Science

A Month in Science: November 2019

Written by Tristan Jacquel

Physics

A technique to detect star-black hole binary systems using radial-velocity calculations has successfully located a new black hole. Previous methods were largely reliant on the detection of X-ray emissions by the black holes. Current theories suggest that this is a very small percentage of all black hole systems. This new technique requires only an observation of Ha emission and the planetary motion to determine if it may be in orbit of a black hole. Read more here.

Recent papers have been investigating the link between antimatter and dark matter: they postulate that dark matter axions are coupled to antiprotons (the two having been produced in supernovae). Further research into the constraints of these interactions (and potential interactions with other antimatter particles) is ongoing. Read more here.

A ‘missing’ neutron star has been found after over 30 years. The star is believed to have been produced as a result of the supernova of a massive star located in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The significance of this discovery is highlighted by the intense focus around this supernova; it was the closest supernova for centuries. Recent scans have revealed an area of higher temperature within the cloud: this has been taken as evidence of the formation of the neutron star. To read further, see The Astrophysical JournalVolume 886Number 1

Experimental evidence suggests that the proton may be significantly smaller than once thought. This most recent result puts the radius of the proton at 8.31 x 10-16 m. This comes in at around 5% smaller than previous measurements. Of the two measurement techniques currently used in this problem, physicists had faced issues involving the discrepancies between the two: Spectroscopy gave much smaller results than the scattering method when used in conjunction with hydrogen atoms containing muons as opposed to electrons. However, the most recent scattering experiments have hit upon an even smaller radius of the proton, by changing the position of the hydrogen and the number of measurements taken: the experiment was therefore able to remove most of the largest sources of uncertainty within the experiment. Read more here.

Chemistry

In efforts to improve industrial production costs and sustainability, scientists have developed several methods to salvage old lithium-ion batteries. Taking out old batteries, particularly from within electric cars, and recycling them will be of great benefit to increasing our efficiency and sustainability. Most methods involve manual disassembly of the batteries, followed by salvaging any usable material; this therefore saves significantly on raw material costs to the planet and the manufacturer. Read more here.

Biology

A molecule has been created that combines the two biological ‘codes’: DNA and proteins. This has allowed it to reassemble into varying structures and to identify specific compounds. Read the full paper at J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019

A proof of concept paper has been completed which established the potential to use E.Coli bacteria as a decomposer for carbon dioxide. The research is still in early stages, as the E.Coli still prefer sugar as a growth medium and require a much higher concentration of carbon dioxide than atmospheric levels (currently at 0.041%). The genetically modified bacteria can only divide every 18 hours in a 10% carbon dioxide atmosphere, as opposed to regular E.Coli which divided every 20 minutes in an appropriate growth medium. Nevertheless, it is a promising development in the future of the fight against climate change. Read more here.

The Merck vaccine for Ebola has been approved for wider distribution following the decision by WHO to prequalify the drug. Having already been widely used in the Congo, the drug is now to be administered worldwide in an attempt to circumvent the potential for another outbreak. Read more here.

A discrepancy in the activity of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) as a result of sleep deprivation has been linked to increased levels of stress and anxiety. A lack of sleep has been found to reduce activity in the PFC, which is an area of the brain associated with our emotions and controlling them. Read more here.

Technology

A self-taught AI has learned that the sun is at the centre of the solar system. This promising development in AI technology bodes well for the potential use of AI in higher-level science problems: the AI works differently to most, as it does not apply machine learning to the expected extent as in other software. It uses machine learning, but with somewhat of a ‘severed’ link between it’s two neural networks: this forces the first (which is responsible for the condensing of data sets into a pattern or formula) to pass on information to the second (which makes predictions based on the first network’s findings) in a simplistic fashion. This encourages the establishment of formulae and ‘teaching’ in a more similar manner to how a human professor would teach their students. Read more here.

New nanocrystals known as ‘quantum dots’ have the potential for use in displays and LEDs. The new semiconductor crystals which were first synthesised in the 1980s have been found to have high potential for photoluminescence. However, a phenomenon called Auger recombination has long prevented the use of ‘quantum dots’ as a light source/display as it outweighs the effects of photoluminescence. Recent techniques have been able to reduce the rate of Auger recombination, thus allowing photoluminescence: this has allowed the creation of LEDs which have a longer lifespan, are more energy-efficient and introduce less resistance into the circuit. Read more here.

About the author

Tristan Jacquel

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