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  • richardmitnick 10:23 am on November 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply  



    Nice post from Alex.

    Originally posted on ...things I LOVE!:

    I may watch something more entertaining today…

    but I doubt it.

    London based musical duo, Public Service Broadcasting, on Nov 19 released the video for the first single, titled Gagarin, from their upcoming second album, The Race For Space. A nod to the first man in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the video contains footage from, among others, Voyage to the Stars, Man Returns from Space, and Red Moon, all behind some kick-ass dancing.

    Well done, guys! Nothing quite like space-funk!


    The album may be pre-ordered here.

    All images/video credit: Public Service Broadcasting

    View original

  • richardmitnick 10:17 am on November 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Ethan Siegel:- “Ask Ethan #63: The Birth of Space and Time” 

    Starts with a bang
    Starts with a Bang

    Nov 22, 2014
    Ethan Siegel

    If there’s something before the Big Bang, then what does that mean for the beginning of our Universe?

    “You can try to lie to yourself. You can try to tell yourself that you put in the time. But you know — and so do I.” -J.J. Watt

    It’s been half a century since the greatest new predictions of the Big Bang were confirmed, changing our conception of the Universe forever. Rather than having existed forever, and rather than the part accessible to us being infinite in extent, we now know that all we perceive has only been around for a hair under 14 billion years of cosmic time, with our Sun and Solar System present for merely the last third of it. Which is what makes today’s Ask Ethan question so interesting, courtesy of Sebastián:

    When did the space-time begin? When I was a child, I learned that the Big Bang was the beginning of everything. I guess this picture is not currently true, since before [?] the Big Bang there was the cosmic inflation, and the Big Bang was not even a bang but a state where the Universe was hotter and denser. If there was inflation before the Big Bang, then there was space-time before the Big Bang, right?

    There are three things we need to think about to fully address Sebastián’s question, and the first one is what we mean by space and time.

    Image credit: Firefly / Serenity.

    You may be used to our everyday experiences of space — notions like length, width and depth — and time, which you might simply think of as the answers to the questions of where and when. This actually isn’t such a bad conception of things, but there are two things you need to know about space and time that might be a little bit less than intuitive. In fact, it literally took an [Albert] Einstein to figure it all out, and even he needed some help!

    The first is that space and time weren’t separable notions, as [Isaac] Newton thought they were. If you move through space, it fundamentally changes how time passes for you, and if two people move through space at different rates relative to one another, the way they experience time for themselves and the way they see time passing for the other person will be different from one another.

    Image credit: John D. Norton of Pittsburgh, via

    The way this makes the most sense — and it wasn’t Einstein who figured this out, but rather the mathematician Hermann Minkowski — is to consider a unified concept of spacetime, where instead of three spatial dimensions and one time dimension, we consider a new four dimensional entity known as spacetime. Speaking in 1908, Minkowski put forth the idea:

    The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.

    Although Einstein was initially resistant to this revolution, his eventual acceptance of it led to an even greater revelation.

    Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Calcada.

    The idea that not only were space and time connected into a unified 4D fabric, spacetime, but that the curvature of this 4D fabric was caused by the presence of matter and energy! Just as motion through spacetime affected how different observers experience the passage of time and the distances of space, the presence of matter and energy (and of curvature in general) affects the experience of space and time, too.

    And in the most extreme examples of concentrations of matter and energy — into a singularity — notions of space and time break down!

    Image credit: © Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

    Our most common conceptions of singularities are at the centers of black holes, where we achieve an arbitrarily large (and possibly infinite) density of matter and energy at a single point. In this case, our conception of spacetime breaks down, as Einstein’s equations give nonsensical results.

    Which brings up the second thing we need to think of: the framework of the Big Bang!

    Image credit: NASA, ESA, the GOODS team and M. Giavalisco (STScI); Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA Hubble schematic
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    We think of the Universe as being a relatively cold, empty place today, save for the dense concentrations of matter, stars, planets and life that have formed over the billions of years the Universe has been around. Thanks to gravity, electromagnetism and the [strong and weak]nuclear forces, we’ve built up this towering cosmic structure that ranges from the subatomic scale all the way up to tremendous clusters of galaxies.

    But if we go back in time, we discover that not only were things more gravitationally uniform in the past, but also that our cooling, expanding Universe was hotter (since wavelengths of light were shorter) and denser, all due to the nature of the way spacetime expands.

    Image credit: Take 27 LTD / Science Photo Library (main); Chaisson & McMillan (inset).

    We can go as far back in time as we like, to the earliest stages imaginable, to ever higher energies, hotter temperatures and increasing densities. We can go back to:

    A time before any stars or galaxies formed, to when the Universe was just a sea of warm, neutral atoms.
    A time when it was too hot to form neutral atoms at all, when the Universe was just an ionized plasma of nuclei and electrons.
    A time when it was too hot to even form simple nuclei, as free protons and neutrons (along with electrons and photons) reigned.
    A time when densities and temperatures were so high that particle collisions routinely and spontaneously created matter/antimatter pairs of all the known particles in the Universe.

    And you might think to go even further than that, to an arbitrary high density, high temperature and to an “event” in spacetime that also corresponds to a singularity: a moment where the entire Universe is concentrated into a single point.

    Image credit: wiseGEEK, © 2003 — 2014 Conjecture Corporation, via; original from Shutterstock/ DesignUA.

    If this were the case, this is exactly where space and time began, as there’s no such thing as “where” outside of space, and no such thing as “when” outside of time. But there would have been a myriad of puzzles that were simply unexplained about our Universe if we accepted this as the true beginning, as we now have physics that teaches us that we can’t go arbitrarily far back, but rather that a state of inflation — of an exponentially expanding spacetime with energy inherent to space itself — preceded and led to the hot, dense expanding state that we identify with the Big Bang.

    Image credit: ESA and the Planck collaboration, modified by me.

    Because the moment that energy, all bound up in space itself, gets converted into matter and radiation, the exponential expansion ends, and gives us a Universe that appears just as we conceive our early Universe to have been.

    Image generated by me. Each “X” represents a region where inflation ends and a Universe like ours is born; each box without one continues to inflate. At all times into the future, there are more boxes without “X”s than with one. But it does go arbitrarily far back to the past, with no “beginning” to spacetime.

    But now that leads to the third and final point, keeping our notions of singularities in spacetime and the Big Bang in mind: if the Universe before the Big Bang — back during inflation — consisted of exponentially expanding spacetime, where did that spacetime come from?

    As crazy as it seems, there are three very intuitive options.

    The Universe could have had a beginning, before which nothing existed.
    It could have existed eternally, like an infinite line extending in both directions.
    It could have been cyclic like the circumference of a circle, repeating over and over again infinitely.

    Image credit: me.

    If we went with the old Big Bang (and no inflation) picture, the evidence would favor option 1: the Universe being born at the “moment” of infinite, arbitrarily high energies, and along with it, the birth of spacetime.

    However, inflation changes that tremendously. It tells us that rather than a singularity at “t=0”, or where the Big Bang occurred, it tells us that the Universe existed in an inflationary state, or a state where it was exponentially expanding, for an indeterminately long amount of time.

    Images credit: me. Blue and red lines represent a “traditional” Big Bang scenario, where everything starts at time t=0, including spacetime itself. But in an inflationary scenario (yellow), we never reach a singularity, where space goes to a singular state; instead, it can only get arbitrarily small in the past, while time continues to go backwards forever.

