The Chinese Take The Lead!
11-5-19 Xiaomi smartphone has 108 megapixel camera
Chinese tech giant Xiaomi has unveiled the world's first mainstream handset to feature a 108 megapixel camera. The extra high-resolution sensor was developed by Samsung, which has yet to feature it in its own products. The firms say the benefit is that it delivers "extremely sharp photographs that are rich in detail". However, one early test of the tech indicates that its images contain more digital distortions than those produced by lower-resolution smartphones. For now, the Mi CC9 Pro Premium has only been announced for the Chinese market, where the base model costs 2,799 yuan ($400; £310). But Xiaomi has said it will use the same component in the Mi Note 10, which will be be launched on Wednesday and sold more widely. The firm is currently the world's fourth-bestselling smartphone vendor, according to research firm Canalys, with a market share of 9.1%. Its sales are rapidly growing in Europe and it has just announced its intention to expand into Japan in 2020. Until now, 100MP+ sensors have typically been the preserve of medium-format digital cameras, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Trying to squeeze lots of resolution into a smaller smartphone component runs the risk of increasing cross-talk, a phenomenon where the electrical activity of one pixel spills into its neighbours, as they are packed so closely together. This results in digital noise in the final image. In addition, since each pixel needs to be smaller than normal to fit into the same space, each receives less light, causing further problems in low-light conditions. Samsung's Isocell Plus sensor partly addresses these problems by being larger in size than most smartphone sensors. But its key innovation is that its pixels are arranged in groups of four, with each set sharing the same colour filter to detect red, green or blue light.
10-22-19 China has more 'unicorn' start-ups than the US
China has the world's largest number of "unicorns," privately-held start-up firms valued at more than $1bn (£771m), according to a new report. The country has produced 206 unicorns while the US has 203, the China-based Hurun Institute reported. Together the two countries are home to more than 80% of the world's unicorns. It comes as Washington and Beijing fight a trade war and jostle to become the world's technology leader. "China and the US dominate... despite representing only half of the world's GDP and a quarter of the world's population," said Hurun Report Chairman Rupert Hoogewerf. Chinese payments company Ant Financial tops the list with a valuation of $150bn. Founded in 2014, Ant Financial's main business is online payment platform Alipay, which was spun out of e-commerce giant Alibaba. Are internet unicorns really worth billions? China's Bytedance ranks second, with a valuation of $75bn. The fast-growing technology firm owns popular video-sharing platform TikTok. Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing rounds out the top three, valued at $55bn. High-profile US companies including home-rental site Airbnb, office space firm WeWork and electronic cigarette maker Juul also feature in the top 10. The report comes at a time of tense relations between the world's two largest economies. The US and China have been embroiled in a trade battle for the past year. Their power struggle has also played out in the technology sector, with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei becoming a central part of their dispute. The US claims Huawei - the world's largest maker of telecoms equipment - poses a national security risk and has put trade restrictions on the firm. The company has consistently denied the allegations, and many in China argue the US is trying to curb the country's technology ambitions.
10-14-19 China is giving the U.S. a taste of its own medicine
Demanding certain conditions from businesses and trade partners is what the U.S. has done to other countries for decades. We Americans tend to treat trade as a matter of purely economic exchanges. But we've recently learned that to become entangled with a country via trade almost inevitably invites broader entanglements as well — of culture, ideology, and policy. After enmeshing ourselves in trade with China, for example, we've suddenly found China using that entanglement to silence criticism of China's crackdown on Hong Kong protesters. (Or its treatment of Tibet, or its massive surveillance state.) More perniciously, China's had American institutions and companies do the silencing and surveilling for it. In other words, if the country we're entangled with has a lot of leverage, they can force us to behave in ways we otherwise might not, and would really prefer not to. The thing is, if you're pretty much any country other than the United States — especially a poorer or developing country — you already knew this. Because for decades, the U.S. has been doing to the world what China is currently trying to do to us. If you're a big country with lots of consumption spending and financial capital to throw around, other countries are going to want access to your domestic market. And that will give you leverage to condition that access on certain terms. While China's rise into the ranks of global economic behemoths happened in just the last two or three decades, the U.S. has been there since the end of World War II. Through institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the U.S. has used that leverage to build the global economic and trade order to its preferences. In the initial post-war years, this setup worked out relatively well — resuscitating the ravaged economies of Europe, and promising a prosperous new possible future for the global East and South. But then in the 1970s and 1980s, free market neoliberal ideology took over American policymaking — and by extension took over the policies America was exporting to the globe. The U.S. started forcing countries to abandon capital controls and tariffs, thus allowing the free flow of both goods and financial capital across their borders. Industrial policy and state-ownership of enterprise was discouraged, privatization and free market solutions encouraged. This model often turned out quite badly for developing countries in particular. The end of barriers to trade and financial flows left those countries vulnerable to rich western speculators who could boost their economy by rushing in, then collapse it by rushing out just as fast. When such crises left a country saddled with unsustainable levels of foreign-denominated debt, the solution imposed by America's neoliberal hegemony was austerity, which provided the surplus cash to pay off foreign creditors, but also crushed the country's domestic economy and the livelihoods of its own citizens in the process. Indeed, the occasional country that did resist these demands wound up raising its wealth and living standards faster — and there's no better example than China itself, which has used its own clout to pick and choose which parts of the neoliberal global trade order it does and doesn't want to cooperate with.
10-4-19 China: 70th anniversary celebrations spark joy and rage
The Chinese Communist Party rolled out the big guns in Tiananmen Square this week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic, said Kirsty Needham in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). Helicopters and stealth fighter jets roared over Beijing as 15,000 soldiers marched alongside an unprecedented display of weaponry. The parade included columns of tanks, hypersonic missiles, and the new DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are capable of striking the U.S. within 30 minutes. There was also a spectacular mass pageant involving 100,000 people and 70 floats arranged in intricate formations to represent Chinese history and iconography. Marchers bore giant portraits of past Communist leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, as well as current President Xi Jinping. It was “the only TV show” on air, and the cameras zoomed in on a float celebrating Beijing’s rule over Hong Kong even as “violent protests continue to rage” in the semi-autonomous city. China has every right to be proud of its “brilliant achievements,” said Zhang Shuhua in the Global Times (China). When the Communist Party took power in 1949, China was emerging from war and colonialism and “wallowing in poverty and bleakness.” A mere seven decades later, China is the world’s second-largest economy, having “completed an industrialization process that developed countries took hundreds of years to achieve.” Our annual gross domestic product has increased by a factor of 1,325 to reach $12.66 trillion, and the economy is still growing at more than 6 percent a year—triple the U.S. rate. China has “served as the global growth engine and stabilizer, which is a blessing for both Chinese people and human history.” Our unified political system has made these advances possible, freeing our people from partisan struggles so they can accomplish major goals. Our approach “can be learned by other countries, especially developing ones.”
9-29-19 China anniversary: The deep cuts of 70 years of Communist rule
China's extraordinary rise was a defining story of the 20th Century, but as it prepares to mark its 70th anniversary, the BBC's John Sudworth in Beijing asks who has really won under the Communist Party's rule. "I lived through it," he replies. "I can tell you that Chairman Mao did make some mistakes but they weren't his alone." "I respect him from my heart. He achieved our nation's liberation. Ordinary people cannot do such things." On Tuesday, China will present a similar, glorious rendering of its record to the world. The country is staging one of its biggest ever military parades, a celebration of 70 years of Communist Party rule as pure, political triumph. Beijing will tremble to the thunder of tanks, missile launchers and 15,000 marching soldiers, a projection of national power, wealth and status watched over by the current Communist Party leader, President Xi Jinping, in Tiananmen Square. Like Mr Zhao's paper-cut portraits, we're not meant to focus on the many individual scars made in the course of China's modern history. It is the end result that matters. And, on face value, the transformation has been extraordinary. On 1 October 1949, Chairman Mao stood in Tiananmen Square urging a war-ravaged, semi-feudal state into a new era with a founding speech and a somewhat plodding parade that could muster only 17 planes for the flyby. This week's parade, in contrast, will reportedly feature the world's longest range intercontinental nuclear missile and a supersonic spy-drone - the trophies of a prosperous, rising authoritarian superpower with a 400 million strong middle class. It is a narrative of political and economic success that - while in large part true - is incomplete. New visitors to China are often, rightly, awe-struck by the skyscraper-festooned, hi-tech megacities connected by brand new highways and the world's largest high-speed rail network. They see a rampant consumer society with the inhabitants enjoying the freedom and free time to shop for designer goods, to dine out and to surf the internet. "How bad can it really be?" the onlookers ask, reflecting on the negative headlines they've read about China back home. The answer, as in all societies, is that it depends very much on who you are.
