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  • richardmitnick 10:49 am on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Education: Combine and conquer, , NATURE,   

    From Nature- “Education: Combine and conquer” 

    Nature Mag

    25 May 2017
    Amber Dance


    Completing two graduate degrees can offer great flexibility.

    In 2009, veterinary ophthalmologist Ron Ofri took a call about a flock of sheep in northern Israel. Some of the lambs were day-blind: they wandered easily at night, but stood motionless when the Sun rose.

    Ofri, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who has a PhD and a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM), examined the sheep. Then he swapped his clinician’s hat for his research one, assessing the sheep’s retinal function and genome using techniques that he had learnt in graduate school. He and his colleagues then determined that some sheep carry a mutation in the same gene that causes human day-blindness. They successfully tested a gene therapy in sheep, and expect to soon launch human trials.

    The combination of a clinical and a research focus has been enormously beneficial, Ofri says. “One enriches the other.”

    Ofri is one of a small group of PhD scientists who have augmented their research training with a professional degree or a master’s in another topic — public health, for example, or physical therapy (see ‘Mix and match’). Data from the US National Science Foundation show that fewer than 1% of the 261,581 people who were awarded a PhD between 2011 and 2015 also earned a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Even fewer combined a PhD with a dental degree.

    Obtaining multiple advanced degrees can open career doors and position scientists to act as a bridge between two fields of expertise. A downside, however, is that they can take a long time to complete — seven years or more, in some cases. The degrees are usually done sequentially, but some programmes make it possible to do them concurrently. The costs vary: during a PhD, tuition and stipends are usually covered by an adviser’s grant or other sources.

    But for professional degrees, students tend to pay their own way or have to apply for partial or full fellowships. Combination programmes can help to lower the costs, because they may fully or partially subsidize the clinical training. Furthermore, government schemes will often waive the repayment of loans for those who go on to perform clinical research.

    Whatever the route, people who successfully complete multiple advanced degrees tend to have clear goals for how they will apply the skills from each, and have the ability to rapidly switch back and forth between the two roles, as Ofri did in his sheep project.

    But it’s not the right course for everyone, says Tim Church, chief medical officer at ACAP Health, a consultancy firm in Dallas, Texas, who has an MD and a PhD. Those mulling over this route, he says, should carefully consider their interest in research and whether the dual degree will lead to a better job. The degrees ended up being a great choice for him, but the cost may not be worth the sacrifices for everyone.

    Bridge builders

    For many, the clinical component comes first. In Europe, for example, people wanting to become dentists generally spend five or six years in training directly after finishing secondary school, says Paulo Melo, a PhD dentist at the University of Porto in Portugal and chair of the working group on education and professional qualifications at the Council of European Dentists. They can then train in a speciality such as oral surgery, or pursue a research master’s or PhD. The number of people who go on to do the research component varies widely by nation and research field, he says.

    Liz Kay, founding dean of the Peninsula Dental School at Plymouth University, UK, has earned a clinical degree in dentistry, a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a PhD in clinical decision-making. Now, she runs a master’s of business administration programme for health-care workers. She spends one day a week in the clinic and teaches, researches and writes. “I’ve always tried to wedge open all my options,” Kay says.

    In the United States, dentistry students typically cannot enrol for a clinical degree, such as a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), until they have done an undergraduate degree. And some universities offer the professional degrees together with a PhD.

    Box 1: Mix and match

    Degrees that can enhance a PhD include, but are not limited to, these programmes.

    MD A Doctor of Medicine often leads to work in academia, with most hours devoted to research, and some to clinical care.
    MBA A Master of Business Administration can help scientists to turn their research into start-up companies or to ascend in industry (see Nature 533, 569–570; 2016).
    JD A Juris Doctor degree allows scientists to apply their technical expertise in patent law (see Nature 423 666–667; 2003).
    DVM Graduates with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine can perform translational research in academia and are highly sought after by pharmaceutical companies.
    DDS Many PhD graduates who have a Doctor of Dental Surgery stay in academia, teaching and performing research.
    MPH A Master of Public Health teaches rigorous statistics that enable researchers to work in areas such as epidemiology.
    DPT A Doctor of Physical Therapy helps PhD graduates to work in an academic post and to do research that informs clinical practice.
    PharmD A Doctor of Pharmacy with a PhD could work at a university or contribute to research or drug development in industry.
    DNP A Doctor of Nursing Practice prepares PhD graduates to perform research in nursing science and to teach in nursing schools.
    MSCI A Master of Science in Clinical Investigation produces a greater understanding of clinical research and opens up careers in clinical trials.
    MPP A Master of Public Policy sets graduates up to work in academia, government or research firms, analysing and developing child, family and educational policies.

    Professors who train students in such dual-degree programmes say that there’s a need for graduates who can change gear with ease. Michael Atchison, director of the veterinary–PhD programme at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia, says that his graduates are particularly desirable to pharmaceutical companies, which often struggle to find people who can adapt molecular and cellular data for use in an entire organism, he says.

    According to a 2013 report by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), about one-quarter of the veterinary surgeons in contract research organizations hold PhDs, and they work mostly in safety research. In animal-health companies, about one-third hold PhDs, and they work mainly in clinical research and development. According to a 2007 NAS questionnaire, 24 of 170, or 37%, of company job adverts for full-time vets sought candidates with a PhD and a veterinary degree.

    The NAS report estimated that an average of 83 North American vets enrolled in a PhD programme each year between 2007 and 2011. Further education is a popular option for vets in Europe. A 2015 survey by the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe found that 21% of veterinary-degree recipients earn a PhD or master’s as well.

    The dual degree may be a requirement for some jobs. Daisuke Ito says that applicants for his job as a medical-science liaison at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Fukuoka, Japan, were required to have both a PhD and an MD or veterinary-medicine degree. Liaisons use their scientific expertise throughout the drug-development process, and maintain relationships between the company and academic physicians.

    In 2014, Emory School of Medicine partnered up with the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta to offer a combined PhD and doctor of physical therapy (DPT) scheme. They, too, expect that the graduates will fill a niche, not least because one-fifth of the US population has a disability, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There’s a growing recognition about the need for robust rehabilitation science and researchers,” says programme director Edelle Field-Fote.

    Hiring committees may feel that having a PhD shows that a candidate has proven their ability to complete a complex project, says veterinary microbiologist Patrick Butaye of Ross University in Basseterre, West Indies. Butaye earned his veterinary degree at the University of Ghent in Belgium, where the six-year programme includes both undergraduate and graduate course work. He then got a PhD from the university, and now holds an associate appointment there.

