research (79)

Pines' Demon...


Lurking for decades: researchers have discovered Pines' demon, a collection of electrons in a metal that behaves like a massless wave. It is illustrated here as an artist’s impression. (Courtesy: The Grainger College of Engineering/University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Topics: Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Research, Solid-State Physics, Theoretical Physics

For nearly seven decades, a plasmon known as Pines’ demon has remained a purely hypothetical feature of solid-state systems. Massless, neutral, and unable to interact with light, this unusual quasiparticle is reckoned to play a key role in certain superconductors and semimetals. Now, scientists in the US and Japan say they have finally detected it while using specialized electron spectroscopy to study the material strontium ruthenate.

Plasmons were proposed by the physicists David Pines and David Bohm in 1952 as quanta of collective electron density fluctuations in a plasma. They are analogous to phonons, which are quanta of sound, but unlike phonons, their frequency does not tend to zero when they have no momentum. That’s because finite energy is needed to overcome the Coulomb attraction between electrons and ions in a plasma in order to get oscillations going, which entails a finite oscillation frequency (at zero momentum).

Today, plasmons are routinely studied in metals and semiconductors, which have conduction electrons that behave like a plasma. Plasmons, phonons, and other quantized fluctuations are called quasiparticles because they share properties with fundamental particles such as photons.

In 1956, Pines hypothesized the existence of a plasmon which, like sound, would require no initial burst of energy. He dubbed the new quasiparticle a demon in honor of James Clerk Maxwell’s famous thermodynamic demon. Pines’ demon forms when electrons in different bands of metal move out of phase with one another such that they keep the overall charge static. In effect, a demon is the collective motion of neutral quasiparticles whose charge is screened by electrons from another band.

Demon quasiparticle is detected 67 years after it was first proposed. Edwin Cartlidg, Physics World.

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Polluting the Pristine...


The sea floor near Australia’s Casey station in Antarctica has been found to have levels of pollution comparable to those in Rio de Janeiro’s harbor. Credit: Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty

Topics: Antarctica, Biology, Chemistry, Environment, Physics, Research

Antarctica is often described as one of the most pristine places in the world, but it has a dirty secret. Parts of the sea floor near Australia’s Casey research station are as polluted as the harbor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, according to a study published in PLoS ONE in August.

The contamination is likely to be widespread across Antarctica’s older research stations, says study co-author Jonathan Stark, a marine ecologist at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart. “These contaminants accumulate over long time frames and don’t just go away,” he says.

Stark and his colleagues found high concentrations of hydrocarbons — compounds found in fuels — and heavy metals, such as lead, copper, and zinc. Many of the samples were also loaded with polychlorinated biphenyls, highly carcinogenic chemical compounds that were common before their international ban in 2001.

When the researchers compared some of the samples with data from the World Harbor Project — an international collaboration that tracks large urban waterways — they found that lead, copper, and zinc levels in some cases were similar to those seen in parts of Sydney Harbour and Rio de Janeiro over the past two decades.

Widespread pollution

The problem of pollution is not unique to Casey station, says Ceisha Poirot, manager of policy, environment, and safety at Antarctica New Zealand in Christchurch. “All national programs are dealing with this issue,” she says. At New Zealand’s Scott Base — which is being redeveloped — contamination left from past fuel spills and poor waste management has been detected in soil and marine sediments. More of this historical pollution will emerge as the climate warms, says Poirot. “Things that were once frozen in the soil are now becoming more mobile,” she says.

Most of Antarctica’s contamination is due to historically poor waste management. In the old days, waste was often just dumped a small distance from research stations, says Terence Palmer, a marine scientist at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.

Research stations started to get serious about cleaning up their act in 1991. In that year, an international agreement known as the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, or the Madrid Protocol, was adopted. This designated Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science,” and directed nations to monitor environmental impacts related to their activities. But much of the damage had already been done — roughly two-thirds of Antarctic research stations were built before 1991.

Antarctic research stations have polluted a pristine wilderness, Gemma Conroy, Nature.

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Quantum Vortexes...


A new study by KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stanford University revises of our understanding of quantum vortices in superconductors. Pictured an artist’s depiction of quantum vortices. Credit: Greg Stewart, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Topics: Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Research, Superconductors

Within superconductors, little tornadoes of electrons, known as quantum vortices, can occur, which have important implications in superconducting applications such as quantum sensors. Now a new kind of superconducting vortex has been found, an international team of researchers reports.

