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Tech Billionaires Award Top Scientists $25 Million In 'Breakthrough' Prizes ( 47

Tonight at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Morgan Freeman emceed a glamorous, Oscars-style celebration that recognizes scientific achievements with money from tech billionaires. An anonymous reader writes: Donors for the Breakthrough Prize included Google's Sergey Brin, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang, and billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, according to an article in Fortune. TechCrunch has a list of the winners, which included Princeton math professor Jean Bourgain, who won a $3 million prize "for his many contributions to high-dimensional geometry, number theory, and many other theoretical contributions."

Three more physics researchers -- two from Harvard, and one from U.C. Santa Barbara -- will share a $3 million prize recognizing "meaningful advances in string theory, quantum field theory, and quantum gravity." And another $1 million prize honored the leaders of three teams responsible for "collaborative research on gravitational waves and its implications for physics and astronomy," with another $2 million to be shared among the 1,012 members of their research groups.

17-year-old Deanna See from Singapore also won the $250,000 "Breakthrough Junior Challenge" prize -- and more money for her teachers and school -- for her video about antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Google has created a special page where you can read more about some of the other winners.

CO2 Researchers Are Now Hacking Photosynthesis ( 116

Remember that story about the "artificial leaf" solar cells? Long-time Slashdot reader managerialslime quotes the Chicago Tribune: University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have developed a way to mimic plants' ability to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, a way to decrease the amounts of harmful gas in the atmosphere and produce clean energy. The artificial leaf essentially recycles carbon dioxide. And it's powered entirely by the sun, mimicking the real photosynthesis process.
But meanwhile, in Germany: Biochemists led by Tobias Erb at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology...have developed a new, super-efficient method for living organisms to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Plants, algae, and other organisms turn CO2 into fuel. Erb and his colleagues reengineered this process, making it about 25 percent more energy efficient and potentially up to two or three times faster... Erb hopes that one day the CETCH cycle could be genetically engineered into living organisms, helping them more rapidly reduce atmospheric CO2 while producing useful materials.
The researchers created their new CO2-transforming cycle using 11 carefully chosen enzymes.

Our Brains Use Binary Logic, Say Neuroscientists ( 67

"The brain's basic computational algorithm is organized by power-of-two-based logic," reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University's Medical College. hackingbear writes: He and his colleagues from the U.S. and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters. "Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities," he said. "It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in."

Alien Life Could Thrive In the Clouds of Failed Stars ( 67

sciencehabit writes: There's an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home -- and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts. The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. "You don't necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface," says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study. Atmospheric life isn't just for the birds. For decades, biologists have known about microbes that drift in the winds high above Earth's surface. And in 1976, Carl Sagan envisioned the kind of ecosystem that could evolve in the upper layers of Jupiter, fueled by sunlight. You could have sky plankton: small organisms he called "sinkers." Other organisms could be balloonlike "floaters," which would rise and fall in the atmosphere by manipulating their body pressure. In the years since, astronomers have also considered the prospects of microbes in the carbon dioxide atmosphere above Venus's inhospitable surface. Yates and his colleagues set out to update Sagan's calculations and to identify the sizes, densities, and life strategies of microbes that could manage to stay aloft in the habitable region of an enormous atmosphere of predominantly hydrogen gas. On such a world, small sinkers like the microbes in Earth's atmosphere or even smaller would have a better chance than Sagan's floaters, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. But a lot depends on the weather: If upwelling winds are powerful on free-floating brown dwarfs, as seems to be true in the bands of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, heavier creatures can carve out a niche. In the absence of sunlight, they could feed on chemical nutrients. Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous.

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 ( 238

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs ( 462

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines. Automation will, "in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," Hawking wrote. "The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive." He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: "We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent." Combined with other issues -- overpopulation, climate change, disease -- we are, Hawking warns ominously, at "the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity." Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.

Climate Change Will Stir 'Unimaginable' Refugee Crisis, Says Military ( 325

Citing military experts, The Guardian is reporting that if the rise in global warming is held under 2 degrees Celsius, there still could be a major humanitarian crisis to sort out. From the report: Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of "unimaginable scale," according to senior military figures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the "new normal." The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conflicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. Military leaders have long warned that global warming could multiply and accelerate security threats around the world by provoking conflicts and migration. They are now warning that immediate action is required. "Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century," said Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh. He said one metre of sea level rise will flood 20% of his nation. "Weâ(TM)re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people."

