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A Retired JPL Engineer’s Journey: From Space Probes to Carbon-Neutral Farming

Jay Schmuecker’s Iowa farm uses solar power to generate fuel and fertilizer on-site

12 min read
A tractor pulling a farm implement in a field.
Photo: Schmuecker Renewable Energy System

You could say that farming is in my blood: My grandparents on both sides ran large, prosperous farms in Iowa. One of my fondest childhood memories is of visiting my maternal grandparents’ farm and watching the intricate moving mechanisms of the threshing machine. I guess it’s not surprising that I eventually decided to study mechanical engineering at MIT. I never really considered a career in farming.

Shortly after I graduated in 1957 and took a job with the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the Soviets launched Sputnik. I was at the right place at the right time. JPL was soon transferred to the newly formed NASA. And for more than 50 years, I worked with some of the brightest engineers in the world to send unmanned spacecraft—including Mariner, Viking, and Voyager—to all the other planets in the solar system.

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When Gamers Get Nasty

Researchers grapple with subjectivity as they develop aIgorithms to detect toxicity in online gaming

2 min read
A man wearing a headset is seen in a dark room playing video games
Getty Images

Online gaming is a chance for players to come together, socialize and enjoy some friendly competition. Unfortunately, this enjoyable activity can be hindered by abusive language and toxicity, negatively impacting the gaming experience and causing psychological harm. Gendered and racial toxicity, in particular, are all too common in online gaming.

To combat this issue, various groups of researchers have been developing AI models that can detect toxic behavior in real-time as people play. One group recently developed a new model, which is described in a study published May 23 in IEEE Transactions on Games. While the model can detect toxicity with a fair amount of accuracy, its development demonstrates just how challenging it can be to determine what is considered toxic—a subjective matter.

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Quantum Computing for Dummies

New guide helps beginners run quantum algorithms on IBM's quantum computers over the cloud

3 min read
An image of the inside of an IBM quantum computer.
IBM

Quantum computers may one day rapidly find solutions to problems no regular computer might ever hope to solve, but there are vanishingly few quantum programmers when compared with the number of conventional programmers in the world. Now a new beginner's guide aims to walk would-be quantum programmers through the implementation of quantum algorithms over the cloud on IBM's publicly available quantum computers.

Whereas classical computers switch transistors either on or off to symbolize data as ones or zeroes, quantum computers use quantum bits, or "qubits," which because of the peculiar nature of quantum physics can exist in a state called superposition where they are both 1 and 0 at the same time. This essentially lets each qubit perform two calculations at once. The more qubits are quantum-mechanically linked, or entangled (see our explainer), within a quantum computer, the greater its computational power can grow, in an exponential fashion.

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A Multiphysics Approach to Designing Fuel Cells for Electric Vehicles

White paper on fuel cell modeling and simulation

1 min read
Comsol Logo
Comsol

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) often reach higher energy density and exhibit greater efficiency than battery EVs; however, they also have high manufacturing costs, limited service life, and relatively low power density.

Modeling and simulation can improve fuel cell design and optimize EV performance. Learn more in this white paper.