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Physics

Aurora’s massive LightningStrike VTOL UAV just got one step closer to reality

A vertical take-off and landing craft (VTOL) that can stand toe-to-toe with combat helicopters, a concept taken directly from sci-fi, it’s almost the default futuristic military ship among Hollywood epics. A real one just finished its first test flight program, as the Aurora Flight Science LightningStrike XV-24A Demonstrator Craft ended its first stage of flight testing. This puts the program on track to move on to the full-size XV-24A flight tests, set to start late next year.

The XV-24A isn’t a full-size vehicle; its a scaled down version, weighing just 325 pounds, a small fraction of the planned 12,000 pound full-scale XV-24A (formerly called the X-Plane) intended for production, which will also have a 61-foot wingspan (an F-18 has a wingspan of around 45 feet, for comparison). But a subscale vehicle demonstrator (SVD) is a standard part of the process when developing new aircraft, offering a way to test out key technical elements of the design before embarking on the more costly process of building a full-scale vehicle.

An artist’s rendering of what the final LightningStrike XV-24A will look like.

The smaller XV-24A SVD showed off, among other things, how the final craft will transition between its outbound and inbound flight states, and showed that the basic flight physics work for how its intended to operate, with rotors that angle vertically to help propel the craft into the air, before adjusting to a horizontal alignment like you’d find on commercial jets, for faster forward motion vs. traditional rotor-based craft including helicopters.

Eventually, Aurora wants the XV-24A to be able to fly at sustained speeds ranging from 300 to 400 knots, doubling the max speed of comparable helicopters, while also besting their hover efficiency by as much as 15 percent. The tilt-wing craft Is being designed to work without a pilot onboard, using 24 rotor fans powered by a Rolls-Royce AE 1107C turboshaft option to move through the air, all powered by a hybrid-electric drive system.

You can see the first flight of the XV-24A subscale testing craft below, when it launched a year ago. The program is part of Aurora’s requirements for its DARPA and U.S. Air Force funding.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/04/auroras-massive-lightningstrike-vtol-uav-just-got-one-step-closer-to-reality/

The only way to prove you aren’t a robot is to solve this chess puzzle

Check it out, Mate!

Image: James Tagg

Check out the chess board above: looks wrong, right?

If you’ve ever played chess, you know something’s amiss, here. For one thing, someone chose to exchange a pawn for another bishop instead of a queen. For another, virtually all the action’s moved to the left side of a board.

It’s hard to imagine how the game got here: it’s even harder to imagine what happens next, let alone a scenario in which four white pawns and a white king could play to a draw, or even win this game.

The Penrose Chess Puzzle: Can you find the solution that results in either a white win or a game draw?

Image: James tagg

Yet: scientists at the newly-formed Penrose Institute say it’s not only possible, but that human players see the solution almost instantly, while chess computers consistently fail to find the right move.

“We plugged it into Fritz, the standard practice computer for chess players, which did three-quarters of a billion calculations, 20 moves ahead,” explained James Tagg Co-Founder and Director of the Penrose Institute, which was founded this week to understand human consciousness through physics.

“It says that one-side or the other wins. But,” Tagg continued, “the answer that it gives is wrong.”

Tagg and his co-founder, Mathematical Physicist and professor Sir Roger Penrose who successfully proved that black holes have a singularity in them cooked up the puzzle to prove a point: Human brains think differently.

(Those who figure out the puzzle can send their answers to Penrose to be entered to win the professor’s latest book.)

“Humans can look at a problem like this strange chess board configuration,” said Tagg, “and understand it. What a computer does is brute force calculation, which is different.” This is set up, rather exquisitely, to show the difference, he added.

They forced the computer out of its comfort zone by, at least in part, making an unusual choice: the third bishop.

“All those bishops can move in lots of different ways, so you get computation explosion. To calculate it out would suck up more computing power than is available on earth,” claimed Tagg.

Tagg told us that there is, in fact, a natural way to get to this board configuration.

We’re trying to figure it out here, but lacked an extra black bishop. So we tagged one to keep track.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Sir Richard Penrose’s brother is, according to Tagg, a very strong chess player. He assures me that it’s a position you can get to, but I have not played it through. Question is, is there a rational game that gets you there?

In fact, those who can figure out that second puzzle and get the answer to Penrose, could also receive a free copy of Professor Penrose’s book.