9-12-19 Huawei chief offers to share 5G know-how for a fee
Huawei's chief executive has proposed selling its current 5G know-how to a Western firm as a way to address security concerns voiced by the US and others about its business. Ren Zhengfei said the buyer would be free to "change the software code". That would allow any flaws or supposed backdoors to be addressed without Huawei's involvement. The US and Australia have banned their networks from using Huawei's equipment. The UK is still weighing a decision. Huawei has repeatedly denied claims that it would help the Chinese government spy on or disrupt other countries telecoms systems, and says it is a private enterprise owned by its workers. One expert, who had previously cast doubts on Huawei's claims to independence, said the idea of it helping another country's business to compete represented an "extraordinary offer". "Perhaps the explanation is that Huawei recognises that it is unlikely to be able to bypass the efforts the Trump administration is putting into minimising its scope to operate in North America, Western Europe and Australasia," said Prof Steve Tsang from Soas University of London. "But it's difficult to see Nokia or Ericsson being interested in buying it. And it's also difficult to see how an American company would be able to reassure the Trump administration that it's absolutely top notch American technology. "And if they can't do that, why would they want to spend tens of billions of US dollars on something that will quickly become out-of-date." Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei made the proposal in interviews with the Economist and the New York Times. It would include ongoing access to the firm's existing 5G patents, licences, code, technical blueprints and production engineering knowledge. "[Huawei is] open to sharing our 5G technologies and techniques with US companies, so that they can build up their own 5G industry," the NYT quoted Ren as saying. "This would create a balanced situation between China, the US and Europe." Speaking to the Economist he added: "A balanced distribution of interests is conducive to Huawei's survival." A spokesman for Huawei has confirmed the quotes are accurate and the idea represents a "genuine proposal". At present, Europe's Nokia and Ericsson are the main alternatives to Huawei when it comes to networks selecting what 5G cell tower base stations and other equipment to install. South Korea's Samsung and China's ZTE are other alternatives. But while American firms including Cisco, Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have developed 5G-related technologies, the US lacks an infrastructure-equipment specialist of its own. Beyond the licensing fee, Huawei could benefit because it might convince Washington to drop restrictions that currently prevent it buying US-linked technologies for its own use.
8-25-19 Is the US still Asia's only military superpower?
US pre-eminence in the Pacific is no more. For a long time experts have been speaking about China's rapid military modernisation referring to it as "a rising power". But this analysis may be out of date. China is not so much a rising power; it has risen; and in many ways it now challenges the US across a number of military domains. This is the conclusion of a new report from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney in Australia. It warns that US defence strategy in the Indo-Pacific region "is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis" and that Washington might struggle to defend its allies against China. "America no longer enjoys military primacy in the Indo-Pacific", it notes, "and its capacity to uphold a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain." The report points to Beijing's extraordinary arsenal of missiles that threaten the key bases of the US and its allies. These installations, it asserts, "could be rendered useless by precision strikes in the opening hours of a conflict". China is not a global superpower like the United States. Indeed it is doubtful if its military ambitions extend that far (though this too may be changing as it slowly develops a network of ports and bases abroad). For now its global reach depends much more on the power of its economy. China lacks the "proselytising zeal" - the sense of over-seas mission, that over the twentieth century saw the US strive for global dominance. It also has nothing like the soft-power pull of the United States - no equivalent to blue jeans, Hollywood or burgers - to encourage people to share its values. Indeed according to many indices Washington's raw military punch still greatly out-weighs that of Beijing. Washington's nuclear arsenal (and indeed Moscow's) is significantly larger than that available to Beijing. The US still retains a technological edge in key areas like intelligence collection; ballistic missile defence; and the latest generation warplanes. The US can also rely upon a deeply entrenched network of alliances both in Asia and through Nato in Europe. China has nothing like this kind of alliance system. But it is fast eroding Washington's technical edge. And in any case what matters to China is Asia and what it sees in expansive terms as its own back-yard. Two key factors - focus and proximity - mean that in Asia, China is already a superpower to rival the US. (Webmaster's comment: Why does the United States need to be a global superpower? To intimidate other nations to allow our corporations to rape their nations of their resources.)
8-21-19 Inside China's attempt to boost crop yields with electric fields
In greenhouses across China, scientists are exposing lettuces and cucumbers to powerful electric fields in an attempt to make them grow faster. Can electroculture work? AT FIRST blush, the huge commercial greenhouse on the outskirts of Beijing doesn’t seem unusual. Inside, lettuces sit in neat rows and light pours in through the glass above. But there is a soft hum and an intense feeling in the air, almost as if a thunderstorm is on the way. The most obvious sign that this is no ordinary growing space is the high-voltage electrical wiring strung over the crops. This place may be different, but it is far from unique. Over the past few years, greenhouses like this have sprouted up across China, part of a government-backed project to boost the yield of crops by bathing them in the invisible electric fields that radiate from power cables. From cucumbers to radishes, the results are, apparently, incredible. “The overall quality is excellent,” says Liu Binjiang, the lead scientist on the project. “We’re really entering a golden age for this technology.” Using electricity to boost plant growth – not by powering heaters or sprinkler systems, but simply by exposing plants to an electric field – is an old idea. It is also controversial. Electroculture was tested in Europe many decades ago and found wanting, with the results too inconsistent to be any use. The mechanism was also mysterious: no one knew how or why electric fields might boost growth. So what exactly is going on in China’s new greenhouses? Can you really improve agriculture through the power of electric fields – and if so, how? It was Finnish physicist Karl Selim Lemström who introduced the world to the idea of electroculture in the 1880s. He was studying the northern lights in Lapland when he noticed that trees grew well there in spite of the short growing season. He suggested it might be because of the electrical field produced by charged particles rushing into Earth’s atmosphere to create the aurora. Lemström carried out tests with plants growing under electric wires and achieved mixed results. In one experiment conducted in a field in Burgundy, France, he saw that “carrots gave an increase of 125 per cent and peas 75 per cent”.
8-12-19 China, Not U.S., May Be the Land of Opportunity for Children
Aug. 12 marks International Youth Day, which this year focuses on efforts to make education more relevant, equitable and inclusive for all the world's youth. This analysis is one of two that looks at how people around the world view opportunities for children in their countries to learn and grow. The U.S. has deficits other than trade to worry about with China. Since the early days of the global economic crisis, China has led the U.S. by as much as 20 percentage points on Gallup's question of whether most children in their respective countries have the opportunity to learn and grow every day. In 2018, 92% of Chinese adults said most children in their country have these types of opportunities, while 74% of U.S. adults said the same. The two countries are the world's largest economies, but you wouldn't know that based on how people in each country answer this question. Among 20 of the world's biggest economic players, the U.S. has the largest GDP, but it ranks 14th on that short list in terms of the opportunities Americans perceive for children in the U.S. China's overall GDP is second-largest in the world, but it ranks third on the opportunities that its adults see for children in China. China's rising literacy rate -- which increased from 65.51% in 1982 to 96.36% in 2015 -- and its higher math and science scores than the U.S. on the OECD PISA (a global assessment of mathematics, reading and science skills) may lend support to why so many Chinese might see the situation so positively for their nation's children. It might also help explain why Chinese adults are highly satisfied with the quality of the educational system or the schools where they live. In 2018, 70% -- a new high -- said they were satisfied with the quality of their local educational system, compared with 64% of Americans.
