Power

Could a Helium-Resistant Material Usher In an Age of Nuclear Fusion? (sciencealert.com) 86

Researchers working with a team at the Los Alamos National Lab tested a new way to build material for nuclear fusion reactors, "and found that it could eliminate one of the obstacles preventing humanity from harnessing the power of fusion energy." schwit1 quotes Science Alert: A collaboration of engineers and researchers has found a way to prevent helium, a byproduct of the fusion reaction, from weakening nuclear fusion reactors. The secret is in building the reactors using nanocomposite solids that create channels through which the helium can escape... Not only does the fusion process expose reactors to extreme pressure and temperatures, helium -- the byproduct of fusion between hydrogen atoms -- adds to the strain placed on reactors by bubbling out into the materials and eventually weakening them...

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers overview how they tested the behavior of helium in nanocomposite solids, materials made from thick metal layer stacks. They found that the helium didn't form bubbles in these nanocomposite solids like it did in traditionally used materials. Instead, it formed long, vein-like tunnels. "We were blown away by what we saw," said Demkowicz. "As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system."

The article points out that nuclear fusion generates four times the energy of nuclear fission.
Medicine

Study of 500,000 Teens Suggests Association Between Excessive Screen Time and Depression (vice.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Depression and suicide rates in teenagers have jumped in the last decade -- doubling between 2007 and 2015 for girls -- and the trend suspiciously coincides with when smartphones became their constant companions. A recent study places their screen time around nine hours per day. Another study, published on Tuesday, suggests that suicide and depression could be connected to the rise of smartphones, and increased screen time. Around 58 percent more girls reported depression symptoms in 2015 than in 2009, and suicide rates rose 65 percent. Smack in the middle of that window of time, smartphones gained market saturation.

In Twenge's new study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the researchers looked at two samples: a nationally representative survey by ongoing study "Monitoring the Future" out of the University of Michigan, which is administered annually to 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a sample of high school students administered by the CDC every other year. (Both surveys began in 1991.) Altogether, over 500,000 young people were included. The study authors examined trends in how teens used social media, the internet, electronic devices (including gaming systems and tablets), and smartphones, as well as how much time they spent doing non-screen activities like homework, playing sports, or socializing. Comparing these to publicly available data on mental health and suicide for these ages between 2010 and 2017 showed "a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and non-screen activities with lower levels," the researchers wrote in the study. All activities involving screens were associated with higher levels of depression or suicide and suicidal thinking, and activities done away from a screen were not.

Science

A Stable Plasma Ring Has Been Created In Open Air For the First Time Ever (futurism.com) 105

New submitter mrcoder83 shares a report from Futurism: Engineers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have been able to create a stable plasma ring without a container. According to the Caltech press release, it's "essentially capturing lightning in a bottle, but without the bottle." This remarkable feat was achieved using only a stream of water and a crystal plate, made from either quartz and lithium niobate. The union of these tools induced a type of contact electrification known as the triboelectric effect. The researchers blasted the crystal plate with an 85-micron-diameter jet of water (narrower than a human hair) from a specially designed nozzle. The water hit the crystal plate with a pressure of 632.7 kilograms of force per centimeter (9,000 pounds per square inch), generating an impact velocity of around 305 meters per second (1,000 feet per second) -- as fast as a bullet from a handgun. Plasma was formed as a result of the creation of an electric charge when the water hit the crystal surface. The flow of electrons from the point of contact ionizes the molecules and atoms in the gas area surrounding the water's surface, forming a donut-shaped glowing plasma that's dozens of microns in diameter. Caltech posted a video of the plasma ring on their YouTube channel.
Education

The House's Tax Bill Levies a Tax On Graduate Student Tuition Waivers (nytimes.com) 506

