Scientists Find That Water Might Exist in a Whole New State | Science | Smithsonian

Scientists Find That Water Might Exist in a Whole New State | Science | Smithsonian

One of the most basic things we are taught in school science classes is that water can exist in three different states, either as solid ice, liquid water, or vapour gas. But an international team of scientists have recently found signs that liquid water might actually come in two different states.

Writing in an experimental paper, published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology, the researchers were surprised to find a number of physical properties of water change their behaviour between 50℃ and 60℃. This sign of a potential change to a second liquid state could spark a heated discussion in the scientific community. And, if confirmed, it could have implications for a range of fields, including nanotechnology and biology.

States of matter, also called “phases”, are a key concept in the study of systems made from atoms and molecules. Roughly speaking, a system formed from many molecules can be arranged in a certain number of configurations depending on its total energy. At higher temperatures (and therefore higher energies), the molecules have more possible configurations and so are more disorganised and can move about relatively freely (the gas phase). At lower temperatures, the molecules have a more limited number of configurations and so form a more ordered phase (a liquid). If the temperature goes down further, they arrange themselves in a very specific configuration, producing a solid.

This picture is common for relatively simple molecules such as carbon dioxide or methane, which have three clear, different states (liquid, solid and gas). But for more complex molecules, there is a larger number of possible configurations and this gives rise to more phases. A beautiful illustration of this is the rich behaviour of liquid crystals, which are formed by complex organic molecules and can flow like liquids, but still have a solid-like crystalline structure

Because the phase of a substance is determined by how its molecules are configured, many physical properties of that substance will change abruptly as it goes from one state to another. In the recent paper, the researchers measured several telltale physical properties of water at temperatures between 0℃ and 100℃ under normal atmospheric conditions (meaning the water was a liquid). Surprisingly, they found a kink in properties such as the water’s surface tension and its refractive index (a measure of how light travels through it) at around 50℃.

How can this be? The structure of a water molecule, H2O, is very interesting and can be pictured like a sort of arrow tip, with the two hydrogen atoms flanking the oxygen atom at the top. The electrons in the molecule tend to be distributed in a rather asymmetric way, making the oxygen side negatively charged relative to the hydrogen side. This simple structural feature leads to a kind of interaction between water molecules known as hydrogen bonding, in which the opposite charges attract each other.

This gives water properties that, in many cases, break the trends observed for other simple liquids. For example, unlike most other substances, a fixed mass of water takes up more room as a solid (ice) than as a (liquid) because of the way it molecules form a specific regular structure. Another example is the surface tension of liquid water, which is roughly twice that of other non-polar, simpler, liquids.

Water is simple enough, but not too simple. This means that one possibility for explaining the apparent extra phase of water is that it behaves a little bit like a liquid crystal. The hydrogen bonds between molecules keep some order at low temperatures, but eventually could take a second, less-ordered liquid phase at higher temperatures. This could explain the kinks observed by the researchers in their data.

If confirmed, the authors’ findings could have many applications. For example, if changes in the environment (such as temperature) cause changes in a substance’s physical properties, then this can potentially be used for sensing applications. Perhaps more fundamentally, biological systems are mostly made of water. How biological molecules (such as proteins) interact with each other likely depends on the specific manner in which water molecules arrange to form a liquid phase. Understanding how water molecules arrange themselves on average at different temperatures could shed light on the workings of how they interact in biological systems.

The discovery is an exciting opportunity for theorists and experimentalists, and a beautiful example of how even the most familiar substance still has secrets hiding within.


