Tag Archives: information

Team finds hidden state of matter in superconductive alloy

Using the physics equivalent of strobe photography, researchers have used ultrafast spectroscopy to visualize electrons interacting as a hidden state of matter in a superconductive alloy.

It takes intense, single-cycle pulses of photons—flashes—hitting the cooled alloy at terahertz speed—trillions of cycles per second—to switch on this hidden state of matter by modifying quantum interactions down at the atomic and subatomic levels.

“We are creating and controlling a new quantum matter that can’t be achieved by any other means.”

And then it takes a second terahertz light to trigger an ultrafast camera to take images of the state of matter that, when fully understood and tuned, could one day have implications for faster and heat-free quantum computing, information storage, and communication.

The discovery of this new switching scheme and hidden quantum phase was full of conceptual and technical challenges.

To find new, emergent electron states of matter beyond solids, liquids, and gases, today’s condensed matter physicists can no longer fully rely on traditional, slow, thermodynamic tuning methods such as changing temperatures, pressures, chemical compositions, or magnetic fields, says Jigang Wang, professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University and a faculty scientist at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory.

“The grand, open question of what state is hidden underneath superconductivity is universal, but poorly understood,” Wang says. “Some hidden states appear to be inaccessible with any thermodynamic tuning methods.”

The new quantum switching scheme developed by the researchers (they call it terahertz light-quantum-tuning) uses short pulses of trillionths of a second at terahertz frequency to selectively bombard, without heating, superconducting niobium-tin, which at ultracold temperatures can conduct electricity without resistance. The flashes suddenly switch the model compound to a hidden state of matter.

In most cases, exotic states of matter such as the one described in this research paper are unstable and short-lived. In this case, the state of matter is metastable, meaning it doesn’t decay to a stable state for an order of magnitude longer than other, more typical transient states of matter.

The fast speed of the switch to a hidden quantum state likely has something to do with that.

“Here, the quantum quench (change) is so fast, the system is trapped in a strange ‘plateau’ and doesn’t know how to go back,” says Wang, corresponding author of the paper in Nature Materials. “With this fast-quench, yet non-thermal system, there’s no normal place to go.”

A remaining challenge for the researchers is to figure out how to control and further stabilize the hidden state and determine if it is suitable for quantum logic operations, Wang says. That could allow researchers to harness the hidden state for practical functions such as quantum computing and for fundamental tests of bizarre quantum mechanics.

It all starts with the researchers’ discovery of a new quantum switching scheme that gives them access to new and hidden states of matter.

“We are creating and controlling a new quantum matter that can’t be achieved by any other means,” says Wang.

Source: Iowa State University

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Researchers say an earthquake emoji could save lives

Earthquake scientists are campaigning for an earthquake emoji because they believe it could help save lives during the violent natural disasters, reports Newsweek. Currently, there are emojis for other natural disasters including volcanoes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and cyclones. The scientists say that those universally recognizable emoji help save lives because people–no matter what their language–can recognize the glyphs. As Chris Rowan, a geologist at the Kent State University, told Newsweek: “If you have a symbol that everyone uses, then you can communicate that information in a timely manner.”

Of all natural disasters, earthquakes affect the most people each year. The death toll from earthquakes that occurred between 2010 and 2015 topped a quarter of a million people. The earthquake scientists are currently reaching out to designers to help with designing the earthquake emoji. Once they’ve found a suitable one, they will submit it to the Unicode Consortium.

Check out these mind-boggling models of complex networks

A Northeastern lab is helping model complicated networks for the first time–including how fake news spreads.

So much of the information in our world is networked, with nodes of data linked together through complex relationships. Just think of Facebook, where each user is a node connected to thousands of other users. But while the internet is built on complicated networks–and they’re incredibly relevant to how data is organized in the 21st century–they’re very, very difficult to visualize or understand.