Egor Babaev, professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, says the study revises the prevailing understanding of how electronic flow can occur in superconductors, based on work about quantum vortices that was recognized in the 2003 Nobel Prize award. The researchers at KTH, together with researchers from Stanford University, TD Lee Institute in Shanghai, and AIST in Tsukuba, discovered that the magnetic flux produced by vortices in a superconductor can be divided up into a wider range of values than thought.

That represents a new insight into the fundamentals of superconductivity and also potentially can be applied in superconducting electronics.

A vortex of magnetic flux happens when an external magnetic field is applied to a superconductor. The magnetic field penetrates the superconductor in the form of quantized magnetic flux tubes, which form vortices. Babaev says that originally research held that quantum vortices pass through superconductors each carrying one quantum of magnetic flux. But arbitrary fractions of quantum flux were not a possibility entertained in earlier theories of superconductivity.

Using the Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) at Stanford University Babaev's co-authors, research scientist Yusuke Iguchi and Professor Kathryn A. Moler, showed at a microscopic level that quantum vortices can exist in a single electronic band. The team was able to create and move around these fractional quantum vortices, Moler says.

"Professor Babaev has been telling me for years that we could see something like this, but I didn't believe it until Dr. Iguchi actually saw it and conducted a number of detailed checks," she says.

Tiny quantum electronic vortexes can circulate in superconductors in ways not seen before, KTH Royal Institute of Technology,


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An X-ray flash illuminates a molecule. Credit: Raphael Jay

Topics: Chemistry, Climate Change, Green Tech, High Energy Physics, Research, X-rays

The use of short flashes of X-ray light brings scientists one big step closer to developing better catalysts to transform the greenhouse gas methane into a less harmful chemical. The result, published in the journal Science, reveals for the first time how carbon-hydrogen bonds of alkanes break and how the catalyst works in this reaction.

Methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, is being released into the atmosphere at an increasing rate by livestock farming and the unfreezing of permafrost. Transforming methane and longer-chain alkanes into less harmful and, in fact, useful chemicals would remove the associated threats and, in turn, make a huge feedstock for the chemical industry available. However, transforming methane necessitates, as a first step, the breaking of a C-H bond, one of the strongest chemical linkages in nature.

Forty years ago, molecular metal catalysts that can easily split C-H bonds were discovered. The only thing found to be necessary was a short flash of visible light to "switch on" the catalyst, and, as by magic, the strong C-H bonds of alkanes passing nearby are easily broken almost without using any energy. Despite the importance of this so-called C-H activation reaction, it remained unknown over the decades how that catalyst performs this function.

The research was led by scientists from Uppsala University in collaboration with the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, Stockholm University, Hamburg University, and the European XFEL in Germany. For the first time, the scientists were able to directly watch the catalyst at work and reveal how it breaks those C-H bonds.

In two experiments conducted at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, the researchers were able to follow the delicate exchange of electrons between a rhodium catalyst and an octane C-H group as it gets broken. Using two of the most powerful sources of X-ray flashes in the world, the X-ray laser SwissFEL and the X-ray synchrotron Swiss Light Source, the reaction could be followed all the way from the beginning to the end. The measurements revealed the initial light-induced activation of the catalyst within 400 femtoseconds (0.0000000000004 seconds) to the final C-H bond breaking after 14 nanoseconds (0.000000014 seconds).

X-rays visualize how one of nature's strongest bonds breaks, Uppsala University,

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Organic Solar Cells...


Prof. Li Gang invented a novel technique to achieve breakthrough efficiency with organic solar cells. Credit: Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Topics: Chemistry, Green Tech, Materials Science, Photonics, Research, Solar Power

Researchers from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) have achieved a breakthrough power-conversion efficiency (PCE) of 19.31% with organic solar cells (OSCs), also known as polymer solar cells. This remarkable binary OSC efficiency will help enhance these advanced solar energy device applications.

The PCE, a measure of the power generated from a given solar irradiation, is considered a significant benchmark for the performance of photovoltaics (PVs), or solar panels, in power generation. The improved efficiency of more than 19% that was achieved by the PolyU researchers constitutes a record for binary OSCs, which have one donor and one acceptor in the photoactive layer.

Led by Prof. Li Gang, Chair Professor of Energy Conversion Technology, and Sir Sze-Yen Chung, Endowed Professor in Renewable Energy at PolyU, the research team invented a novel OSC morphology-regulating technique by using 1,3,5-trichlorobenzene as a crystallization regulator. This new technique boosts OSC efficiency and stability.

