Daily briefing: Google’s quantum-supremacy paper is here

A computing milestone, a ‘failed’ Alzheimer’s drug is back and Nature’s new look.

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Optical image of the Sycamore chip.

The Sycamore chip is composed of 54 qubits, each made of superconducting loops.Credit: F. Arute et al. Nature 574, 505–510 (2019).

Google’s quantum-supremacy paper is here

Thanks to a leak last month, Briefing readers will already know that Google says it has achieved ‘quantum supremacy’, the impressive name for when a quantum computer outperforms a classical one on a given calculation. Now the company has made it official in a paper published in Nature. The calculation Google chose — checking the outputs from a quantum random-number generator — has limited practical applications. But “the scientific achievement is huge, assuming it stands, and I’m guessing it will”, says theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson.

But not everyone is impressed. IBM published a preprint on Monday that says a different approach would have allowed a classical computer to do the work just as fast as the quantum one.

Nature | 6 min read

Go deeper with expert analysis in the Nature News & Views article.

Reference: Nature paper

Australian women sidelined for funding

Female scientists in Australia were less likely to win a major type of medical-research grant this year than their male counterparts. The funding imbalance, which was especially severe for senior-level women, comes despite an overhaul of the country’s science funding that was supposed to address gender inequity. Only 5 out of 17 senior women who applied for the first-ever round of National Health and Medical Research Council ‘investigator grants’ were successful, compared with 37 out of 75 senior male applicants with the same experience. Men also received more money in total, partly because they won more grants than women.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: NHMRC investigator grants outcomes

Canada’s scientists relieved after election

Many scientists in Canada are breathing a sigh of relief as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau squeaked over the line to a minority government on Monday. Some had expressed concern that the runner-up Conservative Party would undo the progress in science made over the past four years under Trudeau’s Liberal government. Researchers now face the challenge of keeping science-related issues — such as funding and climate change — on the priority list as the parties jostle for power in a parliament where no one group holds a majority.

Nature | 3 min read

Experimental Alzheimer’s drug is back

An Alzheimer’s drug that had previously been deemed a failure will be resurrected and submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval. Biogen, the company that makes the drug aducanumab, says a “new analysis of a larger dataset” shows the treatment helps some patients when given in high doses. Aducanumab was the last gasp in a series of failed drugs that target the amyloid protein that forms plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

STAT | 6 min read


A new look for Nature

Eagle-eyed readers of have already spotted the change: a reinvigorated logo, a custom typeface, and no more brain-straining red banner. A Nature Editorial explains why the journal has been redesigned for clearer research communication in the digital age.

Nature | 5 min read

Lawsuits put attribution science to the test

Climate campaigners are turning to attribution science to put fossil-fuel companies on the hook for the damage caused by climate change. The tools used to attribute heatwaves and downpours to global warming are complex, and still untested as legal levers. But it might not matter, if science wins the argument in the court of public opinion.

Politico | 15 min read

Read more: Pinning extreme weather on climate change is now routine and reliable science (Nature, from 2018)


Gladys Ngetich photographed in front of a Concord engine at the Thermofluidics unit at the University of Oxford, UK.

Gladys Ngetich is a PhD student at the Oxford Thermofluids Institute at the University of Oxford, UK.Credit: Leonora Saunders for Nature

Aerospace engineer Gladys Ngetich sits with a demonstration model of a Concorde engine in her institute in Oxford, UK. To avoid distractions, she eschews personal touches in her workspace, but finds Swahili hip-hop music helps her to focus. “It’s just me, my tunes and the rig,” says Ngetich.

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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