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Engineering Out Loud

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 3:00am
New ways to perform operations on encrypted data without leaking critical information

One thousand feet of ice may contain more than half a million years of climate history

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 3:00am

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The oldest ice core ever drilled outside the polar regions may contain ice that formed during the Stone Age -- more than 600,000 years ago, long before modern humans appeared. Researchers from the United States and China are now studying the core -- nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall -- to assemble one of the longest-ever records of Earth's climate history. What they've found so far provides dramatic evidence of a recent and rapid temperature rise at some of the highest, coldest mountain peaks in the world. In 2015, the researchers ventured to the Guliya Ice Cap in Tibet, where the team captured the ice core.

Image credit: Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center

Using nanotechnology, not water, to clean solar panels

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 3:00am

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Although solar panels might appear bright and shiny, in desert environments -- where they are most frequently installed -- layers of dust and other particles can quickly coat their surfaces. These coatings can affect the panels' ability to absorb sunlight and drastically reduce the conversion of the sun's rays into energy, making it necessary to periodically wash the panels with water. But often, in areas like Nevada, water resources are scarce. Consequently, scientists have turned their attention toward developing technologies for waterless cleaning. NASA has already been using such techniques to wash panels in the lunar and Mars missions, but their developed methodologies prove too expensive for widespread public application. A research team is aiming to develop a water-free cleaning technology that will be cost-effective for large-scale photovoltaic (PV) generation, whereby they look to nanotechnology, rather than water, to clean the panels.

Image credit: Biswajit Das, Director of Nevada Nanotechnology Center/Sanjana Das/University of Nevada, Las Vegas

A future with fewer forests

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 3:00am
A future with fewer forests

The Academic Minute

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 3:00am
Increasing student engagement in physics

Six-decade-old space mystery solved with shoebox-sized satellite called a CubeSat

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 3:00am

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Imagine a fully instrumented satellite the size of a half-gallon milk carton. Then imagine that milk carton whirling in space, catching never-before-seen glimpses of atmospheric and geospace processes. CubeSats, named for the roughly 4-inch-cubed dimensions of their basic building elements, are stacked with smartphone-like electronics and tiny scientific instruments. Built mainly by students and hitching rides into orbit on NASA and U.S. Department of Defense launch vehicles, the small, low-cost satellites have been making history. Now, results from a new study using CubeSats indicate that energetic electrons in Earth's inner radiation belt -- primarily near its inner edge -- are created by cosmic rays born from supernova explosions.

Image credit: University of Colorado Boulder

Massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet has history of instability

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 3:00am

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The East Antarctic Ice Sheet locks away enough water to raise sea level an estimated 53 meters (174 feet), more than any other ice sheet on the planet. It's also thought to be among the most stable, not gaining or losing mass even as ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland shrink. But new research has found that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet may not be as stable as it seems. In fact, the ice sheet has a long history of expanding and shrinking -- a finding that indicates the ice sheet may contribute substantially to global sea-level rise as Earth's climate warms. The new results came from geophysical and geologic data collected during the first-ever oceanographic survey of East Antarctica's Sabrina Coast. The glaciers in this region may be particularly susceptible to climate change because they flow from the Aurora Basin, a region of East Antarctica that lies mostly below sea level.

Image credit: Steffen Saustraup/University of Texas Institute for Geophysics

Oil mixes with water

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 3:00am
Oil mixes with water

The Discovery Files

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 3:00am
Smartphone app detects concussions and other traumatic brain injuries

Taming the quantum beast

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 3:00am

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In a major step toward making a quantum computer using everyday materials, a team led by researchers at Princeton University has constructed a key piece of silicon hardware capable of controlling quantum behavior between two electrons with extremely high precision. The team constructed a gate that controls interactions between the electrons in a way that allows them to act as the quantum bits of information, or qubits, necessary for quantum computing. The demonstration of this nearly error-free, two-qubit gate is an important early step in building a more complex quantum computing device from silicon, the same material used in conventional computers and smartphones.

Image credit: David Zajac

Inland flood threat increasing in South Florida

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 3:00am

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As South Florida raises groundwater levels to fight saltwater intrusion, the threat of inland flooding will only increase, according to newly published research results. Although high groundwater levels in South Florida are a major contributor to inland floods, especially during the wet season or extreme rain events, traditional flood models don't account for the groundwater beneath our feet, scientists have found. Now, hydrologist Michael Sukop of Florida International University and colleagues have released a model that points to South Florida's groundwater policies as a cause of the region's flooding. South Florida protects its drinking water sources from saltwater intrusion by keeping groundwater levels high. As sea level rises, groundwater levels may need to be raised even higher, which could cause yet more flooding, Sukop said.

Image credit: Michael Sukop