Chess computers fail at Penrose’s chess puzzle because they have a database of end-games to choose from. This board is not, Tagg and Penrose believe, in the computer’s playbook. “We’re forcing the chess machine to actually think about the position, as opposed to cheat and just regurgitate a pre-programmed answer, which computers are perfect at,” said Tagg.

So far, Tagg and the Penrose Institute haven’t heard from any artificial intelligence experts refuting their claims. “I’m quite surprised,” said Tagg.

Mashable has contacted several AI experts for comment and will update this post with their response.

Aside from the fun of solving this puzzle (Tagg said hundreds already have and claim they have done so in seconds), it poses a deeper question: Are we executing some fiendishly clever algorithm in our brain, that cuts through the chaff? It is just a higher level of computation, one that computers can still aspire to or something unique to brain-matter-based thought?

Tagg said Penrose Institute falls into the latter camp.

Penrose and Tagg don’t think you can simply call a brain a machine. It sits in skull, made of gray matter and we don’t understand how it works. “Simply calling it a clever computer, this sort of puzzle shows that it clearly is not,” he said.

You can send your Chess Puzzle solution to the Penrose Institute here: mashpuzzle@penroseinstitute.com.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/03/14/solve-this-chess-puzzle/

Tiny chip looks deep inside your body with millimeter-wave radiation

Researchers at the University of California Irvine have created a chip for use in medical imaging and other applications thats as powerful as it is tiny. The pint-size millimeter-wave radiator could lead to better scanning of tissues and organs, but may also work as part of our everyday wireless data ecosystem.

“We’re very excited about the successful design of this radiator because it represents a complete breakthrough,” said UCIs Payam Heydari, the lead investigator of the project, in a university news release. “We’re offering an entirely new kind of physics, a new kind of device really. Our power and efficiency is an order of magnitude greater than other designs.”

If millimeter-wave radiation sounds familiar, that’s because it has something of an ignoble history. Perhaps its most infamous application is in the pain rays proposed about a decade ago; high-energy beams of this wavelength could heat up the skin, producing the sensation of touching a hot light bulb. It was eventually deployed against geese.

Not long after that it was and continues to be employed in the body-scanner machines many of us have had to stand in, hands up, at the airport.

Tiny

A closer look at the chip. (Steve Zylius / UCI)

So it’s nice to see the technology in its more laudable applications. The useful thing about millimeter-wave radiation is that it penetrates the body to varying amounts depending on the energy and wavelength, and by carefully monitoring the reflection you can get a detailed picture of what’s lurking underneath the skin.

UCI claims that this very small chip has the highest power and efficiency, yet lowest noise levels, ever found in such a device. It also modulates the signal to the desired frequency, polarizes the radiation (circularly, at that) and performs other functions that were relegated to separate chips or devices before.

The improved size and power could make possible a handheld scanner that automatically penetrates to the desired depth, monitoring tumors or searching for anything suspicious.

But it could also be used in the soon-to-be-omnipresent Internet of Things (including autonomous cars). Small, low-power, limited-range chips with high-data throughput capability are in great demand, and millimeter wave (its in the gigahertz range) could be a piece of the puzzle.

The research was sponsored by the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. Heydari and his colleagues will present their findings at an IEEE conference this week.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/07/tiny-chip-looks-deep-inside-your-body-with-millimeter-wave-radiation/

Vera Rubin obituary

Astronomer who found evidence of the existence of dark matter and became an inspiration for women in science.

Vera Rubin once tweeted: “Dont let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. My science teacher once told me I wasn’t good enough for science and look at me now.” In the 1970s and early 80s Rubin, who has died aged 88, established that the stars in the outer regions of galaxies move at similar speeds to those in the middle, a result that led to the hypothesis that most of the universe is invisible, the cosmos filled with dark matter, mysterious stuff whose nature is still unknown. During recent years she became a popular favourite for a Nobel prize, but never received the accolade. Having battled sex discrimination throughout her career, she became an inspiration for women in science.

In the outer regions of the solar system, far away from the sun where the force of its gravity is more feeble than hereabouts, planets move more slowly than the Earth. Were Uranus to move as fast as us, it would escape from the solar system entirely, its centrifugal thrust too large for the weakened inwards gravitational pull from the sun. This has been understood since Isaac Newton in the 17th century, and is a cornerstone of Einstein’s general relativity: bodies orbiting a central mass will have speeds that fall in proportion to the square root of their distance from the centre.