    The system is similar in South Korea, says Jong Hyuk Kim, a cancer researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Kim wanted to know more about the diseases he’d been trained to treat during his six-year veterinary programme at Konkuk University in Seoul. So, in his final semester, he took some pathology courses that would count for credit in a PhD programme, and enrolled in that PhD course immediately after completing his veterinary degree. He estimates that about 10% of his classmates did so, too. Both Butaye and Kim note that their PhDs made it easier for them to find work abroad.

    Most countries allow people to work for two advanced degrees sequentially, but truly dual programmes seem to be concentrated in the United States. Yet even there, they are rare. About 120 US universities offer MD–PhD programmes, 15 have vet–PhD courses and around a dozen have PhD–DDS combinations.

    Ron Ofri is often called on to assess eye infections at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem. Ron Ofri

    Dual programmes appeal most to students with a strong educational drive and clear goals. Osefame Ewaleifoh, for instance, was interested in combining tightly focused neurovirology questions with a wide view of public health. That brought him to the PhD–MPH programme at the Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. In his PhD lab, he studies the brain’s protections against viral invasion; in his public-health work, he’s implementing education for refugees to improve long-term health outcomes.

    Of course, joint programmes can be costly. At the University of Buffalo in New York, Erik Hefti is the first student to embark on a combined PhD–doctor of pharmacy course. He took out loans for his pharmacy degree. Now doing the PhD component, he works nights in a hospital pharmacy so that he can pay off those loans before they accumulate too much interest.

    For those who pay their own way through a professional course, the addition of a PhD can help to cut down on the debt. Church says that he owed nearly US$300,000 — mostly from the MD — by the time he’d finished medical school, a PhD and an MPH course. But because he went on to perform clinical research, government programmes helped Church to pay it off within ten years.

    Choose your adventure

    Even if a university doesn’t offer a specific dual programme, students may be able to design their own, says Steven Anderson, associate director for the Driskill programme, which now allows PhD students to pursue an MPH or a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI), after a few students did so on their own.

    Eric Skaar was the first PhD student to do this. He was interested in molecular epidemiology, and hoped that the master’s would position him for jobs investigating disease outbreaks. At first, the university wasn’t eager to let him enrol in the MPH, which at the time was meant only for medical students. But by promising that it would enhance his PhD, not distract from it, he found faculty support.

    Skaar set rules with himself and his PhD adviser — that he’d be a research student until evening, when he attended his public-health classes. He aligned his two courses with a PhD dissertation on how the bacterium that causes gonorrhoea evades the immune system, and a public-health thesis on the epidemiology of the sexually transmitted infection. He never did become an outbreak investigator, but is now director of the division of molecular pathogenesis at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. Thanks to the MPH, he can approach his work on hospital infections with an epidemiological background.

    Students who want to create an ad hoc joint degree should be prepared to hack through plenty of bureaucratic red tape, warns Anderson. Particularly if the degrees are administered by different schools within an institution, basic issues such as tuition and class registration can be tricky. In fact, he’s not sure what form Driskill’s MPH option will take in the future, because he’s working out how to manage the tuition.

    Balancing act

    The multiple-degree path is mentally tricky, too. Ofri notes that people in his clinic don’t understand why he spends so much time in the lab, and his students wonder why he’s always in the clinic. It’s near-impossible to maintain a perfect 50–50 split, says Jaime Modiano, a graduate of the Penn vet–PhD course and now director of the Animal Cancer Care and Research Program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and in St Paul. He decided to forego taking the veterinary board exam, opting for a research postdoc instead.

    Butaye made a similar decision: he researches antibiotic resistance in microbes. But he appreciates the veterinary degree for giving him the flexibility to work in multiple species.

    The balancing act is especially challenging for students during dual-degree programmes. “You have to be able to manage these two very different things you’re doing at the same time,” says Modiano.

    In veterinary classes, he had to memorize and integrate masses of information, then apply it immediately to treat animals. In research, he had to find the information himself and integrate it to spur future discoveries. “People who are successful are highly adaptable,” he says.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 10:24 pm on May 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , G-d and Organized Religion, G-d and Science, , NATURE, Pope Francis   

    From Nature: “Keep doors open for constructive dialogue between religion and science” 

    Nature Mag

    15 May 2017
    Editorial – No writer credit. How does that work?

    [There is no chasm between Science and G-d, only between Science and Organized Religion. One day, Science will find G-d. It took 60 years and €12 billion to find the Higgs Boson. That is nothing compared to the ultimate search for G-d, who created everything.]

    A meeting between the Pope, patients and researchers acknowledges how the two sectors can help each other.

    People in developing nations are aiding research into the genetics behind Huntington’s disease. Dara Mohammadi

    Dilia is the oldest of an unusual crowd of people due to meet Pope Francis this week at the Vatican. The 79-year-old widow from rural Colombia married into a family whose members carry the gene for Huntington’s disease, a hereditary neurodegenerative disorder. Fate was cruel. Of her 11 children, 9 inherited the disease. Five have died and the remaining four are sick. The next generation is affected, too. One grandchild has died and five more show symptoms.

    Those symptoms — involuntary, jerky movements accompanied by mood swings and cognitive decline — are aggressive and carry stigma. Patients and their families often live out of sight and in dreadful conditions, especially in developing nations. Dilia’s village has limited access to running water.

    Despite their own hardship, many have helped research into the condition — with little tangible reward. Most of them are Catholics, so their meeting with Pope Francis is a thank you from the scientists who arranged the event. These researchers are acutely aware of how much they have relied on the patients — the gene that causes Huntington’s was discovered thanks to tissue donations from poor Venezuelan families — and that they have not been able to do anything to change their dire situation.

    The fact that Pope Francis quickly agreed to meet the families speaks to his hallmark philosophy of reaching out to poor and disadvantaged people. But it is also further evidence of a new openness towards science, which has followed a 2015 encyclical — a letter of guidance on particular themes written by a pope to his bishops — called Laudato si’. The encyclical argued for better stewardship of the planet and excited scientists with its forthright pronouncements on the need to control greenhouse gases and with its implicit acceptance of the principles of evolution in well-informed discussion of the need to protect biodiversity. It also acknowledges the value of scientific and academic freedom in society, and the need for open scientific debate on advances in biology.

    The Huntington’s event is a gesture that shows in a small but significant way in which religious leaders and science can work towards a common goal.

    While the Vatican has supported its elite Pontifical Academy of Sciences for more than 80 years, other grass-roots initiatives are emerging.


