Snippets

Snippets

LARGEST KNOWN ORGANISM

How the humongous fungus came to be

Thousands of years ago, two microscopic spores spawned and created a monster. It grew - up to three feet a year - sending out dark, gnarly, threadlike organs called rhizomorphs that forages for food. Now it's a tangled mat that occupies an area the size of three Central Parks (New York, USA) and may weigh as much as 5,000 African elephants. Its scientific name is Armillaria ostoyae, but you can call it the humongous fungus. It's the largest known terrestrial organism on the planet, according to the US Forest Service. It's also a deadly forest pathogen. These fungi cause root rot disease in plants across North America, Europe and Asia.

What sets them apart from other fungi is those stringy rhizomorphs that find weak trees, colonise their roots, kill and eat them. Scientists now have completed the first step to defeating these fungal demogorgons. In a genetic analysis published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, they uncovered tactics that help Armillaria develop their unusual rhizomorphs, grow so big and get so good at killing host plants.

ELECTRONS IN SPACE

High precision measurement

The CALET Cosmic Ray experiment, led by Professor Shoji Torii from Waseda University, Japan, along with collaborators from Louisiana State University, USA, has successfully carried out the high-precision measurement of cosmic-ray electron spectrum up to three tera electron volts (TeV) by using the CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) on the Japanese Experimental Module, in the International Space Station.

This experiment is the first to make direct measurements of such high energy electrons in space. This measurement demonstrates the ability of CALET to do a precise direct measurement of electrons above 1 TeV. The team published its results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

SWITCHING BETWEEN STATES

How lifeless particles can become 'life-like'

Physicists at Emory University, USA have shown how a system of lifeless particles can become 'life-like' by collectively switching back and forth between crystalline and fluid states - even when the environment remains stable. Physical Review Letters recently published the findings, the first experimental realisation of such dynamics. "We've discovered perhaps the simplest physical system that can consistently keep changing behaviour over time in a fixed environment," says Justin Burton, assistant professor of physics.

Many living systems switch behaviours collectively, firing on and then shutting off. The current paper, however, involved a non-living system: plastic particles, tiny as dust specks, that have no 'on' or 'off' switches. "The individual particles cannot change between crystalline and fluid states," Justin says. "The switching emerges when there are collections of these particles - in fact, as few as 40. Our findings suggest that the ability for a system to switch behaviours over any time scale is more universal than previously thought."

NON-ABELIAN ANYONS

A quantum lookout

What kinds of 'particles' are allowed by nature? The answer lies in the theory of quantum mechanics. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA have developed a device that could prove the existence of non-abelian anyons, a quantum particle that has been mathematically predicted to exist in 2D space. The existence of these particles would pave the way towards advances in
topological quantum computing.

In a study that appears in the journal Nature, physicist Andrea Young and colleagues have taken a leap towards finding conclusive evidence for non-abelian anyons. Using graphene, they developed a low-defect, highly tunable device in which non-abelian anyons should be accessible.

DOCUMENTARY

Black hole farming

Trillions of years from now, in a universe where the stars have largely dissipated and all existence is shrouded in chilled darkness, the continuation of human life might still be a possibility. This scenario is explored in the documentary film called Civilisations at the End of Time: Black Hole Farming, produced by amateur physicist Isaac Arthur.

The documentary looks at the fate of civilisation and the universe at large if a future Dark Age might occur, and the potential to power a new way of life by harvesting the rotational energy from naturally occurring and artificially-produced black holes. This is supported with theories that are well established. The film delves deeply into these calculations. To watch the documentary, visit www.bit.ly/2j6gx8Y.

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