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Physicists find best evidence yet for long-sought 2D ‘quasiparticles’

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Nature Briefing

Hello Nature readers,
Today we welcome the detection of long-sought 2D structures called anyons, explore how to map the Universe’s invisible magnetic fields and learn how sewage surveillance could be used to track coronavirus outbreaks.

Conductance oscillations versus magnetic field and side gate voltage.
This ‘pyjama stripe’ interference pattern denotes the presence of anyons in an electronic system. (James Nakamura and Michael Manfra)

Unruly ‘quasiparticles’ show up in the lab

Physicists have reported what could be the first incontrovertible evidence of the existence of particle-like objects called anyons, first proposed more than 40 years ago. Anyons are the latest addition to a growing family of phenomena called quasiparticles, which are not elementary particles but collective excitations of many electrons in solid devices. Their discovery — made using a 2D electronic device — could represent the first steps towards making anyons the basis of future quantum computers. “To me,” says condensed-matter theorist Bernd Rosenow, “they are at least as fascinating and exotic as the Higgs particle.”

Nature | 5 min read
Reference: arxiv preprint

Leadership appointment sparks turmoil at Italian institute

The Veneto Institute of Molecular Medicine in Padua, Italy, has reversed its decision to appoint a high-profile cancer researcher as its scientific director, after a tumultuous month of protests and accusations. The row over Pier Paolo Pandolfi, — who admits one instance of sexual harassment, but denies allegations of scientific misconduct — resulted in the resignation of the institute’s entire scientific board, which includes two Nobel prizewinners.

Nature | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Cartoon of Boris Johnson presenting a colourful dial with a needle pointing to ‘1’ showing the R value.
(Illustration by David Parkins)

A guide to R — the misunderstood metric

Researchers are worried that politicians might be focusing too much on a single metric when assessing the severity of coronavirus outbreaks. The reproduction number — known as R — is the average number of people each person with a disease goes on to infect. But it is an imprecise estimate that relies on assumptions, and too much attention to it could obscure the importance of other measures, such as trends in numbers of new infections, deaths and hospital admissions. “Epidemiologists are quite keen on downplaying R, but the politicians seem to have embraced it with enthusiasm,” says infectious-disease expert Mark Woolhouse. “We’re concerned that we’ve created a monster.”
Nature | 11 min read

The trial transforming COVID-19 treatment

The United Kingdom’s large-scale trial Recovery (Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy) stands out among the dozens of ongoing clinical studies that aim to test potential treatments for coronavirus infection. Involving more than 12,000 participants from hundreds of hospitals, the effort has delivered widely accepted verdicts on the potential of several antiviral drugs, and provided insights that have changed how physicians around the world consider treating COVID-19. Meanwhile, other large-scale initiatives have struggled to recruit participants and been slow to deliver results.
Science | 8 min read

Sewage-based surveillance suggestion

Testing wastewater samples for the coronavirus could help local authorities to identify and tackle COVID-19 outbreaks sooner, scientists say. Studies in the United Kingdom suggest that this approach could help to detect infection spikes up to ten days earlier than existing medical-based tests. “By sampling wastewater at different parts of the sewerage network, we can gradually narrow an outbreak down to smaller geographical areas, enabling public-health officials to quickly target interventions,” says pollution scientist Andrew Singer. “It seems obvious that we should be doing this.”
BBC News | 5 min read
Read more: How sewage could reveal the true scale of the coronavirus outbreak (Nature | 4 min read, from April)

Notable quotable

“Are we skating through an effervescent cloud of virus?”

Infection-control nurse and roller-derby coach Nikki McCorristin discusses some of the factors that had to be considered when putting together a plan for how to safely resume the sport. (Wired | 7 min read)

Features & opinion

The Universe reveals its magnetism

Cosmologists are learning how to map invisible magnetic fields that pervade the Universe, including the giant voids that separate the largest clusters of galaxies. The fields could have arisen in the first instants after the Big Bang, and are “curved every which way, like a ball of yarn”, says astrophysicist Tanmay Vachaspati; this curvature could reveal details of the physics of the fundamental forces. Primordial magnetism could also help to explain an apparent discrepancy in measurements of the Universe’s rate of expansion.

Quanta | 10 min read

If you love whales, leave them in peace

A whale-watching trip can leave us with a lifelong sense of wonder, but the encounters are much less pleasant from the whales’ perspective, writes glaciologist Marco Tedesco. Studies have shown that approaching motorboats expose whales to noise of more than 170 decibels — comparable to the sound of a rocket launch — causing stress and limiting the animals’ ability to communicate. It would be more sustainable to use alternatives such as waiting with the engines off or using rowing boats, Tedesco says — or to just leave wildlife alone. “Using motorboats to simply take a photograph to satisfy your own vanity or sterile curiosity (different from a scientific one!) is not noble, let alone useful.”

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory | 4 min read

Podcast: the structure of tooth enamel

Materials scientist Derk Joester explains how studying the molecular composition of enamel could help us to understand what makes it vulnerable to tooth decay.

Nature Podcast | 23 min listen
Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts or Spotify.
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Where I work

Claudine Loisel, wearing full body covering and gloves, peers closely at a back-lit stained-glass window on a table in a lab
Glass specialist Claudine Loisel studies the chemistry of stained glass on a nanoscopic scale. Here, she examines a panel that survived the fire at Notre‑Dame cathedral in Paris last year, checking it for damage. The protective gear guards her against possible exposure to lead in the metal framework that holds the shards of glass in place. “I’m part of an amazing team of historians, conservators and materials specialists working to restore, protect and eventually reopen Notre-Dame,” she says. “After that, we’ll have a glass of champagne.” (Nature | 2 min read) (Francois Mori/AP/Shutterstock)

Quote of the day

“Students should be able to look at a name and ask, ‘Who is that?’ and have their professors respond: ‘That’s a person you can aspire to.’”

Science historian Joe Cain says universities should consider renaming buildings that bear the names of prominent researchers who held racist or bigoted views, as scientists move to strip offensive names from journals and awards. (Science | 8 min read)


We are launching an Arabic edition of Nature Briefing. Every week for the next six months, the Arabic edition will help you stay up to date with the latest developments and news in science.


نتعرض مؤخرًا لكمٍ هائل من الأخبار المتتالية في وقت نجد أنفسنا فيه تحت ضغوطٍ غير مسبوقة. لذا.. نطلق النسخة العربية من نشرة Nature الإخبارية الشهيرة، وذلك تحت عنوان "نشرة العلوم". ولمدة ستة أشهر، ستساعدكم "نشرة العلوم" للبقاء على إطلاعٍ على أحدث التطورات والأخبار في مجال العلوم. سيعمل محررونا على تجميع أبرز القصص الإخبارية المنشورة في مختلف الإصدارات، وإرسالها إلى بريدك الإلكتروني مرة واحدة أسبوعيًا.

سَجِّل.. لتصلك نشرة العلوم الأسبوعية المجانية من نيتشر الطبعة العربية.

This week, our playful penguin Leif Penguinson is hiding among the snowy trees in Ruka, Finland. Can you spot the penguin?

The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.

Flora is taking a well-earned holiday, but she’ll be back on Monday.

Emma Stoye, news editor, Nature
With contributions by Nicky Phillips and Davide Castelvecchi

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