Camel Pilot writes: The new GOP tax plan -- which just passed the House -- will tax tuition waivers as income. Graduate students working as research assistants on meager stipends would have to declare tuition waivers as income on the order of $80,000 income. This will force many graduate students of modest means to quit their career paths and walk away from their research. These are the next generation of scientists, engineers, inventors, educators, medical miracle workers and market makers. As Prof Claus Wilke points out: "This would be a disaster for U.S. STEM Ph.D. education." Slashdot reader Camel Pilot references a report via The New York Times, where Erin Rousseau explains how the House of Representatives' recently passed tax bill affects graduate research in the United States. Rousseau is a graduate student at M.I.T. who studies the neurological basis of mental health disorders. "My peers and I work between 40 and 80 hours a week as classroom teachers and laboratory researchers, and in return, our universities provide us with a tuition waiver for school. For M.I.T. students, this waiver keeps us from having to pay a tuition bill of about $50,000 every year -- a staggering amount, but one that is similar to the fees at many other colleges and universities," he writes. "No money from the tuition waivers actually ends up in our pockets, so under Section 117(d)(5), it isn't counted as taxable income." Rousseau continues by saying his tuition waivers will be taxed under the House's tax bill. "This means that M.I.T. graduate students would be responsible for paying taxes on an $80,000 annual salary, when we actually earn $33,000 a year. That's an increase of our tax burden by at least $10,000 annually."
AI

Stanford Trains AI To Diagnose Pneumonia Better Than a Radiologist In Just Two Months (qz.com) 74

A new paper from Stanford University reveals how artificial intelligence algorithms can be quickly trained to diagnose pneumonia better than a radiologist. "Using 100,000 x-ray images released by the National Institutes of Health on Sept. 27, the research published Nov. 14 (without peer review) on the website ArXiv claims its AI can detect pneumonia from x-rays with similar accuracy to four trained radiologists," reports Quartz. From the report: That's not all -- the AI was trained to analyze x-rays for 14 diseases NIH included in the dataset, including fibrosis, hernias, and cell masses. The AI's results for each of the 14 diseases had fewer false positives and false negatives than the benchmark research from the NIH team that was released with the data. The paper includes Google Brain founder Andrew Ng as a co-author, who also served as chief scientist at Baidu and recently founded Deeplearning.ai. He's often been publicly bullish on AI's use in healthcare. These algorithms will undoubtedly get better -- accuracy on the ImageNet challenge rose from 75% to 95% in just five years -- but this research shows the speed at which these systems are built is increasing as well.
Space

Astronomers Find An Earth-Size World Just 11 Light Years Away (arstechnica.com) 171

Astronomers have discovered a planet 35 percent more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun. "The planet, Ross 128 b, likely exists at the edge of the small, relatively faint star's habitable zone even though it is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun," reports Ars Technica. "The study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics finds the best estimate for its surface temperature is between -60 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius." From the report: This is not the closest Earth-size world that could potentially harbor liquid water on its surface -- that title is held by Proxima Centauri b, which is less than 4.3 light years away from Earth and located in the star system closest to the Sun. Even so, due to a variety of factors, Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86. In the new research, astronomers discuss another reason to believe that life might be more likely to exist on Ross 128 b. That's because its parent star, Ross 128, is a relatively quiet red dwarf star, producing fewer stellar flares than most other, similar-sized stars such as Proxima Centauri. Such flares may well sterilize any life that might develop on such a world.
Medicine

Researchers Analyze DNA From 'Supercentenarians' Aged 110+ To Discover Secret To Longevity (nytimes.com) 98

biobricks writes: Scientists looking for clues to healthy longevity in people in their 90s and 100s haven't turned up a whole lot. It is thought that the DNA of the very old may be a good place to look, but people over 110 are one in five million in the United States. The New York Times chronicles one scientific quest to collect their DNA (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). From the report: "James Clement, a self-described 'citizen-scientist,' has collected blood, skin and saliva samples from individuals aged 110-plus in 14 states and seven countries during the past six years, The New York Times reports. Mr. Clement has detected 2,500-plus differences between supercentenarian DNA and the general population. However, with a sample size of only some three dozen genomes, his team is still working to determine which genes are significant. One analysis suggested supercentenarians tended to inherit fewer genetic variations related to conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. However, since supercentenarians also tend to be more healthy than the general population, some researchers hypothesize there are other genetic benefits at play. For example, supercentenarians may boast genes that protect them from aspects of aging." Mr. Clement plans to release DNA sequences from the project, called the New England Centenarian Study, this month.
Science