The team developed a non-monotonic intermediated state manipulation (ISM) strategy to manipulate the bulk-heterojunction (BHJ) OSC morphology and simultaneously optimize the crystallization dynamics and energy loss of non-fullerene OSCs. Unlike the strategy of using traditional solvent additives, which is based on excessive molecular aggregation in films, the ISM strategy promotes the formation of more ordered molecular stacking and favorable molecular aggregation. As a result, the PCE was considerably increased, and the undesirable non-radiative recombination loss was reduced. Notably, non-radiative recombination lowers the light generation efficiency and increases heat loss.

Researchers achieve a record 19.31% efficiency with organic solar cells. Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Tech Explore

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The LRESE parabolic dish: the solar reactor converts solar energy to hydrogen with an efficiency of more than 20%, producing around 0.5 kg of "green" hydrogen per day. (Courtesy: LRESE EPFL)

Topics: Applied Physics, Energy, Environment, Research, Solar Power

A new solar-radiation-concentrating device produces “green” hydrogen at a rate of more than 2 kilowatts while maintaining efficiencies above 20%. The pilot-scale device, which is already operational under real sunlight conditions, also produces usable heat and oxygen, and its developers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland say it could be commercialized in the near future.

The new system sits on a concrete foundation on the EPFL campus and consists of a parabolic dish seven meters in diameter. This dish collects sunlight over a total area of 38.5 m2, concentrates it by a factor of about 1000, and directs it onto a reactor that comprises both photovoltaic and electrolysis components. Energy from the concentrated sunlight generates electron-hole pairs in the photovoltaic material, which the system then separates and transports to the integrated electrolysis system. Here, the energy is used to “split” water pumped through the system at an optimal rate, producing oxygen and hydrogen.

Putting it together at scale

Each of these processes has, of course, been demonstrated before. Indeed, the new EPFL system, which is described in Nature Energy, builds on previous research from 2019, when the EPFL team demonstrated the same concept at a laboratory scale using a high-flux solar simulator. However, the new reactor’s solar-to-hydrogen efficiency and hydrogen production rate of around 0.5 kg per day is unprecedented in large-scale devices. The reactor also produces usable heat at a temperature of 70°C.

The versatility of the new system forms a big part of its commercial appeal, says Sophia Haussener, who leads the EPFL’s Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE). “This co-generation system could be used in industrial applications such as metal processing and fertilizer manufacturing,” Haussener tells Physics World. “It could also be used to produce oxygen for use in hospitals and hydrogen for fuels cells in electric vehicles, as well as heat in residential settings for heating water. The hydrogen produced could also be converted to electricity after being stored between days or even inter-seasonally.”

Concentrated solar reactor generates unprecedented amounts of hydrogen, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World.

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Balsa Chips...


Modified wood modulates electrical current: researchers at Linköping University and colleagues from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology have developed the world’s first electrical transistor made of wood. (Courtesy: Thor Balkhed)

Topics: Applied Physics, Biomimetics, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Research

Researchers in Sweden have built a transistor out of a plank of wood by incorporating electrically conducting polymers throughout the material to retain space for an ionically conductive electrolyte. The new technique makes it possible, in principle, to use wood as a template for numerous electronic components, though the Linköping University team acknowledges that wood-based devices cannot compete with traditional circuitry on speed or size.

Led by Isak Engquist of Linköping’s Laboratory for Organic Electronics, the researchers began by removing the lignin from a plank of balsa wood (chosen because it is grainless and evenly structured) using a NaClO2 chemical and heat treatment. Since lignin typically constitutes 25% of wood, removing it creates considerable scope for incorporating new materials into the structure that remains.

The researchers then placed the delignified wood in a water-based dispersion of an electrically conducting polymer called poly(3,4-ethylene-dioxythiophene)–polystyrene sulfonate, or PEDOT: PSS. Once this polymer diffuses into the wood, the previously insulating material becomes a conductor with an electrical conductivity of up to 69 Siemens per meter – a phenomenon the researchers attribute to the formation of PEDOT: PSS microstructures inside the 3D wooden “scaffold.”

Next, Engquist and colleagues constructed a transistor using one piece of this treated balsa wood as a channel and additional pieces on either side to form a double transistor gate. They also soaked the interface between the gates and channels in an ion-conducting gel. In this arrangement, known as an organic electrochemical transistor (OECT), applying a voltage to the gate(s) triggers an electrochemical reaction in the channel that makes the PEDOT molecules non-conducting and therefore switches the transistor off.

A transistor made from wood, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Atomic analog: when a beam of light is shone into a water droplet, the light is trapped inside. (Courtesy: Javier Tello Marmolejo)

Topics: Modern Physics, Optics, Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Optics, Research

Light waves confined in an evaporating water droplet provide a useful model of the quantum behavior of atoms, researchers in Sweden and Mexico have discovered. Through a simple experiment, a team led by Javier Marmolejo at the University of Gothenburg has shown how the resonance of light inside droplets of specific sizes can provide robust analogies to atomic energy levels and quantum tunneling.

