Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Science in the News 5/11/16

This is a super hefty post, so if you'd like to read about the science in the news for the past few weeks, just hit 'read more' and you'll be taken to the list!

Star Wars Beetle:

A newly discovered weevil beetle has been named after the 7-foot-6-inch Wookiee Chewbacca, according to a paper published Tuesday in the journal ZooKeys. The Trigonopterus chewbacca was one of four new weevils identified in Papua New Guinea during a 10-day research expedition, according to the paper. For better or worse, the other weevils are not named after famous movie sidekicks. Researchers said that they named this weevil after the Wookiee because of its dense scales on the head and legs, which “reminds the authors of Chewbacca’s dense fur.”

Scientists at UC Berkeley create a visual brain map, a “semantic atlas” that shows in vivid colors and multiple dimensions how the human brain organizes language. The findings, published today in the journal Nature, are based on a brain imaging study that recorded neural activity while study volunteers listened to stories from the “Moth Radio Hour.” They show that at least one-third of the brain’s cerebral cortex, including areas dedicated to high-level cognition, is involved in language processing. (Video)

The leading method for creating quantum bits, or qubits, currently involves exploiting the structural defects in diamonds. But several researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory believe that if an analogue defect could be engineered into a less expensive material, the cost of manufacturing quantum technologies could be significantly reduced. Using supercomputers at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), which is located at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), these researchers have identified a possible candidate in aluminum nitride. Their findings were published in Nature’s Scientific Reports. If confirmed by experiments, this could significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing quantum technologies. “Silicon semiconductors are reaching their physical limits — it’ll probably happen within the next five to 10 years — but if we can implement qubits into semiconductors, we will be able to move beyond silicon,” says Hosung Seo, University of Chicago Postdoctoral Researcher and a first author of the paper.

SpaceX recently announced plans to start sending spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018. That means SpaceX could be the first private company to land hardware on another planet! (Video)

The February observation of ripples in the fabric of spacetime, first postulated by Albert Einstein a century ago, has landed the researchers $3m (£2.04m) in the shape of a prize backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Announced on Tuesday, the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics will be shared among the founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) group, Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, and Ronald Drever, and scores of physicists and engineers on the team. The three founders will divide $1m between them, with the remaining $2m (£1.35m) shared equally among the 1,012 other researchers and engineers on the LIGO team, each of whom receives about $2000 (£1350). The prizes will be awarded at a formal ceremony later this year. Thorne, professor of theoretical physics at California Institute of Technology, said it was a “great pleasure” to share the prize with the LIGO team, and spoke of his profound gratitude to the team “for pulling off this discovery so successfully.”

Recent data from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission revealed that its once-thick atmosphere, held in place by a wavering magnetosphere, was stripped away by major solar storms. Now, another NASA mission called SOFIA – the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – has found that there are traces of atomic oxygen still lingering in the gaseous envelope that surrounds the Red Planet. Flying between 11.3 and 13.7 kilometers (37,000 and 45,000 feet) above ground, specialized detectors were able to spy atomic oxygen in the mesosphere (the upper atmosphere) of Mars, confirming it as not just an erroneous detection of Earth’s far more abundant atmospheric oxygen. The data from SOFIA was published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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