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Thursday, 20 July 2017

INFOGRAPHIC: 9 WAYS TO REDUCE FOOD WASTE IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN


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Around a third of food produced for human consumption is wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tons of food each year! There is a lot of information out there about reducing food waste in homes and once it has reached shops, but nowhere near as much about waste in the supply chain. Not only will cutting down on food waste in the supply chain save businesses money, but it is a vital component in solving the world’s hunger problem. This infographic by Go Supply Chain introduces nine ways to reduce waste, focusing specifically on the supply chain.

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[Post Source: Go Supply Chain.]

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

5 COFFEE BREAK TRADITIONS FROM AROUND THE GLOBE


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5 coffee break traditions from around the globe
By Robin Shreeves,
Mother Nature Network, 17 July 2017.

Coffee drinkers are excited about recent studies that indicate heavy coffee consumption may lead to a longer life. Three cups a day may lower the risk of death from conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease. Anyone - including me - who finds solace in coffee throughout the day is probably thinking, "If this is true, I'm going to live forever."

We don't, however, become coffee drinkers because we think it's going to help us live longer. We become coffee drinkers because the hot beverage helps us wake up or stay awake. We become coffee drinkers because we enjoy the taste - often mixed with milk and sugar at first. We become coffee drinkers because it's simply something steeped into our culture, and many cultures have their own traditions for taking time out during the day for an intentional, satisfying cup.

Here in the United States, that timeout is known as the coffee break, and it began around the same time as unions gained the rights for workers to have a break during their eight-hour workday in factories, according to City Lab. Coffee was the drink of choice for workers who had a short time away from their tasks. Today, we take frequent trips to the break room for a cup of Joe that is consumed back at the desk or elsewhere on the job.

How do other cultures handle their coffee breaks, and what do they call them?

1. Buna Tetu

wps3409.tmpPhoto: Steve Evans/Wikimedia Commons

In Ethiopia, Buna Tetu, which means "drink coffee," is the name for the coffee ceremony that can take up to three hours to prepare - and it happens three times a day. Buna Tetu is a time to socialize, and it's an important part of the culture. The ceremony is performed by a woman and starts off with a ritual that wards off evil spirits. It consists of everything from roasting the raw coffee beans to grinding them to making the coffee, according to the Spruce. It's an involved process with several specific steps.

When the coffee is served, if there is a small child, she will serve the oldest person at the ceremony, and then the hostess will serve the rest of the family or guests. Guests can have up to three cups of coffee, each getting progressively weaker. Three cups of coffee three times a day? According to those recent studies, Ethiopians' coffee habits may lead to very long lives.

2. Fika

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In Sweden, Fika is a daily coffee break that's a regular part of the workday. Office workers have a chance to chat and enjoy something sweet in the form of a pastry. According to Mahabis, workers earn up to five minutes of coffee break for every hour they work. Coffee houses are designed around the Fika concept, set up so people can take their time, relax, socialize and savor their coffee.

3. Merienda

wpsE3E6.tmpPhoto: ProtoplasmaKid/Wikimedia Commons

Is it still a coffee break if the beverage of choice isn't always coffee? Merienda is the afternoon tea or coffee break in some parts of Latin America. It's a small meal between lunch and dinner, according to Inside Buenos Aires. A traditional Argentine merienda may consist of coffee with milk and croissants, tea with milk and toast, or submarino - hot milk with a piece of chocolate dunked in it. In the summer, hot beverages may be pushed aside for a banana smoothie. Kids have merienda, too. It's an afternoon snack for them to give them some energy mid-afternoon.

4. Gabelfrühstück

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In countries like Austria and Germany, Gabelfrühstück, literally "fork breakfast," is a second breakfast. The first breakfast eaten before work is consumed quickly - maybe coffee and a piece of fruit or a pastry - but between 10 and 11 a.m., the tradition is to take a Gabelfrühstück. People have another cup of coffee and sit down with something more filling that requires utensils to eat. Even schools have been known to have this mid-morning break, according to the Kitchn (perhaps without the coffee, though).

5. Smoko

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Photo: pavlelederer2/Pixabay

When manual laborers won the right to afternoon and morning breaks, those breaks became known as smokos - a time for coffee or tea, frequently accompanied by a cigarette. The term isn't used only for work breaks anymore; smoko is slang for any coffee break or between-snack. For the longest time, smokos were required by law for workers, but in 2014 Parliament took the right away, according to Stuff.

