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GeekWire

Another record for calculating pi: 100 trillion digits!

Three years after Seattle software developer Emma Haruka Iwao and her teammates at Google set the world record for calculating pi precisely, they’ve done it again. Thanks to Iwao and Google Cloud, we now know what pi equals to an incredible precision of 100 trillion digits.

Why pi?

Mathematicians have been working out the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter for millennia, going back at least as far as the Babylonians (who figured it at 3.125). It’s important for scientists and engineers to know the irrational number’s value with a high degree of precision, but beyond a certain point, it’s really all about showing how well an algorithm or a computer network can handle more practical problems.

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GeekWire

Science takes center stage in Titanic sequel

One year after OceanGate’s first expedition to the Titanic shipwreck, the Everett, Wash.-based company is gearing up for its second annual set of dives starting next week — and this time, science will be at center stage.

Last summer’s expedition kicked off what’s intended to be a yearly series of visits to the 110-year-old ruin, nearly 13,000 feet beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. As any movie fan knows, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank during its first voyage from England to New York in 1912, causing more than 1,500 deaths.

The shipwreck was rediscovered in 1985, and there’s been a string of crewed and robotic surveys since then. But OceanGate’s plan is different. The 13-year-old company and its research partners aim to document how the rapidly deteriorating Titanic and its surroundings are changing on a year-to-year basis — supported by customers who are paying $250,000 each to be part of the adventure.

The inaugural Titanic Survey Expedition documented the wreck site in unprecedented detail, producing a baseline for tracking future changes. OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said that expedition was “a bit of a shakedown cruise.”

“We did have a lot of technical challenges that we think we won’t have this year,” Rush said today during an online preview of the 2022 Titanic Survey Expedition. “We had weather challenges, we had COVID challenges. So there’s a lot of that stuff, but we still got the best imagery ever taken.”

This year, OceanGate’s science team will be focusing on the biology as well as the archaeology of the Titanic’s resting place.

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Fiction Science Club

Why believing in the multiverse isn’t madness

What is the multiverse? The idea that the universe we inhabit is just one of many parallel universes gets a superhero shout-out in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the latest movie based on Marvel comic-book characters.

And in the opinion of Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University, giving some screen time to the multiverse isn’t such a bad thing — even if the plot has some horror-movie twists.

“I think it’s really good if some of these ideas are brought out in a variety of different ways,” Greene says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, which focuses on the realm where science and technology intersect with fiction and popular culture.

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Universe Today

Large Hadron Collider restarts at record energy levels

Europe’s Large Hadron Collider has started up its proton beams again at unprecedented energy levels after going through a three-year shutdown for maintenance and upgrades.

It only took a couple of days of tweaking for the pilot streams of protons to reach a record energy level of 6.8 tera electronvolts, or TeV. That exceeds the previous record of 6.5 TeV, which was set by the LHC in 2015 at the start of the particle collider’s second run.

The new level comes “very close to the design energy of the LHC, which is 7 TeV,” Jörg Wenninger, head of the LHC beam operation section and LHC machine coordinator at CERN, said today in a video announcing the milestone.

When the collider at the French-Swiss border resumes honest-to-goodness science operations, probably within a few months, the international LHC team plans to address mysteries that could send theories of physics in new directions.

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Cosmic Science

Could a bulky boson point to new physics? Stay tuned

A decade ago, physicists wondered whether the discovery of the Higgs boson at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider would point to a new frontier beyond the Standard Model of subatomic particles. So far, that’s not been the case — but a new measurement of a different kind of boson at a different particle collider might do the trick.

That’s the upshot of fresh findings from the Collider Detector at Fermilab, or CDF, one of the main experiments that made use of the Tevatron particle collider at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab in Illinois. It’s not yet time to throw out the physics textbooks, but scientists around the world are scratching their heads over the CDF team’s newly reported value for the mass of the W boson.

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GeekWire

Student wins top prize for gravitational wave work

Christine Ye, a senior at Eastlake High School in Sammamish, Wash., has won the top award in the nation’s oldest and most prestigious competitions for science students, thanks to her research into the mysteries of black holes and neutron stars.

“I’m totally in shock,” the 17-year-old told me after winning the $250,000 first-place award in the 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search. “It feels amazing.”

Ye was among 40 finalists honored on March 15 in Washington, D.C., during a live-streamed ceremony that was emceed by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Melissa Villaseñor. More than $1.8 million in all was awarded to the finalists, who were evaluated on the basis of their projects’ scientific rigor and their potential to become scientific leaders.

Ye’s award-winning research is based on an analysis of readings from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, and addresses one of LIGO’s most puzzling observations.

In 2019, researchers at LIGO and at Europe’s Virgo gravitational-wave observatory detected ripples in spacetime that were caused by the collision of a black hole and a mystery object that was 2.6 times as massive as our sun. The object’s size fell into a “mass gap” between the heaviest known neutron star and the lightest known black hole.