Many galaxies of stars form spirals, where relatively few stars in the outer arms orbit around a dense mass of stars at the centre. Here too, the laws of gravity imply that the outer stars should move relatively slowly compared to those nearer the central mass. But when Rubin mapped the motion of stars in spiral galaxies, she discovered that, far from slowing with distance from the centre, they moved at similar speeds, or even travelled faster the further out they were.

Rubin’s results implied that the galaxies are rotating so fast that they should fly apart. Either Newton’s law of gravitational attraction, and by implication Einstein’s general relativity, form an incomplete description on cosmic scales, which would be truly revolutionary, or there are vast volumes of unseen matter that provide additional gravitational grip on the stars. This unseen stuff has become known as dark matter; dark in that it does not shine in the electromagnetic spectrum at any wavelength.

The concept of dark matter has become one of the most exciting insights into our place in the universe. Where Copernicus removed the earth from the centre of the universe in the 16th century, and the discovery of galaxies in the 20th century showed our sun and Milky Way to be mere bit players in the cosmos, Rubins discovery seemingly implies that matter, as we know it, consisting of atomic electrons, protons and neutrons, is but flotsam on a vast sea of dark matter. Current estimates are that dark matter outweighs our stuff by a factor of 10 to 20. So, following Rubins breakthrough, we now believe that we are not even made of the same stuff as most of creation.

Vera was born in Philadelphia, younger daughter of Philip Cooper, an electrical engineer, and Rose Applebaum, who worked for the Bell Telephone Company. The family moved to Washington DC when Vera was 10, and it was there that she developed an interest in astronomy. She was attracted to Vassar College as an undergraduate because Maria Mitchell, the first American to discover a comet, had worked there. After gaining a BA in astronomy in 1948, her first choice for graduate school was Princeton, but she never received the graduate prospectus, as women were not admitted to the graduate programme until 1975. Instead she joined Cornell University.

At Cornell in 1948 she met Robert Rubin, a fellow graduate student, whom she married. Following a masters at Cornell in 1951, she completed a doctorate at Georgetown University in 1954, where she studied the motion of galaxies. Edwin Hubble had discovered that galaxies are on the average rushing apart from one another, the key to the theory that the observable universe is the result of a big bang some 13.8bn years ago. Rubins thesis in 1954 showed that galaxies are not distributed uniformly throughout the universe, but tend to cluster and rotate around one another.

Rubin became an inspiration for women in science, especially, and further afield. She had four children, and most of her early career as an astronomer was part-time, so that she could be at home by the time the children returned from school. All four of her children later gained doctorates in mathematics or the natural sciences.

In 1964 Rubin became the first woman to use the Palomar Observatory in southern California. Her first discovery there was that it did not have toilet facilities for women. She returned to her office, cut some paper into the shape of a skirt and stuck it on the image of the person on the toilet door.

It was at Palomar, in a series of papers during the 1970s and early 1980s, that she made her most famous discoveries. She became a staff member at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in 1965, and it was with a young Carnegie colleague, Kent Ford, that she determined the distribution of mass in spiral galaxies by measuring their speeds of rotation.

Among many honours, she was a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, won the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society the first woman to have done so since Caroline Herschel in 1828 and asteroid 5726 Rubin was named after her. She received several honorary doctorates, including one from Princeton University half a century after having been barred from their graduate programme.

Her husband died in 2008, and her daughter, Judy, in 2014. Rubin is survived by three sons, Allan, David and Karl, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Vera Florence Rubin, astronomer, born 23 July 1928; died 25 December 2016

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jan/01/vera-rubin-obituary

Will scientists ever prove the existence of dark matter?

Astronomers in the US are setting up an experiment which, if it fails as others have could mark the end of a 30-year-old theory.

Deep underground, in a defunct gold mine in South Dakota, scientists are assembling an array of odd devices: a chamber for holding tonnes of xenon gas; hundreds of light detectors, each capable of pinpointing a single photon; and a vast tank that will be filled with hundreds of gallons of ultra-pure water. The project, the LZ experiment, has a straightforward aim: it is designed to detect particles of an invisible form of matter called dark matter as they drift through space.

It is thought there is five times more dark matter than normal matter in the universe, although it has yet to be detected directly. Finding it would solve one of sciences most baffling mysteries and explain why galaxies are not ripped apart by stars flying off into deep space.