    For example, last month Italian researchers collaborated with The Lancet to organize a conference in Rome called (with undeniable hubris) The Future of Humanity Through the Lens of Medical Science. Attended by Nobel laureates and Vatican officials, its discussions ranged beyond biomedicine to encompass themes such as climate change and migration, mirroring the spectrum of Laudato si’.

    There is a chasm between religion and science that cannot be bridged. For all its apparent science-friendliness, Laudato si’ sticks to the traditional Vatican philosophy that the scientific method cannot deliver the full truth about the world. However, there is still much to be discussed on how each side can help the other to converge on shared goals.

    The Catholic Church has more than 1.2 billion members and can thus have broad influence on the acceptance of facts that some politicians choose to distort — such as the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Scientists can provide technical solutions for poor and sick people, thereby assisting the work of missionaries.

    In Rome, Huntington’s researchers still desperately seeking a treatment for the disease will have an opportunity to discuss with Pope Francis sensitive issues relating to avoidance of the disease, namely contraception and embryo selection. Francis rarely misses an opportunity to reiterate his view of the sanctity of the human embryo (a theologically debatable Vatican position that has hindered important stem-cell research in some countries) but he seems to keep his views on contraception — outlawed by the Church — deliberately ambiguous. The special audience may help to encourage a much-needed move from the Vatican towards the mercy (and reality — Catholics in rich countries routinely ignore the ban) of finally allowing followers, including those with devastating hereditary disease, to take control of their fertility.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 3:32 pm on May 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Biology [et al] needs more staff scientists, , NATURE,   

    From Nature: “Biology needs more staff scientists” 

    Nature Mag

    16 May 2017
    Steven Hyman

    Independent professionals advance science in ways faculty-run labs cannot, and such positions keep talented people in research, argues Steven Hyman.

    Staff scientist Stacey Gabriel co-authored 25 of the most highly cited papers worldwide in 2015. Maria Nemchuk/Broad Inst.

    [I have to ask, I do a Women in STEM series, why are the women I see always so good looking. This cannot be normal. No uglies, no fatties, that just does not compute.]

    Most research institutions are essentially collections of independent laboratories, each run by principal investigators who head a team of trainees. This scheme has ancient roots and a track record of success. But it is not the only way to do science. Indeed, for much of modern biomedical research, the traditional organization has become limiting.

    A different model is thriving at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I work.

    Broad Institute Campus

    In the 1990s, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, a self-governing organization in Cambridge affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), became the academic leader in the Human Genome Project. This meant inventing and applying methods to generate highly accurate DNA sequences, characterize errors precisely and analyse the outpouring of data. These project types do not fit neatly into individual doctoral theses. Hence, the institute created a central role for staff scientists — individuals charged with accomplishing large, creative and ambitious projects, including inventing the means to do so. These non-faculty scientists work alongside faculty members and their teams in collaborative groups.

    When leaders from the Whitehead helped to launch the Broad Institute in 2004, they continued this model. Today, our work at the Broad would be unthinkable without professional staff scientists — biologists, chemists, data scientists, statisticians and engineers. These researchers are not pursuing a tenured academic post and do not supervise graduate students, but do cooperate on and lead projects that could not be accomplished by a single academic laboratory.

    Physics long ago saw the need to expand into different organizational models. The Manhattan Project, which during the Second World War harnessed nuclear energy for the atomic bomb, was not powered by graduate students. Europe’s particle-physics laboratory, CERN, does not operate as atomized labs with each investigator pursuing his or her own questions.


    CERN/LHC Map

    CERN LHC Tunnel

    CERN LHC particles

    And the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena relies on professional scientists to get spacecraft to Mars.

    NASA JPL-Caltech Campus

    A different tack

    In biology, many institutes in addition to the Broad are experimenting with new organizational principles. The Mechanobiology Institute in Singapore pushes its scientists to use tools from other disciplines by discouraging individual laboratories from owning expensive equipment unless it is shared by all. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, and the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, effectively mix the work of faculty members and staff scientists. Disease-advocacy organizations, such as the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, do their own research without any faculty members at all.

    Each of these institutes has a unique mandate, and many are fortunate in having deep resources. They also had to be willing to break with tradition and overcome cultural barriers.

    At famed research facilities of yore, such as Bell Labs and IBM Laboratories, the title ‘staff scientist’ was a badge of honour. Yet to some biologists the term suggests a permanent postdoc or senior technician — someone with no opportunities for advancement who works solely in a supervisor’s laboratory, or who runs a core facility providing straightforward services. That characterization sells short the potential of professional scientists.

    The approximately 430 staff scientists at the Broad Institute develop cutting-edge computational methods, invent and incorporate new processes into research pipelines and pilot and optimize methodologies. They also transform initial hits from drug screens into promising chemical compounds and advance techniques to analyse huge data sets. In summary, they chart the path to answering complex scientific questions.

    Although the work of staff scientists at the Broad Institute is sometimes covered by charging fees to its other labs, our faculty members would never just drop samples off with a billing code and wait for data to be delivered. Instead, they sit down with staff scientists to discuss whether there is an interesting collaboration to be had and to seek advice on project design. Indeed, staff scientists often initiate collaborations.

    Naturally, tensions still arise. They can play out in many ways, from concerns over how fees are structured, to questions about authorship. Resolving these requires effort, and it is a task that will never definitively be finished.

    In my view, however, the staff-scientist model is a win for all involved. Complex scientific projects advance more surely and swiftly, and faculty members can address questions that would otherwise be out of reach. This model empowers non-faculty scientists to make independent, creative contributions, such as pioneering new algorithms or advancing technologies. There is still much to do, however. We are working to ensure that staff scientists can continue to advance their careers, mentor others and help to guide the scientific direction of the institute.

    As the traditional barriers break down, science benefits. Technologies that originate in a faculty member’s lab sometimes attract more collaborations than one laboratory could sustain. Platforms run by staff scientists can incorporate, disseminate and advance these technologies to capture more of their potential. For example, the Broad Institute’s Genetic Perturbation Platform, run by physical chemist David Root, has honed high-throughput methods for RNA interference and CRISPR screens so that they can be used across the genome in diverse biological contexts. Staff scientists make the faculty more productive through expert support, creativity, added capacity and even mentoring in such matters as the best use of new technologies. The reverse is also true: faculty members help staff scientists to gain impact.

    Our staff scientists regularly win scientific prizes and are invited to give keynote lectures. They apply for grants as both collaborators and independent investigators, and publish regularly. Since 2011, staff scientists have led 36% of all the federal grants awarded for research projects at the Broad Institute (see ‘Staff-led grants’). One of our staff scientists, genomicist Stacey Gabriel, topped Thomson Reuters’ citation analysis of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds in 2016. She co-authored 25 of the most highly cited papers in 2015 — a fact that illustrates both how collaborative the Broad is and how central genome-analysis technologies are to answering key biological questions.

