SCI COMMUN### Astronomy Talk about a sharper image: A recently constructed imaging sensor array (above) that will be used when the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile opens in 2021 has captured a world-record 3200 megapixels in a single shot. It recorded a variety of objects, including a Romanesco broccoli, at that resolution, which is detailed enough to show a golf ball clearly from 24 kilometers away. The sensor array's focal plane is more than 60 centimeters wide, much larger than the 3.5-centimeter sensors on high-end consumer digital cameras, says the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which built the array. When the telescope, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, begins operating next year, it will image the entire southern sky every few nights for 10 years, cataloguing billions of galaxies each time. The surveys will shed light on mysterious dark energy and dark matter, which make up most of the universe's mass. With its repeat coverage, the telescope will make the equivalent of an astronomical movie in order to discover objects that suddenly appear, move, or go bang. ### Biomedicine Corticosteroids given orally or intravenously should be the standard therapy for people with “severe and critical” COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in new guidelines issued last week—but they should not be given to patients with mild cases. In June, a large U.K. trial named Recovery first showed that the steroid dexamethasone cut deaths among ventilated COVID-19 patients by 35% after 28 days of treatment. That result was confirmed by a WHO-sponsored metaanalysis published in JAMA on 2 September that included Recovery and six other studies testing dexamethasone, as well as two other corticosteroids—hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone. Many countries, including the United States, had already included corticosteroids in their national treatment guidelines. But WHO's recommendations will be important as a signal to low- and middle-income countries, says Martin Landray, one of Recovery's principal investigators. ### Public health COVID-19 virus particles drifting through a Chinese apartment building's plumbing may have infected some residents, a study has found, raising fears of yet another way that the disease could spread. The case echoes a 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that spread through the pipes of a Hong Kong apartment building. Such transmission is difficult to prove. But scientists suspect that aerosolized coronavirus may have spread from the bathroom of a Guangzhou family of five through a floor drain and into the building's wastewater pipes. Two middle-aged couples living in apartments above the family later contracted COVID-19. The study appeared last week in Annals of Internal Medicine . ### Conservation A plan to reforest a cross-continental strip of Africa to hold back expansion of the Sahara Desert and the semi-arid Sahel has made little progress—even though the project is halfway toward its planned completion date in 2030, a report says. Participating countries have planted only 4 million hectares of trees and other vegetation for the Great Green Wall, well short of the 100 million planned to stretch 7000 kilometers from Senegal to Djibouti, says the report by the Climatekos consulting firm, presented on 7 September at a meeting of the countries' ministers. Supporters predicted the project would also create jobs and capture carbon dioxide. Scientists have said creating grasslands may be more effective than planting trees to resist desertification, The Guardian reported. ### Philanthropy Rice University last week received a $100 million gift for materials science. It is the largest to date in that discipline recorded in a database of gifts for engineering maintained by The Chronicle of Philanthropy . The funding will be used to pair materials science with artificial intelligence to advance the design and manufacturing of new materials, for applications that include sustainable water systems, energy, and telecommunications. The donor was the Robert A. Welch Foundation, which supports chemistry research in Texas. ### Conservation Scientists hailed a move last week by the European Union to ban the use of lead ammunition near wetlands and waterways. The European Chemicals Agency has estimated that as many as 1.5 million aquatic birds die annually from lead poisoning because they swallow some of the 5000 tons of lead shot that land in European wetlands each year. Its persistence in the environment is also considered a human health hazard. The EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) committee approved the ban after years of controversy. The German delegation, which had abstained in a July vote on the issue, changed its stance to support the measure after a letter from 75 scientists and petitions signed by more than 50,000 people called for it to do so. The European Commission and the European Parliament are expected to formally approve the ban, allowing it to go into effect in 2022. REACH may debate a complete ban on lead ammunition and fishing weights later this year. ### Chemical weapons Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition politician, was poisoned with a nerve agent “identified unequivocally in tests” as a Novichok, an exotic Sovietera chemical weapon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on 2 September. Navalny fell ill on 20 August after drinking a cup of tea at a Siberian airport. He was flown to Berlin and this week emerged from a coma. German military scientists at the Bundeswehr Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Munich haven't released details of their tests, but they had clear targets to hunt for: Like other nerve agents, Novichoks bind to the enzymes acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase, creating a telltale conjugate compound. Novichok agents came to wide public notice in 2018 