Daily briefing: The Universe is expanding — but how fast?

Cosmologists just got more confused, a plan to data-mine millions of paywalled papers and the Ebola outbreak is an international emergency.

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An Asian Tiger Mosquito

Asian tiger mosquitoes bite during the day and can transmit diseases including chikungunya.Credit: Gordon Zammit/Alamy

Field trial wipes out super-invasive mosquito

Researchers have all but obliterated populations of the world’s most invasive mosquito species — the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) — from two sites in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. Scientists combined two promising techniques for the first time to reduce the A. albopictus populations by up to 94%. They infected mosquitoes in the lab with three strains of a bacterium that hinders male’ ability to reproduce and transmit diseases. Infected females can interfere with the efficacy of the bacterial intervention, so researchers then irradiated the insects to make only the females sterile — removing the need for females to be painstakingly removed by hand.

Nature | 4 min read

Ebola outbreak is an international emergency

Amid fears that the worsening Ebola outbreak could spread beyond the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a public-health emergency of international concern. It is the highest possible level of alarm, reserved for events that pose a risk to multiple countries and require a coordinated global response. “Now is the time for the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Congo,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Nature | 4 min read

The Universe is expanding — but how fast?

A result that promised to resolve a long-standing disagreement in the two most precise gauges of the Hubble constant — a measurement of the Universe’s rate of expansion — has spawned even more confusion. The technique, which measures the expansion using red-giant stars, came up with a speed measurement that falls halfway between the value gleaned from yardstick stars called Cepheids and the value based on the cosmic microwave background radiation. “The Universe is just messing with us at this point, right?” joked astronomer Mike Boylan-Kolchin.

Nature | 5 min read


The plan to mine the world’s research papers

A technologist who has spent decades publishing copyrighted legal documents and then arguing that such texts should be legally within the public domain has turned his eye to paywalled scientific literature. Carl Malamud and his colleagues are building a cache of text and images extracted from 73 million journal articles dating from 1847. The goal is to allow researchers to pull insights from the papers using computerized analysis, without actually reading them — meaning that they won’t be breaching publishers’ copyright.

Nature | 12 min read

Harness the potential of wearable sensors

Soft, flexible skin sensors are beginning to transform health care: within a decade, many people will wear such sensors all the time, predict three researchers in the field. They outline the technical innovations, regulatory approvals and privacy safeguards that are needed to lay the path for the future of wearable sensors.

Nature | 9 min read

He was set to be the first black astronaut

In the early 1960s, aviator Ed Dwight was the only black person in the group training to become the United States first astronauts. Then President John F Kennedy was killed, and Dwight’s dream of going into space seemed to die with him. Now a renowned sculptor specializing in African American themes, Dwight shares his perspective on being a trailblazer in space history.

The New York Times | 24 min read

By the numbers


The year pilot and engineer Guion Bluford became the first black American in space as a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger. Cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez became the first person of African heritage in space, in 1980.


“There was a feeling that there was something bigger than life at stake.”

Firefighters took incredible risks to save Notre-Dame Cathedral from collapse, says Ariel Weil, the mayor of Paris’s 4e arrondissement, in an in-depth and graphic-rich investigation by The New York Times.

Happy Nelson Mandela Day! From becoming an organ donor to giving a career talk, the Nelson Mandela Foundation has a handy list of suggestions should you wish to volunteer 67 minutes (or more!) of your time. Let me know what you come up with — plus any other feedback about this newsletter — at

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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