Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Meet Maxwell’s gambling demon—smart enough to quit while it’s ahead

March 4th, 2021
In a new version of the classic 19th century thought experiment, Maxwell’s demon plays the role of a gambler who knows when to quit while it's ahead.

Enlarge / In a new version of the classic 19th century thought experiment, Maxwell’s demon plays the role of a gambler who knows when to quit while it's ahead. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Entropy (aka the second law of thermodynamics) is a harsh mistress. If you think of the universe as a cosmic casino, the laws of thermodynamics amount to the house edge: you can't win, you can't break even, and—barring opening a portal to an alternate universe with different physical laws—you can't get out of the game. You just have to keep playing, and hopefully come up with successful strategies to minimize your losses as much as possible—and maybe even come out ahead occasionally, at least in the short term.

That's the essence of a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, updating a classic 19th century thought experiment known as Maxwell's demon, which provides a potential loophole to subvert the second law—at least temporarily. Now physicists have proposed a gambling version of the demon playing a slot machine, unable to control when the machine pays out (in terms of free energy available for work), but able to choose when to stop playing to maximize its "winnings." The research might one day lead to improved efficiency of microscopic heat engines and motors.

As we've reported previously, around 1870, James Clerk Maxwell envisioned a tiny imp capable of creating order out of disorder in a closed container filled with gas. The imp accomplished this by making heat flow from a cold compartment to a hot one in apparent violation of the second law. The two compartments would be separated by a wall with a shutter covering a pinhole just large enough for a gas molecule to pass through. 

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Posted in entropy, Maxwell's demon, Physics, science, second law of thermodynamics, thermodynamics | Comments (0)

Can Alien Smog Lead Us to Extraterrestrial Civilizations?

March 4th, 2021
A new study modeled whether we could find intelligent life on another planet—by looking for its pollution.

Posted in science, Science / Space, Smoke Signal | Comments (0)

The Secret Behind North Dakota’s Speedy Vaccine Rollout

March 4th, 2021
The state’s independent rural drugstores are showing the power of small.

Posted in science, Science / Health, Think Small | Comments (0)

Starship goes up. Starship goes down. But is the program moving forward?

March 4th, 2021

So what, exactly, are we to make of the third flight of a full-scale Starship prototype?

If nothing else, Wednesday afternoon's flight provided several minutes of first-rate entertainment: Rocketship goes up. Rocketship comes down. Rocketship lands. And then, with an incredible plot twist 10 minutes later, rocketship briefly ascends again and then blows up.

It all looked remarkable. Like many of the most inspiring things SpaceX has accomplished over the last decade, this launch, landing, and subsequent explosion looked almost otherworldly. It felt like a peek into the future, a glimpse of something yet unseen, that might yet be.

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Posted in science, spacex, starship | Comments (0)

Researchers build a swimming robot that works in the Mariana Trench

March 3rd, 2021
Researchers build a swimming robot that works in the Mariana Trench

Enlarge (credit: NPG Press)

Remotely operated vehicles have changed how we explore and exploit the ocean. They can operate for far longer than human-occupied vehicles, go into areas where risk would dictate people avoid, and reach depths where very few craft can take a human. But even so, a lot of the hardware gets taken up by an enclosure that's capable of protecting things like batteries and electronics from the pressures of the deep.

But that may not be entirely necessary, based on a report in today's Nature. In it, a team of Chinese researchers describe adapting hardware so that it could operate a soft-bodied robot in the deep ocean. The researchers then gave the robot a ride 10 kilometers down in the Mariana Trench and showed that it worked.

Going soft

Mention robots, and for many people, the first thing that comes to mind are the collections of metal and cabling that make up things like the dancing Atlases from Boston Robotics. But over the last decade, plenty of researchers have demonstrated that all that rigid hardware isn't strictly necessary. Soft-bodied robots work, too, and can do interesting things like squeeze through tight spaces or incorporate living cells into their structure.

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Posted in oceans, Robotics, science, soft robots | Comments (0)

CDC to release guide for life after vaccination—with normalcy still far off

March 3rd, 2021
A woman in a suit speaks from a podium.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control. (credit: Getty | Chip Somodevilla)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidance this week—possibly as early as Thursday—on activities that are considered safe for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But, while much of the country is hankering for some return of normalcy, the guidance is unlikely to deliver any satisfying taste of it. People who are fully vaccinated will be advised to continue adhering to most public health measures, such as mask wearing and physical distancing in most settings. Though they will get the greenlight for limited social gatherings, those should be kept small and home-based, and they should only include other fully vaccinated adults, according to early reports.

In a press conference Monday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci laid out an example:

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, science, vaccine, Walensky | Comments (0)

Meet this year’s winners of the Dance Your PhD contest

March 3rd, 2021

Finnish researcher Jakub Kubecka won this year's Dance Your PhD contest with a rap-based dance inspired by his work on the physics of atmospheric molecular clusters.

The global pandemic ruined most of our plans for 2020, but it couldn't keep graduate students around the world from setting their thesis research to dance, submitting videos produced in strict adherence to local COVID-19 restrictions. With a little help from his friends, Ivo Neefjes and Vitus Besel, Jakub Kubecka, a Finnish graduate student, won with a rap-based dance about the physics of atmospheric molecular clusters. Incorporating computer animation and drone footage, Kubecka beat out 40 other contestants to take top honors, as well as winning the physics category.

As we've reported previously, the Dance Your PhD contest was established in 2008 by science journalist John Bohannon. It was previously sponsored by Science magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and is now sponsored by AI company Primer, where Bohannon is director of science. Bohannon told Slate in 2011 that he came up with the idea while trying to figure out how to get a group of stressed-out PhD students in the middle of defending their theses to let off a little steam. So he put together a dance party at Austria's Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, including a contest for whichever candidate could best explain their thesis topics with interpretive dance.

The contest was such a hit that Bohannon started getting emails asking when the next such contest would be—and Dance Your PhD has continued ever since. It's now in its thirteenth year. There are four broad categories: physics, chemistry, biology, and social science, with a fairly liberal interpretation of what topics fall under each.

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Posted in Dance Your PhD, Gaming & Culture, Physics, science | Comments (0)

How Far Away From Perseverance Did the Descent Stage Land?

March 3rd, 2021
The rocket lowered the rover onto the surface of Mars before it shot away from the landing site. So where did it end up?

Posted in Dot Physics, science, Science / Physics and Math | Comments (0)

SpaceX recycling vehicle for second Starship launch attempt [Updated]

March 3rd, 2021
Starship SN10 on the pad on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

Enlarge / Starship SN10 on the pad on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann / Ars Technica)

Update 3:45 pm EST: The SN10 Starship prototype very nearly launched on Wednesday afternoon from South Texas, but a last-second out-of-bounds reading aborted the attempt. The abort was caused by a "slightly conservative high thrust limit," SpaceX founder Elon Musk said afterward. Basically, the onboard flight computer received data from one of the engines that it was producing more thrust than anticipated.

The good news? This thrust limit can be adjusted upward in the flight software, and the vehicle is now recycling through propellant loading for another attempt. SN10 may still fly later today, time to be determined.

Original post 8:12 am EST: SpaceX may launch its third full-scale Starship prototype—named Serial Number 10, or SN10—as early as Wednesday from South Texas.

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Posted in dearmoon, science, spacex, starship | Comments (0)

If You Transplant a Head, Does Its Consciousness Follow?

March 3rd, 2021
In her new book, Brandy Schillace recalls the unbelievable legacy of a Cold War era neurosurgeon’s mission to preserve the soul.

Posted in Cut It Out, science, Science / Psychology and Neuroscience | Comments (0)