When light is scattered by a liquid droplet many times larger than its wavelength, some of the light may reflect around the droplet’s internal edge. If the droplet’s circumference is a perfect multiple of the light’s wavelength inside the liquid, the resulting resonance will cause the droplet to flash brightly. This is an optical example of a whispering gallery mode, whereby sound can reflect around a circular room.

This effect was first described mathematically by the German physicist Gustav Mie in 1908 – yet despite the simplicity of the scenario, the rich array of overlapping resonances it produces can create some incredibly complex patterns, some of which have yet to be studied in detail.

Optical Tweezers

To explore the effect in more detail, Marmolejo and the team devised an experiment where they confined water droplets using optical tweezers. They evaporated the liquid by heating it with a fixed-frequency laser. As the droplets shrank, their circumferences will sometimes equal a multiple of the laser’s wavelength. At these “Mie resonances,” the droplets flashed brightly.

As they studied this effect, the researchers realized that the flashing droplets are analogous to the quantum behaviors of atoms. In these “optical atoms,” orbiting electrons are replaced with resonating photons. The electrostatic potential that binds electrons to the nucleus is replaced by the droplet’s refractive index, which tends to trap light in the droplet by internal reflection. The quantized energy levels of an atom are represented by the droplet sizes where Mie resonances occur.

Flashing droplets could shed light on atomic physics and quantum tunneling, Sam Jarman, Physics World.

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AAAS Science Awards...


Topics: Diversity in Science, Education, Research, STEM, Theoretical Physics

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has announced the 2023 winners of eight longstanding awards that recognize scientists, engineers, innovators, and public servants for their contributions to science and society.

The awards honor individuals and teams for a range of achievements, from advancing science diplomacy and engaging the public in order to boost scientific understanding to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The 2023 winners were first announced on social media between Feb. 23 and Feb. 28; see the hashtag #AAASAward to learn more. The winners were also recognized at the 2023 AAAS Annual Meeting, held in Washington, D.C., March 2-5. The winning individuals and teams were honored with tribute videos and received commemorative plaques during several plenary sessions.

Six of the awards include a prize of $5,000, while the AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy award the winning individual or team $10,000, and the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize awards the winning individual or team $25,000.

Learn more about the awards’ history, criteria, and selection processes via the AAAS awards page, and read on to learn more about the individuals and teams who earned the 2023 awards.


Sekazi Mtingwa is the recipient of the 2023 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, which recognizes someone who has made significant contributions to the scientific community — whether through research, policy, or civil service — in the United States. The awardee can be a public servant, scientist, or individual in any field who has made sustained, exceptional contributions and other notable services to the scientific community. Mtingwa exemplifies a commitment to service and dedication to the scientific community, research workforce, and society. His contributions have shaped research, public policy, and the next generation of scientific leaders, according to the award’s selection committee.

As a theoretical physicist, Mtingwa pioneered work on intrabeam scattering that is foundational to particle accelerator research. Today a principal partner at Triangle Science, Education and Economic Development, where he consults on STEM education and economic development, Mtingwa has been affiliated during his scientific career with North Carolina A&T State University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and several national laboratories.

His contributions to the scientific community have included a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in physics. He co-founded the National Society of Black Physicists, which today is a home for more than 500 Black physicists and students. His work has also contributed to rejuvenating university nuclear science and engineering programs and paving the way for the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers. Mtingwa served as the chair of a 2008 American Physical Society study on the readiness of the U.S. nuclear workforce, the results of which played a key role in the U.S. Department of Energy allocating 20% of its nuclear fuel cycle R&D budget to university programs.

“I have devoted myself to being an apostle for science for those both at home and abroad who face limited research and training opportunities,” said Mtingwa. “Receiving the highly prestigious Philip Hauge Abelson Prize affirms that I have been successful in this mission. Moreover, it provides me with the armor to press onward to even greater contributions.”

AAAS Recognizes 2023 Award Winners for Contributions to Science and Society, Andrea Korte

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Where No One Has Gone Before...


Images of six candidate massive galaxies, seen 500-800 million years after the Big Bang. One of the sources (bottom left) could contain as many stars as our present-day Milky Way but is 30 times more compact. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, I. Labbe (Swinburne University of Technology); Image processing: G. Brammer (Niels Bohr Institute’s Cosmic Dawn Center at the University of Copenhagen)

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Research

Nobody expected them. They were not supposed to be there. And now, nobody can explain how they had formed. 

