This Supercomputer Can Calculate in 1 Second What Would Take You 6 Billion Years


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This Supercomputer Can Calculate in 1 Second What Would Take You 6 Billion Years

This Supercomputer Can Calculate in 1 Second What Would Take You 6 Billion Years

To keep Summit from overheating, more than 4,000 gallons of water pump through its cooling system every minute, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory where the beast is housed.

Credit: ORNL

It’s shiny, fast and ultrapowerful. But it’s not the latest Alfa Romeo. A physics laboratory in Tennessee just unveiled Summit, likely to be named the world’s speediest and smartest supercomputer.

Perhaps most exciting for the U.S.? It’s faster than China’s.

The supercomputer — which fills a server room the size of two tennis courts — can spit out answers to 200 quadrillion (or 200 with 15 zeros) calculations per second, or 200 petaflops, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where the supercomputer resides.

“If every person on Earth completed one calculation per second, it would take the world population 305 days to do what Summit can do in 1 second,” according to an ORNL statement.

Put another way, if one person were to run the calculations, hypothetically, it would take 2.3 trillion days, or 6.35 billion years. [9 Super-Cool Uses for Supercomputers]

The former “world’s fastest supercomputer,” called Sunway TaihuLight, can perform 93 quadrillion calculations a second (93 petaflops), while humming away inside China’s National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi.

So, how did Summit become such a giant?

The supercomputer is an IBM AC922 system that’s made up of 4,608 computer servers — each comprising processors (the brains of the computer). But what’s actually going on inside these processors is what makes the difference.

“Summit’s computer architecture is quite different from what we have had before,” Daniel Jacobson, a computational biologist at ORNL, who is working on Summit, told Live Science. For one thing, the computer uses the new Tensor Core feature in its graphics cards (made by Nvidia), which is designed specifically for applications focusing on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), and to be fast.

Basically, unlike older computer chips, these chips are optimized for a special type of mathematical operation on matrices — or rectangles filled with numbers with rules for adding, subtracting and multiplying the different rows and columns. Computers equipped with AI programs often learn using so-called neural networks, which have several layers in which lower calculations feed into higher ones. And this process requires the heavy use of matrices.

“This is a brand-new feature that has allowed us to break the exascale barrier,” Jacobson said, referring to a processing speed that’s over a billion billion calculations per second.

In addition, Summit has loads of superfast memory (RAM) available on each of its nodes, where localized calculations can take place.

“Each node on Summit has 512 Gb [gigabytes] of RAM and the network that communicates between nodes uses adaptive routing, and is thus incredibly fast, which helps us scale the calculation across all the nodes very efficiently,” Jacobson said. So-called adaptive routing means Summit has some flexibility in how it runs calculations — sort of like networks of brain cells connected to synapses.

And though pricey — a New York Times report puts the cost at $200 million — Summit could deliver big for science: The supercomputer is built to integrate artificial intelligence into its computing, which could make Summit a formidable foe in the battle for answers to some of the world’s most complex mysteries.

“There are many, many scientific uses of this sort of supercomputing capacity,” he said. “Whether this is for new discoveries for bioenergy or new discoveries for precision medicine, many things are now possible that simply weren’t before.”

For instance, just as artificial intelligence programs are being co-opted to learn to pick out cats from images, said Jack Wells, the director of science at ORNL, these AI programs running on Summit could learn to pick out and categorize all kinds of data, ranging from those in biological sciences to physics, such as detections of neutrinos and other particles.

“Something new that’s happening, is it’s going to be at the intersection of machine learning and simulation science, because this machine is going to be able to do both of those things in a very significant way,” Wells told Live Science.

Summit’s placement as the “world’s fastest” isn’t exactly official yet, because the Top500 list for supercomputer rankings hasn’t been updated yet, but according to the Times article, it should get the top slot when the list is updated later this month.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct the speed of the former “world’s fastest supercomputer.”

Originally published on Live Science.

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Russia Wants to Blast Space Junk with Laser Cannon


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Russia Wants to Blast Space Junk with Laser Cannon

Russia Wants to Blast Space Junk with Laser Cannon

Ground-based lasers developed by the USSR decades ago — conceptually illustrated here by artist Edward L. Cooper — were capable of interfering with some U.S. satellites.

Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Russian. Space. Lasers. That’s right, Russian scientists are developing cosmic guns capable of blasting some of the half-million bits of space junk orbiting our planet into oblivion.

Precision Instrument Systems — a research and development arm within the Russian space agency, Roscosmos — recently submitted a proposal to the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) for transforming a 3-meter (10 feet) optical telescope into a laser cannon, the RT network reported.

Scientists at Russia’s Altay Optical-Laser Center will build this debris-monitoring telescope. Then, to turn it into a debris-vaporizing blaster, the researchers plan to add an optical detection system with an onboard “solid-state laser,” according to the Sputnik news agency. [How Do Laser Weapons Work? (Infographic)]

After that, it’s sizzle time. The cannon will train laser beams on pieces of orbiting detritus in low Earth orbit, heating up the bits of floating junk until they are entirely demolished, according to RT.

Human-made space junk consists of discarded or broken parts of spacecraft, launch vehicles and other objects sent into space, and it comes in many sizes. Approximately half a million bits whizzing around the planet are the size of a marble or bigger, and about 20,000 of those are at least the size of a softball, NASA reported in 2013. These bits travel at speeds of up to 17,500 mph (28,164 km/h), and at such speeds, even a relatively small particle of debris could seriously damage a spacecraft or satellite.

Low Earth orbit, the region of space within 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) of the planet's surface, is the most concentrated area for orbital debris.

Low Earth orbit, the region of space within 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) of the planet’s surface, is the most concentrated area for orbital debris.

Credit: NASA

 

In 2015, Japanese researchers presented plans for a spacefaring, debris-blasting laser mounted on a powerful telescope intended to detect cosmic rays, Space.com previously reported. Their study described combining many small lasers to produce a single powerful beam that would vaporize matter on the surface of space junk, generating a plume that would propel the debris lower in its orbital path, eventually causing the object to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

And earlier this year, researchers in China published a report proposing another laser-based approach to dealing with space garbage; their solution also suggested using satellite-mounted lasers to nudge orbiting debris into a lower orbit.

Clearly, space debris is a problem that would likely benefit from a futuristic solution like a laser cannon. However, while Precision Instrument Systems representatives confirmed the existence of their report to Sputnik, they “declined to elaborate further” on any details related to the project’s production time frame or its technical requirements.

Original article on Live Science.

China’s New Laser Gun Can Zap You with a Silent, Carbonizing Beam


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China’s New Laser Gun Can Zap You with a Silent, Carbonizing Beam

China's New Laser Gun Can Zap You with a Silent, Carbonizing Beam

Members of the People’s Liberation Army perform drills during a demonstration on June 30, 2018, in Hong Kong. China’s military may soon have laser guns in its arsenal.

Credit: Anthony Kwan/Getty, file

The laser blasters in “Star Wars” are no longer a thing of science fiction. Chinese researchers have developed an actual laser gun that can ignite a target on fire from a half mile (800 meters) away, the South China Morning Post reported.

But this new weapon, called a ZKZM-500, has a few differences from the “Star Wars” version. Based on an artist’s depiction of the gun published in the South China Morning Post, this real-life version is a boxy-shaped assault rifle that resembles a large toy gun more than a sleek “Star Wars” blaster. The 15 mm caliber weapon weighs about the same as an AK-47, 6.6 lbs. (3 kilograms), and can fire more than 1,000 laser shots, each one lasting up to 2 seconds.

The South China Morning Post reported that the weapon produces a silent, invisible energy beam — a  characteristic that makes it stealthy, but likely not as satisfying to shoot as a “Star Wars” blaster would be. It’ll be powered by a rechargeable lithium battery similar to what’s found in smartphones. [The 22 Weirdest Military Weapons]

Although the gun is classified as a nonlethal weapon, its laser shots can cause “‘instant carbonization’ of human skin and tissues,” according to the South China Morning Post, which means skin would burn and be reduced to carbon like the outside of a charred marshmallow. It can also fire through windows, burn through gas tanks and ignite anything that’s flammable. And, because the shots are silent and invisible, “nobody will know where the attack came from. It will look like an accident,” one of the gun’s creators told the South China Morning Post.

But it’ll take several zaps to burn a hole through a body and kill someone with this gun. The South China Morning Post reported that it’s not designed explicitly for killing like a gun that uses bullets, which is why the Chinese government classified the laser weapon as nonlethal. A government document suggests the laser gun could be used to do things such as setting fire to illegal banners at a protest or setting fire to the hair or clothing of a protester.

