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Almost a year after Australia introduced a pioneering system for minimizing the risk of foreign interference in research, in particular from overseas militaries, experts are divided about whether it is working. Although other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, are grappling with similar concerns, Australia is the first to set a specific set of guidelines for its universities. But some experts warn that Australia’s guidelines and export laws aren’t sufficient to help universities to identify collaborations in which research could lead to military applications.
On 4 August, a massive explosion at a fireworks-storage area sent deadly waves through downtown Beirut. A blast-injury specialist explores the tragic chemistry and physics of the explosion. Videos of black and red clouds curling over the pier in Beirut suggest that the blast was caused by ammonium nitrate, a flammable chemical used in fertilizer and as an explosive in coal mines. The blast formed a pressure wave, which travelled slower than the speed of sound and created a crater some 120–140 metres in diameter, leaving behind destruction, confusion and shattered glass.
US rules forced an online neuroscience course to block people in Iran from signing up. Outrage on social media helped the organizers to win a last-minute reprieve. “It was quite shocking for the science community that something like this [would be included]”, says Elnaz Alikarami, an Iranian student in Canada, who volunteers at the Neuromatch Academy course. “It’s just basic science.”
Dozens of human human genes have been renamed because Microsoft Excel was auto-formatting their names as dates. For example, the gene MARCH1 — short for membrane-associated ring-CH-type finger 1 — is now MARCHF1.
Features & opinion
You’ve seen the stunning close-ups taken by New Horizons of Pluto’s ‘near side’— the hemisphere that the Sun was illuminating at the time the NASA spacecraft zipped past the planet in 2015. Now astronomers are beginning to analyse the dwarf planet’s ‘dark side’, which New Horizons had photographed days before. Hundreds of images are providing a new view of this active world — one that offers crucial insight into how it formed, whether there’s an ocean hiding beneath its icy crust and the complex ways that compounds freeze out of its atmosphere and sculpt the surface. “I expected Pluto to be a scientific wonderland, but it did not have to be so beautiful,” says planetary scientist Leslie Young.
This is an audio version of our feature: Pluto’s dark side spills its secrets — including hints of a hidden ocean
Computer scientist Frances Allen was born on a dairy farm with no electricity or running water, and eventually helped to build the foundations of modern programming. Allen was a pioneer in compiler optimization — improving the software that translates human-readable programming into ones and zeros — and parallel computing, which spreads tasks across more than one computer. She was the first woman to win computing’s top prize, the A.M. Turing Award. “She broke the glass ceiling,” said her colleague Mark Wegman. “At the time, no one even thought someone like her could achieve what she achieved.”
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With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty