Scientists Recreated the Elusive Rogue Wave in a Lab

Image: University of East Anglia
Do wind patterns have anything to do with these destructive deep-ocean monsters?

By Farnia Fekri | MOTHERBOARD

Rogue waves in the ocean, which can be taller than the Hollywood sign or a six-storey building, are seemingly impossible to predict and can be devastating to any ships, oil rigs, and humans in their path. Until the 1995 Draupner wave, many people thought these freakish waves—which are greater than twice the size of surrounding ones—were the product of sailors‘ overheated imaginations. But now we know they’re extremely real, and scientists are trying to understand them, even to predict them before they form, to protect ships and sailors.

A team of scientists is using a unique tank to study these waves, and see how much wind patterns have to do with their formation, as described in Physical Review Letters.

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New Research Says Dark Energy Doesn’t Need to Exist

LIGO/Aurore Simonnet/Sonoma State University
On Thursday, a team of researchers from Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University published research in which they claim that dark energy—the elusive substance thought to make up about two-thirds of the universe—may not exist at all.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

In 1925, the astronomer Edward Hubble fundamentally changed our understanding of the cosmos when he proved that the universe is expanding. By the 1990s, astrophysicists were „fairly certain“ that the expansion of the universe would have to slow as time went on and gravity worked its magic on matter. But then in 1998, observations of ten supernovae provided strong evidence that the universe was not only expanding, but it was accelerating.

This discovery flipped cosmology on its head and physicists rushed to try to explain what was being observed, which went against all intuition. Dark energy was put forth as a way to explain this entirely unexpected acceleration, and based on recent data from the Planck telescope, it’s estimated to account for roughly 68 percent of the mass of the universe.

„We have quite a bit of information that indicates that dark energy is there and about how it behaves,“ Sean Carroll, a cosmologist at Caltech, told me. „The question is why is there the amount of dark energy we see? From the point of view of fundamental physics, that’s a big mystery.“

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A Supernova Was Imaged Just Three Hours After Detonation

Graphic breaking down the information collected by the survey. Image: Ofer Yaron
Graphic breaking down the information collected by the survey. Image: Ofer Yaron
“Those are the earliest spectra ever taken of a supernova explosion.”

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

Scientists have snagged the earliest observations of a supernova ever captured, taken only three hours after a dying star began its fatally explosive finale. The research, published Monday in Nature Physics, opens a new window into the leadup and immediate fallout of stellar self-detonation, information that is normally blown into oblivion before astronomers have a chance to study it.

„There’s a limited time window,“ said study author Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist based at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, in a Skype interview with Motherboard. Within days, he said, supernova ejecta traveling at the incredible velocity of 10,000 kilometers per second engulf the regions surrounding exploding stars, destroying evidence of the initial collapse.

But this particular supernova, called SN 2013fs, was spotted early on October 6, 2013 by the California-based Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF). This wide-field sky survey operates in real time to detect flashy transient phenomenon and trigger follow-up observations over a network of facilities around the world.

Located in the galaxy NGC 7610, about 160 million light years from the Milky Way, SN 2013fs was flagged by iPTF swiftly enough for scientists to glimpse the dense disk of circumstellar material kicked off by the star during its death rattles. (Scientists observed light from the young supernova arriving at Earth; the event itself occurred over 100 million years ago.)

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New LHC Experiments May Help Explain What Happened to All the Antimatter

Bild aus der Bauzeit des LHC. ©CERN
Bild aus der Bauzeit des LHC. ©CERN
Researchers have seen a baryon decay for the first time, which may help explain why there is far more matter than anti-matter in the universe.

By Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

For every particle in the universe, physicists believe that there should exist an antiparticle with the same mass, but the opposite charge. When a particle and an antiparticle meet, they annihilate one another and are transformed into pure energy. Looking around, though, it’s obvious that most of the antimatter has disappeared and the universe has not been annihilated into pure energy. Although antimatter has been observed in nature, it occurs in far smaller quantities than its twin, which begs one of the most perplexing questions in physics: where did all the antiparticles go? Or to put it another way: why do we exist?

Physicists have been puzzling over this matter-antimatter asymmetry for decades, but new data coming from the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment may help shed some light on the problem. As reported last week in Nature, physicists at the LHC have observed CP violation in the decay of particles known as baryons and antibaryons for the first time. Although a little more data is needed before it can officially be declared a discovery, these observations may blow open the door for new experiments that will ultimately explain what happened to all the antimatter, and beyond that, why there is something in the universe rather than nothing.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Addresses The Current Scientific Illiteracy Crisis

neilneil

Last week astrophysicist and science populariser Neil deGrasse Tyson held a speech at Greensboro Coliseum, addressing the current crisis of science illiteracy that we are facing. Here is a summary of that speech:

By Johny Krahbichler | Church and State/Scientific Literacy Matters

“Americans overall are bad at science. Scared of math. Poor at physics and engineering. Resistant to evolution. This science illiteracy, is a threat to the nation.