    So it appears to favor option 2: the Universe being eternal to the past.

    But there’s a catch to even that, as it turns out. There is a theorem that tells us that an inflationary Universe is past-timelike incomplete: that an ever-expanding Universe must have began from a singularity.

    Image credit: Cosmic Inflation by Don Dixon.

    But that may not be fair, in the sense that the theorem is based on the known laws of physics, and applying them to a time when the known laws of physics break down. Furthermore, as huge and full-of-stuff as our Universe is, the amount of material (and hence, information) in it is still not infinite! With some ~10^90 particles (including photons and neutrinos), going back all the way to the hot, dense expanding state of the Big Bang and then some 10^-30 seconds before to the last moments of inflation, there are some things that are still observationally inaccessible to us.

    Image credit: Bock et al. (2006, astro-ph/0604101); modifications by me.

    Unfortunately, one of those things is where that inflating spacetime came from!

    Whether all this means that an inflating Universe couldn’t have lasted forever or whether that means our current rules of physics are not applicable to figuring out whether it lasted forever, had a beginning or is cyclical are unknown. It’s even possible that time is cyclical, and that the cycles change with each iteration! For all our progress, we still have the same three options that philosophers and theologians have considered for millennia: time is finite, time is infinite, or time is cyclical.

    Image credit: me.

    The only thing we know is that if there was a singularity in the past, it didn’t have anything to do with our Hot Big Bang that every particle of matter-and-energy in our observable Universe is traceable to.

    And unless we figure out a new way to gain information about what happened before the Universe observable to us existed in any meaningful sense, the answer may forever be beyond the reach of what is knowable. Not every Ask Ethan question is going to have a definitive answer, but rather this is the best we know given our current body of knowledge. I’m pleased to announce that the next five Ask Ethan questions that are chosen will also be the winner of a free holiday giveaway (to be announced tomorrow), so don’t just send in your questions and suggestions here, but also let me know how to contact you, in case you’re one of the lucky winners!

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible.

  • richardmitnick 3:00 pm on November 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Triumf: “LHCb Experiment Confirms TRIUMF Prediction” 

    On Wednesday, November 19th, the LHCb collaboration at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) announced the discovery of two new particles in the baryon family. The particles, known as the Xi_b’- and Xi_b*-, were predicted to exist by the quark model but had never been seen before.

    CERN LHCb New
    LHCb at CERN

    Randy Lewis, York University, and Richard Woloshyn (photographed), TRIUMF, submitted a paper together in 2009, “Bottom baryons from a dynamical lattice QCD simulation,” in which the masses of Xi_b’- and Xi_b* were predicted. This paper, among the eight theoretical papers cited in the LHCb collaboration report submitted to the Physical Review Letters, offered the LHCb researchers a light in the path of discovery.

    Richard Woloshyn

    “Theoretical and experimental physics complement each other in an important way,” said Petr Navratil, Head of Theory Department at TRIUMF. “Richard’s work illustrates how theoretical predictions motivate experimental efforts. Experimental results then provide feedback to improve the theoretical understanding.”

    The new particles are baryons made from three quarks bound together by the strong force. The types of quarks are different, though: the new Xib particles both contain one beauty (b), one strange (s), and one down (d) quark. Thanks to the heavyweight b quarks, the baryons are more than six times as massive as the proton. But the particles are more than just the sum of their parts: their mass also depends on how they are configured. Each of the quarks has an attribute called “spin“. In the Xi_b’- state, the spins of the two lighter quarks point in opposite directions, whereas in the Xi_b*- state they are aligned. This difference makes the Xi_b*- a little heavier.

    “Nature was kind and gave us two particles for the price of one,” said
    Matthew Charles of the CNRS’s LPNHE laboratory at Paris VI University.

    “The Xi_b’- is very close in mass to the sum of its decay products: if it had been just a little lighter, we wouldn’t have seen it at all using the decay signature that we were looking for.”

    “This is a very exciting result. Thanks to LHCb’s excellent hadron identification, which is unique among the LHC experiments, we were able to separate a very clean and strong signal from the background,” said Steven Blusk from Syracuse University in New York. “It demonstrates once again the sensitivity and how precise the LHCb detector is.”

    “I am happy that LHCb cites our work and that it appears on the broader stage, ” said Richard Woloshyn, “It shows the work we do here at TRIUMF and in Canada is important.”

    As well as the masses of these particles, the LHCb team studied their relative production rates, their widths – a measure of how unstable they are – and other details of their decays. The results match up with predictions based on the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD). QCD is part of the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory that describes the fundamental particles of matter, how they interact and the forces between them.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles, with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    “Our approach was based directly on QCD. These results give us confidence and show that the theory is adequate to deal with any measurement and to predict the outcomes of experiments,” said Richard.

    “This success is a reminder of TRIUMF’s leadership role in theoretical physics. Richard has been using the computational method called lattice QCD to make important contributions for many years, and I am one of several people who learned lattice QCD by spending time at TRIUMF with Richard,” said Randy Lewis.

    Richard admits that when he first saw the InterActions news release he did not expect it to be related to one of his theoretical ‘discoveries’ and set it aside to read later. It wasn’t until he saw the CBC headline, “New subatomic particles predicted by Canadians found at CERN” that he knew of his part in the discovery.

    See the full article here..

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Triumf Campus
    Triumf Campus

    World Class Science at Triumf Lab, British Columbia, Canada
    Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics
    Member Universities:
    University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, Carleton University, University of Guelph, University of Manitoba, Université de Montréal, Simon Fraser University,
    Queen’s University, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, York University. Not too shabby, eh?

    Associate Members:
    University of Calgary, McMaster University, University of Northern British Columbia, University of Regina, Saint Mary’s University, University of Winnipeg, How bad is that !!

  • richardmitnick 2:14 pm on November 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Johns Hopkins University: “Deep-Earth Carbon Offers Clues About Origin of Life on Earth” 

    Johns Hopkins
    Johns Hopkins University

    Nov. 20, 2014
    Jill Rosen
    Office: 443-997-9906
    Cell: 443-547-8805

    A Johns Hopkins-led team links new organic carbon species in deep fluids to the formation of diamonds — and life itself.

    New findings by a Johns Hopkins University-led team reveal long unknown details about carbon deep beneath the Earth’s surface and suggest ways this subterranean carbon might have influenced the history of life on the planet.

    The team also developed a new, related theory about how diamonds form in the Earth’s mantle.

    For decades scientists had little understanding of how carbon behaved deep below the Earth’s surface even as they learned more and more about the element’s vital role at the planet’s crust. Using a model created by Johns Hopkins geochemist Dimitri Sverjensky, Sverjensky, Vincenzo Stagno of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Fang Huang, a Johns Hopkins graduate student, became the first to calculate how much carbon and what types of carbon exist in fluids at 100 miles below the Earth’s surface at temperatures up to 2,100 degrees F.

    Dimitri Sverjensky

    In an article published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, Sverjensky and his team demonstrate that in addition to the carbon dioxide and methane already documented deep in subduction zones, there exists a rich variety of organic carbon species that could spark the formation of diamonds and perhaps even become food for microbial life.

    “It is a very exciting possibility that these deep fluids might transport building blocks for life into the shallow Earth,” said Sverjensky, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “This may be a key to the origin of life itself.”

