Tag Archives: #vacuum

Device Mimics Life’s First Steps in Outer Space (Astronomy)

Called VENUS, the device will give scientists an unprecedented ability to study how molecules form in the icy clouds of space.

A device developed by scientists at the CY Cergy Paris University and Paris Observatory promises insight into how the building blocks of life form in outer space.

Abdellahi Sow uses the VENUS apparatus, which offers researchers insight into how life can form in space. ©Emanuele Congiu

In an article published in Review of Scientific Instruments, by AIP Publishing, the scientists detail how VENUS — an acronym of the French phrase “Vers de Nouvelles Syntheses,” which means “toward new syntheses” — mimics how molecules come together in the freezing darkness of interstellar space.

“We try to simulate how complex organic molecules are formed in such a harsh environment,” said Emanuele Congiu, one of the authors and an astrophysicist at the observatory. “Observatories can see a lot of molecules in space. What we do not understand yet, or fully, is how they formed in this harsh environment.”

VENUS has a chamber designed to replicate the strong vacuum of space, while holding a frigid temperature that is set lower than minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit (10 kelvins). It uses up to five beams to deliver atoms or molecules onto a tiny sliver of ice without disturbing that environment.

That process, Congiu said, replicates how molecules form on the ice that sits atop tiny dust particles found inside interstellar clouds. VENUS is the first device to do the replication with more than three beams, which lets researchers simulate more complicated interactions.

Over the past 50 years, nearly 200 different molecular species have been discovered in the star-forming regions of space. Some of them, the so-called “prebiotic species,” are believed by scientists to be involved in the processes that lead to the early forms of life.

A key use of the VENUS device will be working in concert with scientists who discover molecular reactions in space but need a fuller understanding of what they have observed. It specifically mentions NASA’s launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled for 2021. The largest and most powerful space telescope ever launched, it is expected to dramatically expand scientists’ knowledge of the universe.

“What we can do in the lab in one day takes thousands of years in space,” Congiu said. “Our work in the lab can complement the wealth of data that comes from the space observatories. Otherwise, astronomers would not be able to interpret all of their observations. Researchers who make observations can ask us to simulate a certain reaction, to see if what they think they see is real or not.”

References: Emanuele Congiu, Abdellahi Sow, Thanh Nguyen, Saoud Baouche, and Francois Dulieu, “A new multi-beam apparatus for the study of surface chemistry routes to formation of complex organic molecules in space,” Review of Scientific Instruments on Dec. 15, 2020 (DOI: 10.1063/5.0018926) and can be accessed at https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0018926.

Provided by American Institute of Physics

Could Your Vacuum Be Listening To You? (Computer Science / Engineering)

Researchers hacked a robotic vacuum cleaner to record speech and music remotely.

A team of researchers demonstrated that popular robotic household vacuum cleaners can be remotely hacked to act as microphones.

The researchers–including Nirupam Roy, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Computer Science–collected information from the laser-based navigation system in a popular vacuum robot and applied signal processing and deep learning techniques to recover speech and identify television programs playing in the same room as the device.

Researchers repurposed the laser-based navigation system on a vacuum robot (right) to pick up sound vibrations and capture human speech bouncing off objects like a trash can placed near a computer speaker on the floor. ©Sriram Sami

The research demonstrates the potential for any device that uses light detection and ranging (Lidar) technology to be manipulated for collecting sound, despite not having a microphone. This work, which is a collaboration with assistant professor Jun Han at the University of Singapore was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys 2020) on November 18, 2020.

“We welcome these devices into our homes, and we don’t think anything about it,” said Roy, who holds a joint appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). “But we have shown that even though these devices don’t have microphones, we can repurpose the systems they use for navigation to spy on conversations and potentially reveal private information.”

The Lidar navigation systems in household vacuum bots shine a laser beam around a room and sense the reflection of the laser as it bounces off nearby objects. The robot uses the reflected signals to map the room and avoid collisions as it moves through the house.

Privacy experts have suggested that the maps made by vacuum bots, which are often stored in the cloud, pose potential privacy breaches that could give advertisers access to information about such things as home size, which suggests income level, and other lifestyle-related information. Roy and his team wondered if the Lidar in these robots could also pose potential security risks as sound recording devices in users’ homes or businesses.

Sound waves cause objects to vibrate, and these vibrations cause slight variations in the light bouncing off an object. Laser microphones, used in espionage since the 1940s, are capable of converting those variations back into sound waves. But laser microphones rely on a targeted laser beam reflecting off very smooth surfaces, such as glass windows.