    Source: Broad Inst.

    At the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, which I direct, staff scientists built and operate HAIL, a powerful open-source tool for analysis of massive genetics data sets. By decreasing computational time, HAIL has made many tasks 10 times faster, and some 100 times faster. Staff scientist Joshua Levin has developed and perfected RNA-sequencing methods used by many colleagues to analyse models of autism spectrum disorders and much else. Nick Patterson, a mathematician and computational biologist at the Stanley Center, began his career by cracking codes for the British government during the cold war. Today, he uses DNA to trace past migrations of entire civilizations, helps to solve difficult computational problems and is a highly valued support for many biologists.

    Irrational resistance

    Why haven’t more research institutions expanded the roles of staff scientists? One reason is that they can be hard to pay for, especially by conventional means. Some funding agencies look askance at supporting this class of professionals; after all, graduate students and postdocs are paid much less. In my years leading the US National Institute of Mental Health, I encountered people in funding bodies across the world who saw a rising ratio of staff to faculty members or of staff to students as evidence of fat in the system.

    That said, there are signs of flexibility. In 2015, the US National Cancer Institute began awarding ‘research specialist’ grants — a limited, tentative effort designed in part to provide opportunities for staff scientists. Sceptical funders should remember that trainees often take years to become productive. More importantly, institutions’ misuse of graduates and postdocs as cheap labour is coming under increasing criticism (see, for example, B. Alberts et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 5773–5777; 2014).

    Faculty resistance is also a factor. I served as Harvard University’s provost (or chief academic officer) for a decade. Several years in, I launched discussions aimed at expanding roles for staff scientists. Several faculty members worried openly about competition for space and other scarce resources, especially if staff scientists were awarded grants but had no teaching responsibilities. Many recoiled from any trappings of corporatism or from changes that felt like an encroachment on their decision-making. Some were explicitly concerned about a loss of access and control, and were not aware of the degree to which staff scientists’ technological expertise and cross-disciplinary training could help to answer their research questions.

    Institutional leaders can mitigate these concerns by ensuring that staff positions match the shared goals of the faculty — for scientific output, education and training. They must explain how staff-scientist positions create synergies rather than silos. Above all, hiring plans must be developed collaboratively with faculty members, not by administrators alone.

    The Broad Institute attracts world-class scientists, as both faculty members and staff. Its appeal has much to do with how staff scientists enable access to advanced technology, and a collaborative culture that makes possible large-scale projects rarely found in academia. The Broad is unusual — all faculty members also have appointments at Harvard University, MIT or Harvard-affiliated hospitals. The institute has also benefited from generous philanthropy from individuals and foundations that share our values and believe in our scientific mission.

    Although traditional academic labs have been and continue to be very productive, research institutions should look critically and creatively at their staffing. Creating a structure like that of the Broad Institute would be challenging in a conventional university. Still, I believe any institution that is near an academic health centre or that has significant needs for advanced technology could benefit from and sustain the careers of staff scientists. If adopted judiciously, these positions would enable institutions to take on projects of unprecedented scope and scale. It would also create a much-needed set of highly rewarding jobs for the rising crop of talented researchers, particularly people who love science and technology but who do not want to pursue increasingly scarce faculty positions.

    A scientific organization should be moulded to the needs of science, rather than constrained by organizational traditions.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 12:13 pm on May 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NATURE, , You can Help Stamp Out EBOLA   

    From Nature: “Ebola vaccine could get first real-world test in emerging outbreak” 

    Nature Mag

    12 May 2017
    Amy Maxmen

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo has reported nine suspected cases of infection in recent weeks.

    The most recent Ebola epidemic, in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, killed more than 11,000 people. Jane Hahn/Washington Post

    An outbreak of the Ebola virus has emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the World Health Organization (WHO) said on 12 May.

    Ebola virus virion. Created by GC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith, this colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion.
    Source Public Health Image Library, #10816

    Congolese authorities have reported nine suspected cases of Ebola infection in the past three weeks; the WHO has confirmed one, and tests are pending on others. Now health officials are considering whether to deploy an experimental Ebola vaccine against the outbreak, for the first time since the WHO gave it preliminary approval in April.

    The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders) is discussing a potential vaccination campaign with the Congolese government, an MSF spokesperson says.


    That would require the approval of the WHO, which has not decided whether to call on the approved experimental vaccine or others in development, says WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević. Still, he says, “we are taking this [outbreak] seriously because Ebola is always serious”. The most recent outbreak of the virus, in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, killed 11,325 people; there have been several known outbreaks in the DRC, but none has been as severe as the West African one.

    There are now 12 candidate Ebola vaccines in development. None is yet approved for sale, in part because the candidates were not ready for testing until the West African Ebola crisis was on the wane. But on 27 April, the WHO’s advisory group on immunization recommended that an experimental vaccine called rVSV-SEBOV be deployed promptly should an Ebola outbreak arise.

    Developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed by the drug companies NewLink Genetics of Ames, Iowa, and Merck of Kenilworth, New Jersey, rVSV-ZEBOV showed promise in a study published in The Lancet last December1. The trial included 11,841 people in Guinea in 2015, near the end of the Ebola outbreak there. None of the 5,837 people who received the vaccine had developed the disease ten days after vaccination. But there were 23 cases among the thousands of other people included in the trial.

    A look ahead

    The deployment of rVSV-ZEBOV may be warranted in the DRC, because the vaccine is based on the Zaire strain of Ebola — the same strain that is driving the current outbreak, says Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. If public-health authorities decide to proceed, there is a supply of rVSV-ZEBPV at the ready: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, signed an agreement with Merck in 2016 to purchase 300,000 doses of vaccine for use in future outbreaks.

    Historically, outbreaks in the DRC have never approached the unprecedented severity of the West Africa epidemic. The most recent Ebola outbreak in the DRC occurred in the Bas-Uele province — the site of the current episode — and killed 49 people over 3 months. The gap in severity is due in part to the DRC’s infrastructure and geography. Whereas people, and the viruses they carry, travel fluidly between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, rough roads impede movement in many parts of the DRC. This means that outbreaks there kill people, but fizzle out without spreading very far.

    The DRC also benefits from Ebola expertise that its doctors and researchers have built up over the years. Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, director-general of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, is well known among Ebola experts for curbing the DRC’s first outbreak, in 1976, and many thereafter. He works to engage affected communities immediately, to build their trust in medical teams and to help them understand the importance of not touching others in checking the spread of the virus.