The weapon is ready for mass production, but its creator, ZKZM Laser, hasn’t found a licensed weapons-production company ready to take the guns on at $15,000 a unit, yet.

Sorry, “Star Wars” fans — once they’re made, these futuristic weapons will be distributed only to Chinese military and police.

Original article on Live Science.

1st Color X-Rays of Human Body Are Bloody Amazing


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1st Color X-Rays of Human Body Are Bloody Amazing

Stunning new color X-ray images, from a company called Mars Bioimaging, in New Zealand, seem to make flesh and bone translucent and hyperreal.

A scan of an ankle rotates in this GIF.

A scan of an ankle rotates in this GIF.

Credit: Mars Bioimaging

The gif above shows one of the company’s strange and fascinating images: a slice of human ankle, with off-white, rugged bones, bloody-looking muscle tissue and a pad of fat smeared protectively under the heel with a whipped-cream texture.

This image shows a wrist with more muscle, less visible bone, almost no fat and a clearly-articulated watch:

It’s important to note that these aren’t “true-color” X-ray scans as most people would commonly understand the term. As the inventors of the sensor that was used to make these images described in a 2015 paper in the journal IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging and on the company’s website, the colors in these images are applied based on the computer’s detection of different wavelengths of X-rays passing through different substances. There are, however, no “true” red X-rays or “true” white X-rays; the device’s programmers assign different colors to different detected body parts. (What human brains interpret as color comes from different wavelengths of light in the visual spectrum bouncing off objects. Visible light is also a form of electromagnetic radiation but is lower-energy than X-ray light.)

To successfully distinguish muscle, fat and bone, Mars Bioimaging developed sensors that could fit inside computed tomography (CT) scanners (circular X-ray devices that produce three-dimensional X-ray images) and produce very detailed information about the wavelengths of individual X-ray photons that pass through and bounce off human tissue. By sensing the wavelengths that disappear after passing through a particular bit of tissue, the device makes a judgement about what chemicals make up that tissue and uses that information to figure out what sort of tissue it was. The photon-counting technology, the company says in its marketing materials, was originally developed as part of its founders’ work with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which operates the world’s largest atom smasher.

By matching those scans with details about how different chemical compounds interact with X-ray light, they were able to distinguish different compounds in X-ray scans, the researchers wrote in the 2015 study. To produce these new grody, gorgeous color images of living tissue, they simply tasked the computer with painting the different compounds of fat, bone and muscle different colors.

The benefit for researchers, the company claims in its marketing materials, isn’t so much the fascinating visuals (though that’s a plus) as it is the wealth of precise chemical data on objects in the scanner. The careful, multilayered tissue scans, they write, will enable new precision in medical research.

Originally published on Live Science.

A Woman Had Strange Feelings in Her Legs. Doctors Found Parasites in Her Spine


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A Woman Had Strange Feelings in Her Legs. Doctors Found Parasites in Her Spine

A Woman Had Strange Feelings in Her Legs. Doctors Found Parasites in Her Spine

An MRI revealed tapeworm larval cysts in the woman’s spine, indicated by the arrow in the image on the left. The image on the right shows a close-up.

Credit: The New England Journal of Medicine ©2018

This article was updated on July 12.

When the 35-year-old woman arrived at a hospital in France, she told doctors it felt like electric shocks were running down her legs. What’s more, she felt weak and had experienced a number of falls recently.

The woman’s unusual symptoms turned out to have a surprising cause: Tapeworm larvae lurking in her spine, according to a new report of the case, published today (July 11) in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The woman lived in France and told doctors that she hadn’t been out of the country recently. But she said she did ride horses and have contact with cattle. In addition to her other symptoms, the woman said that over the last three months, she’d had difficulty riding her horse, according to the report.

An MRI revealed a lesion on her spine, at her ninth thoracic vertebra, which is located in the middle of the back, the report said. [8 Awful Parasite Infections That Will Make Your Skin Crawl]

The woman needed surgery to remove the lesion, and tests revealed that it was caused by an infection with Echinococcus granulosus, a small tapeworm that’s found in dogs and some farm animals, including sheep, cattle, goats and pigs.