League of Legends Rank Predicts IQ, Study Finds (plos.org) 85

limbicsystem writes: A new publication in the journal PLOS ONE shows that your rank in League of Legends (LoL) correlates with your intelligence quotient (IQ). Games like LoL and DOTA II apparently depend on the same cognitive resources that underlie tests of fluid intelligence. That means that proficiency in those games peaks at the same age as raw IQ -- about 25 -- while scores in more reaction-time based games like Destiny or Battlefield seem to decline from the teens onwards. The researchers suggest that the massive datasets from these online games could be used to assess population-level cognitive health in real-time across the globe. The authors have a nice FAQ (and open datasets) here.
Medicine

US Scientists Try 1st Gene Editing in the Body (apnews.com) 71

Marilynn Marchione, reporting for Associated Press: Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to cure a disease. The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot. "It's kind of humbling" to be the first to test this, said Madeux, who has a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome. "I'm willing to take that risk. Hopefully it will help me and other people." Signs of whether it's working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.
Science

Elon Musk's 'Scientific Method' (rollingstone.com) 239

From a new wide-ranging interview of Elon Musk: An unfortunate fact of human nature is that when people make up their mind about something, they tend not to change it -- even when confronted with facts to the contrary. "It's very unscientific," Musk says. "There's this thing called physics, which is this scientific method that's really quite effective for figuring out the truth." The scientific method is a phrase Musk uses often when asked how he came up with an idea, solved a problem or chose to start a business. Here's how he defines it for his purposes, in mostly his own words:
1. Ask a question.
2. Gather as much evidence as possible about it.
3. Develop axioms based on the evidence, and try to assign a probability of truth to each one.
4. Draw a conclusion based on cogency in order to determine: Are these axioms correct, are they relevant, do they necessarily lead to this conclusion, and with what probability?
5. Attempt to disprove the conclusion. Seek refutation from others to further help break your conclusion.
6. If nobody can invalidate your conclusion, then you're probably right, but you're not certainly right.

Medicine

What Did 17th Century Food Taste Like? (blogspot.com) 195

Benjamin Breen, an assistant professor of history at UC Santa Cruz, looks at art history to figure out what people cooked in the 1600s, and wonders whether it is possible to ascertain the taste of food. From a blog post: What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like? This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velazquez's fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can't know what my neighbor's taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change. By comparison, the taste of food doesn't seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don't change the course of history. But taste does change history. Fascinating read.
Medicine

FDA Approves Digital Pill That Tracks If Patients Have Ingested Their Medication (nytimes.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill -- a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine. The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed. Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization. Patients who agree to take the digital medication, a version of the antipsychotic Abilify, can sign consent forms allowing their doctors and up to four other people, including family members, to receive electronic data showing the date and time pills are ingested. A smartphone app will let them block recipients anytime they change their mind. Although voluntary, the technology is still likely to prompt questions about privacy and whether patients might feel pressure to take medication in a form their doctors can monitor.
The Almighty Buck