    Sverjensky’s theoretical model, called the Deep Earth Water model, allowed the team to determine the chemical makeup of fluids in the Earth’s mantle, expelled from descending tectonic plates. Some of the fluids, those in equilibrium with mantle peridotite minerals, contained the expected carbon dioxide and methane. But others, those in equilibrium with diamonds and eclogitic minerals, contained dissolved organic carbon species including a vinegar-like acetic acid.

    These high concentrations of dissolved carbon species, previously unknown at great depth in the Earth, suggest they are helping to ferry large amounts of carbon from the subduction zone into the overlying mantle wedge where they are likely to alter the mantle and affect the cycling of elements back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

    The team also suggested that these mantle fluids with dissolved organic carbon species could be creating diamonds in a previously unknown way. Scientists have long believed diamond formation resulted through chemical reactions starting with either carbon dioxide or methane. The organic species offer a range of different starting materials, and an entirely new take on the creation of the gemstones.

    The research is part of a 10-year global project to further understanding of carbon on Earth called the Deep Carbon Observatory. The work is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    Johns Hopkins Campus

    The Johns Hopkins University opened in 1876, with the inauguration of its first president, Daniel Coit Gilman. “What are we aiming at?” Gilman asked in his installation address. “The encouragement of research … and the advancement of individual scholars, who by their excellence will advance the sciences they pursue, and the society where they dwell.”

    The mission laid out by Gilman remains the university’s mission today, summed up in a simple but powerful restatement of Gilman’s own words: “Knowledge for the world.”

    What Gilman created was a research university, dedicated to advancing both students’ knowledge and the state of human knowledge through research and scholarship. Gilman believed that teaching and research are interdependent, that success in one depends on success in the other. A modern university, he believed, must do both well. The realization of Gilman’s philosophy at Johns Hopkins, and at other institutions that later attracted Johns Hopkins-trained scholars, revolutionized higher education in America, leading to the research university system as it exists today.

  • richardmitnick 1:44 pm on November 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From “How Many Stars Are in the Milky Way?” 

    space-dot-com logo

    May 21, 2014
    Elizabeth Howell

    “Billions and billions” of stars in a galaxy (after a quote often mistakenly attributed to Carl Sagan) is how many people imagine the number of stars you would find in one. Is there any way to know the answer for sure?

    Night sky photographer Amit Ashok Kamble captured this amazing panorama of the Milky Way over Pakiri Beach, New Zealand by stitching 10 images together into a complete mosaic. Image submitted May 5, 2014.Credit: Amit Ashok Kamble

    “It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. You can’t just sit around and count stars, generally, in a galaxy,” said David Kornreich, an assistant professor at Ithaca College in New York State. He was the founder of the “Ask An Astronomer” service at Cornell University.

    Even in the Andromeda Galaxy — which is bright, large and relatively close by Earth, at 2.3 million light-years away — only the largest stars and a few variable stars (notably Cepheid variables) are bright enough to shine in telescopes from that distance. A sun-size star would be too difficult for us to see. So astronomers estimate, using some of the techniques below.

    This Hubble image shows RS Puppis, a type of variable star known as a Cepheid variable. As variable stars go, Cepheids have comparatively long periods— RS Puppis, for example, varies in brightness by almost a factor of five every 40 or so days. RS Puppis is unusual; this variable star is shrouded by thick, dark clouds of dust enabling a phenomenon known as a light echo to be shown with stunning clarity. These Hubble observations show the ethereal object embedded in its dusty environment, set against a dark sky filled with background galaxies.

    Andromeda Galaxy
    The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier 32 and Messier 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. This image was taken using a hydrogen-alpha filter.
    18 September 2010
    Adam Evans

    Massive investigation

    The primary way astronomers estimate stars in a galaxy is by determining the galaxy’s mass. The mass is estimated by looking at how the galaxy rotates, as well as its spectrum using spectroscopy.

    All galaxies are moving away from each other, and their light is shifted to the red end of the spectrum because this stretches out the light’s wavelengths. This is called “redshift.” In a rotating galaxy, however, there will be a portion that is more “blueshifted” because that portion is slightly moving toward Earth. Astronomers must also know what the inclination or orientation of the galaxy is before making an estimate, which is sometimes simply an “educated guess,” Kornreich said.

    A technique called “long-slit spectroscopy” is best for performing this type of work. Here, an elongated object such as a galaxy is viewed through an elongated slit, and the light is refracted using a device such as a prism. This breaks out the colors of the stars into the colors of the rainbow.

    Some of those colors will be missing, displaying the same “patterns” of missing portions as certain elements of the periodic table. This lets astronomers figure out what elements are in the stars. Each type of star has a unique chemical fingerprint that would show up in telescopes. (This is the basis of the OBAFGKM sequence astronomers use to distinguish between types of stars.)

    Periodic Table of elements

    Any kind of telescope can do this sort of spectroscopy work. Kornreich often uses the 200-inch telescope [Hale] at the Palomar Observatory at the California Institute of Technology, but he added that almost any telescope of sufficient size would be adequate.

    Caltech Palomar Observatory
    Caltech Hale Telescope at Palomar
    Hale Telescope at Palomar

    The ideal would be using a telescope in orbit because scattering occurs in Earth’s atmosphere from light pollution and also from natural events — even something as simple as a sunset. The Hubble Space Telescope is one observatory known for this sort of work, Kornreich added.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA Hubble schematic
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    How much of the mass is stars?

    Between different galaxies of the same mass, there could be variances as to the types of stars and the overall mass. Kornreich cautioned this would be very hard to speak about generally, but said that one difference could be looking at elliptical galaxies vs. spiral galaxies such as our own, the Milky Way. Elliptical galaxies tend to have more K- and M-type red dwarf stars than spiral galaxies, and because they are older, will have less gas because that was blown away during their evolution.

    Once a galaxy’s mass is determined, the other tricky thing is figuring out how much of that mass is stars. Most of the mass will be made up of dark matter, which is a mysterious substance believed to bind most of the universe together.

    “You have to model the galaxy and see if you can understand what the percentage of that mass of stars is,” Kornreich said. “In a typical galaxy, if you measure its mass by looking at the rotation curve, about 90 percent of that is dark matter.”

    With much of the remaining “stuff” in the galaxy made up of diffuse gas and dust, Kornreich estimated that about 3 percent of the galaxy’s mass will be made up of stars, but that could vary. Further, the size of the stars itself can greatly vary from something that is the size of our sun, to something dozens of times smaller or bigger.

    The number of stars is approximately …

    So is there any way to figure out how many stars are for sure? In the end, it comes down to an estimate. In one calculation, the Milky Way has a mass of about 100 billion solar masses, so it is easiest to translate that to 100 billion stars. This accounts for the stars that would be bigger or smaller than our sun, and averages them out. Other mass estimates bring the number up to 400 billion.

    The caveat, Kornreich said, is that these numbers are approximations. More advanced models can make the approximation more accurate, but it would be very difficult to count the stars one by one and tell you for sure how many are in the galaxy.

    Correction: This article was updated at 4 p.m. May 21 to include a more accurate estimation of the number of stars in the Milky Way.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 12:40 pm on November 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , HI-SEAS,   

    From “Life in an 8-Month Mars Sim: A Q+A With the Hi-SEAS Team” 

    space-dot-com logo

    November 21, 2014 Staff

    With support from NASA, the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation(HI-SEAS) program launched in 2013 to study how astronauts might interact during long deployments in isolation from the rest of Earth, such as those required for a manned trip to Mars.

    HI-SEAS is led by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and the current mission is focused on the social, interpersonal and cognitive factors that affect team performance over time. HI-SEAS crew members are required have “astronaut-like characteristics,” including the ability to pass a Class 2 flight physical examination, and undergraduate training as a scientist or engineer. Like the astronaut mission specialists they represent, each participant brings a significant research project or other scholarly work of his or her own to complete while inside the space-analog habitat.

    Now in its third experiment, which began on October 15 and continues until June 15, the current HI-SEAS crew includes: Martha Lenio (Commander), Jocelyn Dunn (Chief Scientist), Sophie Milam (Executive Officer), Allen Mirkadyrov (Crew Engineer), Neil Scheibelhut (Medical Officer), and Zak Wilson (Chief Engineer).

    To give readers a better sense of life on “Mars,” the crew provided the following exclusive Q+A.

    SDC: What motivated you to put your life on hold and join this project?

    Sophie Milam: I remember being five-years-old and telling everyone I wanted to be an astronaut, and throughout my life I’ve just never stopped wanting that — although I did have to face some harsh realities that I might not be able to go when I became gluten intolerant. When I got the HI-SEAS opportunity I had so many people supporting me and cheering me on, but what really made me want to go was the thought that I might be one of the rare people that got to fulfill a promise to their five-year-old self. I want to know I’ve contributed to human space exploration and that my time in this dome will make astronauts’ lives better in the future, but I also want to do this for the kid inside me that never let me give up the outlandish (outworldish?) dream of space travel and encourage kids everywhere to hold on to their dreams and make them come true.

    Martha Lenio: Like the others involved, I dream of one day becoming an astronaut. In addition to that though, I’m very interested in sustainable living and feel that a mission to Mars would be maximizing our ability to live within our means. I was interested to see how sustainable this project was already, and how I could help to improve it over the course of the mission. I also want to see what aspects of our life in the Dome will be able to translate to regular life on Earth.

    Zak Wilson: I’ve been interested in this type of thing for many years. About five years ago, I did a two week stay at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS ), another Mars analog program, located in Utah, which made me interested in doing this longer version. I first applied to HI-SEAS a couple years ago and got accepted this summer. I think sending people to Mars would be an inspiring and valuable thing to do, so I’m happy to be able to contribute to the knowledge necessary for that to happen. I’d also love to be one of the people to get to go to Mars, so this is about as good a test/approximation as I can manage for how I would handle that while remaining on Earth. I also think this is just a generally interesting experience, and I always would have wondered what it would have been like if I had declined a spot on the crew.

    Jocelyn Dunn: Signing off from the world and living sustainably on “Mars” is both a technical and personal challenge. I was attracted to the idea of growing stronger intellectually and spiritually. In this confined environment, there are limited factors impacting our psychology, so it’s a great place to discover what is the core of my being, what makes me happy, what makes me stressed, and how can I better take care of myself and my relationships. Finding baselines of human behavior is also my research interest here. Again, being in this limited, semi-controlled environment provides an opportunity to collect data about our physiology and develop technology that can quantitatively decipher our health and mood states in an automated manner.

    Neil Scheibelhut: In a word … Pride. Sure I could have kept grinding away in Los Angeles, always looking for a better opportunity, always looking forward to that next paycheck so maybe I could treat myself to a concert or a nice dinner out. But that’s boring. And it’s mundane. It may be good enough for the average American, but I’m not the average American. I need to do something with my life that I can be proud of. So, here I am. I’m a part of something that could help put man on Mars. THAT’s something to be proud of. THAT’s living a meaningful life, even if it is only for eight months.

    Neil Scheibelhut, medical Officer
    Credit: Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS)

    Allen Mirkadynrov: My main reason for participating in this project and for “putting my life on hold,” as quoted, is to contribute valuable input to the overall space exploration endeavor. I am extremely passionate about space exploration, and I would want nothing more in my personal career, than to provide some useful or valuable input towards humankind’s outward expansion. Even if I contribute a very small amount, I would consider it my honor and a small success. The other reason why I joined this project is probably similar to the reasons posted by other participants — we all want to become astronauts someday, and this will surely be a big step in the right direction towards that goal.
    HI-SEAS Crew in costume, Mars

    The HI-SEAS crew poses with the TARDIS. The crew includes: Martha Lenio (Commander), Jocelyn Dunn (Chief Scientist), Sophie Milam (Executive Officer), Allen Mirkadyrov (Crew Engineer), Neil Scheibelhut (Medical Officer), and Zak Wilson (Chief Engineer).
    Credit: Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS)

    SDC: So how are you feeling this far into the mission?

    S.M.: I feel great, we’re finally hitting a groove as a team and getting our own personal schedules worked out. There are lots of things I miss — showering whenever I want, cooking dinner at night, going outside — but there are so many things that I’m really enjoying here. At the top of that list is how good I feel with the crew. Regardless of whether we’re playing board games or preparing for a geology extra-vehicular activity (EVA) everyone is positive, helpful, and fun.

    Z.W.: I’m generally liking things in the dome, and the time seems to be flying by. Having time to do personal research is a great opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. I’m also really enjoying being around smart people that have different areas of expertise than I do. On the negative side, I’ve only been outside for maybe a total of 30 minutes since we started four weeks ago (and all of that was in simulated spacesuit that effectively cuts you off from the environment). That is definitely getting to me a little.

    A.M.: To put this into a perspective, we have been here less than a month, so it still hasn’t kicked in completely (at least for me). I am feeling very well thus far. I feel great physically and I feel great psychologically and emotionally. I am very impressed with the caliber of people that I am fortunate to work with and I could not find a more helpful, unselfish, accommodating and team-oriented group of people if I tried. I truly believe that. Perhaps that’s what makes this project run smoothly so far, and I sincerely hope that it continues throughout our stay here.

    SDC: Good food can make more of a difference in field work and exploration than some people realize — are you eating well, and what comforts do you have around you?

    S.M.: WE EAT SO WELL! Our schedule for cooking is that everyone cooks dinner one day a week and then we have one day of eating leftovers and thus cleaning out our fridge. You’re on your own for breakfast and lunch unless you find someone else who wants to eat with you, but its nice be in control of your own diet. An idea has emerged from this that when its your turn to cook you really have to go all out so we end up with chicken caccitori on cornbread (Gluten free for me and Neil), Gahnaian brown nut soup with rice balls (our commander is a world traveler and is exposing us to some awesome food from other cultures), red beans and rice (Zak made this dish and I ate four full servings and then a half serving after our dessert of homemade vanilla ice cream), taco extravaganza (Jocelyn and I made our own crispy corn shells as well as beef and chicken fillings, Spanish rice, salsa and pineapple-cabbage slaw), tuna cakes with barley pearls and Russian pickles (Allen’s home cooking is quickly gaining a huge hold on my heart). I’ve come to consider pickles a luxury, and any real cheese, but other than that all of our food, from ham to kale to milk and anything in between, is either freeze dried, dehydrated or powdered. The real luxury is the time and effort that everyone puts in to making food. I think everyone on this crew agrees that good food can definitely make the difference and we are absolutely dedicated to making sure we don’t drop the ball on that.