7-26-19 China is on track to meet its climate change goals nine years early
China appears on track to reach its carbon goals up to nine years earlier than planned under the Paris agreement, in a potential huge boost for efforts to tackle climate change. The world’s biggest polluter accounts for a quarter of humanity’s emissions today, making the nation a crucial part of any efforts to avoid dangerous global warming. Now an analysis has found that China’s emissions could peak at 13 to 16 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2021 and 2025, making what the researchers call a “a great contribution” to meeting the Paris deal’s goal of limiting temperature rises to 2°C. The official target is a peak by “around 2030.” “It reflects China’s great efforts in mitigating climate change and the ‘new normal’ of the economy, from high speed to high quality, which might cause CO2 emissions to peak earlier,” says Haikun Wang of Nanjing University. His Chinese-US team calculated their dates by looking at historical carbon emissions and GDP data for 50 Chinese cities between 2000 and 2016. They found that emissions tend to peak at 10.2 tonnes of CO2 per person when GDP hits around $21,000 per person. The cities are responsible for 35 per cent of China’s total emissions, from which the researchers extrapolated a national picture, projecting it forward to find a peak. The possibility of China delivering early on its international target will be a boost for UN climate talks. Under the Paris deal, countries are due to submit revised and improved carbon targets next year. The possibility of an early peak has been driven by the changing nature of China’s economy, a shift which is likely to continue. “As China moves towards a higher tech and service economy, it is likely to show how the passage to a low-carbon economy and robust and sustainable growth in an emerging market economy can be mutually supportive,” says Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics. The expectation of a peak by 2025 is in line with the lower end of other projections.
7-10-19 Forget Tesla - China’s BYD is driving the electric car revolution
Shifting to electric vehicles is an essential part of tackling climate change and China is doing far better than the West. FORGET Tesla – the world’s biggest electric car manufacturer is a Chinese company you have probably never heard of. With the age of the fossil-fuel car drawing to an end, electric vehicles (EVs) from China could be on track for global dominance – assuming that the hundreds of start-ups in the sector don’t skid out and crash. China buys more EVs than any other nation. Last year, 1.25 million electric cars – 984,000 of which were solely battery-powered – were sold in the country, accounting for more than half of all EVs sold globally. A significant proportion of them were made by BYD Auto, a firm headquartered in Xi’an, China. In 2018, BYD sold nearly 248,000 zero-emissions vehicles globally, outpacing Tesla’s sales of roughly 245,000. The company began in 1995 as a manufacturer of batteries for mobile phones and digital cameras, and has since expanded to produce battery-powered cars, buses and trucks. Last week, it launched a fleet of 37 fully electric double decker buses as part of London’s public transport system. Other Chinese companies with international reach include Chery and the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which is the behemoth that now owns Volvo, Lotus and the London Taxi Company. Sam Korus, an analyst at investment firm ARK, estimates that there are nearly 500 EV companies in China, many of which are yet to produce their first vehicle. Recent reports suggest that 330 firms are registered for government subsidies encouraging investment in EVs. All this means that despite an overall decline in car sales – the number of Chinese-produced cars sold last year dropped nearly 8 per cent from 2017 – the EV industry is booming. Battery electric vehicle sales rose by more than 50 per cent in 2018. “We are witnessing a transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to zero-emission vehicles,” says Yunshi Wang, director of the China Center for Energy and Transportation at the University of California, Davis. The shift has been driven by a Chinese government goal of reaching 5 million “new-energy” vehicles – including battery electrics, hybrid cars and fuel-cell cars – on China’s roads by 2020, when yearly sales of these cars should hit 2 million.
5-23-19 Robots conduct daily health inspections of schoolchildren in China
Please stand in front of Walklake for your examination. This health checking robot takes just 3 seconds to diagnose a variety of ailments in children, including conjunctivitis, and hand, foot and mouth disease. Over 2000 preschools in China, with children aged between 2 and 6, are using Walklake every morning to check the health status of their students. Walklake has a boxy body and smiling cartoony face. Before children enter the classrooms, they stand in front of the robot for a quick checkup by showing it their eyes, throats and hands. The robot has an infrared thermometer on its forehead, as well as cameras on its eyes, mouth and chest. Its system is trained to scan for disease symptoms, such as fever, hand blisters, throat sores and red eyes. If it detects something abnormal, the robot will alert teachers or school nurses who then manually check the child again and decide if they should be sent home. Since 2016 the Chinese government has recommended all preschools should conduct a morning heath examination on students to reduce the transmission of disease. However, normally this is done by a person. Robots can help streamline the process. After scanning all students, Walklake aggregates the health data and sends the principal an illness report of the entire school. “It’s allowing for better health monitoring, especially in places that have large populations but not enough skilled health professionals,” says Karen Panetta at Tufts University in Massachusetts. She suggests if the robot becomes more prevalent, health officials can use its data to pinpoint the spread of diseases, and thus implement proactive interventions.
5-21-19 Ren Zhengfei says US government 'underestimates' Huawei
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has remained defiant towards US moves against his company, saying the US "underestimates" its abilities. Speaking to Chinese state media, Mr Ren downplayed the impact of recent US curbs and said no-one could catch up to its 5G technology in the near future. Last week the US added Huawei to a list of companies that American firms cannot trade with unless they have a licence. The move marked an escalation in US efforts to block the Chinese company. "The current practice of US politicians underestimates our strength," Mr Ren said, according to transcripts from state media. Huawei faces a growing backlash from Western countries, led by the US, over possible risks posed by using its products in next-generation 5G mobile networks. The potential fallout from the US decision to place Huawei on its "entity list" was drawn into focus on Monday after Google barred the Chinese tech giant from some updates to its Android operating system. Later on Monday, the US Commerce Department issued a temporary licence that enabled some companies to continue supporting existing Huawei networks and devices. The US said it would issue the 90-day licence that "will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks," said US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has published advice for Huawei phone owners on its site. It said the licence should mean that Huawei customers can "update their handsets as normal". It added that it was continuing to assess the situation and planned to provide advice in the future for users. Still, Mr Ren played down the significance of the move, saying that Huawei had already made preparations ahead of the US restrictions. (Webmaster's comment: Like I already said Huawei's 5G technology is a lot better than US 5G technology. So the US wants to ban it. This has nothing to do with security.)
5-21-19 US warns of threat from Chinese drone companies
The US government has issued an alert warning that Chinese-made drones could pose a cyber-espionage risk to American businesses and other organisations that use them. The notice added that those using the flying aircraft for tasks related to national security or critical infrastructure were most at risk. The warning does not refer to a specific company. But market-leader DJI said it had taken steps to keep its clients' data secure. "We give customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted," the firm said in a statement. "For government and critical infrastructure customers that require additional assurances, we provide drones that do not transfer data to DJI or via the internet, and our customers can enable all the precautions DHS [Department of Homeland Security] recommends." DJI accounts for more than 70% of the US market in drones costing more than $500, according to research firm Skylogic. The BBC also contacted Yuneec - the second bestselling Chinese manufacturer - for comment, but it has not responded. However, it teamed up with a US-based software and cloud storage provider last year to address concerns that government clients and other security-conscious customers might have. The notice was issued on Monday by the US's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, according to CNN, which was first to report the development. "The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access," it quoted the memo as saying. (Webmaster's comment: Obviously Chinese drone technology is superior to US drone technolgy and so US customers buy Chinese drones. This has nothing to do with security.)
5-16-19 China wants to make the fastest planes ever with a new material
Planes that fly faster than ever before may now be possible, if reports about a new material are correct. The material was developed in China and is capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures over a prolonged period, making it suitable for hypersonic flight. Hypersonic flight means travelling at over five times the speed of sound. There are currently no vehicles that can travel at this speed in our atmosphere for more than a few minutes partly because of the high temperatures caused by friction. Researchers at Xiamen University in China tested a design for a hypersonic vehicle last month (pictured above), which they say reached a height of 26 kilometres, although it didn’t use the new material. According to China’s Global Times newspaper, the new material can withstand 3000°C for hours, meaning it should easily be able to withstand hypersonic flight. The material was first created in 2012 and is now in production for aviation, space and defence uses, said Fan Jinglian, at Central South University in China, to the newspaper. Fan hasn’t revealed many details about the material, but her published work is in high-performance tungsten and she previously filed a patent for a technique for producing tungsten composites. It is possible in principle to make a tungsten-based material than can withstand 3000°C, says Russell Goodall of the University of Sheffield, UK. A tungsten composite seems like a logical choice, but it is difficult to find a combination of materials that works, says Zak Fang at the University of Utah. A recently launched project by the US military research agency DARPA is looking for materials able to withstand 2200°C for its own hypersonic flight programme.