Top image credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images added.]

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

11 BODY PARTS GROWN IN THE LAB


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11 Body Parts Grown in the Lab
By Mindy Weisberger,
Live Science, 3 July 2017.

Regrowing a missing limb is no big deal - to a starfish or salamander, creatures that are well-known for using regenerative "superpowers" to replace missing arms and tails. But they aren't the only animals that can rebuild body parts that are destroyed or damaged. Deer can re-sprout as much as 66 lbs. (30 kilograms) of antlers in only three months. Zebrafish can regrow their hearts, while flatworms have demonstrated that they can regenerate their own heads.

For humans, though, what's lost is lost - or is it?

Individual cells in your body are constantly being replaced as they wear out, a process that slows with aging but continues throughout the human lifetime. You can even observe this frequent and visible regeneration in one of your organs: your skin. In fact, humans shed their entire outer layer of skin every two to four weeks, losing about 18 ounces (510 grams) of skin cells per year, according to the American Chemical Society.

However, regenerating complete organs and body parts, a common practice among "Doctor Who's" Time Lords, is beyond the scope of human biology. But in recent years, scientists have successfully cultivated a range of human body structures, similar structures that have been successfully tested in animals, and small-scale human organs known as "organoids," which are used to study human organ function and structure at a level of detail that was previously impossible. Here are some recent examples:

1. Fallopian tubes

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Using stem cells, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin grew the innermost cellular layer of human fallopian tubes, the structures that connect the ovaries and uterus. In a statement released on Jan. 11, the researchers describe the resulting organoids as sharing the features and shapes that are particular to full-size fallopian tubes.

2. Mini-brain

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A lab-grown brain the size of a pencil eraser was cultivated from skin cells by The Ohio State University (OSU) scientists, and is structurally and genetically similar to the brain of a 5-week-old human fetus. Described as "a brain changer" by OSU representatives in an Aug. 18 statement, the organoid has functioning neurons with signal-carrying extensions like axons and dendrites. In the photo of the mini-brain, labels identify structures that are typically found in a fetal brain.

3. Mini-heart

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Researchers prompted stem cells to develop into heart muscle and connective tissue, and then organize into tiny chambers and "beat." In a video of the achievement, the heart muscle cells (indicated by red at the center) are beating while connective tissue (green ring) secures the mini-heart to the dish where it grew. Kevin Healy, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of bioengineering and co-senior author of the study, said in a statement. "This technology could help us quickly screen for drugs likely to generate cardiac birth defects, and guide decisions about which drugs are dangerous during pregnancy." The research was published March 2015 in the journal Nature Communications.

4. Mini-kidney

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A team of Australian scientists grew a mini-kidney, differentiating stem cells to form an organ with the three distinct types of kidney cells for the first time. The researchers grew the organoid in a process that followed normal kidney development. In the image, the three colors represent the types of kidney cells that form "nephrons," the different structures within the kidney.

5. Mini-lung

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Researchers from several institutions collaborated to grow 3D lung organoids that developed bronchi, or airway structures, and lung sacs. "These mini-lungs can mimic the responses of real tissues and will be a good model to study how organs form [and] change with disease, and how they might respond to new drugs," Jason R. Spence, senior study author and an assistant professor of internal medicine and cell and developmental biology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a statement. The mini-lungs survived in the lab for more than 100 days.

6. Mini-stomach

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Mini-stomachs that took about one month to cultivate in a petri dish formed "oval-shaped, hollow structures" resembling one of the stomach's two sections, said Jim Wells, study co-author and a professor of developmental biology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Wells told Live Science that the tiny stomachs, which measured about 0.1 inches (3 millimeters) in diameter, would be especially helpful to scientists studying the effects of a certain bacterium that causes gastric disease. This is because the bacteria behave differently in animal subjects, he said.

7. Vagina

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Credit: Dr. Yuanyuan Zhang, Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, via Live Science

In April 2014, a study published in the journal The Lancet described the successful transplants of lab-grown vaginas, created by nurturing the patients' cells on a vagina-shaped scaffold. The transplants, conducted several years earlier in four girls and young women between the ages of 13 and 18, corrected a congenital defect in which the vagina and uterus are missing or underdeveloped. The teenagers were examined annually for eight years after the transplants, during which time the organs functioned normally, allowing pain-free intercourse.

