New York Times: The Obama administration and the European Union have each decided to negotiate settlements involving China’s $30-billion-a-year exports of solar panels. The Financial Times reports that the EU in particular has faced pressure from the German government, because Chinese premier Li Keqiang will visit Germany next week. The proposed settlement, which might take months to negotiate, splits the globe into regional markets and eliminates steep import duties on Chinese solar panels. The price of panels will rise naturally: Quotas will be introduced which in turn, might make solar power less competitive with fossil fuels. In the past four years, a glut of solar panels from China has caused prices to collapse globally by 75% and has driven some US companies like Solyndra into bankruptcy. The cheap prices were fueled by massive subsidies from the Chinese local, state, and national governments. Under US and EU laws, the domestic solar panel industry must agree to the terms before the settlement is finalized. However, it is not certain that China will accept the proposal, and if no settlement is signed by 5 December, then EU tariffs against Chinese solar panels automatically go into effect.
BBC: The Mars rover Curiosity, launched by NASA in 2011, has used its drilling system for the first time. In its initial foray, it hammered out a visible indentation on the surface of Gale Crater, where the craft landed last August. Once the craft has located a suitable site, multiple test holes will be drilled, using both hammering and rotating action. The goal is to obtain a powdered sample that can be picked up and delivered to Curiosity’s onboard laboratories. So far scientists have been able to determine that the rock is sedimentary and that water was probably involved in its formation.
Euronews: The record for the world’s lightest material has been claimed by a new material called aerographite. Fabricated by Matthias Mecklenburg of Hamburg University of Technology and his colleagues, aerographite consists of interwoven threads of carbon nanotubes, each about 15 nm in diameter. With a density of just 0.2 mg/cm2, the mesh-like material is so light that the slightest movement in the lab stirs up currents that can blow it away. Mecklenberg envisions using aerographite for applications, such as filtration and catalysis, for which both lightness and a large surface area are needed.
Science: Four groups have recently demonstrated the feasibility of a new form of quantum computation known as photonic boson sampling. The technique entails sending photons through a network of criss-crossing channels and observing which of several exits they emerge from. Thanks to the photons’ quantum mechanical interactions and to the network’s topology, the number of photons recorded at each exit correspond, together, to a matrix function known as the permanent. By using three input channels, the four groups determined the permanents of 3 × 3 matrices. That’s hardly a feat of computational power, but if the technique could be scaled up to 25 × 25 and bigger matrices, it could be used to determine permanents faster than a classical computer could. The four groups that demonstrated photonic boson sampling are those of Andrew White at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, Ian Walmsley of the University of Oxford in the UK, Philip Walther of the University of Vienna, Austria, and Roberto Osellame of the Polytechnic University of Milan, Italy.
New York Times: Surgeons face a number of difficulties when they carry out gallbladder or prostate surgery. For one thing, the operations require numerous delicate incisions, and the surgeons frequently end up with back problems from leaning over their patients for hours on end. Over the past 10 years, robotic arms that a surgeon can control using a joystick and a television screen have become increasingly popular. Not only do they require smaller incisions, not much larger than a keyhole, but also fewer of them. That could lead to faster recovery, said Michael Hsieh, a Stanford University professor and urologist, to the New York Times. “There’s only one wound to heal with this procedure, rather than three.” But robotic systems cost much more than traditional equipment, and whether the technology is worth the extra money remains to be seen.
NPR: Scientists working on NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover have some exciting new results but aren’t prepared to reveal them. The reason, says principal investigator John Grotzinger to NPR’s Joe Palca, is that they want to make sure their results are truly a groundbreaking discovery—and not a fluke or an error. It’s a bind scientists frequently find themselves in: It is their nature to share results, but no one likes to make a big announcement and then have to retract it later. One of the most infamous errors to date involved the announcement of the discovery of one of the first exoplanets, which was later discredited when it was found that researchers had failed to include Earth’s orbit around the Sun in their observations. Another was the faster-than-light neutrinos announcement, which was eventually attributed to faulty equipment. The new NASA discovery will have to wait several more weeks until the data are rechecked and submitted to a journal for publication.
New York Times: Legal scholar and former Obama administration official Cass R. Sunstein asserts, “Economists of diverse viewpoints concur that if the international community entered into a sensible agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the economic benefits would greatly outweigh the costs.” He invokes cost–benefit thinking that led President Ronald Reagan to make the US “the prime mover behind . . . the phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals.” Sunstein argues that Reagan saw past Republican and conservative ridicule of concerned scientists and recognized the payoff in cancer avoidance alone. He quantifies prospective payoffs from auto fuel-economy mandates, claims that “monetary benefits dwarf the costs” of improving electrical appliance efficiency, and presumes a human-induced general increase in enormously costly hurricane intensity. He adds that “cost-effective” US climate measures ”should spur technological changes and regulatory initiatives” in foreign nations as well. “The big question now,” Sunstein says, “is whether today’s Republicans will follow Reagan’s example.”
Science: In an editorial, Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, warn that in the current fiscal crisis, those “not heard from will probably have the most to lose.” They caution that hearing from scientific societies and advocacy groups “is simply not enough” and add that it is “essential that every member of the science and engineering community personally convey to policy-makers and the U.S. public the great importance of strong science funding.” They report that the National Institutes of Health could lose up to $5.5 billion and that NSF, with a $6 billion annual budget, could lose up to $1 billion. Leshner and Woolley stipulate that scientists should acknowledge the need for tax and entitlement reform to ensure “new revenues and the elimination of unnecessary, duplicative programs and regulations.” All scientists “must assume that policy-makers are unaware” of science funding’s importance, they write. “That’s what we have to change through our actions, now.”
New York Times: Russ George, a California businessman, sprinkled 100 tons of iron dust into the Pacific Ocean off western Canada. The purposes for this iron fertilization, for which a “native Canadian group” paid $2.5 million, appear to have been to stimulate the growth of plankton that absorbs carbon dioxide and settles to the bottom, to boost the salmon harvest, and to investigate selling carbon offset credits. “Marine scientists and other experts have assailed the experiment as unscientific, irresponsible and probably in violation” of international agreements “intended to prevent tampering with ocean ecosystems under the guise of trying to fight the effects of climate change.” Mark Wells, a University of Maine marine scientist, called it “extraordinarily unlikely” that the experiment permanently removed CO2 from the atmosphere. George reportedly claimed the experiment was not related to geoengineering.
NBC News: Georgia Republican congressman Paul Broun’s belief “that the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are ‘lies straight from the pit of Hell’ is getting more exposure than he might have expected, thanks to a video that was made at a church-sponsored banquet.” NBC reports that the video was distributed by what the network calls “a progressive political watchdog group.” That group, the Bridge Project, says of itself that it is “dedicated to exposing the conservative movement’s dishonest tactics, dismantling its extreme ideology, and shining light on the moneyed special interests that fund it.” The video also shows Broun saying, “You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth.” NBC also reports that “Broun, a medical doctor, calls himself a scientist in the video.” Broun chairs the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. He is unopposed for reelection in November.