Galaxies nearly as massive as the Milky Way and full of mature red stars seem to be dispersed in deep-field images obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST) during its early observation campaign. They are giving astronomers a headache. 

These galaxies, described in a new study based on Webb's first data release, are so far away that they appear only as tiny reddish dots to the powerful telescope. By analyzing the light emitted by these galaxies, astronomers established that they were viewing them in our universe's infancy, only 500 million to 700 million years after the Big Bang.

Such early galaxies are not in themselves surprising. Astronomers expected that the first star clusters sprung up shortly after the universe moved out of the so-called dark ages — the first 400 million years of its existence when only a thick fog of hydrogen atoms permeated space. 

But the galaxies found in the Webb images appeared shockingly big, and the stars in them were too old. The new findings are in conflict with existing ideas of how the universe looked and evolved in its early years and don't match earlier observations made by Webb's less powerful predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

JWST Discovers Enormous Distant Galaxies That Should Not Exist, Tereza Pultarova, Scientific American/

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Small Steps, Large Changes...


A vertical shock tube at Los Alamos National Laboratory is used for turbulence studies. Sulfur hexafluoride is injected at the top of the 5.3-meter tube and allowed to mix with air. The waste is ejected into the environment through the blue hose at the tube tower’s lower left; in the fiscal year 2021, such emissions made up some 16% of the lab’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The inset shows a snapshot of the mixing after a shock has crossed the gas interface; the darker gas is SF6, and the lighter is air. The intensities yield density values.

Topics: Civilization, Climate Change, Global Warming, Research

Reducing air travel, improving energy efficiency in infrastructure, and installing solar panels are among the obvious actions that individual researchers and their institutions can implement to reduce their carbon footprint. But they can take many other small and large steps, too, from reducing the use of single-use plastics and other consumables and turning off unused instruments to exploiting waste heat and siting computing facilities powered by renewable energy. On a systemic level, measures can encourage behaviors to reduce carbon emissions; for example, valuing in-person invited job talks and remote ones equally could lead to less air travel by scientists.

So far, the steps that scientists are taking to reduce their carbon footprint are largely grassroots, notes Hannah Johnson, a technician in the imaging group at the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht and a member of Green Labs Netherlands, a volunteer organization that promotes sustainable science practices. The same goes for the time and effort they put in for the cause. One of the challenges, she says, is to get top-down support from institutions, funding agencies, and other national and international scientific bodies.

At some point, governments are likely to make laws that support climate sustainability, says Astrid Eichhorn, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark whose research is in quantum gravity and who is active on the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities committee for climate sustainability. “We are in a situation to be proactive and change in ways that do not compromise the quality of our research or our collaborations,” she says. “We should take that opportunity now and not wait for external regulations.”

Suppose humanity manages to limit emissions worldwide to 300 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). In that case, there is an 83% chance of not exceeding the 1.5 °C temperature rise above preindustrial levels set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to a 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report. That emissions cap translates to a budget of 1.2 tons of CO2e per person annually through 2050. Estimates for the average emissions by researchers across scientific fields are much higher and range widely in part because of differing and incomplete accounting approaches, says Eichhorn. She cites values from 7 to 18 tons a year for European scientists.

Scientists take steps in the lab toward climate sustainability, Toni Feder, Physics Today.

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Ripples, Waves, and Genesis...


Numerical simulation of the neutron stars merging to form a black hole, with their accretion disks interacting to produce electromagnetic waves. Credit: L. Rezolla (AEI) & M. Koppitz (AEI & Zuse-Institut Berlin)

Topics: Black Holes, Cosmology, General Relativity, Gravity, Research

Scientists have advanced in discovering how to use ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves to peer back to the beginning of everything we know. The researchers say they can better understand the state of the cosmos shortly after the Big Bang by learning how these ripples in the fabric of the universe flow through planets and the gas between the galaxies.

"We can't see the early universe directly, but maybe we can see it indirectly if we look at how gravitational waves from that time have affected matter and radiation that we can observe today," said Deepen Garg, lead author of a paper reporting the results in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. Garg is a graduate student in the Princeton Program in Plasma Physics, which is based at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

Garg and his advisor Ilya Dodin, who is affiliated with both Princeton University and PPPL, adapted this technique from their research into fusion energy, the process powering the sun and stars that scientists are developing to create electricity on Earth without emitting greenhouse gases or producing long-lived radioactive waste. Fusion scientists calculate how electromagnetic waves move through plasma, the soup of electrons and atomic nuclei that fuels fusion facilities known as tokamaks and stellarators.