5-16-19 Trump declares national emergency over IT threats
President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to protect US computer networks from "foreign adversaries". He signed an executive order which effectively bars US companies from using foreign telecoms believed to pose national security risks. The order does not name any company, but is believed to target Huawei. The Chinese tech giant said restricting its business in the US would only hurt American consumers and companies. Several countries, led by the US, have raised concerns in recent months that Huawei products could be used by China for surveillance, allegations the company has vehemently denied. The US has been pressuring allies to shun Huawei in their next generation 5G mobile networks. In a separate development, the US commerce department added Huawei to its "entity list", a move that bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval. The moves are likely to worsen tensions between the US and China, which had already escalated this week with tariff hikes in a trade war. Huawei has been at the epicentre of the US-China power struggle that has dominated global politics over the past year. According to a White House statement, Mr Trump's order aims to "protect America from foreign adversaries who are actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services". It gives the secretary of commerce the power to "prohibit transactions posing an unacceptable risk to the national security", the statement adds. The move was instantly welcomed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who called it "a significant step toward securing America's networks". The US had already restricted federal agencies from using Huawei products and has encouraged allies to shun them, while Australia and New Zealand have both blocked the use of Huawei gear in 5G networks. In April 2018 another Chinese tech company, ZTE, was barred from buying US parts after it was placed on the same "entity list". It resumed business after reaching a deal with the US in July. (Webmaster's comment: This had nothing to do with National Security. It has everything to do with the fact that Huawei 5G technology is superior to any U.S. 5G technology.)
5-15-19 China's rover peeks under the crust of the far side of the moon
We are peeking under the moon’s crust for the first time. The Chinese Yutu 2 moon rover, which landed in January aboard the Chang’e 4 lander, has spotted what appears to be primitive material from the moon’s mantle, which may help reveal details about its early magma ocean. Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the moon’s largest impact crater at about 2500 kilometres across. Simulations have shown that the collision that created this crater was probably powerful enough to punch through the moon’s outer crust, revealing rocks from its interior. Chunlai Li at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues examined data that Yutu 2 took during its first day on the moon looking for those deeper rocks. They seem to have found them in an area of material tossed from another smaller crater within the basin. The lunar soil that Yutu 2 examined contained relatively heavy minerals rich in iron and magnesium. Early in the moon’s history, when it was covered in a magma ocean, these heavier minerals would have sunk while lighter silicates floated and eventually solidified into the crust. “This is the first ground truth of what the interior of the moon is really made of,” says Briony Horgan at Purdue University in Indiana. “I would say the really important thing is that it’s different from the Earth.” This difference may be because of how water changed Earth’s mantle early in its history, she says. “The ultimate goal is to decipher the mystery of the lunar mantle composition,” says Li. This will help uncover how the moon’s magma ocean evolved, which may be useful for studying other bodies, like Earth, that had magma oceans but whose surfaces have changed much more since then.
5-15-19 China’s lunar rover may have found minerals from the moon’s mantle
New observations could answer questions about how Earth’s nearest neighbor evolved. The first mission to the farside of the moon may have found bits of the moon’s interior on its surface. The Yutu-2 rover, deployed by the Chinese Chang’e-4 spacecraft that landed on the moon in January, detected soil that appears rich in minerals thought to make up the lunar mantle, researchers report in the May 16 Nature. Those origins, if confirmed, could offer insight into the moon’s early development. “Understanding the composition of the lunar mantle is key to determining how the moon formed and evolved,” says Mark Wieczorek, a geophysicist at the Côte d’Azur Observatory in Nice, France, not involved in the work. “We do not have any clear, unaltered samples of the lunar mantle” from past moon missions. In hopes of finding mantle samples, Chang’e-4 touched down in the moon’s largest impact basin, the South Pole–Aitken basin (SN: 2/2/19, p. 5). The collision that formed this enormous divot is thought to have been powerful enough to punch through the moon’s crust and expose mantle rocks to the lunar surface (SN: 11/24/18, p. 14). During its first lunar day on the moon, Yutu-2 recorded the spectra of light reflected off lunar soil at two spots using its Visible and Near-Infrared Spectrometer. When researchers analyzed these spectra, “what we saw was quite different” than normal lunar surface material, says study coauthor Dawei Liu, a planetary scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing.
5-15-19 Chang'e-4: Chinese rover 'confirms' Moon crater theory
The Chinese Chang'e-4 rover may have confirmed a longstanding idea about the origin of a vast crater on the Moon's far side. The rover's landing site lies within a vast impact depression created by an asteroid strike billions of years ago. Now, mission scientists have found evidence that impact was so powerful it punched through the Moon's crust and into the layer below called the mantle. Chang'e-4 has identified what appear to be mantle rocks on the surface. It's something the rover was sent to the far side to find out. Chunlai Li, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and colleagues have presented their findings in the journal Nature. The lunar far side, which is turned away from Earth, is more rugged than the familiar near side and has fewer "maria" - dark plains formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. The Chinese spacecraft touched down on 3 January, becoming the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the lunar far side. The rover then rolled off the lander to explore its surroundings. The rover landed inside a 180km-wide impact bowl called Von Kármán crater. But that smaller crater lies within the 2,300km-wide South Pole Aitken (SPA) Basin, which covers nearly a quarter of the Moon's circumference. It's not known exactly how old the SPA Basin is, but it's thought to be at least 3.9 billion years old. The asteroid that carved it out is thought to have been about 170km wide. The Yutu-2 rover has now identified rocks with a very different chemical make-up to those found elsewhere on the Moon. Early results from the rover's Visible and Near Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) suggest the rocks contain minerals known as low-calcium (ortho)pyroxene and olivine. They fit the profile of rocks from the lunar mantle and suggest that the ancient impact that created the SPA drove right through the 50km-deep crust into the mantle. Observational data taken by Moon-orbiting spacecraft have been inconclusive as to the presence of mantle rocks on the surface. The authors of the paper want to continue their examination of these rocks and find others. They have also raised the possibility of sending another mission to deliver some of them to Earth for study in laboratories.
5-11-19 AI recommends 'fashionable' outfits to millions of people in China
What shoes go with that dress? Or this pair of jeans? Artificial intelligence is now answering those questions automatically for online shoppers in China, thanks to an algorithm developed by web giant Alibaba. The system recommends entire personalised outfits to users as they browse, mixing ensembles from recently viewed items and other items judged to coordinate well with them. A live trial of the tool has already recommended outfits to more than 5 million users. The aim is to enhance the experience for customers by encouraging more fashionable shopping behaviour, says Wen Chen at Alibaba. To build the system, Chen and her colleagues assembled a dataset of more than 1 million sample outfits created manually by staff at Alibaba’ online shopping site Taobao. An algorithm used this dataset to learn what clothing items are compatible with one another. Once knowledge of what goes with what had been gained, the outfit generation tool was able to select compatible clothing for items recently clicked on by users. Endless combinations can be continuously created as the customer shops. In a live test on Taobao’s iFashion designer clothes app, the suggested outfits were clicked on about 25 per cent of the time, compared to a 15 per cent click through rate from other approaches. The system can also build up a sense of customers’ fashion profiles based on their clicks, which could potentially be used for targeting customers with other items. Online shoppers are often faced with a “tyranny of choice” that can be overwhelming, says retail adviser Doug Stephens. Offering suggestions of outfits that genuinely look good would therefore be welcome. “It’s a great problem to solve, given that one of the consumer’s most significant apparel challenges is the coordination of items — particularly online where there’s an absence of human assistance,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: And where is American Consumer AI? In the toilet.)