8. Penis

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Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine used rabbit cells to grow penile erectile tissue, transplanting the lab-grown penises onto male rabbits, which then mated successfully. But the process is still in the experimental stages, and approval from the US Food and Drug Administration is required for the team to extend its work and incorporate human tissue and subjects. The U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine is providing money for the study, as the research could benefit soldiers who suffered groin injuries in combat.

9. Esophagus

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Credit: Macchiarini et al. via Live Science

At Kuban State Medical University in Krasnodar, Russia, an international team of scientists constructed a working esophagus by growing stem cells on a scaffold for three weeks; they then successfully implanted the organ in rats. The scientists tested the new esophagus for durability by inflating and deflating it 10,000 times, implanting the artificial structures in 10 rats and replacing up to 20 percent of the animals' original organs.

10. Ear

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Now hear this: Scientists have 3D printed human ears, cultivating them by coating molded ear-forms with living cells that grew around the frame. The researchers created the ear-shaped mold by modeling a child's ear using 3D software and then sending the model to a 3D printer. Once the scientists had the mold in hand, they injected it with a cocktail of living ear cells and collagen from cows, and "out popped an ear," Live Science reported. The fabricated ears were then implanted on rats for one to three months while scientists evaluated changes in size and shape as the organs grew.

11. Liver cells

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The liver, the largest organ inside the human body, is capable of great feats of repair and regeneration while in its proper place. Outside the body, the organ has provided a challenge; it has proven exceedingly difficult for scientists to grow liver cells, called hepatocytes, and keep them alive. For the first time, scientists from Germany and Israel successfully cultivated hepatocytes in the laboratory, publishing their research Oct. 26, 2015, in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Though not a full-fledged organ (or even an organoid), this development holds promising implications for clinical study, with Yaakov Nahmias, director of the Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the study's lead author, describing it in a statement as "the holy grail of liver research.”

Top image: A lab-made urethra. Credit: Wake Forest School of Medicine.

[Source: Live Science. Top image added.]

INFOGRAPHIC: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ZIKA - THE NEXT CRITTER-BORNE VIRUSES


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There are currently over 50 countries with confirmed cases of the Zika virus. While health authorities are focused on containing the spread of this latest mosquito-borne disease, epidemiologists are on the lookout for new viruses that may be carried and spread by insects. Find out what could be the next Zika in the making from the following infographic by Futurism.

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[Source: Futurism.]

Monday, 17 July 2017

TOP 10 RECENTLY DISCOVERED COSMIC PHENOMENA


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Top 10 Recently Discovered Cosmic Phenomena
By Ivan Farkas,
Listverse, 17 July 2017.

We know a lot about space, which is to say that we know very little about space. But that’s fantastic because we’re constantly having our minds blown when we find new things. Recently, we discovered the astonishing celestial phenomena below.

10. A Human-Made ‘Space Shield’

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Photo credit: dailygalaxy.com

NASA researchers have found a surprising and beneficial by-product of radio transmissions: an anthropogenically created “VLF (very low frequency) bubble” around Earth that shields us from some types of radiation.

The Earth also has its all-natural Van Allen radiation belts, where Sun-spewed energetic particles are trapped within the folds of Earth’s magnetic field. But now scientists see that Earth’s accumulated electromagnetic output inadvertently created a kind of radioactive barrier that deflects some of the high-energy space particles constantly assaulting Earth.

The barrier is a mix of electromagnetic gunk, including leftovers from the orbital nuclear tests of the Atomic Age. Earth has also been consistently beaming radio waves into space for over 100 years now, as well as electric “residue” from the many power grids sprawling across the globe.

9. A Double-Ringed Galaxy

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Photo credit: Ryan Beauchemin

Galaxy PGC 1000714 is possibly the “most” unique ever observed. It’s a Hoag-type object with a ring around it, like Saturn, except scaled way up to galactic size. Not even 0.1 percent of galaxies are ringed, but PGC 1000714 is in a class of its own with not one but two rings.

