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Science News

Research Gives New Permanence to Quantum Memory

Much like a radio repeater, a quantum repeater can 'boost' a quantum information signal. Photo: Aidan/ Flickr.By Klint Finley

Quantum computers are real, but thanks to the fragility of quantum information, they can’t yet do anything you couldn’t do faster on a normal computer. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Sydney and Dartmouth College have found a way to make quantum information more reliable.

“In these superconducting systems, the quantum information only persists for about 100 microseconds — a tiny fraction of a second,” says Dr. Michael J. Biercuk, director of the Quantum Control Laboratory in the University of Sydney’s School of Physics and ARC Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems.

This information decay, called decoherence, is a problem even when information is idle. But Biercuk and his colleagues have found a way to make quantum information persist for several hours. Their research will be published on Wednesday in Nature Communications.

Quantum computing takes advantage of the unique properties of quantum particles, creating something called “qubits” in order to do calculations. Researchers believe that this new breed of computer could one day solve certain types of problems in a fraction of the time today’s classical computers can, and major progress has been made towards that goal.

Physicists Build Super-Powerful Tabletop Particle Accelerator

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have shrunk a high-energy particle accelerator from the length of two football fields to just 1 inch.
2 GeV Tabletop Accelerator In comparison to the conventional 2 GeV accelerators which span two football fields, the tabletop accelerator built by physicists at The University of Texas Austin accelerates electrons over a distance of about one inch. Courtesy of Rafal ZgadzajBy Lacey Henry

The latest tabletop particle accelerator, built by physicists at The University of Texas at Austin, can generate energy and speeds hitherto reached only by major facilities hundreds of meters long.

The results represent a huge step towards standardizing multi-gigaelectronvolt laser plasma accelerators in labs worldwide. (A gigaelectronvolt is the amount of energy gained or lost by an electron as it moves across an electric potential difference of 1 billion volts. Deep breath. OK.)

"We have accelerated about half a billion electrons to 2 gigaelectronvolts over a distance of about 1 inch," Mike Downer, professor of physics says in a statement. "Until now that degree of energy and focus has required a conventional accelerator that stretches more than the length of two football fields. It's a downsizing of a factor of approximately 10,000."

With the success of the 2-GeV accelerator, Downer says he expects 10-GeV accelerators of a few inches to be developed in the next few years, and 20-GeV accelerators of the same size within a decade.

Technology News

Pin-Sized Battery Printed in 3D

A miniature lithium-ion device could power medical devices or miniature robots
Image: Sun, K. et al. Adv. Mater.By Devin Powell and Nature magazine

A new lithium-ion battery is one of the smallest ever made and the first battery to be created with a three-dimensional printer. Measuring less than a millimeter on each side, it fits comfortably on the head of pin and could potentially power tiny medical devices or miniature robots.

3D printers make objects from the ground up by depositing successive layers of material on top of each other. Most 3D printers manipulate plastic, which is useful for prototyping or crafting toys and knickknacks. Making a working battery required a custom machine that laid down new materials loaded with lithium-metal-oxide particles.

"We're trying to take 3D printing to the next level by printing functional materials," says Jennifer Lewis, a materials scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose team presented the microbattery 17 June in Advanced Materials.

Xbox 180: Microsoft Fully Reverses Xbox One’s DRM Policies

Microsoft is abandoning its DRM policies for Xbox One 'as a result of feedback from the Xbox community.'By Ryan Rigney

Xbox One will not require regular online check-ins or place restrictions on game-lending “as a result of feedback from the Xbox community,” Microsoft announced today.

The announcement is a complete reversal of the company’s previously announced DRM policy for games on the Xbox One.

“After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One,” Xbox executive Don Mattrick wrote in a blog post, “you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.” Mattrick added that Xbox One would be region-free; any Xbox One disc would function in any Xbox One console.

Additionally, Mattrick wrote, players will be able to “trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today. There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.”

Environmental News

Factors That Influence Spinach Contamination Pre-Harvest Determined

A team of researchers from Texas and Colorado has identified a variety of factors that influence the likelihood of E. coli contamination of spinach on farms prior to harvest. (Credit: (c) DLeonis / Fotolia)American Society for Microbiology

June 20, 2013 — A team of researchers from Texas and Colorado has identified a variety of factors that influence the likelihood of E. coli contamination of spinach on farms prior to harvest. Their research is published in the July 2013 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"Microbial contamination of produce seems strongly influenced by the time since the last irrigation, the workers' personal hygiene and the field's use prior to planting of produce," says first author Sangshin Park of Texas A&M University, College Station. "These factors, together with the role of weather in produce contamination should be the targets of future research efforts to design cost-effective strategies for control of produce contamination."

E. coli contamination of spinach on farms in Colorado and Texas was 172 times more likely if the produce field was within 10 miles of a poultry farm, and 64 times more likely if irrigated by pond water, says Park.

L.A. approves ban on plastic grocery bags

The City Council votes 11 to 1 for the ordinance, which would go into effect in 2014. Shoppers can bring reusable bags or pay stores 10 cents per paper bag.
Plastic bags in landfillBy David Zahniser, Catherine Saillant and Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times

Attention Los Angeles shoppers: The plastic bag is disappearing from more than just the supermarket.

L.A. on Tuesday became the newest and by far the largest city to back a ban on plastic grocery bags, approving an ordinance that applies not just to food stores and mini marts but also big retail chains with their own line of groceries, such as Target and Wal-Mart.