4-5-19 Doctors in China are using 5G internet to do surgery from far away
The future of surgery could be remote. Doctors in China successfully directed a team hundreds of kilometres away to perform heart surgery using a 5G mobile internet connection. This follows on from a surgeon who recently used the same technology to remotely control a surgical robot during a procedure. The appeal of long-distance surgery is that the leading specialist can help with or even intervene in operations far away from where they live. But having a reliable and fast enough connection has been a stumbling block. On 3 April, cardiologist Huiming Guo directed surgery on a 41-year-old woman who had a hole in her heart due to a birth defect. Guo was in Guangdong General Hospital in Guangzhou, whilst the patient was in Gaozhou People’s Hospital about 400 kilometers away. Before the procedure, Guo’s team worked out a surgical plan based on a 3D model of the defected heart. The model was put together by an artificial intelligence using medical images such as CT and MRI scans and then 3D printed, according to a press conference held on Wednesday in Guangzhou. Guo and his colleagues gave instructions, such as where to make cuts and stitches, through video conference to the operating team whilst watching a live-stream from the operating room in 4K—ultra-high definition. The team also monitored the procedure via a live video from a camera probe inserted through the patient’s chest and heart ultrasound. The surgery lasted 4 hours. “Advanced internet technology can save our doctors a lot of time because they don’t have to travel as much. They can use that time to safe more lives,” said Zhiwei Zhang at Guangdong General Hospital in a press conference. A similar surgery to correct a patient’s deformed chest wall was performed at Yangshan Hospital in Guangdong with doctors 200 kilometers away in Second People’s Hospital in Guangdong giving instructions. (Webmaster's comment: They didn't copy this from the United States. They have now taken the lead in almost all technology. We should be copying them!)
3-23-19 Italy joins China's New Silk Road project
Italy has become the first developed economy to sign up to China's global investment programme which has raised concerns among Italy's Western allies. A total of 29 deals amounting to €2.5bn ($2.8bn) were signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Rome. The project is seen as a new Silk Road which, just like the ancient trade route, aims to link China to Europe. Italy's European Union allies and the United States have expressed concern at China's growing influence. The new Silk Road has another name - the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - and it involves a wave of Chinese funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield. Critics see it as also representing a bold bid for geo-political and strategic influence. It has already funded trains, roads, and ports, with Chinese construction firms given lucrative contracts to connect ports and cities - funded by loans from Chinese banks. The levels of debt owed by African and South Asian nations to China have raised concerns in the West and among citizens - but roads and railways have been built that would not exist otherwise. On behalf of Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, signed the umbrella deal (memorandum of intent) making Italy formally part of the Economic Silk Road and The Initiative for a Maritime Silk Road for the 21st Century. Ministers then signed deals over energy, finance, and agricultural produce, followed by the heads of big Italian gas and energy, and engineering firms - which will be offered entry into the Chinese market. China's Communications and Construction Company will be given access to the port of Trieste to enable links to central and eastern Europe. The Chinese will also be involved in developing the port of Genoa.
3-22-19 China is Number One in computing power
The U.S. is building a $500 million supercomputer that can reach “exascale” performance. That’s a quintrillion calculations per second, seven times faster than today’s fastest system. China has 227 machines on the top 500 list of the world’s most powerful computers, compared with 109 for the United States.
3-6-19 China plans world's first deep sea base, complete with robot subs
IMAGINE a structure thousands of metres under the ocean surface that is home to autonomous robots. One by one, the vehicles leave, mapping terrain and looking for unusual creatures. We know very little about life at these depths, but such robots could uncover a bit more with every trip. As their power runs low, they return to tell HQ what they have discovered and recharge their batteries. This is the vision for China’s ambitious plan to build the world’s first deep-sea base. Details are scarce, but there are clues to what it may be like in prototypes, documents from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is leading the project and which aims to have results within five years, and comments from China’s president Xi Jinping. The base itself will probably include a chamber to trap passing organisms, such as the weird eels, sharks or sea cucumbers that inhabit the deep ocean. If brought to the surface, these creatures often die. So being able to study them in the base will help our understanding of how they survive at these depths. Below about 200 metres, hardly any sunlight penetrates, so solar panels are useless. A base will need a power cord that can reach a surface ship or the shore. China has built several prototypes of robot submarine docking stations in recent years. Each looks like a giant megaphone and a torpedo-shaped submarine docks in the cone part to recharge and transmit data. Currently, the docking system has only been tested to a depth of 105 metres. The ocean floor is still largely unexplored. Less than 1 per cent is currently mapped in detail. So robot submarines will include sonar to reveal what is where with much greater resolution. One advantage of a permanent base is it allows you to see how things change over time, rather than just getting a snapshot by sending down a submarine for a single visit, says Jon Copley at the University of Southampton, UK. (Webmaster's comment: Chine is taking the lead in remote-control autonomous operations, first on the moon, and now on the ocean floor.)
2-15-19 Meet the man who made CRISPR monkey clones to study depression
Hung-Chun Chang hopes his work will lead to new treatments for depression and schizophrenia. One year after the birth of the world’s first two cloned primates, a team in China has used CRISPR gene editing and cloning to create monkeys that show some symptoms of depression and schizophrenia. While some researchers have praised the work’s potential for helping us understand psychiatric disorders in humans, others have raised ethical concerns. Lead scientist Hung-Chun Chang, of the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, told New Scientist about how he hopes the monkeys will help us better understand mental health and find new treatments. (Webmaster's comment: Note that the cutting-edge research is being done in CHINA!)
- How did you create these monkeys? We are working on the BMAL1 gene, which affects how our body responds to the day-night cycle.
- What symptoms do these monkeys have? The most direct result is that they are not getting enough sleep.
- How can you know that these aren’t just symptoms of sleep deprivation? It’s impossible to separate the effects of sleep deprivation on monkey’s mental state from their genetic mutation.
- What are you hoping to learn from this work? We will use these monkeys for drug testing
- Couldn’t this research be done in mice or people? Monkeys have an identical body clock to humans.
- Is it ethical to genetically engineer monkeys to be depressed? Gene editing in cynomolgus monkeys, the species we used here, is permitted worldwide.
- What else is your team is working on? We are trying to create an Alzheimer’s model.
1-15-19 First moon plants sprout in China’s Chang’e 4 biosphere experiment
A sprouting cotton seed on China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander is the first plant ever to germinate on another world, heralding a new era for life in space. Seeds of cotton, oilseed rape, potato and arabidopsis were carried to the moon as part of a biosphere experiment, along with fruit fly eggs and some yeast. Pictures sent back by the probe show cotton, rape and potato seeds sprouting and growing well, the scientist leading the experiment, Liu Hanlong, told South China Morning Post. Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon on 3 January and this image was dated 7 January. The organisms are kept in a sealed chamber, protected from the extreme temperatures and intense radiation on the moon’s surface. Understanding how to grow plants in space will help lay the foundation for establishing a human settlement on the moon, Liu said. The six organisms could make up a mini-ecosystem, with plants producing oxygen and food to sustain the fruit flies. Yeast could process the flies’ waste and dead plants to provide another food source. In a future human settlement, potatoes could provide food, rapeseed could be a source of oil and cotton could be used for clothing. Plants have been grown before in orbit in the International Space Station, including cucumbers. Astronauts got their first bites of space-grown romaine lettuce in 2015. Algae have even managed to survive 530 days on a panel on the outside of the space station. (Webmaster's comment: But the fact remains, China is taking the lead in space achievements.)
1-3-19 China’s Chang’e 4 makes historic first landing on the moon’s far side
For the first time, a spacecraft has landed on the side of the moon that is always facing away from Earth – an area that, until now, we had only seen from orbit. The China National Space Administration’s Chang’e 4 lander launched on 7 December and has spent the past month reaching the correct orbit to attempt the historic landing. The CNSA also launched a lunar satellite in May to facilitate communication with the lander, as there is never a direct line of sight between the moon’s far side and Earth. That lack of visibility meant that Chang’e 4 had to make its landing almost completely autonomously, with no input from mission control. At 10.26 am Beijing time on 3 January, the lander successfully touched down on the surface in an enormous depression called the South Pole-Aitken basin. This basin is particularly important because it is thought to be a crater from a huge impact during the moon’s early years. The impact may have punched through the crust and dug up rocks from deeper underground. If so, the spacecraft will be able to study these rocks to learn about the moon’s past as well as its present. The mission will also help prepare for the moon’s possible future. Researchers are keen to send radio telescopes to the far side of the moon, where radio wave pollution from Earth’s communications and power lines is blocked out. Chang’e 4 is also carrying a “biosphere” with potato seeds, cress and silkworm larvae to see if they can thrive in a sealed container on the moon. (Webmaster's comment: China is now the undisputed leader in space technology. United states now only leads in its number of military killing machines.)