    Z.W.: I worried a bit about the food that we would have here on “Mars” in the lead up to the mission. I previously did a two week stint at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), another Mars analog program, and the food there left something to be desired. The first mission at HI-SEAS was a study looking at the palatability of food for Mars missions, so it can be an issue. The first week we were all a little tentative learning to cook with the ingredients we have here. Gallon jugs of freeze dried vegetables, big cans of freeze dried meat and then things like pasta, sugar, rice, flour and other grains make up the basis of most of our meals. Our ability to cook with the stuff we have has vastly improved over the past few weeks. I am unquestionably eating better here than I did living on my own. The cooking schedule we decided on is each dinner has a chef, sous chef and a couple people on clean up. This means, on average, each person is in charge of cooking only one meal a week and helping with another. Since each person doesn’t cook very often, we’ve gotten into a bit of a thing doing pretty elaborate (and delicious) meals. We haven’t been wanting in variety either, we’ve done Indian, Thai, Persian, Ghanaian, Chinese, Hawaiian, Greek/Turkish, Russian/Azerbaijani a few times, Mexican a couple times, a few Italian-ish dishes, plus some more American stuff including some solid southern and comfort food.

    J.D.: Food here is more than sustenance. We socialize and bond through cooking and sharing meals together each evening. At first, we were all intimidated by the freeze-dried, shelf-stable ingredients, but now we are talking about having Iron Chef cooking challenges — that’s what happens when you have a group of high-performing, competitive individuals. Our meals keep getting better and better.

    N.S.: I am actually really surprised at how well we are eating. This crew is going all out with our meals. I didn’t eat this well before coming into the dome. I miss fresh food, but we are eating very well.

    SDC: What experiments are showing promise already?

    S.M.: Martha’s garden is showing some good progress, the cilantro is starting to have real cilantro leaves instead of just the baby sprouts. Zak has made a range ofgreat things with his 3D printer, including parts for fixing my watch-band. Jocelyn has been taking all kinds of measurements about our general health and wellbeing and we have Jawbone Up bands that allow us to keep track of our sleep, mood and eating habits, which I’ve found incredibly useful. My area of research is tensegrity robotics, and when I’m not actively doing research I’m writing up my final research paper for my MEME degree and it is looking promising — hopefully I will be receiving my diploma and stole from Martha in December.

    Z.W.: The main experiment I brought was a 3D printer, with the idea that I would be able to print replacements for things that broke or design new things as we came up with them, rather than having to wait for our resupply every 2 months. I’ve used a few 3D printers before, but I bought my own (an Up mini) for this mission. I’ve been working with Made in Space ( who gave me some training before the mission began, and they have been providing me with some technical support. I’ve managed to print a few useful items already, a white board marker clip, a replacement watch buckle for one my crewmates’ watch and a holder for our shower timer (our water is rationed). I think this capability has great potential and I’m really enjoying it so far. It is also great to be able to solve some more of our own problems rather than relying on mission support.

    J.D.: For my research, I’ve been using Hexoskin biometric shirts and Jawbone wristbands to collect data about our health and performance. From hexoskin, I can collect rich electrocardiogram (ECG) data along with heart and respiration rates to track our performance during workouts and EVAs. With Jawbone, we are tracking our activity, sleep, diet and mood. The goal is to develop technology for automatically inferring stress states from wearable device data. As validation, I’m collecting hair and urine samples to analyze for biomarkers of stress. The data collection stage of this work is largely established, so I’m now working on the analytics for harvesting information from these rich data about our health and activities.

    SDC: What experiments are growing problematic?

    M.L.: A general comment on some of the psych experiments is that the hardware or software is not entirely reliable. We’ve had some problems with tablets not working, or software crashing. We’ve managed to find work-arounds, but it’s not ideal. One aspect of the study that’s likely contributing to the difficulty is the 20-minute delay on the internet here [a requirement of the simulation]. Any app that relies on live internet is going to have issues, and things start to become flaky.

    Z.W.: The other experiment I brought with me is an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. The idea was it might be useful for escapism/relaxation, as it can be hard to get away from the reality of being confined in a 1,300 sq ft dome with five other people during our eight months here. This was something that I bought specifically for this mission and had never tried or set up before. Getting it working is proving more difficult than I had anticipated. Mainly this is because of the time delay/lack of internet. Downloading drivers and demos is difficult since I have to get mission support to send me stuff and also get answers to questions. I’m hoping I’ll get it working better, but it hasn’t been very useful thus far.

    N.S.: Nothing yet.

    SDC: What do you miss most about the outside world?

    S.M.: Of course my family, friends and being able to go outside any time I want, but the crew is becoming very much like family and friends, we joke and make fun, and get competitive over board games. It really it reminds me of being home with my own family. The one thing there is no analogue for is pets, I miss my dog Charly and my hedgehog Slim Pricklins.

    M.L.: Sun, wind, just being outside.

    Z.W.: Variety in exercise. I’m a pretty big runner and rock climber. We have a treadmill that I’ve been using, but it just doesn’t do it for me. We’ve also been doing P90X as a group which is fun, but still lacking in variety. I’m guessing as time passes, family and friends will be the thing I miss most — but since we are only about four weeks in, that isn’t so bad yet.

    N.S.: You know, the Cleveland Browns are in first place, and I’m sure that city is rocking. I wish I was there to help cheer them on.

    A.M.: What I miss most is of course my family and friends. I love everyone here at the habitat, but at the same time I do miss hearing the voices of loved ones or watching their facial expressions in real time. Other than people, I miss the fresh air, sea, sunshine on my face, rain and other natural wonders that we take for granted

    S.M.:Other than the obvious stuff like doing dishes on your night and staying tidy, one of the most important lessons I’ve found is to take the time to talk with people one-on-one. Often I feel like I’m surrounded by everyone, and its difficult to form a real connection without having that personal time away from the group.

    Z.W.: Obviously it is still pretty early in the mission, but we have been getting along great. I think the selection committee did a good job selecting people with the right variety of skills and personalities that mesh well. We seem to have found a good balance between being around each other all the time and not being in each other’s faces. We are mostly doing our own things during the day (with the exception of EVAs and a few required group tasks), but in the evening we hang out. We’ve all been working out together and most nights after dinner we watch a movie or play a board game together. I think as time passes it will get harder, the inability to be alone isn’t something I’ve ever really dealt with before.

    J.D.: I am trying to find a balance between private and group time. It is sometimes difficult to say “no” to a movie or game night, but personally, it is important for me to have adequate time for self-reflection.

    N.S.: You know, as of now, we are all getting along so well, it kind of feels like a college dorm. We hang out and watch movies together. It actually doesn’t seem that different from being outside. However, I feel like the dynamic of this crew is not a coincidence, and maybe we are all the kind of people who don’t mind roughing it a little, and are very social.

    A.M.: I am learning how to read people’s moods, how to interject my thoughts into helpful comments (when necessary), and how to be as helpful and accommodating to people as they are to me. This question may get a fuller response as time goes on, but with less than a month under our belts here, it’s really difficult to fully grasp our isolation and limitations (at least for me).

    SDC: Would you go on a mission to Mars?

    S.M.: Absolutely, where do I sign?!

    M.L.: Yes! In a heartbeat!