The rings surround the core, a 5.5-billion-year-old region teeming with aging stars that glow red. Around that is a large, much younger 0.13-billion-year-old outer ring, which glows with the hotter, blue brilliance of youthful stars.

When scientists looked at the galaxy across multiple wavelengths, they spotted the totally unexpected fingerprint of a second, inner ring, closer to the core in age and completely unconnected to the outer ring. Considering that the overwhelming majority of galaxies are elliptical or spiral-armed, PGC 1000714 may remain unique for a long while.

8. A Planet Hotter Than Stars

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Photo credit: Scientific American

The hottest exoplanet discovered so far is hotter than a whole lot of stars. The newly described Kelt-9b is a scorching 3,777 degrees Celsius (6,830 °F), and that’s on the dark side! On the side actually facing its star, the temperatures rise to about 4,327 degrees Celsius (7,820 °F), almost as toasty as the surface of the Sun.

The star in question, Kelt-9, is an A-type star, a mere 650 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. A-type stars are among the hottest, and this particular individual is a baby at only 300 million years old. But as it ages and expands, its bloated surface will eventually touch Kelt-9b.

By then, the planet may be nothing more than a rocky cinder because the UV barrage from its parent strips away 10 million tons of material per second, forming a gleaming, streaming tail as Kelt-9b moves around its star on an odd, pole-to-pole orbit.

7. A Silent Supernova

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Photo credit: atlasobscura.com

It doesn’t require a space-ripping supernova or a collision between two incredibly dense objects like neutron stars to create a black hole because, apparently, stars can collapse into black holes with a relative whimper.

Researchers thought it could happen, made it happen on computers, and now think they’ve finally seen it happen in the wild. The Large Binocular Telescope survey picked out thousands of potential “failed supernovae.” Out of all these, one appears to be the real deal.

Star N6946-BH1 had just the right amount of mass for this to occur, about 25 times more than the Sun. The images show it doing exactly what researchers thought it would do - get a bit brighter (compared to other supernovae) and then vanish into darkness.

6. The Universe’s Largest Magnetic Fields

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Lots of celestial bodies produce magnetic fields, but the largest ever discovered belong to gravitationally connected clusters of galaxies.

A typical cluster spans about 10 million light-years, compared to the Milky Way’s relatively slim 100,000-light-year waistline. And these gravitational behemoths produce the magnetic fields to match their sheer immenseness.

The clusters are a bumper car pit of charged particles, gas clouds, stars, and dark matter, and their chaotic interactions create an electromagnetic witch’s brew. When the galaxies themselves float too close and bump together, it compresses the roiling gases, shooting arc-like “relics” that extend up to six million light-years, potentially larger than the cluster that births it.

5. Galaxies On Fast-Forward

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Photo credit: astronomynow.com

The early universe is full of mysteries, including a bunch of mysteriously chubby galaxies that shouldn’t have existed long enough to get to their observed level of fatness.

These galaxies had hundreds of billions of stars (a decent number by current standards) when the universe was only 1.5 billion years old or so. Looking back even further in space-time, astronomers have found a new type of hyperactive galaxy that preempted and fed the early behemoths.

When the universe wasn’t yet a billion years old, these precursor galaxies were already pumping out an insane number of stars at a rate 100 times faster than the Milky Way. And even in the sparsely populated infant universe, researchers found evidence that the galaxies were merging to form the earliest, beefiest specimens.

4. A Mysterious X-Ray Explosion

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Photo credit: Scientific American

The Chandra X-ray Observatory saw something weird while peering into the early universe. Chandra observed a puzzling X-ray source, 10.7 billion light-years away. It suddenly grew 1,000 times brighter and then faded to darkness in the course of about a day.

Astronomers have discovered similarly bizarre X-ray bursts before, but this one sticks out because it’s 100,000 times more luminous in the X-ray range. Preliminary culprits include gigantic supernovae, crashing neutron stars, or possibly white dwarfs.

But the evidence doesn’t point to any of those events. The galaxy that hosted the blast is much smaller and more distant than the previously observed sources, so astronomers hope they’ve found a “completely new type of cataclysmic event.”

3. A Most Precarious Orbit

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Photo credit: The Telegraph

We imagine black holes destroying anything foolish enough to get near them, but objects can wander ridiculously close without getting cracked into trillions of bits.