    Muyembe-Tamfum “is probably out there already”, says David Heymann, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He recalls how Muyembe-Tamfum — who could not be reached for comment — helped to contain past outbreaks by telling village chiefs that Ebola was an evil spirit, which passes to people when they touch the infected. “Muyembe talks with people in a way that they will understand quickly,” Heymann says. “He does whatever he believes is effective, and it is.”

    See the full article for references with links.

    See the full article here .

    You can Help Stamp Out EBOLA.

    This WCG project runs at Scripps Institute


    Outsmart Ebola Together

    Visit World Community Grid (WCG). Download and install the BOINC software on which it runs. Attach to the Outsmart Ebola Together project. This will allow WCG to use your computer’s free CPU cycles to process computational data for the project.

    While you are at WCG and BOINC, check out the other very worthwhile projects running on this software. All project results are “open source”, free for the use of scientists world while to advance health and other issues of mankind.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 8:27 am on May 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Europe’s billion-euro quantum project takes shape, NATURE,   

    From Nature: “Europe’s billion-euro quantum project takes shape” 

    Nature Mag

    03 May 2017
    Elizabeth Gibney

    Quantum computers are Europe’s next big project. Ion Quantum Technology Group, Univ. Sussex

    Scientists offer more detail on flagship programme to harness quantum effects in devices.

    As China and the United States threaten to corner the market on quantum technologies, Europe is slowly waking up to the opportunity with investment of its own. A year ago, the European Commission announced that it would create a €1-billion (US$1.1-billion) research effort in the field, and it should start to invite grant applications later this year. But scientists coordinating the project say that they are already concerned because industry partners seem reluctant to invest.

    Members of an advisory group steering the Quantum Technology Flagship, as the project is called, gave details of how it will work at a meeting on 7 April at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in London. The project aims to exploit the bizarre behaviour shown by quantum systems to develop new technologies, such as super-secure communication systems and miniature, ultra-accurate sensors.

    Quantum computers are Europe’s next big project.

    As China and the United States threaten to corner the market on quantum technologies, Europe is slowly waking up to the opportunity with investment of its own. A year ago, the European Commission announced that it would create a €1-billion (US$1.1-billion) research effort in the field, and it should start to invite grant applications later this year. But scientists coordinating the project say that they are already concerned because industry partners seem reluctant to invest.

    Members of an advisory group steering the Quantum Technology Flagship, as the project is called, gave details of how it will work at a meeting on 7 April at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in London. The project aims to exploit the bizarre behaviour shown by quantum systems to develop new technologies, such as super-secure communication systems and miniature, ultra-accurate sensors.

    But the programme is playing catch-up. Many labs in rival regions are already developing quantum technologies, including at large firms such as Google and Microsoft.

    “Europe cannot afford to miss this train,” says Vladimir Buzek, a member of the advisory group and a physicist at the Research Center for Quantum Information of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava. “The industry here, to my taste, is really waiting too long,” he said at the meeting.

    Launched in April 2016 as part of an apparently unrelated initiative in cloud-computing, the quantum project is the European Commission’s latest decade-long, billion-euro initiative. Yet, the two previous EU mega-projects — the Graphene Flagship and the Human Brain Project, both announced in 2013 — have yet to fully prove their value. The latter has been plagued by disputes over its leadership. And both have had difficulty drumming up complementary investment from member states, says Tommaso Calarco, a physicist at the Centre for Integrated Quantum Science and Technology at the Universities of Ulm and Stuttgart in Germany, and another adviser on the steering committeee.

    The Quantum Technology Flagship will work differently, he says. Rather than run largely as a closed consortium selected at the project’s outset, it will operate with open calls throughout. He says that this should ensure high levels of competition, and offer the flexibility to fund the best researchers throughout. And he hopes that it will encourage member states to invest nationally to make stronger bids for funding.

    Some European countries show signs of supporting the project. Hungary, Austria and Germany have all announced their own national quantum-technology programmes since the flagship’s launch. The German initiative, called QUTEGA, is currently in a pilot form, but is likely to be worth around €300 million over 10 years. Initial projects include miniaturized magnetic sensors, which pick up tiny electric currents and could be used to monitor the brain during surgery, as well as small, transportable, high-precision atomic clocks, says Gerd Leuchs, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light, Erlangen, and coordinator of the project.

    Product potential

    The European flagship will focus on four quantum technologies: communication, computing, sensing and simulation. It will also incorporate basic science. Although Europe produces some of the best research in these fields, other regions file more patents, says Martino Travagnin, who, along with his colleagues at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, has analysed patenting in quantum technologies.

    China currently dominates in quantum communication, which uses quantum properties of particles to develop shared secret keys for encryption. The country holds the most patents in the field and is already trialling both a quantum-communication satellite and a 2,000-kilometre secure ground-based link. And the United States leads on patents in quantum computing and ultra-sensitive sensors.

    Companies are involved with the EU project, Buzek told the meeting, with 12 representatives on the expert group. “But industry seems like it’s just waiting for what the academy is going to produce, and then at some point, it’s willing to take the result,” he said. Although EU companies might lack the cash to dive into quantum technologies, as their US counterparts have done, smaller companies could invest in producing crucial components, he said.

    Brexit problems

    One problem facing the quantum-flagship scheme is the possible loss of the United Kingdom, one of Europe’s strongest research communities in quantum technology. (Following the Brexit vote, the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union in 2019, the year in which the first projects kick off.) The United Kingdom is one of the few nations to involve relevant companies in the research, Calarco points out, through its £350-million (US$450-million) UK National Quantum Technologies Programme. He hopes that the United Kingdom will be able to continue in some capacity — either by paying into the European funding pot, as Switzerland does, or through a match-funding model.

    The timing of the project should also play in its favour, he notes. A UK government commitment to underwrite funding for existing EU projects means that the early years of investment will be guaranteed. The next round should start sufficiently long enough after the Brexit negotiation for a solution to have emerged. “Given the circumstances, this is the best timing we could imagine,” he says.

    See the full article here .

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 1:13 pm on April 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NATURE, ,   

    From Nature: “Muons’ big moment could fuel new physics” 

    Nature Mag

    11 April 2017
    Elizabeth Gibney

    The Muon g-2 experiment will look for deviations from the standard model by measuring how muons wobble in a magnetic field. Credit: FNAL

    In the search for new physics, experiments based on high-energy collisions inside massive atom smashers are coming up empty-handed. So physicists are putting their faith in more-precise methods: less crash-and-grab and more watching-ways-of-wobbling. Next month, researchers in the United States will turn on one such experiment. It will make a super-accurate measurement of the way that muons, heavy cousins of electrons, behave in a magnetic field. And it could provide evidence of the existence of entirely new particles.

