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Workers finish assembling the LHCb, Upstream Tracker, detector side C with its silicon staves, electronics and infrastructure.

A detector of the LHCb experiment under construction.Credit: Brice, Maximilien; CERN

Hint of new physics vanishes under scrutiny

An intriguing anomaly in data gathered by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that raised hopes of a new elementary particle has turned out to be a fluke. In 2014, LHC scientists at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, discovered that some massive particles decay more often into electron–positron pairs than into muon–antimuon pairs. This imbalance defied the standard model of physics, which predicts both pairs to occur with roughly the same frequency. The latest measurements and an investigation of confounding factors revealed that the discrepancy was partly the result of misidentifying other particles as electrons.

Nature | 4 min read

Plastic ‘nurdles’ hurt sea urchins

Tiny plastic pellets called nurdles that serve as the raw material for much of the modern world cause fatal developmental abnormalities in sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus). High concentrations of zinc, which leaches from the nurdles and contaminates the water, is likely to be the cause, say scientists. “Even if plastic is not killing animals by ingestion or entanglement, it can also kill animals by the chemicals in it or on it,” says developmental biologist Eva Jimenez-Guri.

The Guardian | 4 min read

Reference: Science of The Total Environment paper

Oppenheimer cleared by US government

US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm has overturned the 1954 decision revoking the security clearance of one of the most influential physicists of the twentieth century, Robert Oppenheimer, who led the development of the first atomic bomb. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) decision ended Oppenheimer’s government career. “Historical evidence suggests that the decision to review Dr. Oppenheimer’s clearance had less to do with a bona fide concern for the security of restricted data and more to do with a desire on the part of the political leadership of the AEC to discredit Dr. Oppenheimer in public debates over nuclear weapons policy,” said Granholm in a statement.

Associated Press | 3 min read

Reference: US Department of Energy secretarial order

Features & opinion

How Twitter turmoil is affecting researchers

Scientists on Twitter are facing a difficult decision: should they stay or go? Many are concerned that new owner Elon Musk’s erratic and confrontational management could see abuse and misinformation rise on the site. The platform has become a way for an estimated half a million researchers to communicate their findings, debate issues and connect with people. Some researchers have left for open-source alternative Mastodon. Others feel duty-bound to keep providing their expertise to Twitter users.

Nature | 10 min read

Why NASA’s science lead is leaving

“Leading NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has been the job I’ve loved most,” says Thomas Zurbuchen. Now, he has made the decision to step down after more than six years. Knowing when to leave is an important but underappreciated skill, he says. “Every leader has weaknesses. Over time, their weaknesses weigh more heavily on an organization and it becomes time for someone with fresh ideas to step in.”

Nature | 5 min read

Time to recover dwindling vaccination rates

Global vaccination rates are at their lowest since 2008. As the pandemic disrupted health services and cancelled vaccination campaigns, many children missed out on the shots meant to protect them from serious diseases such as measles and polio. And even before 2020, vaccination rates had been stagnating. This is partly due to safety concerns, mistrust in public-health institutions and politicized perceptions of vaccines — issues that the pandemic exacerbated. And a preliminary assessment finds another important factor: many people simply don’t see the importance of vaccinations for diseases that they’re not worried about.

Nature | 12 min read

This article is part of Nature Outlook: Children’s health, an editorially independent supplement produced with the financial support of Sanofi.

Science should not be a diplomatic pawn

From China–US tensions to continued COVID-19 vaccine nationalism and Russia’s war halting many research collaborations, 2022 saw a trend of science being used as leverage in international politics. A Nature Editorial argues that political objectives must not be allowed to stop researchers from different countries working together to solve global problems.

Nature | 7 min read

Quote of the day

“My approach is something like: So you’re afraid of the dark? Go to the deli and buy me some salami.”

Clinical psychologist Camilo Ortiz, who treats children for anxiety, is among the clinicians and researchers who say that kids need to experience independence and autonomy to develop good mental health. (KQED | 9 min read)