A vacuum Lidar, on the other hand, scans the environment with a laser and senses the light scattered back by objects that are irregular in shape and density. The scattered signal received by the vacuum’s sensor provides only a fraction of the information needed to recover sound waves. The researchers were unsure if a vacuum bot’s Lidar system could be manipulated to function as a microphone and if the signal could be interpreted into meaningful sound signals.

Deep learning algorithms were able to interpret scattered sound waves, such those above that were captured by a robot vacuum, to identify numbers and musical sequences. ©Sriram Sami

First, the researchers hacked a robot vacuum to show they could control the position of the laser beam and send the sensed data to their laptops through Wi-Fi without interfering with the device’s navigation.

Next, they conducted experiments with two sound sources. One source was a human voice reciting numbers played over computer speakers and the other was audio from a variety of television shows played through a TV sound bar. Roy and his colleagues then captured the laser signal sensed by the vacuum’s navigation system as it bounced off a variety of objects placed near the sound source. Objects included a trash can, cardboard box, takeout container and polypropylene bag–items that might normally be found on a typical floor.

The researchers passed the signals they received through deep learning algorithms that were trained to either match human voices or to identify musical sequences from television shows. Their computer system, which they call LidarPhone, identified and matched spoken numbers with 90% accuracy. It also identified television shows from a minute’s worth of recording with more than 90% accuracy.

“This type of threat may be more important now than ever, when you consider that we are all ordering food over the phone and having meetings over the computer, and we are often speaking our credit card or bank information,” Roy said. “But what is even more concerning for me is that it can reveal much more personal information. This kind of information can tell you about my living style, how many hours I’m working, other things that I am doing. And what we watch on TV can reveal our political orientations. That is crucial for someone who might want to manipulate the political elections or target very specific messages to me.”

The researchers emphasize that vacuum cleaners are just one example of potential vulnerability to Lidar-based spying. Many other devices could be open to similar attacks such as smartphone infrared sensors used for face recognition or passive infrared sensors used for motion detection.

“I believe this is significant work that will make the manufacturers aware of these possibilities and trigger the security and privacy community to come up with solutions to prevent these kinds of attacks,” Roy said.

Provided by University of Maryland

Why there is no speed limit in the superfluid universe? (Physics / Quantum)

Physicists from Lancaster University have established why objects moving through superfluid helium-3 lack a speed limit in a continuation of earlier Lancaster research.

Researchers found the reason for the absence of the speed limit: exotic particles that stick to all surfaces in the superfluid. Credit: Lancaster University

Helium-3 is a rare isotope of helium, in which one neutron is missing. It becomes superfluid at extremely low temperatures, enabling unusual properties such as a lack of friction for moving objects.

It was thought that the speed of objects moving through superfluid helium-3 was fundamentally limited to the critical Landau velocity, and that exceeding this speed limit would destroy the superfluid. Prior experiments in Lancaster have found that it is not a strict rule and objects can move at much greater speeds without destroying the fragile superfluid state.

Now scientists from Lancaster University have found the reason for the absence of the speed limit: exotic particles that stick to all surfaces in the superfluid.

The discovery may guide applications in quantum technology, even quantum computing, where multiple research groups already aim to make use of these unusual particles.

To shake the bound particles into sight, the researchers cooled superfluid helium-3 to within one ten thousandth of a degree from absolute zero (0.0001K or -273.15°C). They then moved a wire through the superfluid at a high speed, and measured how much force was needed to move the wire. Apart from an extremely small force related to moving the bound particles around when the wire starts to move, the measured force was zero.

Lead author Dr Samuli Autti said: “Superfluid helium-3 feels like vacuum to a rod moving through it, although it is a relatively dense liquid. There is no resistance, none at all. I find this very intriguing.”

PhD student Ash Jennings added: “By making the rod change its direction of motion we were able to conclude that the rod will be hidden from the superfluid by the bound particles covering it, even when its speed is very high.” “The bound particles initially need to move around to achieve this, and that exerts a tiny force on the rod, but once this is done, the force just completely disappears,” said Dr Dmitry Zmeev, who supervised the project.

This article is republished from science daily

References: S. Autti, S. L. Ahlstrom, R. P. Haley, A. Jennings, G. R. Pickett, M. Poole, R. Schanen, A. A. Soldatov, V. Tsepelin, J. Vonka, T. Wilcox, A. J. Woods, D. E. Zmeev. Fundamental dissipation due to bound fermions in the zero-temperature limit. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-18499-1 link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-18499-1