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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Physicists solve a 140-year-old mystery

Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.

Carrier-resolved photo-Hall effect.

Credit: IBM
  • Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
  • The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
  • The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.


New research, led by IBM, made a breakthrough in resolving a mystery that has baffled physicists for 140 years. It promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices that use them.

The invention of semiconductors was instrumental in bringing on our digital age. You can find these electricity-carrying substances in your smartphone and computer. An improvement in this field could have major ramifications for future gadgetry.

In 1879, the American physicist Edward Hall discovered the Hall effect, showing that you can measure how electricity in a conductor flows. He found that because a magnetic field deflects the movement of electronic charges in a conductor, you can measure the amount of that deflection. This number will describe the voltage perpendicular (or transverse) to the flow of charge.

Modern researchers recognized, that you can also make Hall effect measurements using light in so-called photo-Hall experiments that generate multiple carriers (or electron-hole pairs) in superconductors. Unfortunately, while the Hall voltage provides crucial information about these charge carriers in a semiconductor, it is limited to the properties of the dominant (or majority) charge carrier, explain contributing authors Oki Gunawan and Doug Bishop in a post on IBM's research blog.

Figuring out the information about both the majority and minority charge carriers, which impact changes in conductivity, would be key to advancing applications utilizing light, including optoelectronic devices like solar cells, LEDs, and lasers as well as artificial intelligence tech.

Now a new formula and technique for getting both the majority and minority carrier information was developed by researchers from KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), KRICT (Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology), Duke University, and IBM.

The method, dubbed Carrier-Resolved Photo Hall (CRPH), measurement, can simultaneously extract information about the majority and minority carriers like density and mobility, carrier lifetimes and lengths of diffusion. In fact, compared to the three parameters of measurement traditionally derived by engaging the Hall effect, the novel technique can get up to seven parameters of information.

Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine

The approach also takes advantage of a tool developed by IBM called the parallel dipole line (PDL) trap, which generates an oscillating magnetic field. It works as an ideal system for photo-Hall experiments because of the large amount of space it allocates for sample illumination.

If you'd like to dive more into the subject, check out the new study published in Nature magazine.

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Personal Growth

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

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