11-26-18 World’s first gene-edited babies announced by a scientist in China
A woman in China has given birth to two genetically edited baby girls, according to the Associated Press news agency. The aim of the experiment was to create children who are immune to HIV, but it hasn’t yet been independently reviewed or verified. The experiment has been widely condemned as unethical, even by those who are in favour of using gene editing in eggs, sperm or embryos to prevent diseases in children if it can be done safely. “If true, this experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit,” says ethicist Julian Savulescu at the University of Oxford. “There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals.” “There is no pressing need for this – it’s totally inappropriate,” says Greg Neely at the University of Sydney, Australia. HIV enters and infects cells by binding to a protein on the surface called CCR5. The team in China, led by He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, says it has used the CRISPR gene editing technique to try to disable the gene for CCR5. One aspect of the experiment that has come under criticism is that we don’t yet know if it is safe to delete both copies of the CCR5 gene – which is involved in immunity – in every cell of the body. “We don’t know what the full effects will be,” says Neely. Seven pairs of men and women reportedly took part in the experiment. All of the men were HIV-positive, and, according to the Associated Press, each couple was offered free IVF treatment in exchange for participating in what was described on ethical consent forms as an “AIDS vaccine development programme”. The team behind the work says the couples were fully informed about the experiment.
11-13-18 China may have developed a quantum radar that can spot stealth planes
A company claims to have created a quantum radar that can detect stealth aircraft and see through the radar jamming used to hide warplanes. Defence giant China Electronics Technology Group Corporation displayed the prototype at the Zhuhai air show last week. Stealth aircraft avoid detection by redirecting most of a radar system’s radio waves, which usually reflect off their surface and reveal their location. In theory, a quantum radar can overcome this by using two streams of entangled photons. These are pairs of photons that have a weird connection so a change to one affects the other, even if they are miles apart. The first photon stream is sent out, like a standard radar beam, and bounces off objects in the sky. The second stream remains inside the system. Because the photons are entangled, the returning photons can be matched with those in the stay-at-home stream, so all background noise can be filtered out. This includes deliberate interference, such as radar jamming or spoofing signals put out to confuse radar. What is left is a clear image of the target, with no extraneous signal. “Without being able to take the lid off what has been shown here, we can’t be sure if this is an elaborate hoax,” says Alan Woodward at the University of Surrey, UK. But China has form with quantum technology, having surprised the world with the speed at which it developed the first quantum satellite communications. If the quantum radar is real, it would be the first of its kind. This technology would significantly reduce the ability of stealth aircraft, such as some bombers, to remain undetected, says Justin Bronk at UK defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute. Although not necessarily grounding operations, it could make them more dangerous. (Webmaster's comment: So much for American military technological superiority!)
8-9-18 Organic solar cells set 'remarkable' energy record
Chinese researchers have taken what they say is a major step forward for the development of a new generation of solar cells. Manufacturers have long used silicon to make solar panels because the material was the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. But organic photovoltaics, made from carbon and plastic, promise a cheaper way of generating electricity. This new study shows that organics can now be just as efficient as silicon. The term organic relates to the fact that carbon-based materials are at the heart of these devices, rather than silicon. The square or rectangular solid solar panels that most of us are familiar with, require fixed installation points usually on roofs or in flat fields. Organic photovoltaics (OPV) can be made of compounds that are dissolved in ink so they can be printed on thin rolls of plastic, they can bend or curve around structures or even be incorporated into clothing. Commercial solar photovoltaics usually covert 15-22% of sunlight, with a world record for a silicon cell of 27.3% reached in this summer in the UK. Organics have long lingered at around half this rate, but this year has seen some major leaps forward. In April researchers were able to reach 15% in tests. Now this new study pushes that beyond 17% with the authors saying that up to 25% is possible. This is important because according to estimates, with a 15% efficiency and a 20 year lifetime, organic solar cells could produce electricity at a cost of less than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2017, the average cost of electricity in the US was 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
6-8-18 China to surpass the U.S.
China is on track to surpass the U.S. in spending on scientific research by the end of this year. The U.S. spends $500 billion annually on research, but China has been increasing its spending by an average of 18 percent a year, and is now luring foreign scientists and retaining Chinese who used to emigrate to the U.S.
5-21-18 China launched a satellite to help explore the moon’s far side
A satellite launched on 21 May will allow China's upcoming moon lander – the first to visit the far side – to receive commands and send data back to Earth. China is getting ready for a trip to the far side of the moon. On 21 May, the China National Space Administration launched a satellite that will relay information between Earth and a planned moon lander and rover, both set to launch in late 2018. The satellite – called Queqiao, which means Magpie Bridge – launched from southwest China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 4C rocket. Chang’e 4, the moon lander, will be the first spacecraft ever to land on the far side of the moon, if all goes to plan. Because the far side always faces away from Earth, the lander will not be able to communicate directly with its operators – any commands sent to it, or data sent back, would be blocked by the moon itself. To solve that problem, a satellite that sits in the line of sight both of the lander and Earth’s surface is needed to relay information back and forth. There is a special spot in space that’s ideal for that, called L2, which is about 64,000 kilometres past the moon. At that spot, the combined gravity of the sun and Earth counteract the forces that could tug an object out of orbit. It’s a perfect spot to park a spacecraft, because it can sit there without constantly firing its thrusters. It’s also a place particularly well-suited for Queqiao. From L2, the satellite will have a view of the entire far side when the moon passes in front of Earth. Queqiao will be placed into a “halo” orbit that circles L2, so that it will still have a line of sight to Earth even when is the moon blocks out part of the planet.
5-20-18 China is set to launch a satellite to support a future lunar rover
The rover will be the first to visit the farside of the moon. The Chinese space program is set to launch a satellite aimed at supporting future communications from a planned mission to the farside of the moon. The Chang’e-4 mission, which will include a rover and a lander, would be the first to visit the moon’s farside. In the first of a two-launch plan to get all the pieces in place, the supporting relay satellite, named Queqiao, is scheduled to lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on May 21, Chinese media report. The three-day launch window opens at 5 a.m. Beijing time (5 p.m. EDT on May 20), according to the Chinese online news site GB Times. Queqiao will go to an orbit beyond the moon that will allow it to communicate simultaneously with points on both the moon and Earth. It will also carry a Dutch-built radio telescope, which will be switched on in 2019 to search for long-wavelength signals from the universe’s first stars. The Chang’e-4 rover and lander were originally built as backups for the Chang’e-3 mission, which landed two spacecraft on the moon in 2013. Another 2019 mission, Chang’e-5, aims to bring back the first rocks from the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.
4-27-18 Toughest ever heat shields made of springy sponge-like stuff
Chinese scientists have developed a compressible aerogel that has shown in early heat shield tests to be 5 times more resilient than previous materials. The first highly compressible yet heat-resistant material for spacecraft heat shields has been developed – and in early tests, it is proving five times more resilient to vibration and shock damage than any previous material. Heat shield tiles like those used on NASA’s space shuttle, which prevented it from being incinerated on re-entry, were often found to be heavily damaged when the spacecraft landed. This made reuse of the shuttle a slow and expensive business. The damage was due to the fragile nature of the ultralight, ceramic aerogel that the tiles were made of. This material has such low density it is known as ‘frozen smoke’ – its filigree-like structure of silicon dioxide nanoparticles means it weighs only as much as three times the same volume of air. But they are utterly miraculous heat insulators: it’s possible to hold a piece in one hand while blow torching the other side of it, with no ill effects. Still, their fragility has always been their downfall. Until now, that is. A team of chemists led by Bin Ding and Yang Si at Donghua University in China, have engineered a compressible aerogel that can cope with severe vibration without shattering. A traditional ceramic aerogel, says Si, is comprised of silicon dioxide nanoparticles strung together like discrete beads on a necklace, which is inherently brittle. Their new aerogel, called a ceramic nanofibrous aerogel, is made from continuous, flexible ceramic nanofibres which are much less prone to snapping. (Webmaster's comment: Another cutting-edge invention by the Chinese.)