The newly discovered white dwarf X9 is the closest orbiting body ever spied around a black hole. X9 is not even three times as far away from its black hole as the Moon is from Earth, so it completes its orbit in only 28 minutes. This means that a black hole is propelling a white dwarf around itself faster than the average pizza delivery.

It is 15,000ish-light-years away in the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae, part of the Tucana (toucan) constellation. Astronomers say X9 was likely a big red star before a black hole persuaded it to come close and then sucked its outer layers, an ongoing process that may leave behind a diamond-like body.

2. Galactic Dead Zone

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Photo credit: ras.org.uk

Cepheids are toddler stars only 10 million to 300 million years old. They pulsate, and their regular changes in brightness make them perfect cosmic mile markers.

Researchers have discovered them all over the Milky Way. But they weren’t sure what was going on, Cepheid-wise, near the galactic core, which is made nigh-invisible by huge globs of interstellar dust. Astronomers can cut through it by observing the core in the near-infrared, which revealed a surprisingly barren “desert” lacking any young stars.

A few Cepheids are snuggled up in the very center of the galaxy. But just outside this region, a great dead patch extends 8,000 light-years in all directions. This extreme inner patch has no new stars and has been eerily dormant for hundreds of millions of years.

1. An Unexpected Planetary Threesome

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Photo credit: umich.edu

Hot Jupiters don’t make any sense. They’re Jupiter-sized gas balls but way closer to their stars than they should be, turning in tighter orbits than even Mercury.

Scientists have been studying these odd beasts for the past 20 years and have logged about 300 of them. But they are always alone in their orbits. Then in 2015, University of Michigan researchers finally confirmed something that seemed impossible, a hot Jupiter with a companion.

And not just one, but two! The WASP-47 family includes the Sun-skirting hot Jupiter in question and two wildly different underlings, a larger Neptune-like body as well as a smaller, much denser, rocky super-Earth.

Top image: Artist’s conception of a hot Jupiter. Credit: NASA.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]

Sunday, 9 July 2017

INFOGRAPHIC: SIXTH SENSES OF THE ANIMAL WORLD


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Much of the animal kingdom doesn't have the luxury - or the ability - to sustain themselves using the five senses alone. To combat this, a handful of animals have developed special organs and receptors that allow them to navigate, feed, and protect themselves from harm. These 'sixth senses' are invaluable sources of information and insight for scientists studying the history and potential of human genetics. Learn more from the following infographic by Futurism.

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[Source: Futurism.]

Friday, 7 July 2017

INFOGRAPHIC: THE WORLD’S MOST CREATIVE (AND BIZARRE) DATA CENTERS


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As data privacy becomes increasingly important, data centers are being placed in incredibly unique locations in order to make them as secure, energy efficient, and effective as possible. Not all data centers, however, are open rooms full of featureless racks. Many of them break the mold and utilize truly creative designs, layouts, and locations. The following infographic by Who Is Hosting This presents some of the world’s most unusual data centers.

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[Source: Who Is Hosting This.]

Thursday, 6 July 2017

10 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS PHYSICISTS JUST MADE POSSIBLE

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10 Impossible Things Physicists Just Made Possible
By Jana Louise Smit,
Listverse, 5 July 2017.

In the strange world of physics, the impossible is always possible. But in recent times, many scientists have managed to outdo even this caveat and have achieved some spectacular firsts.

10. Law-Bending Coldness

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Photo credit: Teufel/NIST

In the past, scientists couldn’t cool an object beyond a barrier called the “quantum limit.” To make something frosty, a laser must slow its atoms and their heat-producing vibrations. Ironically, laser light brings warmth to the deal. Despite lowering temperature, it also prevents it from dropping below the quantum limit. Surprisingly, physicists designed a drum of vibrating aluminum and managed to lower its temperature to 360 microKelvin, or 10,000 times more chilled than the depths of space. The drum measured 20 micrometers in diameter (a human hair is 40–50 micrometers), and the experiment defied the famous limit.

Once thought to be impossible, the breakthrough was a novel laser technique that can “squeeze” light, directing the particles with a more intense stability in one direction. This removed the laser’s fluctuations that added heat. The drum is the most frigid mechanical object ever recorded but not the coldest matter, which is a Bose-Einstein condensate. Even so, the achievement could one day play a part in superfast electronics and help unravel the stranger behaviors of the quantum world that appear when materials approach their physical limits.

