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Teen Wins Google Science Award For Removing Plastic Microbeads From Water

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Teen Wins Google Science Award For Removing Micro Plastics From Water

An Irish teenager has won an international science award for his project which removed microplastics from water. 

Fionn Ferreira, from Ballydehob in west Cork, has been named the overall winner of the 2019 Google Science Fair, a prestigious annual global science competition open to students aged 13 to 18.

The 18-year-old was awarded a $50,000 (about €45,000) bursary at an awards ceremony at the Google international headquarters in Mountain View, California, yesterday.

Ferreira was one of 24 finalists chosen from a shortlist of 100 regional entries that competed for the top prize.

Teen Wins Google Science Award For Removing Micro Plastics From Water
Fionn Ferreira . Image Source: Unilad

His project examined a new method for extracting microplastics (plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter) from water. 

Microplastics or microbeads are mostly used in soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs to exfoliate skin, although they also can be found in toothpaste and abrasive cleaners.

In waterways, fish and other wildlife mistake the tiny scraps of plastic for food and, from there, the beads are integrated into the food chain.

Source: Fionn Ferreira/YouTube

At present, no screening or filtering for microplastics takes place in any European wastewater treatment centres.

Ireland plans to introduce legislation that will outlaw the sale, manufacture, import and export of products containing microplastics.

Ferreira used ferrofluids, a combination of oil and magnetite powder, and magnets to extract microplastics from water. 

In 1,000 tests, Ferreira was able to remove over 87% of microplastics from water samples.

“The method used was most effective on fibres obtained from a washing machine and least effective on polypropylene plastics,” he said.

Ferreira stated that his proposal could “form the basis for an effective way of extracting microplastic from water”, adding: “The next step is to scale this up to an industrial scale.”

Ferrier sat his Leaving Certificate exams last month at Schull Community College and is due to attend university in the Netherlands. 

The teenager works as a curator at the Schull Planetarium, has won 12 science fair awards, speaks three languages fluently, plays the trumpet at orchestra level, and had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

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Astronomers Have Detected A Whopping 8 New Repeating Signals From Deep Space

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Astronomers Have Detected A Whopping 8 New Repeating Signals From Deep Space

One of the biggest mysteries out there in the Universe is inching closer to answers. An astonishing eight new repeating radio signals known as fast radio bursts (FRBs) have been detected flaring from deep space.

At the start of 2019, just one of these mysterious signals, FRB 121102, was known to flash repeatedly. In January, scientists reported a second repeating one (FRB 180814).

This new paper – available on preprint server arXiv, and accepted into The Astrophysical Journal Letters – describes eight new repeating signals detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope.

This brings the known total of repeating FRBs to 10. It means we’re starting to build a statistical database of repeaters, which could help astronomers to figure out what these signals actually are.

Fast radio bursts are certainly perplexing. They are detected as spikes in radio data, lasting just a few milliseconds. But, in that time, they can discharge more energy than 500 million Suns.

Most FRBs are only detected once and can’t be predicted, so tracing them back to their source is really tricky (although, as demonstrated earlier this year for the first time, not impossible).

That’s why repeaters are so important. And the news that they are not as rare as we thought means it might be possible to trace more back to their source galaxies, and determine what kinds of environments they come from.

We can also start looking for similarities and differences between repeating FRBs.

“There is definitely a difference between the sources, with some being more prolific than others,” physicist Ziggy Pleunis of McGill University told Science Alert.

“We already knew from FRB 121102 that the bursts can be very clustered: sometimes the source doesn’t burst for hours and hours and then suddenly you get multiple bursts in a short amount of time. We have observed the same thing for FRB 180916.J0158+65, for which we report ten bursts in this paper.”

On the other side of the scale, six of the FRBs reported in the paper only repeated once, and the longest pause between signals was over 20 hours. The eighth one (FRB 181119) repeated twice after the initial detection, pinging a total of three times.

We don’t yet know what this means, but it could indicate – as hypothesised in a paper last month by Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Vikram Ravi – that all FRBs are actually repeaters, but some are a lot more active than others.

“Just as some volcanoes are more active than others, and you can think a volcano is dormant because it has not erupted in a long time,” Pleunis noted.

But there are similarities between FRBs, too. The individual bursts from repeaters seem to last a little bit longer than the bursts from one-off FRBs. That’s pretty interesting.

