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!

City moths evolve to avoid light pollution

Ermine moth, Yponomeuta cagnagella

The globally increasing light pollution has negative effects on organisms and entire ecosystems. The consequences are especially hard on nocturnal insects, since their attraction to artificial light sources generally ends fatal. A new study by Swiss zoologists from the Universities of Basel and Zurich now shows that urban moths have learned to avoid light…

Some insects are attracted by light while others shy away from it. Proverbial is the attraction light has on moths. Street lamps and other artificial light sources often become death traps for nocturnal insects such as moths. Either they die through direct burning or through increased exposure to predators. Mortality of urban insects can thus be 40- to 100- fold higher than in rural populations.

Artificial light affects the ecosystem of insects by interfering with their natural day-night cycle and influencing behavior patterns such as feeding and reproduction. Swiss Zoologists have now studied whether moths in the Basel region have already evolutionary adapted to the changed light conditions.

Under the assumption that natural selection would favor moths with less propensity to fly to light in urban areas, the researchers examined the small ermine moth Yponomeuta cagnagella. For the experiment they collected larvae in the Basel region in areas with low light pollution such as the village Kleinlützel and in areas which have been exposed to heavy light pollution, such as Allschwil or Basel City.

The researchers then analyzed the flight-to-light behavior of almost 1050 adult moths in the lab. The results show: moths from populations that have been exposed to heavy light pollution over generations have a significantly lower propensity to move towards light sources than individuals from areas with low light pollution. Furthermore the study shows that in both types of populations the female moths were attracted to light significantly less then their male counterparts.

The study results suggest that natural selection has changed the animals’ behavior. Flight-to-light propensity is disadvantageous for moths in light polluted areas. Adapted moths avoid the light and thus have a survival advantage.

Of course, moths haven’t any politicians, pundits or priests telling them it’s OK to fly into the light because…”my invisible god says we must!”

Slime can see

After more than 300 years of looking, scientists have figured out how bacteria “see” their world. And they do it in a remarkably similar way to us.

A team of British and German researchers reveal in the journal eLife how bacterial cells act as the equivalent of a microscopic eyeball or the world’s oldest and smallest camera eye.

“The idea that bacteria can see their world in basically the same way that we do is pretty exciting,” says lead researcher Conrad Mullineaux…

Cyanobacteria are found in huge numbers in water bodies or can form a slippery green film on rocks and pebbles. The species used in the study, Synechocystis, is found naturally in freshwater lakes and rivers…

As <a href="">Slime can see | EurekAlert! Science News

“>photosynthesis is crucial to the survival of these bacteria, scientists have sought to understand how they sense light. Previous studies have shown that they contain photosensors and that they are able to perceive the position of a light source and move towards it, a phenomenon called phototaxis.

The current study reveals that they are able to do this because the cell body acts like a lens. As light hits the spherical surface, it refracts into a point on the other side of the cell. This triggers movement by the cell away from the focused spot.

Within minutes, the bacteria grow tiny tentacle-like structures called pili that reach out towards the light source. As they attach to the surface that they’re on, they retract and pull the bacteria along…

Synechocystis serves as a spherical lens but the team think that rod-shaped bacteria can also trap light and sense the direction it is coming from using refraction, acting like an optical fibre.

Never stop learning. Never stop looking for something to learn.

First ever photograph of light as particle and a wave

Light as particle and wave
Click to enlargeEnergy-space photography of light confined on a nanowire

Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications.

When UV light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein explained this “photoelectric” effect by proposing that light — thought to only be a wave — is also a stream of particles. Even though a variety of experiments have successfully observed both the particle- and wave-like behaviors of light, they have never been able to observe both at the same time.

RTFA for details of the experiment. Even if I understand quantum-nothing – though SmartAlix explains it to me at least once every year – I really love the photograph. 🙂

Stylish power napping

Power napping is a bit of an art form, requiring just the right ingredients to make it possible. The Ostrich Pillow Light, the third product in the Ostrich Pillow line, is designed to simplify the process by helping sleepyheads grab 40 winks anytime that their eyelids begin to sag.

The original Ostrich Pillow was a phenomenon when it was revealed, receiving a slew of press coverage. Then it was launched on Kickstarter and raised almost $200,000. Buoyed by that success the team at Studio Banana Things launched the Ostrich Pillow Junior for children. Can lightning strike a third time with the Ostrich Pillow Light?

While the original and junior versions of the Ostrich Pillow comprised of balaclava-style headwear you placed your head and hands into, the Ostrich Pillow Light adopts a more minimalist approach.

The Ostrich Pillow Light is made from soft fabric filled with silicon-coated micro-beads. The addition of an adjustable elastic ring means it can be tailored to suit an individual regardless of their head size.

The smaller design means the Ostrich Pillow Light is travel-friendly and can be carried easily. It can be worn as a scarf, tied to a bag, or packed flat in luggage until it needs to be used, at which point it is worn over the eyes and ears, blocking out light and noise from the world around you.

I’ve always been pretty good at near-instant unconsciousness. I love that this now is elevated by a term like “power napping”. Used to just call it “crapping out”.

Global light patterns show economic shift to the East

Click to enlarge

The amount of light produced by a society is closely correlated with its economic status–rich developed countries tend to be brighter at night than poor developing ones. So an interesting question is how the distribution of light across our planet is changing over time.

Today we get an answer thanks to the work of Nicola Pestalozzi, Peter Cauwels and Didier Sornette at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. These guys have used data released by the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program which has monitored night light levels around the planet continuously since the mid-1960s…

Pestalozzi, Cauwels and Sornette look in particular at the dynamics of night lights. They calculate the planet’s mean centre of light and measure how it has moved in the last couple of decades. “Over the past 17 years, [the center of light] has been gradually shifting eastwards over a distance of roughly 1000 km, at a pace of about 60 km per year,” they say.

They’ve also used night lights as a way to monitor all kinds of other changes such as the expansion of developing countries like Brazil and India, the drop in light levels in countries suffering from demographic decline and a reduction in urban population like Russia and the Ukraine, and the success of light pollution abatement programs in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Perhaps their most fascinating insight is in the rapid increase of economic regions such as the Nile Delta and the area around Shanghai. Pestalozzi, Cauwels and Sornette say that the data clearly shows how light produced by these areas in the developed world has remained remarkably stable, with the New York metropolitan region easily topping the rankings by sheer size.

However, the amount of light produced by these areas in the developing world has increased dramatically with Shenzen in China and the Nile Delta in north Africa showing the biggest increases.

No surprise to anyone involved with global commerce. I started working for Asian companies around 1974 and the size of the companies increased steadily as the firms I worked for moved from Japan to Taiwan and eventually, Shanghai.