This tapeworm can cause a disease called cystic echinococcosis, also known as hydatidosis, in which the larvae form cysts that grow slowly in a person’s body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These cysts typically grow in the liver or the lungs, but they can also appear in other parts of the body, including the bones and the central nervous system. However, infections of the bones, including the spinal column, are rare, making up just 0.5 to 4 percent of cases of this disease, according to a 2013 paper on cystic echinococcosis.

The life cycle of Echinococcus granulosus is somewhat complex: The “adult” form of the worm lives in the intestines of dogs and can grow to be 6 millimeters (0.2 inches) long, according to the CDC. Tapeworm eggs are passed in the dogs’ stool, and other farm animals become infected when they ingest food or water that’s contaminated with the tapeworm eggs. Once ingested by farm animals, the eggs develop into larvae, but they cannot develop into adult worms until they are again ingested by dogs (which can happen if dogs are fed slaughtered livestock, according to the CDC.)

Humans become infected with Echinococcus granulosus when they ingest the tapeworm eggs, which can happen if people consume food or water that’s contaminated with stool from infected dogs, according to the CDC. For example, a person might become infected if they consumed plants or berries gathered from fields where infected dogs have been. Humans are considered “accidental” hosts, because they aren’t involved in transmitting the disease back to dogs, according to the World Health Organization. (The worms can’t grow into adults in humans.)

Dr. Lionel Piroth, an infectious-disease specialist at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Dijon, who treated the woman, said that cystic echinococcosis “is very rare in France,” and it wasn’t clear how the woman got the infection. She did not report having any contact with dogs, he said.

One possibility is that the woman could’ve gotten sick by eating vegetables that were contaminated with the parasite, Piroth told Live Science. (If this were the case, the vegetables would’ve been contaminated by an “unknown” dog, he noted.) Adding to the mystery, the woman was the only one in her family to be infected.

In addition to surgery, the woman was treated with an anti-parasitic medication. Nine months later, she had no lingering symptoms of her infection or signs that it was coming back, the report said.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on July 12 to add comments from Dr. Piroth.

Original article on Live Science.

French Farmer Discovered a Rare Mastodon Skull, But Kept It Secret for Years


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French Farmer Discovered a Rare Mastodon Skull, But Kept It Secret for Years

French Farmer Discovered a Rare Mastodon Skull, But Kept It Secret for Years

A farmer found a rare mastodon skull on his property.

Credit: Museum Toulouse

A French farmer received the surprise of a lifetime when he stumbled upon the enormous skull of a long-extinct Pyrenean mastodon, but he kept it to himself for years, the AFP reported on Thursday (July 12).

The small-town farmer, who lives in L’Isle-en-Dodon, France, knew the skull was remarkable and rare, but didn’t want people to know it was on his land. He valued his privacy and feared that his farm would be overrun by “hordes of amateur paleontologists,” the AFP reported.

Fortunately for scientists, the reluctant farmer changed his mind. Two years after finding the fossil, he contacted the Natural History Museum of Toulouse, in France, about his extraordinary find. “It was only when we went there, in 2017, that we realized the significance of the discovery,” the museum’s management told AFP. [Mastodon Bones: Images of an Early Hunt]

Paleontologist Pascal Tassy sitting next to the skull of a long-extinct mastodon on the site where the skull was found by a farmer.

Paleontologist Pascal Tassy sitting next to the skull of a long-extinct mastodon on the site where the skull was found by a farmer.

Credit: Museum Toulouse

Experts identified the skull as Gomphotherium pyrenaicum, a large mastodon that roamed the Pyrenees mountain region between about 11 million and 13 million years ago, reported ScienceAlert. This large herbivore had a body shape similar to modern elephants but had four tusks instead of two: two coming from the bottom jaw and two from the top.

Until now, the only other evidence of this long-extinct species was a few fossil teeth found in the same region in 1857. The farmer’s discovery of this skull is a major scientific contribution, and museum paleontologists were glad he decided to come forward, ScienceAlert reported.

“We’re putting a face on a species which had become almost mythical,” the museum’s curator Pierre Dalous, told AFP.

Museum paleontologists removed the fossil from the farmer’s land and brought it to their lab, where they’re carefully removing the sediment encasing the skull. So far, no other mastodon bones have been found on the farmer’s property. And, there are no reports on whether or not the farmer’s property has been overrun by fossil hunters just yet.

Original article on Live Science.