Ripples in the fabric of the universe may reveal the start of time, Raphael Rosen, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory,

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Spooky Action Between Friends...


Credit: Petrovich9/Getty Images

Topics: Entanglement, Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Research, Theoretical Physics

Reference: Albert Einstein colorfully dismissed quantum entanglement—the ability of separated objects to share a condition or state—as “spooky action at a distance.”

For the first time, scientists have observed quantum interference—a wavelike interaction between particles related to the weird quantum phenomenon of entanglement—occurring between two different kinds of particles. The discovery could help physicists understand what goes on inside an atomic nucleus.

Particles act as both particles and waves. And interference is the ability of one particle’s wavelike action to diminish or amplify the action of other quantum particles like two boat wakes crossing in a lake. Sometimes the overlapping waves add up to a bigger wave, and sometimes they cancel out, erasing it. This interference occurs because of entanglement, one of the weirder aspects of quantum physics, which was predicted in the 1930s and has been experimentally observed since the 1970s. When entangled, the quantum states of multiple particles are linked so that measurements of one will correlate with measurements of the others, even if one is on Jupiter and another is on your front lawn.

Dissimilar particles can sometimes become entangled, but until now, these [mismatched] entangled particles weren’t known to interfere with one another. That’s because part of measuring interference relies on two wavelike particles being indistinguishable from each other. Imagine two photons, or particles of light, from two separate sources. If you were to detect these photons, there would be no way to determine which source each came from because there is no way to tell which photon is which. Thanks to the quantum laws governing these very small particles, this ambiguity is actually measurable: all the possible histories of the two identical photons interfere with one another, creating new patterns in particles’ final wavelike actions.

Scientists See Quantum Interference between Different Kinds of Particles for the First Time, Stephanie Pappas, Scientific American

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The Decline of Disruptive Science…


The proportion of disruptive scientific papers, such as the 1953 description of DNA’s double-helix structure, has fallen since the mid-1940s.Credit: Lawrence Lawry/SPL

Topics: DNA, Education, Philosophy, Research, Science, STEM

The number of science and technology research papers published has skyrocketed over the past few decades — but the ‘disruptiveness’ of those papers has dropped, according to an analysis of how radically papers depart from the previous literature1.

Data from millions of manuscripts show that, compared with the mid-twentieth century, research done in the 2000s was much more likely to incrementally push science forward than to veer off in a new direction and render previous work obsolete. Analysis of patents from 1976 to 2010 showed the same trend.

“The data suggest something is changing,” says Russell Funk, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a co-author of the analysis published on 4 January in Nature. “You don’t have quite the same intensity of breakthrough discoveries you once had.”

Telltale citations

The authors reasoned that if a study were highly disruptive, subsequent research would be less likely to cite its references and instead cite the study itself. Using the citation data from 45 million manuscripts and 3.9 million patents, the researchers calculated a measure of disruptiveness called the ‘CD index,’ in which values ranged from –1 for the least disruptive work to 1 for the most disruptive.

The average CD index declined by more than 90% between 1945 and 2010 for research manuscripts (see ‘Disruptive science dwindles’) and more than 78% from 1980 to 2010 for patents. Disruptiveness declined in all analyzed research fields and patent types, even when factoring in potential differences in factors such as citation practices.

‘Disruptive’ science has declined — and no one knows why, Max Kozlov, Nature.

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Nucleocapsid Rhapsody...


Fig. 1. SARS-CoV-2 N is expressed on the surface of live cells early during infection.
(A) Maximum intensity projections of laser confocal microscopy z-stack images of infected Vero cells with wt SARS-CoV-2 (top) or SARS-CoV-2_eGFP, stained live at 24 hpi (MOI = 1). Scale bars, 20 μm. Images are representative of at least three independent experiments with similar results. DAPI, 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole. (B) Flow cytometry analyses of Vero cells inoculated with wt (top) or eGFP-expressing (bottom) SARS-CoV-2 (MOI = 1), stained live at 24 hpi against SARS-CoV-2 S and N proteins. Representative dot plots of flow cytometry analyses showing double staining of surface S, N, and eGFP proteins, indicating the percentage of the gated cell population for each quadrant of the double staining. Data are representative of at least three independent experiments, each performed with triplicate samples. (C and D) Time course of surface S, N, and eGFP protein expression in live infected Vero cells with wt (C) and eGFP reporter (D) SARS-CoV-2 at 8 and 12 hpi (MOI = 1). Representative histogram overlays of surface S, N, and intracellular eGFP proteins of flow cytometry analyses. Data are representative of one experiment of at least two independent experiments performed in triplicate.

