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Daily briefing: True random-number generator powered by crystals

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True randomness from crystal growth

Exactly how a crystal forms in a solution is randomly determined — and researchers have harnessed that fact to build a generator of really, really random numbers. The system uses a camera to analyse the crystals formed in inorganic reactions and convert each one’s spikes and angles into a random number. Encryption built on the crystal random numbers was harder to break than a system built on the ‘pseudorandom’ numbers used for many computing tasks.

Chemistry World | 4 min read

Reference: Matter paper

First exoplanet spotted from stellar aurora

For the first time, astronomers have discovered an exoplanet by looking at how it whips up the magnetic field of its star. Researchers examined the radio emissions from a star called GJ 1151 and found an unusually lengthy solar flare that they say could only be caused by a hidden Earth-size planet. It’s tricky to confirm the finding with other exoplanet-detection methods, but if the technique stands up, it offers a whole new way to find distant worlds.

Quanta | 6 min read

Reference: Nature Astronomy paper & The Astrophysical Journal Letters paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Medical staff members working at a computer in an exhibition centre converted into a hospital in Wuhan, China

Medical staff working in an exhibition centre converted into a hospital in Wuhan, ChinaCredit: AFP/Getty

Caution greets signs that epidemic has peaked

• The largest review of coronavirus infections in China suggests the epidemic may have peaked. A study of nearly 45,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases found that the day with the highest number of new infections occurred around the end of January; since then, the number of new confirmed cases per day has declined. But people in China returned to work last week after an extended holiday period, which might lead to an increase in new cases. “It’s too early to tell if this new reported decline will continue,” says World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every scenario is still on the table.” (Nature | continuously updated)

• The measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 have led to a drop in pollution, energy use and emissions in China. The extended holiday period, reduction in flights, and other impacts have cut global CO2 so far this year, compared to the same period in 2019. Stimulus measures that are expected to follow the disruption could end up outweighing these savings. (Carbon Brief)

• Public-health scientists outside China have come together to “strongly condemn conspiracy theories” about the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19. Research overwhelmingly concludes that the coronavirus originated in wildlife, notes the open letter published in The Lancet. “We want you, the science and health professionals of China, to know that we stand with you in your fight against this virus,” says the statement. (Science | 4 min read)

Notable quotable

“We invite others to join us in supporting the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of Wuhan and across China. Stand with our colleagues on the frontline!”

A passionate open letter from public-health scientists lauds the efforts of colleagues in China and asks others to add their support. (The Lancet)

Features & opinion

The next chapter for African genomics

A wave of interest and investment in African genomics is coursing through Nigeria, buoying up an industry that is unrecognizable from a decade ago. Studying everything from diabetes to cholera, these endeavours are designed to build the country’s capabilities so that genetics results from Africa — publications, patents, jobs and any resulting therapies — flow back to the continent. But a lacklustre national research budget, unique ethical considerations and patchy infrastructure present challenges to scientists’ ambitions.

Nature | 14 min read

Set a global target for ecosystems

Next week, representatives of more than 190 nations are gathering in Rome to discuss how to halt the biodiversity crisis during this decade and beyond. The conservation community must be able to track countries’ progress in protecting wetlands, reefs, forests and more, argue conservation scientist James Watson and colleagues. They urge those attending next week’s meeting to place an ecosystem-based goal and target alongside species-based ones in their discussions.

Nature | 8 min read

Under pressure. Map showing human pressure on marine and terrestrial global areas.

Sources: J. E. M. Watson et al. (map); data from O. Venter et al. Nature Commun. 7, 12558 (2016)/B. S. Halpern et al. Sci. Rep. 9, 11609 (2019).

You can’t fight feelings with facts

Science communicator Maggie Ryan Sandford went to the Minnesota State Fair last year wearing a sandwich board that said, “Ask me anything about evolution.” The stunt highlighted the biggest challenge in fighting misinformation: just getting a conversation started. Sandford divulges her three rules for sharing science: don’t go head-to-head with someone’s belief system, learn what people really think and take time to listen.

Nature | 5 min read

Quote of the day

“This is what prevents humans from being reduced to a reserve of tissue, organs and body parts.”

Active consent, and a say in the research, is essential when people donate their brain tissue removed during neurosurgery, says neuroethicist Karen Rommelfanger. (Science)


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