9. The Brightest Light

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The radiance of our own Sun is already noteworthy. Now, imagine the combined light of a billion Suns. That’s about the equivalent of what physicists recently brought to life in a lab. Officially the brightest luminosity ever seen on Earth, the light also behaved in an unexpected manner. It changed objects’ appearances.

To understand this, one must look at how sight works. Photons need to scatter from electrons before vision becomes possible. Under normal circumstances, electrons bump one photon at a time. When something turns brighter, the shape usually remains the same as in lower light. The powerful laser used in the experiment scattered a jaw-dropping 1,000 photons. Since scattering equals visibility, the intensity at which it occurred changed the way the photons behaved and consequently how an illuminated object is perceived. This strange effect became more obvious when the super-sunlight got stronger. Because the photons’ normal energy and direction were altered, light and colors were produced in unusual ways.

8. Molecular Black Hole

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A team of physicists recently created something that behaved like a black hole. They deployed the most powerful X-ray laser in existence, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), to zap iodomethane and iodobenzene molecules. Researchers expected the beam to scoop most of the electrons from the molecule’s iodine atom, leaving a vacuum. In experiments with weaker lasers, this emptiness then hoovered up electrons from the outermost part of the atom. When LCLS struck, the expected happened - followed by something surprising. Instead of stopping with itself, the iodine atom began eating electrons from neighboring hydrogen and carbon atoms. It was like a tiny black hole inside a molecule.

Subsequent blasts knocked out the stolen electrons, but the void sucked in some more. The cycle was repeated until the entire molecule exploded. The iodine atom was the only atom that behaved like this. Bigger than the rest, it absorbed an enormous amount of X-ray energy, losing its original electrons. The loss left the atom with a strong enough positive charge to strip the electrons from smaller atoms.

7. Metallic Hydrogen

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It’s been called the “holy grail of high-pressure physics,” but until now, no scientist has ever succeeded in forging metallic hydrogen. As a possible superconductor, it is a highly sought-after form of the normally gaseous element. The possibility of turning hydrogen into a metal was first proposed in 1935. Physicists theorized that massive pressure could cause the transformation. The problem was that nobody could produce that kind of extreme pressure.

In 2017, a US team tweaked an old technique and brought the theoretical material into existence for the first time. Prior experiments were performed inside a device called a diamond anvil cell. Force is generated by using two synthetic diamonds opposite each other, but they always cracked at the critical point. The physicists used the cell chamber but designed a new shaping and polishing process that prevented the dreaded fractures. The device was then able to produce a staggering pressure: more than 71.7 million pounds per square inch. Not even at the center of the Earth does one find such a squeeze.

6. Computer Chip With Brain Cells

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When it comes to the lifeblood of electronics, light might one day replace electricity. Physicists understood light’s potential in this regard decades ago when it became clear that its waves could travel next to each other and thus perform a myriad of tasks at once. Traditional electronics rely on transistors to open and close paths for electricity, limiting what can be done. A remarkable recent invention was a computer chip mimicking the human brain. It quickly “thinks” by using light rays that interact with each other, in a manner analogous to neurons.

In the past, simpler neural networks were created, but the equipment spanned several tables. Anything smaller was deemed impossible. Made of silicone, the new chip measures a couple of millimeters across and computes with 16 neurons. Laser light enters the chip and then splits into beams that each signal numbers or information by varying in brightness. The intensity of the lasers that exit gives the answer to the number crunching or whatever information it was asked to provide a solution for.

5. Impossible Form Of Matter

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Say hello to supersolids. This oddball isn’t as terrifically hard as the name implies. Instead, the bizarre material has the rigid crystalline structure of all solids while at the same time appearing to be a fluid. This paradox was earmarked to remain unrealized because it flies in the face of known physics. In 2016, however, two independent scientific teams produced matter bearing the trademarks of a supersolid. Incredibly, both used different approaches to do what many thought not a single technique could achieve.

