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Submission + - Plasmons carry light through a blocked hole (

techbeat writes: How would you react if a tiny hole in a piece of foil let through more light after you had covered it or dyed it a different colour? With the same surprise as the physicists who discovered that this is just what happens with very small holes and certain materials. Both findings could lead to light-based components for high-speed optical computers. The physicists suspect that plasmons from the gold disc blocking the hole are leaping up, grabbing the photons stuck on the other side and dragging them through. The photons then gush around the edges of the disc. In the case of the dyed foil, plasmons that can't interact with some wavelengths of light directly interact with the dye first, which then interacts with these photons — allowing more photons through the hole.

Submission + - Sniffer mice have a nose for explosives (

techbeat writes: One day there may be more than X-ray machines and full-body scanners awaiting you at the airport, reports New Scientist. Listen out for the snuffling of sniffer mice as you pass through security. BioExplorers, based in Herzeliya, Israel claims that a unit of trained bomb-detection mice can be better than full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs at telling a bona fide passenger from a terrorist carrying explosives. "Animals' noses are always a good solution, and the mice don't see you naked," says security expert Bruce Schneier.

Submission + - Can complexity theory explain Egypt's crisis? (

techbeat writes: Civilisation, goes an old maxim, is four meals away from barbarism – once the food deliveries stop, so does law and order. That could mean trouble for the political uprising in Egypt. It may also be what triggered it, says Debora MacKenzie at New Scientist. Scientists who study complex systems have been warning that ever-tighter coupling among the world's finance, energy and food systems would result in waves of political instability. Some say that is now happening in the Middle East.

Submission + - Deep meaning in Ramanujan's 'simple' pattern (

techbeat writes: The first simple formula has been found for calculating how many ways a number can be created by adding together other numbers, solving a puzzle that captivated the legendary mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, reports New Scientist. The feat has led to a greater understanding of a phrase Ramanujan used to describe sequences of so-called partition numbers. "It's a privilege to explain Ramanujan's work," says Ken Ono. His team used a formula to find "fractal" relationships in partition number sequences — but numbers Ramanujan had cryptically described as having "simple properties" do not have these fractal relationships.

Submission + - Ancient puzzle gets new lease of 'geomagical' life (

techbeat writes: An ancient mathematical puzzle has found a new lease of life, reports New Scientist. The magic square is the basis for Sudoku, pops up on the back of a turtle in Chinese legend and provides a playful way to introduce children to arithmetic. But all this time it has been concealing a more complex geometrical form, says recreational mathematician Lee Sallows. He recently released dozens of examples of his "geomagic squares" online. "To come up with this after thousands of years of study of magic squares is pretty amazing," blogged author Alex Bellos. Magic squares are used to help create codes for transmitting information and in the design of drug trials so geomagic ones may have real-world uses, says mathematician Peter Cameron. New Scientist has also put up a gallery of the geomagic squares.

Submission + - Will quantum links let computers read? (

techbeat writes: As you read, your brain not only takes in individual words, but also combines them to extract the meaning of each sentence. It is a feat you take for granted, but it's beyond today's computer programs. Now their abilities may be about to leap ahead, thanks to a form of graphical mathematics borrowed from quantum mechanics, reports New Scientist. "It's important for people like Google," says physicist Bob Coecke at the University of Oxford, who is pioneering the new approach to linguistics. At the moment computers "only understand sentences as a bag of different words without any structure". The team plans to train the new system on a billion pieces of text, starting with formal, carefully written legal or medical documents and workng up to more challenging extracts such as ambiguous sentences or sloppily written pages on the web.

Submission + - Fresh claim of superheavy element in nature (

techbeat writes: Are the residents of the far reaches of the periodic table all around us? Amnon Marinov at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel claims that there are naturally-occurring traces of roentgenium, atomic number 111 — previously only made in laboratories — in gold. Uranium is the heaviest known naturally-occurring element. Heavier, "transuranium" elements have been made by fusing smaller atoms and nuclei together, and the superheavy ones exist only fleetingly. In 2008, Marinov claimed to have detected element 122 in a solution prepared from natural minerals. That was met with huge scepticism, with other scientists unimpressed by the evidence for such an extraordinary claim.