All 2.3 Million Species Are Mapped into a Single Circle of Life – Scientific American

All 2.3 Million Species Are Mapped into a Single Circle of Life – Scientific American

Since Charles Darwin’s day, biologists have depicted how new organisms evolve from old ones by adding branches to numerous trees that represent portions of the animal, plant and microbial kingdoms. Researchers from a dozen institutions recently completed a three-year effort to combine tens of thousands of trees into one diagram, most readable as a circle (below). The lines inside the circle represent all 2.3 million species that have been named. Biologists have genetic sequences for only about 5 percent of them, however; as more are finished, the relationships within and across groups of species may change. Experts estimate that up to 8.7 million species may inhabit the planet (about 15,000 are discovered every year). “We expect the circle to broaden,” says Karen Cranston, a computational evolutionary biologist at Duke University.

Anyone can propose updates to the database ( Greater detail could improve understanding of evolution and help scientists invent drugs, make crops more productive and better control infectious diseases.

Isolated Low Temps May Reassure Climate Skeptics – Scientific American

Isolated Low Temps May Reassure Climate Skeptics – Scientific American

Areas of the country that have experienced record low temperatures since 2005 happen to be home to many global warming deniers. And researchers theorize there may be a connection. Christopher Intagliata reports.

Global warming deniers love to point to cold or snow as evidence against climate change. Like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. Remember last year, when he tossed a snowball in Congress? “You know what this is? It’s a snowball. It’s very, very cold out.” With that, he offhandedly disproved decades of climate science. To some people.

But such cold-influenced-denial may be playing out across the U.S., in particular in Appalachia and the South. Because it turns out those areas have had lots of record low temperatures in the last 12 years. And they’re also by and large the same parts of the country that have high numbers of global warming skeptics. So researchers have a theory that personal experience with cold snaps could be trumping scientific facts. The analysis is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Robert K. Kaufmann et al, Spatial heterogeneity of climate change as an experiential basis for skepticism]

Study author Robert Kaufmann, an environmental scientist at Boston University, says the way around this might be to put climate data in terms people understand: money. “We should propose a simple bet to climate skeptics. And that is: For every new record high temperature at a weather station, you pay us a dollar. And for every new record low temperature, we’ll pay you a dollar.”

Or, he says, think of climate change as a slot machine, especially with the president-elect. “He’s run casinos. So you can kind of think of climate like a climate casino. If you were a casino owner and you had a machine that was constantly paying out more record high temperatures than more record low temperatures, you would look into that machine. Something’s wrong with the machine. And that’s what the climate machine has been doing.”

However you think about it, Kaufmann won’t be betting. “I got no dough, man, I’m an academic.”

Why People Enthusiastically Vote for Counterproductive Policies – The Atlantic

Why People Enthusiastically Vote for Counterproductive Policies – The Atlantic

Governing is often a cause-and-effect business. Give workers a tax break on retirement accounts? More people save for life after the working world. Offer a rebate for old cars? Drivers scrap their gas-guzzling Explorers in favor of sensible Corollas, and average fuel efficiency goes up.

It’s easy to sell something to voters when the costs and benefits are immediately obvious. But that’s not how most policies work. Many look downright terrible in the beginning—what, pay more taxes?—and deliver a payout only if people collectively change their future behavior. Take a carbon tax: Industry would pay more to produce energy, making stuff more expensive, but the price pressure might prompt an eventual shift to alternative fuels, which could deliver an overall benefit to society.

Voters, it turns out, have a really hard time with this.

New research suggests people distrust policies that inflict short-term pain but benefit everyone by encouraging a shift in behavior. They prefer alternatives that seem better at first, but merely reinforce bad decisions. This isn’t as simple as the marshmallow test—have one now, or have two 10 minutes from now—that demonstrates the average person’s preference for immediate rewards. Rather, it seems people have difficulty predicting a law’s “equilibrium effects,” or how it will change future behavior for the better. That, or they don’t trust it will actually work.

In a study released earlier this month, researchers tested this bias by having college undergraduates play a few rounds of the prisoner’s dilemma. The original version of the two-player game rewards both participants if they agree to share a prize, but gives one player the full bounty if he or she betrays the other. However, if both players betray each other, they get nothing.