There’s also the frequency drift. The first two repeaters – FRB 121102 and FRB 180814 – showed a downward drift in frequency, with each burst getting successively lower. Think of a sad trombone sound effect.

Most of the eight new repeaters, also demonstrated this downward frequency drift. This could be a clue as to what’s producing the signals.

I just think it is so amazing that nature produces something like that,” Pleunis said. “Also, I think that there is some very important information in that structure that we just have to figure out how to encode and it has been a lot of fun to try to figure out what exactly that is.”

CHIME is optimised for monitoring a very broad swathe of the sky, across a lower range of frequencies than radio telescopes like ASKAP or the Parkes Observatory in Australia, which have also detected FRBs.

So far, CHIME’s approach is proving remarkably effective at detection. In addition to these repeaters, and the repeater announced in January, CHIME has detected a number of one-off bursts, too. It’s not optimised for tracing those detections to a source, though.

That’s where the broader scientific community comes in. Just today, a different team of researchers, including Ravi, announced they had made headway localising the eight new repeaters to known galaxies, just based on the direction the signals came from.

We can even roughly tell how far away the bursts may have originated based on how dispersed the signal is – the higher these measures, the farther the distance.

In fact, this is where it gets intriguing, because one of the signals, FRB 180916, has the lowest dispersion seen yet, indicating that it could be nearby.

“Even with the biggest telescopes, if it’s closer to you, you always get a better view than if it’s something farther away,” astronomer Keith Bannister from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, who was not involved in the research.

“So that particular low dispersion measure was super exciting, because there’s a good chance that that will be nearby. And that means it will be easier to look at, once we really know exactly where it is in the sky.”

The polarisation of the signals (how twisted the signal is) is informative, too. If the signal is really twisted up, it means it came from an extreme magnetic environment, such as can be found around a black hole or neutron star. This is what the signal from FRB 121102 was like.

But the team was able to measure the polarisation of one of the new signals, FRB 180916, and it was really low. This tells us that not all repeating FRBs come from extreme environments.

We don’t know what this means yet. We don’t know if there are several different classes of objects or events producing these signals. We don’t know if they all repeat, or why they repeat. But these results are bringing us tantalisingly close to finally having some answers.

“I think (and I hope!) the paper will prompt other astronomers to point their telescopes to these newly discovered sources,” Pleunis said.

“Then, there is a lot of information here for model builders to work with. I think it will help them figure out what produces repeating FRBs.

“Also, I think our findings will influence the search strategy of other teams that try to discover repeating FRBs.”

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This article was originally published by Science Alert.

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Dark Matter May Be Older Than The Big Bang, Study Suggests

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Dark Matter May Be Older Than The Big Bang, Study Suggests

The elusive ‘dark matter’, which is believed to make up about 80% of the universe’s mass, may have existed before the ‘Big Bang’, according to a study published in the journal Physical Review Letters. It presents a new idea of how ‘dark matter’ was born and how to identify it with astronomical observations.

The Big Bang theory states that all matter that exists today sprung forth from a single point in an epic explosion commonly called the ‘Big Bang’, about 13.7 billion years ago.

“The study revealed a new connection between particle physics and astronomy,” said Tommi Tenkanen, a post-doctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University in the US.

“If ‘dark matter’ consists of new particles that were born before the Big Bang, they affect the way galaxies are distributed in the sky in a unique way. This connection may be used to reveal their identity and make conclusions about the times before the Big Bang too,” added Tenkanen.

While not much is known about its origins, astronomers have shown that ‘dark matter’ plays a crucial role in the formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Though not directly observable, scientists know dark matter exists by its gravitation effects on how visible matter moves and is distributed in space.

For a long time, researchers believed that dark matter must be a leftover substance from the Big Bang. They have long sought this kind of ‘dark matter’, but so far all experimental searches have been unsuccessful.

“If dark matter were truly a remnant of the ‘Big Bang’, then in many cases researchers should have seen a direct signal of dark matter in different particle physics experiments already,” pointed out Tenkanen.

Using a new, simple mathematical framework, the study shows that ‘dark matter’ may have been produced before the ‘Big Bang’ during an era known as the cosmic inflation when space was expanding very rapidly.

The rapid expansion is believed to lead to copious production of certain types of particles called scalars. So far, only one scalar particle has been discovered; the famous ‘Higgs boson’.

