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Nanotechnology researcher Anming Hu, who was falsely accused by the US government of hiding ties to China and later acquitted of all charges, returned to his laboratory last month for the first time in two years. He found it stripped of research equipment — delicate lasers, lenses and voltage metres worth tens of thousands of dollars — and spent his first few weeks back searching for his prized tools. Some he found in colleagues’ labs, and some were stored and broken. Others are still missing. “I want to get them back because those [are] my treasures,” says Hu, who fears the two-year gap in his lab research will be “catastrophic” for this career.
Countries worldwide are starting to lift health protections that were first imposed in 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19 — including rules that governed travel, socializing, mask wearing and self-isolation. The changes are prompting mixed reactions from scientists. Some say things have been too quick to open up. But others think high rates of immunity from recovery and vaccination in some places mean that many of the interventions designed to stymie the spread of COVID-19 are now moot.
More than three-quarters of the Amazon rainforest is losing its ability to rebound from fire, deforestation and drought. The weakening could push the world’s largest rainforest towards a tipping point, after which runaway dieback will cause much of the forest to become grassland — with horrific consequences for biodiversity and the global climate. “The resilience loss we have observed means we have likely moved closer to that critical point,” says mathematician Niklas Boers, who studies Earth-system dynamics and co-authored the research. “But it also means we haven’t passed the tipping point, so there’s hope.”
Read more: The tipping point — how to avert the Amazon’s point of no return (Nature | 11 min read, from 2020)
Features & opinion
In Journey of the Mind, neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam argue that minds of a sort have existed since the first archaea colonized the planet, billions of years ago. Although it offers an informative and entertaining look at cognition from birds to primates and more, the book sometimes fails to distinguish fact from conjecture, writes reviewer Philip Ball.
“Awards are not only a chance to recognize the scientific breakthroughs that have brought us to where we are today, but opportunities to champion a vision for a more equitable future,” argue scientists and diversity advocates Jess Wade and Maryam Zaringhalam. They explore the biases and injustices that are rife in the application, nomination and judging processes of prizes such as the Nobel. And they examine what can be done to ensure that women and gender-minority scientists, scientists of colour and those from lower-profile institutions receive the recognition they deserve.
Particle physicists, who study nature’s fundamental building blocks, are in crisis. The relationship between the Higgs boson and phenomena at the highest energy scales — those associated with the quantum nature of gravity, black holes and the Big Bang — just doesn’t feel right. The equations require extreme fine-tuning — of a type that physicists dub ‘unnatural’ — to work out in a way that reflects observations. Some physicists think this failure of ‘naturalness’ signals the breakdown of reductionism — that the laws of physics at big scales emerge from those at smaller scales.