    Z.W.: Yes, I would love to. That is really why I’m doing this. It is either good practice for the real thing or maybe the closest I’ll ever get.

    J.D.: Yes, I dream of being a part of pioneering human space exploration. I’ve found my work on this simulated Mars mission deeply interesting and compelling, and consequently intend to apply for NASA’s next round of astronaut selection. Regardless, I will continue research in these fields making contributions to the development and expansion of humanity’s exploration of space.

    N.S.: If I got to go with the other five people I’m with, I’d sign up right now.

    A.M.: Absolutely. I would not think twice about it and I would volunteer to go immediately. As I mentioned in my first answer, my real passion in life has always been space exploration. If I could contribute to improving life on Earth for the rest of humanity by going to Mars, I would consider it my duty, honor and privilege. I hope someday that such an opportunity comes my way, so I can be one of the first volunteers.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 5:08 pm on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NSF: “A foundation for robotics” 

    National Science Foundation

    November 21, 2014
    Aaron Dubrow, NSF (703) 292-4489

    The fundamental research in computing and engineering that enabled robotics to develop in the U.S. has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) since its inception.
    Yet despite these early investments in sensors, machine movement and computer vision, it wasn’t until 1972 that the first grant with “robot” in the title was funded.

    1970s: Robots for the factory floor

    In the mid-1970s, robotics began to gather steam at NSF. Among the first research projects classified as robotics were mechanical arms (seen [below]) that could pick a part out of a box and visually identify it and orient it properly for the next step on an assembly line, as well as computer-controlled welding robots. These and other NSF-funded projects were aimed at improving the productivity of American manufacturing processes–a goal for roboticists that continues to this day.

    This image of a robot arm, developed by the Stanford Research Institute, is similar to the one that appeared in the 1976 NSF Annual Report. The robotic system used computer vision to identify and make decisions about parts on an assembly line. This is one of several projects from that era aimed at improving the productivity of American manufacturing processes. Credit: SRI International

    1980s: Rise of the walking machines

    The 1980s brought an increased diversification in the types of robots being explored and the ways they could be used.

    At Ohio State, electrical engineer Robert McGhee and mechanical engineer Kenneth Waldron, along with a 60-member team of students and technical assistants, developed the Adaptive Suspension Vehicle (ASV), nicknamed the “Walker,” with support from NSF and the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA).

    What do you get when you combine 20 years of research, $5 million, and a Star Wars Imperial all-terrain vehicle? Ohio State’s Adaptive Suspension Vehicle (ASV), nicknamed the “Walker.” Developed by electrical engineer Robert McGhee and mechanical engineer Kenneth Waldron, along with a 60-member team of students and technical assistants, the ‘Walker’ was developed under a research contract from the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA).

    The ASV was 17 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 10.5 feet high, and had six legs to support its three-ton aluminum body. It was designed to carry cargo for industrial and military applications over rough, mountainous, icy or muddy terrain, and was capable of crossing 9-foot-wide ditches or 7-foot-high walls.

    The walker used a forward mounted radar system to scan the terrain ahead and feed that data, along with instructions from the operator’s joystick, into the 16 onboard computers that coordinated and controlled the ASV’s legs. Computers moved each leg individually, up and down, forward and back, and closer or farther from the ASV’s body, for a clunky but serviceable ride.

    1990s: Robots explore new environments

    Not long afterward, researchers supported by NSF were developing robots for a very different environment: underwater. First built in 1991, the Omni-Directional Intelligent Navigator (ODIN) was a sphere-shaped, autonomous underwater robot capable of instantaneous movement in all six directions. First built as a remotely operated robot, in 1995 it was upgraded to ODIN II, an autonomous underwater robot. Sentry, a successor robot developed through a grant from NSF, plies the deep waters today locating and quantifying hydrothermal fluxes.

    First built in 1991, the Omni-Directional Intelligent Navigator (ODIN) was a sphere-shaped, autonomous underwater robot capable of instantaneous movement in six directions. Credit: Autonomous Systems Laboratory, University of Hawaii

    In the 1990s, roboticists began turning their attention to day-to-day tasks with which a robot could assist. For instance, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University developed a series of mobile, personal service robots, such as Nursebot, that were designed to assist elderly people in their everyday life.

    Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University have developed mobile, personal service robots, such as Nursebot, that assist elderly people in their everyday life. An autonomous mobile robot that “lives” in the home of a chronically ill elderly person might remind its owner to take medicine, provide videoconferencing with doctors, collect patient data or watch for accidents, manipulate objects for arthritis sufferers, and provide some social interaction. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

    An autonomous mobile robot that “lives” in the home of a chronically ill elderly person could remind its owner to take medicine, provide videoconferencing with doctors, collect patient data or watch for accidents, manipulate objects for arthritis sufferers, and provide some social interaction. New versions have evolved over the years and a General Electric developed hospital robot is expected to be tested at a Veterans Affairs hospital in 2015.

    2000s: Miniaturization and mobility

    Researchers have always envisioned a future where robots could serve the general good in disaster recovery and search-and-rescue operations, but it wasn’t until 9/11 that robots were broadly put to that use.

    Robotics expert Robin Murphy, then an associate professor of computer science at the University of South Florida, arrived on site the morning after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Murphy’s research on experimental mixed-initiative robots for urban rescue operations was originally funded by NSF. She brought with her a response team that included three graduate students–Jenn Casper, Mark Micire and Brian Minten–and software-guided “marsupial” robot systems. These intelligent anonymous “marsupial” robots are especially useful in rubble because the “mother” robot releases smaller robots to explore tight spaces unreachable by other means.

    Over the next 11 days, the teams made five insertions onto the rubble piles, often at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) task force teams or sector chiefs. Murphy’s mechanized prowlers had tethers with a range of 100 feet, far out-stripping the fire department’s seven-foot camera wands. In doing so, they helped find five victims and another set of remains, though Murphy expressed regret that they hadn’t been more successful.

    As the 2000s progressed, efforts by engineers to miniaturize components led to robots that were significantly smaller than those that came before. One startling example of this trend is the RoboBee project, which was awarded an Expeditions in Computing award from NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering in 2009.

    Researchers in this expedition are creating robotic bees that fly autonomously and coordinate activities amongst themselves and the hive, much like real bees. The research team aims to drive research in compact, high-energy power sources, ultra-low-powered computing and the design of distributed algorithms for multi-agent systems. Most recently, RoboBees were pollinating young minds at the Boston Museum of Science in an exhibition dedicated to their complex design.

    2010s: Investing in co-robots

    In June 2011, the administration launched the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) to develop robots that work with or beside people to extend or augment human capabilities, taking advantage of the different strengths of humans and robots. This provided focus and funding for robotics research. The NRI is led by NSF and supported by multiple agencies including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

    Since 2011, NSF and its partners in the NRI have invested more than $120 million in robotics research.

    Today, robots impact our lives in a myriad of ways. Robots are being used in classrooms across the nation to capture the excitement of students and help them learn STEM (and non-STEM) principles. They’re helping doctors perform surgeries, providing assistance to individuals with disabilities and inspecting bridges and roads to ensure our safety.

    “Robots, which once were limited to the realm of science fiction, are now a transformative technology, a demonstration of how NSF-funded basic research can bring about changes in human life,” said Marc Rothenberg, former NSF historian.