after one was used in an assassination attempt against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom. The attack prompted nations to push for a crackdown on Novichok agents, and last year they were added to the list of toxic chemicals regulated under the Chemical Weapons Convention. ### COVID-19 In one of the largest surveys of Americans since COVID-19 lockdowns began, a majority reported having some symptoms of depression, up from one-quarter in a prepandemic survey. The prevalence of symptoms graded as moderate to severe tripled, to 27.8% of respondents. A research team compared results from two surveys used to screen for depression: one administered to more than 5000 people in 2017 and 2018 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the other given to 1400 people in early April by NORC at the University of Chicago. Prevalence of depression symptoms rose in all demographic groups and especially among individuals facing financial problems, job loss, or family deaths. The increases in self-reported symptoms are larger than those recorded in previous surveys after large-scale traumatic events in other countries, including outbreaks of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, H1N1, and Ebola, the authors write in the 2 September issue of JAMA Network Open . ### A U.S. vaccine leader's vow: Politics stays out “I would immediately resign if there is undue interference in this process.” So said Moncef Slaoui, scientific director of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. effort to quickly develop a vaccine for COVID-19, in an interview with Science . To date, Warp Speed has invested more than $10 billion in eight vaccine candidates. Three are now in large-scale efficacy trials, and interim reviews of their data by independent safety and monitoring boards could reveal evidence of protection as early as October. Slaoui, an immunologist who formerly headed vaccine development at GlaxoSmithKline, answered questions from Science last week about how Warp Speed operates and addressed concerns that political pressure before the 3 November U.S. presidential election may lead to an emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine before it is proven safe and effective. (On 8 September, nine companies developing vaccines for the pandemic coronavirus pledged not to seek a premature authorization.) “It needs to be absolutely shielded from the politics,” Slaoui says. “Trust me, there will be no [authorization request] filed if it's not right. … The science is what is going to guide us. … And at the end of the day, the facts and the data will be made available to everyone who wants to look at them and will be transparent.” Slaoui defended Warp Speed's decision to not consider vaccines made of whole, inactivated viruses, a time-tested approach. China has three such vaccines in efficacy trials, but he worries they could cause serious side effects in people who receive them. Slaoui also said if it had been his choice, the United States would have participated in COVAX, a mechanism for countries to invest collectively in vaccines and share them; the Trump administration declined to join. The full interview—one of Slaoui's most detailed since taking the job in May—is at .
The announcement was one of several at the Fujitsu Forum in Munich to feature AI developments. Fujitsu Intelligence Technology brings together the company's AI work in Japan and around the world to run it from Vancouver, Canada. The area has many research institutions such as the University of Toronto engaged in AI and quantum computing research, as well as startup technology companies. The government there is pushing the country towards AI. "In Vancouver and across British Columbia, Fujitsu will have the opportunity to collaborate with our state-of-the-art universities and research facilities to discover new ways that artificial intelligence can help solve local and global challenges," said John Horgan, Premier of the Province of British Columbia.
"I'm used to bad news," Merkel said, according to a participant's recollection. The German chancellor had just returned from China, where she spent a day in the Shenzhen tech hub visiting companies like ICarbonX, an artificial intelligence (AI) startup focused on disease detection. A trained physicist, Merkel had been impressed by what she saw. The money and manpower China poured into AI left the 64-year-old with little doubt that the country viewed the technology as its key to becoming a global superpower. "We really do have to walk the extra mile to make sure we're not left behind" -- Jörg Bienert, president of a new association representing more than 50 AI startups Germany, by contrast, had no plan for AI. So on her return to Berlin, Merkel met the country's top 32 AI experts at the chancellery to hear how the country was doing. Their assessment was sobering: Germany, they said, has a good track record in AI research, but it suffers from problems ranging from brain drain to a weak record in transforming basic research into real-world applications that are hampering its ability to compete in a new technology race. After three hours, Merkel left concerned -- and made her worries public a month later. "For centuries, or let's say since the age of Enlightenment, we in Europe were used to being the first ones to come up with technological innovations," she told a tech conference.
It has long been claimed that women are better at multi-tasking than men. While some women relish the accolade, others suspect some males use it as an excuse for avoiding work. Now scientists have found strong proof that men are inferior at juggling two activities - at least compared to women under 60. Men asked to carry out complex thinking while walking on a treadmill without handrails were found to stop swinging their right arm while they walk. But women under 60 – described as'pre-menopausal' – were'surprisingly' not affected with both arms swung freely as before.