However, many scientists believe time is running out for the hunt, which has lasted 30 years, cost millions of pounds and produced no positive results. The LZ project which is halfway through construction should be sciences last throw of the dice, they say. This generation of detectors should be the last, said astronomer Stacy McGaugh at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. If we dont find anything we should accept we are stuck and need to find a different explanation, perhaps by modifying our theories of gravity, to explain the phenomena we attribute to dark matter.

Other researchers reject this view: “Theory indicates we have a really good chance of finding dark matter particles,” said Chamkaur Ghag, chair of the Dark Matter UK consortium. “This is certainly not the time to talk of giving up.”

The concept of dark matter stems from observations made in the 1970s. Astronomers expected to find that stars rotated more slowly around a galaxy the more distant they were from the galaxys centre, just as distant planets revolve slowly round the Sun. (Outermost Neptune moves round the Sun at a stately 12,000mph; innermost Mercury does so at 107,082mph.)

That prediction was spectacularly undone by observations, however. Stars at a galaxys edge orbit almost as fast as those near its centre. According to theory, they should be hurled into space. So astronomers proposed that invisible dark matter must be providing the extra gravity needed to hold galaxies together. Proposed sources of dark matter include burnt-out stars; clouds of dust and gas; and subatomic particles called Wimps weakly interacting massive particles. All have since been discounted, except Wimps. Many astronomers are now convinced they permeate space and form halos round galaxies to give them the gravitational muscle needed to hold fast-flying stars in place.

Getting close to Wimps has not been easy. Scientists have built increasingly sensitive detectors deeper and deeper underground to protect them from subatomic particles that bombard Earths surface and which would trigger spurious signals. These devices resemble huge Russian dolls: a vast metal tank containing water to provide added protection against incoming stray particles is erected and, within this, a giant sphere of an inert gas such as xenon is suspended. Wimps making it through to the final tank should occasionally strike a xenon nucleus, producing a flash of light that can be pinpointed by electronic detectors.

Despite three decades of effort, this approach has had no success, a failure that is starting to worry some researchers. We are now building detectors containing more and more xenon and which are a million times more sensitive than those we used to hunt Wimps 30 years ago, said astrophysicist Professor David Merritt, of the Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. And still we have found nothing.

Last July, scientists reported that after running their Large Underground Xenon (Lux) experiment for 20 months they had still failed to spot a Wimp. Now an upgraded version of Lux is being built the LZ detector, a US-UK collaboration while other devices in Canada and Italy are set to run searches.

The problem facing Wimp hunters is that as their detectors get ever more sensitive, they will start picking up signals from other weakly interacting particles called neutrinos. Tiny, almost massless, these constantly whizz through our planet and our bodies. Neutrinos are not nearly heavy enough to account for the gravitational abnormalities associated with dark matter but are still likely to play havoc with the next generation of Wimp detectors.

I believe the Wimp hypothesis will be truly dead when we reach that point, said McGaugh. It already has serious problems but if we get to the point where we are picking up all this background interaction, the game is up. You will not be able to spot a thing.

This point is rejected by Ghag. “Yes, occasionally a neutrino will kick a xenon nucleus and produce a result that resembles a Wimp interaction. We will, initially, be in trouble. But as we characterise the collisions we should find ways to differentiate them and concentrate only on those produced by Wimps.”

But there is no guarantee that Wimps if they exist will ever interact with atoms of normal matter. You can imagine a scenario where dark matter particles turn out to be so incredibly weak at interacting with normal matter that our detectors will never see anything, said cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, of University College London.

Indeed, it could transpire that a Wimp is completely incapable of interacting with normal matter. You would then be saying we can only make sense of the universe by proposing a hypothetical particle that we can never detect, said Pontzen. Philosophically that is a highly unsatisfactory situation. You would be saying you cannot prove or disprove a key hypothesis that underpins scientificunderstanding.

However, Pontzen also pointed out that dark matter has proved invaluable in making scientific predictions and should not be dismissed too quickly. Scientists in the late 20th century attempted to predict what the cosmic background radiation left behind by the Big Bang 13 billion years ago might look like. Those who used dark matter in their calculations were found to have got things spectacularly right when we later flew probes to study that radiation background. It shows there was dark matter right at the birth of the universe.

