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4 Women Who Rocked Physics

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When asked to name women who have significantly contributed to science, most people shrug and say, "Marie Curie?" In fact, women have added to our scientific repertoire capabilities no less than nuclear fission and modern day alchemy, among many other discoveries.

1. Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was a quiet, self-effacing Austrian-Jewish woman who has come to be known "the mother of the atomic bomb." After studying under Boltzmann and Planck (yes, that Boltzmann and Planck), she became the acting director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute of Chemistry in Berlin. It was there that, alongside partner Otto Hahn, she noted in an experiment that uranium-238 nuclei split into barium and krypton, along with several neutrons and a pocket of energy. Meitner was the first to describe and name the process-- "nuclear fission"-- and noted the potential for a chain reaction (Keanu Reeves not included). However, she was exiled from Germany shortly after the Anschluss, and so Hahn and two others published the research in 1938. For this, Hahn two other men won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

2. Chien-Shiung Wu

Wu.jpgChien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was born in China and earned her Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley in 1940. At this time, it was considered a dependable rule in matter behavior that identical particles would always act in a way that was consistent and symmetrical. However, upon observing the beta decay of cobalt-60, Wu noticed that the weak interactions between emitted beta particles caused them to strongly prefer to travel in a certain direction "“ roughly equivalent to watching air rush into a balloon of its own accord. With this research, Wu proved that nature is not always naturally symmetrical, upending a formerly watertight law. The Nobel Prize for Physics in 1957 was awarded to researchers of this discovery; Wu was not among their number.

3. Maria Goeppert-Mayer

mayer.jpgMaria Goeppert-Mayer (1906-1972) hailed from Germany and attended the University of Gottingen. After stints working with Born and Planck and teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, Goeppert-Mayer ended up in Chicago working at the Argonne National Laboratory. While there she worked with Edward Teller and Enrico Fermi, learning the ropes of nuclear physics as she went. It was at this time she developed a model of the atomic nucleus, which took the form of shells similar to the atomic shell model. She also discovered that there were certain "magic numbers" of nucleons for which the energy holding them together was less than the preceding number -- for example, it took significantly less energy to hold together 20 nucleons than it did 19 -- and she worked out the supporting mathematics. For this achievement, she won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1963.

4. Harriet Brooks

mcgill.jpgHarriet Brooks (1876-1933) was born in Canada, attended McGill University, and worked as a graduate student under Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford had noticed that radioactive thorium gave off a substance other than radioactive rays, and left it to Brooks to figure out what it was. Brooks identified the "emanation" from thorium as an element in gas form that was, strangely, not thorium. Brooks realized that this meant that one element could, with the right conditions, be used to produce a completely different element. It may sound uncool to discover that alchemy actually works roughly a millennium too late, but on the upside, nuclear transmutation is used today in tokamaks as well as fission power reactors.


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AI Algorithm Tells You the Ingredients in Your Meal Based on a Picture
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Your food photography habit could soon be good for more than just updating your Instagram. As Gizmodo reports, a new AI algorithm is trained to analyze food photos and match them with a list of ingredients and recipes.

The tool was developed by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). To build it, they compiled information from sites like All Recipes and into a database dubbed Recipe1M, according to their paper. With more than a million annotated recipes at its disposal, a neural network then sifted through each one, learning about which ingredients are associated with which types of images along the way.

The result is Pic2Recipe, an algorithm that can deduce key details about a food item just by looking at its picture. Show it a picture of a cookie, for example, and it will tell you it likely contains sugar, butter, eggs, and flour. It will also recommend recipes for something similar pulled from the Recipe1M database.

Pic2Recipe is still a work in progress. While it has had success with simple recipes, more complicated items—like smoothies or sushi rolls, for example—seem to confuse the system. Overall, it suggests recipes with an accuracy rate of about 65 percent.

Researchers see their creation being used as a recipe search engine or as a tool for situations where nutritional information is lacking. “If you know what ingredients went into a dish but not the amount, you can take a photo, enter the ingredients, and run the model to find a similar recipe with known quantities, and then use that information to approximate your own meal,” lead author Nick Hynes told MIT News.

Before taking the project any further, the team plans to present its work at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference in Honolulu later this month.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Dungeons & Dragons Gets a Digital Makeover
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Since the 1970s, players have been constructing elaborate campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons using nothing but paper, pencils, rule books, and 20-sided dice. That simple formula has made D&D the quintessential role-playing game, but the game's publisher thinks it can be improved with a few 21st-century updates. As The Verge reports, Wizards of the Coast is launching a digital toolset meant to enhance the gaming experience.

The tool, called D&D Beyond, isn’t meant to be a replacement for face-to-face gameplay. Rather, it’s designed to save players time and energy that could be better spent developing characters or battling orcs. The resource includes a fifth-edition rule book users can search by keyword. At the start of a new campaign, they can build monsters and characters within the program. And players don’t need to worry about forgetting to bring their notes to a quest—D&D Beyond keeps track of information like items and spells in one convenient location.

"D&D Beyond speaks to the way gamers are able to blend digital tools with the fun of storytelling around the table with your friends,” Nathan Stewart, senior director of Dungeons & Dragons, said in a statement when the concept was first announced. "These tools represent a way forward for D&D.”

This isn’t the first attempt to bring D&D into the digital age; videogames inspired by the fictional world have been produced since the 1980s. Unlike those titles, though, D&D Beyond will still highlight the imagination-fueled role-playing aspect of the game when it launches August 15.

[h/t The Verge]


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