Submission + - Want that Pythagoras feeling? Call TheoryMine (

techbeat writes: New Scientist reports: During my time as an eager undergraduate mathematician, I'd often wonder what it would feel like to prove a truly new result and have my name immortalised in the mathematical history books. I thought that dream had died when I gave up maths to become a science writer, but now a theorem named after me is a reality – and I've got the certificate to prove it.While most mathematical theorems result from weeks of hard work and possibly a few broken pencils, mine comes courtesy of TheoryMine , a company selling personalised theorems as novelty gifts for £15 a pop.

Submission + - New evidence for weird quantum supersolid (

techbeat writes: Have we ever made a supersolid, a ghostly, quantum form of matter in which a solid flows, frictionless, through itself? The debate rages on, as New Scientist reports. The first supersolid was reportedly made in 2004, but whether the researchers involved had simply misinterpreted their results wasn't clear. Had they instead made a different phase, dubbed a "quantum plastic"? Now the original researchers have new evidence suggesting that genuine supersolids have been made after all.

Submission + - Problem-solving bacteria crack Sudoku (

techbeat writes: A strain of Escherichia coli bacteria can now solve the logic puzzles – with some help from a group of students at the University of Tokyo, Japan, reports New Scientist. The team begin with 16 types of E. coli, each colony assigned a distinct genetic identity depending on which square it occupied within a four-by-four sudoku grid.The bacteria can also express one of four colours to represent the numerical value of their square. As with any sudoku puzzle, a small number of the grid squares are given a value from the beginning by encouraging the bacteria in these squares to differentiate and take on one of the four colours.The Tokyo team's sudoku-solving bacteria competed in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week.

Submission + - Summon a demon to turn information into energy (

techbeat writes: The building of a real-life version of Maxwell's demon – which can turn information into useful energy – hints at future nanomachines powered purely by information, reports New Scientist. Conceived by James Clerk Maxwell, the demon might watch a tiny ball on a spiral staircase, waiting for it to randomly hop up a step and then slam in a barrier to stop the ball moving down again. If the demon keeps doing this the ball keeps climbing — and gaining potential energy. Now researchers in Japan have used a tiny rotor and an electric field to construct a version of Maxwell's demon — and to confirm that the exchange rate between energy and information matches theoretical predictions. The feat also suggests a fundamental limit on the energy computers need to store information,

Submission + - Levitating graphene is fastest-spinning object (

techbeat writes: A flake of exotic carbon a few atoms thick has claimed a record: the speck has been spun faster than any other object, at a clip of 60 million rotations per minute. Previously, micrometre-sized crystals have been spun at up to 30,000 rpm using an optical trap. It is thanks to graphene's amazing strength that the flakes are not pulled apart by the much higher spinning rate, says Bruce Kane at the University of Maryland in College Park. Spinning could be a way to probe the properties of graphene, or manipulate it in new ways.

Submission + - Dimensions go "poof" in quantum gravity (

techbeat writes: Forget Flatland, writes New Scientist. Several different quantum gravity theories all predict the same strange behaviour at small scales: fields and particles start to behave as if space is one-dimensional. It's an observation that could bring together several disparate attempts to unite quantum mechanics and general relativity. To explain how dimensions could vanish, Steven Carlip at the University of California, Davis turns to the idea of "quantum foam", in which quantum fluctuations alter the geometry of space-time, rendering it choppy and inhomogeneous at small scales.

Submission + - LHC spies hints of infant universe (

techbeat writes: The big bang machine may already be living up to its nickname, writes New Scientist. Researchers on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, have seen hints of what may be the hot, dense state of matter thought to have filled the universe in its first nanoseconds.

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This is clearly another case of too many mad scientists, and not enough hunchbacks.