Study Finds SpaceX Investment Saved NASA Hundreds of Millions (popularmechanics.com) 156

schwit1 shares a report from Popular Mechanics: When a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft connected with the International Space Station on May 25, 2012, it made history as the first privately-built spacecraft to reach the ISS. The Dragon was the result of a decision 6 years prior -- in 2006, NASA made an "unprecedented" investment in SpaceX technology. A new financial analysis shows that the investment has paid off, and the government found one of the true bargains of the 21st century when it invested in SpaceX. A new research paper by Edgar Zapata, who works at Kennedy Space Center, looks closely at the finances of SpaceX and NASA. "There were indications that commercial space transportation would be a viable option from as far back as the 1980s," Zapata writes. "When the first components of the ISS were sent into orbit 1998, NASA was focused on "ambitious, large single stage-to-orbit launchers with large price tags to match." For future commercial crew missions sending astronauts into space, Zapata estimates that it will cost $405 million for a SpaceX Dragon crew deployment of 4 and $654 million for a Boeing Starliner, which is scheduled for its first flight in 2019. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but Zapata estimates that its only 37 to 39 percent of what it would have cost the government.
Earth

More Than 15,000 Scientists From 184 Countries Issue 'Warning To Humanity' (www.cbc.ca) 405

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBC.ca: More than 15,000 scientists around the world have issued a global warning: there needs to be change in order to save Earth. It comes 25 years after the first notice in 1992 when a mere 1,500 scientists issued a similar warning. This new cautioning -- which gained popularity on Twitter with #ScientistsWarningToHumanity -- garnered more than 15,000 signatures. William Ripple of Oregon State University's College of Forestry, who started the campaign, said that he came across the 1992 warning last February, and noticed that this year happened to mark the 25th anniversary. Together with his graduate student, Christopher Wolf, he decided to revisit the concerns raised then, and collect global data for different variables to show trends over the past 25 years. Ripple found: A decline in freshwater availability; Unsustainable marine fisheries; Ocean dead zones; Forest losses; Dwindling biodiversity; Climate change; Population growth. There was one positive outcome, however: a rapid decline in ozone depletion. One of the potential solutions is to stabilize the population. If we reduce family size, consumption patterns don't rise as much. And that can be done by empowering girls and women, providing sexual education and education on family planning.
Medicine

Bill Gates Pledges $100 Million To Find an Alzheimer's Cure, His First Commitment To a Non-communicable Disease (reuters.com) 135

At present, there is no treatment to stop the Alzheimer's. Bill Gates wants to make a sizeable attempt to change that. From a report:He is to invest $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that brings together industry and government to seek treatments for the brain-wasting disease. The investment -- a personal one and not part of Gates' philanthropic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- will be followed by another $50 million in start-up ventures working in Alzheimer's research, Gates said. "It's a huge problem, a growing problem, and the scale of the tragedy -- even for the people who stay alive -- is very high," he said. Despite decades of scientific research, there is no treatment that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's. Current drugs can do no more than ease some of the symptoms.
Earth

New Study Suggests We Don't Understand Supervolcanoes (sciencealert.com) 105

Better microsampling (and analysis) are revealing "previously obscured" clues about how super-hot molten lava behaves, according to a Science Alert article shared by schwit1: "The older view is that there's a long period with a big tank of molten rock in the crust," says geoscientist Nathan Andersen from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "A new view is that magma is stored for a long period in a state that is locked, cool, crystalline, and unable to produce an eruption. That dormant system would need a huge infusion of heat to erupt." Such a huge infusion of heat is what's thought to have unleashed a violent supereruption in California some 765,000 years ago... [A]s awesomely destructive as the supereruption was, lingering evidence from the aftermath can tell us about the magma conditions deep underground before the top blew so spectacularly.

Specifically, an analysis of argon isotopes contained in crystals from the Bishop Tuff -- the large rocky outcrop produced when the Long Valley Caldera was created -- shows the magma from the supereruption was heated rapidly, not slowly simmered. Geologically speaking, that is -- meaning the heating forces that produced the supereruption occurred over decades, or perhaps a couple of centuries. (A long time for people, sure, but a blink of an eye in the life-time of a supervolcano.) The reasoning is that argon quickly escapes from hot crystals, so it wouldn't have a chance to accumulate in the rock if the rock were super-heated for a long time... Unfortunately, while scientists are doing everything they can to read the signs of volcanic supereruptions -- something NASA views as more dangerous than asteroid strikes -- the reality is, the new findings don't bring us any closer to seeing the future.