McGaugh is unconvinced. He points to the failure of Geneva’s Large Hadron Collider, used to find the Higgs boson, to produce particles that might hint at the existence of Wimps. It was hailed as the golden test but it has produced nothing, just like the other experiments. Instead, more effort should be directed to developing new theoretical approaches to understanding gravity, he argues. One such theory is known as modified Newtonian dynamics, or Mond. It suggests that variations in the behaviour of gravity could account for the unexpected star speeds. “Such approaches should take precedence if LZ should fail to find dark matter in the next two or three years,” McGaugh said.

Ghag disagrees. “I think it is ridiculous to suggest we stop, he said. Are we just going to say OK, we have no idea what makes up 85% of the universe just because we are finding it all a bit hard? That’s not realistic.”

The uncertain nature of the problem was summed up by Pontzen. “We have been looking for dark matter for so long. Sometimes I think I should get real and admit something is up. On the other hand, the technology is getting better and we are opening up new possibilities of where to find dark matter. Which of these scenarios I feel closest to depends what sort of day I am having.”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/31/dark-matter-existence-space-astronomers-us-experiment

Stephen Hawking Fast Facts

(CNN)Here’s a look at the life of the world renowned theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astronomer and mathematician, Stephen Hawking.

Personal:
Birth date:
January 8, 1942
Birthplace: Oxford, England (grew up in and around London)
Birth name: Stephen William Hawking
Father: Frank Hawking, a doctor and research biologist
Mother: E. Isobel Hawking
Marriages: Elaine Mason (1995-2006, divorce); Jane Wilde (1965-1991, divorce)
Children: with Jane Wilde: Timothy, Lucy and Robert
Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1962; Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1966
Other Facts:
Stephen Hawking’s birthday (January 8, 1942) is the 300th anniversary of the death of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.
He is the 17th Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, an academic chair at Cambridge University. From 1669 to 1702, the position was held by Sir Isaac Newton.
Has guest-starred, as himself, on “The Big Bang Theory,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The Simpsons.”
Lou Gehrig’s Disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS), is usually fatal after three years. Hawking has survived it for 50 years.
The disease has left him paralyzed and completely dependent on others and/or technology for everything: bathing, dressing, eating, mobility and speech. He’s able to move only a few fingers on one hand.
His speech synthesizer has an American accent.
Timeline:
1963 –
Is diagnosed with the motor neuron disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
1966 – Completes doctoral work in theoretical physics, submitting a thesis on black holes.
1970 – Combines the theory of relativity with quantum theory and finds that black holes emit radiation.
1979 – Becomes the 17th Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University.
1982 – Awarded CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
1985 – Hospitalized with pneumonia Hawking requires an emergency tracheotomy, causing permanent damage to his larynx and vocal cords. A keyboard operated electronic speech synthesizer is refined and adapted to his wheelchair by David Mason, an engineer married to Elaine Mason, one of Hawking’s nurses (and future wife).
1988 – His book, “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” is published.
2004 – Reverses the 1966 theory that black holes swallow everything in their path forever and declares that black holes will never support space travel to other universes.
April 26, 2007 – Becomes the first quadriplegic to experience zero gravity, aboard a Zero Gravity Corporation flight.
October 2007 – “George’s Secret Key to the Universe,” the first in a series of children’s books to help explain the universe, written with daughter Lucy is published.
November 30, 2008 – Is appointed by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario to be its first Distinguished Research Chair.
May 19, 2009 – “George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt,” the second in the series of children’s books written with daughter Lucy, is published.
July 30, 2009 – Is awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
September 30, 2009 – Steps down as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University after 30 years. Hawking will continue to work at the university.
2009-present – Director of Research at the Institute for Theoretical Cosmology at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University.
September 7, 2010 – “The Grand Design,” written with Leonard Mlodinow, is published.
August 28, 2012 – “George and the Big Bang,” the third installment in a series of children’s books written with daughter Lucy, is published.
December 2012 – Wins the Fundamental Physics Prize and is awarded $3 million for his theory on black holes emitting energy.
September 10, 2013 – Hawking publishes “My Brief History,” a biography that looks at his life and the development of his intellect.
June 5, 2014 – “George and the Unbreakable Code” the fourth installment in a series of children’s books written with daughter Lucy, is published.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/29/world/europe/stephen-hawking-fast-facts/index.html

First edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia set to fetch $1m at auction

Rare European copy of key mathematics text is going under hammer at Christies in New York with record guide price.

A first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica could become the most expensive print sold of the revolutionary text when it goes under the hammer with a guide price of at least $1m (790,000) this month.

