Daily briefing: Why is ice so slippery?

Hint: It’s not all about the water. Plus, Nature’s hotly anticipated annual list of the ten people who mattered in science this year.
Illustration of a large number 10 glittering in different colours, with a large telescope directed at it.

The 2019 Nature’s 10

It’s time for the hotly anticipated Nature’s 10 — our annual list of ten people who mattered in science this year. They might have achieved amazing discoveries, brought attention to crucial issues or even gained notoriety for controversial actions. This year’s selection includes Brazil’s science defender, a quantum-computer builder and a fossil hunter who revealed the face of an ancient human relative.

Nature | 22 min read

Russia joins the quantum-computing race

Russia will inject around 50 billion roubles (US$790 million) over the next 5 years into quantum-computing research. The windfall is part of a 258-billion-rouble programme for research and development in digital technologies. The country joins the European Union, China and the United States in the race to build practical quantum computers.

Nature | 4 min read

Female-authored studies are presented less positively

Papers are less likely to include positive terms such as ‘novel’, ‘unique’ or ‘unprecedented’ when both the first and last authors are women. Researchers looked at more than 6 million life-sciences articles and categorized the gender of the authors on the basis of their first names. Gender disparities in how positively research was framed were greatest in the highest-impact journals, and positive presentation of research findings was associated with higher citation rates after publication. “Perhaps an obvious response to these findings is to encourage women to act more like men and be more positive,” said an accompanying BMJ editorial, which cautioned against “this ‘fix the women’ approach”.

The Washington Post | 6 min read

Reference: BMJ paper

Features & opinion

Not slashing emissions? See you in court

Marjan Minnesma, a pioneer in sustainable innovation, has spent the past decade fighting the first lawsuit to force a government to act on global warming. As she and her 800-plus co-plaintiffs await the final ruling in the Supreme Court of the Netherlands on 20 December, she recounts the moments of disappointment and triumph they have faced so far.

Nature | 9 min read

The physics of ice skating

The lubricating layer between an ice-skate and the ice surface has surprised physicists by turning out to be … not just water. It had been thought that the formation of a layer of water lets the skate glide over the surface, but physicist Daniel Bonn explains that this lubricating layer has surprising flow properties that seem to sit somewhere between liquid water and ice.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: Physical Review X paper

Figure 1 | Probing the lubricating layer of ice. Canale et al.1 investigated the thin layer of melt water that lubricates the slipping of objects on ice. The authors attached a millimetre-scale glass bead to a prong of a macroscopic aluminium tuning fork. The fork was made to vibrate, causing the bead to oscillate over the ice surface. An accelerometer on the fork measured the amplitude of the bead’s oscillations parallel and perpendicular to the surface. From these measurements, the friction between the bead and the ice, and the flow properties (rheology) of the lubrication layer, could be calculated. The observed viscosity and elasticity of the layer suggest that it consists of a mixture of water and ice particles.

What publishing as a lead author has taught me

Four scientists who were first-time lead authors in 2019 reveal their key lessons from the process. “You have to be passionate about your idea to get past the stumbling blocks,” says environmental social scientist Christina Hicks. “Passion gives you stamina.”

Nature | 9 min read

Where I work

Jodi Rowley at Macquarie Marshes

Jodi Rowley is curator for amphibian and reptile conservation biology at the Australian Museum and the University of New South Wales in Sydney.Credit: Tharindu Jay for Nature

“As an amphibian biologist, I’m particularly obsessed with frogs,” says Jodi Rowley, who can often be found outdoors collecting data to inform conservation strategies. “It’s so important to get out of the office and actually see the animals. That said, field expeditions have been some of the hardest times of my life.”

Quote of the day

“Fuzzy thing!”

How astronomer Stacy McGaugh’s two-year-old daughter spotted and classified comet Hyakutake before her dad had even looked skywards. (Triton Station)

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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