we should do it with atoms," allowing molecule-sized machines that can kill cancer and repair DNA. Her most recent publication is "Cyber, Nano, and AGI RIsks: Decentralized Approaches to Reducing Risks." Christine graduated from MIT with a bachelors in chemistry.

So leave your best questions in the comments. (Ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one per comment.) We'll pick the very best questions and forward them along for answers.
Science

CRISPR-Altered Plants Are Not Going To Be Regulated (For Now) (fastcompany.com) 284

Good news for people who like genetically altered tomatoes and other plants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will no longer regulate them. From a report: The USDA not only rolled back Obama-era rules regulating genetically edited plants, but now it claims that plants whose genomes have been altered using gene-editing technology (read: CRISPR) pose "no risk," MIT's Technology Review reports. While CRISPR engineering is still a relatively new science whose full impact is not yet known, the USDA has decided that it is merely an innovative shortcut to the age-old practice of plant breeding.
China

Chinese Space Station Burns Up On Re-entry in South Pacific (reviewjournal.com) 54

cold fjord writes: Chinese space authorities say the defunct Tiangong 1 space station mostly burned up on re-entry into the atmosphere over the central South Pacific. The China Manned Space Engineering Office said the experimental space laboratory re-entered around 8:15 a.m. Monday. Scientists monitoring the craft's disintegrating orbit had forecast the craft would mostly burn up and would pose only the slightest of risks to people. Analysis from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center showed it had mostly burned up. Launched in 2011, Tiangong 1 was China's first space station, serving as an experimental platform for bigger projects, such as the Tiangong 2 launched in September 2016 and a future permanent Chinese space station. Two crews of Chinese astronauts lived on the station while testing docking procedures and other operations. Its last crew departed in 2013 and contact with it was cut in 2016.

Earth

Should We Revive Extinct Species? (washingtonpost.com) 203

An anonymous reader writes: The last male northern white rhinoceros died just last week, and a total of just 29,000 rhinoceroses now remain on earth. But National Geographic reports that "the genetic material of several northern white rhinos has been stored away," and scientists hope to give birth to another using in vitro fertilization -- or to breed a hybrid using a genetically similar southern white rhino.
Meanwhile, a postdoctoral fellow in ecology and evolutionary biology reports that scientists are seriously considering the possibility of "de-extincting" the Carolina parakeet, America's only native parrot, which became extinct 100 years ago. Thanks to the data I compiled as well as cutting-edge machine learning approaches to analyze those data, my colleagues and I were able to reconstruct the Carolina parakeets' likely range and climate niche, [which] turned out to be much smaller than previously believed... While this may seem rather minor, some scientists consider the Carolina parakeet one of the top candidates for 'de-extinction', a process in which DNA is harvested from specimens and used to "resurrect" extinct species... If someone were to spend millions of dollars doing all of the genetic and breeding work to bring back this species, or any other, how will they figure out where to release these birds...? Whether or not de-extinction is a worthwhile use of conservation effort and money is another question, best answered by someone other than me. But this is just an example of one potential use of this type of research. "
It seems like all kinds of havoc could ensue if we released a resurrected species back into the modern ecosystem. And yet Harvard researchers are already working to breed a new creature that's half-elephant, half Wooly Mammoth.

What do Slashdot's readers think? Should we revive extinct species?
United States

Was The Florida Pedestrian Bridge Collapse Triggered By Post-Tensioning? (enr.com) 138

A new lawsuit claims post-tensioning triggered the collapse of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, killing five motorists and one worker. Engineering News Record reports According to the lawsuit, the March 15, 2018 collapse occurred while a crew was post-tensioning bars in a diagonal member at the north end of the concrete truss that was the bridge's main element. The post-tensioning compressed the diagonal so that it overstressed a joint in the top chord, the lawsuit claims, triggering hinge failure at a connection in the lower chord and resulting in the catastrophic failure of the rest of the 174-ft-long structure. Post-tensioning that modifies the stresses in a structure is inherently risky and should be performed "in the absence of traffic," the lawsuit claims. [The lawsuit] draws heavily on video of the collapse, a voice message about cracks in the structure that were deemed superficial at that time by the engineer of record and design drawings in the design-build joint venture's proposal.
Slashdot reader McGruber writes: Interestingly, just two days after the collapse, an Anonymous Coward posted that post-tensioning likely led to the collapse of the bridge... A March 21, 2018 NTSB News Release said "The investigative team has confirmed that workers were adjusting tension on the two tensioning rods located in the diagonal member at the north end of the span when the bridge collapsed. They had done this same work earlier at the south end, moved to the north side, and had adjusted one rod. They were working on the second rod when the span failed and collapsed. The roadway was not closed while this work was being performed."
The Miami Herald reports that "how and where precisely the bridge broke apart likely won't be known for months, until the National Transportation Safety Board issues an official finding." While summarizing the leading theories, they're also calling it "the sort of baffling accident that makes structural engineers break out in sweats."
Cellphones