"This does not point to prediction in any concrete way," warns geologist Brad Singer, "but it does point to the fact that we don't understand what is going on in these systems, in the period of 10 to 1,000 years that precedes a large eruption."
Space

Asgardia Becomes the First Nation Deployed in Space (cnet.com) 176

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: An Orbital ATK Antares rocket carrying a cubesat named Asgardia-1 launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia early Sunday. The milk carton-sized satellite makes up the entirety of territory of the self-proclaimed "Space Kingdom" of Asgardia... Over 300,000 people signed up online to become "citizens" of the nation over the last year. The main privilege of citizenship so far involves the right to upload data to Asgardia-1 for safekeeping in orbit, seemingly far away from the pesky governments and laws of Earth-bound countries...

As of now, Asgardia's statehood isn't acknowledged by any other actual countries or the United Nations, and it doesn't really even fit the definition of a nation since it's not possible for a human to physically live in Asgardia. Not yet, at least. The long-term vision for Asgardia includes human settlements in space, on the moon and perhaps even more distant colonies.

On Tuesday Orbital ATK's spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station for a one-month re-supply mission -- then blast higher into orbit to deploy the space kingdom's satellite. "Asgardia space kingdom has now established its sovereign territory in space," read an online statement.

Next the space kingdom plans to hold elections for 150 Members of Parliament.
Space

NASA Funds Designs for a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Rocket (space.com) 171

"Dangerous radiation. Overstuffed pantries. Cabin fever. NASA could sidestep many of the impediments to a Mars mission if they could just get there faster," writes Space.com, which reports NASA is now exploring an alternative to chemical rockets. In August, NASA announced an $18.8-million-dollar contract with nuclear company BWXT to design fuel and a reactor suitable for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), a rocket technology that could jumpstart a new era of space exploration. "The strengths with NTP are the ability to do the very fast round trip [to Mars], the ability to abort even if you're 2 to 3 months into the missions, the overall architectural robustness, and also the growth potential to even more advanced systems," Michael Houts, principal investigator for the NTP project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, told Space.com. NTP rockets would pull all that off by offering about twice the bang for the buck that chemical rockets do... "Nuclear thermal propulsion can enable you to get to Mars faster, on the order of twice as fast," said Vishal Patel, a researcher involved in subcontract work for BWXT at the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. in Los Alamos, New Mexico. "We're looking at nice 3- to 4-month transit times."
Space

Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence? (nautil.us) 264

What if alien life were so advanced that its powers were indistinguishable from physics? It's the one-year anniversary of a startling article which appeared in Nautilus magazine. Long-time Slashdot reader wjcofkc writes: Caleb Scharf, astronomer and the director of the multidisciplinary Columbia Astrobiology Center at Columbia University presents an intriguing thought experiment.

"Perhaps Arthur C. Clarke was being uncharacteristically unambitious. He once pointed out that any sufficiently advanced technology is going to be indistinguishable from magic. If you dropped in on a bunch of Paleolithic farmers with your iPhone and a pair of sneakers, you'd undoubtedly seem pretty magical. But the contrast is only middling: The farmers would still recognize you as basically like them, and before long they'd be taking selfies. But what if life has moved so far on that it doesn't just appear magical, but appears like physics?"

The original submitter included their own counterarguments against the idea, but the astronomer follows his proposal to its ultimate conclusion.

"Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn't just external. Perhaps it's already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence."
Science

Your Visual Skills Are Not Correlated To Your IQ (vanderbilt.edu) 201

Science_afficionado writes: Psychologists at Vanderbilt University have conducted the first study of individual variation in visual ability. They have discovered that there is a broad range of differences in people's capability for recognizing and remembering novel objects and this ability is not associated with individuals' general intelligence, or IQ.
Or, as the article puts it, "Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching."

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