    The particles hunted by the new experiment, at the Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, comprise part of the virtual soup that surrounds and interacts with all forms of matter. Quantum theory says that short-lived virtual particles constantly ‘blip’ in and out of existence. Physicists already account for the effects of known virtual particles, such as photons and quarks. But the virtual soup might have mysterious, and as yet unidentified, ingredients. And muons could be particularly sensitive to them.

    The new Muon g−2 experiment will measure this sensitivity with unparalleled precision. And in doing so, it will reanalyse a muon anomaly that has puzzled physicists for more than a decade. If the experiment confirms that the anomaly is real, then the most likely explanation is that it is caused by virtual particles that do not appear in the existing physics playbook — the standard model.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    Adapted from go.nature.com/2naoxaw

    “It would be the first direct evidence of not only physics beyond the standard model, but of entirely new particles,” says Dominik Stöckinger, a theorist at the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, and a member of the Muon g−2 collaboration.

    Physicists are crying out for a successor to the standard model — a theory that has been fantastically successful yet is known to be incomplete because it fails to account for many phenomena, such as the existence of dark matter. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, have not revealed a specific chink, despite performing above expectation and carrying out hundreds of searches for physics beyond the standard model. The muon anomaly is one of only a handful of leads that physicists have.

    Measurements of the muon’s magnetic moment — a fundamental property that relates to the particle’s inherent magnetism — could hold the key, because it is tweaked by interactions with virtual particles. When last measured 15 years ago at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, the muon’s magnetic moment was larger than theory predicts.

    BNL RHIC Campus


    FNAL G-2 magnet from Brookhaven Lab finds a new home in the FNAL Muon G-2 experiment

    Physicists think that interaction with unknown particles, perhaps those envisaged by a theory called supersymmetry, might have caused this anomaly.

    Other possible explanations are a statistical fluke, or a flaw in the theorists᾽ standard-model calculation, which combines the complex effects of known particles. But that is becoming less likely, says Stöckinger, who says that new calculation methods and experimental cross-checks make the theoretical side much more robust than it was 15 years ago.

    “With this tantalizing result from Brookhaven, you really have to do a better experiment,” says Lee Roberts, a physicist at Boston University in Massachusetts, who is joint leader of the Muon g−2 experiment. The Fermilab set-up will use 20 times the number of muons used in the Brookhaven experiment to shrink uncertainty by a factor of 4. “If we agree, but with much smaller error, that will show definitively that there’s some particle that hasn’t been observed anywhere else,” he says.

    To probe the muons, Fermilab physicists will inject the particles into a magnetic field contained in a ring some 14 metres across. Each particle has a magnetic property called spin, which is analogous to Earth spinning on its axis. As the muons travel around the ring at close to the speed of light, their axes of rotation wobble in the field, like off-kilter spinning tops. Combining this precession rate with a measurement of the magnetic field gives the particles’ magnetic moment.

    Since the Brookhaven result, some popular explanations for the anomaly — including effects of hypothetical dark photons — seem to have been ruled out by other experiments, says Stöckinger. “But if you look at the whole range of scenarios for physics beyond the standard model, there are many possibilities.”

    Fermilab is the home of the Muon g−2 experiment.

    Although a positive result would give little indication of exactly what the new particles are, it would provide clues to how other experiments might pin them down. If the relatively large Brookhaven discrepancy is maintained, it can only come from relatively light particles, which should be within reach of the LHC, says Stöckinger, even if they interact so rarely that it takes years for them to emerge.

    Indeed, the desire to build on previous findings is so strong that to avoid possible bias, Fermilab experimenters will process their incoming results ‘blind’ and apply a different offset to each of two measurements that combine to give the magnetic moment. Only once the offsets are revealed will anyone know whether they have proof of new particles hiding in the quantum soup. “Until then nobody knows what the answer is,” says Roberts. “It will be an exciting moment.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:14 am on March 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NATURE, Time Crystals, Time crystals' latest quantum weirdness   

    From COSMOS: “‘Time crystals’ latest quantum weirdness” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    10 March 2017
    Richard A Lovett

    From this article

    [Other depictions:

    Scientists have confirmed a brand new phase of matter: time crystals – ScienceAlert

    Popular Mechanics

    Berkeley scientists unveil new form of matter known as time crystals

    Enough of that.]

    Two American teams of scientists have independently created the world’s first “time crystals”, but don’t order up a trip on the TARDIS anytime soon, because the crystals in question have nothing to do with time travel.

    Both sets of research have been published in Nature.

    The quest to crystallize time

    [Only one article is popping up. Totally unacceptable from Nature.]

    Here is one in Physical Review Letters.

    “I’m not responsible for its name,” laughs Mikhail Lukin, a physicist at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, lead author on one of the papers.

    Chetan Nayak, principal researcher at Microsoft’s Station Q and a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, puts it more simply. “What they observed is a new state of matter,” he says.

    Nayak is responsible for a third paper in the journal, explaining the significance of the discovery.

    What’s unique about the crystals, Lukin says, is that they have properties that repeat over time in a manner analogous to the way the atoms in crystal lattices repeat over space.

    Repeating phenomena, of course, aren’t a big deal. “Every year we have spring, summer, and fall,” Lukin notes.

    But most repeating phenomena are easily altered. An AC electrical current, for example, can be changed by altering the spin rate of the dynamo that produces it. The length of the Earth’s seasons would change if, heaven forbid, a giant asteroid hit us, altering our orbit.

    To understand time crystals, we need to start by considering liquids and gases. In these, Lukin says, molecules are uniformly distributed in a way that makes one point in the liquid or gas basically the same as all other points.

    But in crystals, atoms are arranged in repeating patterns that mean that once you know the position of one atom, you can pinpoint the locations of all the others. Furthermore, crystals are rigid. If you bash on one, you aren’t going to see one atom move one way, while another moves a different way, as would happen if you sloshed a tub of water or let the air out of a balloon.

    Crystals are common to our normal understanding of nature. Time crystals aren’t. In fact, it was only recently that anyone even hypothesized they might exist.

    Their atoms operate in a sort of time-array, as opposed to a physical array. The time crystal created by Lukin’s team was a synthetic black diamond, meaning that it was a diamond with a million or so “nitrogen vacancy” impurities — so many they made it appear black.

    The electrons in these impurities have spins: they can react to electromagnetic pulses by flipping 180 degrees, analogous to what happens to nuclei in the human body during magnetic resonance imaging.