Two Studies Find 'Clear Evidence' That Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer In Rats (qz.com) 217

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: [A] pair of studies by the U.S. National Toxicology Program found "clear evidence" that exposure to radiation caused heart tumors in male rats, and found "some evidence" that it caused tumors in the brains of male rats. (Both are positive results; the NTP uses the labels "clear evidence," "some evidence," "equivocal evidence" and "no evidence" when making conclusions.) Tumors were found in the hearts of female rats, too, but they didn't rise to the level of statistical significance and the results were labeled "equivocal;" in other words, the researchers couldn't be sure the radiation is what caused the tumors. The next scientific step will be to determine what this means for humans. The peer-reviewed papers will be passed on to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for determining human risk and issuing any guidelines to the public, and the Federal Communications Commission, which develops safety standards for cell phones. The FDA was part of the group of federal agencies who commissioned the studies back in the early 2000s.

Ronald Melnick, the NTP senior toxicologist who designed the studies (and who retired from the agency in 2009), says it's unlikely any future study could conclude with certainty that there is no risk to humans from cell phone use. "I can't see proof of a negative ever arising from future studies," Melnick says. He believes the FDA should put out guidance based on the results of the rat studies. "I would think it would be irresponsible to not put out indications to the public," Melnick says. "Maintain a distance from this device from your children. Don't sleep with your phone near your head. Use wired headsets. This would be something that the agencies could do right now."
Quartz notes that when the draft results were published earlier this year, all the results were labeled "equivocal," meaning the study authors felt the data weren't clear enough to determine if the radiation caused the health effects or not. "But the panel of peer reviewers (among them brain and heart pathologists, toxicologists, biostaticians, and engineers) re-evaluated the data and upgraded several of the conclusions to 'some evidence' and 'clear evidence.'"
AI

AI Predicts Your Lifespan Using Activity Tracking Apps (engadget.com) 48

Russian scientists have crafted an AI-based algorithm that uses the activity tracking from smartphones and smartwatches to estimate your lifespan with far greater precision than past models. Engadget reports: The team used a convolutional neural network to find the "biologically relevant" motion patterns in a large set of U.S. health survey data and correlate that to both lifespans and overall health. It would look for not just step counts, but how often you switch between active and inactive periods -- many of the other factors in your life, such as your sleeping habits and gym visits, are reflected in those switches. After that, it was just a matter of applying the understanding to a week's worth of data from test subjects' phones. You can even try it yourself through Gero Lifespan, an iPhone app that uses data from Apple Health, Fitbit and Rescuetime (a PC productivity measurement app) to predict your longevity.
Businesses

EPA Prepares To Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars To Be Cleaner and More Efficient (nytimes.com) 378

Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi, reporting for The New York Times: The Trump administration is expected to launch an effort in coming days to weaken greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for automobiles, handing a victory to car manufacturers and giving them ammunition to potentially roll back industry standards worldwide. The move -- which undercuts one of President Barack Obama's signature efforts to fight climate change -- would also propel the Trump administration toward a courtroom clash with California, which has vowed to stick with the stricter rules even if Washington rolls back federal standards. That fight could end up creating one set of rules for cars sold in California and the 12 states that follow its lead, and weaker rules for the rest of the states, in effect splitting the nation into two markets.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to frame the initiative as eliminating a regulatory burden on automakers that will result in more affordable trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles for buyers, according to people familiar with the plan. An E.P.A. spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Pruitt had sent a draft of the 16-page plan to the White House for approval.
Further reading: EPA to its employees: Ignore science when talking about climate change (ArsTechnica)
AI

AI Tool, Which Has Digested Nearly Every Reaction Ever Performed, Can Invent New Ways To Create Complex Molecules (nature.com) 41

An anonymous reader shares a research paper: Researchers have developed a 'deep learning' computer program that produces blueprints for the sequences of reactions needed to create small organic molecules, such as drug compounds. The pathways that the tool suggests look just as good on paper as those devised by human chemists. The tool is not the first software to wield AI instead of human skill and intuition. Yet chemists hail the development as a milestone, saying that it could speed up the process of drug discovery and make organic chemistry more efficient. "What we have seen here is that this kind of artificial intelligence can capture this expert knowledge," says Pablo Carbonell, who designs synthesis-predicting tools at the University of Manchester, UK, and was not involved in the work. He describes the effort as "a landmark paper."