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Amazon Prime Video is helping spread misinformation through conspiracy videos

The Telegraph has an interesting report that highlights a growing problem for video streaming providers: the increasing amount of conspiracy videos peddling often-debunked narratives on services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The report specifically focuses on Prime Video and notes how paying subscribers get access to conspiracy videos by the likes of Alex Jones and David Icke. Jones is notorious for saying the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was a false flag operation to help impose gun control in the U.S.–and the half-dozen videos Amazon Prime hosts of his include ideas like the Obama administration was backed by the New World Order to “attempt to con the American people into accepting global slavery.”

Other videos offered on Prime Video include anti-vaccine conspiracy videos. Critics of such conspiracy videos argue that by appearing on paid-for services such as Netflix and Prime Video the services are lending the videos a sense of accuracy and authenticity as they are available alongside respected, fact-driven documentaries. That’s opposed to the conspiracy videos appearing on a place like YouTube, where viewers know anyone can upload almost anything they want. Of course, if Amazon and Netflix yank the videos from their service, conspiracy peddlers could say that is just another part of the conspiracy to suppress the information their bogus videos are peddling.

2019 Ford Shelby GT350 is tailored to the track

Ford Performance has released information on the upgraded 2019 Shelby GT350 Mustang, which benefits from experience gained from the Mustang road course racing programs. The changes include aerodynamic improvements, vehicle balance and precision, and new tires from Michelin.

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How to use stats to fight racial inequality, not support it

Using statistics to inform the public about racial disparities can backfire. Worse yet, it can cause some people to be more supportive of the policies that create those inequalities, according to new research.

“One of the barriers of reducing inequality is how some people justify and rationalize it,” says Rebecca Hetey, a psychology researcher at Stanford University. “A lot of people doing social justice work wonder why attitudes are so immune to change. Our research shows that simply presenting the numbers is not enough.”

If raw numbers don’t always work, what might?

In a new research paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Hetey and psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt propose strategies anyone could use to talk about racial disparities that exist across society, from education to health care and criminal justice systems.

Facts should come along with context that challenges stereotypes, the researchers say, noting that discussions should emphasize the importance of policies in shaping racial inequalities.

Misunderstood findings

The new paper builds on research Eberhardt, Hetey, and colleagues have conducted over several years about the role of race in policing and in the criminal justice system more broadly. In a 2017 study, the researchers worked with the Oakland Police Department and found that, although Oakland officers are professional overall, they spoke less respectfully to black residents than to their white counterparts.

“Stripped of context, standalone statistics may simply be used as ‘evidence’ of the stereotype that blacks are prone to criminality.”

“We are working hard to better understand the sources and consequences of this racial disparity in language use,” Eberhardt says.

In 2014, the researchers also found that white Americans did not show support for criminal justice reform after being informed of statistics about racial disparities in prisons. Although nearly 40 percent of the prison population is African-American, blacks make up only 13 percent of the US population. Instead, the study participants became more supportive of punitive policies like California’s Three Strikes law and New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy. As the researchers pointed out, these laws disproportionately affected people of color and contributed to the United States having the largest per-capita prison population in the world.

When that research was first published, Hetey and Eberhardt noticed how their findings sometimes were misunderstood.

“Some people concluded that we should stop talking about race and inequality at all,” Hetey says. “And that is not the answer here. The fact is that race matters, and stereotypes can be very powerful.”

Ways to improve

Hetey and Eberhardt encourage providing context alongside statistics.

For example, they said it might backfire to only say that 60 percent of traffic stops made in Oakland, California, were of African Americans. They suggest providing other background information, like the fact that African Americans make up 28 percent of the city’s population or that African Americans are stopped for less severe traffic offenses than whites are.

“Stripped of context, standalone statistics may simply be used as ‘evidence’ of the stereotype that blacks are prone to criminality,” the researchers write.

It is important to offer information about the history of these disparities in the US and how they came about, which might help convey that racial inequality is not natural or due to fixed stereotypical traits, the researchers says.

Another strategy is to talk about the role policy plays—especially policy change—in perpetuating or preventing inequality.

60% of black women killed by police were unarmed

For example, research has shown racial disparities in certain types of searches that police conduct. Blacks are disproportionately subjected to consent searches compared to whites.

