Researchers make hybrid particles combining light and matter

Every type of atom in the universe has a unique fingerprint: It only absorbs or emits light at the particular energies that match the allowed orbits of its electrons. That fingerprint enables scientists to identify an atom wherever it is found. A hydrogen atom in outer space absorbs light at the same energies as one on Earth.

❝ While physicists have learned how electric and magnetic fields can manipulate this fingerprint, the number of features that make it up usually remains constant. In work published July 3 in the journal Nature, University of Chicago researchers challenged this paradigm by shaking electrons with lasers to create “doppelganger” features at new energies—a breakthrough that lets scientists create hybrid particles which are part-atom and part-light, with a wide variety of new behaviors.

What startling stuff. RTFA. Wrap your mind around manipulating quantum matter by shaking it!

“Flying salt shakers of death” are heavy; but, they ain’t metal


Click to enlargeMatt Kasson

❝ If cicadas made horror movies, they’d probably study the actions of their counterparts plagued by a certain psychedelic fungus.

West Virginia University researchers have discovered that a cicada fungus called Massopora contains chemicals similar to those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The fungus causes cicadas to lose their limbs and eccentric behavior sets in: Males try to mate with everything they encounter, although the fungus has consumed their genitals and butts.

❝ You’ve heard of “The Walking Dead.” This is “The Flying Dead.”

A bit of cross-pollination with zombie movies – and some truly interesting consideration of a species infected with multiple funguses.

War of the Worlds – in Chinese Sci-Fi


Robert Beatty illustration

❝ Two rival civilizations are battling for supremacy. Civilization A is stronger than Civilization B and is perceived by Civilization B as a grave threat; its position, however, is more fragile than it seems. Neither side hesitates to employ espionage, subterfuge, and surveillance, because the rules of conduct—to the extent that they exist—are ill-defined and frequently contested. But the battle lines are clear: whoever controls the technological frontier controls the future…

❝ When the first volume of the series was published in the United States, in 2014, the models for Trisolaris and Earth were immediately apparent…As Liu Cixin told the Times, “China is on the path of rapid modernization and progress, kind of like the U.S. during the golden age of science fiction.” The future, he went on, would be “full of threats and challenges,” and “very fertile soil” for speculative fiction…

❝ Liu’s tomes—they tend to be tomes—have been translated into more than twenty languages, and the trilogy has sold some eight million copies worldwide. He has won China’s highest honor for science-fiction writing, the Galaxy Award, nine times, and in 2015 he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious international science-fiction prize.

Science-fiction played an important role in my education. One of my treasures is a postcard from an exchange I had with Ray Bradbury in 1951. The second book club I joined while still in elementary school was named the Science Fiction Book Club…though there were several such around at the time.

Still a genre for the speculative writer to engage in their own signature version of understanding and/or re-ordering the world we know…or don’t, yet.

Canadian permafrost thawing 70 years earlier than predicted


Landscape near Mould Bay. CanadaLouise Farquharson

❝ Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared…

❝ A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia…

❝ Scientists are concerned about the stability of permafrost because of the risk that rapid thawing could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.

All the worst of what has been predicted by climate science is coming home to roost – just earlier. The ignorant and backwards naysayers will have to put both hands over their eyes, now.

Anti-Vaxxers defeated in New York

❝ Anti-vaccine advocates received a blow in New York Thursday as state lawmakers banned non-medical exemptions based on religious beliefs — and there may be more blows coming.

❝ Also on Thursday, the American Medical Association adopted a new policy to step up its fight against such non-medical exemptions. The AMA, the country’s largest physicians’ group and one of the largest spenders on lobbying, has always strongly support pediatric vaccination and opposed non-medical exemptions. But under the new policy changes, the association will now “actively advocate” for states to eliminate any laws that allow for non-medical exemptions.

Overdue. I don’t expect this to change folks who trust preachers over scientists; but, we all stand a better change of keeping children safer from preventable disease.

The Weather Report gets an upgrade almost 40 years in crafting


January 2018 “Bomb Cyclone”

❝ Weather forecasters need a ton of knowledge and a fair bit of experience with local weather patterns to do their job well. They also need a good forecast model. These computer models take in measurements from weather stations on the ground, satellites in orbit, and balloons in between and then simulate the physics of weather forward in time a few days.

For the first time in about 40 years, the guts of the US model got swapped out for something new… The upgrade brings us a new “Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere” (or FV3) dynamical core, which simulates the basic atmospheric physics at the heart of this endeavor, a change that has been in the works for a while.

❝ The new core had its origins in simulating atmospheric chemistry but ended up being adapted into other models. A few years ago, it was selected to replace the old core in the US Global Forecast System model. And for more than a year now, the new version of the model has been running in parallel so its results could be compared to the operational model.

RTFA for the details. I’ve mentioned before – and only my opinion – that every science geek is also a weather geek. One of those at-hand examples that fits into everything from work, errands, necessities and recreation. It’s complex; but, understandable, science that affects everyone.

Choose chicken over beef – cut your dietary carbon footprint in half!

❝ Replacing the carbon-heavy beef on your plate with carbon-light chicken will cut your dietary carbon footprint a shocking amount: in half. That’s according to a first-ever national study of U.S. eating habits and their carbon footprints.

❝ To find out what Americans are actually eating, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey asked more than 16,000 participants to recall all the foods they had consumed in the previous 24 hours…The study then calculated the carbon emissions of what people said they ate. If a meal involved beef, such as broiled beef steak, researchers estimated what the carbon footprint would be had they chosen to eat broiled chicken instead.

❝ The study shows that one simple substitution can result in a big reduction in a person’s dietary carbon footprint—the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that result from energy, fertilizer, and land use involved in growing food, Rose said. It also shows you don’t have to give up animal products to improve your carbon footprint. Food production accounts for about a quarter of total carbon emissions globally.

At a minimum – in our household – chicken provides well over half the animal protein in our diet. And, um, the rest is pork and fish. Which probably would come in with a lower carbon footprint than beef, as well.