The analysis conducted by Ye and her co-author, Northwestern University postdoctoral fellow Maya Fishbach, determined that rapidly spinning neutron stars could get as massive as the mystery object. Their study will be the subject of a presentation next month in New York at a meeting of the American Physical Society.

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GeekWire

Scientists plan to analyze DNA at Titanic wreck site

What’s lurking at the Titanic shipwreck site, nearly 13,000 beneath the surface of the North Atlantic? Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate aims to help scientists find out by cataloging the genomic signatures present in the deep ocean.

Researchers will gather up water samples at different depths during a series of dives planned by OceanGate’s Titan submersible this summer, and then analyze the samples to identify the DNA captured within.

The results are expected to give scientists a deeper understanding of deep-ocean biodiversity, and may also shed new light on some of the enduring mysteries surrounding the world’s best-known shipwreck.

“This is groundbreaking deep-sea research,” Steve W. Ross, a research professor affiliated with the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said in a news release. Ross took part in OceanGate Expeditions’ 2021 Titanic survey, and will be chief scientist for this summer’s expedition.

Over the past 110 years, the sinking of the Titanic luxury liner — and the loss of more than 1,500 passengers and crew — have provided the inspiration for countless tragic tales, including an Oscar-winning movie. Over that same time period, the rusting wreck has provided an artificial reef for life at the bottom of the sea.

“This study will give us an entirely different view of this one-of-a-kind habitat while also adding substantially to shared deep-water DNA data sets,” Ross said. “Water samples taken and analyzed using advanced genomics technologies will not only help us identify the lifeforms we can directly observe from the Titan submersible, but also will give us a full picture of the lifeforms we cannot see. This includes invisible signs of both microscopic creatures and larger animals that leave traces of DNA in the water surrounding the Titanic.”

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Cosmic Science

Antarctic team finds iconic wreck of the Endurance

One of the world’s most celebrated shipwrecks — the hulk of the sailing ship Endurance — has been found at a depth of nearly 10,000 feet in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, 107 years after it sank.

The wooden ship carried British explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew to the Southern Ocean in 1915 — but was trapped in pack ice just one day out from their planned landing point. Shackleton’s expedition was marooned, and the ship slowly slipped beneath the ice.

The saga of how Shackleton and his stranded crew set up camp and organized an 800-mile journey in a lifeboat to seek out rescue stands as a heroic example of overcoming Antarctic adversity. All 28 members of Shackleton’s party survived the 497-day ordeal.

More than a century later, the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust organized the Endurance22 expedition to seek out and survey the sunken ship. The team set out last month from Cape Town, South Africa, aboard the icebreaker S.A. Agulhas II for a 35-day mission.

Today the expedition’s organizers announced that they found the ship on March 5 using state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicles. It’s sitting on the seafloor about four miles south of the position recorded in 1915 by the Endurance’s captain, Frank Worsley.

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Cosmic Science

Hail to the Kraken: Sea monster gets a presidential name

What do you call a 328 million-year-old fossil octopus with 10 arms? A decapus? A kraken? The researchers who analyzed the fossilized monster from Montana went in a different direction — and came up with a name that pays tribute to President Joe Biden.

The scientific label for the sea monster from the days before the dinosaurs, Syllipsimopodi bideni, isn’t intended as a comment on the 79-year-old politician’s age. “Bideni” merely recognizes the fact that the paper describing the species was submitted to the journal Nature Communications not long after Biden’s inauguration in January 2021.

I wanted to somehow acknowledge the moment in a way that was more positive and forward-looking,” study lead author Christopher Whalen, a researcher at the American Museum of Natural History and Yale University, said in a news release. I was encouraged by the plans President Biden put forward to counter anthropogenic climate change, and his general sentiment that politicians should listen to scientists.”

“Syllipsimopodi” is the more scientifically meaningful part of the name: That genus designation comes from the Greek words for “prehensile foot,” and the researchers say Syllipsimopodi bideni is the oldest-known cephalopod to develop suckers on its 10 sinuous arms.

The specimen also appears to clear up some evolutionary questions about the common ancestor of present-day squids and octopuses.

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GeekWire

New centers will enlist software engineers for science

The University of Washington and three other universities have kicked off an effort to beef up the software engineering resources available to researchers, backed by a $40 million commitment from Schmidt Futures.

The philanthropic organization founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt, announced the establishment of the Virtual Institute for Scientific Software this week. The institute’s four inaugural centers will be housed at UW, the University of Cambridge, Georgia Tech and Johns Hopkins University.

Each of the centers will be awarded $2 million a year for the next five years to bring on software engineers and computational scientists who can help address the increasingly complex, data-centric challenges that face researchers today.