Ph.D. in Computer Science
Welcome to the November 3, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Academy Student's Math Project Wins National STEM Competition
Albuquerque Journal
Pilar Martinez
October 30, 2021

Akilan Sankaran, a ninth grader at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico, won the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize at the Broadcom MASTERS science and engineering contest. Sankaran received the award for a computer program he wrote that calculates antiprime numbers that are over 1,000 digits, along with the creation of a new class of functions to measure a number's divisibility. The program could enable software and apps to run faster. This marks the first time in the competition's 11-year history that a student with a math project has won the top prize.

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Afghan Girls Learn, Code 'Underground' to Bypass Taliban Curbs
Annie Banerji; Emma Batha; Shadi Khan Saif
October 27, 2021

Hundreds of girls and women in Afghanistan continue to learn, either online or in hidden makeshift classrooms, since the Taliban closed their schools after taking over the country in August. Fereshteh Forough, CEO and founder of Code to Inspire, Afghanistan's first all-female coding academy, has rolled out encrypted virtual classrooms and online course content. Forough also provided laptops and Internet packages to about 100 students. Said Forough, "You can be locked at home (and) explore the virtual world without any hesitation, without worrying about geographical boundaries. That's the beauty of technology."

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The tool permits the scheduling of intensive computing for hours during which renewable energy is used, to limit carbon emissions. Smart Scheduling for Big Computing Tasks Cuts Emissions Up to a Third
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
November 1, 2021

Researchers at Germany's Technical University of Berlin (TUB) found that shifting large computing jobs to nights or weekends can lower carbon emissions from datacenters by as much as a third. They also recommend scheduling the jobs at times when renewable sources account for the greatest portion of the energy mix. The researchers performed simulations for running data-intensive computing during a 16-hour window, and compared the results to a baseline test in which tasks were run each night at 1 a.m. They found that running data-intensive computing during that window would reduce annual carbon emissions by 7.4% in Great Britain, 11.2% in Germany, and more than 33% in California. TUB’s Philipp Wiesner said government policies could incentivize a similar system to reduce carbon emissions.

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The use of an ensemble of conformations allows researchers to account for protein flexibility in molecular docking studies. Rice Web Server Helps Identify COVID-19 Drug Candidates
Rice University News
Mike Williams
November 1, 2021

Rice University researchers launched an online portal to help scientists screen COVID-19 drug candidates that might target specific proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Rice's Lydia Kavraki and multi-institutional colleagues have posted a "user-friendly" Web server for screening drug candidates virtually in relation to known protein-binding pockets on the pathogen. The project incorporates models of main protease, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, and Papain-like protease for ensemble docking via the Docking INCrementally (DINC)-COVID Web server. The approach enables researchers to screen and score candidate ligands, or reactive molecules, against different conformations of SARS-CoV-2 proteins and their binding pockets. Kavraki said, "DINC-COVID has already been used by about 500 researchers in 16 different countries, while our earlier Web server DINC has been accessed by 11,000 users."

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Seeds that are specially coated to enhance their ability to take root are being dropped by drones to offset deforestation. Can Seeds Planted by Drones Spawn New Forests?
The New York Times
Rachel Chaundler
October 31, 2021

Spanish startup CO2 Revolution aims to use big data analytics and drones to drop millions of enhanced seeds for trees native to Spain's forests over inaccessible, deforested areas, to speed up the process of reforestation. Since CO2 Revolution was founded in February 2018, the startup's founders have assembled a team of microbiologists, engineers, and software programmers. Forestry engineer Jaime Olaizola expects half of the air-sown iseeds distributed this year to grow into trees, adding, “If 10% take root, it’s a success.” The iseeds are covered in a clay coating that can contain plant extracts to ward off rodents, dried hydrogel to retain humidity, fungi to increase defenses, and Bohemian truffle to capture nutrients and stimulate root development.

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$15 Million to University of Utah, $25 Million to Utah Valley University Will Expand CS Programs
Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
Courtney Tanner
October 31, 2021

The Price family has donated $15 million to the University of Utah (UoU) College of Engineering to start construction on a $120-million building to house computer science students. The new building will incorporate a financial technology center and a space focused on cybersecurity, and offer more opportunities to learn about artificial intelligence and robotics. At Utah Valley University (UVU), Qualtrics co-founder Scott Smith and his wife Karen have donated $25 million for a new building to expand the university’s computer science (CS) facilities on its Orem campus. Both schools feel growing and creating space for CS and engineering students will enable them to excel and interest more in a field eager for software programmers and technicians.