4-26-18 Robot port in China to unload shipping containers without humans
Driverless vehicles will make the global shipping network cheaper and more efficient – and cost jobs. On an overcast spring morning in the port of Caofeidian in northeastern China, a vast ship-to-shore crane whisks a fully-laden shipping container through the air and onto an idling truck. Though there’s a human sitting inside, a careful observer would spot that the truck is calling all the shots. That’s because the vehicle is one of a fleet of five autonomous trucks that a Chinese startup called TuSimple is using to ferry containers around the terminal. A few other ports use trucks that follow paths marked by magnets or sensors embedded in the ground but Caofeidaian is the first to use vehicles that can navigate a port by themselves. It’s like moving from trams to cars. The goal of the pilot project is to demonstrate the ability of autonomous vehicles to perform the role of a so-called “terminal tractor,” bearing containers from the shore to the cargo yard. “At this stage, we want to achieve high-level reliability and consistency of autonomous terminal tractors rather than moving lots of containers,” says TuSimple’s Bruce Ouyang. By the end of the year Ouyang wants to replace all the human-piloted terminal trucks deployed at Caofeidian with 20 self-driving models. The cranes loading the containers will be autonomous too, with a central system coordinating the movements of both the cranes and trucks. In total, they will have to process 300,000 standard-sized containers per year to match the current throughput of the port.
4-18-18 Will China beat the world to nuclear fusion and clean energy?
In a world with an ever-increasing demand for electricity and a deteriorating environment, Chinese scientists are leading the charge to develop what some see as the holy grail of energy. Imagine limitless energy with virtually no waste at all: this is the lofty promise of nuclear fusion. On Science Island in Eastern China's Anhui Province, there is a large gleaming metal doughnut encased in an enormous shiny, round box about as big as a two-storey apartment. This is the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (or EAST). Inside, hydrogen atoms fuse and become helium which can generate heat at several times the temperature of the sun's core. Powerful magnets then control the reaction, which could one day produce vast amounts of electricity if maintained. Around the globe, they are trying to master nuclear fusion - in the United States, Japan, Korea, Brazil and European Union - but none can hold it steady for as long as the team in Anhui. Right now that's 100 seconds and it gets longer every year. Here they're already talking about goals which are 10 times as long, at temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius. But there's a reason why fusion has eluded scientists and engineers since the early advances in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It is really difficult. (Webmaster's comment: Notice it was the Soviet Union that led the way. My money is on the Chinese, the new leaders of high tech!)
2-2-18 Leaked photos suggest China may now have a hypersonic railgun
A ship-mounted electromagnetic railgun, firing projectiles at more than Mach 6 over great distances, could let China dominate the seas. Photos published online yesterday suggest that China may be testing a ship-mounted electromagnetic railgun. If confirmed it would make China the first nation to develop such a superweapon, with potential implications for the power-struggle between China and the US in Asia. A railgun uses electromagnetic force to fire projectiles along electrically charged rails at very high speeds. The US has been developing its own railgun technology over the last 10 years. In tests, prototype weapons shot projectiles at speeds around 7800 kilometres an hour – more than Mach 6 – with a range of around 150 kilometres. But after sinking $500 BILLION into the project, the US government pulled the plug last year. China appears to be ploughing ahead, however. Making a railgun that would be reliable in combat is hard because of the huge pressures exerted on the structure of the gun. Mounting it on a ship adds extra challenges. If China succeeds, it could change the balance of power at sea, says Justin Bronk at the Royal United Services Institute in the UK. “There isn’t really a known defence mechanism against a railgun shot at high Mach numbers,” he says. “It’s too fast and too small for current anti-ship missile and anti-aircraft defence systems.” “If they can get it integrated as a major component into their future fleet arsenal, it will give them a really significant edge over the US navy,” he says. (Webmaster's comment: Another first for China. They can make the technology work, the United States cannot. Their engineers are simply better than ours.)
8-23-17 First underwater entanglement could lead to unhackable comms
First underwater entanglement could lead to unhackable comms
A Chinese experiment suggests submarines could use quantum communication to send messages secured by the laws of physics. The weird world of quantum mechanics is going for a swim. A team of Chinese researchers has, for the first time, transmitted quantum entangled particles of light through water – the first step in using lasers to send underwater messages that are impossible to intercept. “People have talked about the idea of underwater quantum communication before, but I’m not aware of anyone who has done an experiment like this,” says Thomas Jennewein at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “An obvious application would be a submarine which wants to remain submerged but communicate in a secure fashion.” Entanglement starts with a beam of light shot into a crystal. This prism splits the light into pairs of photons with strangely linked behaviour. Manipulate one particle in a pair, and its partner will instantly react. Measure the first one’s polarisation, for example, and entanglement could ensure that its twin will have the opposite polarisation when measured. These entangled photons can theoretically be used to set up a secure communication line between two people, with privacy guaranteed by the laws of physics.
8-22-17 China’s quantum submarine detector could seal South China Sea
China’s quantum submarine detector could seal South China Sea
A major advance in SQUIDs, quantum devices that measure magnetic fields, could allow China to detect submarines at longer range than anyone else. On 21 June, the Chinese Academy of Sciences hailed a breakthrough – a major upgrade to a kind of quantum device that measures magnetic fields. The announcement vanished after a journalist pointed out the invention’s potential military implications: it could help China lock down the South China Sea. “I was surprised by the removal,” says Stephen Chen of the South China Morning Post, who raised the issue. “I have been covering Chinese science for many years, and it is rare.” Magnetometers have been used to detect submarines since the second world war. They are able to do this because they can measure an anomaly in Earth’s magnetic field – like one caused by a massive hunk of metal. But today’s devices can only detect a submarine at fairly short range, so tend to be used to home in on the location once the sub has already been spotted on sonar. You could widen their range if you had a magnetometer based on a superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID. Superconducting magnetometers are exquisitely sensitive, but their promise has been limited to the lab. Out in the real world, they are quickly overwhelmed by background noise as minuscule as changes in Earth’s magnetic field caused by distant solar storms. Given that level of sensitivity, you can forget about mounting such a sensor on an airplane, for example. The US Navy gave up work on superconducting magnetometers to pursue less sensitive but more mature technologies. (Webmaster's comment: In other words the United States couldn't do it.)
8-10-17 Chinese satellite sends 'hack-proof' message
Chinese satellite sends 'hack-proof' message
China has successfully sent "hack-proof" messages from a satellite to Earth for the first time. The Micius satellite beamed messages to two mountain-top receiving stations 645 km (400 miles) and 1,200 km away. The message was protected by exploiting quantum physics, which says any attempt to eavesdrop on it would make detectable changes. Using satellites avoids some limitations that ground-based systems introduce into quantum communication. Complicated optics on the Chinese satellite protect messages with entangled photons - sub-atomic particles of light manipulated so that some of their key properties are dependent on each other. The curious laws of the quantum realm dictate that any attempt to measure these key properties irrevocably changes them. By encoding a key to encrypt data using entangled photons, it becomes possible to send messages confident that they have reached a recipient free of interference. Ground-based encryption systems that use entangled photons have been available for years. However, the maximum distance over which messages can be sent securely is about 200km. This is because the fibre-optic cables through which they travel gradually weaken the signals. Repeater stations can boost distances but that introduces weak points that attackers may target to scoop up messages. By contrast, laser signals sent through the atmosphere or via satellites in space can travel much further before being weakened. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese increase their lead in this cutting-edge technology.)
7-25-17 China set to launch an 'unhackable' internet communication
China set to launch an 'unhackable' internet communication
As malicious hackers mount ever more sophisticated attacks, China is about to launch a new, "unhackable" communications network - at least in the sense that any attack on it would be quickly detected. The technology it has turned to is quantum cryptography, a radical break from the traditional encryption methods around. The Chinese project in the city of Jinan has been touted as a milestone by state media. The pioneering project is also part of a bigger story: China is taking the lead in a technology in which the West has long been hesitant to invest. In the Jinan network, some 200 users from the military, government, finance and electricity sectors will be able to send messages safe in the knowledge that only they are reading them. China's push in quantum communication means the country is taking huge strides developing applications that might make the increasingly vulnerable internet more secure. Applications that other countries soon might find themselves buying from China. So, what is this technology into which the country is pouring massive resources? (Webmaster's comment: Again China takes the lead. They are not cutting their investments in science, like Trump is cutting ours!)
