Test performance, gender, and temperature


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


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Promotional image of a hand adjusting a digital thermostat.

(credit: Nest)

As we move from a season marked by unstoppable heating units and into one dominated by aggressive air conditioning. Figuring out how to optimize the thermostat involves a balancing of individual comfort and energy efficiency. But a new study suggests that there’s an additional factor that should feed into decisions: the performance of any employees or students who happen to be subjected to the whims of whoever has access to the thermostat.

Unexpectedly, the new results show that men and women don’t respond to different temperatures in the same way. And, in doing so, they raise questions about just what we’ve been measuring when other studies have looked at gender-specific differences in performance.

You’re making me cold!

As someone whose mother admonished him to put on sweaters because my bare arms “made her cold,” I’m well aware that there’s a long-standing cliché about the sexes engaging in

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Stronger than aluminum, a heavily altered wood cools passively


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Image of a white plank.

Enlarge / A look at the lignin-free compressed wood. (credit: University of Maryland)

Most of our building practices aren’t especially sustainable. Concrete production is a major source of carbon emissions, and steel production is very resource intensive. Once completed, heating and cooling buildings becomes a major energy sink. There are various ideas on how to handle each of these issues, like variations on concrete’s chemical formula or passive cooling schemes.

But now, a large team of US researchers has found a single solution that appears to manage everything using a sustainable material that both reflects sunlight and radiates away excess heat. The miracle material? Wood. Or a form of wood that’s been treated to remove one of its two main components.

With the grain

Wood is mostly a composite of two polymers. One of these, cellulose, is made by linking sugars together into long chains. That cellulose is mixed with

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Billion-year-old fossils may be early fungus


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Image of a ball on a stalk.

Enlarge (credit: Loron, et. al.)

When did the first complex multicellular life arise? Most people, being a bit self-centered, would point to the Ediacaran and Cambrian, when the first animal life appeared and then diversified. Yet studies of DNA suggest that fungi may have originated far earlier than animals.

When it comes to a fossil record, however, things are rather sparse. No unambiguous evidence of a fungus appears in fossils until after the Cambrian was over. A few things from earlier may have looked fungus-like, but the evidence was limited to their appearance. It could be that fungi branched off at the time suggested by the DNA but didn’t evolve complex, multicellular structures until later. Alternatively, the fossils could be right, and there’s something off about the DNA data. Or, finally, it could be that we simply haven’t found old enough fossils yet.

A new paper out in today’s

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Superconductivity reported at the temperature of a good freezer


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


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Superconductivity reported at the temperature of a good freezer

Enlarge (credit: Manmohan Singh | Getty Images)

Superconductivity offers the promise of hyper-efficient electric motors, ultra powerful magnets, and the transmission of electricity without losses. The reality, however, has fallen considerably short of that promise, as superconducting materials are difficult and expensive to manufacture, requiring a constant bath of liquid nitrogen to keep them cold enough to operate. And progress at identifying new high-temperature superconductors went through an extended stall, with no new contenders for decades.

But behind that stall, researchers were getting a better understanding of the physics involved with superconductivity, and that understanding seems to be paying off. A few years back, researchers found that a high-pressure form of hydrogen sulfide would superconduct at 203K (-70°C), roughly 65K higher than any previous material. Now, following up on suggestions from computer modeling, researchers have discovered that a metal-hydrogen compound (LaH10) can superconduct all the way up to

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China’s Chang’E-4 may have landed near pieces of the Moon’s interior


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Image of a small rover on the Moon.

Enlarge / The original Yutu rover, shown on the Moon. (credit: NASA)

While some of the details are still being worked out, it’s generally agreed that the Moon formed when a Mars-sized body collided with the early Earth. Some of the debris put into orbit by the collision would then go on to condense into the Moon.

One of the consequences of this is that the early Moon spent a lot of its history being bombarded by this debris, a process that should have left its surface molten. This magma ocean would only solidify slowly as the bombardment wound down, and the process of solidification should have left a mark on the Moon’s composition. So far, indications of this have been difficult to come by. But now, there are indications that the Chang’E-4 mission to the Moon’s far side has finally spotted some of the Moon’s mantle, which

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First results from New Horizons’ time in the Kuiper Belt


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


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Image of the Kuiper Belt Object, showing its two distinct lobes.

Enlarge / When Ultima met Thule. A view of the two-lobed body, showing the bright neck and the large Maryland crater. (credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University APL/Southwest Research Institute.)

For many at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, January 1 this year didn’t mean a New Year’s celebration. Instead, it meant the first arrival of data from New Horizons’ visit to a small Kuiper Belt object. But, like its earlier flyby of Pluto, the probe was instructed to grab all the data it could and deal with getting it back to Earth later. The full set of everything New Horizons captured won’t be available for more than a year yet. But with 10 percent of the total cache in hand, researchers decided they had enough to do the first analysis of 2014 MU69.

