Folding 2D materials gives them new properties useful for quantum communications – new research

Shutterstock/Rost9 Graphene is a material made of carbon atoms one layer thick, arranged in a honeycomb structure. It has been used to make materials stronger, create ultra-high frequency components for communications, boost battery performance and even used to make COVID-19 tests. It’s the archetypal two-dimensional (2D) material – but there’s much more to 2D materials than graphene. Since graphene was first isolated in 2004, research has expanded to the creation of other, non-carbon 2D materials. Now there are many tens of these, and they’re hailed to make an impact where graphene is less suited, such as in novel transistors and…

A Chinese hacking competition may have given Beijing new ways to spy on the Uyghurs

Herr Loeffler/Shutterstock When Apple announced in a 2019 blog post that it had patched a security vulnerability in its iOS operating system, the company sought to reassure its customers. The attack that had exploited the vulnerability, Apple said, was “narrowly focused” on websites featuring content related to the Uyghur community. It has since emerged that the vulnerability in question was discovered at China’s principal hacking competition, the Tianfu Cup, where a professional hacker won a prize for his work in uncovering it. The normal protocol would be to inform Apple of the vulnerability. But it’s alleged that, instead, the breach…

Mushrooms on Mars? Five unproven claims that alien life exists

Mushroom-like structures on Mars. Nasa A recent study claims to have found evidence for mushroom-like life forms on the surface of Mars. As it happens, these particular features are well known and were discovered by cameras aboard Nasa’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, shortly after it landed in 2004. They are not, in fact, living organisms at all, but “haematite concretions” – small sphere-shaped pieces of the mineral haematite, and their exact origin is still debated by scientists. Haematite is a compound of iron and oxygen and is commercially important on Earth. The spherical rocks on Mars may have been created…

Twitter to ask users to rethink abusive messages – a promising step towards ‘slowcial media’

somemeans/Shutterstock In an effort to reverse the flood of abuse on the platform, Twitter is rolling out a new feature which will show a self-moderation prompt to users who compose replies that the platform’s algorithms recognise to be abusive. The prompt effectively asks users to think twice before posting an abusive message. Because it compels users to rethink and reflect on abusive tweets, Twitter’s new self-moderation prompt could be a promising step away from fast and furious social media posting and towards a more considered slow media – or “slowcial media”. Twitter’s new feature This isn’t the first time Twitter…

Landing on Mars: the historical missions that failed and the ones that made it

IPGP/Nicolas Sarter, CC BY-SA China’s rover Zhurong, named after the mythological fire god, successfully touched down on Mars on May 14 – the first time that China has successfully landed a rover on the red planet. On May 19, China’s National Space Administration issued the first images the rover had taken on Mars. After a summer of Mars launches in 2020, and with 2021 shaping up to be a successful one for landers and orbiters, it might seem like landing on Mars is routine. Yet to understand why a first successful landing is such a huge achievement, we need to…

Is there a happiness equation? Here’s how we’re trying to find out

What if your happy is different from my happy? Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock Most people would like to be happier. But it isn’t always easy to know how to achieve that goal. Is there an equation for happiness? Many formulas have been suggested. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Meditate. Help others. Spend time with friends and family. On average, all of these things are linked to happiness. But they don’t work for everyone. Happiness is really complicated. It can change quickly and it’s different for everyone in ways that scientists don’t understand. In our ongoing research, we are trying to capture this…

Learning where to trust unreliable models in an unstructured world for deformable object manipulation

The world outside our laboratories seldom conforms to the assumptions of our models. This is especially true for dynamics models used in control and motion planning for complex high–degree of freedom systems like deformable objects. We must develop better models, but we must also consider that, no matter how powerful our simulators or how big our datasets, our models will sometimes be wrong. What is more, estimating how wrong models are can be difficult, because methods that predict uncertainty distributions based on training data do not account for unseen scenarios. To deploy robots in unstructured environments, we must address two…

Manipulation for self-Identification, and self-Identification for better manipulation

The process of modeling a series of hand-object parameters is crucial for precise and controllable robotic in-hand manipulation because it enables the mapping from the hand’s actuation input to the object’s motion to be obtained. Without assuming that most of these model parameters are known a priori or can be easily estimated by sensors, we focus on equipping robots with the ability to actively self-identify necessary model parameters using minimal sensing. Here, we derive algorithms, on the basis of the concept of virtual linkage-based representations (VLRs), to self-identify the underlying mechanics of hand-object systems via exploratory manipulation actions and probabilistic…

Clocks that tell time more accurately use more energy – new research

Shutterstock/Alexey Wraith Clocks pervade our lives, from the cellular clocks inside our bodies to the atomic clocks that underlie satellite navigation. These atomic clocks can measure time accurately to within one second in billions of years. But there could be a price to pay for this accuracy, in the form of energy. Our new experiment found clocks that measure time more accurately consume more energy than their less accurate counterparts. This suggests nature imposes a fundamental energy cost for keeping time, and it may mean there’s a limit to how accurate we can make clocks. The branch of science that…

Incest isn’t a taboo in the animal kingdom – new study

Kletr/Shutterstock We humans tend to regard incest as deeply disturbing. It’s a strong social taboo, and it’s underpinned by sound biological reasoning. Mixing genes with a non-relative is beneficial because it increases genetic diversity, while genetic defects often occur in the offspring of related parents. We’d expect to see the same attitude extend to animals, who may lack a social distaste for incest but are, in the end, subject to the same biological pressures to produce the fittest offspring – which we assume means breeding with an unrelated mate. But our recent study has called this assumption into question. We…

Sweden’s first labour movement didn’t fear technological change – they embraced it to demand higher wages

Sudarsan Thobias/Shutterstock About a century ago, a poor country in northern Europe made a big leap into modernity. Using new technology, engineers built hydroelectric dams to harness the energy in Sweden’s roaring rivers, generating electricity which would, for the first time, find practical use in homes, factories, railways and agriculture. Taking place decades after Sweden’s nineteenth-century mechanisation, this electrification was the country’s second industrial revolution. It brought with it powerful forces of change that swept through civilian life, stoking tensions between employers and workers as evidenced by a huge increase in strike action at the time. But here’s where the…

Dating after lockdown: why you shouldn’t expect a summer of love

Dean Drobot/Shutterstock Over the past year, many single people have patiently waited through what might have seemed like the long, slow death of their romantic lives. Social distancing has meant fewer dates, while strict physical distancing measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 were quickly branded a “sex ban” when they came into force in the UK in 2020. But with strict physical distancing rules eased in the parts of the UK as of Monday May 17, some social scientists are now predicting a summer of love, flush with the same abandon that accompanied the “roaring twenties”. Anticipating a…