7-7-17 China’s quantum satellite adds two new tricks to its repertoire
China’s quantum satellite adds two new tricks to its repertoire
Era of ultrasecure communication inches closer. China’s quantum satellite has met two more milestones, performing quantum teleportation and transmitting quantum encryption keys through space. Scientists teleported the properties of photons, or particles of light, from a ground station in Tibet to the satellite. A record-breaking quantum satellite has again blown away the competition, achieving two new milestones in long-distance quantum communications through space. In June, Chinese researchers demonstrated that the satellite Micius could send entangled quantum particles to far-flung locations on Earth, their properties remaining intertwined despite being separated by more than 1,200 kilometers (SN Online: 6/15/17). Now researchers have used the satellite to teleport particles’ properties and transmit quantum encryption keys. The result, reported in two papers published online July 3 and July 4 at arXiv.org, marks the first time the two techniques have been demonstrated in space. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese have taken a clear lead in this cutting edge technology. In response Trump has cut our science budget.)
Latest News From Elsewhere
7-18-18 Move over, Hubble. This sharp pic of Neptune was taken from Earth
Cancelling out blur from Earth’s atmosphere lets astronomers focus like never before. A telescope on Earth has snapped pictures of Neptune at least as clear as those from the Hubble Space Telescope. The trick? Taking the twinkle out of stars. Released by the European Southern Observatory on July 18, the images come from a new observing system on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. The instrument uses four lasers to cancel out blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere — the same effect that makes it look like stars are twinkling — at different altitudes. The system is an updated version of adaptive optics (SN: 6/14/03, p. 373), a technique astronomers have long used to focus telescopes. Lasers create artificial “stars” whose size and brightness are precisely known. That gives scientists a way to measure how the atmosphere is distorting their view of real, faraway stars at any given moment. Small motors then change the shape of the telescope’s mirror in real time to correct for that distortion and see the sky as it really is. The resulting images from the Chilean telescope are as sharp and clear as those taken from space. That’s good news, as Hubble won’t last forever, and planned future space telescopes won’t take images in the visible part of the light spectrum (SN: 3/17/18, p. 4). With adaptive optics, telescopes on the ground can pick up where Hubble leaves off. (Webmaster's comment: Neptune is 4 times the size of Earth and this is the best we can do.)
10-25-17 How science transformed the world in 100 years
How science transformed the world in 100 years
In an essay for the BBC, Nobel Prize-winner and Royal Society President Sir Venki Ramakrishnan contemplates the nature of scientific discovery - how it has transformed our worldview in a short space of time, and why we need to be just as watchful today about the uses of research as we've ever been. If we could miraculously transport even the smartest people from around 1900 to today's world, they would be simply astonished at how we now understand things that had puzzled humans for centuries. Just over a hundred years ago, people had no idea how we inherit and pass on traits or how a single cell could grow into an organism. They didn't know that atoms themselves had structure - the word itself means indivisible. They didn't know that matter has very strange properties that defy common sense. Or why there is gravity. And they had no idea how things began, whether it was life on earth or the universe itself. These days because of fundamental discoveries we can answer or at least begin to answer those mysteries. That has transformed the way we see the world and often our everyday lives. Much of what we take for granted today is a result of an interplay of fundamental science and technology, with each driving the other forward. Almost every modern invention has one or often many fundamental discoveries that make it possible. Sometimes, these fundamental discoveries were hundreds of years old. Neither jet engines nor rockets would be possible without a knowledge of Newton's laws of motion. There are big moments in science, like the discovery of the structure of DNA that shift our perspectives. But even that discovery was a milestone that built on work by Darwin and Mendel and presaged today's biotechnology where the entire DNA of a human being - the human genome - has been sequenced. That in turn has given us the ability to figure out how things go wrong in genetic diseases and potentially how to fix them. Scientists were recently able to modify the genes of a young girl to cure her cancer. We are no longer a complete black box, although our complexity is such that we are only just beginning to understand how our genes regulate the body and how they interact with our environment.
8-8-17 Americans already feeling effects of climate change, says report
Americans already feeling effects of climate change, says report
A leaked report says evidence that humans are responsible for climate change is strong – but it remains to be seen how the Trump White House will react. Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change, according to a leaked US report. Since 1980, the average temperature in the US has risen significantly, with the past few decades the warmest for 1500 years. The report, written by scientists from 13 federal agencies, is still awaiting approval from the Trump administration before it can be officially published, but a draft copy was obtained by The New York Times. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” say the authors in the draft report, with thousands of studies contributing to an irrefutable body of evidence. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they say. The report points out that the ability to attribute some extreme weather events to climate change is improving. It says there is relatively strong evidence that humans contributed to the European heatwave in 2003 and the record temperatures in Australia in 2013. Globally, it is extremely likely that humans are responsible for over half the mean temperature increase since 1951, the authors say. The leak comes as it was reported by The Guardian yesterday that senior officials at the US Department of Agriculture are now instructing staff to speak about “weather extremes” instead of climate change. “It is disturbing that scientists had to leak a draft of a new government report warning of dire climate change impacts because they fear the Trump administration will try to suppress it,” says Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. “Orwell’s Ministry of Truth has arrived.” (Webmaster's comment: The fix is in!)
7-25-17 Spanish deal to tackle gender-based violence
Spanish deal to tackle gender-based violence
Spain's political parties are celebrating a "historic" €1bn (£895m; $1.2bn) five-year programme to tackle gender-based violence. The measures include providing victims of abuse with six months' unconditional unemployment benefit to give them a new start, and outlawing imprisoned abusers from being visited by their children. The agreement was reached after six months and 66 expert hearings. Reports say 870 women died from gender-based violence between 2003 and 2016. (Webmaster's comment: Over 15,000 American women have been murdered by their husbands of boyfriends between 2003 and 2016!) So far in 2017, at least 31 women have died along with six minors. (Webmaster's comment: So far over 600 American women have been murdered by husbands and boyfriends in 2017.) Sixteen minors have been orphaned. Spanish politicians have pursued successive programmes to address the issue since 1997, when 60-year-old Ana Orantes was beaten, thrown over a balcony and then burned to death by her ex-husband after repeatedly complaining to authorities about his violent behaviour. She had been forced to divide her home with her husband on the order of a divorce court. Among the 200 measures that received parliamentary endorsement late on Monday are:
- The status of victim will be extended to women who have not yet filed a criminal complaint, to allow them to access safeguards and assistance
- Mechanisms for identifying victims of gender-based violence will be established in hospital emergency rooms and primary care
- Children orphaned by gender-based violence will have priority access to state benefits including educational support. Their guardians (excluding the abuser) will receive tax benefits and priority access to housing
- Tougher sanctions for gender-based crimes committed on the internet
- School curriculums to include lessons to tackle sexism and raise awareness of the feminist movement
(Webmaster's comment: We need to do the same things in American! Over 17 times as many women die from gender-based violence in America as in Spain!)
5-14-17 There's no waking up from America's Trump nightmare
There's no waking up from America's Trump nightmare
The events of this week have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Oval Office is occupied by an ignorant, impulse-driven lunatic. Just how much of a lunatic is President Donald J. Trump? So much so that he fired the director of the FBI in a fit of pique despite the fact that the FBI is conducting an investigation of whether and to what extent the president's own campaign colluded with Russian intelligence services to manipulate the election that landed Trump in the White House. If self-inflicted wounds can range from a paper cut to a bullet in the brain, this is something like the accidental amputation of a leg just above the knee: The victim can still get around, but he's undeniably and irreversibly hobbled, not to mention weakened by a near-fatal loss of blood. But not even that gruesome metaphor manages to capture the extent of our president's distinctive form of self-destructive madness. There isn't a single office holder, political operative, experienced staffer, or journalist in Washington who wouldn't have grasped in an instant that firing James Comey under such circumstances would be massively harmful to the president's efforts to defend himself against the Russian allegations and could well open himself up to a credible (or perhaps more than credible) charge of obstruction of justice. Even bomb-thrower extraordinaire Stephen Bannon understood it!
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