The consequence of that is that you breed a generation of people who do not know what science is nor how and why it works,” he said. “You have mortgaged the future financial security of your nation. Innovations in science and technology are the (basis) of tomorrow’s economy.”

America’s decline isn’t unprecedented, Tyson said. Just look back 1,000 years ago at the Middle East, where math and science flourished in Baghdad. Algebra and algorithms were invented in the Middle East. So were Arabic numerals, the numbers we still use today.

But when a new cleric emerged during the 12th century, he declared math and science to be earthly pursuits, Tyson said, and good Muslims should be concerned about spiritual affairs. The scientists drifted away, and scientific literacy faded from that part of the world. Of 655 Nobel Prizes awarded in the sciences since 1900, Tyson said, only three have been awarded to Muslims.

“Things that seem harmless can have devastating effects,” he said.

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Why the Higgs Boson Found at the Large Hadron Collider Could Be an ‘Impostor’

Bild: LHC Genf
Bild: LHC Genf
In 2012, researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland famously found a particle that acted like the Higgs boson, an elusive and long-theorized particle that imbues mass to matter. Usha Mallik, a University of Iowa physicist, thinks that they might have caught an „impostor“ masquerading as the Higgs, and that it’s possible we still haven’t found the real Higgs boson at all.

By Farnia Fekri | MOTHERBOARD

In a new experiment, her team is pushing the LHC to an all-time high of 14 TeV (a unit of energy) from the previous record of 13 TeV, in order to seek out two „bottom quarks“—subatomic particles that should be left behind when a Higgs boson particle decays. It’s thought that these bottom quarks are created about 60 percent of the time a Higgs boson vanishes, yet this particular pattern has never been observed before.

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Mathematician Proposes Blocking Tsunamis with Sound Waves

de84f-tsunami-japan-1
Screenshot youtube.com
Usama Kadri, a mathematician at Cardiff University in the UK, has published new calculations in the open-access journal Heliyon demonstrating the possibility of neutralizing tsunamis with underwater sound waves. While actually implementing such a scheme would be enormously expensive and an enormous technical challenge, there aren’t a whole lot of other tsunami defenses that don’t basically just reduce to „getting the fuck to high ground before the wave hits.“ So, it’s pretty novel.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

The sound waves in question are more properly known as acoustic gravity waves (AGWs): vast underwater waves that travel at the speed of sound and are generated naturally by earthquakes and other geological events. In a sense, Kadri is then proposing fighting fire with fire. AGWs form naturally with tsunamis and act as subsurface precursors to the main event, affecting disturbances to the water column all the way from the surface to the seabed. AGW detection has recently been proposed as a an early-warning mechanism for tsunamis and rogue waves.

„Besides acting as tsunami precursors, AGWs can exchange and share energy with surface ocean waves,“ Kadri explains. This exchange occurs in an interaction known as the resonant triad, which is probably easier to just visualize.

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Nanogenerator Harvests Swipes To Power LCD Screens

There’s a whole lot of energy out there that’s just kind of hanging around. The brakes on cars and trains turn momentum into heat, for example, which we now have systems for recapturing and recycling. But there are many more examples of wasted „ambient“ energy that we don’t recapture. Even regular old walking around as bipedal animals is an inefficient process; the energy we expend in a single stride is greater than it would be given a perfectly efficient process.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

Such is life, but nowadays we’re surrounded by devices that don’t require all that much power to operate. A couple of volts goes a long way. A newly developed nanogenerator, described this week in the journal Nano Energy, puts that into perspective, offering a means of converting the energy expended in a standard touchscreen swipe into sufficient power to light up a touchscreen.

The nanogenerator in question is what’s known as a biocompatible ferroelectret nanogenerator, or FENG—a paper-thin sheet of layered materials including silver, polyimide, and a sort of giant charged molecule known as polypropylene ferroelectret. The layers of the FENG are loaded up with charged ions, which results in a construction that, when compressed, produces electrical energy.

