Science and IT news

Science News Presents The SN 10: Scientists to Watch

  • Category: Science and IT news
For the sixth consecutive year, Science News is spotlighting 10 early- and mid-career scientists on their way to greater widespread acclaim. Some of this year’s honorees are focusing on questions with huge societal importance, including how we can prevent teen suicide, what are the ingredients in wildfire smoke that are damaging to health and whether there is a better way to monitor earthquakes.

Asteroid clay makes great radiation shield

The huge rocks that hurtle through space may prove to be lifesavers for astronauts. Clays extracted from asteroids could be used on deep space missions to shield against celestial radiation. Radiation from cosmic rays is one of the biggest health risks astronauts will face on long space missions, such as a proposed trip to Mars or settlement on the moon. A 2013 study suggested that a return trip to Mars would expose astronauts to a lifetime’s dose in one go. But the heavy aluminium shields currently used for short missions would be too expensive to ship. For a long-term presence on the moon or Mars, we will need to use materials found in space, says Daniel Britt at the University of Central Florida. “Eventually everything should be able to be produced off Earth if any serious size outpost, base or colony is to be considered,” says Paul van Susante at Michigan Technological University. Asteroids could provide the answer, says Britt. Clays in asteroids are rich in hydrogen, which is the most effective shielding material for protons and cosmic rays. Britt and his colleague Leos Pohl found that the clays are up to 10 per cent more effective than aluminium – which is used in most current shields – at stopping the high-energy charged particles given off by the sun and other cosmic bodies. Exactly how the clays could be extracted from the asteroids is still up for discussion. “No current machines exist for actual mining in zero gravity,” says van Susante. But there are a few ways it could be done. For example, the clays are non-magnetic, so they could be separated from other materials in an asteroid using massive magnets. “Doing anything in space is not trivial, but there are several paths forward,” Britt says.

Quantum Learning

The efficient characterization of quantum systems, the verification of the operations of quantum devices and the validation of underpinning physical models are central challenges for quantum technologies and fundamental physics. The computational cost of such studies could be improved by machine learning enhanced by quantum simulators. Here researchers interface two different quantum systems through a classical channel—a silicon-photonics quantum simulator and an electron spin in a diamond nitrogen–vacancy centre—and use the former to learn the Hamiltonian of the latter via Bayesian inference. Researchers learn the salient Hamiltonian parameter with an uncertainty of approximately. Furthermore, an observed saturation in the learning algorithm suggests deficiencies in the underlying Hamiltonian model, which we exploit to further improve the model. They implement an interactive version of the protocol and experimentally show its ability to characterize the operation of the quantum photonic device.

Starting in 2018 California may allow self driving cars to not have steering wheels

Under newly proposed California self-driving car rules, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will let companies test autonomous vehicles that lack the steering wheel. Three years ago Google's self driving car project (now Waymo) introduced a self driving car with no steering wheel. Once the cars have been tested either on a closed track or through computer modeling, self-driving cars will be able to tool around California roads without drivers or even the ability to be driven by a driver. {source}<iframe width="853" height="480" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source} Prior to this, autonomous vehicles had to have a driver sitting ready to take charge at any second should anything go wrong. Instead, manufacturers will now have to submit an application, certify there's a communication link to the vehicle, provide a copy of their plans for any interactions with local law enforcement, create a training program for remote operators and get a safety assessment letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. {source}<iframe width="853" height="480" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source} In a shift, companies will no longer have to get permission from the jurisdiction where they plan to test the cars but instead simply notify them in writing. The proposed regulations were published Friday and the public now has until April 24 to comment on them. The new rules could take effect in 2018.