New Scientist International Edition 28-Aug-21

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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2 min
elsewhere on new scientist

Virtual events A scientist’s guide to a rational life How can we cope with the complexities of modern life? What should we believe, and in what and whom should we trust? In this talk, Jim Al-Khalili explains how lessons drawn from the scientific method can help us navigate life. Join us on 16 September from 6pm BST/1pm EDT or watch on demand. Tickets available now. newscientist.com/ns-events Podcasts Weekly This week, the pod team get excited about a breakthrough in fusion research. Jeremy Chittenden at Imperial College London drops in to give us the latest. Plus, there’s an artificial “minimal cell” that can adapt and evolve dramatically and rapidly. And with the new school year in England not far away, the team explain why good ventilation must be a top priority when indoors this autumn. newscientist.com/nspod Online Covid-19 daily update Stay…

2 min
a frontier of knowledge

IT IS one of those delicious ironies of history that Albert Einstein received the 1921 Nobel prize in physics not for general relativity, the theory of gravity for which he is now justly most famed, but largely for his contribution to a theory that he spent much of his later career trying to disown. Perhaps that’s only right. After all, quantum theory notoriously allows things to be in two states at once, and divides minds as well as it – potentially – divides worlds. At the time of Einstein’s award a century ago (in another irony, delayed for a year as the Nobel committee were initially unsure whether the contributions of any of that year’s nominees truly merited the honour), quantum mechanics wasn’t yet even a fleshed-out mathematical theory. Its greatest assaults on…

1 min
fortnight of protest starts

A GIANT pink table was blocking a street in central London as New Scientist went to press. Climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion says it represents the need to include more people in action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Deposited in Covent Garden on Monday, and leading police to close the surrounding roads, the 4-metre-high table has become the centrepiece for the start of a fortnight-long protest in the city. “It’s a symbol of the climate crisis,” says Alanna Byrne of Extinction Rebellion. “Our message was people deserve a seat at the table. The stagnation at Westminster is not getting it done, let’s bring people to the table in a citizen’s assembly to work out where we go from here.” The protest was announced in the wake of the report published by the…

1 min
soil physics helps ants dig tunnels

ANTS dig tunnels that can extend metres underground and last decades – and doing so is easy for the insects because of the “behavioural algorithm” they follow. José Andrade at the California Institute of Technology and his team put 15 western harvester ants in a container filled with soil. The position of every ant and grain of soil was then captured by high-resolution X-ray scans every 10 minutes for 20 hours, and the results used to create a computer model of the forces acting on – and in – the soil as the ants tunnelled. The results suggest that forces within the soil tend to wrap around the tunnel axis as ants excavate, forming what the team call “arches” that have a greater diameter than the tunnel itself. This reduces the load acting…

3 min
possible flaw in protection algorithm

APPLE’s soon-to-be-launched algorithm to detect images of child sexual abuse on iPhones and iPads may incorrectly flag people as being in possession of illegal images, warn researchers. NeuralHash will be launched in the US with an update to iOS and iPadOS later this year. The tool will compare a hash – a unique string of characters created by an algorithm – of images uploaded to the cloud with a database of hashes for known images of child sexual abuse. Matches should mean that the images are the same and so would be flagged to police after a series of checks. When NeuralHash was announced earlier this month, Apple said the system will see less than one in a trillion false positives every year. This was disputed at the time by computer scientists,…

2 min
pinning down the origin of possible nazi-made uranium

A METHOD to prove the origin of uranium cubes believed to have been salvaged from the Nazi atomic bomb programme could help law enforcement investigate illegal trafficking of nuclear material. The Nazis had two nuclear weapons programmes during the second world war. Some 1200 cubes of uranium were created, and approximately 600 made their way to the US in the closing stages of the war, according to Jon Schwantes at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state. He estimates that the location of only a dozen of the cubes is known today, and that the vast majority of those brought to the US were folded into its own nuclear programme. One of the cubes now belongs to his lab, but nobody knows how it came to be there. His team…