The extremely rare continental copy being sold by auction house Christies in New York is one of a handful of texts thought to have been destined for Europe and has minor differences from those distributed in England by Newton and the book’s editor, Edmond Halley.

The list price of between $1m and $1.5m is thought to be a record for the book. An English version also bound in red morocco leather, which was said to have been presented to King James II, sold for more than $2.5m in 2013. Its list price was $600,000.

About 400 copies of Principia’s first edition were printed, of which the continental versions accounted for about 20%. Halley, the astronomer best known for the comet named after him, encouraged Newton to organise his theories into a text and paid for the printing because the Royal Society of which he and Newton were members had run out of funds.

The society retains two copies of the book, including the original manuscript on which the first print run in 1687 was based, which is described as its greatest treasure.

Written in Latin, the books full title is Philosophi Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). It laid out Newton’s groundbreaking theories in areas such as gravity and the forces of motion, and introduced a more rigorous mathematical method to physical science.

Keith Moore, the head of the Royal Society library, described it as a benchmark in human thought.

“It’s not just the history and development of science; it’s one of the greatest books ever published,” he said. “It was hugely influential in terms of applying mathematics to basic physical problems.”

Moore said the large sum set to be attracted by the book could be in part due to the growing influence of science within culture, as well as the huge earnings of some technology entrepreneurs.

“People who have big books these days maybe are the kinds of people who have made their money on the internet or the web … If you have a few million quid to spend, why wouldnt you buy a copy of Principia Mathematica?

“If you’ve made your money from a really cool algorithm, you will probably appreciate Newtonian physics.”

Despite its wide-ranging impact, and the books use as a foundational physics text being unsurpassed until Einstein’s general theory of relativity, Principia did not make a list last year of the top 20 most important academic books of all time. The list was topped by Charles Darwins On the Origin of Species.

But because it was published almost two centuries earlier, first editions of Principia are rarer and likely to continue selling for far larger amounts. One of the highest prices paid for a first edition of Darwins book laying out the theory of evolution was 103,000 in 2009, and subsequent sales have been lower.

While the prices differ, the impact of the two texts was comparable, Moore said. What Newton does in the 1680’s is revolutionise the physical sciences. The fundamental laws of physics.

Darwin’s great work published in 1859 revolutionised the biological sciences in the same way. They are similar books in the impact they had.

  • The picture caption on this article was amended on 5 December 2016 to clarify that the copy of Principia Mathematica up for sale is not the one held by Cambridge University.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/05/principia-sir-isaac-newton-first-edition-auction-christies-new-york

Nonsense paper written by iOS autocomplete accepted for conference

New Zealand professor asked to present his work at US event on nuclear physics despite it containing gibberish all through the copy.

A nonsensical academic paper on nuclear physics written only by iOS autocomplete has been accepted for a scientific conference.

Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at the Human Interface Technology laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received an email inviting him to submit a paper to the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics in the US in November.

Since I have practically no knowledge of nuclear physics I resorted to iOS autocomplete function to help me writing the paper, he wrote in a blog post on Thursday. I started a sentence with atomic or nuclear and then randomly hit the autocomplete suggestions.

The text really does not make any sense.

The atoms of a better universe will have the right for the same as you are the way we shall have to be a great place for a great time to enjoy the day you are a wonderful person to your great time to take the fun and take a great time and enjoy the great day you will be a wonderful time for your parents and kids, is a sample sentence from the abstract.

It concludes: Power is not a great place for a good time.

Bartneck illustrated the paper titled, again through autocorrect, Atomic Energy will have been made available to a single source with the first graphic on the Wikipedia entry for nuclear physics.

He submitted it under a fake identity: associate professor Iris Pear of the US, whose experience in atomic and nuclear physics was outlined in a biography using contradictory gender pronouns.

The nonsensical paper was accepted only three hours later, in an email asking Bartneck to confirm his slot for the oral presentation at the international conference.

I know that iOS is a pretty good software, but reaching tenure has never been this close, Bartneck commented in the blog post.

He did not have to pay money to submit the paper, but the acceptance letter referred him to register for the conference at a cost of US$1099 (also able to be paid in euros or pounds) as an academic speaker.

I did not complete this step since my university would certainly object to me wasting money this way, Bartneck told Guardian Australia. … My impression is that this is not a particularly good conference.

The International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics will be held on 17-18 November in Atlanta, Georgia, and is organised by ConferenceSeries: an amalgamation of Open Access Publications and worldwide international science conferences and events, established in 2007.