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Physicists Mold Giant Photons Into Custom Shapes

Image: Timothy Yeo/Centre for Quantum Technologies/National University of Singapore
Image: Timothy Yeo/Centre for Quantum Technologies/National University of Singapore
It’s hard to imagine a photon having a shape at all. For one thing, photons—pointlike, indivisible units of light—are massless, which is the whole essence of being a photon to begin with and what enables such particles to set the universe’s maximum speed limit (the c in E = mc2). How does something without mass even occupy geometric space? Alternatively, how can space be not empty yet not contain any mass?

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

As it turns out, photons can take on different shapes and sizes and this winds up mattering a great deal when it comes to interactions between light and matter (such as atoms). To this end, researchers at the National University of Singapore have devised a method for shaping photons with extreme precision, allowing for an unprecedented look at these light-matter interactions at atomic scales.

Their work, which is described this week in Nature Communications, demonstrates that shape plays a key role in predicting whether or not an atom is likely to absorb an incoming photon, an insight likely to have consequences for the development of quantum information technologies, which hinge upon light-matter interactions.

This is among the most fundamental things in the electromagnetic world: Photons carry energy, and when a photon is absorbed by an atom, the atom takes up that energy. This might result in the atom emitting its own photons at new wavelengths (giving rise to the innate colors of objects) or otherwise displaying new properties. This interaction is what enables photosynthesis, as photons from the Sun convey energy to chloroplasts, which convert light energy into chemical energy.

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Decades-Old Collision Data Offers Tantalizing Hint of New Particle

Bild: LHC Genf
Bild: LHC Genf
The Large Hadron Collider, now operating at near-peak luminosity in its second operational phase, may be the most powerful particle collider ever built and it may smash together billions of protons per second like it’s not even a thing, but the latest hint of a new particle comes courtesy of the predecessor to the LHC’s predecessor.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

This is according to a paper posted Friday to the arXiv preprint server by a physicist named Arno Heister who had worked on the ALEPH experiment at the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP), which formerly occupied the LHC’s 27-kilometer tunnel.

The LEP collider was constructed in 1989 and later upgraded (in 1995) to the LEP II. It has several claims to fame, including further refinements to the masses of the W and Z bosons and a would-be hint of the Higgs boson. Surely the project’s resulting data has been analyzed and analyzed again by now, but Heister offers an intriguing reconsideration—one that yields a small anomalous signal in the 30 GeV mass range. Is this data bump real, or is it just a statistical artifact?

Bumps like this are generally how new particles are found in collision experiments. Two particles are smashed together at extreme energies and the result is an energetic shower of particle byproducts; you might imagine pairs of wine glasses impacting dead-on at bullet speeds. Statistics describing these post-collision particle showers are collected over time and then analyzed for unknown quantities.

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Supermaterials Offer New Means of Searching for Superlight Dark Matter

No one said detecting dark matter would be easy. We didn’t even know about the stuff until a couple of decades ago, after all, despite the fact that it represents some 85 percent of all of the mass in the universe and is what’s responsible for giving structure to the cosmos. We see its effects across the universe, but we have yet to see it. We’re not even sure what exactly we’re looking for—there are many theories as to the exact properties of a dark matter particle. Some aren’t even all that dark.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

The leading candidate for dark matter is a particle known as a WIMP, or weakly-interacting massive particle. These are really heavy, classically „dark“ particles. They interact with other matter via only the gravitational force, crucially evading electromagnetic interactions, which are what most of the interactions we see out in the world are based on: from a baseball whapping into a catcher’s mitt to the nanoscale electrical circuits enabling the machine you are now staring at.

WIMP detection is premised on WIMPs having sufficient mass to smack into an atomic nuclei with enough force to create a bit of light or heat, which can then be registered by the detector. A problem then arises when we start trying to imagine dark matter particles that maybe aren’t so heavy and, as such, may result in interactions below the sensitivity of current detectors. This is where the work of Kathryn Zurek and colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory comes in—bagging superlight dark matter may require supermaterials.

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Is the Higgs Boson Acting Weird Again at the LHC?

Bild: LHC Genf
Bild: LHC Genf
Though no one could really say what it was specifically, the Large Hadron Collider’s 750 GeV diphoton bump registered at least one unambiguous conclusion for physicists: they’d found something new. In the showers of proton collision byproducts that occurred during the 2015 run of CERN’s ATLAS and CMS experiments, it seemed there was a new particle.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

2016 data, however, failed to replicate the bump, indicating that the earlier observations were just statistical fluctuations. This has resulted in a generally grim attitude shared by many researchers in high-energy physics: The LHC managed to bag the Higgs boson, yes. But bagging New Physics, the presence of a particle or interaction so-far unknown? Not so much.

