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Researchers Develop ‘White Noise’ Smell

Scientists have discovered a new smell, but you may have to go to a laboratory to experience it yourself.

The smell is dubbed “olfactory white,” because it is the nasal equivalent of white noise, researchers report today (Nov. 19) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Just as white noise is a mixture of many different sound frequencies and white light is a mixture of many different wavelengths, olfactory white is a mixture of many different smelly compounds.

In fact, the key to olfactory white is not the compounds themselves, researchers found, but the fact that there are a lot of them.

“[T]he more components there were in each of two mixtures, the more similar the smell of those two mixtures became, even though the mixtures had no components in common,” they wrote.

White smell

Almost any given smell in the real world comes from a mixture of compounds. Humans are good at telling these mixtures apart (it’s hard to mix up the smell of coffee with the smell of roses, for example), but we’re bad at picking individual components out of those mixtures. (Quick, sniff your coffee mug and report back all the individual compounds that make that roasted smell. Not so easy, huh?)

Mixing multiple wavelegths that span the human visual range equally makes white light; mixing multiple frequencies that span the range of human hearing equally makes the whooshing hum of white noise. Neurobiologist Noam Sobel from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and his colleagues wanted to find out whether a similar phenomenon happens with smelling. [7 New Flavors Your Tongue May Taste]

In a series of experiments, they exposed participants to hundreds of equally mixed smells, some containing as few as one compound and others containing up to 43 components. They first had 56 participants compare mixtures of the same number of compounds with one another. For example, a person might compare a 40-compound mixture with a 40-compound mixture, neither of which had any components in common.

This experiment revealed that the more components in a mixture, the worse participants were at telling them apart. A four-component mixture smells less similar to other four-component mixtures than a 43-component mixture smells to other 43-component mixtures.

Categorizing compounds

The researchers seemed on track to finding the olfactory version of white noise. They set up a new experiment to confirm the find. In this experiment, they first created four 40-component mixtures. Twelve participants were then given one of the mixtures to sniff and told that it was called “Laurax,” a made-up word. Three of the participants were told compound 1 was Laurax, three were told it was compound 2, three were told it was compound 3, and the rest were told it was compound 4.

After three days of sniffing their version of Laurax in the lab, the participants were given four new scents and four scent labels, one of which was Laurax. They were asked to label each scent with the most appropriate label.

The researchers found that the label “Laurax” was most popular for scents with more compounds. In fact, the more compounds in a mixture, the more likely participants were to call it Laurax. The label went to mixtures with more than 40 compounds 57.1 percent of the time.

Another experiment replicated the first, except that it allowed for participants to label one of the scents “other,” a way to ensure “Laurax” wasn’t just a catch-all. Again, scents with more compounds were more likely to get the Laurax label.

The meaning of these results, the researchers wrote, is that olfactory white is a distinct smell, caused not by specific compounds but by certain mixes of compounds. The key is that the compounds are all of equal intensity and that they span the full range of human smells. That’s why roses and coffee, both of which have many smell compounds, don’t smell anything alike: Their compounds are unequally mixed and don’t span a large range of smells.

In other words, our brains treat smells as a single unit, not as a mixture of compounds to break down, analyze and put back together again. If they didn’t, they’d never see mixtures of completely different compounds as smelling the same.

Perhaps the next burning question is: What does olfactory white smell like? Unfortunately, the scent is so bland as to defy description. Participants rated it right in the middle of the scale for both pleasantness and edibility.

“The best way to appreciate the qualities of olfactory white is to smell it,” the researchers wrote.

Science & Technology

UK abandons Huawei equipment in 5G networks

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will succumb to the pressure of deputies from the Conservative Party headed by him and, starting next year, will prohibit the use of equipment of the Chinese company Huawei in the deployment of 5G networks in the kingdom.

According to the publication, a ban on the use of equipment of the Chinese company in the kingdom may enter into force in 2021

This was reported by the newspaper The Daily Telegraph, according to which the decision of the government can be announced on Tuesday.

The publication writes that on Monday 60 conservative deputies called on the prime minister to indicate the date of refusal of the equipment of the Chinese corporation, and without delaying the matter. According to the article, Johnson discussed this issue on July 13 with the Minister of Digital Technologies, Culture, Media and Sports of the United Kingdom, Oliver Dowden. On Tuesday, this topic will be submitted to the National Security Council, which will make the final decision on the future of Huawei in the organization of the new generation of British telecommunication networks. Immediately after this, Dowden should talk about the position of the government during his speech in parliament.

As the publication clarifies, opponents of cooperation with a Chinese company from among the Tories do not doubt their victory. Otherwise, they threatened to vote against the government telecommunications bill. Considering that the ruling party’s superiority in the House of Commons is about 80 votes, it is possible that they would be able, with the help of other deputies, to achieve the task and reconsider the January decision of the Cabinet of Ministers. Then the British government, despite warnings from the United States, agreed to restrict Huawei to deploy 5G networks in the kingdom at a level of no more than 35%, with tight controls and outside the “critical critical national infrastructure” facilities.

