Ars Technica: Neutral particles are much harder to accelerate than charged particles for the very reason that researchers want to accelerate them—they don’t respond to electric and magnetic fields. A team of researchers led by R. Rajeev of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, has adapted laser plasma acceleration for use with neutral particles. Rajeev’s team began by using high-energy laser pulses to accelerate atoms and strip off their electrons, which left behind a plasma of positively charged ions moving in coherent waves. The researchers then created a slow-moving beam of so-called Rydberg atoms, whose outer electrons are loosely bound to their nuclei. Next, the team introduced the Rydberg atoms into the already-accelerated beam of fast-moving ions. When the two types of particles collided, the Rydberg atoms transferred their electrons to the ions. Separating out any residual ions left the researchers with a beam of neutral atoms with MeV energies, a billion times greater than had been achieved by previous neutral-particle accelerators. The atom accelerator is much less powerful than ion accelerators, but being only desktop-sized, it has a wider range of potential applications such as in nanolithography and further studies of plasma behaviors.
Chronicle of Higher Education: A survey of more than 40 professors at three research universities has found that internet- and computer-based technologies such as PowerPoint, YouTube, and online portals are often used to handle logistical problems, such as managing larger class sizes, rather than to improve learning itself. The study also found that there’s a gap between the way universities market technology use in the classroom and the ways that professors actually use the technologies. Although universities tend to present technology as a way to improve teaching, many professors see it instead as a detriment to learning. One professor indicated that students are less likely to attend classes that rely on PowerPoint slides and online course notes because all of the material covered in the course is already available to them.
BBC: Launched earlier today, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 reached its target altitude and successfully deployed a weather satellite designed to collect climate data. The satellite is expected to make contact with the ground station tomorrow. Although South Korea already has several satellites in space, this launch marks an important milestone: It is the first to have taken place on native soil. The launch comes a month after a controversial satellite launch by the North Koreans, which was condemned by the United Nations for violating a ban on missile technology.
Nature: In his second inaugural address, President Obama announced a renewed commitment to addressing climate change, writes Jeff Tollefson for Nature. Despite efforts during his first term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, much of the reduction was the result of the slow economy and the shift by power companies from burning coal to natural gas. One of the major ways Obama is expected to foment change is by imposing new regulations on power plants, which are responsible for about 40% of US emissions. In addition, three department heads key to the climate agenda—Steven Chu of the Department of Energy, Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jane Lubchenco of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—are retiring, and Obama’s choices to replace them could further his climate agenda in the face of a still-divided Congress.