An organiser has been contacted by Guardian Australia for comment.

Bartneck said that given the quality of the review process and the steep registration fee, he was reasonably certain that this is a money-making conference with little to no commitment to science.

I did not yet reply to their email, but I am tempted to ask them about the reviewers comments. That might be a funny one.

The conferences call for abstracts makes only a little more sense than Bartnecks paper.

Nuclear and sub-atomic material science it the investigation of the properties, flow and collaborations of the essential (however not major) building pieces of matter.

A bogus research paper reading only Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List repeated over and over again was accepted by the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology, an open-access academic journal, in November 2014.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/22/nonsense-paper-written-by-ios-autocomplete-accepted-for-conference

A possible ninth planet may be the reason for a tilt in our solar system

“A hypothetical giant world beyond Neptune, which could be located in the next few years, orbits at a 30-degree angle to other planets,” astronomers said.

Astronomers presented new research on the possibility of a gigantic, unseen planet beyond Neptune on Wednesday, saying the hypothetical world may have set the solar system at a tilt.

Researchers first suggested a massive ninth planet in January, saying that although this putative world would be about 10 times the size of Earth, it could have escaped a telescopes notice because of its extreme distance from the sun. One year on this planet, according to their calculations, would last 17,000 years on Earth, and it would travel as far away as 93bn miles from the sun, where it would take light a week to arrive.

On Wednesday, astronomers at the California Institute of Technology presented their new evidence in Pasadena, California, at the annual meeting of planetary scientists of the American Astronomical Society.

The search for planet nine, Caltech astronomer Mike Brown said, is as much about understanding the effects of planet nine on the solar system, the physics of planet nine, as it is about understanding where it is.

Brown said that his team had calculated how a hypothetical planet could be responsible for making the sun appear to tilt at an angle. Though the eight planets orbit in an essentially flat plane around the sun, the plane itself rotates at nearly a six-degree angle, making it look like the sun itself is angled. A giant planet with a strange orbit, about 30 degrees off the other planets plane, could account for that wobble, the scientists suggested.

Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, said Elizabeth Bailey, the studys author, the solar system has no choice but to slowly twist out of alignment.

Its such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just dont talk about it, said Brown. If you ask yourself where the sun is tilted in real life theres where we predict it should be, he added, noting that the calculations of mass and orbital angle had results of six degrees.

The amazing thing is for these very standard [observations], Brown said, it tilts it nearly exactly correctly.

At this stage we have so many lines of evidence that theres a massive planet out there, he added, that if theres not a massive planet out there it has to be that there was one there yesterday and disappeared.

Brown suggested that scientists may be able to locate the planet, if it exists, in the next few years, and that his teams work would be published in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

Another team of researchers, led by the University of Arizonas Renu Malhotra, also shared new research suggesting a hypothetical planet though they cautioned that it was by no means proof of the world.

They found that the four objects with the longest known orbits in the Kuiper Belt, the solar systems distant ring of ancient rocks and dwarf planets, would be most easily explained by a mammoth new planet.

These extreme Kuiper Belt objects, which have elongated orbits that come very close to and stray very far from the sun, would probably not be affected by the large planets of the solar system, as the dwarf planet Pluto is affected by Neptune, for instance. The astronomers noticed that these four objects have very simple orbital ratios, said Malhotra, suggesting they are in resonances with an unseen massive planet.

The research narrows down the range where a hypothetical planet could be, Malhotra said, and fit with prior calculations about six Kuiper Belt objects whose orbits appear to be in small ratios with a massive planet.

Our paper provides more specific estimates for the mass and orbit that this planet would have, and, more importantly, constraints on its current position within its orbit, Malhotra said.

Brown and Malhotra both conceded that there are reasons to be skeptical, despite the formers optimism for discovery. There are observational biases all over the Kuiper Belt, Brown said. We always worry about them. we dont think theyre affecting results.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/19/planet-nine-solar-system-tilt-astronomers

Ig Nobel prizes: trousers for rats and the truthfulness of liars

Nobel winning scientists gather for 26th straight year to award the most absurd, strange and curious research of the year

Investigations into rats wearing pants, the personalities of rocks and the truthfulness of 1,000 liars won Ig Nobel prizes on Thursday night at Harvard, where Nobel-winning scientists gathered to honor the strangest research of the year.