In response, officials have enacted policy changes that mandate officers get written consent or explicitly tell those they stop that they have the right to deny an officer’s search request. In Oakland, this policy change led to a huge reduction in the number of consent searches and an overall reduction of the racial disparity, the researchers say.

“We know that persistent inequality has a lot to do with institutions and their practices,” Hetey says. “If we ignore this, we become blind to the way institutions contribute to producing and continuing inequality.”

Source: Stanford University

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Just how gross are airplane cabins really?

The bacterial communities accompanying airline passengers at 30,000 feet have a lot in common with the bacterial communities surrounding people in their homes and offices, according to a new study.

“Airline passengers should not be frightened by sensational stories about germs on a plane…”

Using advanced sequencing technology, researchers studied the bacteria found on three components of an airliner cabin that are commonly touched by passengers: tray tables, seat belt buckles, and the handles of lavatory doors. They swabbed those items before and after ten transcontinental flights and also sampled air in the rear of the cabin during flight.

What they found was surprisingly unexciting.

“Airline passengers should not be frightened by sensational stories about germs on a plane,” says Vicki Stover Hertzberg, a professor in Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and a coauthor of the study in Microbial Ecology. “They should recognize that microbes are everywhere and that an airplane is no better and no worse than an office building, a subway car, home, or a classroom. These environments all have microbiomes that look like places occupied by people.”

Given the unusual nature of an aircraft cabin, the researchers hadn’t known what to expect from their microbiome study. On transcontinental flights, passengers spend four or five hours in close proximity breathing a very dry mix of outdoor air and recycled cabin air that passes through special filters, similar to those found in operating rooms.

“There were reasons to believe that the communities of bacteria in an aircraft cabin might be different from those in other parts of the built environment, so it surprised me that what we found was very similar to what other researchers have found in homes and offices,” says Howard Weiss, a professor in Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Mathematics and the study’s corresponding author. “What we found was bacterial communities that were mostly derived from human skin, the human mouth—and some environmental bacteria.”

The sampling found significant variations from flight to flight, which is consistent with the differences other researchers have found among the cars of passenger trains, Weiss notes. Each aircraft seemed to have its own microbiome, but the researchers did not detect statistically significant differences between preflight and post-flight conditions on the flights they studied.

“I carry a bottle of hand sanitizer in my computer bag whenever I travel…”

“We identified a core airplane microbiome—the genera that were present in every sample we studied,” Weiss adds. The core microbiome included genera Propionibacterium, Burkholderia, Staphylococcus, and Strepococcus (oralis).

Though the study revealed bacteria common to other parts of the built environment, Weiss still suggests travelers exercise reasonable caution.

“I carry a bottle of hand sanitizer in my computer bag whenever I travel,” says Weiss. “It’s a good practice to wash or sanitize your hands, avoid touching your face, and get a flu shot every year.”

This new information on the aircraft microbiome provides a baseline for further study, and could lead to improved techniques for maintaining healthy aircraft.

“The finding that airplanes have their own unique microbiome should not be totally surprising since we have been exploring the unique microbiome of everything from humans to spacecraft to salt ponds in Australia. The study does have important implications for industrial cleaning and sterilization standards for airplanes,” says Christopher Dupont, another coauthor and an associate professor in the microbial and environmental genomics department at the J. Craig Venter Institute, which provided bioinformatics analysis of the study’s data.

The 229 samples researchers obtained from the aircraft cabin testing were subjected to 16S rRNA sequencing, which was done at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. The small amount of genetic material captured on the swabs and air sampling limited the level of detail the testing could provide to identifying genera of bacteria, Weiss says.

In March, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reported on the results of another component of the FlyHealthy study that looked at potential transmission of respiratory viruses on aircraft. They found that an infectious passenger with influenza or other droplet-transmitted respiratory infection will most likely not transmit infection to passengers seated farther away than two seats laterally and one row in front or back on an aircraft.

Here’s whose germs can infect you on a plane

That portion of the study was designed to assess rates and routes of possible infectious disease transmission during flights, using a model that combines estimated infectivity and patterns of contact among aircraft passengers and crew members to determine likelihood of infection. FlyHealthy team members monitored specific areas of the passenger cabin, developing information about contacts between passengers as they moved around.

