Daily briefing: ‘Feynman’s sprinkler’ spin mystery solved

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    Daily briefing: ‘Feynman’s sprinkler’ spin mystery solved


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    This panoramic photo of Paepalanthus flowers under the Milky Way in Brazil’s Chapada dos Veadeiros national park was a winner of a photography contest focusing on the natural world. To capture the shot, landscape photographer Marcio Cabral illuminated the flowers with a lamp and used a camera specialized for astrophotography.See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

    Nature | Leisurely scroll

    Brain-computer-interface company Neuralink has reportedly implanted its ‘brain-reading’ device into a person for the first time. The implant is designed to record and decode individual neurons’ activity, with the aim of allowing a person with severe paralysis to control, for example, a robotic arm. Experts are cautiously excited: this is the first fully wireless device of its kind, and it has more brain connections than other systems. There is frustration about Neuralink’s lack of transparency: there’s little information about the study and a tweet by the company’s founder, controversial entrepreneur Elon Musk, is the only confirmation that the trial has begun.

    Nature | 6 min read

    Israel’s plan to flood underground tunnels in Gaza with seawater could reduce freshwater supplies in an area where safe drinking water is already scarce, warn some researchers. The Israeli military has begun to inject ‘high-flow’ seawater into the network of Hamas-built tunnels. It says that locations were chosen so that “groundwater in the area would not be compromised”. There are also concerns that flooding the tunnels could endanger the approximately 130 remaining Israeli hostages who were abducted by Hamas in its attacks of 7 October 2023.

    Nature | 5 min read

    A building in Paris once used by chemist Marie Skłodowska-Curie to store radioactive materials will be moved, rather than demolished, following an outcry over plans to build a cancer-research centre on the site. “It will be dismantled and reassembled stone by stone a few dozen metres away,” says French culture minister Rachida Dati. Reports that Curie’s laboratory was facing the wrecking ball were based on a misrepresentation of the building’s significance, say the Curie Institute’s scientists. “Her lab is still there, it is maintained, we are not going to touch it,” says Raphaël Rodriguez, a chemical biologist at the Curie Institute who is set to co-direct the new centre. “By doing cutting-edge research, we are maintaining the rich legacy of Marie Curie’s excellence in research and medicine.”

    Nature | 4 min read

    Civil servants at the Brazilian government’s environmental agencies have stopped field operations to demand more resources and better pay. “Our responsibilities increase while the number of servants decreases, and things get more difficult as work piles up,” says Alexandre Gontijo from the Brazilian Forest Service. Researchers in Brazil support the movement and are calling on the government to invest in its workers. If demands aren’t met, the workers might halt work altogether, which could also stop research that helps with environmental policymaking.

    Nature | 6 min read

    Image of the week

    Video of an S-shaped sprinkler apparatus sucking in water, lit up green against a black background.

    Scientists revealed the flow of water inside a sprinkler in suction mode.Credit: NYU’s Applied Math Lab

    In normal operation, an S-shaped lawn sprinkler rotates because of the ‘jets’ of water shooting from its nozzles. But if the sprinkler is underwater and sucking in water, which way does it spin? The riddle of ‘Feynman’s sprinkler’ was popularized by physicist Richard Feynman. “The answer is perfectly clear at first sight,” he wrote in his memoir Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. “The trouble was, some guy would think it was perfectly clear one way, and another guy would think it was perfectly clear the other way.”

    The complexities of flow and turbulence mean that past experiments have given inconclusive or contradictory results (or, in Feynman’s case, broken glass and a thorough soaking). Now, researchers have carefully designed a sprinkler to remove confounding effects and found that the underwater sprinkler rotates in the opposite direction to the normal one, but unsteadily, and about 50 times slower. Detailed observations backed up by mathematical modelling suggest that a weak jet effect inside the device dominates the sprinkler’s motion. (ArsTechnica | 3 min read)

    Reference: Physical Review Letters paper

    Features & opinion

    People with cancer are missing out on drugs that could help because of outdated naming conventions, argue five cancer researchers. Cancers are currently classified based on their organ of origin, such as lung, breast, kidney or brain cancer. However, increasingly drugs are targeting gene mutations that are shared across many cancer types. And currently, these drugs must be sequentially trialled on each cancer type, meaning that many people who might benefit have to wait years to access the drug. “The community urgently needs to shift from using organ-based classifications of cancer to using molecular-based ones,” write oncologist Fabrice André and his co-authors. “This will require radical changes in how medical oncology is structured, conducted and taught.”

    Nature | 12 min read

    LOSING LIVES: timeline showing the approval dates for olaparid use to treat metastatic cancer in different parts of the body.

    Sources: BRCA–PARP: H. E. Bryant et al. Nature 434, 913–917 (2005); H. Farmer et al. Nature 434, 917–921 (2005). Olaparib trial: P. C. Fong et al. N. Engl. J. Med. 361, 123–134 (2009). Ovarian approval: G. Kim et al. Clin. Cancer Res. 21, 4257–4261 (2015). Breast: https://go.nature.com/3STQGSU. Pancreas: https://go.nature.com/3SHNTEJ. Prostate: https://go.nature.com/4267RUJ

    Digital tools that ease collaboration should be adopted more often by academics, say two medical students with expertise in data science. They recommend:

    Shared calendars for internal scheduling and Calendly for external meetings

    Collaborative editing software, such as Airtable for data, GitHub for code, and Google Docs for text

    Visual task-tracking tools such as kanban boards

    Software that creates virtual ‘whiteboards’ or screen recordings of step-by-step tasks

    Nature | 6 min read

    Reality “is far more interesting and wonderful” than the simplistic idea that “cells are computers and genes are their code”, says science writer Philip Ball in his new book, How Life Works. He argues that our genes are no simple blueprint, and things often portrayed as fixed — such as the lock-and-key fit of a protein and its target — actually change according to a myriad of factors.

    Nature | 5 min read

    Quote of the day

    The best aspect of wearing a virtual-reality headset can be taking it off, says computer scientist Jaron Lanier, who coined the term ‘virtual reality’ in 1987. (The New Yorker | 13 min read)

    Last week, Leif Penguinson was hiding in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Did you find the penguin? When you’re ready, here’s the answer.

    Thanks for reading,

    Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

    With contributions by Katrina Krämer, Smriti Mallapaty and Sarah Tomlin

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