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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Tomas Kellner
November 04, 2016
Extra! Extra! Invoking Maxwell’s demon, scientists at a U.S. government lab say the second law of thermodynamics may not always apply. Neutron stars, bones and pasta apparently have a few things in common, and a Massachusetts biologist is using a “beastcam” to preserve 3D models of all living organisms. We also have some dark  matter news. And you thought Halloween was over, mmmwahahaha!

There Won’t Be Chaos: The Second Law Of Thermodynamics May Not Always Apply (These Scientists Say)

Sparks bounce off from a bonfire at night after a log thrown into it. The researchers say the new finding provides them with "a platform for the practical realization of a quantum Maxwell's demon, which could make possible a local quantum perpetual motion machine." Illustration credit: Getty Images

A group of scientists working at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory say they have found a “loophole” in one of the pillars of physics — the second law of thermodynamics. The law states that entropy — or disorder — of an isolated system, say, our universe, always increases. But using quantum information theory, the team found the law could be “violated on the microscopic level.” “What we did was formulate how these beautiful abstract mathematical theories could be connected to our crude reality," Valerii Vinokur, an Argonne distinguished fellow and corresponding author on the study, wrote in a news release. Invoking Maxwell’s demon — a hypothetical imp created by the mathematician James Clerk Maxwell that could theoretically throw a wrench into the second law — Vinokur wrote: “Although the violation is only on the local scale, the implications are far-reaching. This provides us a platform for the practical realization of a quantum Maxwell's demon, which could make possible a local quantum perpetual motion machine." The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Guess What Bones, Neutron Stars And Pasta Have In Common?

4-scientistsco Similar shapes — structures consisting of stacked sheets connected by helical ramps — have been found in cell cytoplasm (left) and neutron stars (right). Credit: University of California - Santa Barbara

The immortal Carl Sagan said that we’re the children of the stars — i.e. that elements such as oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and calcium that make our bodies were forged inside them. We might be more similar that he thought. Researchers working at several American universities confirmed a curious resemblance between the structure of our bones and the innards of neutron stars — some of the densest objects in the universe. (One teaspoon of neutron star matter would weigh 4 billion tons on Earth, according to NASA.) They say that like bones, the stars contain parallel, connected structures that look like parking garages or lasagna sheets connected by helical sheets. "Seeing very similar shapes in such strikingly different systems suggests that the energy of a system may depend on its shape in a simple and universal way," said Charles Horowitz, nuclear physicist at Indiana University and a co-author of the paper. The results were published in the journal Physical Review C.


Resistance Is Futile. Scientists Trick Non-Superconductive Material To Behave Like A Superconductor

Metal cube levitating over superconducting magnet A metal cube levitating over a superconducting magnet. Image credit: Getty Images

Researchers at the University of Houston have found a way to induce superconductivity — the ability to carry electric current without resistance — in a non-superconducting material. The most common use of superconductors, which typically have to be cooled near absolute zero to work, is inside magnetic resonance imaging machines. But the new method could also point to new superconductors that can work at higher temperatures, according to the team. This could expand their commercial applications.


Amherst’s Beastcam Array Aims To Preserve All Live As A 3D Digital Model

Beastcam Array with gecko Top image and above: Brendan Irschick with his Beastcam Array. Images credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a special camera called Beastcam Array to create 3D models of all living organisms. “We are excited to use the Beastcam technology to preserve the digital heritage of all life on Earth,” said biologist Duncan Irschick. This will take several lifetimes, but we are thrilled to begin the journey. Digitally preserving the heritage of life on Earth is especially important given the rapid decline of many species, and this technology can recreate organisms in a way that has never been done before.”


Scientists Use Supercomputer To Predict Properties Of Dark Matter Particles

COSMOS_3D_dark_matter_map 3D map of the large-scale distribution of dark matter reconstructed from measurements of weak gravitational lensing with the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Richard Massey, California Institute of Technology

A team of German and Hungarian researchers fed the Standard Model of physics — the mathematical description of our universe — into a supercomputer and used it to predict the properties of the mysterious and invisible dark matter that makes up as much as 27 percent of the universe’s mass and energy. The team wrote that “using clever experimental setups, it might even be possible to detect direct evidence” of dark matter particles. "However, to find this kind of evidence it would be extremely helpful to know what kind of mass we are looking for,” said Andreas Ringwald, a co-author of the study. “Otherwise the search could take decades, because one would have to scan far too large a range."