Yet, just as the diphoton bump was being kicked to the curb, a potential new strangeness emerged at the LHC, albeit one that’s less plainly seen. This has to do with a process known as tth (top-top-Higgs), which is an alternative mode of Higgs boson production that results in the creation of Higgs particles alongside pairs of top quarks, the heaviest known fundamental particles.

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Scientists Built a ‘Mini Black Hole’ Out of Sound Waves

Bild: NASA/public domain
Bild: NASA/public domain
Black holes are some of the most massive, mind-bending objects in the universe. They contain immense, almost unimaginable amounts of energy: Supermassive black holes help regulate entire galaxies, past research suggests.

By Paul Tadich | MOTHERBOARD

Now, scientists have managed to build a smaller, tamer version in their lab—and in doing so, they’ve taken a big step closer to figuring out an elusive property of these super-strange objects, one that’s been a big question in physics for the past four decades. In fact, black holes aren’t completely black: They seem to emit some kind of radiation. An experiment using an ultra-cold gas of about two thousand atoms has produced an acoustic model of a black hole in the lab, as described in a paper published this week in Nature Physics.

First, a primer. Black holes are regions of spacetime with so much mass compressed into so little volume they create a zone from which nothing can escape—not even photons, the little particles that make up light. This means they are, well, very black. But not totally and completely so, at least in theory. In 1974, Stephen Hawking proposed that at the event horizon of a black hole—the rim that marks the point of no return—the strange effects of quantum mechanics mean that particles can pop into existence and be radiated away.

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Could Dark Energy Just Be Frozen Neutrinos?

Universum Nasa, Esa, Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Universum Nasa, Esa, Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Dark energy is arguably the best mystery in astrophysics. Here we have an uneasy placeholder for almost all of the energy in the universe—energy that, as you read this, is working hard to shred the universe itself.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

Energy that will not be satisfied until all of existence is a featureless black void. Dark energy also has the bonus selling point of being a fairly new idea, tracing back to the late-1990s discovery that the universe is not just expanding, but is also accelerating in its expansion. At every moment, the universe gets both bigger and emptier (more space, same amount of stuff).

What’s doing this or, better, why it’s happening is unsettled, to put it mildly. The general answer is that quantum physics insists that empty space has energy—vacuum energy—but what, exactly, that means is TBD. In a paper posted this week to the arXiv pre-print server, a group of cosmologists from the University of Barcelona make an interesting case for dark energy being linked to so-called frozen neutrinos, or neutrinos that may have become coupled to dark energy as the universe began to cool circa a million years following the Big Bang. These neutrinos, which had before been hauling ass around the universe at near-light speed, were suddenly arrested, passing on their kinetic energy (energy of motion) to the dark energy field in the process.

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Chameleon Spit Is a Wonder of Physics

Chameleons may be the source material for many a stuffed toy and a series of really pretty strange beer commercials, but, make no mistake, when it comes to predatory behavior, they’re complete assassins. The chameleon tongue is a wonder of evolutionary engineering, enabling these old world lizards to hunt opportunistically—waiting, waiting, and then, zap. The tongue is deployed in a blur of slime, retrieving prey from up to a third of the chameleon’s body weight and from distances of over twice its body length. As such, the chameleon can essentially hunt without moving.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

How chameleons actually accomplish this remains something of a mystery. The „ballistic projection“ of the tongue is only part (a fascinating part) of the story—the chameleon still has to reel its prey back in to be chomped upon. It does this thanks to an extremely sticky tongue, obviously, but how this stickiness is actually implemented is of great interest to biologists and physicists. Now, according to a paper published Monday in Nature Physics by Pascal Damman and colleagues at the Université de Mons in Belgium, we may have some answers. It’s all in the spit.

More specifically, it’s all in the viscosity of the spit, which is about 400 times that of human spit. Given the right conditions, it can even behave more like an elastic solid than a proper liquid, however sticky. This is key.

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Physicists Squeeze Water Molecules Into an Entirely New State

Image: A. I. Kolesnikov et al.
Image: A. I. Kolesnikov et al.
Physicists from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered a new state of water that cannot be explained as a solid, liquid, or gas. It is a peculiar, and like exceedingly common, „other“ state that water molecules are forced to exist in in conditions of extreme confinement. Here, quantum effects begin to take over, leaving behind the rules of classical physics that we’re used to: solids, liquids, and gases just stop making sense.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

The group’s work is published in the current Physical Review Letters.

