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Fri, 28 Apr 2017
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Science & Technology

Magic Wand

Device makes objects invisible in certain light conditions

A group of researchers from the Department of Physics at UAB have designed a device, called a dc metamaterial, which makes objects invisible under certain light - very low frequency electromagnetic waves - by making the inside of the magnetic field zero but not altering the exterior field. The device, which up to date has only been studied in theoretical works, thus acts as an invisibility cloak, making the object completely undetectable to these waves.

The research is based on an initial idea of the British Ben Wood and John Pendry - the latter considered the father of metamaterials - and is a step forward in the race to create devices which could make objects invisible at visible light frequencies.


Panama Canal widening opens archaeological treasure trove

© Reuters
Cargo ships await their turn to enter a lock in the Panama Canal in this 2008 file image.
The Culebra Cut, Panama - You can't leave Aldo Rincon alone for a moment.

As a small knot of scientists and visitors dressed in hard hats and orange safety vests milled around on the banks of the Panama Canal, chatting about the $5 billion expansion program now under way to widen the storied canal and so accommodate the ever-fatter freighters that ply the planet's seas, Rincon, 30, quietly pulled a few digging tools from his backpack. He squatted down near an unremarkable-looking patch of pebbles and broken rock and began methodically scraping away in the dirt.


Scientists explore the physics of bumpy roads

© Stephen Morris
Lyon washboard road experiment, featuring a wheel rolling over a bed of sand, creating ripples.
Just about any road with a loose surface - sand or gravel or snow - develops ripples that make driving a very shaky experience. A team of physicists from Canada, France and the United Kingdom have recreated this "washboard" phenomenon in the lab with surprising results: ripples appear even when the springy suspension of the car and the rolling shape of the wheel are eliminated. The discovery may smooth the way to designing improved suspension systems that eliminate the bumpy ride.

"The hopping of the wheel over the ripples turns out to be mathematically similar to skipping a stone over water," says University of Toronto physicist, Stephen Morris, a member of the research team.


Interplanetary internet gets permanent home in space

© STS-119 Shuttle Crew/NASA
The International Space Station is now testing a new communications protocol that could form the backbone of a future interplanetary internet
The interplanetary internet now has its first permanent node in space, aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The new software will make sending data from space less like using the telephone, and more like using the web. In the modern era of the web and information on demand, teams still have to schedule times to send and receive data from space missions.

But the newly installed system aboard the ISS could one day allow data to flow between Earth, spacecraft, and astronauts automatically, creating what is being dubbed the "interplanetary internet".


Eavesdropping on the music of the brain

What does the human brain sound like? Now you can find out thanks to a technique for turning its flickering activity into music. Listening to scans may also give new insights into the differences and similarities between normal and dysfunctional brains.


First direct evidence of substantial fish consumption by early modern humans in China

Freshwater fish are an important part of the diet of many peoples around the world, but it has been unclear when fish became an important part of the year-round diet for early humans.

A new study by an international team of researchers, including Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, shows it may have happened in China as far back as 40,000 years ago.

The study will be published online the week of July 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Computer reveals stone tablet 'handwriting' in a flash

© Michail Panagopolous, et al
Archaeologists have discovered more than 50,000 stone inscriptions from ancient Athens and Attica so far. However, attributing the pieces to particular cutters so they can be dated has proven tricky
You might call it "CSI Ancient Greece". A computer technique can tell the difference between ancient inscriptions created by different artisans, a feat that ordinarily consumes years of human scholarship.

"This is the first time anything like this had been done on a computer," says Stephen Tracy, a Greek scholar and epigrapher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who challenged a team of computer scientists to attribute 24 ancient Greek inscriptions to their rightful maker. "They knew nothing about inscriptions," he says.

Tracy has spent his career making such attributions, which help scholars attach firmer dates to the tens of thousands of ancient Athenian and Attican stone inscriptions that have been found.

"Most inscriptions we find are very fragmentary," Tracy says. "They are very difficult to date and, as is true of all archaeological artefacts, the better the date you can give to an artefact, the more it can tell you."


Why Vulcan, Google, and ATV Are Backing AltaRock Energy, Betting on Next-Gen Geothermal

Geothermal is one of those energy sources that you know is there, but you don't hear about much. Until it comes rushing to the surface, as it did with this week's announcement that AltaRock Energy has closed a second round of financing worth $26.25 million, bringing the geothermal firm's total venture funding to about $30 million. The new investors are Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital, Google.org, and Massachusetts-based Advanced Technology Ventures, which joined existing heavy hitters Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

I caught up with AltaRock CEO Don O'Shei yesterday to get his take on the deal. (Vulcan declined to comment for this story.) AltaRock "could not be more excited about what this financing, being made by such a knowledgeable group of investors, means for us and for the future of renewable energy," said O'Shei. As he explains, "It's about the transformative nature of engineered geothermal systems. Google, ATV, and Vulcan are very savvy investors, pretty good at sorting out what are smart bets and what are unattractive bets. It confirms what we think about the market...and it shows a general acceptance of the need for renewables by the broader financial markets."

Comment: There is no mention here of the possible triggering of earthquakes by this technology.


Virologist to make his case for lab origin of swine flu

The scientist who made headlines in May by positing a laboratory origin for the swine flu that has swept the world will defend his theory in the scientific literature, Peter's New York has learned.

Dr. Adrian Gibbs, a Canberra, Australia-based virologist with more than 200 scientific publications to his credit, said that over the weekend he submitted his latest work on the swine flu to a prominent scientific journal, and is awaiting a response.

Gibbs, 75, was part of a team that developed the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

Eye 1

Sociopath captain let Titanic's passengers die without a qualm

For nearly a century debate has raged over whether he was the man who ignored the plight of hundreds who died in the sinking of the Titanic.

A series of inquiries spanning several decades have failed to condemn or clear Captain Stanley Lord over allegations he turned a blind eye to the "unsinkable" ship's frantic attempts to summon help.

Now a controversial new book has posthumously pointed the finger directly at the mariner - claiming he was a "sociopath" whose callous indifference condemned 1,517 to a watery grave.