Four New Elements Finally Get Their Official Names, Added To Periodic Table ( 101

Scientists have updated the periodic table to add four new elements, namely: Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine and Oganesson. The super-heavy elements discovered by scientists from Japan, Russia, and America, complete the seventh row of the table. Their inclusion also marks the first additions since 2011. From an article on University Herald: Now that the new elements have their names, the seventh row of the periodic table is now complete. The approval was done by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The elements were confirmed back in January. They were assigned temporary names and symbols: ununtrium (Uut), ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus), and ununoctium (Uuo). It was noted that the teams of Russian, American and Japanese researchers behind the discoveries were given the task of naming the elements that they uncovered. They submitted their proposals in June.

Russian Supply Rocket Malfunctions, Breaks Up Over Siberia En Route To ISS ( 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: An unmanned cargo rocket bound for the International Space Station was destroyed after takeoff on Thursday. The Russian rocket took off as planned from Baikonur, Kazahkstan, on Thursday morning but stopped transmitting data about six minutes into its flight, as NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell reported: "'Russian officials say the spacecraft failed [...] when it was about 100 miles above a remote part of Siberia. The ship was carrying more than 2 1/2 tons of supplies -- including food, fuel and clothes. Most of that very likely burned up as the unmanned spacecraft fell back toward Earth. NASA says the six crew members on board the International Space station, including two Americans, are well stocked for now.'" This is the fourth botched launch of an unmanned Russian rocket in the past two years. Roscomos officials wrote in an update today: "According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva. The most of cargo spacecraft fragments burned in the dense atmosphere. The State Commission is conducting analysis of the current contingency. The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew."

Nestle Discovers 'Breakthrough' Method To Cut Sugar In Chocolate By 40% Without Affecting Taste ( 325

Nestle and its scientists have discovered how to "structure sugar differently" to reduce the amount of sugar in some of its products by 40%. What's more is that it can be done reportedly without compromising the taste. The Guardian reports: The new process is said to make sugar dissolve faster so that even when less is used, the tongue perceives an identical level of sweetness. It plans to patent the process, discovered by its scientists, which it says will enable it to significantly decrease the total sugar in its confectionery products. A four-finger milk chocolate Kit Kat currently contains 23.8g of sugar, a plain (milk chocolate) Yorkie contains 26.9g and a medium peppermint Aero has 24.9g of sugar. If the amount of sugar in each of these products was cut by 40% the new amounts would be 14.3g, 16.1g and 14.9g respectively.

Earthquake-Sensing Mobile App 'MyShake' Detects Over 200 Earthquakes Large and Small ( 25

Back in February, researchers at UC Berkeley released an app called MyShake that detects strong earthquakes seconds before the damaging seismic waves arrive. Several months have passed since its release and app has already detected over 200 earthquakes in more than ten countries. TechCrunch reports: The app has received nearly 200,000 downloads, though only a fraction of those are active at any given time; it waits for the phone to sit idle so it can get good readings. Nevertheless, over the first six months the network of sensors has proven quite effective. "We found that MyShake could detect large earthquakes, but also small ones, which we never thought would be possible," one of the app's creators, Qingkai Kong, told New Scientist. A paper describing the early results was published in Geophysical Research Letters -- the abstract gives a general idea of the app's success: "On a typical day about 8000 phones provide acceleration waveform data to the MyShake archive. The on-phone app can detect and trigger on P waves and is capable of recording magnitude 2.5 and larger events. The largest number of waveforms from a single earthquake to date comes from the M5.2 Borrego Springs earthquake in Southern California, for which MyShake collected 103 useful three-component waveforms. The network continues to grow with new downloads from the Google Play store everyday and expands rapidly when public interest in earthquakes peaks such as during an earthquake sequence." You can download the app for Android here.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is Being Emergency Evacuated From the South Pole ( 184

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday morning that it will provide a "humanitarian medical evacuation flight" from the South Pole for an "ailing" Buzz Aldrin. BusinessInsider adds: Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon, joining Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969. He has since become an author and advocate for crewed missions to Mars. He is 86, and no further information is available as to his condition. The NSF's statement said that an NSF plane will fly Aldrin from the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast. At that point ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard will haul him to New Zealand "as soon as possible."