The ceremony, now in its 26th year, delivered a $10tn Zimbabwean bill (about 40 cents in US money) to winners. Those who traveled to Boston received their prizes from Nobel laureates: chemist Dudley Herschbach, economist Eric Maskin, Dr Rich Roberts and physicist Roy Glauber.

As in past years, the tone of the awards show vacillated from gleeful absurdism to satire to genuine wonder at the lengths to which scientists will let their curiosity lead them.

Egyptian urologist Ahmed Shafik, for instance, wanted to know the toll that trousers might take on male rats. He made murine trousers covering the animals hind legs with a hole for the tail in various cloths: 100% polyester, 50/50% polyester/cotton, all cotton and all wool.

Rats that wore polyester showed significantly lower rates of sexual activity, Shafik found, perhaps because of the electrostatic charges created by the material. Cotton- and wool-wearing rats were relatively normal.

Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Ferguson, a team from New Zealand and the UK, won the prize in economics for a study of the personalities of rocks. The trio studied a concept called brand personality, or the set of human characteristics associated with the brand for example wholesomeness, youth, intelligence and sophistication by putting pictures of rocks in front of 225 Kiwi students.

The students then decided which of 42 traits, 15 facets and five factors to apply to the rocks in question. One, Rock G, was variously described as a big New York type businessman, rich, smooth, maybe a little shady and carries a black brief case, slick hair, quick thinker and quicker talker. Not a good dude though.

Rock I was described by one student as a gypsy or a traveller, a hippie and by another as liberal, attractive and female, I saw a young person, maybe mid-30s, who was very attractive when she was younger/possibly a model. Has her own way of thinking, with a somewhat grounded confidence, enjoys organic food.

The third rock, Rock H, was called modest, farm mechanic and down-to-earth.

The biology award went to two Britons: Thomas Thwaites, who created prosthetic limbs that let him move like and among goats, and Charles Foster, who has tried to live as a badger, an otter, a fox and a stag.

As a badger, Foster ate worms, dug a hillside den and tried to sniff out voles. Living as an urban fox, he scavenged through trash and slept in gardens. As a goat, Thwaites infiltrated a herd in the Swiss Alps and spent three days eating grass, bleating and stumbling over rocks.

Foster and Thwaites wrote books about their experiments, respectively Being a Beast and GoatMan.

A coalition from the US, Canada, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands won the psychology award, for asking 1,000 liars how often they had lied over the course of their life, and rating how well they lied.

People gradually lied more as they aged out of childhood, the study found, peaking during adolescence, and as adults lied on average twice a day. Lying decreased with age, although some prolific liars may have skewed results. The researchers also acknowledged that the liars might have been lying to them all along.

The peace prize went to a gang of philosophers from Canada and the US who published a paper titled On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.

The researchers studied how people understand gibberish that has been framed as if it means something, by creating random but grammatical sentences of buzzwords that sounded like vaguely meditative posters meant to inspire office drones or distract dental patients from the drill. Examples included wholeness quiets infinite phenomena and hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.

There is little question that bullshit is a real and consequential phenomenon, the scientists wrote, warning that given advances in communication, bullshit may be more pervasive than ever before.

They noted, for example, that Dr Deepak Chopra, an author and MD followed by millions on Twitter, once wrote: Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.

Their mission: Are people able to detect blatant bullshit? Who is most likely to fall prey to bullshit and why?

The philosophers asked 280 students at the University of Waterloo to rate the profoundness of real and invented statements on a scale of one to five, and to search for meaning in those statements. Those students most receptive to bullshit, they found, were less reflective, lower in cognitive ability and more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs.

The researchers admitted their study had limitations, writing: Although this manuscript may not be truly profound, it is indeed meaningful.

A medicine prize was given to German scientists who found that if you have an itch on your left side, you can look into a mirror and scratch your right to relieve it. A perception prize was handed to two Japanese researchers who tried to learn whether bending over and looking at things between your legs changes how things appear.

Physics awards were given to researchers from Hungary, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, who found that white horses attract fewer horseflies and that dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones. The award for literature went to a Swedish author, Fredrik Sjoberg, who wrote a trilogy about collecting flies.

The most surprising winner was for chemistry: the automaker Volkswagen, caught for violating US emissions law, was granted a nearly worthless Zimbabwean bill to help pay for its massive legal costs. The Ig Nobel committee said the award was for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electro-mechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/22/ig-nobel-prizes-trousers-for-rats-and

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