“We do not know what ‘dark matter’ is, but if it has anything to do with any scalar particles, it may be older than the ‘Big Bang’. With the proposed mathematical scenario, we don’t have to assume new types of interactions between visible and dark matter beyond gravity, which we already know is there,” informed Tenkanen.

The new study shows that researchers have always overlooked the simplest possible mathematical scenario for ‘dark matter’s’ origins.

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Quantum Teleportation Has Been Reported In A Qutrit For The First Time

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Quantum Teleportation Has Been Reported In A Qutrit For The First Time

For the first time, researchers have teleported a qutrit, a tripartite unit of quantum information. The independent results from two teams are an important advance for the field of quantum teleportation, which has long been limited to qubits—units of quantum information akin to the binary “bits” used in classical computing.

These proof-of-concept experiments demonstrate that qutrits, which can carry more information and have greater resistance to noise than qubits, may be used in future quantum networks.

Chinese physicist Guang-Can Guo and his colleagues at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) reported their results in a preprint paper on April 28, although that work remains to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. On June 24 the other team, an international collaboration headed by Anton Zeilinger of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and Jian-Wei Pan of USTC, reported its results in a preprint paper that has been accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters. That close timing—as well as the significance of the result—has each team vying for credit and making critiques of the other’s work.

“Each of these [experiments] is an important advance in the technology of teleportation,” says William Wootters, a physicist at Williams College, who was not involved with either study.

Beam Me Up?

The name quantum teleportation brings to mind a technology out of Star Trek, where “transporters” can “beam” macro scale objects—even living humans—between far-distant points in space. Reality is less glamorous. In quantum teleportation, the states of two entangled particles are what is transported—for instance, the spin of an electron. Even when far apart, entangled particles share a mysterious connection; in the case of two entangled electrons, whatever happens to one’s spin influences that of the other, instantaneously.

Teleportation” also conjures visions of faster-than-light communication, but that picture is wrong, too. If Alice wants to send Bob a message via quantum teleportation, she has to accompany it with classical information transported via photons—at the speed of light but no faster. So what good is it?

Oddly enough, quantum teleportation may also have important utility for secure communications in the future, and much of the research is funded with cyber security applications in mind. In 2017 Pan, Zeilinger and their colleagues used China’s Micius satellite to perform the world’s longest communication experiment, across 7,600 kilometres. Two photons—each acting as a qubit—were beamed to Vienna and China. By taking information about the state of the photons, the researchers in each location were able to effectively construct an unhackable password, which they used to conduct a secure video call. The technique acts like a wax seal on a letter: any eavesdropping would interfere and leave a detectable mark.

Researchers have attempted to teleport more complicated states of particles with some success. In a study published in 2015 Pan and his colleagues managed to teleport two states of a photon: its spin and orbital angular momentum. Still, each of these states was binary—the system was still using qubits. Until now, scientists had never teleported any more complicated state.

Making The Impossible

A classical bit can be a 0 or 1. Its quantum counterpart, a qubit, is often said to be 0 and 1—the superposition of both states. Consider, for instance, a photon, which can exhibit either horizontal or vertical polarization. Such qubits are breezily easy for researchers to construct.

A classical trit can be a 0, 1 or 2—meaning a qutrit must embody the superposition of all three states. This makes qutrits considerably more difficult to make than qubits.

To create their qutrits, both teams used the triple-branching path of a photon, expressed in carefully orchestrated optical systems of lasers, beam splitters and barium borate crystals. One way to think about this arcane arrangement is the famous double-slit experiment, says physicist Chao-Yang Lu, a co-author of the new paper by Pan and Zeilinger’s team. In that classic experiment, a photon goes through two slits at the same time, creating a wavelike interference pattern. Each slit is a state of 0 and 1, because a photon goes through both. Add a third slit for a photon to traverse, and the result is a qutrit—a quantum system defined by the superposition of three states in which a photon’s path effectively encodes information.

Creating a qutrit from a photon was only the opening skirmish in a greater battle. Both teams also had to entangle two qutrits together—no mean feat, because light rarely interacts with itself.

Crucially, they had to confirm the qutrits’ entanglement, also known as the Bell state. Bell states, named after John Stewart Bell, a pioneer of quantum information theory, are the conditions in which particles are maximally entangled. Determining which Bell state qutrits are in is necessary to extract information from them and to prove that they conveyed that information with high fidelity.