The ordinance, which has been in the works for years, would go into effect gradually, reaching large stores Jan. 1 and smaller ones July 1, 2014. Customers will either have to bring their own reusable bags or pay a 10-cent fee for each paper one requested, according to the ordinance.

Some shoppers were taken aback Tuesday by how far-reaching the law would be.

Medical News

Human brain mapped in 3-D with high resolution

“BigBrain” model, the most detailed atlas yet, could improve brain scanning tools and neurosurgeons’ navigation
By slicing a brain into ultrathin sheets and digitally pasting them together, researchers have created the first 3-D high-resolution map of the human brain.By Meghan Rosen

A new 3-D map of the brain is the best thing since sliced cold cuts, at least to some neuroscientists.

“It’s a remarkable tour-de-force to reconstruct an entire human brain with such accuracy,” says David Van Essen, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Using a high-tech deli slicer and about 100,000 computer processors, researchers shaved a human brain into thousands of thin slivers and then digitally glued them together. The result is the most detailed brain atlas ever published. Dubbed BigBrain, the digital model has a resolution 50 times greater in each of the three spatial dimensions than currently available maps, researchers report in the June 21 Science.

The difference is like zooming from a satellite view of a city down to the street level, says coauthor Alan Evans, a neuroimaging scientist at McGill University in Montreal.

Silver Makes Antibiotics Thousands of Times More Effective

The antimicrobial treatment could help to solve modern bacterial resistance
Silver may help in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria such as Stenotrophomonas maltophilia by easing large antibiotic molecules through the microbes' outer coating.By Brian Owens and Nature magazine

Like werewolves and vampires, bacteria have a weakness: silver. The precious metal has been used to fight infection for thousands of years — Hippocrates first described its antimicrobial properties in 400 bc — but how it works has been a mystery. Now, a team led by James Collins, a biomedical engineer at Boston University in Massachusetts, has described how silver can disrupt bacteria, and shown that the ancient treatment could help to deal with the thoroughly modern scourge of antibiotic resistance. The work is published today in Science Translational Medicine.

“Resistance is growing, while the number of new antibiotics in development is dropping,” says Collins. “We wanted to find a way to make what we have work better.”

Collins and his team found that silver — in the form of dissolved ions — attacks bacterial cells in two main ways: it makes the cell membrane more permeable, and it interferes with the cell’s metabolism, leading to the overproduction of reactive, and often toxic, oxygen compounds. Both mechanisms could potentially be harnessed to make today’s antibiotics more effective against resistant bacteria, Collins says.

Space News

With Russian help, Europe prepares to search for life on Mars

The High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express has returned images of Echus Chasma, one of the largest water source regions on the Red Planet.By Irene Klotz

(Reuters) - The European Space Agency signed final contracts with Thales Alenia Space Italy for work on a pair of missions to assess if the planet Mars has or ever had life, officials said at the Paris Airshow this week.

Until last year, the ExoMars program was a joint project between ESA and the U.S. space agency NASA. But NASA dropped out, citing budget problems.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos stepped in to provide two Proton rockets to send an orbiting atmospheric probe and test lander to Mars in January 2016, and a follow-on rover in August 2018 that will drill below the planet's surface to look for spores and bacteria.

Roscosmos also is providing a landing system for the rover and scientific instruments.

Awesome Billion-Pixel Panorama Spins You Around Curiosity Rover’s Worksite on Mars

A view of Mount Sharp in the distance.By Adam Mann

NASA’s Curiosity rover is constantly toiling away to deliver great science from Mars and make amazing new discoveries. Now, the agency has released this interactive 1.3-billion-pixel panorama to transport you right to the rover’s most recent worksite and take a spin around some of its latest experimental investigations. (Go to full screen for best Oh-yeah-I’m-on-Mars feeling)

Curiosity is taking one last look at the minerals and composition of an area nicknamed “Rocknest” before it heads off to the base of Mount Sharp, its distant target. This panorama stitches 850 images taken by the rover’s many cameras between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16 to give you an immersive view of Rocknest. It is similar to a previous 4-billion-pixel panorama put together by amateur image-processor Andrew Bodrov, though it shows a somewhat different area.

Those with good sleuthing skills can spot some of many the laser holes that Curiosity has shot at the local rocks. Or spy the Morse code JPL lettering hidden in the rover’s wheel tracks. You can also find areas of interest, such as Yellowknife Bay, which Curiosity determined was an ancient riverbed, and the rover’s landing site at Bradbury. Below are a few highlights from the panorama.

Odd News

Group Finds Big Feet Fine

A rural Indonesian cultural group bucks the trend and judges women with large feet to be more attractive than those with small feet.
Victoria Beckham's feetSophie Bushwick

All humans evolved to find certain female traits attractive, across cultures, because they signal a potential mate's reproductive potential. Right? Actually, a new study finds that cultural norms can also play a big part. At least when it comes to big feet.

Once women give birth, their feet tend to grow larger. Which means small feet are markers for youth and fertility, and thus should be universally attractive. A previous study did find a widespread small-foot preference. But University of Washington anthropologist Geoff Kushnick tested the hypothesis again among rural Indonesians called the Karo Batak.

One hundred fifty-nine men and women looked at a series of female figures, identical except for subtly different foot sizes. Surprisingly, the Karo Batak rated the image with the largest feet the most attractive. The work is in the journal Human Nature.

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