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How Andrea Ghez Won the Nobel for an Experiment Nobody Thought Would Work

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Standing in my office 25 years ago was an unknown, newly minted astronomer with a half-smile on her face. She had come with an outrageous request—really a demand—that my team modify our exhaustively tested software to make one of our most important and in-demand scientific instruments do something it had never been designed for, and risk breaking it. All to carry out an experiment that was basically a waste of time and couldn’t be done—to prove that a massive black hole lurked at the center of our Milky Way.

My initial “no way” (perhaps I used a stronger expression) gradually gave way in the face of her cheerful but unwavering determination. It was my first encounter with a force of nature, Andrea Ghez, one of three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, for her work on providing the conclusive experimental evidence of a supermassive black hole with the mass of four million suns residing at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

That determination and the willingness to take calculated risks has always characterized Andrea. For 25 years she has focused almost exclusively on Sagittarius A*—the name of our own local supermassive black hole. It is remarkable that an entire field of study has grown up in the intervening quarter century, of searching for and finding evidence of these monsters thought to lie at the heart of every large galaxy. And Andrea is without question one of the great pioneers in this search.

Andrea’s co-prizewinner Reinhard Genzel has been involved in the same research from the outset—and it is the work of these two teams, each led by a formidable intellect and using two different observatories in two different hemispheres that has brought astronomy to this remarkable result—the confirmation of another of the predictions of Einstein’s more than

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Nanoscale machines convert light into work

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Nanoscale machines convert light into work
Researchers created an optical matter machine that operates much like a mechanical machine in which if one gear is turned, a smaller interlocking gear will spin in the opposite direction (a). The optical matter machine (b) uses circularly polarized light to create a nanoparticle array that acts like the larger gear by spinning in the optical field. This makes a probe particle – analogous to the second smaller gear – orbit the nanoparticle array in the opposite direction. Credit: Norbert F. Scherer, University of Chicago

Researchers have developed a tiny new machine that converts laser light into work. These optically powered machines self-assemble and could be used for nanoscale manipulation of tiny cargo for applications such as nanofluidics and particle sorting.


“Our work addresses a long-standing goal in the nanoscience community to create self-assembling nanoscale machines that can perform work in conventional environments such as room temperature liquids,” said research team leader Norbert F. Scherer from the University of Chicago.

Scherer and colleagues describe the new nanomachines in Optica. The machines are based on a type of matter known as optical matter in which metal nanoparticles are held together by light rather than the chemical bonds that hold together the atoms that make up typical matter.

“Both the energy for assembling the machine and the power to make it work come from light,” said Scherer. “Once the laser light is introduced to a solution containing nanoparticles, the entire process occurs on its own. Although the user does not need to actively control or direct the outcome, this could readily be done to tailor the machines for various applications.”

Creating optical matter

In optical matter, a laser light field creates interactions between metal nanoparticles that are much smaller than the wavelength of light. These interactions cause the particles to self-assemble

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A major Japanese bank will let employees work 3-day weeks after the pandemic to give them more time for childcare and education

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  • Japanese lender Mizuho Financial Group is planning to let staff work a shorter week after the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them more time for childcare or education, Bloomberg reported. 
  • Workers who work three days a week will keep 60% of their salary, while employees who work four days will retain 80%, a spokeswoman told Bloomberg. 
  • The lender is in talks with labor unions, and the measure could be introduced as soon as December. 
  • The scheme could be open to 45,000 staff.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A major Japanese bank plans to offer employees three- or four-day working weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, giving staff more time for childcare, nursing, or education, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. 

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Staff at Mizuho Financial Group who work three days a week will receive 60% of their salary, and those who work four days will keep 80%, the report said.

A company spokeswoman told Bloomberg the measures would give employees greater choice over how they approach their work.

The bank, currently the country’s third largest lender, is discussing the new rules with labor unions, and they could be introduced as early as December, a spokeswoman told Bloomberg. 

The lender, which provides a variety of financial services including securities brokerage, general banking, and asset management, said the program may be open to around 45,000 employees. 

The bank is estimated to have just under 60,000 employees. 

The plan comes at a time when the lender is looking to trim its office space both in London and New York, in anticipation of workers not returning to the workplace once the pandemic passes.

Hiroshi Nagamine, senior managing executive officer at the group, said in a September interview with Bloomberg that employees won’t need to return to the office every day after the

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Work Or Online Learning? Homeless Families Face An Impossible Choice : NPR

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Freda and her 9-year-old son visit the Purple People Bridge in Cincinnati. She and her five children have been living in the front room of a friend’s apartment, sleeping on pads of bunched-up comforters.

Maddie McGarvey for NPR


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Maddie McGarvey for NPR

Freda and her 9-year-old son visit the Purple People Bridge in Cincinnati. She and her five children have been living in the front room of a friend’s apartment, sleeping on pads of bunched-up comforters.

Maddie McGarvey for NPR

The closure of school buildings in response to the coronavirus has been disruptive and inconvenient for many families, but for those living in homeless shelters or hotel rooms — including roughly 1.5 million school-aged children — the shuttering of classrooms and cafeterias has been disastrous.

For Rachel, a 17-year-old sharing a hotel room in Cincinnati with her mother, the disaster has been academic. Her school gave her a laptop, but “hotel Wi-Fi is the worst,” she says. “Every three seconds [my teacher is] like, ‘Rachel, you’re glitching. Rachel, you’re not moving.'”

For Vanessa Shefer, the disaster has made her feel “defeated.” Since May, when the family home burned, she and her four children have stayed in a hotel, a campground and recently left rural New Hampshire to stay with extended family in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Her kids ask, “When are we going to have a home?” But Shefer says she can’t afford a “home” without a good-paying job, and she can’t get a job while her kids need help with school.

For this story, NPR spoke with students, parents, caregivers, shelter managers and school leaders across the country about what it means, in this moment, to be homeless and schoolless.

Vanessa Shefer (right) walks with her family along the Passumpsic River in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

Ian

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How Does the Electoral College Work and Why Does It Matter?

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It remains one of the most surprising facts about voting in the United States: While the popular vote elects members of Congress, mayors, governors, state legislators and even more obscure local officials, it does not determine the winner of the presidency, the highest office in the land.

That important decision ultimately falls to the Electoral College. When Americans cast their ballots, they are actually voting for a slate of electors appointed by their state’s political parties who are pledged to support that party’s candidate. (They don’t always do so.)

This leads to an intense focus on key battleground states, as candidates look to boost their electoral advantage by targeting states that can help them reach the needed 270 votes of the total 538 total up for grabs. The Electoral College also inspires many what-if scenarios, some of them more likely than others.

Yes, and that is what happened in 2016: Although Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by almost 3 million votes, Donald Trump garnered almost 57 percent of the electoral votes, enough to win the presidency.

The same thing happened in 2000. Although Al Gore won the popular vote, George W. Bush earned more electoral votes after a contested Florida recount and a Supreme Court decision. It happened three times before that, with the elections of John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876) and Benjamin Harrison (1888).

The electoral system has also awarded the presidency to candidates with a plurality of the popular vote (under 50 percent) in a number of cases, notably Abraham Lincoln in 1860, John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.

Because there’s an even number of electoral votes, a tie

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