What constitutes “fidelity” in this case? Imagine a pair of weighted dice, Wootters says: If Alice has a dice that always lands on 3, but after she sends it to Bob, it only lands on 3 half of the time, the fidelity of the system is low—the odds are high it will corrupt the information it transmits. Accurately transmitting a message is important, whether the communication is quantum or not. Here, the teams are in dispute about the fidelity. Guo and his colleagues believe that their Bell state measurement, taken over 10 states, is sufficient for a proof-of-concept experiment. But Zeilinger and Pan’s group contends that Guo’s team failed to measure a sufficient number of Bell states to definitively prove that it has high enough fidelity.

Despite mild sniping, the rivalry between the groups remains relatively friendly, even though provenance for the first quantum teleportation of a qutrit hangs in the balance. Both teams agree that each has teleported a qutrit, and they both have plans to go beyond qutrits: to four level systems—ququarts—or even higher.

Some researchers are less convinced, though. Akira Furusawa, a physicist at the University of Tokyo, says that the method used by the two teams is ill-suited for practical applications because it is slow and inefficient. The researchers acknowledge the criticism but defend their results as a work in progress.

“Science is step by step. First, you make the impossible thing possible,” Lu says. “Then you work to make it more perfect.”

The research has been accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters and is available on the pre-print server arXiv.org.

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Astronomers Just Found An Absolutely Gargantuan Black Hole The Mass Of 40 Billion Suns!

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Astronomers Just Found An Absolutely Gargantuan Black Hole The Mass Of 40 Billion Suns

Black holes can get pretty big, but there’s a special class that is the biggest of the big, absolute yawning monster black holes. And astronomers seem to have found an absolute specimen, clocking in at 40 billion times the mass of the Sun.

It’s at the centre of a galaxy called Holmberg 15A, a supergiant elliptical galaxy around 700 million light-years away, which in turn sits at the centre of the Abell 85 galaxy cluster.

The object is one of the biggest black holes ever found, and the biggest found by tracking the movement of the stars around it.

Previous calculations based on the dynamics of the galaxy and the cluster had resulted in Holm 15A* mass estimates of up to 310 billion times the mass of the Sun. However, these were all indirect measurements of the black hole. This new research marks the first direct measurement; the paper has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal, and awaits peer review.

“We use orbit-based, axisymmetric Schwarzschild models to analyse the stellar kinematics of Holm 15A from new high-resolution, wide-field spectral observations obtained with MUSE at the VLT. We find a supermassive black hole (SMBH) with a mass of (4.0 ± 0.80) × 1010 solar masses at the centre of Holm 15A,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“This is the most massive black hole with a direct dynamical detection in the local Universe.”

Now, it’s not the most massive black hole ever detected – that would be the quasar TON 618, which apparently has a black hole clocking in at 66 billion times the mass of the Sun, based on indirect measurements.

But Holm 15A* is up there. At 40 billion solar masses, the black hole’s event horizon (also known as the Schwarzschild radius) would be huge, engulfing the orbits of all the planets in the Solar System, and then some.

Quite a lot of some. Pluto is, on average, 39.5 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. The heliopause – where the solar wind is no longer strong enough to push against interstellar space – is thought to be around 123 AU.

At the mass of Holm 15A* as determined by the new paper, its Schwarzschild radius would be around 790 AU.

Try to imagine something that size. The mind reels.

First image of a Black Hole: Source NASA

In fact, it’s even bigger than other measurements taken by the researchers have suggested – which may explain why Holm 15A*’s mass has been difficult to pin down via indirect methods.

“The SMBH of Holm 15A is not only the most massive one to date, it is also four to nine times larger than expected given the galaxy’s bulge stellar mass and the galaxy’s stellar velocity dispersion,” the researchers wrote.

However, it fits the model of a collision between two early-type galaxies with depleted cores. That’s when there are not many stars in the core, based on what is expected from the number of stars in the outer regions of the galaxy.

“We find that black hole masses in cored galaxies, including Holm 15A, scale inversely with the central stellar surface brightness and mass density, respectively,” the researchers wrote.

They intend to continue studying the breath-taking beast, conducting more complex and detailed modelling and comparing their results against their observations, to try to figure out exactly how the black hole formed.

In turn, that can help figure out how often such a merger takes place – and therefore how many such ultra massive black holes are yet to be discovered.

The research has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal, and is available on arXiv.

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