Science

On New Year’s Eve in 2015 local and federal agents arrested a 26-year-old man in Rochester, N.Y., for planning to attack people at random later that night using knives and a machete. Just before his capture Emanuel L. Lutchman had made a video—to be posted to social media following the attack—in which he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Lutchman would later say a key source of inspiration for his plot came from similar videos, posted and shared across social media and Web sites in support of the Islamic State and “violent jihad.” Lutchman—now serving a 20-year prison sentence—was especially captivated by videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric and al Qaeda recruiter in Yemen. Al-Awlaki’s vitriolic online sermons are likewise blamed for inspiring the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers and several other prominent terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe over the past 15 years. Officials had been …

Doing the dirty work: women do more admin than men Female academics do significantly more internal administrative work than their male counterparts, according to an analysis of surveys performed at US institutions. Carried out by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, and Indiana University, the study found that the gender imbalance is highest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. While such internal work is vital for the day-to-day running of institutions, it is less valuable for promotions and salary increases than research and teaching, possibly hindering female career progression. In one survey, which included 6875 tenure and tenure-track faculty at 140 US institutions, female academics reported spending, on average, 0.6 hours more per week than males on admin. The researchers also looked at 2012 data from a mandatory performance reporting system at two campuses belonging to a large public university. Covering 1378 faculty, it showed that women perform 12.4 admin activities per year, …

The smell of coffee may urge you out of bed in the morning, and the perfume of blooming lilacs in the spring is divine. But you do not see police officers with their noses to the ground, following the trail of an escaped criminal into the woods. Humans do not use smell the way other mammals do, and that contributes to our reputation for being lousy sniffers compared with dogs and other animals. But it turns out the human sense of smell is better than we think. In a review paper published in Science last week neuroscientist John McGann of Rutgers University analyzed the state of human olfaction research, comparing recent and older studies to make the argument our smelling abilities are comparable with those of our fellow mammals. McGann traces the origins of the idea that humans have a poor sense of smell to a single 19th-century scientist, comparative anatomist Paul Broca. Broca, known …

Robots already perform many traditionally human tasks, from vacuuming to surgery—and they could soon help care for the sick and elderly. But until they can convincingly discern and mimic emotions, their caretaker value will be severely limited. In an effort to create “friendlier” machines, researchers are developing robotic helpers that can better read and react to social signals. In late 2016 IBM and Rice University unveiled the Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (MERA), a customized version of the Pepper robot developed by SoftBank Robotics in Japan. Pepper, an ivory-colored android about the height of a seven-year-old, can detect and respond to human emotions via vocal cues and facial expressions. It has already been deployed as a friendly assistant in Japanese stores and homes. MERA, specifically designed as an at-home companion for the elderly, records and analyzes videos of a person’s face and calculates vital signs such as heart and breathing rates. MERA’s speech technology, originally developed …

The star often called the most mysterious in the galaxy has begun darkening again. Scientists are now rushing to watch the event with as many telescopes as they can muster to attempt to understand what is causing its bewildering fluctuations of light. The star, called KIC 8462852 and nicknamed “Tabby’s Star” after Yale University astronomer Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian, first made news in 2015 when researchers discovered something odd about its light, whose strange brightenings and dimmings have even caused some to speculate it might host alien megastructures around it. The star is an otherwise-normal F type star—slightly larger and hotter than our sun—located about 1,480 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. When astronomer Boyajian and her colleagues analyzed data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, however, they found dozens of strange instances of KIC 8462852 darkening up to 22 percent. These dimming events are far too substantial to be caused by planets …

Tiny forces: measuring the effect of swimming bacteria A tiny “force probe” that can measure sub-piconewton forces when inserted directly into liquid media has been created by researchers in the US. The team says that it used the probe to detect the tiny forces associated with swimming bacteria and heart-muscle cells. The researchers suggest that the technique could be used to create miniature stethoscopes. A leading biophysicist, however, says more work must be done on characterizing the device before he is convinced of its efficacy. Sensing and manipulating tiny forces is crucial to numerous areas of science. Scientists have therefore developed several techniques to do this – including the atomic force microscope (AFM). An AFM uses a very sharp tip attached to a flexible cantilever. The tip pushes against or pulls an object, while measuring the forces involved. This involves measuring the cantilever deflection – usually by reflecting light from the cantilever. Although the tip …

Photon free: counterfactual communication achieved in the lab Four years ago, theoretical physicists proposed a new quantum-communication scheme with a striking feature: it did not require the transmission of any physical particles. The research raised eyebrows, but now a team of physicists in China claims it has demonstrated that the “counterfactual” scheme works. The group built an optical apparatus that it says can transfer a simple image while sending (almost) no photons in the process. The theoretical proposal was put forward by scientists at Texas AM University (TAMU) in the US and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia. It is based on the phenomenon of wave–particle duality. Specifically, it uses the fact that the presence of an object blocking an arm of an interferometer can be inferred by virtue of its collapsing the wavefunction of an interrogating photon – even though it has no physical contact with the photon. …

For many hours a day they pluck dirt, debris and bugs from each other’s fur. Between grooming sessions they travel in troops to search for food. When ignored by mom, they throw tantrums; when not ignored by zoo-goers, they throw feces. Through these behaviors, monkeys demonstrate they understand the meaning of social interactions with other monkeys. They recognize when their peers are grooming one another and infer social rank from seeing such actions within their group. But it has long been unclear how the brains of our close evolutionary relatives actually process what they observe of these social situations. New findings published Thursday in Science offer a clue. A team of researchers from The Rockefeller University have identified a network in the monkey brain dedicated exclusively to analyzing social interactions. And they believe this network could be akin to human brains’ social circuitry.  In the new work—led by Winrich Freiwald, an associate professor of neurosciences …

Elon Musk has built a formidable personal brand on futuristic visions of driverless cars and space travel. But the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Tesla CEO could soon make a very real impact in a much-nearer future—and much closer to home—simply by helping U.S. homeowners harness the power of sunlight. This summer Tesla aims to begin installing solar cell roof tiles that look and act like ordinary shingles. Tesla says the tempered glass tiles let light reach the solar cells embedded within them but can take a hit from a hailstone traveling 100 miles per hour. The design costs more than the solar panel assemblies already perched atop many homes, but the company hopes the tiles’ slicker aesthetics—they come with choices like “textured” or “smooth”—will win over reluctant customers. Technical details are scarce, but experts say the tiles appear to rely on the latest solar cell technology wrapped in a package that attempts to be more …

On the heels of one failed drug trial after another, a recent study suggests people with early Alzheimer’s disease could reap modest benefits from a device that uses magnetic fields to produce small electric currents in the brain. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disorder that afflicts more than 46 million people worldwide. At present there are no treatments that stop or slow its progression, although several approved drugs offer temporary relief from memory loss and other cognitive symptoms by preventing the breakdown of chemical messengers among nerve cells. The new study tested a regimen that combines computerized cognitive training with a procedure known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared rTMS devices for some migraine sufferers as well as for people with depression who have not responded to antidepressant medications. Last month at the 13th International Conference on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases in Vienna, Israel-based Neuronix reported results of …

1 2 3 28