The researchers offered students a variant: same rules, but taxes took a bite out of any payout, and betrayers had to pay a bit more. Even though everyone made less money, the new penalty for betrayal encouraged cooperation, meaning fewer players ended up with nothing, and everyone got richer in the long run.

But when offered a choice between the games, most participants stuck with the original setup, turned off by the reduced payouts.

“The sirens’ call is very strong,” said Ernesto Dal Bó, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the paper’s co-authors. “They should vote to go to the new game. In equilibrium, they’re going to make a higher payoff. The problem is, even with very smart individuals … they don’t.”

Dal Bó—who wrote the paper with his brother, Pedro, a professor at Brown University, along with a colleague at the London School of Economics—has a particular interest in the public’s ignorance of equilibrium effects, and how that can fuel the rise of shoddy policy. A native of Argentina, he’s noted how poor governance in Latin America usually gets blamed on governments, not the voters who support them.

“We are voting for these people, partly because they’re telling us things that sound nice but eventually have very bad effects,” he said. “There are certain policy platforms that sound very good on the surface but may have hidden costs that end up being important.”

Protective tariffs may provide one example. If Americans are unhappy with the state of U.S. manufacturing, why not bump up the fees on foreign goods to encourage people to buy American? In a hypothetical system where nothing else could change, that might work. But other countries have power, too. It they put up tariffs of their own, it would ignite a trade war and create a slew of secondary complications.

The nationalization of industry also has divergent near-term and long-term effects. While it can repatriate wealth held by multinational corporations, it can also close off interest in future investment. It worked in Venezuela for a time, handing Hugo Chávez the economic clout to enact his populist policies and scoring points with voters resentful of corporate influence. Years later, mismanagement and plunging energy markets have sent the country into a deep recession.

Equilibrium effects can cut both ways. Sometimes, a decision that sounds good at the start prompts a change in behavior that leads to a long-term loss. Consider a crowded highway. It makes sense to widen the road—more lanes with the same amount of cars means fewer traffic jams, right? But that ignores the likelihood that bus commuters will see a less-congested freeway and decide to drive to work instead. Traffic goes up, and we’re back where we started.

Political parties can disagree over what the long-term ramifications of a policy might be, and they do. In fact, that’s a good thing: Debating equilibrium effects is critical to understanding them, Dal Bó said. When he showed data to his participants about how the “harmony” game could make them richer in the long term, more chose to switch over. And when players played both games over several rounds, they were more likely to favor the taxed version.

But it’s harder to provide test runs for policy in the real world, and voters nowadays are less likely to trust the traditional arbiters of information that could explain the long-term implications of their decisions. If the Congressional Budget Office says a tax cut will cost trillions, and the president takes to Twitter to disagree, some voters might not know who to believe.

When a leader pushes a shortsighted policy, he gets credit for any immediate benefits. But when the long-terms costs come due—suppressed trade, environmental degradation—they look like they sprang out of nowhere, or were somebody else’s fault. Because of this psychological blind spot, a bad leader can persist long past his usefulness. It’s already hard for humans to connect the dots. In the United States, as the president-elect’s promises pile up, it might get even harder.

It’s Incredibly Easy to Tamper with Someone’s Flight Plan, Anywhere on the Globe | Motherboard

It’s Incredibly Easy to Tamper with Someone’s Flight Plan, Anywhere on the Globe | Motherboard

It’s easier than many people realize to modify someone else’s flight booking, or cancel their flight altogether, because airlines rely on old, unsecured systems for processing customers’ travel plans, researchers will explain at the Chaos Communication Congress hacking festival on Tuesday. The issues predominantly center around the lack of any meaningful authentication for customers requesting their flight information.

The issues highlight how a decades-old system is still in constant, heavy use, despite being susceptible to fairly simple attacks and with no clear means for a solution.

“Whenever you take a trip, you are in one or more of these systems,” security researcher Karsten Nohl told Motherboard in a phone call ahead of his and co-researcher Nemanja Nikodijevic’s talk.