2014 MU69 is thought to preserve material as it condensed in the earliest days of

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Researchers make their own E. coli genome, compress its genetic code


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


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Like any other E. coli, but different.

Enlarge / Like any other E. coli, but different. (credit: CDC)

The genetic code is the basis for all life, allowing the information present in DNA to be translated into the proteins that perform most of a cell’s functions. And yet it’s… kind of a mess. Life typically uses a suite of about 20 amino acids, while the genetic code has 64 possible combinations. That mismatch means that redundancy is rampant, and a lot of species have evolved variations on what would otherwise be a universal genetic code.

So is the code itself significant, or is it something of a historic accident, locked in place by events in the distant evolutionary past? Answering that question hasn’t been an option until recently, since individual codes appear in hundreds of thousands of places in the genomes of even the simplest organisms. But as our ability to make DNA has scaled up,

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Does being tough on crime actually deter crime?


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Image of a broken glass window.

Enlarge (credit: Vermont.gov)

What’s the appropriate role of our prison system? Depending on who you talk to, it’s supposed to function as punishment for criminal activity, a deterrent to future crimes, and an opportunity for rehabilitation. It’s often possible to find people arguing that an existing prison system is already playing more than one of these roles, which raises questions about how well we understand a system that US society has committed to in a big way.

Fortunately, some researchers decided to view this question as an opportunity and put some hard numbers to what, exactly, our prison system is doing. Using a data set covering over 100,000 convicted criminals, the researchers compared the outcomes of people sentenced to prison and a similar population that was given probation instead. The results suggest that prison does limit future violent crime by keeping criminals out of the general population, but

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LIGO may have spotted a black hole-neutron star merger


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Image of two long arms of the LIGO detector in the desert of eastern Washington.

Enlarge / Our gravitational wave detectors really are a series of tubes. (credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

On April 1, the teams behind the three gravitational wave detectors started them up for a new observational run, the first with all three operating in parallel for the full run. With the benefit of three detectors and some upgrades that were done during the downtime, we’re seeing a flood of new data. In just one month, LIGO/VIRGO has seen five gravitational wave events. Three of those are from merging black holes, one was the second neutron star merger, and another may have been the first instance of a neutron star-black hole merger.

A new season

The two LIGO detectors have been a work in progress for years, starting with an early version that everyone acknowledged was unlikely to pick up gravitational waves. But each iteration has allowed scientists to understand the sources of

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Impact that formed the Moon might have splashed into Earth’s magma ocean


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Image of a small object smashing in to a cutaway off the Earth.

Enlarge / An early version of the collision model, showing a head-on impact.

The Earth and its moon are unique in our Solar System. Earth is the only rocky planet with a large moon, and only the dwarf planet Pluto has a moon that’s so similar in size to its host planet. The Moon is also remarkably similar to the Earth in terms of its composition, suggesting they formed from the same pool of material instead of the Moon forming elsewhere and having been captured.

This collection of properties led to a number of ideas about how the Moon formed, all of which failed to fit the data in various ways. Eventually, however, scientists came up with an idea that seemed to get most of the big picture right: a collision between the Earth and a Mars-sized object happened early in the Solar System’s history, creating a cloud of debris

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Boys, the wealthy, and Canadians (?) talk the most BS


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




The Canadian flag waves against a blue sky.

Enlarge (credit: Scazon / Flickr)

The existence of what’s colloquially known as “bullshit”—a combination of lies, exaggerations, and inaccuracies that makes it hard to figure out what the truth is—is familiar to all of us. Most of us have come across an individual so skilled in deploying it to advance their goals that we refer to them as “bullshit artists.” Given it’s such a prominent aspect of human behavior, however, you might be surprised to learn that field of bullshit studies is relatively young. Researchers trace BS back to an obscure 1986 essay by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, but it didn’t pick up traction until it was expanded to book form nearly 20 years later.

Even then, another seven years had to go by before other researchers expanded on Frankfurt’s theoretical framework, and empirical studies have only really picked up over the last several years. Now, a group of

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Dark matter detector identifies extraordinarily rare radioactive decay


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




People in clean suits standing around a person-sized detector.

Enlarge / Some of the XENON1T hardware. (credit: XENON collaboration)

One of the ways we measure the age of the Earth is using the half-life of uranium. With a half-life of around four billion years, your typical atom of uranium only has even odds of having decayed during Earth’s entire history. But it only takes a few hundred atoms to up the odds for us to see enough decays to be able to accurately measure the age of something, even though the decay itself may be rare. In fact, with enough atoms, it’s possible to measure radioactive decays from events that have a half-life longer than the Universe’s age.

Now, researchers have used a tank full of two tonnes of liquid xenon, put together to detect dark matter, to identify the rarest decay ever detected. The XENON1T detector picked up some xenon atoms being transformed into tellurium, an event

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