To start, we need to imagine just a single water molecule: two hydrogen atoms bound to a single oxygen atom. This molecule is placed in a tiny natural channel cleaved through the hexagonal crystals of the mineral beryl. The channel, which is large enough to host just a single water molecule, is only about 5 angstroms across, or roughly one ten-billionth of a meter. According to the physicists, such confinement should be fairly common in the natural world, taking place in certain geological and biological environments such as soils, mineral interfaces, and cell walls.

Atoms themselves are only about 1 angstrom across, so the beryl channels are really more straitjackets than cages. Trapped like this, the water molecules begin to demonstrate tunneling behavior, becoming „delocalized.“ As we should expect in the quantum world, the molecules and their constituent atoms are able to exist in multiple states at once.

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Physicists Built an Engine That Runs On a Single Atom

View of the vacuum chamber containing the atom trap. Image: AG QUANTUM
View of the vacuum chamber containing the atom trap. Image: AG QUANTUM
On a microscopic level, heat is simply atoms vibrating off one another, in constant motion.

By Sarah Emerson | MOTHERBOARD

Heat engines, like steam turbines, use systems relying on thermodynamics to convert the energy from heat into mechanical work. The Industrial Revolution would never have happened if not for the power of heat engines, and we’re still using them today. You probably know its most recognizable forms: the automobile engine and the jet engine.

But scientists are challenging the stereotypical notion of the heat engine as a large, metal behemoth. In fact, researchers at the Institute of Physics of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg recently pushed the powerhouse to its farthest limits when they successfully created a heat engine that operates using a single atom.

The team of researchers, who published their findings in the latest edition of the journal Science, captured a single electrically-charged calcium atom in a quadrupole ion trap—also known as a “Paul trap.” This specific type of ion trap uses two positive and two negative electrodes to trap a charged particle, by both pushing it toward the center and simultaneously pulling it outward.

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How Physicists Image Individual Atoms

 

Image: Lee Park/Purdue University
Image: Lee Park/Purdue University
Until 1981, the atom was a sort of imaginary entity. We knew it was there, of course, and we could even measure and observe it via a number of different techniques—including field ion microscopy—but we couldn’t just go and look at an atom in the same way that we could peer into a microscope and look at some biological cells.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

Then, in 1981, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer came along with the scanning tunneling microscope, which allowed scientists to look at surfaces at atomic scales for the first time. The pair won the Nobel Prize for the accomplishment in 1986. Here, in the latest of Physics World’s 100 Second Science series, the physicist Peter Wahl explains how the thing actually works.

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Behind the Top Secret Light-Based Communications of the Mantis Shrimp

A photograph of A female Odontodactylus Scyllarus mantis shrimp. Image by : wikimedia.org/Roy L. Caldwell/PD
In terms of communications privacy, mantis shrimp are way ahead of humans. Their security measures are built in, biologically, thanks to a peculiar communication strategy based on sending information from shrimp to shrimp through the polarization of light. Eavesdropping predators can’t see this information-carrying component, so the mantis shrimp is able to signal to its fellow mantis shrimp invisibly. Evolution is pretty clever.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

Researchers from the Ecology of Vision Group at the University of Bristol have been working to understand this system using a combination of light measurements, theoretical modeling, and anatomical observations. In a paper published in this week’s Scientific Reports, the group describes a never-before-seen optical material employed by the mantis shrimp that allows it to reflect bright and colorful polarized light using microscopically thin features. As one might imagine, this could potentially be useful for future human communications technologies as it represents an entirely new way of building polarizers.

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Engineers Devise a Way to Harvest Wind Energy from Trees

Image: Harne et al
Harvesting electrical power from vibrations or other mechanical stress is pretty easy. Turns out all it really takes is a bit of crystal or ceramic material and a couple of wires and, there you go, piezoelectricity. As stress is applied to the material, charge accumulates, which can then be shuttled away to do useful work. The classic example is an electric lighter, in which a spring-loaded hammer smacks a crystal, producing a spark.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

We’re surrounded by this sort of ambient energy. The whole universe is just a big mess of force and stress. The tapping of my fingers on the keyboard now could theoretically be used to generate voltage. In fact, the idea is already under patent: a battery-charging keyboard cover. But the idea scales way up too: Imagine the sway of a skyscraper or the trembling of an entire forest in the wind.

The second example is the heart of a piezoelectric system described in a new paper in the Journal of Sound and Vibration courtesy of engineers at Ohio State’s Laboratory of Sound and Vibration Research. The basic idea behind the energy harvesting platform: exploit the natural internal resonances of trees within tiny artificial forests capable of generating enough voltage to power sensors and structural monitoring systems.

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