Axios Science

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October 05, 2017

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The world's most precise clock

Two years ago, physicist Jun Ye and his colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology built an atomic clock so precise it doesn't lose or gain a second over the entire age of the universe. Today, they report they've made one ten times as precise using a new technique.

Why it matters: Similar atomic clocks are accurate enough to measure the effects of gravity on time by moving them just a few centimeters up and down. Beyond improving GPS and other time-dependent technologies, atomic clocks could be used to better understand what is below Earth's surface. That could help them model the flow of water, better predict weather, or detect magma moving inside a volcano.

Read more here.

Nobel's diversity problem

The Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine were awarded this week. All 9 recipients were white, 7 were from the U.S., and all of them were men, Axios' Erin Ross writes. The graphic above, created by Axios' Andrew Witherspoon, shows all Nobel prizes awarded for science or economic science, by gender and awardee's country.

The lack of diversity is a larger trend seen across all Nobel laureates, but it's particularly prevalent in the sciences. Science as a whole is gradually becoming more diverse, but many women and people of color still face harassment in the lab, and those who have received science's highest prize remain a homogenous group.

The numbers: As of Wednesday, 739 Nobel Prizes have been awarded in the sciences (since 1901) and economic sciences (since 1968). Only 20 have gone to women. W. Arthur Lewis, who won for his work on economics in 1979, is the only black recipient, and Tu Youyou, who shared a Nobel Prize in medicine in 2015, is the only woman of color to win.

Axios stories to spark you brain

  • Sticky situation: A new study found the bee-harming pesticide neonicotinoid is in honey around the world, per Erica Pandey.
  • Nobel recap: Details of this year's prizes in medicine, physics, and chemistry.
  • Reconvening: Key takeaways from today's first meeting of the revived National Space Council.

What it will take to make it to Mars

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the revived National Space Council, wrote today in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that "America will be the first nation to bring mankind to Mars."

These plans follow SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's announcement last week that a small group of astronauts will be ready to leave Earth in 2024 and head to Mars. But is all this possible in just seven years as a continuation of the technological advances we've seen, or are significant science and engineering breakthroughs needed to reach their goals?

We asked three experts what we need to know or solve before humans can attempt to make it to Mars.

What we're reading elsewhere

  • Out in space: AP's Vladimir Isachenkov reports Russia is falling behind in space research. In another view, for the 60th anniversary of Sputnik's launch, the director of the Russia Space Institute writes about its legacy and outlines the country's current space endeavors in American Scientist.
  • Output: Two new studies find researchers who migrate may produce more influential research, per The Economist. An important point: "[T]he EU's share of those highly cited papers has risen since 2000, while America's is in decline."
  • Outbreak: 777,000 cases of cholera in Yemen and counting. Anita Zaidi explains in a Nature column why the disease spreads despite having the scientific and medical tools to stop it. "It is unacceptable that, now, in that pandemic's 200th anniversary year, a disease we know how to fight remains out of control."

Something wondrous

When a cluster of galaxies merges over billions of years, a trail of gas forms. As time passes, these clouds are expected to become fainter as energy from the electrons in it dissipates. But astronomers in the Netherlands this week wrote about seeing something different: the end of a tail getting brighter.

What's causing this phenomenon? It's unclear. The brightening appears to be close to the center of the galaxy cluster. Astronomer Francesco de Gasperin, who led the research, proposed a possibility in a statement: "Part of the energy released in the merger event must have been transferred to rejuvenate the cloud of electrons."