Best of Last Week: Acoustic phonons have magnetic properties, universe to collapse and bioclock disruption problem

It was another good week for physics as researchers at Ohio State University conducted a landmark study that proved that magnets can control heat and sound—they demonstrated a magnetic field reducing the amount of heat flowing through a semiconductor, proving that acoustic phonons have magnetic properties. In another study, a combined team of researchers from the University of Belgrade and MIT revealed a technique they had developed that allowed for entangling 3,000 atoms using a single photon, representing a new milestone in the number of particles that have been entangled at one time. Also a team of researchers at Griffith University ran an experiment that demonstrated entanglement of a single particle—showing that the collapse of the wave is a real effect. —> Read More

System clusters similar student programs together, so instructors can identify broad trends

In computer-science classes, homework assignments consist of writing programs. It’s easy to create automated tests that determine whether a given program yields the right outputs to a series of inputs. But those tests say nothing about whether the program code is clear or confusing, whether it includes unnecessary computation, and whether it meets the terms of the assignment. —> Read More

Study finds assisted housing works, but it could be improved

Two researchers from the University of Kansas Department of Urban Planning have just completed a study on the locations of assisted housing units and assisted households across the nation. It examines one of the key issues that drives the design of federal low-income housing programs, which is how well federal rental assistance helps people move out of impoverished neighborhoods into safer places with access to better schools and jobs. The study updates a similar one done in the late 1990s. —> Read More

China’s Mysterious Stone Circles May Have Been Used For Sacrifice

Mysterious stone formations found in China’s Gobi Desert may have been built thousands of years ago by sun-worshipping nomads who used them for sacrifice, a local expert has announced.

About 200 of the circular formations have been found near Turpan City in the northwestern part of the country, China Daily reported.

Although they had been known to locals, especially those from the nearby village of Lianmuqin, the formations were first discovered by archaeologists in 2003. Some began to dig under the stones to search for graves. China’s CCTV reported that no graves have been found, and local government has stepped in to stop the digging to protect the sites.

Now one archaeologist has said he believes the circles were used for sacrifice.

Across Central Asia, these circles are normally sacrificial sites,” Lyu Enguo, a local archaeologist who has done three studies at the circles, told CCTV.

Dr. Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol, told MailOnline that similar circles in Mongolia were used in rituals.

Some might have served as surface marking of burial places,” he was quoted as saying. “Others, if not the majority, might denote holy places in the landscape, or places with special spiritual properties, or ritual offering/meeting places.”

Heyd estimated that some of the formations in China could be up to 4,500 years old.

Some of the formations are square and some have openings. Others are circular, including a large one made up of stones that aren’t found anywhere else in the desert

“We could imagine that this was a site for worshiping the god of the sun,” Lyu told CCTV. “Because we know that the sun is round and the things around it are not round, they are shaped like rectangles and squares. And this is a large-scale —> Read More

The End of Ebola? Lessons at the Epidemic’s One Year Anniversary

“That’s the anthrax building,” a colleague told me several years ago, pointing to a squat reddish-brown brick building in the middle of Fort Detrick, for many years the U.S. Army’s center for biological warfare research. Cinderblocks now sealed up all of the doors and windows. Inside, anthrax — a deadly pathogen — still lurks. Outside, we are generally spared. For years, the U.S. had developed stores of anthrax spores as biological warfare, but destroyed these in 1969. Yet after 9/11, someone sent letters containing the pathogen to various journalists and senators. Many observers feel that the culprit remains unknown.

This building sits as a silent testimony to the history of dangerous pathogens and their possible, though fragile containment.

In recent days, as the one year anniversary of the first announcement of Ebola has approached, and this outbreak has diminished — some say the end is very near — I have been thinking of this building.

One year ago, the current Ebola epidemic was announced to the world. Since then, we have learned and accomplished an enormous amount. The U.S., Western Europe and China worked together to address and curtail the threat, and scientists discovered that a new drug, favipiravir, shows promise. These are important achievements.

But there are also critical lessons to be learned. Major gaps emerged in world responses to the disease, and profound questions remain. This was at least the 23rd outbreak of Ebola, since the first one was documented in 1976. More may occur. This outbreak was the largest recorded, for reasons that we still do not entirely understand. Moreover, as the world becomes ever-more interconnected, infectious diseases that pop up in one corner of —> Read More

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