[...] Chemists have conventionally scoured lists of reactions recorded by others, and drawn on their own intuition to work out a step-by-step pathway to make a particular compound. They usually work backwards, starting with the molecule they want to create and then analysing which readily available reagents and sequences of reactions could be used to synthesize it -- a process known as retrosynthesis, which can take hours or even days of planning. The new AI tool, developed by Marwin Segler, an organic chemist and artificial-intelligence researcher at the University of Munster in Germany, and his colleagues, uses deep-learning neural networks to imbibe essentially all known single-step organic-chemistry reactions -- about 12.4 million of them. This enables it to predict the chemical reactions that can be used in any single step. The tool repeatedly applies these neural networks in planning a multi-step synthesis, deconstructing the desired molecule until it ends up with the available starting reagents.

Education

Poor Grades Tied To Class Times That Don't Match Our Biological Clocks (berkeley.edu) 294

An anonymous reader shares a report: It may be time to tailor students' class schedules to their natural biological rhythms, according to a new study from UC Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University. Researchers tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers. After sorting the students into "night owls," "daytime finches" and "morning larks" -- based on their activities on days they were not in class -- researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes. Their findings, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, show that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules -- say, night owls taking early morning courses -- received lower grades due to "social jet lag," a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands. "We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance," said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld.
Space

An Up-Close Look At the Parker Solar Probe -- the Spacecraft That Will Skim the Sun's Surface (arstechnica.com) 121

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica, offering an up-close look at the Parker Solar Probe: This summer, NASA will launch the Parker Solar Probe, an impressively heat-resistant spacecraft destined to glide closer to the surface of the Sun than any spacecraft before it. It will fly within about 6 million kilometers of the searing surface, more than seven times closer than earlier craft. If all goes to plan, the craft will be hurtling at 724,205 km per hour and have its one-of-a-kind heat shield perfectly facing the surface as it makes those closest approaches. In about seven years, it will complete 24 orbits around the Sun and pass by Venus seven times. All the while, the Parker probe will collect a constellation of data to help answer scientists' burning questions -- and solve some sizzling mysteries -- about the orb of hot plasma that lights up our Solar System. Namely, it will try to help us finally understand why the Sun's atmosphere is 300 times hotter than its surface, which itself is a balmy 5,727C. This fact defies basic physics and to this day is unexplained. One of the leading hypotheses to account for the heat shift comes from famed physicist Eugene Parker, after whom the probe is named. In the mid-1950s, Parker theorized that the Sun's super-heated corona could be explained by a complex system of plasma, magnetic fields, and energetic particles that spark solar explosions called "nanoflares." Scientists are thirsty for close-up data on those potential explosions as well as the cascade of energy called solar wind. With that data, they can put their hypotheses to the test. And in addition to helping us understand coronal heat, data on these sunny phenomena could help clear up poorly understood space weather, which can wreak havoc on satellites and power lines here on Earth.
Math

Scientists Explain the Sound of Knuckle Cracking (bbc.com) 86

"The BBC reports on something sure to impress your next date -- and possibly your last -- when you explain it," writes Slashdot reader dryriver. From the report: Scientists have turned their attention to investigating that most annoying of human habits -- the sound made when you crack your knuckles. The characteristic pop can be explained by three mathematical equations, say researchers in the US and France. Their model confirms the idea that the cracking sound is due to tiny bubbles collapsing in the fluid of the joint as the pressure changes. Surprisingly, perhaps, the phenomenon has been debated for around a century. Science student Vineeth Chandran Suja was cracking his knuckles in class in France when he decided to investigate.

"The first equation describes the pressure variations inside our joint when we crack our knuckles," he told BBC News. "The second equation is a well-known equation which describes the size variations of bubbles in response to pressure variations. And the third equation that we wrote down was coupling the size variation of the bubbles to ones that produce sounds." The equations make up a complete mathematical model that describes the sound of knuckle cracking, said Chandran Suja, who is now a postgraduate student at Stanford University in California. "When we crack our knuckles we're actually pulling apart our joints," he explained. "And when we do that the pressure goes down. Bubbles appear in the fluid, which is lubricating the joint -- the synovial fluid. "During the process of knuckle cracking there are pressure variations in the joint which causes the size of the bubbles to fluctuate extremely fast, and this leads to sound, which we associate with knuckle cracking.''
The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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