Among next steps, the researchers would like to study the microbiome of airport areas, especially the departure lounges where passengers congregate before boarding. They would also like to study long-haul international flights in which passengers spend more time together—and are more likely to move about the cabin.

Additional coatuhors are from the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and the Boeing Company. A contract between the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Boeing Company supported the work.

Source: Georgia Tech

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Why the welfare backlash? Fear of lost racial status

Fear of losing their socioeconomic standing in the face of demographic change may be driving white Americans’ opposition to welfare programs, even though whites are major beneficiaries of government poverty assistance, according to new research.

Whites comprised 43% of Medicaid recipients, 36% of food stamp recipients, and 27% of the beneficiaries of Temporary Aid to Needy Families.

While social scientists have long posited that racial resentment fuels opposition to such anti-poverty programs as food stamps, Medicaid, and Temporary Aid to Needy Families, this is the first study to show the correlation experimentally, demonstrating a causal relationship between attitudes to welfare and threatened racial status.

“With policymakers proposing cuts to the social safety net, it’s important to understand the dynamics that drive the welfare backlash,” says lead author Rachel Wetts, a PhD student in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. “This research suggests that when whites fear their status is on the decline, they increase opposition to programs intended to benefit poorer members of all racial groups.”

The findings, published in the journal Social Forces, highlight a welfare backlash that swelled around the 2008 Great Recession and election of Barack Obama.

Notably, the study found anti-welfare sentiment to be selective insofar as threats to whites’ standing led whites to oppose government assistance programs they believed largely benefit minorities, while not affecting their views of programs they thought were more likely to be of advantage to whites.

“Our findings suggest that these threats lead whites to oppose programs they perceive as primarily benefiting racial minorities,” says senior author Robb Willer, a professor of sociology and social psychology at Stanford University.

Welfare is ‘race-blind’

The work is particularly timely in the face of conservative Republican lawmakers’ efforts to cut federal spending by putting social safety net programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, on the chopping block.

In the study, researchers tracked a shift in attitudes to welfare around 2008 when America elected Obama, the nation’s first black president, and the country was suffering from a major recession whose reverberations continue to affect tens of millions of whites and non-whites alike.

According to census figures, 43 million Americans lived in poverty in 2016. Whites comprised 43 percent of Medicaid recipients, 36 percent of food stamp recipients, and 27 percent of the beneficiaries of Temporary Aid to Needy Families.

“Welfare programs are race-blind in that all low-income Americans are eligible to receive them,” Willer says. “So opposition to them, especially during tough economic times, threatens the same safety net that helps whites, as well as minorities, endure economic hardship.”

Turning point in 2008

In three separate studies, researchers analyzed nationally representative survey data of over 7,000 adult American men and women. In addition, they conducted two experiments with 400 participants via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace.

First, an examination of attitudes to race and welfare in a nationally-representative survey found that whites’ racial resentment rose in 2008, the same year of the Great Recession and election of Barack Obama, suggesting that perceptions of increased political power among minorities were leading whites to sense a threat to their group’s status. At the same time, researchers discovered, whites’ opposition to welfare increased relative to that of minorities.

Childhood poverty in U.S. cost over $1 trillion in 2015

Next, researchers conducted an experiment in which participants saw one of two graphs highlighting different aspects of US population trends: One emphasized a stable white majority, and the other emphasized the declining white population in the US. White participants who saw information highlighting a decline in the white population reported heightened racial resentment and opposition to welfare programs. And, when asked how they would trim the federal budget, they recommended larger cuts to welfare.

In the third experiment, researchers found that when whites saw a threat to their economic advantage over minorities, they were more likely to want to cut social safety net programs, but only if those programs were portrayed as primarily benefiting minorities, not if they were portrayed as benefiting whites.

“Overall, these results suggest whites’ perceptions of rising minority power and influence lead them to oppose welfare programs,” Wetts says.

Source: UC Berkeley

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