FDA Approves Large Clinical Trial For Ecstasy As Relief For PTSD Patients ( 148

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the first large-scale, phase 3 clinical trial of ecstasy in patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the New York Times reported. The regulatory green-light follows six smaller-scale trials that showed remarkable success using the drug. In fact, some of the 130 PTSD patients involved in those trials say ecstasy -- or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) -- saved them from the devastating impacts of PTSD after more than a decade of seeing no improvement with the other treatment options available. Currently, the best of those established treatment options can only improve symptoms in 60 to 70 percent of PTSD patients, one expert noted. However, after one of the early MDMA studies, the drug had completely erased all traces of symptoms in two-thirds of PTSD patients. The new Phase 3 trial will involve at least 230 patients and is planned to start in 2017. Like the other trials, it is backed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit created in 1985 to advocate for the medical benefits and use of psychedelic drugs, such as MDMA and marijuana. Also like the others, the new, larger trial will involve a limited number of MDMA treatments administered by professional psychotherapists as part of a therapy program. In previous trials, patients spent 12 weeks in a psychotherapy program, including three eight-hour sessions in which they took MDMA and talked through traumatic memories.

ULA Unveils Website That Lets You Price Out a Rocket 'Like Building a Car' ( 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: This morning, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno unveiled a new website that allows satellite makers to figure out what it will really cost to launch a vehicle on one of ULA's rockets. It's like going to "Ford or Chevy and building your car," Bruno said, except in the end you wind up with a more than $100 million rocket that can take cargo to space. And just like checking out on Amazon, the website allows you to save your rocket and submit it to ULA to start the process of finalizing a launch contract. The site, called, looks to be ULA's attempt to further infiltrate the commercial satellite market, after launching mostly government satellites and NASA missions for the past decade. Bruno says the site is meant to provide an "unprecedented level of transparency" to commercial customers about the true cost of launching a satellite with ULA. "The sticker price on the rocket is just the tip of the iceberg," Bruno said at a press conference this morning in Washington, DC. "There is a whole host of other costs." The site is supposed to give potential customers an idea of what those costs might be. Rocket Builder allows you to pick when you want to launch and what orbit you want your satellite to go to. And then, depending on its destination and how big the satellite is, the site will help you calculate the size of your payload fairing -- the nose cone that encases the satellite on the top of the rocket -- as well as how many additional boosters you're going to need for thrust. Customers even have the option of picking customizable "service options," which include adding an onboard video system to the rocket, or conducting "expanded mission rehearsals." There's even the option of purchasing a VIP experience, where you can invite 100 customers or investors to come watch the launch as a marketing tool.

Google Earth's Timelapses Offer a 32-Year Look At Earth's Changing Surface ( 85

Google has partnered with TIME to release an improved version of Google Earth Timelapse that provides animated satellite imagery covering the past 32 years, from 1984 to 2016. In 2013, Google and TIME launched Timelapse with a time-lapse from 1984 to 2012. However, this time around the project uses the higher-resolution maps introduced back in June to provide a look that's more detailed and more seamless than in the past. ZDNet reports: The 10-second snapshots of Earth from space over 32 years captures urban sprawl, deforestation and reforestation, receding glaciers, and major engineering feats, such as the Oresund Bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden, or the spread of the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada. Google Earth engine program manager, Chris Herwig says it created the new "annual mosaics" by stitching together 33 images of the Earth, each representing one year. Each image contains 3.95 trillion pixels, cherry-picked from an original set of three quadrillion pixels. "Using Google Earth Engine, we sifted through about three quadrillion pixels, that's three followed by 15 zeroes, from more than 5,000,000 satellite images," Herwig said. "We took the best of all those pixels to create 33 images of the entire planet, one for each year. We then encoded these new 3.95-terapixel global images into just over 25,000,000 overlapping multi-resolution video tiles, made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab's Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable time-lapses over space and time." The satellite images come from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and US Geological Survey. Since 2015, they also contain some data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus Program and its Sentinel-2A satellite.

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