    Though robots may be an emerging area of research, many of the underpinnings of today’s robots began in fundamental research in sensing, computer vision, artificial intelligence, mechanical engineering and many other areas that some might not immediately recognize as being related to robots.

    What’s next

    NSF-supported researchers are making incredible advances in robotics, creating a new generation of co-robots that can handle critical tasks in close proximity to humans, safely and with greater resilience than previous intelligent machines.

    Check out our Youtube Robot playlist to learn more about more about the research of NSF-funded roboticists.

    Junku Yuh
    Song Choi
    Gu-Yeon Wei
    Robert Wood
    Robin Murphy
    Andrea Thomaz
    Charles Klein
    Robert McGhee
    Radhika Nagpal
    Blake Hannaford
    Judith Matthews
    Nilanjan Sarkar
    Donald Chiarulli
    Nikolaus Correll
    Said Koozekanani
    J. Gregory Morrisett
    Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob

    Related Institutions/Organizations
    Harvard University
    University of Hawaii
    Ohio State University
    Colorado School of Mines
    University of Pittsburgh
    University of Washington
    Georgia Tech Research Corporation
    University of Colorado at Boulder

    Related Programs
    National Robotics Initiative

    Related Awards
    #9157896 Presidential Young Investigators Award
    #0953181 CAREER: Socially Guided Machine Learning
    #9320318 Reactive Sensing for Autonomous Mobile Robots
    #0085796 ITR: Personal Robotic Assistants for the Elderly
    #1150223 CAREER: Modeling and Design of Composite Swarming Behaviors
    #0926148 Collaborative Research: RoboBees: A Convergence of Body, Brain and Colony
    #0958441 II New: A Network of Open Experimental Testbeds for Surgical Robotics Research
    #7818957 Dynamics and Control of Industrial Manipulators and Legged Locomotion Systems
    #9701614 Intelligent Coordinated Motion Control of Underwater Robotic Vehicles with Manipulator Workpackages (Collaborative Research)
    #9603043 U.S.-Japan Cooperative Science: Virtual Collaborative World Simulator for Underwater Robots using Multi-Dimensional, Synthetic Environment

    Years Research Conducted
    1972 – 2014

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


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  • richardmitnick 4:40 pm on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC: “Robotics Meet X-ray Lasers in Cutting-edge Biology Studies” 

    SLAC Lab

    November 21, 2014

    Platform Brings Speed, Precision in Determining 3-D Structure of Challenging Biological Molecules

    Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are combining the speed and precision of robots with one of the brightest X-ray lasers on the planet for pioneering studies of proteins important to biology and drug discovery.

    The new system uses robotics and other automated components to precisely maneuver delicate samples for study with the X-ray laser pulses at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). This will speed efforts to map the 3-D structures of nanoscale crystallized proteins, which are important for designing targeted drugs and synthesizing natural systems and processes.

    This illustration shows an experimental setup used in crystallography experiments at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser. The drum-shaped container at left stores supercooled crystal samples that are fetched by a robotic arm and delivered to another device, called a goniometer. The goniometer moves individual crystals through the X-ray beam, which travels from the pipe at upper left toward the lower right. A detector, right, captures X-ray diffraction patterns produced as the X-rays pass through the crystal samples. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

    Equipment used in a highly automated X-ray crystallography system at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser. The metal drum at lower left contains liquid nitrogen for cooling crystallized samples studied with LCLS’s intense X-ray pulses. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)


    A New Way to Study Biology

    “This is an efficient, highly reliable and automated way to obtain high-resolution 3-D structural information from small sizes and volumes of samples, and from samples that are too delicate to study using other X-ray sources and techniques,” said Aina Cohen, who oversaw the development of the platform in collaboration with staff at LCLS and at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), both DOE Office of Science User Facilities.


    She is co-leader of the Macromolecular Crystallography group in the Structural Molecular Biology (SMB) program at SSRL, which has used robotic sample-handling systems to run remote-controlled experiments for a decade.

    The new setup at LCLS is described in the Oct. 31 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It includes a modified version of a “goniometer,” a sample-handling device in use at SSRL and many other synchrotrons, as well as a custom version of an SSRL-designed software package that pinpoints the position of crystals in arrays of samples.

    LCLS, with X-ray pulses a billion times brighter than more conventional sources, has already allowed scientists to explore biological samples too small or fragile to study in detail with other tools. The new system provides added flexibility in the type of samples and sample-holders that can be used in experiments.

    Rather than injecting millions of tiny, randomly tumbling crystallized samples into the path of the pulses in a thin liquid stream – common in biology experiments at LCLS – the goniometer-based system places crystals one at a time into the X-ray pulses. This greatly reduces the number of crystals needed for structural studies on rare and important samples that require a more controlled approach.

    Early Successes

    “This system adapts common synchrotron techniques for use at LCLS, which is very important,” said Henrik Lemke, staff scientist at LCLS. “There is a large community of scientists who are familiar with the goniometer technique.”

    The system has already been used to provide a complete picture of a protein’s structure in about 30 minutes using only five crystallized samples of an enzyme, moved one at a time into the X-rays for a sequence of atomic-scale “snapshots.”

    It has also helped to determine the atomic-scale structures of an oxygen-binding protein found in muscles, and another protein that regulates heart and other muscle and organ functions.

    “We have shown that this system works, and we can further automate it,” Cohen said. “Our goal is to make it easy for everyone to use.”

    Many biological experiments at LCLS are conducted in air-tight chambers. The new setup is designed to work in the open air and can also be used to study room-temperature samples, although most of the samples used in the system so far have been deeply chilled to preserve their structure. One goal is to speed up the system so it delivers samples and measures the resulting diffraction patterns as fast as possible, ideally as fast as LCLS delivers pulses: 120 times a second.

    The goniometer setup is the latest addition to a large toolkit of systems that deliver a variety of samples to the LCLS beam, and a new experimental station called MFX that is planned at LCLS will incorporate a permanent version.

    Team Effort

    Developed through a collaboration of SSRL’s Structural Molecular Biology program and the Stanford University School of Medicine, the LCLS goniometer system reflects increasing cooperation in the science of SSRL and LCLS, Cohen said, drawing upon key areas of expertise for SSRL and the unique capabilities of LCLS. “The combined effort of staff at both experimental facilities was key in this success,” she said.

    In addition to staff at SLAC’s SSRL and LCLS and at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, researchers from SLAC’s Photon Science Directorate, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Montana State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, San Francisco also participated in this effort.

    The work was supported by the Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences, the SSRL Structural Molecular Biology Program via the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and the Biomedical Technology Research Resources program at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health.

    See the full article here.

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    SLAC Campus
    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.

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  • richardmitnick 4:09 pm on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/SOFIA: “SOFIA Observations Help Determine the Age of a Star Nursery” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    An international scientific team led by scientists of the Coordinated Research Center (CRC) 956 at the University of Cologne, Germany, applied a new method of age determination to a combination of data from SOFIA and other observatories to make a surprising discovery: The star forming cloud IRAS 16293-2422, located at a distance of about 400 light years in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, is at least 1 million years old yet is still making sun-like stars. This is in conflict with current models, which predict star formation should proceed much more rapidly. That result is published in this week’s volume of Nature magazine by researchers from Cologne plus the University of Helsinki and the Max Planck Institutes for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR; Bonn) and Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE; Garching).