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Sneaky Trick Could Allow Attackers to Hide 'Invisible' Vulnerabilities in Code
Liam Tung
November 1, 2021

The Rust Security Response working group has flagged an obscure vulnerability as a general bug affecting all code written in popular languages that use the Unicode component. Ross Anderson at the U.K.'s Cambridge University said one hack exploits Unicode directionality to effectively control characters embedded in comments and strings to rearrange source code characters and change its logic. Unicode supports left-to-right and right-to-left languages via bidirectional override, an invisible feature called a codepoint. Anderson and Microsoft's Nicholas Boucher found they could be used to reorder how source code is displayed in certain editors and code-review tools. "If an adversary successfully commits targeted vulnerabilities into open source code by deceiving human reviewers, downstream software will likely inherit the vulnerability," they warn, recommending developers upgrade to Rust version 1.56.1.

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Understanding Finite-Temperature Quantum Effects Better with ML
RIKEN (Japan)
November 1, 2021

Theoretical physicists at Japan's RIKEN institute have developed two machine learning (ML) techniques to explore finite-temperature interaction between atoms and electrons, which will inform the future development of quantum computing devices. The techniques employ neural networks to simulate thermal effects in quantum many-body systems. The team first applied the deep Boltzmann machine process to generate a mathematical description of a Gibbs state system, then optimized the network's parameters through stochastic sampling. RIKEN's Yusuke Nomura said, "The ultimate goal of our approach is to reveal complex finite-temperature phenomena that remain unexplored in a wide range of fields, including condensed-matter physics, atomic physics, statistical mechanics, and quantum optics."

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For Black Women, Online Prediction Tool Could Reduce Breast Cancer Deaths
Boston University
Kat J. McAlpine
October 26, 2021

A risk prediction model tailored specifically to Black women has been developed by researchers at Boston University (BU) for use in primary care settings to identify those at higher-than-average risk of breast cancer. The model was built using epidemiological data from three case-control studies of Black women from various regions of the U.S. and tested using 15 years of follow-up data from 51,798 participants in BU's Black Women's Health Study. BU's Julie Palmer said the new tool “can be easily used by primary care providers to guide screening recommendations and/or referral for genetic testing, particularly for young Black women, thus leading to earlier diagnosis and reduced mortality."

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A drone helps ignite and consume unburned fuel near the edge of a wildfire. Firefighting Robots Go Autonomous
Scientific American
Jane Braxton Little
October 29, 2021

Firefighting robots can enter buildings that human firefighters cannot, due to high temperatures and toxic smoke. Most are controlled remotely, but researchers are working to develop firefighting robots that can make decisions autonomously. New York University's Giuseppe Loianno said the students who won the 2020 Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge built an autonomous robot using off-the-shelf materials, demonstrating that one can be built for as little as $10,000. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Fire Department's (LAFD) human-controlled robot, Robotics Systems 3, has been used alongside firefighters in buildings with collapsing roofs, with cameras to show the direction of water spray and help locate potential victims. LAFD's Wade White said, "It will never replace firefighters," but can be a part of effective firefighting strategies that do not risk the lives of human firefighters.

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Words Used in Text-Mining Research Carry Bias
Cornell Chronicle
Louis DiPietro
October 28, 2021

Cornell University researchers found word lists packaged and shared to quantify bias in online texts often include words or "seeds" containing inherent biases and stereotypes. For example, the presence of the seed term "mom" in a text analysis investigating gender in domestic work would skew results female. Cornell's Maria Antoniak said, "The goal isn't to undermine findings, but to help researchers think through potential risks of seed sets used for bias detection." She said certain seeds are undocumented or located deep within model and dataset code, and she and her co-authors analyzed an online book review community to understand how users refine and redefine literary genres. Antoniak recommends digital humanities and natural language processing researchers trace the origins of seed sets and features, manually review and test them, and document all seeds and rationales.

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Circumboreal forest biomass density mapped at high spatial resolution with NASA’s ICESat-2. NASA, ESA Partnership Releases Platform for Open-Source Science in the Cloud
October 28, 2021

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have developed the Multi-Mission Algorithm and Analysis Platform (MAAP), an open-source tool for analyzing Earth science data in the cloud. MAAP offers seamless access to Earth science data from NASA and ESA so researchers can collaborate to develop algorithms and code. It also enables them to analyze and visualize large datasets from satellites, the International Space Station, and other sources. MAAP initially will focus on measurements of aboveground biomass to help determine the size and carbon content of Earth's forests, to help manage global climate change. Additional data sources to address a broader range of Earth science questions will be added to MAAP Version 2, due to be released in the spring.

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LLNL Team Develops Real-Time Diagnostic for Liquid Metal Jetting 3D Printing
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
November 1, 2021

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have engineered a real-time diagnostic tool for Liquid Metal Jetting (LMJ) three-dimensional (3D) printing. The tool utilizes low-frequency, electromagnetic near-field detection to record data on metal droplet dynamics which, when integrated with simulations, yields data on droplet features based solely on signal amplitude and phase. The researchers said the ability to characterize droplets from just one parameter reduces the volume of required data, ensuring practical processing and feedback of longer-term LMJ prints. LLNL's Tammy Chang said, "We could replace computationally expensive high-speed, high-resolution optical diagnostics to enable real-time performance evaluation and feedback control, to ensure high-quality printed metal parts."

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