    Normally, you would expect the spins to flip back and forth in synchronisation with the pulse. But that is not what happened. Instead, when Lukin’s team tried it with their black diamond, the spins flipped only once for every two or three pulses.

    Shivaji Sondhi, a theoretical physicist at Princeton University in New Jersey, who was part of the team that in 2015 first theorised that such crystals might be possible, compares the effect to repeatedly squeezing on a sponge.

    “When you release the sponge, you expect it to resume its shape,” he says. “Imagine that it only resumes its shape every second squeeze, even though you are applying the same force each time.”

    In the second study, a team lead by the Christopher Monroe, physicist at the University of Maryland, used a chain of 14 charged ytterbium ions, but got essentially the same result.

    Furthermore, the scientists found, varying the incoming electromagnetic pulse didn’t particularly alter the response. In other words, the time crystal’s response was stable, not strongly affected by variances that would normally scramble it and rapidly lead to disorder.

    Applications are up in the air. “It’s very early days,” says Nayak. “I think applications will become more clear as we expand the contexts in which we can create time crystals.”

    One possibility is that this might be used in futuristic quantum computers. “What a time crystal is doing is manipulating quantum information in a period manner,” says Nayak. “That’s potentially useful for quantum information processing.”

    Lukin says that another potential application is in developing sensing instruments capable of working on very small scales. These instruments could be designed with numerous tiny time crystals, tightly packed.

    The crystals would react to electrical or magnetic impulses in their local environment, but would not be easily perturbed by whatever is going on nearby. “We believe these will enable new approaches for [what are] basically quantum sensors,” Lukin says.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:32 pm on March 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NATURE, Science journalism can be evidence-based compelling — and wrong   

    From Nature: “Science journalism can be evidence-based, compelling — and wrong” 

    Nature Mag

    07 March 2017

    Many science journalists rely on peer review to check their stories are true.

    There has been much gnashing of teeth in the science-journalism community this week, with the release of an infographic that claims to rate the best and worst sites for scientific news. According to the American Council on Science and Health, which helped to prepare the ranking, the field is in a shoddy state. “If journalism as a whole is bad (and it is),” says the council, “science journalism is even worse. Not only is it susceptible to the same sorts of biases that afflict regular journalism, but it is uniquely vulnerable to outrageous sensationalism”.

    News aggregator RealClearScience, which also worked on the analysis, goes further: “Much of science reporting is a morass of ideologically driven junk science, hyped research, or thick, technical jargon that almost no one can understand”.

    How — without bias or outrageous sensationalism, of course — do they judge the newspapers and magazines that emerge from this sludge? Simple: they rank each by how evidence-based and compelling they subjectively judge its content to be. Modesty (almost) prevents us from naming the publication graded highest on both (okay, it’s Nature), but some names are lower than they would like. Big hitters including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian score relatively poorly.

    It’s a curious exercise, and one that fails to satisfy on any level. It is, of course, flattering to be judged as producing compelling content. But one audience’s compelling is another’s snoozefest, so it seems strikingly unfair to directly compare publications that serve readers with such different interests as, say, The Economist and Chemistry World. It is equally unfair to damn all who work on a publication because of some stories that do not meet the grade. (This is especially pertinent now that online offerings spread the brand and the content so much thinner.)

    The judges’ criterion of evidence-based news is arguably problematic, as well. Many journalists could reasonably point to the reproducibility crisis in some scientific fields and ask — as funders and critics are increasingly asking — just how reliable some of that evidence truly is. Mainstream science reporters have typically taken peer review as an official stamp of approval from the research community that a published finding is sufficiently robust to share with their readers. Yet this kind of evidence-based reporting is only as reliable as the evidence it reports on. And many scientists would complain (even if only among themselves) that some published studies, especially those that draw press attention, are themselves vulnerable to bias and sensationalism.

    This is one reason why the rise of the scientist (and non-scientist) as blogger, along with other forms of post-publication review, has been so valuable. Many scientists know about the problems with some fields of research. Many journalists do, too — articles on questionable practices from statistical fishing to under-powered studies are an increasing presence in most of the publications in the infographic. The relationship between science and media reporting is far from simple, and both sides should remember this.

    An attempt to rank science news sites has caused controversy. American Council on Science and Health/RealClear Media Group

    See the full article here .

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 1:55 pm on February 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: “We outsource the choice to the Universe itself”, Cosmic test backs 'quantum spookiness', , Iconic experiment to confirm quantum theory, NATURE, , The Big Bell Test   

    From Nature: “Cosmic test backs ‘quantum spookiness'” 

    Nature Mag

    02 February 2017
    Elizabeth Gibney

    The light from distant stars is used to fix settings in a new version of the iconic Bell test. Dr Fred Espenak/Science Photo Library.

    A version of an iconic experiment to confirm quantum theory has for the first time used the light of distant stars to bolster the case for a phenomenon that Albert Einstein referred to as “spooky action at a distance”.

    Einstein disliked the notion that objects can share a mysterious connection across any distance of space, and scientists have spent the past 50 years trying to make sure that their results showing this quantum effect could not have been caused by more intuitive explanations.

    Quantum physics suggests that two so-called entangled particles can maintain a special connection — even at a large distance — such that if one is measured, that instantly tells an experimenter what measuring the other particle will show. This happens despite the fact neither particle has definite properties until it is measured. That unsettled some physicists, including Einstein, who favoured an alternative explanation: that quantum theory is incomplete, and that the outcomes instead depend on some predetermined, but hidden, variables.

    The latest effort to explore the phenomenon, to be published in Physical Review Letters on 7 February, uses light emitted by stars around 600 years ago to select which measurements to make in a quantum experiment known as a Bell test. In doing so, they narrow down the point in history when, if they exist, hidden variables could have influenced the experiment.

    “It’s a beautiful experiment,” says Krister Shalm, a quantum physicist at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Although few expected it to disprove quantum mechanics, such experiments “keep pushing alternative theories to be more and more contrived and ridiculous”, he says. Similar techniques could, in the future, help to protect against hackers who try to crack quantum-cryptography systems, he adds.

    Closing loopholes

    Physicists at the University of Vienna, along with colleagues in China, Germany and the United States, developed a new version of the Bell test — a protocol devised by the physicist John Bell in the 1960s to distinguish between two possible explanations for the seemingly strange behaviour of the quantum world.

    The test involves performing independent measurements on separated pairs of entangled quantum particles. Bell showed that, statistically, correlations between the results, once above a certain threshold limit, could not be explained by particles having hidden properties. Instead the coordinated outcomes seem to be the result of measurements on one particle mysteriously fixing the properties of the other.

