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IceCube: The Polar Particle Hunter

Searching Antarctica for the frozen paths of cosmic-ray neutrinos

11 min read
Particle detectors are lowered into a 2.5-kilometer-deep hole drilled into the Antarctic ice near South Pole Station.
Photo: NSF

No commercial airline flies to the South Pole. Instead, I started my trip there on a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport, which traveled from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station, a U.S. Antarctic research center located on the southern tip of Ross Island. I stayed at McMurdo overnight before boarding a smaller plane, an LC-130 turboprop, for the rest of the journey. After a 3-hour flight over the Transantarctic Mountains, my plane landed on skis at the bottom of the world.

Stepping off the LC-130, I found the cold, thin air a real shock—the South Pole is more than 2800 meters above sea level, and the temperature was –30 °C. I staggered to the shelter of South Pole Station, from which, after suiting up in 10 kilograms of extreme-cold-weather gear, I walked to the nearby drilling camp. The goal of this operation was to bore holes 60 centimeters in diameter, each reaching about 2.5 kilometers below the surface, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon.

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Lab Revisits the Task of Putting Common Sense in AI

New nonprofit Basis hopes to model human reasoning to inform science and public policy

5 min read
ai hand and human hand touching pointer fingers
iStock

The field of artificial intelligence has embraced deep learning—in which algorithms find patterns in big data sets—after moving on from earlier systems that more explicitly modeled human reasoning. But deep learning has its flaws: AI models often show a lack of common sense, for example. A new nonprofit, Basis, hopes to build software tools that advance the earlier method of modeling human reasoning, and then apply that method toward pressing problems in scientific discovery and public policy.

To date, Basis has received a government grant and a donation of a few million dollars. Advisors include Rui Costa, a neuroscientist who heads the Allen Institute in Seattle, and Anthony Philippakis, the chief data officer of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In July, over tacos at the International Conference on Machine Intelligence, I spoke with Zenna Tavares, a Basis co-founder, and Sam Witty, a Basis research scientist, about human intelligence, problems with academia, and trash collection. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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This Idea Wasn't All Wet: The Sensing Water-Saving Shower Head Debuts

An engineer’s dinner-table invention is finally a consumer product

4 min read
A mounted and running showerhead that says oasense and has a blue light on it.
Oasense

For Evan Schneider, the family dinner table is a good place for invention. “I’m always, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this or that,’” he says, “and people would humor me.”

In 2012, with California in the midst of a severe drought, Schneider, then a mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford University, once again tossed out a “cool idea.” He imagined a shower head that would sense when the person showering moved out from under the stream of water. The shower head would then automatically turn the water off, turning it back on again when the person moved back into range. With such a device, he thought, people could enjoy a long shower without wasting water.

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Take the Lead on Satellite Design Using Digital Engineering

Learn how to accelerate your satellite design process and reduce risk and costs with model-based engineering methods

1 min read
Keysight
Keysight

Win the race to design and deploy satellite technologies and systems. Learn how new digital engineering techniques can accelerate development and reduce your risk and costs. Download this free whitepaper now!

Our white paper covers:

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