Topics: Biology, COVID-19, Research


SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein (N) induces strong antibody (Ab) and T cell responses. Although considered to be localized in the cytosol, we readily detect N on the surface of live cells. N released by SARS-CoV-2–infected cells or N-expressing transfected cells binds to neighboring cells by electrostatic high-affinity binding to heparan sulfate and heparin, but not other sulfated glycosaminoglycans. N binds with high affinity to 11 human chemokines, including CXCL12β, whose chemotaxis of leukocytes is inhibited by N from SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1, and MERS-CoV. Anti-N Abs bound to the surface of N-expressing cells activate Fc receptor-expressing cells. Our findings indicate that cell surface N manipulates innate immunity by sequestering chemokines and can be targeted by Fc-expressing innate immune cells. This, in combination with its conserved antigenicity among human CoVs, advances its candidacy for vaccines that induce cross-reactive B and T cell immunity to SARS-CoV-2 variants and other human CoVs, including novel zoonotic strains.

Cell surface SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein modulates innate and adaptive immunity, Alberto Domingo Lopez-Munoz, Ivan Kosik, Jaroslav Holly, Jonathan W. Yewdell, Science Advances

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Helium and Ukraine...


Transport dewars like this carry crucial cryogens for scientific instruments.

Topics: Chemistry, Instrumentation, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Physics, Research

Scientists who need the gas face tough choices in the face of reduced supply and spiking prices.

Helium supplies, already dicey, got worse this past week when production shut down in Arzew, Algeria. The curtailment joins ongoing disruptions in supplies from Russia and the US Federal Helium Reserve as well as planned maintenance at facilities in Qatar. Helium users in several locations say they are struggling to get the gas they need to keep their scientific instruments running.

“The shortage is scaring most NMR spectroscopists,” says Martha Morton, the director of research instrumentation at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Nuclear magnetic resonance instruments and related tools use liquid helium to cool superconducting magnets.

War in Ukraine makes helium shortage more dire, Craig Bettenhausen, Chemical & Engineering News

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Things We've Lost...


At CERN in 1973, John Bell (left), who was working there at the time, interacts with Martinus Veltman (right), who was then a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Since early 2020, COVID-19 has hindered physicists’ ability to travel and discuss physics in person. (Courtesy of CERN.)

Topics: COVID-19, Existentialism, Physics, Research

An excerpt. The longer article piece is at the link following.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only killed a large number of people—approximately 5.5 million worldwide at the time Physics Today went to press in mid-January—it has also disrupted life in a fundamental, nonperturbative manner, forcing large-scale changes in human behavior from without.

It was difficult at the beginning of 2020 to anticipate the great COVID-19 calamity awaiting the world. In February of that year, I was apparently among the first people to have urged the leadership of the American Physical Society to cancel its upcoming March Meeting in Denver, which APS finally did at the last moment after considerable hesitancy.

The logistics of canceling a meeting of 10 000 people right before the event are not trivial. But given the crowd density in APS March Meetings, it is reasonable to assume that the 2020 event would have led to a few thousand COVID-19 cases just among the physicist attendees. Overall, it may have led to many tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of cases, if not more. That estimate is based on research related to the now-infamous Boston Biogen superspreader conference in late February 2020. Within a month, roughly 100 people in Massachusetts who either went to the conference or were a household contact of someone who went tested positive. The genetic-code-based investigation estimated that the event led to 300 000 COVID-19 cases worldwide by the beginning of the following November. APS made the right call in canceling the meeting.

Commentary: A physicist’s perspective on COVID-19, Sankar Das Sarma, Physics Today

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RNA and Covid-19...


NIST researcher Megan Cleveland uses a PCR machine to amplify DNA sequences by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions.
Credit: M. Cleveland/NIST

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, COVID-19, Diversity in Science, NIST, Research, Women in Science

Scientists track and monitor the circulation of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using methods based on a laboratory technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Also used as the “gold standard” test to diagnose COVID-19 in individuals, PCR amplifies pieces of DNA by copying them numerous times through a series of chemical reactions. The number of cycles it takes to amplify DNA sequences of interest so that they are detectable by the PCR machine, known as the cycle threshold (Ct), is what researchers and medical professionals look at to detect the virus.

However, not all labs get the same Ct values (sometimes also called “Cq” values). In efforts to make the results more comparable between labs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) contributed to a multiorganizational study that looked at anchoring these Ct values to a reference sample with known amounts of the virus.

Researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus: Its genetic material is single-stranded instead of double-stranded like DNA and contains some different molecular building blocks, namely uracil in place of thymine. But the PCR test only works with DNA, and labs first must convert the RNA to DNA to screen for COVID-19. For the test, RNA is isolated from a patient’s sample and combined with other ingredients, including short DNA sequences are known as primers, to transform the RNA into DNA.

RNA Reference Materials Are Useful for Standardizing COVID-19 Tests, Study Shows, NIST

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OIPCs and Janus...


Topics: Battery, Energy, Green Tech, Research, Solid-State Physics

Janus, in Roman religion, the animistic spirit of doorways (januae) and archways (Jani). Janus and the nymph Camasene were the parents of Tiberinus, whose death in or by the river Albula caused it to be renamed Tiber. Source: Encylopedia Britannica

Over the past decade, lithium-ion batteries have seen stunning improvements in their size, weight, cost, and overall performance. (See Physics Today, December 2019, page 20.) But they haven’t yet reached their full potential. One of the biggest remaining hurdles has to do with the electrolyte, the material that conducts Li+ ions from anode to cathode inside the battery to drive the equal and opposite flow of charge in the external circuit.

Most commercial lithium-ion batteries use organic liquid electrolytes. The liquids are excellent conductors of Li+ ions, but they’re volatile and flammable, and they offer no defense against the whisker-like Li-metal dendrites that can build up between the electrodes and eventually short-circuit the battery. Because safety comes first, battery designers must sacrifice some performance in favor of not having their batteries catch fire.

A solid-state electrolyte could solve those problems. But what kind of solid conducts ions? An ordered crystal won’t do—when every site is filled in a crystalline lattice, Li+ ions have nowhere to move to. A solid electrolyte, therefore, needs to have a disordered, defect-riddled structure. It must also provide a polar environment to welcome the Li+ ions, but with no negative charges so strong that the Li+ ions stick to them and don’t let go.

For several years, Jenny PringleMaria Forsyth, and colleagues at Deakin University in Australia have been exploring a class of materials, called organic ionic plastic crystals (OIPCs), that could fit the bill. As a mix of positive and negative ions, an OIPC offers the necessary polar environment for conducting Li+. And because the constituent ions are organic, the researchers have lots of chemical leeways to design their shapes so they can’t easily fit together into a regular lattice but are forced to adopt a disordered, Li+-permeable structure.

Two-faced ions form a promising battery material, Johanna L. Miller, Physics Today

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ACE2 Gum and Covid...


Visual Abstract

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, COVID-19, Research

To advance a novel concept of debulking virus in the oral cavity, the primary site of viral replication, virus-trapping proteins CTB-ACE2 were expressed in chloroplasts and clinical-grade plant material was developed to meet FDA requirements. Chewing gum (2 g) containing plant cells expressed CTB-ACE2 up to 17.2 mg ACE2/g dry weight (11.7% leaf protein), have physical characteristics and taste/flavor like conventional gums, and no protein was lost during gum compression. CTB-ACE2 gum efficiently (>95%) inhibited entry of lentivirus spike or VSV-spike pseudovirus into Vero/CHO cells when quantified by luciferase or red fluorescence. Incubation of CTB-ACE2 microparticles reduced SARS-CoV-2 virus count in COVID-19 swab/saliva samples by >95% when evaluated by microbubbles (femtomolar concentration) or qPCR, demonstrating both virus trapping and blocking of cellular entry. COVID-19 saliva samples showed low or undetectable ACE2 activity when compared with healthy individuals (2,582 versus 50,126 ΔRFU; 27 versus 225 enzyme units), confirming greater susceptibility of infected patients for viral entry. CTB-ACE2 activity was completely inhibited by pre-incubation with SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain, offering an explanation for reduced saliva ACE2 activity among COVID-19 patients. Chewing gum with virus-trapping proteins offers a generally affordable strategy to protect patients from most oral virus re-infections through debulking or minimizing transmission to others.

Debulking SARS-CoV-2 in saliva using angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 in chewing gum to decrease oral virus transmission and infection, Molecular Therapy:

Henry Daniell, Smruti K. Nair, Nardana Esmaeili, Geetanjali Wakade, Naila Shahid, Prem Kumar Ganesan, Md Reyazul Islam, Ariel Shepley-McTaggart, Sheng Feng, Ebony N. Gary, Ali R. Ali, Manunya Nuth, Selene Nunez Cruz, Jevon Graham-Wooten, Stephen J. Streatfield, Ruben Montoya-Lopez, Paul Kaznica, Margaret Mawson, Brian J. Green, Robert Ricciardi, Michael Milone, Ronald N. Harty, Ping Wang, David B. Weiner, Kenneth B. Margulies, Ronald G. Collman

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