The Swiss scientists created a Bose-Einstein condensate (the coldest matter ever) by vacuum-cooling rubidium gas to the icy extreme. The condensate was then moved to a dual-chambered device, each chamber containing small opposing mirrors. Lasers encouraged a transformation, and the particles responded by arranging themselves into the crystalline pattern of a solid, while the material maintained its fluidity. The Americans arrived at the same strange hybrid matter but created their condensate after treating sodium atoms with evaporative cooling and lasers. Then they used lasers to shift the atoms’ density until the crystal-like structure appeared in their liquid sample.

4. Negative-Mass Fluid

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In 2017, physicists designed a mind-boggling thing: a form of matter that moves toward the force that pushed it away. While not exactly a boomerang, it has what one would call negative mass. Positive mass is the normality most people are used to: You shove something, and the object will accelerate in the direction it was pushed in. For the first time, a fluid was created that behaves unlike anything anyone has ever seen in the physical world. When pushed, it accelerates backward.

Once again, a Bose-Einstein condensate was iced out of rubidium atoms. Scientists now had a superfluid with regular mass. They herded its atoms tightly together with lasers. Then a second set of lasers worried the atoms to alter the way they spin. When released from the first lasers’ tight hold, a normal fluid would have spread outward and away from its center, which is basically doing the pushing. The altered rubidium superfluid, at a fast enough speed, didn’t spread when released but stopped dead in a display of negative mass.

3. Time Crystals

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When Frank Wilczek, a Nobel Prize - winning physicist, suggested time crystals, the idea sounded crazy - especially the part that they could produce movement at ground state, the lowest level of energy in matter. Movement is theoretically impossible because energy is needed where there is little to none. Wilczek believed perpetual movement could be achieved by flipping a crystal’s atom alignment in and out of ground state. Such an object’s atomic structure would repeat in time, producing constant switching without needing energy. This went against the laws of physics, but in 2017, five years after Wilczek envisioned the bizarre matter, physicists figured out how to make some.

One team manipulated ten interconnected ytterbium ions with two lasers. One formed a magnetic field, while the second adjusted the atoms’ spinning until Wilczek’s flipping occurred. At Harvard, a time crystal was born when nitrogen impurities were flipped in diamonds. Even though time crystals are now accepted and not just an insane theory, they need to be periodically zapped to keep flipping. They may not be Wilczek’s perpetual devices, but time crystals remain unlike anything researchers have ever studied.

2. Bragg Mirrors

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A Bragg mirror cannot reflect much and is a dainty 1,000 to 2,000 atoms in size. But it can reflect light, which makes it useful in places where the tiniest mirrors are needed, like inside advanced electronics. The shape isn’t conventional; the atoms hang in a vacuum, resembling a string of beads. In 2011, a German group created the most reflective one to date (80 percent) by lasering a clump of ten million atoms into a lattice pattern.

Since then, Danish and French teams have vastly condensed the number of atoms needed. Instead of zapping atoms bunched together, they strung them next to microscopic optical fibers. When spaced correctly, the Bragg condition applied - reflecting a wavelength of light directly back to its point of origin. When light was transmitted, some escaped the fiber and hit the atoms. The Danish and French strings reflected around 10 and 75 percent, respectively, but both returned the light down the fiber in the opposite direction. Apart from promising limitless advances in technology, it may also one day prove useful in stranger quantum devices, since the atoms additionally used the light field to interact with each other.

1. 2-D Magnet

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Physicists have been trying to make a 2-D magnet since the 1970s but have always met with failure. A true 2-D magnet will retain its magnetic properties even after it has been stripped down to the state which makes it two-dimensional - a layer just one atom thick. Scientists began to doubt if such a magnet was even possible.

In June 2017, researchers chose chromium triiodide in their bid to finally create a 2-D magnet. The compound was attractive for several reasons: It was a layered crystal, perfect for thinning, and endowed with a permanent magnetic field, and its electrons had a preferred spin direction. These were critical plus points that helped the chromium triiodide to stay magnetic, even after the crystal was peeled down to its last layer of atoms.

The world’s first real 2-D magnet emerged at a surprisingly warm –228 degrees Celsius (–378 °F). It stopped being a magnet when a second layer was replaced but regained its properties again when a third and fourth sheet were added. At the moment, it doesn’t work at room temperature, and oxygen damages it. Despite their fragility, 2-D magnets will allow physicists to complete experiments not possible until now.

Top image: Newton's cradle. Credit: jarmoluk/Pixabay.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]