    Although Bell tests have supported quantum theory many times, they include assumptions that leave wiggle room for non-quantum explanations, and physicists have been trying to close these ‘loopholes’ ever since.

    In 2015, they sealed a major victory when three separate teams, including Shalm’s, succeeded in simultaneously closing two major possible loopholes, by showing that entanglement could not be an illusion created by any speed-of-light communication between particles, or an artefact of only detecting certain photons.

    See the following:

    Freedom of choice

    But they left open another loophole — one that is more subtle, and impossible to fully close, says Andrew Friedman, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a co-author on the latest paper. Bell tests also assume that experimenters have free choice over which measurements they perform on each of the pair of photons. But some unknown effect could be influencing both the particles and what tests are performed (either by affecting choice of measurement directly, or more plausibly, by restricting the options that are available), to produce correlations that give the illusion of entanglement.

    To narrow this freedom-of-choice loophole, researchers have previously put 144 kilometres between the source of entangled particles and the random-number generator that they use to pick experimental settings.


    The distance between them means that if any unknown process influenced both set-ups, it would have to have done so at a point in time before the experiment. But this only rules out any influences in the microseconds before: the latest paper sought to push this time back dramatically, by using light from two distant stars to determine the experimental settings for each photon. “We outsource the choice to the Universe itself,” says Friedman.

    The team, led by physicist Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna, picked which properties of the entangled photons to observe depending on whether its two telescopes detected incoming light as blue or red. The colour is decided when the light is emitted, and does not change during travel. This means that if some unknown effect, rather than quantum entanglement, explains the correlation, it would have to have been set in motion at least around 600 years ago, because the closest star is 575 light-years (176 parsecs) away, says Friedman, who hopes to eventually push back this limit to billions of years ago by doing the experiment with light from more distant quasars. Their results found a level of correlation that supports ‘action at a distance’.

    Protection against hackers

    Technically, the experiment is impressive, say Ronald Hanson, a quantum physicist at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. But, unlike the loopholes closed in 2015, this one can never be fully closed; confining it to further in the past is only possible by making new assumptions — in this case, for example, by assuming that no one messed with the photons immediately before they hit the telescopes, he says.

    Others argue that although, fundamentally, the loophole is never closable, such experiments are valuable because new theories necessarily become more improbable and contrived, or eventually, end up assuming that everything in the Universe was determined at the time of the Big Bang — a philosophical view that most physicists reject. Reworking experiments to reduce and make better assumptions is therefore worthwhile, says Shalm.

    Such experiments also have practical value, argues Friedman, because if quantum mechanics turns out to be explained by a different underlying theory, that discovery could impact the security of technologies that rely on quantum theory, such as quantum encryption. And trying to close such loopholes is useful because minimizing the assumptions in an experiment serves to also beef up protection against hackers who might otherwise exploit them, says Shalm, whose team at the NIST is exploring whether Bell tests could be used in quantum cryptography.

    Harnessing cosmic phenomena is not the only way physicists are ensuring the independence of their measurement settings. In November, teams from around the world took part in the Big Bell Test, which tapped 100,000 game-playing volunteers worldwide to create random sequences of 0s and 1s, which physicists used to fix their measurement settings.

    Preliminary analysis indicates that in this case, most — and possibly even all — of the experiments yet again supported quantum mechanics, says Morgan Mitchell at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, Spain, which coordinated the event. “Sorry, Einstein,” he says.

    See the full article here .

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 4:55 pm on January 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , How Trump Could Unravel Obama’s Science Legacy, NATURE,   

    From SA: “How Trump Could Unravel Obama’s Science Legacy” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    January 20, 2017
    Lauren Morello

    Land in the Bears Ears region of Utah is among that designated a national monument by Barack Obama. Credit: Bureau of Land Management Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

    Barack Obama used his presidential powers to make changes that affect science. Once Donald Trump is inaugurated as president on 20 January, he will be able to do the same. These charts illustrate the government that Trump inherits as it relates to science and research, and explore how the new president might seek to take things in a different direction.

    Appointing leaders and freezing new hires

    As does every new president, Trump gets to fill out the ranks of federal science agencies with political appointees, from the agency chiefs who require Senate confirmation to lower-level bureaucrats. These jobs range from two spots at the US Geological Survey—the director and an assistant—to 358 positions at the Department of Energy. Trump has already nominated a handful of people to fill these slots, including former Governor of Texas Rick Perry, who has questioned the science underlying climate change, as energy secretary.

    Credit: Nature, January 19, 2017, doi:10.1038/nature.2017.21327

    The much-larger ranks of non-political ‘career’ employees, meanwhile, could shrink under Trump, who has pledged to freeze federal hiring within his first 100 days in office. Staffing levels at science agencies—which stayed relatively flat under Obama, despite his enthusiasm for research— could eventually dwindle by attrition.

    Balancing basic and applied science

    Funding science involves a delicate balance. Science in the Obama years tilted the needle towards applied research—from the launch of the ambitious Precision Medicine Initiative to sequence the genomes of one million people, to the creation of a string of institutes to foster robotics and other innovative manufacturing technologies in partnership with private industry.

    Credit: Nature, January 19, 2017, doi:10.1038/nature.2017.21327

    It is not clear which flavour of research Trump will favour, in part because he has said little publicly about science before or after the election. In September, Trump wrote that “scientific advances do require long term investment”, in response to questions from the advocacy group ScienceDebate.org. But the president-elect’s pick to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, Representative Mick Mulvaney (Republican, South Carolina), has pushed for sharp cuts in government spending in recent years.

    Undoing Obama’s conservation triumphs

    More than any other president, Obama has used the Antiquities Act—a law that dates back to 1906—to protect public lands from development. He has declared 29 new national monuments, such as the Bears Ears buttes in Utah, and enlarged 5 others, preserving a total of around 553 million acres of land and water.

    Credit: Nature, January 19, 2017, doi:10.1038/nature.2017.21327

    Some Republican politicians have suggested that Trump should remove protections from some or all of these areas, but most legal scholars say that only an act of Congress can reverse a monument designation. That might not stop the Trump administration from trying. The president-elect’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, Representative Ryan Zinke (Republican, Montana), told a Senate committee on 17 January that Trump could “amend”, if not fully rescind, the monuments that Obama created.

    Reversing stem cell and climate change policies?

    Faced with an often-hostile Congress, Obama enacted many of his signature policies by executive order—from reversing restrictions on research with human embryonic stem cells to helping communities prepare for climate change. That strategy now seems poised to backfire: Trump has vowed to reverse “every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” beginning on his first day in office, January 20.

    Credit: Nature, January 19, 2017, doi:10.1038/nature.2017.21327

    See the full article here .

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    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

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