US President Donald Trump warned the British leadership that the cooperation of the kingdom with Huawei threatens the country’s security. The American side pointed out that the use of equipment of the corporation of China in the British infrastructure could impede the exchange of information through the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

In the United States itself, Huawei has been charged with 23 counts against Huawei, its subsidiaries, as well as its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, including industrial espionage and violation of US sanctions against Iran. Washington, waging a trade war with Beijing, calls on its allies to abandon Huawei equipment. Huawei Corporation was founded in 1987. It produces telecommunications equipment, as well as consumer devices, smartphones. The company’s products and services are available in more than 170 countries. She denies all of Washington’s accusations.

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Science & Technology

Facebook patented hand tracking system

Facebook patented hand tracking with finger emitters.

Facebook Technologies / USPTO, 2020

Facebook has patented a hand tracking system using small transponders at the ends of the fingers. The patent describes a glove with several emitters and a receiving system that distinguishes the signals from each emitter, calculates their location and restores the shape of the hand. The Patently Apple website drew attention to the patent.

Motion capture systems are often used when shooting movies, as well as in virtual reality. There are several standard tracking methods. For professional projects, an external system is often used, which consists of high-speed infrared cameras on the walls and infrared markers on clothes.

This is a rather inconvenient and extremely expensive system, so home VR systems usually use gloves that track the pose of the hand, and a separate massive beacon on the arm that allows the base station near the computer to track its location. Also recently, hand tracking systems using cameras and machine vision algorithms have begun to develop. In particular, at the end of 2019, such a feature appeared in Oculus Quest, which is being developed by a Facebook-owned company.

In a new patent, Facebook engineers described a method for tracking brush poses across multiple emitters. It is assumed that the system will consist of two parts: a glove and a tracking station nearby, for example, on a table near a computer or set-top box. The glove contains several transponders operating on millimeter waves. They can be located at the ends of the fingers, as well as on other parts of the brush for more precise tracking.

System diagram Facebook Technologies / USPTO, 2020

The tracking station has several antennas. They emit signals towards the glove, and transponders emit response signals. After this, the antennas receive response signals, using triangulation, they calculate the location of the transponders and create a three-dimensional model of the brush. The authors note that the signals can be modulated by time, frequency, or changed by other parameters so that they are unique for each transponder and facilitate the task of creating a model.

Glove diagram with transponders Facebook Technologies / USPTO, 2020

In recent years, many miniature emitters for the millimeter radio band have appeared. Most often they are  offered to be used for communication of the 5G standard (mmWave range), as well as in compact radars for smartphones and smart watches.

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Science & Technology

Do Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations extract energy from black holes?

Researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow in the UK have proven a half-century hypothesis that suggests that technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations could potentially extract energy from spinning black holes. An article by researchers is published in the journal Nature Physics.

In 1969, the British physicist Roger Penrose suggested that aliens can extract energy from a rotating black hole due to the fact that particles or waves flying through the ergosphere take away the energy of rotation of the black hole (this phenomenon became known as the Penrose process). 

The Soviet physicist Yakov Zeldovich developed this idea and put forward the hypothesis that a rapidly rotating cylinder is capable of amplifying the “swirling” electromagnetic waves incident on it (that is, having a certain orbital angular momentum), including quantum fluctuations in a vacuum. 

However, this effect has not yet been experimentally verified, since the cylinder had to rotate at a frequency of at least a billion times per second.

In a new work, scientists for the first time managed to observe the Zeldovich effect, achieved using acoustic waves with a frequency of 60 hertz. 

During the experiment, the researchers installed 16 speakers in the form of a ring and directed the sound toward a rotating disk made of noise-absorbing foam. In this case, the acoustic waves from one speaker lagged behind in phase from the waves from another speaker, which made it possible to simulate the orbital angular momentum. Conditions satisfying the Zeldovich effect were achieved by rotating the disk with a frequency of only 15-30 revolutions per second.

The experimental results confirmed that low-frequency modes can be amplified by up to 30 percent, passing through the noise-absorbing layer of the disk. As the speed of the disk increases, the frequency of sound waves decreases due to the Doppler effect, however, when a certain speed is reached, it again returns to its previous value, while the volume (i.e. the amplitude) increases. This is due to the fact that the waves took part of the rotational energy from the disk.

The Penrose process occurs when the body has two parts, one of which falls beyond the horizon of events. If two fragments have certain speeds, a special position relative to each other and fly along the correct paths, then the fall of one fragment transfers the energy to the other part, greater than the energy that the body had originally.

 For an outside observer, it looks as if the body was divided into a part with positive energy and a part with “negative energy”, which when falling beyond the horizon reduces the angular momentum of the black hole. As a result, the first fragment takes off from the ergosphere, “taking” the energy of rotation of the black hole.

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