Specifically, the pair have researched so-called Global Distribution Systems (GDS). These are essentially the back-end used by travel agents and airlines to handle the allocation of tickets.

When someone pays for a flight, the airline or travel agent probably gives them a six digit code. Punching this and their last name into different websites, such as that of the airline, allows flyers to then see their flight information, and in turn they can change their trip or otherwise rearrange their booking.

But one issue is that these codes are incredibly easy for a computer to quickly churn out, meaning a bot could simply cycle through various options until it lands on a legitimate code for a corresponding surname. Several of the GDSs don’t use any sort of rate limiting system—only allowing a certain number of requests per minute or second—so the researchers were able to swiftly process millions of possible combinations automatically.

The codes don’t contain ones or zeros to avoid confusion with I or O, Nohl says—they only use upper case letters and no special characters too. On top of that, in two out of the three larger GDSs, the numbers increase sequentially, Nohl explained. This means a hacker can predict when a particular set of numbers are more likely to be used at a certain time of day, or day of the week, in turn making it much more likely that they will successfully match a six digit code with the correct last name, and gain access to flight information.

The codes themselves can also be easily found on people’s’ luggage tags or potentially on a boarding pass, as others have previously found.

Armed with these techniques, a hacker might be able to track someone, finding out where they’re flying to and from. Working with the German TV station ARD, the researchers were able to change the flight booking of a reporter, putting him on the same flight as, and in an adjacent seat to, a German politician.

“We were able to try a couple million for a given last name, and that was enough to find this German senator,” Nohl told Motherboard.

There is also the potential for financially-driven fraud too. Hackers could add a frequent flyer account to expensive long haul flights, or perhaps cancel a trip, receive a coupon from the airline, and then use that to book another flight, Nohl claimed.

Nohl told Motherboard that specific companies have said they will employ measures such as rate limiting to curb just how easy it is to discover flyer’s six digit codes. But that still leaves a wealth of interconnected systems that were never really designed with the internet in mind, and the threat that it would pose.

“Despite responsible disclosure, which we are doing right now, there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to a really better system yet,” Nohl said.

Hand Over Your DNA, Receive Custom Beer Glass – Core77

Hand Over Your DNA, Receive Custom Beer Glass – Core77

Are you one of those people that tastes every single beer offered at the bar before ordering? Do you make sure to hit every local brewery within a 20 mile radius while on vacation? Here’s a real test of your beer loyalty—would you or someone you know go this far?

Hailing from Japan, DNA GLASS is a project dedicated to both beer lovers and those who aren’t quite sold on the popular beverage. Apparently, by simply mailing in a saliva sample, the design team can understand your taste profile and 3D print a custom beer glass to help you enjoy—or learn to enjoy—a nice cold one to your fullest potential.

The team—including creative directors from Japanese beverage company Suntory—has created an algorithm that analyzes DNA based on beer related principles like alcohol tolerance and sensitivity to the bitterness of hops—and also your personality traits. Each principle affects a certain part of the glass’ shape:

After the subject’s DNA is analyzed, the results are sent over to product designer Yoh Komiyama to design and 3D print their customized glass.

The concept of customized products based on genetic build up is one that looks toward the future of digital fabrication, but it does raise some concerns. How would you ensure the company collecting your DNA is only using it to customize a sick beer glass for you? If you want to give this as a gift to a beer loving friend, how would you collect their saliva without getting weird? Overall, this concept is still a bit sketchy, but it’s headed in an exciting direction.

George Washington Memorial Parkway – Arlington, Virginia | Atlas Obscura

George Washington Memorial Parkway – Arlington, Virginia | Atlas Obscura

The George Washington Memorial Parkway was one of the first high-speed roadways designed specifically for automobiles in the United States. It’s significant both as a beautiful piece of landscape architecture and a transportation engineering breakthrough: Its designers pioneered many of the transit principles that we take for granted, like highway medians, overpasses, exit ramps, safety flared intersections, and cloverleaf interchanges.

