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December 6, 2022

Science news in review: Nov. 16

By NEEL GODBOLE | November 17, 2022

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COURTESY OF IBM Research / CC BY-ND 2.0

Last week, IBM announced the development of a new quantum computer chip that more than tripled the number of qubits of its predecessor.

From black holes to quantum chips, this week was full of exciting revelations in the science and technology community. As we hit the midpoint of November, take a look at the STEM news shaking the world!

IBM develops new, more powerful quantum computing technology

Tech giant International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) announced the successful creation of an entirely new chip for quantum computing on Nov. 9. The novel 433-qubit Osprey chip has threefold the number of qubits — quantum analogs of the bits used in traditional computers. 

Quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize certain fields, including chemistry and aircraft engineering. In fact, IBM even allows outside entities like corporations and higher institutions to test out its quantum computing capabilities. 

Harvard scientists pinpoint closest black hole

The precise locations of black holes have always been difficult to ascertain. A group of Harvard astrophysicists, led by Harvard Junior Fellow Kareem El-Badry, used data from the Gaia spacecraft — able to locate stars’ positions — to locate a black hole’s positions based on the movements of stars that fall prey to black holes’ unparalleled force of gravity. 

While impossible to directly observe, scientists can map black holes based on the ways in which the dust and stars around them move. This is precisely what occurred with El-Badry’s black hole, dubbed Gaia BH1, which was charted based on its invisible gravitational influence on a star orbiting it. Gaia BH1 has a mass tenfold that of the sun and exists roughly 1,560 light years from Earth, making it the closest known black hole to Earth. El-Badry says that this finding is just the beginning of humans finding and locating black holes in our vast universe.

Climate change can impact the color of lakes, altering their ecosystems

Ever observe a lake near your house and watch it change color through the years? More likely than not, the lake goes from pristine blue to a dullish green color. According to hydrologist Xiao Yang, who studied more than 85,000 lakes around the world, some beautiful blue lakes may not stay blue forever due to the ever-increasing consequences of rapid climate change. 

Since brown and green lakes are more likely to have higher levels of algae, which grows more readily as temperature increases. Changing watercolor can help scientists model how rapidly climate change is altering aquatic ecosystems. 

Computer models make breakthrough discovery in the psychology of pack animal behaviors

Animals and birds tend to travel in packs, often to protect themselves against predators,  as captured by a  long-established ecological phenomenon known as the Selfish Herd Hypothesis. However, a recent study constructed by Daniel Sankey, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Exeter, suggests that this apparent protection is a myth — that animals or birds swiftly moving to the middle of the pack could have actually had negative consequences. These “selfish” organisms that try to flee to the middle might end up in the back of the herd or pack, as indicated by models created using algorithms in R programming that model birds in a flock.

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