    Stars like our sun and their planetary systems form from cold and dense interstellar gas and dust clouds that collapse under their own weight. In the first step the material condenses into stellar “embryos” called protostars. Details of how such condensations occur, and on what timescales, are not very well understood. For example, do the clouds “free-fall” toward their respective centers solely under the influence of gravity, or is the collapse significantly slowed by other factors? “Since this process takes much longer than human history, it cannot just be followed as a function of time. Instead, one needs to find an internal clock that allows us to read off the age of a particular star forming cloud,” says lead author Sandra Brünken.

    The GREAT far-infrared spectrometer onboard SOFIA. The instrument is
    shown mounted on the telescope flange inside the pressurized cabin.
    © R. Güsten

    Here is where SOFIA flies in to help: The molecule H 2D + (a combination or two atoms of ordinary ‘ light’ hydrogen plus one atom of ‘heavy’ hydrogen, deuterium) is enriched in dense and cold star forming regions. The spin axes of the two H atom nuclei within each molecule flip their relative orientations at a known rate. Molecules with one nuclear spin orientation emit and absorb a spectral line at a far-infrared wavelength of 219 microns (1.37 THz, ‘para’ state, anti-parallel spins). Molecules with the opposite spin emit and absorb at a radio wavelength of 0.806 millimeters (372 GHz, ‘ortho’ state, parallel spins). Because Earth’s atmosphere absorbs all far-infrared radiation from celestial sources, the only observatory able to detect the 219-micron line is SOFIA, operating at an altitude of about 14 km, carrying the GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at THz Frequencies) spectrometer. Another advantage is that – in contrast to satellites – the newest technology could be implemented on SOFIA on short time scales; until recently, no instrument was available that could detect the critical range of wavelength for this study. Complementary observations of the millimeter-wavelength line were obtained using the ground-based APEX (Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment) telescope located in the Chilean Andes at an altitude of 5100 meters (16,700 feet). In their Nature publication the team around Stephan Schlemmer at the University of Cologne explains why the ratio of the ortho (APEX) to para (SOFIA) states of H 2D + in cold and dense gas clouds allows an accurate age estimation of Sun-like star nursery. Reading this chemical clock for IRAS 16293-2422 yields an age of at least 1 Million years.


    “These H 2D + measurements introduce a basic new method for age determinations in cold molecular clouds, with SOFIA’s far infrared spectroscopy capable of playing a major role” , comments Hans Zinnecker from the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart, who is Deputy Director of SOFIAs Science Mission Operations located at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “This underlines the future potential of SOFIA, since at the moment the NASA/DLR airborne observatory is the only one that allows astronomers to detect far infrared radiation from the cosmos.”

    See the full article here.

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    SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.


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  • richardmitnick 3:33 pm on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From BNL: “Women @ Energy: Meifeng Lin” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    November 14, 2014
    Joe Gettler

    Meifeng Lin is a theoretical particle physicist and a computational scientist at the Computational Science Center of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

    Meifeng Lin is a theoretical particle physicist and a computational scientist at the Computational Science Center of Brookhaven National Laboratory. Her research focuses on advancing scientific discovery through high performance computing. One such area of her focus is lattice gauge theory, in which large-scale Monte Carlo simulations of the strong interaction between the sub-atomic particles called quarks and gluons are performed to study fundamental symmetries of the universe and internal structure of hadronic matter. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from Peking University in Beijing, China. After getting her PhD in theoretical particle physics from Columbia University, she held postdoctoral positions at MIT, Yale University and Boston University. Prior to joining BNL in 2013, she was an assistant computational scientist at Argonne Leadership Computing Facility.

    1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

    I always like to solve problems and figure out how things work. Being a farm girl in a small village in China, I was very close to nature and had a lot of opportunities to see physics at work in the daily life, even though I didn’t realize it then. For example, in the starch making process, farmers would drain the water out of the barrels using the siphon principle. Such experiences fostered my curiosity and later on when I learned physics and could make such connections, I was quite fascinated. I guess I also inherited the “curiosity” genes from my parents, who, although did not have the chance to get much education, were always trying to figure out how things work and fix everything by themselves. My father, in particular, also accidentally cultivated my interest in math and logic through things like puzzles and Chinese chess when I was a little kid.

    But the realization that I would like to work in STEM has been gradual and the fact that I do is more a happy accident than determination. There wasn’t an “aha” moment that made me decide to choose science as my career. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. Sort of by chance I was admitted to the Physics Department at Peking University. Once I started studying physics as a major, I grew to love the problem-solving aspects of it and was amazed by the mathematical simplicity of the laws of physics. Even more importantly, I saw intelligence, dedication and constant hunger for new knowledge in my professors and colleagues throughout the years. And I enjoyed working and learning with them very much. I think that’s what got me to work in STEM eventually and stay with it.

    2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

    Working in a field that strives to understand the most fundamental properties of our universe gives me this feeling that I am making a small contribution to the advancement of human knowledge, and that is very satisfying for me. At the Energy Department, I am surrounded by some of the smartest people and constantly exposed to new ideas and new technologies. It makes my work both challenging and exciting. Now that I am in an interdisciplinary research center, I am excited to have the opportunity to learn from my colleagues about their areas of interests and hopefully expand my research horizon.

    3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

    For young girls who are thinking about entering the field, some guidance and encouragement from the teachers, both male and female, will certainly help a great deal. When I was in high school, I had female teachers telling me that I just needed to marry well. But I was lucky to have several of my male teachers who saw my potential in math and physics and offered me very generous support and guided me through difficult times. Without them I would probably have followed a more stereotypical path for girls. This may be less an issue in the US now, but we still need to be careful not to typecast girls and minorities.

    On the other hand, we need to have a more supportive system which can retain women and underrepresented groups already working in STEM. I almost gave up working in STEM at one point, because it was so hard to find a job in my field that would allow me and my husband to stay in one place—the notorious “two-body problem”. I was fortunate enough to have some very understanding and supportive supervisors and colleagues. At both Boston University and Argonne, I was given the green light to work from home most of the time. I am immensely grateful for this arrangement, as it gave me the necessary transition to eventually get my current job which is close to where my husband works. Of course other people in STEM may have more constraints due to the nature of their work and don’t have the luxury of working remotely. But some flexibility and understanding will go a long way.

    4) Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

    Take your time to find a field that interests and excites you. I always thought I wanted to be an experimental condensed matter physicist, but after a few summers in the labs, it turned out I did not like to do the experiments or be in the clean room. But I enjoyed writing computer programs to control the instruments or do simulations and data analysis. Then I found the field of lattice gauge theory where theoretical physics and supercomputers meet, which is perfect for me.

    For lattice gauge theory, and for computational sciences in general, the requirements on both mathematical and computational skills are pretty high. So it is important to have a solid mathematical foundation from early on. Some experience with scientific computing will be helpful. It probably sounds harder than it really is. Just don’t expect to know everything from the beginning. Nobody does. A lot of the skills, especially programming skills, can be picked up and improved on the job. As long as this is something you are interested in, be passionate, persevere, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

    I enjoy reading, jogging, traveling and just checking out new neighborhoods with my husband. Occasionally when the mood strikes, I also like to write. I still hope someday I will be able to write a book or two. But with my first baby on the way, all this may change. Time will tell.

    See the full article here.

    BNL Campus

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world.Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

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