The initial stretch of the GW Parkway was built during the early 1930s as a New Deal-era make-work project (that’s the same year the first sections of the German Autobahn opened, as it were). Automobile ownership in the U.S. had skyrocketed over the preceding two decades, and drivers were clamoring for better roads. The largest streets at this point were urban avenues, and they were designed with horses and pedestrians in mind.

Outside the cities road conditions were almost medieval; if you wanted to cross the country in the 1930’s you did it on dirt roads and cow trails. The Washington Post noted in 1930 that the Parkway’s planned route “will pass through a rugged countryside, most of which remains in a state of virgin beauty.”

The GW Parkway was innovative in its status as a long distance, high speed, and automobile-only roadway. It was designed by the Bureau of Public Roads, a part of the Department of Agriculture (DOT was not established until 1966). The department built large architectural models to demonstrate some of the new features and sent them to the Capitol Rotunda to spark the interest of Congressional appropriators.

The word “parkway” is key to understanding the other side of this innovative project. The National Park Service describes the artistic element with this poetic description:

“A parkway is not intended to be just a road. Rather it is conceived as a linear strip of parklands encompassing a comprehensive spectrum of environmental and visual elements and principles, similar to the ingredients used by an artist to compose a good painting. Parkway designers use terrain, space, trees, shrubs, rock outcroppings, water features, natural edges, and the roadway itself as elements of their artistic palates and combine them in a highly skilled manner to create expansive pictorial compositions … It is meant for comfortable driving in pleasant surroundings, not merely for getting from one place to another ”

It’s easy to think of the interstate highway system as laser-straight and devoid of scenery. Parkways are the opposite. Their meandering curves are optimized for beauty instead of speed. The GW Parkway surroundings were laid out with this in mind and enriched with oak, maple, poplar, beech, dogwood, hickory, walnut and sumock plantings.

In some places the side railings are a rustic wooden design, and in others you see more elaborate rough cut stone walls that are characteristic of 1930’s public architecture. The parkway’s route was deliberately laid out to maximize long distance views of the Potomac and Washington skyline. There are numerous planned vistas, and pull offs with parks and picnic areas so pleasure drivers could enjoy the space.

Other than the proliferation of street signage in recent decades, the GW Parkway’s original aesthetic has been faithfully preserved into the present day.

Pythagorean Cup: Practical Joke Chalice Overflows with Ancient Greek Humor – 99% Invisible

Pythagorean Cup: Practical Joke Chalice Overflows with Ancient Greek Humor – 99% Invisible

If your cup (literally) runneth over, it may be by design — and that design may be over 2,500 years old. Variously called a Greedy Cup, Tantalus Cup or Pythagoras Cup, this drinking vessel can only be filled with so much wine before a siphoning effect drains it all back out.

Pythagoras of Samos was a philosopher and mathematician of the 6th Century BCE. Among other accomplishments, he is widely credited with proving the Pythagorean theorem (though it may well have been the work of his students). He is also given credit for the creation of this ancient practical joke device that likewise bears his name.

Cup cross-section

The cup itself looks ordinary except for its central column. A hidden pipe runs from a void in the bottom of the stem up into the vessel, coiling back on itself in the process. This twist is the key.

When the cup is filled too high, liquid tips into the central pipe and, per Pascal’s principle of communicating vessels, the entire contents of the cup begin to drain. Gravity and pressure take over and the rest, as they say, is history — the vessel then empties itself entirely. If filled to just below that point, however, a user can drink from the vessel normally.

As the (possibly apocryphal) story goes: Pythagoras designed the cup so that his students would share equally and balance their consumption. If they poured too much, these self-draining chalices would prevent the students from ending up in their cups, so to speak.

Various versions are still made to this day, including the one above — titled the Cup of Justice — sold on the streets of Crete.